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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

EDITORIAL 13.10.09



media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month october 13, edition 000322, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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




















































  2. U.N. CHIEF










On Monday, October 12, Maoist rebels blew up a stretch of railway track near Dhanbad. Separately, armed Leftist bandits ambushed and set ablaze trucks carrying cargo in Giridih. These incidents came just a week after an inspector of the Jharkhand Police was kidnapped and beheaded, with his mutilated body flung on a National Highway. What is the larger political implication of this unremitting horror show? It is simply this: So abysmally ineffectual has been President's rule in Jharkhand, it is failing to deliver even essential law and order. The State has been under President's rule since January 2009, when the Shibu Soren-led Government fell following the Chief Minister's defeat in an Assembly by-election. Since then the legislature has been in suspended animation. In the early months, the Congress hoped to use its manipulative skills and the influence of the Centre to put together an alternative Government. It is now clear this is not happening. Besides, with the term of the Assembly set to expire in March 2010, even if a new Government is formed tomorrow it will exercise power for just about four months. It would make sense to immediately dissolve the Assembly and call fresh elections. Indeed, this has been the demand of Opposition parties in the State. It was iterated over the weekend at the BJP organised protest meeting near the Ranchi Raj Bhavan.

Over the past few months, the Union Government has come up with a variety of excuses for not taking a positive decision on Jharkhand. In July, while seeking parliamentary sanction for extension of President's rule, Home Minister P Chidambaram had said Assembly elections would be held right after the monsoons. Yet, even as elections where announced for Maharashtra, Arunachal Pradesh and Haryana, Jharkhand was ignored. The unstated argument has been that the Maoist menace needs to be tackled and a Delhi-backed Governor, unburdened by the exigencies of electoral politics, will be better placed to do this than a potential coalition Government. This reasoning has increasingly begun to look ridiculous. Maoist provocation is a daily affair in Jharkhand and President's rule seems far from being equal to the task of addressing it. Bereft of popular legitimacy and of a democratic mandate, the bureaucratic establishment in Jharkhand cannot hope to carry the people along in its fight against the ultra-Left insurgents.

In the larger reckoning, Jharkhand is now seemingly destined to spend an entire year under President's rule. This has happened in the past, in Punjab for instance, at the height of the Khalistan movement and in the dark days of militancy. Yet, in more normal times, it is not expected political behaviour in a democracy. That is what makes the Jharkhand case all the more astonishing. For no apparent reason — other than perhaps the ruling party at the Centre waiting for a moment it feels is most appropriate for its electoral fortune —an entire State of some 25 million people is being deprived of its democratic rights. This is just not on. After the election process in three States concludes later this month, the Election Commission should focus immediately on Jharkhand. It would be best if an early decision is taken and elections are called by, say, December. A popular Government by January — 12 months after the previous Chief Minister was thrown out of office by angry voters — would be not just politically desirable but also morally correct.






Although the Centre's recent declaration that "every living wild tiger in India is under threat today" has the appropriate sense of urgency, it is unfortunate that Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests (Independent Charge) Jairam Ramesh has yet not been able to deliver on his promise of a holistic approach to wildlife conservation in this country. As a result, our response to the problem of poaching and other allied activities that have severely dented the numbers of our big cats has been insufficient. Every time evidence of poaching is discovered in one national park or another, the immediate response is to arm the forest guards better and strengthen funding to that particular reserve. This is at best a band-aid solution to the problem. Concentrating on one wildlife sanctuary at a time takes attention away from the fact that many of the forest reserves and adjoining inhabited areas were once part of the same natural ecosystem that needs to be protected as a whole. It is because of human activities over the years that these forests have become fragmented. And poachers exploit the situation to the hilt. They surreptitiously enter the reserves, kill the animals and quietly meld back into the safety of the surrounding villages or townships with their prized animal parts. It is because of such rampant poaching that tigers in Sariska in Rajasthan and Panna National Park in Madhya Pradesh became completely extinct.

Neither is fencing off entire reserves the right way to go. This is because animals naturally migrate from one part of the forest area to another depending on the season and other factors such as availability of water and prey. In case of tigers, given their fiercely territorial instincts, each tiger carves out for itself an individual territory. Hence, by completely fencing off reserves we would only be restricting the natural movement of the animals and correspondingly their growth in numbers. The solution lies in coming up with a national conservation plan that addresses all these issues together instead of looking at them singularly. Afforestation and reclamation of forest areas has to go hand in hand with the issue of developing the local economy and providing the local youth with jobs. Measures to tackle poaching have to be implemented in tandem with educating the local populace and making them a part of our anti-poaching efforts. And as much attention needs to be provided to maintaining the natural ecosystem and the prey-base of our forest reserves as big, visible measures such as relocation of tigers. In addition to this, we must lobby hard to persuade countries in East Asia to crack down on the illicit trade in animal parts sourced from India. Unless we start viewing the tiger problem as a component of a larger forest and wildlife problem, our conservation efforts will be in vain.


            THE PIONEER




Shyam Bhatia's memorable Goodbye Shehzadi, after former Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto's assassination in December 2007, revealed her confiding in 2003 that she personally delivered designs for making a nuclear bomb to North Korea in 1993, in exchange for missile technology. Her livid political heirs harangued both author and publisher; Simon Henderson's revelations in Sunday Times (September 20, 2009) give Bhatia the last laugh.

Henderson had AQ Khan's 10 December 2003 'insurance' letter since 2007, so the story is in the timing of his exposure. Pakistan's nuclear journey has been carefully monitored, perhaps even mentored, by America from its inception, and used to Washington's advantage. A former Dutch Prime Minister alleged that the CIA had intervened to prevent action against Pakistani master proliferator AQ Khan.

Remember the Pressler Amendment of 1984? It linked continued US aid and military sales to Pakistan to presidential certification that Islamabad does not possess a nuclear explosive device, and that new aid 'will reduce significantly the risk' of its possessing one. Successive American Presidents routinely gave this certificate to Congress, though aware of Islamabad's activities.

In the early 1980s, reports surfaced of Pakistan obtaining a pre-tested atomic bomb design and bomb-grade enriched uranium from China. It imported components of inverters used in gas centrifuge enrichment activities, via Canada; and zirconium for nuclear fuel cladding. By 1983, America was aware of the Kahuta uranium-enrichment facility.

Pakistan's nuclear prowess grew in concert with media leaks about its ability to acquire components and test specific stages of the nuclear cycle. In 1986, when US intelligence claimed Pakistan had weapons-grade material, Gen Zia-ul-Haq affirmed that when Pakistan acquired the technology, "the Islamic world will possess it with us." Violations of US Nuclear Export Control grew according to Islamabad's needs; West Germany and Switzerland seized nuclear equipment and uranium enrichment blueprints en route to Pakistan in 1987; by 1989 America knew Islamabad was modifying F-16 aircraft for nuclear delivery purposes.

In 1990, first reports came of Islamabad's nuclear cooperation with Iran. In 1991, Pakistan bought nuclear-capable M-11 missiles from China. Every nuclear-relevant acquisition was monitored till Pakistan's official explosions of 1998 made the programme public. Turkey's role in helping Pakistan throughout was ignored. The Reagan and Bush Administrations wilfully violated the Pressler Amendment and US nuclear non-proliferation laws. Pakistani scientists were regularly invited to 'Detonation symposiums' hosted by American nuclear weapon laboratories!

Throughout, American intelligence made claims about Iraq's nuclear programme, as false as the weapons of mass destruction used as the horrendous invasion of that country. North Korea is not yet on Washington's actionable radar; Libya has already prostrated before America. Interestingly, US intelligence nowhere brings on record the Saudi role in bankrolling Pakistan's nuclear programme, conceived as an 'Islamic Bomb' by its initiator, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. We are also clueless if Pakistan has shared nuclear devices with its chief patron.

That leaves Iran — a country the White House is determined to chastise, partly to compensate certain defeat in Afghanistan and Pakistan; partly to avenge the ouster of Shah Reza Pehlavi and nationalisation of the oil industry; and certainly to avert the proposed transition of the oil trade to the Euro. The Henderson letter says AQ Khan gave Iran the suppliers list. It is a small detail that all nuclear suppliers are Western (Germany, Turkey, United Kingdom, Switzerland, The Netherlands), who know why their products are being purchased.


Is Iran guilty of illicit activity? Russia, which is building a civilian nuclear power plant near Bushehr, maintains there is no evidence of Tehran violating the NPT regime. IAEA felt the same. More pertinently, contrary to US President Barack Obama's claim on September 25 that Iran has a "secret nuclear facility" which can produce a bomb; Iran had informed the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 21 that a new nuclear facility was under construction at Qom.

Iran thus fulfilled its obligations under the safeguards agreement; the IAEA is due to inspect the facility on October 25, and will thereafter monitor the nuclear material produced therein to ensure it is not diverted to a weapons programme. All this makes Mr Obama's false alarm look like a replay of the discredited Iraqi "weapons of mass destruction."

In sharp contrast to his intolerance of the Iranian nuclear programme —alleged by some to have active Russian complicity — President Obama has reputedly reaffirmed the 1969 secret understanding which allows Israel to keep a nuclear arsenal. The secret accord, sealed when he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House earlier in May, pledges not to pressurise Israel to disclose its nuclear weapons or sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, under which Tel Aviv would have to surrender an estimated several hundred nuclear bombs. Obama critics argue this could hamper US efforts to bring the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty into force.

A major cause of American anger is Teheran's determination to control Shia-majority Iraq. Iran has always been a regional power; historically the Sassanians controlled Mesopotamia and fought the Romans and Byzantines. Later, the Sunni Ottoman Turks were checkmated by the Persian Shia Safavids.

Iran is well placed to confront Western hegemony if supported by Russia, China and India. Currently India is unwilling to face Washington; it voted against Iran in the IAEA to facilitate the undesirable civilian nuclear deal. But with America trying to exert new pressures to operationalise the deal, New Delhi should stand by Tehran. While India has legitimate security concerns over the stalled Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline, which Washington wants scrapped, the inclusion of China could make it worthwhile.

Observers feel an American-approved Israeli strike on Iran seems imminent in coming months. This will drag America into the war in order to keep the Strait of Hormuz open for free flow of oil (about 40 per cent of all seaborne traded oil, headed for the US, Western Europe, Asia and Japan), and protect America from the charge of having initiated yet another costly, and most probably futile, war.

Israel has urged America to hasten delivery of the 15-tonne super bunker-buster bomb (GBU-57A/B) Massive Ordinance Penetrator which can reach a depth of 60.09 metres underground before exploding. Top defence agencies are racing to adapt the bay of a B2a Stealth bomber to carry and deliver the bomb, and make all available by end December or January 2010.






It would be fair to say that US President Barack Obama winning the 2009 Nobel Prize for Peace has pretty much left everyone scratching their heads. Not surprisingly, the reaction of world leaders to the news has been very diplomatic and marked by the distinctive sense of unease that follows when one doesn't quite know how to respond. As a result, the congratulations have been way too formal as if mandated by courtesy rather than genuine joy.

But how is the man of the moment taking all this? His initial reaction to the award clearly betrayed a sense of discomfort. He said he did not feel worthy to be counted among those who had been given the prestigious award before him and was humbled by the gesture of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

So far so good. But it was the next part of his statement that truly did him in. The US President went on to assert that he saw this award as a "call to action", or in other words, an acknowledgement of the path that he was presently treading, and that he would continue to strive forth in his efforts. Big mistake. In that instance Mr Obama dug himself into the biggest hole possible. For, from that moment onwards the Nobel Prize for Peace is to hang around his neck like the proverbial Albatross. Whatever he does now, whatever policy initiatives he undertakes, Mr Obama will be judged not just as the US President but also as a Nobel laureate. And this could very well be his undoing.

Mr Obama is fairly new to his job. He is still learning the ropes. But one of the main reasons why the people of America made him the President is because they related to him. Here was someone who held out the promise of a better future and was willing to accept that the journey would not be easy and that sometimes there would be mistakes that had to be rectified. But with the cursed Nobel being forced on him, he can neither afford to make mistakes nor owe up to them.

Mr Obama should have declined to accept the award. Not so much because he doesn't deserve it, but more so to save his political future. On the other hand, had he said no, he would have become larger than life. His humble refusal would have even been called Mahatma-like. Mr Obama missed out on a golden opportunity. For his sake and the rest of the world's, let us hope that he doesn't regret it.







The postponement by US President Barack Obama of his meeting with Tibetan exiled leader the Dalai Lama is a fascinating case study of contemporary foreign policy, the constraints posed by realistic strategy, and the upside-down world in which we live at present.

But it can only be useful if approached fairly rather than being used as one more stick with which to bash Mr Obama (who needs more, anyway?). So I am going to go through this in the most balanced way I can.


First, the facts. The Dalai Lama is the exiled leader of the Tibetan people. Tibet, an area
over which China had some claim but hardly an irrefutable one, was annexed by Beijing and invaded. The Tibetan people — a very distinct group in appearance, culture, and religion — were repressed by force and China sent in huge numbers of ethnic Chinese (Han) settlers who have altered the demographic balance.

Virtually no other country has helped the Tibetans. Their cause is not the subject of large demonstrations. They have never used violence, being a peaceful people if there ever was one. The UN has not devoted hundreds of sessions and resolutions to their benefit. The current President of the United States has not called their situation intolerable. The media is not obsessed with their plight.

Since 1991 the Dalai Lama has visited Washington 10 times and been met by the President each one of them. In 2007, the last time, President George W Bush met him publicly, the first chief executive to do that, and presented him with the Congressional Gold Medal.

It is important to note for what is to come that US-China relations continued to do quite well afterward.

Now, Mr Obama has not canceled meeting him forever but has postponed the meeting to please the Chinese Government. This is not the first such step in that direction. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton publicly downplayed China's human rights' violations and the US Treasury has gone soft on some of China's questionable financial practices.

No doubt, postponing the meeting will make Mr Obama more popular in China — at least in official circles which are the only ones heard — which can be said to make one billion people love America more, a goal that sometimes seems the main priority of US foreign policy.

Mr Obama is not completely wrong in the postponement decision, though, given other considerations. He is trying to get China to sign on to higher sanctions on Iran and he will meet the Chinese leader next month. China is also of increasing importance to the US in dealing with the international financial crisis.

So for Mr Obama to act as he did is arguably the best decision. Yet there are a number of points that should also be raised as to why it is a bad choice:


  Other Presidents met with the Dalai Lama without problems in bilateral relations with China. Mr Obama has a tendency to give in to much which then leads to other countries becoming excessively emboldened to ignore or make growing demands on America. JB Kelly, a brilliant West Asia expert who died last month, created a memorable phrase for this kind of behaviour: The preemptive cringe.

  You sometimes do things to make adversaries or interlocutors unhappy precisely to gain bargaining chips with them. The purpose of the lesson is to show that they need you more than you need them. If they want some benefit then they must give something also. Mr Obama and his colleagues seem genuinely incapable of understanding the role played in international affairs by such techniques as making threats and acting tough, gaining leverage, developing deterrence, having credibility, being seen as ready to use military force if necessary, and so on.


  Mr Obama does not seem to understand how to combine American concessions with successful negotiations that get concessions from the other side. He gives something and then hopes the other side will reciprocate, a tactic that doesn't work, especially with dictatorships. China should already have been tested on whether it will support higher sanctions before the US gives away anything to it. But instead the Chinese have been making it clear they won't help on Iran. On the contrary, they're building a huge refinery in Iran that will help Tehran circumvent refined petroleum products' sanctions if they ever are imposed. What possible reason is there to believe that Mr Obama will get anything in exchange for the things he gives to Beijing?


  If the Chinese have done bad things to Tibet and the Tibetans, why should they escape censure completely? Under Mr Obama's strategy, only the US and its allies get lambasted by the world. If only one side is criticised doesn't that make it appear that this is the only side at fault?


  Besides, since Mr Obama seems to believe in apologising so much, shouldn't he call for the Chinese to apologise over Tibet? After all, the Japanese have apologised repeatedly for their past treatment of China. Why should Mr Obama apologise to China or other countries when they have no intention of apologising to the US and others? Part of the answer is that they are not like Mr Obama and won't admit having done wrong. Still, though, if you put pressure on them they may well agree to a mutual de-escalation of criticism; if you don't, they will just step up their barrages against you.

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








The parade was great. The New York Times said: "The celebration of the founding of the People's Republic of China was immense, powerful and flawless, down to the crystalline skies that, just a day earlier, had been laden with smog."

Sixty years earlier, Dr Li Zhisui, Mao Zedong's private physician, was on the rostrum of Tiananmen Square to attend the ceremonies of the foundation of the People's Republic of China. He later wrote of "the crisp, clear, and chilly day that makes autumn in Beijing the most magnificent season". The organisers of the 60th anniversary couldn't afford not to have a 'crystalline sky' in 2009.

But let us go back to 1949. The Great Helmsman appeared on the stage, Dr Li recalled: "Mao was a truly magnetic force. Mao's voice was soft, almost lilting, and the effect of his speech was riveting. 'The Chinese people have stood up', he proclaimed, and the crowd went wild, thundering in applause, shouting over and over, 'Long Live the People's Republic of China!' I was so full of joy my heart nearly burst out of my throat, and tears welled up in my eyes. I was so proud of China, so full of hope, so happy."

Though a foreign correspondent described the celebrations as "slightly kitschy and indisputably retro," Xinhua news agency reported: "A total of 52 types of new weapon systems, all Chinese-made, including new generation tanks, missiles and warplanes were displayed. Ninety per cent of the weapons were paraded for the first time."

The Second Artillery Force stole the show with a display of five types of missiles, 'China's core strategic deterrent'. Xinhua affirmed that "the gigantic weapons in camouflage colours rolled by on long-bed trucks, triggering cheers from spectators." Experts already knew that that the dreaded DF21 medium range ballistic missiles could be well camouflaged and launched from trains (from the Qinghai-Tibet train, for example), but to see them all at the same time was awesome.

It was followed by 151 warplanes which flew over Tiananmen Square, including China's most advanced J-10 and J-11 fighter jets, airborne early warning and control aircraft, bombers and aerial tankers.

Though Dennis J Blasko in the last issue of the China Brief of the Jamestown Foundation had warned: "No judgment about Chinese military capabilities can be rendered simply by watching this parade. And more importantly, based on the weapons on display no judgment can be rendered as to the Chinese intention behind the deployment of these weapons," but one can guess what the probable targets are.

If there was Glamour Award, it would have gone to the ladies (said to be a female militia unit) clad in red miniskirts with white jackboots carrying the latest submachine guns (probably making our antediluvian-equipped AK47 NSG, jealous).

The kitsch part of the grandiose parade was President Hu Jintao reviewing the troops in an open roof 12-cylinder Red Flag limousine dating from Mao's times. For the occasion Mr Jintao was dressed in a high-collar Mao-style jacket (while other members of the Standing Committee of the Polit Bureau and former President Jiang Zemin wore ordinary suits and ties). During the review, the President stood stiffly in front of four microphones fixed on the limousine, shouting "Greetings, comrades!" with the troops answering "Serve the people!"

In his speech, Mr Jintao proclaimed that the Chinese people "cannot be prouder of the development and progress of our great motherland," however observers noted the main absentees at the celebrations, the people of China. Apart from a few thousands apparatchiks, some foreign diplomats and journalists and 1,00,000 extras, where were the Chinese people?

They were told to remain inside their homes and not emerge. To make sure that the party's instructions were followed to the letter, some 8,00,000 volunteers had been engaged. Such tight security had not been seen in 60 years (it is said to have been even tighter than during the Olympics). Does it mean that the party is scared of its own people?

What else to conclude? Sixty years after its foundation, the 'Republic' (from the latin res publica or 'public matter') is not for the 'public', but for a party. China is still not a 'republic'.

This is the tragedy of modern China.

This is visible at all levels of the state, even at the highest level such as the Standing Committee of the Polit Bureau.

It is probably the most serious failure of the Middle Kingdom which has been unable to introduce a modern system of governance. Though the word 'people's' is recurrent in all state organs, the nation is run by a single party since 1949. Ordinary people have no say in state affairs.

National People's Congress chairman Wu Bangguo recently declared that China will "never go down the devious path of Western institutions." But whether Beijing agrees to it or not, human rights, basic personal laws or universal suffrage are today values accepted by all non-rogue nations.

Supreme opacity adds to the undependability of the system; glasnost (transparency) has never been a Chinese forte.

This issue is so serious that China's stability could be endangered. It has recently been reported that Xi Jinping, the Chinese Vice-President was not elevated (as expected) to the all-powerful Central Military Commission. Nobody knows what happened; it can only be guessed that Mr Jintao does not see eye to eye with Mr Jinping.

The Chinese heir apparent is the son of Xi Zhongxun, one of the senior-most leaders of the First Generation of the CCP. In 1962, he fell out of favour, accused of disloyalty to chairman Mao. Is old Jinping's son following the same road?

Interestingly, some of the opacity was lifted by Zhao Ziyang, the former general secretary of the CCP. In his secretly recorded memoirs, he explained that he once wrote to Deng Xiaoping, the paramount leader about "perfecting the system of the central leadership" and "how to really establish democratic centralism within the Central Committee, especially within the Polit Bureau and its Standing Committee;" in other words, to have a tested and accepted system to succession.


Zhao told Deng: "Maintaining the stability of the fundamental laws of the nation is certainly one aspect; owever … I believe that fundamentally and most importantly, we must tackle the system of the party leadership."








Are armed uprising, terror tactics and ideology of hate powerful enough to help the close to 60 lakh Dalits and Adivasis of Kerala win freedom they rightfully deserve? A relatively new organisation, Dalit Human Rights Movement, seems to believe so, decades after even the Maoists had given up the Charu Majumdar-inspired annihilation theory. And for the same reason thousands of Kerala Police personnel are on the hot trail of these extremists.

Somehow, the DHRM has succeeded in creating a feeling among the Keralites that these extremists carry terror with them with their black uniform, the fiery campaign materials that ridicule the country's political system and with their strange courage to speak and act with die-hard determination in the face of adversities.

This determination is obvious from the words of Gopakumar, an activist: "The current manhunt by the police against us is part of a huge conspiracy to break our will and organisation. That is simply not going to happen. We will not leave this organisation even if we die. There is no one to support us but ourselves."

This indeed is the adage the DHRM uses to attract Dalits, disillusioned with and disappointed by the successive Governments' programmes to uplift them. They keep on emphasising the fact that the Left or the Right has never wanted the Dalits to progress because they wanted them to remain a workforce and slaves forever. The DHRM campaign materials say that the father of the theory of discrimination against Dalits in India was none but Mahatma Gandhi, "Who wanted the scavengers' son to become a scavenger."

With the 'Black Shirt' terror manifesting for the first time in the form of a murder in Varkala, one of the hottest tourist destinations in 'God's Own Country', last week, the police and the Government are now worried about the extent of the spread of the outfit. According to the police, the DHRM killed the innocent old man just to declare that it had become powerful, a theory several political thinkers now dispute.

Seven DHRM activists had already been arrested for the murder, dozens taken into custody for interrogation and a massive hunt is on for top leaders. But none of this is strong enough to break the will of the Dalit activists. They are continuing with their evening study classes and protest programmes even when the State Government is considering the option of banning the outfit.

What is worrying the police and the Government most is the possibility of strong links between the DHRM and certain dormant Maoist groups and a particular radical Islamist organisation. The outfit has always worked for unity between "persecuted minorities" and the "marginalised people". If this link is real — and the police believe it is — the DHRM could prove very dangerous, they think.

The Social Democratic Party of India, the newly floated political party of Islamist NDF (now, Popular Front of India), has already come out to defend the Black Shirt Dalits. They see a conspiracy behind the manhunt for DHRM men and say that the probe against them in the murder case is part of a plot to suppress the entire Dalit population.

There is a section of politicians and intellectuals in Kerala who argue that if the Dalits have started turning to the path of terror to attain their goal, the successive Governments and the mainstream political parties are to blame. It is an accepted theory — despite the CPI(M)'s objections to it — that the much publicised land reforms were one of the basic reasons for the current plight of the Dalits and Adivasis, which is driving them to the forbidden territory of terror.

The Land Reforms movement was initiated to retrieve the lands from feudal lords and to hand them over to its "rightful" owners, the tenants and those who tilled them. But the process was a huge failure as it only helped in replacing the feudal landlords with the tenants, giving birth to a new ruling class, and pushing the actual working class further into miseries, though the Marxists tend to justify it as a revolution. Thus, the Dalits and Adivasis felt betrayed and nothing concrete — except some cosmetic reservation measures which too proved futile — was done to alleviate their miseries even in the succeeding period.

Adivasis of Kerala had once deviated from the path of "accepted methods" of agitation when they set camp in the jungles of Muthanga in Wayanad, which led to perhaps the biggest police mobilisation in the history of Kerala. In February, the then AK Antony Government cracked down on the agitators in the forest where one Adivasi and one policeman was killed and several Adivasis, including children and women, were injured.

VS Achuthanandan, who had then led a CPI(M) fact-finding team to the forest, announced that the police had buried the bodies of several Adivasis in trenches dug by earthmoving machines. But once in power in 2006, the CPI(M) conveniently forgot all its promises to the Adivasis. Moreover, in a bid to break the unity among the Adivasis, the party floated its own outfit for the tribe people, named Adivasi Kshema Samithi.

The Marxists, the so-called messiahs of the proletariats, are playing a game of hypocrisy with Dalits and Adivasis. There are at least five major Dalit-Adivasi agitations presently going on in Kerala, demanding basic amenities and land for cultivation. As some people are trying to create a feeling among the people that Dalits are turning extremists, they are sure to get further marginalised, more isolated.






Union Human Resource Development Minister Kapil Sibal's efforts to evolve consensus on setting up the Central Madarsa Board merit serious attention of Muslim leadership and intelligentsia. Recently, Mr Sibal convened a meeting of MPs to discuss the issue but the Bill failed to get full backing of Muslim MPs. On his part, Mr Sibal has declared, "We will go ahead only after a consensus."

According to the Sachar Committee report, Muslims are lagging behind in all developmental processes. Now it is time those addicted to vote-bank politics must wake up to the need for sustainable remedial actions. It should not be forgotten that it is possible for madarsas to impart religious education along with basics of modern education and yet retain their essence. Reformation of madarsas is sensible and desirable as it works on existing infrastructure and is the need of the hour. Keeping in mind all these aspects, the HRD Minister took step in the direction of evolving a consensus. It is very unfortunate that even Muslim MPs did not show inclination to address one of the major issues concerning the community. Surprisingly, the BJP, the CPI(M) and the CPI supported the move. Why the RJD and the LJP failed to participate in the meeting is a matter for analysis.

No doubt, madarsas are an integral part of Islamic culture. At the same time one should not forget that when religion is correctly understood it would be a power of liberation but if misunderstood, it drives people backwards.

However, madarsa education system has been misunderstood in India. madarsas are considered breeding grounds for terrorists when the reality is that they are imparting education to the poorest and marginalised people. Present generation is totally oblivious of the role played by ulemas and madarsas in our freedom struggle. They even opposed division of India on communal lines. It will be interesting to learn that Mohammed Ali Jinnah failed in enlisting support of ulemas . Maulana Hussain Ahmad Madni, Nazim Al-Umur (Vice-Chancellor of Darul Uloom, Deoband) opposed two-nation theory in his book, Muttahidah Qaumiyyat Aur Islam. Maulana Qasim Ahmed Nanotvi issued fatwa urging Muslims to drive out Britishers from India as it was their religious duty. However, it will be equally unjust to blame anyone else for the downfall of madarsas. Muslims are also to blame as they opposed the move to bring madarsas at par with modern education system. The vast network of madarsas could have provided a sustainable infrastructure for job-oriented education.

The Central madarsa Board Bill 2009 has provision for inclusion of one member each from Deoband, Barelvi and Ahl-e-Hadith schools, a scholar each from Shafai, Shia and Bohra sects and one scholar from madarsa system. Some MPs like Asaduddin Owaisi, Shafiq-ur-Rehman Burq and Ahmad Saeed Malihabadi opposed the move. Even Rajya Sabha member Ali Anwar commented, "What is the motive behind such a move?" Division of Muslims in sects and school of thoughts is a harsh reality and one must accept it. Muslims have become habitual to see dangers in every policy that is aimed at their amelioration. It is proving counter-productive for the community. Mr Sibal has already declared that there will be "no interference in theological education" and I see no reason to disbelieve his words.

In a telephonic conversation, UDF chief and MP, Badruddin Ajmal, said, "Today only four per cent children study in madarsas. The Government should pay attention towards education of 96 per cent children. As far as Government-aided madarsas are concerned, the Government may implement its policies on them but community-based madarsas should be left free to decide their own path. Badruddin Ajmal's thoughts are clear on the issue while he emphasised upon major changes in the Central madarsa Board Bill, 2009.

Spirit behind three-language formula should be restored not only in the modern education system but also in madarsas. Mother tongue as first, the main language of the State as second and English as third language should be taught to children. This will instil communication skills in the students and help develop a new vibrant culture.

This is an era of scientific researches and acquisition of superiority in technology. Acquisition of knowledge about all material sciences is also part of Islam. How Muslims can claim equality with others without achieving distinction in material sciences? The Muslim community must seize the Bill as an opportunity for better education and this will also change the way people look at education being imparted in madarsas.

The writer is on the staff at Aligarh Muslim University.








PRIME Minister Manmohan Singh is obviously a man in a hurry. In July he agreed to place Pakistan's concerns over alleged Indian actions in Balochistan in a joint statement at Sharm- el- Sheikh. A little more than two months later he is declaring that Pakistani charges are " false" and that India is not in the business of spreading terror. If this is indeed so, shouldn't he have refused to permit the reference to get into the joint statement in the first place? His views on the Maoist threat, too, seem to be unformed and hurried. He has been one of the first among the top leaders in the country to warn the country of the kind of threat that the Maoists pose to India. Yet the other day, the prime minister declared that not only was India willing to talk to the Maoists if they gave up violence, but also to groups advocating separatism in Jammu & Kashmir. All this is well and good, and reasonable people will say that dialogue is always a better option than violent suppression. However, when you look at Dr Singh's own record, you see a pattern of well- meaning ideas and suggestions that are pursued only fitfully.


A good example of this is the dialogue with the separatists in Kashmir. After two rounds, the process seems to be in a limbo. There you have a number of groups like the Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front which have fulfilled the PM's mandate and abandoned violence, yet there has been no dialogue with them. Indeed, the situation in the state is in something of a drift. It would be easy to blame Omar Abdullah as an inexperienced chief minister who is floundering, but, without the Union government providing a push for the much needed political settlement, the state government is doomed to oscillate endlessly between periods of calm and unrest.

The Sharm- e- Sheikh statement had also decided not to bracket the composite dialogue with action on terrorism. But the manner in which Pakistan is handling the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks this position seems to be deeply flawed. Now with the Lahore High Court throwing out the charges against Hafiz Muhammad Sayeed, it will be rather brave of Dr Singh to persist with the dialogue. The issue is not so much the process of talks, but of commitments made without adequate preparation and foresight, and of initiatives that run out of steam because the system lacks stamina.







THE attack on the Pakistan Army General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, the third terror attack in Pakistan last week, is a wakeup call for its military establishment. The lone terrorist who was captured clearly has Punjabi links, making it obvious that Punjab based terrorist outfits which the military establishment has treated with kid gloves so far — seeing them as assets in the insurgency in Kashmir — have outgrown their ' official' mandate. That cross linkages exist between such Punjab based outfits and the Pashtun groups the Pakistani state is battling in the north- west is no longer in the realm of doubt.


The Pakistan military should read the writing on the wall and abandon its duplicitous policy of backing some terror groups because they seemingly serve its strategic interests in India and Afghanistan and fighting those that challenge its writ at home. The patronage of terror groups may result in a 26/ 11 and perhaps even the latest attack at the Indian embassy in Kabul but its blowback in the form of repeated assaults on Pakistan army and intelligence installations and civil society is far more injurious.


Unfortunately, the military has so far failed to grasp this basic fact. There was a time when it was loath to taking action against militants of any variety. When they started threatening the Pakistani state itself, it was forced to undertake a campaign in Swat Valley. And though it achieved success there, it remained reluctant to launch a similar campaign in South Waziristan, fearing that terrorist groups it has traditionally backed would also get caught in the crossfire. But the latest attack in Rawalpindi makes it clear that in a matter like terror, only a blanket approach of being for it or against it is likely to succeed.











The RSS conclave held from 9-11 October, at Rajgir, reveals something interesting that might otherwise miss the casual eye. In its resolutions, Rajgir, the popular name given to the town, is brutally sanskritised as Rajgriha. This is all that the Sangh contributes to Indian society in terms of its self-proclaimed identity as a cultural organisation.


Rather, during the last week, the only contribution it has made is to the political culture of the country. It hailed Rahul Gandhi's visit to rural homes in Uttar Pradesh, endorsed P. Chidambaram's proposed surge against the Naxals, and played a cynical cat and mouse game with one of its 'inspired' organisations, the BJP.


The latter would have come as a rude shock to the BJP, especially at a time when it is hoping to recover political ground in the forthcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana. It is reported that RSS chief, Mohan Bhagwat, told the RSS at Rajgir that members of the Sangh were free to support any political outfit that served national interests and that they were under no compulsion to support only the BJP. As always, the RSS has assumed, arbitrarily and undemocratically, the mantle of the sole spokesperson of what constitutes national interest. The resolutions passed at Rajgir are revealing too, especially since they come from a so-called cultural organisation.



The first resolution is titled ' Strengthen Border Security', and is largely about the RSS's old views about the Chinese threat to India.


The mandatory paragraph about India and Pakistan is there and refers to the Sharm- el- Sheik episode. The second resolution is titled ' Global Environment Crisis and Bharatiya View'. Apart from the obvious claim inherent in the title that the RSS speaks for Bharat, it is a rambling excursion about environment and alternatives to conventional energy sources. The Upanishadic exhortation of ' tena tyaktena bhunjeethah' is translated as ' restrained consumption', although it roughly means that one must enjoy everything after distributing it to others. The third resolution is called ' Make Village The Focus For National Development'. Gandhi, Deendayal Upadhyaya and Lohia are quoted, their fondness for village India emphasised, and the Western civilisation questioned. The woes of rural India are reduced to adoption of ' western life style in its entirety' and to the ' onslaught of decadent western culture through TV and cinema'. The alternative that the RSS offers is a ' cow- centric' approach based on promoting milk, curd, ghee, gomutra and gobar . As if this was not enough of a heavy dose of advice from a ' cultural' organisation, all one has to do is to look at the customary Vijayadashami speech of Mohan Bhagwat in Nagpur on 27 September. He begins by stating that organising Hindu society is an ' imperative national duty'. He goes on to argue that whether the words Hindu or Hindutva are used or not, the feeling of being one lies within every Indian. He defines the word Hindu by stating that it ' does not symbolise any particular way of worship, language, province, creed or religion. Actually it signifies an ancient culture, a way of life that has come down to us through ages'. Whose culture? What way of life? Whose way of life? Who decides what constitutes this way of life? The RSS has always shied away from answering these questions, not only because of its intellectual bankruptcy, but also because this rhetoric hides within itself a politics. The Vijayadashami speech then meanders onto questions of national security, the problem of conversion in the North- East, terrorism, cow- protection and its relation to rural development, education and electoral reforms.


Towards the end of the speech, Bhagwat returns to the question of Hindutva. He emphasises that ' the nature of Hindu society is tolerant because ' Hindutva' accepts everybody and opposes none. However the culture that teaches ultimate inclusiveness, non- violence and love, its deities and traditions are assaulted and chastised by monotheists and fanatics'. These are, he concludes, efforts to weaken Hindu society, a conspiracy of which political leaders who are part of the government are also guilty and equally complicit.



There are several issues that emerge from this speech as well as the resolutions cited above. If this is the tone and tenor of a cultural organisation, one wonders why other cultural organisations do not issue such statements. If one were to follow the RSS, it must, then, be expected of, say, the Sahitya Academy, also to come up with concerns ranging from our border dispute with China to the monotheistic peril. But what is more significant is the schizophrenia that the RSS displays when it comes to the question of who is a Hindu and the meaning of Hindutva.


It is important to note that their line of argument is hardly original and is based on a model inaugurated by Swami Vivekananda in the nineteenth century.


In his many speeches to the World's Parliament of Religions ( there was not just one speech, but many speeches, contrary to popular perceptions), Vivekananda argued that Hinduism was the mother of all religions.


Not only did Hinduism stand in a maternal relationship to other faiths, but it also had taught all other religions and was the teacher and preceptor of all faiths.



He went on to state that Hinduism was the most perfected manifestation of what religion was and all other faiths were supposed to look up to Hinduism in order to reach its state of perfection. Vivekananda, then, went on to discuss the inadequacies of all faiths, but also maintained that Hinduism already contained within itself all that was there in other faiths. He spoke of the ' mild Hindu', who was tolerant ( a term he was to later abandon in favour of the term ' acceptance') and was ready to embrace all faiths. Having established the superiority of Hinduism as parent, teacher, as the most perfect form of religion, it was easy to argue that effortless acceptance of other faiths was a norm within Hinduism.


From the time of Golwalkar, the RSS has made this argument its own and it features frequently in its rhetoric.


The BJP too will hold its national executive meeting later this month. It will be hoping for a reversal of fortune in the assembly elections. Whatever be the outcome of the elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, it will do little to rectify the deep ideological divide within the party. A favourable outcome might just postpone the crisis but will scarcely solve it. For the BJP, a more urgent task is to dispassionately see through the hollowness of the RSS ideology and reject its obsolete philosophy. There are those who will still cling to the Sangh, not for any other reason than the fact that they know no better. But there are others who are in a position to think for themselves, question and debate the merits and demerits of the ideological legacy of the RSS and reject its divisive politics. As I have repeatedly argued in these columns, the only way out for the BJP, if it is to survive as a political force in Indian democracy, is to split and conquer.


The writer teaches politics in University of Hyderabad






YOU could be the most powerful man in the world, but your natural frailties could turn out to be ' a great leveller', as they often say about cricket because of its uncertainties.


Ali Bacher, a former South African Test batsman and an influential administrator of his country's cricket board in the Nineties, suffers from height phobia, and he dreads using elevators, particularly the seethrough ones. Considering that he has still not, at the age of 67, been able to overcome this weakness, the Johannesburgbased Bacher has no option but to come to terms with it.


" It's worse, it's worse. It's absolutely worse. You see that Kentucky ( the crane- lifted 30- foot high KFC restaurant for spectators at the SuperSport Park, Centurion). My wife asked me if I would go up there were they to give me Rands 100 million, and I said ' no'," Bacher told M AIL T ODAY , sitting in the plush office of the Northerns Cricket Union in Centurion, South Africa. " My case is getting worse and worse. What happens [ with me] is that as I walk along a staircase, I get a feeling out of nowhere that, in a moment of madness, I would jump off the building … jump over. That's what happens. It's obstructing." Bacher admitted he gets paranoid in elevators. " If I get into a lift, and if it's see- through, I will walk out. Escalators and hotels high up are out. When my travel agent books me, it's first floor or ground floor. I once went to New York and I ended up on the 62nd floor, uff. I remember the whole night I was clinging to my bed." One wonders how he completes journeys in planes! He is associated with three South African companies — digital scoreboard/ replay screen makers Stellavista, of which he is chairman, is amongst them — and that requires travelling to distant countries in planes.


" We are in about 23- 24 grounds — Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Durham etc," he said, of his company. In India, too, Stellavista has its presence. And Bacher has now set his eyes firmly on the Indian subcontinent's venues selected for the 2011 cricket World Cup. He said he would be travelling to India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh this year to meet cricket administrators to try and sell digital scoreboards/ replay screens to venues that don't have them.


" The subcontinent, and particularly India, is a big market for us. We [ also] have friends in Bangladesh. I know the Ranatunga family [ in Sri Lanka] very well," said the man who has spent 43 years in the game, as a cricketer and amateur and professional administrator, and is expected to know people of influence.


Jagmohan Dalmiya, a former president of the International Cricket Council and the Board of Control for Cricket in India ( BCCI), and I S Bindra, another ex- BCCI chief, is among Bacher's friends. " I haven't seen Mr Dalmiya for some time. I speak to professor [ Ratnakar] Shetty quite often.


He is a good man; you can trust him. He is a man of integrity," he said of the BCCI's chief administrative officer and treasurer of the Mumbai Cricket Association. Bacher is in touch with Shetty as he is trying to install a digital screen at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, which will host the 2011 World Cup final. The stadium is currently being overhauled.







AMONGST the conditions during the recent Champions Trophy in South Africa that spectators had to meet was to not carry any " nuisance items" inside the grounds.


While every country has strict rules for spectators, the language used at the back of tickets during the biennial cricket tournament was slightly different. " No nuisance items will be allowed into the stadium," was among the six ' terms and conditions' mentioned on the tickets for the matches in Johannesburg and Centurion.


But, as was witnessed at both venues, spectators made a lot of noise with a variety of ' nuisance' articles, which made the job of reporters in the open press boxes a challenging one because of the din they created.


Spectators used inflated balloons in the shape of stumps, provided by official sponsors, and musical instruments to make a lot of noise.


Presumably, they did not qualify as ' nuisance items'.





WE may be on course to host the 2010 Commonwealth Games, but not everything seems to be going on smoothly so far as our athletes' preparations is concerned. As per the Scheme for Preparation of Athletes for the Games, deserving athletes for the Games were to have a maximum of 75 days of foreign trips for trainingcum- competitions in a year. And this ' year' extended between April and March.


But, according to an official of a national sports federation, several top athletes have either already saturated their 75- day quota or are close to doing so. " Many top athletes have already utilised their quota and there are still more than five months left in the ' year' to finish. Now they can't go abroad under this scheme. They can only avail this 75- day facility from next April when the new ' year' begins. Now, second string athletes, who are unlikely to figure in the final teams, are being sent overseas. Would that serve any purpose?" said the source.



HOCKEY goalkeeper Baljit Singh, who recently underwent a successful eye operation in the US, has inadvertently become the ' most expensive' non- cricketer in terms of money spent on his medical treatment. According to sports ministry sources, around Rs 55 lakh has been spent on surgeries on Baljit's right eye that was injured during a practice session in Pune in July.


" A total of Rs 55 lakh has been incurred on his medical treatment so far, though we are yet to get a detailed bill from the US. Baljit's medical bill in the US alone comes to Rs. 52 or Rs. 53 lakh. And about Rs. 2 to 3 lakh more was spent in India. So, the total expenditure on him easily makes it the most expensive medical treatment ever for an Indian sportsperson who is not a cricketer," the source told M AIL T ODAY . " Earlier, the sports ministry never used to take so much interest if a player was injured. But sports minister MS Gill ensured that Baljit gets excellent treatment, though his playing career is as good as over." The ministry bore the expenditure not just for Baljit's operations and stay in the US, but also that of his father and another family member, who accompanied him there. " The ministry paid $ 75 as per diem to Baljit and his father besides the daily $ 300- 350 for boarding and lodging. The operation expenses were extra," said the source.


While Gill took keen interest in Baljit's treatment, he was reportedly annoyed when the goalkeeper sought a postoperation cosmetic surgery on his eye. The source said that this would have cost a fortune. " One of the US doctors who treated him sent a proposal of about Rs. 20 lakh as expenditure on the cosmetic surgery for which they would have had to stay in the US for another four weeks.


But Gill was annoyed with this demand and did not sanction the surgery. He asked Baljit to return home after his treatment was over," he said.


" Baljit's treatment will, however, continue in Delhi and that will cost more money." One hopes similar care/ medical treatment is provided to all athletes in future.


Qaiser. ali@ mailtoday. in








From a suicide bombing inside a UN aid agency complex in Islamabad to a car bombing in a Peshawar market that killed 53 people, and finally on to a stunning climax with the attack on the Pakistan army headquarters in Rawalpindi that ended with 20 people dead. The past week has been a dangerous one for the Pakistani state and people. And precisely when the army HQ what should have been one of the most secure locations in Pakistan was under attack, Pakistani interior minister Rehman Malik chose to make allegations about Indian involvement in Balochistan. Now comes the news that the Lahore high court has dismissed the case against Hafiz Saeed, chief of Jamaat-ud-Dawa and suspected mastermind of the Mumbai attack. Taken together, these developments paint a troubling picture of a Pakistani state verging on the schizophrenic and mired in uncertainty.

To begin with, the attack on the army HQ appears to be a statement of intent from Hakimullah Mehsud, the man who stepped into Baitullah Mehsud's shoes as leader of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). With the Pakistani military finally preparing to push into South Waziristan the TTP's stronghold as well as a haven for al-Qaeda and Afghan Taliban leaders Mehsud has chosen to launch a pre-emptive strike of sorts, warning of the reprisals that can be expected. The interesting aspect here is the antecedents of Aqeel, the terrorist who was captured at the army HQ. He is believed to have links not only to the TTP but also to al-Qaeda and Jaish-e-Mohammed. And he is linked to the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore as well.

This merely reinforces what has been apparent for some time. The Pakistani state no longer has absolute control over former assets. Jihadis once aimed at India cannot now be trusted not to turn upon Pakistan. And Islamabad's actions in the face of that have been both predictable and disappointing. The Balochistan allegations are manifestly a move to divert attention from Rawalpindi and the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul. And it is difficult to read Saeed's exoneration as anything but a lack of will in building a strong case against him, given that various third-party governments have found the evidence pertaining to his involvement submitted by India convincing.

There is a sense now that the Pakistani state itself is in the dark, flailing about as it tries to grasp the severed threads of plans and policies that once seemed certain to succeed. It is a particularly inopportune time for Washington to flirt with that hoary old chestnut of good Taliban, bad Taliban. The Afghan Taliban and their Pakistani counterparts exist in a symbiotic relationship. Concede space to one and the other will prosper. And the consequences of the TTP and its ilk gaining ground against the Pakistani state could make Afghanistan look manageable by comparison.







The Union culture ministry has admitted that as many as 249 heritage sites in the country are being encroached upon. The violated sites include Sher Shah Suri's tomb in Sasaram, Bihar, and Maratha king Shivaji's three historic forts at Sindhudurg, Solapur and Raigad. In July last, a spokesperson of the ministry said that out of the 3,675 centrally protected monuments or sites, as many as 35 have simply vanished, because of "urbanisation, commercialisation and routine development work".

World heritage sites in India are not being given the benefit of that status. Illegal occupation by squatters or commercial establishments is common within the circumscribed 'no-trespassing' zone radius of the monument. Monuments continue to be defaced by irresponsible visitors and locals. The world over, monuments are prime tourist attractions and the sites are sustained with revenue from visitor footfalls and merchandising. The local economy thrives on the activity generated by travellers who make the trip not just to gaze at a monument but to also experience whatever else the place has to offer. Should we miss out on all the benefits that can accrue to a heritage site and the region for lack of imagination and initiative?

The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) has its hands full, as it were, with documentation, research and plans of conservation. It lacks the imagination and resources to develop heritage sites into much more than ruined remnants of a dead past. The answer is to outsource work relating to maintenance and beautification, security and promotion. The ASI should consider converting as many heritage sites as possible into living monuments, housing visitor centres, libraries and museums, bringing the past alive and making daily maintenance a routine. Event managers and corporate sponsors can help promote and maintain ancient monuments with more imagination, arrange for merchandising souvenirs and boost the local economy by marketing the works of local artisans and craftspersons. A few heritage attractions like Khajuraho and Chidambaram have been able to sustain cultural festivals on their sites, drawing tourists and sponsors; there is no reason why this cannot be replicated in similar destinations across the country.

Ten per cent of employment in the country is generated by tourism that contributes more than 6 per cent of GDP. Tourism can boost the hospitality industry and its subsidiary feeder industries including transport and communication, food and entertainment. All this can be promoted by maintaining our heritage. Let's not lose it.







One week Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is wagging his finger at the world from the podium at the UN stating that Iran will never relinquish the right to pursue a nuclear programme. The next week, as if all the previous Iranian proclamations on the subject for many years had been mere posturing, the Iranian team in Geneva suddenly says Iran is willing to send the majority of its known enriched uranium stockpile to Russia for future reprocessing.

Which Iran is the world supposed to believe? The Iran that could for the first time be taking a step back from the precipice, or the Iran that has consistently been intransigent on the question of adherence to nuclear safeguards and lied to the International Atomic Energy Agency? Can anyone really believe that, after decades in pursuit of a nuclear weapon and now being within a hair's breath of achieving that objective, the Iranians are now willing to give it all up to break bread with Satan? In all likelihood, the offer to ship up to 75 per cent of Iran's known uranium stockpile to Russia is merely a ploy to buy Iran more time to complete the final stage of achieving nuclear weapons capability. Iran no doubt has a substantial amount of undeclared enriched uranium that it will continue to refine into weapons grade uranium.

There is also the question of whether Russia can be a trusted player in all this. Given its historical support of Iran, its role in constructing the Bushehr nuclear power plant and its pending sale of anti-aircraft missile systems to Iran, Russia's motives are somewhat questionable. In any event, it seems unlikely that Russia will ultimately sign on to strict new sanctions. If this were to be the case, it would mark a significant shift in Russia's historical position. Surely, Russia has for some time known of the existence of the second uranium processing facility, but it has continued its support of the Iranian government.

Both Russia's and China's economic interests are the primary driver of their foreign policy with Iran. Both are likely to continue their decades-long economic and political support of Iran. In general, international sanctions can only really work when all big military powers play along. It seems unlikely that the US, UN or any other power will want to directly engage Russian or Chinese ships attempting to deliver goods to Iran during a blockade. The Russians have historically tried to deligitimise international sanctions as these have been used against Russia in the past. And China has tended to agree to impose sanctions when they suit its agenda. In this case, sanctions will not do so.

Even if both Russia and China were to go along, Iran has for years been steadily reducing its dependence on foreign sources of refined oil products, while enhancing its refining capabilities. Seven of the country's nine refineries are in the process of being expanded, while seven new refineries are either planned or already under construction, effectively doubling Iran's refining capabilities. Iran currently refines 75 per cent of its required gasoline. This figure is expected to rise to 85 per cent by 2010, and Iran should be completely self-sufficient by 2012. The Iranians construct their refineries themselves, so are not reliant for their completion on international companies.

In addition, Iran has since 2006 been converting its cars to run on indigenous natural gas, further reducing its dependence on imported gasoline. So the idea that severely restricting exports of gasoline will serve as an inducement for Iran to stop its weapons programme is not convincing at all. Encouraging the adoption of more financial sanctions against Iran could have some success. But, as has been seen with the current round of financial sanctions, it is relatively easy to thwart them as there are simply too many financial institutions and means of transferring funds for sanctions to be completely successful.

Iran has clearly anticipated the adoption of additional sanctions by the West for years and has crafted policies and practices designed to minimise their impact. It appears to be quite willing to endure additional economic sanctions. Its actions to date are totally consistent with this belief. So what prospect of success exists for meaningful sanctions against Iran? Very little.

It would be nice to believe that Iran's opening salvo in Geneva will neatly and quickly resolve the lingering question of what to do about the Iranian nuclear question. But the smarter bet would be to assume that additional evidence of deception by the Iranians will be uncovered and this will prove to be nothing more than confirmation of all the West's worst fears about Iran. A more stringent sanctions regime will follow, which will ultimately prove to be unsuccessful. The question Barack Obama and Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu must surely be considering is when military action will be pursued against Iran, and by whom, since both leaders have said Iran will not be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon.

The writer is with a consultancy firm assessing country risks.






The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) has decided, in its infinite wisdom, to grade students not just on their ability in the usual school subjects but also on the kind of people they are. In addition to grades for academics and extracurricular activities, students will now be evaluated on their attitude towards teachers, classmates and the environment. They will also be graded on their value system. This is a silly idea and the CBSE should discard it before it reaches classrooms.

Value systems, or how well students play with others, are subjective and nebulous areas which the CBSE shouldn't be getting into. It could end up rewarding conformism and punishing students with certain personality traits that schools ought to be non-judgemental about, such as introversion. Insofar as a bad attitude towards peers and teachers influences a student's academic performance, the school is entitled to intervene to ensure that she is functional. That's what guidance counsellors are for. What kids don't need is yet another level of moral hectoring. Value systems are a subject of intellectual curiosity, which a good education is supposed to foster. Uniformity in everyone's value system is not necessarily a desirable goal. Being too judgemental about them ends up suppressing choice and killing intellectual curiosity.

On a practical level, it is unworkable. Any evaluation of students would be biased and thus immensely controversial. Teachers don't have the wherewithal or the time to get to know every one of their students at an individual level, with classes often having more than 50 students. Even if they did, what would an A+ grade warrant? Angelic behaviour with teachers inside classrooms, even if the student is torturing small animals in his spare time? Conversely, someone with a failing grade in social or life skills could end up seeing herself as doomed to failure. If this grading system is implemented, its effects will be the opposite of what the board presumably aims to do - to inculcate good manners in kids.







Critics of the CBSE's reported move to grade students' attitudes and values argue that such things are hard to assess. They say it's for parents to shape children's value systems. In other words, it's not the business of pedagogues if a pupil is polite or rude, gentle or aggressive, accommodating or arrogant and intolerant, a team player or an attention-seeker, a leader or a force of disruption. Surely the CBSE's baiters can't be serious. Education isn't just about book knowledge. And teaching isn't only about holding classes and tests. Assessing the character development of students is also a school's brief. If anything, incentivising good behaviour and sound morals is a smart idea. It will make children reflect upon their ideas and actions. And it will oblige families to improve quality of parental guidance.

A key formative period, school years prepare future adults for life's challenges, personal or professional. Meeting these challenges successfully depends on life skills and the moral values underpinning them. Children learn more social skills how to adjust, make friends, accept healthy competition during school hours than at home. Isn't it absurd, then, to say that teachers aren't competent to pass judgement on this learning process? If report cards on behaviour outside the home aren't wanted, why send children to school at all? Why not make home tutors take care of maths and history, and have parents deal with the rest?

A child's journey towards emotional and intellectual maturity is all about outgrowing self-referential needs and demands. This rite of passage involves emerging from within the home's protective walls to enter the world outside. It is to discover that the self is part of a larger society, citizenry and membership of a shared planet. Education plays no small role in teaching people to coexist, respect viewpoints, make negotiated settlements on clashing interests and understand the need for environmental protection. The school system, in short, complements the family in moulding youngsters into good, caring human beings. So, why the ruckus over giving it a formal say on the conduct and values of its wards?







Sitting at the table in this plush Italian restaurant, my fingers twitched with the omniscient cellphone. Should one blog, digg, tweet or poke - such was my conundrum. I was thinking of all my cyber-followers waiting in the wings to get my thoughts on that mouthwatering carciofo al forno while waiting for my three-course meal. I hope they picked up my tweet a few minutes ago about my struggle finding a parking spot on this street. I noticed that Tarzan TheApeMan was now following me on Twitter, between mouthfuls of delectable fare. As my blinking-beeping gadget reminds me, there are far too many things in my world to worry about these days - and a prolonged dinner in a fashionable Italian outfit is not one of them. Was that the pet supply store alerting me that their special flea-comb for ferrets is back on their shelves? Was the privacy option on those not-so-flattering pictures recently posted on Flickr enabled? I couldn't have accidentally accepted that curious cousin as a Facebook friend, surely?

If you wake up on a sunny Sunday morning like me, wallowing in the vast cyberspace and surrounding blogosphere, chances are that you are hopeless socially. I pick up my handheld as the fingers itch for something to do and caress it like a baby seeking out a soggy thumb. I seem to always be in a state of nail-biting anticipation at social gatherings, waiting for that electronic nudge in my pocket that sends me packing to the most private corner. Forget the neighbour's personal matters those people were discussing. I just got an instant message from that passenger seated by me last week informing us that he was sitting at a bar in the neighbourhood and now was contemplating hitting the restroom. My digital assistant seems to catch me at the most awkward of moments - the wife tells me that these days it often takes me an hour changing the light bulb between Orkut interruptions and Bebo blah-blahs. Shrinks argue that social networking sites have paradoxically bloated our space bubble, inducing isolationist tendencies.

An acquaintance stealthily recently called my work number early Saturday morning and sounded both surprised and offended when one actually picked up the phone. I quickly excused myself by pretending an interruption, promising to contact him soon. Electronically, of course. I seem to prefer a poke to a handshake, just like everyone else these days.








I quite like Barack Obama. I must confess though that his predecessor, the much disliked George Bush was infinitely friendlier towards India. In fact, I am surprised Indians dislike Bush so much even though he stuck his neck out to do things for India that no American President had ever done, including our much loved Bill Clinton. Obama is like Clinton, very friendly, very charming, but never quite with us. So Pakistan is back to getting billions of dollars worth of aid and the latest weapons while India struggles to be heard on Capitol Hill even though Manmohan Singh risked his Government to make the nuclear deal happen.

But no, this column is not about Obama and the politics of this sub-continent. It's about his amazing qualities, largely undiscovered as yet, that have just won him the Nobel Peace Prize within 37 weeks of becoming the President of the US. Nominations for the Nobel closed within a week of his entering the White House and unless the wonderful people in the jury were so prescient that they could anticipate Obama would one day make history, I simply can't figure out how they chose him, and why. In fact, the poor guy has still done nothing to deserve the award. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are on. He has messed up Pakistan, made it worse. So what's the award for?

You must also realise that the guys in Oslo are very picky. They didn't think Gandhi was good enough for the Nobel Peace Prize even though he was acclaimed as the last century's most powerful apostle of peace. What's more, he actually did a few interesting things like using non violence as a weapon in our freedom struggle, a struggle he so successfully concluded. Since he wasn't considered adequate, I assume the committee's standards are very exacting. So I'm doubly curious to know what Obama did in less than a week of assuming office to deserve the nomination.

This leads me to a question that has often bothered me. What constitutes fame? Why are people famous? What are their achievements that inspire us remember them? After all, there are many good men and women who we have so easily forgotten despite their not inconsiderable successes. I can name a hundred. People who we have chosen to forget even during their lifetime. I also know a hundred who remain famous for no reason I can fathom. No, fear not, I am not going to quote Andy Warhol and his famous quip on 15 minutes of fame. My question is much simpler: What is this fame all about? Why do we all strive so much for it?

There are people who do great things and become famous. There are others who gain notoriety and become famous. There is the third kind who do nothing at all and become famous. They are like Paris Hilton, famous for the sake of being famous. Just check out the Padma Shri list for the past decade and see how many people you can recognise for having done something that you respect. Fame, in our time, has acquired a strange fleeting quality. Last week's famous person is in this week's kachra bin.

Part of it is due to our attention deficit syndrome. No one has the patience any more to remember anything. Part of it is also due to the fact that people are no longer famous for their actual achievements. They are famous because they have hired the right specialists to manage their fame and public image. Some successes are now even buyable. Honorary doctorates can be acquired today from some of the most prestigious institutions. All you have to do is tap into the right connection, make a donation, and it's yours. No, it's not a nice thing I know. But that's how it's happening. Can you blame people for being cynical? Anything can be fixed today. Reviews, ratings, awards, prizes, honours. All you need is the right fixer in place.

Even deserving people have to work much harder at being famous. I know amazing people who are hungry for recognition and will do anything for it. I don't blame them. There's so much clutter that unless they are noticed, their accomplishments, however remarkable, goes unsung. So images are constantly airbrushed. Faces are botoxed. Bodies are cosmetically redesigned every few days, almost like a change of clothes. Writers, musicians, philosophers, TV anchors, yoga gurus, singers, painters, businessmen, spiritual leaders, they are all being sold on the same premise as we sell movie stars, cricketers, soccer heroes, tattoo artists, hair stylists. So it's not surprising that we have stopped taking fame seriously. Yet the funny thing is that we can't live without it either. Imagine how boring the world would be without famous people and their infamous quirks!

As for Obama, poor guy, he must be seriously embarrassed. Someone down the line must have worked a little too hard on the Nobel Prize guys.














The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance that had a spring in its step after the recent Lok Sabha elections seems an altogether different beast as assembly elections are held in in Maharashtra today. The pace at which electoral fortunes have reversed in the state has been startling even by the swirling standards of Maharashtra politics. The Congress-NCP finds itself being tripped up by rebel candidates after it went ahead and denied a ticket to sitting legislator and minister Sunil Deshmukh in favour of Rajendra Shekhawat, President Pratibha Patil's son. Mr Deshmukh's suspension has added more power to the elbow of the rebels who now seem confident of wresting several prestigious seats from the combine. All this will be music to the ears of the Shiv Sena-BJP combine that found itself in tatters after the Lok Sabha elections.


In these polls, the spoiler, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray, has worked to the advantage of the Congress-NCP combine. With a stunning 21 per cent vote share in the last elections, Mr Thackeray could spell the difference of who takes over the state after these polls. He has grabbed the old 'Maharashtra for Marathis' issue right from under the Shiv Sena's nose and added his own brand of muscle power to it. In a state where unemployment levels are high, the move against migrants has touched a chauvinistic chord. The Congress-NCP alliance has not been able to come up with any issue that could turn the tide. The Shiv Sena-BJP formation is hoping that it will gain by default. Not one party has raised the many problems of urban decay that are pulling Mumbai under or the problem of farmers' suicides and poor agrarian output across the state. The MNS has turned the tables on the Shiv Sena so deftly that today the one-time Sena wannabe is slowly becoming the place for the more noisy Sainiks.


But the alarming part is that much of the campaigning has been adversarial and negative at a time when, across the nation, issues like governance and development have galvanised voters. The campaign so far seems more like a damage containment exercise with parties desperately trying to keep their flock together. As things stand now, it seems fairly likely that the MNS will cut into the votes of both sides. This means that after having been written off earlier, it will be Raj Thackeray and his divisive brand of politics that will emerge as a key player in the state. This does not augur well for the cosmopolitan character of a city like Mumbai.







According to a statement issued by the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, the son of Queen Elizabeth II of England, Wales and Scotland, Prince Edward, 'showed satisfaction' with the infrastructure being developed in Delhi. Well, that's that then. Now that the Earl of Wessex and the president and vice-patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation has found things moving in a hunky dory fashion, all of us should raise a toast to the Games Organising Committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi at the Gymkhana Club. And nothing short of a bada peg will do.


But one question remains: how did the noble prince show his satisfaction? Was his smile under the hard hat at the Thyagaraj Stadium enough to let us dispel our fears about Delhi's tardy preparations for the Games? Or was his rubbing his hands at the same site the giveaway sign that the fourth child of the leader of the former British colonies was mightily pleased at the arrangements?


One of the officials — a humble chap with no roots to any royal family of any of our ex-princely states — explained that Prince Edward asked specifically about "an entrance that has been created for vehicles" and that it had been designed to allow ambulances to have "easy access to transport injured athletes". With a reaction from the man himself — and those Brits know their infrastructure as anyone in north England will tell you — who needs those delegates who frowned and fumed about the preparations?









October 8's failed suicide bomber attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul put things in perspective. It made a mockery of attempts to de-legitimise India's role in Afghanistan. For example, General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the American-led forces in Afghanistan, recently acknowledged India's development work as beneficial to Afghans but also suggested this was "likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India".


On October 3, the Pakistani foreign minister had told the Los Angeles Times that "[The Indians] have to justify their interest. They do not share a border with Afghanistan, whereas we do. So the level of engagement has to be commensurate with that. If there's no massive [Indian] reconstruction [in Afghanistan], if there are not long queues in Delhi waiting for visas to travel to Kabul, why do you have such a large presence in Afghanistan? At times it concerns us."


The Pakistani foreign minister was being economical with the truth. The Indian role in reconstructing social and physical infrastructure in Afghanistan is indeed 'massive'. Islamabad may not want it seen that way, but it cannot disguise reality.


The centrality of Afghanistan to India's security concerns was actually spelt out on another day in October, not in 2009 but a full 171 years earlier. On October 1, 1838, George Eden (Lord Auckland), then the Governor General of India, released the 'Simla Manifesto'. This document sought to provide the justification for what came to be called the First British-Afghan War.


The immediate provocation for the war — replacing a supposedly pro-Persian ruler with a British puppet — was dubious and based on sexed-up evidence. Nevertheless, the Simla Manifesto provides a remarkably timeless exposition of the goals of Indian near-neighbourhood policy. The challenges posed by the 'Afghan question' are tellingly unchanging.


Lord Auckland often referred to Herat — the gateway to Afghanistan, on the border with Iran — as "the western frontier of India". If this be taken not in literal terms but as a reflection of the geography of grand strategy, it still holds true. So does much else in the Simla Manifesto.


In Afghanistan, Auckland's nightmare was a government with "schemes of aggrandisement and ambition injurious to the security and peace… of India" and which "openly threatened, in furtherance of those schemes, to call in every foreign aid"... "So long as Caubul remained under [t]his government, we could never hope that the tranquillity of our neighbourhood would be secured."


"The welfare of our possessions in the east," said Auckland, "requires that we should have on our western frontier an ally who is interested in resisting aggression and establishing tranquillity, in the place of chiefs ranging themselves in subservience to a hostile power and seeking to promote schemes of conquest."







When there's a tussle between two top officials in the Law and Justice Ministry, be sure that plans will be shelved. Which is what happened to the scheduled inauguration of the first gram nyayalaya (village court) on Gandhi Jayanti. One of the tusslers wanted Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily to convince any state government to at least start the project. But the other insisted that since the department concerned had failed to meet the deadline, there was no point in making a last-minute attempt. Finally, only a notification was issued and Moily attended the Gandhi Jayanti function — in London, where he had gone on an official trip.


Not missing a tweet

Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor will not give up his tweeting, oh no! The enfant terrible's last tweet that got the twattering classes agog was about Gandhi Jayanti being made a working day. Understandably, this suggestion drew mixed reactions. A senior Congress leader remarked, "Mr Tharoor is fast becoming the Amar Singh of the Congress." So, is that a good thing or bad?


Security from within

When the Home Ministry decided that two senior Delhi Police officers didn't need security any longer, Delhi Police thought otherwise. The capital's police force decided to provide the two officers — Special Commissioner Neeraj Kumar and Joint Commissioner S.N. Srivastava — security from its own resources by including them in the Delhi Police list of protectees. Security for the two officers was withdrawn recently by the ministry after a review, where security for over 100 protectees was scaled down or withdrawn. Now everyone's happy.


Bahut zor se Marega

The government recently changed the name of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA) to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA). While it was easier for people to say NREGA as 'Narega', adding Gandhi's name has made it somewhat tough to pronounce. So, Rural Development Ministry officials came up with a solution. "We will henceforth call it Marega," said one spark.


A rooted response

A Malayali connection was taken note of at a reception to mark the 77th anniversary of the Indian Air Force hosted by Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik. A senior officer introduced Australian High Commissioner Peter Varghese to Defence Minister A.K. Antony. Varghese traces his roots to Kerala. As Varghese and Antony exchanged pleasantries, the visibly excited officer told Antony, "Sir, Mr Varghese's parents were born in Kerala!" Antony had little option after that but to give Varghese a heartfelt smile before moving on.


The force is with him

More on the brave Antony. At a recent military function, the defence minister was virtually ambushed by journalists. They wanted to know whether the Indian Air Force would be allowed to shoot down Naxals in self-defence. Antony had earlier made it clear that he would not take any questions. Realising that the journos were in no mood to give up, Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor came to his rescue. "Don't worry. The Army is here to rescue you," he joked. Antony was, reportedly, safe.







Union Minister Kuruppasserry Varkey Thomas did not fail his ancestors: the fishermen.


Born in Kumbalangi village in Kerala, he started his career as a teacher. He frequently visited the Congress party's office, doing odd jobs for C M Stephen, former Union Minister. Thomas' heart was in politics and eyes on Delhi: except he did not know how to get there.


His lineage came in handy and he decided to give the leaders a taste of fish. Literally. Often he took bagful of river fish for senior leaders initially in the state and later Delhi.


In the eighties, Thomas would often have river fish specially flown to Delhi: "No secret because he has admitted this publicly," said Sebastian Paul, former CPI(M) MP. "His political career has a lot to do with fish, which he carted efficiently and diligently. Add to that the fact that he is good at managing people and situations: always there with the right people at the right time".


Whether Thomas's power climb has anything to do with the river fish is difficult to say, but it is well known that his political debut was due to former chief minister K Karunakaran, then a force to reckon with in Kerala. Karunakaran backed Thomas to the hilt and saw him through an election to Parliament. Of the seven elections that Thomas has fought both for the assembly and Parliament, he has lost only one:  "I owe everything to Karunakaran. At 38, I was an MP; Karunakaran ensured my induction as a  minister in state; he has supported me both personally and politically".


Karunakaran helped him financially also when Thomas was recuperating in hospital after an accident; he stood by him politically when the law-enforcing agencies were hounding him in an espionage case and a disproportionate assets case: the first more serious than the second.


Thomas was in the dock for allegedly rendering assistance to French nationals to carry out an ocean survey in India's territorial waters. This, the CBI held, could endanger the security of the country if the survey findings reached a country hostile to India.


But Thomas parted ways with his mentor due to political differences. Despite that, Thomas declares that his "heart is still with Karunakaran".


When in trouble he dreams of Mother Mary, who Thomas believes has always helped him sail through: "She has always blessed me," he told HT while fighting back tears.


Once cops were at the airport to arrest him in the espionage case but the inordinate delay in his flight from Delhi saved him: "They, I was told, got fed up with waiting endlessly and left," he recalled. By the time they came back to get him, he had managed an anticipatory bail.


As state tourism minister, Thomas helped get Kerala on the tourism map: "He is a doer," said Binoy Viswam, currently state minister, "a man of action. We have our political differences but he gets things done. As for the controversies it is better for me not to comment."


Quick to coin names for projects, Thomas is believed to have been behind the God's own country tag for Kerala. Left to him he would reword schemes like NREGA: "Doesn't sound very good," Thomas told HT. He is also averse to India being India: "Should be Bharat and not India," he said.





 Linga Ram (22) used to drive private vehicles before he was allegedly forced to join as special police officer (SPO) in insurgency-hit Dantewada district, about 450 km south of Raipur.

His family, whose principal source of income is farming, had filed a petition at the Chhattisgarh High Court, seeking Linga Ram's relief from service.

The Court has acceded to the family's request, and directed the Dantewada police to allow him to relinquish his post.

The order comes amidst an escalating battle in the state between Maoists and the security forces.

His counsel Vivek Sharma told Hindustan Times that after Linga's reluctance to continue as SPO, the police detained him, following which his brother filed the petition.

However, Dantewada Superintendent of Police Amresh Mishra told HT that Linga himself decided to become SPO though he resigned on Thursday after the court's decision.

"The police did not force him and in fact his decision to quit the job was influenced by his family members," Mishra said.

The Chhattisgarh police began recruiting SPOs as part of the antiMaoist operations in mid-2005. The hiring created controversy when it was alleged that the state police were recruiting teenagers.

Before the court's decision, Linga Ram's family members lodged a complaint with the Dantewada collector and superintendent of police (SP) to relieve him but nothing came out of it then. It was only after the high court served notice to the Dantewada SP that Linga Ram was produced before the court and his statement recorded.

Notable citizens like historian Ramachandra Guha and former bureaucrat E.A.S. Sarma challenged their hiring in the Supreme Court in May 2007 as being tantamount to the state arming civilians.

The police use these young tribals as informants, and rely on them to negotiate little-known and remote forested terrain, which are home to the Naxal guerrillas.

These young people are also the most vulnerable: in Bastar's sharply polarised landscape (where Dantewada is situated), over 150 SPOs have been killed in combat, or murdered.

SPOs are not in regular employment.
Around 3,000 of them in Chhattisgarh, deployed in the Naxal hotbed of the Bastar region, are in combat with Maoist rebels side by side with the regular state police and paramilitary personnel.

The court's directive, as interpreted by the legal circles here, was aimed to convey to the police that every young person has the liberty to take a decision about himself or herself and the police should not force them to become SPOs.

An SPO in Chhattisgarh gets a monthly pay of Rs 2,150, of which Rs 1,500 is reimbursed from the Centre's allocated security-related expenditure.

"The roles and responsibilities of the SPO are similar those of a police officer, in accordance with the provisions of the Police Act," said Pawan Deo, deputy inspector general of police (intelligence).

SPOs get arms training and weapons.

In the tribal belt of Chhattisgarh, where jobs are very few, the tribals are encouraged to join as SPOs as they also act as feeders for the security forces involved in waging a battle against the left-wing extremists.

However, the SPOs continue to draw flak from human rights organisations even though their condition is no better than the loosely structured armed village squads, who suffered heavily in violent Naxal attacks.

This is for the first time that the judiciary has had to intervene on behalf of a tribal youth from a Naxal-infested area.

Over the years Chhattisgarh has trained SPOs from among the tribals in the Bastar region. The SPOs on various occasions formed part of Salwa Judum campaign.

The Salwa Judum is a loose antiNaxal unit comprising civilians, built up by the Chhattisgarh government.
This move has been criticised by the Supreme Court.

"Linga joined as SPO on August 27 this year. He informed the court that he hasn't got his salary so far," Sharma said.

However, the police remain keen to retain him. "Perhaps they believe Linga's reported acquaintance with Naxals would be of tremendous use to the security forces," Linga's counsel at the Court said.

"Our doors will remain open for him if he decides to come back," said Mishra.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh repeatedly said the Naxal problem was the greatest security threat the nation was facing. The attitude of the state police bears him out on this. The state having to set up alternative units to deal with insurgency was unheard of so far.







The travails of Jet Airways — once the smiling face of liberalising India, but now looking more like a brand worn down by rashness and poor corporate planning — have been exhaustively dissected in a series of articles in this newspaper that make for depressing reading. The story laid bare is one of hubris: of overexpansion on unearned money, of a bet that numbers would keep on going up; a bet lost because of the global recession, yes, but one that would always have been lost at some point in the near term. But the narrative goes beyond one particular company, even beyond one particular sector.


The first take-away thought is about the social implications of the bad business models of Jet and its competitors. The airline industry, like other infrastructure industries, is perhaps more prone to boom-and-bust cycles; anything that requires massive investment that can't be staggered tends to be. But in other such sectors — like rail in the 19th century, fibre-optics and telecom in the 20th — overexpansion and overcapacity have been good for the economy once all is said is done. That may not hold for airlines; planes wear out a lot faster than railway lines.


The second thought goes to the heart of post-reform Indian capitalism itself. Jet's troubles — and, more, the very public battering its brand has taken — are a sign of a coming shake-up. Jet was set up shortly after liberalisation in the early '90s; it is representative of an entire breed of companies that benefited from not showing a sarkari, pre-reforms face to their customers, companies that achieved popularity as India finally got to follow through on its long-suppressed impatience with public-sector shoddiness. But capitalist success relies on a lot more than looking better than the public sector. That is what some of the first-wave post-reform companies are


going to have to come to terms with. Jet had better customer service than Indian Airlines; but it didn't open out new routes or a different business model. It didn't reform on every dimension. Second-wave companies will have to do that too,


to compete. If Jet restructures fundamentally — and its belated acceptance that it over-invested is a start — it could reinvigorate its brand, and become one of the second-wave Indian companies, companies that are capable of fundamental transformations, and world-class competition.







Maharashtra's assembly election has for long been a fertile ground for spoilers — to the extent that the potential for vote-cutters is often vastly overstated, as happened with Mayawati's BSP in the 2004 election. Yet, as the state goes to polls today, it can be contended that its politics has never appeared as fragmented. The ruling Congress-NCP alliance and the main opposition coalition, the BJP-Shiv Sena, have waded into the fray with many of their own contesting as rebels. Scattered around are a third front (with the Athavale unit of the Republican Party of India) and a fourth (with Prakash Ambedkar's RPI and Badruddin Ajmal's UDF). The BSP is still around with a more muted campaign. And then there is Raj Thackeray's MNS. Superimposed on the state's regionally fragmented electoral landscape, the picture may appear all too incoherent. But the vote will in all probability make it more coherent in ways that may not be immediately discernible.


For the two national parties, the Congress and the BJP, the Maharashtra vote is not just the first big contest after the Lok Sabha election. It could impact their national strategies significantly. The Congress, having pulled off a more beneficial division of seats with the NCP, which actually got more seats in the 2004 assembly, is seeking a sense of its potential to attain its old single-party dominance. In recent months, the party debated going it alone in Maharashtra, for reasons more than just putting the NCP on notice. Enthused by the gains in UP, and having added to its ranks in Maharashtra with inductions from other parties, the Congress will analyse its performance for how to calibrate relations with electoral partners. The BJP, struggling to come to terms with the means and strategy needed for a post-Lok Sabha poll rescue, would perhaps see the verdict as a signal on how to balance relations between the states and its national leadership.


The Shiv Sena and the NCP are not just securing themselves in diverse ways against the hyper-chauvinism of Raj Thackeray. Both face post-delimitation challenges in their core socio-economic constituencies, the Sena's urban Marathi-speaking voter and the NCP's sugar belt. The result will therefore bring clarity on how each idea of Maharashtra fares.










When farmers living on the fringes of national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and reserved forests in Assam demand the inclusion of elephant chasing as a legitimate activity under the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, is there room for accommodation? That the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, despite all the visible improvements it has brought, is functioning well below its potential is widely acknowledged. Apart from operational loopholes, it suffers from oversight. And various innovative ideas have been doing the rounds advocating its widening. For instance, integrating the NREGS with rural health policy would not only involve local, village bodies in micro-level decision-making and implementation but would also ensure markedly better rural health by focusing on prevention of disease and not merely subsidised cure as has always been the bane of Indian public health policy. It would tie in with the provision of rural public goods — sanitation in particular — in a demonstrably of, by and for the villagers framework, optimally utilising allocated funds.


Part of the foundational premise of the NREGS is the fact that Central or state-level determined schemes often fail to take cognisance of local conditions, thereby failing to deliver. Expanding the scope of the NREGS — with its projects already locally determined — will be a logical extension of that premise. Take the Assam farmers: encroachment on forests meant for wildlife sanctuaries, the shrinking of habitats, the resultant destruction of standing crops, loss of human lives and dwellings by wild elephants might not plague every village. But it is the foremost daily concern for these villagers. They are already routinely engaged in chasing wild elephants. Legitimising such an activity integral to cultivation and existential safety would ensure a minimum return for their labour and crop protection.


Everybody knows her own needs the best. It pays to listen to local opinion on local projects. If amending the NREGA to include work on small farms extended its scope, it needs to be thrown open to feasible contextual improvisation.








The October 10 terrorist attack on General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was not unexpected. In fact, a report initiated by Punjab's Crime Investigation Department had warned about an impending attack at least a fortnight ago. The report even had the MO right — the attackers would be wearing army uniforms. This report was published on October 5 in a section of the Pakistani press.


The normal channel through which such reports reach the Interior Ministry takes about three days. One would assume, however, that a report of this nature would have bypassed those channels. Evidence suggests it reached the concerned quarters quickly. The question then is: why was it not acted upon?


One of the most important lessons in this kind of conflict is the constant realisation that the other side will reinforce its advantage of surprise by being innovative. And innovation is always a simple affair; the best innovative techniques usually are those that create something new from what is obvious and easily available. In this case it was the decision by the attackers to use the simple expedient of army uniforms. Why?


Soldiers for some years, unlike previously, now carry arms. A van travelling on Peshawar Road with an army number-plate with armed "soldiers" inside would not evoke any suspicion. The sentries at the first checkpoint to GHQ's main gate would not immediately suspect anything. That would reinforce the element of surprise the attackers already enjoy. Result: by the time anyone could react, the attackers had taken out the sentries at the first barrier.


Small arms fire and hand grenades created the expected melee and even as sentries at the second checkpoint took out four of the attackers, it became difficult to figure out the attackers immediately. Visually it would have looked like a fire-fight going on among the soldiers. The brigadier and the lieutenant colonel who got killed fell to the attackers' fire because reports suggest they thought they were instructing their own men to take positions and respond.


The buildings or complexes that are under attack today were constructed in times when such a threat did not exist. No one could have anticipated it either. Now they need to be secured and the measures often make commuting a nightmare. That's the paradox of securing oneself in a non-conventional conflict. Beefing up security throws up its own multiple problems.


Worse, social trust is the first casualty and the most problematic issue. Now that the terrorists have used a simple innovation of wearing army uniforms, the response will inevitably throw up the problem of how to determine who is a genuine soldier. Can the procurement of uniforms be regulated? If so, how?


One must never lose sight of the fact that innovation is the most dangerous arrow in the insurgent/ terrorist's quiver. The idea is to try and stay ahead of him. That is not always possible but one must try.


The attack on GHQ was the attack on the army's centre of gravity. The army is poised to hit the insurgents/ terrorists' COG. The leader, Aqeel aka Dr Usman, a deserter from the Army Medical Corps, is a known terrorist and wanted by the intelligence agencies also in relation to the attack on the Sri Lankan team. He belongs to Jaish-e-Muhammad and was close to Ilyas Kashmiri, Al-Qaeda's commander for operations. Kashmiri was recently killed in a drone attack.


The Tehreek-e-Taliban has claimed responsibility, calling the group that attacked the GHQ the Amjad Farooqi Group. Farooqi was the terrorist that masterminded the two 2003 attacks on former General-President Pervez Musharraf. Farooqi was originally with Sipah-e Sahaba and later joined JeM. Intelligence agencies know that JeM and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi are now subsumed in TTP and linked to Al-Qaeda through that connection. Farooqi was killed in a police encounter in Sindh in 2004.


The attack was conducted by two teams. The plan seemed to be for one team to engage the sentries and give cover to the other to get into the GHQ and take hostages. It didn't really work out entirely that way after four terrorists were taken out at the gates. The other six managed to get into a side building and did take hostages but failed to reach any high-value target. The SSG operation was clean and highly professional and they managed to rescue all the hostages except three, killed four terrorists and managed to capture a wounded Aqeel.


The degree of difficulty for a neat operation was very high since the attackers were carrying IED belts, explosives, mostly anti-personnel mines, and had managed to take into the building enough ammo to last them a protracted gun battle. The SSG had the unenviable task of taking them out while rescuing the hostages. Going in with first light they completed the first phase in an hour and had the leader neutralised by 9 am.


To the extent that the attack created big news; to the extent also that the TTP signalled to everyone its will and capacity to plan and attack the army's COG, it might be called audacious and, at some level, tactically good. But it hasn't rebounded to the TTP's strategic advantage.


South Waziristan has been blockaded by the army for two months now. The operation, technically, is already on. Efforts to isolate TTP fighters have largely succeeded. The organisation's ground establishments, when identified, have been — and are — targeted from the air. Intelligence assets have been embedded in the area and they are the primary reason for successful drone attacks meant to degrade the TTP leadership. The ground is being prepared for a ground assault. The GHQ attack has only firmed the army's resolve to expedite the ground assault in South Waziristan.


That is sensible because even with the pre-ground attack softening and degradation, the ground battles are going to be tough given the terrain and the ferocity of Mehsud and Uzbek fighters in the area. For the Uzbeks it will be a do or die situation. They have already lost their top leader, Tahir Yuldashev, and they know they have nowhere to go.


The army is preparing for an advance along multiple axes and for lateral sectoral battles, SSG operations to secure heights and other nodal points, as well as mopping up as the advance proceeds. It does seem like the tactical audacity of the TTP may prove a strategic minus for it. There is only so long that one can keep mopping the floor. The tap must be closed. That is where South Waziristan comes in.


The writer is Op-Ed Editor, 'Daily Times', Lahore. The views expressed are his own








The month of September this year witnessed the beginning of two laudable efforts to prepare the ground for a proper codification of Muslim law, which remains the only community-specific family law in India that remains wholly uncodified. Family laws of Christians and Parsis had been codified under British rule. An extensive codification and reform of family laws applicable to Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs was undertaken by Parliament during 1955-56.


In the area of Muslim family law, on the other hand, there are till this day just two brief acts of a few sections each — one of 1939, on women's right to judicial divorce, and the other of 1986, on their post-divorce rights. Otherwise Muslim law courts are constrained to rely on English-language textbooks, quite a few of which are obsolete or otherwise flawed. Higher courts often diligently look for and read Muslim-law principles in their true perspective; but in the lower courts blind reliance on some outdated treatises leads to miscarriage of justice.


Muslim family law needs to be codified both to ensure justice to those who are governed by it — women especially — as also to free the courts from the awesome burden of ascertaining its true unadulterated principles. Codifying Muslim law would, of course, not mean abandoning its essential principles. Christian marriage and divorce laws of 1869-72 and the Parsi matrimonial law of 1936 have been amended in recent years without giving up their basic religion-based provisions, and the same is true also of modern Hindu law.


The Directive Principles in the Constitution do include one "to endeavour to secure a uniform civil code for citizens throughout the territory of India" (Article 44). But the opinion that this provision demands mechanical application of a single family law to the entire nation by one stroke of legislation goes against its rationale and ignores ground realities. Within five years of enforcement of the Constitution, Parliament had enacted, almost simultaneously, a religion-neutral Special Marriage Act and a separate Hindu Marriage Act. This amounted to a policy decision that the personal-law system would be retained in force along with an optional civil law — a wise decision indeed in the prevailing circumstances.


The apex court of the country has approved: "a uniform law, though it is highly desirable, enactment thereof in one go may be counter-productive to the unity and integrity of the nation," observed the Supreme Court in its Pannalal Bansilal ruling of 1996, adding that "the mischief or defect which is most acute can be remedied by process of law in stages." In the present circumstances, the foolproof codification of each of the community-specific laws, with essential reforms — and giving people a choice between such respective codes and the civil laws on family rights — seems to be the only pragmatic answer to the call of Article 44.


As all other communities now have a choice between the general civil law and their respective personal laws, duly codified and reformed wherever necessary; Muslims alone cannot be left to choose between the civil law and an outdated version of their personal law with all its distortions and misinterpretations intact. Turning the principles of Muslim law into a legislative enactment will, of course, be no novelty. Such an exercise has already been undertaken in a score of Muslim countries in West Asia and North Africa. (Non-Muslim countries too: look at the Philippines Code of Muslim Law 1977.) There is no justification for India lagging behind; especially since those countries' efforts have made the job easier for India. Muslim law can be codified here simply by making an eclectic choice from amongst the statutory provisions of those countries in conformity with Indian social conditions.


It is in this context that I hail the initiatives recently taken in this direction by two different groups of concerned citizens. A score of young Muslim lawyers and other scholars met in Delhi on September 15 and resolved to establish an entity to carve out a draft code of Muslim laws of marriage, divorce and succession. Two weeks later, Asghar Ali Engineer's Mumbai-based Institute of Islamic Studies conducted in Delhi a consultative session on the subject, attended among others by noted scholars of theology from Aligarh Muslim University. Ways and means must be explored for collaboration and interaction. In the last few years, bills for a proposed Muslim Marriage Act were separately drafted by the Muslim Mahila Andolan of Maharashtra and the State Law Commission of Kerala, neither of which could make any notable progress. Let us hope these new eminently promising initiatives will not fall flat.


The author is chairman of Amity University's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies & a former chairman of the National Minorities Commission








To say that the Maharashtra Assembly elections will be a replay of Lok Sabha 2009 is to display huge ignorance and even indifference about the socio-political situation in the state. A very interesting scenario is shaping up in Maharashtra, in which almost all the parties are more interested in defeating someone else, rather than in electing their own candidate. This point is missed by all the opinion polls as well as the pundits. Indeed, this apparently cynical and even self-destructive phenomenon has made the prediction nearly impossible.


The second point which has made the electoral scene appear bizarre is that everywhere the issues are different. For the national media, mainly TV channels, the issue is rather simple. To them it is Raj vs Uddhav Thackeray, as if the price rise, farmers' suicide, loadshedding, drought, joblessness, corruption, landgrab, obscene wealth of the political class, de-industrialisation and widespread anti-incumbency sentiment, as well as the total "disconnect" of all the parties are not the issues.


Again, it is not that all these issues envelope all the constituencies. The farmers' suicide may dominate the intellectual debate, but that issue does not click in Mumbai, Pune or Konkan. Also the suicides are only in three districts. That does not mean that they are not relevant to the rest of the state. It only means that even if there is a concern about that ongoing tragedy, it will not influence the vote in Mumbai or Pune or about 130 urban constituencies. Similarly, though everyone knows about the power shortage and consequent loadshedding, Mumbaikars have not experienced the 8 to12-hour black-out. Actually, Mumbai was spared that agony. Though life in the metropolis has been as usual, difficult and on the tenterhooks, it is not the dominant theme in Mumbai.


One could even venture to suggest that close to 80 per cent of the Marathi voters in Greater Mumbai (including Thane) will choose to vote for the Shiv Sena or Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. But the demographic configuration here is such that there are just about 20 constituencies out of 60, where the so-called Marathi vote bank will influence the result. The vote of this Marathi bank will be split and the Shiv Sena may suffer. But the Congress and the NCP have not fully realised that the MNS is also attracting a huge chunk of the anti-incumbent Marathi vote. There is a considerable spread of this otherwise pro-Congress voter, who is disgusted with the government and does not want to reinstall it into power. But because of the rise of the militant MNS, most non-Marathi voters have swung in favour of the ruling alliance — not out of affection or credibility but out of fear. There has never before been a 'constituency' of non-Marathi voters, even during the early days of the Shiv Sena. But 43 years ago, when the Shiv Sena was launched, the metropolis was demographically different.


There were vast areas with a high concentration of Marathi voters — the textile mill belt, where over 2.5 lakh millhands worked, over 90 per cent of them Marathi. Then there was a strong trade union movement which was communist/socialist but totally secular. There was a city-wide middle class (mostly white collar lower middle class) which was primarily Marathi. So, despite such a high concentration of Marathi voters, it took two decades for the militant Shiv Sena to even capture the Mumbai Corporation. In those days, ideology as well as parties mattered. The Congress, even after the split had credibility, with Y.B. Chavan enjoying the status which Sharad Pawar never managed to acquire. Today the party, or rather both the Congress parties, have no accepted icon, leader, or chief minister. Twice in the last ten years, Vilasrao Deshmukh had to quit on the eve of elections. Sushilkumar Shinde in the last government and Ashok Chavan in this term have had to play the night-watchman's role. The government could not provide political leadership nor could it halt the steady deterioration of the system.

That is the reason Raj has grown, in at least this metropolitan region, and many Congress activists have openly or quietly begun working for him. So it is not as if he is just cutting into the SS-BJP vote, but also denting the Cong-NCP base. But it is necessary to remember that Raj is not the issue in Marathwada, Vidarbha, North or Western and South Maharashtra. He could mobilise mammoth meetings even in those areas, but there is no social base for him. There, he is perceived more as a TV tiger or a celebrity.


The loan waiver, which came as a rescue package for the Vidarbha farmers, benefited even those in Western Maharashtra — the sugar-cooperative belt — though they did not really need it. In fact, this helped the NCP consolidate its dwindling base in the Maratha-dominated constituencies. But again, it acted more as a largesse rather than enhancing the credibility of the government. Most people have watched with a kind of helplessness, the same leaders or their family members contesting elections and as a result, the young and politically ambitious second-third rank activists have quietly deserted the party. It is this discontent, whether in the Shiv Sena or the Cong-NCP which has strengthened the ranks of Raj Thackeray.


It is also the main reason why there are over 3,500 candidates for just 288 constituencies. In many cases, the Pawar-led NCP is sabotaging Congress candidates. The NCP has always regarded the Congress as the main enemy, even as they have formed the government with them. But in this election, it is much more an 'organised rebellion' by the NCP.


The so-called Third Front, consisting of the Republican Party and the loose Left, will surely further damage the Congress and that is why most field watchers have noted that both Pawar and the SS-BJP have suddenly developed affection for this confused third alternative, which has no hope of winning even 10, but has the potential of damaging 30 additional Congress seats


It would not be correct to say that this election is totally "issueless" or "agendaless", because one predominant issue is anti-incumbency, further sharpened by non-performance and utter non-governance. The cynicism is so much that despite this widespread sentiment, Vilasrao Deshmukh is entertaining the dream of becoming chief minister for the third time. However, the voter cannot be taken for granted by the opinion polls as well as by the wise talking heads on the channels. All of them and the parties in the fray are in for a rude shock on October 22.








Peace. Everyone has been talking about it lately. Sitting in the back of her limousine, Hillary Clinton did her bit for peace as well— and with what results. Turkey and Armenia have signed a historic deal thawing 90-odd years of hostility, encouraging even more peace-talk.


Both Turkey and Armenia have held their ground for those 90 years. Armenia alleges that Turkey, during the demise of the Ottoman Empire, committed atrocious acts of 'genocide', a claim which Turkey hotly denies. This deadlock has delayed the development of the Caucasus and their reconciliation with each other and their integration into the international community.


So now one asks: why this deadlock?


All fingers point to history and the reading of it.


In fact, historians themselves are divided. Take for instance Turkic historian Donald Quataert: "How, then, can we explain the accusations of Armenian and Arab nationalisms of our own day, that the Young Turk Ottoman regimes were harshly Turkish nationalist? Most significantly, they recall the Armenian massacres of 1915-1918. Rather than viewing these as the actions of fierce Turkish nationalists aimed at Turkish racial dominance over others, it may be more accurate to see them as policies — to stamp out threat to its stability."


Historians agree that the Ottoman Empire's death mattered. The disputes begin over whether or not it was aggressive Turkish nationalism.


Analysts have scrambled to contextualise the issue through umpteen different possibilities. For instance, Donald Bloxham points to the role of foreign powers. In The Great Game of Genocide he argues that, "Given the history of Russian sponsorship of Balkan Christian independence or autonomy movements, at a time of existential crisis for the empire, the CUP (Young Turks) also suspected Russian-Armenian military collaboration." Remember, the Young Turks' nationalism is commemorated as crucial to creating the sense of 'Turkishness' that still sustains the Turkish state.


Thus, there is a band of scholars who openly acknowledge 'genocide', while others have dismissed it as merely the 'Armenian question.'


Countries too remain divided over the issue. There are those who recognise the Armenian genocide: Argentina, Belgium, Canada, France, Italy and 20 others including the European Parliament. The US, UK and Israel prefer alternate terminology.


The issue is so muddled that it becomes a matter of what histories can do. Theorists attempting to distance history from current mainstream political discourse argue that "History is never for itself; it is always for someone" and "...History is as much a matter of passion as of reason."


This is one of those times that people, and peoples, need to question the strength behind the concepts of objectivity and accuracy in history.


In fact, very progressive steps were taken by a band of Turks and Armenians in 2001 who argued that it was time to shelve historical debate and bring matters into contemporary politics. The Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission took the debate forward through civil society participation, but as David L. Phillips of the Centre for Preventive Action at CFR has pointed out, this is "not a substitute for official diplomacy." The Commission has however placed matters in front of the International Centre for Transitional Justice, which ruled that both sides have valid grievances.


What now? Will the ceremonial event and photo-ops yield any practical policy? How likely is it that the somewhat conservative Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will allow further debate on the 'Armenian question'?


Herein lies the challenge. For there to be genuine reconciliation, there is a dire need for public debate. However, Turkey has stifled discourse through the draconian Article 301 of its penal code: any discussion of "genocide" amounts to "insulting Turkishness."


Turkey's aspirations for growth and modernisation along with its desires for integration with Europe are apparent, and to a large extent Erdogan has attempted to get in line with the qualifying Maastricht Criteria. The only bump: limits to free speech.


Nobelist Orhan Pamuk was famously targeted for his comments that "a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed in this country and I'm the only one who dares to talk about it." The backlash was severe, death threats ensued, and the state-controlled press branded him a "traitor" and encouraged "civil society to silence him." Pamuk went into hiding.


But what he did do was open the door to further debate. Scholars and intellectuals have for the first time in 90 years openly begun to question the issue of genocide. Naturally, condemnation has followed those efforts.


It is however reassuring that if historians have hitherto let us down by not attempting to reconcile competing narratives, that failure is not forever. Perhaps now the long-standing dispute over the Armenian question may well usher in the right questions, if not the answers.








T.S. Eliot once famously wrote, "humankind/Cannot bear very much reality". Indian TV producers obviously don't read poetry. For, they don't just bear reality, they wallow in it like a sow does in a mud bath.


Television is creaking under the unbearable heaviness of being. All TV is Reality TV. It's there on the news channels — when they're not chasing imaginary Chinese soldiers, Dawood's gangs or extra terrestrials (fewer nowadays); it's there on the reality shows — when they're not acting like you suspect some contestants are on Big Boss; it's there on the lifestyle shows, channels — all those delectable dishes make you real hungry; and oh, it's so very real when India beats Pakistan at cricket — but a bad dream when the reverse happens.


Art imitates life and often, vice versa, but the two places you could safely hide from reality was at the movies or in tele-fiction — else why call it fiction? What a safe haven the K serials were: no one ever met a Ramola 'bindi' Sikand in real life or an ageless Ba.


Now films are going real on us: last Sunday saw A Wednesday and Mumbai Meri Jaan on movie channels. But you know you're really up against it, when Ekta Kapoor dramatises the plight of 'suicide' farmers (Bairi Piya, Colors) and in her latest offering, follows the lives of three penniless sisters on the pavements of Mumbai (Bayttaab Dil Kee Tammana Hai, Sony. Say this for Ekta Kapoor, her spellings are completely fictional).


When we first encountered the Bayttaab girls, they were so exhausted, they simply stretched out alongside other pavement dwellers and fell asleep. It's another matter that everyone looked like they were sleeping on feather mattresses. When they woke up, they were hungry enough to do anything for food, why, even steal a lonely Rs 10 lying on the street. But virtue in the form of the oldest sister intervenes, triumphs and the money is returned to its rightful owner who, oh bittersweet irony, hands it over to a beggar. How real is that?


Kapoor once created trends; now she's following them. Reality is the H1N1 virus of TV and everyone's catching it. On Colors, each serial is about humankind's encounters with reality. And reality in India is synonymous with suffering. Where K serials celebrated the lives and deceptions of hamara parivaar, current tele-fiction celebrates human indignities wherever it can find them. You don't have to look very far. On Colors, early evening, there's a forbidden caste love affair, followed by men being kidnapped to become unwilling husbands. Then there are the travails of the child bride of Ballika Vadhu and, that of her parents. Next, on Bairi Piya are the poor farmers. Big Boss gives us time to wipe our tears before they spring up again watching Uttaran where Ichha, the deprived girl, is up against the poor little rich girl. This is followed by Na Aana Is Desh Lado and the terrible practise of female foeticide.


All these themes, only too real, need to be portrayed, artistically. But the onslaught is as relentless as the pitiless reality it portrays in an increasingly melodramatic fashion. Even when Doordarshan was entertaining to educate us with social realism serials, it lightened the load with comedies and quizzes. Humankind cannot bear too much reality. T.S. Eliot said so.


What's worse is that a serial such as Ladies Special (Sony) which sensitively portrayed the lives of middle class families in Mumbai, especially of its women, has been taken off the air. It was a quiet serial, but full of sound and fury and the violence of city life. It was about coping with Wordsworth's "still sad music of humanity" in a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai where the living is anonymous but the suffering is personal. Ladies Special deserved better. It deserved to stay on the air.







Afghanistan is not the primary problem. Its eastern neighbour is All attacks against Western targets that have emanated from the region in the past eight years have come from Pakistan and not Afghanistan. Yet the US spends $30 in Afghanistan for every dollar in Pakistan.


T'S true that the security situation n Afghanistan has deteriorated coniderably. While it is nothing like Iraq n 2006 -- civilian deaths are a 10th as umerous -- parts of the country are ffectively controlled by the Taliban.
Other parts are no man's land. But hese areas are sparsely populated racts of countryside. All the major opulation centres remain in the ands of the Kabul government. Is it orth the effort to gain control of all 5,000 Afghan villages scattered hroughout the country? That oal has eluded most Afghan gov rnments for the last 200 years and s a very high bar to set for the US mission there.


Why has security gotten worse?

Largely because Hamid Karzai's government is ineffective and corrupt and has alienated large numbers of Pashtuns, who have migrated to the Taliban. It is not clear that this problem can be solved by force, even using a smart counterinsurgency strategy. In fact, more troops injected into the current climate could provoke an antigovernment or nationalist backlash.


It'simportanttorememberthatthe crucial, lasting element of the surge in Iraq was not the influx of troops, but getting Sunni tribes to switch sides by offering them security, money, and a place at the table.


The United States and the Afghan government need to make much greater efforts to wean Pashtun tribes away from the most radical Taliban factions. It is unclear how many Taliban fighters believe in a global jihadist ideology, but most US commanders with whom I've spoken feel that the number is less than 30 per cent. The other 70 per cent are driven by money, gangland peer pressure, or opposition to Karzai.


And when we think through our strategy in Afghanistan, let's please remember that there is virtually no Qaeda presence there. Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen recently acknowledged what US intelligence and all independent observers have long said: Al Qaeda is in Pakistan, as is the leadership of the hardcore Afghan Taliban. (That's why it's called the Quetta Shura, Quetta being a Pakistani city.) All attacks against Western targets that have emanated from the region in the past eight years have come from Pakistan and not Afghanistan. Even the most recently foiled plot in the United States, which involved the first Afghan that I know of to be implicated in global terrorism, originated in Pakistan. Yet the US spends $30 in Afghanistan for every dollar in Pakistan.


There's little evidence that Pakistan's generals have truly accepted that they must defeat all the jihadis in theircountry(asopposedtojustthose who threaten the Pakistani state). But they have been more cooperative and active in the past year than ever before.Aciviliangovernment,thejihadi takeover of the Swat Valley, a change in public attitudes, and increased Americanaidhaveallcontributedtoa more effective US-Pakistan relationship. Greater energy, attention, and resources will surely yield even more.


What about the argument that Osama bin Laden and his minions will simply shift back across the border if the Taliban is allowed free rein?

Well,theyhaven'tdonesoyet,despite the pockets of turf the insurgents control. And it is easier for us to deny them territory than to insist that we control it all ourselves -- we can fight like guerrillas too. Remember that the US and its allies have close to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan now.

Keeping them there is the right commitment, one that keeps in mind the stakes, but also the costs and, most important, the other vital interests around the world to which US foreign policy must also be attentive.









Reading economic data right has perhaps never been so important in recent memory as it is now. Now is when policymakers have to decide whether recovery has taken hold or if it has, whether it still needs nurturing or whether it is already strong enough to start thinking of precautionary actions. The index of industrial production data for August shows 10.21% year-on-year growth. This is the first double-digit industrial growth rate in months and, therefore, many will take this as firm proof that industry is beyond the recovery stage. But is it? A better way to look the data, indeed any economic data over time, is to base conclusions on point-to-point changes in seasonally-adjusted data. This shows a somewhat different picture. Yes, industrial growth is picking up here, too. But this data shows that the growth is less robust. This conclusion seems a considerably better fit to anecdotal evidence of entrepreneurs being less than charged up with animal spirit. It also fits better with less-than-impressive credit growth. It is a wonder why government statisticians don't accept the superiority of point-to-point, seasonally-adjusted calculations—most respectable government statistical institutions around the world don't favour year-on-year calculations. Changing over to a new system is not rocket science. Like many things in government, the reluctance is hard to understand.


Hopefully, key policymakers, who can easily access better interpretation of industry (and inflation) data, will be nuanced in their response. Some things are clear. Even thoughts of an interest rate hike should be discouraged. The truer picture of industry growth shows that if businesses face a higher rate now, recovery may receive a body blow. Also, remember that unlike the last time RBI raised rates, industry is coming out of a difficult situation this time and untimely monetary policy contraction can have especially horrendous consequences. Indeed, it seems a soft monetary policy must continue well into the near future. This must be the guiding principle of policy and it would be nice to hear both North Block and RBI say it. Even if food price inflation—again, look at the right kind of data first—is given the honour of being a big problem, the responses all lie in the realm of intelligent supply-side measures, beginning with quick import decisions. Exporters complaining about a rising rupee should not be given much hearing at all, at least not in the form of RBI intervention. Fighting to keep the rupee low will create pressure points for monetary policy that are simply not required. Ideally, RBI should effect another rate cut and hold on to that in the near future and let the rupee find its level against the dollar that's under depreciation pressure now—that would be the best prescription for industry.






So murky has the Ambani sparring over natural gas contracts gotten that we find it difficult to express optimism even over their olive branch exchange this weekend. As recently as on Thursday, the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group threatened to file a criminal case against the head of India's upstream regulatory agency—Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH)—for "irresponsible, absurd and baseless" allegations about ADAG threatening its chief. This was just the latest round fired from the Anil Ambani armoury, which earlier hurled accusation at petroleum minister Murli Deora of taking "a partisan and biased approach favouring Reliance Industries" headed by elder sibling Mukesh. Beyond its internecine implications, this conflict has not only complicated the pricing of natural gas from one of India's biggest fields, but also provoked the government to weigh in on a contract between private parties and claim eminent domain over all of India's natural resources—a claim that agitates foreign investors and makes even us wary. Now, with the Supreme Court scheduled to start hearings in the RIL-RNRL fight on October 20, Anil has invoked his mother's blessings and Lord Shiva's powers to say that all can "be resolved in a matter of weeks". RIL's response: this is not merely a family matter, but a national issue. With this, at least, we are in complete agreement.


But far from covering itself in laurels via a smart and clear strategy, these columns have found the government micromanaging at the expense of a broad and coherent set of guidelines. Unlike, say, stock markets (Sebi) and telecom (Trai), oil still does not have a proper regulator. Gas pricing is still decided by a group of ministers. DGH has failed to signal independence from the oil ministry. The Ambani brothers' dispute over the supply of gas from the K-G basin has also taken a toll on India's largest-ever auction of oil & gas blocks. Big foreign players have largely maintained a distance from the previous seven rounds. As for the eighth one, even the DGH head anticipated that the fight between the two leading corporate giants would have a negative impact on the latest auction. As we write, latest reports suggest that nearly half of the 70 blocks offered have found no bidders. The global financial crisis hasn't helped. A recent Iraqi round was a near failure and Venezuela has postponed bids for crude blocks in the Orinoco region to next year. Both the aforementioned competitions represent huge, proven reserves. In such challenging circumstances, and given that India's energy future is at stake here, India cannot afford to have the Ambani brothers hold up its gas supply. However frail the olive branch dangling between them may be, all energies should be concentrated on strengthening it to reach a resolution and move forward.








The Nobel Prize for Economics is, of course, primarily about honouring outstanding researchers and their contribution to the discipline. But very often circumstances of the real world—embedded in economics—influence the decision of who wins at what point in time. Paul Krugman's win last year was in equal measure recognition of his original research in trade theory as well as his general scepticism of the efficiency of free markets—the prize was handed out when free markets were going through their roughest patch in decades. Similarly, George Akerlof, Michael Spence and Joseph Stiglitz who worked on market failure because of asymmetric information shared the prize in 2001, the year after the spectacular burst of the dotcom bubble. Amartya Sen had earlier won in 1998 for welfare economics (he is also a known free market sceptic), the year after the East Asian crisis and in the aftermath of the crises in Russia and Brazil.


It was quite a trend—every time free market capitalism went through a crisis anywhere, the Nobel Committee chose to award economists who had made their academic reputations questioning the efficacy of the free market.


If past trends were an indicator—and to those involved in the game of prediction they are—the winners for the 2009 award would most likely have been drawn from the fast-growing domain of behavioural economics, which more often than not, using tools from psychological sciences, reduces the outer bounds of rational behaviour by humans and by transitivity of markets. Or perhaps the winner would have come from the domain of finance, but from the sceptic, not enthusiast, wing—someone like Robert Shiller who has done much work on asset price bubbles and the collapse of supposedly efficient free markets.


In the end, it was none of these. The winners for 2009 are Elinor Ostrom—the first woman to win a Nobel in economics is ironically a professor of political science—and Oliver Williamson —a student and long time collaborator of Ronald Coase, a previous winner of the Prize (in 1991). They were cited for their work on economic governance: Ostrom for her study of the management of common resources and Williamson for his study of the firm as an institution for conflict resolution.


At a time when the world is still obsessively debating the merits of free markets and the appropriate balance between the state and markets, this year's prize recognises the work of researchers who have highlighted the importance of using economics to understand and analyse institutions beyond the market (and the state). This is of critical importance because we (economists in particular) often forget that important economic activity often takes place outside the strict boundaries of the market and state. The firm is one such institution. Also, many transactions can actually be efficiently completed without the involvement of either the market or the state.

In fact, Ostrom's empirical research on the common use of resources like lakes, woods and fish stocks shows that outcomes are often better when users manage these common resources as they exist when compared with a situation when the same resources are privatised or regulated by the state. In that sense her empirical work challenges mainstream disposition in favour of privatising resources (including common resources) for their efficient use. Her work could have interesting relevance in India as we continue to grapple with how best to manage and indeed use depleting natural resources—forests, fish stocks and minerals, for example—which groups of people (particularly tribals) view as commonly owned. Private acquisition of these resources has met with much resistance just as state regulation hasn't worked as an alternative, without provoking conflict. Perhaps it's time we considered alternate ways outside the rather strictly demarcated and strongly contested 'private control' or 'state control' conceptions about the use of common resources.

The work of Oliver Williamson is in the tradition of Ronald Coase's work on the theory of the firm. Willamson's work emphasises the point that when competition is limited, as it often is in the real world (as opposed to the conventional perfect competition assumption), firms with hierarchical structures are better institutions of conflict resolution than markets are.


At first observation, the work of both Olstrom and Williamson suggests instinctive scepticism of free markets. That may have something to do with the empirical nature of their work—it is easier to build efficient markets on the drawing board than to find them operating in the real world. Market imperfections are a fact of life, and it is good to see the normally theory-leaning Nobel Committee rewarding empirical research in economics.

But what differentiates Olstrom and Williamson from other market sceptics is that they don't, by default, fall to the state as the best alternative institution. Perhaps, amidst all the furious, but completely binary state vs market debate surrounding the economics/economic policy debate over the last one year, the Nobel Committee just sent a gentle reminder that economics is a much bigger, broader and more credible discipline than recent public perception has unfortunately come to view it as.







The board of governors of the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund met on 6 October 6. The IMF and the World Bank lack the political clout of the G-20 and are more business like. The IMF is an organisation of 186 countries and seeks to foster global monetary cooperation and financial stability. The World Bank is like a cooperative whose members are the shareholders.


The first meeting of the IMF and the World Bank boards of governors was held in Savannah, Georgia, the US, in April 1946. John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White are the intellectual founding fathers of these institutions. White, though not as well known as Keynes, also did defining work in laying the foundations of these supranational structures. He was the chief international economist at the US treasury and was also instrumental in the creation of the Bretton Woods. Both did not live to see the structures they conceptualised achieved glory and power. Hypothetically, if the two old-time economists were alive today and were asked for a prescription for the current financial crisis, chances are they would have suggested a simpler remedy than the convoluted regulation the G-20 has prescribed. So let's look at how they would have probably viewed the crisis and what prescription they may have suggested.


Simply put, the crisis was caused by three interlinked factors—high liquidity, high leverage and regulatory oversight. The high liquidity in the system was catalysed by imbalances in payments. The US had an unusually high current account deficit which was funded by ample flow of capital from Asian countries and the oil-exporting countries. Monetary policy in the US was a lot more expansionary than what was optimal. The monetary policy was one-dimensional in the sense that any price decline in the years preceding the crisis was countered by decreasing the rent on money ie, low interest rates. However, there was no monetary policy response to adjust for soaring asset prices.


The second factor was high leverage. The economy in general, and in particular households, was allowed to build up too high leverage. In the US, household leverage increased to 40% of its GDP. During the period 1999-2007, financial sector leverage as a proportion of GDP increased by 80% in the US and by 100% in the European Union. In the good years, the money market was flush with liquidity. As a result, US investment banks like Lehman got a good proportion of their funds from the money market. A quarter of US investment banks liabilities, on average, were funded from the wholesale money market. When banks started to report losses and confidence got low, the liquidity in the money market evaporated pushing these institutions over the brink. The European universal banks which had both commercial and investment banking operations not only became overleveraged but also had a mismatch in currencies on their assets and liabilities. Their liabilities were still predominantly in European currencies since their deposit base had not undergone much change. However, their assets had disproportionately large US dollars, that too in toxic financial securities.


The accumulation of US dollar toxic assets by European financial institutions can in part be attributed to regulatory oversight. Within the US, the "originate to distribute" model facilitated creation of sophisticated financial assets. It also helped increase household leverage and made lending standards sloppy because each entity in the financial chain thought that it was passing the risk to somebody else. Here again the regulators largely looked the other way when there was considerable evidence that the risk management buck was being passed around .


As a response to the crisis, the G-20 has suggested among other regulations, a rule to restrict financial institutions from growing too big so that their failure does not result in larger systemic risk. The regulation also seeks to separate large cross-border banking groups. Such regulations, though they seem fine on paper, may not be too useful in preventing a future crisis. Regulation cannot be like driving while looking at the rear window.


Multinational banks did not cause the crisis. True, they were the most vulnerable along with the really large banks. The massive instability in the markets was primarily due to one-dimensional monetary policy and lax regulatory oversight. If there is one take away from the crisis, it is that we do not need more complex regulation. Regulators would do well to do the basic things properly. Keynes' and White's prescription may have been just 'KISS—keep it simple and straightforward.'


The author, formerly with JPMorganChase's Global Capital Markets, trains finance professionals on derivatives & risk management








The announcement of the SEZ scheme by the government in April 2000 was with a view to provide a boost to infrastructure development and a competitive environment for exports. The number of SEZs permitted to be set up in India, are high in comparison to the international experience. SEZ as a concept to create a separate territory was brilliant, but in India the minimum area requirement at 10 hectares has significantly diluted the impact of the SEZ concept as a whole. Thus, going forward, a paradigm shift is required.


The streamlining of the land acquisition process is a must. It needs to be understood that with agriculture being the main source of income for a large section of society, acquisition of land needs to be addressed correctly through adequate transparency in the compensation process. Further, the developer needs to appreciate that the concept of SEZ is to boost the manufacturing facilities. Thus there needs to be a shift in focus towards development of processing area within the SEZs, as it has often been argued that SEZs benefit only the real estate developers.


Displacement of people is another incidental issue. It would be superfluous to assume setting up large infrastructure facilities with absolutely no displacement. However, what requires consideration and deliberation is where the displacement takes place. Efforts should be made to provide a feasible environment through proper training, etc to the displaced population, so that it could be absorbed within the SEZ. Further initiatives may be taken to approve SEZs development on waste land, as acquisition of agriculture/ fertile land for industrial purposes has its own sets of disadvantages. Also, major SEZ approvals have been granted to SEZs coming in erstwhile developed states, which instead of reducing the regional economic imbalance are adding to it and the same needs to be addressed.


In our opinion, SEZs can provide alternative employment to disguised agricultural employees and lift millions in rural India from poverty to prosperity.


The author is a senior professional, tax & real estate practice, Ernst & Young. These are his personal views







The deadly attack on the Pakistan military headquarters at Rawalpindi has shown a new level of boldness and tactical daring among militant groups in that country. The increasingly sinister character of the militant designs was apparent in this strike wherein commandos of the all-powerful Pakistani Army were locked in an 18 to 20 hour stand-off with the militants who came close to taking over a military building and took several hostages. Sure enough, the security forces we re swift to respond, freeing 39 hostages in a fairly clean operation. Three hostages were killed along with four militants, indicating that the operation had been a difficult one. The result of a costly intelligence and security lapse, the attack exposed the extreme vulnerability of the Pakistani state to the militant threat. Further, despite the gravity of the challenge these groups pose, Pakistan has held on to a distinction between "good" and "bad" jihadists — the "good" being the Taliban in Afghanistan and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Mohmmed waging a jihad against India and the "bad" of course being those who directly challenge the Pakistani state. But Saturday's attack on the heart of Pakistan's military establishment has proved beyond doubt that such distinctions do not exist. The militant captured alive at GHQ, identified as Aqeel alias Dr. Usman, has links to several anti-India jihadist groups such as the Harkat-ul-Jihad-i-Islami and the Jaish-e-Mohammed, and also to the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the Taliban and the al-Qaeda.


This incident underlines afresh that even though some of these groups were banned after 9/11, they have continued to exist and operate freely. It also demonstrates to the world and the United States in particular that India's contention as regards Pakistan's continuing links with jihadi terrorist groups is based on the ground reality. Pakistan has opposed a condition in the controversial Kerry-Lugar legislation passed recently by the U.S. Congress that Pakistan must cease support to the LeT and the Jaish, besides the al-Qaeda and the Taliban, in order to qualify for security aid. It is now clear that these groups pose as big a threat to Pakistan's stability as to India or Afghanistan. The Pakistan Army and government have indicated that they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Taliban headquarters in South Waziristan. But it is clearly more important for Pakistan to dismantle the entire infrastructure of terror and militancy — irrespective of whether it is Pakhtun or Punjabi — as it exists within the country's boundaries today. There is no other option for Pakistan's leaders but to shed their ambivalence about the role of the jihadi groups and confront them head-on.







The 2009 Human Development Report on migration marks a paradigm shift in attitude with its call for easing barriers to human movement within and across borders. In the process, the report shatters many myths, including the belief that it is largely international and towards Northern America. Between 2000 and 2002, 72 per cent of Indian emigrants moved to a country within Asia. In a significant contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon, it establishes that migrant s enrich individual, family, and community life — at the exit as well as the entry points. This finding ought to help break the stereotyping of migrants as a people who adversely affect the surroundings. In the conventional wisdom, international migrants cause a 'brain drain' in origin countries and, except for a minuscule percentage at the higher end, take away jobs and strain precious resources. The HDR argues the opposite. Immigrants do not crowd out locals from the job market. Rather they boost economic output by encouraging investment in new businesses and initiatives. The report points to "a massive 15 per cent" per capita increase in the patents issued in the United States as a consequence of a mere 1.3 per cent rise in the share of migrant university graduates.


While cautioning against migration becoming a substitute for development in the countries of origin, the report acknowledges its many benefits to parent communities: new ideas, jobs, social dividends in the form of higher school enrolment, and empowerment of women. In many countries, including India, remittances exceed foreign aid and Foreign Direct Investment. The HDR's single most important finding is the strong positive correlation between migration and poverty reduction. Although the poorest people are the least mobile, and face the most barriers to movement, they gain the maximum from emigrating by way of an increase in income, higher enrolment in schools, and a reduction in child mortality. Internal migration leads to upward mobility and financial rewards, though life in the city often means crowding into slums. In a small number of cases, migration is forced by conflict, displacement, and other negative factors. But on the whole, the HDR makes an overwhelming case for enabling migration. Internationally, this is a time of hardening attitudes towards immigration and outsourcing. Internally, it is a warning to all those proponents of 'sons of soil' chauvinism who have made a career out of slandering and mistreating migrants.










Four weeks after Ishrat Jahan Raza was shot dead by Gujarat police commandos, the Lashkar-e-Taiba proclaimed her a martyr. In an article posted on its website soon after the June 2004 encounter, the organisation expressed anger that "the Lashkar activist's veil was removed by the Indian police." Three years later, after Ishrat's family moved the Gujarat High Court, the Lashkar changed tack: the article was a "journalistic mistake."


Few believed the retraction — until last month, when Ahmedabad Metropolitan Magistrate K.S. Tamang determined that Javed Sheikh, his associate Ishrat and Pakistani nationals Zeeshan Johar and Amjad Ali Rana were innocents kidnapped and murdered by the police. Early next month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a plea that the High Court erred in staying Mr. Tamang's report. The Gujarat police investigators are separately examining whether the killings were an extrajudicial execution. They will traverse a trail of muddy evidence of how, and if, the four met — and drove, or were driven, to their death.



Born Praneshkumar Pillai at Thamarakulam village in Kerala's Alappuzha district, Sheikh met and fell in love with Sajida Sheikh in 1986. He converted to Islam in an unsuccessful effort to overcome her family's resistance to their relationship. In September 1995, the two married and moved to Mumbai's Mumbra area, but shifted soon to Pune after a business dispute turned violent. Sheikh's life continued to be turbulent: the police filed four rioting cases against him in 1997 alone.


In 2003, Sheikh left for Dubai, securing a job on a forged Indian Technical Institute certificate. He returned, according to Sajida Sheikh's testimony, embittered by videotapes he had seen of anti-Muslim violence during the previous year's pogrom in Gujarat.


On March 29, 2004, he flew to Oman on Passport E6624023, issued in the name of Praneshkumar M. Gopinath Pillai on September 16, 2003. The police later found that the passport was obtained illegally; Sheikh suppressed the fact that he had held another passport, S514800, issued on June 28, 1994 to Mohammad Javed Ghulam Sheikh. Sheikh flew back to Mumbai from Muscat on April 11, 2004 — carrying, says Sajida, Rs. 2.5 lakh in cash. On May 22, 2004, Sheikh paid cash for a second-hand Tata Indica. A friend, Fayyaz Mehboob Khan, signed the purchase papers since Sheikh didn't have an income-tax identification number.


Earlier, on May 1, 2004, Mumbai college student Ishrat and her mother, Shamima Kausar, met Sheikh at the Taloja Hotel in Mumbra — the first known contact between Ishrat and Sheikh. A common friend, Mohammad Rafiq, says Sheikh told Ms Kausar that he needed a salesgirl for a new perfume store. There is no evidence that Sheikh ran a perfume business. Nor is there evidence, though, that Ishrat was linked to the Lashkar.


The staff at the Mezban Hotel in Lucknow claim that Sheikh and Ishrat, using the pseudonyms Abdul Rahim and Ishrat Ayesha, shared room 204 on four days in May 2004. Mohammad Wasi, a resident of Ibrahimpur in Faizabad, says the visitors tried to buy weapons from local mafioso Javed Khan. Sheikh, he claimed, said the weapons were needed for the self-defence of Muslims. Dubai-based Ibrahimpur resident Mohammad Mehraj, who allegedly brokered the meeting, has not been located.


On May 30, 2004, Sheikh drove his wife and children to the family home in Alappuzha in car — his last visit. From June 6 to June 9, the family stayed at Sajida Sheikh's family home in Ahmednagar. Hotel staff at the Tulsi Guest House in Bardoli, on National Highway 6 outside of Surat, said Sheikh and Ishrat checked in after 2 a.m. on June 12, 2004. On June 14, their car developed mechanical trouble. The staff at the Shakti Motor Garage outside Ahmedabad told the police that Sheikh paid Rs. 1,025 for repairs. Hours later, all four occupants of the car were dead.



For reasons that aren't clear, the one Indian national who could help establish if Sheikh was in fact recruited by the Lashkar in Dubai has never been fully investigated. Mohammad Abdul Razzak, held by the Delhi police in August 2005, told investigators he had sent Sheikh to jihad training camps run by the Lashkar military chief Muzammil Bhat — architect of the November 2008 attack on Mumbai.


Son of veteran Jamaat-e-Islami activist Mohammad Abdul Sattar, Razzak joined the Jamaat-e-Islami's student wing. As a 19-year-old, after the 1993 communal riots in Hyderabad, he participated in self-defence camps organised by the right-wing Darsgah Jihad-o-Shahadat. Late that year, Razzak is said to have told investigators that he met with Mohammad Azam Ghauri, one of the co-founders of the Lashkar's Indian operations.


Inspired, Razzak spent seven months of 1998 training with the Harkat ul-Mujahideen and the Lashkar in Jammu and Kashmir. In January 2000, he travelled to the United Arab Emirates and made contact with the local Lashkar office. Helped by his Lashkar contacts, Razzak allegedly travelled to Lahore on a fake passport. He first trained at a Lashkar facility at Bahawalpur and was then despatched to a camp near Muzaffarabad.


Early in 2002, after a stint running supplies from Kasmani to Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, Razzak went back to Dubai. During his interrogation by the Delhi Police, Razzak named 10 Dubai-based Indian volunteers he had sent to Lashkar camps. Javed Sheikh's name was on the list.



It wasn't until early in the summer of 2004 that Sheikh's name showed up on the radar of India's intelligence services. First Information Report 8 of 2004, filed by the Ahmedabad Police Crime Branch after the shootout, records that the authorities knew of the imminent arrival of Sheikh's blue Tata Indica, down to its licence-plate number, MH02 JA4786. The police in Jammu and Kashmir set off the chain of events that led to their Ahmedabad counterparts receiving the information.


Between June 25 and June 28, 2004 — just days after the shootout in Ahmedabad — the J&K police arrested 18 Lashkar operatives, including division commander Shahid Masood. In February 2004, the J&K police had shot dead Poonch-based Lashkar terrorist Ehsan Illahi. On his body, they found a letter written by Haji Sadiq Ahmad, a Jammu resident held in connection with the Lashkar-facilitated death of the former Gujarat Home Minister Haren Pandya, assassinated in reprisal for his role in the 2002 killings. The letter identified an Ahmedabad-based lawyer as a sympathiser, and asked for funds to be made available for Ahmad's defence.

During the Intelligence Bureau-led surveillance operation that followed, the sources said, investigators stumbled on the Lashkar's efforts to use Sheikh to target Gujarat. The lawyer was used to lure Sheikh to Ahmedabad. On the morning of June 11, Sajida Sheikh said, her husband called to say he had to go to Mumbai on unexpected work, and would return in a day.


As Sheikh did not arrive on June 13, she called — only to receive messages that his cellphone was out of network reach. Sheikh's SIM card was later found in the boot of his car — evidence, in Mr. Tamang's view, that he was kidnapped by the police some time after June 12 and killed.


Gujarat police investigators insist that the cellphone was likely disabled after Sheikh met Johar and Rana — though they have been unable to establish just when and where the group finally joined up.

Four men who may be able to help answer the question are fugitives.

Majid Husain Qadri, Pervez Ahmad Khan, both residents of Srinagar; and Drugmulla resident Abdul Aziz Shah were held along with other Lashkar operatives arrested in June 2004. Investigators say the three men provided emergency aid to Rana, who was shot while crossing the Line of Control. But when the Gujarat police sought their custody, the charges against them were dropped and the men released.


The Gujarat police made several attempts to arrest the men — the last attempt was just three months ago. Each time, their J&K counterparts said the suspects could not be traced.



Investigators say the three men had Johar treated in New Delhi, at the City Clinic in Paharganj. Siddharth Sahai, who performed surgery on Rana, identified him when the police showed him photographs. They also say Rana probably carried the satellite phone, assault rifle and explosives found in the car from J&K to Gujarat. Mohammad Iqbal, a Poonch resident alleged by the police to have been working for Masood, later said he escorted Johar to the Jammu railway station. But there is no hard information on exactly when Johar and Rana met with Sheikh and Ishrat.


Filling in this gap — and many others — could help to resolve the questions on just what happened in the weeks, days and hours before Sheikh and Ishrat were killed. Forensics could hold the key to the truth. Mr. Tamang noted that hand-wash tests conducted on Rana did not support claims of the police that he opened fire on them — but the Gujarat authorities say the magistrate ignored an earlier positive test conducted on-site. Mr. Tamang also held that 7.62-millimetre bullets found on the person of the victims were fired from a Kalashnikov AK 56 rifle found in the car — a claim the police dispute, arguing that their officially-issued AK 47 weapons use the same ammunition.


Exhuming the truth about what happened in Ahmedabad will need a transparent and thoroughgoing investigation — a process that India's judiciary must ensure.









The front rows of the Mumbai-Nagpur flight are usually the province of the political class: MLAs to MPs, ministers and fixers. This time, though, quite a few of the occupants were celebrities: television and film stars, major and minor, middling and mediocre. It wasn't the T-20 cricket match in Nagpur drawing them, but a far greater sport. They were going to Vidarbha for the last two days of campaigning before polling day. Shameless eavesdropping did not help us figu re out which candidates specifically they were to campaign for. It wasn't evident that they knew much about that themselves. Logistics seemed a more major concern. "You're lucky," grumbled one little celeb to a neighbour. "You have to travel just half an hour out of Nagpur. The place I'm going is about three hours drive away."


In fairness to them, their failure to mention any issue at all they would be campaigning on was no worse (and less pretentious) than the performance of the major political parties in Maharashtra on the same score. In a State where the issues hurl themselves at you — and in a region where they kick you in the face — the opposition failed to mount a strong campaign on a single one of them. Armed with weapons that could slaughter one of the worst performing State governments in decades — from millions of job losses to food prices and the fall in food production, to the farm crisis — they did nothing. Call it electoral ahimsa. The voting public might still ram home those issues on their own in today's polling, but it could be a response divided between too many fronts.


Even in Western Vidarbha which rejected the Congress-NCP in every one of its five Lok Sabha seats this May, the paralysis of the opposition is apparent. So much so that President Pratibha Patil's son, Rajendra Shekhawat, who was struggling just a week ago in Amravati, is now in the race and doing not so badly. That too against a far more experienced and locally-rooted Sunil Deshmukh — twice MLA from here and a Minister of State — who locals see as betrayed by the Congress when they denied him the ticket. The BJP candidate seems not to be in the race at all.


The Sena-BJP led in 30 of Vidharbha's 62 Assembly segments in the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress-NCP in 27. But that advantage has not been anchored or expanded by the saffron front as much as it might have been. A poor choice of candidates and a lack of fire on the issues have offset any offensive. As Vidharbha's leading intellectual on agrarian issues, Vijay Jawandhia, says: "This year, the soybean crop has failed. The cotton crop is in trouble. The ground water level is twenty feet below normal for this time of year. And there will be no rabi crop. Support prices are a mess. And on the credit front, we are heading for disaster. The impact of these two successive years of drought could be worse than it was in 1972."


The Lashkari-alli (or military worm) has consumed much of the soybean crop in just days — and destroyed farmers such as Arju Kavdoji Tarekar in Seoni Rasalapur in Amravati. He tried taking his life on Independence Day after finding all the crop on his nine-acre, rain-fed farm gone overnight. "I have never seen pest consume such a large area so quickly," he says. He went to appeal for help from the Tehsildar's office where "they abused me and turned me away, asking why I had come there. Where else could I go?" Devastated, Tarekar tried ending his life on the spot by swallowing pesticide but failed. "The police were called in. They arrested me, took me away, detained me for a day and yelled at me: 'Why die here? Go die in your own fields and don't trouble us.'" He still receives the odd oral 'summons' to appear and explain his 'crime.'


But while farmers reel under crop failure, it was hard to find this focused on in the campaigns. In a region where several candidates and re-contesting MLAs have increased their assets by over 1,000 per cent since 2004, the thrust is different. One liquor baron has sought to keep voters' spirits up in the way he knows best and at huge expense. Thousands were also out canvassing for candidates they cared little about (and may not even vote for). For people finding little or no work, the daily payment and meals on the campaign trail were welcome. The campaigns were costly, competing chaos.


In a State where a single MLA increased his assets by Rs. 520 million between his election in 2004 and this year; where MLAs of the outgoing Assembly saw their assets rise by 339 per cent on average in that period, it was sobering to run into Babytai Bais. She is contesting from Wani in Yavatmal district as an independent, supported by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS). Her aim: "to unite the 7,000 farm widows and 35,000 orphans of Vidarbha whose concerns are common, to lead a life of dignity and honour." Babytai's indebted husband was one of thousands of farmers in the region who committed suicide during this past decade, crushed by the ongoing agrarian crisis. Their farm land remains in the name of his father, which leaves Babytai with nothing. Even their small house (worth Rs.50,000) that finds mention in her affidavit is not in her name. She'll be lucky to see it transferred to her son's name at some point, not her own.


So what assets has she, anyway? Just one: a fixed deposit of Rs. 70,000 — exactly the compensation amount for the loss of her husband that the government placed in a bank for her. That too, in an account jointly held with the district Collector. That's it. She has nothing more. Except the candle that is her poll symbol. Babytai came into the fray very late, after Kalavati's sudden withdrawal. So she has had barely ten days to get her campaign going from scratch. Yet, she contests, taking seriously her responsibility towards thousands of other 'farm widows and orphans' in the region. Up against the most awesome money power, it's almost impossible for her to win, and she knows it. But she might just have lit that candle.









The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance will probably emerge as the leading front in the Maharashtra Assembly elections today but for all the wrong reasons. The Lok Sabha polls earlier this year gave the Congress 17 seats while the NCP had to settle for eight. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won nine and its ally, the Shiv Sena, 11. Three independents, two of them from the NCP citadel of western Maharashtra won the rest.


With the Sena-BJP alliance weakening in the State, there is virtually no alternative left for its beleaguered 7.56 crore voters. Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which hopes to ride on its nascent success in the Lok Sabha polls and win some seats, will damage the Sena more than any other party. The other issue is rebellion in the ranks. In several constituencies, notably in western Maharashtra, rebels could sway the outcome. In 20-odd constituencies they pose a challenge to the Congress-NCP.


As a result, rebellion has got on top of all parties and issues have receded to the background. The MNS is contesting 145 of the 288 seats and Mr. Raj Thackeray is gaining ground every day. His rallies are breaking attendance records. In some places, notably in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik, these could translate into wins. The 60 seats in Mumbai and Thane hold the key to the ruling alliance's fortunes. It is here that it must win to make sure that forms the next government. And it is here that the MNS could dent the Sena vote and help the Congress alliance. For Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray, this election could well be a litmus test of his party's standing as the voice of Marathi manoos.



Maharashtra is a State of skewed development — poverty, backwardness and huge riches. In western Maharashtra, where rebels are threatening to dent the base of established leaders, political rivalry and lack of performance of MLAs and ministers are coming to the fore. In Sangli district, for instance, where there are four ministers in the fray, NCP rebel Prithviraj Deshmukh is offering a real challenge to Revenue Minister and aspirant to the Chief Minister's post Patangrao Kadam, seeking re-election in his newly delimited constituency of Palus-Kadegaon. A former independent MLA, Mr. Deshmukh did not contest in 2004, because the NCP told him not to. This time he was not prepared to take a back seat. He has managed to get the support of the Shiv Sena's Pravin Gondil, who withdrew his nomination in his favour.


Mr. Deshmukh has all the trappings of power: a powerful father, a sugar factory and a milk cooperative, apart from other institutions. Unemployment is a major issue here as also the fact that Mr. Kadam has over the years done precious little. People allege that Mr. Kadam has taken common grazing grounds and even a burial ground on lease for his many educational institutions. Unhappy voters have burnt his effigies.


Western Maharashtra typifies the sleazy side of Maratha politics and family feuds go a long way. Mr. Kadam campaigned against the Congress MP Pratik Patil during the Lok Sabha polls and it is rumoured that he is backing Mr. Deshmukh. Forty-four-year-old Deshmukh has the support of youth and even the local MNS. Pune and Kolhapur could see some serious rebellion, while the Vinay Kores Jansurajya Shakti is challenging the Maratha might with some 60 candidates. Poverty and affluence coexist in this region. On the one hand is Mr. Deshmukh, seeking power and, on the other, is Salim Mulla (name changed), who just wants is a job for his postgraduate brother. Salim, a graduate in English, who is working in a sugar factory for Rs 3,000 a month, cleared an army examination but he could not muster a bribe of Rs. 80,000. His landless parents are too old to work and his younger brother, an M.A. in economics, works as a labourer spraying pesticides on fields for Rs 60 a day. It is people like Salim who support Deshmukh hoping that a change can improve their lives.


Beyond the numbers game, the rebels, and the speculation on who will form the government is the reality that for the poor and the backward, a new regime could mean little. While sugar factories, milk cooperatives and educational institutions have become the power base for Marathas and Other Backward Class (OBC) leaders like Gopinath Munde, BJP MP from Beed, the aam admi figures as an also ran.



The aam admi is bypassed even in the race for ticket. It has led to aam rebels all over. Rajendra Shekhawat, whose only claim to fame is that he is President Pratibha Patil's son, gets ticket to contest in Amravati and the stronger claims of the sitting MLA and Minister Sunil Deshmukh are ignored. No wonder, Mr. Deshmukh has rebelled. The elections see a record number of next of kin and relatives of prominent politicians in the fray. While top leaders like Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh maintain the demand for fielding his son Amit has come from the electorate in Latur, there will be few takers for this claim. It is not only the Congress but also the BJP that is guilty of nepotism. Mr. Munde too has leapt into dynastic succession mode in a big way. He has consolidated his already powerful position in Beed by fielding his disarming daughter, Pankaja Munde Palve, for the Parli seat, while Gangakhed has gone to his brother' son-in-law, Madhusudhan Kendre. In Mumbai too, after unsuccessfully trying for a Lok Sabha ticket for his niece and daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan, Poonam Mahajan, he swung it for her this time in Ghatkopar west. Never mind the resentment of the local cadres who are working against her. The Congress pays lip service to the aam admi, which admittedly voted it back to power at the Centre, and its vote banks of Muslims and Scheduled Castes. In the Lok Sabha elections the Congress gained from its usual support base. With the projection of a Maratha Prime Minister and the demand for reservation for Marathas failing to move the voters in the general elections, this time the NCP has quietly dropped the issue. The focus is more on containing the rebellion in its ranks and improving its performance.


For the record, of the 288 Assembly seats, the Congress and the NCP are contesting 174 and 114. The Sena has fielded candidates in 69 constituencies, while the BJP will contest 119 seats. The Congress, which won 69 seats in the 2004 Assembly elections, improved its tally to 75 after Narayan Rane's exit from the Sena along with his supporters who got elected in the subsequent by-elections. The NCP won 71 seats. The Sena won 62 and the BJP 54. In 2009, the Congress-NCP combine hopes to maintain its tally or even increase it, while the Opposition is unrealistically confident of winning the polls. The Congress is talking about the huge funds it has got for urban development in Mumbai and other cities like Nanded, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan's turf, apart from the historic Rs. 71,000- loan waiver for farmers. Farm suicides continue though for parties these do not figure as an election issue. Poor crops salvaged somewhat with the late rains, leading to floods in some parts, have eased the water and fodder crisis much to the relief of the ruling alliance.


The new Republican Left Democratic Front, which is contesting all seats, could make a dent in the Congress base in certain constituencies. The Congress managed to break RPI unity and ally with Rajendra Gavai of the Republican Party of India (Gavai) group, giving it two seats. The Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which got a vote share of 4.83 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls, is contesting almost all seats once again.


The Congress had a vote share of 19.61 per cent in the Lok Sabha polls in 2009, while the NCP was close behind with 19.28 per cent . The BJP got 18.17 per cent and the Sena a poor 17 per cent. The Congress led in 79 of the 288 Assembly segments, the BJP and the Sena in 61, while the NCP led in 52 and the MNS in eight. The ruling alliance feels that it is sure of victory in 2009, but what it means to the State and its people is not hard to guess.







Dealing with the prospect of food shortages in the next 40 years is a bigger problem than climate change, Australian academic Julian Cribb said on Monday.


An adjunct professor at University of Technology in Sydney, Mr. Cribbs outlined his concerns to the country's Senate's select committee on agricultural and related industries during a public hearing into food production.

Under current projections, five billion people will face water scarcity by 2050, and Australia will not have enough water to sustain food in 25 years. Adding to the mix, a quarter of arable land around the world was degraded in some form and global stock of good farm land was declining about one percent each year, Mr. Cribb said.


Yet more than half of all food produced and about three quarters of all nutrients were being wasted.


"This is the problem of our age, it is more immediate than climate change, it's going to happen a lot faster than climate change," he said. — Xinhua









In the backdrop of a spate of recent incidents of Naxalite violence in several states, and the extremists laying siege to the Lalgarh forest zone in the Midnapore-Purulia region of West Bengal, a weariness with Maoist ways in the country is only to be expected. Nevertheless, the premise that would inform government policy in dealing with the menace had appeared elusive. For the past two years or so, the Prime Minister had content himself with the proposition that the extremists who clothe themselves in revolutionary garb were India's most serious internal security threat. The characterisation didn't appear chiselled enough, leaving the impression in some quarters that the tribal poor — who seem to form a conspicuous recruitment pool for Naxalism at the present juncture — were being labelled the country's enemy. On the political plane, such a view of Naxalism wouldn't pass muster, although it is evident that at the level of leadership Naxalite groups have long ceased to be a core of idealists, and that many in that category appear to be indistinguishable from criminals ducking behind the smokescreen of a pro-people ideology. At his press conference in Mumbai on Sunday, Dr Manmohan Singh did well to bring balance to the government's articulated understanding of the phenomenon of Naxalism. Dr Singh stuck to the formulation of Naxals being "the greatest internal security threat to our country". But he was also careful to observe: "The growth of Naxalism in central India obliges us to look at what causes this sense of alienation among certain sections of the community, especially the tribal community. It could be indicative of the deficiencies in the pace of development. We are looking at that aspect, but groups of individuals have no right to take law and order in their own hands. The designs of these groups are well known and we will take effective measures to counter them."


This is as clear as any government can get. The paradox of Naxalism — overt and cruel violence against innocent, often poor, individuals and government personnel and property being engaged in by desperately needy people — is to be understood through the development paradigm, not through the lens of law and order. At the same time, a duly constituted government of a democratic republic must not permit groups to take the law into their hands (whatever their motivation), and that the government must take effective steps to deal with such groups. A view such as this represents a fuller understanding of the Maoist challenge in a democratic setup, and is apt to draw wide support. Thus we have West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee confabulating with Union home minister P. Chidambaram on dealing with the troubles caused by the Naxalites. The Prime Minister has also taken a sensible view in rejecting the idea of the country's armed forces being drawn into anti-Naxalite operations. A needless expectation had built up in some quarters that the Indian Air Force might be stepping into "non-offensive" engagements against Naxalites — that they could fire back if attacked, and help with logistics. Such a shortsighted approach does not factor in the wider implications of the country's military being used to subdue its own people, especially when secession is not on the cards. The Centre, of course, must coordinate more precisely with state governments in dealing with the Naxalism phenomenon, while being open to the idea of a dialogue if the armed Maoists renounce violence.








It is rare nowadays to come across people of unflinching and unquestionable integrity. It is even rarer to find in such people a strong sense of personal and intellectual honesty that demands that they interrogate their own actions and arguments with as much sincerity as they turn on others. And it is rarest of all to find such people engaged in public life, where they would constantly have to face the possibly unhappy consequences of such honesty.


Dr K. Balagopal, the eminent human rights activist whose untimely death has shocked a very wide range of people across India, was one such extremely rare person. While there is much else that can be said to praise him (such as his extraordinary commitment, his patient persistence, his personal courage, his completely selfless attitude to the causes he believed in and the simplicity of his manner of living) it may be that this special kind of honesty was at once his finest and most inconvenient attribute.


At first sight Balagopal appeared to be a quiet, gentle person, straightforward and modest in discussions, warm and approachable to people from all walks of life. But while this appearance did not deceive, it also belied an internal spirit that was almost fierce in its commitment and unswerving once he had decided on his particular plan of action. Despite all the superficial gentleness, he was not easily swayed and was definitely not cowed by threats of any sort, even when the threats came from all and opposing directions.


But being influenced by intellectual arguments and logical reasoning was another matter. Throughout his tragically brief life, Balagopal showed that he would form and change his opinions and make decisions on actions based on intellectual understanding that he then subjected to the most rigorous and continuous tests. Perhaps this was the result of his academic training and practice, which clearly put a premium on logical thinking.


Balagopal was first of all a mathematician. He received a doctorate in probability theory at Tirupati and then taught mathematics at the Kakatiya University in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. That was when the university was itself a hotbed of political activity, and when organic intellectuals were being created and refined by constant interaction with other students and teachers, activists, artists and local people. The growth of very radical left movements such as the Naxalites (now Maoists) was counterbalanced by attempts by the police and state authorities to contain them through blatantly repressive measures.


In the early 1980s, Balagopal along with the eminent lawyer Kannabiran set up the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) which took up cases of fake encounters and unlawful detainment of often innocent people. His involvement in such activity grew to such an extent that he left his academic job and devoted himself full-time to human rights work. He even took up the study of law, so as to be able to practice in court and defend those who had been unfairly accused. He argued hundreds of such cases, usually taking no money from his mostly poor clients.


But by then he was already uncomfortable with what he saw as the one-sided approach of the APCLC, which was largely focused on state repression rather than the violence wreaked by the Maoists which was often equally if not more destructive and irrational. He broke away from the APCLC and created a new group, the Human Rights Forum, and such was his moral authority that a large number of activists from across the state joined him.


The Human Rights Forum continued and expanded the work to cover not only victims of police abuse but also those terrorised by the Maoists, victims of caste violence, those displaced by infrastructure development and the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and tribal families who were being denied their land rights. There were endless legal cases and almost constant pressures. But Balagopal was indefatigable in his energy and unflagging in his commitment.


He was extremely disparaging of the violent tactics of the Maoists, which he saw as counterproductive, even as he continued to point to human rights violations by the state government. He therefore earned the disapproval of both sides, achieving the distinction of being kidnapped by a vigilante group suspected of having links with the police, as well as being criticised by the Maoists.


This attitude towards violence did not mean that he was unaware of the complexity of the issue. A recent article of his ("Beyond violence and non-violence") noted that the attraction of violence arises from the difficulty — and even marked lack of success — of making the state pull back on any major policy in any major sphere through the standard peaceful means of protest. But he also recognised that localised violence did not achieve much either, other than perhaps altering some local socio-political power structures. Indeed, he noted that it was surprising, in more than four decades of the Naxal movement, how little it has been able to stall or reverse in terms of major policies. According to him, this is partly because "inflicting major political defeats or reversing trends of unequal or destructive development is not on their agenda. Yet it is also true that even if they tried they would not know how to go about stalling such decisions or forces. To put it simply, you can hold a gun to a landlord's head but SEZ or the Indo-US nuclear deal have no head to put a gun to".


This was not the only problem with violence that he identified: perhaps an even greater issue is that it is necessarily crude and blunt, whereas the intelligent exercise of power is subtle, as is capitalist rationality in general. To fight these requires equal or greater subtlety, as well as intelligence and different and more creative strategies of mobilisation and agitation. Of course various features combine to make strong and peaceful mobilisation difficult and therefore "tempts honest activists to look for short cuts, ranging from armed action to public interest litigations. But there are no short cuts".








As the world watches Cambodia's unfolding drama, there is an uneasy feeling that justice for historical pasts may never be available for a generation of Khmers who have faced genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime. Last week the first case was closed, that of Duch (pronounced Doik), in which the former warden of the Tuol Sleng prison was tried for crimes against humanity in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge Trials.


Duch was the first of five remaining Khmer Rouge leaders to face trial. The other four are Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea. They represent the immediate core that was under Pol Pot, who drove the agenda and vision of the state of Democratic Kampuchea (the name given to Cambodia between1975-1979 under the Khmer Rouge). Cambodia had initially asked the United Nations to set up the trials in 1997. However, this became operational only in 2006. Till date Duch remains the only person to have been tried from the top leadership. Apart from these, six others have been identified. However, they remain anonymous and there is already speculation of political interference since it may expose the complicity of others.


The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between April 1975 and December 1978. Between these years, the country was pushed back to year zero, while the leadership unleashed an agrarian-style reversal of the entire political and social setting. In one of the worst recorded cases of genocide, the Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot was responsible for the estimated deaths of nearly two million in a population of seven million. Within three-and-a-half years nearly one-third of the population was wiped out due to torture killings, starvation and disease.


In the midst of this internal turmoil, external relations with neighbouring Vietnam deteriorated. Interestingly, the revolutionary forces that had fought against the US presence in the region were plagued by their own differences, which became evident after the US withdrawal from the region in 1975. This factor caused a rift between the interpretations of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the Khmer Rouge. While the Vietnamese followed the Soviet model, the Khmer Rouge version was more closely linked to Mao's idea of an agrarian Communist state. In fact, these interpretations were further fuelled by the Sino-Soviet split which occurred in the 60s and this was seen along the fault lines of the Cambodia-Vietnamese relations too.


In December 1978, a split faction of the Khmer Rouge, headed by Heng Samrin and current Prime Minister Hun Sen, acted as a front for the Vietnamese military intervention in Cambodia. This intervention divided the regional and extra-regional players along ideological lines. This came to be known as the Third Indochina War and was finally resolved when the international players backing the various political factions agreed to a UN framework which allowed the country to have a transitional authority under the UN, leading to supervised elections in April 1993.


The Vietnamese intervention kept Cambodia in the grip of the Cold War for several years. One of the ambiguities of the situation was that in spite of its track record of genocide and excessive human rights violations, the Khmer Rouge's political legitimacy continued for several years to come.


One factor that kept the Khmer Rouge alive was that the internal political factions ousted by the Vietnamese intervention formed a coalition. Three groups were relevant in this context. The Royalist Party (FUNCINPEC), initially led by Norodom Sihanouk and later by his son Norodom Ranariddh, and the Republicans (KPNLF), led by Son Sann at the national level, gave legitimacy to the Khmer Rouge. The three groups together formed a Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) in 1982. These were pushed out of the country to the Thai-Cambodian border when the Cambodian People's Party (CPP, erstwhile KNUFNS), led by Heng Samrin and Hun Sen, acted as the front for the Vietnamese intervention. The CGDK kept the Khmer Rouge alive and kept its political legitimacy going.


The UN, which is backing the genocidal trials today, initially maintained the seat of the Democratic Kampuchea regime. This was later kept vacant for a few years and than handed over to the CGDK, a coalition government which included the Khmer Rouge. This was done on grounds that the UN charter had a clause on the inviolability of domestic jurisdication. This clause actually stated that in cases of internal turmoil, no third nation had the right to intervene since the matter fell under the purview of domestic jurisdiction. As such, even cases of humanitarian intervention are subjected to this understanding. Given the validity of this clause in the UN interpretation, the Vietnamese intervention was not considered a humanitarian one. Moreover, the Vietnamese acted in isolation and its intervention continued for over 11 years. These factors further pushed the Cambodian case as one in which a national level conflict was supported by regional and international actors. In a nutshell, the Cambodian conflict was the outcome of the cold war within the Southeast Asian region, which was simply the extension of the US war against Vietnam.


One of the issues that will remain critical in terms of finding justice is that there is a certain degree of both national and international level complicity in which players at both levels have been involved in sustaining the political life of the Khmer Rouge. Even within the ruling party today Prime Minister Hun Sen, finance minister Keat Chhon and the President of the National Assembly Heng Samrin, have all been former members of the Khmer Rouge.


Hun Sen has already alluded to the fact that the continuation of the trials could actually lead to a situation where the country is once again plunged into a civil war. It is hard to imagine that bringing people responsible for genocidal acts would cause a country to move towards a civil war. However, given the fact that complicity with the Khmer Rouge has been a complex issue, which has several unseen layers within it, there is no doubt that several actors may emerge as the trials progress. Will the ECCC also try groups that sustained the Khmer Rouge's political legitimacy?


Moreover, at the national level there is a generation of youth born after 1978 which does not have any recollection of what that three-year period represented. The courts have resorted to several methods, such as public broadcasting and also making arrangements for villagers to be taken to the auditorium to witness the actual trials. This is to ensure that the recounting of history does not go missed by the generations that came after the genocide. It remains pertinent that a national history must account for the fact that excesses have occurred and this needs to be remembered by subsequent generations as an insurance against the repetition of crimes against humanity.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU








The President of United States, Barack Obama, is confident that he can carry everything and anything with him because of his extraordinary popularity and charisma. But recent events in the US and abroad have proved that there are limits to his charisma.


This was evident when the Olympic Committee on October 2 rejected the application of Chicago as a venue for the 2016 Olympics. Mr Obama and his wife personally advocated Chicago's claim, but they failed miserably — Chicago received only 18 votes out of 94. They failed because Mr Obama, as is his wont, did not attend to the details and believed that emphasising generalities and soaring rhetoric would do the magic.


On the first day of his assuming office Mr Obama issued an order to close down the most hated Guantanamo prison, though he and his advisers had no detailed plan. Now he finds that practically no nation is willing to accept these prisoners and even the state administrations have opposed it. Therefore, the hated facility would not be closed by next January, as promised.


Mr Obama inherited the financial collapse and housing bubble. The stimulus plan which he approved was a stop-gap arrangement. It served its limited purpose — which was to save the banking and automobile sectors. But soon it was found that the banks saved the amount which they had received for future calamities and did not lend. The American auto companies are beyond redemption and so they have closed down some of their outlets and cut down on the workload. There is no perceptible improvement on the housing front either. With rising unemployment, more and more people are losing their houses.


When the stimulus plan was announced, Mr Obama confidently predicted that the plan would generate more and more jobs and the unemployment rate would not increase beyond eight per cent. But it is touching 9.5 per cent right now and is expected to go up to 10 per cent or even more.


The stock markets have recovered, somewhat. But the job prospects are not reassuring. Large number of jobs are created by the private sector and not by the government, and any administration has to adopt policies keeping that in mind. Instead, the still vague healthcare bills are sure to increase taxes, even on small enterprises, and this is holding up investment and increasing uncertainty.


The long debates on healthcare measures in both the Houses of the Congress have exposed the disunity in the Democratic Party and also revealed the defective strategy of the President. He should have laid down clear guidelines and told the leaders of his party what exactly he wanted to achieve. Instead, he asked the Congress to come up with a plan. That is why there are three different bills.


It is true that the Republicans have no health plan of their own and are playing a negative role. The latest senate committee bill will go through several changes and would have to be discussed on the floor. Then the House and senate committees would jointly discuss the bills and would have to arrive at a compromise. This is a long process, and ultimately the bill that will emerge will be a very mild one and the party in power would be able to show that it has made some progress.


It would not fulfil Mr Obama's promise of giving health insurance to all American citizens as more than 20 million would be left without any coverage. Recently, the PBS channel had a programme showing how Netherlands conducts its healthcare plan. The country has succeeded in reducing healthcare costs and improving efficiency. Mr Obama and his party colleagues have berated insurance companies and the Republicans, and they surely deserve blame. But both the parties, because of their vested interests, avoid taking some necessary actions.


While the Republicans are beholden to the insurance and drug companies, the Democrats do not want to disturb the trial lawyers who indulge in frivolous lawsuits. The Democratic Party is also dependent on the labour unions. Mr Obama has not compelled the drug companies to allow generic drugs which would bring down the costs, as is done in the Netherlands and other European countries.


The strategy with regard to the war in Afghanistan is yet to be decided. In March 2009, Mr Obama declared that he had a new strategy and so appointed General Stanley McChrystal as a Commander for Afghanistan. But since June he has not bother to have a single one-on-one consultation with the General. Now the Commander has submitted his plan which says that if the goal is to defeat Al Qaeda, the US would have to increase the troop level by 40,000 personnel.


US vice-president Joe Biden is opposed to an increase in the troop level. He says that the US should scale down and leave the actual combat operations to the Afghan Army which should be adequately equipped. Some think that the Taliban is not a serious threat and a deal could be had with it. It is the Al Qaeda which is to be vanquished and this could be possible by helping Pakistan.


The financial aid which the US provided to Pakistan was mostly used to buy arms for use against India. But the US lawmakers and the government refuse to take any precautionary measures. So with new instalments of aid to Pakistan, India would have to take extra precaution.


General McChrystal holds that the situation in Afghanistan is far more serious than was thought of. He is very critical of Hamid Karzai and his government. The widespread fraud and rigging in the elections have made the legitimacy of Mr Karzai's presidency questionable. Though, that the Obama administration might accept Mr Karzai's presidency. But it is obvious that the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces would not receive adequate support from the Karzai government.


The Taliban might not want Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but it has given shelter to it and is a beneficiary. Likewise, the Pakistan government as well as the military might be fighting with Al Qaeda in their own land but they would not help the Americans in their fight with both the insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Because of the strategic depth theory, they want completely subservient administration in the neighbouring state. That is why thousands of the madrasa trainees turning into insurgents migrate to Afghanistan and fight along with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Even then if the US wants to rely on Pakistan to defeat the insurgents, then she would, eventually, come to grief.








The war between the Pakistan army and Taliban is getting fiercer by the day. On Saturday, the Taliban, in an audacious move, attacked the army headquarters in Rawalpindi and took hostages. The siege was broken and the hostages freed only on Sunday.

On Monday, Pakistan army strafed the Swat area, stronghold of the Taliban even as a bomb blast killed about 40 people in the region. Pakistan's interior minister Rehman Malik vowed to flush out the Taliban and said there was no place for them in the country.

It can be seen that there is a renewed determination on the part of Pakistan to weed out the religious extremists, but it is also obvious that the war is escalating.

This is not the first time that there has been a head-on confrontation between the army and the militants but there are clear signs that the Pakistan army now finds itself in mortal combat. The government says it is more than just committed to get rid of the Taliban; it has now become a compulsion.

Once it becomes clear that Pakistan is not fighting the Taliban because it is under pressure from the United States to do so but more because it is a battle for survival, the ideological lines will become clear. This is not just a battle of guns and bombs but a battle of wits and a war of ideas as well which the Pakistani establishment will have to win.

But there is uncertainty in the air. Despite loud pronouncements from Pakistan's leaders that they mean business when they say that they want the Taliban out, there is the lurking suspicion that Islamabad is fighting the religious fanatics rather reluctantly, and that Pakistan's leaders are still looking for ways of retaining the option of using the Taliban against Afghanistan and India.

What makes the situation grim for them is that the Taliban have turned upon their patrons, nursing ambitions of ruling in Islamabad and Kabul. At the moment, the extremists lack the wherewithal to realise their goals but they can continue to be a thorn in the side of the governments in the two countries.

Every now and then they will put on a demonstration of their strength and their resolve as was visible in the sudden attack on the army headquarters. It will then become necessary for Pakistan and Afghanistan to join forces in the fight against the Taliban.

Pakistan then will have to give up its plan of using the Taliban in Afghanistan to set up an Islamabad-friendly regime in Kabul. It is no more America's war in south Asia but a war of survival for Pakistan and Afghanistan.








Three states go to the polls today and in all of them, the ruling party, either alone or with a partner, is the Congress. Given its notable performance in the general elections, the party should logically follow it up with another victory. But that is easier said than done and nowhere is that more obvious than in the most significant state of the three, Maharashtra.

In this critical state, the Congress is a bit more confident but its ally the National Congress Party (NCP) is feeling decidedly nervous, more so since in the general elections it came a cropper. Voters behave in their own, unpredictable ways but there are other factors to consider.

Not only is anti-incumbency an important factor — and the general perception is that the government's performance is nothing to rave about, something that even the prime minister conceded — but the opposition Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party coalition is not going to be a walkover. Both, the former more than the latter, have been working for months in urban and rural areas to build up opposition against the lack of governance.

Add to the mix other variables like the small but growing challenge of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the delimitation of constituencies that has changed existing borders and predicting the outcome of the election becomes even more hazardous.

Probably the most potent ingredient that characterises this uncertain election is the presence of rebel candidates. Nearly 65 candidates are said to be "rebels"— those who walked out of the party because they did not get candidates and are contesting as independents.

This is an affliction all parties are suffering from. No longer do partymen and women believe in party loyalty and discipline; if they feel more worthy than the official candidate, they simply cross over to another party or file their nomination as an independent.

Such candidates are not without clout. In Amravati, for instance, where the President's son was the party's preferred choice over and above the sitting candidate Sunil Deshmukh, the latter promptly rebelled and filed a nomination as an independent. His defeat cannot be taken for granted and the same situation may obtain in other cases.

Thus the rebel factor cannot be dismissed and may upset all calculations, even playing a key role in the final government formation. This is what makes this election so different and intriguing.








It is incumbent upon journalists, every now and then, to try and gauge the mood around them. Without wanting to give the professional game away, this has been known to involve only family members, sometimes restricted to just one spouse.

One editor I knew based the assessment on her three-year-old nephew. The more adventurous will include the travel writer's staple — the taxi driver. This gent (it is usually a gent) is globally acknowledged as a pop philosopher, a psychobabble interpreter and a barometer of popular opinion. Driving up and down city roads apparently make you an expert on human behaviour.

However, chauffeurs who work for one boss are usually not accorded this status. They mix in rarefied circles (memsaabs, babalogs, maids and such). Then occasionally, someone will commission a survey and the agency will speak to 122.5-odd people (this is a statistical exercise which mere mortals are not supposed to question). Their answers will be distilled into percentages and so you will learn that 42.8 per cent of the population believes that rabbits live on the moon and 7.8 per cent are not sure.

To make a long story short, how does one figure out the mood of the nation this week? There's the election mood in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh and the pre-Diwali mood.

For Maharashtra, the cabbies feel that it is the Congress-NCP again, so do family and friends and as it happens so do the surveys. The general sense seems to be that the Lok Sabha pattern where the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena skewed the picture for the Shiv Sena and the BJP will be repeated. The most reliable meter here might be the bookies — after all they have money to lose — and they're on the Congress-NCP too.

So if you're backing the wrong horse, don't put too much money on it. That leaves the other two states and to be honest, no taxi driver spoken to had any clue. This includes Maharashtrians and North Indians, so all one can conclude is that one (that is I) cannot hazard a guess when the "don't know" category touches 100 per cent.

The Congress, however, thinks that it is winning in Haryana even though second terms have no historical precedent and are therefore a statistical no-no. The opposition however is in a bit of a tattered state and hey, there are always benefits to be accrued from NREGA. The story's similar in Arunachal — the Congress looks the strongest and the opposition's a mess. This pop analysis is based on newspaper reports so it is likely that local spouses, taxi drivers and random people on the street have voiced their opinions to someone.

That leaves Diwali. Now this is a real leaves-you-stumped question. Are people buying or not buying? A newspaper supplement recommended for its readers to buy a pair of earrings worth Rs2.5 lakh. Yes, these had diamonds called baguettes which I'm guessing have nothing to do with French bread. Also suggested was a watch for Rs63 lakh. Is it fair to assume that the readership of this publication can afford this stuff or would like to afford it?

"Shopping" though is now a word in every Indian language and it is a national pastime. No cabbie had been consulted here, but it is likely that shopping may soon beat cricket as our favourite sport. Therefore, why should we stop this Diwali? Remember when government emporia would offer a 10 per cent rebate and then add a 10 tax? Many of these Diwali sales might be something like that. Some shops never remove their 'sale' stickers all year long, but at this time of the year, we can see them better.

For the salaried middle class which had to suffer salary cuts this year, though, Diwali is a dreaded time. The domestics expect and deserve their bonuses (plus the baksheesh to everyone else) but you're not going to get any. So the only thing to do is hide your wallet and weep. And before that, just check with spouse, cabbie, neighbour and vote for somebody.







Raja Yoga starts from concentration. Concentration merges in meditation. Concentration is a portion of meditation. Meditation follows concentration. Samadhi (superconscious state) follows mediation.

The Jivanmukti (liberated being) state follows the attainment of Nirvikalpa Samadhi which is free from all thoughts of duality. Jivanmukti leads to emancipation from the wheel of birth and death. Therefore, concentration is the first and foremost thing a Sadhaka or aspirant should acquire in the spiritual path.

Concentration of the mind on God after purification can give you real happiness and knowledge. You are born for this purpose only. You are carried away to external objects through attachment and infatuated love.

Concentration or Dharana is centering the mind on one single thought. Vedantins try to fix the mind on the Atman. This is their Dharana. Hatha Yogins and Raja Yogins concentrate their mind on the six chakras (energy centres). Bhaktas concentrate on their Ishta Devata (tutelary diety). Concentration is a great necessity for all


During concentration, the various rays of the mind are collected and focussed on the object of concentration. There will be no tossing of the mind. One idea occupies the mind. The whole energy of the mind is concentrated on that one idea. The senses become still.

They do not function. When there is deep concentration, there is no consciousness of the body and surroundings. The mind is fixed firmly on one thing. You must have such a deep concentration when you think of God or the Atman.

Everybody possesses the ability to concentrate. Everybody does concentrate to a certain extent when he reads a book or writes a letter, when he plays tennis, and in fact, when he does any kind of work. But, for spiritual purposes, concentration should be developed to an infinite degree.










An old saying that one cannot hide a viper in one's shirt without the fear of being himself bitten has come to haunt Pakistan. Terrorists that it spawned have trained their guns on it also. They have been getting bolder by the day and last week even launched an audacious attack on its Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi. More than the damage that they caused, they managed to dent the morale of the forces. They have now proved that they can hit with impunity not only in small towns but also at the symbol of Pakistan State's power. The wake-up call has now become so shrill that Islamabad just cannot afford to ignore it. Terrorists have a long history of biting the very hand that feeds them. It should dispassionately evaluate how much damage it has done to the subcontinent and itself in its clandestine attempt to make India bleed from a thousand cuts.


It is unfortunate that it has not learnt any lesson so far. Not only India but other world powers like the United States were unanimous that it was involved in the attack on the Indian embassy in July last year in which 60 persons were killed. Yet, it repeated the inhuman operation last week, killing several Afghans in the process. India's Foreign Secretary has hinted at Pakistan's involvement in the Kabul attack, Afghan leaders have asserted that in so many words. Yet, Islamabad has not mended ways and has rather tried to throw mud at India by saying that it was involved in promoting terrorism in Balochistan. It won't stick. And as is its wont, it has also continued to stoke fires of separatism in Jammu and Kashmir — without success, of course.


Pakistan gets away with much merely because the world community has never confronted it forcefully. Western powers use it as a pawn in the misplaced belief that it will come in handy in the war on terror. How can that be when Pakistan itself is one of the largest exporters of terrorism? The more money the US pumps into Pakistan, the more emboldened it becomes. Before Pakistan eschews violence, the US will have to understand that there is no such thing as good Taliban. If it thinks that those which target India are any better than those which plot against the US, it is sadly mistaken.








The Enforcement Directorate's decision to book former Jharkhand Chief Minister Madhu Koda and three of his former Cabinet ministers — Kamlesh Singh, Bhanu Pratap Shahi and Bandhu Tirkey — for allegedly amassing assets running into several hundred crores of rupees has given a new twist to the state's murky politics. This comes at a time when Jharkhand is to have Assembly elections soon. Disturbingly, they have exploited the political instability in the state to fill their coffers. According to the Enforcement Case Information Report (ECIR), filed before the Prevention of Money Laundering Court in Ranchi, Mr Koda — the first Independent MLA to become a Chief Minister — is alleged to have purchased mines in Liberia besides making other benami purchases in the name of his close confidant Binod Sinha. Mr Koda may have dubbed the ECIR as an attempt by his political opponents to "tarnish his image", but he has failed to explain how his assets have risen considerably from Rs 13 lakh in 2005.


The ECIR against Mr Koda and others is a result of six months of investigation during which the Enforcement Directorate took the help of an international agency and others. Clearly, the ambit of the probe will widen when the CBI is roped in to investigate their overseas links. Earlier, the Enforcement Directorate lodged cases under the Prevention of Money Laundering Act against former ministers, Anosh Ekka and Harinarayan Rai. The state vigilance bureau has filed chargesheets against them and both are now lodged at Ranchi's Birsa Munda Central Jail.


Though Jharkhand is rich in mineral resources, it continues to remain backward because of rampant corruption right from the top. The politician-bureaucrat-contractor nexus continues to loot the state with impunity. Long years of neglect and underdevelopment have exacerbated the Naxalite violence in the state. The investigation against Mr Koda and company should be expedited so that the guilty are tried and punished expeditiously. Unfortunately, long delays in investigation and trial have increased political corruption because the corrupt have no fear of punishment. If at least one politician is tried by a fast track court and given appropriate punishment, it will help in a big way in fighting corruption.








The Supreme Court's "conditional permission" for resumption of mining in the Aravalli region of Faridabad and Palwal in Haryana is cause for concern. It is bound to be viewed with skepticism by many because the miners and the state government have consistently failed to take adequate measures to restore the exhausted Aravalli mines. The apex court's Forest Bench consisting of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice S.H. Kapadia and Justice Aftab Alam has permitted mining of minor minerals on a patch of 600 hectares in Faridabad and Palwal following the state government's submission that it would formulate a mining auction scheme in three months and a comprehensive eco-restoration scheme in six months. However, if the government's track record is any indication, it has always reneged on its promise.


Significantly, when the apex court had imposed a "blanket ban" on mining in Aravallis on May 8, 2009, it maintained that it was forced to take the "hard decision" because the government and the miners had "completely breached the trust reposed in them". More important, when the apex court had allowed "limited mining" in 1994 on the basis of the sustainable development principle, the miners blatantly violated this. They relentlessly extracted minerals without undertaking any eco-restoration work in complete disregard of the mining lease conditions.


As indiscriminate mining for past several decades has wreaked havoc in Aravalli hills, mining must be stopped forthwith to protect the environment. There is no material change in the ground realities between May 2009 and today. If the court had banned mining then on grounds of depletion and contamination of ground water, ecological degradation and non-compliance of statutory provisions on mining and environment, the same reasons hold good for continuing the ban today. The Aravallis, one of the world's oldest hill ranges, are being systematically torn apart by miners in collusion with officials. The apex court's order for conditional mining is not conducive for the health of the Aravallis.








China's Communist rulers put up a big show to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of their revolution. But the show was not open to the people of the People's Republic of China, except on TV screens. The residents with houses and balconies with the parade view were barred from looking out. The hotels were barred from having guests. This says a lot about the regime that doesn't trust its own people while celebrating the country's achievements over a 60-year period. What are they afraid of?


Obviously, even after China's impressive economic growth and growing military might, the regime still worries about its popular legitimacy. They don't seem quite sure if the implied social contract they have made with the people for legitimacy, based on economic growth, is working or not.


China's communist oligarchy seeks legitimacy for monopoly of power indefinitely, without popular participation. The exclusion of people from the sixtieth anniversary celebrations is a classical example of both arrogance and paranoia.


There are two elements to China's strategy to keep people on its side. The first is continuing economic growth to absorb the growing pool of unemployed people. The recent economic slowdown has put a damper on it despite the large economic stimulus package.


The hastily-packaged stimulus spending is creating further distortions in an economy already lopsided to fuel real estate and stock market fluctuations as well some shoddy infrastructure spending.


The government is now reining down some of it for fear of fueling inflation. But with so much dependent on maintaining economic momentum to contain social instability, it seems like the government is all the time trying to plug a leaking boat which might flounder somewhere along the line. And since there are no measurable yardsticks of popular support like democratic elections and supportive institutions, the government is always second-guessing its people. There is widespread social unrest across the country. The government has stopped publishing annual statistics of such protests because the situation is getting worse. This is not to suggest that there is an imminent threat to the Party's power but there is a steady, though scattered, groundswell of frustration and anger.


And this is coalescing around corruption. At its recent party meeting, the leadership admitted that the corruption has "seriously damaged the party's flesh-and-blood bond with the people and has seriously affected the solidity of the party's ruling status."


Corruption is everywhere in the country. The Transparency International, an anti-corruption watchdog, has reportedly listed China as the second worst country in bribery out of 22 in its 2008 report. Corruption now is institutionalised and because it involves all levels of the Party and government, it is becoming increasingly difficult to root out.


And even when some big fish is snared occasionally and punished severely, it is generally attributed to political vendetta. And this general sense of malaise and corruption is not helped when the sons and daughters of top party leadership control some of the biggest business conglomerates in China.


For instance, the former president and party general secretary Jiang Zemin's son is reportedly the country's telecommunications tsar. Li Peng's family is controlling the power sector. Zhu Ronji's son is into banking. And President Hu Jintao's son recently sold automated ticket machines to Beijing city government.


All these princelings might be shrewd businessmen and women in their own right, but it is only fair to ask if they would have made it to the top business league but for their political connections? No wonder, corruption and nepotism have become the focus of people's frustration and anger against the system.


As the problem is systemic and entrenched at the highest levels in some form or the other, there is lack of concerted action to deal with it.


Therefore, despite impressive economic growth as an exercise in legitimacy, the Party is not so sure about its rapport with the people.


The rural masses of the country have largely missed out from economic growth, with resources mainly directed to China's industrial economy. Indeed, they have been subsidising industrial growth through diversion of rural land, water supply, relatively depressed prices of rural products and export of cheap labor to work on urban construction and industrial sites.


There is widespread paranoia at the Party's top level about danger lurking everywhere, evident in the exclusion of people from official celebrations. Which manifests itself even more severely when dealing with ethnic minorities like the Tibetans and Uighur people. Indeed, the Party is not averse to using mainstream Han population against these marginalised minorities to whip up national hysteria, inside and outside the country. This was evident at the time of the Beijing Olympics.


There is also a deeply felt sense of historical humiliation inflicted on China during the 19th century, as well as the Japanese invasion and atrocities of the last century. Therefore, when Mao declared China's liberation and the inauguration of the People's Republic of China on October 1, 1949, he also proudly announced that this was the moment when "China has stood up". In other words, China's "liberation" was essentially couched in nationalist terms.


However, Mao got distracted with his power plays leading to purges. Disastrous experiments of economic and social engineering like the Great Leap Forward culminated in the lost decade of the Cultural Revolution.


It was only after Mao's death that China's leadership got a clear sense of direction under Deng Xiaoping about building up the country into a modern and powerful state. And to achieve this it was imperative to create a growing and modern economy.The only successful model for this was to harness aspects of capitalism to build up China.


Apart from economic growth, nationalism (increasingly as xenophobia) is another important plank in the Party's exercise in popular legitimacy.


The sixtieth anniversary military parade, with China's armed might on display, was intended to rally people around the Party as the architect and builder of China's national power as well as to serve notice on the world that China really means business when it comes to defending and promoting its perceived national interests.


And these national interests are not static but expanding with its global power. Deng Xiaoping advised that China should bide its time while getting on with the task of building a strong and powerful nation.


Today's Communist leaders believe that China is now in a position to flex its muscles but without going overboard as it still has quite some way to go to attain military parity with the United States. But the upcoming generation of new Communist leadership material is quite jingoistic in terms of China's national interests.


Wang Xiaodong, an influential leader of the China Youth and Juvenile Research Centre, for instance, is quoted in the Australian newspaper (in a report from its China correspondent) to say that the younger generation "will globalise its (China's) national interests, and this will affect not just our close neighbors but the whole world. It (China) must gain the capacity to protect those interests."


The process of expanding China's national interests and to secure them with greater projection of its military power has already begun evidenced from the scramble for resources. Its stark manifestation was the jostling of a US ship in the South China Sea and similar incidents of lesser intensity.


Communist China's 6oth birthday was a massive display of its power, with obvious message for the world. And if the Party comes under pressure from increased social unrest (as seems likely), the temptation to turn up the nationalist heat to rally people around the flag might be irresistible. And this is not what the world is looking for from a rising China.








In 1951 I was transferred to Ahmedabad, then regarded as a "punishment" station on account of C.M. of Bombay Morarji Desai's obsession with prohibition. Gujarat and Kathiawad (Saurashtra) were, at the time, governed from Bombay.


My family and I were lodged in an enormous building in Shahibagh which had been constructed during the War for the use of Army officers.


The ground floor was divided into the office and my flat while my two assistants lived upstairs. Even so, there was plenty of room to spare.


The building was over-endowed with bathrooms. There were 14 of them, each with a long bath. I often felt like asking one of our friends to "drop in and have a bath sometime".


This is only a preface to a treatise on the subject of invitations. These, I think, can be classified, broadly, into three or four groups.


First there are the casual "you must come round sometime" or "we must get together" kind that are not meant to be taken seriously.


Then there are the printed cards requesting the pleasure of your company to meet someone you have no desire to meet or to bid farewell to someone you wish never to have met.


If you are wise, you will write and plead a previous engagement much as you would like to say, as Oscar Wilde once did, that you are prevented from coming because of a subsequent engagement.


In all probability the person sending the invitation has not heard of Oscar Wilde, so your sarcasm will be wasted and you will be taken for an ignorant fellow who does not know how to answer an invitation.


Thirdly, there are the invitations given over the telephone, usually with considerable ambiguity in regard to the date and time. So you are likely to turn up in your best suit on the wrong date. Or, if you've got the date right you appear wearing a bush-shirt and find that the word "informal" means a lounge suit.


Of course, if your wife has taken the message, you are liable to go to the wrong house, on the right date and, having admitted that it was all your fault, you end up paying for an expensive meal at a restaurant of her choice.


The invitations I positively dislike are those issued weeks in advance. They leave you no scope to manufacture a good excuse. There are only two ways of dealing with such invitations. You delay your reply hoping that a week before the event there will be a mild case of mumps in your family. You then write and say how much you had been looking forward to the occasion but you couldn't possibly go round spreading the infection.


Or you can reply promptly expressing your deep regret that on the date in question you will be out of station, visiting your mother-in-law. The risk in this is that on the very day of the party you may run into your host or hostess out shopping.


If I have given the impression that I am an unsociable fellow I must hasten to correct it.


I love a good party, but the invitations I like to receive, or give, are limited to a small circle of friends. The food doesn't matter. Kabab-paratha, or even samosas and pakoras, go down better than chicken biryani and sheermal.


There must, however, be something stronger than nimbu-pani to ease the flow of conversation. Then one can let one's hair (if any) down and say scandalous things about people one dislikes.









India-born, UK-based, US citizen Venkatraman Ramakrishnan's shared 2009-Chemistry Nobel Prize comes a hundred years after Jagadish Chandra Bose became the first Indian scientist to be recognised and honoured in the West.


In a letter written to Bose in 1903, Rabindranath Tagore gushingly declared Bose to be God's instrument in removing India's shame. Those indeed were the days when God operated through the West. But as far as India is concerned, things do not seem to have changed much since.


The Indian reaction to Ramakrishnan's award has been on predictable lines. Beginning with the President herself, every important or self-important person has greeted him. The Indian official scientific leadership now wants him to tour India to inspire youth.


The youth on their part, more particularly, students of his alma mater, Maharaja Sayajirao University Vadodara have expressed their joy by bursting crackers which presumably had been acquired earlier in connection with the cricket trophy.


The new superstar is mildly exasperated by the fuss. "I think it is a mistake to define good work by awards", he told BBC Hind service pointedly, noting that nobody called him about his work " even two days ago".


Subramanya Chandrasekhar, who won the Nobel Prize in 1983, was more pungent. Declining to be felicitated, he pointed out that he had had two heart surgeries either of which could have been fatal. If he had died before nomination, he would not have got the award. Surely, he argued with irrefutable logic, his place in history could not depend on a doctor's skills.


Sadly, placement in contemporary history still depends on a testimonial from abroad. When an Indian academic wins laurels abroad we immediately make him into a poster boy. He is the proof , because proof is needed all the time, that "Indians are no less talented than people elsewhere in the world". At the same time there is regret that his own country was not the theatre of his activity.


The days when a Bose or a C V. Raman could do cutting-edge research by using college lab equipment are gone for ever. Basic science today is a child of high technology. Biology is the scientific discipline of today and the near future. It is still possible to make significant contribution to it.


This would require a two-tier approach. We need to set up a truly national lab equipped and maintained at international standards. There should in addition be a number of smaller feeding labs. We need a Cambridge surrounded and supported by a ring of Utahs.


Before moving to Cambridge, Ramakrishnan worked at the University of Utah from 1995 to 1999. Its Vice-President of research points out that since they "don't have the money to hire the people who are already famous", they "spot the talent and nurture it".


Spotting and nurturing talent is the key thing. Ramakrishnan and the co-winners published their independent work on ribosome simultaneously in 2000.


Western recognition followed immediately. He became a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization in 2002, fellow of the Royal Society of London in 2003, and of National Academy of Sciences, USA, in 2004.


Curiously, the Indian National Science Academy admitted him as a fellow only in 2008. It may or may not be a coincidence, but the same year he became a fellow of Trinity College.


It is noteworthy that Ramakrishnan took a cut in salary when he moved from the US to Cambridge (just as Amartya Sen had done before him). Quite obviously, to a dedicated scientist facilities and research atmosphere matter more than the pay slip. Indeed, a position in the Laboratory for Molecular Biology at Cambridge has been called "a dream job" for someone in structural biology.


Note that it is a national lab in the sense that it is funded by the Medical Research Council. Yet it is located within a university. Lab's Nobel prize winning streak began in 1953 with Francis Crick and Jim Wilson. The factory has so far produced 13 Nobel laureates.


Significantly, the afternoon parties to celebrate the prizes have always been organised by the same person, a technician. The Director, the Director-General, the Vice-Chancellor, the minister, etc. do not seem to figure in these celebrations.


It would be instructive to follow the career graph of the Shanghai-born Charles Kuen Kao, this year's co-winner of the Physics Nobel Prize for work done four decades earlier. Kao started the electrical engineering department in the Chinese University of Hong Kong in 1970, and later (1987-1996) served as its Vice-Chancellor. Thus although personal honour for him has come rather late in life, his own country has benefited from his expertise


We deliberately install our certified celebrities on a high pedestal so that we do not have to listen to them, emulate them or learn from their example. As things stand, may be a scientific Venkatraman cannot become world famous without becoming Venki. (Note in passing that the use of an 'i' rather than a 'y' in the spelling is the modern-day world's concession to Indian sensitivities.)


Ramakrishnan's fame arises from the fact that he made a three-dimensional map of a ribosome sub-unit. Will the country have some use for the three dimensional man himself ? Or, shall we make him into a two-dimensional image so that it can be hung on the wall and saluted?


The writer is a former Director of the National Institute of Science, Technology and Department Studies, New Delhi








It's no great surprise that, in Britain and elswhere, the collapse of the dollar has gone largely unnoticed. Sterling has fallen even further but, from a global perspective, the dollar's difficulties are much more relevant.


The dollar's fall from grace has had a much longer gestation. Its last really big peak was in 2002, at least when measured against a basket of currencies representing America's major trading partners.


Then, the US economy bounced back remarkably quickly from the stock-market crash, the very modest recession which followed and the traumas of the Twin Towers. Investors believed the US had, once again, demonstrated the success of the so-called "Anglo-Saxon" model. No one wanted euros or yen because both Europe and Japan continued to be buried in economic stodge.


Funnily enough, Europe and Japan are still looking rather stodgy. Their economies, like their populations, are increasingly old and infirm. Their currencies, dosed up with financial Viagra, have nevertheless been extraordinarily virile.


Movements in currencies are, of course, all about relativities. The yen and euro may recently have risen in value against both the dollar and sterling but this could just as easily reflect yen and euro strength as opposed to dollar and sterling weakness. On the whole, it is more likely to be the latter. After all, with low interest rates and weak growth, neither the eurozone nor Japan offers the cyclical attractions which typically get currency investors excited.


Disillusion with currencies often stems from inflationary fears. If inflation is about to take off, it makes sense to get out of cash and invest in something else which might provide some degree of inflation "protection". Yet most of the usual anti-inflation suspects are, themselves, rather weak. Residential property prices have risen a bit but still remain at very depressed levels. Commercial real estate is under heavy downward pressure. Equities have shown a strong rally but only from a very low base. Bond yields are very low by historic standards.


And inflation in the US is, if anything, too well-behaved: including all items, prices fell 1.5 per cent in the 12 months to August; excluding the volatile food and energy components, prices rose a rather modest 1.4 per cent.


If inflation isn't a problem, why are investors turning their backs on the dollar? The answer, I think, relates to increased frustration with the dollar's role as the world's reserve currency. Reserve currencies become reserve currencies for good reason. They're trusted and universally acceptable.


In our modern world of huge international capital flows, the US doesn't borrow so much from its own citizens. Instead, it borrows from foreigners. China, Russia and Saudi Arabia are among the countries which have been major creditors to the US in recent years. They have mostly chosen to lend to the US in dollars.


If the US adopts a policy of benign neglect towards the dollar – through low interest rates, a large budget deficit and the gentle hum of the printing press – the risk for these creditor countries is a fall in the dollar which would leave them nursing losses on their huge dollar assets, mostly held in the form of foreign exchange reserves. For the US, this would mark a convenient shift in the pain of economic adjustment from domestic debtors to foreign creditors.


US policymakers will doubtless shrug their shoulders and say, "So what?" After all, other countries had the option of holding fewer dollar assets. Indeed, the US argues that China's holdings of dollar assets are a direct consequence of its desire to hold its exchange rate at a super- competitive level, thereby boosting Chinese exports at the expense of American jobs.


Yet the US has also gained. Without those creditor nations, US interest rates would be a lot higher, debt levels a lot lower and consumer spending a lot softer than they've been in recent years.


A dollar collapse would be a disaster all round. It would drive up the cost of borrowing in the US. It would leave the international monetary system short of stability and long of fear. It would unleash economic upheavals on a similar scale to those seen in the 1970s. And, as the dust settled, the world would be scrambling for a new beacon of stability.


For Asia, the Middle East, Africa and, perhaps, parts of Latin America, that beacon may eventually prove to be the renminbi yuan. After all, China now has an important, and growing, role as a major trading partner for other nations, particularly in the emerging world. By standing to one side as the dollar comes down, the US is not just playing with monetary fire: it may also, inadvertently, be encouraging an epochal shift in the world financial order.


By arrangement with The Independent







Arun Jaitley must have been a very disappointed man after the lacklustre T-20 match between New South Wales and Diamond Eagles last Friday. As is well known , the Leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha dons several caps: a legal practitioner of eminence, an articulate and forceful advocate for the BJP. However, the one he seems to love the most, particularly in the current bad phase for his party, is the chief of the Delhi District Cricket Association.


The DDCA controls Ferozeshah Kotla Grounds where the Capital's cricket lovers flock to all big cricketing events. Last Friday Jaitley had banked heavily on cricket crazy people storming Kotla Grounds, jumping the fences, scaling the walls and breaking the gates.


In anticipation he got the turnstile entry system prevalent at Delhi Metro stations, erected at a very high cost to the DDCA with the difference that these are huge iron gates which no one can jump over. But contrary to all his expectations, there was no one to scale the walls, jump the fence or break the gates, the presence of Bipasha Basu notwithstanding.



Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily's interaction with the press last week was primarily meant for legal correspondents. But a number of reporters covering the Congress had barged into his small office on the fourth floor of Shastri Bhavan, putting political questions and in the process turning the meet into some sort of an AICC briefing.


There were questions about convening the Congress Legislature Party of Andhra Pradesh to have an elected Chief Minister to replace the incumbent chosen by the high command immediately after the tragic death of YSR Reddy in a helicopter crash.


Moily insisted even K. Rosaiah was chosen in consultation with the party MLAs. The high command knew its job very well and that no one was above it. "Even the Law Minister is not above the high command," he remarked, evoking laughter among media personnel. But Moily had obviously failed to drive home his point as after a short while he was queried about the logic behind withdrawing the case against Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi in the Bofors pay -offs.



The high-profile sports-czar of the country, Suresh Kalmadi, faced a situation he is not accustomed to. The Home Ministry had invited security experts from countries that are to participate in the Commonwealth Games next year. Kalmadi hogged the limelight on day one.


The next day Home Minister P. Chidambaram reportedly told Home Secretary G K Pillai to brief the media on the security arrangements as it was purely a security issue.


So as Pillai sat there discussing security for the games, Kalmadi sat quietly to the left of the Home Secretary. No mike facing him and no questions shot at him. He obviously did not appear pleased.


Contributed by Faraz Ahmad, R Sedhuraman, Ajay Banerjee








The Nobel Peace Prize has rarely been free of controversy and, not surprisingly, the conferment of the Award this year to US President, Barack Obama, has 'stunned' the world. Carpers have had a field day condemning the decision, as though the Awards Committee has committed a sin by giving the Award to a thoroughly undeserving person, thereby making it look ridiculous. Their basic argument has been that Obama, having been a mere Senator before becoming the US President barely nine months ago, has not yet contributed anything worthwhile to the cause of global peace. On the contrary, the US under him is engaged in two wars, while Obama himself is responsible for increasing the number of troops in Afghanistan to further the "war against terror." He too has been criticised for not meeting another Nobel Peace recipient, the Dalai Lama, in fear of offending the Chinese. Thus the Award has been seen by the harsher critics to have been made for obvious political reasons, with some reading issues of colour, as well as a blatant attempt to pander to US global supremacy, into it. More charitable among the critics have accepted it as an acknowledgement of Obama's intentions rather than actual achievements, and a somewhat thinly veiled endeavour to induce the US President to continue to reverse American policies initiated by George W. Bush.

However, had every peace prize awarded by humanity so far been based on actual achievements, the world would have been a Utopia by now! The truth is that the Nobel Peace Prize carries an element of symbolism. It is a gesture of recognition of individuals who have been concerned at the way humanity has been going, and trying to do something about it, if not always with success. For instance, how far conferment of the Nobel for Peace on individuals such as Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Aung San Suu Kyi or the Dalai Lama has served to 'accomplish' world peace is moot, though nobody would deny that these individuals in their own way were thoroughly deserving of it. Despite being saddled with two wars not of his making, Obama has been projecting to the world his vision of a world bonded in fraternal ties, irrespective of race, religion, creed or nationality. He has held out a hand of friendship to traditional enemies of the US, in particular countries like Iran, even while projecting his belief that all Muslims are not fanatic zealots. He has expressed his commitment towards building a nuclear free, ecologically friendly and egalitarian world. International politics is too complex for easy, quick and speedy solutions, but Obama has roused the hope in many hearts that such a world order is possible. The Nobel Peace Prize is a symbolic acknowledgement of this hope and is thoroughly deserved by Obama.







Last week, a NASA rocket crashed into the Moon in search of water. Precisely, it crashed into one of its deep, forever-dark craters which scientists believe contain water in the form of ice. The cloud of dust which the impact created will soon be analysed by scientists for traces of frozen water, although the data may take months to be made public. It is also possible that the data would all be 'dry', in case the rocket had crashed into a crater that doesn't contain water. Yet, the precision of this deliberate impact raises the hope for future successes. If NASA indeed finds presence of water this time, the discovery would open up a new horizon for mankind. Ice on the Moon would supply future explorers with water, air and also rocket fuel, by breaking down H2O into hydrogen and oxygen. Once this is achieved, building a lunar outpost will only be a matter of time. With no screen of atmosphere to obstruct the path of rays, scientists stationed there would be able to observe distant objects with greater clarity. Such a station would also help in detecting dangers hurtling towards Earth much earlier and with greater accuracy. The mere thought that it could take only a huge fireball from space to wipe out life on Earth, giving the final conclusion on all our debates and conflicts and wars, is frightening enough. That is why such space probes are important, as they hold the ultimate key to securing the future of life, humanity and that of our beautiful blue planet.

The probe, Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (Lcross), complements the stunning discovery made by India's now-aborted mission Chandrayan I, which had found water molecules in lunar dust a few months back. Finding water on an object other than Earth is crucial to answering some profound questions, especially whether life as we know it is exclusive to Earth. Beyond the Moon, tiny probes digging into the soil of Mars have also been sending back loads of exciting information, especially concerning water activity that had shaped Martian geography. Scientists also believe that life could be teeming in the watery oceans beneath the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa. The Cassini-Huygens probe, sent by the European Space Agency to study Saturn and its family, has also made stunning discoveries, especially about the Solar System's only moon with atmosphere, Titan. Strikingly similar to what Earth had been like billions of years ago, Titan, with a little tinkering by scientists, could be man's new home in distant future, probably when the Sun becomes a Red Giant. Explorations like these have the potential to not only unravel mysteries of our cosmic neighbourhood, but also to unite mankind and accelerate its progress as a whole. Hopefully, the Earth and life on it would be protected and preserved thanks to such giant leaps by science, much before we self-destruct, fighting among ourselves!








There are two things wrong with the Indian consumer. First, he shifted gears two decades ago from a strong belief in a frugal lifestyle to one marked by very conspicuous and reckless consumerism. Second, the manufacturers of goods have always been convinced that the Indian consumer can be taken for a ride all the time. Both these facets of Indian consumerism need to be seen clearly, without overlooking the fact that when we talk about consumerism, we are talking of both goods and services. The first question that may be asked is: how am I qualified to talk about consumerism, what people buy and how they get taken for a ride? I can say that even without being a Ralph Nader, I qualify as a fairly good consumer on four counts. I have been around for over three-score-and-fifteen years, I have travelled a bit and have had to shop very carefully in Europe and America because I wasn't earning in pounds sterling, euros or dollars. But I think that there are two other reasons why I qualify as a fairly careful consumer. I take good care of what I buy, and as someone who is a do-it-yourself man, I know how to go about it. So it is not just that my washing machine lasts two decades without a hiccup or that my car once fetched me more than what I had paid for it when I sold it five years later or that I still wear shirts and suits that are more than 20 years old. But I digress.

I just mentioned the parsimonious Indian who has suddenly become a conspicuous and reckless consumer with an obsession of having to live up with the Joneses. This observation has caused some embarrassment even to the State government because I have also asked some uncomfortable questions like, "If the value of the goods imported to Assam from the rest of India in 2009 is about 1,000 times the value of goods that came in in 1970, why isn't the sales tax revenue on the goods also about 1,000 times and why does it not accrue to the exchequer?" But what is happening to the reckless Indian consumer (more particularly the Assamese nouveau riche) who buys obsessively what he does not need merely because he feels a compulsion to be ahead of his friends and neighbours in his ability to spend money? To quite a few people this is not difficult at all because almost all of this conspicuous consumption is sustained with slush money. That is the main reason why things are costlier in the Dispur market. There is the Johnnie, flush with bribe money in the evening, who thinks he can buy half the market without batting an eyelid. And there is no point of talking to him about consumer resistance movements. He doesn't give two hoots about such moral issues. He cares for nothing except his own physical needs.

A few days ago, four gentlemen had got together to buy a huge rou fish at the Uzanbazar market. They had bargained with the fishmonger and brought the price down to Rs 250 a kilo, when someone in a car with jet black plastic film on its windows dropped by and asked him the price of the fish. The fishmonger said he had been offered Rs 250 a kilo by the four gentlemen. On hearing this, he offered Rs 300 a kilo for the entire fish weighing about eight kilos. The four gentlemen protested. They said they had been bargaining for the fish and it wasn't proper to barge in and interrupt the proceedings. The boor retorted by saying that he was talking to the fishmonger and not to them. He paid for the entire fish at Rs 300 a kilo and called his factotum to pick it up. The fishmonger had no principles and the four gentlemen were too gentle to offer him any real resistance. So that is what happens to consumer resistance in our State. No wonder even the humble potato is selling for Rs 24 a kilo, and neither the government nor the people have been able to do anything about it. The administration has been making tall promises for the last two months, but there is little to be seen by way of price control.

What is indeed unfortunate is that this kind of callous neglect on the part of the administration about holding the price line should be most evident at a time when government advertisements on television never cease to remind us about the consumer having to be wakeful and vigilant. We know what happens to the conscientious citizen who wants to seek the help of the consumer redressal forums that are supposed to be working in aid of the consumer in every State. He is told that the organization does not even have the stationery on which to send off the show cause notices to the offending manufacturers or suppliers to initiate the proceedings. And the manufacturers (who are, after all, industrialists contributing regularly to the kitty of the political party in power) know how powerless the government is to discipline them, how unorganized the consumers are and how far they can take the poor Indian consumer for a ride. So what they make for the Indian market is shoddy and substandard and the guarantees they give with their products are not worth even the paper they are printed on. What is really deplorable is that everything made for children – school bags, water bottles, toys, clothes and so on – is invariably worse than what is made for adult consumers. Our manufacturers exploit the fact that children can be taken for a longer ride because they are more vulnerable and the least likely to complain. And this is the general impression of foreign exporters like China too. I sometimes buy power tools when I go abroad. I find that the power tools made in China for major American brands like Black & Decker or Sears Roebuck are excellent products that cannot be distinguished from what is made in the US. But the power tools and accessories that China exports to India are substandard products made of inferior metal. The really good stuff that China can make never comes to India as a direct export. This is because China knows how little the Indian consumer recognizes what is likely to last and what is a quality product when buying consumer durables. China knows that the Indian buyer can be swindled and does not deserve anything better than what China sends us. The Russians multiply the value of the worthless rouble several times when they sell defence equipment to India.

Apart from what individual exporting countries have in mind when they export to India, the average Indian consumer has already cooked his/her own goose by falling into the trap of the West so easily. The one mantra that gets most Indians every time is globalization. Talk of globalization, and the average Indian thinks he/she has a moral obligation to support all globalization efforts to the hilt. This is not true at all. One of these days I shall probably end up writing why globalization is no more than a mixed blessing for a country like India. But everyone in the corridors of power talks as though globalization is a sacred principle and that it borders on the treasonable to oppose it. The West, the International Trade Organization and the multinationals could not be more euphoric about what is happening to the ethos of the Indian consumer who generally refuses to buy anything Indian down from breakfast cereal to toothpaste. The swadeshi enthusiast is viewed as an oddity to be kept at arm's length.

All said and done, the average Indian consumer is in need of five kinds of help. First, he needs a consumer activist like Ralph Nader of the United States who had brought even General Motors to its knees in the 1960s. He had kept up the pressure both against unethical manufacturers and mindless buyers until consumers began to discover in him a true friend. This made matters much better for both Nader and the consumer movement. Unfortunately Deven Dutta has not been half as fortunate. Secondly, the Indian consumers need a magazine like Which of Britain that was very popular with consumers when I was a student there. The magazine evaluated the performance of different brands of consumer durables like washing machines, refrigerators, air conditioners, vacuum cleaners, cars and so on, discussed their merits and demerits and helped the consumer to make up his mind on the basis of his budget, the going prices and the features that appealed to him. Vested interests did their best to have the magazine closed down, but did not succeed. Which also successfully demolished false advertisement claims made by manufacturers. Thirdly, Indian buyers need very stringent laws in favour of consumers that protect them against cavalier guarantees and warranties that mean nothing. Fourthly, Indians need forceful consumer resistance movements where a consumers' forum makes the necessary complaints on behalf of the public against unethical acts of manufacturers against consumers. Finally, consumers need protection against unethical advertising that seeks to mislead people about products that are on sale. But as a beginning, individual consumers can get foul play by manufacturers and providers of service redressed by making a strong written complaint to the CEO of the organization with a copy of it to the ministry concerned in New Delhi. However, the most important first step is to buy only what one really needs instead of buying to live up with the Joneses or to show off.







In the contemporary world of intellectual property, Traditional Knowledge (TK) also recognised as intellectual production that is a source of economic and cultural value, especially for local communities in developing countries across the globe. Yet, a legal gap exists between the kinds of protections afforded by existing Intellectual Property (IP) law (at international and domestic level) and TK. This legal gap poses serious consequences for the development of different communities in the North East when the region is known for its valuable heritage of herbal medicinal knowledge and to a large extent the communities still depend on the traditional medicines.

Recently in Imphal, there was a rare gathering, held at conference hall of State Forest Department, of traditional medicine healers to showcase their skills in curing a variety of ailments, to exchange notes on different kinds of treatment, and to network to keep their ancient wisdom alive. It was expressed in the gathering that TK of the country are getting eroded due to Western and modern lifestyle influences and as a result there is mad rush for patent rights. It was also expressed that rich traditional knowledge needs to be used to improve the economy of these communities in the North East. Until and unless economic and social security are provided for the traditional healers, it would be hard to preserve our traditional knowledge.

In such a situation and when we talk of TK protection in North East, the interface between the rules of customary laws and modern Intellectual Property (IP) systems achieves importance. Living by the rules of both the regimes definitely helps in shaping IP need of the TK holders by their contact with the formal IP systems on the one hand and informal IP regimes that prevail in their societies and communities on the other. While considering the tribal communities of the northeastern India the TK holders, without much awareness, are situated between their own customary regimes and the formal IP system administered by governments and inter-governmental organisations. Since the TK holders in this region are situated within their own system, it will take time for these communities to have contact and interactions with the formal IP system unless the government comes out with its own policy and legislation. The formal IP system is continuously evolving and its evolution may affect TK holders in such areas as IP protection in the digital environment, protection for biotechnological inventions, expressions of folklore and non-original databases.

The debate over the protection of TK, is an area in which the larger debates are all about how protection of TK under the existing IP mechanism or creating a sui generis system of protection. Some TKs can be protected under the existing mechanism, and therefore, a demarcation line between what can be protected under the existing mechanism and what can be protected as TK needs to be created. Local communities in the North East rely on TK for their cultural and economic value. Existing IP law, based on western norms of intellectual activity, is very often inadequate in recognising such values in the same way it would for other more conventional forms of knowledge that fit into its frameworks. In response, the communities in the region would seek to protect tradition-based intellectual activity in different ways. "Defensive protection" keeps TK separate from IP law, while the "positive protection" seeks to integrate TK into IP law. Underlying the political and economic implications of biopiracy is a profound gap between the TK and IP legal frameworks. In legal terms, this gap lies between the elaborate protections granted by existing IP frameworks to other forms of intellectual activity and the inadequate, or often non-existent, protections available for the misappropriated TK belonging to communities in North East India.

There are two aspects to look at this problem: (1) to what extent a demarcation can be done for the protection of some TKs under the existing IP laws and make legislation for the other TKs which can not be protected under the current legislation (2) look for possible ways to bridge the legal gap between TK and the modern IP legal framework. Both the perspectives are difficult to achieve, though not impossible. But till the world community reaches a workable framework the protection of TK has to go on. In the context of the communities living in the North-East and protection of TK in the region, the seven state governments in the region can come together, since the TKs in the region are very much distinctive compared to the rest of the country.

The legislation on TK, for example, in Peru, gives importance on native language and one can find that while a license contract is made it should be written in the native language or in Spanish. This is what exactly it should be in the case of North East so that people can understand what is being done for their benefits. Then the respect for customary laws governing the TK in the region, documentation of these TK in such a manner so that the TK does not belong to the "prior art" category and still remain protectable – should be addressed in the legislation. The legislators need to be careful keeping all these protection factors in mind for furthering protection of TK in this region. The seven governments of the region can come forward for legislating an Act since the TKs in this region are on the verge of extinction.








The 10.4% growth in industrial production in August is the strongest proof yet that economic recovery is, indeed, robustly underway.


The large variation in growth across sectors suggests that fiscal and monetary policy should continue to be expansive for some more time.

The 10% plus growth for each of the manufacturing, mining and electricity constituents of the index of industrial production (IIP) has taken IIP growth to a 22-month high. This strong performance by manufacturing hinges on a stellar 22.3% growth in consumer durables, possibly due to stocking in anticipation of festival demand.

Intermediate goods also grew at 14.3% suggesting strong production going forward. The numbers, however, lose sheen on industry-wise disaggregation. Eight out of 17 sub-groups reported negative or low growth. Importantly, four out seven industry groups that reported double-digit growth in August 2009, and drove up the IIP, had had negative or low growth in August 2008.

For instance, basic chemicals and chemical products, which sub-group has the highest weight in the index, grew 14.7%, but on a low 2.2% growth in August 2008. This suggests a strong base effect at work, adjusting for which would cause growth to drop sharply.

There is still stress in a number of sectors. Consumer non-durables, for example, continue to confound with tepid growth: 3.7% in August and -1.5% for April-August 2009. The second and final instalment of the Sixth Pay Commission arrears is being disbursed, which should provide further impetus to spending in the next few months, on consumer durables in particular.

But the drought and now floods in the southern states could erode the buying power of a significant portion of the population. Besides, sectors such as construction and automobiles are still to a large extent being driven by low interest rates.

The cheap money regime will have to continue even though there is risk of liquidity-driven asset price bubbles and some spurt in inflation. The government will also have to think of providing income support in regions affected by drought and flood even if it means some increase in borrowing.







This year's Nobel prize in economics, shared by two economists who focus on economic institutions, honours work that further extends our understanding of non-market institutions and the limits of market efficiency.


The very fact of the economics Nobel going to research in such areas serves a purpose in public discourse: it is a useful counter to simpleminded fundamentalism that wants to leave everything to the markets.

There's more. That markets occasionally fail should be easy to digest, at least while the world still struggles to emerge from the global financial crisis and its aftermath. But it is also necessary to understand why they fail, and to identify what alternative institutional arrangements can overcome the factors that cause markets to fail.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has been doing public policymaking a big service by intermittently highlighting advances in economic thinking that challenges both popular dogma on the superiority of markets in all circumstances and its obverse, populist distrust of everything to do with markets.

Elinor Ostrom, political scientist who strayed into economics, and Oliver Williamson, both American academics, have been honoured for work that illuminates the working of non-market institutions.

Prof Ostrom has studied several institutional arrangements of user-regulated use of commons that are superior to either privatisation or reliance solely on government regulation. Her work also shows that rather than rationally optimising costs and benefits on an individual basis, people are willing to accept avoidable personal cost to enforce rules that benefit the community.

Man is not just a rational animal, but also a social animal. Animal spirits of a slightly different kind have been the subject Prof Oliver Williamson's scrutiny, namely, what causes certain activities to be done within the non-market boundaries of a firm, while certain other activities are left to the market.

Transaction costs is the short explanation. There is an insight in it for the outsourcing industry: the better they can specify outcomes in a contractually binding and easily enforceable fashion, the more generation of such outcomes would be taken out of the firm and placed in the market, that is, outsourced.








Time was when thuggery was quite common. Those chaps are supposed to have preyed on unsuspecting pilgrims, chopping their heads off before decamping with whatever they could steal.


Lgend has it thugs elevated their murdering to the status of a cult, with the victims being seen more as human sacrifices to appease the gods. Now, sacrifice, of various sorts, has been quite a hallmark of our civilisational process.

Things turn murky when some sacrifices turn out to be not so voluntary. Normally we treat such stories as instances of superstition, which still runs deep. But what happens when someone entirely unexpected goes sacrifice-loony?

We calmly seem to accept it as part of the landscape. Thus, there was no frenzy over a recent report of two senior scientists at Gwalior's Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) allegedly trying to do the human sacrifice job on one of their junior colleagues.


The wife of the junior DRDE scientist alleges that her husband, being unwell, accepted the kind offer of the senior scientists to "cure" him. He was asked to come to one of the scientist's home, where he's said to have found one of them engaged in a 'worship ritual'.

Allegedly, he was then asked to sleep, while water was sprinkled over him, and realised something was amiss only when a sharp-edged weapon made an appearance. He then presumably legged it right back home. Well, it's all accusations for now, with the police rightly waiting to hear the senior scientists' version. But it does pose a troubling query.

Assuming even the unproved nature of the story, just how does such a thing emerge from among scientists? And chaps linked to our defence industry! Maybe it's all a misunderstanding.

Perchance they were conducting a bit of, um, research. Or maybe it's a hoax. One just has to hope for the best. We're already worried about all those delays in those ambitious defence projects. And we would rather prefer if magic, black or otherwise, was left out of the picture.








The recent meltdown has forced a new debate among rich nations — about missed economic opportunities due to an underperforming education sector. It has spurred a new vigour in official spending on education.


According to a McKinsey report, the current US GDP would have been higher by 9% to 16%, that is, $1.3 to 2.3 trillion, if the high school pass outs had been equipped with the requisite skills. Strangely for us even as a developing economy, spending is not the issue, but educational reform is, if we want to spur our economic opportunity.

Despite an impressive annual $55 billion outlay for education, India suffers from a double whammy of missing social and economic opportunities. A national average dropout rate of 50% means about $15 billion spent annually on education is unproductive, if not a complete waste. Each percentage reduction in this rate can add our GDP — some say, at least a 25%.

In spite of a mammoth spend, we continue to have large disconnects in our system that stymie student development. These force a mismatch between the student's developmental needs and economic requirements of employment.

Educational reforms need to focus on these disconnects in our system. Some simple yet far reaching take-aways from over two decades of global research across over 1,00,000 schools, 300 colleges and 130 universities by MGRM, (Global Education Research ©MGRM 2009; recognised by ministry of science & technology) a global educational rehabilitation based research initiative, are relevant here.

This work suggests that education system should adopt a framework of continuum for all its key stake holders — namely students, teachers, administrators and alumni to address issues of educational reforms including regulation, capacity building and inclusion.

First, our education system must see a student as a continuum — from primary school to higher or technical education ie, until or even during or after employment. And it should not create any discontinuities at any stage.

The system must offer flexible entry and exit options with formal and informal choices. This implies that students be encouraged to take to vocations after school education. They need to be allowed to pursue higher education flexibly. This will ease huge peer pressure on students that cause much fear of failure and open education as a way of life.

Equally, jobs/professions must have options for affordable education and training at every step. Capacity building has to complete these gaps. Such a system will be more sensitive to student needs, inject vocational skill sets and let a student achieve what he wants to be.

This will also open newer opportunities in employment. For employers, it implies larger entry level choices. For students, it is an opportunity to learn in real life. Job experience along with higher studies produces far better productive outcomes.

At the policy level, this means that all parts of the ministry of human resource development — be it primary, middle, secondary, higher, technical or specialist education — need to work under an overarching mission to deliver education with quantifiable objectives. Today, these departments are independent silos with no shared goals.

Given the size and scale of the system today, student development at an individual level can be tracked. MGRM argues in its approach of 'from delivery to development' that this tracking should be from pregnancy stage where the state already runs huge budget to support women welfare. The HRD ministry would need to implement a tracking policy here.

Secondly, teacher also has to be seen as a continuum. We have done little to salvage this beleaguered institution. Once a teacher, always a teacher. This has actually stunted any teacher initiatives. Is teaching a serious career? Vertical and horizontal moves with rewards for performance can motivate teachers. An All India Teachers Service, with different specialisations may be an answer. Teachers should have a compulsory secondment to the government and private sector jobs.

Just a pay hike or title won't do but a career path that is contemporary in outlook can galvanise this institution. But then equally, the teacher output also needs to be subjected to evaluation.

Third is the continuum of administrators with due empowerment. In my many years of interaction with governments, some officials impressed me with their insights and vision. But they are not allowed to continue. Even a three-year stint for a secretary at state or central level is rare. Bodies like UGC and AICTE are built around temporary officials on deputation.

Is the new proposed Central Commission for Higher Education going to be staffed differently in the absence of a given cadre? Where is then the question of ownership and accountability?

There is a need to create an All India Education Service which should rank at par with IAS. This service should help specialise and excel in the field of education. The HRD minister has announced a cadre for trainers which is a welcome move but this needs to be extended to education management. Governance is at the core of the issue here.

Finally, the alumni also need to be seen in this continuum, implying them a continuing part of the education system. There are examples of big funding of IITs by the alumni. Their effective alumni engagement can be a harbinger of huge resource. There is hardly any discussion on this very important resource. They can also be involved more actively in the management of their institutions.

A framework approach may ensure quantifiable objectives for the system. Do we know what outputs do we want from our system like China does? Education policy needs to usher in quantitative goals at each step.

The economic boom of the past decade was sustainable due to available bench strength of the educated workforce. But next boom may be constrained by non-availability of such strength as a demand-supply mismatch will challenge our costs. This then is an impending scenario of missed economic opportunity.








More on Lawrence Kohlberg, the psychologist best known for his theory of stages of moral development. He used the following illustrative story: A woman is dying of cancer. There's only one drug that can save her which a druggist in the same town has recently discovered but he's charging ten times what it costs him to make: $2000 for a dose.


The woman's husband, Heinz, goes to everyone he knows to borrow the money, but can only collect about $1,000. He tells the druggist his wife's dying and asks him to sell it cheaper or let him pay later. But the druggist says: "No, it's my discovery and I intend to make money from it." So Heinz gets desperate and breaks into the man's store to steal it. The question is, should Heinz have done that?

In Heinz's Dilemma as it's come to be known, Kohlberg wasn't so interested in the answers he got as he was in the reasons given for them. That's because his theory holds that the justification which is offered is what's much more significant, ie, the actual form of the response.

The theory also identifies six stages of moral development progressing from childhood onwards, namely: obedience, self-interest, conformity, law and order, human rights and finally, when achievable, universal human ethics.

Thus a child-person at stage one might say that he should steal it because it's only worth $200 and not what the druggist wanted for it. Like, he had even offered to pay for it and was not stealing anything else. On the other hand, someone at stage four (law and order) might say he should steal the drug for his wife but also take the prescribed punishment for the crime as well as paying the druggist what he's owed. Seems fair enough to both sides.

But now let's see what would someone at the so-called very end stage of moral evolution (universal ethics) — which apparently very few people are capable of achieving — say?

According to Kohlberg, such a person's take would be that Heinz should steal the medicine because saving a human life is of more fundamental value than the property rights of another person. Great sound bite but do we hear that right?

Did the famous psychologist never stop to wonder whether an emancipated response like this might not stem from the person being unable to face an impending loss of a loved one and thus doing anything to stop it from happening? Of course, we don't know the answer; we wouldn't be discussing it otherwise, would we?








It was only in the year 2000 that the impact of globalisation on coffee struck me when I was introduced on a coffee farm in Wayanad to a trade union activist called Ben Hur. After staying up late the previous night in Bangalore to watch the 1959 release Ben Hur on TV and getting up early next morning to drive down to Wayanad, I thought I had got the name wrong. However, the visiting card clearly said Judah Ben Hur.


I learnt later that his name was Jagdish and that he had changed it to Ben Hur after being arrested during the Emergency. The fictional Ben Hur was arrested, escaped and defeated his Roman enemy in a chariot-race 2,000 years ago.

They didn't drink coffee in ancient Rome but the brew has always had a global impact, especially in India where over two-thirds of the crop is exported. I met Ben Hur in 2000, during one of the worst global price-slumps for the coffee bean.

In 1994, bean prices had hit the roof due to frost ravaging the crop in Brazil and that triggered off a reckless expansion of cultivation which upset the global supply-demand equilibrium to an extent that bean prices crashed from 1998 to 2004.

Bean prices have stabilised to an extent where, as International Coffee Organisation executive director Nestor Osorio quipped while inaugurating the Third India International Coffee Festival (IICF-2009), coffee-consumption has been recession-proof during the global slowdown of the last 12 months.

However, with 98% of India's 220,825 coffee-holdings being cultivated by small growers, the impact of the six-year price-slump is still felt. During the slump, many growers cut down on fertilisers and pesticides and this has seen the crop being ravaged by pests. Small-grower indebtedness continues.

Coffee Board chairman G V Krishna Rau warned at the IICF inaugural that "production costs are going up, productivity is falling. The sustainability of many coffee farms is a question-mark." Meanwhile, domestic consumption has been growing since 2000 at 6% a year.

India's coffee-cafe revolution has made the brew fashionable among youth — 54% of the population is below 25. Coffee Board surveys project India's 2009-10 crop at over 300,000 tonnes, enough to meet the annual domestic consumption of 100,000 tonnes and maintain exports at over 200,000 tonnes.

However, industry leaders apprehend that production will not keep pace with the growth in domestic consumption. Cafe Cofffee Day chairman V G Siddhartha stated at the IICF that he expected domestic consumption to double in the next 10 years and warned that production was lagging behind, with per-acre productivity for Arabica being below 400 kg, compared with over two tonnes in Latin and Central America.

Within a decade, India's domestic consumption could, he said, be fed substantially by imported beans. And Tata Coffee managing director M H Ashraff stressed the need for new planting material to improve productivity. India's production of Arabica (an essential ingredient in the premium filter-coffee segment) has dropped from 121,050 tonnes in 2001-02 to 92,500 tonnes in 07-08.

Ergo, the next quantum leap in domestic consumption would have to rely on imported beans. However, the import duty on beans is 100% even though the Indo-ASEAN free trade agreement will phase it down to 45% over the next decade.

TickerPlant News quotes Lavazza's business intelligence and planning manager Luca Maulini as saying that the Italian conglomerate would like to enter India's packaged roast-and-ground filter-coffee market but that import duties are a constraint since a good blend would entail a mix of Indian and foreign beans.

In 2007, Lavazza bought over India's Barista coffee-cafe chain and the Fresh & Honest vending-machine business. The entry of Lavazza and other world leaders into India's packaged-coffee market would further brew up domestic consumption.

However, the six-year price-slump for beans has made Indian growers wary of imports. Again, planters employing over 10 people have to provide free housing, medical care and education for workers' children, as per India's 1951 Plantation Act. Planters in other countries do not have to bear such social costs. The government of India's inter-ministerial group recommended in 2003 that social costs be shared between the planter, the Centre and states.

Former United Planters Association of Southern India president Anil Bhandari says that if the problem is sorted out, import of beans at lower duties would give a much-needed fillip to domestic consumption. "Over two-thirds of India's crop is exported.

Arabica bean imports would boost consumption in the domestic market's premium R&G segment. Phased imports of cheaper Robustas could enable coffee to compete with tea as a brew for the masses. A shift by consumers to coffee will benefit Indian growers in the longer term," he adds.

Former Coffee Board trade-member Harish Bijoor says: "A shortage of Indian Arabicas could see imports at lower duties by 2014 itself." The market has a dynamic of its own which policy-makers cannot ignore.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




In the backdrop of a spate of recent incidents of Naxalite violence in several states, and the extremists laying siege to the Lalgarh forest zone in the Midnapore-Purulia region of West Bengal, a weariness with Maoist ways in the country is only to be expected. Nevertheless, the premise that would inform government policy in dealing with the menace had appeared elusive. For the past two years or so, the Prime Minister had content himself with the proposition that the extremists who clothe themselves in revolutionary garb were India's most serious internal security threat. The characterisation didn't appear chiselled enough, leaving the impression in some quarters that the tribal poor — who seem to form a conspicuous recruitment pool for Naxalism at the present juncture — were being labelled the country's enemy. On the political plane, such a view of Naxalism wouldn't pass muster, although it is evident that at the level of leadership Naxalite groups have long ceased to be a core of idealists, and that many in that category appear to be indistinguishable from criminals ducking behind the smokescreen of a pro-people ideology. At his press conference in Mumbai on Sunday, Dr Manmohan Singh did well to bring balance to the government's articulated understanding of the phenomenon of Naxalism. Dr Singh stuck to the formulation of Naxals being "the greatest internal security threat to our country". But he was also careful to observe: "The growth of Naxalism in central India obliges us to look at what causes this sense of alienation among certain sections of the community, especially the tribal community. It could be indicative of the deficiencies in the pace of development. We are looking at that aspect, but groups of individuals have no right to take law and order in their own hands. The designs of these groups are well known and we will take effective measures to counter them." This is as clear as any government can get. The paradox of Naxalism — overt and cruel violence against innocent, often poor, individuals and government personnel and property being engaged in by desperately needy people — is to be understood through the development paradigm, not through the lens of law and order. At the same time, a duly constituted government of a democratic republic must not permit groups to take the law into their hands (whatever their motivation), and that the government must take effective steps to deal with such groups. A view such as this represents a fuller understanding of the Maoist challenge in a democratic setup, and is apt to draw wide support. Thus we have the West Bengal Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, confabulating with the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, on dealing with the troubles caused by the Naxalites. The Prime Minister has also taken a sensible view in rejecting the idea of the armed forces being drawn into anti-Naxalite operations. A needless expectation had built up in some quarters that the IAF might be stepping into "non-offensive" engagements against Naxalites — that they could fire back if attacked. Such a shortsighted approach does not factor in the wider implications of the country's military being used to subdue its own people, especially when secession is not on the cards.








One lesson from the Great Depression is that you should never underestimate the destructive power of bad ideas. And some of the bad ideas that helped cause the Depression have, alas, proved all too durable: in modified form, they continue to influence economic debate today.


What ideas am I talking about? The economic historian, Mr Peter Temin, has argued that a key cause of the Depression was what he calls the "gold-standard mentality". By this he means not just belief in the sacred importance of maintaining the gold value of one's currency, but a set of associated attitudes: obsessive fear of inflation even in the face of deflation; opposition to easy credit, even when the economy desperately needs it, on the grounds that it would be somehow corrupting; assertions that even if the government could create jobs it shouldn't, because this would only be an "artificial" recovery.

In the early 1930s this mentality led governments to raise interest rates and slash spending, despite mass unemployment, in an attempt to defend their gold reserves. And even when countries went off gold, the prevailing mentality made them reluctant to cut rates and create jobs.

But we're past all that now. Or are we?


America isn't about to go back on the gold standard. But a modern version of the gold standard mentality is nonetheless exerting a growing influence on our economic discourse. And this new version of a bad old idea could undermine our chances for full recovery.

Consider first the current uproar over the declining international value of the dollar.

The truth is that the falling dollar is good news. For one thing, it's mainly the result of rising confidence: The dollar rose at the height of the financial crisis as panicked investors sought safe haven in America, and it's falling again now that the fear is subsiding. And a lower dollar is good for US exporters, helping us make the transition away from huge trade deficits to a more sustainable international position.

But if you get your opinions from, say, the Wall Street Journal's editorial page, you're told that the falling dollar is a terrible thing, a sign that the world is losing faith in America (and especially, of course, in President Barack Obama). Something, you believe, must be done to stop the dollar's slide. And in practice the dollar's decline has become a stick with which conservative members of Congress beat the Federal Reserve, pressuring the Fed to scale back its efforts to support the economy.

We can only hope that the Fed stands up to this pressure. But there are worrying signs of a misguided monetary mentality within the Federal Reserve system itself.

In recent weeks, there have been a number of statements from Fed officials, mainly but not only presidents of regional Federal Reserve banks, calling for an early return to tighter money, including higher interest rates.


Now, people in the Federal Reserve system are normally extremely circumspect when making statements about future monetary policy, so as not to step on the efforts of the Fed's Open Market Committee, which actually sets those rates, to shape expectations. So it's extraordinary to see all these officials suddenly breaking the implicit rules, in effect lecturing the Open Market Committee about what it should do.

What's even more extraordinary, however, is the idea that raising rates would make sense any time soon. After all, the unemployment rate is a horrifying 9.8 per cent and still rising, while inflation is running well below the Fed's long-term target. This suggests that the Fed should be in no hurry to tighten — in fact, standard policy rules of thumb suggest that interest rates should be left on hold for the next two years or more, or until the unemployment rate has fallen to around seven per cent.

Yet some Fed officials want to pull the trigger on rates much sooner. To avoid a "Great Inflation", says Mr Charles Plosser of the Philadelphia Fed, "we will need to act well before unemployment rates and other measures of resource utilisation have returned to acceptable levels". Mr Jeffrey Lacker of the Richmond Fed says that rates may need to rise even if "the unemployment rate hasn't started falling yet".

I don't know what analysis lies behind these itchy trigger fingers. But it probably isn't about analysis, anyway — it's about mentality, the sense that central banks are supposed to act tough, not provide easy credit.
And it's crucial that we don't let this mentality guide policy. We do seem to have avoided a second Great Depression. But giving in to a modern version of our grandfathers' prejudices would be a very good way to ensure the next worst thing: a prolonged era of sluggish growth and very high unemployment.


By arrangement with the New York Times








President of the United States, Mr Barack Obama, is confident that he can carry everything and anything with him because of his extraordinary popularity and charisma. But recent events in the US and abroad have proved that there are limits to his charisma.

This was evident when the Olympic Committee on October 2 rejected the application of Chicago as a venue for the 2016 Olympics. Mr Obama and his wife personally advocated Chicago's claim, but they failed miserably — Chicago received only 18 votes out of 94. They failed because Mr Obama, as is his wont, did not attend to the details and believed that emphasising generalities and soaring rhetoric would do the magic.
On the first day of his assuming office Mr Obama issued an order to close down the most hated Guantanamo prison, though he and his advisers had no detailed plan. Now he finds that practically no nation is willing to accept these prisoners and even the state administrations have opposed it. Therefore, the hated facility would not be closed by next January, as promised.

Mr Obama inherited the financial collapse and housing bubble. The stimulus plan which he approved was a stop-gap arrangement. It served its limited purpose — which was to save the banking and automobile sectors. But soon it was found that the banks saved the amount which they had received for future calamities and did not lend. The American auto companies are beyond redemption and so they have closed down some of their outlets and cut down on the workload. There is no perceptible improvement on the housing front either. With rising unemployment, more and more people are losing their houses.

When the stimulus plan was announced, Mr Obama confidently predicted that the plan would generate more and more jobs and the unemployment rate would not increase beyond eight per cent. But it is touching 9.5 per cent right now and is expected to go up to 10 per cent or even more.

The stock markets have recovered, somewhat. But the job prospects are not reassuring. Large number of jobs are created by the private sector and not by the government, and any administration has to adopt policies keeping that in mind. Instead, the still vague healthcare bills are sure to increase taxes, even on small enterprises, and this is holding up investment and increasing uncertainty.

The long debates on healthcare measures in both the Houses of the Congress have exposed the disunity in the Democratic Party and also revealed the defective strategy of the President. He should have laid down clear guidelines and told the leaders of his party what exactly he wanted to achieve. Instead, he asked the Congress to come up with a plan. That is why there are three different bills.

It is true that the Republicans have no health plan of their own and are playing a negative role. The latest senate committee bill will go through several changes and would have to be discussed on the floor. Then the House and senate committees would jointly discuss the bills and would have to arrive at a compromise. This is a long process, and ultimately the bill that will emerge will be a very mild one and the party in power would be able to show that it has made some progress.

It would not fulfil Mr Obama's promise of giving health insurance to all American citizens as more than 20 million would be left without any coverage. Recently, the PBS channel had a programme showing how Netherlands conducts its healthcare plan. The country has succeeded in reducing healthcare costs and improving efficiency. Mr Obama and his party colleagues have berated insurance companies and the Republicans, and they surely deserve blame. But both the parties, because of their vested interests, avoid taking some necessary actions.

While the Republicans are beholden to the insurance and drug companies, the Democrats do not want to disturb the trial lawyers who indulge in frivolous lawsuits. The Democratic Party is also dependent on the labour unions. Mr Obama has not compelled the drug companies to allow generic drugs which would bring down the costs, as is done in the Netherlands and other European countries.

The strategy with regard to the war in Afghanistan is yet to be decided. In March 2009, Mr Obama declared that he had a new strategy and so appointed General Stanley McChrystal as a Commander for Afghanistan. But since June he has not bother to have a single one-on-one consultation with the General. Now the Commander has submitted his plan which says that if the goal is to defeat Al Qaeda, the US would have to increase the troop level by 40,000 personnel.

The US vice-president, Mr Joe Biden, is opposed to an increase in the troop level. He says that the US should scale down and leave the actual combat operations to the Afghan Army which should be adequately equipped. Some think that the Taliban is not a serious threat and a deal could be had with it. It is the Al Qaeda which is to be vanquished and this could be possible by helping Pakistan.

The financial aid which the US provided to Pakistan was mostly used to buy arms for use against India. But the US lawmakers and the government refuse to take any precautionary measures. So with new instalments of aid to Pakistan, India would have to take extra precaution.

General McChrystal holds that the situation in Afghanistan is far more serious than was thought of. He is very critical of Mr Hamid Karzai and his government. The widespread fraud and rigging in the elections have made the legitimacy of Mr Karzai's presidency questionable. Though, that the Obama administration might accept Mr Karzai's presidency. But it is obvious that the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation forces would not receive adequate support from the Karzai government.

The Taliban might not want Al Qaeda in Afghanistan but it has given shelter to it and is a beneficiary. Likewise, the Pakistan government as well as the military might be fighting with Al Qaeda in their own land but they would not help the Americans in their fight with both the insurgent groups in Afghanistan. Because of the strategic depth theory, they want completely subservient administration in the neighbouring state. That is why thousands of the madrasa trainees turning into insurgents migrate to Afghanistan and fight along with the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Even then if the US wants to rely on Pakistan to defeat the insurgents, then she would, eventually, come to grief.








It is rare nowadays to come across people of unflinching and unquestionable integrity. It is even rarer to find in such people a strong sense of personal and intellectual honesty that demands that they interrogate their own actions and arguments with as much sincerity as they turn on others. And it is rarest of all to find such people engaged in public life, where they would constantly have to face the possibly unhappy consequences of such honesty.

Dr K. Balagopal, the eminent human rights activist whose untimely death has shocked a very wide range of people across India, was one such extremely rare person. While there is much else that can be said to praise him (such as his extraordinary commitment, his patient persistence, his personal courage, his completely selfless attitude to the causes he believed in and the simplicity of his manner of living) it may be that this special kind of honesty was at once his finest and most inconvenient attribute.

At first sight Balagopal appeared to be a quiet, gentle person, straightforward and modest in discussions, warm and approachable to people from all walks of life. But while this appearance did not deceive, it also belied an internal spirit that was almost fierce in its commitment and unswerving once he had decided on his particular plan of action. Despite all the superficial gentleness, he was not easily swayed and was definitely not cowed by threats of any sort, even when the threats came from all and opposing directions.

But being influenced by intellectual arguments and logical reasoning was another matter. Throughout his tragically brief life, Balagopal showed that he would form and change his opinions and make decisions on actions based on intellectual understanding that he then subjected to the most rigorous and continuous tests. Perhaps this was the result of his academic training and practice, which clearly put a premium on logical thinking.

Balagopal was first of all a mathematician. He received a doctorate in probability theory at Tirupati and then taught mathematics at the Kakatiya University in Warangal, Andhra Pradesh. That was when the university was itself a hotbed of political activity, and when organic intellectuals were being created and refined by constant interaction with other students and teachers, activists, artists and local people.

The growth of very radical left movements such as the Naxalites (now Maoists) was counterbalanced by attempts by the police and state authorities to contain them through blatantly repressive measures.
In the early 1980s, Balagopal along with the eminent lawyer Kannabiran set up the Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC) which took up cases of fake encounters and unlawful detainment of often innocent people. His involvement in such activity grew to such an extent that he left his academic job and devoted himself full-time to human rights work. He even took up the study of law, so as to be able to practice in court and defend those who had been unfairly accused. He argued hundreds of such cases, usually taking no money from his mostly poor clients.

But by then he was already uncomfortable with what he saw as the one-sided approach of the APCLC, which was largely focused on state repression rather than the violence wreaked by the Maoists which was often equally if not more destructive and irrational. He broke away from the APCLC and created a new group, the Human Rights Forum, and such was his moral authority that a large number of activists from across the state joined him.

The Human Rights Forum continued and expanded the work to cover not only victims of police abuse but also those terrorised by the Maoists, victims of caste violence, those displaced by infrastructure development and the creation of Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and tribal families who were being denied their land rights. There were endless legal cases and almost constant pressures. But Balagopal was indefatigable in his energy and unflagging in his commitment.

He was extremely disparaging of the violent tactics of the Maoists, which he saw as counterproductive, even as he continued to point to human rights violations by the state government. He therefore earned the disapproval of both sides, achieving the distinction of being kidnapped by a vigilante group suspected of having links with the police, as well as being criticised by the Maoists.

This attitude towards violence did not mean that he was unaware of the complexity of the issue. A recent article of his ("Beyond violence and non-violence") noted that the attraction of violence arises from the difficulty — and even marked lack of success — of making the state pull back on any major policy in any major sphere through the standard peaceful means of protest. But he also recognised that localised violence did not achieve much either, other than perhaps altering some local socio-political power structures. Indeed, he noted that it was surprising, in more than four decades of the Naxal movement, how little it has been able to stall or reverse in terms of major policies. According to him, this is partly because "inflicting major political defeats or reversing trends of unequal or destructive development is not on their agenda. Yet it is also true that even if they tried they would not know how to go about stalling such decisions or forces. To put it simply, you can hold a gun to a landlord's head but SEZ or the Indo-US nuclear deal have no head to put a gun to".

This was not the only problem with violence that he identified: perhaps an even greater issue is that it is necessarily crude and blunt, whereas the intelligent exercise of power is subtle, as is capitalist rationality in general. To fight these requires equal or greater subtlety, as well as intelligence and different and more creative strategies of mobilisation and agitation. Of course various features combine to make strong and peaceful mobilisation difficult and therefore "tempts honest activists to look for short cuts, ranging from armed action to public interest litigations. But there are no short cuts".








As the world watches Cambodia's unfolding drama, there is an uneasy feeling that justice for historical pasts may never be available for a generation of Khmers who have faced genocide under the Khmer Rouge regime.
Last week the first case was closed, that of Duch (pronounced Doik), in which the former warden of the Tuol Sleng prison was tried for crimes against humanity in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge Trials.

Duch was the first of five remaining Khmer Rouge leaders to face trial. The other four are Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea. They represent the immediate core that was under Pol Pot, who drove the agenda and vision of the state of Democratic Kampuchea (the name given to Cambodia between 1975-1979 under the Khmer Rouge). Cambodia had initially asked the UN to set up the trials in 1997. However, this became operational only in 2006. Till date Duch remains the only person to have been tried from the top leadership. Apart from these, six others have been identified. However, they remain anonymous and there is already speculation of political interference since it may expose the complicity of others.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia between April 1975 and December 1978. In one of the worst recorded cases of genocide, the Khmer Rouge was responsible for the estimated deaths of nearly two million in a population of seven million.

In the midst of this internal turmoil, external relations with neighbouring Vietnam deteriorated. Interestingly, the revolutionary forces that had fought against the US presence in the region were plagued by their own differences, which became evident after the US withdrawal from the region in 1975. This factor caused a rift between the interpretations of the Vietnamese Communist Party and the Khmer Rouge.

In December 1978, a split faction of the Khmer Rouge, headed by Heng Samrin and current Prime Minister Hun Sen, acted as a front for the Vietnamese military intervention in Cambodia. This intervention divided the regional and extra-regional players along ideological lines. This came to be known as the Third Indo-China War and was finally resolved when the international players backing the various political factions agreed to a UN framework which allowed the country to have a transitional authority under the UN, leading to supervised elections in April 1993.

One factor that kept the Khmer Rouge alive was that the internal political factions ousted by the Vietnamese intervention formed a coalition. Three groups were relevant in this context. The Royalist Party (FUNCINPEC), initially led by Norodom Sihanouk and later by his son Norodom Ranariddh, and the Republicans (KPNLF), led by Son Sann at the national level, gave legitimacy to the Khmer Rouge. The three groups together formed a Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea (CGDK) in 1982.

The UN, which is backing the genocidal trials today, initially maintained the seat of the Democratic Kampuchea regime. This was later kept vacant for a few years and than handed over to the CGDK, a coalition government which included the Khmer Rouge. This was done on grounds that the UN charter had a clause on the inviolability of domestic jurisdication.

One of the issues that will remain critical in terms of finding justice is that there is a certain degree of both national and international level complicity in which players at both levels have been involved in sustaining the political life of the Khmer Rouge. Even within the ruling party today Prime Minister Hun Sen, finance minister Keat Chhon and the President of the National Assembly Heng Samrin, have all been former members of the Khmer Rouge.

Moreover, at the national level there is a generation of youth born after 1978 which does not have any recollection of what that three-year period represented. The courts have resorted to several methods, such as public broadcasting and also making arrangements for villagers to be taken to the auditorium to witness the actual trials. This is to ensure that the recounting of history does not go missed by the generations that came after the genocide. It remains pertinent that a national history must account for the fact that excesses have occurred and this needs to be remembered by subsequent generations as an insurance against the repetition of crimes against humanity.


Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies at the School of International Studies, JNU







Here was an opportunity to cut himself free, in a stroke, from the baggage that's weighed his presidency down — the implausible expectations, the utopian dreams, the messianic hoo-ha.

Here was a place to draw a clean line between himself and all the overzealous Obamaphiles, at home and abroad, who poured their post-Christian, post-Marxist yearnings into the vessel of his 2008 campaign.
Here was a chance to establish himself, definitively, as an American President — too self-confident to accept an unearned accolade, and too instinctively democratic to go along with European humbug.
He didn't take it. Instead, he took the Nobel Peace Prize.


People have argued that you can't turn down a Nobel. Please. Of course you can. Obama is a gifted rhetorician with world-class speechwriters. All he would have needed was a simple, graceful statement emphasising the impossibility of accepting such an honour during his first year in office, with America's armed forces still deep in two unfinished wars.

Would the world have been offended? Well, to start with, the prize isn't given out by an imaginary "world community". It's voted on and handed out by a committee of five obscure Norwegians. So turning it down would have been a slap in the face, yes, to Thorbjorn Jagland, Kaci Kullmann Five, Sissel Marie Ronbeck, Inger-Marie Ytterhorn and Agot Valle. But it wouldn't have been a slap in the face to the Europeans or the Africans, to Moscow or Beijing, or to any other population or great power that an American President should fret about offending.

In any case, it will be far more offensive when Obama takes the stage in Oslo this November instead of Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe's heroic opposition leader; or Thich Quang Do, the Buddhist monk and critic of Vietnam's authoritarian regime; or Rebiya Kadeer, exiled from China for her labours on behalf of the oppressed Uighur minority; or anyone who has courted death this year protesting for democracy in the Islamic Republic of Iran.

True, Obama didn't ask for this. It was obvious, from his halting delivery and slightly shamefaced air last Friday, that he wishes the Nobel committee hadn't put him in this spot. But he still wasn't brave enough to say no.

Obama gains nothing from the prize. No domestic constituency will become more favourably disposed to him because five Norwegians think he's already changed the world — and the Republicans were just handed the punch line for an easy recession-era attack ad. (To quote the Democratic strategist Joe Trippi, anticipating the 30-second spots to come: "He got a Nobel Prize. What did you get? A pink slip".)

Overseas, there was nobody, from Paris to Peshawar, who woke up on Friday more disposed to work with the United States because of the Nobel committee's decision — and plenty of more seasoned statesman who woke up laughing. (Vladimir Putin probably hasn't snickered this much since John McCain tried to persuade Americans that "we are all Georgians" during last year's weeklong war.)

Meanwhile, the prize makes every foreign-policy problem Obama faces seem ever so slightly more burdensome. Now he's the Nobel laureate who has to choose between escalating a counterinsurgency in Afghanistan or ceding ground to a theocratic mafia. He's the Nobel laureate who'll either have to authorise military strikes against Iran or construct an effective, cold-war-style deterrence system for West Asia. He's the Nobel laureate who'll probably fail, like every US President before him, to prod Israelis and Palestinians toward a comprehensive settlement.

At the same time, the prize leaves Obama more open to ridicule. It confirms, as a defining narrative of his presidency, the gap between his supporters' cloud-cuckoo-land expectations and the inevitable disappointments of reality. It dovetails perfectly with the recent Saturday Night Live sketch in which he was depicted boasting about a year's worth of non-accomplishments. And it revives and ratifies John McCain's only successful campaign gambit — his portrayal of Obama as "the world's biggest celebrity", famous more for being famous than for any concrete political accomplishment.

Great achievements may still await our Nobel President. If Obama goes from strength to strength, then this travesty will be remembered as a footnote to his administration, rather than a defining moment. But by accepting the prize, he's made failure, if and when it comes, that much more embarrassing and difficult to bear. What's more, he's etched in stone the phrase with which critics will dismiss his presidency.

Slick Willie. Tricky Dick. Jimmy "Malaise" Carter. Dubya the Incompetent. And now Barack Obama, Nobel laureate. By arrangement with the New York Times









After considerable procrastination, the land scam at Vedic Village appears to have lent impetus to the CPI-M's rectification programme. Two months after the implosion in that upmarket resort and a decade after a similar exercise, the Politburo may have placed itself on course towards a belated semblance of material reformation. Selected comrades are to be sent to what they call a "central party school" for lessons in rectification. The party has been discreet enough not to spell out the criteria for the selection of participants. Still less has it indicated the stature of the members who will conduct these classes. Chiefly, the instruction ought to focus on the ill-gotten wealth of the noveau riche comrades. The warning against the tendency of the "private sector luring comrades'' and the appeal to members not to accept the hospitality of corporate enterprises appears to be linked to the machinations of fly-by-night investors and the cadres at Vedic Village. Unmistakable is the Politburo's overriding concern over what it calls "lifestyle deviations, un-Communist practices and the overnight rich", trends that were highlighted by Biman Bose and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in the aftermath of the Lok Sabha debacle. The fineprint must be the general decline in the quality and probity of the members that the party has had to contend with since the last "rectification document" was adopted in 1996 and with no headway on the issue at the Coimbatore congress in 2008. Clearly, matters have come to a head after the flagrantly unabashed exposure over the past six months. For all that, it must remain doubtful whether a school session from November 1 to 5 in Delhi will help stem the rot. The time-span is hopelessly limited; rectification must be a continual process, whose course content can't be confined to a five-day workshop. The exercise in moral instruction may turn out to be inadequate, almost perfunctory. There was no indication at the Politburo meeting of a follow-through, let alone a monitoring mechanism.

Rather diplomatically, the Politburo skirted another thorny issue ~ its stand on the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act in West Bengal. Any criticism would have chimed oddly with the parallel meeting between the Chief Minister and the Union home minister. With the CPI (Maoist) now a banned outfit, the Act has been used against the extremists. And more recently to arrest Chhatradhar Mahato, the leader of a tribal outfit that is not on the banned list. The party must be acutely aware of the dichotomy, one that has prompted MK Pandhe to clarify that "the state government functions under the Constitution and Central laws are applicable all over the country". As the party has to countenance a dilemma, at least one member of the Politburo has adopted a constitutional perspective.







THREE weeks ago senior police officials were subjected to ministerial ridicule for pandering to the whims of their political bosses. An insight into why such servitude persists is provided by the huge fuss kicked up over an "irreverent" remark by an Assistant Commissioner of Police in Kozhikode. An issue on which North Block appears to opting for calculated silence, even if it reinforces the practice by which netas deem cops inconsequential playthings. Nothing very surprising about that silence, for at the epicentre of the controversy is the Congress party's heir-apparent: yet again has Rahul Gandhi's puerile habit of giving "security" the slip triggered unhappy consequences. Absolutely valid was the ACP giving verbal vent to his frustration when informed that the rising star of the national party had departed from the "official" programme to savour some local delicacies in a congested part of town. The cop's observations, nothing terribly worse than sarcasm, were conveyed to the local party leadership, the usual political pressure was brought to bear and an inquiry was ordered against him. For what? For grumbling that just about the time he was calling it a day, a hard day at that, he had another security situation on his hands? This is unfair, degrading, and deflates the "police reform" balloon that the Union home ministry is floating. For demoralised police cannot deliver. It is not just unfortunate, but downright immature and irresponsible that Rahul should repeatedly seek to make a "hero" of himself ~ showboating should not be confused with valour ~ by publicity-ensuring pranks. If something does go wrong his degree of culpability will be totally ignored, his proximate-security staff would pass the buck onto the local police. And should that happen in a state where a non-Congress party was in power it requires little imagination to predict the fallout. These are difficult times, the terrorist threat cannot be discounted. The home ministry must instruct all those it endeavours to protect that they are required to accept certain restrictions. Should Rahul, and others, find those limitations unacceptable ~ which would be perfectly understandable ~ they must display the moral and physical courage to officially ask for their cover to be withdrawn, be prepared to face the consequences and also inform their party of that position. No one, not even the latest projection of the Nehruvian-Gandhi brand, can have it both ways.







From the tiger in the Sundarbans to the rhino in Jaldapara, the plight of wild life illustrates the failure of West Bengal's forest department to come to grips with poaching, a hazard that is common to most sanctuaries. The number of animals in the endangered category gets further reduced with every such incident. In captivity, they are stolen; in their natural habitat, they run the risk of grievous injury or death at the hands of humans. The equation is today more sinister than what Bert Haanstra had famously envisaged in his film, Ape and Superape.


To dismiss a male rhino's death as the outcome of a "mating fight" was as professionally disingenuous as it was an utterly irresponsible attempt to sweep matters under the carpet even before an investigation was commissioned. The forest department, which has handed over the probe to the CID, was quite plainly trying to cover up its lapses. It is now officially established that the rhino had suffered an injury between the ear and the jaw, inflicted by poachers who had crossed over from Assam. A female rhino, whose post mortem report is awaited, was incapacitated with a wound on the leg.

Clearly, poachers are having a free run of the Jaldapara sanctuary. The modus operandi, whether in south or north Bengal, is much the same ~ with an eye on the hides and skins, the tiger and the rhino are crippled to the point of death. If the forest department claims that it has three kunki (trained) elephants to escort the stray rhinos to the jungles, it begs the question why the locals and a section of the forest staff had pelted the rhinos with stones. To the extent that the male rhino stumbled and drowned in the swirling waters of the Torsa river. Far from containing the menace of poaching, even the rule of law has collapsed in the sanctuaries. The Chief Minister had intervened after the death of a tiger in the Sundarbans. The wild life tragedy in Jaldapara calls for another high-level inquiry.







LONDON, 12 OCT: Scientists claim to have designed a computer programme which can analyse one's snoring sound and accurately diagnose the sleeping disorder behind the breathing problems that can reduce one's lifespan. 

Sleep apnoea causes patients' upper airway to collapse repeatedly, cutting off airflow. Doctors examine how patients breathe while they sleep for signs of the condition, in which the throat wrongly closes over causing the patient to start and briefly wake. Now, an international team, led by the University of Queensland and Princess Alexandra Hospital, has come up with the computer programme to diagnose the sleeping disorder to ensure more patients are diagnosed with the condition and given accurate treatment.

In their research, the scientists took recordings of 20 patients suffering from sleep apnoea and then analysed the rhythms of their breathing. They then tested the new system on another 66 potential patients. They found that the recordings were able to diagnose the condition successfully in up to 94 per cent of cases, The Daily Telegraph reported.

The results of their study, presented at a conference on sleep in Melbourne, have been welcomed by experts. Dr Neil Stanley, a sleep expert, said: "An accurate device to diagnose sleep apnoea from recordings of snoring would be extremely helpful. Many patients are told about their snoring by their bed partner, but some can go years not even realising there is a problem. This (method) seems to be very accurate for low level sleep apnoea."







IT is a pity that land reforms are gradually moving out of the priorities of the Centre. This is in sharp contrast to the emphasis that is accorded to the flagship rural development programmes, notably the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The neglect of and the failure to initiate land reforms is at least partially admitted in government documents.

For example, the 11th Plan document admits that the quantum of land declared surplus is far short of the land which was estimated to be surplus on the basis of the national surveys. While only a part of this limited 'surplus' area has been actually distributed among the poor, "there are also widespread complaints that lands under the ceiling laws are not in their possession".

The Planning Commission has admitted that as many as 8 million rural households lack homes of their own, not to mention cultivable land. The people either live in a house constructed on the land of others or provided by landowners in return for forced labour. This is an official admission that the practice of bonded labour persists and is even linked to complete landlessness of the poorest rural households.


THAT this neglect of land reforms and justice has had a harmful impact has also been admitted by the government. The Planning Commission has observed: "The increase in extremist activities in many tribal districts can be linked to issues related to land including alienation of tribal land."

Large-scale displacement has aggravated the problem. After independence, land reforms were undertaken with the objective of helping landless farmers become small peasants owning small plots of farmland. Sixty years later, we have come to realise that this programme has not been successful. The achievements have been so limited as to be almost negligible. On the other hand, displacement has reduced small peasants to landless workers. On account of the injustice, small farmers are facing an economic crisis.

This is perhaps the biggest tragedy of agricultural India. The noble aim of helping the landless to become farmers was distorted to the harsh reality of turning farmers into landless workers.

Land reforms must be comprehensive enough to include both these aspects: (a) providing land to the landless peasants; and (b) protecting the land rights of existing farmers. Such an exercise can be more useful than any other programme in reducing poverty, increasing productivity, ensuring food security as well as bringing peace and justice to the villages.

Furthermore, it can create the mass base for ecological regeneration. Millions of beneficiaries of land reforms can be mobilised to repair the traditional irrigation sources, take up various soil and water conservation schemes, protect and regenerate forests and undertake afforestation programmes. A massive environment protection and regeneration scheme can ensure sustainable livelihood and food security. The funds earmarked for rural development and poverty alleviation schemes can create stable and sustainable sources of livelihood.
Land reforms should be placed in the forefront of the efforts to reduce poverty, promote sustainable development of our rural areas and bring about enduring peace and justice to our people. For this, we should prepare a comprehensive plan to distribute at least 50 million acres of land to about 25 million landless and near landless peasant households in the country (about 2.5 acres of land each to entirely landless peasants and about 1.5 acres of land each to those marginal peasants who already have some land). The programme should be carried out over the next decade.

To make this a reality, we need to launch a time-barred drive to ensure that wherever land pattas have been given to the poor, they should be able to occupy the land and start cultivation. The distribution of the remaining bhoodan land should be expedited to ensure that the "ceiling land" that has been identified but not distributed among the poor can benefit them.

Legislation, recently introduced to provide land rights to tribals in disputed areas, is welcome. However, a large number of tribals and poor farmers, involved in disputes with the forest department, have been left out of the scope of this legislation. Efforts should be made to involve such people in tree-farming schemes so that the objective of increasing tree-cover can be reconciled with protecting the livelihood of these people. This will also guard against evictions. Cases relating to alienation of tribal land should be resolved speedily so that the land belonging to the tribals is restored to them.

THE landless and the rural poor should be mobilised to identify the additional land that can be made available to them in and near their villages. Encroachments on community land/government land should be removed so that this land is available for use by the poor and the community in general.

Reclamation of cultivable wasteland should be speeded up preferably by providing rights and resources to the rural poor. Legislation ought to be enacted to curb farm land ownership by the urban rich and the absentee landowners. Homestead land with full legal rights, preferably with some space for kitchen garden, should be guaranteed to the poor households.

As far as possible, fertile farmland should not be acquired for non-agricultural purposes. If this cannot be avoided, alternative land should be provided to the displaced peasants by developing cultivable wasteland. Those evicted because of the construction of dams can be given a part of the newly irrigated land. Tracts belonging to the small peasants should not be auctioned to pay debts. Inexpensive technology, based on better use of local resources, should be encouraged to reduce economic losses of vulnerable farmers.
Efforts should be made to link the rural employment guarantee scheme with land reform so that maximum soil, water conservation and irrigation benefits can be provided to the particularly vulnerable and poorer farmers. Mixed farming systems and organic farming should be encouraged. So too must cottage industries, particularly khadi. Mahatma Gandhi's objective of making villages as self-reliant as possible needs to be fulfilled in this day and age as well.








The three closely-paced terror attacks in Pakistan — targeting a United Nations office in Islamabad, a Peshawar marketplace, and then the army headquarters in Rawalpindi — point to an established truth. There is a syndicate of terror at work that cuts across national boundaries and even national interests. The last is what the daredevilry in Rawalpindi proved most emphatically. The militants who stormed the general headquarters of the army drew their resources from terror groups that Pakistan has so long either patronized or tolerated. Unfortunately, this is not a truth Pakistan is unfamiliar with. Earlier attacks on the headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence and on a paramilitary training centre near Lahore have made this clear. If Pakistan has ignored this knowledge repeatedly, it is because of its warped notions of how to maintain a regional balance of power. It has used the Afghan Taliban to retain "strategic depth" in Afghanistan and to minimize India's influence in that country. The two bombings of the Indian embassy in Afghanistan bear this out as much as Pakistan's refusal to flush out militants from its borders with Afghanistan. Within its own borders, it has supported terror groups to promote jihad in Kashmir and keep its borders with India perpetually in a flux.

The mounting violence that Pakistan has been witnessing is the pitfall of this policy. Terror groups have gradually reached out to one another and established networks, strengthened as much by ethnic and religious bonds as by adversity. Pakistan's pogrom for the decimation of selective groups of militants (targeting only those menacingly anti-national) is one such circumstance. The greater the success of this operation, the greater the backlash from militant ranks. The present spate of violence is the Taliban's answer to the Pakistan army's intensive operation on the north-western borders that killed the Taliban leader, Baitullah Mehsud. His successor, Hakimullah Mehsud, eager to claim leadership in the face of severe contest from his rivals, has stepped up the offensive to leave a mark of his daring.


Given the preoccupations of the newly emerging leadership of the Pakistan Taliban, the militants cannot conceptualize how unceremoniously they are forcing the hand of the Pakistan authorities. The Pakistan interior ministry has already indicated that the Rawalpindi operation leaves "no option" for the administration but to go where it had so long been unwilling. Pakistan will now have to carry its war not only into South Waziristan (and Quetta and Muridke as stipulated by the Kerry-Lugar bill), but also perhaps into Punjab, where the Taliban links have spread. That might entail a different kind of war between the army, which cultivates anti-India linkages here, and the civilian leadership, which is forced to prioritize welfare over war by its international donors








Attitude, values, life skills: what do these words really mean? What is it to be emotionally skilled, for instance? Social scientists, psychologists, philosophers, novelists and poets would all take deep breaths before hazarding definitions of these slippery terms. So it is alarming to see the superb confidence with which the Central Board of Secondary Education is thinking about grading students not only on their subjects, but also on matters of human character and personality. It is a question of what can be measured and standardized in a way that would be fair to human individuality and potential. One of the reasons for making the Class X examinations optional and for switching to grades was to avoid subjecting students narrowly and oppressively to a rigid evaluative system. To aim to do this, while also extending the scope of the evaluation from performance to values shows confused thinking on the part of the board regarding what its role should be in the lives of secondary students. Testing and certification are necessarily objective, and therefore impersonal, processes. So grading mathematics is one thing, and grading morality quite another.


That seems to be the biggest risk, and presumption in this entire exercise. To grade values, they have to be defined first in a thoroughly uniform and universally applicable way. And this, by definition is, and should remain, an impossible task that no board of education should presume to undertake. This is not to say that values are not important or relevant to secondary education. They are, deeply. But some things can be measured and graded and some things cannot, and any good and humane system of examination and certification should be able to understand this distinction. Assessing academic performance is what the board is for, and not for making moral judgments.









Kapil Sibal has been amongst the most 'visible' of cabinet ministers in the present United Progressive Alliance government. The minister for human resource development has shown indefatigable enthusiasm in formulating schemes and plans for the education sector, as well as in meeting various stakeholders and the media. Unfortunately, his efforts do not seem have fetched him the rewards that he was perhaps hoping to receive. The gulf between goals and likely achievements grows ever wider.


A symptom of the malaise in higher education is the agitation launched by faculty members of the Indian institutes of technology. Despite several months of protests and demonstrations, and some meetings between government officials and representatives from the teachers, the latest announcement of pay scales has been judged grossly inadequate by the IIT faculty. Scientists from institutes such as the Indian Institute of Science as well as faculty from the various Indian institutes of management are very likely to come to the same conclusion.


The specific points of disagreement between the IIT teachers and the government are not as important as some of the broader issues connected with the higher education sector — although they are clearly related. Manmohan Singh and his government want to set up several 'world-class' educational institutions, and presumably maintain the standards of the existing institutions. What bundle of salaries and other facilities will be sufficient to attract world-class researchers, the overwhelming bulk of whom are currently outside the country, to return to India? What will induce bright young engineers to choose an academic career in the IITs instead of entering the vastly more lucrative private sector? How will the very large expenditures be financed?


Unfortunately, this does not imply that academic salaries are adequate. Some numbers may put things in perspective. The starting salary of an assistant professor in economics in a good North American university is over $100,000. Even after adjustment for higher prices in the United States of America by the so-called purchasing power parity index, this figure in Indian rupees will be roughly Rs 1,600,000. So, even if we assume that young economists abroad will readily give up, say, 25 per cent of their PPP-adjusted US incomes in order to return 'home', they still need to be paid about double the current salaries.


Moreover, Sibal and his crew must realize that salaries constitute just one component of a much larger package that researchers take into account when they evaluate alternative job offers. Experimental scientists need state-of-the art laboratories. All researchers, both in the sciences and humanities, need first-rate libraries, computers and software, generous research grants to travel abroad in order to attend conferences and workshops, to work with foreign collaborators. How many Indian institutions offer any of these facilities?


The setting up of first-rate educational institutions (or upgrading existing ones) is clearly an expensive business — marginal changes in salaries, minuscule increases in research grants — will simply be money wasted. This raises the question of whether the government should be the sole or even principal financier of higher educational institutions. After all, public money spent on a new university means so much less money available for a new hospital.


There is no reason why other providers cannot enter the scene. For instance, the private sector has a relatively small presence in the higher education sector, at least partly because of the widespread feeling that they will charge high fees and thus make high quality education the exclusive preserve of the rich. However, this is not an inevitable consequence, once a corrective mechanism that I discuss later is installed. The private sector has typically entered specific segments of the higher education sector — medicine, management and engineering. Graduates from these institutes earn very attractive salaries almost immediately after they obtain their degrees. Surely, they should be charged the full cost of their education? Indeed, I have always wondered why management institutes need public grants. The government should withdraw almost completely from the scene by giving the IIMs complete autonomy over what they teach, what fees they charge, what salaries they pay their faculty — but ask them to support themselves.


Of course, foreign direct investment is typically a very useful source of additional funding in several sectors of the economy. It is tempting to conclude that the entry of foreign universities into the higher education sector will play a similar role. This has been a hotly debated issue in recent times, and the government has refrained from trying to pass the appropriate legislation in the previous Lok Sabha since it was not sure of securing majority support. The Telegraph and other newspapers report that a bill allowing the entry of foreign universities will soon be presented in the current Lok Sabha. If some of the best universities set up campuses in India, it will certainly augment the supply of high quality education in India, and should therefore be encouraged. Unfortunately, this will not be an unmitigated blessing. Presumably, they will offer substantially higher salaries and facilities to their faculties. One consequence of this will be that the better researchers in our existing institutions will be tempted to join the local campuses of the foreign universities.


The greater participation of the private sector and foreign universities will certainly result in a significant increase in fees. Liberal government scholarships can mitigate some of the adverse distributional consequence. But perhaps a more wide-ranging solution is for the government to put in place an extensive system of student loans. All needy students should be able to obtain loans at reasonable rates of interest, and be required to service these loans only after they start earning. Such systems exist in several countries, and there is no reason at all why they cannot be introduced in India.


At least in the next few years, the government will continue to be the major financier of higher education in India. If we want world-class institutions, then we have to provide their researchers with job packages which are comparable to similar institutions elsewhere in the world. Perhaps it is time to make a radical departure from the current system, where virtually all institutions are treated alike in terms of salaries and other facilities. The only feasible 'financial plan' is to select a few institutes and provide them resources on a vastly different scale. This is admittedly elitist. The alternative is the current system where only wealthy parents can afford to send their children abroad to the best universities. Surely, the latter is significantly more elitist and inequitable?


The author is professor of economics, University of Warwick









Six days before the elections in Maharashtra, Uddalak Mukherjee spoke to Kalawati Bandurkar in an attempt to fill the gaps left in the many reports about her change of mind


Six days before October 13, the day of elections in Maharashtra, I travelled to a village in Yavatmal, in the east-central part of the state, to meet Kalawati Bandurkar. On the three-hour journey from Nagpur to Jalka — the village that is home to this widow from Vidarbha — I reflected on what I knew of Kalawati. My knowledge was entirely based on what had appeared in the media ever since Kalawati had decided to file, and then withdraw, her nomination papers from Wani.


This is what I knew of Kalawati till then. Rahul Gandhi had visited Kalawati in June 2008, three years after her husband, Parshuram Bandurkar, committed suicide. The crop had failed, leaving him and his family in heavy debt. Later, in a trust-motion speech in Parliament, Rahul Gandhi had pledged his support for the Indo-US nuclear deal by stating that the agreement would improve the lives of women like Kalawati. The rousing speech catapulted Kalawati into the national consciousness. Bindeshwar Pathak, the founder of Sulabh International, announced that the non-governmental organization would provide Kalawati with a fixed deposit of Rs 30 lakh. The sum would help Kalawati earn a monthly interest of Rs 25,000 for 20 years.


This year, in the month of September, it was reported that Kalawati had agreed to contest the state elections. She was given a ticket by the Swatantra Bharat Party, and the Vidarbha Janandolan Samiti, led by Kishore Tiwari, supported her candidacy. However, Kalawati fell ill and withdrew from the fray soon after. Apparently, her son-in-law had threatened to commit suicide if she decided to fight the polls. It was also reported that Kalawati's withdrawal may have been brought about by intense pressure exerted by her political opponents as well as by her benefactor.


The media seldom reveal the entire truth. Facts are often published selectively, and questions are left unanswered. For instance, it has been reported that Kalawati is a puppet who is only too willing to dance to a tune set by others. And that she is selfish, for she has refused to share the money given by Sulabh with the 15 other widows of Jalka. Hours later, as I chatted with Kalawati in a bare room dominated by a single cot, my mind grappled with queries that had gone unanswered in the official reports. Kalawati may have been a puppet indeed, but do we know enough about the circumstances that led to her transformation? Can privileged city-dwellers, including journalists and members of the political class, imagine what an assured monthly income of twenty-five thousand rupees means to a widow mired in debt and struggling to bring up a large family? Moreover, do they have a right to comment on what this woman chose to do with her legitimate wealth? Or for that matter, are they aware that unexpected prosperity can change the aspirations of people who have suffered years of hunger and deprivation? All afternoon, Kalawati and I sat weaving together bits and pieces of her life. Soon I could glimpse the patterns of an old story unfolding differently. This then is Kalawati's story, as she wants the world to know it.


Kalawati was born in Bhallar, under the Wani block, to a family of farmers. After her marriage, she shifted to Sonegaon in the Chandrapur district, but returned to Jalka after her family lost their meagre plot in a series of litigations. In 2005, her husband died, after which she led a life that was similar to that of the other widows in the region. Having no land of their own, these women raised crops on rented tracts. Known as batai in Marathi, this system of labour involved raising loans from local moneylenders at exorbitant rates.


But Kalawati's life did change one June morning. She had a visitor, a fair-skinned young man, who introduced himself as Rahul Gandhi. When she continued to stare at him, unable to comprehend the significance of those words, he told her that he was Sonia Gandhi's son. This was when Kalawati realized that he was no ordinary visitor. Rahul asked Kalawati about her problems, listened to her patiently, refused to step inside the hut or drink the water that was offered, and left after assuring her that he would see what could be done. Soon after, Kalawati received the news of Pathak's generous offer.


During our conversation, Kalawati repeatedly said that she was indebted to Rahul Gandhi. Yet it was evident that she knew how lucky she had been. Had the Congress leader walked past her house, the first that one sees while entering Jalka, she would have remained unknown and in penury.


After the polls were announced, Kishore Tiwari of VJAS called her one night and asked her to contest. Kalawati refused his offer, but on a visit to a local market in Pandharkawada, she discovered to her horror that Tiwari had announced her name as a candidate from Wani. After a local newspaper reported her unwillingness, she was bundled to Nagpur and made to tell the eager media that she was contesting voluntarily.


What had happened on that day in Nagpur, I asked, and why had she lied? Kalawati answered that all she remembered of that day were the sound of flashbulbs, and the difficult questions that she was made to answer. She could not tell the truth, not at that point of time, because she had found it difficult to defy Tiwary publicly. She was (and still is) a member of VJAS, and Tiwari is a powerful figure. Tiwari had also offered Kalawati's son-in-law one lakh rupees to get her approval. When he failed, the terrified man told Kalawati that he would have to choose death over life. This fact was later tweaked by Tiwari, who cited it as the reason behind Kalawati's withdrawal.


September 25 was the last day for filing nomination papers. The night before, Tiwari and his supporters got Kalawati admitted to a hospital in Yavatmal against her wishes. She was administered saline, although she knew that she was not seriously ill. The following day, instead of taking her back to Jalka as promised, she found herself in Wani where she was asked to file her nomination. Only then was she allowed to return to Jalka.


While Tiwari cajoled and threatened to get her to run for the election, Kalawati was also under pressure to refrain from a contest that would pitch her against the Congress on a turf that was once considered the party's bastion. In a letter dated September 19, a copy of which I was shown by Kalawati, Bindeshwar Pathak asked her to stay away from politics. I scribbled a few lines from that letter on a pad, and they go like this: "Because God cannot descend down on earth in physical form, he incarnates [sic] in form of a human being to mitigate the sufferings of mankind. For you Rahul Gandhiji is just like God…." The letter may be couched in entreaties, but there is no missing its real intent. Kalawati did not miss the not-so-subtle hint either. She announced that she will not fight the elections on September 29, the last day for the withdrawal of nominations, fearing that the financial support will be withdrawn.


Kalawati's retelling of her own story may not differ radically from the media reports. But it certainly fills some crucial gaps: none of the reports I had read mentioned Pathak's letter or its content. Tiwari's coercive tactic — getting Kalawati admitted to hospital without informing her family, for instance — and his offer of money to her son-in-law had also gone unreported.


Kalawati's version, however, needed to be corroborated, and I decided to cross-check the information with two others. One of them, Abhay Moghe, who works for the Gramin Samassya Mukti Trust in Jalka, has no stake in this chain of events. He said that Kalawati was speaking the truth. The other person was Kishore Tiwari, and I caught up with him after tailing his milky-white campaign vehicle for a while near Pandharkawada. Tiwari made me sit in his vehicle that had this slogan embossed on it: "Deva ne dhadla garivcha manus (God has sent me to help the poor)". He admitted that Kalawati had "never" been interested in elections. I reminded him of his repeated assurances that she was contesting out of her own free will, but he seemed not to hear me, although the blaring loudspeakers were some distance away. He blamed his opponents — the Congress, the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party — for engineering Kalawati's pull-out. I had just enough time to ask him whether he considered himself responsible for changing Kalawati's life unalterably. With a dismissive wave, he said that in politics, the end justified the means. After stepping out of the vehicle, I saw something that was as remarkable as his words. Babytai Bais, the woman who had replaced Kalawati in Wani, stood greeting some people by a roadside tea stall. The men responded by shouting slogans in Tiwari's name.


Kalawati's story, real or abridged, is important because it exposes three critical failings in India's democratic structure. First, our democracy arguably entails free elections, but it seldom safeguards the free will of the poor who may find themselves saddled with great responsibilities. Second, the attempts to portray Kalawati or Babytai as knowledgeable 'representatives' of the agrarian crisis can only be considered cynical and illegitimate.


Earlier, I had spoken to Sanjay Deshmukh, the collector of Yavatmal, the worst-affected district in Vidarbha, and he told me that 1,674 suicides have taken place among farming families in the last nine years. Of these 1,043 deaths were found to be unrelated to issues such as loan or crop failure. This year, the suicide figure stands over 70, but all of them cannot be labelled 'farmer suicide'. These are official figures, and the possibility of the actual figure of suicides being higher cannot be discounted. With her limited education and awareness, Kalawati expectedly demonstrated little knowledge of, or the ability to resolve, the crisis which, according to some activists, is symptomatic of the impact of liberalization on India's agriculture. So, finally, there is also the question of introducing checks and measures in the political process to identify and penalize the people responsible for exploiting Kalawati's credulity.


I was scheduled to leave Jalka in the afternoon. Kalawati, I was told, would be leaving as well, sometime in the evening. No one quite knew where she was headed, but she had decided to return after the elections. Kalawati conceded that her brief experience of the democratic process had left her bitter and disempowered. These days, she often wonders what had stopped her from going her husband's way during that difficult time marked by campaigns, press conferences and flashbulbs. But then, when she looks at her new home, and the children who no longer go hungry, she knows why.










Sixty years is an auspicious life cycle in the Chinese lunar calendar as the zodiac would have completed a full circle and a new cycle and new vitality would have begun. National celebrations on the occasion at Beijing indicated to a similar tone as the People's Republic of China was observing its 60th founding anniversary.

President Hu Jintao, addressing the 2,00,000-strong audience at Tiananmen Square, said that China is striving to build a "rich, strong, democratic, civilised, harmonious and modernised socialist country."

Hu also said, "China is prepared to make due contributions to the world. This is a significant change from the past pronouncements and to some extent represents the changing goals of the current fourth generation of leadership in China.

Firstly, Mao Zedong, speaking from the same rostrum in 1949, said that Chinese people have 'stood up' against imperialists and that the Chinese leadership is on the path of building socialism. Subsequently, socialist projects such as agricultural productive cooperatives, people's communes, cultural revolution, Third World solidarity, etc were launched which were disbanded by the second generation of leadership under Deng Xiaoping from 1978.

Today, the country wants to initiate far reaching reorganisation and reform of every walk of life of the Chinese, including intensifying market economy, opening communist party for private entrepreneurs or vying for a seat at the high-table in international relations. China today is also increasingly involved in cajoling smaller countries such as Vietnam or the Philippines in disputes related to the South China Sea or others in economic and trade related issues.


Secondly, while there has been some continuity in the last six decades and possibly in future too, such as in providing legitimacy and expansion for the ruling communist party, military's influence, certain nuances with the past and possibilities for new trends in the future are visible. For instance, today, the Chinese leadership makes unabashed statements about the rejuvenation of the Middle Kingdom, display great power mentality, spreading neo-Confucianism, delink with the Third World countries and associate more closely in a 'responsible stakeholder' framework with the developed countries.

Thirdly, with its status as the third largest economy in the world, China's bargaining capacity in international economic and diplomatic affairs is increasing unlike in the past when China was a relatively backward and underdeveloped country and counted little at the high table. Today, piggybacking globalisation, China is attempting to transform internally and externally. Internally, massive urbanisation programme was launched and the 'excess' peasantry is being fed to the teaming working population in the cities, despite growing income inequalities and growing unrest.

Externally, China is at the forefront internationally of selective investments in strategic sectors with its $ 2.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves. These are so far mainly in US treasury securities, foreign institutional investors or in the energy sectors. China expects to reap rich dividends through these ventures.

Unlike in the past when China used brute force to address its perceived sovereignty claims or to counter the then super powers — the US or the Soviet Union, today's China is reassessing the strategy, without renouncing the use of force.

Indeed, coercive diplomacy or even as the 2006 white paper on defence suggested, "deterring regional conflicts from breaking out." The current strategy of the fourth generation of leadership means that China ought to convey to the adversary that the intended punishment on the latter would be swift, decisive and totally paralytical. Several aspects of the current military strategy of China are in subscription to the above point of view.

The current leadership is also moving away from even the second generation of leadership of China, viz, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and others. In the 1980s, for instance, Deng Xiaoping suggested that China should follow the strategy of 'hiding capabilities and bide for time,' while focusing on economic development.

Today, China appears to be displaying its capabilities and its rise. The Beijing parade on 60th anniversary is a reminder of this display — exhibiting solid propellant, land-mobile, multiple re-entry capable long-range ballistic and cruise missiles, multi-role aircraft, Marine Corps and other hi-tech equipment.

On Taiwan, certain new beginnings are visible in China's strategy, triggered by the victory of Ma Ying-jeou last year as the president. Instead of the previous policy of 'liberating Taiwan' or 'peaceful re-unification' or countering 'Taiwan's independence,' President Hu says that China will "push forward the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait."

(The writer is a professor in Chinese Studies at JNU, New Delhi)








In this gloomy era of swine flu, recession, terror attacks and scams, the popular comic strips and cartoons are my only source of cheer. A daily staple, they serve as a tonic that peps me up and banishes the blues albeit temporarily.

Over the years one character who has consistently done more to keep me in good spirits than a bottle of Scotch is Beetle Bailey — the skinny, cynical-looking American GI with his cap perpetually covering his eyes, even when he's in bed. If GI stands for galvanised iron, then Beetle is certainly that and more. For the irascible Sarge, his boss, ruthlessly uses him as both a punching bag and stomping ground, quite literally, to work off his ire and frustration. Beetle, of course, is the bane of Sarge's life and his constant target.

Yet, Beetle epitomises resilience and resourcefulness. He knows all the tricks of the trade to survive in Camp Swampy where his sparring partners include an odd assortment of GIs, besides Cookie, the beefy chef with a heart tattooed on his arm whose speciality is SLOP — an acronym for 'Stewed Leftovers On Potato' — which is anathema to the men.

Beetle's an expert at catnapping undetected during working hours, unfailingly botching his assignments, outsmarting Sarge and dating the General's pretty secretary, Miss Buxley. Once a colleague asks her, "How did your date with Beetle go last night?" "Fine," she replies, adding stoically, "The dinner cost me 35 dollars."

Sarge's eccentricities include a pampered mutt called Otto who sports an army uniform and cap and shares his master's bedroom — with a cot of his own. Inevitably, the canine is the butt of Beetle's jokes. Sarge is also food-crazy. Once he sends Beetle to pick up three doughnuts from the canteen.   When the latter returns with only two, Sarge is riled. "But I asked for three!" he snaps. "Sorry," says Beetle quite bluntly and truthfully, "I'm afraid one didn't make it here!"

Contributing to the high jinks are the bewhiskered General and his shrewish wife — Beetle often gets enmeshed in their tantrums — and the army chaplain who dutifully doubles as the soldiers' conscience-keeper.

Beetle Bailey and a sexagenarian like me may seem strange bedfellows. But I'm an unabashed escapist who banks on Mort Walker's lovable creation for a much-needed chuckle or laugh. Indeed a friend tells me I've a Beetle in my bonnet








Who would have thought - Turkey and Armenia agreeing to normalize political relations. Armenia's president planning to attend a football match in Turkey. And George Papandreou, the new Greek prime minister, making Turkey the destination of his first trip abroad.


These are encouraging examples of how age-old animosities are being relegated to the dustbin of history.


Too bad, then, that Ankara appears to be simultaneously doing everything it can to junk its relationship with the Jewish state.


On Sunday, in an unprecedented slap in the face, Turkey cancelled joint military exercises that were to have included pilots from Israel and NATO. At first, the Turkish Foreign Ministry lamely denied politics was involved. Then Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu admitted on CNN that only when the "situation in Gaza" is improved could "a new atmosphere in Turkish-Israeli relations" be established.


Analysts in Jerusalem suspect the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using the unfortunate civilian deaths during Operation Cast Lead as a pretext for distancing Turkey from Israel - diplomatically, strategically and economically.


ORDINARY Israelis find it hard to believe that faced with similar provocations - its population pounded by 8,000 rockets, murderous cross-border incursions, the kidnapping of one of its soldiers, the refusal of the enemy to abide by a cease-fire - the Turkish military would have refrained from taking action to stop the rocket fire and reestablish its deterrence out of fear that in defending its own citizens the lives of enemy civilians would be jeopardized.


Indeed, it is debatable whether more Palestinians died at the hands of Israel in the Gaza conflict than Muslim Kurds died in Ankara's repeated bombardments of northern Iraq (though Turkey insists that the only Kurdish loses were to livestock).


Political scientist Efraim Inbar is convinced that Erdogan's Islamic AKP party places greater value on Turkey's ties with the Muslim world than on its political and cultural links to the West. Or does Turkey expect to jettison its relationship with Israel, cozy up to Iran and Hamas, and yet maintain strong ties with Washington and Brussels?


ISRAEL'S relationship with Turkey has always had its ups and downs. Turkey voted against the 1947 UN Partition Resolution to create two states - Jewish and Arab - in Palestine, but it quickly established diplomatic relations with Israel. In the 1970s, weathering an economic crisis, it began building bridges to the Arab world. By the 1980s, thousands of Turks were working throughout the Middle East. The Iran-Iraq War cemented ties between Turkey and the Arabs when Saudi Arabia began supplying oil to Ankara.


Even during periods when the Turkish military was in power, relations with Israel were sometimes sacrificed to persuade the masses that the government had Islamic bona fides. In 1975, Turkey recognized the PLO though the group was then publicly committed to Israel's destruction. In 1979, Turkey refused to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest because it was being held in Jerusalem. Following the Knesset's passage, in 1980, of the Basic Law affirming united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Ankara closed its consulate in our capital. Turkey even condemned Israel's 1981 raid on Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor.


Now, with the AKP in power, relations have deteriorated more systematically. In August 2008, Turkey broke ranks with the West by welcoming Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Just before the outbreak of the Gaza war, Erdogan became angry at what he felt was his shabby treatment by Ehud Olmert while Turkey was mediating between Jerusalem and Damascus - a factor in his vituperative outbursts against Israel during the conflict.


OTTOMAN Turkey sought to hold on to its empire by using pan-Islam to legitimize its rule over the Arabs. But Mustafa Kemal Ataturk founded modern Turkey as Western-oriented, secular and nationalist. Islam was disestablished. The Turkish army performed a watchdog function to protect these ideals. And Israelis knew that no matter what abuse Turkish politicians might heap on Israel, our two militaries continued to cooperate at the strategic level. Is that, too, now over?


Turkey is an irreplaceable ally. Israelis want our two countries to enjoy cordial relations despite everything that's happened. The onus is now on Ankara to make plain that it, too, wants the relationship to continue. It would thereby also be signaling that Turkey wants to be a bridge between Islam and the West - instead of yet another barrier.








Israel's national security is predicated on three strategic pillars: The commitment, resolve and resilience of Israel's people, the IDF and other defense agencies, and the "special relationship" with the US. All three face serious challenges today.


The US-Israeli relationship is largely unparalleled in history, a relationship carefully nurtured over decades and in which AIPAC has played a vital role. It is a relationship under attack from numerous quarters, including pro-Arab and generally left-leaning groups, renowned scholars who write scurrilous attacks on the "Israel lobby," and others. It is a relationship showing increasing signs of "Europeanization," where Palestinians and Arabs can do no wrong, Israel no right, it seems. It is a relationship weakened by well-meaning but dangerously misguided Jewish Americans, who established the group J Street as a "moderate" alternative to AIPAC.


My beef is not over the issues. On some, I agree with J Street. It is about the best ways of ensuring the long-term vitality of the US-Israeli relationship and the security and well-being of Israel.


IT IS presumptuous of our brethren in the US, and frankly offensive, for them to believe that they "know better" what is right for Israel. The Jewish state is a vibrant, pluralistic democracy. Only Israel's citizens, who endure the consequences, bear the responsibility for its policies. The place to change Israel's policies is in Israel, not Washington. A corollary of sovereignty is the right to err. We waited for that right for 2,000 years.


J Street's stated position, that it "supports political solutions over military ones" regarding the Palestinians and "strongly opposes the use of force by Israel or the US" against Iran, is the height of presumption and chutzpa. So was its position earlier this year, during the Gaza operation, when it opined that "escalation will prove counterproductive" and called for an immediate cease-fire.


We all prefer diplomatic solutions. Sometimes it is not entirely up to us; sometimes there is no recourse but military action. The residents of Sderot, now enjoying their ninth month of relative quiet, might question the military expertise behind J Street's assessment. Israel - and only Israel - will decide whether to attack Iran's nukes.


Hopefully it will never come to this, but if it does, J Street had better be behind us.


This is not to dispute the right of Jewish Americans to express their views. Being pro-Israel, as J Street correctly states, does not mean blind support for every Israeli government position. Many Israelis are at least as critical.


I, for one, a fiercely patriotic Israeli, madly in love with this crazy place, have published numerous highly critical articles. Those Jewish Americans, who share a deep concern for Israel's trials and travails, have the right, even the duty, to express their criticism within the Jewish community, the public at large, pretty much anywhere - except before the administration and Congress. There, we have to present one voice - not "pro" every Israeli policy, but united, unswerving support for Israel and a strong US-Israel relationship.


SOME HAVE criticized AIPAC's allegedly right-wing, "Likud-minded" tendencies, whereas a majority of Jewish Americans are more dovish. This is a fundamental misconception both of reality and of AIPAC's role, which is to promote the US-Israel relationship regardless of who is in office in either country. Some of Israel's policies may be mistaken, but they are Israel's, made by its democratically elected government. AIPAC does not and must not get involved in these battles, but simply do its utmost at all times to strengthen the relationship.


Only "the Jews," with their well-earned and arguably endearing reputation for fractiousness, could conceive of doing something that weakens AIPAC. A model to be emulated, the envy of virtually all other lobbies, AIPAC has been at the forefront of the bilateral relationship for decades.


AIPAC may have made mistakes over the years - who hasn't? But there is a wise, old American saying: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." AIPAC is definitely not broken, and for those who take issue with some of its positions and actions, the appropriate recourse is to work for change from within.


To date, despite the plethora of Jewish organizations in all other areas, the US-Israeli relationship has largely had one voice in Washington. This is as it must be. AIPAC has a devoted, sophisticated, often brilliant professional staff and lay leadership. It simply does not get better.


For those seeking new and different relationships, get on JDate.


The writer, a former deputy national security adviser in Israel and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, is now completing a book on Israeli national security decision-making processes.








In a Jerusalem Post article "In the land of miracles, let's get real" (September 29), Gershon Baskin describes the Salaam Fayad plan as "one of the most positive and optimistic developments of recent times".


However, a reading of Fayad's plan, entitled "Ending the Occupation, Establishing the State: Program of the Thirteenth Government - August 2009" would seem to belie Baskin's postulation.


While the preface to Fayad's paper introduces a Palestinian state that would strive for "peace, security and stability in our region on the Palestinian territory occupied in 1967, with east Jerusalem as its capital," Fayad's 38-page position paper reads like a declaration of war, not of peace.


Fayad asserts that "Jerusalem" will be the Palestinian capital of the Palestinian state - not east Jerusalem.

In case anyone was wondering if Fayad had made a typographical error by not mentioning "east" Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, he repeats - 10 times - that he means Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem. He

leaves nothing to the imagination, and writes that the Palestinian state will "protect Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Palestinian state," because he asserts that "Jerusalem is our people's religious, cultural, economic and political center. It is the Flower of Cities and Capital of Capitals. It cannot be anything but the eternal capital of the future Palestinian state. Jerusalem."


FAYAD GOES on to claim that Jerusalem "is under threat" and that "the occupying authority is implementing a systematic plan to alter the city's landmarks and its geographical and demographic character in order to forcibly create facts on the ground, ultimately separating it from its Palestinian surroundings and eradicating its Arab Palestinian heritage." Fayad further claims that "Palestinian life in Jerusalem is under daily attack through systematic violations perpetrated by the occupation regime" and that "it is the right and the duty of all Palestinians to protect their land, reject the occupation and defy its measures," adding that the Palestinian state "bears special responsibility for nurturing our people's ability to persevere and protect their homeland."


He adds that the Palestinian government will maintain its "unreserved commitment to defending the Arab character and status of Jerusalem.... The government will continue to do all that is possible to achieve this goal. The government will work with all organizations to preserve the landmarks of Jerusalem and its Arab Palestinian heritage, develop the city, and secure its contiguity with its Palestinian surroundings."


Fayad frames Jerusalem as an illegal settlement, postulating that "the occupying authority is pursuing its intensive settlement policy in and around Jerusalem.... The occupation regime has shut down our national institutions, neglected the development of Palestinian life, continued to demolish and evacuate Palestinian homes, and restricted access to sacred Christian and Islamic sites."


He goes so far as to present a practical plan to Arabize Jerusalem: Maintaining Jerusalem as a top priority on the government's agenda and· "highlighting its predicament in the media. Launching programs to promote the steadfastness of Jerusalemites, including: Strengthen Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem, providing financial

support to help them deliver services to citizens."


He reassures his readers that a future Palestinian state would not be satisfied with Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza as the national home for Palestinians, and says that the Palestinian government will continue to advocate for "Palestinian refugees in accordance with relevant international resolutions, and UN General Assembly Resolution 194 in particular," which mandates that Palestinian refugees and their descendents have a right to return to the homes and villages that Palestinians left during the 1948 war and its aftermath.


Fayad reminds Palestinians that "the refugee issue will remain under the jurisdiction of the PLO, through its Department of Refugees' Affairs ... in a manner that does not exempt the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) from its responsibilities." In Fayad's view, UNRWA will therefore continue to confine Palestinian refugees and their descendants to the indignity of refugee camps, under the premise and promise of the "right of return."


MEANWHILE, FAYAD expresses full support for Palestinians who have been convicted of murder and attempted murder, saying that "the state also has an enduring obligation to care and provide for the martyrs, prisoners, orphans and all those harmed in the Palestinian struggle for independence." He simply cannot understand why Palestinians convicted of capital crimes should be jailed.


He proclaims that "the continued detention of thousands of Palestinian detainees and prisoners in Israeli prisons and detention camps in violation of international law and basic human rights, is of great concern to all Palestinians," and declares that "securing the freedom of all these heroic prisoners is an utmost Palestinian priority and it is a fundamental duty all Palestinians feel to honor their great sacrifices and end their suffering," and demands the "freedom of all Palestinian detainees and prisoners and will continue to strive to secure their liberty."


He further declares that the Palestinian state will be an Islamic state and "promote awareness and understanding of the Islamic religion and culture and disseminate the concept of tolerance in the religion through developing and implementing programs of Shari'a education as derived from the science of the Holy Koran and Prophet's heritage."


In sum, the Palestinian prime minister concludes with a demand for a Palestinian state in the next two years,

along the parameters that he has outlined - Jerusalem as the capital of an Islamic Shari'a state that will campaign

for all convicts to be freed, for all refugees to return to the homes and villages that they left in 1948.


It would be instructive to know whether Baskin even bothered to read the plan before calling it a 'postive development.'


The writer, the Middle East correspondent for the Philadelphia Bulletin, directs Israel Resource News Agency and the Center for Near East Policy Research at Beit Agron Press Center.









President Barak Obama has diluted the authority of the presidency like no other United States president has in living memory.


He has appeared more frequently in television interviews, so far, than any other president. There is hardly a political initiative of his administration in which he is not publicly and openly involved right from the start.


To paraphrase a predecessor of his President Woodrow Wilson, who believed in open international agreements openly arrived at, President Obama seems to be on the same course. He announces the policy concerned and then goes on to implement it almost as a solo show. This kind of political behavior not only dilutes his authority as president, but also limits his freedom to maneuver. He is constrained by his own statements.


For instance, Obama previously announced that Israel must declare a total freeze on settlement construction in the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was ready to go a long way toward achieving a common denominator on this matter, a total freeze was not going to happen.


Had the Obama administration refrained from making public statements on this issue, and proceeded to conduct a quiet dialogue with the Israeli government, the current Israeli position could hardly have been presented as an American failure.


INDEED, BY making his position publicly known, President Obama forced Mahmoud Abbas to adopt an identical stance thus rendering a move on the peace process even more difficult. The Palestinian Authority leadership negotiated with previous Israeli governments without demanding a freeze on Israeli settlements as a precondition. Once Obama declared in public that such a freeze was necessary to restart negotiations, he left Abbas no other alternative but to adopt the same position. After all, Abbas couldn't be less demanding than Israel's staunch ally was.


Further, the contrived tripartite meeting involving Netanyahu, Abbas and Obama in New York last month was hardly conducive to the domestic and international authority of the US president. If at all, this meeting should have been convened by a lower-ranking political figure, such as the Secretary of State or the officially appointed mediator, Senator George Mitchell. . There was precious little to be gained by the president from such a meeting.


On every issue, Obama personalizes the policy he wishes to adopt right from the get-go.


To be sure, a presidential political system tends to personalize the policies pursued by the executive branch more so than a cabinet-parliamentary system. But in the case of Obama, there is a sense that the policies seem to revolve around him not only at a conceptual level, but also at a political level right from the outset of the decision-making process.

Obama has become the White House spokesman. He appears on a daily basis to explain his policies on almost every channel, on almost every program. It is said that he is a great speaker. Indeed, he is. But the value of a singular speech or an extraordinary interview resides in its being selectively made.


A president has to preserve his or her authority in order to be effective. The president has to discriminate as to where he appears, who he talks to, and in which stage of a political process he intervenes.


SO FAR, Obama has done the exact opposite. This has led to a process of increasing "political inflation," as the value of the president and of his office has diminished. Indeed, if there were an officially endorsed level of political inflation, as there is in the economic realm, the United States presidency might be said to be in the midst of a hyper-inflationary process. This process is reversible. It is up to President Obama to decide if he wishes to be remembered as an able and charismatic White House spokesman or as an effective and persuasive president. To be sure, the latest decision by the Nobel Committee to award Obama the Nobel Peace Prize may have, paradoxically, reinforced this process.


The surprise and bewilderment which this decision has caused both in the United States and in other countries, and not only among Obama's political rivals, has done precious little to enhance his authority.


Usually, the decision to award the prize helps to elevate the status of the person being bestowed with it. In this particular case, due to the many question raised in light of his brief tenure and his lack of any concrete achievement thus far, many people may construe the decision as a forced exercise deserving scant respect. The decision is peculiar not for being objectionable, but for being incoherent. This could hardly help enhance Obama's presidential authority.


The writer is a lecturer in the Diplomacy Program at Tel Aviv University. He holds a doctorate in Modern History from Oxford University.








After 2000 years of dispersion, persecution and powerlessness and in the wake of the greatest disaster ever to have encompassed the Jewish people, Zionism rose like a phoenix from the ashes of the Shoah and achieved the impossible. In what must be the most remarkable achievement of any people and unique in the annals of mankind, it resurrected a homeland and empowered the Jews.


After fulfilling its principal objective of creating a Jewish state, it is not surprising that the Jewish Agency for Israel and the World Zionist Organization are now mere shadows of their former glory. Even after being substantially downsized because of a drastic decline in donor income, the Jewish Agency remains a bloated bureaucracy. Aside from a few prominent personalities, the World Zionist Organization is widely perceived as a retreat for failed or retired Israeli politicians or apparatchiks who compete fiercely for paid executive positions with the perks of overseas travel. With a few notable exceptions, most Diaspora Zionist organizational affiliates have eroded and become marginalized.


For most Israelis, especially younger people, the term Zionism has become an anachronism and an expression of derision or contempt.


Yet despite this, the Zionist movement has a vital role to fulfill for the Jewish people - especially today, when post-Zionists or Hebrew-speaking Canaanites seek to transform Israel into "a state of all its citizens," a euphemism for the dejudaization of the Jewish state.


FOR MANY Jews and Israelis, the Holocaust and the struggle to create a Jewish homeland are dim historical memories relegated to history books. In the Diaspora, many have become disillusioned and traumatized by the burgeoning anti-Semitic climate and intensive media campaigns demonizing the Jewish state. Some have distanced themselves from Israel and even endorsed the anti-Zionist chic.


This was highlighted in Stephen Cohen's survey of non-Orthodox American Jews in 2007. The findings displayed apathy and an alarming decline in attachment to Israel among the younger generation. This has particular relevance because aside from religious observance, Israel is now the key factor sustaining Jewish identity.


In such an environment, only a vigorous Zionist movement in conjunction with the government could reverse the tide, strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship and endeavoring to maintain the centrality of Israel in Jewish life.


Yet alas, aside from the unquestionably important 10-day Birthright visits - which since its inception in 2000 has brought 215,000 Jewish youngsters to Israel - and other programs for young people, there is no concerted strategy to deal with these issues.


Indeed, in recent times, successive Israeli leaders have themselves contributed to the erosion of Israel-Diaspora relations. They focus almost exclusively on wooing wealthy donors to fund their interests in lieu of nurturing Zionist leaders. Former interior minister Meir Sheetrit even went so far as to suggest the curtailment of aliya and abrogation of the Law of Return.


Jewish Agency policy, which in the past was always determined by Zionists, has now been hijacked by wealthy - primarily American - donors who have sought to transform it into a replica of the non-Zionist American Federation system. The newly elected chairman, Natan Sharansky, whose Zionist credentials are impeccable, was forced by his board to desist from assuming the traditionally parallel role of chairman of the World Zionist Organization. This reflected the efforts of the agency board to marginalize the Zionist ideological component and transform it into an efficient charity - no more.


THE DOMINANT influence of the American funders was further evidenced by the abrupt termination of a major promotional campaign against intermarriage initiated by MASA, a Jewish Agency subsidiary. Whereas the campaign presentation may have been tasteless and warranted revision, the cancellation was unjustified and was allegedly imposed by board members who feared confrontation with donors, many of whom had intermarried couples within their own families. The prevailing mood of "sensitivity" in relation to confronting assimilation and intermarriage was also exemplified in the recent article "What Israelis need to know about intermarriage in North America," published in The Jerusalem Post by Edmund Case, CEO of Interfaith Family.


Aside from denying that the vast majority of children born to interfaith unions are lost to the Jewish people, Case broke new ground by making the preposterous assertion that intermarriage was "not a threat but an opportunity" and represented a great benefit because "intermarriage actively enlarges Jewish communities."


Needless to say, every Jew has the option of marrying whom he or she chooses. But it is hardly surprising that growing assimilation in an open society leads to increased intermarriage. Still, one would at least assume encouragement of conversion so that children of such unions would have some hope of remaining Jewish. To describe the tragic erosion of the Jewish community via intermarriage as grounds for celebration is surely obscene.


While the strongest resistance to intermarriage understandably emanates from religious Jews, opposition to

intermarriage has always been a central tenet of Zionist ideology. The failure of today's "Zionist" leaders to adopt a strong stand concerning this issue reflects the growing influence of wealthy assimilated Jews.


Another disturbing manifestation of the dilution of Zionist values is the inclination to avoid all discussion related to aliya. The Jewish Agency has already subcontracted aliya to Nefesh B'Nefesh, an independent body that has handled this issue with far greater efficiency and humanity than the agency bureaucrats.


The negative attitude toward this central Zionist ideal was exemplified by the recent capitulation to demands of American donors that those directing Birthright categorically desist from any encouragement of aliya. "Momo" Lifshitz, a former IDF officer who heads Oranim (by far the largest trip provider for the project), - a secular program strongly supported by non-Orthodox groups, and by far the largest trip provider for the project - recently broke away from Birthright. Lifshitz passionately proclaimed that Oranim would henceforth operate as a separate program because he refused to accept prohibitions by Birthright organizers from urging participants to "raise your children Jewish," encouraging aliya or providing free honeymoons to Israel for couples who met during their visits.


THE BULK of Jews in Western countries are unlikely to pack their bags tomorrow and come to Israel. But it is imperative that committed Jews continue making aliya because this represents the most important bridge linking Israel and the Diaspora.


Continued dilution of fundamental Zionist objectives will have disastrous repercussions for the Jewish people. In addition to weakening Jewish identity and intensifying assimilation, it will lead to further alienation of Jews from Israel and weaken Diaspora Jewry's efforts on behalf of Israel, with particularly damaging consequences to Israel-US relations.


One would hope that the current government will be more positively inclined toward supporting Zionism than their less-ideologically-motivated predecessors.


Together with Sharansky, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu should concentrate on encouraging the emergence of a vigorous new Zionist leadership to focus on reinforcing the centrality of Israel in Jewish life and strengthening the morale of Diaspora Jews suffering in the wake of the intensified efforts to criminalize and delegitimize the Jewish state.








So Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Barack Obama has a debt to make good on. He has stated that his focus will be Middle East peace. At the same time, his special envoy, George Mitchell, has stated that efforts for peace will continue, but at a "ramped-down level."


Is it actually possible to ramp down the process? What exactly does that mean? What exactly has been achieved in the last nine months? The Middle East has been likened to a car with only two gears - forward and reverse. There is no status quo and there is no standing in place. If we are not moving forward, we are moving backward. The events of the last few weeks have clearly demonstrated that the forces of those who would like the car to go into reverse are quite powerful. While it seems evident that neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians desire or have energy for another round of violence, the slope of the decline is extreme and very slippery.


Events, particularly those surrounding Jerusalem, have their own internal energy that, as we have seen in the past, can easily get out of control. In this region, we should make sure not to let the genie out of the bottle - and Jerusalem is the ultimate genie. Both the Israeli and Palestinian governments should be extremely cautious in their handling of Jerusalem. The second intifada was launched because of a misinterpretation of the direction of Ariel Sharon's provocative visit to the Temple Mount close to a decade ago. Sharon's target was then-prime minister Ehud Barak, not the Palestinians.


THE PALESTINIANS today do not understand that Israel is not planning to destroy al-Aksa Mosque or to take over the Temple Mount, despite the desire to do so by some right-wing and religious fanatics.


Because of the sensitivity of the situation in Jerusalem, Israel should unilaterally freeze its excavations in the area of the mosques for a limited time. The Israel Antiquities Authority should invite Palestinian experts, religious leaders and PA officials to see the excavations area firsthand. Israel should also invite PA President Mahmoud Abbas to Jerusalem, to pray in al-Aksa Mosque, to see the Western Wall and the excavations around the mount.


Abbas should then declare his recognition of the fact that the Temple Mount was the location of the Holy Temple (which is even mentioned in the Koran). Abbas need not worry that his recognition would grant Israel and the Jewish people the green light to rebuild the Temple in place of the mosques. There is no such intention, there are no such plans and the Chief Rabbinate has once again stated that Jews should not go onto the Temple Mount as a matter of Halacha.


According to Jewish law, the Temple will be rebuilt only when the messiah comes, so Abbas should be able to rest assured that until the messiah arrives, the Temple Mount will remain under Muslim control - and when the messiah finally does show up, he will be wise enough to deal with the future of the mount.


The Palestinians should understand that when Yasser Arafat foolishly denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Holy Temple, he did great damage to the peace process. Recognizing this fact would facilitate greater understanding.


Assuming that we will not fall into the abyss of another round of violence, Obama's efforts to renew negotiations will continue. Officials will continue to seek the formula for getting back to the negotiating table.


What is the point of all this? We have all been there and done it before.


The American President might be worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize just because of his patience with the scrabbling locals. Israeli-Palestinian peace is an Israeli and a Palestinian interest, first and foremost. The parameters of peace are quite well known. Most Israelis and Palestinians would be willing to accept those parameters on the condition that, unlike in the past, when the formula was based on "land for peace,"the more realistic demand now be "land for long-term security assurances" that must be backed by the international community - and security for all.


MY FRIEND and former Mossad agent, and later senior adviser to then-prime minister Ehud Barak, Pini Median, has devised a new slogan that I think may be quite correct. Let's talk about a "lose-lose" arrangement with the Palestinians, not the "win-win" strategy advanced by Shimon Peres and others. Both sides must feel the pain of the settlement. Both sides must know that the other side accepts the deal reluctantly. In accordance with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's own words (and what could be described as a national ethos) we will not be anyone's frier (sucker). If Israelis thought the Palestinians were getting a good deal, they would automatically think Israel was getting the short end of the stick. And vice versa.


No peace arrangement will be acceptable if one side perceives that the other is coming out the winner. In order to save the honor of both sides, they must both feel the pressure, and they must both be persuaded to accept a deal they both perceive as being lose-lose.


The "win-win" psychology of peacemaking might be appropriate in Europe. We in the Middle East, it seems, will only be really satisfied when we can feel that the other side was forced to accept less than what it demanded.


Netanyahu and Abbas are incapable of reaching this kind of agreement, and perhaps any agreement. Obama and the Quartet must now cease the efforts to bring the sides to the table. They should, instead, spend the next six months drafting the plan and the means for providing long-term security assurances for the State of Israel and for the State of Palestine.


The plan should be as detailed as possible, including all of the main permanent-status issues. Once it is complete and the Quartet has received the international community's commitment for the plan's implementation, including the deployment of troops to the West Bank and Gaza and an international presence in Jerusalem's Old City, the Quartet should only then bring the parties to the table.


The means for implementation will have to be in agreement with the international community, and the issues on the table must not be how to start negotiations, but how to finalize the agreement that reflects the will and the consensus of the international community.


Both sides will recognize that the parameters presented to them reflect the best deal possible.


Both sides will have to make significant concessions on substantive issues.


Both sides will be able to accept, because they'll understand that the other side lost more than they did.


The writer is the co-CEO of IPCRI - Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (









The cabinet's top members - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman - have all taken time off in the past from their political careers to "feather their own nests" in business or by giving speeches. Their business activities and financial connections with their partners and investors are quite interesting because of the important ethical considerations involved.

Uri Blau's investigative report in Haaretz Magazine last weekend shows that Barak transferred his shares in the company bearing his name to his three daughters after returning to the cabinet, while millions of shekels have continued to flow into the firm from his previous dealings while he serves as defense minister.

Barak refuses to tell the public where the money came from, and he is not required to do so. The current law requires politicians to provide detailed financial disclosure statements - ministers must provide them to the state comptroller and MKs to the Knesset speaker - but they remain confidential. Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has been charged with aggravated fraud for making false declarations to the state comptroller. But the allegations that he lied were discovered only during the police investigation.

It's possible to justify the confidentiality based on privacy considerations and fears that revealing financial details will deter the wealthy from taking part in public service. But the public interest in disclosure is greater than protecting the privacy of elected officials.

Just as the names of contributors to politicians are released publicly, we are entitled know who their business partners were while they were "looking after their own interests," and if these partners have been benefiting from their relationship and influence with the minister or MK who has returned to politics. That's why we need to change the rules and create legislation for the regular publication of financial disclosure statements by ministers and MKs.

Such disclosure would strengthen deterrence against improper connections between wealth and power, and make it clear if politicians have taken advantage of their positions to make money while they are taking a break from politics. The current law forbids former MKs, ministers and prime ministers from "emphasizing in writing in any matter related to their business or profession the fact they were an MK, prime minister, minister or deputy minister."

Exposing the private dealings of politicians will reduce the fear that they may have taken advantage of their public positions. Anyone who seeks the power of public office and its perks must be willing to disclose his personal interests to remove any suspicion of impropriety.








Many people don't know whether to mock the Nobel Prize Committee or U.S. President Barack Obama, for agreeing to accept the prize. For all the aura surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize, the decision process is not exempt from pressure. Everyone knows that supporters of Shimon Peres moved mountains so he would receive the award with Yitzhak Rabin for the Oslo Accords. Observant onlookers noticed Rabin's nervous, scornful smile as captured by television cameras when the prize was announced.

Elie Wiesel moved mountains for years in an effort to win the prize. But when he received it, in 1986, he faced the television camera with an agonized face and wondered humbly: "Why me? Why me?" Quite a few Americans claimed that he had commercialized the Holocaust.

In 1906 the Nobel Peace Prize was given to U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt for his mediation between Russia and Japan, which helped end the war between them. It was the same Roosevelt who said "no triumph of peace is quite so great as the supreme triumph of war."

Giving him the prize was a political move by Norway, which had just declared its independence and sought American support. The Scandinavian media claimed that the prize committee had made a mockery of itself.

Obama realized Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech. He is an excellent orator and a really hot guy. Unlike the Nobel prizes in the sciences, which are given for achievements, the Nobel Prize for Peace - like the Nobel Prize for- Literature - is controversial. S.Y. Agnon, who wasn't known for his modesty, received the Nobel Prize for literature and was amazed to find he was sharing it with a Jewish poet named Nelly Sachs. Stunned or offended, he asked, "who is this Sachs? I've never heard of her."

Winston Churchill, who led the free world to victory over Hitler, was deeply hurt when he received the Nobel Prize for Literature rather than for peace.

The news of the prize reached Obama's bedroom at 5 A.M. Nobody can guess the thoughts that passed through his head. Did he tell his wife joyfully, "I knew it, I knew it," or was he really surprised? I'm betting on surprise. He is not so full of himself to assume that he already deserves the prize. Indeed, as a public speaker he is outstanding, but he has only spoken about solving disputes through negotiation.

His appearances are reminiscent of Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat, who chanted no more war, no more bloodshed. How did those two enemies - after thousands of Israelis and Egyptians were killed in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War - move toward a peace agreement? They simply weren't "all talk" leaders. Begin struggled with himself and his faith, but he was a leader and knew that the people needed peace. Sadat made the breakthrough, but paid with his life. He died, but the peace endures and Egypt remains the largest power in the region.

Obama too says "no more war," in his way, and preaches solving all disputes through negotiation. Meanwhile, this is but a wish. He may yet be forced to increase America's troop numbers in Afghanistan, the United States has not exactly left Iraq yet, and it is not clear how he will convince Iran to stop manufacturing nuclear bombs. And most important to us - how will he bring about a peace agreement between us and the Palestinians?

There are 1.35 billion Muslims in the world today, and 13.5 million Jews. When Obama speaks of peace in our region, the question is who will influence him more and whom he will want to appease more. As an orator he is full of promises and has many goals. But since Genghis Khan, nobody has beaten the Muslims. You don't get a Nobel Prize for creating a new political climate.

Obama raised great hope in his Cairo speech. And when he now says modestly that he will make every effort to justify the prize he was given, this effort is yet to be seen in our region. Israel has responded to Obama's speech in Cairo and made it clear it was ready to accept the principle of two states for two peoples. But neither Hamas in Gaza nor Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are ready for a settlement. The more question marks that appear, the more we need an exclamation mark from Obama. In other words, an American solution.

To paraphrase Chekhov, one could say the Nobel Peace Prize is the dove that appears in the first act. It is up to Obama to decide whether it appears in the last act as well.









Hundreds of motorcyclists rode up to the Knesset yesterday to try to persuade legislators attending the opening of the winter session to protect them from what they see as highway robbery by treasury officials. This pilgrimage marked the latest of a series of protests by owners of two-wheeled motor vehicles to ramp up their struggle against an increase in their compulsory insurance premiums, due to go into effect in November.

Young motorcyclists will find this hard to bear. For those under 40, premiums will rise by 15 to 30 percent, reaching NIS 3,600 to NIS 4,700 a year. In many cases, their scooters are worth less than NIS 10,000, so having to pay a compulsory insurance premium more than a third of the vehicle's value seems utterly absurd.

Some bikers will benefit from the changes. Those over 40 without a record of accidents and violations will pay premiums 6 percent lower. But as 75 percent of motorcyclists are below that age, the increase is significant. Yadin Antebi, the treasury's commissioner of capital markets, insurance and savings, justifies the hike by arguing that motorbikes are dangerous vehicles involved in a disproportionate number of accidents, and that riders' injuries are more serious and require longer hospitalization and more treatments. Indeed, the data for 2008 show that of the 412 fatalities in road accidents, 46 were motorcyclists - 11.2 percent of the total, while motorbikes account for only 4.2 percent of vehicles on the roads.

Antebi also claims that car owners are subsidizing motorcyclists, and that this is improper. He believes that all vehicle owners should pay premiums according to the real cost of their risks. Once again, the figures bear him out: The insurance companies that insure motorcyclists paid out NIS 466 million in claims in 2008, while premiums collected totaled only 254 million. The discrepancy, NIS 212 million, was made up by car owners, who paid 4 percent more - dozens of shekels a year each - to subsidize the motorcyclists' compulsory insurance. And here, in this cross-subsidization, lies the rub.

The law took this subsidy into account, enabling Antebi to increase the subsidy to 8 percent, double the current rate. He could therefore reduce the motorcyclists' rates and raise those of car owners. But he has chosen to take the exact opposite course and reduce the subsidy.

This move has no justification. The subsidy is fair in both economic and social terms. Economically, because users of two-wheeled vehicles make far fewer demands on infrastructure - both roads and parking space. They reduce traffic congestion, their fuel consumption is lower and they emit less pollution, with its attendant adverse health effects.

Socially, it would be wrong to increase the burden on people owning motor scooters with engine capacities of 250 cubic centimeters or less, who are usually young people with low incomes. They are already paying enough.

There is an elegant way to cut insurance costs - broadening the self-participation system. If, say, a motorcyclist undertook to pay the first NIS 20,000 of expenses after an accident, he would get a 25 percent reduction in his insurance premium, as is customary in property insurance. This mechanism would wipe out minor claims, prevent false claims and cut red tape. And it's good for careful drivers.

In any case, it would be right to cancel the proposed hike. After all, we live in a hot and crowded country, so reason dictates that we encourage the use of transportation that is economical and efficient: two-wheeled vehicles.








The award of the 2009 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to Prof. Ada Yonath fills us with pride, especially amid data showing that Israel has more Nobel Prizes per capita than anywhere else in the world, according to Prof. Dan Ben-David ("Academic vision and nightmare," October 9). But Ben-David also harshly criticizes the downward slide in higher education, and the impression is that this country's leaders are getting a prize for their negligence.

Numbers can be misleading or irrelevant. About a quarter of all Nobel laureates are Jewish. This is a marvelous achievement; since Jews account for less than one quarter of one percent of the world's population, they have 100 times more than their proportionate share. However, the contribution by Israeli recipients is more than five times smaller than that of other Jews, taking into account that half the world's Jews live in Israel.

Many explanations have been offered for the Jewish people's amazing accomplishments as reflected in the lists of Nobel laureates. Was it the Diaspora, with its persecution, wanderings, fear and hiding that made Jews take up knowledge-based occupations that can be carried from place to place, like medicine, science, law, commerce and rabbinical studies? Did they not make scholarliness a specifically Jewish trait?

But the creation of the Jewish state and the realization of a 2,000-year-old dream has led to a change in direction. The existence of firm ground, the sense of security, and perhaps arrogance, have eroded the foundations of scholarliness. Gradually, with the passing of the state's founders, they have devalued education and scholarship.

The new leadership, and in its wake the nation, has failed to recognize the enormous contribution that education and research, as well as educators and researchers, have made to Israel's success as an economic power and the hub of Jewish culture. These leaders have yet to develop a stance on the position of these values on the nation's and society's value scale.

Instead of resting securely in the national pantheon, these values still depend on the goodwill of the government of the day, subject to every change in the way the wind is blowing and liable to run at any time into intentional campaigns of delegitimization.

The results have not been long in coming: the school students' declining results, the brain drain and the shortage of means for buying new research equipment. In much more difficult times for the state we saw David Ben-Gurion's glowing face when he dedicated the new building for the Technion's chemistry faculty. Today, not even a deputy minister from a marginal party would deign to attend such a ceremony.

We need leaders for whom education and scholarship are real values, not merely pretexts for congratulatory speeches honoring the winners of prestigious prizes, whom they had never heard of until a moment before. The day we hear a leader say his hero is a writer or scientist and not a movie star, we will know that redemption is beginning. We want to go back to the days when "We had a state with narrow roads and broad universities, not one with broad roads and narrow universities," in the words of journalist Sever Plocker. A "poor state with a great vision," as Ben-Gurion put it. That's why the numbers are irrelevant; the values that lead to them are what is important.

It's not a question of money, but of a shift in values, mainly in leadership. Relatively small amounts are involved, much smaller than those that have gone up in smoke in coalition agreements that benefited the few with vested interests and have left a whole nation behind, in other areas as well, such as health and social welfare.

The writer won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2004.









Lucky pasta! When an American senator discovered Israel bans importing pasta into the Gaza Strip, a storm broke out. And ever since, senior Israeli defense officials have included noodles on their list of permitted products. And calves, how did we forget them? That was approved by the highest levels of the Defense Ministry. After all, the bureaucrat-officers would never have dared violate the siege directives.

But notebooks, textbooks, pens and pencils - whose lack is felt by Gaza's children due to the Israeli ban on letting "luxuries" into the Strip - have no well-fed public relations agents like pasta and calves did. Do Gaza's children need to draw or do their homework?

All right, forget about the pens. But what about the Gazan father whose Israeli son is being barred from visiting him by Israeli generals, after not seeing each other for seven years? What about the son being barred by those who carry out the orders from bidding his dying mother farewell in Jordan, or the engaged woman being barred from going to the West Bank to marry? Clearly, the wedding is a Palestinian plot to alter the demographic balance.

The cynical criteria set by successive Israeli governments (before the disengagement, before Gilad Shalit's captivity, before Hamas took over the Gaza Strip), which dictate the reality of the siege under which 1.5 million people, half of them children, live, are translated by hundreds of obedient officers and soldiers into a long list of draconian prohibitions and paternalistic permissions. If the justices on the High Court of Justice continue to uphold the ban on students leaving the Strip to study in the West Bank or Belgium, and the jurists of the State Prosecutor's Office are not bothered by the fact that farmers, tailors and carpenters are becoming beggars because of the Israeli ban on importing raw materials and exporting finished products, why should this bother a 20-year-old soldier serving at the Erez checkpoint? Why should Israeli society care about sick people who miss medical treatments because of arbitrary decisions by the defense establishment ?

There are three Israeli human rights organizations that do care: Hamoked - The Center for the Defense of the Individual; Physicians for Human Rights; and Gisha - Legal Center for Freedom of Movement. Every year, hundreds of besieged Palestinians apply to them for help in obtaining exit permits. These Israeli organizations claim for themselves the right and duty of intervening on behalf of Gazans' right to freedom of movement by representing them, monitoring their cases and appealing to the Israeli courts.

It is thus no wonder that a month ago, on September 13, they were told that henceforth, their applications to the army's District Coordination Office on behalf of Gazans who need to leave the Strip (sick people, students, parents) would no longer be answered. Apply to the relevant Palestinian agency (the Palestinian Civilian Committee), they were told. As if that agency has any involvement whatsoever in issuing exit permits, other than the courier service it provides by handing over the Palestinians' documents.

The Peres Center for Peace has made life easier for hundreds of Gazan families this year by financing their children's medical treatment in Israel. The defense establishment did not tell it to arrange exit permits for these children and their escorts via the Civilian Committee - and rightly. Why complicate and sabotage the process?

But that is precisely what the defense establishment is trying to do to the work of these three human rights organizations, who have represented thousands of Palestinians over the years. And it is doing so precisely because these groups are neither charities nor part of the "peace" establishment. On the contrary: They talk about the occupation and its obligations, which the defense establishment is violating. And they thereby question the morality of its criteria and directives.






Millions of Americans are trapped at the margins of the economy because they lack the basic skills that come with a high-school education. This year, more than 600,000 of these people will try to improve their prospects by studying for the rigorous, seven-hour examination known as the General Educational Development test, or G.E.D., which should end in a credential that employers and colleges recognize as the equivalent of a diploma.

The most fortunate live in states — such as Delaware, Kansas and Iowa — that have well-managed programs in which 90 percent or more of the test-takers pass.


The least fortunate live in New York State, which has the lowest pass rate in the nation, just behind Mississippi. Worse off still are the G.E.D.-seekers of New York City, which has a shameful pass rate — lower than that of the educationally challenged District of Columbia. This bodes ill for the city, where at least one in five adult workers lacks a diploma, and the low-skill jobs that once allowed them to support their families are dwindling.

The scope of this problem is laid out in an alarming new study by the Community Service Society, a 160-year-old advocacy group that focuses on policies affecting the city's poor. Unless the state and city strengthen and better finance the G.E.D. programs, the authors say, a growing number of undereducated New Yorkers will be shut out of the labor force and will become a permanent burden to their fellow taxpayers.


The typical G.E.D.-seekers in New York City are black or Hispanic, aged 19 to 60, and have hit the advancement wall in the workplace because of the lack of a diploma. They learn right away that G.E.D. classes are difficult to find, thanks to poor programming by the city and state, which pay for them. The chaos in New York is regularly felt at the GED Testing Service in Washington. According to officials there, New York State accounts for about 10 percent of the testing activity nationally but about three-quarters of telephone calls from people who don't know how to access the G.E.D. system locally.


There is an excellent program run by the City University of New York's preparatory high school. But in general, the report notes, the G.E.D. here "has become a second-class education system serving low-income people of color who were failed by our K-12 school system."


The courses are often of questionable quality. The teachers are generally poorly paid and most often marginally qualified. And according to the report, the state and city spend about $1,000 per student, less than a tenth of what's spent per student in the public school system.


According to the GED Testing Service in Washington, New Yorkers have so much trouble accessing the system and getting testing appointments that they often take the test in Georgia, which welcomes out-of-state test-takers for a modest fee.


New York drives up its failure rate on this costly test and wastes precious resources by allowing people to take it without first taking preparation courses. States with the highest success rates often require a diagnostic pretest, followed by instruction as needed and then an official practice test. That's the case in Iowa, where 99 percent of the test-takers passed the exam in 2008.


Iowa also has made the G.E.D. an integral part of its educational system. Those who do not pass the diagnostic test are funneled into literacy courses offered by community colleges at little or no cost.

To emulate this model, New York will need to invest a great deal more than it spends at the moment. But the costs of doing nothing clearly outweigh those of remaking a chaotic and ineffectual system.







With so many advertising dollars flowing onto blogs, Facebook and Twitter, it is not surprising that the Federal Trade Commission, which is charged with protecting consumers from sneaky advertising, has turned its eye on this new medium.


Spending on consumer-generated and social-networking sites reached $1.01 billion in 2008, up 25 percent from 2007, according to PQ Media, a research firm. It is expected to grow about 20 percent this year. Much of this advertising is clearly labeled. But a lot of it is paid advertising masquerading as bona fide endorsements by celebrities, well-known bloggers and even ordinary people — honest comment, free from pecuniary considerations.


Companies have been known to make up fake people to blog about their products, such as the two "boys" concocted by Sony to pine over its PSP gaming unit in 2006. Earlier this year, a representative from Belkin offered to pay people to write positive online reviews of its products. There are commercial services to put marketers in contact with bloggers who will tout products for a fee.


Deceiving consumers has long been illegal. Guidelines demanding that people who endorse a product for money disclose their connections with advertisers date back to 1980 — way before the age of tweets. In 1968, an F.T.C. advisory demanded that advertorials disclose that they were advertising, not editorial. Concerned over the potential growth of deceptive advertising online, the F.T.C. amended these guidelines recently to clarify that they also apply on blogs, Twitter and other forms of online communication.


The rules offline should clearly apply online. This is a matter of principle, not medium, and the new rules are not an excessive burden. The guidelines state that endorsers must disclose payments in cash or in kind from companies whose products they endorse. Telling a commentator flogging a product online to disclose commercial ties does not constitute a challenge to free speech.


Still, regulators should tread carefully. As it enforces rules about disclosure of product endorsements on the Internet's platforms, the F.T.C. must care not to hamstring the ability of bloggers and twitterers to report and comment about the world. To stay on the safe side, regulators should focus enforcement on the advertising companies rather than on the bloggers. Advertisers are the drivers of this new trend. The onus should be on them to ensure that blogs pitching their stuff warn readers about the commercial motivation of the endorsements.


But disclosure is a reasonable demand to make in any medium. It protects consumers and bolsters the bonds of trust between writers and their audience.







The Supreme Court issued a poorly reasoned ruling in June that makes it much harder for older workers to prove illegal age discrimination. Fortunately, bills have been introduced in the Senate and House to undo the damage and put age discrimination cases on an equal footing with other employment-discrimination claims.


When employers discriminate, they generally do not admit it, so Congress and the courts have established calibrated rules of proof to give victims a fair chance. Generally, if workers can show that an illegal consideration, like race or national origin, was a factor in their being fired or demoted, the employer then has the burden of showing that it acted for nondiscriminatory reasons.


That should be the rule under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, but the Supreme Court, by a 5-to-4 vote, decided that it is not. Older workers, Justice Clarence Thomas declared for the majority, have the full burden of proving that they were fired because of their age. That is an unfairly difficult standard, and it is an unreasonable interpretation of the law.


As soon as the decision came down, there were calls for Congress to reverse it, much as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 reversed another poorly reasoned antiworker ruling by the court. In that case, relief was denied to an underpaid woman.


Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa and Representative George Miller of California, the Democratic chairmen of two powerful committees, recently introduced bills to reverse the court's age ruling. They would make the standard for proving age discrimination equivalent to the standard for proving discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion and national origin.


When older workers lose their jobs, according to the advocacy group AARP, it takes them longer than other workers to get new ones. Age-discrimination complaints have been rising. In 2008, the number of age cases filed with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was up 29 percent from the year earlier.


Congress made clear four decades ago that it wants to protect older workers from discrimination, but the Supreme Court has tried to interfere with that effort. It is up to Congress to put the teeth back into the law.







School officials are understandably concerned about preventing violence and safeguarding the children in their care. But over the last 10 years or so, this legitimate concern has too often led to poorly thought out, rigidly implemented policies that stigmatize or even criminalize children rather than protect them.


Consider the case of Zachary Christie, the 6-year-old Cub Scout from Newark, Del., who has been ordered to spend 45 days in a disciplinary school after bringing his nifty camping utensil to school to use to eat his lunch. The classic, foldable tool contains a fork and a spoon — and also a small knife, which violates the zero-tolerance weapons policy issued by the Christina public school system, Delaware's largest.


Zachary was not the first child in the Christina School District to be treated this way. According to an article in The Times on Monday by Ian Urbina, a third grader was expelled for a year after her grandmother sent her to school with a birthday cake and a knife to cut it. The teacher reported the knife to the principal, but only after using it to serve the cake.


The district's 80-page code of conduct is, of course, beyond the understanding of a 6-year-old. And wouldn't everyone have been better off if someone at Zachary's school had used the opportunity to explain to this child why he should leave his cool camping utensil at home from now on? Administrators said the local code of conduct left them no choice. But now he is holed up at home — his mother is teaching him while his family challenges the district's ruling — worrying about how his friends will treat him once he returns to school.


A task force appointed by the State Legislature has been reviewing Delaware's statewide disciplinary code, which has it own problems. The task force is scheduled to deliver its recommendations in January. "Use Common Sense" should be at the top of the list for the state — and for the Christina district. If teachers and administrators don't follow that rule, how can they expect children to?








Conan O'Brien has been making some pretty rough jokes about Newark, which has led to a (mostly) mock feud between the late-night host and Newark Mayor Cory Booker.


O'Brien joked that the mayor was establishing a program to improve the health of the city's residents, then deadpanned: "The health care program would consist of a bus ticket out of Newark."


He did a video bit in which he praised the city's "thriving arts scene" (while showing a graffiti-scarred wall); its "four-star lodging" (shots of abandoned, gutted, rusting vehicles); and its "world-class live theater" (a peep show).


He threatened to form an alliance with the mayors of nearby municipalities, thus "creating a geographic toilet seat around the city of Newark," making it possible to flush the city down the figurative bowl.


The mayor came up with his own YouTube videos in response and, believe it or not, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton weighed in at one point as a mock peace negotiator.


Conan seems like a nice fellow, and I doubt that he harbors any malice toward Newark. But he and his audience are having fun taunting a city that, like many others across the U.S., is in a desperately tragic situation: poverty-stricken, run down, often unsafe, its children and teenagers in too many instances going nowhere fast.


Whether it's Newark, Detroit, parts of Chicago, South-Central Los Angeles, Camden, N.J. — take your pick — we've looked the other way for decades as the residents of hard-core inner-city neighborhoods struggled with overwhelming, life-threatening problems and a chronic shortage of resources, financial and otherwise.


We're having an intense national debate over whether to move ahead with nation-building in Afghanistan and to continue protecting the population in places like Kabul and Kandahar while all but ignoring the violence that is consuming the lives of boys and girls in Chicago, America's third-largest city.


Dozens of boys and girls of school-age and younger are murdered in Chicago every year. One hundred were killed there last year, according to the police. The blood of the young is spattered daily on the stoops, sidewalks and streets of American cities from coast to coast, and we won't even take notice unless, for example, we can engage in the ghoulish delight of watching the murder played over and over again on video.


In Newark, where some of the streets do look as bad as the scenes that were part of Conan's comedy bit, the unemployment rate is 14.7 percent. Keeping kids in high school long enough to graduate is difficult. Drug dealing is a fallback employment option for men and boys who can't find legitimate work.


Other cities have the same problems, some to a greater degree. So what are we doing? While mulling the prospect of sending up to 40,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, we've stood idly by, mute as a stone, as school districts across the nation have bounced 40,000 teachers out of their jobs over the past year.


That should tell you all you need to know about twisted national priorities.


Even as teachers by the tens of thousands are walking the plank to unemployment, we're learning, as The Times reported last week, that one in every 10 young male dropouts is locked up in jail or juvenile detention. As if that weren't gruesome enough, we find that the figure for blacks is one in four. What would it take to get the perpetual crisis facing these young people onto the radar screens of the rest of America?


Conan was just trying to be funny, but the reality behind his late-night humor is horrifying. In Detroit, the median sale price of a house has hovered around $8,000. Seventy percent of all murders in the Motor City go unsolved. Joblessness is off the charts. The school system is a catastrophe.


I remember driving around Camden, which is right outside of Philadelphia, on a rainy afternoon. Young people with nothing to do — they had dropped out of school and had little or no chance of finding a job — were gathered on porches, saying little, staring the hours away. I had on a suit and was driving a nice car. More than one person that I approached thought I was either buying or selling drugs.


The inner cities have been in a recession for decades. They're in a depression now. Myriad issues desperately need to be addressed: employment, education, the foreclosure crisis, crime, alcohol and drug abuse, health care (including mental health treatment and counseling), child care for working parents and on and on and on.


Conan's jokes would carry a silver lining if they could somehow prompt more people to think more seriously about what's really going on in cities like Newark.








When you go to an academic conference you expect to see some geeks, gravitas and graying professors giving lectures. But the people who showed up at the Social and Affective Neuroscience Society's conference in Lower Manhattan last weekend were so damned young, hip and attractive. The leading figures at this conference were in their 30s, and most of the work was done by people in their 20s. When you spoke with them, you felt yourself near the beginning of something long and important.


In 2001, an Internet search of the phrase "social cognitive neuroscience" yielded 53 hits. Now you get more than a million on Google. Young scholars have been drawn to this field from psychology, economics, political science and beyond in the hopes that by looking into the brain they can help settle some old arguments about how people interact.


These people study the way biology, in the form of genes, influences behavior. But they're also trying to understand the complementary process of how social behavior changes biology. Matthew Lieberman of U.C.L.A. is doing research into what happens in the brain when people are persuaded by an argument.


Keely Muscatell, one of his doctoral students, and others presented a study in which they showed people from various social strata some images of menacing faces. People whose parents had low social status exhibited more activation in the amygdala (the busy little part of the brain involved in fear and emotion) than people from high-status families.


Reem Yahya and a team from the University of Haifa studied Arabs and Jews while showing them images of hands and feet in painful situations. The two cultures perceived pain differently. The Arabs perceived higher levels of pain over all while the Jews were more sensitive to pain suffered by members of a group other than their own.


Mina Cikara of Princeton and others scanned the brains of Yankee and Red Sox fans as they watched baseball highlights. Neither reacted much to an Orioles-Blue Jays game, but when they saw their own team doing well, brain regions called the ventral striatum and nucleus accumbens were activated. This is a look at how tribal dominance struggles get processed inside.


Jonathan B. Freeman of Tufts and others peered into the reward centers of the brain such as the caudate nucleus. They found that among Americans, that region was likely to be activated by dominant behavior, whereas among Japanese, it was more likely to be activated by subordinate behavior — the same region rewarding different patterns of behavior depending on culture.


All of these studies are baby steps in a long conversation, and young academics are properly circumspect about drawing broad conclusions. But eventually their work could give us a clearer picture of what we mean by fuzzy words like 'culture.' It could also fill a hole in our understanding of ourselves. Economists, political scientists and policy makers treat humans as ultrarational creatures because they can't define and systematize the emotions. This work is getting us closer to that.


The work demonstrates that we are awash in social signals, and any social science that treats individuals as discrete decision-making creatures is nonsense. But it also suggests that even though most of our reactions are fast and automatic, we still have free will and control.

Many of the studies presented here concerned the way we divide people by in-group and out-group categories in as little as 170 milliseconds. The anterior cingulate cortices in American and Chinese brains activate when people see members of their own group endure pain, but they do so at much lower levels when they see members of another group enduring it. These effects may form the basis of prejudice.


But a study by Saaid A. Mendoza and David M. Amodio of New York University showed that if you give people a strategy, such as reminding them to be racially fair, it is possible to counteract those perceptions. People feel disgust toward dehumanized groups, but a study by Claire Hoogendoorn, Elizabeth Phelps and others at N.Y.U. suggests it is possible to lower disgust and the accompanying insula activity through cognitive behavioral therapy.


In other words, consciousness is too slow to see what happens inside, but it is possible to change the lenses through which we unconsciously construe the world.


Since I'm not an academic, I'm free to speculate that this work will someday give us new categories, which will replace misleading categories like 'emotion' and 'reason.' I suspect that the work will take us beyond the obsession with I.Q. and other conscious capacities and give us a firmer understanding of motivation, equilibrium, sensitivity and other unconscious capacities.


The hard sciences are interpenetrating the social sciences. This isn't dehumanizing. It shines attention on the things poets have traditionally cared about: the power of human attachments. It may even help policy wonks someday see people as they really are.









AS United States troops begin withdrawing from Iraq, we should take stock of the staggering damage that Iraq's ancient archeological sites have suffered from looting over the last few years. After the 2003 invasion, swarms of looters dug huge pits and passages all over southern Iraq in search of cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals. At Isin, where a Sumerian city once stood, I watched men sifting through tons of soil for 4,000-year-old objects to sell to Baghdadi dealers. It was mass pillage.


The worst of the looting appears to be over, say the experts who monitor archeological sites with armed inspections and aerial photographs. With security improving, Iraqi authorities now have the chance to bring long-lasting protection to what's left of the country's ancient heritage. They could take some pointers from an unexpected place: Peru.


In 1994, residents of eight villages in northwestern Peru — a region of deserts and oases that looks much like Iraq — organized citizens' patrols. The patrols weren't out to stop house burglars or cattle rustlers. They were looking for looters, who, for several years, had plundered the area to feed the robust international market for pre-Inca artifacts.


I spent a few days with one of these patrols in the village of Úcupe in 2002. The members were unarmed and well organized, and they knew the terrain as well as you know your dining room. When they spotted looters digging up the overgrown ancient burial mounds that dot the landscape, they surrounded them and called the police. In this way, I saw the patrols apprehend three potential looters without firing a shot.


Last year, archeologists excavated an intact tomb at Úcupe that contained the remains of a lord who ruled during the Moche civilization around A.D. 450. He was buried with golden headdresses, war clubs, silver rattles and opulent jewelry. If sold piecemeal on the black market, these objects could have fetched millions. Instead, their discovery opened the door to a new understanding of how power was exercised in the Moche world.


Without the civilian patrols, this tomb would certainly have been emptied by looters. The people of Úcupe will now benefit from the archaeological tourism that often follows such discoveries and that, in Peru, is booming. They protected a community asset, and it paid off.


This kind of grassroots organizing — where local officials, police officers and archaeologists join forces with local residents — is the best way to combat looting and protect sites from being swallowed up by the illicit antiquities trade. A similar strategy has proved effective in Mali, a country that has little in common with Peru besides a rich archaeological heritage. It would work in Iraq and elsewhere.


Surprisingly, though, relatively few governments have focused on getting rural people involved in protecting threatened sites. Most spend their energy pressing museums in the United States or Europe to repatriate looted artifacts, instead of focusing on safeguarding the archaeological riches still in the ground. Repatriation is a valuable goal, but an immense amount of historical information is lost whenever looting occurs and sites are damaged, even if the objects are later recovered. The government's time would be better spent expanding the patrols to prevent looting in the first place.


In Iraq, the authorities could start by inviting provincial museums and archaeologists to work with local governments and police departments on organizing residents who live near key ancient sites. Rural citizens' patrols aren't expensive — they need binoculars, cellphones, maybe a few dirt bikes and some basic training. Financing could come from international conservation and community development organizations and should include money for education to encourage people to see the ruins in their midst as valuable community assets as much as potable water or clean streets. Once organized, the patrols need to be lightly armed if armed at all, and they have to be well regulated by the police. But as the good citizens of Úcupe have shown, they work.


Roger Atwood, a contributing editor at Archaeology magazine, is the author of "Stealing History: Tomb Raiders, Smugglers and the Looting of the Ancient World."









"MORE than a half-century after Brown v. Board of Education, the dream of a world-class education is still being deferred all across the country," President Obama declared in a recent speech to the N.A.A.C.P. "There are overcrowded classrooms, and crumbling schools, and corridors of shame in America." So we have come together — one Republican, one Democrat — to develop a common-sense solution to fix the problem of crumbling schools in a manner that doesn't require the federal government to tax, borrow or spend one dime. Our School Modernization and Revitalization Tax Credit — Smart Credit — is also guaranteed to create hundreds of thousands of private-sector jobs, critical at a moment when unemployment has reached a 26-year high and threatens to climb even higher.


Go to the Department of Education Web site and search "How Old Are America's Public Schools?" Click on the very first link and the "shame" President Obama spoke of becomes evident: The average age of America's schools is 42 years. Twenty-eight percent of our schools were built more than 50 years ago. "After 40 years, a school building begins rapid deterioration," announces the department study. Worse still is that this analysis was done a decade ago, and too little has been done since.


Several studies show a statistical connection between outmoded schools and educational underachievement and the schools most in need of modernization are disproportionately in inner-city neighborhoods and rural areas. But to fix these schools, Congress need only make a simple, one-sentence change to a little-known clause in the federal tax code.


In 1986, President Ronald Reagan and Congress created a 20 percent federal historic rehabilitation tax credit. Generally speaking, rehabilitation projects involving structures at least 50 years old can qualify for this credit, which is equal to roughly 20 percent of the modernization cost. It is widely acclaimed for having created jobs, restored buildings and spurred economic activity.


This credit is applicable when an aging local school building is renovated for a different use by private investors. But it is not should the same investors want to invest the same money to turn the same building into an up-to-date local school. The I.R.S. "prior use" rule disallows such credits in the latter situation.


But if this "prior use" rule were amended to allow for school rehabilitation, then decaying school buildings could be sold to private investors, modernized and then leased back to school authorities. This approach has already been proven to work and save taxpayers considerable money. When Gov. Tim Kaine of Virginia was the mayor of Richmond, he used this basic sale-leaseback arrangement to update a local school, Maggie L. Walker High, built during the Depression, and transform it into a regional magnet school that reopened in 2001 and now serves the top students in Central Virginia. (This shift from local to regional school satisfied the "prior use" rule.)


Mr. Kaine saved local taxpayers millions in this $20 million renovation because Virginia has a 25 percent state historic rehabilitation tax credit, on top of the 20 percent federal tax credit. Other states have their own special incentives, and more are now considering them. In Virginia, when the various financial factors are taken into account, the tax credit approach greatly lowers the costs to local taxpayers — by as much as 33 percent — when compared with the conventional approach of financing construction through school bonds.


Critics may scream that our approach "sells our schools" to the private sector. But what national interest is served by denying local officials access to private capital to provide schoolchildren the opportunities they deserve? Besides, our market system works best when there is a level playing field for both the private and public sectors, and this plan wouldn't preclude local governments from still using the traditional "borrow to build" strategy if they choose.


With the Smart Credit, previously unaffordable projects now become affordable. Moreover, we eliminate the costly political and bureaucratic favoritism now pitting one locality against another in a fight for the limited school construction money in the stimulus plan.


Potentially, there may be $100 billion in tax-credit-eligible school modernization projects nationwide. Now is the perfect moment, with prices for construction materials down, to unleash the private sector to create tens of thousands of jobs while making schools better for millions of students.


We have talked to business investors. If Congress will amend the law, we already have the money pledged to modernize more schools, at one time, than has ever been done in any locality in Virginia's history. The same is possible for your community.


America faces many challenges, but fixing this "prior use" rule is easy. With all due respect to the president, the biggest "corridors of shame" will be the halls of Congress if our federal lawmakers fail to act.


George Allen, a Republican, is a former senator and governor of Virginia. Paul Goldman is a former chairman of the Virginia Democratic Party.








The world watched as the Taliban stuck the knife in. Newspapers in every continent carried it as a lead story and TV stations likewise. There for all to see was the stark reality of the war that we fight, a war that we are fighting for and on behalf of the rest of the world and not just ourselves. The entire nation is the front-line in the battle that now is joined, and the fight at the Rawalpindi GHQ is going to be remembered down the years, perhaps more than all the others that have preceded it. If nothing else it is the last wake-up call, the message that can no longer be ignored. Forty-two hostages have been released, we have lost valuable officers and brave men, all but one of the attackers are dead and the one we captured may be persuaded to tell us the who, where and what of an operation that the Taliban must count as their most successful yet. It was a success for the army in that they rescued the hostages, but a failure of monstrous proportions for the intelligence agencies. Their failure is compounded by the fact that this attack was predicted, even described in some detail in the print media, several times in the last three months.

This was no fly-by-night raid planned on the back of an envelope, this was a sophisticated operation carried out by men no less well-trained or motivated than our own forces. It tells us that this is an enemy a long way off being defeated and one that has the military capacity to strike at the heart of the institution which is there to defend the state. Any talk by ministers defending a political position of having the Taliban on the back foot or in retreat needs to be silenced here and now. Ministers also need to exercise a little more caution before alleging 'foreign hands' behind this attack. If the minister has incontrovertible evidence of 'foreign hands' then let us see it, otherwise he should spare us his wilder fantasies.

The Taliban are embedded in cities large and small, in the rural hinterlands as well as the mountains to the north. They have bases in south Punjab that have been allowed to grow unhindered, they are well-resourced and very resourceful, adapting their strategy to suit operational needs. No bazaar anywhere in the country should from this day be selling military uniforms to civilians. No blind eye should be turned by lily-livered civil administrators to the cancer that is creeping along the veins and arteries over which they preside. We should not be surprised that the 'Dr Usman' who is now detained turns out to have been an army nurse, and was AWOL for the last four years. There will be others like him throughout the armed forces as we cannot conceive of him being a solitary example of extremism within the ranks. A judgmental world will be watching us, waiting to see how we respond. Any response that is less than firm and unequivocal is unacceptable. The GHQ raid was the tocsin, the final warning. Failure to heed the warning this time will be tantamount to surrender – and a future for all of us under the boot of the Taliban.







The ministry of foreign affairs has made it clear to missions in Islamabad that anyone found with weapons should not expect to find safety behind the cover of diplomatic immunity. The ministry has been irked by around a dozen incidents in which diplomats were found with guns. The embassies claim the weapons are intended to protect their employees and that they have little confidence in the ability of Pakistani security personnel to do the same. The foreigners apprehended with guns have in fact often reacted with annoyance when local law-enforcement agencies have stopped them – even though they are obviously simply doing their job. The fact that embassies have taken to using vehicles with altered number plates further complicates the picture. While diplomatic cars and the missions themselves enjoy protection under the Vienna Convention, it is obviously impossible for police to identify these cars if they do not carry diplomatic plates. The lack of coordination between different agencies and the tacit go-ahead apparently given to the embassies by the interior ministry to carry guns adds to the confusion.

The Foreign Office has, however, done well to issue a clear-cut warning. With security agencies in Islamabad naturally jittery after the recent acts of audacious terrorism in the city, a shooting incident cannot be ruled out. It is obviously wise to take precautions in advance. The police and other forces need more specialised training. There must also be rules for private security guards, visible everywhere in Islamabad and often manning the barricades set up to guard streets or 'sensitive' buildings located along them. The foreign missions meanwhile need also to realise their very presence in residential areas puts citizens at risk. As part of a united bid to improve the overall security environment, these embassies need to move into the fortified diplomatic enclave.







Thirteen cases of polio have now been reported in Swat, mainly as a consequence of the failure for nearly a year to access the area and vaccinate children. Another child from Swat has been confirmed as having polio in Karachi, where the family had shifted some months ago. Militancy then goes far beyond matters of an immediate threat to people. Even with speeded up polio campaigns, it may take time to overcome the damage inflicted by the failure to cover children in the area over past months. As a result of the ruthless propaganda unleashed by the militants, there are families who still genuinely believe polio drops contain substances that could harm their children by rendering them sterile or in other ways. Indeed, they are held in areas outside Swat too, with occasional 'refusals' by parents to allow children to be inoculated seen in other places as well.

It is of course the children who will pay for this. We need to ensure others do not face a similar fate. This can be done only by launching an information offensive to spread more knowledge about the benefits of protecting children. In addition to advertisements in newspapers (read mainly in the cities), prayer leaders, teachers, councillors, other people with standing and respect in their areas must all be called upon to play a part. Only then can the harm done by the militants be unravelled and a fresh start made.







There are two ways of looking at the astonishing hostage drama at the GHQ in Rawalpindi this weekend. It could be a sign that the Tehrik-e-Taliban, which has immediately claimed credit for the attack unparalleled in terms of daring or planning, are once more resurgent – eager to demonstrate they are undefeated and unbowed. Or it could be a last stand, of the kind immortalised in countless "B"-rate Western movies, with the militants desperate to stage a last fight-back.

Certainly, even those who took part in the attack must have been quite amazed they were able to penetrate so deep into the GHQ. This hardly offers much hope in terms of security for the rest of us. If the country's military cannot defend its own headquarters, there can be little prospect of protection for more ordinary mortals. The organisation and planning of the terrorists was immaculate, but then this is precisely the kind of attack the security forces need to be trained to guard against. After all, rather convincing looking military camouflage uniforms can be purchased in bazaars at Anarkali or Ichhra or elsewhere. Small boys and men strut about in them everywhere, emulating the men in genuine khakis who dominate so much of what happens in our country. We need to make a very serious assessment of the ability of soldiers, police and other personnel to deal with terrorist assaults. This is one area where aid and overseas assistance should be focused on. In 1981, Ronald Reagan – rather unfortunately, some would say – survived an assassination attempt, mainly as a result of action from police and Secret Service agents assigned to protect him. We need to offer training along similar specialised lines to our security personnel – including the police who have lost scores of men in attacks targeting them. Most of these victims, poorly equipped and badly trained, had no real hope of defending themselves.

There are other aspects to look at as well. A leading international news agency, on the day the attack began, had obtained a police intelligence report going back to July this year. The report warned of an attack on the army headquarters by militants dressed as soldiers. It also stated the Taliban and Jaish-e-Muhammad, based in southern Punjab, would jointly stage the attack. According to some accounts, the report had floated around the Punjab home department for weeks. There is no way of knowing if it had been passed on to army intelligence or to others in key places. The report, if accounts reported in the media are correct, is stunningly accurate. Other reports have preceded attacks by militants. As anyone familiar with the workings of our intelligence agencies knows, there are probably others that are perhaps less precise. Officers at all levels routinely churn out such material, in some cases based on little more than "information" gathered over a cup of tea with a reporter or two. But grain lies amidst the chaff. Mechanisms to separate it must be developed.

There have been predictions for some time that the greatest militant threat lies in the south of the country, rather than the north. Tied together in that bond created by adversity, terrorist organisations are reported to have developed an alliance that enables them to work closely together. The attack on the GHQ closely resembled the siege laid in March this year to a police training school at Manawan in Lahore. The JeM was thought to be involved, with or without Taliban support. Around 30 were reported killed. In some ways at least, the attack in Rawalpindi was a replication of this, down to the use of uniforms to enter the premises. Eyewitnesses say the militants spoke either Pashto or Punjabi – again evidence of different groups coming together. They were also equipped with mobile phones and reportedly spoke with "leaders" not present with them.

This coming together of groups is of course a dangerous trend. It underscores why there can be no duality in policy against militancy. It is wrong to think along the lines of "good" or "bad" militants. Elements within our Establishment who have done so in the past or continue to do so today, must take off their shades and take a clearer look at reality. Even forces that were once "under control," but motivated by the ideology that drives them on, will not always remain so. Some have already evolved into monsters beyond any central control. In Punjab, police and civilian agencies had been warning for years of the JeM and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the most murderous of the Sunni extremist groups, moving closer to the Taliban. Some suggest it is their influence that has encouraged the genocide of Shias in the Kurram Agency and elsewhere. The interactions between these forces are obviously dangerous, leading to one kind of evil being juxtaposed against the other.

There is, however, some possibility that it is the fear of final defeat which is bringing the groups together, putting aside the ideological differences that have in the past held them apart. It is thought that Al-Qaeda, as the trans-national umbrella organisation that oversees extremist militancy, may be encouraging this – as it wages its own struggle for survival. We must hope that the military will now push for a drive against militants everywhere. The events in Rawalpindi will possibly accelerate action in South Waziristan. Southern Punjab should be the next target.

For such an effort to work, we need unity between the government and the military – and indeed allies outside the country. For the moment, we need the US as well. Militancy cannot be defeated unless everyone threatened by it works together. It has grown into a force too big and too ugly to be fought against in isolation. The evidence of a rift – over the Kerry-Lugar Bill – will encourage the militants. Some pro-Taliban commentators seem already to be hoping that the military will again change sides. This, of course, is futile thinking. A common stand was taken by the civilian and military set up in Swat. There must now be no division, and no loss of purpose or direction.

The attack on the GHQ will steel resolve. It is not something our military will take lying down. Pride and image have both been hurt. But we also need rational thinking to determine how best to fight militancy, on various fronts, attacking not just the suicide-jacket-wearing and grenade-hurling militants whose aim it is to maim and kill but also the poverty and frustration which gives them strength and fuels the organisations behind them.

The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor. Email:







Before Pakistan could start recovering from a suicide bombing at a UN office in Islamabad and a massive bomb blast in a Peshawar market last week, the brazen Oct 10 attack targeting Pakistan's most secure military complex – the Army Headquarters -- jolted it further. During the initial gunbattle, the army lost a brigadier and a lieutenant-colonel. This episode concluded with the arrest of the commander of the operation, Aqeel, alias Dr Usman, and the killing of his seven associates who wore army fatigues and had coordinated their attack on the GHQ from at least two directions.

This was neither the first attack on an army structure in the country nor the most deadly -- but it is unprecedented, given the extent of the breach of GHQ security, the confusion that it created in its initial stage and its timing vis-a-vis the planned launch of a ground operation in South Waziristan. It could be a transformational event for the army – strengthening its resolve against local militants, bridging internal divisions and forcing a review of intelligence estimates. However, jumping to conclusions without thorough investigation and reacting rashly based on preconceived notions would be highly counterproductive. Additionally, though Pakistan's nuclear installations are not in the immediate vicinity of GHQ, the nature of the attack raises questions about how security agencies would react if a future attack targets any of the nuclear weapons facilities.

Before attempting to analyse the attack further, let's look at the facts that have come to light so far. The Crime Investigation Department of Punjab, a civilian law-enforcement body, recently shared its assessment with relevant government departments that "terrorists belonging to the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), in collaboration with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), were planning to attack the GHQ." It even warned that the terrorists could be clad in military uniforms and while riding a military vehicle or a vehicle designed to pass as one belonging to the military (this was first disclosed in a report in this newspaper on Oct 5). This information was partly based on interrogations of suspects involved in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in March this year. Poor coordination between civilian law-enforcement and the military is obvious.

Secondly, a profile of Aqeel, the only terrorist arrested at the scene at the GHQ, is quite instructive. Hailing from Kahuta in northern Punjab, he was a nursing assistant with the Army Medical Corps before he joined local militant groups (first the LeJ and then the JeM). Later he became a member of the TTP and remained a close associate of Ilyas Kashmiri, Al Qaeda's chief of paramilitary operations in Pakistan who was recently killed in a drone strike in South Waziristan. Punjab police were looking for him in connection with a number of recent terrorist attacks in Punjab, and he is suspected of involvement in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team.

Thirdly, the TTP's Amjad Farooqi group claimed responsibility for the attack shortly after it became public. The links between Amjad Farooqi, an old Harkatul Mujahideen fighter, and Al Qaeda are well established. And lastly, some Pakistani media analysts known for their hawkish views openly speculated on Pakistani television about Indian intelligence agencies' possible role in the attack -- especially in the context of a growing India-Pakistan rivalry inside Afghanistan, but there is no proof of Indian involvement in this attack. In fact, these terrorists' links to indigenous militant groups in Waziristan have already been acknowledged by the army and police.

To understand how the Pakistani Army will view this developing situation, three other factors are also very relevant. Effective military operations in Swat have taught the army that a stitch in time saves nine and that without public support no military campaign can succeed. Additionally, Indian allegations about the Pakistani army's direct involvement in every attack on its personnel and interests in Afghanistan help those extremist elements in Pakistan who see India and Pakistan clashing on every path. And finally, the divergence in the civil-military perspectives about the intent and content of the Kerry-Lugar Bill has generated a major debate in Pakistan about the nature of the US-Pakistan relations. A trust deficit is unfortunately growing on both sides despite regular interaction between leaders of the two countries and public cooperation in counterterrorism field.

The complexity of the challenge at hand for both Pakistan and the US is vividly apparent in this context. Despite this setback, Pakistan cannot afford to delay the ground operation in South Waziristan, as that will only provide TTP with more time to resolve its leadership crisis, reorganise, and acquire more armour and weaponry. For the TTP and its associates, the GHQ attack will be deemed a successful operation, useful for attracting more recruits. But on the flip side, public support for more effective counterterrorism measures will also increase. As most polls and surveys indicate, support for effective action against TTP and other militant groups increased after the rise of violence in the Swat Valley area. So, the time is ripe to cleanse the FATA as well as parts of south Punjab, where extremism is brewing. For this to happen, intelligence-sharing between the ISI and the civilian law-enforcement agencies, especially the competently-led FIA and the newly-constituted National Counterterrorism Authority will be critical.

The Indian political leadership, despite its reservations about the 2008 Mumbai attack investigation in Pakistan, can also help by fully reviving the peace process with Pakistan and by restraining itself from accusing Pakistan of blame for everything that negatively affects India. The Obama administration can lend a hand by convincing the US Congress to reframe the few provisions of the recently-passed aid bill that have become controversial in Pakistan.

Despite the military's past track record with regard to interference in political affairs and pursuance of illegitimate foreign policy goals through non-state actors, Pakistan needs a disciplined, cohesive and efficient army today more than ever before. Anything less than a full-on counterterrorism effort from the Pakistani military will attract more serious challenges tomorrow than those it confronted yesterday.

The writer is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and senior adviser at the Belfer Centre, Harvard Kennedy School. This article first appeared in Foreign Policy.







Imagine the Americans, of all people, destabilising Pakistan; which is what Congress has done by acting petulantly and adding intrusive, unenforceable and gratuitously offensive conditions to Kerry-Lugar. Why? Because their favourite dictator played fast and loose with the money gifted to him by Bush, leaving America $13 billion poorer with nothing to show for it. The conditions are in place also because the Congress, reluctant to blame the poor performance of the military in Afghanistan, needs a scapegoat; someone to vent their anger on, to explain why Osama is still free, why Hikmatyar and Haqqani are gathering recruits, why Karzai, their hand-picked overlord of Afghanistan turned is a brazen vote thief and why Americans continue to die in Afghanistan in increasing numbers.

But tempting as it was to blame and humiliate Pakistan, viewed by many in the Congress as a reluctant, inefficient, fickle even duplicitous ally, the latter should have resisted the temptation – simply because alienating Pakistan is a self-defeating exercise which would prove as disastrous for America as much as for the stability and security of the region as a whole. Sadly, an irate Congress, goaded by the many lobbies that have a claim on the voting preferences of Congressmen and, one suspects, some inexplicably poor handling by appointees of the Zardari government, coalesced to produce a mega public relations disaster.

Kerry Lugar may have been drafted to ensure that America's money, all of $1.5 million annually (amounting to nine hours worth of expenditure that is incurred by the US in Iraq and Afghanistan) will not be lost but in the process America has jeopardised something worth much more, and that is not only the little remaining goodwill that existed for her in Pakistan, but, more importantly, the prospects of their staunch ally, Mr Zardari. Eventually, the harm done to the notion that democracy is the best form of government for Pakistan may prove to be the most damaging outcome inflicted by the Congress. In fact, Mark Twain once wrote about the members of the Congress: "Reader, suppose you were an idiot; and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself."

That is not to say that the Zardari government, which was badly let down by whoever are its advisers, will fall. It will not, hopefully. But the little recovery that Mr Zardari's standing seemed to be making in the polls, from the depths to which public regard for him had plunged, after his disastrous volte face on the restoration of the CJ, has evaporated. Time, if it ever was, is no longer on the side of Mr Zardari.

Notwithstanding the provocation, in the debate outside the National Assembly unfortunately, not for the first time, instinct and emotion has prevailed over common sense and considered judgement. Patriotism in Pakistan is not only the last resort of the scoundrel but the first bolt hole of the hypocrite. Of course, when the TV anchors took over the story the facts too became extinct.

Actually, there are only two conditions in the Kerry-Lugar Bill that are glaringly offensive; the others do not deserve the hysterical attention they received. In brief, Kerry Lugar offers Pakistan much needed assistance in the civil and military sphere over an extended period of time, in the hope that, in return, Pakistan will abide by her own laws regarding non-proliferation, forbidding the use of her territory by extremists, dismantling of such terror groups that remain and that all political players on the national scene abide by Pakistan's own constitution which forbids military takeovers and vests all authority, including matters concerning the nations defence, in the hands of a elected civilian government. However, the clause relating to the appointments and promotions in the military are fatuous and anyway impossible to monitor.

Besides, Pakistan is not bound by the conditions laid down by Congress nor by accepting the money is Pakistan accepting the conditionalities. That is merely Congress informing the administration of what it desires and what the latter should be looking out for when submitting its periodic report to Congress on the security related portion of the bill. Lest the administration still feels constrained and it is in the national interest of the US, Congress has allowed the President a free hand to waive all the conditions. Of one thing we can be sure, it will never be in the national interest of the United States to shun Pakistan's effective cooperation in the battle against terrorism.

Actually, what is most surprising about Kerry-Lugar is the gullibility of Congress. Imagine believing that when it comes to the crunch Pakistan will not act in her own interest just because Congress will be upset, or because a mere billion dollars (two to three per cent of the annual national budget) will not be available.

When has Pakistan not acted in accordance with her own wishes? Pakistan befriended China (1960) even though America had branded China as an international leper; Pakistan went to war with India twice (1965 and 1971) without caring what America might think, feel or do; Kissinger's threat (1975) that America would make a "horrible example" of Pakistan was brushed off as just so much hot air as Pakistan proceeded apace with her nuclear weapon programme; Pakistan exploded a nuclear device (1998) despite the repeated entreaties of an American President; Pakistan's nuclear scientists stole (and sadly sold) nuclear secrets notwithstanding American strictures to the contrary; even Musharraf, the supine Commando, took the money offered by Bush (2001-2008) thumbed his nose at the US and did with it what he wished; he even thought nothing of starting a war with India (1999) by capturing their defences in Kargil; earlier Pakistan said no to America's request to despatch forces to Vietnam (1970) and subsequently Iraq (2003).

The list of instances where we did, and do, what suits us is long. Like America, we too have always chosen to be faithful to America in our own way. Why then suddenly do our super patriots believe we will act differently after Kerry-Lugar?

Of course there are defects in the bill. It is a crassly crude method of taking to task the democratic dispensation that exists today for the follies of several dictators whom they supported and propped up. Besides, the Americans cannot draw up an indictment against a whole people or insult them merely to register their sense of hurt at the manner their money or interests had been handled by an earlier discredited coterie. For the Americans to shout "thief" today and start taking precautions when they were aware of the robbery years ago and chose to do nothing is knavish not merely foolish.

Nevertheless, we cannot let sentiment override national interest. America's support is important for a host of reasons and especially so when terrorists bent on taking over Pakistan have to be thwarted. There will be time enough, once this threat is eliminated, for point scoring and recrimination. Neither America nor Pakistan can afford to wreck cooperation forged over a difficult decade just to indulge their pique, or an irate Congress, that seems to have lost its marbles. A way out has to be found and lessons learnt.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







Pakistan's public and external debt have increased over the last two years at a pace never witnessed in the country's history. Public debt grew at an average rate of 26 percent per annum, as against 6.6 percent in 2000-07. As a result, Pakistan added Rs2,827 billion in public debt alone in the last two years, as against Rs1,796 billion in the previous seven.

Similarly, external debt and liabilities grew at an average rate of 15.5 percent, as opposed to an average 0.9 percent between 2000 and 2007. In other words, Pakistan added almost $12 billion in external debt during these two years, as against $2.6 billion in the previous seven.

Many factors have contributed to the recent surge in debt. These include the persistence of large fiscal and current-account deficits, sharp depreciation in the exchange rate and unrestrained borrowing. The depreciation of the exchange rate alone added Rs944 billion in public debt. In other words, without borrowing a single dollar or rupee, the country added Rs944 billion in public debt. It had taken five years to add a similar amount of debt between 1999-2000 and 2004-05).

The pace of debt accumulation is alarming, and a sure recipe for fiscal and balance-of-payment crises in the medium term. The massive surge in public debt is bound to increase debt-servicing which, in turn, will consume most of the government revenue and little will be available to spend on physical and human infrastructure. In 1999-2000, almost 72 percent of total government revenue was consumed by debt-servicing alone, leaving hardly anything to be spent on public welfare. With prudent fiscal management, this ratio was brought down to 35 percent by 2006-07; thus creating enough fiscal space for improving the country's physical and human infrastructure and reducing poverty. In the last two years, this ratio has jumped to almost 49 percent. Debt-servicing consumed almost one-half the government's revenue in 2008-09, and as such has become the single-largest expenditure item of our budget.

The way Pakistan has borrowed in the last two years is unprecedented and has injected significant risks to the budget and balance-of-payments going forward. Interestingly, the IMF itself is concerned about the growing risks to its own fund. The IMF has agreed to provide $11.3 billion under the Standby Arrangement to Pakistan. This amount also includes the recent augmentation of loan equivalent to $3.236 billion. The IMF has so far disbursed $5.326 billion to Pakistan and the remaining amount ($6.0 billion) will be disbursed in different tranches by December 2010. Pakistan has also borrowed from the IMF under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) in the past and, including this amount, the total exposure would reach $12.0 billion by the end of 2010. As such, the IMF has emerged as the single-largest source of external financing, and Pakistan has become its fourth-largest borrower.

Such massive borrowing from the IMF involves substantial financial risks to this institution itself. The IMF has stated that "at the time of approval of the Programme, the level of access was already large in terms of Pakistan's economy and debt servicing capacity." The augmentation of $3.2 billion assistance has further aggravated the situation. "Debt service to the Fund will become a significant fiscal burden, and is particularly high relative to reserves, which remain vulnerable to weaker exports, remittances, FDI and possible delays in donor disbursement."

The question then arises as to why the IMF became so generous in lending money to Pakistan when the fragile nature of its debt-carrying capacity was known to them? Why did it bring about substantial financial risks to its own institutions? Why did it create a significant fiscal burden on Pakistan? On our part, did we require such large resources from the IMF? Was it necessary to go for augmentation of resources from the IMF? Why did we opt for an expansionary fiscal policy when there was a resource crunch? Why did we allow our exchange rate to depreciate to an extent where we added nearly Rs1.0 trillion to public debt, without increasing a single dollar in our exports? These are valid questions and must be answered by the government and the IMF.

Under a very optimistic assumption of fiscal (3.6 percent of GDP, on average) and current account (4.5 percent of GDP) deficits, the IMF has projected that Pakistan's total external debt will be $72.0 billion by 2014-15. Given the security environment, the quality of governance, the lax-expenditure environment in the provinces, especially in Punjab, and the economy not being on the radar screen, it is simply next to impossible to expect such level of financial and policy discipline in the government. The present government pursued a right fiscal and monetary policy in 2008-09 and gained considerable dividend as a result.

However, it changed its policy stance in 2009-10, and is unlikely to maintain such discipline going forward. External debt is, therefore, expected to rise to $95 billion by 2014-15.

Pakistan will start repaying the IMF loan from 2011-12 and in four years (until 2014-15), it will have to repay $12.0 billion. Will Pakistan be able to repay such a large amount to the IMF alone? How is Pakistan going to bridge its financing gap in the medium term? Will Pakistan be ready to sign yet another Standby Arrangement or PRGF in January 2011? In my judgment, this will indeed be the case.


The writer is dean and professor at NUST Business School in Islamabad. Email:








The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

There are three possible scenarios of what could unfold in Afghanistan. The first scenario is more military escalation by a troop surge being proposed by General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The case he has made is that without a substantial increase in troops and a new strategy, the war in Afghanistan may never be won. But history attests that an effort to principally apply a military solution is unlikely to succeed in what has been called the graveyard of empires.

A second scenario is a unilateral withdrawal by US-NATO forces without a political settlement. This scenario is fraught with great danger and will repeat the historic blunder of the 90s when the West abandoned Afghanistan to the chaos that ultimately turned into a breeding ground for Al Qaeda. Any precipitous pullout will be viewed in the region and beyond as a defeat and will embolden the forces of violent extremism across the world.

Although this scenario is unlikely an alternative to the first approach that is being debated in Washington, the so-called remote-controlled, arms length counter-terrorism strategy: an air war using missiles and predators focused on Al Qaeda. But this would simply be another variation of military escalation with all its attendant risks and limited chances of success. The lesson from the Middle East should not be ignored where the Israeli use of air power to decapitate the Palestinian leadership only fuelled radicalisation and more militancy.

It is necessary to consider a third scenario: one that can pave the way for an indigenous Afghan solution and promote a broad national coalition. This will need a new strategy to pursue a political solution that seeks to integrate into the political process all the excluded Pashtun groups and those Taliban elements that can be de-coupled from Al Qaeda.

President Hamid Karzai as well as American and British military commanders have frequently called for reconciliation efforts but what has been absent is a political framework in which serious negotiations can be pursued and which offers real incentives to the insurgents to abandon violence.

This will ultimately involve negotiations for a progressive reduction of Western forces from Afghanistan in return for the insurgents agreeing to a number of conditions. Fashioning a new political structure, that provides a power-sharing arrangement to bring in under-represented Pashtuns, will help to neutralise the insurgency in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

Even if the central leadership of the Taliban refuse to engage in talks this will offer a concrete way to co-opt and peel away local Taliban commanders. There are indications that the alliance between Al Qaeda and many Taliban elements is fraying. Talks will offer a serious opportunity to test this.

Political engagement, even if it does not at first succeed, will represent a meaningful hearts-and-minds effort that can also help create the conditions to isolate the irreconcilable elements among the Taliban.

A plan of action to achieve such a political solution can involve the following elements: The military should hold ground in defensible military encampments. It should avoid creating pockets of vulnerability that risk higher casualties. This will enable the conduct of talks from a position of some strength. Offensive operations should be restricted except in retaliation/self-defence. It should negotiate reciprocal ceasefires at the local level with different actors including local Taliban commanders. It should restrict airstrikes only to terrorist targets based on verified intelligence; avoid civilian casualties.

On the economic front, there should be focus on economic development and job creation at the local level, building capacities region by region through local communities. As for the political aspect, a national reconciliation initiative should be launched to draw in more Pashtuns in to the political process. Talks should be opened with the insurgents initially indirectly through credible intermediaries. The terms of the dialogue should be set out by asking the various Taliban elements to disavow Al Qaeda, halt hostilities and support development efforts and the build-up of Afghan security forces. This will need to be accompanied by the willingness of US-NATO forces to accept a progressive withdrawal from Afghanistan.

As many Afghan players (political and tribal leaders, local power holders) as possible should be sought out in the reconciliation process. Political parties should be allowed to contest next year's parliamentary elections (banned at present) to ensure that the reconciliation efforts are consolidated. It should be ensured that the expansion of Afghan security forces is not ethnically skewed. At the moment between 60-70 per cent of personnel are non-Pashtuns. A political arrangement that once worked in Afghanistan should be promoted: a loose, decentralised political and administrative order which strikes a balance between and reflects Afghanistan's ethnic composition and protects the rights of all minority groups.

On the regional front, a compact between neighbouring states especially ensuring support from Pakistan, Iran and Saudi Arabia for such a new political order in Afghanistan should be created. A formal accord between Pakistan and Afghanistan that includes Kabul's recognition of the Durand Line should be promoted. And at the international level, a UN/OIC peacekeeping force drawn from Muslim countries to implement an agreement once it is reached should be considered. Achieving this outcome will neither be quick nor easy. But Pakistan's stability will be helped, not hurt, by a progressive, orderly de-escalation in Afghanistan. Pakistan will be able to manage its aftermath as a negotiated end to conflict in Afghanistan will be salutary for its future stability. It will further deflate the ideological appeal and political motivations of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan and other militants.

Pakistan's long term stability, however, will depend on a number of other factors in addition to the pre-requisites of political stability and effective governance. Other key determinants include: Financial stabilisation and economic revival. The US-supported IMF injections have led to a modicum of financial stability. But ensuring sustainable growth, adequate job creation, social stability and reversing militancy will require larger infrastructure and social sector investment and trade access for Pakistani products in the US and European markets. Market access through a free trade agreement can help Pakistan become a competitive producer, attract foreign investment and serve as a base for exports to the West.

Public support for security operations against militants should continue and be consolidated. In this context, US drone attacks, tactically regarded as effective, are strategically costly as they erode public support and consensus. The capacity of the state to provide effective governance in the post-conflict regions including Swat should be enhanced. In Pakistan's fragile political situation, US actions should not contribute to the breakdown of the national consensus against violent extremism by escalating demands on Pakistan. Efforts to determine Pakistan's security paradigm and decide on its priorities undermine that consensus.

The heated public debate in Pakistan about the benchmarking of US assistance in the Kerry-Lugar Bill is a reminder of how such intrusive conditionalities cancel the hearts and minds effect, hurt national pride and are perceived as an unacceptable violation of the country's sovereignty. They reinforce the transactional nature of the bilateral relationship that Pakistanis so resent and strengthen rather than break from the paradigm of treating the country as hired help rather than a valued ally. Pakistan's security concerns vis-a-vis India and promoting a peaceful settlement of Kashmir should be promoted.

In conclusion, it should be emphasised that the US and Western ability to isolate and eliminate Al Qaeda and violent extremism in Afghanistan, Pakistan and other Arab and Muslim countries will depend critically, not so much on military strength and counter-insurgency strategy, as on the demonstration of the political will and capability to secure just solutions to the conflicts and problems in the Islamic world: the Palestine question, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Iraq.

It is this concrete commitment to justice and genuine economic cooperation in the interest of the poor and deprived in the Muslim world that will succeed in turning the tide against extremism and militancy.


(This article has been adapted from testimony given by the writer to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee in a hearing on Afghanistan's impact on Pakistan.)







The attack on GHQ has shaken the public confidence further. Coming at the heels of the Peshawar blast, which killed and injured nearly 150 people, the attack on GHQ has spread despondency and traumatised the nation. However, the bravery shown by our officers and soldiers in the face of the veiled enemy was out of this world. The rescue of most of the hostages, military and civilian, was such a heroic effort that books could be written on it.

It seems that the terrorists' target was COAS General Kayani. They could not reach him because they were intercepted at the first barrier. Some critics are of the view that security was lacking. It is rubbish. Even the Pentagon could not be protected against suicide bombers.

In an unparalleled move the corps commanders have spoken publicly on the Kerry-Lugar bill expressing serious concerns regarding the clauses impacting national security. The president's spokesman has termed army's intrusion public defiance of President Zardari, the supreme commander of the armed forces. In the same breath the ISPR press release conceded that it was parliament that would debate the issue enabling the government to develop a national response. It was an oblique caution to parliament to come out with a positive answer by taking due notice of GHQ reservations.

It is Gen Musharraf's oft-repeated and flawed theory of Pakistan's 'stakeholders' that could have prompted the corps commanders, under the guidance of COAS Gen Kayani, to publicly speak unfavourably of a government policy. The 'stakeholders' theory was based on the idea that the army was also one of the stakeholders and thus an eligible component of the government's policy-making machinery.

Military dictator Musharraf could not stomach the bitter pill that there was only one stakeholder: the people of Pakistan. All state institutions, departments and civil and military services, which were created by the people, have only one task to perform: to serve the people so as to free them from lawlessness, centuries of poverty, chronic illiteracy, ill-health and bad governance. The army by its sheer strength in numbers and arms could easily throw out a civil government and occupy the country. It has happened four times. Every time the military dictator had to quit in disgrace and the country had to struggle all over again to find the democratic rhythm.

One could go through the constitution of any country in the world and they would not find mention of the armed forces as a source of policy-making. Our constitution states that the federal government shall have control and command of the armed forces, and the supreme command of the armed forces shall vest in the president. Describing its function the constitution says that the armed forces shall under the direction of the federal government defend Pakistan against external aggression or threat of war and, subject to law, act in aid of civil power when called upon to do so.

The army command has every right to address the political executive to point out its serious reservations about some parts of the Kerry-Lugar bill. However, it was neither necessary nor politically realistic to announce that it differed from government policy. The announcement came as a bombshell as it led to numerous rumours. The appropriate way for the corps commanders would have been to formally write to the federal government pointing out the flaws contained in the Kerry-Lugar bill leaving it to the government whether or not to make its reservations public.

Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com







IN a decisive and purely professional move, Commandos of Pakistan Army Sunday morning raided and rescued 39 persons who were made hostage in security office outside the GHQ by the terrorists. The swift action though led to the martyrdom of two commandos and three of the hostages yet it reflects that the four militants, including a suicide bomber, got very little time for reaction otherwise they would have gone on a killing spree.

There had been no doubt in anyone's mind about the professional competence and handling of difficult situations in a precision manner by the Officers and Jawans of our Armed Forces and the handling of GHQ attack has reinforced it. The casualty ratio of Officers-Jawans also proves that the committed leaders of the Army lead from the front. Now that this predicament is over, we have no doubt that the Army leadership would move swiftly to unearth the conspiracy and the elements behind it. According to experts, the way the attack was launched is not merely the handiwork of the Pakistani Taliban, who have claimed responsibility, but it hints at the involvement of foreign hand as well. It was a dangerous operation which involved organizational supporting, monitoring and guidance about targets. The attack leaves no doubt that the militants were trained like commandos, carried sophisticated weapons and appeared to be fully briefed about the situation on the ground and the directions they were to move. The arrest of the ringleader Aqeel alias Dr Usman would help the investigating agencies in extracting very useful information and clues in reaching the conclusions yet that would be too late as the real culprits having links with foreign agencies go underground after such incidents. The attack at the GHQ has the semblance of the one in Lahore on the Sri Lankan cricket team and apparently it was the same group because Aqeel alias Dr Usman was involved in that unfortunate incident. It is also worth mentioning that the GHQ attack came immediately after the blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul, where there was no loss of life of any Indian. Presence of the group of terrorists in the suburb of Islamabad for about a month, the timing of the Kabul episode out side the Indian embassy and the attack at the GHQ clearly indicate that our enemies had planned the high profile attack in the Capital and the GHQ and were just waiting for an opportune moment so that they could not be blamed for it. We are confident that the investigators would come up with real account of facts in black and white and expose the diabolical forces behind the deep-rooted conspiracy.










CHAIRMAN Competition Commission of Pakistan (CCP) Khalid Mirza has made a depressing disclosure that some vested interests were out to destroy the Commission. Addressing a seminar in Islamabad he pointed out that the CCP ordinance has yet to be ratified by Parliament and a variety of mafias and vested interests — which include some of the parties against whom the Commission has proceeded — are doing their best to destroy the law or weaken the Commission.

The Monopoly Control Authority (MCA) and its successor CCP remained almost inactive for a considerable time and only acted rarely to fulfill their basic responsibilities. This was mainly because of lack of necessary backing from the Government. However, since assumption of office by the present Chairman, the CCP started making its presence felt as he took effective action against cartels. A case in point is huge fine imposed on the cement industry, which has led to substantial fall in the prices and as a result the construction industry is once again moving in the right direction. The Commission is also engaged in an exercise to scrutinize the behaviour of the sugar millers and hopefully expose the real culprits. It was mainly because of this active approach that some quarters misled the Prime Minister in terminating the contract of the Chairman, a move later reversed by the chief executive on knowing the truth, yet the revelation of the Chairman is very alarming. Those at the helm of affairs never get tired of talking about good governance but in practice those individuals and institutions that help realize the cherished objective are being effectively sidelined. Uncalled-for increase in cement prices followed by unjustified hike in the prices of cooking oil and vegetable ghee, wheat flour and sugar are clear manifestations that some sections of the business community have created monopolies of different sorts and they are involved in exploitation of the consumers. As the normal administrative machinery seems to be either least bothered or ineffective in the face of this loot and plunder, the good work being done by institutions like CCP needs to appreciated and encouraged by all. We would, urge the parliamentarians to build up pressure on the Government to validate the CCP ordinance in its present form, rather with more powers to the Commission, which would in turn strengthen efforts of the Government to safeguard interests of the people.







AS Minister for Water and Power Raja Parvez Ashraf, who is known for thriving on rhetoric, has miserably failed to meet even the self-imposed deadline for an end to power load-shedding, the poor consumers are being mentally prepared for worst kind of gas load-shedding from December. The crisis is quite imminent yet the Government has apparently no plan to cope with it except ill-advised proposition of increasing prices of the CNG enormously to discourage its use.

To handle gas shortage in this way is reflective of the fact that our policy-makers and planners work in haphazard and lopsided manner. For years, we have been encouraging transporters and vehicle owners to go for CNG kits instead of imported oil, which consumes much of our hard earned foreign exchange. Now that most of the vehicles are run on CNG, it has dawned upon the authorities that there were not enough gas supplies to sustain the demand. The problem has been complicated by mindless permissions granted for establishment of CNG stations in dozens in one locality and that too on the existing distribution network which was essentially meant for domestic consumers. As a result, the domestic consumers are not getting required pressure. We are of the view that instead of increasing the prices of CNG, it would be prudent if CNG stations are prohibited from supplying gas to vehicles during breakfast, lunch and dinner timings.










The present ruling and opposition parties continue with the politics of power and pelf, revenge and vendetta, they cannot focus on the problems of the people and threats to internal and external security of the country. Almost all governments in the past thought that the road to corridors of power leads through Washington, therefore they have been trying to curry favour with America. Even now, leaders of ruling and opposition parties discuss their matters with the US ambassador as if she is their family member. Take the case of Kerry-Lugar bill; there are indications that Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to America, has been instrumental in getting the controversial clauses incorporated in bill. His views are known to everybody, as he had spewed venom against Pakistan and its institution in his book published in 2005 under the title 'Pakistan: Between mosque and military'. One does not understand that a person, who had strong affiliation with the neocons and tried to disgrace Pakistan and disparage Islam, was rewarded with the covetous ambassadorship to the US. He had crossed all the limits when he wrote that source of any act of terrorism in any part of the world was Pakistan and its intelligence agencies.

According to CNN/IBN report of September 2009, Pakistan's ambassador to the US Hussain Haqqani wrote a letter to foreign secretary and ISI chief reminding them that harassing Americans or denying them visas hurts country's image and can have serious consequences. Hussain Haqqani wished to have the slot of information minister in Musharraf's cabinet but having failed he went to the US in 2002 as a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International peace and as adjunct professor at Jones Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies. During his college days in Pakistan, he was associated with Jamiat-i-Tulaba a student wing of Jamat-i-Islami. He changed his loyalties and remained with the PPP, PML-N and again with the PPP and does not feel qualms for bringing ignominy to the motherland. Take the Kerry-Lugar bill though members of the US administration admit for the foul language used in certain clauses of the bill.

Members of the ruling party – the PPP and its supporters are defending the Kerry-Lugar bill despite harsh conditionalities, insulting language used in certain clauses and insinuations against the institution of armed forces and intelligence agencies. Anyhow, coalition partners of the PPP, almost all political parties and people in general are protesting against the bill and reject it with disdain. And the nation has shown its resolve to sacrifice everything but would not accept humiliation. Army's top commanders, through a carefully drafted press statement, expressed their serious concerns over some of the clauses of the bill that they believe would affect national security. They asked the government to build a national response on the controversial bill through a debate in the parliament. It appears that better sense has prevailed and the government has decided to take up the bill with the US administration in a bid to avoid confrontation with other political parties and military authorities.

Earlier, COAS General Kayani reportedly protested to General Stanley McChrystal about the undiplomatic behaviour of the US diplomats in Islamabad when the later met him in Islamabad on Tuesday. Kayani was particularly angry over the statements of the US ambassador and her deputy over the issue of the so-called "Quetta Shura" and insinuated threats of drone attacks on Quetta. Anyhow, the passage of the bill was described by the US as a demonstration of America's broad-based commitment to the Pakistani people and stability of the country, which will help strengthen ties between the US and Pakistan. But it appears that if controversial clauses are not removed, Kerry-Lugar Bill may create tension between two friendly countries. In Pakistan, majority of political analysts, commentators and leaders of the public opinion however view the Kerry-Lugar Bill as an instrument of surrender but the PPP leadership insists that there is nothing in the bill that impacts the sovereignty of the country. However, a cursory glance of the bill would reveal that this is no aid bill but a recipe for America's control not just over Pakistan's foreign and defence policies but also over its domestic affairs and political matters. Still worse, the bill puts virtually Pakistan in subordination of their now-anointed regional satrap, India. By every definition, this is humiliatingly atrocious aid bill that not even a banana republic would accept, not to speak of a state that happens to be a nuclear state.

It has to be understood that a large number of intellectuals, foreign policy experts and opinion makers had opposed Pakistan's foreign policy initiatives in 1950s. The nation was told that Pakistan had joined the pacts so that Pakistan could enhance its military strength to counter the hegemonic ambitions from across from the border, and to garner support of the West on Kashmir dispute. But Pakistan was dismembered through international intrigue, and Pakistan's allies did nothing to save Pakistan.

There was also wishful thinking that the US and the West would help resolve the Kashmir dispute, which did not happen till today. If Pakistan could not achieve any of these objectives, then our foreign policy could be described as a failure. Once again, there was opposition to joining Jihad against the Soviet Union. And there was only one justification in becoming a frontline state, and that was to avenge the dismemberment of Pakistan, as the Soviet Union had given all out support to India and indirectly to Mukti-Bahini. There are many instances in the history of mankind when a nation is faced with the dilemma of choosing a right course of action for solution of multi-dimensional problems creation of the inept leadership and bureaucracy. Pakistan today faces extraordinary situation in the wake of challenges to its internal and external security that demand extraordinary measures by the leaders who do not appeal to the visceral instincts but rely upon their cerebral faculties. But does Pakistan have the leadership with vision, wisdom and courage to meet those challenges? Barring a few proverbial exceptions, Pakistan has been unlucky as most of them failed to deliver, and could not ensure socio-economic justice in the society to unite the nation for onward march for progress and prosperity. Of course, apart from inept politicians, civil and military bureaucracy led by Malik Ghulam Muhammad, Iskandar Mirza, Chaudhry Mohammad Ali and others are responsible for having brought the country to the present pass.

There is a perception that it was due to the elements at the social pyramid, the educated class, pseudo-intellectuals, or intelligentsia both Mandarins and Resistantes who have not performed their rightful duty of providing adequate leads to the overwhelming illiterate and immensely religious hoi polloi. The present government is also being blamed for its failure in giving lead to the nation; however opposition parties also do not have excellent brains to come out with alternative plans to get out of the quagmire. Though corruption, lawlessness and other social evils are mountains beyond the reach of the scavenging process of the administrative hand of the state, a positive signal emanating from the broad section of the people is that they have started thinking about the social inequities, inconsistencies and improbity that have permeated the society. And in the words of Voltaire: "Once a nation begins to think it is impossible to stop it". Anyhow, the ruling elite comprising political parties and civil and military bureaucracy should use collective wisdom to extricate Pakistan from the morass it is in.







The controversy over Kerry-Lugar Bill boils down to Pakistan's foreign policy and solution of economic challenges. Pakistan needs to replace failed American consumption based capitalist economic model with traditional saving based model to end permanent dependence on foreign aid and huge debts. Japan's PM blamed US-led capitalism for his country's economic failures. Majority of Latin American leaders blamed American capitalism for global poverty in their UN General Assembly address this September. It is opined that at this point of time Islamabad should review its $24 billion budget for current financial year to raise $1.5 billion to get rid of anti-sovereignty Kerry-Lugar Bill.

Revamp country's banks on-lines of traditional banking system to improve domestic savings to sustain growth, reduce inflation and end foreign meddling in national affairs. The refusal to adopt proposed G-20 banking regulations clearly shows America's commitment to protect its exports. Weak dollar serves American interests but Pakistan needs to re-peg its currency to gold to control inflation and sustain economy. Reportedly, oil-trading nations are already deliberating replacement of dollar with currency basket. Australia's decision on Wednesday to increase interest rate despite low US interest rates shows that advanced states will adopt independent monetary policies to save local economies. Islamabad should reject IMF/WB policies because they protect exporting interests of developed world by promoting availability of cheap western goods, which in turn increase de-industrialization and unemployment. An economically viable Pakistan with independent nuclear policy, strong armed forces and effective intelligence setups is not acceptable to pro-Israel west and India. Islamabad therefore needs to adopt a foreign policy that protects all its interests in the region including stopping west and India from meddling in Baluchistan to undermine Pakistan's security and trade interests within the region including CARS and other SCO members. Pakistan has to protect its interests because US-led NATO military presence in the region is targeted against China in emerging multi-polar world order and shifting of world economy to Asia.

Equally important reason for changing Pak-US foreign policy is Obama's Tuesday statement promising to continue pressing the battle to cripple the (terrorist) network around the world (The New York Times 7 Oct. 09). It clearly shows Washington's total disregard for Pakistan's sovereignty despite PPP government's complete support for America's so-called war against terrorism. It is opined that Pakistan's energy crisis is due to lack of availability of funds that are being used to support military action. The energy crisis has resulted in en-mass closure of industry leaving millions jobless. West instead of financing Islamabad's war efforts is attaching humiliating strings to aid.

Since Obama is itching to bomb Pakistan, it is therefore time to show America the door, starting with country's infamous ambassador and denying land request for embassy expansion. Obama's statement has come despite warning of Pakistan Army Chief that no attack will be tolerated on Quetta. Gen. In addition, Pakistan should withdraw its logistic support for US-led Afghan NATO mission; return 2.5 million Afghan refugees to their homeland and on line of Iran use fences and mines to barricade its borders to deny Washington and its western allies the use of anti-occupation Afghan resistance as a pretext to carry out pre-planned attack on Pakistan.

It should be clear to the PPP government that the elimination of corruption, good governance and strong judiciary and media will guarantee continuation of democracy in Pakistan not anti-martial law clauses of Kerry-Lugar Bill. The timing of suicide attack in high profile UN (food aid) office shows three things: Influence NATO members to use the attacks to force public to support sending more troops for illegal Afghan occupation. Portray Pakistan as "sanctuary of terrorism" to continue occupying Afghanistan to protect its geo-strategic and geo-economic stakes in the region. Obama's speech to UN General Assembly shows total disregard for international law. Obama refused to extend apology for millions of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. US led invasions have reportedly left three and half million women widows in Iraq alone.

The independent observers are of the opinion that withdrawal of US led NATO occupation forces from Afghanistan and use of civil courts and police is the only permanent solution to restore peace in the region. It will help end the drug trade which is being used by recession-hit west to finance Afghan occupation. It is going to allow both Pakistan and Afghanistan to revive trade and commerce in the region and break free from the dependence on foreign assistance. Therefore, Islamabad like most of NATO allies has to distance itself from Afghan occupation to protect national interests including local security.

It is opined that continuation of drone attacks on Pakistan in the name of so-called war against terrorism and foul mouthing country's nuclear program is part of West's pro-Israel ME policy. It is believed that America is violating sovereignty of Pakistan to scare Muslims world over including ME who look up to nuclear Muslim Pakistan as their savior in the ME. It explains west's outcry over Iran's peaceful nuclear program. The historians are justified in linking of murders of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and King Faisal to the vision of stronger independent Muslim Ummah and down the line ongoing witch-hunt of Pakistan's heroes responsible for turning their vision of Muslim nuclear state into a reality. In stark contrast, West's stoic silence over alleged collusion of more than half a dozen western states in providing nuclear technology to Tel Aviv's is self-explanatory.

Musharraf's departure has failed to settle the issue of missing persons, restoration of parliamentary form of government and restoration of 1973 constitution. It is alleged that country's foreign policy, democratic institutions including judiciary and media are being systematically undermined and stifled to serve western stakes. PML (N) statement promising support for democracy as part of the infamous deal is case in point. Mumtaz Bhutto has criticized cooperation between ruling PPP and opposition PML (N) as violation of the spirit of democracy. PPP and the PML (N) instead of using public's rejection of Kerry-Lugar Bill as barging chip should demand its scrapping because the bill will only destabilize Pakistan's fragile democracy and economy.

Finally, public's disapproval of Kerry-Lugar bill clearly shows that PPP government has to change Pakistan's foreign policy and economic model to secure country's national interests. Obama's UN address and refusal to adopt proposed G-20 banking reforms clearly shows that in step with Bush doctrine America will continue to undermine international law and use brute military force instead of civil courts to restore global peace. It also shows that America's so-called war against terrorism is a pretext to maintain Afghan occupation for vested stakes. Under the circumstances, PPP government like most EU/NATO members has no choice but to part ways with the America.







The Pakistani electronic media is heaping accolades and all possible laurels on Pakistan army for flushing out the terrorists that barged, on October 9, into the General Headquarters of the Pakistan army located at the very heart of the Rawalpindi city. The media is going out of the way to project as if the victory or in simple terms the overpowering of the attackers was to save Islam and Pakistan. The media is trumpeting the battle in GHQ as an exceptional heroic deed that was unsurpassed in terms of the valor and marvelous planning of the army "Jawans (young soldiers). The media projection gave an impression as if a new war has started between India and Pakistan that ended with a stunning and humiliating defeat to the enemy.

This hyperbolic description of a local clash by the media is as amusing and shocking as to be seen in third rate thrill movies showing quick fix feats by an all powerful hero. The passion-generating national war time lyrics were played incessantly with loud calls of Salam to Pak army along with the expression of abiding gratitude of Pakistani nation to these invincible warriors for thwarting the nefarious attempts of the enemies to harm Islam and Pakistan. Such was the ludicrous cacophony and hype of the electronic media with Geo leading this overly bizarre publicity blitz. There were less than a dozen individuals who stormed the well- fortified garrison of Pakistan army and held hostage more than three dozen both uniformed and civilian persons. In the bloody clash 6 precious lives from the army with a brigadier and a Lt.Colonel were lost. Now admittedly, this was a daring and brazen surprise attack by the infiltrators on the heavily cordoned Headquarters of Pakistan army.

Why don't we look at the whole sordid event from a different angle? Was it a lapse on the part of Pakistan army and its intelligence network that a few individuals picked up the courage to wear the military uniforms, come closer to one of the gates and force their way into the interior of the garrison? Secondly, it took more than 18 hours for the elite troops and police to overcome the dogged terrorists. Backed by a conducive environment for easy movement, maneuverability and logistic support, it should not have taken for the highly trained troops to storm and dislodge the holed-up terrorists. This long and inordinate delay can be interpreted as extreme caution to judge the situation, fatigue the attackers and to save the lives of the held-up hostages. Still it was very long time to launch an assault which finally came and in the wake three innocent hostages died too.

That the Headquarters of the army can be so vulnerable as to come under a well coordinated terrorist attack is a yawning question that stares right in the face of all the high ups and top command of the Pakistan army. Was it a jay walk by the miscreants and armed brigands that they came so close to the entry gate and started strafing the check post inmates after brief altercation? Why the media was straining and bending over backward to make it out like Waterloo? The sacrifices of the six army jawans was the result of the ambush by the assailants and there was, understandably, no duel that took place. It is indeed a sober moment for introspection and reflection to explore how and why, in the first instance; the terrorists were able to break into into the boundary wall or through the gate of this huge complex of buildings?

Even a police contingent could have finally prevailed over this small group of terrorists within the same amount of time that the strong and rigorously trained army Jawans took. The terrorists were able to jolt the entire country and catch, the valiant and staunch Pakistan army, unawares with their shock emitting onslaught. And that was exactly their insidious motive. The army should mount a speedy enquiry to find out the possibility of the inside collaborators of this most heinous and vicious attack on GHQ. This flabegausing happening gives a clear and loud message that the enemies of Pakistan were well organized and have long arms, resources and tactical information to hold even the headquarters of the Pakistan army, be it for a day. The debate that it was a reaction to the army's operations in the tribal regions of Pakistan, is hardly relevant to justify the laxity and army's intelligence wings' utter failure to anticipate and preempt such deadly and stunning acts of terrorism. There is no need for the media to unnecessary highlight and blow the counter operation of the army out of proportions, which in any case the army had to undertake. The army's killing of the terrorists was foregone and the therefore, it was a normal counter offensive by the army to dislodge the infiltrators.

But still the stand-off and the consequent but prolonged operation should be looked at more in the nature of a lapse rather than a monumental feat of gallantry in the name of Islam. The bare fact is that it was neither an attack by the terrorists for Islam nor was a counter-operation by the army to save Islam. So to mention paradise and prophet receiving the Ghazis in paradise seems irrelevant to the battle in GHQ. It's time to ponder what has gone wrong with the Pakistan army, to plug the loop holes in its citadel.







Analysts see similarities between Kabul and Peshawar blasts, and link them with the Saturday attack on the GHQ main gate by TTP terrorists on October 10. Over a dozen army personnel got martyred and eight terrorists were killed while one, Dr Usman was arrested in critical condition. Around 50 people were killed and over 100 injured in a car bomb blast in Peshawar on October 9. On October 8 a suicide bomber struck outside the Indian embassy in Kabul, killing 17 people. The Afghan Taliban claimed the responsibility, but many in New Delhi dubbed the Peshawar blast as a tit-for-tat as if the Kabul blast was conducted by ISI. Already the UN has halted work on various projects in Pakistan after the October 5 blast in the WFP offices in Islamabad, which left two women and a foreigner killed and eight others injured. Indian experts linked it with Islamabad but owing to the modus operandi and tactics used in both the blasts, it seems that both the blasts are a handiwork of RAW.

Same methods and similar nature of explosives VBIED (Vehicle borne improvised explosive device) have been used in the cars, which is the specialty of Indian Intelligence agency. The inquiry of Samjota Express proved that RAW agent Lt Col Prohit was an expert of preparing such devices and vehicles. Such attacks always coincide with Pakistan's successes either in the operations against terrorists or on the end of our sports teams. Indian agencies gear up acts of sabotage whenever there is possibility of Islamabad getting world assistance or appraisal at least. New Delhi tries to cash in on important occasions to attract the world attention for fulfilling its malicious designs.

At the time of 2008 G-8 Summit, the Indian embassy in Kabul was hit by a blast on July 7. This time the Kabul blast coincides with American aid bill, though highly controversial and humiliating for Pakistan. The people and the armed forces are Pakistan have put their weight together in opposing this bill as it is intrusive of our security mechanism. RAW in connivance with RAAM and Mossad have planned series of blasts in Afghanistan and Pakistan with a view to use pressure tactics and build opinion for forcing Washington to refrain from providing economic and military aid to Islamabad. When we analyze these two possibilities the first one seems quite out of place because the terrorists in the tribal areas of Pakistan are no more in a position to launch such a well-planned and organized activity.

During the last few months, the security agencies of Pakistan have very successfully crushed and crumpled all their strength and force with an iron hand. The first rank leadership of these so called terrorists has gone to the other world, the remaining ones have surrendered before the security forces and some others have decided to be loyal to the state of Pakistan admitting that they had been misguided by their leaders. In short no one among them has a capability of confronting with the armed forces of Pakistan. India has always reacted as a stubborn child whenever its feels any American inclination towards Pakistan. The recent Kerry Lugar bill could be one of the heart pinching realities for India. Although this bill is being criticized by some of the Pakistani factions of society for its objectionable clauses regarding the Pakistan army and the intelligence agencies, yet this bill is going to prove itself a strong favour and support for Pakistan in near future. By getting an aid of 1.5 billion dollars every year Pakistan would be able to solve many of its economic problems. If the objectionable clauses are removed away, this bill would strengthen the Pak-American relations .This all-well situation is certainly not very pleasing for India. Now India wants to create hurdles so that this bill may not reach to final. The attacks on the GHQ are nothing but an attempt to promote harassment and fear throughout the world that America is not taking a wise step by planning to help people of Pakistan through the Kerry Lugar bill. There could be another objective behind these attacks; to tell the world that Pakistan Army has not succeeded in crushing the terrorist.

India wants to nullify the claims of Pakistan that it is doing its best against the menace of terrorism. The main objective behind all this activity is to distort Pak-US relations which are getting better day by day. The terrorists attacked the GHQ buildings in a very skillful manner. The attackers were very well equipped and immaculately trained. It was simply a very tactfully designed commando action.

The attackers did not seem to be amongst the terrorists who had been trying to avoid the security agencies in the tribal areas of Pakistan for the last few months. These attacks had a great resemblance with the attacks on Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore which were linked to the Tamil Tigers working in Sri Lanka under the guidance of the Raw. The Raw agents in collaboration with the extremists working in Swat planned to teach a lesson to the government of Pakistan by attacking the Sri Lankan Team. Now the same story is being repeated.

Pakistan has already taken firm stand against American drone attack policy and condemned Indian involvement in Balochistan affairs. Last week Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani told the media that US drone strikes will not be allowed in the province of Balochistan, where the United States is reportedly turning to fight the militant group, Quetta Shura, which allegedly provides much of the leadership of the Pakistani Taliban. It is quite obvious that an attack on the capital of Balochistan could further aggravate the ongoing separatist conflict in the region and which will ultimately damage to war against terror.

American and their allies should also force India to shed away with their ideas of launching any attack against Pakistan. India should be asked to resolve burning issue of Kashmir for the permanent peace. India should also know that Pakistan is a nuclear power and is very well aware of the movements of IAF and can respond boldly incase of any surgical strike and misadventures against her.

She must know that Pakistan Security Forces and intelligence agencies have gone through a real test and ready to face any kind of aggression. India should accept Pakistani offer to restart the composite dialogues and Confidence Building Measures (CBM) to resolve the issues for establish the regional peace. USA should respect the sovereignty of democratic Pakistan and remove the bugs and objectionable clauses of Kerry-Lugar Bill.








It's raining! "Yes it is son!" said a voice in the thunderclap. "But it's October Lord! You're supposed to send rain during the monsoons, not in October!"

Didn't you pray for rain?" "Yes I did!" "Did you tell me. 'Send it only during the monsoons?" "No, we needed water!" "Why? Didn't you have enough water during the monsoons?" "Not like before, when the lakes overflowed, sluice gates were opened and water gushed through our taps!" "And you wasted it?" "Yes we did!"


"But you had enough these monsoons didn't you?" "Yes Lord!" "But not enough to waste, right?" "Yes!" "And then you got worried about what could happen after the monsoons and prayed? You didn't have your excess so you worried about tomorrow?" "Yes Lord!" "Isn't that with everything you do Bob? If you have just enough in the bank you worry about the future and when you have plenty you waste it on things you don't need!"

That's true Lord!" "Same thing here. You had enough rains, just enough to take care of your needs, but that got you worried and you prayed!" "I did!" "So I sent the rains now!" "Feels a little strange these showers now Lord!" "What's strange to you is my timing isn't it? That I answer prayers at my own time even in October?"


"Yes Lord!" "People pray; I hear their voices rising up to me and I hear every one of their prayers, every one Bob. But when I don't answer those prayers when they want, they feel either I haven't heard or I'm too busy or they say there is no God!" "So true Lord, so true!" "So Bob!" "Yes Lord?" "Look up at the rain clouds, though it is October, and tell people that God answers their prayers when God knows it's the right time to do so..!"

Yes Lord!" I said and watched happily as a cloud let fall a shower onto my joyous face.








Speaker Abdul Hamid Advocate on Sunday expressed his dissatisfaction in Parliament over the poor turnout of ministers and senior front row members of the treasury bench. Even the chief whip was not present. But prime minister and leader of the House Sheikh Hasina was.

With so many ministers absent from the House, the day's proceedings could not be run properly. The speaker, as the presiding officer, did the right thing by making public his dismay over it and reminding the House of the responsibility of the elected members of the august House. What must have upset the speaker was the absence of the finance minister who had asked for time to initiate discussion on PRSP ( Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper) and the day's normal schedule was changed to give him time.

The prime minister stood up in defence of her ministers and saved the situation by requesting the speaker to conduct business as usual by restoring the original schedule, and defer the PRSP debate to another day. And the speaker obliged.

 Professing parliamentary democracy is not enough, it should be practiced by those who are committed to making the system successful. The question is why should the ministers give priority to their executive functions over parliament session?  During Parliament session they should hold important meetings in the complex so that important functionaries are readily available. 

    Poor participation in parliament has dogged it ever since the restoration of parliamentary democracy in 1991. There were several occasions in the past when sessions had to be adjourned because of a lack of quorum. As it is, the opposition has been boycotting parliament since September 7, this year. Large-scale absence of treasury bench members will make things worse.

It is the responsibility of the majority party to play leadership role in strengthening Parliament and ensuring that because of indifference of some it does not become dysfunctional







Undoubtedly the education as provided in a Madrasa has provided a service to the nation without which many children would not have received any education at all. But the problem today is, it is not able to equip a child for life in an increasingly competitive world. As the world advances and as it is no longer able to meet the economic needs of the child, or the country, reforming the system is urgently needed.

The Prime Minister was right when she said we could not allow such a state to continue and needed to provide all children with an up-to-date vocational and technical education. If they remain unable to compete in the highly competitive job market, a Madrasa student cannot meet the challenge of the 21st. Century.  The prime minister said Madrasa students needed to be given education under general and vocational curricula, emphasising that her government wanted to introduce vocational training, not only in Madrasas, but also at every level of education.

The inability of the state to provide all-round education to every student has exacerbated the problem to such a degree that the difference between poor and rich is well marked. Impartial observers have time and again underscored the need for broadening the base of basic education in the country, including that which is on offer at the Madrasas. Another concern is that the rapid growth of lower-level Madrasas, with their limited curricula has taken the place of mainstream education.  Since Independence, although primary schools have only doubled in number, Madrasas have increased eight-fold. This alone should awaken us to our responsibility of giving our children a balanced education good enough to meet the challenges of the time.







Come summer, and every resort and hotel, by sea and hill station advertise themselves silly. Glamorous bodies play ball on seductive beaches and coyly beckon you through news pages to join them in underwater fantasy. With over filled bag and more than over filled wallet we rush to these exotic mirages and return disillusioned. The sea was not as blue as photographs showed. The beaches were crowded, and serene lake had blaring music coming over the muddy waters. Arms of loved ones were exciting but disquieting...! "It is the will of God for us," says Evelyn Underhill, "that in the worlds most crowded street, in the din of life, when the rush and hurry are at their most intense, in joy or sorrow, in love or in bereavement, in all that makes up our outer and inner life that we should have a place of retirement, a permanent retreat, ever at hand for renewal and peace."
" It is God's will for us that we should possess an Interior Castle, against which the storms of life may beat without being able to disturb the serene quiet within; a spiritual life so firm and so secure that nothing can overthrow it." Aha! an inner castle. So isn't that where we've been making a mistake all this time? We have been looking for that inner peace in our annual vacations, in that promised trip to the mountains, in that time we were going to spend by the sea, or in the company of our beloved. We look for that peace on top of mountain, where prophet and sage say that peace exist. All we find are empty beer cans mocking us with one eyed hole from which loosened spirit gave some mortal, temporary oblivion. The hangover when back from mountain top crushes one with hopelessness, despair. Whereas that inner castle, refreshes, relaxes, rejuvenates. A place divine. An inner citadel. But, for that inner castle to really be effective we need to have the divine living in it. God needs to be in there. Imagine for a moment what a wonderful place it could be for you to disappear every once in a while during the day to go and spend precious moments with your Maker. When a divine peace full and holy envelops your troubled mind and you have peace and calm. And from the Holy Scriptures, I lift this verse. "The Lord is my shepherd, so I have everything I need! He lets me rest in the meadow grass and leads me beside the quiet streams. He restores my failing health. He helps me do what honours him the most." That my dear friends is what the Lord promises, as you enter into a holiday with Him.

             No temporary mirages of scenic beauty.

                      No mountains of sadness

                           Or oceans of tears.

                              But days and nights of joy and laughter.

                    Holiday with God in your Inner Castle…!









LESS than a week after the National Human Rights Committee recommended that Australia adopt a charter or statutory bill of rights, the impractical shortcomings of its report are becoming ever more obvious. Even Father Frank Brennan SJ, who chaired the committee that designed the proposal, concedes the key mechanism that would underpin the charter "is not going to be workable". Which raises the obvious question, why recommend such a half-baked idea in the first place? Former High Court judge Ian Callinan is more blunt, warning that a charter would clog the High Court with rights cases, restrict access and hand undue power to activist judges.


Experience in Britain and Canada suggests armies of government lawyers would take years to complete the recommended audit of all "federal legislation, policies and practices" and to amend them to comply with a Human Rights Act, as well as with Australia's international human rights obligations. In just one priority area listed by the committee, national security legislation, the arguments would be mammoth. And any watering down would not be in the nation's interests. Likewise, the capacity for legal wrangles, both inside the bureaucracy and later, in the event of legal challenges over asylum-seekers and indigenous policy, for instance, would be almost open-ended.


As well as scanning existing legislation, the army of lawyers would also need to scan all new legislation and produce the envisaged "statements of compatibility". Victorian experience, according to state opposition legal affairs spokesman Robert Clark, shows such statements are "frequently longer than the second-reading speeches". At what cost and for what benefit, taxpayers, surely, are entitled to ask before the gravy train launches its crew of legal warriors on their quest to create a "human rights culture" - or a litigation Neverland.

On the costings side, despite the all-encroaching nature of the report's recommendations, no efforts were made to provide even ballpark costings. Victoria's charter of rights has added "tens of millions of dollars" to the cost of running the state, according to the opposition. As for the benefits, nobody has yet answered the pertinent issues raised by John McCarthy QC: Name a fundamental right not currently protected in Australia; Name a situation in which that right has been abused with no recourse to law and explain how a bill of rights would protect that right to any greater extent, without limiting others.


Aside from the acute potential to slow down service delivery and engulf the federal bureaucracy in mazes of litigation, the proposals also have serious implications for the High Court. As Mr Callinan said yesterday, the pressure on the court to take rights cases would leave less time to deal with other matters.


On Saturday, Father Brennan suggested a fallback position in which the Human Rights Commission would be responsible for filling part of the gap in the charter mechanism caused by the absence of the High Court. The commission, headed by former federal court judge Catherine Branson, would be responsible for informing parliament whenever High Court judgments indicated that parliament had enacted laws that breached the charter. It is difficult to see, however, how the commission's involvement, bolstered, no doubt, by yet another army of lawyers, would do anything but further complicate matters.


Aside from the unacceptable principle of the courts usurping parliament, Attorney-General Robert McClelland has sound reasons to reject the proposals on practical grounds. They are a recipe for inertia and conflict.








THE news that Australians have gone tepid on climate change is another good reason not to rush the beleaguered emissions trading scheme through federal parliament.


A Lowy Institute poll conducted in July found that tackling climate change has dropped way down the priority scale since 2007. While 76 per cent of people still see climate change as a problem, it has fallen from equal No1 to No7 in the top 10 most pressing foreign policy goals.


Whether climate change would rate more highly now that the economic outlet is brighter than three months ago is unknown. But if the wheels are falling off the climate change wagon, one factor must surely be the unedifying handling of the ETS by both sides of politics.


For months now, the public has been shortchanged by a government content to use the proposed scheme to spear an opposition apparently content with self-destruction. Rather than providing clear explanations of the impact of a cap-and-trade system on business and domestic consumers, Canberra has played double-dissolution politics. There has been little attention paid to the serious business of engaging the public in the details of the scheme.


The Australian has long argued that there is nothing to be gained by rushing the ETS through parliament ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December. The Lowy poll reinforces that view: Australians are concerned about climate change but there is no evidence that they are prepared to make significant personal sacrifices to achieve emission cuts. This is a complex problem that demands reflection and real debate on the detail - and the costs involved.


Even so, while some in the opposition will feel empowered by the Lowy poll, any move for outright opposition to the ETS is a high-risk strategy, given the need to arrest the instability in the party. After months of drama, Sunday's showdown between Malcolm Turnbull and the partyroom must attempt to disentangle the leadership issue from the Coalition's position on the ETS and bring some clarity to both.


Irrespective of the Lowy figures, the management of climate change remains a crucial challenge for the Rudd government, doubly so as it attempts to embed Australia more strongly into global forums such as the G20.


The commitments made by the world at Copenhagen should inform the decisions taken by Australia, but at the same time, a credible opposition must seek to be a player - rather than a divided rabble - in the parliamentary process needed to ensure sensible policy outcomes in an area of such crucial importance to Australia.








BACK in the day, when television was that flickering black and white presence in the front room, it was supposed to wreck our eyesight and our conversations. Not true, but the impact of TV on children remains a touchstone issue for parents and researchers. Robust information about its effects is important, given that data suggests almost one-third of all Australian kids live in houses where the set is switched on all the time.


But guidelines drawn up for childcare centres suggesting children should not watch any TV before the age of two should be put in perspective. The Get Up and Grow recommendations presented to the federal government are as much about ensuring toddlers experience active, non-sedentary play as about the negative impact of TV. Dumping the kids in front of the box while you clear the breakfast dishes may not be ideal, but it's a reality of modern life.


The report suggests too much TV at too young an age may affect eye movements and reduce the ability to stay focused. It is not just TV that is singled out but also other electronic equipment such as computers. An equal danger seems to be that time in front of a screen reduces opportunities for playing outside or interacting with an adult. Clearly, there is great educational and entertainment value in TV for older children.


It is not the role of government to dictate how people should parent: the views people have about the emotional, social and intellectual life they want to model for their kids varies widely in any society. As well, the existence of media such as TV is simply part of modern life. Equally, the importance of developing good habits of physical activity from an early age is a no-brainer.


The report, based on work done at the Melbourne Royal Children's Hospital, is part of the government's anti-obesity drive. It is a wake-up call about the need to resist passive child-minding, and particularly useful in reminding professional carers about the need to interact with, and not just watch, children. Even so, turning off the box will be of little use unless carers (and parents) get off the couch and really engage with kids.









THE Federal Government's decision to double the size of its lifeline for small banks and non-bank lenders in a bid to boost competition in the home lending market cannot hurt. But whether it will be enough to offset the growing power of the big banks is doubtful.