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Thursday, November 26, 2009

EDITORIAL 25.11.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november 25, edition 000359, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



























the statesman










































Justice MS Liberhan owes Indian tax-payers a refund. Having used up 17 years and an estimated Rs 8 crore, his report on the 'political circumstances' and 'general conspiracy' related to the demolition of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, reveals nothing extraordinary. It is downright mischievous in parts and, overall, brings India no closer to identifying precisely who breached the law on that eventful Sunday. In implicating Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, a man who was detained at Lucknow airport and wasn't even present in Ayodhya on December 6, Mr Liberhan has given the game away. The rest of his report resembles a particularly turgid high-school essay aimed at painting the Sangh Parivar in lurid colours. Mr Liberhan believes that 68 people, Mr Vajpayee and other leading lights of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar among them, were guilty of the demolition of the disputed structure. There are two points here. First, is he suggesting that 68 people — no more, no less — were party to a supposed conspiracy and knew inside details of a specific plan to demolish the disputed structure? If so, the conspirators must have been monumentally stupid or monumental risk-takers. To have shared a secret plan with a full 68 people without fear of leakage amounted to a massive gamble. Second, if Mr Liberhan is accusing the 68 people not of demolishing the structure but creating the mood for it and, in his words, bringing India to the "brink of communal discord", then one wonders why he stops at 68. To cite a random example, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement mobilisation of 1990-1992 was a direct response to the Muslim radicalism that came to the fore during the Shah Bano case and the divisive caste-based politics of Mandal that VP Singh injected into public discourse. Spokespersons for the Babri Masjid, including politicians such as Syed Shahabuddin, had even called for a boycott of Republic Day celebrations in 1987. Did such acts and provocations not take the country to the "brink of communal discord"? Obviously, Mr Shahabuddin and VP Singh are not guilty of the levelling of the 16th century building in Ayodhya. The point is, however, that if every act has to be seen in a wider political context, then there is no stopping those who want to expand the context. Mr Liberhan was asked to investigate one day's events, not write a thesis on politics and governance. He wilfully failed to grasp his remit.

The Government's action taken report on the Liberhan findings is anti-climactic to the point of being comic. Here too, the guilty party is the former judge who now lives in Chandigarh and has spent the past two days screaming at newspersons who have interrupted his morning walk. Rather than make focussed suggestions and prescribe practical follow-up measures, Mr Liberhan has resorted to an all-purpose sermon that includes making asinine statements — not recommendations — about the need to separate religion from governance, about how it is unfair to recruit doctors and engineers to the civil services and so "squander the(ir) skills", about how every legislator should give up his or her party allegiance on taking oath and automatically "assume the larger and loftier role of a statesman". What action can the poor Government take on all this? Mr Liberhan, like Mr MC Jain before him, has only pointed to the futility of judicial commissions. Thankfully he's finally without a job.






Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's admission in an interview to CNN that he doesn't know who to deal with in Pakistan suggests that the truth has at last dawned on him. Strangely though, Mr Singh, who is now uncertain about who is in-charge in Islamabad, had issued a joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh along with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani back in July. At that particular meeting, Mr Singh even consented to the Pakistani demand that Balochistan — the Pakistani province that has long experienced a separatist movement which Islamabad preposterously blames India for — be included in bilateral discussions between the two countries. By doing so not only did Mr Singh give away a significant amount of diplomatic leverage, but also gave Islamabad a convenient issue to counter New Delhi with every time it brings up cross-border terrorism. There are two things that need to be borne in mind. First, the situation in Pakistan in July was no different from what it is today. The same people are at the helm of affairs and the same jihadis are on the rampage. So what is it that has forced Mr Singh to change his mind? Second, Mr Singh can hardly claim that at the time of his abject surrender at Sharm el-Sheikh there was a general consensus that the Pakistani political leadership was firmly in control of that country. The dominant perception then — as it is today — was that the Pakistani Army was calling the shots. It would be naïve to suggest that Mr Singh was unaware of this.

The problem lies with the fact that Mr Singh puts too much of a premium on India's relationship with Pakistan. This is not to say that we can completely ignore Pakistan. But making it the centrepiece of India's foreign policy is neither profitable nor advisable. This is simply because dealing with Pakistan is like dealing with an amorphous entity. There is no way of ascertaining that the Pakistani political leadership is capable of enforcing foreign policy decisions that it agrees to on paper. What Mr Singh is surprisingly finding out so belatedly is that Pakistan has multiple power centres, each with its own vested interests. Doing business with one power centre is no guarantee that what is expected will be done. But this is hardly either new or profound wisdom. Mr Singh might have some unknown agenda in overseeing friendly relations between India and Pakistan, but the reality is that neither is Pakistan in a sound position to ensure meaningful bilateral dialogue with India nor is it clear that it values good bilateral relations. By constantly fretting over Pakistan, Mr Singh is unwittingly conveying the impression that he is willing to do anything to keep Islamabad in good humour, even at the expense of our national interest.



            THE PIONEER




Two unthinkable events occurred recently in Sri Lanka. First, the comprehensive defeat of the invincible LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lankan Army; second, a power struggle following differences between the principal architects of victory, President Mahinda Rajapaksa and former Army Commander, Gen Sarath Fonseka, popularly called 'Saviour of the Nation' and 'War Hero', respectively. A new age has dawned in Sri Lanka called the post-Prabhakaran era in which friends have turned into foes.

Soon after the military victory, Gen Fonseka was kicked upstairs to the ceremonial post of Chief of Defence Staff. Mr Rajapaksa must have had an inkling of the potential threat the war hero could pose to his surging popularity and ambitions to become President for life knowing that the fractured Opposition is determined to abolish the executive presidency and combating "the corrupt and despotic Rajapaksa family regime".

Gen Fonseka was upset with Mr Rajapaksa for rejecting his request to continue as Army Commander till the 60th raising day of the Army in October. Mr Rajapaksa appointed as his successor Lt Gen Jagath Jayasuriya, an officer not recommended by Gen Fonseka for promotion to the post and against whom an ongoing disciplinary inquiry was quashed.

In his resignation letter of 12 November in which he gave 16 reasons for quitting, the most crucial was that he felt he had lost the trust and confidence of the Government after rumours of an Army coup were given credence and India alerted to help pre-empt it. The real clincher in his uncharacteristic outburst was ironically over the "appalling plight of internally displaced people" and the failure of the Government to win the hearts and minds of the Tamils. "Your Government has yet to win the peace though the Army under my leadership won the war," he said, adding, "No clear Government policy for this could surely ruin the military victory attained."

The battle that had ended conclusively around the beaches of Mullaithivu has reignited politically in Colombo, sparked by the newly-formed UNP-led 12-party alliance. The Opposition at last has found a rallying point and a presidential candidate in Gen Fonseka. The election was expected to be announced this week even as Gen Fonseka has opened an election office in the heart of Colombo with former SLFP leader Mangala Samaraweera as his campaign manager.

The shrewd politician that he is, Mr Rajapaksa has drawn maximum political mileage from battle-field victories, winning elections in eight of the nine provinces, virtually sweeping the polls. A strategist par excellence, Mr Rajapaksa has broken every political party of any standing — UNP, JVP, SLMC and even a renegade faction of the LTTE. There is a stampede of people applying to change their surname to Rajapaksa or have it added after their name.

In loaded comments, Gen Fonseka was quick to remind Sri Lankans that without public support an Army victory was not possible, elaborating that "those who make sacrifices on the battlefield are real heroes". That Mr Rajapaksa, who expected a walkover in the election, is worried by the existential threat posed by Gen Fonseka is apparent from some of the actions taken on his behalf by friends and supporters.

Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Gen Fonseka's former Army colleague who is in the dock for alleged "war crimes" during the war and against whom Gen Fonseka was to testify in a US homeland security investigation, has turned a formidable critic of the General, stoutly defending President Rajapaksa who is also his brother. Lt Col (retired) Anil Amarasekara has written in an article that the war was not won by Gen Fonseka alone and said he should not stand for election, warning he would meet the same fate as late Maj Gen Janaka Perera, the UNP chief ministerial candidate for North-Central province who was mysteriously assassinated. Gen Perera was a strong contestant for the Army Commander's appointment in June 2000 but being affiliated with the Opposition UNP was sidelined and instead sent as Ambassador to Australia.

The Buddhist clergy which patronises the ruling party has risen against the war hero and issued a decree forbidding him from contesting the election. A Sinhala JVP editor was arrested for writing about growing differences between Mr Rajapaksa and Gen Fonseka while questions were planted in newspapers about how the former Army chief, a US green card holder, could become President of Sri Lanka.

The sharpest attack against Gen Fonseka has come from the new Army Commander, Lt Gen Jagath Jayasuriya, who said credit for victory on the battlefield must go to the political leadership, adding "it was the same Army which waged war against the LTTE for 30 years but it was the political leadership that led security forces to victory".

Stiffening the assault on Gen Fonseka, Mr Rajapaksa said: "Yesterday's patriots can be tomorrow's traitors" —the worst invective against a Sinhalese nationalist. Not long ago, Gen Fonseka himself told a Canadian magazine that "Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese. We have minorities who can also live in the country." He will have to convince the Tamils of his change of heart.

Gen Fonseka has single-handedly turned an Army which has not covered itself with glory on the battlefield and was once called a 'funk force', into an efficient military force. While some of his own people had declared him unfit to even command the Salvation Army, foreign leaders have described him as one of the best Generals in the world and one has even compared him to Lord Nelson.

Fonseka posters have been pulled down as the Opposition rallies round him. He may be a political novice but could spring a surprise. The Sri Lankan Army is heavily politicised, especially in senior officers' ranks. There have been at least four coup attempts, the last in the 1980s. But present fears are unfounded.

Mr Rajapaksa boosting the image of the Army could boomerang on his Government. The economy is in dire straits due to the war. A disparate but determined Opposition will do anything to oust Mr Rajapaksa, promising a cleaner and more democratic Government. If he makes it, Gen Fonseka will not necessarily usher in a Pakistan or Myanmar type military rule but rather, the Indonesian model.

It is early days to write off the war hero who will give the President a run for his money. There is now the 'Fonseka Factor' in the post-Prabhakaran era, but like Prabhakaran, Mr Rajapaksa is also being billed as invincible.







Two hours seemed a short time as Vani Jayaram's lilting voice enthralled the listeners at Delhi Tamil Sangam on a Sunday winter evening. I was perhaps the odd man out with my Tamil vocabulary practically restricted to Vanakkam (Namaskar). But the way her mellifluent voice moved my heart and head, I ran the risk of being mistaken as a connoisseur of Tamil. Devotion was the string of her pearls as she conjured magical numbers dedicated to Meenakshi Amman of Madurai, goddess Kamakshi of Kanchi, Lord Krishna (Govinda), Ayappa (in Malayalam), to Lord Venkateswara and Devi Chamunda of Mysore (in Kannada).

With advertisements printed in Tamil, the concert was targeted at Tamils exclusively. Yet, as I discovered, language posed no barrier since her spirit and devotion were characteristically Indian. It reminds one of Fr Xavier S Thani Nayagam, an expatriate Sri Lankan Tamil, who said during the First International Tamil Conference at Kuala Lumpur in 1966 — "If Latin is the language of law and of medicine, French the language of the diplomacy, German the language of science, and English the language of commerce, then Tamil is the language of bhakti, the devotion to the sacred and the holy."

In fact, Tamil Nadu is the refuge of classical India whether in philosophy, architecture, dance or music. This explains why Swami Vivekanand received a roaring welcome from the Tamils in Sri Lanka and India although many of them knew only Tamil, which the Bengali monk did not know. And why Ananda Coomaraswamy, son of a Sri Lankan Tamil father and a British mother, gelled with the Tagore family in Calcutta. KS Ramaswami Sastri wrote Sir Rabindranath Tagore: His Life, Personality and Genius, published by Ganesh & Co, Madras, in 1916. The idea, as opposed to the language, of Hindu ethos is one.

The West, where public-speaking effloresced since ancient past, has excelled in transmitting ideas in contemporary idioms. India has demonstrated that ideas can be transmitted wordlessly. From India rose the art of meditation that we may realise the Truth by direct realisation. Our classical arts are not modes of entertainment but the quest for the Divine. When language chauvinism is raging in a western State of India, will somebody look beyond the spoken word, and discover that great unifying idea?








Despite Chinese protests, the Government of India cleared the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang, allowing him to travel to Arunachal Pradesh where he received a tumultuous welcome. What lessons can we draw from this event which has been extensively covered by the national media?

First, though the visit has 'upset' the Chinese, nothing dramatic has happened. Most of the so-called Indian experts who are regularly taken for lavish trips to China had predicted that hell would break loose if the Dalai Lama were permitted to go to Tawang. Nothing like that has happened. On the contrary, as the Times of India reported, "China tried to be deliberately subdued… The Chinese Foreign Ministry restricted itself to expressing strong dissatisfaction with India on the issue."

For India, it has been an occasion to discover that even if the Chinese are 'upset' it is not the end of the world. This has apparently percolated to the Government's psyche; the media and the people are also gradually becoming aware of it.

Till recently, if India opened an airport or had to send troops to its northern frontier or if the Prime Minister had to visit Arunachal Pradesh, the Chinese would inevitably be 'upset'. But if India dared to say anything about infrastructure projects in Tibet or about Beijing's plans to built huge dams on the Brahmaputra, the Chinese spokesman would immediately state, "Please, it is our internal affair, don't interfere."

This constant rage is not healthy; the Chinese leaders have a serious problem. Could someone suggest to them to take some lessons in vipasana and equanimity from a Buddhist teacher?

While it is good that India always maintains its proverbial calm and practices samata, usually at the end of the day the Government vacillates under Chinese pressure. This time, it remained firm; it did not budge under veiled threats or melt under sweet smiles.

Unyielding under pressure, New Delhi has reiterated its decade-old position on the border issue. It was enunciated in 1959 by Jawaharlal Nehru in a letter to Zhou Enlai, his Chinese counterpart. Nehru wrote: "Contrary to what has been reported to you, this (McMahon) Line was, in fact, drawn at a Tripartite Conference held at Simla in 1913-1914 between the Plenipotentiaries of the Governments of China, Tibet and India. At the time of acceptance of the delineation of this frontier, Lonchen Shatra, the Tibetan Plenipotentiary, in letters exchanged, stated explicitly that he had received orders from Lhasa to agree to the boundary as marked on the map appended to the Convention. The Line was drawn after full discussion and was confirmed subsequently by formal exchange of letters; and there is nothing to indicate that the Tibetan authorities were in any way dissatisfied with the agreed boundary."

It may seem strange today, but Zhou Enlai had told Nehru in 1957 that he had no objection to the McMahon Line (he just did not like the British connotation of the name), but that the Tibetans were unhappy about it. Nehru rightly pointed out: "There is no mention of any Chinese reservation in respect of the India-Tibet frontier either during the discussions or at the time of their initialling the Convention (in 1914)."

Nehru reminded Zhou Enlai: "In our previous discussions and particularly during your visit to India in January1957, we were gratified to note that you were prepared to accept this line as representing the frontier between China and India in this region and I hope that we shall reach an understanding on this basis."

It is much later that the Chinese, wanting a bargaining chip to legalise their occupation of Aksai Chin, decided to play the 'Tawang card' and started clamouring about Arunachal Pradesh. For a time, they even argued that the residents of Arunachal Pradesh did not need Chinese visas to 'visit their own motherland'.

By allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, New Delhi has made clear its position on the border. It will be greatly helpful when Special Representatives MK Narayanan and his Chinese counterpart Dai Bingguo meet the next time.

But there is another lesson from the visit: It has demonstrated the magnitude of the popularity of the Tibetan leader among the Himalayan people. People not only from the North-East, but also from Ladakh, Lahaul, Spiti, Kinnaur and Sikkim often feel (rightly or wrongly) that they are second class citizens in India. This sentiment has been prevailing for a long time and is accentuated by Delhi-centric policies which have often ignored the feelings of these people.

By agreeing to let the Tibetan leader visit Arunachal Pradesh, the Government has offered a wonderful gift to the local people. Can you imagine the entire population of a district stopping all activities for four days to listen to a leader preaching the tenets of their own culture? The Dalai Lama's words resonated in the ears of each person who had come to hear him speaking about their Buddhist roots.

On the last day, a friend sent me a message: "His Holiness left for Itanagar this morning; almost everyone was crying. A Monpa housewife said, 'This could be the last time that we are getting his blessing.' Guruji's visit to Tawang is always made difficult. Look at the weather now; there is no sun today, how sunny and pleasant it was yesterday and the previous days when he was here!"

The Chinese leadership always speaks of the 'masses', but does the totalitarian regime in Beijing have the faintest idea of what the word means? To convince US President Barack Obama about China's claim to Tibet, Beijing now compares the 1959 Communist takeover of the area to the American Civil War. The inferrence, to quote a Reuters despatch, is that "Mao freed Tibetans from slavery".

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said that Mr Obama should understand China's Tibet policy better: "He is a Black President and he understands the slavery abolition movement. In 1959, China abolished the feudal serf system (in Tibet) just as President Lincoln freed the Black slaves." Despite Beijing's lame arguments, the masses have shown where their hearts turn to for solace and advice.

While the media was busy covering the Dalai Lama's visit to Tawang, not far away, in Gangtok several Tibetan and Sikkimese NGOs organised a 'Tibet Festival'. Incredible crowds thronged the venue. The opening ceremony was attended by no less than three Ministers of the Chamling Government and on the last day, the Chief Minister personally declared the festival closed.

While Tibetan culture is being erased in Tibet, there is a cultural renaissance in the Himalayan belt. It is mainly due to the presence of the Dalai Lama in India who for the past 50 years has been teaching tolerance and non-violence. One can imagine what would happen if the Dalai Lama were allowed to cross the McMahon Line and visit his native land.








Hamid Karzai's second presidential inauguration took place as planned, with tough security measures and in the presence of high-ranking officials from the United States, Tajikistan, Iran, Russia, Germany and Lithuania, among others.

Importantly, at a meeting with the re-elected President a couple of hours before the ceremony, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about Moscow's readiness to render economic and moral support to Afghanistan.

During Mr Karzai's first presidency, the majority of Russian analysts described him as an American puppet whose power was limited to Kabul. Cooperating with a country which thrived on drugs and was actually occupied by US troops was considered pointless. Like in Iraq, Americans were the only ones who could get contracts.

However, now the situation has changed or is about to change. Russia is only just beginning to work in Afghanistan. For example, it is planning to rebuild the once famous House of Science and Culture, which will incorporate a health centre for children.

Change is in the air because during his second term Mr Karzai may be a different President. He has suddenly become a more influential figure with all due reservations.

This change was caused by the mistakes made by the Obama Administration. The August 20 elections were followed by hysteria of the majority of the European and American public. They were seen as fake elections of a corrupt President due to Washington's failure to ensure certain standards. However, the voters in Afghanistan and their neighbours had a different view of these elections.

Under Mr Karzai, a relatively prosperous urban community was restored in Kabul and some other cities. These people understand what elections are all about. The majority of other Afghans live in conditions of tribal democracy. It was important for them to see that Mr Karzai was the strongest candidate. Hence, he should remain in power, despite the position's limitations. This is how the public reasons in dozens of countries, primarily in the Greater West Asia, East, regardless of whether the elections there are 'real' or not.

Moreover, foreigners, above all Americans, were trying to challenge the elections and compel Mr Karzai to hold a second round, which is humiliating and intolerable for any leader. But Mr Karzai defeated America. It looked small when his rival Abdullah Abdullah refused to take part in the second round. This victory enhanced Mr Karzai's prestige.

The facts, which surfaced on the eve of Mr Karzai's second inauguration, largely explain why the Obama Administration is so confused. It cannot decide what to do about Afghanistan, especially after the elections. By and large, American analysts say that the Karzai regime is corrupt, and for this reason nothing can be done about that country. Europe's attitude is pretty much the same.

Americans are charging Mr Ibrahim Adel, Afghanistan's Mining Minister, with accepting a $ 20-million bribe for awarding a contract for a copper mining project to the wrong party, which means to somebody other than the United States.

The contract is worth $ 3 billion. Copper and other natural resources can well replace the opium poppy as the foundation of the Afghan economy. And yet Afghanistan has sold one of its key industries to a Chinese company.

Kabul insists that China left America behind in an honest tender, by offering better terms. The Americans claim that the Afghan Minister tacitly told the Chinese about the American proposal, and they immediately proposed better terms. Everyone who has experience of taking part in tenders can imagine this situation.


ow it is easier to understand why America is so critical of the corrupt Afghan regime, and why Transparency International has ranked it as the second most corrupt nation of the world (after record-breaking Somalia).

It transpires that Mr Karzai is an astute ruler, who is trying to gain a foothold abroad. Incidentally, this happened during the last months of Mr George W Bush's presidency.

Now it is more obvious why the Obama Administration has found itself in a difficult position and cannot decide whether it should send 10,000 or 40,000 of American troops to Afghanistan.

Should American soldiers lose their lives there for the Chinese to be awarded key contracts? But, on the other hand, why should they sacrifice their lives in Afghanistan at all?

When Mr Bush said that in a similar war in Iraq America was fighting for democracy and honest elections, his words were perceived as utmost cynicism, all the more so considering how the elections were held there. But even Mr Obama's officials cannot say out loud that democracy is not an absolute answer to all problems in Afghanistan and the rest of the world.

Unless Americans and Europeans learn to be rational about their democratic religion and stop dismissing any discourse on this subject as sacrilege, they will increasingly lose their influence in the world, like they are now losing it in Afghanistan.


The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.








While questions are being raised about the contents of the Liberhan Commission report, meant to fix responsibility for the Babri Masjid demolition, on account of the inordinately long delay, 17 years, in submitting it, the report's utility as an instrument to whip up communal passions seems doubtful.

Too much has changed in the years since the Babri Masjid was demolished on December 6, 1992 to recreate the communally charged atmosphere of that time. Gradually, identity politics and economic liberalisation took centrestage, nudging aside the temple issue.

Even when the BJP-led NDA Government was in power, from 1998-2004, it assiduously avoided raising the explosive issue, owing to the pressures of coalition politics. After the NDA failed to return to power in the 2004 elections, angry VHP leaders blamed the reverse on the BJP's apparent repudiation of its core agenda, including restoration of three usurped Hindu pilgrimages. These were the Ram Janmabhoomi shrine, Krishna's janmasthan (birthplace) at Mathura and the original Kashi Vishwanath site in Varanasi.

In today's rapidly changing socio-political scenario, the Congress-led UPA Government at the Centre, now in its second term, has an entirely new set of problems to deal with, foremost among them being the twin threats posed by terrorism and Maoist-sponsored militancy. It is all the more baffling, therefore, that the Babri Masjid demolition issue should have been revived at this juncture via selective leaks of the report to a newspaper.

Now that it has been tabled in Parliament by Home Minister P Chidambaram, it is not seen to be complete by observers as not all the persons, mentioned as suspect in the report, have been summoned for questioning by the commission chairman, Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan. The process of interrogating them might take another four-five years, going by the commission's track record. By then, its findings may not be relevant.

The Congress, which unleashed the controversy in the first place, is now reported to be considering framing the Communal Violence Bill as a means to prevent and control riots, and setting up special courts to deal with them. However, the Rajiv Gandhi regime was instrumental in getting the mosque's lock opened in a bid to woo numerically dominant Hindus. It was a time when temple proponents had begun to raise this emotive issue in the Hindi belt.

In a bid to stymie them, the Congress did not challenge the order of the Faizabad District and Sessions Court to open the locks of the Babri mosque on February 1, 1986. Muslims were furious. The Central Minister for Waqf, Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, indicated the shift in stance when she advised them "to take recourse to law and not to create disturbance". Namaz had not been performed at the place since 1950. Yet, at stake was the site as well as the adjoining 42 acre-big burial ground.

The Congress did not entirely forsake its old constituency, introducing in Parliament the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill later that year. It revoked a Supreme Court judgement that granted maintenance to a wife, who was unfairly divorced. A 70-year-old woman called Shah Bano had filed the suit.

But attitudes have changed radically since those days. The Muslim response to the report's indictment of some known Hindutva leaders for alleged complicity in the demolition of the mosque is muted and cautious, a far cry from the hysteria that erupted after the structure was reduced to rubble by kar sevaks.

The Babri Masjid Action Committee was hastily formed to represent aggrieved Muslims. In the present instance, community elders fear that some politicos and parties will again try to capitalise on the issue, as in the past when Uttar Pradesh, in particular, was divided along communal lines. Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav's recent demand for restoring the mosque is indeed ominous, coming as it does in the wake of his party's rout in the State's by-elections. He has also publicly distanced himself from erstwhile temple proponent Kalyan Singh and his son, after his short-lived association with them was blamed for alienating Muslim supporters of the Samajwadi Party.

Amid such Machiavellian ploys and self-flagellation by Hindu apologists, All-India Muslim Personal Law Board member and Naib Imam of Lucknow Eidgah Maulana Khalid Rashid Firangi Mahli has advised politicians not to involve his people in the development. A cleric, Ali Nasir Sayeed Agha Roohi Abaqati feels that more serious problems require India's attention. Clearly, Muslims are reluctant to be used as pawns.







Rehash old fears and update them with the alarmist topic du jour —that's the recipe for the United Nations Population Fund's annual report this Wednesday dedicated to climate change. Its State of World Population 2009 correctly points out that poor women will be the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. But it focuses on old-fashioned population control instead of real ways to empower women against poverty and climate change.

The UNFPA was created in the late-1960s when predictions were rife that population growth would lead to mass famine, environmental destruction and poverty. So it was without shame that the UNFPA awarded its first ever population award in 1983 to Dr Qian Xinzhong, responsible for overseeing China's savage one-child policy.

But these apocalyptic claims failed to materialise — and the UNFPA lost its raison d'être. Yet it continues to make the case for population control, albeit in a concealed way.

The UNFPA has jumped on many bandwagons, from health to climate change, and, whatever the problem, it always reaches the conclusion that population is the problem and condoms the answer. It blames all sorts of economic, social and environmental ills on overpopulation and rapid population growth. In fact, terrible things like deforestation, slums, lack of access to food and water are symptoms of poverty not population. Reduced fertility rates will not alleviate either these symptoms or the causes of poverty: Regulation, corruption and oppression.

In fact, there is no causal relationship between population density and poverty. People are only too happy to accept that India is overpopulated but they would never suggest such a thing of the Netherlands or Israel, both with higher population density.

Similarly, environmental conditions have been improving in many parts of the world — thanks to development and economic growth, not reduced population growth. The UNFPA says: "The damage done to the environment by modern society is one of the most inequitable risks of our time." The UNFPA is right in thinking that the poorest people live in the worst and toughest environments. But the blame should not be on First World industrialisation but, once again, on poverty. Economic development, allows people to overcome environmental problems. It is poor countries that experience the worst deforestation, the worst water and air pollution and soil erosion.

The UNFPA's latest report argues that family planning, contraception and education are not only desirable because they "empower women" (which is true) but also because they lead to "lower fertility rates that contribute to slower growth in greenhouse-gas emissions in the long run."

But it is not evident that these things reduce births, despite the UNFPA's cherry-picked examples. There are plenty of counter-examples where such programmes have had no impact on fertility rates. And there are plenty more examples when no programmes have been put in place and where births still decreased. Mexico had family planning programmes from 1974 to the end of the century while Brazil had none but both countries' fertility fell at similar rates.

The UNFPA's attitude is patronising, assuming most women want fewer children. And the only foolproof way of reducing fertility rates is coercion, as in India in the 1970s or China today.

Rather than recommend condoms to cool the climate, the UNFPA should study the precise problems that women face today and that may worsen with climate change, such as hunger, dirty water and diseases. Economic freedom — not contraception — is the key to overcoming those problems, to economic development and to empowering women.

Women in poor countries need to be able to own property and businesses, to trade freely and participate in the formal economy. Only then will they cast off the shackles of poverty.

 The writer is a Project Director at International Policy Network, London, an independent think-tank working on economic development.Q








A year since 26/11 happened we as a nation are faced with the difficult question of how to deal with the terrible events of that day. Do we commemorate it as a day of mourning - as has happened with 9/11 - or do we make peace with the past and move on? Such questions are not easily answered, and the response will vary from person to person. For those who lost someone close in the terror attacks or those who were front-row witnesses to the carnage, 26/11 will remain imprinted in their minds for a long time to come if not a lifetime. But for those who followed the events on television or through newspapers, their relation to the Mumbai terror attacks is likely to be much more distant and detached.

Arguably the Indian perspective on negative events, such as 26/11, is quite different from the rest of the world. The West has a long tradition of observing negative anniversaries. This could be traced to the Jewish philosophy best summed up by the phrase, 'lest we forget'. Thus the Holocaust is such a central part of Jewish identity and being. There are many such negative events, including 9/11, which have a special place in the western calendar. In contrast, Indian philosophy lays a far greater emphasis on the dictum, 'lest we remember'. That is why Indians have a low social memory when it comes to dark deeds and violence. We like to believe that our past has been one of non-violence and peaceful coexistence even though this is palpably untrue. Our histories tend to elide over the violence perpetrated by kings or negative aspects of their character, whereas revisionism is such a rage in the West.

This makes the art of forgetting, and indeed forgiving, easier for us. This attitude has perplexed outsiders, particularly Europeans steeped in traditions of recording events from the mundane to the extraordinary. The British would often complain that Indians had no sense of history and set things right by documenting every aspect of Indian life and society. But it's not that we don't have an idea of history, only that it is liberally infused with mythology.

While forgetting and crowding out negative events is in our DNA, that is of course something not applicable to the government. Instead of commemorating 26/11, it's the government and the security agencies' responsibility to remember and act on the lessons from the Mumbai terror attacks. By better policing and intelligence gathering they must ensure that a 26/11 isn't repeated.







Politics in Sri Lanka has assumed a sudden urgency with President Mahinda Rajapakse calling for early presidential elections. The election, expected in January 2010, comes two years ahead of schedule. Rajapakse and his allies believe that an early election will help the coalition to tap popular sentiment in favour of the government, after the defeat of the LTTE.

However, the January election is unlikely to be a runaway affair for Rajapakse. The prospect of General Sarath Fonseka, who led the armed forces during the final Eelam war, standing as the unanimous candidate of the opposition could complicate the contest. Even before the euphoria over the military defeat of the LTTE ended, the leaders of the winning party started to drift apart. Rajapakse and Fonseka, along with the president's brother and defence secretary Gotabhaya, were credited with crafting the victory over the LTTE. Sinhala nationalist opinion also rallied behind the trio. As Fonseka basked in public adulation, the Rajapakse brothers feared that the general nurtured political ambitions. They have been proved right, though Fonseka may claim that he was forced to explore political office after being eased out of his army post. The emerging situation, to put it mildly, is bizarre. A Sri Lankan commentator likened the situation to a hypothetical one that would have had Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw contesting against Indira Gandhi, immediately after the 1971 war.

If hardline Sinhala nationalist opinion were to split between the Rajapakse brothers and Fonseka, that would be a positive outcome. The opposition recognises that it doesn't stand a chance against the winners of the Eelam war, hence the attempt to back Fonseka and ride the nationalist sentiment he is likely to attract. Since the nationalist vote is likely to be divided, both Rajapakse and Fonseka have tried to reach out to others including the Tamil minorities. Last week, Rajapakse directed officials to ensure that all war-displaced Tamils lodged presently in the transitional camps be resettled. He has also ordered the removal of restrictions imposed on the movements of camp dwellers from December 1. These are welcome decisions and may help Colombo to assuage international criticism. Not to be left behind, Fonseka too has started to talk about addressing the concerns of the war-ravaged Tamils.

Hopefully, electoral factors will force the two candidates to adopt a more inclusive political agenda and seek support outside their core hardline constituencies. The winner has to reach out to the island nation's various minorities if he is serious about rebuilding the war-ravaged society and economy. New Delhi should offer its good offices in this regard.







As the countdown ticks to the crucial UN-sponsored climate change summit - billed as COP15 - in Copenhagen, it is now quite clear that, save a welcome last-minute miracle, a significant and binding deal is not likely to be sealed in the Danish capital. Doubts over whether the world could agree upon a substantive pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol had begun to grow of late. And just as feared, the United States, the world's largest polluter, has decisively thrown a spanner in the works. President Barack Obama said in Singapore during the recently-concluded APEC summit that time had run out to secure a legally-binding protocol in Copenhagen. And, with that, America once again abdicated its responsibility on the climate change front.

Kyoto to Copenhagen has been a journey marked with minor concessions and major disagreements, mealy-mouthed pledges and grand expectations. Almost everyone recognises that a challenge is staring us in the face, and the imperative for all countries to get cracking on the job at hand.

But two issues stubbornly stick out: One, not all countries are on the same page in their reading of the enormity of the crisis. Two, we are nowhere near a consensus on how the tab should be split between the advanced economies and the developing ones. Some progress has been made on bridging the divide on climate change between the developed and developing countries. But there are miles to go before a constructive agreement can be inked.

This was underlined at a forum of about 300 plus editors from across the world, climate change experts, policy architects and politicians - opinion-shapers all - hosted by Project Syndicate, a global opinion syndication service, in Copenhagen last month. At this gathering aimed at reviewing agendas on climate change and energy security, a host of opinions was exchanged. This interface brought into sharp relief the fact that the developed and emerging economies are still talking past each other. It's a reality other such summits and dialogues - both in the real world and on virtualscape - reveal.

We are going still going round and round in circles. The advanced world wants everyone to pull their weight in mitigating the crisis. The developing world is in no mood to put a lid on its aspirations for growth. The ones being given a less-than-nominal hearing in this verbal jousting between Tier I and Tier II of the world economy are those countries that are underdeveloped, and those at the bottom half of the developing group, whose citizens stand to face the worst consequences of climate change.

There's no getting away from the fact that when we mean developing world, we are often taking into account the voices of only China, India, Brazil, Russia, Mexico and, to some extent, South Africa. Because these countries are the drivers of growth in our economically-crippled times. But there are other countries that are either developing or underdeveloped, like Bangladesh and Tanzania that also have a stake in the climate challenge. Who's listening to their concerns? In all the wrangling between the advanced and select emerging economies, they perceive themselves, and their worries, falling off the map. For all the talk about global consensus, the ongoing international round table on climate change is in fact not particularly inclusive.

The vexed issue of carbon emission cuts and caps is still a stumbling block. It does not help that India and China hold up the fact that per capita emissions in their respective countries are still less than that of America's, or for the developed club to cite projections of emission levels from Asia's contemporary giants as the world's potential undoing.

Both have to do their bit. Advanced economies must pick up a larger portion of the global climate bill that they have substantially contributed to by way of making accountable commitments to funding clean technology transfers to the growing lot. And emerging economies must lead the way by putting in place sustainable growth blueprints, ideas and initiatives that will not only serve their own long-term interests but also set an example for those underdeveloped countries that will one day join their league. All this is no doubt old hat but bears repetition, in as many public outlets possible, until a deal is hammered out.

India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh, did a star turn at this conference when he outlined ways in which India is making responsible contributions and commitments to easing the current gridlock, without denting its case for growth. But, on cue, he was torn apart by sections of the domestic constituency, as he has been before, for making such utterances. This highlights the fact that as much as climate change is an international concern - mandating global give and take - it is also a domestic hot potato for all involved.

As with protectionism and immigration, elected political representatives - with whom rests global deal-making powers in the last instance - have to make tough choices between boosting international cooperation and national self-preservation. It's a balancing act that no one can claim to have perfected till now. We can only hope they score better on this measure going forward.





Roberto Toscano , Italy’s ambassador to India, has published extensively on various aspects of political philosophy. As a career diplomat, he served in countries as diverse as Chile, the Soviet Union, Spain and Iran. He chaired the Network on Conflict, Peace and Development of DAC-OECD between 2000-2003. In a recent collection of his writings, Between Terrorism and Global Governance, he argues that we need to have an international consensus on what constitutes terrorism to attain the common goal of banning it legally, politically and morally. Amrith Lal spoke to him in New Delhi. Excerpts from the interview:

What is wrong about the present discourse on terrorism?

The problem with the current discourse on terrorism is that it is the articulation of two opposite alternatives. The so called realists talk of repression and the so called idealists talk in terms of addressing the root causes, the reasons for the grievances, political or so social or economic, and so on. It’s a false alternative. Because as long as you have armed terrorists threatening civilian population, you, of course, would need to go after them, detain them to put them on trial, of course as per law, because they have performed criminal activities. But at the same time we should ask ourselves a question. Active terrorists are by definition small groups, extremely ideological and ruthless. If that were only the case, it would be easy to isolate them and deal with them. The trouble comes when they establish a sort of area of consensus or of sympathy on the part of the common people, people who are not terrorists. Those common people tend to listen to these extreme proposals because they have certain grievances. Let’s, therefore, try to address them and find channels of expressions of those grievances and finds ways of redress.

The trouble with the current discourse is the false alternatives: one group saying, let’s go after terrorists and the other side saying, no, no, let’s build schools and find jobs. They’re both right and wrong. Another very important thing, however, is to know what we’re talking about because there is a big controversy about the definition of terrorism. The first question has to be how to define terrorism.


You have written at length about the threats posed by terrorism to the moral foundations of the nation state. Is there an ideal way to deal with terrorism?

One of the reasons that lie at the root of the terrorist phenomena is the inclusion/exclusion, the resentment of groups that feel oppressed, discriminated against all over the world for many reasons. The reasons can be ethnic, racial, religious, social, but it is this thing of exclusion that breeds grievance and, therefore, might lead to violence. Look, I think we should start by saying that not all radicals are violent and not all violent radicals are terrorists. So may be we should discriminate between different levels of political passion.

You talk about the tensions between ethics and real politic, that they need not necessarily contradictory. How do we make them compatible?

I think we should find a minimum course of agreed principles. We cannot imagine that given the difference in culture, given the difference in the history of each country and each population, we can comprehend each other one hundred per cent. Although with globalisation, we can hope to develop a common ground. But what is the minimum common ground? As far as the use of political violence is concerned it would be great if we could put war outside the law. But this is the maximum goal. I think people are not ready yet to outlaw war. So we should put law into war, law into war in the sense to limit it. The admissible targets of military action and the means that we use to conduct military action have become part of humanitarian law. The Geneva and the Hague conventions and so on constitute what we call humanitarian law, which is another way of saying the law of war.

I think we can identify three basic categories of violent action that are never admissible. One, genocide; two, torture; three, terrorism. On genocide we have a convention, on torture we have a convention. Terrorism is more difficult because of what we were saying before: the difficulty in defining that. But I think we should work towards that because this is not just a legal discourse. A legal discourse is made possible by a moral discourse. People must become ready, in their great majority, to accept that these (basic categories of violent action) are not acceptable. Therefore they will eventually develop legal structures. That’s the way the law works.

But there is also something else. In the Bible the first murderer, Cain, when confronted by God, answers: Am I my brother’s keeper? May be we should reverse this and say: I am my brother’s keeper. So we need to discuss this idea of responsibility, a responsibility that extends beyond your immediate circle of human contact. Of course, it is very easy for people to take care of their family, sometimes a village. Then the society grew and it became the nation state. But should we stop there? Should we say that anything that goes on beyond the borders of our nation state does not concern us? I think we are not ready to say no but we will not say yes.






M S Dhoni may well be the most popular sportsperson in India, but few of us know that the feisty Mangte Chungneijang Merykom, a mother of two from Manipur, has won an unprecedented four World Boxing Championship titles. She received India's highest sporting honour, the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award along with boxer Vijender Singh and wrestler Sushil Kumar earlier this year.

Manipur's Renedy Singh produced a dream free kick in India's Nehru Cup final encounter with Syria. Though the match went to penalties, the free kick will be cherished for a long time to come. Manipur, like the rest of the north-east, is not only about violence and guns as many would like to believe. Sports are a way of life in the north-east. Among the north-eastern states, Manipur has produced some of the finest sportspersons for India both at the national and international levels. Nameirakpam Kunjarani Devi won the gold medal in the 48 kg category in the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne. She was bestowed the Arjuna award in 1990 and the Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna award in 1996 while Dingko Singh won the gold medal in the 1998 Bangkok Asian Games in the bantamweight category.

So how come this tiny state, plagued by militancy, has produced a bevy of sportspersons who have dazzled at the national and international levels? The answer lies partly in its history. Manipur has had a long and close association with sports. The game of polo is believed to have originated from the ancient sport of Sagol Kangjei in Manipur. Manipuris have been playing a variety of indigenous sports like the Kang. Young people see sports as a ticket to a better life. Employment opportunities are few and far between. Corruption has become a big menace and there are few private-sector jobs. Many sportspersons who do well get jobs in public sector organisations. Women in Manipur, like in all north-eastern states, are accorded a high position in society and encouraged to participate in sports. Besides, cricket is definitely not the most popular sports in Manipur. Time to play ball, then, isn't it?







Here's a suggestion for environmentalists who are going to meet in Copenhagen to discuss the problem of global warming and climate change: Why not try cannibalism?


Global warming, which leads to climate change, which in turn wreaks environmental havoc, is caused by industrial and automotive emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases which create a greenhouse effect and trap heat in the atmosphere. In short, climate change is man-made. So we have to find a man-made solution for it. No one seems ready to reduce emissions, least of all America, the most polluting country in the world. So if we can't reduce emissions - which means reducing industrial activity, and cutting down on road, rail and air travel - let's reduce the final cause of those emissions: people.


A car, by itself, does not cause emissions. It is only when a person drives that car that emissions are caused. The same holds true for a factory, or an aeroplane. By themselves they don't cause emissions; it is the people who work in the factory, and the people who fly in the aeroplane who cause the emissions. So, reduce the people and you'll reduce emissions.


Over the millennia, human civilisation has devised many methods of reducing the earth's population, the most commonly resorted to being wars. However, wars are a costly and environmentally damaging means of population control because in order to wage wars you have to manufacture weapons and provide large-scale transport to armies, all of which add to the polluting emissions which you're trying to control in the first place. No, wars are an extremely inefficient way of population control and improving the state of the environment.


Disease, the other tried and tested form of population control, has to a large extent been marginalised by modern medical science. Despite periodic pandemic alarms about bird flu, swine flu and the like, disease doesn't claim anywhere near the number of people it used to.


Family planning has had, at best, mixed success in curbing population growth. While it seems to have worked well in the West where many countries have registered negative population growths, it has been a spectacular failure in countries like India which need it the most.


How then do we reduce the number of people on this overcrowded planet? How do we cut down on the proliferating numbers of the single species whose activities are solely responsible for endangering this planet and all the other species on it? How do we reduce the number of humans?


The answer seems obvious, though literally unpalatable. It is humankind's insatiable appetite - a greedy hunger for more and more things, for greater and greater consumption - that has led the Earth to the brink of irreversible environmental catastrophe. So the logical thing to do would be to turn this overriding desire to consume upon itself: feed human greed with - what else? - humans.


If religious, social and political leaders were to legitimise cannibalism it would not only directly address the problem of man-made climate change but would also solve the growing problem of hunger which is afflicting more and more people across the world.


What, you have no bread to eat? So what? Go and eat not cake but the person who suggested you should eat cake in the absence of bread. This makes for perfect poetic justice, not to mention nutritive justice.


Since time immemorial humankind has been eating up any species that flies, crawls, walks or swims, from dinosaurs to ants, from whales to worms. Perhaps it's high time this omnivorous - or omnivoracious - species seriously considered eating itself.


The Copenhagen summit on climate change might be just the place to discuss this. Maybe Al Gore and R K Pachauri could come up with some useful recipes. Any volunteers for the ingredients?








If deep-seated memories can be triggered in French novels by the taste of a cake dipped in tea, in post-kamandal India, a leaked report can do the trick. Short of a fortnight before the 17th anniversary of the Babri Masjid demolition, an event that increasingly demands a gesture from secular politicians rather than tangible action, the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission finds itself prematurely in the public domain. To call the publication of parts of the confidential report 'premature' is, of course, stashed with irony. After all, 17 years after the event, with 48 extensions and more than a fistful of crores, 'premature' isn't the word that immediately comes to mind. But with Mr Liberhan having submitted his report on May 30 this year and the initial plan of the government to present his findings, along with an Action Taken Report — before December 30 in Parliament— scheduling has been disrupted. Along with the speculative bit about who leaked the report — the Home Ministry or Mr Liberhan or one of the translators preparing the Hindi version of the report for Parliament — the question is: who gains by the unscheduled 'remembrance'?


BJP leader L.K. Advani will find it difficult to treat the report and the drumbeats that have accompanied its 'leakage' as a personalised lifejacket. With the Sangh parivar leadership having successfully made him walk the plank ever since the BJP's demolition that started since the Lok Sabha poll results in May, Mr Advani suddenly finds himself not only prodded to jump ship but be looked at with new 'old' eyes. The indictment of other leaders like Uma Bharti and Kalyan Singh, who had left the flock because of Mr Advani and have been waiting in the wings to re-enter the BJP since Mr Advani's star was falling fast in the party, may now find themselves in the same team.


The advantage that the Congress may find itself with is more indirect: the report, coming a week after the BJP found voice (and success) with other political parties in agitating against the sugar price hike, could serve as a gentle reminder to 'secular' anti-Congress forces about who they may want to gang up with. Mulayam Singh Yadav, for instance, made a renewed pitch last week through his own version of communalised politics by invoking the Babri Masjid. In the aftermath of the Liberhan report, the Congress has to do little to jog memories regarding former UP Chief Minister Kalyan Singh's role in the Babri Masjid demolition, something that, during the short-lived political friendship with the  indicted Kalyan Singh, the Samajwadi Party leader himself might have forgotten.


There is nothing in the Liberhan report that is really new. The trial against those behind the demolition of the Babri Masjid continues despite, rather than because of, Mr Liberhan's observations and if there are 'new' names indicted, new criminal charges will have to be made. What will ensue in and beyond Parliament over the next few weeks is not a demand to bring what triggered one of independent India's most savage moments to a close but how political players can work the findings of the report to their advantage.







'Never again' is the sentiment behind the Maharashtra government setting up the crack commando unit called Force One. But news from the frontline isn't very reassuring. On Tuesday, at the induction ceremony in Mumbai of the first batch of the unit based on the lines of the National Security Guards, four commandos collapsed in the legendary late-November heat of Mumbai. No one was thankfully hurt or killed.


Coming two days before our leaders compete against each other to show that 26/11 was a lesson that they would never forget, the security appariti of this powerful nation needs to be tweaked perhaps just a bit more. Maybe it was the tightness of collars that made the poor fellows faint. Perhaps it was the momentous occasion of being the first batch out of the Maharashtra Intelligence Academy that sapped their energy. No matter. We know that things will be tip-top and sharp once a dastardly group of ten terrorists try to make us faint with fear again.








It is the fate of all really important ideas that people forget how the world used to be before they became common currency. I am, alas, old enough to have been around before microcredit acquired its present prominence. In 1992, when I read a paper about it in a conference, I was asked, quite literally, who cares about these strange things that they have down in Bangladesh?


There were, of course, poor people even in those primeval times. They borrowed, and as many of them still do, paid interest rates of 60 per cent a year or more (often much more). The world just assumed that this was part of being poor.


Now for the 150 million who already borrow from Micro-Finance Institutions (MFIs) and another 200 million or more who have the option of borrowing from an MFI, things are very different. MFI loans in Bangladesh and India carry interest rates of no more than 30 per cent a year. In the slums of Hyderabad, where the average (non-MFI) interest rate, when we surveyed a couple of years ago, was around 60 per cent a year, borrowers can now borrow amounts of up to Rs 10,000 from MFIs like Spandana at about 24 per cent.


At the same time MFIs have managed to find ways to be financially sustainable and to keep growing fast. This in itself is a remarkable achievement. Very little works in many developing countries in terms of delivering to the poor; previous attempts to deliver credit, through state-run banks, for example, collapsed in the face of widespread corruption and defaults.


Moreover, we now have some evidence that microcredit delivers on its most basic promise — that it would help the poor improve their livelihoods. Researchers from the Jameel Poverty Action Lab have completed two randomised trials (the social science equivalent of a medical experiment) of microcredit — one in partnership with a Hyderabad-based MFI, Spandana, and the other with a Philippines-based First Macro Bank.


The two programmes evaluated are very different. First Macro Bank provides loan to existing business owners, male or female, on an individual basis. Spandana uses the classic group-lending model and lends only to women. Yet, at one level, the results are quite similar. The effect on businesses is not dramatic but something good does happen. In the Philippines, male-owned businesses increase profits although female-owned businesses do not. In India, borrowers who already own a business buy assets for their business. Of those who don't own a business, one in eight starts a business they would not have started otherwise.


Reassuringly, we see no evidence of people falling into a debt trap. A lot of people do borrow without starting a business, but many of them simply use the money to pay down another, more expensive, loan. Of the rest, some use it to deal with an urgent need (an illness, a wedding) that they would have had to borrow for in any case; others simply buy something they needed for their homes but would never have enough money to buy (a roof or a television). To pay for the loan, they cut back on some of their daily indulgences (a cup of tea here, a pan there), which, remarkably, is exactly what they had said that they wanted to cut before the experiment started.


All this is good news. Yet the reactions to these results in the media have been rather negative — one hears rumblings that microcredit might be the latest 'God that Failed'. Perhaps this is inevitable: so little has gone right with anti-poverty programmes in the last 50 years that it is hard not to hope for a miracle cure, and some of the boosters of microcredit indeed suggested that we finally have one. It has been argued, for example, that by putting more spending power in the hands of poor families and, perhaps more importantly, in the hands of women, microcredit can expand investment in child health and education, empower women and reduce discrimination against them. There was even the suggestion that by making people feel that their lives could be better and giving women independent access to capital, microcredit could fight the Aids epidemic.


Alas, at this point, 18 months after they got the loans, there is no evidence that microcredit has any effect on health, education, or women empowerment. This is no surprise for Padmaja Reddy, the founder and CEO of Spandana, who has always insisted that real transformation of people's lives takes a long time — the next round of data collection is scheduled to start three years after the original loans were given, and there we might see something, she says — but it could still be a problem for her, if, for example, the Indian regulators, who have always been a little suspicious of microcredit, use the evidence as an excuse to start interfering more.


Abhijit Banerjee is Ford Foundation International Professor of Economics and Director, Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, MIT


The views expressed by the author are personal








India's concerns about the downstream impacts of dams proposed by the Chinese on the Brahmaputra in Tibet are justified, as we need to ensure that our social and ecological security is not compromised by developments upstream. But it is indeed ironic that we continue to ignore serious downstream impact concerns within our own country as we proceed with plans to build no less than 168 large hydropower projects in the geologically and ecologically fragile, seismically active and culturally-sensitive Brahmaputra river basin.


Recently, a wide array of civil society representatives from Assam sent a memorandum on large dams in the Northeast to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. In the MoU, they expressed concern that livelihood and ecological impacts in the downstream in the Brahmaputra flood plains are being ignored even as many mega hydroelectric projects in the region go through clearance processes. Arunachal Pradesh alone plans to build 135 hydropower projects for an installed capacity of 57,000 MW. Till June 2009, the state has signed agreements for 103 projects with companies.


The memorandum from Assamese civil society says that the Centre seems to be in denial of a basic fact of nature: that a river flows downstream. This is evident from Terms of Reference (ToR) for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies granted by the Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) for at least 30 large dams in the Northeastern region in the last two years. While the 'baseline data' collection has been asked to be restricted to only 10 kilometre downstream, the actual 'impact prediction' has been asked to be restricted to an even smaller distance downstream in most cases: only between the dam and powerhouse! There is only one aspect that needs to be studied beyond 10 kilometre downstream: the 'dam-break analysis', which predicts what will be flooding downstream in case the dam actually breaks. But dam-break is not the only downstream risk a dam poses.


When large dams block the flow of a river, they also trap sediments and nutrients vital for fertilising downstream plains. Recent downstream impact concerns raised in the Northeast include loss of fisheries; changes in beel (wetland) ecology in the flood plains; impacts on agriculture on the chapories (riverine islands and tracts) and increased flood vulnerability due to massive boulder extraction from river beds and sudden water releases from reservoirs in the monsoons. While the ability of dams to effectively moderate floods in the Eastern Himalayas is debatable, even as per official plans only one out of the 103 hydropower projects for which an agreement has already been signed by Arunachal Pradesh is a multipurpose project with a flood moderation component.


In the 2000 MW Lower Subansiri hydroelectric project, under construction on the Assam — Arunachal Pradesh border, an expert committee from IIT Guwahati, Dibrugarh University and Gauhati University is currently conducting a post-clearance downstream impact study of the project. Even though downstream studies were demanded before environmental clearance by locals, these studies were finally commissioned only after construction had started and that too because of a major people's movement in the downstream. The expert committee in its February 2009 interim report has expressed concerns about the very location and foundation of the dam on geological grounds and recommended that all construction work on the project be stopped till their downstream study is completed. But the Central and State governments have failed to act on these recommendations and allowed work on the project to continue, leading to widespread public protests in the downstream areas in Assam.


A resident of the Brahmaputra floodplains in Assam has legally challenged the environmental clearance granted to the 1,000 MW Siyom project in Arunachal Pradesh on grounds that the downstream impact assessment had not be done. Both the project developer and the MoEF have shown their disregard for downstream issues by arguing that he is a resident of Assam, while the project is coming up in upstream Arunachal Pradesh!


The people of the Brahmaputra Valley within India will certainly laud New Delhi's efforts to protect their downstream riparian rights vis-à-vis Chinese plans on the Brahmaputra. But as far as India's own large hydropower projects in the Brahmaputra river basin are concerned, locals still require to ask a very basic question to the government: "A river flows downstream, doesn't it?"


Neeraj Vagholikar is a member of Kalpavriksh, an environmental action group


The views expressed by the author are personal









By the time this article appears, Gopi Arora would have been cremated, mourned and grieved by thousands of admirers and friends. As a close friend, and one with whom I had the good fortune of sharing a worldview, I feel it important to share with readers a deeper view of a bureaucrat who adorned the service with his unparalleled qualities of head and heart.


Gopi joined the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1957, with a single-minded purpose: to serve the country. He grew in the 'idealistic' Nehru years and came to be known later as the most powerful bureaucrat in the corridors of power.  It was a different kind of 'power' — one which was used to help the right people, to take correct decisions in the interest of the country and to never get politically influenced.


Gopi's beginnings were humble and his family espoused simple living and high thinking. At a very early age, he assimilated these principles which he manifested in his educational career.  After he finished his academic education in Allahabad University he became a professor of history. It is said that his students were taught not only history but also literature because of the way he communicated thoughts and historical events.


Gopi had the great advantage of being taught as an undergraduate by two celebrated poets:  Harivansh Rai Bachchan and the great Urdu lyricist, Raghupati Sahai 'Firaq'. This helped him to nurture his love for verse. His conversation was always peppered with shayaris. The tiniest gesture from a person could prompt him to write beautiful notes. His choice of words, command of language could be seen even in the smallest of his scribblings I was often privy to.


I happened to meet P. Chidambaram some years ago and I casually asked him how his team in the Finance Ministry was. His one line reply was "They are good, but we no longer have officers like Gopi Arora." It is a testimony to Gopi's calibre as an officer even 15 years after he retired.


Another bureaucrat friend of mine, R.C. Sinha, who served in the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting when Gopi was Secretary would tell me about Gopi's notations that weren't merely orders but visionary statements. After his IAS career, he joined the International Monetary Fund for three years. Officials  there discovered the mettle of Gopi, occasionally calling him 'Dr Gopi Arora'. On any complicated issue he would write out a long note that his colleagues defined as the 'Arora formula'.


Gopi's passing away is not only a loss to his friends and admirers, but it's also a loss for the country. His grasp of economics was such that practising economists were wary of contradicting Gopi's opinions. He was possibly one of the most respected economists of his time without having had any formal education in the subject.


When he witnessed some thing wrong being pursued, he would just smile and mutter why 'simple things' are not understood.  He was often proved to be right, but sometimes the 'damage' had already been done.


The words of Shakespeare come to mind while remembering Gopi: "How long a time lies in one little world!/Four lagging winters and four wanton springs/ End in a word; such is the breath of kings."


Suresh Neotia is former Chairman, Ambuja Cement Ltd







A young man called Bhrigu developed deep metaphysical quest, but he could not get a satisfactory reply from bookish learning.

His father Varuna was a realised master and as such he approached him.

Spiritual learning has to be developed from within. Varuna advised that to realise the Absolute, one must adopt self-discipline and concentrate on repeated self-inquiry.

He also provided a clue that whereby the entire universe is sourced and sustained and where it finally gets dissolved is the ultimate.

Bhrigu plunged deeper within and found that everything apparent springs from the universal matter, in matter they abide and into matter they finally get dissolved.

We live in material world and our body is made of and nourished by the five elements. The ultimate, therefore, must be the universal principle of matter.

Now doubt entered his mind. Everything cannot be explained in terms of matter.

The universal life force or élan vital is the subtle force behind matter.

Everything comes into being out of life force, nourished as long as it is there and finally gets dissolved into the universal flux.

Hence, life force must be the ultimate.

Again his father told him to search further. Mature spiritual progress is driven by honest doubts. Bhrigu found out the inadequacy of his findings and made his third discovery that ultimate reality is cosmic mind. We all live in psychological reality. Objective world is relative to the subjective recognition and acceptance — "I think, therefore, I am."

Hence, the ultimate is universal mind.Again Varuna just smiled and advised him to carry on. Bhrigu found that mind is highly fluctuating with so many currents and cross-currents of thinking, feeling and willing. Rather, he found universal intellect has a common basis and firm foundation.

Therefore, he felt that the principle of universal intellect must be the ultimate.Varuna advised him to carry on. Now, Bhrigu found that intellect is pure abstraction and too neutral to be the ultimate. The ultimate reality must be infinite existence, consciousness and joy.

Thus, he found the guiding factors behind creation, preservation and transformation.







As if 17 years and 48 extensions were not enough, we had to wait nearly six months more. The Liberhan Commission, one of India's longest-running inquiry commissions, submitted its report to the government on June 30, 2009. For the next five-odd months, there was official silence as the government refused to table the report before Parliament. Meanwhile rumours grew, uncertainty spread. Did it need to take this long to table the Liberhan report in Parliament?


The simple answer is no. The ostensible reason for the six-month window the government has after commissions submit their reports is to gain elbow room to prepare "action taken reports". But is such secrecy really essential? In any case, when was the last time the government actually took strong action on the basis of a commission's recommendation? To give the most recent examples, what action has been taken against those indicted by the Nanavati Commission Report on the anti-Sikh riots of 1984? The fate of the Srikrishna Commission's findings on the 1992-3 Mumbai riots is as tragic and revealing. First of course, there were attempts to terminate the inquiry altogether. But even after it was re-instituted and delivered a scathing report, most of those the judge indicted roam scot-free. The secrecy that surrounds commissions of inquiry has no clear rationale. It merely fuels the worry that these commissions are established to deflect an angry popular mood and to stave off inconvenient questions.


The long years of the Liberhan Commission's investigations, and the delay in tabling it before Parliament, only added to the mystery. Meanwhile, all kinds of rumours gained currency, defeating the very point of the exercise — to establish truth for the greater public good. Justice Liberhan's conclusions now seem almost anti-climactic, as they compete with the parallel narratives the delay has spawned. As the blame game over the events of December 6, 1992, recommences, the findings are drowned in a cacophony of conspiracy theories. If any cautionary tale emerges from this chaos, it is this: inquiry reports, once submitted, must be promptly tabled in Parliament.







Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has spoken: the state of the United States is strong. The economy, which has just come out of recession, nevertheless, remained dynamic and more flexible than most others throughout the period — which is why it has returned to growth quicker than many others similarly affected. Nor has at any point the possibility that the US's unparalleled status as the centre of the world's innovation, and therefore the ultimate driver of increases in global growth and in the living standards of all, including the world's poorest, ever been questioned by the sensible. But genuine concerns do exist: about the dollar in particular, driven by its unique status as the world's dominant reserve currency, and the degree to which that serves as a prop to the US economy.


In that context, recent statements from many parts of the world about how to end that status were, in effect, broadsides at the US government, and on the sustainability of its economic policy. Prime Minister Singh has wisely refrained from this sort of political point-scoring, sticking to the basic facts: the ideas that push the US economy have been questioned before; those questions proved to be irrelevant or unnecessary. The concern is "temporary". The relevance of the American model, as Dr Singh put it with admirable nuance, remains great. And, since we have not entered an era in which economic strength is shifting, the question of moving away from the dollar — whether or not that would be a good thing for the world, or for America — does not even rationally arise. Not even the Chinese, as Dr Singh pointed out, are likely to wish it to happen. And India definitely should not; as long as the dollar is strong, Indian exports are competitive in the US. And the export sector, hit by global demand collapses, needs all the help it can get.


It is time to move beyond such concerns. Yes, one day there might be a credible replacement for the dollar. But such things move slowly. It will require the US economy to be far less dominant, and inspire far less confidence in the average investor and central banker than it does today, for that to be the case. That day is not today. Dr Singh has effectively closed a debate that need never have been opened.







One of the abiding tragedies of modern India has been that the Babri Masjid dispute could never be dealt with within a forensic legal framework. The central proposition of a constitutional democracy, that law must be allowed to take its own course, rang hollow when law was not taking any course. That the dispute itself languishes in courts, decades after it was originally instituted, is itself testament to the limited power of the law in framing this dispute. In the meantime every single political entity acquired an investment in keeping the dispute alive. The Congress ran with the hare and hunted with the hound by allowing shilanyas on the site (read Narasimha Rao's account of Buta Singh's conduct as home minister). Many secularist parties were less interested in finding a solution than in using the dispute to display their credentials, and many groups used the dispute to politically use minorities. Ayodhya, to borrow Emily Dickinson's phrase, became the narcotic that nibbled away at India's soul.


None of this context can detract from the central culpability of the BJP and the Sangh Parivar in the destruction of the mosque. The destruction was a denouement of a movement that baited minorities and left death and destruction in its wake. The only question was whether the Liberhan Commission could translate culpability into a forensically legal framework. This remains to be seen. On the face of it there is very little surprising in the revelations in relation to the BJP. When it came to the BJP it was politically convenient for all of us to hold on to distinctions without a difference. What did the distinction between saying the movement and the frenzy was planned but the destruction was not amount to? Even Rao acknowledged that the BJP leaders were pleading with the kar sevaks to stop. But that was like trying to stop an already fired bullet in mid air. Even Vajpayee's self-exoneration, personal decency and expressions of regret were always compromised by the fact that his government did not give the slightest evidence of pursuing the perpetrators of this enormous crime. The BJP tried to dissociate itself from the act, while continuing to nurture the actors. The surprise is not in the revelations. The surprise is in our feigning surprise. For if all this is true, the report actually indicts our democracy. We were the ones trying to hold on to the ceremonies of innocence, so that we could allow a space where Hindutva was politically acceptable, but no one had to own up to its consequences.


But this will also make it difficult to read the report as anything but a political document. For one thing, phrases like "could have" will remain a question of political judgment, not legal settlement. What was exactly the point at which the Indian state opened the doors to the destruction of the mosque? Shall we stretch that inquiry back to Rajiv Gandhi's tenure? Narasimha Rao argued that he did not have enough of a legal basis to invoke Article 356. But he also hinted that the real reason was that it was a matter of political judgment whether invoking it would not have had the effect of galvanising Hindutva forces even further. How do we judge a claim like that? There can be very little doubt of the Kalyan Singh government's widespread complicity in the final outcome. But would it have been easy for any political leader to order firing on that mob at a very late stage? In hindsight, we can even speculate whether India in the long run was saved from Hindutva because the Babri Masjid could not be converted into a site of martyrdom; instead it remained a sordid political crime. The exoneration of Rao's role will credibly invite charges of partisanship. The commission seems to have taken Rao's own self-exoneration at face value.


Finally, the list of people indicted is long. From some of the accounts it is clear that the movement had widespread support amongst state functionaries. But in a sense the enlarged list of indictments will also contribute to the sense that this was a genuinely widespread social movement, not simply a conspiracy of the few.


If we are honest we have to acknowledge that just as many of the core participants may have felt a tinge of regret, there were also tens of thousands of others who, while not condoning the act, nevertheless felt a momentary catharsis when the Babri Masjid was destroyed.


In a way the success of the Liberhan report will not be measured in narrowly legal terms. The state must carry out what its legal obligations are, although these are likely to be another endless grind. But it will have to do so in a way that carries the undisputed imprimatur of credibility. And while it is a minor issue, the leak does not speak well of the state. Given how selectively commission reports have been followed, this will be hard to achieve. It will also not escape people's notice that if the law works in this case, it will do so only when the relevant are on the political back foot. The delay in the report means that law's triumph, if it does, will still carry the odour of politics.


The second challenge is managing the politics. India has, as many have observed, moved beyond Hindutva. But it has done so in the peculiar Indian way, which is not by the creation of a first principles based normative and legal consensus. It has done so simply by rejecting a politics of extreme polarisation. We moved on by wishing the issue away, not by resolving it. And it is also a little bit of a mistake to confuse the cultural receptivity of Hindutva with its electoral fortunes. In some ways, the report will keep the cultural politics of Hindutva alive. The BJP needs reinvention. But there is no doubt that the BJP will have to close ranks on this issue. In some ways it will make the party's move beyond Hindutva more complicated. It cannot jettison the indicted without inviting the charge of betrayal or cowardice.


The Ayodhya disaster was facilitated by a play of ambivalences, exploited by determined groups in the Sangh Parivar. But this report will unleash two conversations. One, a public, legal and political conversation. This will be partisan and acrimonious, divisive, predictable, and given the current arraignment of political forces, not hugely consequential. But there will also be the internal one, not explicitly articulated, which will once again force us to confront all those silences, ambiguities, wishes and evasions that made Ayodhya such a symbol of our contradictions as a nation.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi








Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has called a snap presidential election for January 2010. And General Sarath Fonseka, the commander-in-chief of the Sri Lankan armed forces responsible for delivering a decisive victory to the country over the LTTE and who resigned from the army, will be pitted against him. Fonseka perhaps hopes to ape Caesar, at least in that part of his career when the Roman was elected with a landslide to consulship. But Caesar started his career as a politician, not as a soldier, while Fonseka, a career soldier will be pitted against a wily career politician, Rajapakse, who too has been hailed as the saviour of the nation. The entry of Fonseka has two positive and two negative effects on Sri Lankan democracy.


First, his proposed candidacy for presidency is a sign that democracy (whether one chooses to call the Sri Lankan variant procedural, illiberal or ethnic) has not died in Sri Lanka. The reports emanating from the island in recent months were depressing accounts of discoveries of mass graves, white vans whisking off anybody who dared to question the government's policies, particularly towards the minorities, the incarceration of some 200,000 Tamils in camps, and disappearances and murders of activists and journalists brave enough to speak out. The general's recent speeches and resignation letter, which criticised the president for failing to deliver the peace dividend, increasing economic hardships, waste and corruption, and curtailing media freedom, and failing to take care of the problems of the war-displaced persons, have borne some dividends. On November 21, the president directed the authorities to resettle the 136,328 war-displaced persons in camps by January 31, 2010, and directed that the monetary relief to the displaced persons be doubled to Rs 50,000.


Second, Fonseka's candidacy has brought the fractured opposition together in a concerted alliance to oust Rajapakse. A functioning democracy needs an opposition, which has been woefully absent in the last two years. The general is being supported by a diverse set including the UNP, the Marxist ethno-nationalist JVP, and some Tamil and Muslim parties. However, the general's penchant for speaking his mind (he called Tamil Nadu politicians "a bunch of jokers"), his intolerance of criticism and the allegations against him of human rights abuses against Tamils could make the opposition's solidarity a short-lived one.


The first of two negative effects is the dangerous politicisation of the military. While large sections of the army may support him, Fonseka does not have similar backing from the police, navy or air force. These divisions may have the effect of assisting the civilians to remain in control and thus abet the cause of democracy, but such control may come at the price of security.


Second, the tussle between two Sinhalese nationalists, neither of whom has been silent about his belief that Sri Lanka is a country for the Sinhalese, may produce more virulent ethno-nationalist election rhetoric and vitiate relations with the Tamil and Muslim minorities. Fonseka said that he "strongly believed that Sri Lanka belongs to the Sinhalese, but there are minority communities and we treat them like our people. They can live in this country with us. But they must not try to, under the pretext of being a minority, demand undue things." While Rajapakse has toned down his speeches and is fashioning an image for himself representing all groups, his administration's deeds in incarcerating Tamils from the north in makeshift camps point in the same direction as Fonseka's words.


An alternative scenario is that the two competitors will try to outdo each other in their support for democracy and human rights. Ironically, Fonseka's recent speeches have focused on human rights, though he himself is under international scrutiny for human rights abuses. This scenario is in play at the moment but as the election date draws closer, the rhetoric could become more virulent.

Fonseka resigned citing "loss of face" because he was appointed chief of defence staff in July, an honorary position that carried no command responsibility and allowed him to act or advise only with the consent of the defence secretary, Rajapakse's brother, who had served under Fonseka. Rajapakse was quick to cut the ground from under his victorious general because he did not want to encourage competitors to the presidency or encourage a Musharraf-like coup. Like Nawaz Sharif who forbade Musharraf's plane from landing in Islamabad, Rajapakse generated a scare about a coup attempt, and unlike Sharif was successful in averting the alleged or real threat. These political successes of the current president against his erstwhile commander indicate that Fonseka has an outside chance at best. But even if the general loses, his candidature has injected a crucial dose of competitive opposition to Rajapakse's presidency and thus allowed elements of democracy to survive in Sri Lanka. Now, it is up to the opposition parties to sustain it.


Shankar is the author of 'Scaling Justice: India's Supreme Court, Anti-Terror Laws, and Social Rights'








A good wine improves with age and good cellarage. To understand why 17 years of official patronage transformed a rich harvest of frenzy in Ayodhya into Justice Liberhan's rancid pickle, it is instructive to look at the demographic realities of today's India. Assuming that the political consciousness of an average individual begins at 18, it is revealing that the traumatic events of December 6, 1992, constituted a lived experience for only those Indians who are 35 years of age and older. For the remainder who make up some 60 per cent of the population, the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid battle was the obsession of an earlier generation. In a country where a sense of history is in any case feeble, the emotive fervour of the past has not been passed on to another generation.


The furore over the Liberhan report is likely to prove a five-day wonder for a number of reasons. First, the credibility of the exercise has been sullied by Justice Liberhan inveigling for himself the longest deadline in officialdom. Secondly, its conclusions have not added to the pre-existing knowledge of the involvement of the RSS in the demolition of the 16th century structure. Thirdly, its strictures against the usual suspects have been rendered farcical by the needless inclusion of Atal Bihari Vajpayee among the 68 persons responsible for sullying communal relations. Fourthly, by exonerating the P.V. Narasimha Rao government of any responsibility, it has given the impression of political bias. If, as Liberhan claims, there was a widespread conspiracy involving the entire Sangh Parivar to bring down the Babri structure, the Centre must have been a repository of either high-level ineptitude or complicity to believe Kalyan Singh's assurance of good conduct. Finally, by choosing caution over grandstanding in its Action Taken Report, the Centre has negated the possibility of renewed mobilisation over a dormant dispute.


The Centre's refusal to extend the accusing finger pointed at the RSS and BJP to a punitive political conclusion may be the object of initial ridicule. In the short run it may even embolden hotheads into imagining that the fear of a Hindu backlash has thwarted a fresh bout of prosecutions and bans — the RSS was banned by the Rao government immediately after the demolition but this was lifted by the Bahri Commission review six months later. In the coming days we are certainly going to hear a lot of unrepentant noises from a section of the Sangh Parivar, particularly the VHP.


However, while the Centre may have based its passivity on the need to prevent Hindu nationalism from re-acquiring a united face, there is a more awkward reality the BJP and RSS must come to acknowledge.


In hindsight, L.K. Advani's famous assertion in 1990 that the Ayodhya movement will be the "biggest mass mobilisation" of independent India turned out to be almost prescient. The movement to right a historical wrong shook India, redrew the contours of electoral politics and destroyed the Congress' monopoly over political power. Yet, this spectacular Hindu upsurge had a definite context. To many, particularly in the rural Hindi heartland, it was an outpouring of simple religiosity — the need to give back to Lord Ram his imagined janmasthan in Ayodhya — tempered by the clever symbolism of Ram shilan, rath yatra and kar seva. To others, it was a simple expression of Hindu pride — "garv se kaho hum Hindu hain." To a third group, the so-called "political Hindus", it was a movement to roll back the frontiers of the Nehruvian consensus. Its Hindutva — the first time this term acquired a meaningful political currency — lay in forcing agnostic secularism into acknowledging the Hindu basis of nationhood.


Individually, none of these diverse currents had the ability to shape the political agenda. It was the grand (and expedient) coalition of the three that made Ayodhya the dominant theme of Indian politics for a decade.

It is, however, equally important to remember the wider social and political environment that nurtured the Ayodhya movement. The late 1980s were marked by the growing realisation that India's experiments in socialism had reached a crisis point. The domestic economy was in crisis and riddled with corruption, nepotism, shortages and over-regulation; opportunities for individual and collective self-improvement were hard to come by; and the new age promised by Rajiv Gandhi was soured by Shah Bano, Bofors and Quattrocchi. It was this wider existential dejection that gave the Ayodhya movement its fillip. It encapsulated protest, millenarianism and modernity under one roof; simultaneously, it was an upsurge born of the frustrations of prolonged defeat.


Now, 17 years later, India is a changed place. The sense of defeat has given way to a new optimism centred on expanding opportunities. The beleaguered Hindu of 1992 is now the self-confident Hindu of 2007, confident that India can make a mark in the world. The root causes of the Ayodhya explosion no longer exists. It has been replaced by a new headiness, a new brashness, a new impatience and even a new nationalism. The sons and daughters of the very Hindus who celebrated December 6, 1992, by distributing mithai and then voting the BJP into power in 1998 today recoil in horror at the images of frenzied kar sevaks tearing down an old monument. A generational change has witnessed a shift in mentalities brought about by concentrated economic growth, sustained global exposure and the slow disintegration of the joint family. The slogans which inspired an earlier generation don't gel with those who reached political maturity after 1992.


In their own way both Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Advani recognised this and attempted to reinvent the BJP. Two general election defeats have, however, rekindled the ambitions of those who are unfamiliar with the 21st century and most at home in their own little ghettos. There is a tussle in the BJP between those who want to leave Ayodhya to history and those who want to relive the past in the present. Liberhan's report may force a decision. Let us hope it will be a choice grounded in reality.


The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator








As Delhi's protestations against Washington's presumed 'China-first' strategy get amplified by the American media, the Indo-US joint statement to be issued at the end of the meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Barack Obama offers an opportunity to finesse the issues.


If the Beijing communiqué put out last week in Beijing by Obama and President Hu Jintao had gone too far in emphasising Sino-US cooperation in South Asia, one way of compensating for it would be to highlight the current and future Indian contributions to Asia-Pacific security.


On his part the PM underlined India's perceptions of the region in his address to the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday.


Referring to the dramatic geopolitical and economic shifts unfolding in Asia, Dr. Singh declared that Delhi and Washington must "work together with other countries in the region to create an open and inclusive regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific".


This short formulation covers all the bases. His emphasis on power shift refers to the rise of China, and underlines theimportance of cooperation with Beijing.


"We have tried to engage China and they are one of our major trading partners. We have border disputes we are trying to solve that and both have agreed that while that is pending we should keep the peace," the PM said.


The PM suggested that India has no desire to either seek US support against China or contest the terms of Sino-American cooperation. At the same time, he also put some store by the role of the United States in preserving the Asian security order.


The PM's emphasis on 'open and inclusive' architecture is the affirmation that India has no interest in keeping the US out of future Asia Pacific institutions. 'Open and inclusive' is also a code word for Delhi's position that no Asian order can be constructed without India's participation in it.


At his interaction with the American foreign policy community, Dr. Singh was drawn into the usual comparison between the economic performance of China and India and the higher growth rates of the former.


Dr. Singh was quite emphatic in reaffirming the principle, 'equal but separate', that defines Delhi's understanding of its position vis-a-vis Beijing. The PM pointed to the obvious and massive difference in the political systems China and India.


In stressing factors other than the growth rates of the GDP, such as political pluralism and individual rights, Dr. Singh was doing something that Indian leaders have traditionally avoided: to unabashedly advertise India's democratic virtues.


Space play


Another line of comparison between Obama's two communiqués will be on the question of space cooperation.

Although India and the United States have a longer record of cooperation in space technology, China may be poised to catch up.


"The United States and China look forward to expanding discussions on space science cooperation and starting a dialogue on human space flight and space exploration, based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity, and mutual benefit," the joint statement issued in Beijing last week said.


Not everyone in the United States is pleased with the Obama administration's decision to open the door for space cooperation with China. Many voices in the US defence community are apprehensive that Beijing is determined to undermine American primacy in outer space.


Some analysts to point to the export of sensitive American space technology to China in the late 1990s that allowed Beijing develop more accurate and long-range missiles.


Arms sales

As India struggles to come up with credible policies on defence industrialisation and arms exports, China is making big strides.


Unlike India, China has always understood the value of arms exports as an instrument of national security strategy and diplomacy. In the past Chinese arms sales were limited to low end weapons of dubious quality at 'friendship prices' to a few nations.


The sophistication of Chinese arms production has rapidly increased in recent years; and so has the purposefulness of Beijing's military diplomacy. It now encompasses the sale of small arms in large quantities as well as well high-end weapons like fighter aircraft across the developing world.


Beijing's recent sale of J-10 fighters to Pakistan and support in the local manufacture of JF-17s would hopefully get Delhi to assess the prospects for the rapid spread of advanced Chinese conventional weapons in India's neighbourhood and its implications.


The writer is Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.








Systems overhaul

Against the backdrop of the international meeting of Communist and Workers parties in Delhi, the Left in India is in overdrive trying to paint capitalism as a crisis-ridden economy and project socialism as the only genuine alternative.


Other than the public utterances, the mouthpieces of the CPM and CPI also pitched for an alternative to capitalism. Despite reporting extensively about the Communist conclave, People's Democracy carried an article about the 12th party congress of the Communist Party of Brazil, which it said called capitalism a historically exhausted system.


There is also talk about the necessity for strengthening the Left bloc to take on capitalism and assertions that irrespective of how the current crisis is overcome, a major systemic crisis for world capitalism is in the offing.


Still in crisis mode

With world leaders and financial organisations claiming that the financial crisis is showing signs of ending, the Left, which had all along opposed bailout packages to corporates, has also concluded that the turnaround is only visible in the financial sector and not in the real economy.


In fact, the Left view is that the turnaround in the financial sector, which was responsible for the crisis in the first instance, has been faster and more noticeable than that in the real economy. It says the turnaround is worsening the imbalance in the distribution of global reserves that was seen as being a medium-term influence that triggered the crisis. An article in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy argues that the financial recovery has resulted in a revival of capital flows to emerging markets since March, even while the flow of credit to the real sector in the developed countries is still limited.


It says that surge in lending by Asian banks could pose a problem since such credit has hiked private consumption and private investment, particularly in real estate. According to estimates about 40 per cent of the private investment undertaken in the first eight months of 2009 went into real estate, it says.


"Needless to say, a credit surge of this kind encourages speculation, leads to asset price inflation and runs the risk of fuelling a bubble based on loans of poor quality. This not only questions the sustainability of the resulting recovery but makes the growth process partially one that rides on a bubble," it notes.


The Afghanistan mistake

An article on the Afghan presidential polls, titled "tainted elections", says the manner in which Hamid Karzai was elected has left him and his western backers with very little credibility. It notes that the Afghanistan's Electoral Complaints Commission (ECC) had conceded that more than a million votes that were cast in presidential election were fraudulent.


Moreover, it argues that the election fiasco which played out for more than two months has left the incumbent president more isolated and his foreign backers in a state of confusion. "Key western leaders no longer even accord him the respect due for a head of state," it says and notes that the US president had publicly upbraided him on the corruption that characterised his earlier stint in office.

The crux of the argument is that the Barack Obama administration is coming under tremendous pressure to stop supporting a tainted administration and withdraw the US forces from Afghanistan. "American commentators and scholars opposed to the war have urged president Obama to stand up against the pressure being mounted by the military, the right wing and the media in the US to escalate the war in Afghanistan. Their refrain has been that history has shown that Afghanistan has "been the graveyard of empires," it says.







Before coming up to Canada's Atlantic provinces, where the nicest people in this nice country are said to live, I found myself seated next to Henry Kissinger at a New York dinner and asked him how he thought President Barack Obama was doing. "He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games," Kissinger said. "But he hasn't completed a single game and I'd like to see him finish one."


I thought that wasn't a bad image for Obama's international gambits, and then here, at the first Halifax International Security Forum, I heard a similar observation from one participant: "We've had the set-up, but is there a middle game?" Or, put another way, can this probing, intelligent president close anything?


As an Obama admirer, I'm worried. He feels over-managed, over-scripted to me, to the point where he's not showing the guts that prevailed at various difficult moments in the campaign. The ideas are good, but the warmth, cajoling and craft that make ideas more than that are lacking.


I find myself yearning for a presidential gaffe if only to reveal an instinctual human moment. Memo to Obama handlers: Give us a little more of the unvarnished. De-teleprompt the president for a few seconds!


The list of Obama's international initiatives is of head-turning scope. There's his "world without nuclear weapons," announced in Prague last April, reiterated at the United Nations in September. It's an idea with resonance, and may provide some moral suasion over countries contemplating pursuit of a bomb, but I can't help recalling that the worlds of 1914 and 1939 were worlds without nukes. No thanks to that. Unless proliferation, the most worrying global trend of the past 15 years is reversed, this dream is just a feel-good notion.


Then there's the "reset button" with Russia, which always makes me think of those announcements on flights — "We're trying to reset the video system" — and my heart sinks. One way to measure the importance of this attempt to warm a cool relationship is that Russia and the United States still control upward of 95 per cent of the world's nuclear arsenal.


There are glimmerings with Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian president, but as Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, observed here, Russia now offers "two perspectives on the rest of the world depending on which of its leaders you're talking to." The other perspective is called Vladimir Putin.


Obama needs Russian help on Iran, but I'm not holding my breath for forthright cooperation from Moscow on any eventual sanctions. As for the follow-up agreement to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or Start, intended to cut Russian and American arsenals by about half and supposed to be signed before the old pact expires on Dec. 5, it still needs work. I don't believe Obama has yet shifted the basic confrontational optic of a resurgent Russia emerging from the humiliation of imperial collapse.


On Afghanistan, where an announcement is at last imminent on the troops the United States will commit to "the necessary war," Obama has mixed messages with unhappy results. The clarity of March yielded to the cloudiness of fall and the long think has, in the words here of John McCain, "sounded an uncertain trumpet." Peter MacKay, the Canadian defence minister, said the hesitation was "not helpful" because "everyone has hit the pause button until the US decision."


I worry now that Obama's quest for perfect calibration will yield a less than resounding fudge where the tenacious message of a troop increase is undermined by talk of exit timing. That's not how you break the will of an enemy.


In Europe, a more modest reset attempt has been compromised with political leaders (if not the public) by a perception of cool distance, underscored when Obama did not show at 20th-anniversary celebrations of the Berlin Wall's fall. Feelings are particularly strong in Paris, where mutterings about Obama's "Carterisation" are heard. President Nicolas Sarkozy, who ushered France back to NATO's integrated military command structure, and shattered political taboos dictating coolness toward America, has seen his hopes for a special relationship evaporate.


In Israel-Palestine, Obama underestimated the damage of the past decade and has been outmanoeuvred by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The president's groundbreaking outreach to Iran, which I applaud, has unsettled a regime that does not know how to respond. But here, as elsewhere, Obama has been unnecessarily weak on human rights issues in the face of an unconscionable crackdown. There's a trace of churlish "ABB" — "Anything but Bush" — in Obama's failure to speak out more for human rights and freedom. Once again, calibration has trumped gut to a damaging degree.


Ieva Kupce, a Latvian Defence Ministry official here, told me, "Watching Obama, I worry that democracy is going out of fashion. We in Latvia would not have made it without the United States."


The great battle of the 21st century is going to be between free-market democracies and free-market authoritarian systems. America's position in that struggle has to be clear if Obama's simultaneous grandmaster openings are to produce victories.








The government had to table the Liberhan report on the Babri demolition and the action taken report (ATR) in Parliament a day after The Indian Express reported the commission's findings. A commission set up days after the December 6, 1992, mosque demolition can be said to have done its job de jure when it's a fortnight before the 17th anniversary of the event. Dreadful—and wasteful, in terms of public resources—as the lag between the event and commission's findings is (the government got the report only a few months ago), that's still not the main critique. Has the commission's nearly two-decade-long labour really dazzled us with its investigative insights and teased out truths that can go a long way in fixing accountability? Or is it a bit more like a general overview report with a partiality towards generalised, unexceptionable observations? Put another way, do the Liberhan commission findings make us substantively any wiser about Ayodhya? Similar questions apply to the government's ATR, which also seems to find a lot of happiness in generalities. The Liberhan findings, therefore, should be filed with commissions of inquiry reports on several other unpalatable events the country has had to bear with.


How can one create a system where a commission of inquiry lives up to its job description? First, do not extend deadlines, except under the rarest of circumstances, and do not give more than one extension. Commission heads need to be apprehensive of the implications of the government shutting down a commission for its failure to respect a deadline. Second, give inquiry commissions a genuine set of teeth, as US special prosecutors have. George Bush's powerful deputy, Dick Cheney, had to sack his favourite aide because of the findings of a special prosecutor (the Valerie Plame affair). Is anything comparable imaginable here? There are many sophisticated ways of saying this, but the most useful way is to say it simply: big people don't get called up to explain their actions in India, no matter how troubling the events. Asking whether we will get around to creating real commissions of inquiry is a more difficult question than asking what the BJP should do now? The answer to the second is relatively simple. The BJP has known for some time that politically Ayodhya is a dead duck. The Liberhan findings, which are unlikely to create significant trouble for any BJP leader, should be used by the party...







Much has been said about the decline of the dollar and the general decline of the US economy in recent months. Such was the frenzy at one point in time, that a newspaper report in the UK about a potential switch by oil exporters to a basket of currencies instead of the dollar was enough to send the greenback tumbling. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, though, has taken a rather different view of the US economy and the dollar, undoubtedly formed through his unique insight and experience as an economist and policymaker over many decades. The PM is right when he says that the US economy will rebound strongly in the near future. It is far too early to begin talking about a terminal decline in US economic power. For all the flaws in its financial system and in its moribund automobile industry, the country is still the world's largest economy by some distance, and a leader in technology. The PM referred back to the 1960s when some economists had also predicted a decline of the US economy. It was of course wrong. In fact, the US did rather well in the face of its biggest challenge, at least in terms of technological and manufacturing leadership, from Japan in the 1980s. Now, China is the great challenger but at least in terms of the technological frontier, it still substantially lags behind the US. And in terms of individual enterprise and freedom, key drivers of US economic achievement, China doesn't even merit comparison yet.


Obviously, the dollar's strength is tied to the strength of the US economy. By all accounts, major holders of US debt, China and Japan, haven't lost faith in the dollar. Nor have the oil exporting countries. So, the dollar is certainly here to stay as the world's reserve currency for a while yet. Prime Minister Singh is absolutely right about that. Frankly speaking, there are not enough credible alternatives. The euro is the most likely alternative, but the euro zone's economic core leaves much to be desired, at least structurally. Apart from common sense, it makes much sense for India to have a strong dollar. The Chinese yuan is pegged to the dollar and a decline in the dollar makes India's exports uncompetitive vis-a-vis China's. More directly, the US still remains a very important export market for Indian goods & services, particularly textiles and IT, both of which are...








The most heartening development in recent times has been the manner in which the more sensible among the current crop of political leaders are engaging in a direct dialogue with the people on how to deliver subsidies most efficiently to the poor. What better method can you adopt than to directly ask the potential beneficiaries how they would prefer to receive certain subsidies from the government. This debate for long had been confined to conferences organised by globetrotting economists in the World Bank or UNDP circuit.


Now we have a crop of relatively young politicians who are directly discussing this with the people. The late YSR Reddy attempted an ambitious cash transfer programme by depositing money to be paid under NREGA to over a million bank accounts of farmers in Andhra Pradesh. Other states are also attempting similar programmes.


Last week, the Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar engaged in a frank discussion with the elite of Patna, which had gathered for the release of the Hindi version of NK Singh's book, The Politics of Change, a compilation of articles written by him over the years in The Indian Express. The book titled Parivartan Aur Rajniti kicked off an intense discussion among those gathered on the real meaning of economic reforms. Of course, the consensus clearly was that development solutions for the other India must necessarily emerge from the political economy. There must be a meeting ground between good politics and good economics. This is best done when solutions are implemented after a direct dialogue with the people—the intended beneficiaries.


An example of this was given by NK Singh, who has been advisor to the Bihar CM on economic policy matters. During the campaign for the last general elections, Singh said, Nitish Kumar engaged in a direct dialogue with the people, asking them whether they got all the subsidised food, kerosene or fertilisers promised to them. They said no. What if the government stopped delivering those items and instead paid cash into their bank accounts? The crowd approved of it loudly.


So Nitish Kumar has since begun implementing direct cash transfer scheme in various social sector projects in Bihar. Nitish said he had successfully implemented cash transfer for girls going to high school and college by transferring Rs 2,000 per head for a bicycle, and some extra cash for books and uniforms. "I decided there was no point in the government procuring bicycles and then supplying to these girls. That would have bred too much bureaucracy," Nitish said. Similarly, the Bihar CM spoke about similar cash transfer schemes that were indeed implemented for Mahadalits, the very poor among the dalits.


The audience then asked Planning Commission deputy chairperson Montek Singh Ahluwalia why the Centre would not allow total flexibility to states, enabling them to deliver subsidies in the best possible way. Montek said the Centre was happy to do that if there was a political consensus on allowing cash transfer as a preferred mode of delivery. Montek argued there still appeared to be some opposition to cash transfer as a preferred mode of delivering social benefits. He said a recent survey done among the poor in slum colonies of Delhi showed 40% of the respondents were opposed to direct cash transfer as a mode of delivery. However, 60% were in support, though in a somewhat lukewarm manner. The Delhi government under Sheila Dixit has been toying with the idea of transferring cash to the poor on a bigger scale.


The residual diffidence over cash transfer as a mode of delivery of benefits to the poor will go away once its efficacy is demonstrated on a wider basis. The demonstration effect is gradually taking roots in many states. It is bound to become a widespread movement in due course.

The most interesting aspect to note is cash transfer might succeed more in very backward states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, which have intense caste politics. Nitish Kumar is actually using the mode of direct cash transfer and technology to bypass the system, which is manned by the middle and upper caste in Bihar.


It is the same system that blocks the delivery of existing social sector benefits. Nitish's effort is already causing some frustration among the middle and upper castes. That is a calculated risk he has chosen to take.


This problem does not exist to the same extent in southern states like Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, where human development indices are relatively robust. Additionally, the empowerment of women and socially backward groups has ensured that the system, which delivers various subsidies, runs fairly smoothly. Therefore, the real laboratory for the direct cash transfer method will be states like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, where it is also bound to have profound impact on politics.


The idea of conditional cash transfers started to gain currency in 1997, when there were only three countries in the world with this experience: Bangladesh, Mexico and Brazil. The Brazilian government gives a monthly stipend of about $10 per child attending school, to a maximum of three children, to all families below a certain per capita income.


In India, one fundamental criticism against cash transfer is that it is used for just consumption and has little bearing on growth. There is a danger of 'crowding out' investment in growth.


However, even if cash transfers are used for consumption, they may have positive multiplier effects on local economies. There can't be a strict dividing line between consumption and productive uses.







The 1% visa limit for employing foreign workers in India-based projects announced by the ministry of labour and employment—even as the ministry of power is scrambling to get employment visas to ensure completion of 4,000 MW of power projects with Chinese equipment this financial year—indicates the growing dilemmas confronting Indian policymakers in a fast globalising economy.


On one hand the rapid increase in demand for skilled workers, funnelled by the growing investments in infrastructure, has necessitated larger use of foreign workers in sectors like power, gas, road, port and air transport. On the other hand the government sees the increasing inflows of foreign labour as a hindrance to the full utilisation of local skill.


Such a domestic policy stance also flies in the face of persistent efforts being made by India at the WTO to liberalise the movement of mode 4 service suppliers, whereby individuals can travel from one country to another to supply services. Commitment made by most countries on mode 4 under Gats has been largely limited to high-skill categories like managers, executives and specialists, and intra-corporate transfers. While pledges made on movement of highly skilled workers account for 40% of the commitments, 50% are accounted for by inter-corporate transfers. And the Indian policy stance can only complicate the developing countries' efforts to further liberalise developed country commitments on low-skill personnel, which are now very limited and restricted to a handful of countries.


A major problem in liberalising trade in services under mode 4 in India and the world over is that the temporary use of foreign labour is governed by immigration legislation and labour market policy, and not by trade policy. So far, the resistance to the liberalisation of trade in services under mode 4 has been confined to developed countries, which try to restrain flow of foreign workers through complicated administrative procedures, quota restrictions for visas and strict limitations on entry. And this is a major barrier for developing countries who see a great opportunity to reap the gains from liberalisation of services trade through movement of skilled and semi-skilled workers.


But despite such restrictions on supply of services through mode 4, many developing countries have gained from the export of skilled and unskilled labour. While Germany is an important destination country for workers from Turkey, Pakistan is an important destination for Afghan workers. In the case of Indian workers, the major destinations include the Gulf countries and the US. The countries with the largest number of emigrant Indian workers include Saudi Arabia (1.8 million), the UAE (1.8 million), the US (0.9 million), Oman (0.7 million), Kuwait (0.6 million), Qatar (0.4 million) and Singapore (0.3 million).


And developing countries have gained massively from the flow of migrant workers as it has helped accelerate the flow of remittances to the source countries. The flow of workers' remittances to the developing countries has shot up from $85 billion in 2000 to $188 billion in 2005 and then surged up a massive $285 billion by 2007. Estimates are that it has now touched $328 billion in 2008. India has been the biggest gainer with remittances touching $52 billion in 2008. This makes India's hard policy stance on workers visas all the more perplexing, especially since the country has gained substantially from the supply of skilled and unskilled labour.


The gains made by developing countries are largely because developed countries faced with demographic problems and high-wage workforces have sought to allay some of their problems by importing foreign labour. The most prominent among the foreign labour employers is the US, which employed 3.2 million foreign workers by the middle of the decade, followed by Japan with 2 million workers, the UK with 1.9 million workers and Australia with 1.8 million workers.


What makes the India visa restriction even more galling is the uniform 1% limit for all companies and sectors. Experience across the world shows that the need for foreign workers varies sharply across sectors. In the case of the US, the largest share of foreign-born workers was in education (15%), followed by wholesale & retail trade (13.7%), mining, manufacturing and energy (13.6%), construction (11.5%) and agriculture and fishing (2.5%). In sharp contrast, the share of foreign-born workers in Germany was the highest in mining, manufacturing and energy (29.3%) followed by wholesale & retail trade (14%), health and community services (10.2%), hotels & restaurants (7%), construction (6.3%), and education (4.4%). Indian policymakers would hence do well to work towards a more liberal visa policy to match the requirements of an increasingly sophisticated economy.







One of the side effects of the economic crisis will be the way nations trade. For countries like India, this means reconsidering the way we do business with the world by diversifying into new markets. Statistics show that global trade tectonics are starting to shift. The US is no longer the biggest buyer of Indian goods—it lost that long-held position to the UAE in 2008-09. This did not happen just because US demand for Indian goods nosedived but also because our trade engagement with the UAE saw greater traction during the same period. Of course, India is concerned about the absolute quantum of economic engagement. Even in those terms, Indian exports to the US are down 18.7% in the first half of FY10. But export growth to the UAE will stay robust.


In fact, the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)—including Bahrain, Saudi Arab, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait—imported more made-in-India stuff last year. Exports to the GCC bloc of nations grew a sharp 44.44% in 2008-09 and stood at over $31 billion, when overall exports grew only 14%. While we look for new and emerging markets to buffer the US and the EU demand slowdown, Indian trade diplomats must buttress ties with the GCC, which has a GDP of over $1.2 trillion. Though talks have been on for a duty-free trade deal with the oil-rich bloc, little progress has been made. The kind of energy used in the deal with the Asean bloc needs to be replicated.And just like Singapore is for the Asean nations, the UAE is a strategic re-export hub for the Gulf bloc. The third-largest re-export address, the UAE also serves as a transit point for Indian goods to reach Iran and even Pakistan. If we do not step on the gas, we may find the Chinese stealing a march yet again as they are negotiating a free trade deal with the GCC.


As for the US, one major reason for the slide in Indian exports was its withdrawal of a special regime for gems & jewellery. While Indian diamond merchants have absorbed the decline in US demand by re-routing business to the UAE, withdrawal of similar sops for hand-made carpets—made largely in UP—could spell political trouble for the sugar-struck UPA.







The paper* explores the implications of the large increase in fiscal deficits and the implications of a global trade war in response to the financial crisis:


To represent the effects of the financial crisis on the world economy and trade flows, six elements are needed. For the crisis itself, three shocks are needed to capture the observed drop in asset prices and reduction in demand & trade. It is necessary to simulate the bursting of the housing bubble centred in the US and Europe, but extending elsewhere, rising perceptions of risk by business as reflected in the equity-risk premium over bonds and rising perceptions of risk by households. The policy response has been dramatic. So, the analysis has included a monetary easing across the globe and a fiscal stimulus of varying proportions across countries. Also, some trade protectionism has emerged, so far in terms of some tariff increases, some support for industry, such as automobile manufacturers and other effects such as 'Buy Local' programmes and directives. So, a third policy response has been included in the analysis, namely a rise in protectionism. Simulating the effect of the crisis itself on the US alone (the 'epicentre' of the crisis) shows several things. Had there not been the contagion across other countries in terms of risk reappraisal, the effects would not have been as dramatic. The adverse trade effects from the US downturn would have been offset to some degree by positive effects from a global reallocation of capital. Were the US alone affected by the crisis, Chinese investment could have actually risen. The world could have escaped recession.


 Warwick J McKibbin and Andrew Stoeckel; The Potential Impact of the Global Financial Crisis on World Trade; Policy Research Working Paper 5,134, The World Bank, November 2009








It is no secret that the Shiv Sena has regularly attempted to stifle free expression by carrying out violent attacks on journalists and media establishments - and has got away with it thanks to a policy of appeasement pursued by successive governments in Maharashtra, mostly Congress or Congress-led regimes. But the regional party may have gone too far this time. The recent assault on the offices of the IBN television network, captured blow-by-blow by CCTV cameras, featured a mob of Sainiks armed with rods and baseball bats punching and kicking male and female journalists and trashing furniture, fittings, and electronic equipment. The Sena leadership would have us believe the attack was a "spontaneous" reaction to strong remarks made on the channel against supremo Bal Thackeray. This is demonstrably false. That it was a planned attack is evidenced by the fact that the mobs carried out simultaneous attacks on the TV network in Mumbai and Pune, and by information gathered by the police investigation that, among others, Sunil Raut, the brother of Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, was involved. A special target of the Sena's wrath was its intrepid critic, Nikhil Wagle, Editor-in-Chief of the Marathi channel IBN-Lokmat and former Editor of the Marathi daily Mahanagar who has been assaulted repeatedly by Sena goons.


At one level, the brazen assault reveals the ugly face of competitive chauvinism, and the continued existence of a goon political culture, in India's `maximum' city. At another level, it reflects the Sena's sense of insecurity during a phase of political decline - when it has been challenged by the copycat methods of a youthful Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and has fared poorly in elections. It is no accident that Bal Thackeray's, and Saamna's, broadsides against Sachin Tendulkar for implicitly making a stand against linguistic chauvinism by affirming his Indianness alongside his Maharastrian identity have been followed up by targeting a channel that has aired opposition to the chauvinism. Such acts of vandalism have gone virtually unpunished in the past. This time, under pressure from an aggressive media, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has pledged nononsense action and the Mumbai police have arrested close to 20 of the perpetrators and registered cases of attempted murder. The investigation, however, has not so far led to anyone more significant than Sunil Raut, who has just been arrested. The widely shared suspicion is that the State government's response will return to the traditional policy of appeasement once the feelings of shock and anger subside. This is decidedly a case to be handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation.







The U.S. healthcare reform drama is moving towards a resolution. The House of Representatives narrowly passed a version of the reform bill that scaled down the public option while retaining some landmark elements of the original Obama reform. Most importantly, the bill extends healthcare cover to 36 million uninsured Americans, bringing 96 per cent of the eligible population under the insurance umbrella. With the Senate voting last week to take up the debate in December, t he risk of delaying tactics, especially a filibuster by Senate Republicans, has diminished. Now all that stands between President Barack Obama and unprecedented success in reforming a bloated and fundamentally inequitable healthcare system is a Senate vote on and for the bill and, after that, a final vote on a House-reconciled version of it.


The real threat to the U.S. President's Senate support comes not from three vacillating Democratic Senators but from a potentially ruinous failure to convince the American public that his reform proposals will create a system that is more equitable in its delivery and deficit-neutral in its cost. The recent fall in Mr. Obama's approval ratings to below 50 per cent for the first time reflects a failure to come with a bold political initiative to engage with, and enthuse, the American public. To put this in perspective, one needs only to recall how his brilliant campaign for the presidency was powered by broad-based and innovative grassroots appeal — among other things, through the use of the social media, rousing speeches that somehow managed to strike the right social balances, and genuinely democratic internet-based fundraising. Candidate Obama had charisma but, more importantly, demonstrated a gift for inspiring ordinary people with his inclusive promise of leadership. This left the Republican campaign floundering amidst confused and bitter sound bytes. But given the highly polarised nature of American politics and with the White House team performing below par, the Republicans, and especially their right wing, have recovered some ground. Specifically on healthcare reform, until the recent upturn in its fortunes, the administration seemed to be retreating into a cocoon of policy analytics. President Obama may well be banking on regaining his touch, and the political advantage, on the strength of his adroit technical manoeuvres and Congressional victories. Paradoxically, the prospects of his most ambitious reform project hinge on whether he has the capability to persuade millions of ordinary Americans — many of whom suffer from poor healthcare by developed country standards and debilitating unemployment — of its vital necessity.









Corporate governance — the need for widening the scope of shareholder democracy and rights, investor protection and information disclosure — has been rightly emphasised in the context of the proposed new Companies Bill (The Hindu, November 8, 2009). However, the actual role of shareholders needs to be expanded. Shareholder democracy must include the working and responsibilities of investment companies, including banks, mutual fund companies, brokerages and insurance/annuity companies.


Rights disclosure norms should not be limited to select areas — like information on payout to directors — and should include labour and labour unions, diversity and discrimination in employment, land acquisition, eviction and impact on local communities and environment. Shareholders' rights and democracy are not about demonising companies. There is no such thing as a perfect company. Likewise, there is no such thing as a company that is doing everything wrong. Shareholders' rights should be about empowering them to encourage companies to improve.


Internationally, there are a number of positive examples of use and expansion of shareholder rights. Since the 1970s, shareholders have used their power as stock owners to press companies for changes on a wide range of social, environmental and human rights issues. These concerns have included doing business under repressive regimes (such as apartheid South Africa or military-ruled Myanmar), corporate use of security forces (as has occurred in Nigeria and Indonesia), and poor working conditions in companies.


Shareholders, including investment firms and mutual funds, trade unions, universities and foundations, have played a pro-active role in proposing and supporting human rights resolutions. Why can't this be institutionalised and practised in India?


At the heart of shareholder democracy is the right of shareholders to not only file resolutions but also seek information and ensure changes. Of course, it can contain several statements of fact as well as a 'resolved' clause, which specifies the change in corporate policy or disclosure sought by the resolution-filers. It is moved at an annual shareholders meeting and voted on by the shareholders.


However, shareholder resolutions rarely win a majority of shares voted amid the vast powers of promoters. It has, therefore, been suggested to go for a necessary threshold level of support to submit, consider and adopt the resolution. Further, there should be enough democratic space to resubmit the resolution the following year.



Resolutions do not have to win a majority in order to help change corporate behaviour. There should be established mechanisms where a shareholder as a resolution-filer gains the attention of the top management and the board. And companies can adopt, in part or whole, the recommendations of individual or minority shareholders. There is a clear lesson in the working of the Right to Information Act — that several complicated legal and procedural requirements to file a resolution successfully at a company meeting should immediately be done away with.


Making a connection with the investment company is vital for the working of shareholder democracy. Yet the vast majority of investment companies do not use their substantial powers as shareholders in this way. Worse, they (unwittingly or otherwise) use their powers in ways that tacitly support the status quo, allowing companies to deny their social, environmental and human rights responsibilities.


There are many ways in which our investment companies can use their shareholder powers positively. They can publicise how their funds and portfolios are invested, and how they vote on different shareholder proposals. They can vote favourably on, and publicly support, existing shareholder proposals that are socially and environmentally conscious. They themselves can file or co-file such proposals with companies they own. They must make public their proxy voting guidelines. Most investors have established a set of guidelines to direct voting on shareholder proposals. Sometimes these guidelines explicitly call for voting against any proposal with a social or environmental agenda!


There is a strong case for public investment companies to establish socially responsible investment guidelines as a proactive strategy, not a reactive divestment-oriented initiative. Establishing socially responsible investment guidelines is one way for shareholders to pressure companies, since it encourages companies to take positive steps that will allow them to be considered appropriate investments. It is important to put a regulation in place that requires mutual funds to disclose publicly how they vote on proposals so that they have an obligation to tell us their stand.


Portfolio managers/firms are serious missing links in corporate governance and shareholder democracy. They often have relationships with companies in which their products are invested. Frequently, the research they use to make their investment decisions comes directly from the companies themselves. Of course, the relationship between the portfolio manager and the company can go both ways — when a portfolio manager has a concern over the short or long-term value of a company based on how it is operating, he can raise the issue, as part of his due diligence on the investment. For the most part, portfolio managers will not take an independent stance when they are assessing investments, unless there is a clear link demonstrating that the concerns could result in an increased financial burden, or liability, for that company. Unfortunately, this type of information is not mainstream since it is not readily available in the balance sheet or an annual report. There is need to have a system of accountability.



We will soon have the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas tragedy and it is worth recounting how shareholders' democracy and rights were on display in the case of Bhopal and Dow Chemicals. At Dow Chemicals' Annual Shareholder Meeting on May 11, 2006, the New York City Fire Department (NYCFD) Pension Fund, the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF), and Amnesty International, USA, along with the Boston Common Asset Management and the Sisters of Mercy Regional Community of Detroit Charitable Trust, holding over 4.5 million shares worth over $190 million, presented a resolution: 'Shareholders request [the] Dow Chemical management to report to shareholders by October 2006, at reasonable cost and excluding confidential information, descriptions of any new initiatives instituted by [the] management to address specific health, environmental and social concerns of Bhopal, India, survivors."


The supporting statement said Dow Chemicals had acquired Union Carbide, thus becoming a focus of both the Indian government's efforts to remedy environmental contamination and the survivors' ongoing need for health care and economic relief. Although a civil case over the disaster was settled by Union Carbide and the Indian government for $470 million, it was done without the consent of most survivors. Numerous unresolved legal issues remain. Suits are pending in Indian courts and the New York district court. It concluded: "Dow, in its Global Public Report, noted that sales and operations in Asia account for $3.3 billion in revenues. Proponents believe the Bhopal disaster may continue to damage Dow's reputation, which, in our opinion, may reasonably be expected to affect growth prospects in Asia and beyond." They got 6.3 per cent support on the resolution.


Shareholders again placed a resolution and statement at the 2007 Annual Shareholders Meeting of Dow Chemicals, saying Dow's long history of failing to disclose the full extent of its liabilities and risks associated with Bhopal, including reputation risks, an ongoing criminal case in India, as well as a civil suit for damages associated with continuing environmental contamination, is deeply discouraging. These circumstances appear to threaten the company's ability to expand in Asia. Thus the Dow management is requested to inform the shareholders of any new initiative instituted by it to address specific health, environmental and social concerns of the Bhopal survivors. This time, the support for the resolution was 8.25 per cent. The increase in support over the previous year sounds small but it represented almost 20 million shares.


We have vital connections to companies and corporations: a direct public connection and a shareholder connection. Shareholder democracy works on the understanding that when one owns stocks in a company, he or she is truly a company owner and the management should be working on his or her behalf. Shareholders have certain rights and privileges that should be expanded. Further, these rights are beyond just dividends and profits.








The tragic Mumbai attacks in November 2008 unfortunately derailed the India-Pakistan peace process in its wake. It should have brought both countries closer instead. The humanistic traditions and values of the Indian sub-continent and Indus Valley civilisation demanded so. On the contrary, masterminds of the terror attacks are succeeding so far because disruption of South Asian peace process was one of their prime targets. India legitimately expected that Pakistan would do its best to pursue and prosecute those involved in the heinous crime but in its hour of pain and grief it forgot that Pakistan is also a victim of terrorism and is passing through turbulent times.


Pakistan has faced enormous challenges in 2009. It has been confronted with the growing menace of terrorism — ranging from militancy in the Swat valley to insurgency in parts of the Pashtun-dominated Federally Administered Tribal Areas bordering Afghanistan. Dozens of suicide bombers have targeted urban centres of Pakistan, killing civilians and security forces alike. Police and law enforcement have lost hundreds of their personnel in this battle this year alone. The fact that even Pakistan army's General Headquarters in Rawalpindi and the Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) offices in Lahore and Peshawar were also attacked indicate that terrorists consider them their arch enemy. Somehow, the significance of these developments has not been fully recognised in India.


Pakistani public opinion about the identity of militants and terrorists has transformed in to a great degree. The earlier denial and misperception that 'outsiders are doing all this' has given way to acceptance of the fact that country's internal dynamics are largely responsible for the rise of violence. There is also an understanding that religious extremism has played a gruesome role in all of this. People increasingly acknowledge that domestic and foreign policy mistakes of 1980s and 1990s are coming back to haunt the country.


Many Pakistanis, however, also believe that India leaves no stone unturned in making things more difficult for Pakistan whenever it can. Alleged Indian interference in Baluchistan for instance is often referred to in this regard. The matter was even mentioned in the joint statement issued after the Prime Ministers of the two countries met at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in August 2009. More recently, Pakistani security forces operating in South Waziristan have also hinted that they have found some evidence of Indian support to militants in FATA. Whether true or false, the real issue is the widespread Pakistani belief that India is involved in destabilising Pakistan.


Pakistan's response to Mumbai attacks must be understood in this context. The initial Pakistani public reaction to the attacks was one of shock and alarm. Pakistanis become distressed, however, when the electronic media started showing clips from live Indian television channel transmissions declaring that Pakistan was the culprit. Once the facts of the case started getting disseminated, especially about the identity of Mohammad Ajmal 'Kasab' — the lone surviving member of the terrorist group that created havoc in Mumbai — there was initially disbelief in Pakistan. Pakistan's various media channels wasted no time in sending their investigative teams to Faridkot, 'Kasab's' hometown in Punjab. To Pakistani journalists' credit, they confirmed 'Kasab's' nationality and exposed his links to Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Pakistani militant group known for its activities in the Kashmir region. Despite delay and reluctance on the part of Pakistan's government to acknowledge this connection, the independent media fulfilled its professional responsibility without fear or favour.


Consequently, Pakistan deputed some of its finest law enforcement officials in the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to spearhead the investigations. Despite concerns about LET's old connections with security agencies of the country, the political leadership acted quite swiftly. The arrest of important suspects like Zaki-ur-Rahman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the Mumbai terror attacks, would not have been possible without the help from country's intelligence services, too. The clamp-down on the Jamaat-ud Dawa, the charity cum proselytising group associated with LET, all across the country was no small job as well. Since then, Pakistan and India have exchanged many dossiers containing their respective investigations and questions for the other side. India legitimately expects quick progress in this case and it is in Pakistan's interest to proceed in the matter in a transparent fashion. It is worth remembering, though, that any law enforcement organisation's evidence-gathering exercise, as per standard legal guidelines, takes time. Indian law enforcement has also taken many months to investigate and prepare the case for prosecution in Indian courts.


One of the reasons for a disconnect between Indian and Pakistani positions on the subject relates to the varying views about the alleged role of Pakistani intelligence services in all of this. The difference between acts of omission and commission should be clearly understood. Prosecution in the court of law needs concrete evidence rather than suspicion or bad reputation. Pakistan's judiciary has earned a lot of respect in the last couple of years and it will guard its newly won independence irrespective of anything else. This alone should make India comfortable with the trial stage of the case.



Pakistan has an ideal opportunity to show to India that it is fully committed to defeat terrorism in all its shapes and forms. Political rhetoric for public consumption on the subject, both in India and Pakistan, should not be allowed to disrupt honest and professional investigations of the Mumbai attacks. All other disputes between the two countries should be dealt with and tackled separately from this case and no quid pro quo arrangement or expectation should come in the way of giving an exemplary punishment to those responsible for this crime against humanity. This includes all who are to be found involved in planning, facilitating, or orchestrating the atrocity. My opinion on this is not a minority view in Pakistan. Pakistani writers, journalists and politicians have said this repeatedly. President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, and prominent political leaders like Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain are all on record supporting such an outcome. A renowned Pakistani lawyer and writer Babar Sattar very aptly says: "It is not the Pakistani identity of Ajmal 'Kasab' that makes Pakistan guilty of having a hand in Mumbai. But it is the misguided inclination to hide unflattering truth born of false pride and misperceived patriotism that could make us complicit."


Pakistan is learning the hard way that religious extremists and militants of all stripes are bad for the country. There is no such thing as 'Good Taliban' or 'Bad Taliban.' Those who have distorted religious ideals and are involved in brainwashing many youngsters in Pakistan are looking to expand their space in the country. Lack of education and economic distress strengthen their role in society further. Pakistan is currently taking unprecedented military action against these forces, but it will not be able to defeat these forces of darkness comprehensively without regional stability and help from India. A good beginning in this direction can be more interaction and cooperation between the civilian law enforcement agencies of the two countries.


No one can deny that both countries have produced fanatics of one kind or the other and insurgencies of various intensities are brewing in various parts of both the countries. The longer the South Asian peace process remains frozen, more extensive will be the damaging impact of extremism and mutual mistrust.


(Dr. Hassan Abbas is a Bernard Schwartz fellow at the Asia Society and senior adviser at the Belfer Centre, Harvard Kennedy School. He is also the author of Pakistan's Drift into Extremism.)








It's no use pretending this isn't a major blow. The emails extracted by a hacker from the climatic research unit at the University of East Anglia could scarcely be more damaging. I am now convinced that they are genuine, and I'm dismayed and deeply shaken by them.


Yes, the messages were obtained illegally. Yes, all of us say things in emails that would be excruciating if made public. Yes, some of the comments have been taken out of context. But there are some messages that require no spin to make them look bad. There appears to be evidence here of attempts to prevent scientific data from being released, and even to destroy material that was subject to a freedom of information request.


Worse still, some of the emails suggest efforts to prevent the publication of work by climate sceptics, or to keep it out of a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. I believe that the head of the unit, Phil Jones, should now resign. Some of the data discussed in the emails should be re-analysed.


But do these revelations justify the sceptics' claims that this is "the final nail in the coffin" of global warming theory? Not at all. They damage the credibility of three or four scientists. They raise questions about the integrity of one or perhaps two out of several hundred lines of evidence. To bury man-made climate change, a far wider conspiracy would have to be revealed. Luckily for the sceptics, and to my intense disappointment, I have now been passed the damning email that confirms that the entire science of global warming is indeed a scam. Had I known that it was this easy to rig the evidence, I wouldn't have wasted years of my life promoting a bogus discipline. In the interests of open discourse, I feel obliged to reproduce it here.



Sent: 29 October 2009


To: The Knights Carbonic


Gentlemen, the culmination of our great plan approaches fast. What the Master called "the ordering of men's affairs by a transcendent world state, ordained by God and answerable to no man", which we now know as Communist World Government, advances towards its climax at Copenhagen. For 185 years since the Master, known to the laity as Joseph Fourier, launched his scheme for world domination, the entire physical science community has been working towards this moment.


The early phases of the plan worked magnificently. First the Master's initial thesis — that the release of infrared radiation is delayed by the atmosphere — had to be accepted by the scientific establishment. I will not bother you with details of the gold paid, the threats made and the blood spilt to achieve this end. But the result was the elimination of the naysayers and the disgrace or incarceration of the Master's rivals. Within 35 years the 3rd Warden of the Grand Temple of the Knights Carbonic (our revered prophet John Tyndall) was able to "demonstrate" the Master's thesis. Our control of physical science was by then so tight that no major objections were sustained.


More resistance was encountered (and swiftly dispatched) when we sought to install the 6th Warden (Svante Arrhenius) first as professor of physics at Stockholm University, then as rector. From this position he was able to project the Master's second grand law — that the infrared radiation trapped in a planet's atmosphere increases in line with the quantity of carbon dioxide the atmosphere contains. He and his followers (led by the Junior Warden Max Planck) were then able to adapt the entire canon of physical and chemical science to sustain the second law. Then began the most hazardous task of all: our attempt to control the instrumental record. Securing the consent of the scientific establishment was a simple matter. But thermometers had by then become widely available, and amateur meteorologists were making their own readings. We needed to show a steady rise as industrialisation proceeded, but some of these unfortunates had other ideas. The global co-option of police and coroners required unprecedented resources, but so far we have been able to cover our tracks.


The over-enthusiasm of certain of the Knights Carbonic in 1998 was most regrettable. The high reading in that year has proved impossibly costly to sustain. Those of our enemies who have yet to be silenced maintain that the lower temperatures after that date provide evidence of global cooling, even though we have ensured that eight of the 10 warmest years since 1850 have occurred since 2001. From now on we will engineer a smoother progression.


Our co-option of the physical world has been just as successful. The thinning of the Arctic ice cap was a masterstroke. The ring of secret nuclear power stations around the Arctic circle, attached to giant immersion heaters, remains undetected, as do the space-based lasers dissolving the world's glaciers.


Altering the migratory and reproductive patterns of the world's wildlife has proved more challenging. Though we have now asserted control over the world's biologists, there is no accounting for the unauthorised observations of farmers, gardeners, birdwatchers and other troublemakers. We have therefore been forced to drive migrating birds, fish and insects into higher latitudes, and to release several million tonnes of plant pheromones every year to accelerate flowering and fruiting. None of this is cheap, and ever more public money, secretly diverted from national accounts by compliant governments, is required to sustain it.


The co-operation of these governments requires unflagging effort. The capture of George W. Bush, a late convert to the cause of Communist World Government, was made possible only by the threatened release of footage filmed by a knight at Yale, showing the future president engaged in coitus with a Ford Mustang. Most ostensibly capitalist governments remain apprised of where their real interests lie, though I note with disappointment that we have so far failed to eliminate Vaclav Klaus. Through the offices of compliant states, the Master's third grand law has been established: world government will be established under the guise of controlling man-made emissions of greenhouse gases. Keeping the scientific community in line remains a challenge. The national academies are becoming ever more querulous and greedy, and require higher pay-offs each year. The inexplicable events of the past month, in which the windows of all the leading scientific institutions were broken and a horse's head turned up in James Hansen's bed, appear to have staved off the immediate crisis, but for how much longer can we maintain the consensus? Knights Carbonic, now that the hour of our triumph is at hand, I urge you all to redouble your efforts. In the name of the Master, go forth and terrify.


Professor Ernst Kattweizel, University of Redcar. 21st Grand Warden of the Temple of the Knights Carbonic.


This is the kind of conspiracy the deniers need to reveal to show that man-made climate change is a con. The hacked emails are a hard knock, but the science of global warming withstands much more than that. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009







The horrific murder, last week, of a young British Punjabi woman in the west London suburb of Greenford within months of her leaving her Indian-born husband because of family tensions has fuelled concerns over the rising curve of domestic violence among Britain's south Asian community much of which remains hidden, according to women support groups.


Although hard statistics are not available activists say it is far more widespread than is assumed with at least one out of every four women suffering some degree of domestic violence whether in the form of physical abuse, forced marriage or simply the family pressure to get everything "right."


While the close-knit Indian community of Southall and Greenford has been shocked by the unprovoked killing of 28-year-old Geeta Aulakh, a receptionist at the local Sunrise Radio and mother of two small children, those who know a thing or two about what goes on behind the laced curtains of suburban Britain say they are not surprised. If anything, it confirms their worst fears about the extent of domestic violence in British homes, including native white families.


Geeta was brutally attacked in what police believe was a "planned assault" by more than one person. They also suspect that the alleged assailants may have been known to her.


"We are not talking about a stranger attacker here who she does not know," a police source was quoted as saying.


Geeta was on her way to collect her two sons, aged eight and nine, from a child-minder's home when she was attacked. Passersby found her lying in a pool of blood on a pavement, barely yards from the babysitter's frontdoor, with a severed hand and serious head injuries. She died in hospital. One Sikh teenager from Southall has been charged with the murder while her estranged husband, Harpreet — also known as Sunny — and 10 other men who were arrested have been given bail.


While investigations are still on, it is widely suspected that the killing may have been the fallout of her unhappy domestic life. Police have confirmed that on two occasions Geeta called the emergency helpline 999 but when officers arrived she did not lodge a formal complaint. Campaigners claim that her behaviour was consistent with the reluctance among Asian women to go to the police.


"One, they don't trust the police; and two there is a cultural thing that Asian women don't go public with their private difficulties," one activist told The Hindu.


According to Geeta's colleagues, her separated husband had been pestering her to return, and she felt "frightened" and "harassed." Her elderly parents, it is stated, never approved of Harpreet and were unhappy about the marriage. In fact, after their wedding the couple moved to Belgium to "put some space between them and relatives," as one report put it. Women's groups are treating it as a case of domestic abuse.


"We're looking into it. We believe there is an element of that in this case," Hannanah Siddiqui of Southall Black Sisters (SBS), one of Britain's oldest women groups, said.


Ms Siddiqui, who has been closely involved with SBS for over 20 years, views with "alarm" the rise in the number of reported cases of domestic violence in recent years. Given the efforts to address the problem, both at the government level and on the ground by voluntary organisations, one would have thought that the number would decline. But it has actually gone up. At SBS, it has risen from 2,000 cases a year to 2,500 a year in the past decade. Perhaps an equally large (or even higher) number goes unreported.


"It is hard to tell but this increase could also be down to the fact that there's greater awareness now and more women are coming forward to talk about their problems than they did before," she said.


Ms Siddiqui dismissed the perception that the problem was more common among certain religious or cultural groups such as Pakistanis or Bangladeshis. She said it was equally widespread across the board, including white families.


"Yes, there is a media stereotyping that only women from certain communities are vulnerable but it is not true. We have as many Indian women come to us as from any other background," she said arguing that it would be wrong to put the issue into culture or country–specific boxes.


Indeed, the case of Geeta, a British-born and educated woman, disproves the notion that the problem is restricted to vulnerable new migrants from rural areas of Punjab or Sylhet.


A spokesperson of Imkaan, a national network of women's support groups, accused the British media of "sensationalising" cases involving Asians.


"There is an attempt to create the impression that domestic violence is an issue to do with Asians' cultural values. We don't like terms like 'honour killings' while describing murders of Asian women. A killing is a killing and should be treated as such," she said.


Meanwhile, there is dismay among women's organisations that the government is cutting down on funding for domestic violence services for South Asian women in order to cater to other groups. Imkaan says it is in the process of losing more than 50 per cent of its services which include providing shelters for victims of domestic abuse.


Given the government's professed commitment to protecting vulnerable women, groups like Imkaan and SBS have urged it to put its money where its mouth is. Or, they warn, the whole campaign against domestic abuse could unravel.






The World Health Organisation said on Tuesday that it was looking at a mutation of the A/H1N1 flu virus recently detected in several countries and regions "very carefully" to see whether it causes severe diseases.


So far, there was still no evidence suggesting the mutation, most recently found in Hong Kong of China and Norway, is associated with severe cases of infection, the WHO said.


"We really need to look at this very carefully to see whether it is in fact associated with severe cases," said WHO spokesman Thomas Abraham.


Mr. Abraham said investigations would be done through the WHO's collaborating network of laboratories and "through understanding more about clinical features associated with the infection of this particular form of the virus." According to Mr. Abraham, there was currently no evidence suggesting the mutated form of the A(H1N1) flu virus was spreading. The mutations appeared to occur sporadically and spontaneously.


Norwegian health authorities last week informed the WHO of a mutation of the A(H1N1) flu virus detected in two patients who died and one with severe illness.


Hong Kong's Department of Health announced on Monday that it also had found the same mutation in an A(H1N1) flu virus sample. — Xinhua









The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 changed India's mindset and politics in many ways. It led to serious sectarian violence, to prolonged turmoil in the social psychology of the country's Muslim community, its largest minority, whose effects may not yet have been extinguished, and it had far-reaching political consequences, among them the catapulting of Hindu nationalists to centrestage in national life and onward to national power. On the other hand, the findings of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry instituted to find out why December 6 came to pass are unlikely to touch anyone's life. Looking back, it would have made no difference to the making of history had the commission not been set up. The fact of the establishing of a body to inquire into the demolition failed to have any ameliorative effect whatsoever on the rising communal temperature.


After a ruckus in Parliament following a media leak of the Liberhan report, the government placed the inquiry report along with its Action Taken Report before Parliament on Tuesday, somewhat advancing the time it had in mind to table them in the House. Frankly, the politics surrounding the timing of the leak (the report had been submitted to the government in June, shortly after the UPA-II government assumed office), the Opposition protest about the leak (which in its view was meant to break Opposition unity built on the issue of price rise and farmers' demands), and the somewhat phoney tilting at BJP benches by Samajwadi Party leaders in the Rajya Sabha, is something of a tedium, or a bit of shadow-boxing at best. This is for the principal reason that the Liberhan Commission delivered the goods after 17 long years, and they were stale goods. The findings of the inquiry against the protagonists of the Ayodhya demolition are in the nature of obiter dicta. As such, they are not actionable. In any case, criminal cases against several individuals in the Ayodhya matter are pending. The Liberehan labours were on a different track from these. Moreover, the country took one kind of turn after the cataclysmic events of December 6, and then took another somersault a few years later. Very little that the Liberhan report says today appears to have relevance other than the cautioning against pitfalls of communal politics. But that does not need a commission of inquiry. The inaction of the Congress government of the day and the nature and ideology of the RSS and agencies related to it — which the Liberhan report expands on — are too well known to recount. Would the Liberhan report have meant anything more than it does today if it had come within a reasonable period, say a year or two? This too is doubtful. Just look at the fate of the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the violence in Mumbai. So the doubtful value of the Liberhan report does not derive only from the inordinate delay in its completion. Often the terms of reference of commissions of inquiry — and this applies to Liberhan too — are much too broad to lead to concrete action even if the government is so inclined. The truth is that governments — in Britain as much as in India — are wont to set up commissions of inquiry to deflect attention from their own followup responsibilities after an event that may have rocked the system, and to calm public opinion. The lesson from the Liberhan case is that both Houses of Parliament must insist that all inquiry commissions must tender their report in about a year. That may have some value at least for public opinion.








US President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing was replete with state banquets and pledges of mutual respect, but as all events were stagemanaged by the Chinese Communist Party, there was no substantive discourse on human rights and China's phobia number one: Tibet. President Obama granted China the ultimate concession by cancelling a meeting with the Dalai Lama in September 2009, but the Chinese Communist leadership has only intensified its vilification of the Dalai Lama and oppression of the Tibetan people.


For some analysts China's refusal to engage in a rational discussion about Tibet connotes weakness, not power. Dr Gabriele Lafitte, an Australian scholar and Tibet specialist, gave a series of lectures in Dharamsala last week entitled "China's Rise and the Rising Tibetan Nationalism". Dr Lafitte notes: "As Chinese nationalism grows more offensive, exclusionary and chauvinistic, it creates what it most fears: Tibetan nationalism, the reverse outcome of China's repressive rule in Tibet. China's increasingly ugly nationalism antagonises the Tibetans and creates unity among Tibet's once fractured tribes, who respond with an emergency mobilisation to save their culture".


In 50 years since the flight of the Dalai Lama, a stream of Tibetan refugees has come to Dharamsala, living witnesses to Chinese persecution the growing Tibetan resistance.


Ani Tsega, a nun from Kham in eastern Tibet, escaped from Tibet to Dharamsala in March 2009. She smuggled out the prison diary of Geshe Sonam Phuntsok, a Buddhist teacher from Kardze, who became a monk at the age of 18 and travelled throughout Kham giving teachings. "Geshe was very kind and everyone loved him", says Ani Tsega. "He was called 'the miracle' because of his knowledge. He worked so hard to keep our language and our religion strong".


In 1996, Geshe Phuntsok made a pilgrimage to India where he met the Dalai Lama. After he returned to Tibet he organised a large "tenshuk", a long-life ceremony for the Dalai Lama, a venerated Tibetan Buddhist ritual.


On the morning of October 25, 1999, a squadron of Chinese soldiers arrested Geshe Phuntsok at gunpoint. When an estimated 5,000 Tibetans marched to the police station to demand his release, the Chinese military shot and killed protesters. Geshe Phuntsok was later sentenced to five years in prison for "inciting splittist activities among the masses, travelling to India to meet the Dalai Lama and illegally conducting a long-life prayer ceremony for the Dalai Lama".


In court Geshe Phuntsok said: "My arrest and trial belies China's high claim of religious freedom in Tibet and this should be made known to the public".


With tin foil from cigarette packets, Geshe Phuntsok wrote an account of the methods of torture he endured, which he secretly passed to Ani Tsega when she visited him in prison. He describes being interrogated for eight days with no sleep, water or food, having his spine broken, being whipped with electric cords, for his refusal to denounce the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist faith. "When I saw him in jail, he couldn't stand up or move his arm, I could see bruises and cuts on his face and body", recalls Ani Tsega.


After his release from prison, the Chinese authorities kept Geshe Phunstok under house arrest and did not allow him any medical care to treat the abuse he suffered in the state custody. Geshe Phuntsok died on April 5, 2008. "I had to escape to India with his diary, so people will know how the Chinese punish Tibetans who want to honour the Dalai Lama", says Ani Tsega.


Last week in Tibet, a 20-year-old monk from Amdo, Kunga Tsayang, was sentenced to five years in prison for the same crime as Geshe Sonam Phuntsok: practising Tibetan Buddhism, which the state deems "splittism". In his court statement, Kunga Tsayang said: "I strongly assert that confiscating the photographs of our beloved leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama by burning them and stamping on them under soldiers' boots are the real causes of splitting the people. Why is the Communist Party of China silent like a man with one eye closed and ears gone deaf to actions that harm the unity of the nation and stability of the country?"


The Chinese Communists have failed to integrate their minority subjects into their imperial project, as their refusal to humanise their treatment of the Tibetan people sews the seeds of future conflict.


As the celebrated Tibetan author Jamyang Norbu observes: "The maintenance of empires and colonies by force is not only culturally and spiritually demoralising to the tyrant, but potentially a source of considerable political upheaval within the oppressor state itself".


Maura Moynihan is an author and Tibet expert who has worked with Tibetan refugees in India for many years








DURING the two turbulent days last week when sugarcane growers from western Uttar Pradesh laid siege to the nation's capital, and the demoralised Opposition, suddenly coming to life, forced the Union government to beat a hasty retreat on the pernicious provision of an ordinance on sugarcane price that should never have been promulgated, India received three clear and grim warnings. If the government and the country, as usual, ignore these too, they would be doing so at their peril.


Since I have been a journalist for more than half-a-century, politics, with all its ignoble pursuits, not economics or any other consideration, has determined the sugar policy of successive governments. In early 1950s, in a year of acute sugar shortage, the incomparable Rafi Ahmed Kidwai compelled sugar magnates to disgorge their hoarded stocks by threatening to nationalise the sugar industry within 48 hours. Sadly, many of his successors let the hoarders run amuck. In the time of P.V. Narasimha Rao — whose food and agriculture minister was known to be a sleaze ball — a sugar scandal stank. An inquiry revealed that politicians in power, top civil servants and crooks among sugar merchants had conspired. But no one was held accountable. What has happened now is equally lamentable.


Once again there is huge shortage of sugar. But in a ukase, ironically named Sugarcane (Fair and Remunerative) Prices Ordinance, issued just before Parliament's winter session, the disingenuous government fixed the price of sugarcane that was lower than last year's. To compound this, it bypassed the Supreme Court's judgment allowing sugarcane-growing states to fix prices higher than those prescribed by New Delhi. In an astonishing display of insensitivity to the interest of farmers, the Central ordinance declared magisterially that any state government permitting a higher price would have to foot the bill. That the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had to eat the humble pie, reverse its absurd position and pass on additional costs to the mill owners was poetic justice.


It is against this backdrop that one must underscore that of the three warning bells that were heard last week, the first and the most alarming perhaps is the notice served by political parties that they are determined to continue disrupting, debasing and rendering dysfunctional Parliament, the apex legislature of India. Here was an excellent opportunity for the Opposition to rub the government's nose in the dirt in a reasoned debate on sugarcane price and policy. But it thundered that it would "not allow the two Houses to function" until the admittedly improper ordinance was withdrawn.


Eleven years after Independence, following a debate in the Lok Sabha that mauled his government, Jawaharlal Nehru rose to speak about "Parliament's majesty" and, bowing to it, ordered a judicial inquiry that led to the resignation of his favourite finance minister and removal from office of several senior bureaucrats. That majesty now lies buried seven fathoms deep. And hopes that Parliament's dignity and efficacy might somehow be revived some day are turning into dupes.


From this follows the second alarm sounded last week. If Parliament is rendered dysfunctional by those strutting around as "representatives of the people", the government of the day has got to be much more watchful of the interests of the people, especially the poor. Sadly, in this respect the Congress, the core of the UPA, and the ruling combination that never tire of swearing by the aam aadmi have given themselves a certificate of incompetence of which the sugarcane affair is the latest fiasco, not the first or the last. After the impressive Congress victory in the Lok Sabha election, it was expected that the Manmohan Singh government this time around would function with greater cohesion, energy and purposefulness in the service of the people. But that is far from being the case.


There is no doubt that the Indian economy is the second fastest growing in the world. But the excruciatingly painful paradox is that the poor, whose number is increasing, are being crushed more and more. Food prices have soared to an extent that a large number of families can no longer afford vegetables or even dal, the poor man's protein. But the government, scared of touching "vulgar salaries" of tycoons and corporate executives, seems not to be bothered.


Throwing politeness to the winds, one must add that in the collective callousness towards the poor by the ruling establishment the role of Sharad Pawar has been particularly shabby. Every Maharashtrian politician of every political hue is a baron of highly lucrative cooperative sugar mills. Mr Pawar, it is needless to add, is the baron of all these barons. Moreover, this uneasy ally of the Congress party in both Mumbai and Delhi has been the Union food and agriculture minister since 2004, but he has other things on his mind rather than his responsibility as a Cabinet minister. Some months ago he was pontificating that there was enough sugar in the country and some of it could perhaps be exported. And then he issued the shameful ordinance. To be sure, he is not the only senior minister to take his work casually. But shouldn't the Congress president and the Prime Minister be doing something about it?


What did the growers of sugarcane, in the capital to make a legitimate protest, actually do? They vandalised the city, indulged in violence, set fire to public property, looted private shops and even allegedly "teased women". The heavily deployed police, usually ready to commit all kinds of atrocities on innocent people, looked the other way. This was not an aberration or isolated incident but part of the firmly established pattern across the country. From Gujjars of Rajasthan wanting a larger slice of reserved government jobs, to students in Bihar enraged by a change in the railway timetable, Delhi traders guilty of illegal construction, rowdy lawyers of Chennai and Bengaluru, both the warring factions of Thackerays swearing by the Marathi manoos in Mumbai and so on merrily make bonfire of all sanities. The Indian state, aptly described as "soft" is unable to punish them. In any case, when lawlessness begins from Parliament, how can mobs on the street be law abiding? "Yatha raja, thatha praja (as the king, so his subjects) is the ancient Indian saying.










The first 25 pages of the 1029-page of the Liberhan commission report reveals the problems faced by justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan in conducting the inquiry, the limited scope of the terms of reference of the commission and what the inquiry is not about. Liberhan says that for a long time representatives of the Uttar Pradesh government of the day (December, 1992) and representatives of Muslim organisations did not appear before the commission for many years. It was only much later that some of them came forward and deposed before it.


He also says it is beyond the scope of the commission to comment on the status of the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid (RJBM) complex, whether it is Hindu or Muslim.

And he spells out clearly that the mandate of the commission is to establish the sequence of events that led to the demolition of the RJBM complex on December 6, 1992. But the recommendations that he has offered -- about 65 -- diverge radically from the terms of reference.


For example, the recommendation that there should be a commission of experts comprising eminent historians, anthropologists to decide the provenance of historical monuments is clearly beyond the scope of the commission's mandate.


Another recommendation is that politics and religion should be kept apart. It is not a particularly helpful generalisation when the judge himself acknowledges that there is no judicial remedy for political mischief. He notes in the introduction that the courts could not resolve the legal dispute over the RJBM complex.


His recommendation for a review of centre-state relations has some validity because the Narasimha Rao government expressed its inability to prevent the demolition because of constitutional constraints. His recommendation for the setting up of a criminal justice commission to make prosecution in cases of communal violence more effective is wide off the mark.


His conclusion that the demolition was a premeditated act is sure to provoke debate. The evidence he cites to back his verdict will be questioned. What is beyond doubt is that the Ayodhya temple agitation was part of the political agenda of the BJP. The evidence of electoral verdicts that followed December 6, 1992 shows that people did not reward the BJP. Liberhan does not take note of this because it is beyond the scope of the commission.







The possibility that the next world wars will be fought over water has been widely discussed in the recent past. A new report by the Water Resources Group makes clear just how deep the global water crisis is. The demand for water will be the highest in the next 20 years and for India, this means that our demand for water will double by 2030. This is bad news in a country already severely short of water. And the portents of the world itself are worse.

Some of the problem is self-inflicted. Both agriculture and urban development pose a great strain on water resources and as human population and human demands have grown, so has the need for water. It might seem that all this is self-evident and therefore does not need to be repeated. However, the opposite is true. Although water is arguably our most precious resource, it is one which we take almost completely for granted. In cities, we open taps and we expect water.

Yet, already our suffering is immense. In Indian cities, the less privileged queue up for hours to get a minimum quota of water and in villages, people walk miles. At the same time, unfortunately, there is a profligate waste of water by the wealthy — swimming pools, golf courses and the washing of cars all use massive amounts of water.

The answers, fortunately, are also self-evident and we have to urgently put the necessary steps in place to save and replenish our water resources. Small things like fixing leaking taps can make a difference but we have to think bigger. A good beginning is with changing irrigation practices — more drip irrigation rather than wide scale watering of fields and a phasing out of non-essential water-intensive crops. Also a more concerted effort to follow rigorously rainwater harvesting methods.

The problem has been our lack of commitment — globally — to what we already know. The world is too much with us, as the English poet William Wordsworth put it and we have enough evidence of the danger we pose to this planet. False hope in small quantities of water found on the moon cannot be seen as the solution. This is our home and this is where we must fix the problem. Our atmosphere gives us ample water. But our misuse and our behaviour have been far from exemplary and the price we are starting to pay has become very expensive. It is now one of survival.








A year ago tomorrow, as no one in India needs reminding, Urban Jihad set sail from hostile shores, came aground in Mumbai, flickered live on our TV screens, and purveyed death across the city. Recovering from the monstrous invasion, a wounded and incensed India that had had enough of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism seriously contemplated letting rip against terrorist targets in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. But following entreaties to hold back in the interests of not diverting attention and military resources away from the larger goal of targeting jihadi forces in Afghanistan, it exercised tremendous restraint.


A year later, look at where Pakistan stands. It has failed to bring the Mumbai terrorist masterminds to book, but the karmic law of jihadi sponsorship has recoiled on it and not a day passes by without a lethal suicide bombing or terrorist attack in its cities. US drone aircraft routinely target militants inside Pakistan, and occasionally claim civilian lives in 'friendly fire' incidents. Pakistani nationals' complicity in terrorism around the world is being unmasked with disturbing frequency. Pakistan stands exposed as the nearest thing to a 'jihadi suicide-bomber state' with a fanatical finger on the nuclear button.Within Pakistan, even among the moderate intelligentsia, there is little evidence of an acknowledgement of the grave risk of implosion that the failed state faces. Much less is there evidence of an honest attempt at introspection over Pakistani state complicity, over the decades, in the country's descent into the hellish world of jihadi terrorism. The tendency instead has been to bizarrely blame the daily dose of recent terror on the Israeli Mossad, the Indian RAW and the American CIA -- in fact, just about anyone other than itself.


Such infinite capacity to look away from the unflattering mirror of history and delude oneself isn't, of course, the sole preserve of Pakistani players. US interlocutors stand guilty of it every time they draw specious connections, as US envoy on Af-Pak affairs Richard Holbrooke does, between mindless jihadism in Pakistan and the Kashmir issue. It's evidently a perspective that Barack Obama shares, but it is fundamentally flawed. India has for years faced down Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Kashmir, which the US ignored at its own (subsequent) peril. To suggest that India should talk Kashmir with an unrepentantly terror-exporting Pakistan is to yield unconditionally to the twisted mentality of the suicide bomber.


Obama's newest effort -- to initiate indirect talks with a section of the Taliban in Afghanistan in an effort to end the stalemate -- amounts to a similar yielding to Pakistan's jihadi blackmail tactics. Much of the violence against NATO troops in Afghanistan bears the signature of Pakistani agencies and of the Taliban fighters they support. US officials aren't unaware of this, and Pakistan's own experience of negotiating with the 'good Taliban' in the Swat Valley earlier this year is a shining example of the folly of such a course. Yet the incredibly naïve search for 'good Taliban' persists.


Every US president goes through a 'learning curve' on the job, at the end of which the lessons of history are brought home forcefully to them. Bill Clinton too started off with an interventionist agenda on Kashmir, but by the time of the Kargil war of 1999, he'd learnt a lot about Pakistani perfidy. It was widely believed that given Obama's intellectual calibre and his keen understanding of history, he wouldn't need to go through this process, but he evidently believes that, somehow, this time it will be different.For India, all this is more than a little bothersome, but as was revealed following the Mumbai attack last year, there is some merit in exercising restraint rather than rush into war. One of two things will then happen: wisdom will eventually dawn in the White House or the 'suicide bomber state' will implode further.







A ticker tape that ran on many channels the other day — the first of the racial attackers on an Indian in Australia being convicted within six months of the crime – made many reporters, who cover crime and law and order, ask each other whether it was true and deplore how in India cases go on for years and years.

Take the case of the demolition of the Babri Masjid. When it happened a good 17 years ago, everyone who watched television that day knew it was the activists of the Sangh Parivar who were responsible for the event. That there were many leaders who chanted 'ek dhakka aur do'. That Advani, Uma Bharati and so on were present there; that the BJP government in the state led by Kalyan Singh did not lift a finger to halt the demolition.

That the central government headed by Narasimha Rao watched in helplessness. That it later said it took the assurance of the BJP (that there would be no demolition) quite seriously but was deceived From initial reports, it looks like the Liberhan commission, set up 10 days after Babri Masjid was brought down, took 17 years to tell you what you had seen on the television on December 6 1992 was actually true. The report also did not appear to have more knowledge than what you already knew about those who were responsible and those who failed to act.

That it took 17 years to reiterate known facts and that many of its recommendations, going by a quick first look at the report, are pretty general, makes a complete travesty of the process of investigation, fact-finding and prosecuting those who had broken the law.

The politics behind the Babri Masjid demolition is not the issue here. Enough of that has been discussed over the last 20-odd years; from the time the BJP made Ram Mandir an issue to counter VP Singh's Mandal politics. Whether the Ram Mandir should be built in Ayodhya, exactly over the debris of the Masjid, or somewhere else is for the courts to decide as some cases are still progressing at a snail's pace.

The issue is, do you need a commission to sit for 17 years to tell you what you actually saw that day is what you actually saw? To tell you all those who actually claimed responsibility or helplessness were either deliberately responsible or irresponsibly helpless?

The issue is, should the country still be caught in a time warp of events or should it move on. Between the time of the demolition and now, a good many Indians born would think of that event as distant history, unlike those, who were grown up enough that day, who either shed a silent tear over a mortal blow to India's secular spirit or distributed sweets over the triumph of Hindutva.

Except for those in politics who can still wring some milk out of the issue, the country has moved so far away from that event in every imaginable dimension that it is time the political class lets the rest of us move on and ahead in life.

Many of the principal characters from that era have either gone or are on the way to enforced retirement. An Advani, who led the Hindutva campaign from the front, is today seen as a relic even by the RSS. Kalyan Singh has travelled much since then and so have others from the political cauldron of Ayodhya and UP.

The report of the commission may give many of them another opportunity to move into limelight. That is why LK Advani declares that he is willing to take the observations of the commission on him as a challenge, an Uma Bharati says she will take whatever punishment but has no remorse, even if she does not entirely approve of the way the demolition took place.

As everyone has realised by now, the BJP, battered and bruised, is in search of an emotive issue and, as political commentators have pointed out, the Liberhan commission report may possibly come in handy to put on the war paint again.

But then, Ram Janmabhoomi does not seem to agitate the public mind as intensely as it did 20 years ago. For nearly a fifth of the country's population, born post December 6, 1992, the story of the demolition is a story heard second hand. That is why even the BJP had more or less side-stepped this issue as it failed to win votes — not once but in two general elections to the Lok Sabha and several assembly elections.

A revival of this issue, therefore, is likely to be aimed at papering over the differences within the BJP and extending the use-before-date for some. Beyond that, there is probably very little use for the Maryadapurush.







The terrorist attack in Mumbai on 26/11 exposed our vulnerability, our lack of preparedness and our ineptitude at handling a crisis situation. It also revealed that during those crucial 60 hours, there was no one in charge of the situation. The police, army, navy and NSG in turn addressed the press. The police lost some very fine officers and men, some of whom displayed exemplary courage and grit. That however should not inhibit us from doing some introspection.

Because of the heroism of individual officers and men, some of whom laid down their lives, the citizens of Mumbai forgave their police force for its inability to protect their lives and property on 26/11 last year. Will the people be as kind if the terrorists strike again? The answer is No. Citizens need to now force the government to make the systemic corrections to ensure their safety and security.

Today the police commissioner has very little control of his own force. The politicians are in charge.  This is very dangerous.  The administration of the force is directed from Mantralaya. When the politicians decide who should be in charge of the different police stations or zones and decide who to punish and who to reward, who to prosecute and who to let off, we are placing our fates in the hands of those who are wield power without responsibility.

The answer lies in police reforms.

The Supreme Court had directed the Central and state governments to introduce police reforms by changing the outdated Police Act and making the police accountable to the law. The court has suggested the manner in which appointments and transfers have to be done and it had ordered the separation of the law and order arm of the police from its investigative arm.  The investigators would be independent of the political class and would be supervised by their own seniors and by the courts, as laid down in the Criminal Procedure Code.

Unfortunately, no government is willing to introduce these reforms as all political parties are interested in manipulating the police.  The people should now force the government to heed the voice of reason and sanity so that men of integrity and confidence are chosen to lead the force and then given operational independence to recruit, train, appoint, transfer, promote, reward and punish their own staff.  If the commissioner fails in his duty or misbehaves or is incompetent then he/she should be changed after reasons are recorded.  But there should be no interference by politicians in departmental matters and in the investigation of crimes. Every police officer should know who his or her leader is and that they cannot rely on political godfathers to secure appointments of their choice.

It is true that there will be individual officers and men like Hemant Karkare and Ashok Kamte and Tukaram Ombale who used their own initiative and mustered their own courage to rise to the occasion.  But a concerted, professional response will be possible only when the police commissioner is really in charge and does not have to look for orders or directions from his political masters.

The people therefore should demand police reforms in letter as well as in spirit as directed by the Supreme Court in Prakash Singh's case.  People should also insist that sufficient funds are placed at the disposal of the police commissioner to modernise his force. The procedures for purchase of equipment should be streamlined in order to avoid all the delays that must have been commented upon by the Pradhan Committee in its report on the 26/11 affair.

Simultaneously, it is also important for the people to recognise the arduous nature of the duties performed by the police. They are deprived of proper rest and proper housing and the facilities for the education of their children and medical treatment for ailments, big or small, are very poor.  The people of Mumbai should be willing to help out by contributing their mite to building schools for police children or modernising police hospitals wherever they exist. 

The number of policemen on the roads must immediately be increased by simply withdrawing security for the different VIPs except those who are genuinely at risk. At present a number of minor politicians and others are provided with unnecessary security because they have demanded it. This is a great waste of public resources at the cost of the exchequer and needs to be immediately discouraged.

Since the police force is meant for citizens' security it is not too much to demand that there should be Citizens Advisory Committees at each police station to bring to the notice of the Inspector in charge the problems of the area and the weaknesses in the security machinery which need to be plugged or corrected.  These committees should comprise of non political people of the area who are respected by all and have no private axes to grind.









The leakage of the Liberhan Commission report had given the Sangh Parivar a chance to duck the real issue of causing the national shame called the Babri demolition, but the hastened tabling of the report has taken the wind out of its sails. The report presented before Parliament on Tuesday has squarely blamed the inner core of the Parivar, the top leadership of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Shiv Sena, the Bajrang Dal and the BJP for the demolition of December 6, 1992, and says that it had been "established beyond doubt" that the events were "neither spontaneous nor unplanned". That comprises a harsh indictment and the Parivar will be hard pressed to feign innocence.


In a way, its responsibility was well known to everybody but the endorsement by the much-delayed report has put it firmly in the dock. The report is unequivocal in saying that the "blame or the credit" for the entire Ram temple movement at Ayodhya must necessarily be attributed to the Sangh Parivar. It is equally harsh on 68 persons "culpable for pushing India to communal discord", including L. K. Advani and Murli Manohar Joshi, saying that "these leaders have violated the trust of the people and have allowed their actions to be dictated not by the voters but by a small group of individuals who have used them to implement agendas unsanctioned by the will of the common person". Nor has it spared the then Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Kalyan Singh for his role in the demolition. The bureaucracy went by his wishes in not preventing it.


It took the commission all of 17 years and some 4,000 sittings over 48 extensions to reach this inevitable conclusion in the voluminous report. Hopefully, the government will be quicker in taking action against the guilty. The 13-page Action Taken Report (ATR) is apparently a hurriedly prepared document and the real action is yet to come. It refers to cases filed against eight accused and 47 other cases in a special court in Rae Bareli, and a case against unknown "kar sevaks". It has promised that steps will be taken to expedite the hearing of these cases. But the real test of its sincerity will be if it brings about a law providing for exemplary punishment for all those who disturb communal harmony for gaining power.








Defence Minister A. K. Antony's expression of concern over the possibility of Pakistan's nuclear weapons falling into wrong hands deserves to be taken with all seriousness by the world community. One can imagine the grave situation that may arise if even a single nuclear bomb goes into Taliban or Al-Qaeda hands. Pakistan's own control and command system cannot be depended upon in a situation where it is difficult to know who is actually running the political dispensation in that country, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has pointed out. A recent study of the effectiveness of the security arrangements made with the help of the Pakistan Army's Strategic Plans Division brought out the truth that "empirical evidence points to a clear set of weaknesses and vulnerabilities in Pakistan's nuclear safety and security arrangements". During her three-day visit to Islamabad last month US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, too, stated that "Al-Qaeda and its extremist allies are always on the hunt for nuclear material, and it does not take a lot to create a very damaging explosion with extraordinary political ramifications."


That Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are desperately trying to acquire nuclear weapons is proved by the fact that their suicide bombers have attacked Pakistan's nuclear installations many times in the recent past. The latest assault by terrorists occurred only a few days back at the Pakistan Aeronautical Complex at Kamra, near Islamabad, believed to be housing some of the country's nuclear assets. Nothing appears to be safe in Pakistan owing to suicide bomb blasts caused by the Taliban every now and then.


For some time the US media has been urging the Obama administration to do all it can to prevent the Taliban from capturing Pakistan's nuclear weapons because then Washington may never be able to protect its interests in the region. Such an eventuality would seriously endanger peace not only in South Asia but also in the rest of the world. Thus, ensuring foolproof security for Pakistan's nuclear arsenal should not be the worry of any one country. It is a major challenge for the global community as a whole. Concrete steps must be taken soon to keep the danger at bay.








The Delhi High Court's experiment with arbitration as an alternative dispute redressal mechanism for speedy dispensation of justice and providing relief to the common man is worthy of appreciation. Thanks to the initiative of Chief Justice A.P. Shah, the high court's state-of-the-art facility has helped resolve many cases in record time and thus reduced the burden of the courts. The arbitration unit has four judges and a governing panel consisting of arbitrators drawn from among retired judges, advocates and chartered accountants. In view of its success story, all courts in the country should emulate this experiment whole-heartedly. The relevance of arbitration has become far greater today because it seeks to effect compromise between litigant parties directly rather than finding a solution through the court system which has proved to be cumbersome and time-consuming.


It is noteworthy that statutory recognition has been accorded to arbitration of disputes arising out of legal relationship, whether contractual or not and to all proceedings thereto. Arbitration, if popularised, will obviate the need for parties to seek recourse to the court system besides producing quicker resolution of disputes with cost-effective ways. Owing to globalisation, more and more countries are making use of arbitration today for resolving disputes including those relating to trade and collaboration.


Unfortunately, though successive governments have voiced concern over the issue of arrears in courts, nothing much has happened on this front because of the complexity and magnitude of the problem. There are over three crore cases pending in courts of which 2.5 crore are in lower courts, 40 lakh in high courts and about 52,000 in the Supreme Court. No doubt, the introduction of the Lok Adalats, fast track courts, evening and mobile courts have all provided the much-needed relief to the litigants. However, much more needs to be done to tackle the gigantic problem with a sense of urgency. While efforts should be intensified to popularise arbitration, care should be taken to ensure that the arbitration process in the country is thoroughly professional, effective, just and fair so that it would attract no court intervention.









That Pakistan faces a mortal threat from Islamists who are somewhat conveniently but perhaps erroneously clubbed together and referred to as the Taliban is something that should have by now become clear to even the most purblind not only in that country but also in the rest of the world. The real challenge for both the Pakistani state and society, however, does not lie so much in exterminating the Islamists in the Pakhtun tribal badlands; it lies in fighting these elements in Pakistan's heartland — Punjab. And no, it is not just South Punjab that one is talking about. If the situation is serious in south Punjab, it is no better in central and north Punjab.


The phenomenon of the "Punjabi Taliban" has been receiving a lot of attention in recent months, more so after evidence has emerged of their involvement in almost all the major acts of terrorism in cities like Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. But much of the focus on this phenomenon has centred on South Punjab. Perhaps, the abysmal development indices in South Punjab coupled with the domination of the feudal classes and the increasingly dysfunctional social and administrative structures have contributed to making this region a fertile recruiting ground for the Islamists of all hues. More importantly, the rising attraction of radical Islam in a society deeply steeped in what is commonly known as "Sufi" Islam is an indication of the inroads being made by the Islamists.


But the sweeping tide of radical Islamism is not limited to only South Punjab. The fact is that Islamists have spread their wings all over Punjab. Most of the top Al-Qaeda militants have been arrested not from the dirty backwaters of South Punjab, but from the bustling cities of central and north Punjab —Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala, etc. The core support base of the Jamaat-e-Islami is central and north Punjab. Not only is the Jamaat increasingly functioning like the political arm of Al-Qaeda but also cadres of this party have been found involved in sheltering Al-Qaeda fugitives.


Perhaps the biggest jihadi organisation in Pakistan and one which is arguably far more dangerous than the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is the Lashkar-e-Toiba, headquartered in Muridke (north of Lahore) and having its presence in every nook and corner of Punjab. Most of the LeT cadres come from all parts of Punjab and not just from the much-maligned South Punjab. An indication of the immense power that the LeT wields has come in a recent write-up by well-known Pakistani journalist Shaheen Sehbai. He writes: "the GHQ realises that if the Kerry-Lugar Bill was to be implemented as desired by Washington, Pakistani cities could soon turn into battlegrounds between the Army and the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, the Jaish Mohammed and Taliban forces combined. So far the GHQ has kept the Lashkar quiet by not acceding to the US demands of attacking or even touching Muridke, arguing that once this sleeping elephant wakes up, it could turn around and trample our own forces. After all, the LeT was raised and trained by our military establishment to fight the Indians in Kashmir and they are good at it. Turning their guns inwards, with TTP suicide bombers roaming everywhere, would turn Pakistan into a burning inferno, ready to collapse."


Unfortunately, instead of waking up to the alarming spread of radical Islamist forces in Punjab, the Pakistani state and society has slipped into a mode of complete denial of the problem. In many ways, the denial over the inexorable march of Talibanisation in Punjab is reminiscent of the dismissal of similar premonitions about the inevitable blowback of the policy of using the jihadis as instruments of state policy in Afghanistan and against India.


Then, as now, the arguments given were more or less the same that we are hearing today: the state machinery is pretty much in control and remains effective enough to meet any challenge to state authority; the army and intelligence agencies are competent and powerful enough to turn off the tap of jihad with a snap of their fingers; the jihadis pose no threat to the Pakistani state and people, and are only fighting the enemies of Islam and oppressors of Muslims; a handful of jihadis are, in any case, in no position to bite the hand that feeds them, etc. If all these arguments of yore have fallen flat today, then the arguments being given now to refrain from moving against the Islamists in Punjab, will almost certainly lead to disastrous consequences tomorrow.


True, the LeT and other Punjab-based jihadi organisations are not fighting the Pakistani state today. But there can be no denying that the ultimate objectives of "loyalist" jihadi outfits are no different from those of the "rogue" jihadis; only their immediate objective and enemy are not the same. Given the firepower at their command, and their long-term objective of imposing a Wahabi/Salafi version of Islam on Pakistan, a clash between the loyalist jihadis and the Pakistani state is simply a matter of time and quite inevitable. After all, the Taliban, too, were loyalists, even clients, of the Pakistani state not too long ago. None of the "rogue" jihadis ever indulged in terrorism inside Pakistan so long as they were allowed to function unhindered. But the moment obstacles were placed in their path they turned their guns on the Pakistani state. What is there to ensure that organisations like the LeT will not do something similar in the future?


A large part of the problem is that Pakistan's security, political and intellectual circles think that so long as the jihadis do not defy the state or create an insurgency-like situation inside Pakistan but continue to export their violence and virulence outside that country, they are not considered a danger; rather, they are lauded as "mujahids". In the process, the mindset that has emerged from nearly three decades of sustained brain-washing of society to make it more "Islamic" and exhorting the people to contribute men and material for the so-called "Islamic causes" has been glossed over. This is a mindset that has been actively encouraged and assiduously cultivated by the Pakistani state. And while it is easy to blame it all on the proliferating madarsas, one just needs to read the stuff that is taught in the state-run schools to understand the demonical mindset that is being imbued in Pakistani children.


The result is that the innate pragmatism that characterised the Punjabi has given way to an Islamised mind, which, coupled with a false sense of machismo, has created a society that brooks no compromise, tolerance or accommodation of another man's worldview. The Pakistani Punjabi mind has become so radicalised that many people in Pakistan don't even realise how extreme they appear to the outside world, both in their actions as well as their words.


If the Pakistanis really want to rediscover their traditional moderation and syncretism, then they have no choice but to confront and defeat militarily, philosophically and ideologically the jihadis in their midst. The more the Pakistani state delays action against jihadi infrastructure in Punjab and Sindh, the more difficult it will become to dismantle the nurseries of terror.








There was an endearing photo-portrait of two white geese emerging out of Sukhna Lake onto terra firma in The Tribune on September 10, very aptly captioned "Sukhna Joy". Well, almost everyone had known of the presence of about a dozen geese in the lake but only a few know how one sultry and hot evening in July 2002 another 28 adult assorted geese were added to the flock at the Sukhna.


The story begins with the visit of a well-meaning gentleman to the lakeside gardens at Geneva, in Switzerland. He was charmed by the sight of geese flocks against the back drop of rose-beds and the lake. So back in Chandigarh, he set about purchasing and plundering birds from village ponds in the vicinity of Chandigarh. When his home could accommodate no more, the geese and their pen were arbitrarily installed under a shady spot at Rose Garden.


With such rapid changes in the living-environment, the flock appeared bewildered when I first chanced upon them. We were angry that these innocent birds had been exposed to crowds, by the whims of a man who had not fully understood the emotions of geese. There was the added danger that such domesticated pets invariably lose their flying skills and fall easy prey to stray dogs and cats.


So, our first concern was to ensure their physical well-being and ultimately translocate them to a suitable water-body at the earliest. With persuasive effort and promises of adequate reward, the first objective was fully achieved. But an unforeseen, associated problem required some smart manoeuvring. The geese were quick to spot the large pool around the water-jet-fountain. It was a pretty sight to see them run on their webbed feet with waddling gait till they plunged into the shallow pool. And only then were they truly happy and in their elements.


The initial excitement over, we were now seized of the fact that these geese will not be able to clamber up the vertical walls of the cemented pool. So the water level will have to be maintained never lower than six inches from the brim. We succeed in ensuring that and in the process also learnt a vital lesson, which was to keep all bureaucrats out of our activity at all cost!


Having weighed all options for a permanent home for the geese, we chose to shift them for the last time to the Sukhna. The final act will have to be accomplished with the speed and "daring" of a commando raid and sans bureaucratic involvement, as one of them had threatened to impound them with the SPCA!


The rear seat of a Maruti van was removed. The two of us and three domestic staff lured all the geese inside their pen first and allowed them time to feed and to regain composure. Soon after dusk, the birds were caught in twos and threes and loaded inside the van. Despite the cacophony and the struggle put up by the birds, in about 45 minutes all geese and two maids were safely "stuffed" inside the van. In a situation of this nature, birds have fortunately the good sense to becalm themselves, probably concentrating on what may happen next.


On reaching the lake site we drove the van to the arched gate and pretending not to have noticed the policemen on duty, the van was reversed onto the pavement and up to the steps leading down to the lake water. As I lifted the rear door, and before the maids or we could move out of the way, the 28 geese leapt over and in a flash slithered into the bosom of the Sukhna! The crowd gathered and silently stared at our dishevelled hair and crumpled clothes amply splattered with the watery geese-goo.


Today, those geese have multiplied to over 50 and are a joy forever. But the gentleman who had conceived the idea by the shores of the Geneva lake is no more. Swaroop Krishan Sharma died on Friday last.









It is quite pleasant to learn that India's Wholesale Price Index (WPI) rose marginally (1.51 per cent) during last 12 months, indicating a very low level of inflation. However, despite the low level of WPI-based inflation figures, food prices have remained inordinately high. This is because the WPI-based inflation number is not the right indicator of food commodities' prices due to the lower weightage of the food commodities on the WPI index.


Therefore, to see the rate of inflation in case of food commodities, it is essential to look at the food articles index which represents food items like cereals, pulses, vegetables, milk etc. During the last few months, the surge in this (food articles) index has been reported to be phenomenal.


The rise has been particularly significant in case of potatoes (127.6 per cent), vegetables (54.5 per cent), onions (50 per cent), sugar (41 per cent) and pulses (21.2 per cent). Moreover, meat, eggs and poultry index also rose by 25 per cent. Thus, the prices of primary food articles have been unrelentingly high lately. Consequently, the poor, who spend a higher proportion of their income on food, have been hit hard.


While releasing the Economic Outlook (2009-10), Dr C. Rangarajan, Chairman, Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, said an unambiguously spelt-out strategy and a clear time frame for returning to more normal monetary and fiscal times will curb inflationary pressures.


Similarly, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM) has urged the Reserve Bank of India to enforce Selective Credit Control Measures (SCCM) to restrict hoarding, and tame food inflation besides ensuring adequate supplies of essential commodities. In addition, it has also been suggested that interest rates to traders be increased to discourage speculative hoarding and thereby alleviate the pressures on prices.


Should the RBI start raising rates in response to the food price inflation as is being suggested by different experts and institutions? To answer this question, it is essential to examine the nature and drivers of inflation. If inflationary pressures are due to and accompanied by rising demand, then the RBI has no better alternative to a rate hike.


Three main factors are responsible to drive up the inflation rate in the short to medium terms. First, the rise in food articles' prices is basically due to the weaker and delayed monsoon this year. Though the consolidated monsoon picture has been satisfactory, the delayed monsoon has impacted the agricultural yield, and hence there have been a lower crop yield this year.


The skewed demand-supply equation has kept the prices firm in the short to medium terms. Weakest monsoon rains in the last seven years and floods in parts of the country have hurt farm output and pushed up the food prices.


Secondly, floods that have ravaged parts of southern and western India, particularly Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Goa have adversely affected the grain production in the country. In Andhra Pradesh alone, some two lakh hectares of paddy fields have been submerged in water. In northern Karnataka, 1.5 lakh hectares of farmland is lying immersed. This also restricted the supply of essential commodities such as rice, pulses, jowar, bajra and certain categories of vegetables.

From demand side, the stimulus packages and the flow of funds from foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have resulted in injecting liquidity in the economy. This high liquidity, coupled with a soft interest rate, is resulting in higher demand. Hence, the prices of goods and services in some pockets have gone up considerably.


The festival demand has also contributed to the rising prices. Initiatives such as the one guaranteeing employment also improved demand for food items at the subsistence level of the population. This may worsen the demand-supply imbalance in case of a shortfall in supply. Thus, the key pressure point on inflation continues to be the supply shock from food articles.


It is well established in economic theory that if the food prices have hiked due to the shortage in supply, the monetary policy's effectiveness in curbing inflation would be curtailed further. Monetary tightening at this juncture would have little impact on inflation, and can actually impair the ongoing economic recovery. The trade-off between growth and inflation will become more pronounced as we go ahead.


The RBI's recent mid-term credit policy meeting saw the central bank keeping the reverse repo rate and the repo rate unchanged, at 3.25 per cent and 4.75 per cent respectively. The statutory liquidity ratio has been increased from 24 per cent to 25 per cent.


However, to keep the price level on keel, the Centre has resorted to various administrative and other measures which include reducing import duty to zero, pumping in cheaper commodities on the Public Distribution System (PDS) for needier consumers, imposing export restrictions etc. Despite all these measures, the rise in prices for key commodities has failed to abate. Therefore, there is very little that the government can do to curtail the suffering of the Aam Admi at this juncture.


One solution to this problem lies in understanding that the issue of food inflation is not one of one-time poor monsoon or food price rise in a given year in a particular country, but of an emerging food shortage in the whole world. Moreover, this is not the first time the world is facing food crisis. Even after World War II, we were confronting this problem.


At that time, science and public policy, with the help of Dr Norman Borlaug, stepped in to modernise the traditional practice of agriculture. Today too, there is a need to boost farm production through higher investment across the world in general and developing countries like India in particular.


In addition, we need to check the extravagance of food consumption and wastage. In the US alone, about 50 per cent of all food produced is thrown away. The UK and Japan squander 20 million tonnes and $100 billion of food each year.


Developed and developing countries like India waste a vast amount of food every year. If this is checked, the world can perhaps manage with current levels of production and, possibly, feed all of its poor everywhere and, that too, without inflation. n


The writer is Senior Fellow, Department of Economics, Punjabi University, Patiala








For a country with an area of 3.29 million square km, rail network is only 63,327 km. On Aug 15, 1947, India had a total route kilometreage of 54693.


Since the figure of 63,327 km refers to March 31, 2007, during the 60 years of Independence, India has been able to add only 8,634 km of new lines to the rail network in as many years. This comes to a little less than 145 km a year in this not so short history of Independence.


During this period, Indian Railways did have some remarkable achievements to its credit, the greatest being the establishment of an east-west rail corridor between West Bengal and Assam across the north-Bengal virtual wastelands, avoiding the East Pakistan territory.


This line was known as the Assam Link railway of about 146 km of metre gauge track, built by the redoubtable civil engineer, Karnail Singh, within less than the two-year time frame given to him by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Union Home Minister Sardar Patel between January 27,1948 and January 26,1950.


Karnail Singh had completed the line by November 1949 in spite of the task of rebuilding the formidable Teesta bridge which had collapsed after construction in June 1949.This line had provided rail connectivity between mainland India and the left over portion of Assam and the north-east as a result of the Partition.


We had a number of railway ministers during this period with extraordinary merit. One of them, Sir N. Gopalawami Iyyengar, had done a Sardar Patel with the Railways, by integrating 46 separate railway entities into just six zones by the end of 1952. With time, this rose to 16. However,none can deny the role this remarkable civil servant-turned-Minister had played in the railways' development.


Then we had the redoubtable Jagjivan Ram. One can make the flippant remark that the number of rail accidents during his time was rather high, but this science graduate from Calcutta's Presidency College before Independence had done a signal service for the railway electrification programme. He accepted the French National Railway's proposal to adopt the newly-developed 25,000 volts alternating current (25 KV,AC) system, only the second country after the then Soviet Union, to accept this technology, proven effective by running an electric locomotive from Dangoaposi to Rajkharswan on the then South Eastern Railway by the end of 1957.
The hero of technology upgradation in railway locomotives, Mr C.K Jaffer Sharief had boldly accepted the ABB (now Bombardier after a couple of incarnations) to introduce AC three-phase electric locomotives for the railways. The powerful WAP-7 electric locomotives which haul the Rajdhanis and the Shatabdis these days, is an AC three-phase loco which is a state-or-the-art machine.


Then, we had Madhavrao Scindia, who had boldly accepted the proposal to computerise the passenger reservation system. However, there was no Minister yet who would go all out to expand the system but for George Fernandes who used to tell railway correspondents that he would like to restore the British practice of building about a thousand kilometres of new lines every year. But then, his government led by V.P. Singh had collapsed within one year.


During the P.V. Narasimha Rao government, Mr Jaffer Sharief, had


bridged this wide chasm not by building new lines as such but by converting under the Project Unigauge campaign, thousands of kilometers of metre (1000 mm) and narrow gauge (720 and 620 mm) lines to broad gauge (1676 mm) which had benefited the southern Peninsula very well.


Probably the only major metre gauge section still to be fully converted is the Ajmer-Secunderabad Meenakshi Express route, some portions of which are already converted.


What is now required is to take up massive doubling of single-line broad gauge lines and electrifying such huge "missing links" like Allahabad-Jabalpur-Itarsi routes. If the Government of India had decided that the minutes of the meetings of the Railway Convention Committees and the Standing Committees on Railways to throw open to the media, we would have been able to hear the anguish with which Railway officials plead for finances to complete these schemes and opening new lines for enhancing line capacity.


It is a hopeful sign that some progress has been made in obtaining external assistance for building the eastern and the western dedicated freight corridors. But their completion may be a good decade away.


Meanwhile, the Planning Commission and the Railway Board should reconsider the recommendation made in the Status Paper on Indian Railways (May 27,1998) during Nitish Kumar's dispensation: "Should fixation of tariffs for freight and passenger business be done by a Permanent Tariff Revision Machinery?" The answer should be yes because Indian Railways is now a highly technology-oriented system.








The very roots of Christianity, Islam and Judaism are here. Now, in Jordan, the Middle East's most relaxed destination, fresh life is being breathed into at least one chapter of that vast oeuvre. The Al Ayoun Trail, at a little more than seven miles in length, is just one short section of a route called the Abraham Path, which stretches 1,200 km (745 miles) from south-east Turkey to Israel.


I began this part of the trail at Orjan's Soap House, an initiative opened in 2006 by Jordan's Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Here, local women have established a small co-operative, making organic soaps perfumed with herbs including lavender, pomegranate and mint. Over cups of verbena-infused tea, I poked around the small shop, tempted by dried herbs, bath gels, and even olive-stone worry beads.


The trail continued into nearby Wadi Orjan, passing walls with extensive irrigation channels, aqueducts and traces of mills n all Ottoman-era remains. We climbed to Baoun village, and made for a local home for lunch. Sitting cross-legged in its spacious salon with Ibrahim, the men of the house and some of their friends, we tucked into a dozen dishes spread on a mat, a special feast laid on for us. Bridle paths wind into the hills beyond Baoun towards Tel Mar Elyas, or Saint Elijah's Hill. This is possibly the birthplace of Elijah, and the foundations of a 7th-century church dedicated to him still have fragments of the original mosaic flooring.


The main motivator of Jordan's developing eco-tourism is the RSCN and its Wild Jordan offshoot, and I spent my first night at the society's tented camp on a hilltop in the Ajloun Forest Reserve. At 13 sq km, this is a small reserve yet it is still rather beautiful, with commanding views across the undulating highlands. Carob, evergreen oak, and pistachio trees predominate, though I also noticed a few wild strawberry trees with peeling rust-red papery bark and small red berries used locally as a remedy for upset stomachs. By sunset, my stomach was in need of sustenance. I ate heartily on the roof terrace overlooking the forest, with views stretching to the Jordan Valley and the West Bank's twinkling lights. The heat of the day was tempered by an evening chill.


The sounds of village life wafted up from the valleys – exuberant music, heady merriment and then, rather later and more theatrically, what sounded like gunfire. "It was gunfire," confirmed Ibrahim next morning. I was visiting during wedding season, and although the traditional volleys (no shotgun weddings here) have been outlawed after several gruesome accidents, the habit has not been totally eliminated in the highlands.


In contrast to Ajloun, Dana Biosphere Reserve, at the southern end of the Dead Sea, is Jordan's largest reserve at 320sq km. Centred on the celebrated and part- restored village of Dana, this is the site of the RSCN's first major eco-tourist initiative and its guesthouse is now firmly on the tourist trail even if it's just a pause for lunch.


Again, I'd come for the walking, and at Dana you're almost spoilt for choice. The Dana Village Trail initially skirts village terraces by shady irrigation channels. We met a father who promptly ordered his chubby young son to sing for us, while his shy, giggling daughters looked on, cooling their feet in the gurgling water. The path contoured around the edge of Wadi Dana through increasingly rugged terrain, across bald domes of sandstone, between boulders and ravines, and wriggled across the foot of limestone cliffs that loomed overhead.n


By arrangement with The Independent 








The ongoing strike by junior doctors of the Assam Medical College Hospital (AMCH) demanding a hike in their stipends and upgradation of the institution's infrastructure has affected its functioning, with patients being the hardest-hit. Given the role of the AMCH in catering to the needs of a large section of the people, any activity that impedes its routine works has to be avoided. The grievances of the junior doctors could well be legitimate but paralyzing the hospital's functioning over a prolonged period is in nobody's interest and will get little public support. Protests and strikes that hamper the discharge of essential services such as health cannot be welcome, and even the Supreme Court had in the past issued several directives in this regard. The State Government, while warning the doctors on their agitation, has also asked them to settle their grievances through negotiations. Rather than being adamant, the doctors would do well to sit for a talk with the authorities over their problems. The Government, on its part, must accord top priority to resolving all issues that act as irritants in smooth functioning of the hospital. It is a matter of regret that an institution like the AMCH -- among the oldest medical institutes of Asia -- should continue to languish for want of some basic necessities. The Government should remember that an ill-equipped hospital as much an impediment to health care services as are strikes. If it is indeed serious about revamping the health sector, the constraints plaguing a premier institute like the AMCH must be removed at the earliest.

Notwithstanding the fact that the Government has made a number of interventions to put the ailing health sector back on the rails, some pressing concerns still remain. A vibrant public health care system is a critical test of governance. With escalating costs, health care is increasingly getting out of bounds for the common man, and hence the urgent need to expand public health care to the desired levels. Along with providing manpower and infrastructure to the health centres in rural and interior areas, equipping the three medical college hospitals with the latest innovations on the health care front is a dire need. The district hospitals should also be provided with all advanced facilities for lessening the rush on the three major hospitals. Constraints relating to infrastructure and manpower apart, the absence of a healthy work culture also plagues our public health care sector. And more than the Government, the onus for this lies on the doctors, officials and other staff entrusted with running the medical services.







The vandalism unleashed by Shiv Sainiks in a Marathi news channel office in Maharashtra, for allegedly taking a stand against Sena supremo Bal Thackeray of late, is an act of political violence in a most blatant form. Self-admittedly, the act had the full backing of the party, and therefore, is not just a case of a few rowdy elements taking law into their hands. Some of the Sainiks who barged into the IBN office have been arrested, but arrests are hardly enough if the Maharashtra government wishes to remove, once and for all, the reign of fear on which parties like Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) want to thrive politically by fanning chauvinistic and religious feelings. Those purportedly behind the attack – the leaders – should also be pulled up and brought to the court of law. It is clear that Shiv Sena is smarting under its debacle in the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls and the frustration is showing in many ways – be it in the form of a diatribe against Tendulkar for putting his country above his State, or the hooliganism in question witnessed in the media office. The rise of MNS as a key player in Maharashtra is also a matter of concern, as they have inherited the Sena legacy of using violence as a means to thrust views upon others and highlight grievances. It's time such parties were reined in and the usual tendency to accept such political violence as the order of the day was put to an end.

It's high time the 'Sena' parties also come to terms with the fact that the destructive mode of their politics, besides yielding only short-term electoral gains, is woefully out of sync with the modern, broad-based character of the society, particularly in cosmopolitan cities. It would be in their interest, therefore, if they alter their image to a broadly acceptable and constructive variety. Only that will enable them to steal a march over their rivals in the electoral field, not the kind of parochialism Sena showed while criticizing Tendulkar and MNS showed while assaulting North Indians and slapping Abu Azmi in the Assembly for taking oath in the national language instead of the regional one. Coming back to the attack on media, it is quite obvious that certain sections of it often go overboard while reporting on controversial issues, at times even betraying a partisan attitude. This is not to justify what the Sainiks did the other day – the act and its backers must be condemned in strongest terms – but media too needs a little bit of introspection and must not always hide its follies behind the lofty phrase called freedom of expression.








The cataclysmic 'Mumbai Mayhem' of 26/11, which was nothing short of an apocalypse, still haunts public memory even after a year of that national catastrophe. On a usual bustling Wednesday evening of November 26, 2008, a hare-brained coterie of ten psychotically-indoctrinated Pakistani nationals belonging to the proscribed Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), literally 'Army of the Good'; one of the largest and most active Islamist terrorist organizations in South Asia, executed the most deadliest urban terror attacks on Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment conurbation.

With a series of synchronized and strategically planned attacks, the devastation was enormous at least 173 killed (civilians and security personnel) and 308 more injured. Among the dead were 28 foreign nationals from 10 countries. Out of the ten terrorists, Ajmal Amir Kasab, the solitary surviving Lashkar-e-Taiba gunman was caught alive at the Girgaum Chowpatty Naka, trying to escape in a stolen Skoda. His nine other accomplices, who colluded to form the 'coterie of bedlam', were all killed in the ensuing encounter over the next three days with the security forces led by the elite National Security Guards (NSG) commandos or 'Black Cats' and Indian Navy's Marine Commandoes (MARCOS). Ajmal Kasab's entrapment by the brave men of Mumbai Police was indeed a prized catch; his subsequent confessions to the Mumbai police were worth its weight in gold.

Although there are an assortment of similar such instances of terror attacks on India's socio-political fabric in recent history, including the deadly Mumbai (then Bombay) bombings of March 12, 1993, Parliament attack of December 13, 2001, Akshardham Temple siege of September 25, 2002, Mumbai serial train bombings of July 11, 2006, just to name a random few, but what really bracketed these attacks as profusely diabolical from other similar such attacks, (with an enormous variance in sheer scale and magnitude) was in its sudden, simultaneous-plurality and spiraling-multiplicity; its was an ordeal that shook the entire Nation; the bustling conurbation of Mumbai, a city that never sleeps, was, for a change, reverberating with a eerie smattering of claustrophobia.

Coming back to the brazen Mumbai terror attack of 26/11, this bustling conurbation and financial hub of the nation came to a virtual standstill for 62 long and onerous hours, spread over a period of three blood-spattered days, (right from that fateful Wednesday night of November 26 till the wee hours of the morning of November 29), when a coterie of ten armed men, allegedly belonging to the banned Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) of Pakistan, unleashed a deadly reign of mayhem and madness at Mumbai's Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), Cafe Leopold, Nariman House, (a Chabad Lubavitch Jewish centre in Colaba), Cama Hospital, Oberoi-Trident and the iconic 106-year old heritage building of the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower.

The nightmarish Mumbai siege was officially declared over at 8.50 in the morning of November 29 by JK Dutt, the then Director General (DG) of the NSG, but forlornly, India's perennial tryst with terror still continues; courtesy, Pakistan's omnipresent misdemeanours of harbouring, nurturing and sponsoring terror and its consequential corollary cancerous ramifications that have hitherto assumed gargantuan proportions. Pakistan has done it again; this time though, with a blatant and brazen bang. No prizes for guessing what that exclusive stupendous act might actually be; the fact of the matter is that Pakistan has again slyly slipped into its usual flip-flop mode, just like "the shrewd conjurer, who still had some tricks up-his-sleeve". But what this shrewd conjurer, (read Pakistan), doesn't bother an iota to fathom, is the fact that it is being slowly sucked into a glutinous quagmire, and is grossly oblivious of the fatal fact that another political doomsday might just be round the corner. This apart, Pakistan's cretaceous political fabric with a panoply of grave domestic problems, has on the one hand, always smacked of democratic aridity, and on the other, proved to be democracy's deadliest political abattoir.

Pakistan, with egg on its face, is now besmirched in a global quandary of sorts; the arch lights are on Pakistan, sadly, for all the wrong reasons and with turbulent times ahead, it seems to be tentatively poised on tenterhooks and may even gravitate towards a state of complete anarchy, given Taliban's recurrently co-ordinated suicide attacks on the main cities of Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar. This apart, the Taliban has transformed itself into a Frankenstein-like monster, which has now come to haunt Pakistan; it seems that Pakistan have dug a deep hole for themselves; Pakistan has had the disconcerting knack of lighting bushfires in their own backyard, but seems to have burnt their own fingers with its inability to douse (control) them (read Taliban); after all, a spark neglected burns the house; Pakistan must realize the great harm done to South Asia, especially by their home-breed terrorists. This apart, Pakistan is now resorting to diversionary tactics to circumvent the real issue by accusing India of fomenting terror in Baluchistan. But given Pakistan's remissness of the past to pass on the buck to others, it's unlikely that the global community would ever buy this absurd allegation.

Pakistan, as of now, is merely resorting to cosmetic overtures and diplomatic claptrap; an ominous reminder of their perennially declining and abysmally low diplomatic maturity. Marred by persistent adjournments and postponements, these dossiers have been reduced to something like mere national 'hate-letters', (not love-letters!). Now the moot question that arises is: Will India and Pakistan be now reduced to just mere exchange of pedantic dossiers? Have we forgotten our heroes so soon? ATS Chief Hemant Kamlakar Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Mumbai Police (DIG) Ashok Marutrao Kamte, Inspector Vijay Shahadev Salaskar, Assistant Sub-Inspector Tukaram Gopal Ombale, Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, NSG Commando Havildar Gajender Singh just to name a random few. These brave heroes, who had "sacrificed their today for our tomorrow", had sadly died a second death. How lacerating could insensitive obsequious diplomacy be, when reduced to mere meaningless occasions for hollow eloquence?

Looking from a Third Eye prism, it could be safely assumed without any discernable smidgen of doubt that these ten (LeT) terrorists have not come from Antarctica or Greenland or even for that matter, descended from Mars or Jupiter. Pakistan, as is clearly evident from the taciturnly reticent echoes resonating out of Islamabad, seems to be hell bent on an ambivalent approach, not to adhere to the rudimentary tenets of global diplomacy; Pakistan needs global admonishing for their arbitrary and flagrant refusal to satisfactorily answer India's umpteen dossiers (which now, it seems, one has lost count of); it's rigidity not to shift its rhetoric, zip up its 'diplomatic-mouth' and ironically, hasten its deniability vis-à-vis 26/11 instead of hastening 26/11 probe has only jettisoned the very notion of peace; perhaps the only causality amongst all these capers is global peace, especially in the restive swathes of South Asia.

These two nations' history is already replete with myriad instances of chequered relations, ever since they were reluctantly bifurcated on religious lines, some 62 years ago. The relations between India and Pakistan had nose-dived in the wake of the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, and are tantalizingly poised, given the present muddled scenario, post 26/11. This apart, the age-old rusty relations are in dire need of some passionate polishing and fine tuning; any positive response to the Indian dossiers on the Mumbai attacks will be the first such step in this regard. There needs to be some forward movement; even half a step would be a refreshingly welcome step from Pakistan. It must prove emphatically that it is certainly not indulging in any sort of political hogwash whatsoever vis-à-vis the investigations into the Mumbai attack. The ball is now firmly in Pakistan's court to ensure that these chequered and rusty relations don't hit the deep freeze mode forever. The sooner they act the better; if however, they do want to act, after all! 








The outcome of the World Climate Summit in Copenhagen in December 2009 gathers clouds of confusion before it starts. The 27 European Union countries are worried about the re'Versal cost of the climate change as the European Commission estimates the expenditure between 22 and 50 Billion euros per year. The United States, which contributes a quarter of the world's greenhouse gas emissions wants to begin cut from 2030 only.

There is angry protests from developing nations over the compliance of emission norms as the developing nations blames developed nations for imposing on them spurious development concept which had destroyed their livelihood along with their natural capital and now they have no option but to cling to manufacturing sector for survival. The UNDP Asia Pacific Human Development Report 2006 finds Asia Pacific region operates as the factory of the world both for cheap, labor intensive manufacturers as well as hi-tech goods.

A recent scientific study found an Asian Brown'Haze, a three km thick cloud of acids, aerosols and other harmful elements across South Asia, which damages agriculture, obstructs sunlight, desertifies land and changes rainfall patterns. This development in the sky is the result of the emission from motor vehicles, industries and power stations etc. Interestingly nobody wants to change course as they don't want to lose wealth and dominance. And in the process they lose their homes.

A study undertaken by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in April 2009 says the Arctic seas will completely disappear within the next'30 years. The United Nation's climate panel consisting of 2500 climate scientists,from 130 nations during Bali climate conference in 2007 predicted more heat -waves, rising seas and drought in the next few years. The UNDP's Human Development Report 2007 says a temperature rise from 3 to 4 degree 'Celsius would displace 340 million people through flooding and drought. Besides, the retreating glaciers would cut off drinking water from as many as 1.8 billion people. The intensity of natural calamities has already increased in the last decade. According to UNDP's Human Development Report 2007, the climate disasters between 2000 and 2004 affected 262 million people across the world. The global economy will face a more severe downturn than the current crisis if it fails to halt climate change, said Nicholas Stem, one of the leading environmental economists. The story of Mobydick is reloaded as leaders pursue wealth and power like Melville's Wahab chasing the white whale to bring destruction at the end. The global economic crisis attributes not only to the collapse of financial institutions but the collapse of natural sector economy which once provided livelihood to millions of people across the world. In 1913, farming, forestry and fishery accounted for 28 per cent of employment in US; 41,per cent in France, 60 per cent in Japan and 12 per cent in UK.

Now the dependence on natural sector in those countries has reduced to an average 7 per cent. This is the reason why natural sector is in a bad shape across world.

What the so called educated techno savvy people have not learnt in their life time the illiterate poor, tribal know it from their childhood. They know how to harness nature without disturbing its balance. They could become rich in a transparent supply chain. Kalahandi district of Orissa was once known for its precious stones called manikya, rich culture, glorious military history, rich bio-diversity, brave and hospitable aboriginal tribes. Today the indigenous Kondh, Dogra, Kutia and Jharania tribes are facing extinction. The'death and devastation which happens in Congo due to gold rush is happening here for buxites. The British company Vedanta has come with a host of developmentprogrammes to lure tribals and change their concept of development. There is no point in destroying the tribal home first and later ask them to live in make shift tents.

The tribals here worship their forest and their sacred Niyamgiri mountain as they protect one of the densest forests in the world. Kalahandi could have nurtured a booming tourism sector, the Switzerland of Orissa with careful planning. Except a perverted education which teaches people to hate their village home, the tribal get every thing from nature: pure food, medicines and nutrition. The reported poverty here is due to the smart educated babus who plundered development fund and exploited innocent tribal for generations. Writer Chief Minister Naveen Pattnaik who is known for his clean image must trace those people to their graveyard who have converted Kalahandi to a hungry district. From time to time educated dalals make bogus power point presentations to sell empty dreams to innocent tribal. Huge money spent to make the tribals skeptical about their culture and indigenous skill. Kalahandi has a well knit natural sector economy based on tourism, forestry, agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing and craft making. More than 87 per cent people in Kalahandi grow exotic variety of paddy, maize, millets, jower, jute, vegetables, chilli, wheat, oil seed, potato, tobacco, onion, coriander, garlic and pulses. The miners' promise to provide jobs to tribal is ridiculous as millions of educated techno savvy people have lost their jobs during economic down turn. The IMF Report published in October 2009 said the unemployment in USA will peak at 10.3 per cent in 1010. Kalahandi can be food sufficient again if its natural sector is restored and if its forest is restored.

"As more jobs are lost due to the current economic down turn, sustainable forest management could become a means for creating millions of green jobs, thus helping to reduce poverty and improve the environment, said Jan Heino, Assistant Director General of FAO's Forestry Department. For example the export of natural honey products from India has increased from Rs 60.92 crores in 2006-07 to Rs 93.30 crores in 2007-08. Like honey there are hundreds of forest products available in Kalahandi forest which can get value addition. A tusk found in forest may cost Rupees one lakh. Once it is engraved with fine carvifigs with artisan skill its cost is inestimable in the international-craft bazaars.








The widows of police officials killed on 26/11 met AICC president Sonia Gandhi on Monday and asked that the surviving terrorist Ajmal Kasab be hanged. This is inappropriate, at a time when a Mumbai court is hearing the case.

While one can empathise with the grief felt by the families of those killed, the likes of Kavita Karkare (wife of the slain Anti-Terrorist Squad chief Hemant Karkare) and Smita Salaskar (wife of Vijay Salaskar) would realise that their husbands gave their lives for a system that believes that the due process of law will punish all those who break the law.

Justice should not only be done but seen to be done, and any involvement by any political leader only casts a shadow on the process.

TV news channel headlines such as 26/11 cops' widows want Kasab hanged immediately and Sonia promises assistance only tend to give the wrong impression that the Indian judiciary is not really independent and that it is the leader of the ruling party/coalition who decides who is guilty and who should be executed! Let not passion deny courts their legitimate role.

Such headlines tend to overshadow the fact that Kavita Karkare and Smita Salaskar did ask for better-quality bullet-proof jackets to be procured for those policemen who come in the line of fire while engaging armed terrorists or gangsters.

It is a matter of shame that the bullet-proof jacket Hemant Karkare was wearing on the night of 26/11 was riddled with bullets and that the jacket itself has disappeared, as has the official file pertaining to the procurement of these jackets. The widows of the slain cops would be fully justified in making a demand for better-quality bullet-proof jackets not only from Sonia Gandhi but also from the Union home minister and his counterpart in Maharashtra.








The entry of new players in the already-competitive telecom market is making everyone shed tears: consumers, of joy, and service providers, of pain. But, as they say, there is opportunity in adversity.

This is the time for telecom innovation, for service providers to change the ratio of voice to non-voice revenues from the present 85%:15% to its inverse. This calls for a range of value-added services that go beyond ringtones and entertainment.

Developing them calls for collaboration between innovators of revenue streams and innovators of technology. Size is not a pre-requisite for innovation of either kind. In other words, the present state of play in the telecom market opens new avenues for large-scale innovation by established companies and start-ups.

What the government can do at this juncture of pain for the telecom companies is to withhold its proposal to jack up spectrum charges, and clean up the political/administrative framework that earns India very low rankings in any international comparison of the ease of doing business.

Companies struggle to be founded and to operate within the present system of corruption, apathy, delay and general lack of organisation.

Local call rates for mobile phone users have plunged from Rs 16 per minute in 1995 to as low as 30 paise a minute (on some payment plans) and one paisa per second. Charges for long distance and roaming calls too have plummeted. If not competition, regulator TRAI will ensure that operators bring down the rates for short messaging service (SMS) as well.

But what's proved to be a windfall for subscribers is turning out to be a disaster for the operators. Extending the subscriber base to low-income groups adds to social welfare, but depresses average revenue for telcos and brings in spectrum shortage to boot. Established operators are, however, in a state of denial. They hope consolidation will put an end to unsustainably low tariffs.

However, that ignores another alternative. For instance, Sprint, in the US, recently has started offering free voice with data plans under its Any Mobile, Anytime package. Besides, with number portability set to be allowed from January 1, competition in mobile services market would only continue to be fierce. Innovation cannot be kept in abeyance.






This month marks 25 years of scrapping a hydel project in Kerala's Silent Valley, which would have submerged 240 sq km of evergreen forests to generate 120 mw of power, and killed off some unique species of fauna and flora.

This silver jubilee resonates with renewed meaning today, when India's environment is under attack as never before, as unregulated greed mows down verdure, gouges
mother earth in forbidden places, uproots livelihoods and pours poison into the air we breathe and the water we drink.

While the Silent Valley hydel project had originally been proposed in the late 1950s, initial work on the ground, felling trees, began in the early 1970s. So did widespread popular opposition to it. Roughly over this period, in the hilly reaches of Uttar Pradesh, another movement was on to protect forests from the timber mafia, in which people hugged trees to ward off the swinging axe.

What made the movement to save Silent Valley different was the intense involvement of people across the state in a sustained campaign that brought in science and techno-economic arguments, besides the emotional affinity of man with nature, to counter the contractor-bureaucrat-politician lobby.

A strong trade union movement with deep access to the political establishment supported the project, dismissing environmental concerns as romantic regress. A popular science movement, the Kerala Sastra Sahitya Parishad, led by nuclear physicist-turned-activist M P Parameswaran, mobilised students and faculty in college campuses around the state, poets and writers seared the state's conscience, scientists in the state mobilised scientists at the Centre and the project finally got scrapped.

Kerala's power deficit would not have altered materially by adding a mere 120 mw of power. That helped. More significant was the fact that Silent Valley represented some of the most pristine evergreen forests of the world, which mankind needed to protect, to prevent loss of some animals, insects and plants that are not to be found anywhere else.

Silent Valley could survive the rapacity of the contractor-politician nexus because the people of Kerala mobilised themselves to intervene. Today, environmental regulation is more enlightened, but would prove toothless in the absence of similar popular vigilance across India.








While the US needs Pakistan to target the Taliban and China to protect the dollar and sustain recovery in the short term,it sees India as a long-term ally against Islamic terror and an ambitious China, says Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar

After reading the McChrystal Report on the Afghanistan issue and watching President Obama's visit to China, dismayed observers complain that the US views Pakistan and China as more important partners than India.

The truth is more complex. There is certainly a strong urgency to US relations with Pakistan and China right now. By contrast, ties with India are important, but not urgent. This raises short-term worries, yet bodes well for the future.

US casualties in Afghanistan are rising, and the Taliban looks stronger than ever. The US urgently needs Pakistani help in Afghanistan. It is getting a mixture of help and sabotage.

Pakistan is cracking down on the Pakistani Taliban, and this diminishes the urgent threat from the Afghan Taliban too. However, the US knows that Pakistan would like to have the Taliban back in Afghanistan eventually, which is why it gives the Afghan Taliban leadership protection to stay in Quetta.

The US lives with this manifest duplicity since it urgently needs at least partial cooperation from Pakistan. Yet, Pakistan's unreliability as a long-term ally is well understood in Washington. The latest Pew Global Attitudes report shows that only 22% of Pakistanis think the US takes their interests into account when making foreign policy decisions, essentially unchanged from 21% since 2007.

Fully 64% of the Pakistani public regards the US as an enemy, while only 9% views it as a partner. So, while the US-Pakistan partnership has an urgent short-term basis, its longer-term prospects are poor, and both sides know it.

A recent report of General McChrystal, US military commander in Afghanistan, has one section that has raised concerns in India. This states that "increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani counter-measures".

The statement is obviously true: after all, Pakistan created the Afghan Taliban to reduce Indian influence and increase its own in that country. Indian observers worry that the US will placate Pakistan by trying to reduce India's role in Afghanistan.


However, whatever McChrystal may say, there is really no chance of the US forcing India to quit its Afghan presence. The US cannot stay in Afghanistan forever, and when it leaves, India will be a more reliable anti-terror partner than Pakistan can ever be.

The latest Pew report shows that 76% of Indians have a favourable image of the US, up from 66% in 2008. Indeed, fewer Israelis (71%) have a favourable view of the US than Indians.

Commercial, educational and personal ties between India and the US are strong, and many Indians migrate to the US. Both Indians and Americans see Islamic terror as an existentialist threat. So, economic, social and security considerations provide a solid basis for long-term Indo-US partnership, even if it lacks the urgency of some other partnerships.

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek, has succinctly highlighted India's long-term value to the US. "South Asia is a tar-pit filled with failed and dysfunctional states, save for one long-established democracy of 1.2 billion people that is the second-fastest growing major economy in the world, a check on China's rising ambitions and a natural ally of the US. The prize is the relationship with India. The booby prize is governing Afghanistan."

As for China, Obama's recent visit suggested a change of attitude in China's favour. He did not condemn human rights violations in anything like the terms used by his predecessors.

Given that China is now the global locomotive of growth, helping pull the US economy out of recession, Obama was subdued in criticising China's mercantilist policies and refusal to revalue the yuan. China is now a major creditor of the US, and debtors cannot be too harsh on their creditors.

The Chinese managed to insert a phrase into the Obama-Hu statement saying the two would work for stability in the "south Asia region". Indian observers took this to mean that the US had officially blessed Chinese interference in Indo-Pak affairs, and expressed strong displeasure.

The US said the reference was to Af-Pak rather than Kashmir. Yet, it seems clear that China has scored over India on this occasion.

However, this sort of diplomatic point-scoring has little long-term relevance. China has long been an important ally of Pakistan, aiding its nuclear bomb and building the Karakoram highway and Gwadar port. So, protesting about Chinese 'interference' in south Asia is somewhat comic: it has long been a major player, not a mere interferer.

The positive recent development is that China also fears Islamic terrorism, and that complicates its traditional pro-Pakistani stance.

The US today rightly views engagement with China as urgent. China has been growing much faster than India for decades, and is streets ahead of India in every economic respect. It is a very important trade partner of the US, and the largest foreign holder of US gilts. Economic circumstances have thrown the two countries together to form what some call Chimerica.

Yet, China's rising economic strength is getting reflected in rising military strength and assertiveness, and this worries the US. China has potentially dangerous differences with long-standing US allies in east Asia, including Japan, Taiwan and South Korea.

Globalisation of China's economy has the positive effect of making military adventures more disruptive and costly economically. Yet, the greater economic strength globalisation gives China translates into military heft.
In this context, India has become important to the US as a potential regional counterweight to China.

Everybody hopes that China will limit its military ambitions, but nobody can be sure. And so, the US sees India as a long-term strategic partner with a common interest in containing Chinese expansionism. This is one reason why President Bush pushed so hard for the nuclear deal with India: he saw it underwriting a strategic partnership going well beyond mere nuclear supplies.

This underscores the main thesis of this column: that Indo-US ties have less urgency for the Obama administration than ties with Pakistan or China, but have more long-term importance. This carries some short-term disadvantages, but also major long-term advantages.








The celebrated humorist and film-maker Woody Allen wants to live backwards in his next life. Hold on right there, you might object. What's the guarantee of his being given another shot at life, that too as a dead white male? But once you suspend such quibbles, you "start out dead and get that out of the way," Allen explains.

"Then you wake up in an old people's home and feeling better every day, you are kicked out for being healthy. (Then) you go collect your pension and then when you start work, you get a gold watch and a party on your first day. You work for 40 years until you are young enough to enjoy your retirement," the comedian goes on in that vein to eventually end up at the moment of his own conception, as a big 'O', just as Tristram Shandy does at the beginning of Laurence Sterne's masterpiece.

Brad Pitt portrays a reversal similar to the one Allen proposes in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Based on a story by F Scott Fitzgerald, the movie depicts the travails of the protagonist who suffers from a scarce ageing disease.

Jokes apart, the unspooling of relationships entailed by such fictional reversals complicates the story infinitely. What's the point of reversing your arrow of time while everybody's is going forward? Imagine the pathos, not to forget the cruel incongruity of having a doddering old woman (played by Kate Blanchett) mooning over her former lover as an infant!

This is what happens in Thorne Smith's Glorious Pool when a 60-year-old man accidentally discovers a fountain of youth in his backyard swimming pool when the man, his wife and his mistress take a dip, only to shed 20 years of their life with hilarious results.

At the end, Smith says that like life, his stories had no point. Like life, they were a little mad and purposeless.
He goes on to describe himself as being "trifle cosmic unlike the great idealists and romancers who insist on a beginning, a middle and an ending for their stories", his stories possessed "none of these definite parts".
So, whether one goes from start to finish or backwards to start, one comes up against what the Bard describes as the "last scene of all, that ends this strange eventful history,/(which is) mere oblivion".


The moral is a sort of temporal palindrome described in the Bhagavad Gita: beings 'unmanifest' in the beginning and end; our only window of opportunity lies in the manifest middle (vyakta-madhyaani). Use it or lose it.








Sponsorship of domestic cricket may be tottering, but one of the world's most powerful brands – IPL -- with an estimated valuation of $1.6 billion – is on a high, led by Lalit Modi (the T20 league's chairman and commissioner, and VP of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI). Despite the so-called slowdown, the eight IPL franchisee teams forked out US $7.65 million for 17 new players earlier this year.

The BCCI managed to sell broadcast rights to Sony Entertainment and IPL global media rights holder World Sports Group (WSG) for $1.63 billion (Rs 8,200 crore) for nine years -- the biggest-ever deal in Indian sports history. Broadcaster ESPN Star Sports paid $975 million for exclusive global commercial rights for the T20 Champions League for a 10-year period – the highest cricket tournament by value on a per game basis. Modi spoke to ET about IPL's global prospects, valuation, and controversies. Excerpts.

IPL franchisees are planning an association. Your comment?

They are independent bodies and are free to do what they think is appropriate for themselves.

It is believed that IPL is worth $1.65 billon now, and is among the five most valuable sports properties. What's your vision for the IPL in terms of valuations?

If I remember accurately, Forbes recently called IPL the world's 'hottest sports league'. That accolade is far greater than any valuation. What IPL has achieved in monetary terms and valuations would be grave injustice to the league. I personally believe that player auctions, where free market forces decide the worth of individual players, could be summed up as historic.

Corporate India is convinced about the product and revenue model and has shown appetite and passion for cricket. IPL is the best thing to happen to grassroots domestic cricket. I mean where else could a domestic cricketer play with the best in the world, learn from the best coaches and have the best infrastructure to hone their skills?


That is the achievement of IPL and how can you put a value to that?

My vision is to grow IPL into a global brand -- we would be the first global brand that has emerged from India and set new trends. To some extent, the sudden move to South Africa helped facilitate the metamorphosis of IPL into a global brand faster than we had planned. The popularity of the league will only grow globally as the broadcast footprint increases. A case-in-point being the recent Champions League. Then there's the option of taking the IPL international through a possible second season in a calendar year.

There's speculation of an IPO being floated for IPL. Is it likely to happen in the next 1-2 years?

No, why would the IPL undertake an IPO? A few franchisees might undertake some methods of fund-raising to enhance their sporting franchise and those could range from selling stakes in their respective teams to IPOs. But as far as BCCI and IPL are concerned, we simply don't need funds. The IPL is a BCCI League and will continue to be one.

The recent Champions League generated very low TRPs and advertisers are unhappy they did not get their money's worth. Your comment?

We have always maintained that the Champions League format was new and will emerge as the ultimate platform for club and domestic cricketers. Having said that, I still believe the TRP's were not as bad as were made out to be. TAM's ratings report for the first five matches of the inaugural Champions League garnered strong viewership across all markets in India for the three IPL teams.

TRPs for matches involving even Trinidad & Tobago teams were inspiring, which showed that viewers liked good cricket being played regardless of who was playing. I'm certain as this tournament grows, it will become one of the premier events on the cricketing calendar.

By when do you expect valuations of Champions League to reach critical mass?

The Twenty20 format has struck a chord with people across the globe and new audiences are attracted each day to cricket even as I write this. Frankly, there was no better time than this year to unveil the new format of Champions League. It has taken the development of the game to its logical next step by extending an invitation to clubs and leagues.

I cannot recall a time when domestic cricketers the world over have had it much better. CLT20 presents an opportunity to expand the game into new markets which were previously thought impossible - USA, China and Europe. The possibilities with CLT20 are infinite -- we could expand the tournament to include more countries and teams.

What more could one ask for from a league of champions? Never before have domestic clubs and cricketers found a platform this empowering. Our marketing effort will vary for next season based on the lessons learnt this year while managing the inaugural edition.

Will Champions League be held in India next year?

Champions League is collaboration between three cricketing boards - Cricket Australia, South Africa and the BCCI. It is a rotating tournament and you will need to wait for a formal announcement from the governing council of the Champions League to find out where it will congregate next year.

Do you think the government's stand was a right one....considering IPL is a property that has put India on the world map?

I see no reason in raking up past issues. The success of IPL's season 2009 in South Africa is history. To some extent, the sudden move to South Africa helped facilitate the metamorphosis of the IPL into a global brand faster than we had planned. It made us sit up and take note of the additional revenue generation streams from international markets.

But most importantly, IPL in South Africa also added belief in the product as a definitive vehicle - one with universal appeal. I mean – which cricket fan the world over does not want to see Shane Warne bowl to Sachin Tendulkar? In essence, IPL is unique where the quality of cricket played by some of the best cricketers takes centrestage and that's what we discovered thanks to what was forced upon us. So ultimately it all worked out.








American Express, the global credit cards corporation, is bullish on its India plans. The company already counts the country as a major emerging market for growth. American Express Banking Corp CEO Rajesh Saxena in an interview with ET discusses the challenges ahead for the credit card industry and what the company envisages for India. Excerpts:

What is the credit card default rate in the industry? Is it declining with economic recovery?

Globally, defaults are a risk inherent in the cards industry, and in India too, it has been growing in the last few years. It is, therefore, imperative for card companies to have credit evaluation and risk management systems that will enable them to tackle this problem to some extent. The economic slowdown did increase the trend by 6-7% over the last year.

As the economy experiences an upswing, we see default rates subside. The slowdown has weeded out inactive cards and potential defaulters from within the system. As the economy gathers steam and credit bureaus become a part of the financial services landscape, we will see greater discipline creeping back into the system.

However, a definitive pattern would emerge over the next few months, with industry delinquencies bottoming out and a new growth phase from 2010-11.

What is the industry doing to drive credit card membership and reduce defaults?

The industry has brought in some rigour and discipline into the system, aided by the establishment of credit bureaus in the country. The industry is jointly ensuring that customers on the default list of a bank do not access services from another credit card company.

Credit card issuers jointly evaluate credit histories and profiles before issuing cards, practising greater diligence in choosing customers. We have changed our approach towards selling their products, moving away from the traditional model of unsolicited free cards to fee-based products. This has sanitised the system with inactive cards going out of circulation substantially.

For consumers, it is beneficial to preserve a clean credit profile and history, making it convenient for them to preclude hassles of obtaining other loans. The move also ensures responsible credit behaviour as customers become increasingly responsible about their spending habits.

The emergence of credit bureau information has truly benefited all players and categories in the banking industry. It has enabled banks to work closely with credit evaluation agencies to bring in the right profile of customers into the credit card membership base, thereby mitigating business risk.

The credit card business grows only when people spend more through their cards. Card usage is fairly limited in India. How are you trying to change that?

Companies in our domain realise this consumer behaviour in India, and are, therefore, attempting to make consumers increase the usage of credit cards. The focus has been to expand coverage and increase the points of sale for customers by including non-traditional segments such as hospitals and utilities.

At American Express, we have seen that while discretionary consumer spending has declined, everyday category spending continues to see robust growth. So, we expanded our coverage of partner merchants to include those in everyday categories such as Cafe Coffee Day, Guardian Pharmacy, PVR Cinemas and Hinduja Hospitals, to name a few. The larger plan is to stimulate consumer spending through cards, even on everyday utilities.

What is the industry's biggest challenge right now?

One of the biggest industry challenges is to harness the unique and immense opportunity that the huge Indian consumer base provides. Currently, credit cards account for only about 2% of expenses made by Indian consumers. As we mature as an economy, it will be imperative to introduce evolved payment instruments that will bring in greater transparency within the system and help increase customer convenience.

To aid transparency in transactions, there has to be increased stipulation to utilise sophisticated payment instruments for transactions beyond a certain value.

As the customers evolve and technology makes increasing inroads into our daily lives, we have to keep pace with modern-day technology to provide customers with easy access to payment solutions. It is also really important for us to increase consumer awareness about responsible use of credit cards and their unique benefits.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992 changed India's mindset and politics in many ways. It led to serious sectarian violence, to prolonged turmoil in the social psychology of the country's Muslim community, its largest minority, whose effects may not yet have been extinguished, and it had far-reaching political consequences, among them the catapulting of Hindu nationalists to centrestage in national life and onward to national power. On the other hand, the findings of the Liberhan Commission of Inquiry instituted to find out why December 6 came to pass are unlikely to touch anyone's life. Looking back, it would have made no difference to the making of history had the commission not been set up. The fact of the establishing of a body to inquire into the demolition failed to have any ameliorative effect whatsoever on the rising communal temperature. After a ruckus in Parliament following a media leak of the Liberhan report, the government placed the inquiry report along with its Action Taken Report before Parliament on Tuesday, somewhat advancing the time it had in mind to table them in the House. Frankly, the politics surrounding the timing of the leak (the report had been submitted to the government in June, shortly after the UPA-II government assumed office), the Opposition protest about the leak (which in its view was meant to break Opposition unity built on the issue of price rise and farmers' demands), and the somewhat phoney tilting at BJP benches by Samajwadi Party leaders in the Rajya Sabha, is something of a tedium, or a bit of shadow-boxing at best. This is for the principal reason that the Liberhan Commission delivered the goods after 17 long years, and they were stale goods. The findings of the inquiry against the protagonists of the Ayodhya demolition are in the nature of obiter dicta. As such, they are not actionable. In any case, criminal cases against several individuals in the Ayodhya matter are pending. The Liberehan labours were on a different track from these. Moreover, the country took one kind of turn after the cataclysmic events of December 6, and then took another somersault a few years later. Very little that the Liberhan report says today appears to have relevance other than the cautioning against pitfalls of communal politics. But that does not need a commission of inquiry. The inaction of the Congress government of the day and the nature and ideology of the RSS and agencies related to it — which the Liberhan report expands on — are too well known to recount. Would the Liberhan report have meant anything more than it does today if it had come within a reasonable period, say a year or two? This too is doubtful. Just look at the fate of the Srikrishna Commission of Inquiry into the violence in Mumbai. So the doubtful value of the Liberhan report does not derive only from the inordinate delay in its completion. Often the terms of reference of commissions of inquiry — and this applies to Liberhan too — are much too broad to lead to concrete action even if the government is so inclined. The truth is that governments — in Britain as much as in India — are wont to set up commissions of inquiry to deflect attention from their own followup responsibilities after an event that may have rocked the system, and to calm public opinion. The lesson from the Liberhan case is that both Houses of Parliament must insist that all inquiry commissions must tender their report in about a year. That may have some value at least for public opinion.








DURING the two turbulent days last week when sugarcane growers from western Uttar Pradesh laid siege to the nation's capital, and the demoralised Opposition, suddenly coming to life, forced the Union government to beat a hasty retreat on the pernicious provision of an ordinance on sugarcane price that should never have been promulgated, India received three clear and grim warnings. If the government and the country, as usual, ignore these too, they would be doing so at their peril.


Since I have been a journalist for more than half-a-century, politics, with all its ignoble pursuits, not economics or any other consideration, has determined the sugar policy of successive governments. In early 1950s, in a year of acute sugar shortage, the incomparable Rafi Ahmed Kidwai compelled sugar magnates to disgorge their hoarded stocks by threatening to nationalise the sugar industry within 48 hours. Sadly, many of his successors let the hoarders run amuck. In the time of P.V. Narasimha Rao — whose food and agriculture minister was known to be a sleaze ball — a sugar scandal stank. An inquiry revealed that politicians in power, top civil servants and crooks among sugar merchants had conspired. But no one was held accountable. What has happened now is equally lamentable.


Once again there is huge shortage of sugar. But in a ukase, ironically named Sugarcane (Fair and Remunerative) Prices Ordinance, issued just before Parliament's winter session, the disingenuous government fixed the price of sugarcane that was lower than last year's. To compound this, it bypassed the Supreme Court's judgment allowing sugarcane-growing states to fix prices higher than those prescribed by New Delhi. In an astonishing display of insensitivity to the interest of farmers, the Central ordinance declared magisterially that any state government permitting a higher price would have to foot the bill. That the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had to eat the humble pie, reverse its absurd position and pass on additional costs to the mill owners was poetic justice.


It is against this backdrop that one must underscore that of the three warning bells that were heard last week, the first and the most alarming perhaps is the notice served by political parties that they are determined to continue disrupting, debasing and rendering dysfunctional Parliament, the apex legislature of India. Here was an excellent opportunity for the Opposition to rub the government's nose in the dirt in a reasoned debate on sugarcane price and policy. But it thundered that it would "not allow the two Houses to function" until the admittedly improper ordinance was withdrawn.


Eleven years after Independence, following a debate in the Lok Sabha that mauled his government, Jawaharlal Nehru rose to speak about "Parliament's majesty" and, bowing to it, ordered a judicial inquiry that led to the resignation of his favourite finance minister and removal from office of several senior bureaucrats. That majesty now lies buried seven fathoms deep. And hopes that Parliament's dignity and efficacy might somehow be revived some day are turning into dupes.


From this follows the second alarm sounded last week. If Parliament is rendered dysfunctional by those strutting around as "representatives of the people", the government of the day has got to be much more watchful of the interests of the people, especially the poor. Sadly, in this respect the Congress, the core of the UPA, and the ruling combination that never tire of swearing by the aam aadmi have given themselves a certificate of incompetence of which the sugarcane affair is the latest fiasco, not the first or the last. After the impressive Congress victory in the Lok Sabha election, it was expected that the Manmohan Singh government this time around would function with greater cohesion, energy and purposefulness in the service of the people. But that is far from being the case.


There is no doubt that the Indian economy is the second fastest growing in the world. But the excruciatingly painful paradox is that the poor, whose number is increasing, are being crushed more and more. Food prices have soared to an extent that a large number of families can no longer afford vegetables or even dal, the poor man's protein. But the government, scared of touching "vulgar salaries" of tycoons and corporate executives, seems not to be bothered.


Throwing politeness to the winds, one must add that in the collective callousness towards the poor by the ruling establishment the role of Sharad Pawar has been particularly shabby. Every Maharashtrian politician of every political hue is a baron of highly lucrative cooperative sugar mills. Mr Pawar, it is needless to add, is the baron of all these barons. Moreover, this uneasy ally of the Congress party in both Mumbai and Delhi has been the Union food and agriculture minister since 2004, but he has other things on his mind rather than his responsibility as a Cabinet minister. Some months ago he was pontificating that there was enough sugar in the country and some of it could perhaps be exported. And then he issued the shameful ordinance. To be sure, he is not the only senior minister to take his work casually. But shouldn't the Congress president and the Prime Minister be doing something about it?


What did the growers of sugarcane, in the capital to make a legitimate protest, actually do? They vandalised the city, indulged in violence, set fire to public property, looted private shops and even allegedly "teased women". The heavily deployed police, usually ready to commit all kinds of atrocities on innocent people, looked the other way. This was not an aberration or isolated incident but part of the firmly established pattern across the country. From Gujjars of Rajasthan wanting a larger slice of reserved government jobs, to students in Bihar enraged by a change in the railway timetable, Delhi traders guilty of illegal construction, rowdy lawyers of Chennai and Bengaluru, both the warring factions of Thackerays swearing by the Marathi manoos in Mumbai and so on merrily make bonfire of all sanities. The Indian state, aptly described as "soft" is unable to punish them. In any case, when lawlessness begins from Parliament, how can mobs on the street be law abiding? "Yatha raja, thatha praja (as the king, so his subjects) is the ancient Indian saying.








Before coming up to Canada's Atlantic provinces I found myself seated next to Mr Henry Kissinger at a New York dinner and asked him how he thought the US President, Mr Barack Obama, was doing.


"He reminds me of a chess grandmaster who has played his opening in six simultaneous games", Mr Kissinger said. "But he hasn't completed a single game and I'd like to see him finish one".


I thought that wasn't a bad image for Mr Obama's international gambits, and then here, at the first Halifax International Security Forum, I heard a similar observation from one participant: "We've had the set up, but is there a middle game?" Or, put another way, can this probing, intelligent President close anything?


As an Obama admirer, I'm worried. He feels over-managed, over-scripted to me, to the point where he's not showing the guts that prevailed at various difficult moments in the campaign. The ideas are good, but the warmth, cajoling and craft that make ideas more than that are lacking.


I find myself yearning for a presidential gaffe if only to reveal an instinctual human moment. Memo to Obama handlers: Give us a little more of the unvarnished. De-teleprompt the President for a few seconds! The list of Mr Obama's international initiatives is of head-turning scope. There's his "world without nuclear weapons", announced in Prague last April, reiterated at the UN in September. It's an idea with resonance, and may provide some moral suasion over countries contemplating pursuit of a bomb, but I can't help recalling that the worlds of 1914 and 1939 were worlds without nukes. No thanks to that. Unless proliferation, the most worrying global trend of the past 15 years is reversed, this dream is just a feel-good notion.


Then there's the "reset button" with Russia. There are glimmerings with Mr Dmitri Medvedev, the Russian President, but as Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, observed here, Russia now offers "two perspectives on the rest of the world depending on which of its leaders you're talking to". The other perspective is called Mr Vladimir Putin.


Mr Obama needs Russian help on Iran, but I'm not holding my breath for forthright cooperation from Moscow on any eventual sanctions. I don't believe Mr Obama has yet shifted the basic confrontational optic of a resurgent Russia emerging from the humiliation of imperial collapse.


On Afghanistan, where an announcement is at last imminent on the troops the US will commit to "the necessary war", Mr Obama has mixed messages with unhappy results. The clarity of March yielded to the cloudiness of fall and the long think has, in the words here of Mr John McCain, "sounded an uncertain trumpet". Mr Peter MacKay, the Canadian defence minister, said the hesitation was "not helpful" because "everyone has hit the pause button until the US decision".


I worry now that Obama's quest for perfect calibration will yield a less than resounding fudge where the tenacious message of a troop increase is undermined by talk of exit timing. That's not how you break the will of an enemy.


In Europe, a more modest reset attempt has been compromised with political leaders by a perception of cool distance, underscored when Mr Obama did not show at 20th-anniversary celebrations of the Berlin Wall's fall. Feelings are particularly strong in Paris, where mutterings about Mr Obama's "Carterisation" are heard. President Mr Nicolas Sarkozy has seen his hopes for a special relationship evaporate.


In Israel-Palestine, Obama underestimated the damage of the past decade and has been outmanoeuvred by the Prime Minister, Mr Benjamin Netanyahu.


The President's groundbreaking outreach to Iran, which I applaud, has unsettled a regime that does not know how to respond. But here, as elsewhere, Mr Obama has been unnecessarily weak on human rights issues in the face of an unconscionable crackdown. There's a trace of churlish "ABB" — "Anything but Bush" — in Obama's failure to speak out more for human rights and freedom. Once again, calibration has trumped gut to a damaging degree.


Ieva Kupce, a Latvian defence ministry official here, told me, "Watching Mr Obama, I worry that democracy is going out of fashion. We in Latvia would not have made it without the US". The great battle of the 21st century is going to be between free-market democracies and free-market authoritarian systems. The US position in that struggle has to be clear if Obama's simultaneous grandmaster openings are to produce victories.








US President Barack Obama's visit to Beijing was replete with state banquets and pledges of mutual respect, but as all events were stagemanaged by the Chinese Communist Party, there was no substantive discourse on human rights and China's phobia number one: Tibet. President Obama granted China the ultimate concession by cancelling a meeting with the Dalai Lama in September 2009, but the Chinese Communist leadership has only intensified its vilification of the Dalai Lama and oppression of the Tibetan people.


For some analysts China's refusal to engage in a rational discussion about Tibet connotes weakness, not power. Dr Gabriele Lafitte, an Australian scholar and Tibet specialist, gave a series of lectures in Dharamsala last week entitled "China's Rise and the Rising Tibetan Nationalism". Dr Lafitte notes: "As Chinese nationalism grows more offensive, exclusionary and chauvinistic, it creates what it most fears: Tibetan nationalism, the reverse outcome of China's repressive rule in Tibet. China's increasingly ugly nationalism antagonises the Tibetans and creates unity among Tibet's once fractured tribes, who respond with an emergency mobilisation to save their culture."


In 50 years since the flight of the Dalai Lama, a stream of Tibetan refugees has come to Dharamsala, living witnesses to Chinese persecution the growing Tibetan resistance.


Ani Tsega, a nun from Kham in eastern Tibet, escaped from Tibet to Dharamsala in March 2009. She smuggled out the prison diary of Geshe Sonam Phuntsok, a Buddhist teacher from Kardze, who became a monk at the age of 18 and travelled throughout Kham giving teachings. "Geshe was very kind and everyone loved him," says Ani Tsega. "He was called 'the miracle' because of his knowledge. He worked so hard to keep our language and our religion strong."


In 1996, Geshe Phuntsok made a pilgrimage to India where he met the Dalai Lama. After he returned to Tibet he organised a large "tenshuk", a long-life ceremony for the Dalai Lama, a venerated Tibetan Buddhist ritual.


On the morning of October 25, 1999, a squadron of Chinese soldiers arrested Geshe Phuntsok at gunpoint. When an estimated 5,000 Tibetans marched to the police station to demand his release, the Chinese military shot and killed protesters. Geshe Phuntsok was later sentenced to five years in prison for "inciting splittist activities among the masses, travelling to India to meet the Dalai Lama and illegally conducting a long-life prayer ceremony for the Dalai Lama".


In court Geshe Phuntsok said: "My arrest and trial belies China's high claim of religious freedom in Tibet and this should be made known to the public."


With tin foil from cigarette packets, Geshe Phuntsok wrote an account of the methods of torture he endured, which he secretly passed to Ani Tsega when she visited him in prison. He describes being interrogated for eight days with no sleep, water or food, having his spine broken, being whipped with electric cords, for his refusal to denounce the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist faith. "When I saw him in jail, he couldn't stand up or move his arm, I could see bruises and cuts on his face and body," recalls Ani Tsega.


After his release from prison, the Chinese authorities kept Geshe Phunstok under house arrest and did not allow him any medical care to treat the abuse he suffered in the state custody. Geshe Phuntsok died on April 5, 2008. "I had to escape to India with his diary, so people will know how the Chinese punish Tibetans who want to honour the Dalai Lama," says Ani Tsega.


Last week in Tibet, a 20-year-old monk from Amdo, Kunga Tsayang, was sentenced to five years in prison for the same crime as Geshe Sonam Phuntsok: practising Tibetan Buddhism, which the state deems "splittism". In his court statement, Kunga Tsayang said: "I strongly assert that confiscating the photographs of our beloved leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama by burning them and stamping on them under soldiers' boots are the real causes of splitting the people. Why is the Communist Party of China silent like a man with one eye closed and ears gone deaf to actions that harm the unity of the nation and stability of the country?"


The Chinese Communists have failed to integrate their minority subjects into their imperial project, as their refusal to humanise their treatment of the Tibetan people sews the seeds of future conflict.


As the celebrated Tibetan author Jamyang Norbu observes: "The maintenance of empires and colonies by force is not only culturally and spiritually demoralising to the tyrant, but potentially a source of considerable political upheaval within the oppressor state itself".


Maura Moynihan is an author and Tibet expert who has worked with Tibetan refugees in India for many years







Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister for environment, will be president and chairwoman of the 12-day United Nations-sponsored global climate treaty negotiations in Copenhagen starting December 8. Ms Hedegaard heads the team of negotiators and will need all her influence and skill to get all the participating nations to sign an ambitious agreement that will oblige the US to start cutting their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.


In an exclusive interview to Rashmee Sehgal, Ms Hedegaard talks about how two years ago she offered her city as a place for these crucial negotiations and is now keeping her fingers crossed that the US will bridge its differences with developing nations.


Do you see the United States coming aboard to ratify a global agreement on climate change? If it does not come aboard, how valid and binding will the UN Framework on Climate Change prove to be?


Throughout the last couple of years, a political pressure has been built on all the countries in the world to handle climate change. Now we start to see that the pressure is paying off. Japan, Brazil and South Korea are the latest additions to countries that have come forth with substantial actions. The United States needs to deliver in Copenhagen, including commitments to emission reductions and finance. I believe that the political price for not delivering in Copenhagen will be too high for any country to accept — including the US.


How much pressure are industrialised nations putting on developing nations? Already, the Indian government seems to be changing its stance and is willing to make itself accountable to the international community for putting a cap on energy usage without getting requisite technological and financial support from developed nations.
Climate change could prove to be the biggest challenge humanity has ever faced. We all need to chip in and the actions that India is undertaking and will undertake in the future are very commendable. In order to meet this challenge, we need a deal that is not only ambitious, but also fair. This is also reflected in the mandate from Bali: we all have to contribute, respecting the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities.
Developing countries are already undertaking a great deal of action and many are planning ambitious action in the future. It will be essential to assist developing countries enhance their actions further, but the main burden remains on the developed countries to ensure that the mitigation targets respond fully to the estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


Are developing nations in a position to undertake the enormous exercise of mitigating climate change impact without receiving adequate technological and financial support from developed nations?
The developing countries will undertake both supported and unsupported actions that will also reflect their respective capabilities. In Bali, it was agreed that there is a need for new and additional scaled-up finance in order to support the developing countries with their mitigation actions. Also, it has been agreed that the deal we strike in Copenhagen should ensure that technology is diffused in order to enhance the abilities of developing countries to participate in global mitigation and adaptation efforts. These issues are very much at the forefront of the current negotiations.


The Scandinavian countries have been in the forefront of pushing for a green footprint as also wanting to ensure that developing nations must receive adequate financial compensation. But with some industrialised nations determined to scuttle the Kyoto Protocol, do you see any kind of global consensus emerging on this subject?
Let me be clear — the mandate of the Danish government includes both the Kyoto Protocol and the United Nations Framework on Climate Change. It is essential to ensure a strong and robust climate reduction regime. Scandinavian counties have, as part of this effort, pursued a strategy towards enhancing developing country access to new and additional finance in line with the Bali Road Map. This will be essential for the ability of developing countries to participate in the global efforts, which are to be led by developed countries.


Is there a plan to completely reject the per-capita emission entitlement as this goes in favour of developing nations?
There is no doubt that the countries which have the highest emission per capita also have the largest responsibility. And it is important to secure that developing nations have the right to growth. But it is important to lead the way towards a green growth, and the cost of delaying action against climate change will keep rising the longer we wait. Business as usual is not an option. The only growth we can afford is green growth.
Therefore, I am very glad that India has shown willingness to lead and be part of the solution. Ambitious national targets on solar energy and energy efficiency have already been announced. India also successfully organised a conference on climate change technologies last month in New Delhi that has provided important input to the international negotiations and paved the way for an agreement on technology in Copenhagen.


Most of the industrial countries are set to miss their targets on emission reduction by 2012. Worse, many nations including the US are showing a substantial rise on emissions. How will these nations be reined in?
I have no reason to doubt that the parties to the Kyoto Protocol will meet their targets. Many industrialised countries are very committed to comply with their commitments. However, we need to go further. The Danish government worked hard to reach an ambitious agreement in Copenhagen which includes further significant reduction commitments. In the long-term we should strive towards limiting human-made global warming to at most two degrees centigrade.


What kind of financial figure do you see industrialised nations arriving at to help developing countries with funds and technology transfer. How will this money be raised?


It is important that an agreement delivers new and additional finance — both in the short and long term. And it is essential to reach agreement on a strong set of mechanisms which can assist developing countries in their efforts. In short term, we need to ensure upfront finance to, among other things, cover urgent and immediate adaptation needs, early mitigation action of developing countries and finance to lay the foundation of the post-2012 architecture and for ensuring the capacity of developing countries to participate in the global efforts.








 "IT'S Thanksgiving — time to put our feedbags on", my family likes to say as we elbow for room next to the Pilgrim and Puritan ghosts the holiday summons to our table. Our colonial forebears probably would not disapprove of our having second and third helpings of sweet potatoes and stuffing, or even rushing off to watch football after the meal — the Pilgrims themselves played lots of games at that first Thanksgiving in 1621. But I imagine they would find fault with our binge for another reason: it is not accompanied by a fast.


To the Pilgrims and Puritans, the community-wide fast, or "day of public humiliation and prayer", and the thanksgiving feast, or day of "public thanksgiving and praise", were equal halves of the same ritual. But the fast was not merely a justification for a community-wide gorging. Both customs were important components of a religious rite that served to pacify an angry God who was believed to punish entire communities for the sins of the few with starvation, "excessive rains from the bottles of heaven", epidemics, crop infestations, the Indian wars and other hardships.


According to the 19th-century historian William DeLoss Love, the New England colonies celebrated as many as nine such "special public days" a year from 1620 to 1700. And as the Puritans were masters of self-denial, days of abstention outnumbered thanksgivings two to one. Fasting, Cotton Mather wrote, "kept the wheel of prayer in continual motion".


Pleas for rain during spells of drought were the most common reason for fasting. But Puritans also fasted whenever a comet, an evil portent, appeared in the sky; at the start of the Salem witch trials; and throughout the various colonial Indian wars (Mather preached that the horrors in King Philip's War, against the Wampanoag Indians, had been sent by God to chastise colonists for the sin of wig wearing).


Thanksgivings were celebrated at the end of these and other hardships and in honour of such auspicious events as the "dissipation of the pirates", the succession of English kings and safe ocean crossings of ships bearing colonists and much needed supplies. Yet these feasts all began with fasts and hours of prayer, during which ministers praised God's goodness and railed against the sin of gluttony. (Once, after eating too much, John Winthrop, the governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, fretted that his flesh had "waxed wanton" and begged God to "revive" him.) Intemperance was believed to go against the very idea of gratitude. Of course, people did often overindulge at these thanksgivings. But then additional fast days often immediately followed.


Puritans believed that expressions of thanks to God for their good fortune helped keep his future punishments at bay — a point that does not detract from the genuine appreciation they felt at privations' end. Nonetheless, participation was mandatory. In 1696, William Veazie of Boston was pilloried for plowing on Thanksgiving Day.


It was in the late 1660s that the New England colonies began holding an "Annual Provincial Thanksgiving". The holiday we celebrate today is a remnant of this harvest feast, which was theologically counter-balanced by an annual spring fast around the time of planting to ask God's good favour for the year. Yet fasting and praying also immediately preceded the harvest Thanksgiving. In 1690, in Massachusetts the feast itself was postponed, though not the fasting, out of extraordinary concern that the meal would inspire too much "carnal confidence".


As life in the New World wilderness got easier, the New England colonies gradually began holding only their annual spring fast and fall harvest feast. Even after Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, Massachusetts continued to celebrate its spring day of abstention for 31 more years.


In the nearly 400 years since the first Thanksgiving, the holiday has come to mirror our transformation into a nation of gross overconsumption, but the New England colonists never intended for Thanksgiving to be a day of gluttony. They dished up restraint along with gratitude as a shared main course. What mattered most was not the feast itself, but the gathering together in thanks and praise for life's most humble gifts. Perhaps this holiday season we could benefit from restoring a proper Thanksgiving balance between forbearance and indulgence.


Elyssa East is the author of the forthcoming Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town








THE Vice-President, also chairman of the Rajya Sabha, may be referring to an ideal situation where members of the House are allowed the freedom to take individual positions, regardless of party lines, in order to arrive at what may be considered a perfect consensus. Hamid Ansari would like to believe that, apart from following a Whip on Bills having a direct bearing on survival of the government, members need to express themselves candidly and in a manner that would help give more credibility to official policies. This is a difficult proposition to begin with. The idea of MPs speaking their minds during debates in the House regardless of party positions would find spontaneous approval. What Mr Ansari may not have considered is the fact that parties across the board are obliged to offer tickets on various considerations for the limited purpose of expanding their presence and, subsequently, their bargaining powers.

In many cases, the candidates are known to have dubious records ~ a blot on the electoral system that the Election Commission has tried to remove without much success. While Mr Ansari would expect the best minds to help revive the intellectual climate in the House, it is more than likely that some will end up discrediting themselves and their parties.

The current level of MPs has been a matter of serious concern. While many share Mr Ansari's concern for reviving healthy traditions, parties must contend with members who slap political rivals because they fail to take the oath in a particular language; or who display bundles of fresh currency notes as evidence of bribes for services rendered. How many present-day members of Parliament are indeed capable of striking out on individual lines that dilute or deviate from party positions and be seen to be convincing? If there are one or two of that calibre, it still becomes risky for parties to become more liberal towards the whole flock. In an era of coalitions, they must be held together at any cost. Mr Ansari in all good conscience may be looking at wholesome exchanges in an open society but the parties he is addressing have already discovered the merit of applying gags.







FAIR-WEATHER friends have reached a parting of the ways. Aside from the rout of the Samajwadi Party and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the third striking feature of the UP result is the end of Kalyan Singh's flirtation with the SP and his swingback to his parent outfit. It is a measure of the fickleness of UP politics that in the hour of defeat, both parties expect to exploit the Kalyan factor in their respective lights. Mulayam Singh Yadav, who has now dumped the icon of the Babari Masjid demolition, hopes to win back the Muslim vote that has clearly swung towards the Bahujan Samaj Party. Equally does the down-at-heel BJP imagine that he will help rebuild UP's backward caste vote-bank, notably the Lodh-Rajput segment that has let down Mulayam's party. The former chief minister still retains a measure of bizarre utility, however fickle his prejudices and loyalties.
As disillusioned with the SP as the SP is with him, Kalyan now appears to have rediscovered the virtues of the BJP. "The BJP is the party where I belong. I will rejoin a nationalist party that can strengthen Hinduism and build a grand temple in Ayodhya." The giveaway is complete. As he stumbles from one party to another, he has redefined his goalposts if only to make his credentials acceptable to the BJP and the ideological ombudsmen in Nagpur. But it will be difficult to dispel the impression that he remains ever so chameleonic. 

It is a measure of the BJP's in-house crisis that a renegade can yet be put to beneficial use. That itself is unfortunate for an astute organisation. Though Rajnath Singh and the UP chief, Kalraj Mishra, may be averse to his re-entry, sections within the party and the RSS are hoping that Kalyan will be able to revive fortunes in UP. That the party has to fall back upon a deserter-come-again confirms the leadership crisis, even the political bankruptcy that plagues the outfit. In the event, both the SP and the BJP are faced with imponderables. In the aftermath of the result, Mulayam can scarcely be confident of mollifying the Muslims even after severing ties with Kalyan Singh. At another remove, it is an open question whether the backward castes have sufficient confidence in him to enable the BJP win over this segment of the electorate. But this is India!







senior cpi leaders like ab bardhan see the writing on the wall after the by-elections and try to echo the negative vibes but are in no position to carry their protest to its logical conclusion. after targeting the cpi-m and suggesting drastic changes in its leadership, the cpi general secretary has to swallow biman bose's argument that left unity is a collective responsibility. it didn't need the national executive of the cpi to unravel the truth about who holds the whip. the question is what the cpi proposes to do ~ either reverse the suicidal trend or call it quits. the shattering failures in the parliamentary election had seen cpi leaders making brave noises. even now bardhan talks of "what the government failed to do and what it should not have done'' and mentions cpi-m as the main accused. if that makes no impression on big brother, the cpi should logically be looking beyond. bardhan presents the face of a party that seems to take dissenting positions but eventually cannot live up to the spirit of its muted protest. that does no good to the credibility the cpi can still claim. bardhan's limitations are evident when he covers his tracks with the pathetic confession that he cannot dictate to the cpi-m. there was never any illusion that he could. the only illusion that he continues to suffer from is that left unity under a system of unequal partnerships is an overriding reality that must prevail over hurt sentiments. if there are persistent fears of bigger disasters round the corner, bardhan can only lament that his party doesn't have a choice.

it may suggest that the cpi-m consider an alternative leadership but does not have an option when alimuddin street tells rebels that they must either fall in line or go into the wilderness. it is not surprising, therefore, that kiranmoy nanda of the west bengal socialist party missed a left front meeting where he was expected to raise the banner of revolt after all his sound and fury on television. the fisheries minister had been shown his lakshman rekha and may now choose to remain politically correct. the cpi plays for bigger stakes and should not be so cruelly hamstrung. by simply targeting the cpi-m, signalling more disasters and looking for miracles, bardhan only mocks his party's impotence.







London, 24 Nov: Most parents lie to their children almost as a matter of routine, but it can weaken the trust between them and their kids, a US study has warned.

The study led by Dr Gail Heyman of the University of California is based on interviews of over hundred students and their parents about parental lying.

Heyman's team found that more than 80 per cent of parents, even those who insisted to their children that it was never OK to fib, lied at some point, The Times reported.

The study looked at straightforward lies intended to control kid's behaviour. These ranged from the old stalwart like: "If you don't wear your shoes when you go out, a policeman will tell you off" to threats of leaving screaming children on the street to be kidnapped, to the insistence that "baby Jesus will find out".

Warning against possible consequences of such lies, Dr Heyman said: "Sending contradictory messages can put the parent-child bond at risk. If you tell children that lying is the worst thing you can do, what will they think when they find out that you have lied to them?" ;PTI







Globalisation has significantly influenced India's industrial policies and practices. Models of holistic development, envisaged and practised by Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore, Jayaprakash Narayan, Vinoba Bhave. and Pannalal Dasgupta have been ignored by our planners. Applied science and IT-based technologies are radically transforming societies.

High-yielding varieties of foodgrain and other crops have reached a plateau. Farming has become expensive with increasing prices of seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and other modern inputs.

Food insecurity is looming large in India, as in many other countries. The food intake came down to 155 kg per capita per year ~ almost to the level of the 1950s ~ from 177 kg in the 1970s. In the Global Hunger Index, none of the states figure even in the low or moderate hunger index group.

For Madhya Pradesh (3090), the scenario is exceedingly alarming; Punjab is lowest at 1364. Between 2001 and 2005, upset by the crop loss, low prices and insolvency, nearly 87,000 Indian farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra and some southern states. An estimated 40,000 farmers in Punjab perished between 1998 and 2006. Suicides have also been reported by potato-growers in West Bengal in the aftermath of a glut.


Acquisition of arable land for other purposes is a global trend. India is experimenting with bio-fuels, also called agro-fuels. The government intends to replace 10 per cent of the fossil fuel, about nine billion litres, with biofuels by 2017 by surrendering the crop area of the size of Tamil Nadu. Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Madhya Pradesh Andhra Pradesh have brought, or are planning to bring, about nine million hectares under bio-fuel vegetation; in Uttar Pradesh, a large tract is likely to go under Jatropha, a bio-fuel shrub, courtesy a private company. If this trend extends to other states, it will considerably deplete the crop yield.

Instead of enlarging the cultivable land to feed an increasing population, arable land is actually dwindling. The Bhagirathi in West Bengal erodes about 530 million hectares, every year. This year, 177 out of India's 626 districts, have been hit by drought, affecting kharif cultivation. Nearly 20 million tonnes of cereals are needed for the average quarterly buffer stock to meet emergencies and nearly 57 million tonnes of rice and wheat are utilised for the free and subsidised welfare schemes. For the rationing system, nearly four million tonnes of rice and wheat are released by the FCI. Arable land is also decreasing under global warming, shortfall in rains and rampant use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides.

India is a signatory to the Global Forest Policy, as adopted by the UN General Assembly. The actual forest cover in 2002 was over 67. 83 million hectares, i.e. a little over one-fifth of the geographical area, increasing only by a little over 3.75 million hectares since 1982. But the total cover is still short of the target of one-third of the geographical area by over 96 million hectares. In the 1980s, social forestry was taken up by several states, and 27 million hectares were covered. The area is now dwindling on account of the corruption and inefficiency of the panchayats. 

A little over one-fifth (20.17 per cent) of India's geographical area is wasteland. Using satellite data for district-wise mapping of wastelands, the National Remote Sensing Agency has determined the total wasteland area to be 63.85 million hectares.

Minimise acquisition
THE table shows that on the whole, some 50.49 million hectares of arable and a little over 76.23 million hectares of adaptable wasteland could be available for acquisition But arable land should be spared in seven states ~ Assam, Goa, Jharkhand, Kerala, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Tamil Nadu and in five UTs ~ Chandigarh, Daman & Diu, Delhi NCT, Lakshadweep and Pondicherry.  The overall acquisition of arable land in other states and UTs may not jeopardise food security of the country's teeming population which can cross 2.32 billion, 50 years hence. The adaptable wasteland holds good for the present only, because it is uncertain whether it will increase or decrease in the next 50 years.

At present, acquirable wasteland is about 26 million hectares more than acquirable arable land. Therefore, governments and private investors will have to minimise acquisition of arable land, as the R&R bill envisages. They should instead opt for wasteland and build up the infrastructure suitably.









It was the evening of India's horror, and its memory and images refuse to go away even one year after the event. The terrorist attack on Mumbai on the evening of November 26, 2008, is an event that imposed itself on the nation's memory because of the sheer daring of the attackers, the destruction and killing they carried out, and the slow reactions of the Indian State and its various law-enforcing agencies in counteracting the terrorists and rescuing those who had been held hostage in the two principal hotels of Mumbai. These factors should not deflect attention from the fact that the event also saw acts of great heroism, fortitude, sacrifice and human kindness. The nation's character had been put to the test, it seems in retrospect. The State had been found wanting; the common soldier and policemen and ordinary men and women doing their duty had emerged triumphant.


That last sentence might appear to be a bit harsh on the State, which after all had finally rescued the hostages, killed or apprehended the terrorists and restored a semblance of normalcy. But one cannot reflect on the event without reckoning with the colossal intelligence failure it represented. The operation must have taken months of planning, and India's spook establishments were either ignorant or unprepared. It took the State a few hours to wake up to the enormity of what was happening: the National Security Guards and the commandos reached Mumbai nine hours after the violence had occurred. The official version continues to be that only 10 men perpetrated the horror without any local collaboration. Even before the recent revelations about the activities of David Headley, doubts had been raised about the claim that the terrorists had no local links. Those collaborators were allowed to melt into the multitude of Mumbai and have not been heard of since.


The most important aspect the attack highlighted was India's vulnerability to terrorist attacks from within and without the country. Even after one year, this sense of vulnerability has not disappeared; if anything, the sense of impending doom has been aggravated. That there has been no repetition of Mumbai offers no comfort. One reason for this is that every single terrorist attack on India originates in Pakistan. Sometimes, the attacks exhibit pug marks that point to the direct involvement of the Pakistan government or its ubiquitous intelligence agency, the ISI. The Indian government is at its wits' end to counter this terror primarily because no one, leader, party or military, seems to be in control in Pakistan, a country held at ransom by Islamic fundamentalists. The attack on Mumbai showed that India is condemned to be a threatened State because its western neighbour is a terror State.







A rebel group's ability to kill people and strike terror is no measure of its strength or popularity. It may be premature to dismiss the United Liberation Front of Asom as a spent force. But few in Assam doubt that it has lost much of its popular appeal and even its capacity for major armed offensives. Its latest strike in Nalbari does not alter these basic facts. The Ulfa's latest act of violence is better understood as a desperate ploy to try and wriggle out of a major organizational crisis. Two of its senior leaders were arrested in Dhaka earlier this month. The outfit's leaders may have anticipated a crackdown on their hideouts in Bangladesh after Sheikh Hasina Wajed's return as prime minister. Most of its shelters in Bhutan had earlier been destroyed in joint raids by Indian and Bhutanese authorities. The loss of its old shelters and hideouts is, however, not the most important setback for the group. The Ulfa's worst crisis seems to be its near-total alienation from the common people of Assam. The violence in Nalbari does not change the fact that the Ulfa has never been as weak and as directionless as it is now.


Yet, most people in Assam would like both New Delhi and Dispur to seriously engage the Ulfa in the peace process. The use of the peace talks has little to do with the decline of the group. And it should have nothing to do with its power to trigger violence at regular intervals. The peace initiative needs to be guided by the larger principle of providing security and social and economic benefits to the common people. New Delhi has recently appointed a special representative to mediate in the peace talks with three other rebel groups in Assam. But there is clearly a lull in the peace process involving the Ulfa. The chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, would do well to reopen the process. The latest violence has sparked another wave of popular anger at the Ulfa's ways. There seems to be a general yearning for peace that makes this the right time to reopen the dialogue with the Ulfa.









As the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, was getting his final briefings in New Delhi last week on the progress in negotiations with the Americans on an agreement for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel, India received support from an unexpected quarter. Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, told reporters in New York that India requires nuclear power to meet its energy needs if it is to effectively tackle climate change. "If you look at countries like India … which are highly reliant on coal I really don't see us coming to grips with climate change at a global level without nuclear energy playing a role," he said with unexpected candour.


For the prime minister, who was then packing his bags to leave for his first summit meeting with the American president, Barack Obama, de Boer's statement was as important for his Washington dialogue as the endorsement of the then International Atomic Energy Agency director-general, Mohamed El-Baradei, of the Indo-US nuclear deal four years ago was for the end of India's long nuclear winter. The UN climate czar's sensitivity towards India's reasonable demands and the efforts in overdrive of the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, to seal a deal at the Copenhagen climate conference next month, which provides for a binding treaty as soon as possible in 2010, actually set the stage for progress in the talks between Singh and Obama both on the operationalization of the Indo-US nuclear deal and in finding some meeting ground between the two leaders on climate change.


Ban's assertion at an informal meeting of the UN general assembly plenary last week that political momentum to avoid a disappointing outcome in Copenhagen was "building almost daily" and de Boer's dismissal of reports that Copenhagen had "failed even before it started" significantly contributed to Singh's strategy in Washington that linked any Indian commitments in Copenhagen to continued support by the Obama administration on implementing the nuclear deal authored by the Bush administration. The prime minister went into the White House on Tuesday with the realization that Obama was looking to India to be at least as flexible as China on the goals in Copenhagen: Obama and the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, agreed during their recent meeting in Beijing to work towards an agreement in Copenhagen that would immediately go into operation.


India decided, in turn, that it would only make concessions if it was assured of energy supply: in other words it wanted the Obama administration to restate its commitment to the nuclear deal not in mere words but by some action such as an agreement on the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. Ban told the general assembly plenary that in addition to the understanding in Beijing between Obama and Hu that Copenhagen must not be a failure, encouraging news was coming in from everywhere. Indonesia had committed to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent. Russia had doubled its commitment and promised last week to cut emissions by a quarter by 2020 if other countries made similar promises. Brazil's target is to curb emissions by 38 to 42 percent by 2020. But last week, Brazil and France together pledged to do more. South Korea similarly pledged to cut emissions by 30 percent by 2020, while Japan and Norway have committed to figures of 25 per cent and 40 per cent respectively. All of this prompted the secretary-general to tell the general assembly plenary that "taken together, we have ample reason to be positive about Copenhagen… My message to you today is this: stay positive, stay engaged, come to Copenhagen and seal a deal. This is our moment."


Obama is understood to have told the prime minister yesterday that, in the next few days, his administration will propose a short-term goal for reducing America's greenhouse gas emissions. With only 12 days to go in the countdown to Copenhagen, White House officials are privately saying that along with this proposal will also come a formal announcement about whether, and for how long, the American president would attend the upcoming climate talks.


An American goal for cutting emissions would be historic. And if Obama decides to travel to Copenhagen, that will electrify the prospects of a success in the climate negotiations there, coming in the wake of promising commitments by China, Indonesia, Brazil, Russia, Korea, Japan and Norway in recent days and weeks.


Where does that leave India? The United Progressive Alliance government will lose considerable goodwill internationally if it buries its head in the sand, ostrich-like, unmindful that its recently secured place at the global high table in the form of membership of the Group of Twenty (G-20) implies not just rights, but also responsibilities. Having secured a memorandum of understanding with the United States of America during Singh's visit, which holds out the promise of energy security and clean energy in return for steps on climate change, India will now have to prove in Copenhagen that New Delhi is "willing to work towards any solution that does not compromise the right of developing countries to develop and lift their populations out of poverty", as the prime minister told the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday. India's position may continue to evolve as Singh heads for the Commonwealth summit in the Port of Spain on Thursday. A formidable presence there will be the UN secretary-general, who is travelling to Trinidad and Tobago specifically to listen to small island nations gathered at the summit on their climate concerns. India has championed the cause of small island nations and their strong plea to limit the rise of temperature to 1.5 degrees, which is expected to resonate at the summit, will inevitably have a bearing on India's evolving position on Copenhagen.


Ban Ki-moon's has been a constant and consistent voice in the efforts to reach a deal in Copenhagen. In December 2007, it was Ban who saved the climate talks in Bali by flying back to the talks he had left and then persuading the intransigent Bush administration at that time to capitulate on their disagreements on the floor of the conference. With his evangelical zeal on climate change from the day he became secretary-general, he has done for this issue at a multilateral level among heads of state and government what Al Gore, the former US vice president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, has done at the popular level. A fortnight ago, Ban headed to the US Capitol to secure support from the American Congress, which has a pending bill that actually limits what Obama can commit in Copenhagen even if he attends the conference there. Behind the scenes, Ban has been talking continuously to the big powers, including China, on the need to work out a consensus in Copenhagen.


He is now doing the same with developing countries. Of special interest to the prime minister, whose current mission in Washington is to create conditions for a second Green Revolution, is the secretary-general's statement to the UN general assembly plenary that "there can be no food security without climate security". That may be yet another powerful argument for India to be more flexible in Copenhagen. After Singh's talks in Washington, and a realization that the tide is clearly turning towards agreement in Copenhagen, India's position on climate change will be keenly watched in world capitals in the next fortnight.








I winced at the newspaper's summary of its editorial: "Tony Blair would be a charismatic figurehead" — for the European Union — "but...." My main objection was political: I found it grotesque that an independent Europe could even think of giving its top job to a past poodle of the White House. But I had another objection: charismatic.


Straight from ancient Greek, charisma is a perfectly usable word, and so is its adjective. But both are overused these days, and often misused. A man with charisma has an aura — of power, maybe, of goodness, intelligence, spirituality, maybe just personal charm — that draws people to him. What the words don't mean is simply a great guy or even more simply we approve. Gandhi had charisma by the bucketful. So does Nelson Mandela. But so did Hitler, Stalin and many other past villains. Not so Mikhail Gorbachev, great guy as I think him, and much to be approved of.


Thus far, The Times was right. It knows what charismatic means, and its "but" about Blair came for just that reason: it doesn't want a man with charisma as the EU's president. But it was mistaken, in my view, to apply the word to Blair. Whatever his past success, his present charisma in Britain is very little. Ditto in the Israeli/Arab world, where he is meant to be mediating. He "stops the traffic" in Washington, his admirers claim. Could be, but Britons are apt to over-rate other Britons' status in America. Would he "stop the traffic" in India? You tell me.


I see these as matters of fact, not political judgment. Charismatic is cheapened by being too widely applied, as any word can be. If a flower is just red, don't call it scarlet. If soldiers are brave, don't call them all heroes (as Britain's media do today for its troops in Afghanistan). It's painful to be hit with a police lathi, but it isn't torture. Charismatic has become a cliché, and is losing its meaning — its charisma, I'm almost tempted to say, flouting my own advice.


Nor is it alone. Its cousin iconic is rapidly joining it. Icon is another old Greek word, literally a likeness. In English, it has one specialized usage in precisely that sense, in an inter-Christian dispute: the Vatican says women cannot be priests, because (inter alia) no woman can be an 'icon' of the male Christ. My anti-Catholic prejudices riposte with the first book of the Bible: "God created man in his own image... male and female created he them". But let's leave that to the theologians.


Less precisely, we find this sense in the modern icon of computer screens: a symbol vaguely like the facility it refers to. Much older, and even now maybe better known, is the use of icon for the pictures of Jesus Christ, his mother or other saints, in Greek and Russian churches. It's this usage that has swelled into today's avalanche of icon and iconic for any and every revered, admired, popular, well-known or even merely unusual person or object in any field.


Sportsmen, politicians, actors, physicists, pop groups; mountains, buildings, ships, designer furniture, shoes, handbags, perfumes: anything, these days, can be called an icon. Last week I met iconic applied to a clock that overhangs Winchester's high street — a nearby city which that clock no more symbolizes, to its citizens or anyone else, than this column symbolizes The Telegraph.


If you must call Everest, the Taj Mahal, the Howrah Bridge, Gandhi or — I'll stretch a point — maybe even Sourav Ganguly iconic or charismatic, so be it. But those words are losing their bite. They're the tired journalist's way out of thinking up sharper ones. Sure, we hacks often are tired and must think up a lot of words in a short time. But even we should go easy on these two. People under less pressure should simply drop them, until they've regained some real sense. The Wordcage can aspire to be an ornament. An icon it ain't.











It is most unfortunate that Horticulture Minister Umesh Katti is persisting with his completely ill-conceived and ill-advised move to make entry into the two biggest lung spaces in Bangalore — the Lal Bagh and the Cubbon Park — to its citizens as difficult and as cumbersome as possible. After strong protests from the people, the horticulture department has dropped, for the time being, the proposal to charge an entry fee for morning walkers and joggers in these two parks, but the minister and his officials have announced that they are 'determined' to introduce identity cards for gaining entry into the parks for 'security reasons'. The minister also wants to take up elaborate fencing of Cubbon Park, restrict the number of entry points and introduce scanners at the gates to keep a check on 'illegal activities' inside these public places.

The 240-acre Lal Bagh Botanical Garden, laid out by the visionary ruler Hyder Ali in 1740 and the 250-acre Cubbon Park, created during British rule over 100 years ago, are the pride of Bangalore, earning it the sobriquet of Garden City. As the City has been allowed to grow mindlessly, turning it into a concrete jungle over the last couple of decades, these two parks have offered some respite to the harried citizens. In fact, thousands of people use these parks for their morning and evening constitutional and for their fitness regime. No government in the recent past has had the vision to create another lung space as magnificent as Lal Bagh or Cubbon Park and the authorities should have been happy to merely add more amenities to these parks so that people look after their health and well-being through exercises, rather than placing impediments in their path.


The government has no right to restrict entry into the parks and the idea of identity cards is only a ploy to introduce entry fee at a later stage. If some people indulge in 'illegal activities' inside parks, it is the government's responsibility to check them through suitable security, and not harass a majority of law-abiding citizens. The fact of the matter is that the horticulture department is eyeing lakhs of rupees that can be collected from walkers every day, which will perhaps go into various pockets. The citizens of Bangalore should resist the BJP government's 'pernicious tax' on breathing fresh air in the parks with all their might.








The indictment of top BJP and Sangh Parivar leaders by the Liberhan Commission for their role in the demolition of the Babri Masjid was not unexpected. The entire nation knew that L K Advani, Murli Manohar Joshi,  Kalyan Singh and others who have been named by the commission were responsible for the most shameful assault on India's secular credentials on Dec 6, 1992. The Ayodhya movement, launched by the party and blessed by the RSS, had laid the ground for the demolition and the actual event was choreographed by the leaders. All the Hindutva organisations participated in it with gusto. The commission has done well to expose the chicanery and double talk on the surface and the planning and co-ordination that lay behind the event. The theory of spontaneous action by a frenzied mob resulting in the demolition had always lacked credibility and it has now rightly been nailed as untrue.

Former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who was considered the most moderate and acceptable face of the BJP, has also not been spared by the commission. Though the report has not directly indicted him, it has pinned responsibility on him too, along with others, for violating the trust of the people and being dictated to by the rabid elements in the Sangh Parivar. The term 'pseudo-moderates' used by the commission is apt because BJP leaders have often used moderation as an opportunistic ploy to suit their political ends. They have always sworn by the Ayodhya movement while contradictorily distancing themselves from the act of demolition of the Babri mosque.

The report, which has been tabled in parliament, after the controversy over its leakage to the media, has documented the entire script, from the run-up to the finale, and is an important historical record. But the exoneration of the Central government of P V Narasimha Rao detracts from its value. The Rao government, by refusing to take effective preventive action, was also responsible for the action. By ignoring the Rao government's inaction, the commission has opened itself to accusations of partiality. The government however has accepted the findings in their entirety and should take follow-up action on them. It also provides the BJP with an opportunity to come clean, drop the forked tongue, repent the damage it did to the secular idea which is the corner stone of our nationhood and join the national mainstream.








The last couple of months have witnessed high decibel media and public outcries over the Chinese intrusions across the LAC (Line of Actual Control) and McMahon Line into Indian territory. There have been diplomatic protests about the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese outburst about our PM's visit to this border state spices up India-China relations.

The latest twist in this drama being orchestrated by Beijing is the identical stand taken by India and China at an international forum on global warming. This does not mean that we should make the mistake of believing that all is well. The verbal acrimony both in the Chinese media and diplomatic channels is the outcome of the long outstanding border and territorial disputes between the two sides. The Chinese strategy has always been to use this methodology to pressurise India and try to keep us in a state of strategic imbalance.

The Indian response by both the prime minister and the external affairs minister has been firm and mature. This posture has evolved thanks to relatively greater military preparedness to cope with such contingencies on the ground. For instance, the army and the air force continued with their planned exercises in Arunachal Pradesh.

All this is in stark contrast to New Delhi's reaction to the Chinese intrusion into the area of Sumdorung Chu valley in the Tawang sector of Arunachal Pradesh in June 1986 and the events that followed during the next two years. At that point in time, India and China appeared to be on a collision course; but their bilateral relations settled down by mid-1989 after the then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China and the eighth round of talks took place between the two sides. By then ground realities had changed.

In this backdrop it would be in order to re-visit to Sumdorung Chu incident as it, in my opinion, was the turning point in our military and political psyche towards China.

There appeared to be some minor doubt over the alignment of the McMahon Line in a couple of areas and the China Study Group (CSG), was formed in New Delhi to provide inputs to Indian delegations before talks with the Chinese. The CSG had laid down small kinks south of the McMahon Line beyond which no army or para-military forces could patrol and Sumdorung Chu was in one such area.

On June 23, 1986, the Intelligence Bureau reported to the local army commander that a large number of Chinese troops had intruded into Sumdorung Chu. It appeared to be an abnormal pattern of intrusion. The intruders had brought five or six tents and appeared to be digging in. The Chinese troops were in a tactically unsound area but could move up.

Timely action

The local army commander occupied the Langrola heights overlooking the Chinese post. This was followed by starting the construction of a mule/vehicle track for logistics. The Chinese had a motorable track up to Leh which was close by. To give security to forward troops an artillery battery was deployed 3- 4 km short of the McMahon Line. All these actions were reported to New Delhi through army channels.

The army on its part undertook operational preparations to ensure the security and integrity of the international border or the McMahon Line. These events seem to have sent alarm bells ringing at New Delhi, more so at the CSG. The local army commander was asked to withdraw his troops from the forward posture, preferably in full view of the Chinese troops!

However, the local commander resisted any such move which would not only affect psychologically the army, but also the people of Tawang who had seen the army debacle in 1962. The Rimpoche at the Tawang monastery expressed his concern and support for the army's actions. Meanwhile, the Research & Analysis Wing indicated the additional induction of Chinese troops into Tibet. This time Indian Army was not coming second best.

Accordingly, the military mandarins in New Delhi launched a series of operational discussions, war games and so on to mentally and physically prepare the troops on the ground to tackle any escalation. The tension passed and thereafter, for the last two decades, the tenor of the Chinese side seemed to have mellowed down till it decided to ratchet up its activities again again over the last couple of years over Arunachal Pradesh.

Lately, the Chinese military commanders must have observed the construction of the defence works, helipads and roads and would have concluded that this time there may not be any possibility of 'low cost' options. India now has the psychological advantage over its adversary.

While Indian military strategy should be reactive, it should not aim to start a war or a skirmish but prevent one and keep our powder dry. Meanwhile, we should expedite infrastructure development to support military operations along the India-China border. It always helps to make your adversary clearly know your strengths.

(The writer was the corps commander at Tezpur in 1986-88, and was responsible for the security of Arunachal Pradesh)









Dubai is down but not out. Flights are fully booked. Routes between Dubai and India are over-booked. Traffic jams have returned. Restaurants are busy if not packed.

Customers flock to well stocked supermarkets. Families go to malls and parks for recreation. Indians and other sub-continentals living in the Karama and Bur Dubai districts remain in situ. Indian-run shops carry on, although for many, business has slowed over the past year. Non-resident Indians are exploring property opportunities now that prices have fallen by 40-50 per cent from 2007-08 bubble highs and are expected to slide by another 20 per cent.

The population grew by 1.9 per cent to 1.7 million during the second quarter of 2009. The mass flight of thousands of Indian jobless ended last spring. According to statistics, the total number of foreign workers who left the emirate is 50,000. This figure is low. But no one knows how many departed for good. Some construction labourers have taken up employment in neighbouring oil-rich Abu Dhabi. Some workers have gone to gas-exporting Qatar. Others have returned home with contracts from employers who want them to return once construction revives.

Indians who have lost high paying public sector jobs are consulting, teaching or free lancing. One businessman, who launched his own consultancy, observed, "We know how to manage when times are difficult. We are flexible."

Dubai is in waiting mode. Cranes stand sentinel over scores of unfinished buildings. Road works and other infrastructure projects have been put on hold. But Dubai is also changing. In a bid to recapture investor confidence, the emirate's ambitious ruler, Shaikh Muhammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum, dismissed the head of the Dubai International Financial Centre and three members of the board of the Investment Corporation of Dubai.

These men were seen as the architects of the bubble. Dubai will be tested next month. Prospects will improve if investors snap up the emirate's second $10 billion bond issue and Nakheel, the government's property firm, repays in full a $3.5 billion Islamic bank loan.  The emirate's total debt is estimated at $84 billion, some $59 billion of this owed Nakheel, the property arm of Dubai World which accounts for 20-30 per cent of the public economy.

A source at Dubai World said the state-owned conglomerate is 'restructuring'. At least 12,000 of its 70,000 employees, many of them Indians, have been sacked. But that figure could be as high as 20,000. There will be more job losses during 2010, he said.

Dr Abdel Khaleq Abdullah, a leading Emirati commentator, dismissed reports of Dubai's economic demise as 'exaggerated'. Dubai no longer enjoys a growth rate of 14 per cent but most countries would be delighted with its five per cent. He observed that the slump "was not a knock out. It was strongest in the real estate sector. The business model is going through tough times but this will not last for too long".

However, he warned, "I am not sure that recovery has begun". Meanwhile, Dubai continues to stage tournaments and conferences.

The Dubai Air Show was a great success, netting lucrative deals for both commercial and military aircraft and a profit for organisers. The Dubai World golf tournament went ahead as planned although prize money was reduced from $10 to 7.5 million. The World Economic Forum's Global Agenda conference brought 700 experts and scholars to Dubai for two days of brainstorming — at the emirate's expense. Dr Abdullah said Dubai will not halt these events to economise. Conferences and well-staged events are essential to maintain Dubai's high profile, its image as an economic powerhouse.

At nine minutes past nine in the morning on Sept 9, 2009, Dubai inaugurated its splendid new metro, the emirate's answer to traffic snarls. On Jan 4, 2010, the anniversary of the assumption of rule by Shaikh Muhammad, Bourj Dubai, the world's tallest structure, is set to open. The Bourj looms over the squat bulk of the Dubai Mall, the largest shopping mall in the world and the elegant Souq al-Bahr (Market of the Sea), an up-market shopping centre modelled on ancient Arab souqs. Here customers can dine in restaurants beside a pool resplendent with fountains which fire water high into the air with the crack of a pistol shot or the thump of a mortar.









When I was a child, a lot of birds especially sparrows would visit our kitchen and search for small food particles. When my grandmother used to clean rice, a number of them would be around her to collect the grains of rice falling on the floor. Slowly as Bangalore became a concrete jungle, they simply vanished, making me fondly remember them off and on.

I visited Disneyland at Hong Kong recently. Midway through I wanted a break. When my wife and children went to see a show I found a bench beneath a shady tree. I sat there, opened my tiffin, took out a slice of bread smeared with chutney powder and started eating. Soon two sparrows came near me and stood at a distance.

Thrilled to see these long lost friends, I threw a small bread crumb at them. Both fought for the piece, but only one could get it. I felt pity on the second sparrow and threw a crumb for him. Soon dozens of sparrows landed near me from nowhere. I began throwing crumbs of bread at them. They would dive and catch the piece before it fell on the ground. Keeping the piece in their little beaks, they would take off not allowing the bread crumb to be snatched away by others. Those that didn't get the bread would longingly look at my hands. The event was exciting and I enjoyed every minute of it.

Meanwhile the sight of me feeding sparrows attracted the attention of many passers by. A woman with a small child in a stroller came near me, handing over a packet of biscuits to feed the sparrows. She entertained her child and took my photos.

Soon the biscuits were gone and more and more sparrows were hovering by. The only food item left was a packet of 'Congress' peanuts I had brought from Bangalore. When one small piece of nut fell on the ground, a sparrow slowly got near it, smelt it, picked it in its small beak and flew away. Soon more sparrows landed. I made small pieces of peanuts and started feeding again.

I did not know how the time passed. Meanwhile, a big crowd had gathered around me. Some were taking pictures. My wife who had come back from the show was  worried as to why so many had gathered around me. She elbowed her way to my bench and when she saw what was happening, she muttered; "Now I know why you don't want to see the sights of Disneyland. These sparrows must have migrated from Bangalore. That's why they are enjoying the 'Congress kadale kayi' and you want to be with your long lost friends!"








In 1983, at age 23, Ron Houben was involved in a car accident that left him completely paralyzed and in a coma. The young Belgian had been a martial arts expert and engineering student; now doctors diagnosed his condition as persistent vegetative state. His eyes could move; he had periods of sleep and wakefulness, but he appeared unconscious; unable to reason or respond.


In reality, Houben knew what was happening around him but had no way of signaling he was a sentient being. He could not even blink an eyelid.


His mother's intuition led her to believe that her son was not a hopeless case, and over the years she took him to the United States five times for sophisticated tests.


She eventually connected with Dr. Steven Laureys of Belgium's Coma Science Group, who put Ron through a PET scan that detects energy given off by a radioactive element injected into the patient. The exam, which was not available when Houben was first diagnosed, showed that he probably could think and reason after all, even if he was immobile and uncommunicative.


This stunning discovery, made three years ago, has only now come to light. Laureys came up with a computer-assisted touch screen that allows Houben, now 46, to use the partial mobility he has in one finger of his right hand to type out his thoughts - with the help of an aide.


"I shall never forget the day when they discovered what was truly wrong with me," he wrote afterward. "It was my second birth. I was shouting, but no one could hear me."


Houben now sits in a wheelchair, his body twisted to one side as if in suspended animation, but his eyes are open and he can now "speak" via computer. He wrote that he maintained his sanity by dreaming himself away. "I was only my consciousness and nothing else."


His mother insists he is not depressed, that he is an optimist and that he wants to get the most out of his life.


Laureys claims that "up to 43 percent of patients with disorders of consciousness are erroneously assigned a diagnosis of vegetative state."


Surely, this case will further sensitize medical ethicists, physicians and others involved in the care of similarly situated patients about when to end aggressive intervention and restrict treatment to palliative care alone until nature takes it course.


Medicine is both an art and a science. Physicians deal in probabilities. Sometimes they get it wrong; sometimes miracles happen.


Optimistically, Laureys's work may cause physicians to reevaluate the brain activity of patients who were diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state before PET became available. (The technology has long been available in Israel.) It's not apparent whether the failure to correct Houben's diagnosis any earlier can be attributed to medical malpractice.


WHAT'S EVEN worse than doctors getting a diagnosis wrong? Answer: A politician playing doctor.


Here at home, Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman has drawn a sharp rebuke from the head of the Israel Medical Association (IMA) for personally and repeatedly intervening in the care of a patient at Schneider Children's Medical Center.


Litzman ordered doctors to treat a lower-brain-dead baby with antibiotics. This patient's condition has nothing in common with being in a vegetative state or in a coma.


The standard protocol for lower-brain-dead cases, after evaluation by two physicians and with the approval of director-general of the Health Ministry, is to discontinue the respirator. Under Israeli law, however, the hospital must honor the wishes of the family if it insists that a lower-brain-dead patient continue to receive nourishment and stay on a respirator. But no one has a right to demand the patient receive antibiotics.


The Health portfolio is formally held by the premier. Litzman is a deputy minister because his United Torah Judaism Party is unwilling to assume responsibility for the actions of a Zionist cabinet, though it does consent to exercise governmental power.


The IMA declared that Litzman had "no right to intervene" in this case. We agree. Israel can't afford to have politicians or clergymen micro-managing medical cases any more than it can tolerate having transportation ministers supplant air-traffic controllers at Ben-Gurion Airport.


If Deputy Health Minister Litzman concludes that his fiduciary responsibilities to Israel's citizens cannot be reconciled with his deeply held religious convictions, let him draw the necessary conclusions.








To borrow a computer term, if Ayatollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden, and Nidal Hasan represent Islamism 1.0, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (the prime minister of Turkey), Tariq Ramadan (a Swiss intellectual), and Keith Ellison (a US congressman) represent Islamism 2.0. The former kill more people but the latter pose a greater threat to Western civilization.


The 1.0 version attacks those perceived as obstructing its goal of a society ruled by a global caliphate and totally regulated by Shari'a (Islamic law). Islamism's original tactics, from totalitarian rule to mega-terrorism, encompass unlimited brutality. Three thousand dead in one attack? Bin Laden's search for atomic weaponry suggests the murderous toll could be a hundred or even a thousand times larger.


However, a review of the past three decades, since Islamism became a significant political force, finds that violence alone rarely works. Survivors of terrorism rarely capitulate to radical Islam - not after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in Egypt in 1981, nor the 9/11 attacks, the Bali bombings of 2002, the Madrid bombing of 2004, the Amman bombing of 2005, or the terrorist campaigns in Israel, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Terrorism does physical damage and kills and intimidates but it rarely overturns the existing order. Imagine Islamists had caused the devastation of Hurricane Katrina or the 2004 tsunami - what could these have lastingly achieved?


NON-TERRORIST violence aimed at applying Shari'a does hardly better. Revolution (meaning, a wide-scale social revolt) took Islamists to power in just one place at one time - Iran in 1978-79. Likewise, a coup d'état (a military overthrow) carried them to power just once - Sudan in 1989. Same for civil war - Afghanistan in 1996.


If the violence of Islamism 1.0 rarely succeeds in forwarding the Shari'a, the Islamism 2.0 strategy of working through the system does better. Islamists, adept at winning public opinion, represent the main opposition force in Muslim-majority countries such as Morocco, Egypt, Lebanon, and Kuwait. Islamists have enjoyed electoral success in Algeria in 1992, Bangladesh in 2001, Turkey in 2002, and Iraq in 2005.


Once in power, they can move the country toward Shari'a. As Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces the wrath of Iranian street demonstrators and bin Laden cowers in a cave, Erdogan basks in public approval, remakes the Republic of Turkey, and offers an enticing model for Islamists worldwide.


Recognizing this pattern, al-Qaida's once-leading theorist has publicly repudiated terrorism and adopted political means. Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (b. 1950, also known by the nom de guerre Dr. Fadl) was accused of helping assassinate Sadat. In 1988, he published a book that argued for perpetual, violent jihad against the West. With time, however, Sharif observed the inutility of violent attacks and instead advocated a strategy of infiltrating the state and influencing society.


In a recent book, he condemned the use of force against Muslims ("Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers") and even against non-Muslims (9/11 was counterproductive, for "what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours?").


Sharif's evolution from theorist of terrorism to advocate of lawful transformation echoes a much broader shift; accordingly, as author Lawrence Wright notes, his defection poses a "terrible threat" to al-Qaida. Other once-violent Islamist organizations in Algeria, Egypt, and Syria have recognized the potential of lawful Islamism and largely renounced violence. One also sees a parallel shift in Western countries; Ramadan and Ellison represent a burgeoning trend.


(What one might call Islamism 1.5 - a combination of hard and soft means, of external and internal approaches - also works. It involves lawful Islamists softening up the enemy, then violent elements seizing power. The Hamas takeover of Gaza proved that such a combination can work: win elections in 2006, then stage a violent insurrection in 2007. Similar processes are possibly underway in Pakistan. The United Kingdom might be undergoing the opposite process, whereby violence creates a political opening.)


In conclusion, only Islamists, not fascists or communists, have gone well beyond crude force to win public support and develop a 2.0 version. Because this aspect of Islamism undermines traditional values and destroys freedoms, it may threaten civilized life even more than does 1.0's brutality.








THE MONTH of November has different connotations for different people. November 1 is All Saints Day, a Christian holiday in honor of good people.


  November 2 is All Souls Day, a Catholic holiday honoring the memories of the dead. November 3,1957 was an important date in space exploration. It was then that the Russians sent the first living creature into space - a dog by the name of Laika. November 5 is known in Britain as Guy Fawkes Day, commemorating the foiled Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when Guy Fawkes planned to blow up the houses of Parliament. For Poles, November 7 is important, as it is the birth date of Polish-born scientist and two-time Nobel Prize laureate Marie Curie. November 9 is marked by Jews of Austrian and German background as Kristallnacht, the night of the broken glass, when Nazi hooligans vandalized Jewish-owned premises. In more recent years, it has also become a day of celebration marking the anniversary of the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.


November 11 is Armistice Day, marking the cessation of hostilities on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in the First World War. November 21, 1783 marked the genesis of air travel by human beings with the first flight by a man in a hot air balloon. November 30 is St. Andrew's Day, which is important to Scots. It also happens to be the date on which the great British leader Winston Churchill was born.


For Israelis, there are quite a number of events commemorated in November. First and foremost is November 29, the date of the historic United Nations resolution that paved the way for the creation of a Jewish State. Kristallnacht is also commemorated in Israel. Aside from November 29, the November date that is seared in the Israeli psyche is November 4, the date on which Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995. On a much happier note was the arrival in Jerusalem on November 19, 1977 of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.


Among the nation's leaders who were born or died in November were Chaim Weizmann, who was born on November 27 and died on November 8; Yitzhak Ben Zvi,who was born on November 24, and Zalman Shazar, who was also born on November 24.


  ANOTHER NOTEWORTHY Israeli was Abba Eban, who died on November 17, 2002. Four of Israel's former ambassadors to the United Nations will pay tribute to Eban, one of the pioneers of Israel's foreign service and the nation's first ambassador to the UN, at an event marking the seventh anniversary of his passing. The diplomatic gathering at the Hebrew University's Truman Institute will include many other diplomats, past and present, who will discuss the State of Israel and United Nations - Challenges and Triumphs.


The event will take place on Sunday, November 29, the 62nd anniversary of the United Nations resolution on the partition of Palestine, in which Eban played such a key role. Former ambassadors to the UN who are participating include Prof. Yehuda Blum, Yohanan Bein, Yoram Aridor and Dr. Yehuda Lancry.


The opening address will be delivered by Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who is a former Israel Ambassador to the United States. Eban was also ambassador to the US and later Foreign Minister.


EBAN'S WIDOW, Suzy Eban, who was the founder and long-standing president of the Israel Cancer Association, remains active and recently attended the opening of the Suzy Eban oncology unit at the Rebecca Sieff Medical Center.

The unit was established through a NIS 1 million gift by the Clore Foundation, headed by Dame Vivien Duffield, who was present along with other members of the foundation's Board of Trustees and staff, including Tamar Galai-Gat, Sir David Sieff, Kay Weinberger, Alan Sacks, and Caroline Deletra. Also present were Miri Ziv, director of the ICA, Meir Moskovitch, chairman of the friends of the Sieff Medical Center, Dr. Oscar Embon, director of the SMC, and other senior staff members.


The extension of the oncology department was a matter of necessity given the ever increasing numbers of patients, and the Clore Foundation came to the rescue.


  WITHIN FOUR hours of coming home following a nine day absence on his state visits to Brazil and Argentina, Peres held a meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who had come to Israel to confer the French Legion of Honor on Peres's son-in-law, French-born Prof. Raphi Walden, a member of the Board of Directors of Physicians for Human Rights.


Walden, who is the personal physician to the president, is also the deputy director of the Sheba-Tel Hashomer Medical Center. Kouchner, who is one of the founders of Doctors without Borders, is a personal friend of Walden's.


Prior to his meeting with Peres in Tel Aviv, Kouchner was at the French Consulate in Jerusalem where he signed an agreement for the reconstruction of a Gaza Hospital that suffered heavy damages during Operation Cast Lead. The project, including new equipment, will cost in the range of €2 million.


Kouchner, who was supposed to arrive in Israel during the last week of October, postponed the visit when Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu denied him the right to cross into Gaza from Israel. This caused somewhat of a diplomatic rift between France and Israel which Peres was asked to repair.


After the meeting, the two men met again at the residence of French Ambassador Christophe Bigot for the conferment ceremony. Former political leader and peace activist Dr. Yossi Beilin, who is a Peres protege and whom the late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin once dubbed "Peres's poodle," was also conferred with the Legion of Honor in recognition of his ongoing efforts to achieve peace in the Middle East.


Peres also sought to mend bridges with Turkey and invited President Abdullah Gul to visit Israel. On Sunday, Peres went to Egypt to meet with President Hosni Mubarak and on Tuesday, he met with German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle. There are several other meetings with foreign dignitaries at home and abroad in the pipeline.


The problem is that while everyone wants to meet with Peres, not everyone wants to hear the message.


  BY THE way, Peres is not the only octogenarian who still has loads of energy and who is forever looking for involvement in something new.


Even those who do not share his views cannot help but admire the tenacity, commitment and stamina of peace activist, journalist and former MK Uri Avnery, who was the recipient last Saturday of the Blue Planet Award for 2009, given by the German Ethecon Foundation for Ethics and Economics.


Avnery, who was born as Helmut Ostermann on September 10, 1923 in Beckum, Westphalia, came with his parents to Palestine in 1933 in the immediate aftermath of Hitler's rise to power. Avnery changed his German name for a Hebrew one when he was 18.


  ANOTHER EXAMPLE of boundless energy of mind and body is former Defense and Foreign Minister and former Israel Ambassador to the US Moshe Arens, who will celebrate his 84th birthday on December 27.

Arens, together with Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon, who is also a former ambassador to the US, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs President Dore Gold, who is a former Ambassador to the UN and Alan Baker, a former ambassador to Canada and before that a former legal counsel to Israel's Foreign Ministry, will participate Wednesday in the launch of Hadar, the Israel Council for Civic Action, an organization that aims to foster leadership from the ranks of people from English-speaking countries.


Ayalon, who is a sabra, doesn't quite qualify except for the fact that his wife is American. For that matter, Arens, although he came to Israel from America, was in fact born in Lithuania.


Within the framework of the launch, the four men will talk with journalist Ruthie Blum Leibowitz about how to confront new threats to delegitimize Israel, and will take a look at the UN 62 years after the passing of the resolution for the partition of Palestine.


The event will be held at the Begin Heritage Center, Jerusalem.


Anglo leadership from English speaking countries or via English speaking countries is not a new thing in Israel. It was there from pre-state times. Just a few examples: Golda Meir, whom Ben-Gurion dubbed the only man in his cabinet and who eventually became Israel's first and thus far only woman prime minister; Dov Yosef, a politician and statesman and Israel's second Minister of Justice; Abba Eban, pioneer diplomat and statesman; Chaim Herzog, Israel's sixth president; Al Schwimmer, hero of Israel's War of Independence and founder of Israel Aircraft Industries; Shimon Agranat, president of the Supreme Court 1965- 1976; Max Nurock, pioneer diplomat; Bernard Cherick, vice president of the Hebrew University, who served the university for 41 years; Zena Harman, who laid the foundations for Israel's social services; Abe Harman, president of the Hebrew University, diplomat and political activist; Louis Pincus, first managing director of El Al, chairman of the board of Tel Aviv University and chairman of the Jewish Agency which he was instrumental in restructuring; Alice Shalvi, innovative educator, civil rights activist, religious feminist and founder of the Israel Women's Network; Michael Fox, legal expert; Yehuda Avner, diplomat; and Stanley Fisher, governor of the Bank of Israel and many others.


  LIFE BECOMES a merry-go-round when your real home and part of your income is in one country, your residence and preferred work in another and your husband's place of employment in yet another - and none of them are in Europe.


That's what life is all about for Tel Aviv-born actress, singer and model Noa Tishby, who is the presenter of HaDavar Hagadol Haba ("The next big thing") and the house model and presenter for ml fashion. However Tishby prefers to live in Los Angeles, where she frequently lands roles in films and television productions.


The LA-TA commute is strenuous enough, but this week Tishby, after spending an extended period in Israel, left for Sydney, Australia to be present at the launch of the new television series LA Life, hosted by her husband, TV megastar Andrew G.,who will interview Hollywood personalities about their lifestyles and their careers.


At the gala launch attended by both Hollywood and Australian entertainment luminaries, Tishby displayed a dash of patriotism by wearing one of the four outfits specially designed for her by ml. The gowns, in four distinctly different styles, enabled Tishby to make a choice in accordance with her mood. Better still, when complimented and asked about the origin of her attire, she was able to say nonchalantly that it was a little something that she picked up in Israel.


  TRITE EXPRESSIONS such as 'one person can make a difference,' have become part of our lingua franca but to most of us they don't really mean anything. Ruth Lande Wasserman is living proof that one person can indeed make a difference, and that one person can inspire another and another and another until together they become a cohesive force working for a common cause that is dear to all their hearts.


Like many of us traveling from the north to the south or the south to the north of the country, Lande Wasserman often drove past Ben-Gurion Airport, occasionally took the turn-off into the airport, but until a little over a year ago, never drove into Lod itself. Before the airport was named for Israel's founding prime minister, it was called Lod or Lydda.


Though somewhat run down today, Lod is a treasure trove of the history of the three monotheistic faiths of the region. Wasserman, a former advisor on Diaspora affairs to Peres, and today a doctoral student in Middle East Studies at Oxford University, drove through the different neighborhoods, walked through the old city and wept at the neglect - not only physical and infrastructural neglect, but human neglect. She decided to do something about it - all this in the midst of marriage and study plans.


Fortunately, when one works at Beit Hanassi, one gets to know a lot of influential people, and Wasserman wasted no time in making contacts and impressing the message that Lod had to be restored to its former glory. It helped that the World Monument Fund recently added the old city of Lod to its list of monuments at risk, and that Lod was also declared a World Heritage site.


Lande and her husband, Aviv Wasserman, together with like-minded people founded The Lod Community Foundation that drummed up interest among the leaders of the city's various ethnic communities, and persuaded them that with a little effort they could turn Lod from a tenement city into a showplace. They cleaned up a number of areas, planted trees, introduced enrichment programs and planned viable strategies for the city's future development, with the aim of turning it into an attractive tourist center, which in turn will provide income for thousands of residents.


After proving that it could indeed help the people of Lod out of their quagmire, the LCF held its official launch last week in the presence of government ministers, diplomats, business leaders and local residents. The event in the old city included visits to open houses of Jewish and Arab residents, whose united front proved that coexistence is indeed possible.


There was also a photographic exhibition curated by award-winning photographer Alex Levac, and a presentation of the LCF's vision and projects for the development of the city. To round things off, there was a concert by David Broza and local musicians, plus an ethnic food festival. The spirit of carnival was definitely in the air, and it was a great way to introduce Lod to people who have never before been inside the city. For Mayor Ilan Harrari, the LCF is a godsend.


Although it has not yet been mentioned in future plans, it would not be surprising to find a Dan hotel going up

in Lod in the next couple of years. Among the LFC's supporters is Michael Federmann, who heads the Dan hotel chain. By the way, the Wassermans not only work and plan on behalf of Lod - they live there.


  THE RECIPIENT of numerous honors over the years, American Jewish community leader, philanthropist and investor in Israel's economy, Ronald S. Lauder, was among the recipients of honorary doctorates awarded this week by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The event was held as part of the university's annual Ben-Gurion Day commemorations to mark the anniversary of the passing of Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion.


The four other recipients were: physicist Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, a former president of the Hebrew University, Jerusalem; Israeli dancer and choreographer Rina Schenfeld; social activist and Israel Prize laureate Prof. Alice Shalvi, who established the Israel Women's Network and led the struggle to break the glass ceiling; and journalist Haim Yavin, aka Mr. Television. The Ben-Gurion Negev Prize was presented to the head of palliative care in the Negev, Dr. Yoram Singer.


A former US ambassador to Austria, Lauder maintains a deep commitment to his heritage within a mosaic of charitable and professional endeavors reaching around the world. He established the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation, a philanthropic organization that is dedicated to rebuilding Jewish communities in Central and Eastern Europe. The foundation also supports student exchange programs between New York and various capitals in Central and Eastern Europe.


If there was an Israel Prize for Diaspora Jews, Lauder would surely be deserving for his role in the revitalizing of European Jewish communities. Only people who visited East and Central European Jewish communities in the Communist and post-Communist eras can appreciate the enormity of what he has accomplished.


Lauder is a former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, former president and now Chairman of the Jewish National Fund, chairman of the International Public Committee of the World Jewish Restitution Organization and president of the World Jewish Congress.


He also serves as chairman of the Jewish Heritage Council, director of the International Board of Governors of the International Society for Yad Vashem, member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, member of the Board of Directors of the Jewish Theological Seminary, member of the Board of Directors of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, member of the Board of Trustees of the Anti-Defamation League Foundation, member of the Board of Trustees of The Abraham Fund, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Sakharov Archives at Brandeis University and is a member of the International Board of Governors of the Tel Aviv Museum.


  SOME CITIES and countries mark landmark anniversaries for a whole year, and begin to celebrate them a year in advance of the actual date. For popular singer Shlomo Artzi, the approach of his 60th birthday has been so momentous, that he, too, has been celebrating for the best part of a year, and tomorrow, Thursday, November 26, will finally reach the golden age.


Artzi was born on November 26, 1949 at Moshav Alonei Abba.


  THE NAME of impresario Shmuel Tzemach is legendary in Israel's entertainment industry. Tzemach was the first to bring Leonard Cohen to Israel, and his galaxy of stars includes performers such as Elton John, Mercedes Sosa, Paul Simon, Paul Anka, Simon and Garfunkel, Tina Turner, Frank Sinatra, Pavarotti, and many others.


His contribution to the industry was again officially recognized this week at the annual EMI awards. EMI is the Hebrew acronym for the Israel Union of Performing Artists. Tzemach, 77, was given a life achievement award by EMI and the municipality of Petah Tikva. His previous awards include the Israeli Theater Prize and the International Variety Prize.







A huge stream of capital flows to Western academic institutions. It paves the way and inflames the next generation of Islamic radicals and academics who supply them with insights and justifications. This capital also greases the most important university chairs, and the prestigious Ivy League institutions. Tell me who your sponsor is, and I will tell you what your next study will say.


Naïveté, and sometimes ignorance, sometimes feigned innocence, together and separately, cause blindness to reign. The academic world would roll its eyes. We? Can money influence us? We are saints. Pure and free of any blemish.


Reality is a bit different. Money talks in academia. This works in all directions. University chairs funded by pro-Israeli bodies will sing an appropriate tune. And university chairs whose funds come from Iran or Saudi Arabia (ostensibly rivals, but in fact allies) - will also sing accordingly.


But there is a difference. The "pro-Israel" funds, inasmuch as they exist, are but a fraction of the huge capital that flows to the West; capital that indeed influences academic programs, directly and indirectly.


TWO YEARS ago, John Esposito published the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, according to which only 7 percent of Muslims around the world belong to the radical stream. In fact, the book states, nine out of 10 Muslims are moderate.


There is no doubt that this is wonderful news. An absolute majority of moderates. In comparison with the believers of other religions, the outcome will yet be that the Muslims are the most moderate on Earth.


Middle East affairs expert Dr. Martin Kramer exposed the amazing misleading statements in the book in his post "Dr. Esposito and the 7% solution." For example, it makes no mention of an important poll that found that most of the Muslims in the world think that the 9/11 terror attacks were not carried out by Arabs. They were carried out, many Muslims believe, by the Mossad or the CIA, in order to defame Islam.


More importantly, who stands behind the renown researcher Esposito? It is none other than Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, who donated $20 million to Esposito's research foundation. And together they concoct for us an academic false presentation of Muslims, claiming that they are actually much more moderate than members of other religions. The money is Saudi. The result is an academic study by a prestigious university in the United States.


It does not have to be so. Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York, refused to receive a donation from bin Talal after the 9/11 attacks because the prince argued that they were the outcome of US policy in the Middle East.


Esposito, on the other hand, received the money and, of course, blamed US policy in the Middle East as the cause for the attacks. Al-Qaida and Hamas do not need a propaganda department. Esposito and his colleagues do the work.


In Britain, dozens of "centers of Islamic studies" were set up in universities, in order to make Muslim students more moderate. But there is a problem. A report by Prof. Anthony Glees "Extremism fear over Islam studies donations" found that the Saudis poured GBP 233 million into these centers. The result was the radicalization of young Muslims in the UK. Here too, billionaire bin Talal is in the background. He donated GBP 8 million to an Islamic center in Oxford. A poll conducted in Britain revealed that one third of Muslim students justify murder in the name of religion. You will find no mention of this in Esposito's book. No chance.


The money has no influence, they will claim. This is what we will also be told by the professors being supported by an Iranian foundation, which wants to spread the religion of peace and love around the world. And also, of course, the wonders of the Iranian revolution and its great president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.


The writer is an Israeli journalist and a regular columnist at Maariv.








Over the past few months, various Israeli media have reported on the situation of Jews in Norwegian society. Over the past few weeks, reports have increased in quantity and intensity, partly due to a group of researchers at the University of Trondheim asking the university's board of directors to start a boycott against Israel, which would make it the first university in the world to take such a step.


For us insiders - i.e. Norwegian Jews - many of the claims appear at best to be strange and at worst an unwise treatment of a subject that deserves greater objectivity.


The Jewish community in Norway is small and vulnerable. It is outwardly organized into two communities with a traditional, Orthodox standpoint. The country also has an ever-so-small Jewish "novelty" appeal: The most northerly synagogue and most northerly Jewish community in the world are in Trondheim.


The governing body of Norway's Jewish communities has on a number of occasions emphasized the fact that it does not recognize the claim that Norway is an anti-Semitic society. For reasons relatively incomprehensible to us, no importance is attached to Israelis' experiences and opinions with this issue.


This doesn't mean anti-Semitism does not exist here. We all know it does, mainly manifested as the hatred for Jews and all things Jewish now spreading throughout Muslim circles across the globe. The most extreme incident In Norway was in 2006, when a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the synagogue in Trondheim, and later the same year when a shooting took place at the synagogue in Oslo. Both incidents were carried out by men from Muslim immigrant communities.


BESIDES THIS, we experienced violent protests in connection with the war in Gaza last winter, mainly directed against the Israeli embassy. With these demonstrations, almost all violent episodes could be traced back to activists from immigrant communities.


A few days ago the board of directors of the second-largest university in Norway, NTNU in Trondheim, considered a proposal from a number of students and professors (one of whom is Jewish) for a total academic boycott of Israel. The proposal was unanimously rejected by the board after the government, the university principal and the chairman declared themselves strongly opposed. The chairman of the university, a high-profile Norwegian lawyer/politician and former member of the Norwegian Parliament, stated: "I have not been, I am not, nor will I ever become a supporter of a boycott of any type." However, what was most interesting about the matter was the massive condemnation with which the proposal was met in the media. Hanne Skartveit, political editor of VG, the most popular paper in Norway, denounced the proposal, which she called "An academic scandal," in a two-page commentary on November 7. Knut Olav Aamaas, culture and debate editor of Aftenposten, one of the most influential columnists in Norway's most influential newspaper, wrote: "There is not too much contact between Israel and Norway - rather too little [… .] Norway has a lot more to learn from Israel than Israel has to learn from Norway."


IT WOULD be dishonest of us to attempt to conceal the fact that we have a good working relationship with the Norwegian authorities. Over the past few years, the government has invested millions of Norwegian kroner in safety measures associated with the two Jewish communities. Earlier this year King Harald V and Crown Prince Haakon visited the synagogue and community center in Oslo to show their support. This was of major significance, both because the Jewish community was the very first religious minority to have received an official visit from the king, and because the king and crown prince arrived together. It is also worth mentioning that when the former chairman of the Jewish community in Trondheim died in March 2008, King Harald (on his own initiative) attended the funeral.


Nevertheless, the fact remains that no research can tell us how widespread anti-Semitism is in Norway, in what communities it is found, how the non-Jewish community views the Jewish minority, how the Christian majority regard the Jews in comparison with other minorities such as Muslims, or how the Middle East conflict influences Norwegians' relationships with Jews.


Up until now, these question were answered with assumptions that have essentially reflected the standpoint of the debaters.


The Center for Studies of Holocaust and Religious Minorities (HL-Center), an independent research foundation

established by Oslo University (UiO) and the Jewish communities in Oslo and Trondheim, are now launching a broad research project to provide answers to these questions. The center was established as a result of the so-called "Restitution Case" - the Norwegian state's moral and economic settlement for the liquidation of Jewish property during the Shoah. The center, which today has over 40 researchers, is managed by a governing body of seven members, of which the Jewish community and UiO each appoint three.


While awaiting the researchers' conclusions, we can summarize the following: The problems we encounter as Norwegian Jews primarily derive from the fact that some Muslim immigrants transfer their hatred of Israel to Norwegian Jews and Jewish institutions (in addition to having traditional attitudes based on the concept of us as dhimmi). This is a problem, not least for Jewish children in schools with a majority of Muslim pupils.


Then there is the fact that sections of Norwegian academia and cultural life are characterized by an anti-Zionism that in some cases borders on anti-Semitism. At the same time, there has been a subtle change over the past few years, and the treatment of the Israeli side in the Middle East conflict has become more balanced. Two editors in particular, Skartveit and Aamaas, have extricated themselves from the radical left-wing stereotypical perception of the Middle East.


The issues of anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism are too serious for the debate to be controlled by people with political motives. It is even worse when ignorance sets the conditions. Real problems must be met with targeted countermeasures. Chasing ghosts does absolutely nothing to serve Norwegian Jews. The research now being launched by the HL-Center is important for this reason. It will hopefully show where the problems lie, and how serious they are.


The writer is a member of the governing body of the HL-Center and of the Jewish community in Trondheim. He is the author of The Middle East - Conflict without an End? and editor of the daily regional paper Tronder-Avisa.








In between government jobs, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu would frequently speak to audiences in the United States. He would remind Americans that Israelis live in the Mideast not the Midwest. The Americans have demanded, pleaded, and are now begging for Israel and the Palestinians to begin negotiations. However, this is part of the problem. Those of us who live in the Middle East know that negotiations have already begun - especially those who have ever shopped in a shuk (market), Arab or Israeli. They are not negotiations around a table with everyone dressed in their best suits, but they are negotiations, Mideast style. Let me explain.


LAST WEEK I decided to shop in the Arab shuk in Jerusalem's Old City accompanied by a guide. As I walked down the narrow street, my guide said there were a lot of new products for sale. Everything looked the same to me, as if the same products had been for sale for the past 42 years. I must have been thinking out loud because an Arab shopkeeper said; "Sir, I have something new. Look at this hand-carved bowl made out of cedar."


Earlier this year US President Barack Obama announced a new "even-handed" approach to the Middle East. Israel cautiously responded that nothing had really changed. The Palestinians said they'll believe it when they see it.


My guide said he had never seen that bowl before. The shopkeeper said it was only NIS 500. I responded, "It looks like balsa wood to me. I'll give you NIS 50. No more."


The United States announced it would insist that Israel halt construction in all the settlements and Jerusalem. Israel said it would agree to a short moratorium on settlement construction, but Jerusalem was off the table. The Palestinians believed Obama had a good idea. They refused to negotiate until all construction in the settlements and Jerusalem came to a complete halt.


My guide said that was a wonderful buy. The shopkeeper said, "NIS 50? For NIS 50, my family would all starve to death. I can't part with this precious bowl for anything less than NIS 500."

"Okay," I said, "Maybe it's made out of pine. I'll give you NIS 100."


The United States said it needed positive gestures from both sides. Israel said it would agree to a demilitarized Palestinian state, but not the 1967 borders, and Jerusalem was still off the table. The Palestinians responded by stating they were not negotiating while construction continued in settlements and, by the way, Israel must withdraw from all of Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem would be their capital.


My guide said, "Wow, that's a generous counteroffer. Maybe you guys can compromise."


The shopkeeper said, "No way. Not a shekel less than 500. I'm closing my shop and going home."


I added "Compromise? I don't even have NIS 500 in my wallet."


US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a speech saying Israel had done well by agreeing to some of the US demands. Israel felt that was proof they still had a strong relationship. The head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, said he was quitting and going home.


The guide said, "Don't close up yet, I think he has NIS 400 in his wallet."

I said, "Whose side are you on anyway? No way. I'm sticking to the NIS 100 unless he reduces his price."


The shopkeeper said, "First you agree to buy it, then we'll talk price."


Clinton then changed her mind and said Israel could do better. Israel reminded the US it would no longer make any unilateral concessions. The Palestinians then threatened to unilaterally create their own country.


The guide whimsically said, "How can he agree to buy something if he doesn't know the price?"


I said, "Not only that, the guy next door has the same bowl."


The shopkeeper said, "But his bowl is made in China; mine is made in Is - I mean, the holy Land."


The United States said a unilateral Palestinian state was a nonstarter. Israel said it would take its own unilateral actions if the Palestinians created a state unilaterally. As an apparent warning, Israel approved 900 apartments in Gilo. The Palestinians - and now, for first time, the United States - said Gilo was a settlement. (The head of the UN said Gilo was situated on land conquered from the Palestinians in 1967. Really? He must have a different history book than mine. Mine says Jordan occupied Gilo and the rest of east Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria until 1967.)


I'm no fool. I live in Israel now; I know how the Mideast works.


I yelled to the shopkeeper across the street, "Hey, how much for that wooden bowl? This other guy wants NIS 500."


"Only NIS 300. It's made out of real pine," he answered. The guide frowned and said, "I'm not sure that's ethical."


The United States says it's was dismayed that Israel is building apartments in Gilo, that such action by Israel does not help the cause of peace.


I never bought the bowl. The shopkeeper is still trying to sell it.


My guide was furious. He said my failure to buy the bowl did not help the economy.


The writer is a certified criminal trial attorney. He made aliya in January 2008.









Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's harsh criticism of Israel for its policy in the territories in general and in Operation Cast Lead in particular unjustly changed Turkey's status from that of a close friend to that of an almost-enemy. Israel attributed Erdogan's criticism to the pan-Islamic slant of Turkey's ruling party, the country's growing ties with Iran and the aim of Turkey and Syria to replace their Western allies with Arab ones.

In a single moment we forgot the fact that it was Turkey that managed to renew the dialogue - albeit indirect - between Syria and Israel; that despite its extensive commercial ties with Iran, this Muslim state has no intention of damaging its own relations with Israel; and that ties with the West - including Israel - are part of Turkey's strategic concept.

The Turkish criticism is no different in essence from that being heard in some European countries or on American campuses. If it is sharper, that is partly because of the personal insult felt by Erdogan, who a few days before Operation Cast Lead hosted then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and even conducted an indirect phone conversation between Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad. Erdogan's request to attempt to mediate between Israel and Hamas was rejected; instead, the Turkish premier was forced to deal with the fallout from a violent operation in Gaza.


Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer is trying to put an end to the public account-keeping between Israel and Turkey. He proposes that Turkey resume its mediation between Israel and Syria. This is an appropriate proposal, one that testifies to a realistic approach that aspires to put aside the criticism, out of an understanding that peevish anger cannot be the basis for relations between two countries that attach strategic importance to the ties between them.

The Turkish side, too, apparently wants to move past the disagreement and restore relations with Israel. The words of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu testify to that. On the other hand, the harsh words being hurled in Turkey by his Israeli counterpart, Avigdor Lieberman, are hurting more than they are helping.

Israel's interest lies in restoring relations with Turkey, just as it does in renewing the Syrian track. If Turkey is the catalyst for that, we should avail ourselves of its good services.






The clandestine gathering of the heads of the hesder yeshivas (which combine Torah study with military service) this week in Jerusalem let the cat out of the bag. Anyone who thinks it really is possible to describe those from the hesder yeshivas who raise signs and oppose evacuation as "refuseniks" must now understand that the old definitions no longer suit the settlers' domination of the Israeli reality.

If we add to them IDF Chief Rabbi Avichai Rontzki, who a week ago said "Troops who show mercy to the enemy will be damned," it is difficult not to reach the dismal conclusion that the Israel Defense Forces is but a clear expression of this domination.

Who are the rabbis who met to discuss the "IDF attack against the hesder yeshivas"? Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, his father Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Rabbi Yaakov Yosef and many others, all of whom are familiar to the Israeli public in one connection: undermining Israeli sovereignty. They have all come out openly against the legal system. They all have an ultra-Orthodox, faith-based worldview. They all promised their public that "there will be no disengagement" and when it began they spurred soldiers to fight against it.


They all conduct messianic activity. For example, Rabbi Yehoshua Shapira - the students of his Ramat Gan yeshiva "illuminate the city" with Shabbat candles and booths for laying tefillin (phylacteries), and hold Hasidic dancing and awareness ceremonies that are controversial even in the religious community.

They are all dragging the students into a stringent separation between men and women, and are forcing the IDF to subordinate itself to these extremist norms. They all support, to some degree or other, the "hilltop youth," for example Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, who in his book "Revivim" called them "the dear hilltop youth, who devote themselves to settling the land and making the desert bloom."

They all teach their students that the blood of a Jew is redder than the blood of others, certainly than the blood of Arabs. In general, they all divide the world into Jews and the rest, like Rabbi Rontzki, who is praised in the hardali (ultra-Orthodox nationalist) press for the "revolution" he has brought about in the IDF and for his success in minimizing the influence of the Education Corps as compared to the military rabbinate, which is now in charge of the sphere of values.

Since the establishment of the Gush Emunim settler movement this group has had one project, which is becoming increasingly focused: to impose their worldview on Israeli society, until the Green Line dissolves and we all become settlers. Today, more than ever, this goal is close to being realized. The fact is that the prime minister, defense minister and chief of staff are all speaking in a hollow and unsubstantial way about their opposition to "refusal from any direction," including draft evasion. As though it were all the same thing.
And in fact the settlers, in whose eyes any means of penetrating public awareness are kosher, are now using explanations taken from the lexicon of draft evasion and the discourse of individual rights characteristic of the liberals of north Tel Aviv.

They no longer say "Eretz Israel" ("the Land of Israel") but rather "A Jew does not expel a Jew." Not "the sanctity of the land," but "we have to support parents whose children are forced by the army to carry out missions against their consciences." How touching. And how well it disconnects the political-ideological element from the discourse.

After all, we can understand a soldier whose conscience does not allow him to shoot on Shabbat, can't we? Well, the answer is absolutely not. That is precisely the path to the hardali takeover of the IDF: The rabbis have succeeded in keeping women away from their students, encourage them to turn to a rabbi on any issue related to "conscience" or "ethics," and have created a blatant separation between soldiers who have to obey every order every day of the week, and their favorites, the skullcap wearers.

There can no doubt: The domination of the Israeli reality by the settler norm is a successful enterprise. Every fiery speech by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who bangs on the table with his fist and declares that "we will not agree to refusal from any side," and every demonstration of evasiveness by Defense Minister Ehud Barak who threatens to punish opponents of evacuation but ingratiates himself with the hesder yeshivas and says that we must not harm all of them "because of a handful of refuseniks," are increasing this domination.

Just as the Supreme Court once permitted the two different legal systems in the territories and created a basis for apartheid, the political establishment is allowing the destroyers of democracy, who want to replace sovereignty with the rabbinate, to take it apart from within. That's not refusal at all. That's war.








Many wise men, including even our president, have mobilized to explain to us why the fact-finder is warped, or small-minded, or anti-Israel, or mistaken, or just doesn't understand. But perhaps Richard Goldstone will nevertheless succeed in making a small crack in our wall of denial and thus create an opening for the establishment of commissions similar to the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions that were established in the wake of his reports on violence in South Africa.

Israeli opposition to the Goldstone report reflects multiple layers of denial, ranging from literal denial (it never happened) through denial of its significance (these weren't really war crimes) to justification (we had no alternative; what can we do when they shell Sderot nonstop?).

There is also denial of the possibility that an international commission might be able to investigate better than the Israel Defense Forces (they're anti-Semites), denial of the existence of any international law that would also be valid in Gaza (awful things always happen in wars, and our situation is unique), denial of the pictures that were seen worldwide, but not in Israel (Al Jazeera is spreading propaganda), and denial of the possibility that there is another way besides the way of war.


We are not alone. The Americans are also uninterested in the judges and human rights organizations examining what their army is doing in far-off lands. And, just as in Israel, the combination of democracy and freedom of expression, on one hand, and military control over occupied territory, on the other, strengthens the walls of denial.

Robert Bernstein, in an op-ed criticizing Human Rights Watch, complained that it is spotlighting Israel, an open, democratic state, instead of investigating what goes on in closed states.

Bernstein, who served as chairman of Human Rights Watch for many years and is also a noted publisher, is well-acquainted with the openness and liberalism of Israeli intellectuals - the peaceniks who are proud of their soldier sons even as they sign petitions against the occupation. Israel is indeed a very open society when it comes to Jews. But it also operates in besieged Gaza, which is closed off and closed in.

For more than 42 years, mothers have fled bad news and soldiers have obeyed orders and made another people wretched. This isn't happening because there is no other way, but because in the view of the generals who lead the army into unnecessary wars, there is no one to talk to, no other way, and it's better not to know.

Some 22,000 people testified before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa. They painfully told their stories, asked pardon (which was granted to only a few of them) and described the terrible deeds they did - those same deeds that they had denied for years, or else insisted that those who perpetrated them were exceptions, or explained that some things are done in secret because they are necessary, but one doesn't talk about them.

The Goldstone report is not sufficient, but perhaps it will pave the way to a discussion of the present and the past, en route to a better future. If Hamas has already expressed willingness to discuss the








On June 19, 1967, a week and a half after the end of fighting in the Six-Day War, ministers, including Menachem Begin, were willing to give up on the gains made on the Syrian front in exchange for peace.

"Israel is proposing a peace agreement on the basis of the international border and the security needs of Israel," the government statement read, listing the following conditions: "A peace agreement would require: 1.
Demilitarization of the Syrian heights currently held by the IDF forces; 2. An absolute promise not to interfere with the flow of water from the sources of the Jordan [River] to Israel."

Thus were created, 42 years ago, the basic conditions for an agreement, which are still valid today.

If negotiations between Syria and Israel are resumed, given the fact that pulling out of the Golan Heights is a known price, what will be left to discuss is the security of Israel under such circumstances.

Despite the significant changes that have occurred in the structure of the Syrian army, including its size and weapons systems, an agreement demilitarizing the heights and securing the water sources of Israel (the
Kinneret and the sources of the Jordan River), in order to ensure security would be sufficient.

There will be a need to reach agreement on other issues pertaining to security, but these will be minor and will stem from the two basic conditions.

At the Israel Defense Forces headquarters there is general consensus that the benefit of a peace accord with Syria outweighs the risk of pulling out of the Golan Heights.

This is the reason that Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has publicly called to return to the negotiation table and has said that "we should not be disheartened by Assad."

The IDF brass is convinced that it is possible to reach arrangements that will not undermine the country's security.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has also stressed that "the signs of peace from Syria should not be looked down upon."

A central defense issue on the Syrian front is concern about a surprise attack. Actually, a pullback from the Golan Heights will improve deterrence. A demilitarized zone, free of offensive forces, will distance the armies of the two states further and would create a buffer where, if Syrian forces enter they will be immediately discovered, and guarantee a deterrent against the possibility of war.

If early warning stations on Mount Hermon are added to the equation, it will be possible to detect a concentration of forces and expose violations of the demilitarization agreement.

The next war with Syria, if it occurs, will be characterized less by armor battles and conquest of territory, and more by missile and rocket launches from behind the front lines.

The Syrian army has about 1,000 ballistic missiles, with a range of 300-700 kilometers, covering every point inside Israel. More problematic, from Israel's point of view is Syria's rocket arsenal. The IDF does not really have a response for the thousands of 220 mm rockets (with a range of up to 70 kilometers) and the 302 mm ones (with a range of 90 kilometers), like it had no response for the thousands of Katyusha rockets launched by Hezbollah in 2006.

Moreover, the Syrian army has deployed tens of thousands of BM-21 rockets, whose range is 20 kilometers. The Golan Heights does not contribute a thing in countering the missile and rocket threat.

An international force in a buffer zone in the Golan Heights, separating between the armies and inspecting both sides, will fulfill the conditions of the agreement, and will add an important element to Israel's sense of
security. The Syrians seemingly agreed in talks at Shepherdstown in 2000 to the deployment of U.S. or uropean forces, as a force in the demilitarized buffer zone.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must decide whether achieving peace with Syria is a strategic target, as the chief of staff and defense minister think. If he decides yes, then the argument that has been made more than once to excuse delaying an agreement with the Syrians, that the cost is too high because it may undermine Israel's security, is patently invalid.

Syrian President Bashar Assad appears to have made the strategic decision to sign a peace accord with Israel. If there are those who think that this is mere posturing, this is the time to test him. The security of Israel will not be endangered if it turns out that Assad does indeed mean what he says.







State courts are not just another government agency. They are at the center of the nation's legal system and enforcement of the rule of law, handling more than 95 percent of all civil and criminal litigation. This vital institution — constitutionally, an independent, co-equal branch of government — has been spiraling into crisis as cash-starved states struggle with huge deficits.


In a sobering speech earlier this month at a gathering of the New York City Bar Association, Margaret Marshall, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, warned that because of budget cuts in tough economic times, state courts across the country stand at "the tipping point of dysfunction."


Chief Justice Marshall's sense of alarm is well founded. Reductions in financing have led to some overdue efficiencies that states might not have made if the recession had not forced their hands. But in too many cases, the cuts are already impeding core court functions, forcing court closures, shortened court hours and a tangible narrowing of access to justice.


New Hampshire, for example, suspended civil and criminal jury trials in 8 of 10 county courts for one month each between last December and June. In California, state courthouses are closed for business on the third Wednesday of every month. Iowa is planning to close all state courts for several days before the state's fiscal year ends on June 30.


More than two dozen states have imposed court hiring freezes, and 11 states have put staff on unpaid furloughs of varying length, according to the National Center for State Courts. Court staff, including clerks, court interpreters and security personnel, have been eliminated or reduced. In a financially driven loosening of security in Maine, for instance, magnetic security machines at local courthouses are no longer regularly manned. In Alabama, says the immediate past president of the Alabama Bar Association, Mark White, fiscally driven "compromises in service and security are creating a situation ripe for disaster."


In Georgia, it can take 60 days to hold a hearing in a temporary custody case that used to take just a few weeks. In other states as well, spending cuts have led to fewer court dates available for hearing and trials, creating a growing backlog of cases. With priority given to serious criminal matters, there is a looming threat to the civil justice system, and its ability to vindicate people's rights, and to foster economic growth and stability by enforcing business contracts in a timely manner.The brunt of the budget cuts has fallen on the high-volume courts hearing family and juvenile matters, misdemeanors and small-claims disputes, notes the American Bar Association. Some of society's most vulnerable people, including battered women, abused and neglected children and victims of vandalism and petty theft, turn to these courts for protection and justice.


There are factors apart from budget problems undermining the vitality of state courts, not least the advent of expensive judicial election and retention campaigns fueled by special interest money. And no one, including Chief Justice Marshall, suggests that state courts should be spared from having to share the burden at a time when cuts to health care and public education are under consideration in nearly every jurisdiction. But, at some point, slashing state court financing jeopardizes something beyond basic fairness, public safety and even the rule of law. It weakens democracy itself.








In 2006, a Veterans Affairs Department analyst lost a laptop and external drive with Social Security numbers and other personal data from more than 26 million veterans and active duty troops. There was a national call for a federal law to protect this sort of data — as there has been after other big data breaches — but nothing was done. Finally, a bill is moving in the Senate that would put more protections in place for personal data.


Computers hold an enormous amount of personal information about people. In the wrong hands, the data can be used to steal identities or drain bank accounts. There is a patchwork of laws that offers varying levels of protection to residents of most, but not all, states, but there is no overarching federal law.


Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat of Vermont, is sponsoring a bill, the Personal Data Privacy and Security Act of 2009, that would beef up cybersecurity and make people's personal information safer. It would require entities that keep personal data to establish effective programs for ensuring that that data is kept confidential. That could include encryption of data, although the law does not specify any security method. When there is a breach, it would require that notice be given to individuals whose personal information is exposed.


The Leahy bill applies both to the private companies and to government, which is important, since both the private and public sectors have been responsible for major data breaches in the past few years. It would require data brokers — companies that collect personal data and sell it to third parties — to inform consumers about the data they have on them and allow people to correct erroneous information. The bill also makes it a crime to intentionally conceal a security breach that exposes personal data, and it increases criminal penalties for identity theft by use of electronic personal data.


One potentially troubling aspect of the bill is that it would pre-empt, or nullify, state laws in this area. That is not a problem if the bill remains in its current form. But it should not be allowed to get weaker during the legislative process. A weak federal law that pre-empts state protections would be worse than no federal law at all.


Mr. Leahy's bill was sent to the full Senate by the Judiciary Committee this month along with another worthy, but more limited, bill introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat of California.


There are many important issues competing for Congress's attention, but keeping people's personal information safe should rank high on the list. Senate leaders should find the time for a vote on the Leahy bill, and the House should pass its own bill without further delay.







The recession has wreaked a special kind of havoc in the Katrina-ravaged Gulf states, where the effort to rebuild housing for low-income workers and their families is in danger of coming to a halt. Unless Congress acts quickly, more than 70 different housing developments totaling more than 6,000 units might never get built. That would be terrible for the Gulf region, which needs a lot more affordable housing and a large low-wage work force to drive its recovery.


Nearly all affordable rental housing is built through the federal low-income tax credit program, under which companies get tax relief for investing in housing projects. The credits allotted by Congress just after the storm under the Gulf Opportunity Zone Act got the rebuilding effort off to a good start. But businesses have become less interested in the tax credits since the onset of the recession because they have less profit to offset.


Demand will surely pick up as the economy improves. But time is running out for the all-important tax credits that were allotted in the post-Katrina period. Under the opportunity zone act, developments built with credits were required to be ready for occupancy by December 2010, which would have been fine had the recession not come along. If the developments miss this date, because of weather delays or other problems, the investors who bought the credits will lose them.


With just a year to go, potential investors who are worried about delays are avoiding the Gulf tax credit program. This has jeopardized affordable-housing developments in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi.


Congress can boost investor confidence and give Gulf restoration a shot in the arm by adopting a House bill that would extend the occupancy deadline on Gulf tax credits to December 2012. The two additional years would give developers time to complete these desperately needed projects.








Something about a sea otter looks so insouciant. Drifting on its back, bobbing up and down in the waves, it looks over at the humans standing on the rocks as if to exaggerate its ease in the water, its complacent, buoyant virtuosity. There is not merely one sea otter here on the north side of the point at Año Nuevo State Park, a couple of dozen miles north of Santa Cruz, Calif. There are perhaps 20 in sight, parents and young.


Where we stand, the sand is mottled with dark brown scraps of fur, as if the sky had been raining swatches. This is the accumulated debris left behind by the catastrophic molting of several thousand elephant seals, which begin coming ashore in December to give birth, to mate, to bask and to shed all of their fur and a layer of their skin before slipping into the sea again. The main contingent of elephant seals has not yet arrived, only a lone female — so much handsomer than her suitors. She lies well up the beach, under a scrub of shade, soft and gray. She turns her head to look at us a few yards away, her moist black eyes almost beseeching.


Both the sea otter and the northern elephant seal came through severe bottlenecks in the past century. These are the survivors of tiny, relict populations after being hunted nearly to extinction for their blubber and their fur. And, in a sense, Año Nuevo has come through several bottlenecks, too. Like so many of California's state parks, it narrowly averted being closed during the ongoing state budget crisis.


But the real bottleneck in the first half of the 20th century was simply lack of protection. Before California created this refuge for elephant seals in 1958, Año Nuevo was a deeply puzzling place. The low, rocky point was a place of unbelievably rich intertidal life, yet it was overburdened by development plans and surrounded by farms growing row-crops heavy on pesticide — brussels sprouts mostly.


Setting aside the park's 4,000 acres was a start. But it has taken another 50 years to begin to protect the landscape in which Año Nuevo Point is set. What you see there now is a steadily developing patchwork of protections, the remarkable result of private efforts, state and municipal programs, reclamation trade-offs, and the gradual substitution of small organic farms for the old toxic monocultures. The protections are by no means complete. But it's hard to imagine a more vivid demonstration of the value of coastal protection and the ways in which it can be done.









At his Cabinet meeting Monday afternoon, President Obama took a moment to give thanks to his team.


Sipping a glass of water, the president offered special gratitude to the woman on his right.


"I advised this hard-working Cabinet to get a little bit of rest this week," he said, looking at Hillary Clinton, "particularly the people who have been traveling around the globe day-in and day-out and don't know what time zone they're in."


The secretary of state, with a china cup and saucer in front of her, smiled.


In the back of the room, back where they were parched, back where no water or coffee was served for the two-hour meeting, sat Greg Craig, the White House counsel who was a ghostly presence, given his death by a thousand leaks.


Only a year after he had helped Barack Obama get elected by eviscerating his close friend, Clinton White House colleague and Yale Law School classmate, Hillary Clinton, Craig was himself eviscerated by the Obama inner circle.


I remember meeting Craig at a book party during the campaign. He upbraided me for writing critical things about Obama. I didn't like being chastised, but I admired his loyalty.


It couldn't have been easy for Craig, a special counsel in the Clinton White House who directed the response on impeachment, to break away from the Clintons and help the insurgent Obama shatter Hillary's dream of shattering the Oval glass ceiling.


As Todd Purdum wrote of Craig in The Times in 1998, "At Yale, he surrendered his $75-a-month apartment in New Haven to Mr. Clinton and his girlfriend, Hillary Rodham, who were a class behind him, and he remains especially close to Mrs. Clinton, friends say."


In a memo he sent to the press during the bitter 2008 Democratic primary, Craig made the case that Hillary had exaggerated her foreign policy experience and that she did not pass "the Commander-in-Chief test."


It was brutally effective, taking apart her claims of involvement, country by country, and noting: "As far as the

record shows, Senator Clinton never answered the phone either to make a decision on any pressing national

security issue — not at 3 AM or at any other time of day."


I often wondered if Craig and U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, the other former Clinton official who helped undermine Hillary's foreign policy record, would have done so if they had known that after turning on Hillary they would once more end up working beside her; if they had known that Obama can often be more interested in wooing opponents than tending to those who put themselves on the line for him.


There were complaints that Craig was out of the loop, but couldn't Obama have walked the single West Wing staircase up to his counsel's office and looped him in?

Craig was, after all, simply defending positions that Obama himself took during the campaign, from closing Gitmo to greater transparency.


The way the Craig matter was handled sent a chill through some Obama supporters, reminding them of the icy manner in which the Clintons cut loose Kimba Wood and Lani Guinier. But then, Obama is surrounded by many old Clinton hands (and a Clinton).


Writing in Politico, Elizabeth Drew called it "the shabbiest episode of his presidency," saying that it had caused people who had helped Obama rise to question whether he would behave in as classy and non-Clintonian a fashion as they had hoped.


It recalled Obama's failure to lift a finger to help Caroline Kennedy — after she had lifted him at a crucial moment — when the loopy Gov. David Paterson was dragging her through mud and refusing to announce a decision on the appointment for the New York Senate seat. Paterson was being lobbied by a vengeful Bill Clinton. Bill was still upset at Caroline for bestowing the Camelot mantle, which he had tried to claim during his campaigns, on Obama. Yet no one from the Obama camp tried to counteract Bill and straighten out Paterson.


Although a handful of donors were invited to the premiere state dinner Tuesday night — as well as erstwhile allies Craig and Hillary — many donors and passionate supporters are let down by Obama's detachment, puzzled at his failure to make them feel invested when he's certain to come back to tap their well soon enough.


It is especially puzzling given that Obama faces tough midterms and a less-than-certain re-election — and given that we all now know someone on the unemployment line. (A new poll shows Obama and Sarah Palin neck and neck among independents, but then it is a Fox survey.)


Bill Clinton may not have cared any more about contributors than Obama does, but he was such a talented politician that he made them feel as though they were in "a warm bath," as one put it.


Obama is more like a cold shower.

Thomas L. Friedman is off today.







Wellesley, Mass.

ABORTION financing has become an important stumbling block in negotiations over health care reform. An amendment sponsored by Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, which was added to the House bill at the last minute, would prohibit both government-run insurance plans and any private insurance plans purchased with government subsidies from covering abortions.


The amendment quickly led to a burst of rhetoric and lobbying on both sides of the abortion debate. But this public battle exaggerates the extent to which the Stupak amendment would really change things for women seeking abortions. And, at the same time, it obscures the other benefits that expanded health insurance coverage could bring to women's reproductive health. Ultimately, providing greater access to family planning could significantly reduce the total number of unintended pregnancies.


The Stupak amendment's effect on any individual woman's insurance coverage for abortion depends on what kind of insurance she has now. About 12 percent of the 62 million American women of childbearing age — ages 15 to 44 — are now covered by public insurance plans like Medicaid. For them there will be no change because current law already prohibits the use of federal funds to cover abortion costs.


Likewise, the amendment would change nothing for women who now have no insurance — about 20 percent of women of childbearing age.


The women whose abortion coverage would be at risk are those who are covered by private insurance — some 42 million women aged 15 to 44. Insurers could decide to drop all abortion coverage in order to ensure their eligibility to participate in public insurance exchanges, where many Americans are expected to purchase insurance if health reform legislation passes. But women who have private insurance are not as likely as women with no insurance or public insurance to have abortions. Privately insured women tend to be older, with higher family income, and women in these groups are much less prone to seek abortions.


The abortion rate of women in poverty is four times that of women above 300 percent of the poverty level. Only six percent of women of childbearing age with private health insurance live in poverty; 62 percent have incomes above 300 percent of the poverty line.


Even if women with private health insurance find themselves seeking an abortion, the out-of-pocket cost for the vast majority of them is not that high relative to their income. In general, 89 percent of abortions are performed in the first trimester; these non-hospital procedures cost an average of around $400.


The small group of women who decide to abort after their first trimester — perhaps for reasons of fetal health — could potentially be affected more seriously, as these abortions are considerably more expensive. Yet the women who undergo second-trimester abortions are unlikely to be covered by private insurance now; nearly two-thirds of them have family incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level.


What is being overlooked in this debate is the benefit to women's reproductive health that would most likely occur if insurance access were expanded. Currently, 89 percent of private health insurance plans cover contraceptive services. Presumably, if health care reform provided insurance to more women, those who gained coverage would receive family planning services as well. Research on expanded Medicaid coverage that I have done with a colleague using data from 1990 to 2003 found that it reduced unintended childbearing by 9 percent. Our data indicate that this reduction was attributable to greater use of contraception.


This suggests that health care reform could lead to a substantial reduction in unintended fertility. Consider that there are 12.4 million uninsured women of childbearing age. Suppose that health care reform ended up providing health insurance for 10 million of them. Each year, roughly 7 percent of all women this age give birth, amounting to about 700,000 births to this group of women. If their rate of fertility were cut by 9 percent, then 63,000 unintended births could be avoided if health care reform is enacted.


I do not mean to understate the importance of the abortion debate taking place. Yet this debate should not overshadow the tangible benefits to women's reproductive health that could be brought about by expanded insurance coverage.


Phillip B. Levine, a professor of economics at Wellesley College, is the author of "Sex and Consequences: Abortion, Public Policy and the Economics of Fertility."








Weston, Conn.

IN my 20s I was a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines, and I remember the holiday season as the most exhausting of the year. But I loved my job. From the first day Northwest hired me in Minneapolis in 1969, I tried to be a model flight attendant, to develop the qualities my operations manual demanded: poise, good judgment, initiative, adaptability and a spotless appearance.


But one time I slipped up: I fell asleep. It happened one dreary morning around Thanksgiving. We'd just landed in Washington and I was dog-tired. The crew had disembarked for breakfast; the new passengers wouldn't board for two hours. For some reason, my eye drifted toward the overhead racks. Back then, the racks in Boeing 727's had no doors and were used only for storing pillows, blankets and passengers' coats and hats. I looked at all the little pillows up there, snuggled next to the blankets. And then I climbed up.


This was not easy in a pencil skirt and regulation red half-slip. But I did it. And it was heaven. I lay back on the mountain of pillows and pulled a blanket up over my head. Just before I drifted off, the thought crossed my mind that I ought to set my portable alarm clock — but it was too late.


I certainly wasn't worrying about our operations manual, though I knew, of course, that flight attendants caught sleeping on duty could lose their wings. But I wasn't on duty, not in the strict sense. What's more, I was exhibiting initiative and adaptability, some of those attributes most cherished by Northwest Airlines.


It was a sound sleep. Suddenly I woke to a voice on the public address system: "Morning, folks. This is your captain speaking. We're No. 4 for takeoff, up near the end of the runway. So if you'll just sit back and relax, we'll be taking off in a few minutes. The flight attendants will do the best they can for you this morning, even though they are one short in the second cabin."


I opened my eyes and gasped. The passengers and crew had boarded, and no one had checked my overhead bunk. If only someone had tried to store a coat up there or grab a blanket! I should have been down on the cabin floor, on duty and with my one-inch grosgrain ribbon tying my hair in place, my gold logo centered on the front of my hat. Instead, I was up on that rack, breaking into a cold sweat.


If I ever needed that Northwest Airlines initiative, it was then. I poked my head out and down. The cabin was packed with businessmen reading the financial papers. I hitched up my skirt — hemmed precisely one and three-quarter inches above the knee — and lowered a leg. This snagged the attention of the last 10 rows, as well as my pantyhose. Then I lowered my other leg. By this time, the rows in front had turned around and were watching too. Luckily, no one laughed.


I swung down and planted my navy blue pump half on a passenger's arm rest and half on his pinstriped leg. My hat was in the overhead rack, I told him, and I had been digging around for a long time trying to find it. I pointed out that I had to wear my hat, or I would be fired.


He cleared his throat but didn't say anything. I thanked him for his understanding and walked up the aisle toward my two fellow flight attendants, who were howling with laughter. We were sobered only by the realization that somebody had to notify the captain.


As the plane rose to cruising altitude, the senior flight attendant went to the cockpit and explained that I was

back in the cabin. Meanwhile, I put on my smock and began pouring coffee, trying to avoid the rows near my overhead bunk. As I headed back to the galley to refill my coffeepot, I found the captain waiting for me with a stern and unforgiving look. I was getting ready to try to explain when he snapped the galley curtain closed and doubled over with laughter. "All's well that ends well," he said with a wink.


Elizabeth Fuller is the author of the play "Me and Jezebel."








ON Oct. 3, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln declared the final Thursday of November to be a national holiday of Thanksgiving. That came just over a year after Lincoln made another more historic proclamation, one that directly concerned my family and their future: the Emancipation Proclamation, which had freed the enslaved in any territory "in rebellion."


These two proclamations are visually conjoined in a stereograph made about the same time that is familiar to students of the American South. Taken by Henry P. Moore, it shows African-Americans at work on a plantation on Edisto Island, off South Carolina. They are captured in attitudes of deep concentration, posed with hoes in hands or seated around a large basket, preparing to plant. They are described as new freemen or escaped slaves — and the tubers that they are planting are alternately labeled sweet potatoes or yams.


The image is a potent one. The men and women work intently, unsmilingly and with none of the joyful conviviality that characterizes the popular plantation images of the period — it's as if, though they have been freed from bondage, they can foresee the decades of sharecropping and disenfranchisement that will follow. The people depicted would have had much to be thankful for in 1863, but they were also doing the menial agricultural work that has been the lot of people of color in this country for centuries.


For the culinarily astute, however, the photo reaches back even further into the African-American past, because the crop being readied was and still is emblematic of African-American foodways.


Sweet potatoes are New World tubers that were adopted by enslaved Africans on the American continent. They could be grown in the temperate climates; they could be stored in mounds and used as needed to supplement meager rations. When cooked in the ashes of a dying fire, they were a sweet treat at the end of a bone-tiring day of toil. Most important, sweet potatoes were taken to the hearts and stomachs of Africans and their descendants in the United States because they recalled the true yam of Africa.


The yam, a large hairy tuber that bears no botanical relationship to the sweet potato, grows mainly in tropical and subtropical climates and is of primary importance to many West African societies. From Ghana to Nigeria, yam festivals celebrate the desire for a bounteous harvest and the continuity of life. In languages of the West African coast, including Wolof in Senegal and Umbundu in Angola, the tuber is so popular that some variant of the word "yam" simply means "to eat."


Slavers transporting captives from those areas on the Middle Passage provisioned themselves with yams sufficient for the voyages. But once ashore in more temperate America, the slaves found that the African tuber was unavailable, and thus substituted it with the sweet potato — leading to centuries of botanical and gastronomic confusion. (More recently, though, true yams imported from the tropics have become available in ethnic markets in this country.)


Today Thanksgiving thrives as a beloved national feast celebrated by Americans of all ethnic origins and religions. It has expanded with the country beyond the traditional foods like turkey and corn and pumpkins that remind us of the Pilgrims' feast and the generosity of the American Indians. On many African-American tables, next to the dressed bird, there will be a sweet potato dish, be it a casserole, a pone, a pie or the classic candied sweet potatoes topped with marshmallows.


We may call the starring ingredient sweet potatoes or, erroneously, yams, but no matter their appellation they are a culinary reminder of our national history and deserving of a place at the Thanksgiving feast.


Nearly 150 years after Lincoln's Thanksgiving Proclamation, the United States has a first family that is a direct reflection of the Emancipation Proclamation that preceded the national holiday. It seems fitting, at our various communal tables, to muse on Lincoln's two proclamations, to consider just how far we have come and to remember all that for which we should be thankful. I hope that at the White House they are serving sweet potato pie for Thanksgiving.


Jessica B. Harris, an English professor at Queens College and a contributing writer for the Web site Zester Daily, is the author of the forthcoming "High on the Hog: A Culinary Journey From Africa to America."








It is as if we are seeing an action replay of events from the Musharraf era and it is the ugliest and most unfortunate of the events that are being repeated – under an elected government which had sworn it would respect media freedoms. Just as happened before, a foreign government has been pressurized into banning the broadcast of a popular talk show from its soil. Its host, Dr Shahid Masood, has told viewers of Geo News that he is now broadcasting the programme, without studio support, from a secret location. He has spoken too of threats made by PPP members, warning him that he would be dealt with in no uncertain terms if he returned to Pakistan. It is shameful that so blatant an attempt should be made to clamp down on the basic right to free expression. This is all the more so given the condemnation that had come from the PPP when the 2007 media crackdown under Musharraf took channels off the air. The fact that one of the same channels and one of the same hosts have been targeted suggests that they are indeed doing their job – by talking about and exposing the doings of whatever government is in power, without bias and without discrimination.

This after all is the primary duty of the media and what millions of viewers expect from it. The president and his henchmen must also realize this action will serve no purpose at all. Not so very long ago a man named Musharraf learnt this to his cost. The vibrant news media of Pakistan has acquired a life and strength that enables it to fight back against such illegal censorship. To do so it can draw too on the support and goodwill of people. It has done so in the past, it will do so again. It is the government which, as a result, will suffer and stand still further discredited. The days of monopoly by a single state-controlled channel have gone forever. The president clearly has difficulties accepting this. Perhaps like others who have things to hide he cannot bear to hear things that may not, for him, be particularly pleasant. This lack of tolerance has been seen before in our history. We now encounter it again in its worst form.







The political stability that Pakistan so badly needs still seems elusive. The latest dose of instability has had an impact on the Karachi Stock Exchange and on other facets of life, with nobody quite knowing what lies ahead. The future of some ministers is at stake, though the information minister has said they will not be displaced. A cabinet reshuffle has been delayed. There is conjecture that the NRO cases may yet have an impact on the top beneficiary of the controversial law – a certain Mr Asif Ali Zardari. Certainly, many are uncomfortable with the idea of having as head of state a man who faces so many charges of corruption. It is sad that he, and indeed others on the list, have – with the exception of an adviser to the Punjab CM – not done the honourable thing. By stepping down they would have played a part in reviving some faith in government and in Pakistan as an entity. This is badly needed for reasons that go well beyond the limited arena of politics.

Our economy has plenty of potential. Lately, even as bombs rip apart our cities, it has shown some resilience and an ability to fight back against adversity. Pakistan's ratings by global agencies have held stable. But this does not mean that a system that can inspire greater confidence would not bring many rewards. It is not just terrorism that scares away foreign investment. The perceptions of rampant corruption do so just as much. From around the world there are business groups who, when faced with a choice, have opted to put money in nations that they feel are run by more committed leaders who seem likely to remain in office. The talk of ministers seeking bribes, 'commissions' and favours for every small matters placed before them – even for signing bits of paper – reassures no one. At the same time the constant feeling that we walk on a wobbly air-bed, that change may lie just weeks, or months, away, does nothing to build peace of mind. Yet a lasting sense of calm is something Pakistan needs more than anything else, for it to find a firm economic footing, to stop the new brain drain we are seeing and to build confidence in people. The NRO fiasco has further detracted from this and that will do no good at all.







The British Council's "Next Generation Report on Pakistan" provides perhaps the clearest picture of how our younger generation thinks and feels about their homeland. Its measured tones and careful analysis make uncomfortable reading despite both positive and negative paths being detailed. The sampling of the surveys that underpin the report is broad and its conclusions derived from data which is comprehensive. The report identifies something called the 'demographic dividend' which is a period where there is a favourable ratio of potentially productive young people, to old. The window of opportunity to exploit this began in 1990 and we have done nothing to take advantage of it since; and the window will close in 2045 (by when society will be aging rapidly) giving us thirty-five years to turn the tide. Alongside the possible opportunity there is demographic disaster which will only be averted by aggressive and sustained action by successive governments. The research indicates that one-third of the growth experienced by East Asian economies in their boom years can be traced to this demographic structure; and if we are able to harness it effectively we could see economic growth increase by as much as one-fifth by 2030.

Our young generation is politically disillusioned. They are very loyal and strongly nationalistic but only 10 per cent have any faith in the key institutions of state – national and local governance, the police and the courts. In terms of identity 75 per cent see themselves as Muslims first and secondly as Pakistanis with just 14 per cent seeing themselves primarily as a citizen of Pakistan. Democracy gets short shrift with 33 per cent seeing it as the right system for us and another 33 per cent preferring some form of Sharia. A majority are critical of the way Pakistan has been manipulated by the international community for most of its life. Despite attempts at optimism, there is little cheer in the report, especially when it is laid alongside the failure of virtually every government we have had to address the issues it identifies and which have been there from the beginning. We cannot throw up our hands and claim ignorance because this particular elephant in the living room has been standing there for over sixty years. Either we invest in our young generation now or we wither and fail in thirty-five years time — our choice is that stark.







For all their brave talk of fighting, dying and teaching the army a lesson, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan did what they always do when confronted by a larger force: they fled. A number, of course, stayed back, possibly as a rearguard to slow the army's advance. That would make sense, as from their well-positioned locations they could extract a heavy toll from the army. As it happened, the death toll was relatively light. In all, 550 insurgents, less than five per cent of the estimated numbers of the TTP force, were killed at the cost to the army of 100 brave soldiers and officers.

The TTP in South Waziristan had behaved much in the same way as in Swat. In fact, they acted as insurgents do all over the world when confronted by a regular army, which is to avoid set-piece battles so that they may live to fight another day. That is not to say that the operation was not a success. In fact, a great deal was achieved by the operation, and at a far lower cost in lives than expected.

By driving the TTP out of their strongholds in South Waziristan the army deprived them of the use of a safe haven, training facilities, bomb-making laboratories, etc. They also forced the retreating TTP to abandon a sizeable amount of weaponry and explosives, all of which will have to be replenished at considerable cost and much travail.

Insurgencies are wars of attrition and also a test of stamina and morale. The loss of strategic territory and weaponry weakens the insurgents, lowers morale and correspondingly inflates the will, effectiveness and resolve of the army and the nation. While the army has emerged the victor in South Waziristan, to maintain its ascendancy it will have to pursue and engage the enemy wherever they retreat. The TTP must know that if they are not going anywhere, nor is the army; and that, until such time as they relent, surrender or are defeated, neither will the army.

What bodes well for the future is the acceptance by the public of the legitimacy of operation Rah-e-Nijat. Public "acceptance" and "legitimacy" are key elements in determining the eventual success or failure of anti-insurgency strategies, just as they were in the dozen or so similar operations elsewhere in the world. William Polk's study of insurgencies further reveals that no matter how much alien occupiers wish to improve the condition of the local populace, when pitted against native insurgents the sympathy of the local population will invariably be with the latter. It is mostly for this reason that America cannot win in Afghanistan and why we can, even though we may not.

Of course, these are as yet early days of the civil war that is fast enveloping Pakistan. The TTP leadership is alive and yelling revenge. They have responded with a spate of bombings in Peshawar; although when they realised that the public reaction was hostile their spokesman chose to blame the bombings on the Americans.

Public anger against the Taliban is often accompanied by ire against the authorities for failing to protect the population. And because it is always difficult to acknowledge our own failings the public places the blame on foreign conspiracies. Actually, the public seem not as much lost as bewildered. They have no idea what to believe, let alone who. They cannot comprehend what is happening to their world and resent the fact that they cannot mend it.

Unless, therefore, the suicide bombings are thwarted more effectively, current support for the government will dissipate, giving way not only to anger but worse: hopelessness and a feeling that the government is helpless. And it is precisely when the public's pity at their own fate turns to contempt for the government that the insurgents step forward and offer themselves as alternative rulers, promising peace and an end to the slaughter, in return for the loyalty of the populace.

We saw this earlier in Swat when the police ran away, local officials were killed and the TTP stepped in to take on the job of maintaining law and order and dispensing justice. We also witnessed the absurd spectacle of TV channels broadcasting the speech of Sufi Mohammed proclaiming a new order that ironically would have made TV channels and Parliament redundant.

Although it was sobering to be confronted with what the future would look like if the TTP prevailed, more troubling was the fact that the whole nation viewed the spectacle being enacted in Swat so passively. Not a single man took to the streets against the brutalities of the TTP. And Parliament actually called for negotiations with the TTP, undoubtedly out of a sense of fear and foreboding, rather than patience and wisdom. Sadly, terror and force, the means that wins the easiest victory over reason, was being allowed to prevail.

The feeble and flaccid public response to the happenings in Swat was a revelation. It gave the enemy hope and showed how close we, as a society, are to the abyss. And were it not for the media's incessant screening of the young woman squealing while being whipped, would anyone have bothered or the army worked up the resolve to act? It is said that the army can only act with the support of the people. One discerned no such support among the people of Dacca in 1971. Luckily for the Jews, Moses did not conduct a poll before he set off. The fact is that when great changes occur in a nation's history, when great principles are involved, the majority are often wrong. Remedies often lie not in the ceaseless deliberations of many but the actions of a few.

As a result of the current vacuum in leadership, the clear direction which the nation so sorely requires is missing. The sarkar is rudderless. Mr Zardari feels wronged because people are laying the blame for the confusion that prevails at his doorstep. Yes, they are, but only because he not only errs, he blunders. Mr Zardari has responded by accusing people of jumping the gun and writing his political obituary. Actually, not only are they jumping the gun, they have hurdled the cannon; and what is being written now is not his political obituary but an epitaph which normally follows, and not precedes, an obituary. In other words, they are writing what they sense he has become—history. What, then, does the future hold? Who knows? Except, that it does seem dark and, at times, irretrievably so.

But if Mr Zardari, though more so his American mentors, display a mite of common sense and read the writing on the wall and depart—in the case of Mr Zardari, from office, and in the case of the Americans from Afghanistan—perhaps the darkness we are in will not stretch beyond the first light of day. Were the Americans to depart from Afghanistan the song that Al Qaeda, the Lashkars and the TTP sing will have little resonance. The Al Qaeda variety, in particular the Arab lot, who have had a hand in the murder of as many as 800 tribal maliks of FATA, can expect a cruel end when the tide turns, as it will. The Laskars, Jaishes and the TTP are more the concern of the establishment. They created them and now should snuff them out.

All this could happen, given time and proper leadership in Pakistan; and less paranoia and more imagination on the part of America. It is a shame, therefore, that the government is urging the Americans not to leave Afghanistan. How can those who, when they came should never have stayed on, be urged to continue a while longer? And after eight years, is Pakistan still not ready to cope on its own with the challenges it faces? Why should our leaders who act as if they are not afraid of God be scared of the adversary? Told that all Europe had fallen to the Nazis and asked how England expected to defend itself, an English cartoonist replied, "Very well, then alone." Are we up to it?

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:







The rolling out of the first indigenously assembled JF-17 Thunder fighter aircraft marks a major achievement in defence production. It demonstrates how far Pakistan has progressed in defence production considering that at the time of independence, there was not a single industrial unit pertaining to the same in the country. All ordnance factories and defence industrial units were located in India and research and development facilities were non-existent. This event is also significant as the manufacture of a fighter aircraft is a qualitative jump in terms of technology and industrial production. It is also a shining example of the close cooperation and support that China is providing to Pakistan in the entire spectrum of defence.

In modern warfare, air power has the most dominant and critical role as was amply demonstrated during the Gulf wars and Balkan and Afghan operations. Our own experience of 1965 and 1971 wars clearly brought out the efficacy of having a well-equipped and well-trained air force. The use of airpower is equally a major element in counter-insurgency operations as we are witnessing in South Wazirstan and earlier in Malakand. The operational effectiveness of land and sea forces is heavily dependent on the cover provided by the air arm. The unique capabilities of the fighter aircraft — high flexibility, unprecedented fire with sophisticated weapons and rapid concentration — make them eminently suited to combat aggression. Moreover, the phenomenal accuracy and extended range of air-launched, precision-guided weapons and bombs tilts the advantage to a military power that has air superiority.

India already enjoys numerical superiority, and is now further expanding its capability and modernising its fleet by acquisitions of the latest fourth-generation aircraft. It has, to its advantage, the choice of F-16/F-18, Eurofighter, Typhoon, MIG-35, Su-33, Mirage-5, Rafale and Swedish Grippen. On the other hand, Pakistan — due to financial constraints and the potential threat of sanctions not only from the US but western countries as well — has to largely depend on indigenous effort and support from China, whose reliability has been repeatedly tested.

Faced with these difficulties, the air force, during the tenure of late Air Marshal Mussaf, successfully re-engaged China for cooperative development of a mid-level high-tech fighter aircraft: the JF-17 Thunder. It was his foresight and leadership that gave birth to this project. Successive chiefs and project directors and their teams have put in great effort to bring the venture to this stage. Still, a lot more has to be done but with the quality of leadership and guidance being provided by the present chief and the support it is receiving from the ministry, the JS -17 should continue to roll out on time. This will eventually be the PAF's second line of defence.

The concept and air service requirements were given by the PAF. The design was primarily Chinese and the Pakistani side was closely associated with it. The production of the initial lot of JF-17 was done in China but hence forth, the aircraft will be assembled in PAC Kamra and, gradually, the indigenous content will be increased. The project has provided invaluable experience to our aeronautical and avionic engineers in design and development, and given them considerable experience in managing new projects. This nucleus of trained engineers can lay the foundation of Pakistan's aviation industry if properly guided and encouraged. In fact, in the not-too-distant future, our aviation industry can aspire to join the exclusive club of few countries that manufacture medium-high-technology fighter aircraft.

For nearly four decades, China has been at the forefront in assisting Pakistan in its indigenising effort, and this project is the finest example of this deep and enduring relationship. The Chinese aircraft firm CATIC also fully assisted us in the development of the trainer aircraft K-8. It is likely that if China were to succeed in developing its fourth-generation aircraft, Pakistan would like to associate itself with it. With such close cooperation, it is not surprising that today PAF's 70 per cent of weapons and equipment are outsourced to China, which is beneficial to both countries. It was in the 50s, and up to the 70s, that the PAF was practically one hundred per cent dependent on the US. Sanctions have been a great motivator for self-reliance. There are lessons in this for everyone. In a way, the US has not gained anything by pursuing its policy of isolating us. It has been unable to prevent us from moving forward with our nuclear programme. It may not have been important enough for the US to lose the Pakistani market, being more than an $11 trillion economy, but the loss of goodwill and weakening of strategic links haunts both countries to this day.

Although India has a wider and deeper industrial and technological base, still its indigenous effort of manufacturing the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has taken decades and is still undergoing trials.

For ensuring incorporation of the latest technolog,y the air frame of JS-17 has been designed such that it has the flexibility to integrate avionics and weapon systems from the Chinese or European sources, including the possibility of a hybrid arrangement. The Chinese have overcome their initial dependence on engines by ollaborating with the Russians and producing it themselves.

The PAF also plans to progressively undertake the indigenisation of avionics and armaments of the JS-17. This aircraft is has the potential for continuous upgrades, termed as a 'block approach'. There is a built-in provision for stealth and air-to-air fuelling. The JF-17 is also equipped with air-to-air missiles beyond the visual range that will give it a critical operational capability, a standard feature with modern air forces. It is fly-by-wire, has a powerful state-of-the-art radar and there is a good man-machine interface.

The JF-17 could set the pace for a new generation of affordable and capable mid-level, high-tech aircraft. It has the potential for export and can find a niche market in the MiddleEast and South and South-east Asia. The Asian requirements at one time were projected to be anywhere between 1,000 to 1,500 aircraft in the next 15 years, thus China and Pakistan — the latter's equity share being 58 per cent and China's being 42 per cent in the project — can both benefit from exports.

The writer is a retired lieutenant-general. Email:








During our first trip to Timbuktu in 1998 we saw only one dilapidated hotel. On our second trip we found a new hotel of three-star standard that had been built by a Moroccan married to a lady from Timbuktu.

It was during this trip that we met Abderhamane, who was sitting in the lobby waiting for tourists to guide around. He immediately attracted our attention and we engaged him for the duration of our stay. Since he spent the whole time with us, we naturally came to know more about him. He told us that he had a large family and found it difficult to live off his income during the three to four months that the tourist season lasted.

We asked him questions about prices and cost of living. We found out that a piece of land suitable for building a hotel on would cost about $2,000. Our Dutch friend and travel companion immediately gave him $4,000 and told him to buy two pieces of land. By the time we left we had all decided that we wanted to help, not only Abderhamane, but through him also other families by giving them jobs.

Upon my return to Pakistan, my dear friends Qamar Alavi and Khizar Hayat of Naqvi & Siddiqui Architects designed, free-of-charge, a compact eight-room guesthouse, complete with attached bathrooms, dining area and kitchen. Abderhamane meanwhile started making a supply of clay bricks, while we started putting together whatever finances we could. Over a period of two years we collected about $30,000, which was enough to complete the construction.

Some generous friends from Dubai sent 10 air conditioners, a fridge, a deep- freezer, a cooking range, and crockery, cutlery and cooking utensils. A grateful Abderhamane named it "Hotel Hendrina Khan," after my wife. During our last trip my wife accompanied us and Abderhamane organised a ceremony for her to inaugurate the hotel. This is the very same hotel that many foreign journalists have described as the "ten-million-dollar luxury hotel" supposedly owned by me. None of them bothered to go personally to see for themselves what the real situation was.

Over the past ten years, an industrious and frugal Abderhamane added another 24 rooms. His hotel is now one of the best known. When he required a medical operation, we invited him to Pakistan to have it done here. While here, he learnt how to prepare some Pakistani dishes and we gave him spices and chutneys to take back with him. Some of these spicy Pakistani dishes are now his trade mark. We still supply him with the required spices for cooking and for the mango pickle he now makes from local mangoes.


Despite the barren environment, we saw many finches and doves (not to forget the many geckos). We asked Abderhamane to make a shallow trough and regularly fill it with millet (bajra), wheat and broken maize, and to put out a shallow dish for the birds to drink from and bathe in. Within days more and more birds started coming and it is now one of the major attractions of his hotel. Visitors love to photograph the birds. The finches, in particular, have become quite cheeky, even flying into the dining room to feed on crumbs. If encouraged, they will even sit on the tables taking bread from within a few inches of visitors' hands.

Abderhamane gives food to the needy after Juma prayers throughout the year, and every Iftar during Ramazan. Thirty-five to 40 people work in his hotel, earning livelihood for their families. Moreover, other enterprising individuals have now started running souvenir shops, taxis and pleasure boats.

It being a desert area, water shortage is one of the major problems people face . Upon enquiry we were told that water is reachable at a depth of about 400 metres and to dig a well costs about $10,000. Being very honest, the workers don't charge more if they have to go deeper than 400m, but if water is found sooner, they will refund a proportionate amount. Returning to Dubai after one of our trips we spoke to some Pakistani philanthropists and collected $20,000. This money we sent to Abderhamane who undertook to have two wells dug, which we went to see on our next visit. He had chosen the sites well. Neither was near any particular village, for it to be ensured that no one laid claim to them and they remained available to the population and their cattle.

With his usual initiative, he now takes tourists there on desert trips. We later heard that a Malaysian minister who had visited Timbuktu also donated $20,000 and two more wells were dug in the area. It is a joy to see clear, cool, sweet water being drawn up from the well and a drinking trough full for the animals. Local residents take the water home in jerry cans tied to the backs of their donkeys.

Unless there is a sandstorm, the air is clean and dry in Timbuktu. Nights are beautiful with pleasant weather and inky black skies in which the stars sparkle like diamonds. We were fascinated one night to be able to see with the naked eye a Soyuz docking with the Mir space station. We sat there for hours watching this historic event.

Through the years we have sent many books (including Qurans, religious books and Islamic history books) to the Ahmad Baba Centre. Many tourists request Abderhamane for copies of the Holy Quran with English and/or French translations, and of these we have sent many copies to him too. Realising the importance of the irreplaceable documents kept there, the South African government built a new, climate-controlled building for the Ahmad Baba Centre, which was officially inaugurated by the President of South Africa. They are now in the process of cataloguing all the manuscripts and other documents.

The Cubans have, for a long time, been sending medical teams to the area. They bring their own supplies, tents and medicines and take nothing in return, nor use any local resources.

During one of his trips to Pakistan I had the honour of having a long conversation with HH Prince Karim Aga Khan. After having spoken to him about Timbuktu's cultural heritage and the fact that UNESCO had declared the area a world heritage site, he became quite enthusiastic. He introduced me to his information officer, Mr Amin, and a Swiss gentleman who was his director of projects. I advised them that the best time to visit Timbuktu was between October and February and informed them that the mosques were badly in need of repair. To encourage tourism, which would benefit all the people, an air connection between Bamako and Timbuktu was also badly needed.

The following October I received a call from an excited Abderhamane that Prince Karim Aga Khan had stayed at his hotel, toured the city, ordered renovation of the mosques and donated a plane to fly between Bamako and Timbuktu. It is now making three return flights a week and has made an enormous difference to tourism and the availability of commodities. The airport has been modernised and now even an Airbus can land and take off from there. Modern facilities have also reached Timbuktu – international dialling, mobile phones and the Internet are now all available.







The Obama administration in the United States is currently engaged in rethinking a fresh Afghan strategy aimed at securing an exit without losing face. As far as meeting the projected requirement of his top commander's recommendation is concerned, the new strategy may provide for some additional troops in order to create conditions in Afghanistan that would eventually provide for US troops an exit. As of now, the United States is so stuck up in the Afghan morass that an early exit may well turn out to be disastrous. Now that the new US strategy will include wriggling out of the Afghan imbroglio, will it look for a fall guy? The upcoming Afghan strategy will provide the answer. In a related development, The New York Times (Nov 16) has quoted American officials as saying that the centre of gravity in shaping the new strategy will be Pakistan's willingness to broaden the scope of war against Al Qaeda beyond the militants attacking its cities and security forces.

The Pakistani leadership was sounded by Obama's national security adviser, General James Jones, during his last visit to Pakistan when he also handed over a letter to the Mr Zardari from President Obama, urging the former to rally the nation's political and national institutions in a concerted campaign against extremists. The message was tantamount to implying that Pakistan, once declared by the United States as a front-line state in the war against terror, must now relegate itself to a state that must handle the war on its own. It was also conveyed that in case Pakistan agreed, it would be awarded a range of new incentives covering enhanced mutual cooperation, intelligence sharing and military cooperation, and economic assistance.

Whatever decision is made on the number of additional troops for Afghanistan, it certainly will have repercussions for Pakistan. However, as the new strategy gets delayed, strange tactical moves on the part of US and NATO troops have been witnessed on the other side of the border in Afghanistan. When the Pakistan Army went into South Waziristan, it was about the same time that NATO drew down troops deployed along the Afghan border with Pakistan and consolidated some half a dozen of their remote outposts into fewer larger installations.

The favoured military option, said to be emerging from President Obama's on-going review of the Afghan policy, is to fall back on the cities. The tactics of falling back were also the last huffs of the Russians in Afghanistan and the Americans in Vietnam. Surely, both possessed high-tech weapons and fully deployed them in Afghanistan and Vietnam, but both failed to consult history prior to jumping into respective quagmires. The drawing down of troops along the Afghan border did create a space for the terrorists to enter Pakistan for which due concern was conveyed to the Americans. Pakistan had also requested NATO and the US forces to seal the border on the Afghan side since the Pakistan Army had gone into South Waziristan.

Whether it is an increase in the number of American forces or an adoption of the alternative of troop replacement with more drone attacks in Afghanistan, FATA or Balochistan as propagated by US Vice President Joe Biden, the strategic repercussions would be identical. The US Commander in Afghanistan, General McChrystal, who authored the report asking for more troops to stabilise Afghanistan, while lecturing at the International Institute of Strategic Studies in UK, rejected proposals to switch over to a strategy more reliant on drone missile strikes and special forces' operations against Al Qaeda. Moreover, as the troop level increases in Afghanistan, the supply route from Pakistan will be over-burdened. With focus on an army operation in South Waziristan and an unfriendly neighbour in the east, the Pakistan Army would be overstretched.

With a plethora of difficulties that the new democratic dispensation in Pakistan is already confronting, expanding the area of operations elsewhere would be tantamount to inviting trouble. More so, a perception is already taking root among the political and military leadership that America wants to transfer its war heritage to Pakistan to enable itself to exit gracefully from Afghanistan.

As far as the US administration is concerned, the realisation that stability in Afghanistan can only materialise once they pull out is a good omen. However, a hasty and ill-planned withdrawal will have disastrous effects not only for Pakistan but for the region as well. The sudden vacuum may well cause the re-emergence of terrorist networks. The paramount need for the United States now is to work for the formation of a broad-based government in the interim period between now and the time they schedule for their departure from Afghanistan. While doing so, the United States is bound to face enormous difficulties bringing the various Afghan tribal groups that are poles apart to a power-sharing deal. Like the Iraq war, the Afghan war cannot be won. Both proved to be disasters for the United States. While the respective wars resulted in massive losses of precious lives, they also got their due share in getting their own people killed. Though Iraq has taken a backstage in American misadventures, still the Afghan agony persists. It will only end with the exodus of foreign forces from Afghanistan.

The writer is a freelance contributor.







The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.

With the first phase of the military offensive to clear militants from South Waziristan now nearing completion, the counter-militancy campaign is expected to transition into the next, more critical phase. This will entail steps to ensure that the gains that have been made are sustainable. It will also mean wrestling with the challenges that have emerged from a remarkably expeditious operation.

Among the most pressing challenges is to stem the wave of violent reprisals that has struck the country and turned Peshawar into a battle zone. Daily bombings, which have already disrupted people's lives, can strain the public consensus against militancy and shake the public's resolve to fight it.

Pursuing the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP) leaders and fighters who seem to have dispersed into neighbouring Agencies means that the military campaign has now expanded to parts of Orakzai. As militants are using the access into Khyber to unleash a region of terror on Peshawar, "siege" operations are also planned here to restrict and neutralise the movement of militants. Two more Agencies are therefore expected in the next phase to see selective and targeted actions.

What will also be critical in the months ahead are post-conflict efforts that insure that the area can be held and an environment inhospitable to the return of militants is established. Although the military presence will be retained, over time a gradual de-induction of forces will depend on the Frontier Corps being able to assume security responsibilities along with the revival of the traditional political agent-tribal compact.

These will eventually be the exit tickets for the army. The sooner the civil administration can be reconstituted with local support, the easier it will be to start pulling out regular forces. This will be vital to avoid the troops becoming mired in a war of attrition or an unceasing fire-fight.

The South Waziristan ope