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Saturday, October 24, 2009

EDITORIAL 24.10.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya




month october 24, edition 000332, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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























  6. '3G auctions will roll out soon'







































The CBI's raids on the offices of the Wireless Planning Cell, Deputy Director-General (access services) AK Srivastava and the firms that benefited from the 2G spectrum scam will hopefully expedite the departure of Union Minister for Communications and Information Technology A Raja and his cronies from the Government. On Wednesday, acting on reference from the Central Vigilance Commission, the CBI registered cases against 'unknown officials' of the Department of Telecom and 'unknown private companies' under various sections of the Indian Penal Code and the Prevention of Corruption Act. It may be recalled that the scam came to light last year and involved the dubious auctioning of 2G spectrum licences at dirt cheap prices on a first-come-first-serve basis. A cap was put on the number of applicants against the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the cut-off date arbitrarily advanced from October 1, 2007, to September 25, 2007. The licences were awarded without the approval of the Cabinet. The benefiting companies sold off a major chunk of their shares to foreign companies within weeks of the allocation for windfall profits. The resulting loss to the exchequer is estimated to be at least Rs 1 lakh crore.

Although so far no chargesheet has been filed against Mr Raja nor has he been named by the CBI, it would be naïve to think that all this happened without the Minister's knowledge if not collusion. According to reports, the CBI has collected incriminating evidence that exposes the role of certain key officials of the Department of Telecom in the scam who had to be close to Mr Raja. It is true that the investigation into the scandal is yet to provide clinching evidence linking Mr Raja to the loot. Nonetheless, enough has been uncovered for the Minister to tender his resignation on moral grounds, not least because the decision to sell 2G spectrum cheap was his decision. If Mr Raja has even a modicum of sense of propriety he should step down immediately. But this is unlikely to happen. His staunch refusal to accept responsibility for the scam is evidence that he is going to fight the allegations against him till the very end.

Every day that Mr Raja stays on as the Telecom Minister he brings disrepute to the Cabinet and the Government he represents. It is no secret that after the Congress's victory in the Lok Sabha election earlier this year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had tried his best keep Mr Raja out of his team. But the compulsions of the UPA's coalition politics prevailed and Mr Singh was forced to put up with Mr Raja once again. Today, Mr Raja is alleging that the 2G spectrum allocations were concluded with the blessings of Mr Singh. By doing so, the Minister is seeking to drag the Prime Minister into the controversy. This should give Mr Singh enough reason to sack Mr Raja from the Cabinet until a thorough investigation into the scam is completed and the perpetrators brought to justice. When the UPA began its second innings at the helm of affairs, it had held out the promise of a clean Cabinet and corruption-free governance. Mr Raja is the antithesis of that. He must go one way or another.






With each passing day, the Taliban is getting increasingly audacious as it despatches its suicide bombers to attack high profile and strategic targets in Pakistan. The heavily fortified Army headquarters and police buildings have been attacked. As have been other important installations of whom little is known. On Friday, a suicide bomber targeted the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, 75 km from Islamabad, which is believed to house some of that country's nuclear assets. The attack has left at least eight persons dead. True, the jihadi who detonated the explosives-packed belt strapped to his body could not go beyond the check-point on the periphery of the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, but it is anybody's guess as to whether this was a trial run before a concerted assault is mounted by the Taliban to lay its hands on nuclear assets. This is a goal which the jihadis have been pursuing for long; it is also the fear which haunts not only India but nations around the world. Pakistan has been prompt in denying that the complex has any links with its nuclear programme, but such statements must be ignored if only because the regime in Islamabad is loath to admit that the monster it has nurtured has now turned on it and that its nuclear assets are as vulnerable as its Army headquarters.

In the recent past, there have been three daring attacks on Pakistani facilities where nuclear weapons are stored, exposing just how vulnerable they are to being grabbed by jihadis looking for something more potent than their Kalashnikovs, shoulder-fired missiles and 'belt bombs'. True, it is highly improbable that Pakistan has not taken the precaution of storing the warhead cores and detonators of its nuclear arms separately. That's standard operating procedure. Moreover, an estimated 8,000 to 10,000 members of the Pakistani Army's Strategic Plans Division (as well as other intelligence agencies) have already been deployed to 'protect' that country's weapons of mass destruction from mullahs and jihadis. But as a recent report has pointed out, "despite these elaborate safeguards, empirical evidence points to a clear set of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pakistan's nuclear safety and security arrangements".

Ironically, there was a time in the not-too-distant past when Pakistan was fearful of India over-running its nuclear weapons production and storage facilities. In fact, an armoured offensive has been seen as a possible pre-emptive strike by India for long. That's of little or no consequence at the moment. What is worrisome for both Pakistan and the world is the possibility of jihadis successfully raiding that country's nuclear arsenal. Even if they don't manage to lay their hands on a bomb but its components, it would spell unmitigated disaster.



            THE PIONEER




Judging by media reports of President Barack Obama's Afghan policy, the United States may well end up on a course that spells disaster for Afghanistan, South Asia as well as itself. For, the policy is likely to be, albeit unintentionally, tailor-made to further Pakistan's goals at the cost of the security of the US, India and even Russia and China. Some of the developments have been startling. A report by Erich Schmitt and Jane Perlez in The New York Times of July 21 stated that Pakistani officials had told the Obama Administration that the US Marines' offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province, launched at the beginning of the month, would "force militants across the border into Pakistan with the potential to further inflame the troubled province of Balochistan". Pakistan, it added, did not have enough troops to deploy against the Taliban in Balochistan without denuding its border with India of troops, which it would not do. Dialogue with the Taliban, not fighting it, was in Pakistan's national interest.

The report further stated that in an exclusive two-hour briefing to The New York Times on July 17, analysts and officials of the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate argued that a surge of US troops in Afghanistan would reinforce perceptions of foreign occupation, result in more civilian casualties, further alienate the local population and lead to greater resistance to foreign troops.

A report by Anwar Iqbal in Dawn on October 19 stated that Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, had warned on October 18 that sending more troops to Afghanistan would be irresponsible and would have a destabilising effect on Pakistan. It further stated, "White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel also indicated that US policy-makers were deeply concerned about the impact on Pakistan of a US troop-build-up in neighbouring Afghanistan."

It has long been clear that the present strength of US troops is grossly inadequate for a large country like Afghanistan. A report by Dexter Filkins in The New York Times of January 21 begins thus: "The Taliban are everywhere the soldiers are not, the saying goes in the southern part of the country. And that is a lot of places." He quoted a US Brigadier-General as saying, "We don't have enough forces to secure the population."

The result? Filkins writes, "While the American-led coalition holds the cities and highways, it appears to have ceded much of the countryside to the Taliban, because it lacks sufficient forces to confront them." He adds, "American commanders say the open borders allow the opium to move unimpeded into Pakistan and other places, and for weapons and other supplies to flow in. Five of the six busiest Taliban infiltration routes are in the south, American officers said.

Filkins's report further states, "Across much of the countryside, the Taliban appear to hold the upper hand, not necessarily because they are popular, but because they are unopposed." What happens if the Afghan Taliban, who are not the target of the Pakistani Army's current offensive in South Waziristan, disgorge into Afghanistan from their strongholds in South and North Waziristan respectively? The failure of the numerically grossly inadequate American and Nato troops to stop them will mean a humiliating defeat for the US and, perhaps, a final takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

There is a genuine danger of this happening. One does not know whether Islamabad's current offensive in South Waziristan will succeed, or fail miserably like the earlier ones. With media totally kept out of the operational areas, one has only the Pakistani military's claims to go by, which are often far removed from reality. One needs to be particularly wary. Powerful sections in the Pakistani armed forces and the ISI have close links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and even others regard both as instruments for a future takeover of Afghanistan after the US pulls out. They will want to proclaim victory leaving sizeable sections of both fanatical organisations intact for a future offensive.

The belief that that the Americans are already looking for a way to quit Afghanistan without losing face grows as the Obama Administration agonisingly weighs various options, including making peace with the "good Taliban". Who are these elements? Who will identify them? Who will guarantee that they will remain good? The CIA did not expect the Taliban to become Frankenstein's monster when it colluded with the ISI to create them in 1994. Meanwhile, the vacillation undermines Pakistan's offensive against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. While their supporters hinder it because they want to preserve them for the future, their opponents are increasingly stymied by the fear of retribution when the Americans leave.

The first consequence of an inglorious American withdrawal from Afghanistan will be their taking over Pakistan. The next will be Afghanistan which will relapse into medieval savagery and its women into slavery. The argument that the US cannot look after everybody reminds one of the 1930s when the same attitude was in evidence in respect of the Jews as Adolf Hitler prepared for his 'Final Solution'. In the event, the holocaust claimed six million Jews and the world went through World War II which did not leave the US untouched. In this case too the US and the world will suffer terribly. Exit from Afghanistan in the midst of defeat will not be the same as exit from Vietnam, which did not lead to attacks on the US. Vietnam was too exhausted by war, the Soviet Union had become a stable, status-quoist power, and China was initially in the grip of the Cultural evolution and then on the path of reform.

By contrast, the Taliban and Al Qaeda will be flush with success and determined to implement their agenda of imposing on the world their version of reductionist Islam which is a gross distortion of the great religion. Even if they do not succeed, their effort can devastate the world, particularly since control over Pakistan will mean access to its nuclear armoury. India will be the first country to bear the brunt of their fanatical offensive and must prepare for the worst. There is not a day to lose. The turn of the other countries will come later. But none will escape.







We all turn to god from time to time. Why? Because when we run out of options, we think of god and we hope that he well bail us out. He does sometimes. Why then don't we stay connected with god? Because we are very short-sighted. Either we don't have the knowledge of all the benefits of being connected or do not wish to apply ourselves.

The Bhagavad Gita tells us that one turns to god for four reasons: When one is in distress, for material gain, out of curiosity and one is knowledgeable (7.16). The knowledgeable is the wisest reason of all. Sri Krishna confirms this fact in the next verse.

The benefits of staying in touch with the god are numerous. The Bhagavad Gita says: First, god protects what one has and provides what one lacks (9.22). Second, one gets special treatment from god (9.29). Third, one can transcend all kinds of obstacles (18.58). Fourth, one is protected from the greatest fear (2.40). Fifth, the sins committed earlier do not come in the way of liberation (18.66). Sixth, one is sure to achieve liberation (18.65). Seventh, one shall be peaceful (4.39). Lastly, one wouldn't perish under any circumstances (9.31).

It may sometimes appear that a devotee has suffered a setback but that would only be temporary and in effect benefit him in the long run.

If connecting to god is that important, than how does one connect to him? Sri Krishna guides in the Bhagavad Gita: "Have god's consciousness; become his devotee; worship him; and honour him (18.65). Be completely surrendered to him and him alone (18.66). Whatever one does, one should do it for god and whatever one achieves should be offered to him (9.27). One should engage one's mind in god. Similarly one's intelligence should be linked to him (12.8). The following qualities endear one to god: Not being jealous, compassionate towards others, not being possessive, free from the fault of egoism, equipoised in all circumstances, satisfied, ceaselessly practising yoga, tolerant, detached from material gains, pure, skilful, impartial, having a balanced approach, sober in speaking and following his instructions diligently." (12.13-20)

Therefore, one would be wise to get connected to god and stay connected. One should unlike most of the people remain connected with god and not remember him only in hour of need.






The Maoists have launched their biggest assault against the Indian State and though the government says it is resolved to strike back, its approach, after years of indifference, is bureaucratic and often lacks clarity.


The spurt in Maoist violence which the country is now reeling under is not 'sudden'. It is a result of a conscious decision of the guerillas. A resolution was passed at the ninth congress of the Communist Party of India (Maoist) in 2007 authorising its cadre to plunge the country into violence. The resolve was couched in phrases like 'expand activities to all parts of the country', 'further enlarge the People's War' and to 'turn the guerilla war into a mobile war and guerilla zones into base areas'.

The Maoists also decided to launch a succession of tactical counter-offensive campaigns (TCOC) during which the rebels seek to bleed the State white by striking at the morale of the security forces. In recent months, one CTOC was believed to have been concluded sometime in

September 2008. Another was launched following a meeting sometime in December 2008 of the apex and all-powerful central committee. During the parliament election season, there was more violence.

In the wake of a succession of sensational attacks by the guerillas in different states prior to, during and after the parliamentary elections, as well as during the October 2009 election process in Maharashtra, the centre exhibited rare firmness. The tough stance taken by home minister P. Chidambaram, coupled with some aggressive statements, could be understood in this context of macabre violence.

By an admission of the politburo of the CPI(Maoist) made on June 12, 2009, forty-three security personnel were killed in various attacks between April 6 and 16.

During the general election season, another 70 security personnel were killed.

Even the Prime Minister has come out against the Maoists, describing them as the single-largest challenge to the country's internal security. Addressing the chief ministers of Naxalite-infested states, Chidambaram spoke in rigid terms of intensified operations in the areas seeing chronic and heightened violence, like Gadchiroli in Maharashtra and Bastar in Chhatisgarh, besides some other areas in Orissa and Jharkhand. The government unveiled a 'new strategy' to deal with the Naxalites. It also weighed options in permitting the Indian Air Force to engage the Maoists in a purely self-defense role.

Sadly, there is little clarity in the Centre's new anti-Maoist policy. The media has been briefed in a very sketchy way and a lot is under wraps. On the face of it, there is little change from what already exists. It is a security-centric approach which dates back to 1998.

However, since then, the Centre somehow shied away from playing a pro-active role. Its efforts to persuade the governments in the various Maoist-affected states have been only partially successful. Worse, for a number of years the Home Ministry under-played the Maoist challenge and negated possibilities of finding a negotiated solution.

The CPI (Maoist) was forced by merging the CPI (ML-People's War) and the Maoist Communist Centre of India on September 21, 2004. The two top leaders, Ganapathy and Kishenji (the latter is different from Mallojula Koteswara Rao), declared in a joint interview: "The immediate aim and programme of the Maoist party is to carry on and complete the already ongoing and advancing New Democratic Revolution. This revolution will be carried out and completed through protracted people's war with the armed seizure of power remaining as its central and principal task."

As recently as October 17, 2009, the general secretary of the Maoists, Ganapathy, said in an interview: "We shall confront the new offensive of the enemy by stepping up heroic resistance and preparing the entire party, PLGA, the various revolutionary parties and organisations and the entire people. Although the enemy may achieve a few successes in the initial phase, we shall certainly overcome and defeat the offensive".

Therefore, given their strongly articulated positions, it is foolhardy to imagine that the Maoists are, at least for the present, willing to hold negotiations with an elected government or to eventually abandon their violent path. They are proceeding according to a well-devised strategy to expand their spatial presence.

However, this hardly explains the present belligerence. The violence perpetrated by the Maoists has surpassed all hitherto known levels. One view is that the Maoists are feeling the heat from the redeployment of central forces in their areas of operation following the cooling of the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.

Secondly, by attacking the security forces at regular intervals in scattered locations across the country, the Maoists are perhaps hoping that the centre's response would be spread the security forces thinly. Thus, given the limit set to the possibility of concentration, they hope to get a breather.

The Maoist politburo has declared that it is 'quite difficult for the centre to send the forces required by each state to control our movement. Keeping this in mind, we have to further aggravate the situation and create more difficulties to the enemy forces by expanding our guerilla war to new areas on the one hand, and intensifying the mass resistance in the existing areas to disperse the enemy forces over a sufficiently wider area.'

Thus, the frequency of the rebels' attack in different parts of the country should be understood as part of a conscious Maoist strategy to (a) launch and heighten TCOCs in order to 'divert' the security forces from attacking their guerilla bases and party structures; (b) generally intensify attacks on security forces in moderate and less affected areas.'

On the other hand, some concerned and well-meaning citizens have suggested that the government could hold talks with the Maoist leadership. But, the Maoist ideology and their steadfast position negate any possibility of finding a negotiated solution.

The writer is Research Fellow, IDSA







October 2009 will be recalled for long as the 'red' month. Maoist insurgency has captured the collective imagination of India on an unprecedented scale. The resolve of the government, as articulated by Home Minister P. Chidambaram, is also one of the most significant in our times because though Maoism/Naxalism has been around for a while, the ruthlessness and brutality with which these Communist terrorists operate was somehow accorded less attention to what was spared for the more glamorous, jihadi variety.

Also stark is the level of preparedness of the Indian State to meet this kind of terror. The security forces don't seem to have learnt from past incidents involving Naxalite violence. They have recurrently ignored, at considerable cost to themselves, the Standard Operational Procedure circulated by the Centre to states affected by the menace. Such negligence becomes even more worrisome in the light of the resolution passed by the
CPI-Maoist Politburo to prepare and mobilise the People's Liberation Group Army (PGLA), and sympathisers to carry out tactical counter-offensives and various forms of resistance to inflict maximum losses targeting the security forces.

2009 has already witnessed 766 fatalities in Naxalite-related violence, the highest in the past five years. About 274 Security Forces personnel have been killed, the highest since the current phase of the Maoist movement commenced in 1980. The death toll has gone up because the Maoists have been using improvised explosive devises (IED). Traditionally, they used to attack with small arms. Their Politburo has passed a general instruction to this effect to minimise casualties among the Maoist armed cadres.

The following factors seem to have emboldened the PLGA:


The series of successful attacks against the security forces deployed during the 2009 Parliamentary election.


The CPI-Maoist claimed to have killed a total of 70 men in uniform during the election period.


Frequent area domination operations by the security forces in Maoist strongholds have exposed them to Maoist attacks.


The Maoists' improved attack techniques with the procurement of automatic rifles and use of IEDs on metalled roads.


The global economic crisis and its adverse fallout on particular sections of society, which provides a receptive audience for their doctrine.


The success of the Maoist movement in Nepal.


Terror tactics adopted by the Maoists to demoralise the security forces and their informants.


The increased attention the Maoist violence is attracting both in the print and electronic media after the Prime Minister's statement in 2007 that the Maoist insurgency is the "biggest internal security challenge" that the country is facing.


The Francis Induwar incident has had a serious emasculating effect on the Intelligence agencies. Another objective of targeting low-level officials has been to create mistrust between the IPS and state cadres. For example, after

Inspector Ajit Vardhan was killed by the Maoists in July 2009 in Sundargarh district, Orissa, there was resentment in the Orissa Police Association that its constituent personnel were inadequately armed and equipped to counter Maoist attacks.

The central government has woken up finally and has worked out a blueprint for launching a major operation against the Maoists in the tri-junction of Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Orissa to root out the menace, commencing in November.The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on October 8 cleared the strategy proposed by the Home Ministry. As many as 35 battalions of paramilitary forces would be involved in the massive offensive, backed by a heavy dose of development programmes. The government has decided to spend about Rs 1,000 crore in the Naxal-infested regions this year. Home Minister Chidambaram has also asked the affected states to remain open for dialogue with the Maoists.

The proposed anti-Naxalite action plan may, however, only have an antipyretic effect, considering the woeful state of the state police forces in terms of equipment and morale.

Two major lacunae in the current offensive against the Maoists may be noted:


The forces lack pinpoint intelligence to act upon, which may lead to many sympathisers and ordinary people

being harassed and wrongfully arrested.


The special operations groups comprise personnel drawn from the paramilitary forces. They have little knowledge of the topography of Maoist strongholds like Malkangiri, Gadchiroli, Maad region in Chhattisgarh and Sarenda forest in Jharkhand. They also have poor ground-level intelligence. This makes them particularly vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the Maoists are sure to mobilise their front organisations to form human chains in those strategic areas. They may also adopt new tactics like dispersing, relocating the platoons, safe-hoarding their weapons or forming smaller groups of two or three cadres to carry out attacks on the forces.

In the past, a number of major offensives against the Maoists have failed. After the major operations against them in the early 1970s and again in 2002-03 in Andhra Pradesh, for example, the Naxalite movement regrouped with vigour.

The following factors favour the Maoists: the rising social inequality and the rural-urban gap;


  1. bad governance and poor presence of civic administration in remote areas;
  2. both unattended and mounting displacement issues;
  3. the State's failure to provide security to the common masses;
  4. the Maoists' terror tactics; and
  5. lack of coordination between state agencies and among the affected states.

The security forces are not famous for respecting local cultures, values and rights. Their operations, if not properly managed, may cause needless harassment, arrests, and failure to sustain the development programmes. This eventuality could generate enormous anti-state feeling in the affected areas, favouring the Maoist agenda.

At the same time, it would be imprudent for the government to withdraw the special forces without strengthening the capacities of the local police and civil administration. Also, it could be a tactical error to opt for a dialogue with the insurgents unless the central committee of the Maoists declares a unilateral ceasefire in the entire country.

The writer is an Associate Fellow with IDSA and the views stated are his own








The Sankrail incident, in which a police officer was kidnapped by a gang of Maoist guerrillas and two other personnel gunned down, is indication of the length, breadth and depth of red terror in Bengal, a state with a 6 per cent tribal population.

Even a couple of years ago we had thought Maoism was a passing phase. The phenomenal organisational network of the ruling CPI(M) was considered an effective enough bulwark against the spread of insurgency because it well known that the eyes and ears of the Marxists are everywhere. But we were so deep in our complacency that we failed to recognise the erosion of the old inner strengths of the Marxist body politicl.

The comrades were so deep into racketeering and gangsterism that they lost all contact with the ground situation. The stark disconnect between Marxist rhetoric and practice set off fires in people's hearts. All that the Maoists had to do was nurse these flames and fan them to the scale which we are witnessing today.

This is the real picture throughout the wooded districts of 'jangal mahal', the name given to West
Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura districts. For years the government ignored the poverty and backwardness of the region. They turned a deaf ear to the appeals from even their own honest cadre about the bureaucrat- police-
Marxist troika which exploited them. The so-called 'progressive' government did not wake up even after the reports on Amlasole appeared in the media revealing how impoverished tribals in Midnapore were living off parched insects and poisonous roots.

Communism thrives on poverty. Deeper the poverty, more intense the Communism. West Bengal, after 32 years of Marxist-Leninist rule, is reduced to the status of one of the most backward states of India.

Naturally, the progeny of the generation that got drunk on mild Communism is opting for the stronger variety.

This was ideal pasture for the Maoists. They came here quite a few years ago and if a section of the media is to be believed were also used by the Marxists to eliminate their political rivals. Now they have turned into a Frankenstein, threatening their masters. So, people can't be blamed for dividing their sympathies. I condemn the selective attacks on poor villagers known to be CPI (M) supporters, but how can anybody ignore the barbaric repression carried out by the police?

The problem has now struck deep roots and I do not see much chance for easy and quickfire solutions. Not even the intervention/mediation by the Bengal intelligentsia, as was suggested some months ago, could be of any help because much water has flowed by now. The Left Front government has messed up the situation.

It is true that Maoism is no solution to the socio-economic ills and the so-called Maoists could well be a cog in the bigger wheel of conspiracy against Indian democracy. Much like the degenerated and corrupt Marxist party, they represent the rot in the system.


But the question is: who is responsible for their rise? Of course the Marxist government. They have done nothing for the past three decades. They have utterly failed in providing basic infrastructure like roads, drinking water and basic health facilities in the rural areas. The condition in the tribal areas of Bengal is the worst in the country. The lack of a single hospital in the entire jangal mahal was evident when a sick paramilitary personnel had to be transported all the way to Jhargram town from Lalgarh for treatment.

It seems that Maoism has come to stay in Bengal. The problem has struck roots and would take time to go. The intelligentsia could have tried to do something earlier. To begin with they failed to realise the magnitude of the problem and ignored it at the initial stages. When they began to take an interest, some of them tried to offer themselves as mediators but the government ignored their offer. The Marxists were stung by the opposition of the intellectuals over Nandigram and Singur. It divided the people into 'us' and 'them' and ignored anybody who was not a sycophant.

The government launched a vilification campaign against us. We were humiliated and even threatened over the telephone. It is very unfortunate that a section of the non-conformist intelligentsia was promptly linked with the Maoists as we went to examine the depths of the problem in Lalgarh on our own. They said we had collected money to help the Maoists but it was a white lie.

We met Chhatradhar Mahato in the full glare of the media and even there I told him that we can help him provided he severed all his links with the Maoists. I must concede here that the confusion on his face told the whole story of his helplessness. We came back with some suggestions to be made to the Government but in return we were charged -- with breaking Section 144!

The writer is a Bengali actor








THE Communist Party of India ( Marxist) government in West Bengal is likely to rue the day they agreed to release a number of Maoist prisoners in exchange for a state police officer held hostage by the extremists. This means every time the Maoists want to secure the release of an arrested comrade, they will kidnap a state official and threaten to kill him. Dealing with a hostage situation is never easy.


Relatives of the hostages are understandably worked up and insist that the demands of the hostage takers be met. It is a rare person who, when confronted with the situation, would say that the government should deal with the situation as it considers fit.


However, it is the government's job to assess the situation and respond in a manner in which the lives of the hostages are saved, but at the same time the larger security of the state is not compromised.


In dealing with the situation, the West Bengal government and its chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee have been signal failures. They may have saved the life of the hapless Atindranath Dutta, but they have created a situation which could lead to a paralysis of policy in relation to their larger campaign to rein in the Maoists.


This is not the first time this has happened in the country. In December 1989, the Jammu & Kashmir government was forced by the Union government headed by V. P. Singh to release three Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front leaders in exchange for the kidnapped Rubiya Sayeed, daughter of the then Union Home Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed. We are still trying to cope with the consequences of that event today because almost all observers agree that the act triggered the Kashmir uprising.


In December 1999, the National Democratic Alliance government headed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee failed to halt an aircraft full of passengers that some terrorists had hijacked, at Amritsar. The aircraft was flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan and there, as the world watched, India was compelled to release three dreaded terrorists — Masood Azhar, Omar Sheikh and Mustaq Zargar — to obtain the release of the passengers. The country, and indeed the world, has had to pay a heavy price for the release of the three terrorists since.


Harsh though the alternative could be, it is not a good idea to get into such deals with hardened terrorists.







WEDNESDAY'S terrible train crash that left more than 20 people dead, has raised another vital question, besides that relating to the actual cause of the accident.


Experts say regardless of whether it was the signaling system that failed or the Goa Express's driver's misreading of the signal, this accident — and several others before it — would have been averted had the trains been fitted with anti- collision devices ( ACDs).


This device has been developed indigenously and been working with 99.9 per cent efficiency in the Konkan Railway. It meets international standards and is not very expensive. The Railways have undertaken a pilot project since 2007 to set this up on 1736 kilometres of the Northeast Frontier Railway zone.


B. Rajaram, a former Managing Director of the Konkan Railway, has developed this technology. He says that our notorious bureaucrats have been sitting over the project.


He has alleged that they are doing so to favour foreign companies eyeing the Rs 3,000 crore market for accident prevention systems in India.


This is a very serious charge indeed and needs deeper probe. But even if Mr Rajaram's allegation turns out be untrue, there is every reason to suspect that the project has suffered on account of bureaucratic apathy and wrangling over jurisdiction.


Otherwise how is it that a system that was first tested 10 years ago has still not been implemented in any sizable portion of our railway network? Mamata Banerjee, who never tires of swearing by the interests of the aam admi, must do more than implement the project at the earliest. She must also unearth the culprits behind the criminal delay in its implementation. Somebody must pay for the scores of lives that have already been lost on this account.








IN his foreword to the discussion paper ( DP) on the proposed Direct Taxes Code, 2009, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee says that " The thrust of the Code is to improve the efficiency and equity of our tax system". The dictionary defines equity as " the quality of being fair and impartial" and when used in a legal sense, as " that branch of law that developed alongside common law in order to remedy some of its defects in fairness and justice." Such a big claim should be scrutinised carefully. Let us see just how far the Code is fair to the ordinary salary earning person.


A specific measure, cited in the DP in support of the claim of equity, is " comprehensive taxation of perquisites across employees in all sectors of the economy". The Code itself does not provide a list of perquisites and any method of valuation.


But some examples are given in the DP. For example, at present when a private sector company hires an accommodation for its employee in a city like Delhi the value of taxable perquisite is the difference between 20 per cent of the salary and the actual rent paid, but when a government servant is allotted official accommodation on nominal rent, the perk is not taxed. The Code now withdraws this concession to government servants.


The DP says that taxable perquisites will include medical reimbursement and value of free or concessional medical treatment provided by the employer. Making the house rent allowance ( HRA) and all allowances and perquisites taxable will definitely broaden the tax base because even junior employees and government pensioners — at present outside the tax net — will come within the tax net. If such an employee or pensioner falls sick and his employer or ex- employer spends, say Rs. 2 lakh on his treatment, he may have to pay a tax of Rs. 20,000, which could be more than the cash salary of the person or worth two months of his pension.



Government pensioners in poor health may find that part of the increase in pension after the Sixth Pay Commission is taken back as tax.


Incidentally, the Central Government Health Scheme that provides concessional medical facilities to central government employees and pensioners will have to appoint a large number of accountants to keep a record of every beneficiary's visit to a doctor for getting his or her blood pressure checked or for the treatment of cancer and medicines, ranging from the simple pain- killer to lifesaving drugs.


But, the principle of equitable taxation applies only to ordinary salaried persons. Our political rulers receiving salaries are beyond the purview of the Code. The President and Governors have been enjoying tax- free perquisites from the beginning.


The perquisites of a free fully furnished house along with free water and electricity provided to Union Ministers were made tax free by amending the Salaries and Allowances of Ministers Act, 1952.


Similar exemption has been given to the leaders of Opposition under another Act. Under the Salary, Allowances and Pension of Members of Parliament Act, an MP is entitled to monthly salary, several allowances, a rent- free flat or a bungalow at a concessional licence fee of Rs. 105/- per month, a free railway pass for endless travel in AC first- class, a large number of free air tickets and so on but none of these perks are taxable.


About four decades ago, some MPs protested to the government that their salary should not be taxed under the head ' salary', as was the practice, because they were not employees. The government accepted the demand and, without amending the Income Tax Act, an executive circular was issued that the salary of MPs/ MLAs/ MLCs would be taxed under the head " other sources" of income. Article 79 of the Constitution says that Parliament consists of " the President and two Houses". While the President's salary is taxed under the head ' salary', an MP's salary is not. Various allowances paid to the MPs were already exempt from income tax. The above circular exempted all their perquisites from tax as well.


When the new Code comes into force, our political masters will continue to enjoy tax- free allowances and perquisites. A very spacious bungalow allotted to a Minister or an MP will remain a tax- free perquisite, but a junior government employee living in a small badly maintained government flat will be required to pay rent as well as tax on this perquisite. The political masters will not have to pay any tax when the government spends any amount of money on their medical treatment, in India or abroad.



The Exempt- Exempt- Tax ( EET) regime too will hit the salaried persons hard. For a salaried person, especially for one with single income, the contribution to Provident Fund is the main saving from which he makes withdrawals for meeting the cost of building a house, or the higher education and marriage of his children.


With the new Code in vogue, when he withdraws Rs. 5 lakh ( from post- March 2011 accumulation), say, for his daughter's marriage, he will have to pay at least Rs 50,000, as, what I would like to call, ' marriage tax'. Similarly, he will have to pay ' education tax' or ' house construction tax'. It may be argued that he had been getting tax rebates when he was making contributions but those small amounts of annual savings get lost in household expenditure.



The lump sum loss of Rs. 50,000 or more at a time when he is hard pressed for money will be a great hardship for him. Under the EET regime the effective rate of return on investment remains the same if the taxpayer is at the same marginal rate of income tax ( MRIT) at the time of deposit as well as withdrawal, it improves substantially if he has moved to lower MRIT at the time of withdrawal but goes down substantially if he has moved to the higher MRIT. With age and promotion, a salaried person's income goes up. For such a person, the ' marriage tax' or ' education tax' would be much more than the tax saved. The EET regime is very attractive for withdrawing in annual instalments after retirement but is very harsh when lump sum money is needed during service or after retirement. A retired person will find it impossible to acquire a residential accommodation with retirement benefits because the government will take away 30 per cent of the withdrawal.


Those who drafted the Code did not bother to examine the implications of their proposals and, as if to escape any responsibility, the DP says that the Code was drafted by the Central Board of Direct Taxes ( CBDT). Actually, the CBDT was not involved at any stage of the process and could not have drafted a Code which has provisions which read like its obituary. We need a powerful IRS and a Tax Code to deal with tax evaders. The amount of tax evaded every year may be anybody's guess but it may not be much less than the amount of tax collected. The resources of the Income tax Department would be better utilised if tax evasion is curbed, not by collecting ' marriage tax' and taxing medical facilities of people earning salaries.


The writer is a retired officer of the Indian Revenue Service









LET'S get the " Will Windows 7 give me the comfort of dumping Windows XP" question out of the way. The answer is, I don't know. The truth is, no one knows.


Yes, Windows Vista came and went, and either no one noticed it, or if they did ( because their PC manufacturer dumped it on to the system by default) they had a nightmare using it and they went back to XP, perhaps Microsoft's best product so far, save the Xbox 360, but then again, it's hardware.


But Windows 7 is different than Vista. It is definitely quicker, and has features that anybody would love. Of course, they will take some getting used to, but they are more intuitive than Vista and certainly XP, so they would not be difficult at all.


The biggest difference between XP and Windows 7 is the interface that greets you ( Disclaimer: I have used the Windows 7 Release Candidate version, but there are hardly any differences between the RC version and the final version).


For instance, the task bar ( the area where you click to start your programmes) is at the top and is activated with a mouseover, and you don't necessarily have to click. It also gives a preview of what you have clicked so you don't have to wait for the programme to open and then realise that this isn't exactly what you wanted.


For me this is a cool feature because it saves a lot of your time. And since Windows 7 is quick and uses more or less the same resources as XP, it means eliminating those annoying waits before a programme opens up ( try opening, say, Adobe Photoshop in Vista, and you'll know what I am talking about).


One of its most interesting ( and perhaps my favourite) features is about resizing windows.


More often than not, we work on various windows ( and use the Alt+ Tab feature to navigate), but the good thing about Windows 7 is that it allows you to horizontally align two windows without much of a hassle — in fact, it does it automatically.


Now working on, say, finding files from Windows Explorer and working on Windows Word at the same time is quite an easy task.


But this is 2009, and no typical PC user — even if he or she is not a geek — uses a single device. There are mobile phones, printers, web cameras, Bluetooth devices, wireless mice, wireless modems, etc. In earlier versions of Windows operating systems, it was not easy to manage all of them — or at the very least, it was not intuitive.


Not so with Windows 7, which makes managing all of these devices a simple pleasure.


Having said all that, it is important that Microsoft markets Windows 7 well. It has managed to get some good reviews across the world, and from what I used, I was quite impressed with the fundamentals as well as with the bells and whistles. I NDIA has typically been a difficult market to penetrate due to high levels of software piracy, making it almost impossible for the big players to keep track of users of authentic, off- the- shelf products. Don't be surprised if bootleg copies of Windows 7 make their way to Nehru Place and Palika Bazaar soon, but seriously, buying them is not a good idea even if you save 80 per cent off the retail price.


But given that computer sales are picking up and laptop sales for the home market are also progressing at a quick pace, Windows 7 could end up having a captive market in India, a country where Apple products are still being viewed as " elitist" and " for multimedia professionals" although its operating systems are far more evolved than the Windows series.


The secret to success in India would really be pricing. Since prices begin at Rs 5,900 for the basic version and go up to Rs 11,000 for the sexed up professional version, this could be a bit tough for Microsoft in the beginning, especially because it could end up being cheaper in the US given that the dollar rate itself is on the decline.


But then, once there is wordof- mouth hype, perhaps users will get around to using Windows 7 as they did with Windows XP. And because Windows 7 is not a dud product ( in fact, on initial use, it is a far above average), the market adoption could be much quicker.




ON Thursday, as the world was getting introduced to Windows 7 with simultaneous launches around the world, the Mozilla organisation — best known for its Firefox Web browser — announced a Google Wave kind of technology called Raindrop.


Mozilla Labs says it is " an exploration in messaging innovation", but from the looks of it, it is a vast improvement over Mozilla's previous attempt at email software called Thunderbird.


In an introduction, Mozilla says: " Raindrop is an effort that starts by trying to understand today's web of conversations, and aims to design an interface that helps people get a handle on their digital world. At the same time, it creates a programming interface ( API) that helps designers and developers extend our work and create new systems on top of that data. We aren't trying to invent new protocols or build new messaging systems, rather focusing on building a product that lets users get a handle on the systems we already use." What Mozilla is really aiming at is to ape Google Wave and possibly improve upon it. To that end, it will integrate Twitter and Facebook onto one platform that will also involve email and instant messaging.


It will also allow you to view photographs and videos inline — that is, you don't have to open any other software or a browser to view them. This alone should make it compete with Google Wave well.





JUST as Apple was celebrating record sales of its iPods and iPhones, comes the news that Finnish telecom giant — whose supremacy in the mobile phones market is under threat from the iPhone — has sued Apple over infringement of its patents.


And not just one or two patents; Nokia claims that Apple infringed upon 10 of its patents ranging from speech coding, wireless network protocols, 3G technology usage, security encryption technology and suchlike.


Without going into the technical details of what the patents are, suffice to say that Apple would have a lot of explaining to do in the courts. After all, Nokia claims that Apple has used its technology in iPhones right from the beginning. Given that 21 million iPhones have been sold so far, that could amount to a lot of money in compensation if Nokia is proved right.


One rumour doing the rounds in the US is that Nokia could get up to $ 12 per iPhone sold. That alone would make Nokia richer by more than $ 210 million by current units sold.


IF you are an academic, or even a lay reader trying to reach a particular document online, chances are that it may have disappeared in the infinite labyrinth that is the Internet.

Increasingly, scholars are citing Web URLs as references for their work, and since researchers and other academics rely heavily on the references made by authors, it is quite annoying if you try to open a Web page and find nothing there.


Enter webcitation.


org, a site that allows you to store your URLs for eternity for a small fee.

So now, if you want to make a reference or a citation, all you got to do is use the webcitation.

org URL. Since it has . org as the top- level domain name, the site itself is not allowed to make commercial use of its URL, so the people behind the site tell you to make " donations" that start at $ 20 and could go up to $ 500.


It may sound steep, but it really is not. After all, if your PhD depended on the references that no longer exist online or elsewhere, then you better pay up quick. Besides, it also gives credence to Google's original idea and mission statement — " to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful".







YOUR editorial comment ( October 21) on the IIT entrance examination that human resources development minister Kapil Sibal has brought a breath of fresh air to the system is unfortunate.


His plan, if approved, will close whatever window of opportunity the otherwise brilliant students may have with the IITs, but who may not have done very well Class XII for various reasons.


When there is a separate entrance examination, what is the need to further restrict admission on the basis of marks obtained in some other examination? It is well known that many students don't do so well in early classes, but excel later on. A friend of mine, who retired as a professor in IIT Delhi, did not do well in early classes, but topped the University for his MSc degree before completing his PhD. One of the most celebrated examples is that of Albert Einstein.


His grades were mediocre and to his teachers, he was a dreamy, inattentive boy who would never amount to much.


He failed in the entrance exam for the Zurich Polytechnic ( later known as the Federal Institute of Technology).


One of the professors saw that Einstein was a promising student and advised him to try the entrance exam again. In the fall of 1896, at 17, Albert passed the exam and entered the Institute.


One shudders to think what would have happened if Albert Einstein had not been allowed to take entrance exam. I hope our politicians, bureaucrats, and educationists would not kill possible Einsteins in their enthusiasm to take on coaching institutes.


Rakesh Kumar via email




THE assembly election results in the three states went quite as expected, although the Shiv Sena- BJP combine failed miserably in Maharashtra thus paving the way for a third consecutive term for the Congress- NCP combine.


Analysts are blaming Raj Thackeray's MNS for the defeat of the BJP- SS alliance. If that were true, so would it be true for the 76 rebels of the Congress- NCP alliance who would have won or split the votes. In fact, the BJP- SS alliance had only 11 rebels. Therefore, the Congress- NCP victory is a self- made win.


However, the results in Haryana were a bit of a surprise for not only the Congress but also to the Indian National Lok Dal ( INLD), which won 31 seats to Congress' 40.


Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda's over- confidence, which made him advance poll dates by seven months, was responsible for the thin victory.


It was his dirty politics when tickets were distributed to accommodate more than 60 candidates of his choice is the root cause of the bad show.


I do not believe that O. P. Chauthala's INLD's unexpected performance was solely because of people's anger over Hooda's anti- incumbency factor.


It was also due to Congress infighting.


Bidyut Kumar Chatterjee via email




FOLLOWING the dismal showing in the three assembly elections in key states such as Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh, the BJP has lost its charm and the Congress is fast becoming the sole national level political entity in India.


BJP is dogged by internal squabbling, and lacks good and strong leadership. If it has to retain its status as the prime Opposition party, it would need to overhaul its organisational and grassroots structure and policies.


Nandakumar Nair via email








It's a winter of discontent for 'Indian Summer'. The Hollywood film of the same name, touching upon the Nehru-Edwina Mountbatten relationship, has been stalled. Since celluloid passion between the protagonists reportedly risked being deflated, the mega-project looks more sunk than shelved. Alex Von Tunzelmann's well-researched book, on which the stillborn movie is based, is a "secret history of the end of an empire". Going by the ruckus over the 'romantic' sub-plot, you'd think it's a tabloid take on teenage transgression.

Don't blame us desi though. The film producers mischievously want the Edwina-Nehru pairing to grab eyeballs whereas we're a coy lot. There may be a case for poetic licence in cinematic renderings of national heroes. Yet how can we accept Chacha Nehru as anything but avuncular? Director Joe Wright, it seems, has other prurient ideas. On-screen, Chachaji would make amorous declarations. Plus he'd get into waltzes and other kinds of clinches. Chee chee.

The I&B ministry deserves a medal for defending our first PM's honour. It reportedly demanded four "minor" read objectionable scenes be snipped, one of them in the blush-begetting setting of a bedroom. It's said that I&Bwallahs also wanted a primmer stamp on the movie than "Adults Only": a "Work of Fiction" rating! That way, no matter how steamily the yarn was told, it could be sanitised as Untruth.

Our moral keepers have support from Nehru's and Edwina's kin. Some of these relatives have indeed called Nehru's and Edwina's bonding a platonic "meeting of minds". With due apologies to Shakespeare, let's not to this marriage of true minds admit impediment. Not even the impediment of Nehru's "love letters", Edwina's description of his epistolary gifts. Or hubby Mountbatten's sporting observation: "She and Jawaharlal are so sweet together!" Give soul-mating a salacious twist, and beware the censor's scissor.

Netaji fans once took similar umbrage at Shyam Benegal's biopic, Bose The Forgotten Hero. Less because Bose was dubbed "forgotten" than because he was saddled with a phoren missus. Freedom fighters had to be 'single', after all, to single-mindedly battle the foreign yoke. So, then too, "romantic scenes" were picked for purging, under a PIL's threat. Recall also the fury over writer Patrick French's bid to demystify Gandhi the Mahatma with Gandhi the man. A worse crime, surely, than putting Bapu's spectacles on auction.

We desis are indulgent with living netas, accepting their 'warts' and all. The same latitude and respect for personal choice can't apply to national icons, or where would our cult of Idol-worship be? Atop pedestals at stratospheric heights, our ancestral Immortals no longer belong to history, let alone flesh-and-blood humanity. There they must remain, forever disembodied, forever swathed in the grand narratives of their heroic exploits and, above all, forever betrothed to Nation. As for them getting distracted by love and turning banjo-playing serenaders, puh-leez. It's like imagining Empire-slayers vanquished by Cupid's little arrow, just like the rest of us Lilliputian mortals. Gross.







The recent news of a person of Indian origin winning the Nobel prize while based abroad sparked off a series of discussions at home. "Why don't we win Nobel prizes here?" became the question of the week. The standard points were raised: we don't have the facilities, too much government interference, the selection process is rigged, the prize committee is racist and, finally, who cares about the Nobel anyway (of course we do, that's why we discuss it).

Like all media stories, this one too will die soon. However, maybe it is time to look at the core issue: why India doesn't excel on the world stage on a fairly consistent basis. We don't win a significant number of Olympic medals, we don't create global brands, our IT industry is essentially a job transfer model but we haven't created even one Google, Facebook or Twitter. (Of course, there is plenty for Indians to be proud of otherwise, so please don't jump on me because of my observations.)

The real issue comes down to the treatment of talent in our country. So, what is talent? Talent refers to a special ability and aptitude that give people an edge in a particular field. In sport, science, films, business or the arts, people who dominate the world stage all have a gift that makes it easier for them to excel. Of course, along with talent there is preparation, hard work and a certain amount of luck required to achieve success. However, talent is usually a necessary ingredient. Talent is rare, and randomly distributed across the human population, irrespective of pedigree, connections or wealth. Some may call talent an unfair gift. However, it is talent that allows ordinary people to come up in life. Otherwise, rich people would stay rich and poor people poor. Thus, this unfair talent actually makes the world fairer.

However, we don't put talent on the highest pedestal in our country. Talent's stature is below that of someone with connections, hereditary entitlement, pedigree or even experience. If i were to tell you that an unknown boy from Agra will become the next superstar, versus a star's son becoming the next star, the latter story is much easier to digest. Even in an IIT, a truly gifted young faculty cannot jump ranks and scales set by the system. And the people designing the system never took talent into account. Even when talent is identified, we are unable to train it, and find it difficult to reward it.

It is difficult to say why we have this attitude, but there are many possible reasons. One, talent conflicts with the traditional Indian caste system. Two, Indian cultural values revere the older generation and its experience, and talent zooms past it. Finally, the 'tall poppies syndrome', an already existing term used in Australia and UK to "describe a societal phenomenon in which people of genuine merit are criticised or resented because their talents or achievements elevate them above or distinguish them from their peers". Ask yourself, have you seen some of this in India? Maybe because so many dreams have been crushed in India, someone else's success reminds us of our own pain. The US (only as a contrasting example, not recommending we become like them) has an opposite value system. Talent is respected, seen as something to be emulated. That is why they have teenage boy bands and college dropouts who open dotcoms as national icons. We don't.

There are grave negative repercussions for a community that doesn't respect talent. It leads to a society where connected people do better than people with ability. It leads to a lot of talent being unused, a tremendous waste of a national resource. It causes frustration in the entire new generation as they see people with less capability doing better than them. It also reinforces the old Indian values of fatalism and the helpless-common-man theory. And it means India's excellent people may not excel worldwide to the extent possible.

So what can be done? Well, we definitely can do something both at the macro organisational level and a micro individual level.

At the organisational level, we have to let go of corporate hierarchies and the lifelong promotion ladders of government, particularly in talent-dependent organisations like R&D, companies requiring high innovation or sport. We have to make incentives in line with what attracts talent, as there is a global battle for it. Exceptional talent demands exceptional reward. We have to take away the moral judgement associated with rewarding talent. Just as it is morally okay for a rich man's son to be rich, a person with talent also deserves to do really well.

Change needs to happen amongst us, at the individual level as well. We have to acknowledge that talent exists, and we need to respect it. Frankly, isn't it better a talented person gets rewarded than a minister's son? Talent shouldn't cause resentment, it should become an inspiration. I think the young generation is already on board with that. It needs the older generation's support to make this change in values. It may be difficult, but it is worth it.

Because if we do become a talent-driven country, we will become a more progressive nation, utilise the new generation's skills properly, become a fairer society and, along the way, win a few Nobel prizes too.

The writer is a best-selling novelist.







Some celebrities in Hollywood and Bollywood have reportedly been banned from revealing information about their upcoming and ongoing projects and to this end, they've had to sign contracts agreeing not to use social media such as Twitter or Facebook. Cameron Diaz and Mike Myers, both stars of the upcoming Shrek movie, have been allegedly forbidden from disclosing any information about the film on Twitter. Closer home, Gul Panag has been banned from talking about her upcoming movie with Prakash Jha on the wildly popular microblogging site. Studios are apparently concerned about inadvertent leakages of plot details, photographs etc, which give away jealously protected plot twists.

It's understandable that studios don't want major details about their films getting out, especially when so much money is at stake. But to contractually ban actors from using particular modes of expression altogether is draconian. There is no need to control what actors do in their downtime beyond the standard non-disclosure agreements that most stars have to sign anyway. It's also short-sighted. When actors talk about the behind-the-scenes aspects of filming, or about how Hollywood operates, fans lap it up. Those are the kind of details that people love to hear about. And the little hints about a movie can whet fan interest; in that sense, tweets are just another form of viral advertising that the studios could use to their advantage.

With edicts like this one, studios betray their discomfort with the new and potentially disruptive means of communication so popular these days. Introducing scare tactics and old-school attitudes in contracts is only going to make the studios more unpopular with the general public than they already are. Not to mention that the ban looks like a veiled attempt to salvage and justify the bloated salaries of all the non-creative people involved in film-making, from agents and lawyers to marketers and PR reps. If anything, the top brass of both film industries should try to harness the medium in a collaborative effort, as opposed to one that is adversarial. The ordinary film-going public is not the enemy, and the movie industry would do well to recognise that.







On the face of it, the entire affair sounds positively Orwellian major corporations controlling their employees, dictating what they may communicate to others. But get past the initial knee-jerk reaction to any curbs placed on our freedom of expression, and the studios' move can be seen for what it truly is: necessary, sensible, and no more intrusive than a host of similar measures existing in a broad spectrum of professions.

First of all, look at the wording of the relevant clauses inserted in actors' and other creative staff's contracts. Disney says that they are to be banned from breaching confidentiality via social networking sites or blogs while DreamWorks bars them from breaking news embargoes using such online mediums. This is hardly the sort of all-encompassing iron control many reports and quoted legal experts are making it out to be. It is, in effect, merely an extension of confidentiality clauses that have been in wide use for decades now. The only difference is that these clauses only extended to traditional media, leaving a massive loophole with the advent of online social networking, blogs and the like. All these new clauses do is extend the old conditions to new forms of media.

Every business protects itself and its stakeholders through such mechanisms. Or insider trading by those with access to non-public information would not be illegal. This case is precisely the same. The studios invest millions in their productions and actors. These assets accrue value as speculation and anticipation for the production's release grow, and as a certain image of the actor takes shape in the public consciousness. The studios have every right to protect these investments by preventing people from disclosing confidential information that could negatively impact the production's chances or the actor's image, even if the people in question are the actors themselves.

And no one is holding a gun to the actors' or creative staff's heads to make them sign on the dotted line. If they find the clauses too onerous or intrusive, they are free to turn down the project and look elsewhere. We must be wary of trampling all over a business's ability to perform in the market in our overzealousness to allow individuals to say what they wish, where and when they please.








Logic is an unreliable guide to understand the outcome of the assembly elections in Maharashtra. The victory of the Congress-NCP alliance comes in the wake of an abysmal record of governance. Just about every economic and social indicator generates a torrent of pessimism about the future of the state. Yet, it is in those very regions where the situation was bleakest, that the alliance gained the upper hand over the opposition.

Much of rural Maharashtra with the exceptions of the western part and the Konkan has been reeling under the fury of the weather gods. Here the soybean crop has failed. There the cotton crop is in trouble. In some places, the rabi harvest threatens to be dismal. In some others, the cumulative impact of two successive years of drought could be far worse than the impact of the drought in 1972. The result has been tragically evident from the high incidence of farmers' suicides.

Add to this the chaos on the support prices and credit fronts. The anger and despair of the voters should have dealt a crippling blow to the alliance. That clearly did not happen. Indeed, Congress and NCP candidates notched up one win after another even though their campaign speeches barely touched on the issues sapping the morale of the electorate.

The alliance didn't fare as well as it expected to in urban Maharashtra. Of the 75 seats in Mumbai, Thane and three districts of Konkan, for example, as many as 50 are out and out urban. Here concerns about rising prices, lack of employment opportunities, shoddy infrastructure, decrepit social services, especially the shortage of water and power and, not least, terrorism-related activity have accelerated in recent years. Yet large swathes of the electorate gave the alliance another five years in office.

For the alliance to resist the anti-incumbency sentiment was no mean achievement. This will be its third, continuous stint in office. The critical question now is how swiftly and effectively it addresses the pile of debilitating problems facing the state. Its success in this enterprise will to a large measure depend on how the Congress and the NCP fashion their relationship in the light of the poll results. The latter has lost ground despite the fact that Sharad Pawar, the wiliest fox in the jungle of Maharashtra politics, let go of no opportunity to cut his alliance partner down to size.

The number of NCP rebels in the fray pitted against the Congress and even against the NCP itself left no doubt on this score. Nor did the NCP's barely disguised attempts to play footsie with Raj Thackeray's MNS. That is why critical to the choice of the state's chief minister will be his ability to contract the space now occupied by the NCP and, no less important, to curb the influence of the MNS which, on the present showing, is on the ascendancy.

The latter should also be a matter of anxiety to the Shiv Sena. To be out of power for 15 years is a recipe for obsolescence. As it is, age has taken its toll on Balasaheb Thackeray. He will be in no condition to engage in another assembly election. His son, Uddhav, lacks his cousin's charisma. The Sena's rank and file is in no mood to spend five more years in the wilderness. Victory in local polls might hold them back. Otherwise, their migration to the MNS is a certainty now that the latter has demonstrated its ability to beard the Sena tiger in its own den.

The biggest loser by far in these elections is the BJP. It could not summon the will to exploit the weaknesses of the decade-long Congress-NCP rule. This, together with the party's dismal performance in Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh, is symptomatic of its advanced state of atrophy. To rejuvenate itself it will need to discard its current leadership root and branch, discard its moribund ideology, snap its ties with the RSS and devise policies that are in tune with an India in the throes of momentous change. No such prospect is in sight as yet. And why should it? You can't get someone used to making parathas to start producing croissants.








Indian officialdom's ability to keep things to itself could put the redoubtable Gestapo to shame if it had been around. So, it should not surprise us too much that a study by the National Right to Information Awards Secretariat has found that a person has only a 39 per cent chance of getting information sought under the much-hyped Right to Information (RTI) Act. Among the reasons often cited for not giving out information are inadequate staff, low budgets and poor infrastructure. And the fact that over 60 per cent of public information officers have had no training in RTI. Granted that all these are valid.


But a more inherent problem is that of a mai-baap sarkar's unwillingness to give away even the most irrelevant piece of information to the people. The officers who do not provide information, even though constitutionally bound to, are rarely penalised. The RTI was meant to sweep the cobwebs away from India's notoriously opaque structures of governance. But the custodians of information are not about to give up without a fight. In a country known for its chronic corruption, it is necessary that the government and its various arms are seen to function in an open manner. True, information that could have implications on national security cannot be bandied about freely. But, surely on issues like postings and transfers, utilisation of public money and the track record of those in power, the public has a right to know. Hiding perfectly legitimate, even harmless, information from people erodes the credibility of the government and suggests that it has something to hide.


The argument that the RTI will be misused to pursue frivolous queries or conduct personal vendettas is baseless. These can be screened and dismissed by competent officials. Mechanisms like RTI could be immensely beneficial in the case of land records, it could be a vital tool for those who do not have the 'right' connections to gain information. But, so far, our officials seem wary of telling people what time of day it is if they can help it. At a time when good governance has come to dominate our political discourse, we cannot continue with this outdated opacity. It goes against the very grain of democracy to restrict information from people it is meant to empower. The government must realise that it will eventually have no option but to keep people in the know of things.








Marxism, as an actual system of governance, has reached a cul-de-sac. Yet, maybe because we live in such a troubled world, with collapsing banks, rising unemployment and bleak global growth, there is a sudden rush of interest in other systems and ideas which would have been given short shrift a decade ago. A book that exemplifies this interest is Tristram Hunt's new biography, Marx's General: The Revolutionary Life of Friedrich Engels. This gripping book captures beautifully the romance and passions of 19th century revolutionaries, utopians and socialists. In the centre of this universe of struggle and hope were Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. This was a century teeming with people each with his or her idea for a better world — Eugen Duhring, Moses Hess, Marx's daughters, Eleanor and Laura, their husbands, Edward Aveling and Paul Lafargue, Karl Kautsky, Carl Schorlemmer and many others.


This large cast of characters had, however, only one sponsor, the rich industrialist Friedrich Engels. Generous to a fault, Engels doled out money that he earned in large quantities as a capitalist in Manchester, to many of these activists and to the large Marx clan. Marx's son-in-law, Paul Lafargue, was the author of the book The Right to be Lazy; and going by his frequent appeals to uncle Engels for money, he probably lived by it.


For Engels, one of the most difficult periods of his life was the 19 years he spent running a textile and cotton business so that he could provide livelihood for Marx, who was writing his magnum opus, Das Kapital, so that one day all capitalist enterprises like the one he ran could be brought to a halt. In his own words, "One can perfectly well be at one and the same time a stock exchange man and a socialist and, therefore, detest and despise the class of stock exchange men."


Engels's generosity extended beyond money.  Karl Marx, who was stably and happily married, had one romantic lapse with his housemaid, Helene Demuth, which resulted in the birth of Freddy Demuth. Admitting this to his society would have caused Marx great embarrassment. So his eternal friend, Friedrich, quickly stepped in and claimed paternity.


It is impossible to read this book without feeling admiration for Engels, despite his many contradictions. He was intellectually gifted but happy to play second-fiddle to Marx's genius, skilled in business but with little taste for it, passionately concerned about the plight of the poor and grim lives of the working classes but with a naturally-cheerful
disposition. In many ways, he lived a life surrounded by tragedy. Marx's death would leave him shattered, though he would find consolation in taking on a father-like role to Marx's daughters.


Both Laura and Eleanor would, eventually, commit suicide.


All this drama, political and personal, makes this book a fascinating read but, more importantly, the book helps us understand why Marxism, for all its intellectual fire-power, had to fail. Knowledge and science are important in studying society and economy, but, when one is driven by too clear a sense of certainty, there is the risk that knowledge will be replaced by the illusion of knowledge and dogma will dislodge the temper of science. This is what happened. Engels was sure, repeatedly, from 1848 to the time of his death in 1895, that the revolution was round the corner. Each time he was convinced that the "science of society" that he and, even more, Marx had discovered predicted this. Engels believed that Marx had discovered truths about the trajectory of human society the same way that Charles Darwin had uncovered the evolution of species and great scientists had chalked out the paths of the stars.

While the deep and almost-religious empathy that Marx and Engels had for the suffering of the poor and the dehumanised lives of the workers was moving, their claims to science would never stand up to scrutiny. Even within economics, the marginalist theory that emerged in the late 19th century from the pens of Leon Walras, Stanley Jevons, Vilfredo Pareto and others, would, with all its faults, dominate Marx's paradigm. Neither would succeed in explaining the unfolding of humankind's complicated history but the new marginalist economics would provide a deductive system with a mathematical structure which, even if it were to be eventually replaced, could be the mainspring of economic science in a way that Marxism could not be.


Marx's analysis never paid enough attention to the structure of individual incentives that could make the more utopian system that he, along with Engels, had tried to conceptualise viable. Not surprisingly, socialism as conceived of by Marx has a tendency to mutate, with the government getting captured by powerful groups and lobbies, as happened in the USSR. Jose Saramago was right, when he remarked about the fall of the Soviet Union, that it was not a socialist State that fell but a perverse capitalism.


While Marxism as science has failed, it will be a pity if the idealism and the quest for justice that was the moving force behind the lives of Engels and Marx were also abandoned. As Hunt notes at the end of the book, Engels was "convinced that there was a more dignified place for humanity in the modern age. For him and Marx, the welcome abundance offered by capitalism deserved to be distributed through a more equitable system. For millions of people around the world that hope still holds."


Kaushik Basu is Professor of Economics and Chairman, Department of Economics, Cornell University


The views expressed by the author are personal








The recession is the official cause of death of Indian Summer, the Universal production exploring the intriguing relationship between Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten. Universal, of course, clarifies that the prognosis looks good though the film is in a coma. It will go into production once the cast, budget and script are in place. A likely prospect. Our sarkar is ageless and changeless and it will keep trying to inflict the death of four cuts on the script — no kissing, no dancing, no declarations of love and no bedroom scenes.


It suggests that Nehru never kissed anyone, loathed dancing worse than Aurangzeb, was incapable of love. But these were not handicaps because as you know, the first family reproduces by budding. Imagine a Bollywood movie accepting cuts like this to support the official line.


And for good measure, they are demanding a disclaimer stating that Indian Summer is a work of fiction. Weird, because fiction is not subject to the tyranny of fact. There is no evidence of a physical relationship between Nehru and Edwina. Their correspondence apparently does not suggest it, and both the Mountbatten family and Nehru's niece, the writer Nayantara Sehgal, have denied the possibility.


But if you force a filmmaker to declare that his work is fictional, you give him the licence to make up torrid scenes featuring a prominent mem and the Chacha of the Nation. It's fiction — read the disclaimer. Is this just weird, or is it impenetrable babu cunning?


Equally weird is our passion for revering our founding fathers, for perfecting them by stripping away their human qualities until our respect turns into hatred for what we have made inhuman. Nehru and Gandhi arouse mixed feelings not only because of the hegemonies they left behind, but also because we have made them larger-than-life cutouts. Like Diogenes, we want them to stand out of our sunlight.


But we unite to defend public figures from foreign devil filmmakers. Last month, the Argentinean Pablo Cesar had the temerity to propose a film on the relationship between Rabindranath Tagore and his muse Victoria Ocampo, a writer and editor in Buenos Aires. The Internet is buzzing with all sorts of caveats, imprecations and prophecies of doom. Cesar is a brave man to persist in his aims, because even the great and the good among the natives get burned when they touch Tagore's personal life. A foreign devil filmmaker will be incinerated.


Why are we so defensive? Our film censor board is headed by Sharmila Tagore, the original Indian bikini babe whose cover image for a film magazine marked the arrival of the modern heroine in the 1960s. A thinking fan's actress, she has brought maturity to the policing of a totally sexualised industry. Anyway, the cure for an inappropriate film is not the censor's scissors but the viewer's thumb pointing down. And the viewer has always voted fearlessly and maturely with his wallet. Blue is entirely about bikinis, but no one's watching it with their hearts in their mouths. Can't we be as unafraid of foreign filmmakers as we are of our own? Can't we close our eyes and imagine that someday, somewhere, Nehru kissed somebody? It's such a harmless daydream. Good God, it could even be true!


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine(The views expressed by the author are personal)








On Thursday night, the Maoists threw down the gauntlet more firmly than ever before. They released a West Bengal policeman at a time and place of their choosing. They did it with the media brazenly trekked in, in well-planned attendance. And Atindranath Dutta was released from captivity on Indian soil, with the legend "P.O.W." hung around his neck. With this the CPI(Maoist) made its most graphic assertion so far of what is at stake, and of the position of strength its cadres operate from. Prisoners of war are usually held on enemy territory, and with the choreography of Dutta's release, the Maoists showed how well-entrenched they are territorially. This, India's second "Rubaiya Sayeed" moment, does not just have the potential to swing the morale away from the state apparatus. It is as glaring an indictment as can be had of the state machinery in West Bengal.


Denials of prisoner swaps are usually put forth by official agencies. But the absurdity of this week's developments was capped Thursday night by Kishenji, a Maoist leader currently coordinating their media interactions. There was no deal, he said, referring to the 22 prisoners, held during anti-Naxal operations, released by the state police simultaneously. In contrast, West Bengal DGP Bhupinder Singh evaded queries about negotiation with the Maoists, saying the state government could answer them. The Left Front government has been in visible free-fall since June, when it began anti-Maoist operations in West Midnapore district, and it is now clear that not only is it not meeting its constitutional obligations; it is not even politically capable of trying. It is, in effect, a fit case for the application of Article 356, and the imposition of Central rule.


Bengal's has been a 32-year reign in which government has been replaced by party, a Stalinist-lite project in which the party's (essentially the CPM's) grip on administration and its hold on political power fed off each other. This status quo was shaken during the Singur and Nandigram standoffs when the state was not able to draw a line between administration and party to deal with the sit-ins by a motley groups of agitators, including from mainstream parties like the Trinamool and with foot soldiers supplied by the Naxals. But this fragile arrangement really snapped after this May's Lok Sabha verdict when political power swung away from the Left Front, resulting in a spiral of reprisals between its and the Trinamool's cadres. The fragility of the constitutional

machinery in West Bengal has been subsequently shown in the inability of the LF government to draw thick lines between administration/police and party to successfully begin restoring the writ of the state in Naxal-dominated areas. That task, it is clear, can now only begin under Central rule.







A Raja, the cabinet minister for telecommunications, is a fantastically lucky man. Even with the erstwhile leaders of international finance as mocked as they are today, it is difficult to imagine any other job on the face of the planet where someone could lose Rs 60,000 crore for their employer and still be re-employed when their term came to an end.


For that — Rs 60,000 crore — is what the exchequer did not receive thanks to Raja's actions as minister. Take a moment to consider what that means for the ruling alliance. For one, it is strapped for cash to carry out its ambitious agenda. That was, for example, exactly as much money as was set aside for the original farmers' loan waiver announced in the 2008 Union Budget. And, more than that, there is the question of the telecom sector itself. Once an engine of Indian growth through rapid modernisation and reform, it is rapidly becoming a byword for unreformed lack of transparency, thanks to actions such as Raja's.


The CBI's raid on the ministry, a deeply disturbing turn of events at any time, would be even more shocking if the facts about what happened with 2G cellphone licenses weren't already generally known. There are no two opinions about the fact that, instead of submitting to a transparent bidding process, the telecom ministry handed out licenses on a first-come-first-served basis to companies that then sold them near-immediately at a profit — that enormous sum of money that should have come to the exchequer. The most charitable explanation for this is crony capitalism of the sort that licenses and permits invariably bring in their wake. The UPA needs to recover its reformist credentials. It should start by completing the reclamation of crucial infrastructure ministries from those who have held up the reform process. Roads and highways, for example, might see some actual action after five years of neglect. Telecommunications should expect no less.






Ethiopia has once again appealed for urgent food aid. Hit by another drought, they requested 159,410 tonnes of food aid at a donors conference, for 6.2 million people of the landlocked country. This, 25 years after the autocratic rule of Mengistu Haile Mariam, when over a million perished in the 1984 "great famine".


That year saw devastation in East Africa; the response changed the history of aid — and aid's relationship with music. Rather than just government and NGO handouts, rockstars too responded. Largely on Bob Geldof's initiative, Band Aid was set up in collaboration with some of the most famous faces of the time, including Bono, who came to make the cause his own. The result was the sensational single "Do they know it's Christmas?" which went to No 1, more than a million sold in the first week alone. All studio time was free, and when Margaret Thatcher's government called to tax the CD, an unlikely stand-off between musician and politician resulted, one which the musician won. These days it's been Bono who commands the reins with his "red" campaigns for AIDS/HIV.


Increasingly, East Africa is called an "aid junkie" and many want a more permanent solution. In fact the person behind the face that mobilised action then, Birhan Woldu, has spoken out against aid. "25 years ago, my life was saved by... food from organisations like Band Aid... So it may seem strange for me to say now that to get food aid from overseas is not the best way."


For countries predominantly agriculture-based, a dependence on imported food shouldn't last; development and longer-term strategies are needed too. Artists have led the fight for a broad approach to East African development. It's for other donors to follow suit.









DEBATES over examinationsembodynotjust technical pedagogical questions, but a vast array of social anxieties and aspirations. The reaction to possible changes in admissions criteria for the IIT was a small example of this phenomenon. A few months ago the Singapore education minister provoked great discussion by suggesting that Singapore was a "meritocracy of exams", but America was a "meritocracy of talent". Exams don't pick out a vast array of unquantifiable forms of talent necessaryforavibrantandcreativesociety.

And the minister was suggesting that Singapore would do well to incorporate other elements as well.
Therelationshipbetweentalentand exams is a deeply vexed one. In an examsystemthereistheworry:what exactly are we trying to pick out through an exam system?

But there is another disquieting question about the relationship between exams and meritocracy.

America fits in oddly in the category of "meritocracy". At an intuitive level we understand that America is extraordinarily open to talent, from wherever it comes. But it is not a meritocracy in the classic sense. Its powerful institutions of access to education and other forms of power never have and still do not rely exclusively on what we would classically define as criteria of merit. Its institutions have vast discretion to use a range of considerations, including a candidate's wealth, in determining admissions.

What is striking about the American system is how much discretion is built into it at all levels. In fact, the more radical question the American experiment poses is this: why do we assume that for a society to be able to nurture a vast array of relevant talent it has to be a meritocracy all the way down? There is one sense in which it has to be meritocratic, namely that people are not excluded from participating because of who they are based on characteristics like race, ethnicity or gender. But beyond that it is an open question what principles nurture talent.

It is no accident that societies that are closer to being meritocracies, like Singapore and possibly China, arebasedonexams.Puremeritocracies require objective measures of selection. Although this is not a necessary consequence, meritocracies usually are suspicious of what we might call judgment and discretion.
In India, we signal meritocracy by largely removing all those criteria of judging talent that might be open to judgment and discretion. Pure meritocratic societies will likely be exam-based.


But meritocracies have other paradoxical effects. Kapil Sibal's efforts to reduce the stress levels on our students are salutary. But here is the bad news. It is very likely that stress levels related to seeking your place in a meritocratic society will increase, not decrease. The sheer pressure of numbers suggests this outcome.Weoftenforgetthatsofar our education system has had limited reach. Once millions more students start competing to find their place in the objective distribution curve of talent the pressures will only intensify. If you think pressures inIndiaaregreat,justreadaccounts of what China's national exam system that determines places to universitiesentails.Intheory,youcould argue, that stress will not rise with numbers if you have a vast array of institutions, where supply keeps up with demand. But this will not be sufficient. For the stress associated with exams depends upon the consequences attached to not coming out on top. This in turn will depend upon the structure of economic opportunities on offer. The more egalitarian an occupation structure, the less severe are the perceived penalties for not coming out on top.

Europehasinpartescapedtheneuroses meritocratic competition can induce because there is greater backgroundequality.Inshort,stress isnotprimarilyabouteducation.Itis about the economy. And the real debate we need is on the kind of occupational structure we see emerging.And:whatistherelationship between education and that occupational structure?

But the relationship between meritocracy and equality also turns out to be more complicated. As many in the IIT debate sensed, the character of admissions criteria determines who will do well. Some think a single exam favours the privileged, because they can invest in coaching; others think a Board plus exam criteria will favour the privileged doubly over. But all agree that a meritocracy must act as a counterweight to privileges of wealth. But here the comparative evidence turns out to be more complicated.

For the instruments we use to pick out talent, exams and so forth, seem to vastly give advantage to those with access to a wide range of goods andprivileges.Howtodesignprinciplesofmeritocracy,whichgenuinely aid social mobility, is not as easy a question to answer as we suppose.


Meritocracyalsohastwopeculiar psychic consequences. One of its unintended consequences is that it inculcates the idea that those who are left behind are somehow less worthy; and it creates a new form of inequalityinturn.Thereisalsoanargumenttobemadethatoverthelast

twentyyearsorsoitispreciselymeritocracythathasideologicallyunderpinnedanideologyofgreatinequality. As some social observers have noted, people who rise through the systembasedonanideaofmeritalso have a greater sense of entitlement toallthefruitsoftheireffort.Whatis interesting about income inequality in places ranging from the US to China is not the fact that it exists. It is that people at the top in particular and society more generally also cametotheviewthatthoseatthetop deserved what they have. They deserveditinpartbecausetheyrose onthedintoftheirowntalent.There isanoddsenseinwhichprivilegehas to justify itself, but merit does not.

But the consequences can be more paradoxical than we think. Perhaps Aristotle was right in thinking that societiesneed"mixedconstitutions" to function well. They require an arrayofcompetinganddiverseprinciples, rather than a single architectonicprinciplelikemerit.


There is a frustrating simplemindedness to our debates over education. The excessive focus we have put on IITs and IIMs is a manifestation of this. While we tinker we them, several actions underway in our system, including the way new universitiesarebeingbuilt,continue to weaken our prospects as a society. But debates over education are so narrow and short-sighted because we are not placing them in the right frame. These debates are fundamentally about the character ofmodernityweareabouttocreate. The writer is president, Centre for Policy


Research, Delhi







The Congress's continued election victories are good for the Congress; they are, to the extent the verdicts make the Congress a little more courageous in policymaking, good for the country; they are good for the BJP, on the assumption that at some point of time it will wake up; but they aren't too good for news TV. Election happens, exit polls say the Congress is ahead, results show the Congress is ahead, and this keeps happening — duh. Where's the drama? The BJP doing badly is no drama; actually it's even more boring than the Congress doing well. Haryana is a great state and Om Prakash Chautala is no doubt a politician with many excellent qualities. But there's only so much drama a surprise Chautala performance in Haryana can produce for national news TV.


So, on Thursday, as masses of panelists led by grimly determined anchors soldiered on, my attention drifted from politics on TV to politicians on TV, who were, of course, flitting in and out of studios or letting various camera crews flit in and out of their living rooms or gardens.


NTPs, we will call them: news TV politicians. Here's my verdict on NTPs.


The cosiest cross-party pairing: Chandan Mitra and Jayanti Natarajan. I don't know why, but whenever Mitra and Natarajan are on the same news TV panel, there are a lot more smiles than, say, when Prakash Javadekar and Renuka Chowdhury appear together. Javadekar, it can be said, has a free-form approach to articulation; not necessarily constrained by traditional rules. Chowdhury is one of the few NTPs who can appear even more combative than NT (news TV, that is) likes.


If you have heard BJP's Ravi Shankar Prasad in his NTP avatar, you will know the whole world is his friend. Prasad addresses everyone as "my good friend" — everyone. If you are on a news TV panel with him and Prasad met you for the first time in the studio, there's a good chance he will call you "my good friend". The Congress's Manish Tiwari most certainly needs to make friends with whole words; they run away from him sometimes. He will say "a quarter of a century template for Congress". You are supposed to be impressed. On NT, few NTPs use words like template. But template means an identifiable, fixed pattern. Tiwari doesn't mean things haven't changed for the Congress in 25 years. He just likes words like template. Unsurprisingly, this is the NTP who had caused both Pakistan and Somalia immense hurt by comparing one to the other.


Sudheendra Kulkarni, who's now called political observer on NT, is an NTP in whose case the 'P' may as well stand for philosopher. Kulkarni's TV chats signal "I am above it all; I will give you the wisdom from the very big picture". Philosophical in two-minute conversational turns — tough but, I suppose, someone's go to do it.


I will single out Sitaram Yechury from among the Marxist NTPs, because he's the only one among them who doesn't look apoplectic whenever America is mentioned. Tell Yechury, D Raja or Nilotpal Basu, don't you think the US foreign policy is just great, Yechury will give you a critique, the other two will give you 30 seconds of pure entertainment.


Do I have a favourite? Not really. They can all, despite their serious resolve, entertain. But I am a bit partial to the CPM's Prasenjit Bose. He looks so earnest. When he angrily says financial capitalism is a menace, I don't feel like arguing.






How can people attacking universities claim to represent Islam?


THE twin suicide blasts that rocked a Pakistani university campus this week are the latest in a series of

comparable incidents attributed to Islamic fundamentalists that have again and again claimed innocent lives throughout the Muslim world in recent years....In this case, the specific targeting of an academic institution strikes a severe blow to a central pillar of Islam: education. Despite the efforts of many Islamic radicals to disrupt educational institutions in scores of societies, it is widely accepted that Islam sanctions the importance of education; the prophet famously called on the religion's followers to seek knowledge even if that journey brought them as far as China.


... Yet, as hundreds of thousands of Pakistani students are forced out of their schools and universities -- they are now closed nationwide as a result of Tuesday's attacks -- an entire generation of students suffers from the concrete consequences of Islam's misinterpretation by a handful of individuals.


...Tuesday's attacks call for a widespread outcry from Muslim leaders worldwide. But objecting with words is not enough; those leaders must also engage in an active reversal of the deteriora tion of the values they profess in the name of Islam...Muslim leaders are also burdened with the obligation to fight radi calism by spreading Islam's true sense. Their sustained dialogue should be given an equal importance as coercive measures, if not more. Short of these measures, the achievements of the peaceful majority will constantly be undermined by the fanaticism of the few. From a leader in the Lebanon `Daily Star'









A recent cover for Forbes India features drawings of a tiger and a dragon, and the two fierce predators are seen in battle over the prized catch: Africa. 'The Big Game' is the title of the story. It is a clever way to bring attention to the growing importance of Africa to the future economic growth of India, the tiger, and China, the dragon.


However, in all of my travels throughout Africa during more than two years of research for my latest book, 'Africa Rising: How 900 Million African Consumers Offer More Than You Think, it never seemed like a trade war of any sort on the ground. I agree with Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor when he recently said that "competition is not the point" in Africa.


What is the point, then?

The bottom line is that Africa will soon have a billion consumers. And just like consumers in other developing countries, they want the best for their children, better than what they had. They will need food, clothing, soap and shelter, and desire cell phones, education, medicine, cosmetics, music, television, toys, cars, computers and movies.


In short, there are opportunities for everyone interested in doing business in Africa. And yet, India and China do deserve credit for leading the way. They have effectively demonstrated to the rest of the world that Africa isn't a charity case. While those in the West were still seeing huts, savannahs and zebras, India and China were busy building partnerships with the many exceptional business leaders and entrepreneurs born and raised on the continent, in all 53 countries.


All across Africa I saw brands from India and China coexisting and thriving. In Johannesburg, I visited a sprawling marketplace named China Mart with 126 shops filled with inexpensive clothing, shoes and phones from China. Nearby was another market called Asia Centre with products from India such as leather goods, clothes , electronics and pharmaceuticals. In Rwanda and Nigeria, I saw, side-by-side, two-wheelers from India and China used as cabs to shuttle visitors around town.


With so many opportunities at home, why are Indian and Chinese companies in Africa? They have come because they instinctively recognise the African opportunity. They understand it because they have lived through it. In speaking with leaders of Indian companies who are active in Africa, I often heard the comment that this market seems familiar. The demographics of Africa and challenges are not so different from those at home. They have seen the rise of their markets and expect the same from Africa.


Additionally, as the West has focused on providing monetary aid to Africa, which is no doubt very important, a byproduct of the investments made by India and China has resulted in a successful example of the "trade not aid" way of bringing relief to struggling populations. Like any consumer need, challenge brings along with it opportunity. The lack of reliable electricity in many parts of Africa has created a market for generators and solar cells. Unstable financial systems have led to micro financing and cell-phone based banking. Health problems from AIDS to malaria have created demand for new treatments, generic drugs, testing equipment and insurance. Concern about the environment has led to opportunities in eco-tourism. Entrepreneurship is all around you in Africa. Africa is looking East.


From my point of view, we are quite a long distance from a pitched battle on the African continent between tigers and dragons.


The writer holds the John P. Harbin Centennial Chair in Business at the University of Texas at Austin.He is

co-author of 'The 86 Percent Solution,' and most recently 'Africa Rising'








On October 19, Dawn reported a triumphant army press release: "Security forces claimed to have made steady gains in their assaults on militants' strongholds in South Waziristan and army officials said they were surprised by the low level of resistance... A Taliban spokesman acknowledged the army had launched a multi-pronged attack." The News on October 19 reported: "The police conducted a search operation in seminaries being run illegally and raided some religious academies suspected by intelligence agencies for their involvement in suspicious activities." A piece in The News had the potential to open a can of worms for the US inside Pakistan. On October 19, it stated: "The US-led Nato forces vacated more than half a dozen key security checkposts on the Afghan side of the Pak-Afghan border just ahead of Operation Rah-e- Nijaat... It is feared it will facilitate the Afghan Taliban in crossing over to Pakistan and supporting militants in striking back at the Pakistani security forces in the tribal area... The NWFP government, civilian and military officials have been astonished by this move and more so intrigued by its timing... Some see it as a tactical move by the US to ward off pressure from its own forces in Afghanistan..."


In what appears to be a marriage of convenience between the army and a wartribe, Dawn, reported on October 20 that "Army Chief Gen Ashfaq Kayani has sought support of Mehsud tribes in the operation — He made it clear the operation wasn't meant to target the 'valiant and patriotic' Mehsud tribes, but aimed at ridding them of the elements who had destroyed peace in the region. He said the targets were Uzbek terrorists, foreign elements and local militants." Daily Times added: "The army has distributed leaflets in South Waziristan stating 'the aim is to provide an opportunity to the Mehsud tribe to live in peace.' " An editorial in The News observed: "The Ahmedzai Wazir tribe has been able to convince Taliban leader Maulvi Nazir to stay neutral and not to throw in his lot with Hakimullah Mehsud — but his neutrality came at a price. The NWFP government has agreed to demands made by the Ahmedzai Wazirs, including the reopening of blockaded roads and the launch of several high-value development schemes in their areas."


Unexpected breather

A report in Dawn on October 21 came as a breath of relief in these trying times. The report stated: "The GHQ attack has drawn accusations from several quarters that it was inspired by foreign powers; some have named India and the US among the usual suspects. Such 'experts' rarely bother to give concrete evidence to substantiate their charges based on conjecture... An army spokesman has identified the suicide bomber as affiliated with terrorist outfits based in southern Punjab... Will the spokesman's disclosure silence those who see a foreign power behind the attack? The conspiracy theorists... ignore [that]many of the bombers have been identified to be part of Islamist extremist groups such as the Taliban."


A report in Dawn on October 23 stated: "In an unprecedented joint appearance on CNN, UN ambassadors of Pakistan, Afghanistan and India said their governments have the same goal — to defeat terrorism. 'We all come from the same crucible, history, background,' Abdullah Hussain Haroon, Pakistani ambassador to the UN said. 'There may be minor differences, of course, but I think all three of us are well-intentioned.' "










I STOOD in the bathroom of the Taliban compound and waited for my colleague to appear in the courtyard so we could make our escape.

My heart pounded. A three-foottall swamp cooler -- an antiquated version of an air-conditioner -roared in the yard a few feet in front of me. I feared that the guards who were holding us hostage might wake up and stop us. I feared even more that our captivity would drag on for years. It was 1 a.m. on Saturday, June 20, in Miram Shah, the capital of the North Waziristan tribal agency in Pakistan. After seven months and 10 days in Taliban captivity, I had come to a decision with Tahir Luddin, the Afghan journalist I had been kidnapped with, to try to make a run for it.


Tahir and I had decided that I would get up first that night and go to the bathroom without asking the guards for permission. If the guards remained asleep, Tahir would follow. Twenty feet away, on a shelf outside the kitchen, was a car towrope we planned to use to lower ourselves down a 15-foot wall ringing the compound. I had found it two weeks earlier and hidden it beneath a pile of old clothes. Even if we made it over the wall, we would have to walk through Miram Shah to get to a nearby Pakistani base.

The town teemed with Afghan, Pakistani and foreign militants.

Whoever caught us might be far less merciful than our current guards.


Once on the base, we might encounter Pakistani military intelligence officials or tribal militia members who were sympathetic to the Taliban and would hand us back to the Haqqanis. I stepped out of the bathroom and picked up a five-footlong bamboo pole leaning against the adjacent wall. I walked to the living room window and peered inside to make sure the guards were still asleep. I opened the window, pointed the pole at Tahir's side and poked him. I quickly walked back to the bathroom, leaned the pole against the wall and stepped inside.
Tahir's leg emerged from the window. Taking a few steps forward, I whispered in Tahir's ear. "We don't have to go," I said. "We can wait."


"Go get the rope," he said.


To my amazement, our plan was working. After Tahir and I made it to the courtyard, I retrieved the rope and we crept up a flight of stairs leading to the roof. Tahir tied the rope to the wall surrounding the roof. He climbed to the top and peered at the street below. "The rope is too short," he whispered after stepping down. I shifted the knot on the rope to give it more length, pulled myself up on the wall and looked down at the 15-foot drop. The rope did not reach the ground, but it appeared close. I got down on my hands and knees, Tahir stepped on my back and lifted himself over the wall. I heard his clothes scrape against the bricks, looked up and realised he was gone. I climbed over, slid down the wall. I looked up and saw Tahir striding down the street. I ran after him.


For the first time in seven months, I walked freely down a street. I didn't see any guards emerge from our house. We headed down a narrow dirt lane with mud-brick walls on either side of us... "This is the main road in Miram Shah," Tahir whispered. Suddenly, shouts erupted to our left and I heard a Kalashnikov being loaded. Tahir raised his hands and said something in Pashto. A man shouted commands in Pashto. I raised my hands as my heart sank.

The Taliban had recaptured us. I saw a figure with a Kalashnikov standing on the roof of a dilapidated one-story building. Beside the building was a mosque. The building and mosque had concertina wire and earthen berms in front of them.

"If you move," Tahir said, "they will shoot us." Then, Tahir said words I could scarcely believe. "This is the base." We had made it to the Pakistanis.


I held my hands high in the air. A nervous Pakistani guard could shoot us dead as we stood in the street. With my long beard, scarf and clothes I looked like a foreign suicide bomber, not a foreign journalist. One or two more figures appeared on the roof and aimed more gun barrels at us. The Pakistani guard on the roof intermittently spoke in Pashto with Tahir. I heard Tahir say the words for "journalist," "Afghan" and "American." "I am an American journalist," I said in English, surprised at the sound of my own voice in the open air. "Please help us. Please help us." I kept talking, hoping they would recognise that I was a native English speaker...


Soon, the Pakistani guard said we could walk toward the mosque.

With our hands in the air, we crossed over the surrounding berm unsteadily. Soon after, a senior Pakistani officer arrived. He spoke with Tahir in what sounded like a reassuring tone. "He is a very polite person," Tahir said. "We are under their protection. We are safe." In one moment, the narrative of our captivity reversed itself. The powerlessness I had felt for months began to fade. We were achingly close to going home...










TWO deafening explosions shook the walls of the compound where the Taliban held us hostage. My guards and I dived to the floor as chunks of dirt hurtled through the window. "Dawood?" one guard shouted, saying my name in Arabic. "Dawood?" "I'm OK," I replied in Pashto. "I'm OK." The plastic sheeting covering the window hung in tatters.Somewhereoutside,awomanwailed.

I wondered if Tahir Luddin and Asad Mangal, the two Afghans who had been kidnapped with me, were alive. A guard grabbed his rifle and ordered me to follow him outside. "Go!" he shouted. "Go!"


Ournightmarehadcometopass.Powerful missiles fired by an American drone had obliterated their target a few hundred yards from our house in a remote village in Pakistan's tribal areas. Dozens of people were probably dead. Militants would call for our heads in revenge. Outside, shredded tree leaves littered the yard, but the house and its exterior walls remained intact. Tahir and Asad looked worried. I knew the three of us might not survive for long.


It was March 25, and for months the drones had been a terrifying presence.

Remotely piloted, propeller-driven airplanes, they could easily be heard as they circled overhead for hours. To the naked eye, they were small dots in the sky. But their missiles had a range of several miles. We knew we could be immolated without warning. Our guards believed the drones were targeting me.

US officials wanted to kill me, they said, because my death would eliminate the enormous leverage and credibility they believed a single American prisoner gave the Haqqanis, the Taliban faction that was holding us. Whenever a drone appeared, I was ordered to stay inside.

The guards believed that its surveillance cameras could recognise my face from thousands of feet above. In the courtyard after the missile strike, the guards clutched their weapons and anxiously watched the sky. Fearing a direct attack on our house, they ordered me to cover my face with a scarf and follow them outside the compound.


They hustled me down a hillside to whereastationwagonwasparkedbetween rowsoftrees.Ilayinthebackofthecarand silentlyrecitedtheLord'sPrayer.Inthedistance, I heard men shouting as they collectedtheirdead.Ifmanypeoplehadbeen killed,particularlywomenandchildren,we were sure to die. For months, I had promisedmyselfthatiftheytapedourexecution I would remain calm for my family and declare our innocence until the end.

After about 15 minutes, the guards returned to the car and led me back to the house. The missiles had struck two cars, killing a total of seven Arab militants and localTalibanfighters.Ifeltasmallmeasure of relief that no civilians had been killed.

ButIknewwewerestillingravedanger.In late April, a surprise visit by Abu Tayyeb, the commander who had kidnapped us, raised our hopes that our freedom was being negotiated. Dressed in an expensive white tunic, he strode into our compound just before dinner. His visit was another effort to extort money from my family. Five months into our captivity, he had refused to lower his demands below a $5 million ransom as well as an exchange of prisoners. He dictated more lines. Then he told me I would need to cry for the video. I stared at Tahir. If I refused, the Taliban might kill him or Asad to drive up a potential ransom payment. I hated the thought of my wife, Kristen, and my family seeing such a video, but Tahir was the father of seven children, and Asad the father of two. I agreed to make it. Later that night, Abu Tayyeb announced that the Afghan government had agreed to free 20 prisoners in exchange for our release. The problem, he said, was that my family would not agree to pay the $5 million ransom. "My family does not have $5 million," I told him angrily. I told Abu Tayyeb we would "be here forever" if he did not reduce his demands. In early June, Abu Tayyeb reappeared and announced that the American government was offering to trade the seven remaining Afghan prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for us. I told him that was ridiculous. If I made one more video, he said, we would be released. I refused.

"This is all about you," I said. "You are demanding millions of dollars so you can makeyourselflookgoodtotheothercommanders. You are the problem." (TO BE CONTINUED) The New York Time







It's the one front India could easily have conquered ahead of China—3G. But that country issued the relevant licences in January, while we have kept postponing the auction date. A lot of the blame vests with Andimuthu Raja, who was appointed as communications and IT minister in the Union Cabinet in 2007. Despite collecting an array of brickbats, he was re-inducted into the post when the UPA won a second innings. Most commentators put this decision down to the pressure of coalition politics. So it makes poetic sense that on the very day that the Congress got to strengthen its hold—via assembly results confirming it's on a roll—there was a CBI raid on the DoT office headed by Raja. This follows up on the Chief Vigilance Commission expressing concerns about irregularities in the allocation of wireless 2G spectrum. Refusing to resign in light of the raids, Raja said that all his decisions on spectrum licensing had been based on procedures laid down by Trai. For over a year, the national media has doggedly highlighted the many flaws with Raja's defence: a) DoT had the authority to overwrite Trai's recommendations; b) Trai, beginning 2003, had repeatedly recommended that new licences be awarded through a multi-stage auction instead of the first come first served principle to which Raja adhered; c) while Trai had suggested that there should be no cap on the number of service providers in a given service area, the cut-off date for receiving 2G applications was arbitrarily changed, thereby eliminating competition, and so on. To repeat, Raja cherry-picked Trai recommendations at will. And at the end of the debacle, two spectrum licencee winners—Swan and Unitech, neither of which has a proven track record in the telecom business—didn't wait long before 'auctioning' off their licences at 700% times what they paid. Some commentators claim the debacle cost the exchequer Rs 60,000 crore. That would have made a significant debt in today's deficit. The most appalling thing is that Raja continues to jeopardise even the 3G auction. Just this week, his obduracy forced the FM to clarify that the auction would indeed take place as scheduled—it's now slotted for January. In the intervening period, the global credit crunch has already diluted the numbers India's government was hoping to rake off this auction. But the FM knows better than to shrug off even the reduced revenues in these strained times. Signs are that Raja will get his dues and 3G will happen more smoothly than 2G did, but here's a cautionary tale from not so ancient history: remember it was more than a decade ago that CBI cracked down on another communications minister, Sukh Ram. But his sentence only came through this February, and all he was fined was a couple of lakhs.






If the ultimate goal of communism is to establish a state-less society then Bengal's CPM seems to be inching ever closer to achieving that goal. The CPM government, after occupying the Writers' Building in Kolkata for 32 years now, seems to have completely abdicated its responsibility as a government. Like in most communist systems—but rather unusually in a democracy—the state in West Bengal was largely outsourced to the party, which ruled it with an iron hand. However, once the party lost legitimacy and control, there was no way for the State to regain control, blurred as the lines between state and party had become in Bengal. Now the State has meekly surrendered to Maoist demands and released a number of suspected Maoists in return for the release of a captured police officer. Earlier, the government had been a passive spectator as Lalgarh was taken by a more radical left wing organisation. There was little resistance from the administration, and unorganised bloody resistance from party cadres.


In fact, its party cadres have been a major problem for the CPM in recent times, unleashing much havoc even in matters which did not relate to the internal security of the state. Memories from Nandigram and Singur were harsh enough for the people of West Bengal to hand the CPM and its partners their worst defeat in decades in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls. Instead of galvanising the party, the electoral debacle seems to have paralysed the CPM, at least those party leaders who occupy high positions in government. This is a simply unacceptable state of affairs. The next assembly elections are only due in 2011 and until then the incumbent government is duty bound to carry out the task of governance—-maintaining security and not getting blackmailed by Maoists. If the CPM and its partners believe that they are not up to the job they have been elected to do until 2011, then they must make way for an alternative that will have the will to govern. Central intervention, particularly in the form of Article 356, is never a pleasant option—certainly not the most democratic—and it should be used only as a last resort. If the current state of affairs continues to persist for a while longer though, the Centre may well find that it has few other options to resort to. There cannot be a vacuum of governance. That's precisely the sort of scenario which Maoists and other sundry groups long for.








After the low period of the financial crisis, the benchmark prices of crude oil (Brent, WTI and Dubai) started moving along an upward secular trend from May. And except for a brief jolt between July and August, have remained largely above $60 a barrel. Towards the middle of October the price surged above $75 a barrel boosted by an optimism of a global rebound and eventually reached this year's peak at around $80 on October 21 due to a weakened dollar.


Incidentally, both International Energy Agency (IEA) and the US Department of Energy (DoE), upped their crude demand forecast for 2010 and their prediction of oil prices centred on the IMF's optimistic prognosis of World economic situation. In its monthly oil market report released on October 9, the IEA said it expects global oil demand to average 84.6 million barrels per day (bpd) this year, which implies an increase of 200,000 bpd on earlier estimates. The agency is also expecting the demand next year to climb up to 86.1 million bpd.So, what will the world crude market look like in the coming months? There is no easy answer.


Considering the fundamentals, the dynamics of crude prices can be considered as determined largely by the responsiveness of supply of Opec and non-Opec producers to a rise or fall in demand. However the implication of such responsiveness on crude prices would clearly be contingent upon spare capacity of Opec coupled with crude stockpiles or inventory. Although, Opec in its latest oil market report toed the line of IEA and DoE and expressed optimism about the demand for crude in the coming year, such a positive outlook came with a note of caution. The report underscores: "Given weak oil market fundamentals as reflected in high global inventories and large Opec spare capacity, there is a need for continued close monitoring of both economic conditions and developments in the oil market". Incidentally, Opec's secretary-general also reportedly hinted at raising the group's output in Opec's December meeting if global oil inventories decline and the world economy continues to move along the path of recovery as per the expectation.


While talking about responsiveness of supply, it also needs to be mentioned that the steep decline in oil prices last year did disturb the economics of a significant share of potential future oil supply growth as such decline in oil prices was not matched by an equal decline in the cost of developing new fields or in fiscal terms as reported previously by UK-based Cambridge Energy Research Associates. The increased pace of recovery in economic growth towards the latter half of this year with a concomitant rise in world oil demand, however, appears to have partially arrested the collapse. This becomes all the more evident from a recent statement of the Opec secretary-general who underscored that the current prices have ensured the revival of 7 out of the 35 upstream projects which Opec had kept on hold. The revived projects would collectively account for 1.2 million bpd of additional capacity.


Another interesting development which is unique to this year is Russia's unlikely emergence as the undisputed market leader. Russia's oil production exceeded 10 million bpd in the month of September which is nearly 25 per cent more than Saudi Arabia, the historical Opec leader and swing producer. Russia emerged as the leader after Opec persisted with output cuts from September last year till the middle of this year. Russia's output spike is being perceived as temporary, and an outcome of the launch of eight new fields this year bolstered by recovery in demand and oil prices. The developments in the coming months are going to spell out whether such predictions are correct or not.


Consider also some geopolitics: Iraq goes to polls this January. In that context, Ali Hussain Balou, the head of Iraq's parliamentary oil and gas committee reportedly warned international oil companies that signing deals with the Iraqi government might turn out to be risky as the new elected government may revise or cancel those contracts. Add to this a random fluctuation in US dollar rate against a basket of other currencies, which only exacerbates the volatility in oil prices. A weakened dollar usually supports oil because it makes commodities priced in the dollar cheaper for those holding other currencies and vice versa for a strengthened dollar rate.


Given the flurry of developments and surprises in this post-recession year, it would be naive to arrive at a ball-park estimate of oil prices in the near or middle term. However, given the concurrence in the positive oil market outlook of IEA, DoE and Opec in terms of economic recovery and expected rise in oil demand, oil prices could be expected to follow an upward secular trajectory till the end of first quarter of 2010.


The author is senior fellow at the Asian Institute of Transport Development







Last week I had lunch with a couple of bankers in London, just a stone's throw from the Bank of England. The restaurant was packed, and the waiters were running from table to table taking orders and serving the food.


Well, some of the food. It took us an hour to get our main course. By the time we finished lunch it was getting dangerously close to tea time.


The FTSE closed that day above 5200, a level it had not seen since its steep fall after Lehman filed for bankruptcy. My lunch companions had been in the same place earlier this year, when the FTSE was languishing below 4000, and there were plenty of empty tables. With the lunch business slow back then, the owners downsized the wait staff. But the FTSE rose faster than they could staff up, and six months later there we were waiting for our food.


The London financial district was ground zero of the global recession. With restaurants full again there it is tempting to ask, is the recession over? The answer depends on where in the world you look. Let's examine the UK and India as fairly representative samples of the developed and developing world.


The scene in the City of London today has the eerie feel of a financial bubble. A mini bubble of 2009, inflated by massive influx of government money, may well be rising on the splatter of the burst mega bubble of 2005-07. These funds are working their way through the system and bankers are lunching on the profits.


The FTSE is up 50% from its March lows but the rest of the country is hurting: GDP shrinking by 5%; unemployment at 8% and rising; debt at over 50% of GDP, with fiscal deficits as far as the eye can see; and the pound declining against all major currencies, even the dollar. Add to the mix an aging population and a government with no immediate prospects of geopolitical influence other than through association with the US. With poor fundamentals and unfavourable demographic trends, the UK is surviving on borrowed money (commonly called "stimulus" by its politicians). The British people will be left to pay the bill, and their economy could well bounce along the bottom for years.


As for India, it's not coming out of recession either. That's because it never was in one. It always amazed me to hear Indians talk of the "recession." Five percent growth! Most countries would love to have your recession.


The Sensex has more than doubled since its 2009 lows, putting it well ahead of the London market. The difference is that in India the optimism is justified, backed up by real domestic consumption-led growth and favourable demographics.


Both the FTSE and the Sensex have come so far so fast. In the near term share values could fall steeply in either market. But even after a fall India's core growth would help the market bounce back faster and farther.


The UK and the developed world could be in for a long slog before share values return to their peak levels. The history of the US market sheds some light here. Two of the best years for the Dow Jones Industrial Average this century were 1933 (up 67%) and 1935 (up 39%). Investors were probably feeling pretty good those years, and I would imagine quite a few Wall Street restaurants were crowded. As we all know now the Great Depression was far from over. It was 1954 before the Dow crossed its 1929 levels.


The past few hundred years have been pretty good for this small island off the coast of Europe. Now it is Asia's turn. And India has distinct advantages from its former colonial rulers that position it well to lead the pack in Asia: English, the rule of law, democratic institutions, a free press and a vibrant civil society, to name a few.


As for my lunch companions, they are preparing for the future. One has his daughter taking Mandarin classes, the other has his son learning Hindi.









The background.

Around middle of 2007 DoT asked for Trai's recommendation on whether the policy of having unlimited telecom players in a circle should be continued. Trai replied in August 2007 that the government should continue with the policy. Trai also said that 2G spectrum in 800, 900 and 1800 Mhz should not be auctioned, while spectrum in all other bands should be auctioned. That led to a host of firms, mostly with no prior experience in telecom, submitting applications for telecom licences. Though the government accepted Trai's recommendation of no-capping, seeing the deluge of applications it put a temporary bar by not accepting applications after October 1, 2007. Then, DoT issued licences to only those firms that had applied till September 25, 2007. Companies like Swan, Unitech, Datacom, Loop Telecom, S Tel benefited from this and were later granted licences in January, 2008.


The problem.

DoT granted these licences on a first-cum-first-served basis. As per policy, along with a licence—the cost of an all-India licence is Rs 1,651 crore—bundled spectrum of 4.4 Mhz is also given. The criticism was that since spectrum is a scarce resource the government should not allot it bundled with licences but rather auction it to realise market value. When two companies, Swan and Unitech, sold 45% and 60% (later raised to 67.25%) stakes respectively to foreign players at valuations of around $2 billion—neither company had a network, subscribers or knowledge of the telecom business—the criticism became strident. This was termed unjustified windfall gain. Critics said that the money should have come to the government, which priced licence and spectrum at 2001 rates.


A Raja's defence.

Raja maintains he has done no wrong. He went by the Trai recommendation of no-capping and not auctioning 2G spectrum. With regard to awarding licence at a price discovered in 2001, he maintains that the Trai did not ask for revising it, and the Cabinet had approved the price in 2003 so he was perfectly right in sticking to it. Regarding the stake sales by the two companies, Raja has said that the deal is as per corporate laws of the country and new operators require funds to roll out network and services. Later, he barred promoters of new licencee firms from selling their equity for a period of three years.

Is Raja right?


Yes and no. Yes, when he says that he went by Trai's recommendation on no-capping and not auctioning of 2G spectrum. No, because he later inflicted a temporary capping policy, which is still in force. Raja is wrong when he says that he went with Trai regarding the price of awarding new licences. Trai in 2003 had categorically said that all new licences should be awarded through a multi-stage bidding. Raja, in fact, could have auctioned the licences and given spectrum bundled with it. The government would have got better value.







The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (EAC) headed by C. Rangarajan has been cautiously optimistic in its assessment of the economy for the current year. In its report, Economic Outlook 2009-10, released on Wednesday, the Council projects a GDP growth rate of 6.5 per cent, which is higher than all the other official forecasts. The Reserve Bank of India in its July review of the monetary and credit policy had projected a rate of six per cent but with an upward bias. It is noteworthy that since then every GDP forecast has been an improvement over the previous one. The IMF, for instance, is now more upbeat in its assessment of global economic growth than it was a few months ago. Developing countries including India and China are in the forefront of the global recovery. It is more than likely that the RBI will mark up its growth projection in its review scheduled for next week. The EAC's optimism is based on the fact that an uptrend in the growth momentum is clearly discernible now. The revival in industrial output — the index of industrial production for August was 10.4 higher than what it was in 2008 — is expected to be consolidated further. The EAC expects both the industry and the services sectors to grow by 8.2 per cent. But agriculture will most likely decline by two per cent because of the failure of the monsoons.


A successful rabi crop holds the key not only to higher economic growth but also to containing inflationary expectations. The EAC expects the WPI inflation to go up to six per cent by March-end from its current artificially low levels of just above one per cent. Food inflation poses the biggest challenge to policy makers in the short-term and can only be tackled through a multi-pronged strategy. The rabi crop must be protected right through the season and the public distribution system strengthened. Rice imports, where necessary, will provide a cushion. Global petroleum prices are firming up and the government will be faced with the difficult choice of having to either hike retail prices or bear a higher subsidy burden. Continuing the stimulus packages is both economically justifiable and politically expedient at this juncture but before long a roll back will be in order. High fiscal deficits — expected to touch 6.8 per cent of the GDP this year — while being unavoidable are clearly unsustainable for long. It will be good if the RBI continued with its accommodative monetary policy but the high level of government borrowing is exercising an upward pressure on the interest rates. There are no clear-cut pathways yet for an exit strategy but attainment of higher growth rates will surely open them up.








Despite years of unrelentingg efforts, predicting earthquakes — the holy grail of seismology — has only got tougher. A series of high magnitude earthquakes that struck different parts of the globe in recent years has made scientists realise that rocks respond to strain and seismic waves in a far more dynamic manner than was originally assumed. They are now compelled to revisit the well-accepted process used for explaining earthquake occurrences. According to the elastic rebound theory, proposed in 1910 by geologist Henry Fielding Reid of Johns Hopkins University, rocks along the faults are like twigs that bend under stress but snap when stress crosses the threshold. The rocks along faults tend to accumulate strain as plates collide against one another and finally give way when it becomes unbearable. Sudden snapping of the rocks and release of strain causes earthquakes. Since the theory is based on strain accumulation, high magnitude earthquakes should occur only after a long interval. But the occurrence of many high magnitude quakes before strain can accumulate and cross the threshold shows that the elastic rebound theory alone cannot explain the triggering mechanism.


In fact, many high magnitude quakes have occurred within a relatively short period of time. For instance, the three quakes of more than 7 magnitude that struck Vanuatu, an island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, on October 7 is a classic example of clustering. Sumatra has also been witnessing similar clustering in the last few years. A series of quakes of magnitude greater than 8 have occurred off the coast of Sumatra following the 9.1 magnitude quake of December 26, 2004. In fact, it may be wrong to assume that fault systems lying thousands of kilometres away are behaving independently. While it has been known that high magnitude earthquakes tend to set off tremors by altering the strength of faults lying several hundreds of kilometres away, scientists studying the San Andreas Fault at Parkfield, California, have for the first time been able to monitor this recently. Parkfield, one of the closely monitored earthquake zones in the world, provided the much-needed evidence that the 1992 Landers earthquake in California and 2004 Sumatra earthquake altered its fault strength and triggered tremors. While the 2008 Uniform California Earthquake Rupture Forecast 2 had found that the association of earthquake cycle with the elastic rebound theory can be highly irregular, the latest evidence from San Andreas Fault will further dilute the universality of the elastic rebound theory in explaining earthquake occurrence.










The Pakistanis use an earthy metaphor when they want to put their American interlocutors on the defensive. They complain Pakistan has been used like condom and discarded time and again in the Cold War era. By saying so, they urge the Americans to be constant in friendship.


The Afghans would feel the same way today about the Americans. One look at the CNN on Tuesday afternoon was sufficient to take in the painful sight of Afghan President Hamid Karzai lining up with a slight stoop for the photo-op announcing he lost the presidential election and a runoff will be held on November 7. A cultural mishap has taken place, which leaps out of the famous E.M. Forster novel set in Chandrapore. The Americans didn't even know a Popolzai chief was being made to admit defeat in front of his people.


Mr. Karzai insisted until last weekend he would not accept interference by foreigners in deciding the outcome of the election, which he claimed he won. Yet, four days later, he retracted in public view without offering explanation. In the Afghan bazaar, he has suffered a lethal blow to his prestige. John Kerry, chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, reportedly sat in the presidential palace and pressured Mr. Karzai for a total of 72 hours not to insist he won the election. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called from London; French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner personally visited Kabul to participate in the arm-twisting; and the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen made their own contributions from New York and Brussels to the western enterprise to get Mr. Karzai sign up on his political obituary.


Mr. Karzai caved in realising he has irretrievably lost that gravitas without which one cannot hope to be a ruler in Afghanistan. He knows the Afghan bazaar has taken note and it will be impossible for him now to rebuild the charisma he was lately claiming by ostentatiously distancing himself from the western powers. The triumphalism in the western capitals underscores, on the other hand, they haven't yet quite grasped the gravity of the appalling act they committed. They don't seem to know — or worse still, if they don't care — that Afghans do not respect those incapable of giving steady friendship. Whether Mr. Karzai was efficient or corrupt is no longer the issue. The issue is the perception that Westerners use their friends like condoms and then discard them. This tale will be told and retold for a long time in the vales and hills, wooded copses, sunken lanes and meadows of Afghanistan.


Surely, any "Afghanisation" of the war needed to be built around a Prometheus Unbound in Kabul — figuratively put, of course — and that has become impossible now. No matter who wins the November 7 runoff, he will carry the cross of being an American puppet, and forever will the common Afghan sit on the fence dangling his feet and refusing to rally in the fight against the Taliban and forever will the western powers remain in ground zero with their finely chopped "Afghanisation" strategy. The only feasible way of "Afghanisation" is the fashion in which Mr. Karzai hoped to go about it – via incomprehensible coalitions and cutting Byzantine deals with local commanders, "warlords", Mujahideen, tribal maliks and mullahs. "Afghanisation" crucially depended on a central Pashtun figure like Mr. Karzai who would incessantly network, keeping one eye and one ear closed, seeing and listening when he wanted.


There was a method in Mr. Karzai's madness in displaying his independence from his American mentors. His political credibility was directly proportional to his defiance of the Americans. His defiance might or might not have been a mere act of optical illusion, but that shouldn't detract from its worth in the Afghan cultural context. His entire strategy now lies in ruins as he was shepherded before television cameras on a Tuesday afternoon and made to admit he has no mind of his own. The only plausible explanation that can be given to the theatrics by Mr.Kerry in Kabul (which U.S. President Barack Obama has, astonishingly, commended) is that the U.S. is actually not looking for a strong Afghan power structure. All the talk of the Afghan election being fraudulent and the UN-supported electoral watchdog ruled a new round is baloney. When the Afghans heard about the fraudulent election, as the Pakistani author Tariq Ali wrote, "The Hindu Kush mountains must have resounded to the sound of Pashtun laughter". Make no mistake about it, the runoff too will be largely fraudulent. What else can one expect? After 62 years of democracy, ballot stuffing and impersonation of voters and "booth capturing" happens all the time in India. Mr. Tariq Ali put the finger on the pie: "Nobody in Afghanistan takes elections too seriously and especially not when the country is occupied by the U.S. and its NATO acolytes".


Mr. Ban told the BBC the UN wants 200 poll fraud officials "fired" so that the runoff could be made "credible". Pray, who will replace them and also vet the credentials of the other thousand petty officials on election duty manning the polling booths? And all this to be worked out within the next fortnight, which is all the time left. The BBC reported that "the sense of apathy is strengthened because there is a perception in Afghanistan that everything – from money, to the use of state machinery, to violence and intimidation, to registering phantom voters – has already been predetermined". Such being the fact of life, why the brouhaha that Mr. Karzai lost a clear-cut win by less than one percent of votes in the first round? The problem is Mr. Karzai, stupid. The U.S. fears an assertive Mr. Karzai may become a thorn in the flesh if he gets elected on his own steam by hook or crook. Prima facie, this may appear a contradiction when the war itself is all but lost. However, there is a logical explanation.


Quintessentially, what is unfolding is that in the name of "Afghanisation", Washington is preparing an exit strategy which will be built around an incremental "Talibanisation" of the Afghan power pyramid. This approach presupposes that any new power structure in Kabul will at best be a mere transitional authority to bridge an interim phase. The man in charge in Kabul — Mr. Karzai II or Abdullah Abdullah — will need to be a Paid Piper who follows the U.S. diktat — and nothing more. The U.S. is expected to kickstart in the very near future a determined effort to co-opt the Taliban. The foreplay has already begun. Troops are being redeployed, abandoning far-flung or remote and indefensible military outposts and instead concentrating on holding major towns and cities. What is on the cards is that the Taliban cadres will be allowed in to fill the local power structures. The gateway opens when the local elections are held in 2010.


The U.S. spokesmen have begun justifying that what suits Afghanistan is a decentralized government with a nominal centre. The Americans, in their slang, call this an ingenious "bottoms-up" approach. What it implies is that devolution of authority to the local government would be the most effective form of governance for a country of such immense diversity like Afghanistan. No doubt, the argument has its merits, but why was it that the erudite Americans took eight long years to make this great discovery about Afghan history? The point is, the overriding American priority today is to ensure that somehow the fighting tapers off so that NATO casualties come down and the alliance's long-term continuance in Middle Asia becomes politically sustainable, which is crucial for the U.S. global strategy.


Therefore, the Obama administration is adopting a revisionist approach towards the Taliban, saying the latter do not pose any threat to the U.S.'s security. To be fair, Mr. Obama has no reason to be on a revenge act in the Hindu Kush, as was the case with his predecessor eight years ago. Bob Woodward has made riveting revelations in his book "Bush At War" precisely on this issue as to whether the Taliban regime in Kabul in September 2001 was to be regarded as America's enemy. That 8-year old discussion has come full circle. True, the Taliban aren't necessarily America's enemies. Nor should they be excluded from their own country's body polity. So, if the Taliban pose no threat to the U.S. security and if only the Taliban would agree to severe links with the Al-Qaeda, the U.S. would unscramble the omlette.

All the same, the U.S. officials have begun arguing, the raison d'etre of continued western troop presence in Afghanistan still remains insofar as Pakistan's stability has now become the new focal point. But then, no one remembers anymore that it was the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan that in the first instance destabilized Pakistan. Thus, the U.S. sidesteps the core issue – a timeline for ending the occupation of Afghanistan.


(The writer is a former diplomat.)









With the leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting this weekend in Cha-am Hua Hin, Thailand, coinciding with U.N. Day, this auspicious occasion serves as a reminder of why the United Nations was created and how it can serve its Member States.


Today (24 October) we commemorate United Nations Day, when the U.N. Charter went into force and committed nations to promote higher standards of living and economic and social development.


Tomorrow, I have the distinct honour of addressing the Heads of States of the ASEAN countries and their six Dialogue Partners to share my views on the implications of the global financial crisis and ESCAP's response in promoting regional connectivity and development. This marks the first time that the United Nations has been invited to participate in this meeting and is indicative of a new strategic engagement between our two organizations.


There are already signs of early recovery in East Asian economies. However, our experience with the East Asian crisis of 1997 suggests that social recovery takes much longer. Over 26 million workers have lost their jobs in Asia-Pacific during 2009, with millions more experiencing income insecurity especially migrant workers and casual workers in the informal sector. The inequalities that exist in the region have been made worse by the financial crisis. Faced with multiple threats to development, including climate change, there is a real risk of losing the poverty reduction and development gains we achieved over the past several decades.


This crisis has exposed the limitations of a "manufactured in Asia, consumed in the West" model for economic growth. We need to develop new drivers, but this is only possible by increasing the consumer power of the poor and emerging middle classes through decent work, and through social protection and other inclusive policies, unleashing their potential to contribute to both economic development and reducing inequalities and social disparities.


Regional economic cooperation could be another driver of growth. There are enormous opportunities to promote intra-regional trade and investment in East Asia -- but Asia is better connected to Europe and the United States than with itself. For some countries in the region it is easier and cheaper to trade with Europe and the United States than with the country next door. With some of the world's largest and most dynamic economies, a more unified market of East Asian countries is a potential economic power house and an emerging centre of gravity of the world economy. Strengthening Asia-Pacific's regional connectivity will leverage our complementary strengths and synergies.


Regional Cooperation and Connectivity – Opportunities


National financial stimulus packages are providing our region with a unique opportunity to address a broad range of regional connectivity issues. However, money alone is not enough. Shared understanding among nations, and equitably negotiated agreements and standards will provide the mechanisms to encourage neighbours to work and cooperate with one another.


ESCAP is promoting eco-efficient connectivity in the Asia Pacific using a five-pronged approach:


1. Developing Regional Transportation Networks and Improving Trade Facilitation:


We are actively promoting the development of sustainable transport infrastructure and working with Member States to transform transport routes into economic corridors. The Asian Highway is a network which provides 142,000 kms of roads for economic activity. In addition, the Trans-Asian Railway is a network of nearly 114,000 kilometres selected by 28 ESCAP Member States as vital arteries for international trade. Faced with the challenges of climate change, improving access to rail will provide a better balance between modes of transport in the Asia and the Pacific region and help to lower CO{-2} emissions.


Historically much of our economic development has taken place in coastal areas clustered around sea ports that have acted as a magnet for development. For the future, the Asian Highway and Trans-Asian Railway networks will help access inland areas and more remote landlocked countries in a web of prosperity. Together, with the creation of dry ports as consolidation and distribution centres, this intermodal transport system will form the backbone of trade across our region. Already, ESCAP, working with Member States, has identified priority investment requirements of $14 billion to build missing rail links and upgrade roads to better connect Southeast Asia.


2. Increasing Trade through Improvements in ICT Infrastructure:


We know that building infrastructure alone will not be enough. The real challenge for East Asian countries is to address institutional issues that even prevent trucks from crossing borders, which increase costs of doing business and that waste time. ICT technologies can be used to streamline border crossing and institutional requirements, making them more transparent and predictable. Development of the appropriate ICT infrastructure will help promote knowledge connectivity, which will enable sharing of good practices as well as information required to derive the most benefits from improved regional connectivity. If we are to promote true regional connectivity, we must take the steps required to establish a truly "paperless trading system." ESCAP is ready to work with East Asia Summit partners on a long-term programme of action that addresses infrastructure, institutional and logistics issues in an inclusive and sustainable approach to regional connectivity and development.


3. Developing a Regional Financial Architecture:


Financial cooperation provides a substantial opportunity to generate aggregate demand and foster inclusive development of our region. The Chiang Mai Initiative was a pioneering attempt at regional cooperation for addressing balance of payment emergencies. With more than $4 trillion of foreign exchange reserves, the region now has the ability to foster a major programme of investing in itself. To exploit the full potential of financial cooperation, financing regional connectivity and development, the region needs a comprehensive architecture intermediating between emerging investment opportunities especially in regional public goods on the one hand and rising foreign exchange reserves on the other. Other elements of such an architecture could include exchange rate cooperation (to prevent beggar-thy-neighbour competitive devaluations), integration of region's capital markets and cooperation in trade finance to foster intra-regional trade and investments. ESCAP has initiated a work programme on these issues and is willing to assist the East Asia Summit process in clarifying the potential and elements of a possible financial architecture for the region, along with other regional partners.


4. Promoting a Regional Energy Security Framework:


ESCAP has responded to the request of Member States to promote an Asia-Pacific Energy Security Cooperation Framework. This initiative, which includes a trans-Asian energy system, will help to ensure both the near- and long-term energy security of the region. It will connect producers and consumers of energy resources and facilitate new markets for clean and efficient energy technologies. Its goal is to shift development to a low carbon path while ensuring universal access to energy within a predictable time-frame. As one element of this initiative, ESCAP is already acting as the Secretariat of a sub-regional energy cooperation agreement among Northeast Asian Countries.


5. Strengthening the Social Foundations for Inclusive and Resilient Societies:


Efforts to improve regional connectivity must include people and communities. The social foundations of inclusive and resilient societies need to be established to allow more equitable sharing of development benefits, investment in human capital and strengthening resilience of people and communities to cope with risks and disasters. Social protection systems also make good economic sense. People without social protection hold on to their savings and are unlikely to spend. Providing minimum wage and unemployment insurance will buffer people from financial uncertainties and help drive economic recovery. ESCAP has placed social protection on the social equity agenda of the region, providing baseline analyses and policy options on a regular basis to address our development gaps and achieve the Millennium Development Goals in Asia Pacific through regional cooperation.


The tragic devastation in our region caused by multiple disasters over the past few weeks is an alarming reminder that our region is highly vulnerable to natural disasters and extreme climate conditions and that the human cost of this vulnerability is far too high. In the face of these challenges, we must enhance our connectivity to forge united regional responses. To this end, I am pleased to report that the ASEAN Secretary-General and I, together with our teams, met to discuss how the U.N. system at the regional level and ASEAN can develop an enhanced partnership for disaster preparedness, response and management that builds on the strengths of each institution and draws from the knowledge and lessons of dealing with past disasters in the ASEAN region.


The United Nations is committed to working with ASEAN and its East Asian partners to promote inclusive and sustainable development in our region. I believe that a more coordinated and connected Asia will emerge from the current crisis a global leader in development. ESCAP, the regional arm of the United Nations, is a ready partner for this exciting journey to create shared prosperity, social progress and ecological sustainability in our region. — Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre, New Delhi.


(Noeleen Heyzer is Executive Secretary of Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP))









As a series of bomb blasts began to occur in Pakistani cities prior to the launch of the army operation in South Waziristan, a demonstration in Karachi by parties that claim religion as their raison d'etre underscored some key conflicts Pakistan faces: the requirements of justice under due process of law versus tribal, extra-judicial punishments; tensions between the elected civilian government and the 'establishment'; and conflict between a long-standing foreign policy versus new domestic compulsions.


The demonstration symbolised the two options ahead: the long road towards becoming a modern, progressive democratic nation — or descent into the retrogressive order envisioned by the Taliban and their supporters.


Ostensibly railing against proposed changes in the controversial 'Blasphemy law', speakers slammed the 'Kary Logar Bill' and its supporters such as Punjab Governor Salman Taseer and Pakistan's ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani. The speakers supported the armed forces' stand against the Bill (which was subsequently signed into law, drafted by American legislators for the American, not the Pakistani government, to approve).


The traditional nexus between the religious right and the military is no secret. Superficial divisions surfaced after the army, under General Musharraf, took a U-turn on its traditional pro-jihadi stand following the cataclysmic events of 9/11, but the bond remains strong. They share notions about defending Pakistan's ideological frontiers and the 'real enemy' (India), and a distaste for democracy (especially the Pakistan People's Party).


These views found echo in the cacophony of knee-jerk protests against the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act, 2009. Those who went against the tide were dismissed as 'American lackeys' — although the military (annoyed at being by-passed this time) has for decades taken far huger amounts of aid than are in prospect now, with various undisclosed conditions, leading to repercussions that reverberate today. But conditionalities were unacceptable when the aid went to social sectors under civilian rule — education, health and energy. The Act was in the works for nearly two years, since before this government took over — the result of sustained efforts by various people, not least Benazir Bhutto, to make America realise it must deal with elected representatives. It is a belated response to the long-standing and justified criticism of past policies of supporting military governments in Pakistan, as acknowledged by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama.


Washington is obviously — and understandably — keen that American taxpayers' money is not used for illegal and dangerous activities, as any accountable, elected government would be (a good lesson for Pakistanis to learn). The wording of the Act, even after the explanatory note, makes it more difficult to repeat past mistakes. Pakistan must now ensure that the U.S. itself sticks to this commitment and vice versa — concerns based on past betrayals.


The alternative to this 'enhanced partnership' is a continued one-dimensional (security-based) relationship with America at the expense of democratic institutions in Pakistan, and continued mediation by countries like Saudi Arabia with even more dangerous vested interests and agendas. Such agendas have directly contributed to a rise in religious extremism, sectarianism and misogyny in Pakistan, and restrictions on how Pakistan deals with other (Muslim) countries. The Pakistan army's protest proved to be a storm in a teacup as some had predicted, but the tantrum did get it more direct military aid prior to the ground offensive in South Waziristan. It also makes it difficult for the civilian government to take any credit for restarting the economy and for creating a political consensus against the militants.


The demonstration against 'Kary Logar' illustrated the irrationality and anti-Americanism that triggered the anti-Bill wave. Speakers accused America of using the Bill (President Obama had not yet signed it into an Act) to amend the 'Blasphemy law' — though several Islamic scholars and jurists have recommended a review and even repeal for the sake of justice and humanity, the essence of Islam.


Ideally, of course, Pakistan should not require aid. This is hardly realistic after decades of dependence, but still a long-term goal to aspire for. Another goal to aspire for is for the civilian government to control the army, and not the other way around.


Pakistan's armed forces need to focus on the fight against the militants. Public sympathy is swinging in the army's favour but it will take a lot more to weed out elements sympathetic to the Taliban/Al Qaeda from the ranks of those who were until recently handlers for their jihadi partners. The armed forces are also still struggling to regain the credibility they lost during the Musharraf years (hence General Kayani's stance after taking over as the Chief of the Army Staff, that no army person would meet politicians without due clearance). But old habits die hard, as evidenced by the politics played during the Shahbaz Sharif-led 'long march' and by the covert 'midnight meeting' of Shahbaz Sharif with the COAS, which hardly conformed with the due process for such meetings laid out by the Defence Ministry.


The daring attack and siege of the General Head Quarters (GHQ) rallied opinion around the men in uniform. Confusingly, this includes religious right-wing parties linked to the very forces the army is pitted against (not so confusing when one remembers the generals who termed the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan as true 'patriots' after they offered to fight India in the post-Mumbai attack fallout).


These 'patriots' are now attacking targets everywhere, 'hard' or 'soft'. Their ideological brethren in other organisations are mounting attacks in neighbouring countries — most recently, Iran and Afghanistan. Rather than be defensive and deny the complicity of Pakistan-based actors in such attacks, the government and the army need to accept this possibility, plan preventive measures, and charge, try and punish those who are arrested. They need to be on the same page and work together for the direction Pakistan needs to move towards. This goes for pro-democracy elements in civil society, too.


Pakistan joined this war at someone else's behest and with someone else's money decades ago. But right now, the entire country is the battleground and the entire population a potential target, as underlined by the despicable attack on the Islamic University in Islamabad. Pakistan cannot win it with a half-hearted anti-'jihadi' stance that sees fit to use 'good Taliban' against 'bad Taliban', and unless the 'establishment' (army-bureaucracy-intelligence agencies) removes its traditional anti-India blinkers.


(Beena Sarwar is a Karachi-based freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker ( www.beenasarwar.wordpress. com). An edited version of this article was published in the newspaper Dawn on October 23.)







At 104, Ivy Bean may be the oldest person in Bradford, northern England. She is also, thanks to the internet, one of its most famous residents. After maxing out the friend capacity on Facebook (with 5,000), Bean graduated to Twitter in 2008, and from her residential home on the outskirts of the city she now offers daily insights into her life for some 48,000-odd followers.


Bean got into social networking when the home computer maintenance company Geek Squad helped her sign up last year, but what started as a publicity stunt has taken on a life of its own. Before that, Bean says, "All I used to do was sit all day and fall asleep. I'd be miserable if I didn't do it."


These days Bean is a celebrity. Last month she had a private meeting with the singer Peter Andre, who was in town for a book signing. "He's a lovely fellow," Bean says. On Wednesday, Chris Evans blew her a kiss on Twitter.


Bean's windowsill is crowded with family photos, and she has a drawer full of letters and gifts from well-wishers worldwide. In person, she doesn't see many visitors, apart from her daughter, but she says she never feels lonely now with the Twitter community to chat to, whether she is explaining what parkin is, or discussing the merits of television shows. When her good friend Norma Furniss passed away earlier this year, Bean was inundated with messages of support; if she doesn't get the chance to tweet on any given day, her followers are anxious to know that she is OK.


Bean has no intention of resting on her laurels, however; she would still like more followers. "We'd better get it up to 50,000," she says. "People should get their name down and we'll have a few more." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009


(Note: Ivy's Twitter name is IvyBean104.)








The exchange by Maoists in West Bengal of a kidnapped policeman in return for 24 arrested tribal women need not be looked at as a sign of the beginning of the end of hostilities or a softening of the official stance towards them. The idea of a hostage swap is questionable and against general policy and the state government needs to give some credible explanation on this. Having said that, new thinking is definitely the need of the hour on handling the Maoists.


For years, as the Maoists and Naxalites grew in space and influence, the State had its gaze turned elsewhere. Individual state governments tried various tactics — the infamous Salwa Judum civil militia in Chhatisgarh being the worst example — but there has been no concerted nationwide strategy to  deal with the Maoists in the last 20 years.


It is important to understand that lack of development, immense poverty, deprivation and neglect of the tribals and others allowed the Maoists a foothold in their battle against the state. However it is also important not to get carried away with this: nothing justifies barbaric violence. And while Union home minister P Chidambaram has suggested that Maoists find a space in the democratic spectrum for their ultra-Left wing views, it can also be pointed out that the Maoists have chosen to fight their battle outside the scope of democracy and politics.


Now finally, we have seen that the Centre is serious about the Maoists. The last few episodes of violence — from the beheading of a policeman to the kidnapping of another — have not just been one more in a long chapter of accidents and incidents so common in India. Instead, we have been forced to acknowledge that the enemy within has become as dangerous as all our enemies without.


Chidambaram's offer has to be seen as a new, nuanced approach to the problem. By asking the Maoists to abjure violence so that there can be dialogue, the home minister has opened a door for them. Earlier, such groups joined the political mainstream, some even standing for elections, but in recent times, extreme leftist groups have tended to almost wholly rely on violence in their bid to overthrow the state. The Maoists in India — unlike their counterparts in Nepal — are refusing to engage with democracy and in the ultimate analysis, this will be their downfall.


However the government, even if it wants to talk, will keep the option of using force. Dealing with Maoists is no tea party and they are capable of much brutality. But even considering the possibility that one day the Maoists, who after all are Indian citizens, can be rehabilitated shows that there is new thinking on the issue. That could be a promising start in tackling the problem.











This year I went to a place that probably has the greatest global reach in terms of leisure; one that every fourth person on this planet has been to. But though  a first-timer there, Goa was what I thought it would be and then some — I have to say there's something about the red mud, hippie haven that you won't find in a travel book.


For every one of them might tell you what to do there and where to go, but really, if you do nothing but stand and observe, or chill out susegaad style, the Goan way of life will reach out to really touch yours. To a food-lover like me, Goa conjured up visions of a fish balchao, a sharp, tangy ambotik, sol kadhi and bebinca. I found it was all that and much more!


The resort ferried my parents, sister and me by car to what would be our weeklong abode and that step, I think, is when you leave your city-goer's baggage behind. The palm groves, the tiny villages fringing the coast and large ship builders' yards by the waterfront are a charming change alright!


We stayed at a lovely resort that had all the luxe trappings that such a place normally has but with all the elements of a farmer's market thrown in too. For us it was time for full-on entertainment! Other than meal times, it was at the spa or gym and during mid-morning rowdy games of volleyball by the pool (that we stayed away from), that we met the denizens of the place. And they were a loud and fun-to-watch bunch.


Come dinner hour and we were entertained by the family across us with their large brood of kids who engaged in fist fights, crying, complaining and finally making up and running circles around other diners — all during the dinner hour; we didn't miss the saas-bahu sagas here.


And hardly did we get through the amuse-bouche, than a Mr Know-it-All would launch a tirade on how the service wasn't up to half the world and the lavishness it conferred on him. I was also amused to watch the younger crowd and let me make one thing clear about them: they can certainly take care of themselves. We'd find them in the elevator, trying to crawl into the casino and then finally, like homing pigeons make their way into the dining areas. I did little else but watch life around me in its diverse forms.


Evenings, we watched the large tourist launches, making their way across an orange-and-purple-hued sky as the strains of Bollywood streaked across the waters.


Quite by chance, we opted in favour of the Mapusa market on a Friday morning, after foregoing a chance to visit a kaju plantation at Ponda, which would have taken away a whole day. This market is also Goa's biggest fresh produce bazaar and it's here that you might find the D'Souzas, Braganzas and the Mirandas haggle ceaselessly over ingredients for their kitchen, Grab a place in the shade and settle down to watch the drama, it's operatic. You have a combination of the solo, potters from Bicholim who beseech you to pick up their large rooster-shaped water jugs and the chorus; women who bring homemade sweets and pickles as well as hot cross buns, arguing over the day's deals.


Our driver Santan told us his marriage was settled through a brief introduction of his mother and a neighbour's niece after the purchase of a dozen mussels there. Made my day! I also loved walking around the old Fontainhas district and imagining life beyond the large verandahs, white washed walls and porticos. And one day, we drove up to the Terekhol Fort and discovered a place that had some delicious Malvani fish items. Worth it! 


To round up the holiday, we decided to pick up souvenirs at the only 'hotspot', 18 June Road, and returned with bags of strawberry and blueberry kaju. The world has certainly shrunk, gastronomically at least!


'Tuzo photo kaddunv?" (May I take your picture), a street-side photographer asked and I obliged, knowing by then I had happily also formed one of my own portraits of Goa.








The puns were not long in coming after the elections results started trickling in — the cub mauls the tiger, new cub on the block, tiger bearded in his own den. The message was obvious. Raj Thackeray had humbled his parent party, the Shiv Sena, with his 13 elected Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) candidates.


More significantly, he affected the chances of Shiv Sena or BJP candidates in 29 constituencies. So though he has come at the tail-end of the list of winners, Raj Thackeray is the real story of these elections. But once the applause dies down and the real business of politics begins, where does he go from here? How will he build his party organisation?


Rabble-rousing, street politics and making a noise in the legislative assembly as he has promised is all very well, but if he is in it for the long-term, that will be counter-productive the next time round — when he logically should do much better. The lust for vengeance has been satisfied, but will he be able to break the Sena? Will his party emerge as a credible alternative in the state?


Raj Thackeray could do himself a service if he ponders over the history of the Shiv Sena. It took them three decades to come to power at the state level. Despite its espousal of the son-of-the-soil, its appeal did not go beyond parts of the then Bombay and even here, not all Maharashtrians were convinced about Bal Thackeray. After the Babri Masjid demolition and the palpable anger against the Congress, Thackeray turned to Hindutva, signed up with the rising Bharatiya Janata Party and won the state  in 1995.


These were four wasted years for the Sena; it just couldn't digest power. The party's cadre took it as a license to bully, the ministers were all at sea about governance and the Sena chief proudly spoke of his extra-constitutional role as a remote control, changing the chief minister half-way through. It was an object lesson in how not to govern. Since then the Sena-BJP combine has only gone downhill. In 2005, the worst in its history, two key leaders, Narayan Rane and Raj Thackeray were ousted or left the party and the effects are being felt now.


So is it the end of the road for the Shiv Sena? Not necessarily. Bal Thackeray still holds sway over his followers and the party has won 44 seats. But the Sena's greatest strength is its organisational structure. Though distinctly frayed and even damaged in parts, the network of shakhas, pramukhs, party workers is invaluable; it can be mobilised within hours at any time. It provides muscle and brings in resources. That is something that cannot be bought off the shelf. Raj Thackeray has to either build it brick by brick or he can just attempt to hijack it and take it over. That is the Bal Thackeray legacy — the organisation along with the following — that he will aim for.


If he is successful, it will help him achieve what will surely be his long-term goal: to emerge as a strong alternative to the Congress — the party to beat in Maharashtra. Despite the poor performance of the Democratic Front government, the ruling coalition romped home with a better seat tally than in the last elections. The Congress may have its weaknesses, but its 82 seats put it far ahead. Yet, there is enough space for a strong rival — who will that be.


Sharad Pawar's National Congress Party  (NCP) is second but for the moment is an ally. In time, there will be a creeping merger as in dribs and drabs NCP members will drift into the Congress. That is, unless  Pawar voluntarily merges with the Congress. In any case the NCP is too much like the Congress to be a real alternative.


The BJP would logically occupy that space, but is in such disarray at the national level that its state unit is thoroughly demoralised. If it doesn't chart out its own path, away from the Sena, the BJP in Maharashtra could slowly sink into oblivion. The Sena, as shown, is ripe for implosion if somebody could set off the spark. Raj Thackeray could be the person and make a serious bid for challenger, even champion.


This cannot happen immediately. The Congress will become stronger and, if the NCP merges, unassailable. The MNS could stop growing, especially if Raj Thackeray believes that his 13 seats is a mandate for creating havoc, Sena style. He will have to now become more inclusive, whether he likes it or not; that could help him attract not only Sena youths and Marathi manoos but also others. That will require recalibration of ideas, jettisoning old-style thoughts and tactics and most important, showing some imagination. Beating up people on the street ultimately has limited currency in the big-power stakes. If he doesn't change, Raj Thackeray will remain an also-ran in the state.









Grilling and griddling are very much in vogue. Griddle pans are all easily available in India — they looks like frying pans but have distinctive ridges across the surface. It is also substantially heavier than a normal frying pan as it has to withstand much higher temperatures. The pan may be designed so that it has a spout on one side to pour out the juices and it may be square or round in shape.

The method is to preheat the griddle pan so that the surface is exceedingly hot when cooking starts. This allows the food to be quickly seared, sealing in the juices and forming that "crust" so beloved of the menu writers. One constantly encounters references to tuna or rawas with a pepper crust. Well, it is relatively easy if you know how. The trick is to ensure that the crust is formed before the food is turned over to sear, and you lower the heat for the rest of the cooking time, allowing the food to cook without burning the outside.

This form of cooking has myriad benefits, principally that you use the minimal amount of oil or fat in the cooking process, it is not entirely oil free but the cholesterol content of the cooking is minimised. The other benefit, often overlooked, is that kind of marinades that one can concoct using fresh herbs and aromatics like garlic and green chillies which give the dishes a certain distinctiveness. This is particularly relevant as you can now easily obtain the most exotic of herbs, oregano, Italian basil and chives in the local market.

In India we have been so obsessed with the magic of the tandoori masala and for vegetarians the paste applied to paneer or cauliflower, that we don't seem to want go beyond that. There are some adventurous souls who use the Chettinad masalas, including the famous Schezwan pepper. Apart from these there is not much else. In doing so we are missing out on a rich cornucopia of recipes particularly from Morocco like the harissa. The harissa-influenced masalas are wet and act as a marinade for meats such as chicken. I have a lot of time for harissa; it is a marvellous marinade which has several uses. The spiciness depends on the chillies used. A basic harissa recipe with a Tunisian touch is to use: 250g/9oz long, fresh red chillies, salt, 3 heaped tsp caraway seeds (ajwain), ground, 3 heaped tsp cumin seeds, ground, 1 tsp black cumin seeds (jeera) ground (optional), 4 cloves garlic, 100g or 3 1/2;oz roasted and peeled red bell pepper, 2 tsp tomato puree, 2 tsp red wine vinegar, 4 tbsp olive oil, 2 level tsp smoked paprika (if you can get it), Method: 1.Remove the tops of the chillies, slice in half lengthways. Lay each chilli on a chopping board, cut-side up, and gently scrape away the seeds with a teaspoon and discard.

2. Blend the chillies in a food processor with a pinch of salt, half of each of the spice seeds and the garlic cloves until smooth.

3. Add the peppers, the rest of the spice seeds, the tomato puree and vinegar, and blend again until very smooth.


Transfer to a mixing bowl.


4. Now add the olive oil. Sprinkle the paprika on top of the oil and stir in. Taste and season if necessary, with more salt to balance out the vinegar.If you mix it in yogurt, you have the perfect marinade.










Any deal with people who have declared war on the state and challenged the country's Constitution is not just dubious but is bound to keep haunting the government. The West Bengal government, therefore, set a dangerous precedent this week by succumbing to Maoists' pressure to secure the release of a police officer abducted by them. By doing so the state government has also made itself vulnerable to similar deals in future.


The CPM government's weak-kneed response is even more glaring in the context of two police constables who were abducted by the Maoists earlier and who officially remain 'missing'. A Maoist spokesman Koteshwar Rao alias Kishenji has virtually ruled out the chances of the constables being alive by declaring that 'Maoists do not keep hostages for so long'. The state government's capitulation is, therefore, even more disappointing.


The CPM government can take consolation from the fact that the Maoists did not press it too hard and demand the release of top-ranking Maoist leaders arrested in recent months. At the same time, by not opposing the bail for the 21 'elderly tribals' and by its failure to produce any evidence of subversive activities by them, the government has conceded that in its war against Maoists, it has merely been hitting soft targets so far and arrested tribals who may not have been guilty of the string of more serious criminal offences they were charged with. By demanding the release of the arrested tribals, Maoists clearly hoped to win over the local tribal population and paint the state government as the oppressor.


Even as Maoists keep taunting the government through hysterical television channels and through brutal killings, the government's only response so far has been to hold the threat of an offensive. But the rebels' attack on the Sankrail police station, where the police failed to fire a single bullet while Maoists killed two unarmed policemen, reveals how ill-prepared the police force is. It is time the government took steps to prove this growing perception wrong. 








It is wise of the Indian and Chinese governments to have signed a five-year agreement to jointly fight climate change and coordinate their stands during international climate negotiations. Coming in the backdrop of angry diplomatic exchanges on the border issue, the agreement is a welcome whiff of fresh air. Much ado has been made of the differences in perceptions on the border tangle. The climate agreement therefore offers a great opportunity to repair some of the damage in mutual trust. 


The Joint Working Group that has been set up will soon hold annual meetings alternately in China and India to discuss respective domestic measures and implementation of related cooperative projects. The climate change agreement will be welcomed by the developing nations for the bargaining power they would command as a group at the critical Copenhagen summit in December being held to work out a possible multilateral climate change treaty to supersede the Kyoto Protocol that expires in 2012.


Considering that there is a strong possibility of arm-twisting by the western powers to bring the developing countries to agree on fixed targets for reduction of carbon emissions, the agreement between the two Asian powers to work in unison will serve as a deterrent. 


Significantly, while the western powers are crying themselves hoarse claiming that they are going all out to cut carbon emissions while India and China are refusing to make on stronger commitments, data released this week by the United Nations has shown that greenhouse gas emissions from the rich nations increased 12.8 per cent between 1990 and 2007. 


This only shows that the western nations that are the original polluters, who played havoc with the world's ecological balance through reckless industrialization bringing it close to a catastrophe, need to do a lot more than paying mere lip service to the need to curb gas emissions.


That the newly-industrializing countries like India and China have a responsibility not to repeat the mistakes inherent in the western style of growth is, however, beyond question. While the two Asian giants must resist fixed targets for reduction of emissions, it would be imprudent to duck the issue of emission cuts and slow down economic development for satisfying the western demands. 








The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party combine in Maharashtra has won the Assembly elections for the third consecutive term despite heavy odds — the Mumbai terror attack, price rise, drought and farmers' suicides and power cuts. The Congress and the NCP bagged 82 and 62 seats respectively this time as against 69 and 71 respectively in 2004. Congress president Sonia Gandhi kept the alliance with the NCP intact despite some party leaders' appeals to the contrary. She kept the decision on this issue pending till the last minute and convinced the NCP to settle for a lesser number of seats. As the NCP contested only 112 of the 288 seats, its score of 62 is impressive.


Now when the details are known, it appears that the ruling coalition would have won the elections comfortably even if there were no splitting of votes between the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The BJP and the Shiv Sena have to do introspection over their miserable performance. The Shiv Sena got 44 seats, the BJP 46 and the MNS 13. The Marathwada region, said to be the saffron alliance's fortress, has rejected the BJP- Shiv Sena combine. The BJP led by Gopinath Munde has been badly mauled. The Shiv Sena won just seven seats in this region while the Congress (18) and the NCP (13) have each won more seats here than in the Mumbai-Thane region. The MNS won a seat in Aurangabad, a part of Marathwada, but spoilt the BJP-Sena's chances in only four seats here.


In Vidarbha, the BJP-Shiv Sena won fewer seats than the Congress-NCP because of its failure to capitalise on the farmers' suicides. The media hype on Raj Thackeray is unwarranted. People have squarely rejected his Marathi Manoos theory. And why blame him for the Shiv Sena's defeat? Although the MNS has opened its account with 13 MLAs in the 288-member House, it is no force to reckon with in Maharashtra. Creditably, the Shiv Sena's focus this time was on development, but it did not cut much ice with the people.
















The news of India's industrial growth picking up is indeed heartening as one imagines more people will get back their lost jobs. A 10.4 per cent growth in industrial output shows that many sectors of the economy are turning around especially the rise in capital goods production from 1.7 per cent in July to 8.3 per cent in August 2009 is significant.


A rise in industry's demand for capital goods means that inventories are being depleted faster than before leading to production expansion plans. It means that we are heading for a 'V' shaped recovery. But can India sustain the recovery if other countries especially the US economy is still struggling to revive?


The latest IMF forecast for the world economy is rather gloomy and says that the world economy will contract by 1.1 per cent in 2009 and will grow at 3.1 per cent in 2010. Global recovery will thus be sluggish. The US unemployment rate is going on rising which is an indicator of the depth of human misery due to the financial crisis and a broad based measure of unemployment in the US now is at 17 per cent.


Somehow China has managed to keep its economy going through its huge stimulus package and people abroad also view India as one of the survivors of the global crisis though India's problems are different from China's and hence a direct comparison is not possible. For example, China has climbed up seven notches in the ranking of countries according to the Human Development Index in the latest Human Development Report and is now 92nd whereas India's ranking remains the same at 134th. China does not face the same kind of serious human development problems as India faces nor does it have as many people going hungry as in India.


Although GDP growth matters, the over 6 per cent that is expected for India this year is not sufficient to tide away India's current problems of wide divide between the consumption patterns of the rich and the poor. Such a huge difference is not sustainable and can only breed discontent and insurgency and spread the Naxalite movement.


It shows that much trickle down has not taken place in the past when India experienced 9 per cent growth between 2005 and 2007. Food prices are still high and the Union Finance Minister has asked for food imports. The strong rupee would mean that the proposed imports may be less expensive but there is a limit to which India can indulge in imported food items to feed its population.


Our link to the global economy is through exports which is essential for the economic recovery because not only do exports contribute 14 per cent to the GDP but are a source of employment for millions of workers. And most export industries are still not doing well. With the rupee appreciating 4 per cent against the dollar this year, they are likely to experience some further contraction. However, the crucial point is that the export demand may not be picking up fast because the industrial countries have not gone back to their old pattern of consumption. Americans in particular are reeling under their personal debts and are saving more than ever before. The stimulus packages did work for sometime but they have created huge problems with the fiscal deficits that may not allow them to be continued in the future.


The colossal American public debt of $142 trillion is weakening the dollar which has become a beleaguered currency. And though the Chinese have huge reserves in dollars, they are thinking of using their yuan for trading with their close partners. With falling dollar, there will be problems world wide as demand for imports from the US will decline further.

In India, the government's fiscal stimulus and various other income sops like a hike in dearness allowance and the Pay Commission awards helped to boost consumer demand for goods and services. But such handouts may not be possible in the future because of the ballooning fiscal deficit which is at an unsustainable 11 per cent.


Unless the government finds ways of increasing its tax revenue, it will be constrained to give more and more fiscal stimulus packages. In times of slow sales volumes the government's collection of revenue is likely be less than before. Only if the private sector flourishes the government can raise adequate revenue that would go towards programmes to help the poor specially when there is widespread unemployment and high food prices.


The government has helped the poor in many ways especially through the NREGA and PDS and the National Rural Health Mission, but the effectiveness of these will depend on the continuation of these programmes full steam.


For the private sector in India to become vibrant, the world economy has to be back on rails because only then it will have access to funds to grow. The revival of export demand is equally important. Among the main importers of Indian goods and services, the Euro area is most important but unfortunately it is not coming out of recession any time soon and there is high unemployment in several countries including Spain, Italy and Germany. Though the euro is currently high against the rupee, the EU too may not expand its import demand.


The bottom line is that India's growth story has been fuelled by private investment and demand in the past and it is private investment which has been falling in an uncertain world scenario. Without a boost to corporate sales, there cannot be a rise in the corporate incomes and revenue and there cannot be a significant change in the employment situation.


So far most of the growth stimulus has come from the public sector spending. It has now to come from private investment and spending. For private investment to flourish, it is also important that the demand for capital is met at reasonable rates.


If the RBI is forced to take the step that other countries are today contemplating, namely raising the rate of interest to ward off inflationary pressure due to the high amount of liquidity in the system (from a big inflow of foreign institutional investment), then investments will contract further, reducing the incomes and taxable base of companies. Policymakers have hinted that the RBI will probably not meddle with the rates in the forthcoming monetary policy but one cannot rule out of the rates inching up again.


On a positive note, according to the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, India Inc. has come forward with fresh investment proposals amounting to Rs 330,000 crore between July and September 2009. In a big country like India, the domestic market can indeed boost industrial growth on the strength of its own demand. But people's spending power cannot depend on government's largesse for long and will have to come from a vibrant private sector. Its fate, unfortunately, will depend quite a lot on the revival of the global economy which is still sluggish.n








Even at a time when questions are being raised about the integrity of some of the judges of the superior courts, we still have men who have adorned the highest office in the apex court and are worthy of emulation.


I am talking about Justice M.N. Venkatachaliah, former Chief Justice of India, who also served as Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission and Chairman of the Committee to Review the Working of the Constitution.


Justice Venkatachaliah has been a role model for judges and lawyers alike for his honesty, integrity and unfailing courtesy in court and outside and for his erudition.


I have had the pleasure to serve as a Member of the National Human Rights Commission when he was Chairman of the Commission. I would like to share a few incidents which show the sterling qualities of the Judge.


I had invited Justice Ventatachaliah to an Awards function in Delhi after he had retired and settled in Bangalore. We sent him an open return air ticket — Bangalore-Delhi-Bangalore. A week before our Awards function, he was appointed Chairman of the NHRC and he arrived in Delhi on an officially paid ticket.


When I called on him at the IIC where he was staying, he handed over the return ticket to me saying that the government has paid for his travel from Bangalore and the ticket could be returned. Since it was an open ticket, a lesser mortal would have retained it and used it on some subsequent personal travel.


An organisation with which I was associated gave him an award of Rs 50,000 for his outstanding contribution in promoting and protecting human rights. He did not retain the award money and forthwith issued a cheque for Rs 50,000 for a voluntary blood bank in Delhi.


Once he asked me if I knew any jeweller in Delhi. A friend's son-in-law was a known jeweller and I said if I could be of any assistance. Justice Venkatachaliah told me that his son was getting married in a few months and they wanted silver utensils (thalis, katoris, glasses) for the wedding. He told me that they had old dented silver utensils and other silver pieces which they would want to dispose of and pay the balance money for new utensils.


As we went to Dariba Kalan to the jewellers, Venkatachaliahs selected thalis, katoris and glasses after assessing the size and weight. They wanted eight thalis, eight glasses and 32 katoris. The jeweller's men, after assessing the value of old dented silver pieces, quoted an amount of Rs 62,000 extra to be paid for the required utensils.


Both husband and wife were taken aback and after discussing for a few minutes in Kannada, they asked the shop owner if he could make six thalis, six glasses and 18 katoris.


Here is a man, a former Chief Justice of India, who is happy and content with the little that he had earned and saved from the high offices that he held. Readers would be able to understand the unsaid word.


When I served as Governor, Uttarakhand, Kumaon University invited him to deliver the Convocation Address. I invited the family for a short vacation at Nainital as my guests. He and Mrs Venkatachaliah arrived in Nainital by the university car from Delhi. I asked him where were his son, daughter-in-law and grandson. He told me that they were coming by an overnight bus. Justice Venkatachaliah declined an offer by the university for a second car to bring his son's family to Nainital.


When he assumed office as Chief Justice, he presided over a Bench which reviewed an order passed by an earlier Bench which had caused the entire Supreme Court bar to raise their eyebrows. The earlier order was set aside on review and the party had to shell out several hundred crores as customs duty and penalty.


Men like Justice Venkatachaliah do the nation proud.


The writer is a former Governor of Uttarakhand and Sikkim








The U.S. military is providing intelligence and surveillance video from drones and other aircraft to the Pakistani army to assist in its week-old offensive in South Waziristan, marking the deepest American involvement yet in a Pakistani military campaign, according to officials.


The assistance includes imagery from armed Predators that defense officials say are being used exclusively for intelligence gathering in the offensive.


Providing such information fills gaps in Pakistan's spying arsenal, officials said, and helps show how the Obama administration intends to intensify pressure on insurgents in Pakistan, even as the administration overhauls the U.S. military strategy in neighboring Afghanistan.


The cooperation also reflects a significant shift for Pakistan, which had previously resisted U.S. offers to deploy unmanned Predators in support of Pakistani military operations.


Recent militant attacks have shaken the Pakistani government, convincing them of the need for help in taking on militants. On Thursday, gunman opened fire on a Pakistani army jeep in Islamabad, killing a senior officer and his driver.


The current offensive, marked by heavy fighting, is seen as critical for the U.S. and Pakistan. South Waziristan is the base for Pakistani militants who have mounted a string of attacks across the country and it is an important refuge for al-Qaida.


"We are coordinating with the Pakistanis," said a senior military official, one of several who confirmed the operations on condition of anonymity. "And we do provide Predator support when requested."


For months the U.S. and Pakistan have been sharing information from Predator flights in the volatile border regions, but until now the Pakistanis had not accepted help for their major military operations. Pakistan turned down American surveillance and targeting aid during the offensive in Swat that began in May.


The use of military drones in Pakistan is separate from the ongoing Predator campaign being carried out in that country by the CIA. Over the past 18 months, missile strikes from CIA operated drones have killed at least 13 senior al-Qaida or Taliban operatives inside Pakistan's tribal zone.


U.S. assistance is deeply controversial in Pakistan, which wants to avoid the appearance that it is dependent on the American government or military.


The two governments have had difficulty in sharing some information in the past. American officers have accused Pakistan officials of tipping off targets about upcoming strikes. But a senior Defense official said that in the Waziristan offensive, U.S. and Pakistani interests are closely intertwined.


"The Pakistanis are getting more and more serious about the militant threat," said the senior official. "You are going to see more sharing as trust develops and assurance develops that they are using the information for effective operations against al-Qaida and the Taliban."


A Pakistani military official acknowledged the intelligence cooperation, saying the U.S. is helping to provide a "composite picture" of the enemy and the terrain in which it is embedded.


The Pakistani official and a senior U.S. official said the offensive followed high-level talks between U.S. and Pakistani military leaders.


Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, had flown to Islamabad to work out coordination on the border and intelligence sharing issues before the Pakistani military campaign began, the Pakistani official said.


Similarly, Pakistani officers, including the commander of the nation's air force, have held meetings with Adm. Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other U.S. officials in Washington in recent weeks.


White House deliberations over McChrystal's recommendation to send up to 40,000 more troops to Afghanistan have received heavy attention in recent weeks, but the Obama administration also has examined how to provide more effective assistance to Pakistan.


The administration is moving toward re-balancing its focus between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Key civilian and military leaders, led by Vice President Joe Biden, have argued that Pakistan receives insufficient U.S. attention and resources.


The Pakistani offensive is principally aimed at a militant group that has carried out the recent series of deadly attacks inside the country, and was formerly led by Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud, killed by a CIA air strike in April.


U.S. officials have pressed Pakistan to expand its military campaign to other Taliban groups and hope the Pakistanis will next turn their offensive to North Waziristan, used as a haven by Afghanistan's Taliban factions.


The Pakistani military official said there is "no discrimination" in the Taliban groups that the Pakistani military will pursue. Still, U.S. officials said they have seen no indication that the latest campaign has or will target militants linked to Afghan Taliban leaders such as Mullah Mohammed Omar and Jalaluddin Haqqani.


Some defense analysts said it was critical for the Pakistanis to consolidate their gains in South Waziristan before moving on to other territory.


"We would like them to extend the offensive," said Stephen Biddle, a military historian and defense analyst. "But we would also like them to hold what they clear. It might or might not be a good call for them to add territorial goals, when it is most important for them to hold what they take."


Frederick W. Kagan, a defense analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, argued that helping the Pakistanis retake South Waziristan is critical to the stability of Pakistan and to the U.S. campaign against al-Qaida.


"It is conceivable that we could look back at this South Waziristan operation as a turning point in the war against al-Qaida," Kagan said. "This has been the safe haven for these guys."


American officials said the new cooperation is due, in part, because the U.S. has effectively broadened its outreach to Pakistani officials beyond Ashfaq Kayani, the Pakistani army chief of staff.


The U.S. believes if it can get Pakistan to accept more help, the Pakistani offensive will be more effective.


Immediately following the Swat operation, Pakistani leaders talked about an offensive in Waziristan but it did not happen. The military's munitions needed replenishing, analysts said.


Earlier offensives by the military against insurgents in Waziristan did not last. After operations in 2003 and 2004 came cease-fires that allowed Taliban forces to regroup.


Pakistani leaders have been accused of downplaying the militant threat, but the Pakistani official described a new level of resolve. "There is a national urgency to do away with this militancy once and for all," the official said.


Pakistan has superior human intelligence on the ground, where the country's powerful Inter-Services Intelligence has cultivated networks of informants among militant groups. Pakistan also has a limited ability to intercept cell phone calls and other transmissions.


But "any type of imagery would be of use to the Pakistanis, either from Predator or other means," said another senior Defense official. In particular, the official said, Pakistan has sought intelligence "on locations of the enemy, resupply routes, resupply activity ... in real time."


Military experts said the Predator surveillance video could help ground units with targeting militants and gain better awareness of the threats around them.


"The drones are not wonder weapons," said Biddle, the military historian. "But in this situation, a relatively conventional ground offensive, the Pakistanis want the ability to see over the hill, and in that, U.S. drones can be a lot of help."n


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








Over the years prominent citizens in various fields have been lamenting over the brain drain from India. They were actually pointing out the lack of opportunities for the educated in India for more paying jobs and were forced to seek more lucrative careers outside the country.


There was hardly a realisation that the brain drain was in a way a compliment to the education system in India as it confirmed the quality of education that was able to mould minds and prepare them to successfully participate in any competition with any race in the world, especially in countries that were known for their quality education.


For years, India has been an importer of education as more and more young men and women were forced to seek higher technical education abroad since facilities were non-existing in India. Some might have preferred as a better stamping on their certificates that could open doors for lucrative future careers, but the majority had turned to American and British Universities in a belief that they would receive quality education to prepare themselves for a meaningful role in serving the humanity.


Despite its frequent criticism, the quality of education has got better in India, especially since some institutions of excellence in engineering, medicine and business administration have made a mark of their own to attract world attention and draw multinationals to the Indian shores to recruit best brains emerging from these institutes.


There have been four distinct waves in the field of higher education. The first was of Indian students travelling to other countries for higher education. The second phase was of twinning when foreign universities moved to export channels. The third phase was linkages with Indian institutes of foreign universities. The fourth phase started when foreign universities began establishing their campuses in India.


However the stage has reached when India can turn from being an importer to an exporter of education even to the West as it has already become an exporter in medical tourism with a large number of patients of foreign origins landing in India for treatment. It has also led to the creation of more health care facilities.


India has 257 universities now but few are recognised as world class universities and hardly figure in the top 200 universities of the world.


Despite the University Grants Commission granting autonomy to the universities, state intervention remains the sore point. India has a great potential of becoming an education hub to attract students from the developing and developed countries because of the costs involved.


There is no need to emphasise the economic viability of such a development. The American and British education system is being subsidised by students of Indian and Chinese origins.


Indian universities too can achieve economic viability and avoid dependence on state financing.


The five institutes for business administration courses and eight institutes of technology that are known the world over give a confidence that India can achieve its potential. There is no dearth of land needed for setting up campuses that can rival other known and established campuses in the Western world. India has a vast bank of qualified and capable teaching faculty.


Politicians have messed up education by introducing the concept of reservations in the name of social justice. They would argue that this would divide the education system, but it has already been in parts for five decades.


Private unaided schools have been imparting quality education while no attention has ever been paid to the quality of education in aided and government schools. Scores of research papers have proved how the public sector has failed in this regard.


The Human Resources Development Minister has been gradually converting education into an industry by his plans to set up nearly a dozen institutes on the pattern of the existing ones in the next five years. But he needs to seek approval of other parties to launch India as a potential exporter of education. And it would eventually benefit Indian students as well. Given the resource constraints, there is need for making university education self financing. It can be done without adding too much burden on Indian students by attracting more students from abroad.n







Can Windows 7 repair Microsoft Corp.'s reputation and trigger enough sales to pull the technology sector out of its financial funk?That seemed to be the overriding question as Microsoft on Thursday officially took the wraps off of its latest operating system, much of which was already public knowledge with more than 8 million testers having used it since January.


With every release of a new Windows operating system, thousands of technology companies could always count on Microsoft to deliver its own economic stimulus as millions of consumers rushed out to buy faster computers and companies splurged on more powerful computer systems.


This time, the recession has pulled the plug on spending, leaving many to wonder how much of a jolt Windows 7 can deliver to a beleaguered sector.


"Windows 7 represents a significant opportunity for many companies," said Richard Shim, an analyst with technology research company IDC, which forecast that global PC sales in 2009 would be flat at best, "but it's coming at a time when the industry is struggling."


Much rides on the success of Windows 7. Microsoft is counting on it to lift its sales, which fell last fiscal year for the first time since the company went public in 1986. Computer makers and software companies are praying that Windows 7 will set off a wave of demand for their products and services. Even consumer electronics companies see Windows 7-based computers as a way to make their devices sexier as gateways for entertainment programs on-demand.


"Windows 7 may not be the second coming, but it is something that the entire industry has been waiting for," said Roger Kay, an analyst with Endpoint Technologies who has done consulting for Microsoft. "With almost all corporate buying of technology on hold for the past year, Windows 7 finally gives them something they can sink their teeth into."


Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive, certainly hoped so.


"Today is an important day for the computer industry, certainly for Microsoft and I hope perhaps even most importantly for all of the customers around the world," Ballmer said during the company's event.


According to a study conducted by IDC and paid for by Microsoft, for every dollar the Redmond, Wash., company generates from selling Windows 7, other companies stand to reap more than $18.50 by selling products and services related to the operating system.n


By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








The results of the Assembly polls in Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra and Haryana have given the Congress a popular mandate. The opposition BJP has cut a sorry figure in all the three States, as its downward slide continues. The Congress is now set to form governments in Arunachal and Maharashtra, while it holds the advantage in Haryana in spite of a resurgent INLD which captured 31 seats as against the Congress' 40. In Arunachal, the party secured a second successive mandate by an overwhelming margin, while pushing the BJP to the brink with just three seats. In the last Assembly polls in 2004, the BJP had won nine seats while the Congress held 34. The BJP continues to have a very weak footing in the North-East, and needs to do a lot of hard work to consolidate its position in these tribal States. An interesting verdict in Arunachal was the electorate's rejection of Congress stalwart and former Chief Minister Gegong Apang. Among the longest-serving Chief Ministers of the country, Apang lost to a debutant, Alo Libang, at the Tuting-Yingkiong constituency from where he had been elected for five consecutive terms.

The polls in the three States being the first set of Assembly polls since the Lok Sabha elections earlier this year, the Congress can be credited with consolidating its position as the first choice for the electorate. While Assembly polls usually have more to do with local issues and factors than with any national agenda, the Congress' success is also attributable to an extent to its overall liberal image compared to the BJP's credentials that often reflect a narrow, sectarian agenda. The BJP has hardly put a foot right since its debacle in the last general elections. Internal squabbles over leadership as also a lost sense of direction have hit at the very core of the party. From a party that was increasingly being viewed as a promising alternative to the Congress after it had captured power at the Centre in 2004, the party has failed to live up to the expectations. It is apparent that the BJP's brand of religious nationalism is losing appeal with the electorate, and sticking to such an aggressive stance has the danger of alienating it further from the masses. Rather than following a Hindutva-centric agenda in a traditionally pluralistic and multi-cultural society, the party would do well to harp on issues of development that pose the real challenge before the country. Choosing to ignore this reality and persisting with a narrow agenda would prove to be detrimental to its own interests.







Terror knows no international boundaries. The US, UK and their European allies have for almost a decade been the prime movers against the "war on terror", yet it has been the Islamic nations as well as third world countries which have by and large borne the brunt of mindless brutality of ideologically driven fanatics. Armed as they are with a highly organised and efficient intelligence gathering mechanism as well as superior fire-power, acts of terrorism in the developed nations have been few and far between since the horrifying episode of 9/11. On the other hand, countries like India, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia, Kenya, Somalia, Sri Lanka et al have been subjected to repeated terrorist attacks which have claimed thousands of lives. The latest episode in this global lunacy has been the assault by a suicide bomber during a meeting of tribal chiefs at the gates of a conference hall in the city of Sarbaz in Sistan-Baluchistan, located in Iran's turbulent south-east. This attack by latest estimate killed forty two people and injured dozens, including two high ranking officers and other members of Iran's elite Revolutionary guards. Iranian authorities claim that the bombing, the bloodiest in the nation for quite sometime, was master-minded by a rebel Sunni group called Jundollah (God's soldiers) which has links with the Taliban in neighbouring Pakistan and is led by Abdolmalek Rigi.

When one cries "wolf' frequently, one loses credibility. Thus the world will take the Iranian claim that the terror group was backed by "foreign elements", meaning the US, UK and Pakistan, with a pinch of salt. Yet the concealed compulsions that go to make global realpolitik induce observers to suspect that there might be a grain of truth in the Iranian accusation. The traditional enmity in the Islamic world between the Shias and the Sunnis, which had earlier led to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war. has been too blatant a temptation not to be taken advantage of by adversaries of Iran. The aggressive posture adopted by the nation has been adding fuel to the terrorism fire, and some might justifiably claim that its leadership was getting a taste of its own medicine. However, if one clears away the cobwebs of accusations and counter-accusations, one truth emerges crystal clear — the current hub of international terror is Pakistan! Iran has already demanded the extradition of Abdolmalek Rigi from his base in Pakistan and will be sending a team to Islamabad to submit proof of Jundollah's involvement in the Sarbaz attack. The resemblance to such development with those in the aftermath of the Mumbai terror attack is almost uncanny. The lesson to be learnt is that terrorism has become a universal anathema and inbuilt prejudices or isolationist postures should not deter each nation of the world in joining hands to combat it.








Indian economy is increasingly getting integrated with the world through trade and investment flows, both inward and outward. This has opened up new avenues for Indian exporters, entrepreneurs, businessmen, professionals and consultants to explore new business opportunities abroad, particularly with the neighburing countries and also South East Asian countries. The region occupies a very strategically and geo-politically sensitive frontier zone of the country, sharing 98 per cent (4600 km) with international border with the four different countries i.e. Bangladesh, Myanmar, Bhutan and China, while having only 2 per cent (33 km) of its border with the mainland India.

In view of having 98 per cent of international border with these four neighbouring countries and also a number of strategic advantages like geographical proximity, socio-cultural cohesiveness and economic complementarily with these neighbouring countries, the region could thereby emerge as a major gateway for boosting border trade. The Government of India and also all the State Governments in the region therefore, have accorded high priority for enhancing border trade with the neighbouring countries, in addition to the other fast developing South East Asian countries.

It may also be noted that, due to changing scenario in international trade under liberalisation and globalisation policy, India has been giving much emphasis on forging closer economic and commercial links with many countries in the world in general and the fast developing South East Asian countries including the neighbouring countries in particular. For this, India and all the SAARC countries have decided to make greater regional trade cooperation by way of removing of some of the tariff and non-tariff barriers and other restrictions in a planned manner. Forming of SAFTA, SAPTA etc along with construction of Trans Asian Railways, Asian Highways, Trilateral Highways, etc have also made initiatives towards greater regional economic cooperation. Under the Look East Policy also, the Government has created many more facilities like construction of warehouses, cold storages, weigh bridges, trade centres etc in the border towns of the region in addition to setting-up or upgradation of DGFT, APEDA, MPEDA, ECGC, ICD, EPIP etc. The Union Government has also created a separate fund known as Export Development Fund for the North East under which Trade Cum Exhibition Centre at Guwahati, laboratory for testing of agriculture and food products at Balipara (near Tezpur), Integrated Trade Information and Stay Facility Centre at Moreh (Manipur), International Marketing Cell, Inland Transport Assistance Scheme for exporters of the region, Agri Processing Zones like pineapple zones (Tripura), floriculture and cherry (Sikkim), ginger (Assam and Sikkim), Bamboo Industrial Complex for Export (Mizoram) , Integrated Pack House Facility for Agriculture (Sikkim and Mizoram), Ginger Pack House (Guwahati), Walk in Cold Storage at Guwahati and proposed at Agartala, Aizwal, Dimapur and Imphal, 32 Land Customs Stations at various border areas, one International Airport at Guwahati, etc. For sanctioning of all the agri export projects, APEDA is entrusted to work as Nodal Agency. The regional level financial institutions and trade and industrial associations like NEDFi, Federation of Industries and Commerce in NE Region (FINER), North East Chambers of Commerce and Industry (NECCI), Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) etc have also been involved to boost-up the border trade from the region. The Government of India has also been giving more and more facilities and incentives to the entrepreneurs of the North East under various policy measures, including North East Industrial and Investment Promotion Policy of 2007.

To boost the export-import trade between India and neighbouring countries, a few developments have already taken place. For example, an agreement called Indo-Myanmar Trade Agreement was signed on January 31, 1994, where 22 items were identified for exchange by border residents of the two countries. In the year 1977, a forum known as BIMSTEC (Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) was formed by the member countries like India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal for tying-up technical and economic cooperation between the member countries. Efforts are underway to construct a highway from Moreh in Manipur (India) to Mae-Sot (Thailand) via Myanmar. Similarly, Trans-Asian Railways rail link from Jiribam (Manipur) to Hanoi (Vietnam) via Myanmar is going on. The route will link upto Singapore. For improving border trade between India and China, through Nathula pass in Sikkim (Sikkim is now part of North Eastern Region) has already been resumed and 29 items from India and 15 items from China side can be freely exported and imported. These are some of the examples only. It is also observed that during the last couple of years India's exports to China is growing more and more and China is now one of the largest importers from India.

However, it is very difficult to identify or pinpoint the potential items, which could be exported from the north-eastern region to the outside world, because a large number of items from handloom and handicraft products to tourism could be named as potential items of export from this region. On the other hand, many well known institutions in India like— Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT-New Delhi), Federation of Indian Export Organisation (Kolkota), Tata Consultancy Services (Kolkota), Export-Import Bank of India (Kolkota) and CII, FICCI, IIE, NECCI, FINER etc have identified from time to time the items which can be thought-of for exporting from North-East to the neighboring countries as well to the other countries in the world. For example,the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi which conducted a study a few years back on "Industrial Development and Export Potential of the North Eastern Region" suggested certain areas to be developed first like proper infrastructure, transportation, market development, establishment of joint ventures with buyback arrangements, providing special incentives etc for the development of export as well as for border trade. The study also pointed out "There is need to attract private investment on a very large scale into the North Eastern States to usher-in industrial activity and to accelerate it. Investment opportunities exist in many sectors of the region's economy in agriculture, industry, riverine transport, infrastructure, tourism and trade".

The North Eastern States have already established a linkage of border trade with the neighbouring countries, although volume of informal trade with Myanmar and Bangladesh is still more than the formal trade, for which neither side of the country is getting any revenue. Therefore, judious policies and programmes could be chalked out which will form an important gateway to trade with the neighbouring countries as well as an extended trade with the more affluent Asian markets. It is therefore high time to make all out efforts to boost the border trade and export trade from the region. The local entrepreneurs, industrialists, businessmen and the educated youth should keep in mind that border trade or export trade opportunities do not wait for long. If we do not avail the opportunities, there are others to grab them.

(The writer is Head, Centre for Enterprise Development and Management, Indian Institute of Entrepreneurship,









It is hard to believe that Assam and its adjoining States have been facing drought, that also during rainy season, since a few years. Due to deficit and uneven distribution of rainfall, the region has to suffer a lot. Though the drought in the region is specifically an agricultural drought because of less amount of rainfall at the time of seedling and planting operations, its odd influence on other sides such as shortage of water for drinking and municipal uses also cannot be ignored. This year the State faced drought due to delayed or shift of the south-west monsoon. As the State is neither geared up nor equipped with adequate infrastructure to cope up such eventuality in future, time has come for preparedness and formulation of a planned drought minimisation programme.

Assam was affected by drought during 2006 at an alarming pace for which agricultural production decreased. Assam received 1109.8 mm of actual rainfall during monsoon period, i.e., June to September that year, against normal rainfall of 1550 mm, thus having a deviation of 28.4 per cent deficit rainfall. In 2007, the deficit rainfall was, however, 7.6 per cent only having the actual rainfall of 1432.2 mm during the monsoon period. The chronically drought prone areas in the State have been estimated as 0.94 lakh hectares which is 3.4 per cent of net area sown. The drought affected areas during the current year have touched all 27 districts of the State. There has been 45 per cent deficit rainfall during the month of May in the current year. 35 per cent deficit rainfall during June, 32 per cent deficit rainfall from June to July 15, 27 per cent deficit rainfall during June 1 to July 31 and 13 per cent below but normal rainfalls during June 1 to August 31 and 17 per cent below but normal rainfall during June 1 to September 9. This estimation states the behaviour of the amount of rainfall in the State during the farming community was not prepared for such a situation, there was a tremendous pressure on transplanting of paddy crops. The drought has caused sufficient delay in the agricultural operations. Luckily, the rain god has favoured in some areas of the State to provide a brief smile to the farmers in late-monsoon period.

The drought in Assam is a warning to the people. However, as the State is in the stronghold of hydrological potency due to its geographical status, the drought here cannot be a permanent symptom. Further, the drought in Assam cannot be as severe as that in other States of the country. But a slight variation in rainfall in the State, the scenario as stated here a 'drought-like situation', may have a devastating impact on the in-State crop production leading to crisis of food availability. As recorded in history, about one third of the population in affected areas died in the Bengal famine of 1770, over five million people died in 1876-77 and over 4.5 million died in the 1899 famine due to severe drought.

The drought is generally identified by the measure of shortfall in rainfall, degradation of land texture, denudation as plant wilting and environmental imbalance. In most cases, the drought in Assam and its adjoining States in recent times has been a meteorological drought, which is gauged by the deficiency in rainfall amount only. On the basis of deficient rainfall and overview of dryness in land surfaces, the drought in the State has been generally termed as drought-like situation; accordingly, the measures to tackle the situation has been undertaken. As the drought has at present put pressure on agricultural fields only, the situation has been brought under control by some short-term additives such as irrigation, seed distribution, minimum tillage operations etc. But the drought, if goes beyound its degree in the context of regional events and environment, it will cause bad impact on lives and property of the inhabitants. A right time has, therefore, knocked at the door to define drought of this region in its degree and characteristics, and then to identify the zones of drought depending oil its severity. It may be stated that though the term 'drought-like situation' has been used frequently, it will scientifically be justifiable to designate the drought here as regional drought of definite identity.

When drought measures are taken up, the drought in a particular area needs its operational characterisation. In such case, the drought is accurately categorised by some already defined indexes such as per cent of normal index, standard precipitation index, palmer drought severity index, crop moisture index, surface water supply index, reclamation drought index etc. However, how much these indexes cover the drought in this particular region influenced by the regional climatic events and environmental situations, is to be brought under a careful scrutiny while taking up a long term drought mitigation programme. The government should initiate all possible steps to tackle drought in near future. As a short term measure, the irrigation from ground water source available in abundance in-the State is the best immediate option to avert possible damage to the crops. According, to Central Ground Water Board, there is potentiality of 7 lakh hectare areas to be brought under irrigation from ground water source. The State so far has created only 4 lakh hectares areas effective irrigation potentiality.

Drought has never been a localised problem. In present day scenario, the drought is influenced by the climatic variations of adjacent regions, adjacent countries or continents. As the drought in the State is mainly caused due to untimely south-west monsoon, it will need a broad investigation for its unusual happening. As a long term measure, to minimize drought, it will be priority task to carry efforts for maintaining the hydrologic cycle over regions. A joint effort amongst neighbouring States or countries for a sit-in formulation of agenda how to maintain the uniformity in occurrences of the hydrologic events, is urgently felt. It will be all advanced step that continents or countries would take initiative. The drought which correlates with EI Nino-Southern Oscillation (ENS0) events must also be investigated. Simultaneously, a broad base programme of water conservation measures in the line of watershed management approach is of utmost necessity today. A revival programme for flow irrigation from the existing streams, rivers, channels etc. or the entire Brahmaputra tributary-network which is most environment-friendly, should also be initiated. Deep afforestation in catchment areas is an essential measure to maintain weather events smooth. As these measures in the government level are in infant stage, it will be prime responsibility of the community to augment affordable steps at their own level for conservation approaches at their villages, agricultural fields etc.








It is notable that the prime minister's Economic Advisory Council, in broadly endorsing the Centre's current expansionary fiscal and monetary stance, has called for renewed policy focus on inflation. The EAC wants stepped-up investments in power. In tandem, what's surely required is to expedite reforms in pricing of power, oil products and fertiliser, so as to do away with leakages and gross, open-ended subsidies.


There can be no real fiscal consolidation without comprehensive subsidy reform. The EAC says inflationary pressures on the food front would be a major policy concern this fiscal. Hence, what's recommended is a strong supply response, including co-ordinated release of food stocks through the public distribution system, more open market sales, and policy attention to ensure a strong rabi harvest.

Further, the EAC is of the view that it is inflationary pressures which may require the government to exit its stimulus mode faster than those abroad. The report is categorical that the large government deficits of the last two years were "unavoidable." It adds that the expansive fiscal and monetary position would be "unsustainable," going forward. All this makes robust sense.

The mavens also note that the huge increase in government expenditure has not really been in desirable sectors like infrastructure. Besides, the marked tendency of "substantially higher" revised expenditure over the budgeted figures point to "poor expenditure management". It is true that the fiscal expansion has focused on consumption subsidies, rather than on investment. But to quibble that the former is not really fiscal stimulus is to stretch the point.

However, we do need to cut the fiscal deficit. The EAC's advice is to keep expenditure on various schemes static in nominal terms next year, so as to reduce the fiscal deficit by 1.5% of GDP. It suggests legislative backing for fiscal prudence, complete with a medium term expenditure plan, to be updated annually. The monetary reality is that the growth in non-food credit, up to mid-September year-on-year, is now the lowest in five years. Hence the call for a status-quoist policy. Better credit offtake would also require banking and financial sector reforms.







The ridiculous paradoxes of western societies rarely show up in as unflattering a light as this. In Britain all six children of a family - including the youngest who is but a few days old - are to be placed in state care, away from their parents, because they are... not abused, not battered, not malnourished, but overweight. Social services have determined that the parents have not carried out their responsibilities as guardians of their overweight brood and thus will have them taken away. This, because the children remained resolutely fat despite official diktats that they be summarily dispatched to dancing and football lessons to reduce their avoirdupois.

Whether parents can be solely blamed for the poorly balanced (as opposed to an inadequate) diet of children is moot, especially when they are being exhorted to eat all manner of fatty, fast foods by TV and radio commercials and supermarket communiqués. The fact that the better food options are also the more expensive ones, more often than not, also has a role to play at a time when incomes are shrinking. In fact, meals given in schools throughout Britain were quite unhealthy until some celebrity chefs got into the act and injected some new ideas into canteen and menu management there.

Also, the very idea that state care can be a more acceptable option to parental care, especially when the mother and father are not under any suspicion of being child-abusers, is absurd. India cannot afford to smirk too much at this episode though, as its own record remains mixed when it comes to child welfare, with its various government-run schemes notching up patchy results. Child abuse and neglect, both at home and school, remain knotty problems. Western societies, however, are not above these problems either; so the best would be if governments prioritise their interventions, and not get carried away by their own notions of superiority. The logic is simple: abused children should be a greater concern than over-indulged ones.








The socially felt needs of multiple, diverse groups in a pluralist, democratic system are articulated by organised political parties, which contest for control over the levers of governmental power for providing public goods and services. While political parties play a pre-eminent role in the functioning of a democratic political system, they do not exhaust the whole social space and many voluntary social groups make efforts to bring to the notice of decision-makers crucial issues and concerns of different special groups.

India has many organised, specialised groups like business associations, trade unions and formal bodies of professional groups like the bar councils, which play an active role in the articulation of special demands of groups that need to be addressed by the government. In the process, these voluntary, social groups broaden the agenda of governance by complementing and supplementing the agendas of political parties.

This is only one part of the story because it does not exhaust the whole picture of the living reality of social beings in a society that is witnessing a phase of grand transition. Many strata of Indian society feel completely alienated and disenchanted with the democratic political system and from every mainstream political party because of a feeling that parties have completely abandoned the agenda of inclusive social transformation. An important group of CPI (Maoists) has mobilised the neglected tribal population against the way political parties have functioned in the process of governance. It is instructive, even educative, to understand the phenomenon of the growth of the Maoist movement that is fighting the BJP-led government of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, regional parties-led governments of Bihar, Jharkhand and Orissa, the Communist-parties-led government of West Bengal and the Congress-led governments of Andhra Pradesh and

The state of Jharkhand was created with great fanfare as a tribal homeland, and in this state, 19 out of 24 districts are under the control of Maoists who are challenging the authority of the Indian state. The prime minister and home minister have repeatedly maintained that left-wing extremism is the greatest threat to the Indian democratic state and central and state governments have decided to meet their challenge head on. Incidentally, one lakh cases filed against the tribals in Jharkhand were withdrawn at the behest of the Union government because the tribals were being prosecuted for trivial violations of law.

It is not only harassment and humiliation at the hands of government functionaries that the poor tribals and Dalits have to put up with but local contractors and land grabbers also humiliate them. The 'trickle down' benefits from economic development have not reached the poor and so the Maoists are able to mobilise dissatisfied, deprived tribals against the model of economic development pursued by mainstream parties during the past 60 years since Independence. The mainstream parties are opposed by the Maoists because of a conviction that these parties have failed to implement socially transformative agenda. In fact, one-third of the country has been left behind because of the path of development followed by the existing parties.

If the extreme Left is challenging the political system for its Himalayan failure to achieve any positive good, the extreme Right represented by the Sangh Parivar is struggling to capture state power with a view to subvert the system based on emotive appeals around Hindu religious symbols like Ram Janmabhoomi or its latest gimmickry of Gau Gram Yatra in the villages. The RSS has called it the 'biggest mass mobilisation project since the Ram Janmabhoomi movement.'

If the extreme Maoists movement is sustained by the deprived, disenchanted tribals, the RSS and the Parivar are indoctrinating the alienated, half-educated, unemployed or underemployed youth for the establishment of a Hindu Rashtra instead of a secular state. European history teaches us that fascism, Nazism and racially engineered hate campaigns were based on ideology but the carriers of this ideology were the youth of Germany and Italy who were the worst victims of economic depression and crisis. After all, Raj Thackerey, leader of fascist Maharasthra Navnirman Sena can bring the financial capital of India to a halt with the support of lumpen youth who are made to target 'the outsider' in Mumbai.

Mainstream political parties have to wake up because Indian democracy is facing a fundamental challenge from the extreme Left and extreme Right and in this polarisation, the defenders of democratic social transformation of India will be the losers. The moot question is: why have the Maoists received the support and acceptability of the tribals? What is the explanation for the emergence of this movement from the social soil of India? It does not require a magician to state that the tribals of India are the victims of rampant corruption and misgovernance. Similarly, why has the RSS, a completely anti-system movement, grown in strength? The answer is political parties have been reduced to the level of election winning machines without any large vision of India.








Comic book characters like Prince Valiant or Tarzan are much older than Asterix the Gaul. The diminutive warrior's first adventure appeared in a French magazine in 1959. That makes him only fifty; which, even by non-Gallic standards, is still prime-time.


His newest adventure, his 34th, is all set for release and it's expected to sell zillions of copies in 107 languages. So why not party? As they say at the end of each of his adventures, "Bring out the victuals and the mead and carouse away happily, as long as you don't let Cacofonix the Bard to sing!" The problem is, not everyone agrees.

Serious lovers of Asterix series claim the French icon's last
album of true merit was Asterix in Belgium. It was also the last album the script-writer Rene Goscinny worked on before his death in 1977 with the creator of the cartoon, the Italian-born artist, Albert Uderzo. According to the purists, Asterix hasn't quite been up to his old standard ever since.

Paradoxically, the Asterix albums have never sold as many as they do now. For all its commercial success, some purists would like to 'retire' Brand Asterix. This might entail sending him into the forest-of-no-return, just as they sent once-mighty-but-now-aged kings and their preceptors, such as the Druidic Getafixit, into that final state of oblivion called Vanaprastha — it literally means 'entering the forest' in Sanskrit — in the Indian tradition.

Of course, Underzo will have none of that. "Asterix must live on after me," the artist who is 82, told reporters recently. He has already sold the rights to a publishing conglomerate. So does this mark the triumph of mass-marketing, as some critics allege, over artistic merit? Not necessarily.

We must remember art does not have to imitate life. Notice how Lord Greystoke a k a Tarzan thumbs his nose at the Grim Reaper with his ageless spouse, Jane Porter. Who knows with infusion of genius and fresh talent Asterix might still get a new life.

Alas, real life dictates otherwise. Notwithstanding claims made by futurists like Raymond Kurzweil, humans simply aren't "living long enough to live forever".

One can pop away hundreds of supplements, guzzle gallons of alkaline water and green tea, as Kurzweil reportedly does daily, but that won't 'reprogramme' your biochemistry.

That, however, is not a call to apathy, far less for premature retirement. Strive to live well, fully.








The Rs 750-crore Zylog Systems (ZSL), IT solution and services company has created strong expertise in the banking, financial services & insurance (BFSI) and telecom sectors. Over the past five years, the company made five acquisitions to gain size. Chairman and CEO Sudarshan Venkatraman said in an interview with ET that the company was looking for more acquisitions in the US and Asia-Pacific. Excerpts:


Do you see the economic situation improving globally, and particularly for the space that you operate in?

Most environmental factors affecting global sourcing also look favourable despite concerns of continued economic slowdown. While the short-term US outlook is muted, global tech spending forecasts remain strong. Most of our revenues come from overseas, particularly the US. We are also focusing on the e-governance initiatives globally, as spending has been on the rise in this sector. Our focus in India is on banking and e-governance. The e-governance business is growing fast with every state government adopting technology to deliver services way. Some estimate it worth Rs 20,000 crore. We are currently implementing smart card projects with a couple of state governments. We are also eyeing opportunities in the national identity card project.

What are the advantages for the Indian IT sector at this juncture?

Sufficient demand, strong fundamentals and a favourable environment support are positive outlook for Indian IT-BPO exports. Further, strong imperatives for increasing technology adoption in India represent significant potential for growth in the domestic market. Worldwide, outsourcing is also expected to grow rapidly over the next five years. Thus, global sourcing of services seems well placed to continue expanding its share of worldwide IT-BPO spending.

What has been the response of your Wi-Fi project? How is it different from the hot spots?
The Wi-Fi pilot project has been completed and monetising has started. The intent of this pilot was to get the user experience and to perfect the technology to the Indian conditions. Both objectives have been met. We have implemented it in a seven square kilometre area in Chennai and we are now expanding to other cities. Wi-Fi is different from hot spots as it gives ubiquitous mobile coverage — a user need not login in whenever he gets into the zone where we offer the Wi-Fi once he gets a user name and password. We are also targeting the digital subscriber line (DSL) customers.


What kind of revenues are you expecting from this venture? When are you planning to roll in other cities?

With the Chennai launch, ZSL has entered the ISP business in India. We have 'category A' internet service provider licence to operate in all of India's DoT circles. Similar Wi-Fi services will be made available in cities such as Bengaluru, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Kolkata. We are expecting Rs 500 crore in revenues over the next five years from this business. The goal is to achieve a million customers and implement Wi-Fi in five metros within 18 months. The company will roll out the service in some cities by mid-2010. The overall Indian Wi-Fi market is set to exceed $744 million (around Rs 3,720 crore) by 2012 from the current $41.57 million (around Rs 207 crore). The company will also lease its infrastructure and expand overseas, especially in the developing countries, after the complete roll out of the service in India.

What will be your growth strategy going forward? Are you planning more acquisitions?

We are looking at acquisition targets in the US and the Asia-Pacific as a way to get the US government business. We will also take the products and solutions of companies acquired by us to other governments and other countries. We have made five inorganic initiatives in last five years. In 2008, we acquired Fairfax consulting and completed the acquisition of Dubai-based Ducont.


The company is now focusing on a couple of more acquisitions in the e-governance services and solutions space to acquire newer customers and provide cross-selling opportunities. We will continue to be on the look out for newer markets, verticals and solutions. Diversification in Wi-Fi market will ensure strong foothold in the ever-growing telecom industry in India.





'3G auctions will roll out soon'


Telecom minister A Raja in an exclusive interview to ET NOW said the notion that his ministry didn't keep the norms while issuing licences and spectrum during the last government's tenure is wrong. TRAI recommendations were followed, and the PM was in the loop, he said, adding that the ongoing CBI investigations into the controversy would not delay upcoming 3G auctions


Do you think this probe is politically motivated?

I can't comment. We have to see the course of the investigation.

Shouldn't you step down on moral grounds?

There is no question of stepping down. Who is asking for my resignation? Jayalalithaa? the BJP? In a democratic country, the main opposition parties in Tamil Nadu will not say that A Raja is correct. All this is inevitable...otherwise they can't run their party.

Do you believe this controversy will delay 3G auctions?

Not at all. I have just cleared the information memorandum for the auctions. It should be out shortly. We are keen to go ahead with auctions and this investigation will not come in the way.

How do you react to the events of the past 24 hours?

CBI is an investigating agency. We must respect its action. There is a wrong notion among people and the media that licences and spectrum were issued violating the rules. New operators were allowed after seeking TRAI's recommendations and consulting the PM. Another accusation is that the licence fee was based on 2001 prices and that it was not revised. This is well within TRAI's domain. When TRAI recommended that there will be no cap on the number of players in a circle, it didn't recommend any revision of the licence fee. Last month, when the 3G auction was discussed in the EGoM, the question of revising the entry price was raised again, but it was clearly felt that there was no need. Entry fee is different than spectrum charge. When we're collecting Rs 3,500 crore as base price for spectrum, you cannot go for entry fee revision. So, it's a clear message politically.


The controversy started when Unitech and Swan sold their stake to foreign investors at a significant premium. Don't you think the government gave away licences at throw away prices?

This is also a wrong notion. Senior leaders in the Rajya Sabha also asked this question, and I categorically told them that in these cases, promoters didn't sell their shares, but sought fresh capital for expansion. Unitech's case went to the CCEA, which took the decision that the dilution was correct. When the CCEA approved the inflow of foreign money into the company, how can we say it is unlawful enrichment?

Was the allotment of licence and spectrum fair and transparent? Did the PM really back you?
All the decisions had the backing of the prime minister and were taken in consultation with senior cabinet colleagues. It is on record. There is no question of any gap between the PMO and my office on the issue of licences. I even sought the opinion of the solicitor general, who is now the attorney general, on whether 2G spectrum should be auctioned, and he was not in favour of auction. It is unfortunate that the media accuses the department.

The CBI is probing the role of certain unknown DoT officials. Can you rule out any wrong doing by DoT officials?
All policy decisions, like bringing new operators on first-come-first-serve-basis by asking for fee based on 2001 prices, were taken by the government in toto. What needs to be investigated is whether any official made any commitment or favoured any company when files were routed through him.


You brought in new operators to infuse competition. Most of them haven't even rolled out services. Do you believe you have achieved your objective?

Tariffs have crashed since 2007 and Reliance and BSNL have announced 50 paise tariffs. My promise is that in three years, when other operators come into the business, local calls rates will fall to 10 paise and STD calls will fall to 25 paise.








Sajjan Jindal's JSW Steel on Friday reported a healthy growth in consolidated net profit on the back of high volumes and reduction in cost. In an exclusive interview with ET Now's Nisha Poddar , joint managing director and group CFO of JSW Steel, Seshagiri Rao says the outlook for the company looks positive as the economy and steel prices picks up pace. Excerpts.

What drove profits this quarter?

The growth in the sales volume and 54% rise in production helped us in improving our overall profitability in absolute numbers. At the same time, our costs have come down by 41% as compared to corresponding quarter of the previous year. Even though realisations are down by 38%, we were able to make it up on account of volume growth and also reduction in cost.

As far as steel prices are concerned they are quite weak right now and your realisations are down. What are you doing to improve them?

As far as the realisations are concerned even though prices have gone up in the first half of this fiscal year, the domestic prices within China is witnessing some correction. We are seeing some improvement in steel prices but the raw material prices remain high. The iron ore prices are not coming down below $90, similarly coking coal prices are at $170 per tonne. Taking raw material prices being high and also the de-stocking of inventory is over in the US and Europe, we expect a demand recovery in certain sectors.

What's your plan B if production from Mozambique is not up to the mark?

We have two mines in Mozambique and have already completed the investigations and drilling. We have around 188 million tonne of reserves. Of this, significant portion is thermal coal. The second mine does not appear to be a good mine as it has coking coal with very high ash content.

So second mine is not possible to do anything whereas first mine still there is a thermal coal. Going forward, we do have a Plan B and that's the coking coal mine in Jharkhand. We have already started a lot of preliminary work there where we have got certain clearances today. We will be able to make it operational in the next 24 hours. It has a license to mine up to 8 milliontonne per annum.

We have 69% share in that. We will get 5.5 million tonne of coking coal for us, may not be immediately but if you look at 2-2.5-year scenario, we will have definitely captive coal available to JSW Steel.








Binani Cement, the flagship company of Braj Binani Group, recorded a stellar performance during the second quarter of FY10. ET NOW spoke to Vinod Juneja, MD, Braj Binani , on the company's financial performance. Excerpts:

What has led to the 42% rise in sales for this quarter? Has it been a price led or volume driven?

There was considerable price realisation this year due to the Commonwealth Games and metro project being undertaken in the Capital. Price realisation has gone up by almost 20%. We are sure the profit target of Rs 350 crore for the whole year that we shared with bankers will be met. The cash profit minus depreciation is Rs 250 crore up to September 30.

What about South and East African countries?

We are planning to invest in land near ports in South Africa. The soil testing is still on. Why we are targeting South Africa is because it provides good opportunity to export to the neighbouring countries. While Mauritius is connected only by sea, South Africa has a strong railways network. We are going to divide our focus between India and the overseas market.

How did you save up to 20% in fuel and power costs, considering you registered high growth in both sales and profits?
Last year, oil and coal prices were rising as also logistic and shipping costs , while cement prices were stable or at the same level. The Commonwealth project hadn't picked up and the country was in the election mode. This year, the price realisation is better. We have ventured into new markets in the East for the first time like Kolkata and Shanti Niketan in
West Bengal. Till last year, we were transporting cement by roads but Binani has bought two railway lines in Neem Ka Thana and Sirohi in Rajasthan. We are shifting from roads to railways where we save 20%.


You are planning to invest $15 million in coal blocks in Indonesia. Are you looking at other geographies too?
Last year, we imported a little over 100 mt of coal from Indonesia and South Africa. This is because Indian coal has lesser calories. We have been looking at investing in Indonesia for the past one year. Now with the Indonesian coal block and our own plant, 35% of our requirements will be met. The rest will depend on the open market demand and supply.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




It is not clear if the move of the West Bengal government earlier this week to release two dozen women held for aiding Lalgarh Naxalites to secure the freedom of a West Midnapore police officer captured by the Maoists is policy, or a one-time deal intended to test the Naxal threshold in the matter of letting go policemen who are seen by extremists as the chief instrument of state violence perpetrated on the poor. If it is the former, then we may expect the Maoists to grab police personnel on a routine basis in order to get their own cadres and sympathisers out of jail. The state government has let it be known that there was no swap, although available indications point the other way. Indeed, it has come to light that a couple of reporters were involved in mediation. The CPI(M)-led government may be tempted to proffer the argument that it didn't oppose the bail plea of the women in question as they were not Naxalites, but just poor rural folk. In that event, why were they picked up in the first place? In some states, in the recent period, scores of poor people — languishing in jail on technical counts pertaining to tree-felling or collection of minor forest produce — have been released as part of a wider national effort to earn the goodwill of the local populace (the hearts-and-minds approach) in order to better fight the Naxal menace. Was this true in the instant case as well? In that event questions will arise about the release of the women coinciding with the freeing of the police officer in a blaze of media publicity by the Naxalite leadership in the Lalgarh forest area. Instead of acting coy about the whole affair, it would aid understanding of the whole case if the state government came clean with the facts. This might indeed help the framing of policy on the issue of engaging in swap deals with Maoists. Whatever the facts, the authorities in Kolkata would do well to remember that the brave wife of a minor police official in neighbouring Jharkhand became a widow when her husband was beheaded by the extremists. She had thought it wasn't right to swap Naxal prisoners for her husband. Prisoner exchange with terrorists and insurgents has been the subject of a wide international debate for some years. Broadly speaking, leading democratic countries frown on the idea. It is thought to set up a bad precedent in dealing with groups that act outside the legal framework in representative states. In India, there have been two striking instances of prisoner exchange. The V.P. Singh government had released terrorists in Kashmir to obtain the freedom of the abducted daughter of the then Union home minister, Mufti Muhammad Sayeed. Later, the Vajpayee government allowed dangerous Pakistani terrorists to go home free to seek the safe return of an Indian Airlines plane from Kandahar. Neither case was helpful in dealing with terrorism. If anything, abductions remained a stock-in-trade of the terrorists. Other state governments may well be tempted to follow the West Bengal example, especially since the swap was successful. But dealing with desperadoes is always a hit and miss affair as they do not have a code of conduct and are known to pursue tactics strictly for short-term gains. It might therefore be best if the Centre consulted with the states and came up with viable guidelines.








"That love never diesIs the biggest of lies.

Never, never, never

Trust the word 'forever'…"

From Bachh ke Raho by Bachchoo


I won a lot of money on the election of US President Barack Obama. Weeks before he got nominated, I was at a dinner party of British chatterers and the conversation turned, as it does in a demonstration of British concerns and seriousness, to the American elections. My British friends were uniformly convinced that America, being the most "racist" country in the world, would never nominate leave aside elect, a black man to the race for the presidency. Black man in White House? No way Jose!

I said it would come to pass even now. I hadn't consulted my astrologers. I had lived for years with the ideas of the emergence of the black population and had a good sense of the truth that America has never been one nation. The other nation, the emergent one, was ready to elect Obama. I stated my belief and was challenged by a friend to put my money where my mouth was. I gambled a modest two-figure sum and was challenged to double and treble it by other punters who boasted that this was like taking candy off a baby.

I usually lose on the horses, always preferring to bet on the ones with 20 to 1 odds and worse, but my dark horse won (will I be sued for racism? I am writing this from California!). I collected, commuting the losers' sentences to paying for cases of wine and to charities of my choice rather than taking the money and squandering it on silly clothes for Best Beloved (my youngest daughter) or other indulgences.

Apart from being a good calculation, the bet on Obama was a preference and a faith. Last week he was given the Nobel Peace Prize by the Swedish Academy. This week I happen to be in Los Angeles and every American I meet, Obama supporters all, seem to think that this peace prize was at best premature.

The reason is that Obama is faced at the moment with a crucial decision. He and his team are considering whether to send in 50,000 more American troops into Afghanistan. The US' allies have not put their money where their treaty-signing fingers are. Britain has pledged 500 more troops and that too only to train Afghans if their Army will raise 10,000 more men.

General Stanley McChrystal, Obama's Army Chief in Afghanistan, has asked for what he considers the bare minimum number of ground troops in order to hold the line in Helmand and the rest of the country. Most of the 50,000 he wants will be deployed in offensives against the Taliban and a pacification programme which calculates that an Army not only clears the territory of enemy combatants, but can hold it for a favoured native administration.
Both McChrystal and Gordon Brown are aware that the problem of holding Helmand the Pashtun south of the country is made more difficult by the fact that the Afghan Army is made up of Tajiks, their traditional hostile co-citizens.

As such, even with 10,000 more Tajiks, the Army is not going to be able to win the "hearts and minds" of the Helmandi population and be welcomed as their protectors from the evil Taliban. Neither is the reputation of the Karzai government, dominantly Pushtun though it is, very bright with the population which tells every questioner that the corruption of their administration is unbearable and supported only by American arms.
Obama has an alternative. He can ask his legislators to deploy more "drones", the unmanned bomber planes which, like radio-controlled toys, are the American Army's equivalent of the suicide bomber. That way only the enemy gets hurt — but the problem is that the hand-off method inevitably causes civilian deaths. Hitting caves with drones in Tora Bora may be necessary, but hitting villages in the mountainous regions from which the Taliban and other insurgents operate is bound to bring collateral damage and lose hearts and minds as fast as the people who bet against Obama's election lost their cash.

Obama has to consider that committing 50,000 troops to Afghanistan would be doing more than President George Bush did when he gambled on the pacificatory "surge" in Iraq. It would remind America and the world of the Iraq gamble and even revive memories of Vietnam. Can Obama, Nobel peace laureate, politically afford comparisons to President Nixon and Henry Kissinger?

The rock hardens and the hard place begins to wedge the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) effort in Helmand in an unenviable grip. The world now knows that Afghanistan is a strategic disaster. More men, more trucks, weapons and helicopters, leave aside more Tajik troops, together with the certain knowledge that the presidential elections which seem calculated to put Karzai back in the chair are nothing if they are not fixed, will only strengthen the Helmand population's perception that Nato is there to reinforce the repression they have faced.

The alternative to surges and drones is retreat in one form or another. Afghani insurgents are encouraged by their recent history of defeating the Soviet Union's troops, deployed in their country to support an ungodly and un-Islamic, if necessary and progressive, government. So far only the fringe of Afghan society is determined, for its own material survival, to fight the Taliban.

The natural allies of Obama in his election to the presidency were the 11 per cent population of Hispanics, a considerable proportion of Afro-Americans and an immeasurable number of anti-war, pro-hope youth.
The sections of the population in Afghanistan — such as women — which should on all material and socio-political criteria be against the Taliban, have in no sense been mobilised or worked out strategies of manifesting some influence or power. Yes, there are brave feminist voices and one candidate in the presidential elections specifically targeted the women vote, but no programme of emancipation from the darkness of dogma has emerged in the population at large.

Across the border in Pakistan the insurgents are in a contest to the death with the Pakistani Army and with civil society itself. Any interference by foreign forces could tip the balance of allegiance of the population. In other words, Pakistan is best left to the Pakistanis and any assistance should be by way of material and a very hidden presence to see that this assistance doesn't, as it has a habit of doing, find its way to Switzerland or real estate agents in Europe.








Senior monetary officials usually talk in code. So when Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, spoke recently about Asia, international imbalances and the financial crisis, he didn't specifically criticise China's outrageous currency policy.

But he didn't have to: everyone got the subtext. China's bad behaviour is posing a growing threat to the rest of the world economy. The only question now is what the world — and, in particular, the United States — will do about it.

Some background: The value of China's currency, unlike, say, the value of the British pound, isn't determined by supply and demand. Instead, Chinese authorities enforced that target by buying or selling their currency in the foreign exchange market — a policy made possible by restrictions on the ability of private investors to move their money either into or out of the country.

There's nothing necessarily wrong with such a policy, especially in a still poor country whose financial system might all too easily be destabilised by volatile flows of hot money. In fact, the system served China well during the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s. The crucial question, however, is whether the target value of the yuan is reasonable.

Until around 2001, you could argue that it was: China's overall trade position wasn't too far out of balance. From then onward, however, the policy of keeping the yuan-dollar rate fixed came to look increasingly bizarre. First of all, the dollar slid in value, especially against the euro, so that by keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, Chinese officials were, in effect, devaluing their currency against everyone else's. Meanwhile, productivity in China's export industries soared; combined with the de facto devaluation, this made Chinese goods extremely cheap on world markets.

The result was a huge Chinese trade surplus. If supply and demand had been allowed to prevail, the value of China's currency would have risen sharply. But Chinese authorities didn't let it rise. They kept it down by selling vast quantities of the currency, acquiring in return an enormous hoard of foreign assets, mostly in dollars, currently worth about $2.1 trillion.

Many economists, myself included, believe that China's asset-buying spree helped inflate the housing bubble, setting the stage for the global financial crisis. But China's insistence on keeping the yuan/dollar rate fixed, even when the dollar declines, may be doing even more harm now.

Although there has been a lot of doomsaying about the falling dollar, that decline is actually both natural and desirable. America needs a weaker dollar to help reduce its trade deficit, and it's getting that weaker dollar as nervous investors, who flocked into the presumed safety of US debt at the peak of the crisis, have started putting their money to work elsewhere.

But China has been keeping its currency pegged to the dollar — which means that a country with a huge trade surplus and a rapidly recovering economy, a country whose currency should be rising in value, is in effect engineering a large devaluation instead.

And that's a particularly bad thing to do at a time when the world economy remains deeply depressed due to inadequate overall demand. By pursuing a weak-currency policy, China is siphoning some of that inadequate demand away from other nations, which is hurting growth almost everywhere. The biggest victims, by the way, are probably workers in other poor countries. In normal times, I'd be among the first to reject claims that China is stealing other peoples' jobs, but right now it's the simple truth.

So what are we going to do?

US officials have been extremely cautious about confronting the China problem, to such an extent that last week the treasury department, while expressing "concerns", certified in a required report to Congress that China is not — repeat not — manipulating its currency. They're kidding, right?

The thing is, right now this caution makes little sense. Suppose the Chinese were to do what Wall Street and Washington seem to fear and start selling some of their dollar hoard. Under current conditions, this would actually help the US economy by making our exports more competitive.

In fact, some countries, most notably Switzerland, have been trying to support their economies by selling their own currencies on the foreign exchange market. The United States, mainly for diplomatic reasons, can't do this; but if the Chinese decide to do it on our behalf, we should send them a thank-you note.

The point is that with the world economy still in a precarious state, beggar-thy-neighbour policies by major players can't be tolerated. Something must be done about China's currency.








Strange, isn't it? Chief Ministers of other states come and go, like fluffy cotton balls blowing in the wind. Nobody remembers and nobody cares. But when it comes to the chief ministers of Maharashtra, India monitors the appointment keenly. As keenly as it follows the prime ministerial race. In fact, so closely are Maharashtra's Assembly election results watched, that if one of the short-listed candidates sneezes, the entire party catches a cold. This particular post has always enjoyed a special sheen. It has traditionally been the single-most coveted political job for Maharashtrian politicos in search of overnight power and glory (or gaudy Dilli dreams).
More is the pity then, that we have been stuck with one mediocre chap after another for the past decade. The people of the state have watched its decline in horror. But done so mutely. They have seen its premiere position slip from the top to the present ignominious one at the bottom of the heap. They have observed Maharashtra going from the most prosperous state of the country to a broke one. And they have said nothing.

The recent Assembly elections, with a less than a 50 per cent turnout, are indicators of the apathy and indifference of voters — nobody, it would seem, gives a damn. People are sick of the farce we call elections. They know they have zero say in the way the state is run. They also know nothing is likely to change, regardless of which person's backside warms that gaddi in Mantralaya. This is the way it has been for far too long, and the pity is, the average Maharashtrian believes this is the way it is likely to remain.

As we all know, there were no issues in this election, no real agenda, no blueprint for growth and progress. Not a single candidate spoke in a new, inspiring language. Nor did a wild card neta appear on the scene to galvanise the masses. The only debate revolved around the Marathi manoos and whether or not citizens should be punished for referring to Mumbai as Bombay (Karan Johar paid a hefty price for that "error" and had to go crawling to Raj Thackeray's residence with an apology).

Even with all these fiery exchanges, nobody is quite sure as to who this mythical creature — the "Marathi manoos" — really is? In fact, I often ask myself the obvious question: Do I qualify? I may be Maharashtrian by birth, and I live in Mumbai by choice. I love the city passionately and would never want to live anywhere else. Is that good enough? Even though Marathi is my mother tongue, I don't speak it as well as I speak English (a shameful admission, but then, I didn't choose my school). I am married to a Bengali gentleman from Kolkata, who also loves the city equally, has lived here for over 30 years, employs several Maharashtrians and thinks of Mumbai as his home. His fluency in the local lingo is pretty dodgy if not downright embarrassing. He definitely thinks of himself as a bonafide Maharashtrian. But will he be accepted as one?

I am still unclear about how one makes the cut, even though Raj and Uddhav Thackeray have both tried hard to spell it out for the aam aadmi. And considering this was the main, perhaps only, plank on which this election was fiercely fought, more straight talk and clarity would have certainly helped.

Most television debates also preferred to focus on just this one aspect (outsider-insider) of life in Mumbai — not the rest of Maharashtra. It was bizarre. Mumbai alone is not Maharashtra, even though it is Mumbai that keeps Maharashtra from going under. It is Mumbai that has saved the state from ruin time and time again. Despite that hefty contribution to the state's and the country's coffers, Mumbai remains a sadly neglected metropolis, running on autopilot and coping the only way it has taught itself to… with the indomitable efforts of Mumbaikars who refuse to give in or give up.

The last politico who was seen as a "doer" was Nitin Gadkari, credited with having built a record number of flyovers in record time. Well… Nitin is around, in a manner of speaking. We hear him thundering on various channels, but once his short reign as "Flyover King" was over, he melted into the crowd and was out of the chief minister loop. The others who tried to steal his thunder, fell by the wayside… and no new flyovers or expressways were commissioned by anyone. Yes, Mumbai finally got its much delayed sea link at a crazy price after an insane wait, but the jubilation came with some sobering after-thoughts. Citizens remain grateful for this new, glittering showpiece that has made their commute in and out of south Mumbai that much faster. But do our monster city's infrastructural problems begin and end with a pricey bridge?

Forget the pathetic plight of suicidal farmers from Vidharba for a minute (same folk, still ploughing parched fields with yoked bullocks, like their forefathers from medieval times), ask any Maharashtrian from any part of the state whether he/she is happy? You must have guessed the answer.

It is not about appointing a CEO for Mumbai or treating Mumbai as a separate entity. That won't save either the city or the state. The time has come for divine intervention. The first anniversary of the dastardly terror attacks of 26/11 is upon us. Strange, that not a single political party made security a primary election issue. Do they really feel all that safe? Or are they just smug in the knowledge that once they win, Mumbai will become their personal property, to be haggled over and sold to the highest bidder — caste, creed, no bar?

The verdict is out. The Congress is in.

Hey! Jagdambba Devi — May the worst man not win. That is the only prayer left!


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The democratic world is up against a unique conundrum on the quality of our politicians and a very public debate over the participation of a known racist on primetime BBC has brought the matter even more sharply into focus. Since democracy advocates freedom of speech and even of thought, the leaders who now represent us may or may not be the best people for the job. Nonetheless, once they are elected they belong to the democratic mainstream.

Therefore, in theory and in practice, cheats and liars can be routinely voted in because they are the ones who have shown the most enterprise and the low cunning required to win. They understand how best to manipulate sensibilities till they have captured the imagination of the electorate. Votes are cast based on "vote management", "campaign strategies", "media spin" and, of course, vote banks.

As the polls in Maharashtra have proved, even governments which have ostensibly failed to deliver have supporters, as do parties whose policies have been described as fascist. There is room for every shade of opinion and the members of Parliament are like us: they range from bigots to ultra-liberals. But they share one common agenda: a hunger for power.

In the UK a fierce debate has raged all week whether Nick Griffin, leader of the much-reviled British National Party (which could be described as the counterpart to the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena), should be allowed to appear in a BBC programme — the somewhat harmless and rather sweetly archaic Question Time. Some of us may remember a similar programme anchored by Vir Sanghvi aeons ago. The BBC format has a range of panellists and an invited audience who are free to ask any question. It is all done in a very civilised fashion, no eggs are thrown and the few verbal tomatoes which are chucked leave some red faces for a few hours — but that is all. People watch Question Time when they remember to, and if they are appearing in it. But this time "auntie" struck gold. By inviting a hugely controversial and divisive figure like Mr Griffin, the Beeb ensured that ratings went through the roof thanks to the pre-programme publicity. The debate around "race" continues to rage, and those with extreme views make for explosive television.

To the consternation of critics who feel Mr Griffin should not be allowed mainstream exposure, "auntie" BBC has said there is no way it can prevent a democratically-elected leader appearing in a national programme — the best it can do is present a number of apposite views so that the balance is maintained. It is somewhat the same situation in India, and indeed, in democracies all over the world.

Afghanistan is just going to elect a leader (for the second time) who has been accused of election fraud, Italy is suffering from an overdose of a belligerent, macho and possibly even corrupt Silvio Berlusconi, the US had been blighted for eight years from the policies of a righteous George W. Bush and so on… and, of course, in India we continue to elect to power men and women who have been accused of all kinds of corruption over and over again. Is it time to re-examine how we select our leaders, or shall we rest content that this is the price we pay for democracy and there is nothing to prevent the rise of another Hitler-type figure in the future?
In a reasoned article, BBC director general Mark Thompson said, "It is unreasonable and inconsistent to take the position that a party like the British National Party is acceptable enough for the public to vote for, but not acceptable enough to appear on democratic platforms like Question Time. If there is a case for censorship it should be debated and decided in Parliament".

For somewhat similar reasons parties like the MNS in India are allowed to grow because the Maharashtra government, especially now, believes them to be useful in some way. However, some fear that the cynical view of letting these parties flourish can only help in making them more and more acceptable. Yet, it is also true that once they have been voted into power, they have a democratic legitimacy.

Mr Griffin, who was elected to the European Parliament in June, has already made a few incendiary statements, such as accusing US President Barack Obama of being an "Afroncentric racist bigot", and comparing some of UK's military generals to Nazi war criminals. These are comments that have already made his party rather nervous about the possibility of his own survival and he even inquired if he could simply land at the BBC via a helicopter to avoid the angry protests which awaited him.

An Oxbridge man, Nick Griffin had imbibed his politics and history quite early from another hate figure, Hitler. The founder of the Young National Front Students group at Cambridge, he had begun reading Mein Kampf at the age of 13, saying later that it contained "some really useful ideas". Staying the course, he has denied the Holocaust and has yet, shockingly for many, managed to bring his party gradually into the mainstream.
Described by his own wife as an "oddball", Mr Griffin is learning to distance himself from some of his own extremist views, and now claims that Hitler "was a very bad thing, without a shadow of doubt". But at the same time he cannot disguise his antipathy to mixed race alliances maintaining that skin colour is a marker of identity and that the idea of merging disparate ethnic groups into a "a sort of Americanised melting pot" can be "catastrophic" (as quoted in the Times).

To maintain the balance, perhaps, the BBC had lined up a diverse panel to oppose him, which comprised of some big hitters as well as some known opponents including the Black American playwright and critic Bonnie Greer and Lady Warsi, the Tory community cohesion spokesperson.

Nonetheless, it was a high-profile appearance of someone who was not even a respectable person to know a few years ago, and that is a worrying trend. After all, this is a man who has described the Chinese as "ruthless, wicked", Indians "dirty and smelly" and Muslims "evil". But since he is an elected representative, he does have a right to be on a public platform, as much as anyone else. And that was the larger, most troubling question hovering over the Question Time programme. Why do we elect people like him?

The writer can be contacted at [1]








With an election months away, the governing Labour Party's prospects against David Cameron's Conservatives look near hopeless. But I found foreign secretary David Miliband in a combative mood, fired up by more Tory lunacy on Europe, an issue that has also piqued the interest of secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Miliband, a bushy-tailed 44-year-old with a brain of rat-tat-tat precision, represents the next generation of Labour leadership. But that's a story for another day given that the Gordon Brown saga, with its heavy-browed air of inevitable tragedy, limps still toward its Heathcliffian conclusion.

The story for now is sexy enough. It involves the strange confluence of Tory Europe phobia, far-right fringe parties in Poland and Latvia, charges of anti-Semitism, Tony Blair's political ambitions, Cameron's Blair complex, and the Obama administration's interest in a strong European Union with an effective British presence.

Don't worry, I'll explain. Cameron, whose party holds an advantage of close to 17 per cent over Labour, is likely to become Prime Minister next year. Britain, governed by Labour for a dozen years, craves change.
A Centrist makeover has characterised Cameron politics (didn't it work for Blair?), but not on Europe. Bowing to his party's Eurosceptics, he's broken with the conservative mainstream in the European Union — the parties of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel — and hopped into bed with a band of central European Right-wingers united only in loathing for European federalism. These include a Polish politician who thinks apologising to Jews for World War II massacres is a bad idea and a Latvian party called For Fatherland and Freedom.

Miliband is not amused. In an interview, he called Cameron's embrace of "fringe groups" in the European Parliament a move "deeply detrimental to the British national interest". He added, "I would say to you as British foreign secretary that it's deeply dangerous for a putative British government to think it can have influence in the world while opting out of influence in the European Union".

On his desk lay highlighted articles from the Jewish Chronicle about Michal Kaminski of Poland's Law and Justice Party, one of the parties now allied with Cameron. Kaminski claims Poland should not have apologised for massacring hundreds of Jews at Jedwabne in Nazi-occupied Poland in 1941 until Jews apologised for collaborating with the Soviet Union. Miliband's mother is a Polish Jew whose family lost dozens of members in the Holocaust.

What concerns the Obama administration is not Cameron's loopy European Parliament allies — the Tory leader is clearly a mainstream pragmatist — but the conviction that a Eurosceptic Tory obsession could undermine British influence in Europe at a time when the Obama administration needs an effective EU partner.
Clinton, who met Miliband earlier this month, has conveyed concern about any marginalisation of Britain in Europe if Cameron wins. Under George W. Bush, friends were privileged. Under Obama, friends have ceded to American interests coldly assessed. And on issues from Afghanistan to climate change, Obama wants Europe to step forward. Miliband said "a strong Britain is a key to a strong Europe" and accused the Tories of fighting yesterday's battles over "the phantom ghost of federalism".

He's right. Tory little-Englandism has become a strange anachronism since the end of the Cold War dictated a broad Europe rather than a deep one, a loose bloc rather than a United States of Europe. Cameron should lay the ghost to rest and start by reversing his weird European Parliament lurch. And then there's Blair. Cameron has dispatched his shadow foreign secretary, William Hague, who met this week with Clinton, to take down Blair's unannounced but compelling candidacy to be the European Union's first president under the all-but-ratified Lisbon Treaty.

Just imagine! Cameron becomes Prime Minister and finds his alter-ego Blair looming over him. "Does Europe need strong leadership? Yes it does", Miliband told me, adding of Blair that "If he were a candidate, he'd be an excellent choice". The foreign secretary called Blair "a great European" and spoke passionately of the challenges facing Europe, not least ushering Turkey into the Union.

Blair also has strong feelings on Turkey — as well as on European defence. And the United States has strong feelings about Blair — that he's a good friend to America, at a time when it needs friends, and could make an excellent first European president.

This pro-Blairism, of course, creates other US tensions with Cameron as the Tory leader seeks a meeting with Obama. Cameron the charmer needs to remind himself: Policies, not charm, drive the agenda with Obama.









BIHAR has been witness to an exercise in competitive shambolism over the past few days. The first is at the highest level of the government; the second at that of the leader of the Opposition. Nitish Kumar has decidedly swung back to status quo with his decision not to implement the D Bandopadhyay Commission's crucial report on land reforms. At another remove, the RJD chief, Lalu Prasad, indulges in pre-election piffle with his promise to price potatoes at Rs 2 a kg. It is much too hollow a joke to sound even mildly comical. Quite plainly, the Chief Minister's political underpinning is not to ruffle the feathers of the state's powerful landed gentry on the eve of the assembly elections. In retrospect, it appears that the commission was constituted with good intentions soon after he assumed power in 2005. But that, it seems, was it. The recommendations by an authority on land reforms are crucial for Bihar's volatile agrarian sector, but the Chief Minister's express reluctance signifies that he doesn't want to rock the boat just yet.

Chiefly, the panel had recommended: (a) new legislation to protect the sharecroppers; (b) a cap on land ceiling at 15 acres; and (c) computerised land records. The three suggestions are geared to bring about a dramatic change in ground realities. It would be no exaggeration to submit that with his resistance, Mr Kumar has taken a bow in the direction of the landowners. Equally, has he let down the landless. In the process, he has posed a query that is breathtaking in its presumptuousness: "When land reforms could not be implemented in West Bengal, how can they be enforced in Bihar?" The laboured effort to duck and dive reality is underscored by the recent killing of 16 farmers in Khagaria district.

The twin challenge posed by caste and land may plague the state in a still more sinister fashion in the run-up to the elections. By rejecting the Bandopadhyay Commission report, Nitish Kumar has ensured that there shall be no change in the traditional socio-economic equations. It is a tragedy that almost all parties have made a mess of the land question. The CPI-M in Bengal has frittered away the gains of Operation Barga, choreographed by Mr Bandopadhyay in the eighties; it will be no less unfortunate if so important a report gets dumped in JD(U)-BJP's Bihar.







THE killing of the six leaders of Iran's omnipotent Revolutionary Guards was more than a mere suicide attack by the Jundollah (Soldiers of God), the Sunni insurgent group. In its immediate impact, the outlook for the current nuclear conference in Vienna becomes ever so bleak. Iran has reneged on its commitment made a fortnight ago. It may be more than a coincidence with last Sunday's outrage that Teheran has now ruled out the primary demand of the West that the enrichment of uranium should take place abroad and not in the Islamic Republic. Initially, it appeared to be a concession by Teheran to convince the West that it would not convert the uranium to the weapons grade variety. Its stance has now decidedly hardened to the extent that doubts loom over any nuclear agreement in Vienna.

The outrage has stirred the international melting pot with the Iranian armed forces accusing the United States and Britain and also, of course, Pakistan of backing the militants. The wording has been as blunt as it has been prompt: Teheran, however disputed the political leadership, has attributed the bombing to "terrorists" who were backed by "the Great Satan America and its ally Britain". The outrage is said to be the worst since the war with Iraq during 1980-88. Considering the enormity of the charge, reactions from Washington and London have been feeble at best and evasive at worst.

Both have strenuously denied involvement. "A completely false allegation" has been Washington's rather perfunctory reaction. And there is nothing of substance in London's response beyond the rejection of "any assertion that this attack has anything to do with Britain". Pakistan is much too mired in militant mayhem within its own territory to come up with any convincing comment. The crisis deepens with Iran's threat that it will take revenge "not in the distant future". This is reinforced with the warning of the Guards' commander-in-chief that "there will have to be retaliatory measures to punish the American and British intelligence apparatus". The fact that the suicide attack took place in the Sistan-Baluchistan province bordering Pakistan raises suspicions that Iran is not the base of the terrorist assassins. The plot thickens.







HAVING visited China, some Maoist leaders from Nepal have come to the conclusion that the one-party system in that country is, after all, not without merit. But even if they do opt to throw their weight behind a change from a multi-party democracy or republic to the Chinese system it would cause little surprise because their supremo and former Prime Minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, aka Prachanda, exhibits a penchant for change. He broke the tradition of a new Nepal Prime Minister visiting India first by going to Beijing four days after assuming office, his excuse being the Chinese invitation to witness the closing ceremony of the Olympics.

In fact, it was a deliberate snub to India. He contrived a trip to Hong Kong last month when Indian foreign secretary Nirupama Rao was in Kathmandu. Prachanda was in China again last week meeting top leaders and seeking their advice on how best to fulfil the peace commitment. The Maoists have abolished the 279-year-old monarchy and have even tried to replace Indian chief priests who have been conducting rituals at Pasupatinath temple for three centuries. Prachanda fired army chief General Rukmankud Katuwal, an act that ultimately boomeranged. When he visited New Delhi he and his entourage discarded traditional Nepalese dress and wore suits and ties! He even reportedly brought with him a Chinese bed costing more than a lakh of rupees! How true Longfellow was when he said that "all things must change, to something new, to something strange".
Are Maoist leaders really confused about the system of government that will suit Nepal? At last week's meeting of the constitution committee, they were reported to have suggested that new statutes should "not include any provision that cannot be amended". Which is clear enough indication of how, if they bounce back to power, they will persist with creating a utopia of their own, one that sees an end of democracy as we know it and usher in a state that will brook no dissent.








THE benefits of globalization are visible enough. The quality of goods produced by domestic companies has improved in the face of competition from the multinationals. Our exporters now have access to the global markets. Salaries have ballooned and jobs have been created in such industries as diamond cutting, textiles, IT and pharmaceuticals.

The government has been forced to reduce the tax rates in its effort to attract Foreign Direct Investment. The highest rates of income tax have been brought down from about 80 per cent to 35 per cent. Cheap Chinese toys and bulbs are now available, a direct outcome of globalization. But we are also being forced to import what they call certain "bad practices" that we must guard against.

One reason why Chinese goods are cheap is large scale production. Millions of toys are produced quickly with automatic machines. The cost of production is less because of 'economies of scale'. The cost of grinding wheat with an old fashioned grinding stone is higher than in the street corner flour mill because the quantity is large. Similarly, the cost of production in large automated factories is less. Raw materials are cheaper, electricity can be used more efficiently and employers can make do with fewer workers.

The second reason is low wages. It is difficult to form a trade union in China. Labour laws are either weak or non-existent. It is possible to extract more work from the workers. The third reason is over-exploitation of natural resources. The Chinese government charges low levels of royalty on the coal that is mined for the generation of electricity. This reduces the cost of power.


LITTLE or no action is taken against industrial pollution. Chinese factories do not have to install pollution control equipment. As a result, the cost of production is less. The paper factory in India has to install a treatment plant to cleanse the waste water before discharging it into drains. This raises the cost of production.
Indian manufacturers have to compete with Chinese goods in the global markets. They need to be provided with the facilities available to their Chinese competitors. Indian businessmen are free to establish large factories as being done in China. But they are helpless on issues of wages and the price of natural resources. They have to follow labour laws. They have to pay minimum wages. They cannot extract more than eight hours of work in a day. They cannot easily remove a worker who is lethargic or dishonest. These laws provide protection and relief to the workers but at the same time they make it difficult for the businessmen to compete with the Chinese companies.

A similar situation prevails in the pricing of natural resources. Indian companies have to pay land compensation higher than market rates. State governments charge royalty on coal and minerals; and hydropower projects have to provide 12 per cent free power. It is for these reasons that the cost of production is high in India, and our companies are unable to face global competition.

There are two ways of facing this challenge. One is to implement labour and environment standards. Western countries have been demanding that these standards may be included in the rules of international trade. Importing countries should have the freedom to impose punitive taxes on goods produced from low wages and by polluting industries. Importing countries should have the right to impose high taxes if pollutants are being discharged in a river or workers are being paid less than minimum wages by a Chinese toy factory.
The basic principle is correct. Globalization means that the whole world will have to follow the policies pursued by the country that produces the cheapest goods. This includes policies on wages and natural resources. If China pays minimum wages, the rest of the world will have to do the same. But there is a danger here. Labour standards can ruin our competitive strength. For example, the daily wage of Rs 150 for an unskilled worker is considered fairly sufficient in India. But a labour standard of Rs 500 may be fixed by the WTO. Our exporters will have to pay Rs 500 to the workers in order to comply with this requirement. General Motors pays a daily wage of Rs 25,000 to its workers. They may find even Rs 500 to be very low while it may be very high for us. In consequence, the cost of production of our goods will increase and we will not be able to compete in the global markets. Thus India has rightly opposed the inclusion of labour and environment standards in the WTO. 
This success does not solve the problem of Chinese goods, however. In opposing labour and environment standards, we have also given a licence to China to pay low wages and destroy the environment. This leads to low cost of production in China and prices our goods out of the global market. We have to meet a double challenge. We have to resist the demand for high standards being raised by the developed countries while also protect ourselves from the low standards being followed by China. This cannot be done by accepting any global standard. We shall fall from the frying pan into the fire if the global standard is fixed at a level that is either higher or lower than our actual cost of production.


THE second way to face cheap Chinese goods is to provide protection to our businesses. The low price of Chinese goods is partly due to large-scale production and partly because of low wages and low prices of natural resources. The price advantage enjoyed by Chinese manufacturers due to low wages and natural resources can be calculated. An import tax equal to this may be imposed on Chinese goods. Say, the cost of producing a T-shirt in India with the same technology as employed by the Chinese is Rs 50. The Chinese are selling the same T-shirt for Rs 40 because of low wages and the low cost of natural resources. In this situation, an import tax of Rs 10 can be imposed on Chinese goods. That will provide protection to Indian manufacturers from the 'bad' practices of the Chinese. A subsidy of Rs 10 can be provided to our exporters to compete in the global markets.
The risk of this formula is that developed countries will similarly impose high import duties on our goods saying that wages in India are equally exploitative. This will lead to the dismantling of the global free market and the return of protectionism. We will be deprived of our access to the global markets. We will have to choose between following the "bad policies" of China and making gains from globalization. Alternatively, we can protect ourselves from such policies of China and withdraw from globalization. We ought to opt for the second. It is important to save ourselves from the disastrous social and environmental problems. We can make do with less or more gains from globalization only if we survive socially and environmentally. Therefore, we must embrace protectionism to the extent that the bad policies of our competitors are taking us in the wrong direction.

The writer is former Professor of Economics, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.







WASHINGTON, 23 OCT: The farthest galaxy cluster has been identified by Nasa scientists by studying data obtained from the space agency's Chandra X-ray Observatory and optical and infrared telescopes.

The galaxy cluster known as JKCS041 is located about 10.2 billion light years away and beats the previous record holder by about a billion light years, according to Nasa. "This object is close to the distance limit expected for a galaxy cluster. We don't think gravity can work fast enough to make galaxy clusters much earlier," said Dr Stefano Andreon of National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) in Milan, Italy.

Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound objects in the Universe.

"This discovery is exciting because it is like finding a Tyrannosaurus Rex (dinosaur) fossil that is much older than any other known," said co-author Dr Ben Maughan, from University of Bristol in the United Kingdom. ~ PTI








Chess and card games hold valuable clues to statecraft, especially in battles of attrition. The deal between the Bengal government and the Maoists over the release of the abducted police officer, Atindranath Dutta, would remind contract bridge enthusiasts of the trick called 'loser on loser'. In simple terms, it is about discarding a losing card — the one that is to be given up anyway — on an opponent's winner. The tribal activists, most of them women, who had to be released on bail by the government in exchange for Mr Dutta's release, would probably have secured bail in any case. By conceding the Maoists' demand for their release, the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government looked like playing the losing card and yet not losing the game. There is no denying that it lost some of its authority in the process. But, given the circumstances, the government's handling of the case appears to have been realistic and successful.


The Mossad of Israel and similar agencies in the world constantly engaged in fighting terrorists and other rebels would have approved of the effectiveness of the deal. While the world remembers the Mossad's daring rescue of the hijacked passengers of an Air France flight at Entebbe airport in 1976, the top intelligence agency's deals with Palestinian groups to secure the release of hostages are less known. What is now known, though, is that the Mossad was consulted by the Indian government during the negotiations with the hijackers of the Indian Airlines flight, IC-814, at Kandahar airport in December 1999. New Delhi had to release from jail three top Pakistani militants, including Maulana Masood Azhar, the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, in order to get the passengers and crew of the flight released from the hijackers' custody. Similar incidents in different parts of the world have one thing in common — they highlight the modern State's dilemma in fighting unconventional battles with new kinds of adversaries. The problem gets far more complicated for a democratically elected government, which cannot afford to be seen as using force to the exclusion of all other options in such situations.


In fact, the first ever engagement between the Bengal government and the Maoists over Mr Dutta's release should be an opportunity to probe other such options. There is much about the deal that is still unclear. Why, for instance, did the Maoists agree to any kind of a deal at all? Did some disagreements in their ranks over the use of tribal women in their movement act as a compulsion? It is naïve to think of a sudden change of heart for the rebels who had shocked the country earlier this month by brutally killing another police officer in Jharkhand. Whatever the rebels' reasons, the governments, both in New Delhi and Calcutta, have to seize the moment. For the Bengal government, fighting the Maoists has to go hand in hand with giving the tribal people the social and economic justice they have been denied for so long.










The weekend following this one marks two anniversaries: it shall be 25 years since Indira Gandhi was assassinated, as well as 25 years since 3,000 Indians innocent of any crime were butchered by gangs led by members of the Congress.


The two events were deeply connected. Since the security men who killed the prime minister happened to be Sikhs, the Congress thought it fit to take revenge on members of that community, rather than wait for the law to take care of the individuals guilty of planning and executing the murder. But then the assassination of Mrs Gandhi was itself an act of revenge, for her ordering the army's attack on the Golden Temple in June 1984. Anyway, the fact that these two events happened so close to, and were so intimately linked to, each other, poses a problem for their commemoration. Can one remember and deplore Mrs Gandhi's murder without remembering and deploring the pogrom that followed?


To help answer this question, I have been reading When a Tree Shook Delhi, a book on the aforementioned events by Manoj Mitta and H.S. Phoolka. Mitta is a respected legal correspondent, who now works for a major national daily. Phoolka is a senior advocate in Delhi; a Sikh himself, he narrowly escaped, with his then pregnant wife, from being roasted alive by the mob in 1984. The first part of the book, written by Mitta, rehearses the orgy of loot, arson, rape and murder that followed the murder of Mrs Gandhi. The second part, narrated by Phoolka, traces the long, tortuous and still unfinished journey to bring some measure of relief and justice to the victims and their families.


The book's main title is an ironic reference to a remark made by Rajiv Gandhi, who was both Indira Gandhi's son as well as her successor as prime minister. Speaking at a rally held at the Boat Club lawns on November 19, 1984, Rajiv Gandhi offered this laconic retrospective of the first week of that month: "Some riots took place in the country following the murder of Indiraji. We know the people were very angry and for a few days it seemed that India had been shaken. But, when a mighty tree falls, it is only natural that the earth around it does shake a little."


Had these comments been made on November 3 or 4, we might have explained (if not excused) them as the reaction of a recently bereaved son. But that they came more than two weeks after the riots makes one less forgiving. By then, the full scale of the horrors was known, and its consequences for the fate of Indian democracy understood. Four days before Rajiv Gandhi spoke those words, the historian, Dharma Kumar, had published an article in a national daily that chastised a senior journalist for suggesting that the attacks on Sikhs were a product of the "understandable resentment" among "most other people in the country" at Mrs Gandhi's murder. She asked her own community, the Hindus, to consider what would be the consequences if they applied to themselves the logic of revenge and retribution: "Is any Muslim in Delhi, gentle Hindu reader, 'justified' in roasting you alive because of Bhiwandi or Ahmedabad?" Dharma Kumar deplored the pressure being put on Sikh intellectuals to "apologize" for the assassination. As she wrote, "I do not feel that I have to rush into print and beat my breast in public when any Hindu does something dreadful (which is fortunate since I would then be doing nothing else)."


While Rajiv Gandhi's remark was in shockingly poor taste, his partymen were guilty of worse. In their book, Mitta and Phoolka demonstrate how Congress councillors, members of Parliament, and Union ministers were all complicit in the riots against the Sikhs. Some Congressmen led marauding mobs, others looked on, still others instructed the police not to act. The partisanship continued long after the bodies had been cremated and the houses rebuilt. After a public outcry, the Congress government appointed a one-man commission of inquiry into the riots, but made sure to choose a man without a backbone. He was Ranganath Mishra, a past chief justice of India, who strove strenuously to whitewash the sins of the government. This he did so successfully that he was rewarded with a seat in the Rajya Sabha, on a Congress ticket. Later commissions of enquiry were only slightly less courageous, so much so that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was constrained to admit in the Lok Sabha in August 2005 that "twenty-one years have passed [since the riots] … and yet the feeling persists that the truth has not come out and justice has not prevailed".


In the book's epilogue, the authors compare the pogrom against the Sikhs in Delhi in 1984 with the pogrom against Muslims in Gujarat in 2002. As they write, "state complicity was evident in both instances". The chief minister of Gujarat quoted Newton's third law of motion, "his own variant of Rajiv Gandhi's tree-shaking-the-earth rationalization"; then, "in another obvious inspiration from 1984", Narendra Modi "got the state assembly dissolved prematurely in 2002 in order to force an election in a communally charged environment".


This comparison is instructive, but the authors could also have usefully looked backwards, to what happened during the Emergency in Delhi. Reading their book, I was struck by how many of the guilty men of 1984 began life as Sanjay Gandhi's stooges. The Congressmen they name as either apathetically looking on or actively participating in the pogrom — such as Jagdish Tytler, Arjan Dass, and Kamal Nath — were brought into politics by the second son of Indira Gandhi. Could it be that the attacks on Muslims in old Delhi in 1976, the razing of their homes and the forcible sterilization of their men, were some sort of precursor to the events of November 1/2, 1984? It was during the Emergency that Congress goons first realized the power that comes from being above the law, the power that comes from having at one's command a pliant and sycophantic police force. In 1984, as in 1976, this power was used by rowdies of the ruling party to intimidate and terrorize the minorities.


While this narrative of the 1984 riots mostly features villains, there are at least two heroes — the West Bengal chief minister, Jyoti Basu, who helped ensure that peace largely prevailed in Calcutta; and a brave (and, as it happens, Christian) police officer named Maxwell Pereira, who helped save the historic Sisganj Gurdwara from being attacked.


The Sisganj Gurdwara was built at the spot where the ninth Guru, Teg Bahadur, was beheaded by Aurangzeb. (His 'crime' was that he sought to protect the Pandits of Kashmir from being converted to Islam.) Mitta and Phoolka write that "though history is witness to the persecution of religious figures around the world, Teg Bahadur's sacrifice is probably without a parallel, for he is the only religious leader known to have laid down his life, not so much for espousing his religion as for upholding the freedom of others to follow their own".


This is an uncharacteristic error. For, it was in that same city of Delhi, 262 years later, that a Hindu laid down his life for upholding the right of Muslims to live freely and to practise their faith. Gandhi's message was addressed to Sikhs as well as Hindus; an irony that perhaps the authors should have noted and commented upon. An even greater irony, of course, is that Gandhi was a lifelong member of the Indian National Congress. It has been said that the Gujarat riots were the "second assassination of the Mahatma", but perhaps they should really be seen as the third, for 18 years before the slaughter of innocents in his home state in 2002 there had occurred a slaughter of innocents in Delhi directed by members of his own party.









While the assembly election results in Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh were generally on expected lines, the Congress would not be happy with the outcome in Haryana. The Congress-NCP alliance will form the government for a third time in Maharashtra, with perhaps a slightly reduced role for Sharad Pawar's party. The dominance the alliance had over the opposition Shiv Sena-BJP combine was never in doubt, in spite of the disadvantages of incumbency. The BJP, troubled at the centre and leaderless in the state, is a shadow of its former self in the state. Its major partner, the Shiv Sena, too has lost its old roar, having given away some its thunder to Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Samithi. The MNS has made an impressive debut and split the Sena's votes in many seats. With an improvement in its strength in the assembly from 140 to 145,  the DF will look forward to consolidate its politics in the next five years. It might also do well to note that the mandate that it got was not all on account of its own strength but because of the weakness and lack of credibility of its rival.

Congress chief minister Bhupinder Singh Huda's gamble of early elections did not pay off in Haryana, which has elected a hung assembly. The strong showing of the Congress in the Lok Sabha elections had encouraged Huda to go in for early polls. But the unexpectedly strong performance of Om Prakash Chautala's Indian National Lok Dal denied the party a comfortable victory. If the INLD-BJP alliance had not broken down before the elections, the Congress might have been in deeper trouble. It lost 27 seats it had held in the last assembly. With six seats short of a majority it will have to seek the support of independents and slippery customers like former chief minister Bhajan Lal to form a government. It only has to blame its own complacency and its underestimation of Chautala, who worked hard to revive his party.

The Congress landslide in Arunachal Pradesh was not a surprise and the state has voted true to its traditions. The party  has won 42 of the 60 seats, and no opposition party, including the BJP, the NCP and the Trinamool Congress, could reach the two-figure mark. An impressive performance, though by default.








India's so-called premier external intelligence agency, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), is at war with itself and nobody in government seems to be doing anything to stop this rogue elephant. The manner in which some senior RAW officers proceeded on protest leave earlier this week, because the government had decided to appoint an Intelligence Bureau special director as the next chief of the secret service, is illustrative of the rot that has set in in an organisation that has long been beset with in-house turf wars. The war among a section of officers must be made to stop.

Over the years, RAW's character has changed with the induction of a cross-section of officers who brought with them their own professional cultures, or the lack of it. Besides, it has had its share of scandals involving moles and defectors, charges of sexual harassment, indiscipline and sheer incompetence. In the midst of this bleak picture, the secret service has remained exposed to partisan misuse by the political leadership, which bred inefficiency and corruption. As RAW drifted rudderless, successive governments chose not to address the issue of accountability which, countries like the United States and the United Kingdom, have resolved by putting in place effective systems of parliamentary oversight. For reasons stated above, there is reluctance within the organisation to subject itself to legislative oversight. The issue of who should be appointed RAW chief is the government's prerogative. An IPS officer, the IB special director in question once belonged to RAW but was forced out in a coup by officers who comprise the Research and Analysis Service (RAS). The IPS-RAS endemic factionalism within RAW is legend and has not done any good to national security.

Both RAW and IB must recruit business graduates and economists in increasing numbers in order to build up operations and analysis capabilities. Provision must be made in the respective agency's rules to induct eminent business executives, if and when required. If the government means business, reforms in the security establishment must be ruthless and begin now. The government's other more substantive and immediate task should be to stem the drift and sclerosis in the agency and put an end to personal and organisational risk aversion, chop dead wood, promote talent and foresight, stop the misuse of secret service funds and the business of plum postings. Otherwise, the raison d'etre of RAW's existence will come into question.









India is perched on a cleft stick when it comes to adopting a stance at the UN Climate Change summit scheduled in Copenhagen in December next. On the one hand, India is being urged by the developed nations to cut down its greenhouse gas emissions. On the other, it needs a huge surge in economic growth rate over the next few decades to lift the bulk of its one billion plus population from the morass of abject poverty.

The position is very simple. There is a close relationship between the standard of living and energy consumption in the modern world. India's GDP per capita at PPP (Purchasing Power Parity) in 2008 was around $2,800 per annum; that of the US around $47,000. Equally breathtaking is the contrast in per capita energy consumption per annum: around 500 kilogrammes of oil equivalent (kgoe) per person for India, a world average of 1,688 kgoe/person and a whopping 7,900 kgoe/person for the US.

India is today at the take-off stage of development, which  the USA and western Europe faced towards the end of the 19th century. In the hundred years that followed, with the help of vast quantities of energy derived from coal and oil, the West raised its standard of living to what it is today. Even if India were to aspire to reach one-fourth the present per capita income of the US in the next 20 years, it would have to maintain a blistering GDP growth rate of 8 per cent per annum for the period.

There is a close relationship between growth rate and energy consumption. An expert committee of the Planning Commission headed by Dr Kirit Parikh had in its report submitted in 2005 estimated that for a GDP growth rate of 8 per cent per annum over the next 20 years, the per capita energy consumption would rise by 2031-32 to 1,600 kgoe, which is a 3-fold increase over the present consumption figure.

India has very limited options to cater to this kind of a rise in energy consumption. It has paltry oil reserves and currently imports over 70 per cent of its oil requirement and half of its domestic demand of natural gas. The recent discovery of natural gas reserves in the Krishna-Godavari basin will not reduce this import dependence since demand is rising much faster.

The paucity of indigenous uranium resources has been a major stumbling block in the development of nuclear energy.  Even the miniscule nuclear power capacity of  3779 MWe was running in mid-2008 at half its capacity due to fuel shortage. Following the recent civilian nuclear accord  with the US and lifting of sanctions against India, wild projections are now being made by Indian authorities about the rapid growth of nuclear power capacity in the future to as much as 4,00,000 MWe by 2050, which is a 100-fold increase from current capacity.

But the slow pace of construction in the past belies that premise. Moreover, this nuclear capacity will have to be sustained almost wholly by imported fuel. True, the country has vast amounts of thorium reserves but the establishment of a reliable and viable thorium fuel cycle is still decades away.

A lot of noise is made, especially by ecological activists, about adopting non-fossil fuel based renewable energy technologies. The fact of the matter is that the total potential for renewable technologies (wind, solar photovoltaic, biogas and small hydro) is just about 1,00,000 MW. The actual implemented capacity so far is a miserable 4000 MW.


The main problem here is that the realisation of this energy is in small amounts, geographically scattered and very unsteady in output. It  can certainly not be depended upon for huge blocks of steady power at a single place that fossil fuel sources provide. Additionally, the capital costs are extremely high in comparison with conventional energy sources.

The Parikh Committee has  forecast that "even with a concerted push of 20-fold increase in capacity, renewables can account for (only) around 5-7 per cent of India's energy mix by 2031-32."

The  country's hydropower potential is around 150,000 MW of which only 20 per cent has been realised so far and another 9 per cent is under construction. The slow pace of realisation of potential is attributed to long construction periods for major projects due to their location in difficult terrain. Putting up large scale hydel projects is becoming increasingly difficult  due to anti-dam activism which bases its arguments on large scale displacement of people, submergence of forest land, safety-related issues in earthquake prone areas, etc.

Coal is the only major commercial energy resource which India possesses in substantial quantity. At present, it accounts for over 50 per cent of the commercial energy consumption. Even by 2031-32, it is expected that coal will account for 40 to 45 per cent of energy consumption.


India cannot compromise on its energy security and economic growth rate. As shown above, coal will remain the kingpin of its energy security. Unfortunately, this has adverse repercussions for reducing its greenhouse gas emissions.

India's per capita greenhouse gas emissions is one of the lowest globally at 1.2 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent  per year, compared to the global average of 4.22 tonnes and 19.7 tonnes of the US. However, when the per capita is multiplied by India's massive population of 1.1 billion, the country ends up being the world's third largest polluter after the US and China.

Five different studies released recently by independent institutions concluded that India's per capita emissions of carbon dioxide equivalent would reach 2.1 tonnes in 2020 and 3.5 tonnes in 2030. The studies found that India's total emissions are estimated to reach between four billion and 7.3 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalentby 2031.

So, what India should be bargaining for at the Copenhagen summit is technological and financial aid in implementing coal usage that minimises greenhouse gas emissions such as high efficiency boilers and turbines as well as carbon sequestration methodologies.







A recent published book 'Sikh Diaspora Philanthropy in Punjab: Philanthropy Giving for Local Good', edited by Vene A Dusenbery and Darshan S Tatla makes a detailed historical survey of diaspora Sikhs the world over with larger concentrations in England, Canada and the United States of their contributions and what motivated them to give away part of their earnings.


Indians from all states are to be found in almost every country in the world. The most visible are Sindhis, Sikhs, Gujaratis and Keralites. All the four try to maintain links with their motherland for at least a generation or two, and if they are doing well, send a part of their savings to improve living conditions of their kinsmen back home. Some examples come readily to mind: the Hindujas (Sindhis) have built a huge hospital in Mumbai; Sir Ghulam Noon (Gujarati) has built a modern fully-equipped hospital in Rajasthan. There is hardly a village in Punjab which has not got a gurudwara, hospital, school or college not donated by one of its sons living abroad.

A recent published book 'Sikh Diaspora Philanthropy in Punjab: Philanthropy Giving for Local Good', edited by Vene A Dusenbery and Darshan S Tatla makes a detailed historical survey of diaspora Sikhs the world over with larger concentrations in England, Canada and the United States of their contributions and what motivated them to give away part of their earnings.

It goes into prolix and often boring detail that scholars are prone to indulge to give a full picture of the phenomenon. They have also noted that all communities living abroad have funded fundamentalist Hindu organisations in India. For almost a decade Sikh separatist organisations and Khalistani terrorists received handsome contributions from their fellow Sikhs settled abroad.

Fortunately, they realised their folly in time, funds dried up and the demand for Khalistan came to an end. Today only a very embittered Simranjeet Singh Mann remains. Periodically he makes some outrageous statements to attract media attention. No one needs him anymore.

The tradition of giving one-tenth of one's earnings (dasvandh) is as old as Sikhism. Guru Nanak exhorted his followers:

Aklee Sahib Seviee, Aklee

paiye maan

Aklee parh kay bujhaia,

Aklee keejey daan

Use your brains to serve God, and earn respect

Use your brains to read,

Understand and give in harity.

And again:

Ghall khai kiehh hutthan deh

Nanak raah pachhaaney she

Earn by efforts and with your hands give some of it away

Nanak, such people have found the true way.

Guru after Guru lauded the need to give a part of one's earnings to the needy till it becomes a motto:

Kirat Karo, Naam japo, Vand chhako

Work, take the name of God, and share your earnings with others.

The way these remittances are spent have fallen into pattern. Building new gurudwaras is the first priority; schools and hospitals are second and third. The order need be reversed except that a village gurudwara is not only a place of worship; it is also a community centre and a place for re-affirming bonds of faith.

Shoe-thrower's story

Remember Jarnail Singh? He is the man who hurled a shoe at home minister P C Chidambaram. He chose the wrong victim as Chidambaram had done him no harm nor had he anything to do with what had riled Jarnail. However, he hit the target. It were the leaders of the Congress who had chosen Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Singh to be its candidates for two seats for the Lok Sabha elections. There was such an uproar of applause for his unpardonable professional misconduct that both names had to be withdrawn from the contest.

Jarnail is going to be in the news again. Penguin has signed a contract with him to tell his story and why he did what he did. His English is not good enough; so he has written it in Hindi. Its English translation 'I accuse' is to be published in the very near future.


'I accuse' is a scathing indictment of all those who failed to discharge their duties when Hindu mobs went on the rampage following the assassination of Indira Gandhi on October 31, 1984, by two of her Sikh bodyguards.

He spares no one. President Zail Singh comes in for special mention for his cowardly inability to use his powers, and reluctance to leave the security of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The Delhi administration, primarily its police is accused of conniving with the mobs. Rajiv Gandhi, for indirectly condoning the crime by saying: "When a big tree falls, the earth beneath is bound to shake" and including men like H K L Bhagat and Jagdish Tytler known to have incited violence in the cabinet.

Jarnail Singh's family was a victim of the pogrom. They were refugees from Pakistan who found shelter in Lajpat Nagar. His father was a carpenter who earned enough to educate his children. The boys including Jarnail played cricket with Hindu boys. All of a sudden on Oct 31 hell broke loose and their neighbours turned against them. The boys hid themselves in a loft, many friends and relations were butchered or burnt alive. It is a chilling tale told by a man who saw it happen before his eyes. It is authentic as it comes from a stricken heart.

Plastic nose

Santa went to a plastic surgeon to have his nose re-shaped. He asked the doctor what the operation would cost?

"Around five lakh rupees," replied the doctor."How much will it cost if I bring my own plastic?

(Courtesy: Amarinder Bajaj, Delhi)









There is a simple rhyme that we all know: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall."

Just how simple is it? Imagine daddy, mummy and tearful child in a city home, entertaining guests. Mummy wants Bunty to recite 'Humpty Dumpty' for the nice aunty. "No! I don't like 'Humpty Dumpty'. I only like 'Georgie Porgie'," says the little fellow.

Is the child a pervert? Is he showing too much attitude? Is he demonstrating the first signs of rebellion?

In class 1 of a government school in Jhumri Talaiyya, Leela Behenji is teaching English. "Mere saath bolo: Humty Dumty had ye girate phall." The kids recite loudly, "Humfy dumfy addyegrit phall!"

Leela Behenji is happy. Chunnu, Munnu and Pappu's parents are happy because their children know English. Well, they know that Humfy something something, fully in English, they say proudly. And also the "Twinkalu, twinkalu litalu istar".

Lobbyists for home-grown rhymes, say, "Indian values dictate that children listen to their elders. But what does Humpty Dumpty do? His mother has told him hundred times not to sit on a wall and dangle his legs. But does he listen to his mother? No! He falls down and …"

"And why do all the king's men come to his rescue?" questions a feminist. "Why are the queen's women not running to help him? Why should we bring in gender discrimination so early in the lives of our little ones?"

Knowingly or unknowingly, nursery rhymes go through many changes and get learnt in different ways. Senseless or not, children have fun reciting it. Having grown up on those silly rhymes, and having seen so many kids grow up on those, I'm happy to report that we are all mostly caring and normal. Some children fed on 'Little Miss Muffet' grew up to be passionate entomologists. Little boys who shouted 'Ding, dong bell, pussy in the well' did not grow up to be senseless murderers who drowned cats.

Some schools in India have tried to replace archaic nursery rhymes with smart new ones. Just recently, there was public outrage when BBC decided to correct the accident-prone Humpty Dumpty by getting all the king's horses and all the king's men to 'make Humpty Dumpty happy again'. The 'creative licence' did not go down well with modern parents who believe children should know that in the real world, eggs do break when they fall.

So should we or should we not sanitise children's rhymes? That is one hard egg to crack.







The Obama administration's proposed designation of 200,000 square miles of Alaskan waters and sea ice as critical habitat for the polar bear is not just encouraging news for the bear. It signals a more sympathetic attitude toward endangered species, and is further evidence that the secretary of the interior, Ken Salazar, will take a more measured approach than the Bush administration to oil and gas drilling in the Arctic.


After much prodding by the courts and its own scientists, the Bush administration listed the polar bear as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in May 2008. But it deferred the required designation of protected habitat — the area deemed essential to the survival of a threatened or endangered species — partly because doing so could have torpedoed its grand plans to open millions of acres of prime polar bear territory in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas to oil and gas exploration.


Mr. Salazar is now reviewing those plans. Though a pre-existing Shell Oil lease in the Beaufort will be allowed to go forward, it seems highly unlikely that Mr. Salazar would authorize major oil and gas development in territory that his own Fish and Wildlife Service has identified as crucial to the bears' future.


The designation of critical habitat does not automatically bar commercial activities like oil and gas drilling. It does mean that such activities, if they occur on federal land or require a federal permit, cannot go forward without intensive review by agencies like the Fish and Wildlife Service, which can limit them or prohibit them.


The biggest threat to the bears is, of course, the gradual disappearance of the sea ice where it lives and hunts, which in turn is linked to global warming. The Endangered Species Act is not designed to solve the problem of climate change, a global problem. It can relieve an already-burdened animal of the added stresses that widespread drilling would surely bring.







The journalist Maziar Bahari joined his pregnant wife in London this week after being freed from an Iranian prison where he had been held for five months. That is welcome news, but it would be a mistake to think that the mullahs who run the government had been seized with humanitarian spirit. If anything, they seem more determined to shift the blame for the unrest that followed the fraudulent June 12 election to America and other "foreigners."


The Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh, an urban planner with a doctorate from Columbia University, was arrested in July. He was prosecuted with more than 100 other defendants in show trials after the election sparked the biggest challenge to the Islamic republic since the 1979 revolution.


An Iranian court on Sunday convicted him of fomenting unrest against the government and sentenced him to 15 years in prison. His alleged offense? Working with George Soros's Open Society Institute, which finances democracy-building programs in many countries, and hooking into a Gulf region Web site run by Prof. Gary Sick of Columbia. Experts say that Mr. Tajbakhsh has not been politically active for more than two years and was not involved in postelection unrest.


We hope this outrageous verdict is reversed on appeal. Indeed, Tehran may be using him as a pawn for negotiations with the United States on its nuclear program. But the new judiciary chief, Sadeq Larijani, will fail if he cannot direct a judiciary that is fair and consistent.


The mullahs are twisting themselves into knots trying to prove that outside forces are at work when they are facing homegrown outrage over their increasingly autocratic state. They also think they can solve the crisis with force, despite the extent of internal dissent and the refusal of many elites to condone the crackdown.


On Friday, a leading opposition leader, Mehdi Karroubi, was attacked at a media fair. One day earlier, authorities stormed a prayer service at a private home and arrested 60 reformists. Many Iranians detained after the election protests linger in prison without charges. Two weeks ago, authorities sentenced four to death sentences.


Since July 31, Iran has been holding three American hikers who were seized along the Iran-Iraq border. Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I. agent has been missing since 2007. These victims of Iran's autocratic leaders must be released. Iran may sit at the negotiating table with the United States and other world powers, but it will never earn the respect it craves if it continues these kinds of human rights abuses.







The real test of any mayor is how well the city works. In his eight years in office, Mayor Michael Bloomberg has managed to make the unpredictable city of New York work astonishingly well.


Mr. Bloomberg has been a first-rate steady hand during unsteady times. He guided the city out of the post-9/11 recession, then tucked away money during the boom years that followed. That foresight has helped New Yorkers weather one of the worst economic downturns in 80 years. Mayor Bloomberg has easily earned another four years.


The Democratic nominee, Comptroller William Thompson, is a worthy opponent. Mr. Thompson has been a competent comptroller in a turbulent period and is a quiet, conciliatory man. But he has spent too much of his campaign attacking Mayor Bloomberg rather than explaining how he would manage the city, and Mr. Bloomberg is simply the stronger candidate.


What makes the mayor stand out is not his political skill, although he has come a long way since his first clumsy days in office. He has run the $60 billion government with a keen attention to accountability and efficiency. He has chosen some of the best people in the country to work for him, and he has mostly let them do their jobs. As a result, many city services operate better than they have for years. The garbage mostly disappears on time. The police and fire departments respond quickly. Mr. Bloomberg's 311 phone line allows New Yorkers to complain to a live human being. Often, they even see tangible results.


Public education is better over all — although parents still need more access to their children's teachers and schools. The mayor's new complaint line for parents should help, as will other changes imposed by the Legislature. But in a third term, the mayor and his team should still work harder to listen to those who hand over their children each morning to his educators.


Crime is down under Raymond Kelly, the police commissioner, although there is concern again about stop-and-frisk actions, which seem to focus too heavily on Hispanics and African-Americans. Mr. Bloomberg also has been a national leader in gun control.


The mayor's environmental efforts — stalled in Albany — show admirable concern about the city's future. And he has worked hard to improve the city's health — most effectively with the smoking ban.


His plans suit the times. With little city money to spend, Mr. Bloomberg wants to focus more on helping working-class and middle-class residents with cheap banking or aid in fighting foreclosures or finding jobs and housing. He wants to give a lift to small businesses.


Like Mr. Thompson, who has made the mayor's wealth a major issue, most New Yorkers are concerned about Mr. Bloomberg's spending $85 million — so far — to win re-election. In his first campaign in 2001, he argued that he was spending so much to introduce himself. Now a nationally recognized figure, he argues that as a candidate running on Republican and Independent Party lines, he needs to fight for votes in a city that is so predominantly Democratic.


We think Mr. Bloomberg exaggerates his vulnerability. New York City's campaign finance system is one of the best in the country. He does everyone a disservice by not complying with the system's limits on spending.


Mr. Thompson also argues that the mayor unfairly worked to get rid of term limits so that he could run this third time. We supported his efforts to do so because term limits unfairly limit voters' choices. But the mayor has sent signals that once he is elected, he will set up a charter commission to try to restore the limits. That is a bad call.


Finally, like others who have not always agreed with the mayor, we worry about his difficulty brooking dissent. He should not allow that trait to spoil a third term.


But those are small blemishes. We enthusiastically endorse Mayor Michael Bloomberg for re-election.







Gov. David Paterson of New York and his health commissioner have suspended a pioneering regulation that required all health care workers to get vaccinated for the flu — both the seasonal flu and the new swine flu. It is a mistake, and New Yorkers, especially those in hospitals, could pay a high price for it.


The Paterson administration says it needed to save scarce vaccine supplies for the most vulnerable people. Others suspect the administration had given in to the fierce objections of health care workers and their unions.


There are good reasons for making the shots mandatory for all health care personnel. Voluntary efforts seldom persuade more than half to get vaccinated. If they become sick, they may be unable to go to work when they are most needed. Even worse, they may work while contagious with virus, and infect vulnerable patients, causing needless complications and death.


For these reasons, the federal government has placed health care workers among the highest priority groups to get vaccinated. It has not made vaccination mandatory for them, mostly because it did not want to battle workers or their unions. New York State courageously stepped into the breach only to back down.


State officials say that first priority for the swine flu vaccine should go to two groups deemed at especially high risk: some 252,000 pregnant women and some 6.4 million young people (between the ages of 6 months and 24 years). With vaccine production lagging — New York now expects only four million doses — they say there wouldn't be enough to cover even those groups, let alone an estimated 882,000 health care workers.


Our belief is that health workers should be vaccinated — and be required to do so — because of their wide and continuing contact with already vulnerable patients.


If he wasn't just looking for an excuse to duck a confrontation, Mr. Paterson needs to remain open to the idea of making vaccinations mandatory in coming years. Meanwhile, we hope that the medical centers around the country that also have made flu shots mandatory for their workers hold the line.








FINALLY! I hear we're all living in a women's world now.


For the first time, women make up half the work force. The Shriver Report, out just last week, found that mothers are the major breadwinners in 40 percent of families. We have a female speaker of the House and a female secretary of state. Thirty-two women have served as governors. Thirty-eight have served as senators. Four out of eight Ivy League presidents are women.


Great news, right? Well, not exactly. In fact, it couldn't be more spectacularly misleading.


The truth is, women haven't come nearly as far as we would have predicted 25 years ago. Somewhere along the line, especially in recent years, progress for women has stalled. And attitudes have taken a giant leap backward.


I never expected that we would be in this predicament. My generation of professional women took equality for granted. When I was in college in the 1980s, many of us looked derisively at the women's liberation movement. That was something that strident, humorless, shrill women had done before us.


We were sure we were beyond it. We were post-feminists. After all, we lived equally with men. We felt that when we took our place in society, issues of gender — and race too — wouldn't be a factor.


Back in college, my friends and I never even had a conversation about balancing work and family. We had never heard of glass ceilings. We didn't talk about sexual harassment — that was just part of life. As a freshman, I had an interview for a magazine internship in New York City. As I sat down, making sure to demurely close up my slit-front skirt over my knees, the interviewer barked, "If you want the job, you'll leave that open."


We felt the same way when we went to work. After graduation, when I first joined The Wall Street Journal, I could count the number of female reporters there on one hand. The tiny ladies' room was for guests. The paper was written by men, for men. It didn't even cover industries that were relatively female-friendly, like publishing, advertising and retailing. When the newspaper finally did introduce coverage of those sectors a few years later, most male reporters weren't interested. So we women stepped up.


Our corner of the newsroom was promptly dubbed the "Valley of the Dolls." But we gained respect after one of our number won a Pulitzer Prize for national reporting on the tobacco industry. Of course, when Hollywood made the movie about the investigation, her role was played by a man.


During these years, we were competing with men and we were winning. We learned to curse like truck drivers and work our sources as well as the next guy. We broke major stories. And we dressed the part, out-machoing the men with our truly tragic wardrobe choices — boxy suits with giant shoulder pads and floppy bow ties.


I was promoted to a Page One editor while I was pregnant. When my children were babies, my bosses allowed me to work mostly at home. Eventually, I became The Journal's first female deputy managing editor. By the time I left the paper in 2005, more than a third of the paper's editors were female. And when I moved on to create Portfolio for Condé Nast — the magazine company best known for titles like Vanity Fair, Vogue and The New Yorker — half of our top editors were female.


And yet during the last few years, I couldn't help but notice that the situation for women as a whole wasn't improving, and was even getting worse.


Consider the facts: When I graduated from college in 1983, women earned only 64 cents for every dollar earned by a man.


Today? Women earn just 77 cents. By other measures, women's gains have stalled: board seats and corporate officer posts have been flat — or declined in recent years.


More proof: According to the American Bar Association, women in 2008 made up almost half of all associates, but only 18.3 percent of partners. Only 15 women run Fortune 500 companies.


I am still one of the few women to have run a major business magazine. My career was recently summed up in a New York magazine article as leggy.


And I got off easy. During the presidential primaries, while the news media was on their best behavior to avoid racial stereotypes, it was still O.K. to discuss Hillary Clinton's "cankles."


Even the positive numbers we've heard about during the recession are misleading — the ones that seem to indicate that women have suffered fewer job losses than men. The reason? Women are still concentrated in lower-paying fields, rather than the high-paying industries like finance and real estate that were hardest hit.


So why have we stalled out?


Part of the reason can be traced to the aftermath of 9/11.


Everyone's life was reshaped by 9/11. Like many New Yorkers, I experienced that day in an intensely personal way: I was in the World Trade Center with a colleague when the first plane hit. And we were just outside the second tower, making our way through burning debris, hunks of airplane seats and far worse when the second plane came in directly over our heads.


In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans pulled together. Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, famously declared it was "the end of the age of irony."


He was right.


And then he was wrong. Because, as so often happens in the wake of a traumatic event, the pendulum swung to the other extreme. The war in Iraq tore America apart. The Internet gave everyone a soapbox. The louder, the more offensive, the better.


I don't think it's a coincidence that exactly at this moment, women began losing ground — and not just in measurable ways, like how many women make partner or get jobs as chief executives.


I'm referring to how we are perceived. The conversation online about women, as about so many other topics, degenerated from silly and snarky to just plain ugly — and it seeped into the mainstream.


Recently, before a TV appearance, I did an Internet search on one of the interviewers so I could learn more about her — and got a full page of results about her breasts.


This was hardly an isolated incident. Whether it's Keith Olbermann of MSNBC calling Michelle Malkin, the conservative blogger, "a big mashed-up bag of meat with lipstick on it," or Glenn Beck of Fox News suggesting that "ugly women" are probably "progressive as well," women these days are portrayed as either witches or bimbos, with pretty much no alternatives in between.


I've been puzzled by these screeds, which are so at odds with the real achievements documented in the Shriver Report and elsewhere. And then it struck me: Part of the reason we've lost our way, part of the reason my generation became complacent, is that many of us have been defining progress for women too narrowly. We've focused primarily on numbers at the expense of attitudes.


I've spent my adult life in business journalism, where we calculate success using hard facts and figures. Researchers have evaluated women's progress the same way. But in today's noisy world, that approach isn't enough. We've got to include popular perceptions in the equation as well. Progress in one area without the other is no progress at all.


This isn't simply a woman's issue; it affects us all. It isn't about blaming men, or about embracing feminism, which remains a toxic term for some women. Instead, it is up to all of us to help change the conversation.


How do we get to there from here?


First, we can begin by telling girls to have confidence in themselves, to not always feel the need to be the passive "good girl." In my time as an editor, many, many men have come through my door asking for a raise or demanding a promotion. Guess how many women have ever asked me for a promotion?


I'll tell you. Exactly ... zero.


Sure, it's a risk to ask for a raise. But women need to take risks — and to realize that at some point they will fail. This is an incredibly hard thing to do, especially for women brought up in a culture that celebrates unrealistic perfection in every sphere, from beauty to housekeeping. The biggest professional risk I ever took was leaving a secure job at The Wall Street Journal to create a business magazine at a company known for glossy fashion titles — and that at a time when all print was struggling.


There were plenty of naysayers, and I got to see myself portrayed as both a witch and a bimbo, a twofer! But I believed in our mission.


At the end of the day, Portfolio couldn't survive the economic collapse. Still, we had created a magazine we were proud of that provided a venue for talented writers and editors, many of them women who hadn't had that kind of chance to shine before in the macho world of financial journalism.


Which leads me to another piece of advice — have a sense of humor. Believe me, it's needed.


Case in point: My favorite Christmas card ever came from Martha Stewart — while she was in prison in West Virginia. It was beautiful, on heavy paper stock, and showed a gorgeous wreath. And on the inside, homey as could be, it was engraved with holiday wishes from "Martha Stewart, Alderson, West Virginia."


One final suggestion: don't be afraid to be a girl.


Women do have a different culture from men. And that can give us some tremendous advantages. Women are built to withstand hardship and pain. (Anyone who has given birth knows what I'm talking about.) That's a big benefit at a time like this, with the unemployment rate at 9.8 percent and rising.

Women define success differently; for some it may be a career, for others the ability to stay home with children. They also define themselves differently. I'm in the unfortunate position of witnessing many friends and colleagues laid off over the past year. But the women are less apt to fall apart — and this goes even for the primary breadwinners — because they are less likely to define themselves by their job in the first place.


Certainly, when you look at the numbers, women have made tremendous strides over the past 25 years. But in the process, we lost sight of something important. After focusing for so long on better jobs and higher pay, maybe the best thing — the enduring thing — we can do is make sure respect is part of the equation too.


If we can change the conversation about women, the numbers will finally add up. And that's what real progress looks like.


Joanne Lipman, a former deputy managing editor at The Wall Street Journal, was the founding editor in chief of Condé Nast Portfolio magazine.








I wasn't at all surprised at Rudy Giuliani. He couldn't find his way off the low road with a handful of maps and a GPS device. But I was very surprised at Mayor Bloomberg.


One of the signal successes of Mike Bloomberg's tenure is that during his two terms as mayor of a rough, tough, extremely contentious city, he has helped lower the racial temperature. You can say whatever you want about his policies, you can like him personally or not, but he has not played that cheap and tired game of ethnic politics. He has not tried to divide people along racial, ethnic or religious lines, exploiting fears and pitting groups against one another. And he has stood up against those who would do so.


The city has benefited from this. So it was truly disheartening, dismaying, to have the mayor turn his back on all that last Sunday during an appearance with Mr. Giuliani before an Orthodox Jewish group in Borough Park, Brooklyn.


Mr. Giuliani, campaigning on Mr. Bloomberg's behalf, warned that if the mayor is not elected to a third term on Nov. 3, the city could become unsafe — a place of escalating crime and heightened tensions and fear.


Homing in with the instincts of a born divider, Mr. Giuliani suggested that an environment filled with danger might be right there on the next horizon if the voters were to elect "the wrong political leadership." The "wrong" leadership in this case would be Mr. Bloomberg's opponent, the City Comptroller William Thompson, who is black.


Giuliani said he worries daily that the city might revert "to the way it was before 1993," the year he was elected mayor. He then pointedly added, so that no one within earshot could mistake his not-so-coded meaning: "And you know exactly what I'm talking about."


It was vintage Giuliani, as subtle as a heart attack, deliberately fanning the fears of a community that has long been the locus of tensions between blacks and Jews. And Mayor Bloomberg sat there, allowing that lousy message to be delivered on his behalf.


Mr. Bloomberg has had many opportunities to disavow Mr. Giuliani's remarks, to say that as a city we're better than that, to repudiate (as he has before) the very idea that exploiting fear and division for political gain is acceptable in this great city. But he has chosen not to. He chose instead, later that same day, to raise the specter of one of the worst big-city tragedies in American history: Detroit, which was laid low by every ill you can imagine, including a catastrophic race riot in 1967.


Detroit, said Mr. Bloomberg, "went from a great city with lots of good-paying jobs to a city that's basically holding on for dear life."


Well, that's true. But what's that got to do with New York City, or this year's mayoral election? New York is not an incipient Detroit. New York will not become Detroit if Mike Bloomberg is not re-elected.


The mayor disingenuously said that Detroit's decline was more about economics than "some other things." But anyone who knows the sad history of Detroit knows about those "other things."


This had all the appearance of Mayor Bloomberg piggybacking on Giuliani's fear-mongering. He picked the worst-case urban scenario available, a crime-ridden, destitute city from which most whites have long since fled, and offered it as a suggestion of what might be in store for New York, a thriving metropolis filled with people from virtually every ethnic group on the planet.


Open a window, please. Some fresh air is in order.


The Mike Bloomberg that New Yorkers came to know during his first two terms as mayor was not the same man who remained shamefully silent last Sunday, willing to benefit politically from Mr. Giuliani's toxic remarks.


Many of us have seen New York convulsed over the decades by one racially charged controversy after another, sometimes violently convulsed. They come easily to mind: The Central Park jogger case, the police killings of Eleanor Bumpurs, Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond, the vicious racial attacks in Howard Beach and Bensonhurst, the Tawana Brawley affair, the Crown Heights riot and on and on and on.


The Bloomberg administration has helped shield the city from similar convulsions. That the mayor is now willing to lock his principles in a safe deposit box and start riding the broomstick of ethnic politics suggests that he's worried about the outcome of his race against Mr. Thompson (even though public opinion polls and most of the people I talk to expect Bloomberg to win).


One of the ironies at work here is that it is during the toughest economic times that a city, more than ever, needs a mayor who is committed to bringing people together, not playing them off against one another for short-term political gain. This is absolutely the worst time for that point to have slipped Michael Bloomberg's mind.


Gail Collins is off today.








Forgive me in advance for fawning, but Michelle Obama is the coolest first lady ever. She clinched it for me this week by jumping double Dutch on the South Lawn as part of a "healthy kids fair."


The scene underscored my impression of the first lady as utterly unencumbered by convention. She seems to feel free — free enough to loosen up and laugh a little, free enough to let her inner child peek through the veil of parenthood, free enough to be herself.


I couldn't imagine recent first ladies jumping a puddle on the sidewalk, let alone two ropes swinging at the same time in opposite directions. So, on behalf of New York City, the so-called double Dutch capital of the world (so much so that this year it became a varsity sport in the city's schools), allow me to say: Well played.


I could pile on platitudes here about her professional accomplishments, or explore to what degree she is redefining the role of women, or predict how she will be viewed by historians in the pantheon of her predecessors. I could, but I won't. That's not my bailiwick.


But I will say that she seems particularly suited to these times. She provides a certain authenticity and clarity of self in a time of uncertainty, projecting a casual grace onto a world of amplified anxiety. She has become a powerful symbol of fearlessness, refinement, frugality and frivolity, managing to be both fun and serious simultaneously. She's genuinely human.


Mrs. Obama is redefining my concept of a first lady, and I like it. Apparently, I'm not alone.


In April, at the peak of her popularity, a New York Times/CBS News poll measured her favorability at 67 percent. The same poll found that a stratospheric 84 percent approved of how she was handling her role as first lady. That means that even half of those who didn't hold a favorable view of her as a person still liked what she was doing as first lady.


(It should be noted that polls by USA Today/Gallup and CNN/Opinion Research Corporation, both released this week, put the first lady's favorability ratings in the 60s and above those of her husband.)


It's hard to believe that this is the same woman who during the presidential campaign was repeatedly portrayed as the neo-radical albatross to a postracial candidate.


This is America. We respect fearlessness, regardless of what we feel about the person who embodies it. With Mrs. Obama, we have it both ways.


If George W. Bush was the president that Americans most wanted to have a beer with, then Michelle Obama is becoming the first lady we most want to have a laugh with. And that's cool.







There is no longer anything unexpected about the terrorist attacks ripping through our country. The suicide attack near Attock and the Peshawar car-bomb blast on Friday cause us pain, anger and grief over the lives lost and misery felt, but not surprise. The military now tops the list of targets. The suicide bomber who struck the check post at the Kamra Aeronautical Complex near Attock was clearly hoping to claim the lives of as many men in uniform as possible. Two PAF personnel were among the seven killed. The Pakistan military have themselves become the hunted; their enemies can, it seems, strike anywhere and at anytime. In response to the operation in South Waziristan the ferocity of the attacks has been stepped up. But perhaps the latest rounds of bombings have a positive dimension. They help lay out in the starkest terms the contours of the war we are fighting. This is a war for survival; it pitches the state of Pakistan and all those who represent it against people who seek its destruction. There no room for ambiguity and no possibility of merely sitting on the fence.

There is reason to believe it is this sense of divide, the doubt over whether or not the Taliban were our real enemies, that allowed them over the past decade to grow in number and strength. We failed to go after them when the task could have been far more easily accomplished than is the case now. We were swayed in our resolve by those who insisted the militants presented no real threat; even that they were essentially good men and that our real fight lay with the US. We are now paying the price for holding such beliefs and for allowing them to shape policy. The elements within the establishment who propounded this point of view have a great deal to answer for. They can now make amends only by doing all that is possible to eliminate a ruthless enemy, before it destroys our nation and all that is good within it.







The battle for the control of South Waziristan has picked up pace with troops pushing ahead into Taliban strongholds. Resistance has been encountered at some points. Militant casualties have been mounting and the village of Hakeemullah Mehsud is said to be under siege. A tough standoff here is anticipated. The military is reported to have slowed its advance in anticipation of the tough battles ahead in the more mountainous areas. It is here of course that the true test will come. The Taliban excel in using this terrain to their advantage. In the past military convoys have become sitting ducks for fighters poised on hilltops, covering strategic routes into the territory which convoys must pass along to penetrate it. This time one hopes that strategy has been worked out well in advance.

The military offensive is being combined with talks to persuade key factions of the Mehsud tribe to abandon the Taliban. It is in the Mehsud sub-divisions of South Waziristan that the battles are, for the present, focused. We do not know what the degree of unity within the TTP is, but it is quite possible a split could emerge. The authorities have been working towards this for some time. The military then seems, so far, to have fared better than before. But there is still a long way to go. It also appears from comments we hear from IDPs that they are not convinced that this operation will bring about the final downfall of the Taliban. They point out similar action has been seen before and it has only added to their long suffering. We must hope their apprehensions are unfounded and that the fighting now does end in the defeat of the Taliban.







Comments by Interior Minister Rehman Malik to the effect that the government suspects that some money-exchange dealers and other unnamed 'foreign sources' are financing terrorism should be no surprise. His ministry has apparently taken 'serious notice' of this matter and he promised to conduct an investigation through the FIA. Whilst we applaud his diligence in this matter we feel it to be unlikely to be blessed with success – principally because no other nation or agency has thus far been able to stem the finances that run into regional terrorist groups through informal or covert channels. Relative to maintaining a standing army, navy and airforce terrorism is cheap to fund, but terrorist groups still have their 'overheads'. Weapons are the principal expense, and as most of them are bought on the black market they come at a premium price and the terrorist group will have to buy more than they need to allow for losses to the forces of law and order. Transport and logistics are expensive as are communications, although these costs have dropped dramatically with the growth of mobile phone networks nationally.

Finding the money and then channeling it to those who need it has now become a sophisticated global operation for all of the world's terrorist groups. A recent UN report on terrorist financing in this region states that groups are 'financially secure' in part because of the way we prefer to do business – informally, to avoid the prying eyes of the tax-collector. Alternative forms of remittance like hawala make financial movements difficult to trace and weak systems of oversight and regulation mean that there is a good chance of money moving undetected. Anti money-laundering legislation is only as good as its enforcement, and with endemic corruption at every level there is witting or unwitting complicity with those who solicit and disburse terrorist funds by those tasked to stop them. Sources of funding have also diversified, making tracking all the more difficult. Drug trafficking and other purely criminal activity have traditionally funded terror in modern times, but today the principal source is probably via 'charitable' donation – money being donated to front organisations that deliver some charitable services but divert a part of their income to funding terrorist activity. This widens the net of donation as it brings in 'ordinary people' who donate to charity out of the kindness of their hearts rather than a desire to support terrorism. In short, the picture is extremely complex; and the chances of cutting the cashflow to terrorism in Pakistan are slim – which does not mean we shouldn't try.









The NRO was tabled in parliament on Oct 16. Within the next six weeks, you will be voting on the government's proposal to make it a permanent law. For most of you, this is the most important vote that you will probably ever be called upon to cast in your entire political careers. Its outcome will determine not just the fate of the most hotly disputed legislation in the history of Pakistan. It will also influence greatly the political future of the country during the coming years and decades. A very heavy responsibility rests on your shoulders.

Some of Zardari's ministers have been claiming that in seeking parliament's approval for the NRO, the government is doing no more than to act in line with the Supreme Court judgement of Sept 30. This is disingenuous, to say the least, as is also the assertion made by Kaira that the ordinance was really something for which the last government is responsible. Zardari's ally, Fazlur Rehman, has gone even further. He has been quoted as saying that the JUI-F would support the NRO because "its approval will be in accordance with the spirit of the Supreme Court verdict that did not want to annul it."

This is a falsification. The Supreme Court only declared that as the PCO was unconstitutional, the NRO lapsed in February last year, unless it is passed as an act of parliament with retrospective effect. The court did not in any way suggest that the government should place it before parliament or that parliament should pass it. If you, as members of parliament, now approve the ordinance, the blame – or if you like, the credit – will be entirely yours and you will be answerable for it before the bar of public opinion and of history.

Mr Zardari, the main beneficiary of the NRO, also has the most to lose, both personally and politically, if the law is scrapped either by parliament or the judiciary. It is, therefore, no wonder that the presidency has deployed all the guns at its disposal to ensure passage of the ordinance by parliament. The president knows that if he fails in this effort, his fate will be sealed.

It appears at present that he has the votes he needs in both houses of parliament to have the law passed. Many PPP leaders besides the party co-chairman, and the MQM, have benefited directly from the ordinance. Despite some rumblings in the PPP, members of parliament belonging to the party are expected to vote solidly for the NRO. Other parties of the ruling coalition – the ANP and the JUI-F – are not direct beneficiaries. But they too would not like to embarrass Mr Zardari, whom they see as the main figure holding the coalition together.

The PML-N has been blowing hot and cold on this issue, depending on what appears to it to be politically expedient at any given time. These days it is again railing against the NRO. Mr Zardari will be meeting Nawaz Sharif shortly and is expected to offer a deal under which the PML-N would abstain in the vote on the ordinance, instead of voting against it, in return for some concessions. No one can be sure how the PML-N will vote eventually.

Those of you who have benefited from the NRO have strong personal reasons to pass it as law. Many others who have not gained from it directly will now come under pressure to support the NRO. Some of you will also be offered inducements of many sorts. It is to be hoped that you will not be influenced by these considerations and will reject the NRO. There are at least six reasons why you should do so.

First, public opinion, at the grassroots level and as expressed in the media, is overwhelmingly opposed to the NRO and will be further outraged if you grant impunity to those alleged to have looted the taxpayers' money on a massive scale, while the common man struggles to make ends meet in the face of runaway inflation, rampant corruption, a stagnant economy, a dysfunctional government and a persisting power crisis.

The only national newspaper to have supported the approval of the NRO is the Daily Times. Its editorial on Oct 19 ("Useless battle over NRO") argues that everyone must bow to "the fundamental principle of majority in democracy." If this perverse logic is accepted, it would follow that the only appropriate role for public opinion, the media and political parties is to say hurray and amen to whatever the parliamentary majority decides. Fortunately, our public is not prepared to put up with this kind of garbage.

Second, if you pass this law, you will be saying goodbye to an elementary principle of the rule of law that holders of high public office, like all others, must be punished if they misuse their authority in order to enrich themselves. This is not a "useless battle" as the Daily Times puts it, but is fundamental to the concept of equality before the law. The vote on the NRO is essentially over the question whether some citizens are more equal than the others.

Third, by putting your stamp of approval on multi-million billion dollar graft you will only bring further discredit on yourself. As it is, your reputation is not very high. Most of you come from a small exploiting class. Most Pakistanis believe that you are in parliament mainly to advance personal, party and class interests rather than serve the nation.

Only a week ago, you were railing against the allotment of plots of land in Islamabad to senior civil servants. At the same time, you are seeking these plots for yourself. The provincial assemblies of Punjab and the NWFP were doing the same. This is rank hypocrisy.

As law-makers, you should be setting an example for others by showing your respect for the law. But your record in this respect is appalling. The Election Commission reported recently that 105 MNAs and 11 senators (fully one-fourth of the membership of parliament) did not submit their annual declaration of assets as required by law. Some of you have been implicated in cases of assault, cheating and worse. Restrictions of space prevent me from giving further instances.

Fourth, any law you pass must be in conformity with the constitution. Before the case goes to the Supreme Court, you must apply this test yourself. Clearly, the NRO does not meet the standards set by the constitution.

Fifth, do not believe those scaremongers like the Daily Times who tell you that if the NRO is not passed, there will be mid-term elections leading to instability. The fact is that chances of early elections will be reduced, not enhanced, if the NRO is scrapped and there will be more not less stability.

The Daily Times also argues that overturning the NRO will overturn the 2008 elections. Nothing could be more inane than that. It is also an insult to the nation because it amounts to saying that the country's electorate itself chose to legalise large-scale corruption.

Sixth, do not forget that whatever you do with the NRO will be judged by history and the people of Pakistan. The last parliament is rightly reviled for having passed the Seventeenth Amendment. You too will not be forgiven if you approve the NRO.

You must rise above narrow personal and party politics. The choice you face is between trying to save Mr Zardari and taking the country forward. Choose the latter. The political stability of the country and the credibility of our parliamentary system of government are at stake. If you pass this law, you will bring undying shame on yourself and parliament and will have brought the country to a new low.

On the other hand, you have an unprecedented opportunity to put the country on a stable democratic path. Just say no to the NRO. And you, dear Yousuf Raza Gilani, can take the lead by announcing that you will be voting against the ordinance. You have often been saying that you wanted to make history. Now is your chance.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email:







Pakistan has slipped into a civil war without quite realising how it happened and where it will end. An imported and assiduously pedalled dogma, but now nurtured within, has petrified the minds of a large number of its adherents and drawn a circle around them. This dogma demands authority rather than intelligent thought as the source of opinion; persecution and hostility towards unbelievers and asks of its disciples that they forsake natural kindliness in favour of systematic hatred. In short, it requires the sacrifice of thinking to believing.

History has shown that dogmas are frightful tyrants; once they get inside a man's head they lead him to acts of unthinking cruelty, cramp mental development and cow the populace.

Pakistan will lose the password to the gates of progress if she were to lose this war. The enemy which we are now battling for the control of Pakistan is to be found not only in the foothills of the Hindu Kush and the madaressahs financed by Saudi and Gulf largesse but also in our own streets and offices, which is why this war is in essence a civil war.

Already a significant segment of our population has fallen victim to the scourge of this dogma; evidence of which can be seen on bus stops where even old women are forced by the pressure of uninformed opinion into donning impractical shrouds, lest they be scolded by "pious" rogues, as they struggle with their groceries and a bevy of children to clamber on to moving busses, often missing the step and falling in the path of moving traffic; on foot paths where modestly dressed girls are castigated, sometimes assaulted, for not wearing the burka (recently declared un- Islamic by the scholars of Al Azhar); and in mosques for not folding arms during prayers or for sporting a goatee (half-beard).

The extent to which this antediluvian segment of the population goes to ensure what, they feel, are the mandatory external expressions of our faith is ludicrously intrusive. And for all such moral policing, statistics show that the crimes of rape, sodomy, prostitution, women subjected to beatings and murder are soaring with much of it taking place in localities where such practices are most pervasive.

The mullah, at one time seen only at weddings and deaths, is now everywhere, including television spewing for the most part his dirge of hate and intolerance.

It is for this reason that the outcome of the army operation in Waziristan is crucial to Pakistan's development as a modern and progressive nation. Victory will hopefully presage the growth of a new morality where men can question and argue without fear of decapitation, where the laws that stunt debate and enquiry will be repealed, where the citizen will be free to proclaim what he feels is true without fear of the consequences, where people will be free to decide where they stand on matters of religion and much else.

We should not grieve for those on the other side of the divide. It is not the state which chose the sword as the final arbiter of her quarrel with the Taliban; we would have preferred the peaceful and constitutional path. The choice has been that of the Taliban and their myriad supporters, both passive and active. But now there can be no turning back, the sword will have to be what in essence the sword has always been, the final arbiter.

There will be moments in this struggle when the public may waver. At such moments the state too may wonder whether it should press ahead. The question that needs to be asked is not whether it can be done, because it is already too late for that, but whether it ought to be done and, as long as the answer is yes, the state must not waver. A political scientist's advice to elected political leaders is worth recalling. "You should respect public opinion in so far as it is necessary to survive in office but anything beyond that is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny which is likely to interfere in all sorts of ways with clearly enunciated goals".

Actually for the state which has become geographically and socially, though not yet politically, completely unrecognisable from what it was fashioned to be by Jinnah, the present war offers a final opportunity to return to the path envisaged by him. We can either be a modern, progressive and democratic polity, which in the main we may achieve if we win, or dream about such a polity as we languish as an ugly and dangerously unstable pseudo theocracy. We cannot emerge from the current war and settle for some kind of entity which is half-democratic and a quarter progressive. Or, become like Afghanistan is, a geographical expression rather than a state in the accepted sense of the term. Pakistan, unlike Germany, France or Russia is not a historical state. There would have always been a Germany, notwithstanding its partition into East or West; or a Russian nation in whatever form. For our continued existence we depend on the wisdom of our leaders, and when they proved unwise half of the country was irretrievably lost. The existence of the other half, and nothing less, is now at stake.

It is inconceivable that the challenge posed by the Taliban and their ilk can be handled successfully by the current dispensation on its own while the opposition parties continue to snipe and question the righteousness, honesty, integrity, capability and effectiveness of the government at the centre. An all party government of national unity is the inescapable need of the time. Nor, during the current emergency, will peacetime laws by themselves prove sufficient. Inevitably, as the courts bail out suspects with the most dubious connections, recourse will have to be had to old or new laws allowing preventative detention and enhanced powers for the police and other law and order forces. In the face of an enemy that is taking advantage of the very laws it would deny its opponents if it were in power, we are fighting with one hand tied behind our back. The fact is that we are at war and the outcome is as yet undecided.

Pakistan will need both valour and strategy to win this war. The valour we are witnessing already, it is the strategy that now needs to be put in place and a confused nation informed of the benchmarks by which success or failure should be measured. At the moment the government seems to have little to offer but its own confusion.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







Every school, college and university in Pakistan is closed. The seemingly most impenetrable building in Pakistan, the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army was breached, and breached emphatically. Mosques, police stations, hospitals, street corners, market places. Every imaginable area of public interaction in Pakistan has been targeted by terrorists. Oh and in case the PPP has forgotten, Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was assassinated less than two years ago, ostensibly by the same terrorists that are now devouring Pakistan like a cancer.

In these desperate times, defining the conflict properly is of vital importance. One recurring theme in the English language press in Pakistan, and across the Western media, is the shaping of the current crisis as a war against religious extremism. This is erroneous at best, and disingenuous at worst. An irrational national discourse is not the same thing as the ascendancy of extremism. When we repeatedly shape the conflict as a contest between extremists and non-extremists (we should avoid the word moderate, given its enormous baggage), we validate and certify our approval of the Pakistani state's utter incompetence and failure in dealing with crises that have been manufactured by its own stunted volition. The focus on extremism allows state machinery to easily escape any scrutiny or accountability for the horrific counter-terrorism, and law and order failures that have produced episode after episode of successful terrorist strikes.

More importantly, when we decry the lack of support for Pakistani military action against terrorists because of innate Pakistani extremism, we do a massive disservice to the truth. Fighting terrorists is not the same thing as fighting extremism. The entire gamut of extremism needs to be addressed in Pakistan -- particularly the misogyny that extreme tribalism, feudalism and religious symbolism enable in this country. If this war on extremism was an honest war, it would have been on-going for many decades, and Pakistani connoisseurs of The New York Times, wouldn't need Nicolas Kristoff to awaken us to the incredibly disgusting manner in which some of Pakistan's most unfortunate women are treated.

The best proof that the shaping of the war as one between extremists and non-extremists is a spurious formulation is in the irrefutable numerical evidence that demonstrates Pakistan's comprehensive rejection of religious extremism. The most recent research from two different and globally well-regarded sources, both demonstrate that Pakistanis are overwhelmingly against religious extremism, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and all related manifestations of violent expressions of political Islam.

The Pew Global Attitudes Project published its survey of Pakistani public opinion on August 13, while the International Republican Institute (IRI) produced its quarterly public opinion poll on October 1. The polls reveal a startling similarity of trends that should, for anyone interested in facts rather than fiction, give rest to the notion that there is some deep inexplicable love in Pakistan for demonic extremists that are interested only in waging indiscriminate death and destruction. The Pew survey reports, among other things, that:

* Seventy-nine per cent of Pakistanis are concerned about extremism in Pakistan,

* Nine per cent of Pakistanis have favourable views of the Taliban,

* Ten per cent have favourable views of Al Qaeda,

* Seventy-three per cent of Pakistanis say that the Taliban pose a threat to their country,

* Eighty-seven per cent of Pakistani Muslims feel that suicide bombing is never justifiable (that by the way, is the highest rate rejection of suicide bombings out of several countries, including Israel, Indonesia, Egypt, Turkey and Jordan).

The IRI survey confirms these findings, and reports that:

Ninety per cent of Pakistanis feel that "religious extremism is a serious problem in Pakistan";

Eighty-six per cent of Pakistanis feel that "the Taliban and Al Qaeda operating in Pakistan is a serious


Sixty-nine per cent of Pakistanis support the army's operation to clear terrorists from Malakand.

It would be hard, in the face of this data, to continue to shape the debate as extremist versus non-extremist. Yet, despite access to these statistics, both Pakistani and western observers find it more convenient to pin responsibility for this orgy of death that has been unleashed upon the Pakistani people on an abstract (and totally false) notion of Pakistani sympathy for extremism. One of the most disturbing outcomes of these falsehoods is that it completely undermines the massive price that Pakistanis have paid in prosecuting their resistance to extremism. According the New Delhi-based, South Asia Terrorism Portal (maintained by the Institute of Conflict Management), since 2003 Pakistan has lost over 7,000 civilian lives and over 2,600 soldiers to terrorist violence.

The reason Pakistanis are opposed to the Taliban, to Al Qaeda and to religious extremism is obvious – all three are responsible for the killing of Pakistanis left, right and center.

The total casualties from terrorism in Pakistan of course, do not include figures for the loss of life sustained during efforts to kill terrorists, or what the US war machine fondly referred to as collateral damage, during the Bush years. Of the different estimates, the latest have been made by Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann at the New America Foundation. They estimate the total number of civilian deaths from drone attacks is anywhere between 252 to 316 -- a much lower figure than the more widely cited estimate of civilian deaths made by David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum in The New York Times, back in May this year (700).

If the number of victims of terrorism explains Pakistani opposition to terrorism, then the number of deaths caused by collateral damage might explain the other important aspects of both the Pew and the IRI surveys.

The IRI poll reports that 80 per cent of Pakistanis do not want to cooperate with the US war on terror, 77 per cent oppose US incursions into the tribal areas and 76 per cent oppose Pakistan's support of US drone attacks. The Pew numbers are even more emphatic. Ninety-five per cent of Pakistanis feel the drone attacks are a bad (33 per cent), or very bad (62 per cent), thing.

In essence, collateral damage -- whether it is inflicted by terrorists, or by the US drone strikes -- tends to generate opposition. Terrorists have killed more than 7,000 innocent Pakistani citizens. The result? Total rejection of extremist groups. Predator drone strikes have killed between 252 and 700 innocent Pakistani civilians. The result? Total rejection of predator drone strikes.

What will the impact of raining down ammunition on South Waziristan from F-16s be on the perceptions of battle-hardened, proud and tough-as-nails young Waziri men and boys? How many innocent Pakistanis will die as a result of the operation on South Waziristan? And what will be the response of their family and their kinsmen?

No reasonable person should argue about the absolute necessity to physically eliminate terrorists. But reasonable people should be able to come up with a more sophisticated solution than a Vietnam redux. An irrational tolerance of dysfunctional governance for many decades has brought Pakistan to its current situation. An irrational exuberance for war among Pakistanis today is taking it into an uncertain future. Most immediately, this exuberance is preventing a cold assessment of the ramifications of a country carpet bombing its own territory. Of course, irrational exuberance has its origins in an over-archingly irrational national discourse.

And the best punchline for an irrational national discourse? Consider this. Of all the data I've cited here, not a single one of the data sources is a Pakistani individual or organisation. The best data on Pakistan's most important struggles is coming from New Delhi, and from Washington DC. Surely, a 21st century nuclear power can do better?

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad. Email: raoofhasan







The recent spate of suicide attacks at strategic sites throughout the country on the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, office of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) in Lahore, Police Training Centre in Manawan and the Elite Force Headquarters in Bedian has further raised the ante in the fight against extremism. It would take time to absorb the shock of these brazen attacks. It may also be counter-productive to indulge in meaningless semantics with regard to various ingredients that constitute the overall security paradigm of institutions of such mammoth importance for the country.


While the dead are gone, they leave behind immense responsibility for the nation to shoulder in terms of looking after the welfare of their families. As we sat discussing this aspect among a few friends, it was Usman Aminuddin who came up with a credible proposal to float a national fund for the welfare of those who sacrifice their lives in defence of the country. With a wave of support for those who fought valiantly to blunt the terrorist scourge, he felt sure that people would respond enthusiastically and donate generously to the cause. He vowed to be the first one to donate and the rest present at the session exuded positive vibes to the proposal. I believe it should be immediately implemented by the prime minister with a personal call to the people to come forward and make their due contribution to this commendable cause.

Concurrently, he should also put in place a transparent, efficient and effective system of checks of balances so that funds collected in this manner are neither pilfered, nor misused and are exclusively invested towards the welfare of the families that have suffered in the cause of national defence.

Elsewhere, the country is showing increasing signs of coming apart as a consequence of grave mishandling of its security requirements by the political leadership, most notably the stalwarts of the presidency. The manner in which this clique of self-serving individuals has moved at a tangent to the aspirations of the people is alarming. The flagrant defence that they have continued to offer for the Kerry-Lugar Bill in spite of palpable evidence to the contrary is reflective of a mindset that is not susceptible to the interest of the state. It was possibly an awareness of this mindset that prompted the GHQ to issue a public statement with regard to its serious reservations about some conditionalities of the Kerry-Lugar Bill (KLB). The inconclusive debate in the National Assembly and the abrupt manner in which the session was prorogued leaves a bad taste in the mouth with regard to the government's clandestine intentions about the KLB and its negative impact on the fate of the country.

Incidentally, this bill has become a classic case of a nation being forced to sell its soul for peanuts by a leadership that remains inescapably engrossed in pursuit of personal survival. The recent judicial injunction with regard to the annulment of the November 3 proclamation and the attending issues including the fate of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), and the consequent prospect of revival of cases that had earlier been written off has sent shock waves across the expanse of the beneficiaries of the unconstitutional act of a dictator. Less than six weeks remain to the deadline set by the Supreme Court and, in the event the incumbent political leadership is unable to carry the NRO through both Houses of the Parliament, a mammoth crisis of sorts would unfurl that it may find unable to address. The inherent contradictions that plague the incumbent leadership are only becoming more obvious because of a total absence of resolve to settle outstanding matters in consonance with the relevant provisions of the constitution and the demands of the rule of law. The paucity of vision is repeatedly demonstrated through a pitiable dearth of viable policy initiatives that have come out in the last 18 months.

On the contrary, every step that the government has taken has added further confusion to the game plan. The minister who attempted to move a pre-matured and servile vote of thanks for the United States for offering us the largesse through the KLB survives its vehement rejection encompassing all sections of the society. Such are the people who are leading the coalition on a path of self-destruction.

A die-hard persistence with the current mindset that is gravely dogged by an infatuation with personal survival would only lead to further setbacks that the state may no longer be able to sustain. It is time to escape the petty and rise to face the challenges that the country confronts from numerous quarters – some outright adversaries and some guised as erstwhile friends.

The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad. Email: raoof








The PPP government has finally laid the loathsome National Reconciliation Ordinance before parliament for approval. Representatives and cronies of the ruling regime have now taken upon themselves to justify the need and merit of this indefensible legislation promulgated by General Musharraf as the negotiated deliverable of his secret deal with Benazir Bhutto. It appears that elected representatives of the people are about to squander another opportunity to build their own credibility and raise the minimum acceptable standards of ethics in politics by approving the NRO and reaffirming their commitment to cronyism and parochial loyalties. Why is it that those sitting in dark chambers of power are robbed of their ability to take a rational measure of the public and political impact of their acts and decisions?

Whether parliament passes the NRO, repeals it or allows it to lapse on November 30, will have no legal impact on the rights and benefits already accrued under this law by President Zardari and others. Such benefits can only be taken away if this law is found to be ultra vires of the constitution by the Supreme Court. Such determination will have to be made in view of the provisions of the constitution and not NRO's endorsement by parliament.

Instead of disowning the NRO as a contrivance of a bygone dictator and emphasising their commitment to equality, the rule of law and constitutionalism, the ruling party and its members seem intent upon rubbing the legislature's face in dirt by approving an abominable law likely to be struck down as unconstitutional in any event.

In terms of its content, the NRO amends three other laws: the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898 (CrPC); the Representation of the People Act, 1976; and the National Accountability Ordinance, 1999. The amendments introduced to the Representation of People Act, 1976 are neither undesirable nor controversial, but changes made in the other two are deleterious and prima facie unconstitutional. The NRO introduces new provisions in the CrPC that would allow the ruling government to withdraw, in its discretion, cases pending before the courts against any person that it believes was falsely involved in such cases for political reasons between Jan 1, 1986, and October 12, 1999. These provisions were supposedly introduced to benefit the MQM by creating a mechanism to withdraw thousands of criminal cases pending against its members.

The amendments introduced to the CrPC are objectionable from a conceptual as well as constitutional standpoint. One, they are discriminatory and fall foul of Article 25 of the constitution that mandates equality of all citizens and guarantees equal protection under law for they do not create a mechanism to review all cases of political victimisation, but prescribes preferential treatment for those falling within a timeframe determined arbitrarily and without any rational basis. Two, they violate the foundational concept of trichotomy of powers enshrined in our constitution by authorising the executive to intrude into the province of the judiciary.

In matters of criminal law, the state prosecutes citizens for the benefit and on behalf of society. The state has no discretion to refuse to initiate prosecution in relation to a crime or withdraw it at its whim. The executive is thus obliged to prosecute offenders implicated in crimes and once the matter is before court, due process requirements mandate that the same may not be withdrawn without the permission of the court. Due process is the essence of the rule of law. And this is what the NRO undermines not just in relation to the CrPC amendments but also those made within the NAB Ordinance, by enabling the executive to bring the accountability process of law to a sudden halt in handpicked cases.

The argument most vociferously made by President Zardari's fawning minions – that quashing legal proceedings against the beneficiaries of the NRO is welcome because despite a decade of prosecution no charges have been proved against him – betrays complete ignorance of the intrinsic link between due process and the rule of law. The heading of section 33A of the NAB Ordinance, introduced by Section 1 of the NRO, that reads "withdrawal and termination of prolonged pending proceedings initiated prior to October 12, 1999," itself highlights the twin problems with the amending provision: suspension of due process and discriminatory nature of the law.

Parliament could contemplate making a law that requires that the judicial process – trial and appeal included – in every case be completed within a stated timeframe to deal with the issue of delays. But then it must benefit all citizens. If those implicated in graft and violent crime can rise above the law by designing and approving a tailor-made law that allows them to do so, would Article 25 and its equal protection guarantee not be reduced to a farce?

The constitution after all cannot produce egalitarianism by ensuring social or economic equality. But it does offer justice through its promise of legal equality. Consequently Article 8 of the constitution holds that parliament has no authority to promulgate laws that contravene fundamental rights. The right to equal protection of law is a fundamental right enshrined in Article 25. The NRO is an instrument designed to grant preferential treatment to certain politicians and save them from the process of law. How can our parliamentarians in their right mind contemplate passing such a law in view of the explicit provisions of the constitution?

Let us assume for a moment that Mr Zardari and other beneficiaries of the NRO are hapless souls who have been made to suffer due to an abuse of the process of law by the mighty and thus saving them is a virtuous goal. Even then such a desirable objective cannot be achieved by prohibited means. Whether or not parliament will agree to pass the NRO is a political, ethical and moral question. The legal question is whether it has the authority to pass a discriminatory legislation that it deems desirable in view of the legislative authority bestowed upon it by the constitution. And this is what makes PPP's desperate attempt to get the NRO rubber-stamped by parliament seem ridiculous.

The strongest political argument rendered in support of the NRO is that it facilitates continuity of the political process by enabling the PPP leadership to free itself from legal persecution. But the argument is self-contradictory for two reasons. First of all, NRO beneficiaries such as Mr Zardari claim that no court of law has convicted them and given that their guilt has not been established, letting them loose isn't all that bad. But if there has been no conviction, the charge of persecution cannot stick either.

Does the need for the NRO then stem from the likelihood of conviction if legal processes are allowed to take their normal course? Or are we proposing a new entitlement for the political elites: the right not to be burdened by grinding processes of law that ordinary citizens are subjected to?

Second, the support for continuity of the political process is not rooted in the naive desire to see compromised politicians imposed upon this nation till eternity. The idea is to allow the process to run in a self-corrective fashion to separate the chaff from the grain and in order to find, nurture and groom a new breed of credible and untainted leadership. It is devices such as the NRO that lend support to detractors of democracy in Pakistan who argue that continuity of the representative process will not lead to reform but will instead allow corrupt political elites to entrench themselves further.

(To be concluded)








The first round goes to Senator Kerry. He's being hailed the negotiator par excellence for getting his way with Islamabad and Kabul. With Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the 'Af-Pak' emissary, sent back to the pavilion and made to take off his pads, the batting contest as the 'best diplomat' between Kerry and Hillary heats up in Washington DC.

Now that Gilani's cabinet has approved the Kerry-Lugar bill and Karzai has agreed to a runoff election, the US State Department is stepping up to the plate. Enter Hillary Clinton, the lady wearing the pants. She seems to have already elbowed out Ambassador Richard Holbrooke whom Obama called "one of the most talented diplomats of his generation".

The special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has been purposely kept away from crucial discussions with Pakistani and Afghan leaders because of his rude rebukes to Karzai and the Pakistani media. Instead the 67-year-old Holbrooke is currently garaged in Washington DC. Good for him. Unless he learns how to treat people with respect, he needs to remain submerged at Foggy Bottom, the metonym for Department of State.

"Like many, we wonder what happened to Mr Obama's special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, who established a bureaucratic fiefdom at the State Department but has been neither seen nor heard from during this critical period," remarked the New York Times October 20 editorial.

For the moment, the hero of the hour is Senator Kerry who has succeeded in getting both Islamabad and Kabul on his wavelength. One cannot say the same of GHQ, however. Unless General Kayani publicly comes out with a statement against the KLB, we remain clueless except for Shaheen Sehbai's Oct 24 insider detailing a serious falling out between the presidency and the army.

Meanwhile, the US media is cheering Kerry on. "Don't be surprised if Kerry sealed a cabinet post with Karzai deal," writes Spencer Ackerman in the Washington Independent. His tweeted prediction is that Kerry may have just "clinched a gig as secretary of state when Hillary Rodham Clinton decides to move on. Kerry lobbied hard for the job last year after vigorously supporting Obama on the campaign trail, and was just barely passed over for Obama's former presidential rival." Kerry was expected to meet with Obama privately at the White House to discuss Afghanistan. "Chances are they won't talk about any future emissary role, but it might be hovering in the background" says Ackerman.

In an interview with NBC News, when President Obama was asked about the timing of his Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, he only said: "I think it is entirely possible that we have a strategy formulated before a runoff (elections in Afghanistan) is determined. We may not announce it."

Hillary Clinton, who is scheduled to visit Islamabad on October 28, has realised that winning over the Pakistani media may be her trump card. She was quoted saying that US plans to be "aggressive" with the Pakistan media. "I think we have, as a government, not done a very good job in responding to what you rightly call propaganda, misinformation, even in some instances disinformation about our motivations and our actions in Pakistan," she said.

Admitting that the US-Pakistan suffered from a trust deficit, Hillary Clinton said, "I think we saw that in some of the reaction on the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which we have been working on and consulting with the government of Pakistan for months… Obama administration was very concerned when the reaction to it was so volatile and negative."

Over to you General Kayani.








WHILE the military operation in South Waziristan is meeting slow and gradual but firm successes, the militants and their sympathizers countrywide appear to be perturbed and quite active to take revenge. Target killing of two Army men including a Brigadier and scare created by reports of firing and presence of bomb in F-8 Markaz of the capital have deepened the sense of insecurity that was already there because of frequent bombing of different targets and incidents of firing by militants.

It is quite obvious that the wave of terror is unlikely to subside in the immediate future as the military operation would continue to put pressure on the terrorists and they will try their utmost to react violently in different parts of the country. At the moment the focus of the terrorists is Islamabad and its sister city Rawalpindi, which are seats of power and symbol of State authority. The frequent attacks are having demoralizing effect on the citizens of the twin cities and the capital in particular presents a deserted look following closure of educational institutions and restricted business activities. Urgent measures are needed to bolster morale of the people because if Islamabad faces psychological collapse then one can imagine what would happen to the rest of the country. It is understood that the Government and its law enforcing agencies are doing their best to beef up security. Arrest of a suspected suicide attacker from I-9 sector by the vigilant police personnel and reported recovery of a large number of suicide jackets from another sector a day earlier speak volumes about the efforts of our law enforcement agencies to thwart designs of terrorists. However, it is also a fact that the agencies alone cannot ensure hundred per cent security until and unless each and every member of the civil society extends fullest possible cooperation to them. No doubt, the entire nation is at the back of the Government and the armed forces but there is a need to translate this support into tangible benefit. This can be done by setting up citizens' committees at street and mohalla level so as to improve the vigilance and keep an eye on any unusual activity for instant reporting to the nearest police station or police mobile units. Similar support of the traders' associations and prayer leaders of mosques can also be enlisted besides those of students and teachers. Awareness should also be created about dos and don'ts as this would help minimize the damage in case of any incidents of terrorism and sabotage. We would also suggest that our intelligence agencies should also keep a strict watch on activities of foreigners whose activities are presently going unchecked. Pakistan is, no doubt, in a state of war and every one of us will have to rise up to fight back.










ONE of the leading commercial banks of the country – the Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) – is facing an unusual situation for the last two weeks but regrettably those at the helm of affairs are not only unconcerned about its plight but have become part of the problem. The bank is being harassed by some unscrupulous elements who are creating hurdles in its business activities resulting even closure of some branches in Karachi causing a lot of inconvenience to its customers who are otherwise highly satisfied with the services being provided by the Bank.

All big institutions — be they in Pakistan or any part of the globe — go through periods of crises and face ups and downs but in this particular case it is highly deplorable that those causing harm to the fair name of the country's leading Bank are closely associated with the ruling Peoples Party. Some knowledgeable circles in Karachi are openly complaining that perhaps all this is being done at the behest of top-notch leadership of the party. We have no reasons to believe so because no Government worth the name would incite activities detrimental to the economic interests of the country but unfortunately the general perception remains the same. There are allegations that banks, financial institutions and money changers are being pressurized in a bid to squeeze undue favours from them. MCB is one of the finest and very well managed banks of the country that has played crucial role in the progress and development of not only the banking sector but also the country. It has a very respected, professional and visionary leadership that had earned laurels from across the globe and only recently it brought over one billion dollars' worth of much-needed investment to Pakistan. Under these circumstances, there is every justification to provide all possible support to such institutions but unfortunately some myopic elements are doing exactly the opposite. They are instrumental in creating roadblocks in the way of such progressive institutions at a time when the entire world was removing bottlenecks and providing incentives during period of worst recession. By doing so we are sending wrong signals not only to the existing industry but also to the prospective investors. We will, therefore, urge Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani to take personal interest in the matter and do something to save the Bank from further losses at the hands of 'miscreants' and their backers. It is also the responsibility of State Bank of Pakistan and the Finance Minister, who himself has been a banker of repute to help resolve the problem.







WE are sorry to point out that with the passage of every day, Mian Nawaz Sharif, Quaid Pakistan Muslim League (N) is losing popularity and respectability in the eyes of the general public and has become a subject of criticism by different segments of the society. This is not mere perception but a fact supported by public opinion polls by independent entities.

It is for Mian Sahib and his party men to ponder over the causes that have led to this state of affairs and that too so soon. However, we believe that this is mainly because of the inaction and mysterious silence that the once most popular leader of the country has imposed on himself. Pakistan is passing through a critical and most dangerous phase of its existence and people expect of the PML (N) chief to fulfill his responsibilities of guiding and leading the nation but regrettably he seems to have become a lame duck leader confined to drawing-room politics. Nawaz Sharif is leading a party that is supposed to be the Government-in-Waiting but he unfortunately has nothing to say on such vital issues as military operation in Waziristan, increased incidents of terrorism, deteriorating security environment, blatant foreign interference in the internal affairs of the country, sagging morale of the people, massive corruption, virtual crumbling down of the institutions in the face of bad governance and price hike. It is being alleged that he has kept silence on all-important issues and even when he speaks he only indulges in rhetoric and issues cosmetic statements having no bearing on the ground situation. There is also a right or wrong perception that PML (N) leader has lost initiative and drive and either falls prey to the traps laid by PPP Co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari or merely responds to his actions. Mian Nawaz Sharif is perceived to be a true Pakistani and his party a major stakeholder but he seems to have been marginalized by foreign handlers who have given him assurance "Next term is yours". We hope he will discard the dwarfing role and play his part in safeguarding national interests in the face of fast moving developments.












It goes without saying that the founder of Pakistan, Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah had tremendous prophetic insight and could anticipate clearly the impending dangers that would be threatening the very edifice that he so passionately turned into a vibrant reality. In the thirteen months that he lived, he cautioned the nation against the poison of corruption, bribery and black marketing, the evil of nepotism, jobbery and cronyism, the curse of parochial and ethnic divisions, provincialism, and sectarianism and warned the nation against opportunist politicians, mushroom parties with attractive slogans, catch-words, ideals and programs, cliques, mobs quislings and fifth-columnists, trying to disrupt the State and discredit governments.

He pleaded not to be exploited or be misled by any political party or self-seeking politician and by those starting mushroom parties with attractive slogans, catch-words, ideals and programs before you. These are people who opposed the great struggle and raised obstacles with insidious false propaganda and now pose as saviors of the people's just rights; they incite people to defy the government and threaten to commit acts of lawlessness, to cause instability. Their object is to undermine the solidarity of the Muslims by creating a split amongst brother Muslims and finding ways and means to weaken and destroy the State. These people have been financed by foreign agencies; their purpose is to disrupt and sabotage Pakistan and to destroy what we have achieved. Interestingly in most of his speeches he refers to fifth columnists and quislings on numerous occasions. On 21st March, 1948, "I tell you once again, do not fall into the trap of those who are the enemies of Pakistan. Unfortunately, you have fifth-columnists— and I am sorry to say they are Muslims—who are financed by outsiders. We are not going to tolerate sabotage any more; we are not going to tolerate the enemies of Pakistan; we are not going to tolerate quislings and fifth-columnists in our State." Karachi, 9th January, 1948, "Pakistan must be governed through the properly constituted Government, and not by cliques, or fifth-columnists or a mob." Dhaka University, 24th March, 1948 "Is it not significant that the very persons who in the past have betrayed the Mussalmans or fought against Pakistan, which is after all merely the embodiment of your fundamental right of self-determination, should now suddenly pose as the saviors of your just right and incite you to defy the Government on the question of language? I must warn you to beware of these fifth columnists." 24th March, 1948, "My young friends, I would, therefore, like to tell you a few points about which you should be vigilant and beware. Firstly, beware of the fifth columnists among ourselves. Secondly, guard against and weed out selfish people who only wish to exploit you so that they may swim.

Now to elaborate upon the expressions fifth-columnists and quislings; The Wikipedia definition of fifth column is a group of people who clandestinely undermine a larger group, such as a nation, to which it's regarded as being loyal. Fifth- column is a clandestine subversive organization working within a country to further an invading enemy's military and political aims; a group of secret sympathizers or supporters of an enemy that engage in espionage or sabotage within defense lines or national borders. The term originated in a remark by Francisco Franco the Spanish dictator, that he was marching on Madrid with four columns of troops, and that there was a "fifth column" of sympathizers within the city ready to help. The general referred to his militant supporters within the capital as his "fifth column," intent on undermining the loyalist government from within. The term was popularized by Ernest Hemingway and later extended to any treacherous and disloyal insiders. The term may also refer to a subpopulation, such as an ethnic minority, which is assumed to have loyalties to countries other than the one in which they reside, or who support some other nation in war efforts against that country, this being the result of dual loyalty. In Europe German minority organizations in Poland and Czechoslovakia formed the Selbstschutz which actively helped the Third Reich in conquering those nations.

Quisling, after Norwegian politician Vidkun Quisling who assisted Nazi Germany to conquer his own country, is a term used to describe traitors and collaborators. In contemporary usage, "quisling" is synonymous with "traitor", and particularly applied to politicians who appear to favour the interests of other nations or cultures over their own. Quisling is a traitor who collaborates with an enemy and serves as the puppet of the enemy occupying his or her country. How do fifth- columnists operate? It's when the majority in a country becomes weak, indifferent and perplexed; a ruthless minority holds millions in slavery indefinitely. Fifth columnists work like beautifully organized gangs all over the country with the aim to seize power and influence and once that power is seized it establishes a dictatorship which can't be reversed for generations.

This group of subversive agents provides support to the enemy from within their own country by sabotaging its national interests, passing state secrets, collaborating and attempting to undermine a nation's solidarity. Those who mock "power of a few" should know that when the communists came to power in Russia; they were a handful of eighteen men, in a country of 170,000,000. These were people who succeeded because they knew what they wanted and went after it making their way in the echelons of power. All eras of our national history has been abundantly polluted with fifth columnists and quislings. Three days before Pakistan came into being, Quaid-e-Azam's speech, phenomenally secular, talked of his dream of Pakistan, "all citizens are equal citizens… Hindus will cease to be Hindus… Muslims will cease to be Muslims… any religion, caste, creed would have nothing to do with the business of the state." His address to the nation on August 11, 1947 to the members of the first Pakistan Constituent Assembly which held the status of a national covenant was not only distorted in print but vanished and later surfaced after nearly five decades. The press was prohibited to report it for three days because Quaid-e-Azam deputy Liaquat Ali Khan ordered its censorship considering it fearfully secular.

While thousands had thronged to greet Quaid-e-Azam at the Mauripur Airport in 1947, including cabinet ministers and members of the diplomatic corps but on his arrival at the same airport a year later from Ziarat, there was no one at the airport but Colonel Geoferry Knowles, the Military Secretary of the Governor-General. The ambulance taking the critically unwell Governor General form the Mauripur airport to the Governor General's house mysteriously stalled after covering just four miles and run short of petrol. Pakistan's Governor General lay on a stretcher, in unbearable heat, in the broken-down ambulance parked on a deserted railway level-crossing waiting helplessly for another ambulance to arrive. Two hours from Quetta to Karachi, and two hours from Mauripur airport to the Governor-General's House, hastened his end. After reaching the Governor General's residence he died within a few hours. In the words of Akbar S. Ahmed, "I thought of Jinnah old, sick and dying, so vulnerable in the capital of his own state.

The broken-down ambulance was a pathetic reflection on those who had benefitted the most—the Pakistanis in power."It's pertinent to mention, two pages from Miss Fatima Jinnah's book 'My Brother' were censored out while his physician's book was proscribed in 1948 only to be released in 1976 on Quaid-e-Azam birth centenary.







The declaration of "Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009" has not only fulfilled the longstanding demand of the people of Northern Areas for self-rule on the lines of AJK type of governance, it will also frustrate the nefarious designs of Indian external strike in Northern Areas. It is beyond doubt that the Northern Areas of Pakistan lag behind the rest of the provinces of the country. Sectarianism, poverty, Indian connection, weak judicial system, burgeoning of small arms, and separatist forces like Balawaristan National Front (BNF), Karakoram National Movement (KNM), are some of the major concerns that had alarmed the NA Administration. Some of the demands put across by the people of Pakistan 's mountainous Northern Areas were: (1) Self-governance like that of AJK or as a province. (2) Fully autonomous Legislative Assembly with Chief Minister. (3) Set up an independent High Court and Supreme Court. (4) The reforms in education set-up, e.g., affairs of Karakoram International University to be straightened, quota for Gilgit Baltistan be separated from FATA, setting-up of Medical College and Engineering College . (5) The Land allotment to non-locals, NGOs and foreign Govts should be banned. (6) Economic Developmental Package for the uplift of common people. (7) Control over the sectarianism.

Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani announced full internal autonomy for the Northern Areas which will heretofore be called Gilgit-Baltistan. Some of the salient of the constitutional package are: The Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self Governance Order 2009, replaces the Northern Areas Legal Framework Order of 1994. Under the order, Gilgit-Baltistan Assembly will formulate its own Rules of Procedures, while legislation on 61 subjects will be done by a council and an assembly in their respective jurisdictions. The region will not be regarded as a province, as the self-rule has been granted on the pattern of Azad Jammu and Kashmir . The self-governance to Gilgit-Baltistan will have no impact on the future of Kashmir . The Legislative Assembly will elect its own Chief Minister, however, the Legislative Assembly of Gilgit-Baltistan would have no control over defence and treasury. The elections in the areas would be held in October this year. Out of 36 assembly members, 24 would be elected directly whereas seven seats each would be reserved for the technocrats.

Federally Administered Northern Areas (FANAs) of Pakistan often described as "mountain desert" constitutes some extremely sensitive strategic landscape of Pakistan . With the partition of the Sub-continent in 1947, the Muslims dominated areas in North started revolt against Hindu Dogra rule, as some of its parts were under loose administrative control of Hindu Maharaja of Kashmir. The revolt, based on two-nation theory, culminated in success and the present territories now called Northern Areas (NAs) came into existence as a separate administrative entity. The Northern Areas have been divided into six districts: Gilgit, Skardu, Ghizer, Diamar, Gangchi, and Astore. The region comprises an area of 72,486 sq. km, with Chinese province of Xinjiang to the north, Indian-held-Kashmir (IHK) to the east, Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) to the south and Afghanistan and Central Asia , through the Wakhan Corridor, to the west. According to the most recent census, the population is estimated at 2.0 million. The area has many ethnic groups – Baltees, Kashmiris, Pathans, and Ladakhis, speaking a multiplicity of languages, including Balti, Shina, Pushto and Urdu. Gilgit is 60% Shia, 40% Sunni; Hunza, Punial, Yasin, Ishkoman and Gupis are l00% Ismaili; Nagar 100% Shia; Chilas and Darel/ Tangir l00% Sunni; Astor 90% Sunni, 10% Shia; Baltistan 96% Shia, and 4% Sunni). The Federally Administered Northern Areas are governed through Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC) and Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas (KANA).

A cursory look at the Wikipedia will provide the historical perspective of Northern Areas of Pakistan. The constitutional development in the Northern Areas has followed a markedly different route due to the peculiar characteristics of the area. The areas that today make up Northern areas were once part of British Empire serving as a bulwark against Russian expansionism in Central Asia . It proved difficult, however, for the colonial government to establish its writ in the tribal areas. Colonial administrators oversaw but never fully controlled the region through a combination of British-appointed agents and local tribal elders. Soon after Independence , Northern areas continue to be governed primarily through the Frontier Crimes Regulation (FCR) of 1901. A political agent was initially given charge of the region. After a brief period under NWFP's administrative control, Gilgit Agency, including Baltistan was placed under KANA in 1950. In 1952, the KANA joint secretary was given the responsibility of administering the Northern Areas as "political resident" based in the federal capital. He yielded extraordinary powers, heading the local administration, judiciary, financial and revenue. In 1969, a Northern Areas Advisory Council (NAAC) was created but it was devoid of decision-making powers. Under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the agency system along with the FCR was abolished in 1974, and Gilgit and Baltistan were transformed into districts like those in Pakistan 's settled areas. Under the LFO, the NAC became the Northern Areas Legislative Council (NALC). While the number of seats has been increased, and it is democratically elected, the NALC has only limited advisory functions. It lacks meaningful legislative powers and wields no control over the executive, which still consists of bureaucrats appointed by the KANA minister. Absent from decision-making forums in Islamabad , the Northern Areas also have no voice on the budget. In May 1999, the Supreme Court of Pakistan delivered a landmark judgment on the constitutional status of the Northern Areas in response to Constitutional Petition 17 of 1994. Declaring that Pakistan exercised de facto as well as de jure administrative control over the Northern Areas, the Supreme Court ruled that the people of the Northern Areas were "citizens of Pakistan, for all intents and purposes". The Supreme Court decreed that the people of the region were not able to exercise their right to govern through their chosen representatives because the NALC could not be equated with provincial government. President General Pervez Musharraf has announced a historic package on October 23, 2007 by giving maximum financial and administrative autonomy for the people of Northern Areas as harbinger of new era of progress.

The PPP-led democratic Government has taken some concrete steps to provide meaningful autonomy to the Federally Administered Northern Areas extending civil and political rights to its people. The federal government's effort to grant self-government is largely responsible for bringing peace in the region. The elected and representative government in Islamabad has ensured that political reforms are locally driven and not centrally dictated. The "Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009" package coupled with economic development programme will frustrate anti-Pakistan elements, like Indian secret agencies, Abdul Hameed Khan, Chief of Balwaristan National Front (BNF), Emma Nicholson, the Vice Chairperson of the Committee of Foreign Affairs of the European Union and member of the European Parliament, etc. The Government has envisioned a bright future for the people of the NAs and extensive efforts are being made to ensure the realisation of their aspirations.







In view of recent events in Arunachal Pradesh, Bharat Verma, editor Indian Defence Review China presaged the other day that there could be a war during the month of October 2009 between India and China. Earlier in an interview with the Times of India he reckoned that China would attack India in 2012. One does not know the inside story, but his prediction of imminent war smacks of some devious designs on the part of India. Anyhow, claims some 90000 square kilometer of Arunachal Pradesh, which was once a part of Tibet whereas India always took the plea that it is part of India, which it inherited from the British Raj. In 1959, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had written to Indian prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru rejecting latter's contention that the border was based on 1914 treaty of Simla Convention adding that Chinese government had not accepted McMohan Line as legal.

In 1962, when India tried to flex its muscles, Chinese troops had advanced to 48 kilometers in Assam plains and also occupied Indian forces' strategic posts in Ladakh in 1962. The border clashes with China were a direct consequence of the Tibetan problem that cropped up when the Dalai Lama had fled to India. Since then it has become a flashpoint that could spark a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours. Over the years, both countries held series of negotiations to resolve the territorial dispute but to no avail. But after British Foreign Office clarification on 29th October 2008 admitting that Tibet was part of China, Britain should ask India to review its policy of intransigence. Kashmir dispute also owes its origin to British Raj, and after United Nations Security Resolution, international community and especially Britain should play its role in resolving the dispute.

Before the last World Olympics in Peking, efforts were made by the US and the West to tarnish China's image by inciting human rights activists to highlight human rights' abuses. When the Olympic torch was to pass from India, protests by Tibetans were organized to mar the event and bring China into disrepute. Tensions are mounting between China and India, especially after US-India nuclear deal because India is basking in the glow of strategic partnership with the US and started flexing muscles with China, and has started interfering its affairs. Recently, Indian government lodged a protest with China over the proposed construction of Bunji Hydro-electric Project in Astore district of the Gilgit Balistan area. Chinese President Hu Jintao said that China would continue to support projects in Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas.

Chinese government has recently strongly protested over Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. China has also taken exception to the planned visit of Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, and warned that there should no political speeches. According to Indian press reports, China's soldiers, helicopters and even fighter jets have been intruding in the disputed territory to slowly and steadily retrieve the area. Though Chinese media has never created hype about its territorial dispute with India, however recently Chinese diplomats, intellectuals and leaders of the public opinion assert claims over Arunachal Pradesh. According to news carried by international media in May 2009, India has significantly upgraded its military prowess along the border it shares with China, deploying two army divisions along with a squadron of top-of-the-line Sukhoi Su-30MKI warplanes at a critical base in the north-east. Three Awacs command-and-control aircraft was also deployed to boost India's ability to track troop and equipment movements on the Chinese side of the border. In August 2009, during Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari's visit to southern China, the two countries signed a deal to work together to build a 7,000 MW hydro power project in Bunji in Northern Areas. President Zardari also sought Chinese assistance and invited companies to help develop hydel and thermal projects in the region. Indian Foreign Office spokesman Vishnu Prakash said on last Wednesday that Beijing was fully aware of India's concerns about China's help in projects, and had asked China to take a "long term view" of relations between the two countries and to stop activities in what it called Pakistan Occupied Kashmir. China is a trusted friend of Pakistan; it has helped Pakistan in economic and defence fields in the past.

China was involved in a variety of projects including Gwadar port project and Saindak Copper Project in Balochistan, and has extended full cooperation to make Pakistan self-reliant by providing know-how with a view to ensuring territorial integrity and sovereignty of Pakistan. It would not be an exaggeration to say that Pakistan's stability has always been the cornerstone of China's foreign policy always. Former president Pervez Musharraf and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao had held an hour-long meeting in Shanghai during his visit to attend Shangai Cooperation Organization (SCO). China and Pakistan signed a deal in 2006 to upgrade the Karakoram Highway, which runs from the trading city of Kashgar in China's far western Xinjiang region to Gilgit in Pakistan and on to Islamabad. Recent events in Tibet and Xinjiang however have sparked regional concerns. There are ominous forebodings. Bharat Verma, editor of the Indian Defense Review, in an interview with Times of India claimed that "China would attack India before 2012 to divert the attention of its own people from unprecedented internal dissent, growing unemployment and financial problems that are threatening the hold of Communists in that country". This sounds a part of propaganda to exact further concessions and help from the US and the West to strengthen India's armed forces. Chinese leadership is well composed. It neither bullies other countries nor accepts any nonsense even from the super power. But China would never accept independence of Taiwan, which has been armed to the teeth by the US and the West. Beijing is indeed making preparations for that eventuality, and building up its military strength to project power not only regionally but also to contend the US as a major player in global politics.

Nevertheless, Chinese leaders hope that frictions can be contained and overwhelmed by the two nation's shared interest in prosperity. Chinese leadership also understands that economic power is the most important and most essential factor in comprehensive national power, which is why China has all along focused on increasing its economic strength keeping in mind that its military strength depends on the former. Chinese leadership has never reacted reflexively even when it was a question of its rights over Hong Kong and Taiwan. Despite acts of provocations, such as arming Taiwan to the teeth and the US efforts to contain China, the latter always signalled that it would not fight on US terms. Even western analysts reckon that China would be the leading industrial power and perhaps a superpower by 2020. Indeed, China was once a great civilization, and even when degeneration had crept in, the society was never dead, as the revolutions could not occur in a dead society. Nevertheless, the Marxist ideology under the leadership of Mao Tse Tung inspired the degenerated society and it was back on the track to enlightenment and development. The new experiment of market economy monitored and controlled by the Communist party was unique, and Deng Xiao Ping was architect of this policy. After he had taken over control, he observed that China could not go forward unless it got western technology. For this purpose there was no way out but to mend the fences with the West. He formulated policy of coexistence with the West, and it is due to his vision and foresight that China is progressing by leaps and bounds.








Iran has been under pressure for years as a result of UN sanctions for not meeting demand by the West to abandon its nuclear enrichment programme .The international sanctions have so far proved to be ineffective mainly due to lack luster cooperation from Russia, China and European countries which have deep economic relations with Iran. These sanctions may be teethless but are certainly causing difficulties to the Iranians by way of rising prices of consumer goods. The Iranian government has decided to allow IAEA to inspect a newly disclosed nuclear enrichment facility on Oct. 25, in an effort to end the stand off with the West over its N-programme. The new site, an underground facility, is located in the arid mountains near the holy city of Qum. It is heavily guarded by Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards. The announcement about inspection by IAEA came after the visit to Tehran by Dr El-Baradei, departing chief of IAEA.

Media reports in the US are suggesting that Iran is well on its way to making a N-bomb but contrary to these, El-Baradei on September 17,2009 refuted media claims that IAEA had concluded that Iran was on its way to produce nuclear weapons. He praised Iran for moving forward on agreements reached at a meeting last week with the United States and its allies but at the same time cautioned that IAEA had concerns about Iran's future intentions. "I see that we are at a critical moment," Dr El-Baradei said. "I see that we are shifting from confrontation into transparency and cooperation." Iran has acknowledged that the underground facility is intended as a nuclear enrichment center, but says the fuel it makes will be used solely to produce electricity and medical isotopes.

Unlike his processor, President Obama made a significant change in policy towards Iran by declaring that America would be prepared to talk to Iran without any preconditions. President Bush during his two terms put the condition for Iran to give up its nuclear enrichment programme for any negotiations with USA. Ever since President Obama took oath of office, there have been some meetings between officials of the two countries but so far nothing substantial has emerged which could end thirty years of diplomatic stand-off.

The Obama administration and its allies have said repeatedly that they will pursue diplomacy until the end of the year and then seek sanctions if diplomacy does not yield any result. President Obama's national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, said in an interview on CBS's that for now, things are moving in the right direction, citing the forthcoming inspection and discussion on uranium exports as evidence that the new effort to deal with Iran was gaining momentum. But some administration officials expressed private skepticism that Iran would ultimately prove willing to allow the kind of widespread inspections that the United States and its Western allies have in mind. Asked about a draft report written by staff members of the I.A.E.A. that Iran has sufficient information to be able to design and produce a workable atom bomb, General Jones said that the United States stood by its intelligence assessment that Iran was still years away from such an accomplishment. American intelligence agencies estimates published in 2007 said that Tehran halted its efforts to design a nuclear weapon in 2003. But now western countries including Britain, France, Germany and Israel dispute those estimates saying that Iran has stepped up its programme. American is also evaluating its 2007 widely publicized intelligence estimates. Intelligence agencies of France UK, and USA now claim having evidence that Iran was putting equipment into the new site at Qum. One of the important tests of Iran's attitude will be willingness to ship its stock of low-enriched uranium, produced in recent years at a declared nuclear enrichment site at Natanz, to Russia and France for conversion to reactor fuel and shipment back to Iran. The West wants the inspections to include several facilities that American and European officials suspect could be part of a string of covert facilities built to supply the newly revealed enrichment center near the holy city of Qum.

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's top nuclear official, recently said at a news conference that he would take part in a meeting on Oct. 19 with the United States, France and Russia to discuss the details of an agreement for Iran to get enriched uranium for a research reactor in Tehran. That material is supposed to be processed in Russia and France, turned into a kind of fuel difficult to use in N-weapons , and returned. But the state-run TV in Tehran reported that Iranian officials had "rejected reports that they had reached a deal with world powers to ship its enriched uranium abroad for processing. The report said "the purchase" of 20 percent uranium would be discussed on Oct 19. Irrespective of misunderstanding over enriched material, the IAEA inspectors would inspect the N-sites on October 25, and hopefully no snags would emerge .Later much would depend on the reports of inspections. If the reports would indicate Iranians intentions of going nuclear to produce A-bomb then according to American media reports of September 27, the Obama administration is scrambling to assemble a package of harsher economic sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme that could include a cutoff of investments to the country's oil-and-gas industry and restrictions on many more Iranian banks than those currently blacklisted. The USA is seeking to build an effective coalition of partners for sanctions so that it may still be able to act against Iran even if China and Russia were to veto harsher measures proposed in the UN Security Council.

There have several inspections over the years of Iranian nuclear facilities resulting in controversial reports but this time IAEA inspectors would come to Iran when it is politically polarized since the widely reported rigged elections of June last. Any new crippling sanctions, might create a few more opponents to President Ahmedinejad but most likely chances are that these new measures would help forge unity in the Iranian ranks .Hurting the Iranians would be counter productive to the Western objectives. In this situation the usual propaganda of exploitation by the "Big Satan" would be orchestrated in Iran, Syria, Palestine and elsewhere upsetting any chance of rapprochement in the Middle East. Obama is the first US President who has preferred to talks with Iran with out any pre-conditions. His non confrontational policy punctuated by pronouncements of talks without any pre-conditions seems to have been well taken by a large number of Iranians.

On internets, print media and elsewhere Iranians are voicing their support to the significant change in the US policy towards the Islamic Republic. The clergy has its own agenda but the majority of Iranians no longer see America as their enemy.








When Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan came to office, they created a $4.3 billion Race to the Top fund. The idea was to use money to leverage change. The administration would put a pile of federal money on the table and award it to a few states that most aggressively embraced reform. Their ideas were good, and their speeches were beautiful. But that was never the problem. The real challenge was going to be standing up to the teachers' unions and the other groups that have undermined nearly every other reform effort.

The real questions were these: Would the administration water down their reform criteria in the face of political pressure? Would the Race to the Top money end up getting doled out like any other federal spending program, and thus end up subsidizing the status quo? Would the administration hold the line and demand real reform in exchange for the money? There were many reasons to be skeptical. At the behest of the teachers' unions, the Democrats had just shut down a successful District of Columbia voucher program. Moreover, state legislatures around the country were moving backward. They were passing laws prohibiting schools from using student performance as a criterion in setting teacher pay. But, so far, those fears are unjustified. The news is good. In fact, it's very good. Over the past few days I've spoken to people ranging from Bill Gates to Jeb Bush and various education reformers. They are all impressed by how gritty and effective the Obama administration has been in holding the line and inciting real education reform.

Over the summer, the Department of Education indicated that most states would not qualify for Race to the Top money. Now states across the country are changing their laws: California, Illinois, Ohio, Wisconsin and Tennessee, among others. It's not only the promise of money that is motivating change. There seems to be some sort of status contest as states compete to prove they, too, can meet the criteria. Governors who have been bragging about how great their schools are don't want to be left off the list. These changes mean that states are raising their caps on the number of charter schools. When charters got going, there was a "let a thousand flowers bloom" mentality that sometimes led to bad schools. Now reformers know more about how to build charters and the research is showing solid results. Caroline Hoxby of Stanford University recently concluded a rigorous study of New York's charter schools and found that they substantially narrowed the achievement gap between suburban and inner-city students.

The changes also will mean student performance will increasingly be a factor in how much teachers get paid and whether they keep their jobs. There is no consensus on exactly how to do this, but there is clear evidence that good teachers produce consistently better student test scores, and that teachers who do not need to be identified and counseled. Cracking the barrier that has been erected between student outcomes and teacher pay would be a huge gain. Duncan even seems to have made some progress in persuading the unions that they can't just stonewall, they have to get involved in the reform process.

The American Federation of Teachers recently announced innovation grants for performance pay ideas. The New Haven school district has just completed a new teacher contract, with union support, that includes many of the best reform ideas. There are still many places, like Washington, where the unions are dogmatically trying to keep bad teachers in the classrooms. But if implemented well, the New Haven contract could be a sign of perestroika even within the education establishment. "I've been deeply disturbed by a lot that's going on in Washington," Jeb Bush said on Thursday, "but this is not one of them. President Obama has been supporting a reform secretary, and this is deserving of Republican support." Bush's sentiment is echoed across the spectrum, from Newt Gingrich to Al Sharpton.

Over the next months, there will be more efforts to water down reform. Some groups are offering to get behind health care reform in exchange for gutting education reform. Politicians from both parties are going to lobby fiercely to ensure that their state gets money, regardless of the merits. So will governors who figure they're going to lose out in the award process. But President Obama understood from the start that this would only work if the awards remain fiercely competitive. He has not wavered. We're not close to reaching the educational Promised Land, but we may be at the start of what Rahm Emanuel calls The Quiet Revolution. —The New York Times








At a meeting of the Social Compliance Forum for the garments industry, Commerce Minister Faruk Khan directed the apparel associations to submit the structural designs of the old, outmoded and jerry-built factories of their members. Although social compliance in the garments factory has improved, many lag behind the minimum standard in terms of working environment and safety. Admittedly, garments factories in the country are struggling for various reasons. Yet, this should not be an excuse for them to compromise on in-house facilities and safety measures. It took enough persuasion and some legal measures to make quite a good number of reluctant factory owners to add emergency staircases to their factories. But then there is no guarantee that those staircases can be used freely for emergency evacuation in case of a fire. The staircases are often left obstructed with stacked-up clothes and other materials.

So the directive given by the commerce minister at a time when no tragic fire in any garments factory has been reported is indeed a very good sign. What we usually notice is that authorities swing into action when a tragedy has occurred and after sometime they forget all about it. This initiative is, therefore, a welcome departure from the set pattern and we will be expecting that the follow-ups will be monitored with equal seriousness and diligence.

There should be no two opinions that improved working condition complemented by satisfactory safety standard is a prerequisite for raising workers' productivity as well as ensuring their well-being. Our garments sector has witnessed a number of tragic fires and at least the collapse of two factory buildings because of faulty construction or design or both. Social compliance alone can avoid such tragedies. Garments factories are naturally prone to accidental fire and, therefore, a lot depends on how the buildings are designed and constructed to deal with such emergencies. We suggest that garments factories located in residential areas are shifted to industrial zones and to buildings specially constructed for the purpose. 








Poor countries, already hard hit by the economic recession, are champing at the bit because of the long drawn-out Doha round of trade talks. But the head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has said they will have to wait for the round to conclude before they see any benefits coming their way.  However, some Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have called for an "early harvest" of measures to benefit them as 'down payment' for a deal in the talks. These would include proposals already widely accepted such as giving poor countries duty-free, quota-free access for their exports to richer countries but much to their dismay, no such down payment is likely to be forthcoming.

The Doha talks are already the longest-running trade round. Now in their eighth year they seem endless but rich economies, like the United States and European Union, want the whole round of negotiations to end. In other words, there will be no mandated 'early harvest' as in the past. The WTO Director General Pascal Lamy told reporters that other members have resisted this which means that any benefits accruing to the LDCs will not happen until the round comes to an end, supposedly next year.

Launched in late 2001 to boost world trade by slashing farm subsidies and agricultural and industrial tariff to help poor countries prosper, the developing countries also want this round of talks wrapped up.  As things look now, the value of an agreement would be phased over several years. For the developing countries, one of the critical components would be cuts on rich countries' subsidies for cotton that distort the market and hurt their farmers. LDC trade ministers have urged other WTO members to set up a safety net for poor-country cotton producers to help them cope with losses caused by the economic crisis. Pitted against this difficult choice before the developing countries, making a viable deal for the LDCs is getting tough.










"…Madras University VC wants students to wear 'decent dress.' The VC was upset by the attire of some students... he said would only 'corrupt' the opposite sex…"


Oh my! Oh my! Here we go again! "Woman!"



"We men are a bit baffled! We're not sure you should be wrapped or unwrapped, clothed or naked, exposed or hidden, open to public gaze or only for your husband's lust!" A woman answers for other women, "Let's sort this out once and for all! We're fed up of your arguments! You want us to look beautiful, but you want to hide our faces! You want curvy bodies but you don't want those figures to be seen?" The man who began it all, "Confusing isn't it? What do we do?" Woman indignant, "Do? Do nothing! Leave it to us!" Man, puzzled, "Us?"


Woman, "Yes us! We! Me! Let us decide what we want with ourselves! Have we ever commented on you? On shameless potbellies, sticking out a mile, making even us pregnant woman look like sexy angels?"
"I didn't know…" Woman continuing with disgust, "Or bald, shiny heads that look like domes with the marble removed, with a few strands still sticking out saying 'We are bare, but once grew hair'! He, he, he!" Man, "Stop it!"

Woman, 'Why?" Man, "Because it hurts!" Woman, "Oh it hurts, does it? Well it hurts us to go out with some round figure that once resembled a man and introduce you to our friends, 'This is our husband!' Man, "Is it so bad?"
"We spend money on cosmetics, spend hours on diets, on the treadmill, but what do we get in exchange? A funny looking specimen of what once was a human being! Eeek!" Man, "Hey this isn't getting very funny!"
"It isn't supposed to. Now this man! Your VC!"


"Don't what?"

"Don't say anything!"

"Why? Is it a one-way street? His moustache!"
"I said don't!"

"Okay I won't, but tell him the likes of Muthalik, the agenda of the Taliban all started with small comments like his, and if he wants us to expose less of ourselves then we want him also…"

"No I have to say it, we want him also to direct men to design something for their faces and heads like the religious hijab so that we women won't have to look at thinning hair, outlandish pencil moustaches or ugghhh a beard like yours...!"









A WEEK of hyperbole and hypocrisy from both sides of politics signified not much more than our politicians' lack of courage when it comes to the complex issue of boat people. Like abortion and euthanasia, the question of what to do with asylum-seekers heading to Australia by sea is a hot button issue which politicians would rather avoid. But the performances this week of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull demonstrated not so much fear of, as a lack of respect for, the electorate. Rather than recognising Australians can walk and chew gum - be both humane and realistic - both leaders thrashed around trying to score points instead of explaining their positions. By week's end, it was difficult to know where they stood.


So here's some plain speaking for the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition.


First, eight years after September 11, Tampa, and an election won by John Howard amid hysteria on asylum-seekers, Australia is in a calmer and more compassionate frame of mind. There is more awareness of the plight of people caught in desperate conflicts overseas and an understanding that while boat arrivals are emotive, most asylum-seekers come by air. Time has defused much of the passion of the past and politicians should nurture and build on these sentiments.


Second, when we look back at the Howard years we can say two things. It was right for the then prime minister to insist Australia decide who comes here - that's what an ordered refugee process means. And the Pacific solution, while an extreme position which this paper opposed, nonetheless worked as a deterrent. That has been acknowledged by some who were critical at the time, among them, the commentator Robert Manne, who said on ABC radio last week that Australia "was virtually closed after the decision to open the Pacific solution in Nauru". None of this minimises the anguish experienced by many people held in detention far too long. Nor do we argue Mr Howard got it all right. It was this newspaper which pursued the Coalition over the 2001 "children overboard" affair. We also argued against indefinite detention and imprisonment of women and children behind razor wire. But it is nonetheless the case that the Pacific solution helped send an unambiguous message to people-smugglers.


Third, as George Megalogenis writes today, we now take fewer refugees as a proportion of the immigration intake than we did under Mr Howard. The rate is about half that of the Keating government in the early 1990s. Rather than advancing shibboleths about its humanity, the Rudd government should use this data to mount a public case for more refugees, as this newspaper called for last week. That increase must, of course, come with a commitment to ensure refugees intent on harming Australia's interests through terrorism or any other illegal activity are blocked from entering.


Finally, the plan under which some asylum-seekers will be processed - at Australian expense - on Indonesian soil, must be treated with great caution. Like the Pacific solution, it may act as a deterrent, but the pictures on our front page today show that the conditions at the detention centre at Tanjung Pinang are poor. Australians may not want to be swamped by refugees but they will expect standards at the centre to equal those at facilities on Christmas Island.


Refugee policy is never easy but it is time for Mr Rudd to drop his endless semantics and engage in an adult conversation with voters. Before the 2007 election, he played to the Left in trashing Mr Howard's approach, then flicked the switch to hardline by vowing he would turn back the boats. Now we need him to acknowledge the community's tolerance and its fears and move ahead with a balanced, sophisticated policy. The bipartisan support for the changes he made last year demonstrates that Labor and the Coalition are not far apart on this issue. That's a good start for a mature debate - one which the Australian public has a right to expect.








KEVIN Rudd's vision for "a big Australia" is one we fully endorse. Australia stands to reap significant benefits from a substantial population increase in coming decades. We agree wholeheartedly with the Prime Minister that a population of 35 million by 2050, envisaged by Treasury projections, would be good for our national security and development.


As a keen history student, the Prime Minister would understand the significant population shifts that have shaped the world. There is no military threat on Australia's horizon. But living in a region hungry for space and resources, it is reasonable to conclude that long term, it is in our own interests to develop our vast land mass, with its 25,000km coastline, properly.


Shaped by the preferences of the early settlers for more temperate climes that reminded them of the British Isles, Australia's largest population centres have developed in the southeast. In planning for a vastly expanded population, however, governments need a fresh mindset more in tune with this continent than Victorian sensibilities.


On Thursday, Treasury secretary Ken Henry said the population projections implied that Sydney and Melbourne would increase to seven million people and Brisbane to four million. But rather than encouraging our largest cities, with infrastructure that is already woefully inadequate, to reach near-unworkable sizes, governments would find greater cost benefits encouraging development elsewhere.


Rapid population increases in Western Australia and Queensland, in mining towns and sunbelt centres already reflect new business and job opportunities as economic growth moves north and west. Cities such as Cairns, Townsville, Mackay, Gladstone, Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour and even Newcastle have the economic bases, the rainfall and the access to the port facilities to develop as vibrant cities of one million people or more. If Australian authorities need lessons in nation building they need look no further than what Israel has achieved despite its arid climate, and the emergence of dynamic cities like Phoenix in the US.


Nor is our small population and economic base able to generate the capital to develop the land to its full potential or capitalise fully on our resources. In predicting another sustained mining boom, BHP Billiton chairman Don Argus has also foreshadowed a major debate over foreign sovereign wealth funds and state-owned enterprises owning Australian assets. As Mr Argus acknowledges, foreign investment has been a critical to developing our resources. But a significantly larger domestic population would be better able to generate more capital of our own.


Any significant increase, of course, would require governments to be proactive about infrastructure planning. The Rudd government is developing a national broadband network, but water and transport planning, especially, require greater attention at all levels of government.


Mr Rudd's optimism about our long-term future is a welcome contrast to the inward-looking, shrinking outlooks of many European nations where birth rates are barely half replacement level. At the Copenhagen climate conference, Australia needs to defend this region's economic and population growth by counteracting any push from Europe to cut carbon by limiting growth. Improved infrastructure, population growth and optimism are the keys to building and sustaining prosperity. Population is destiny, as Peter Costello said in office.






PROFESSOR Kevin Wheldall, director of Macquarie University's Special Education Centre is not a well known Australian hero, but he deserves to be. In Darwin, Sydney, Cape York and Gladstone, his Making Up for Lost Time in Literacy program, Multilit, is transforming the educational prospects of children the school system has failed.


As Justine Ferrari reports today, Reverend Bill Crews's Exodus Foundation is enabling the program to be established widely. It is rescuing, among others, Year 6 children who would otherwise face high school next year with Year 3 reading skills. Built around phonics and word recognition, Multilit boosts students' confidence with 18 weeks of small-group teaching and one-to-one support.


Despite the decades-old crusade of "whole word" ideologues, phonics in Multilit have proved vital for older primary students struggling to identify complex new words they have not memorised under the "whole word approach". The success achieved by Multilit in 18 weeks raises questions about why schools fail too many students over six years. At least one lesson is clear from this and other international evidence. Phonics are the building blocks of reading.








THE wealthy owners of homes overlooking Belongil Beach in Byron Bay probably have little in common with the coalminers of Moranbah, Muswellbrook and Maitland, except one thing: this week the interests of both groups have been highlighted in the debate about the response to aspects of climate change. The Belongil group lobbied - successfully - against Byron Shire Council's ban on building sea walls against higher tides and coastal erosion, which will be worsened by climate change.


Meanwhile, the coalminers have figured in large advertisements placed by the mining lobbyist the Australian Coal Association. Its point, as expressed in those advertisements, was that the Rudd Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme would threaten jobs in the coal industry. On the North Coast of NSW it is homes; in the coalfields of Queensland and NSW it is jobs; all across the country other aspects of life are being transformed utterly by climate change. Rural Victoria is questioning the settlement and bushfire management policies that contributed to loss of life during last summer's fires. Towns in western NSW are contemplating life without water as dams lie empty with summer approaching. Many other similar processes are going on elsewhere. Climate change is the thread that runs through them all. Most aspects of modern life will be affected by it and by the national response to it. And as changes become apparent, different interest groups are emerging, each arguing their own case with little reference to the wider problem.


The response of government to both the Belongil Beach property owners and the coal industry indicates how this skews policy. Previous policy was intended to maximise benefits to the whole community at the expense of individuals. Both groups have been able to reverse that, because, being more closely interested in the issue that affects them, they are more motivated to agitate. Beachside property owners have won the right to build sea walls, and override council objections. The Federal Government has bent over backwards to accommodate the coal industry's worries about its carbon pollution reduction scheme, to the point where scientists and economists such as Professor Ross Garnaut wonder if the scheme is worth anything at all. If Australia's response to climate change is found to be inadequate, this is why: it will have fallen victim to a thousand cuts - one from each different interest group. How is consensus to be obtained on so complex an issue?


There is a precedent. In the 1970s and 1980s the economy was thought of rather similarly to the way climate change is today. So large and diffuse as to be no one's concern in particular, its problems were identifiable to experts - economists - but not especially to the general public, for which it was unanalysed and largely invisible. The economic downturn, exacerbated by drought, during the last years of the Fraser government had simultaneously lifted inflation and unemployment, while industrial relations were fractious and aggressive as individual unions fought to gain the maximum advantage for their members and themselves.


The formula devised by Bob Hawke as incoming prime minister in 1983 built on his own strengths as a negotiator and seeker of compromise. The economic summit of April that year brought together representatives of labour and capital and got each side to agree to concessions to the other in the national economic interest: a limit to wage rises on the union side, and a return to centralised wage fixing on the business side, being the notable features. It was, of course, political theatre - but it worked.


Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit in April last year had little effect because the mechanism was not suited to the purpose. It asked questions without having answers in view. He might have more success in a field where the issues to be settled and the compromises to be reached are better defined: a serious attempt to tease out, document and possibly reconcile opposing interests on a subject of national importance, namely, how to mitigate the likely effects of climate change on patterns of settlement, industry and everyday life in Australia.


A summit bringing together climate scientists, industry leaders, unions, farmers, engineers and economists might at least make a start on establishing a consensus about the way this country should approach the planet's uncertain future.







AUSTRALIA'S own tame left-wing extremist, Anthony Albanese - or Red Albo, to those who know him - has done politics and rugby league a great service this week. Red Albo heard rumours that rugby league was anxious to secure the services of an eminent person to head a commission to run the game, to return it to its former glory from the drug-addled, scandal-prone shambles it has risked becoming. The name mentioned was (whisper it softly) John Howard. At the merest sniff of this plan, Red Albo saw even redder than usual and sprang into action, lobbying the NRL to scotch the idea. We can only applaud. At a time when Kevin Rudd has been showing distressing signs of namby-pamby bipartisanship, appointing former Liberal ministers to ambassadorships and committees merely because they are well suited to them, while perfectly good Labor Party boys are waiting for jobs, it is good to see a bit of the old class-war spark return to both sport and politics. No need for any calls to bring back the biff. It's back.








Only Amira Hass could have received the International Women's Media Foundation lifetime achievement award by saying her life as a journalist had been a failure. By her standards maybe, but then she sets them high. If her aim is to stop successive Israeli governments lying about what they do in the occupied territories, then it is true that the language laundromat, as she once put it, keeps on turning. But make no mistake, the Haaretz columnist fully deserves this award. She is the only Israeli journalist to have lived in and reported from Gaza and Ramallah for much of the last two decades. In describing the effects of the occupation on the lives of Palestinians, she has been pilloried by Israelis and fallen foul of Hamas. Her moral anchor is firmly rooted in painful collective memories. Her mother survived a concentration camp and her father the ghettos of Romania and Ukraine. "What luck my parents are dead," Hass wrote at the height of the Gaza operation in January. Her parents could not stand the noise of Israeli jet fighters flying over the Palestinian refugee camps in 1982, and nor could they have tolerated going about their daily chores in Tel Aviv with the knowledge of what was going on in their name in Gaza: "They knew what it meant to close people behind barbed-wire fences in a small area." Only a Jew can invert the "never again" logic of the Holocaust that is used to justify Israel's least justifiable actions. It is that very experience, Hass argues, that should teach Israel to behave differently.







Ten years ago Microsoft was a feared and fearful technology titan. It stood bowed but very much unbroken by an antitrust ruling in the US. A judge ruled that Microsoft's flagship Windows software enjoyed a monopoly – and that the company had exploited its dominance to crush its competitors. It had won the web browser wars. Although late to recognise the importance of the internet, the company quickly muscled aside the pioneering browser Netscape. It had seen off Apple, relegating its rival to the role of a boutique computer maker.


Yet, Microsoft's leaders were constantly looking over their shoulders. During the antitrust trial, Bill Gates repeatedly denied that Microsoft's dominance was unassailable. Expressing Silicon Valley's version of corporate Darwinism, Gates claimed that Microsoft could be brushed aside by the next guy in a garage. Roll forward 10 years to the launch this week of the latest version of its operating system, Windows 7, and some of Gates' fears have come to pass. True, Microsoft is still dominant in its market: Windows still powers more than 90% of consumer computers. However, it seems vulnerable. The threat came not from guys in a garage but from two students at Stanford – and from some old enemies.


The student project of Larry Page and Sergey Brin has grown into the multibillion-dollar search giant Google. Bill Gates's old nemesis Steve Jobs of Apple returned to relaunch his company. Now Apple is making record profits, and its computer sales growth is outpacing its mostly Microsoft-powered competitors. In contrast to Apple's soaring fortunes, Microsoft reported its first decline in revenue in its 23-year history this April as recession caused a fall in PC sales. To make things worse, over two and a half years, Apple has seen more success with the iPhone than Microsoft has to show for a full decade of its mobile efforts. The release of Windows 95 was a party, which featured the Rolling Stones' Start Me Up as the soundtrack. If Windows 7 had an anthem, it would have to be the theme from Rocky. Microsoft is a middle-aged tech giant that needs to start its fightback. The predecessor to Windows 7, Vista, was so unpopular that most users never bothered replacing Windows XP.


In sum, Microsoft has been unable to expand its continuing dominance in computers to the internet, games or gadgets. Operating systems are no longer the centre of the tech universe – and neither is Microsoft. Windows 7 feels like a necessary upgrade, not an exciting development. Microsoft is probably glad that it is less feared and draws less regulatory attention these days. But as with most midlife crises, what it really wants is its mojo back.







The year 1929 haunts history because of what happened next. The trading room tickers and the panicked trilby-topped brokers commemorated in our wallchart today prefigured four years of ubiquitous hardship, enforced idleness and mass displacement. Knowledge of that aftermath is what gives the grainy Wall Street images their peculiar power. Even after yesterday's dreadful GDP figures, a year on from the financial firestorm, it has become apparent that we are not about to suffer a full rerun of America's Great Depression.


The new statistics confounded cautious City optimism, by recording a sixth consecutive quarter of contraction. They will encourage opposition taunts about the UK remaining stuck in recession while France and Germany have thrown it off. They emphatically confirm that happy days are very far from here again. Beyond that, however, their significance is uncertain. For one thing they are provisional, based more on forecasts than records, and subject to potentially important revision. For another, they sit strangely next to the latest evidence from the labour market, which suggests unemployment is levelling off. It is simply too soon to know for certain whether the growth data or the jobs data provides the better guide to the trajectory of the slump. But even if UK unemployment has further to go, at 7.9% it will not any time soon match the US's jobless peak during the depression, which was over 20%.


If that is true, though, it is not because the initial crisis of 2008 was any less grave than that of 1929; if anything the reverse is the case. Recessions sparked by money market chaos have always tended to be the most serious. The only reason last year's financial mega-meltdown is now producing protracted economic misery, as opposed to economic Armageddon, is because the authorities acted as they did. In the early 1930s the politicians crucified the people on a cross of gold; as they obsessed about the facility for converting cash into bullion, they kept a rigid grip on the public purse strings. This time, however, the Treasury has picked up the slack as shoppers have put away their credit cards.


Now that we have edged away from the clifftop, the remaining question – a question made all the more urgent by yesterday's figures – is whether we are set to succumb to the slow, remorseless slide. The poignant example here is not 1930s America, but Japan ever since 1990. The Japanese treasury borrowed freely, and so avoided a sudden crunch of jobs and incomes. Over the 1990s as a whole, however, the cumulative loss of output was just as large as in America's turbulent 30s – and to this day it continues. Optimists can argue that the property bubble which the Japanese had to burst was far bigger than that in the UK. But if property prices are unlikely to suffer a Japanese-style collapse, the private debt that Britain's firms and families built up in the boom could easily stave off a real recovery for very many years.


Every effort must be made to make it as easy as possible to pay this debt down – and that means keeping money cheap. The Bank of England must ignore David Cameron's suggestion that printing money "will soon have to stop", and commit itself to extending quantitative easing. Of course there are risks of future inflation, although yesterday's figures confirmed just how remote the danger is. Full-scale depression may no longer be the threat that it was. But if policy takes a passive turn we could very easily be set for a full decade of disappointment. So much for the long term. In the short term there will be red faces and further pressure on Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. They desperately need some good news to announce in next month's pre-buget report. But yesterday's figures do not read well for the Tories either. George Osborne has spent most of this autumn talking less about the immediate crisis than about the public spening cuts to follow. In the light of the continuing slump he will need to change his tune.









THE not-getting-it baton this week passed from expenses-crazed MPs to Director of Public Prosecutions Keir Starmer when he fiercely attacked David Cameron's pledge to scrap the Human Rights Act.

Starmer said the Tories will "shame Britain" if the Act is scrapped. He said it enshrines fundamental principles and Cameron's promise to get it off our backs was based on "flawed analysis". 


Sorry, Mr Starmer, but it's your analysis that is flawed. The Human Rights Act has led to some of the most nonsensical rulings and decisions of our age. Let's open the file, shall we? 


Police refused to put a suspected villain on identity parade because he had a birthmark was self-conscious about it, and would therefore "have his human rights infringed if made to take part". 


The man quoted as Osama Bin Laden's "right hand man in europe", the notorious Abu Qatada, was allowed to stay in the UK as "deportation to face terrorist charges in his native Jordan would breach his human rights". 


Learco Chindamo, the teenage killer of headmaster Philip Lawrence, when freed after serving 12 years of a life sentence for stabbing him to death outside his own school in broad daylight, could not be deported back to Italy because "he has a right to a family life in Britain". I could fill this newspaper with similar examples.   

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The Human Rights Act has hobbled us and tied our hands,  actively preventing our society – which is, by the way, one of the most tolerant and forgiving in the world, with or without this clunking piece of legislation – from taking common sense, fair-minded decisions to protect itself from those who would do us harm. 


The rigid enforcement of the act here is in stark contrast to other countries, which take a rather more practical view of its absurdities. 


David Cameron's promise to tear the whole thing up and replace it with a Bill Of Rights is, for me, the single most important pledge in his forthcoming election manifesto and is one of the key reasons he's going to win.  








THOSE of us who thought the BBC was making a terrible mistake inviting British National Party leader Nick Griffin on to Question Time were entirely mistaken. Rather than proving to be the PR opportunity he craves, the event – thankfully – turned into a disaster for him and his horrible organisation.

Never have I been so glad to be proved wrong. 


Griffin came across as little short of an idiot. There were moments of almost comic nuttiness. When confronted with the charge that he appeared in the same video as a senior member of the Ku Klux Klan,  Griffin first blustered, then said that the man was the leader of "a totally non-violent section,  actually". Ah.  Like Nazi officers thrown out of the SS for cruelty,  perhaps. 


David Dimbleby was strong.  He avoided falling into the trap of bullying Griffin and in a killer question quoted the BNP leader's speech to party insiders in which he plainly instructed them that their real agenda – pursuing an all-white British society – had to be masked behind a softer, more acceptable set of policies. 

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Griffin had nothing to say. Indeed, considering he is supposed to be a skilled spin-doctor as well as fleet-footed party leader, Griffin was remarkably flat-footed and unprepared. He grinned and gurned when the other panellists scored direct hits on him, and applauded like a performing seal when the woman to his left – the black American writer Bonnie Greer – repeatedly confounded his arguments with icy, satirical thrusts. 


It was a good night for freedom of speech. Judy told me it would be. So did my son Jack. I should have had more faith in the power and strength of democracy. 


And I intend to send BBC director general Mark Thompson – our old boss at Channel 4 – a very large bottle of champagne. 


Good call, Mark. 







I ESPECIALLY appreciated the BBC Trust ruling against comedian Frankie Boyle this week. For the first time I can remember it struck a blow against the cruel, casual misogyny that has taken such a hold in parts of the media in recent years.


The trust chastised Boyle and the show on which he made his "joke", Mock The Week. In case you missed the story he said Olympic swimming champion Rebecca Adlington resembled "someone who's looking at themselves in the back of a spoon". 


What a gent, eh? He went on to demolish what might have been left of a delightful young woman's feelings by adding that when Rebecca arrived home with two gold medals and a handsome boyfriend in tow: "He was really attractive. He was like a male model. so from that I deduced that Rebecca Adlington is..." The rest of Boyle's sentence was so offensive it is not suitable for printing here. 


Humiliating and using unacceptable innuendo, ruled the trust. But Boyle's is not an isolated case. I am appalled at how some commentators get away with making quite disgusting references to women, particularly if they are female celebrities. Perfectly pleasant-looking actresses and TV presenters are routinely described as "mingers" or "slags" without the slightest justification. 


Some male critics can be astonishingly vituperative in their attacks, which are so sexist that I wonder what their private relationships with women are like. It is getting worse and this week's ruling was the first sign of a possible backlash. About time. 








The National Tax Service is by reputation one of the government agencies through which the Blue House wields its power, along with the intelligence agency and the prosecutors' office. Worse, the NTS has in the past been plagued by corruption.


On his parliamentary confirmation hearing, Baek Yong-ho, as tax commissioner nominee, promised to reform the NTS and spruce up its bad image. He said he would transform the power-wielding agency into a public-serving one.


Baek, an economist by training, observed his 100th day as new tax commissioner yesterday. It is then an appropriate time to review what he has done since he promised reform and reflect on what he needs to do in the months ahead.


Competition for promotions or transfers to coveted posts is no less fierce at the 20,000-strong NTS than at any other government agency. Its officials engage in cutthroat competition for 350-odd posts as regional tax office heads and higher positions.


No wonder those eligible for promotion and transfer have sought to exploit all means available to advance their career, including hometown and school connections. One outrageous case involved a former tax commissioner, who was sent to prison for taking money from an official on a promise to promote him.


Quite a few senior NTS officials, including two more tax commissioners, have also been sent to prison for taking bribes.


At his inauguration, Baek promised merit-based promotions and transfers and warned against lobbying for them. Then he set up a commission to evaluate the competence and performance of those eligible for promotion and transfer. He also brought in an outsider as the auditor, who he apparently thought would be given a freer hand than an insider when it came to housecleaning.


Last week, he made good on his promise when he promoted and transferred 52 officials. He said he excluded from the transfers and promotions six candidates in whose favor Baek said politicians and other influential people had attempted to exercise their influence.


It is necessary to establish a transparent process of selecting candidates for promotion on the basis of their competence and performance. But much more needs to be done if the NTS wishes to be seen as an agency that serves the public, shedding its ugly image of conducting tax audits on the orders of the powers that be.


True, it is necessary for the NTS to audit corporations suspected of underreporting their profits in order to amass slush funds or of dodging taxes outright. But it should keep itself away from the temptation to conduct tax audits in an attempt to tame outspoken corporations or out of vengeance against those that had connections with previous administrations, as has often been the case in the past.


Baek promised to audit large corporations every four years, while refraining from conducting unscheduled audits and to stop auditing them when the auditors are suspected of infringing on their rights as taxpayers. It is not just Baek, but his successors as well, that will have to make good on the promise not to abuse the tax office's powers.


This is not to say that the NTS should be lenient on tax dodgers. Its primary mission is to assess, levy and collect taxes, which constitute the lion's share of public funds. It will have to redouble its efforts to boost tax collection, given that tax revenues fell short of the target in the first half of this year.


The NTS will have to conduct tax audits on the legal, medical and other professions and the high-income self-employed that are suspected of underreporting their incomes. According to a recent report from National Health Insurance Corp., four out of every 10 professional offices, such as law firms, clinics and pharmacies, underreported the incomes of their members.







Security consultations between the South Korean defense minister and his U.S. counterpart are an annual event whose proceedings are meticulously scripted in advance. This year's Security Consultative Meeting was no exception.


Thursday's meeting between Defense Minister Kim Tae-young and U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates proceeded as planned, covering a wide range of security issues, such as the U.S. protection of South Korea from North Korea's nuclear threat. Reaffirming the commitment to the South Korean-U.S. military alliance, as the two defense chiefs did, is crucial to South Korean security as long as North Korea poses a grave military threat.


Of great concern to South Korea, though not included among the agenda items, was Washington's request for South Korea to assist the U.S. campaign in Afghanistan. Gates fell short of calling for a dispatch of troops when he referred to South Korea's "emerging role as a contributor to global security" on the eve of the security consultations.


Nor did he mention it after his talks with Kim. At a press conference, he said, "We obviously welcome any contribution that any countries around the world are prepared to make, but that decision - what and how much to contribute - is entirely up to the Republic of Korea."


Despite the remarks, Washington undoubtedly would like South Korea to dispatch troops, instead of limiting its assistance to the provision of economic aid. Seoul is certainly weighing the idea of sending troops against other types of assistance. But a decision in favor of sending troops will be hard to come by, given that Seoul withdrew engineering and medical troops from Afghanistan when some of the kidnapped South Korea aid workers were killed there in 2007.


Should it decide to send troops, the South Korean government will have a difficult job of convincing the public and opposition parties why it is necessary to do so.








PARIS - A nation's relationship with its past is crucial to its present and its future, to its ability to "move on" with its life, or to learn from its past errors, not to repeat them.


There is the past that "isn't dead and buried. In fact, it is not even past," in William Faulkner's famous phrase. Such a past obsessively blocks any possible evolution towards a necessary reconciliation with oneself and a former or current foe.


Such a past is painfully visible today, for example, in the Balkans, a world largely paralyzed by a painful

fixation on the conflicts that tore the region apart in the 1990s. An absolute inability to consider the point of view of the other and to go beyond a sense of collective martyrdom still lingers, unequally to be fair, over the entire region.


What the Balkans needs nowadays are not historians or political scientists, but psychoanalysts who can help them transcend their past for the sake of the present and the future. It is to be hoped that the promised entrance into the European Union will constitute the best "psychoanalytical cure."


In contrast to this paranoid version of the past is a past that is buried under silence and propaganda; a past that is simply not dealt with and remains like a secret wound that can become reopened at any moment. Of course, non-treatment of the past is not the exclusive privilege of non-democratic regimes. More than thirty years after the disappearance of the long dictatorship of Francisco Franco, Spain finds itself confronted by the shadows of a past it has deliberately chosen not to confront. That supposedly buried past was always there, poised to erupt with a vengeance once the economic miracle slowed or stopped.


China, which has just been celebrating with a martial pomp the sixtieth anniversary of Mao's founding of the "People's Republic" constitutes one of the most interesting cases of a nation evincing "short sightedness" towards its past. China has a lot to show for in its recent history. Just consider the massive access to education of its huge rural population in contrast with its "democratic rival" India. So China's pride nowadays is legitimate.


In 60 years a weak and divided country, one torn apart by wars internal and external, is about to become the second most powerful economy in the world. China's insolent prosperity, even if it is far from being distributed equally, China's relative political stability, even if the regime's opening remains strictly limited, are undeniable and deserving of respect. But the success of a country that has so mobilized its energies as to transform past humiliations into massive national pride is not accompanied - and this is an understatement - by a responsible opening into its past.


From 1957 to 1976, from the beginning of Mao's "Great Leap Forward" which led to a mass famine that killed tens of millions of people, to the end of the "Cultural Revolution" which left Chinese society divided and traumatized due to its wanton cruelty and the destruction of cultural goods, China endured two hideous decades. China must confront them if it wants to progress domestically and become a respected and respectable actor of the international system.


But how can China become capable of implementing the "rule of law" which it so badly needs, let us not even speak of democracy, if it continues to systematically lie to its people about the recent past? To refuse to deal with a painful past is to risk reproducing it.


Such a choice can encourage the most dangerous nationalist tendencies within a society that does not know, especially young people, what hides behind the silence and official lies. My Chinese students when I taught at Harvard University last year ignored almost completely their recent history. They reacted with a somewhat "defiant nationalism" to critical observations. They were going "to check" the "accuracy" of historical remarks that did not fit with the history they had been taught at school. How could I be so critical of Mao? It demonstrated my western bias against a rising Asian giant.


Between the two extremes of the Balkans and China, the relationship between "memory" and "history" knows so many shades of grey. It took France nearly fifty years to openly confront its Vichy past and to recognize that the French state had been guilty of collaboration with the Nazis. The country's colonial past still remains a painful issue that is yet far from being confronted in a dispassionate, objective manner. It is as if truth and justice are seen as potential obstacles to peace, stability and progress.


But there is a major difference between the search for historical truth, which is an absolute must for a society at large and the search for the settling of scores and the punishment of those found and declared guilty. One must know the past, not to risk repeating it, but also in order to transcend it.


But between a history that paralyzes a nation's ability to "move on" collectively and an absolute unwillingness to face the past, which can lead to criticism of the present, there is ample room for maneuver. Healthy nations use that room to bury the pain of the past, if not the past itself.


Dominique Moisi is a visiting professor of government at Harvard and author, most recently, of "The Geopolitics of Emotion." - Ed.


(Project Syndicate)







The Utsunomiya District Court on Wednesday began a retrial of Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya, who had served 17 1/2 years of a life sentence in prison for killing a child until he was released in June on the strength of a new DNA test.


Merely restoring Mr. Sugaya's honor, however, should not be the sole purpose of the retrial. The court should also strive to clarify all mistakes made by the police, prosecutors and the court during the life of this case.


Told the results of a DNA test in December 1991, Mr. Sugaya confessed to the 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, and was arrested. But it is now clear that the original DNA test was flawed. The court should find out why the investigators put so much faith in the reliability of that test.


During his first trial, which started in the Utsunomiya court in February 1992, Mr. Sugaya initially admitted to the murder charge, but later denied it before admitting to it again. It is crucial that the court determine what events led him to make false confessions in the first place.


The court has ordered the prosecution to submit a tape recording (15 cassettes) of police and prosecutors' interrogations of Mr. Sugaya in connection with two other, unsolved cases in which a 5-year-old girl was killed in 1979 and another girl of the same age was killed in 1984. It is known that, although Mr. Sugaya denied involvement in all three cases, a public prosecutor, using results of the first DNA test, pressed him to accept the charge of murdering the Ashikaga girl. He did so in tears.


For the current retrial, the defense counsel has called on the court to replay the tape recordings and to allow questioning of the public prosecutor who pressed Mr. Sugaya to confess.


The court should delve into errors committed not only by the investigators but also by the courts. The Supreme Court in 1997 turned down a request by the defense counsel for a new DNA test, and the Utsunomiya court rejected a request for a retrial in February 2008 without carrying out a new DNA test. In the retrial, the court should leave no stone unturned in its effort to identify all mistakes made by authorities, and their cause.