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Sunday, November 29, 2009

EDITORIAL 28.11.09


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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month november 28, edition 000362, 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







  1. DIPLOMACY 101























Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee may have genuinely felt nettled by needless interruptions and uncalled for comments while he was responding to Mr LK Advani's Zero Hour mention of the Government's lackadaisical approach towards providing financial compensation to the families of those killed and injured in the 26/11 terrorist attacks, but perhaps he could have avoided accusing the Opposition of 'politicising' the issue. This is not the first time that the UPA Government has taken recourse to trivialising concerns expressed by the Opposition on issues related to terrorism by accusing the latter of indulging in politics, and thereby seeking to avoid a debate. Indeed, by repeatedly levelling this charge, the UPA, more so the Congress, hopes it will stick and people will come to view the Opposition as being cynical. That's not only grossly unfair, but also reflects poorly on the Government's claimed resolve to fight terrorism; nor do such tactics help cover up the truth. For instance, despite Mr Mukherjee's outburst, the fact remains that the Congress-led Governments at the Centre and in Maharashtra have failed miserably in fulfilling the commitments that were made to the victims of last November's terrorist outrage in Mumbai and their families. For instance, in the wake of the massacre, the Prime Minister's Office had declared a financial compensation of up to Rs 2 lakh for the relatives of those who were killed and injured. A year later, it transpires that cheques have been despatched to only 118 of the 403 eligible claimants. Similarly, the Railways Claims Tribunal has cleared payment of compensation to less than a third of the 150 eligible claimants. The Maharashtra Government's record is equally, if not more, pathetic. As Leader of Opposition, Mr Advani felt compelled, and rightly so, to raise the issue of tardy payment of compensation in the Lok Sabha; if that upsets the Government, so be it. The Opposition's job is not to keep the Treasury benches in good humour or help the Government whitewash its failures.

The point, however, is not merely about the Government's ineptitude or the Congress's proclivity to forget promises made to the people. The system of paying compensation to victims of terrorist attacks, accidents and natural calamities is messy and it is made worse by bureaucratic sloth and red tape. After all, it is the job of bureaucrats to implement political decisions — in this case, payment of monetary compensation — and there is no reason why they should not be hauled over the coals for their shoddy job. We can be sure that if asked to explain the inordinate delay, babusin New Delhi and Mumbai will come up with a million reasons to absolve themselves of all responsibility. We will be told of pending paper work, of missing forms in triplicate, of certificates that need to be attested, etc. Also, the involvement of multiple agencies in dealing with compensation claims — in the case of 26/11, as many as 12 different agencies are involved — delays the entire process. Therefore, we need to take a close look at the system and reform the entire process of paying monetary compensation. As a first step, bureaucrats have to be stripped of their presumed right to harass eligible claimants by making the rules simple and setting up a single nodal agency to deal with all compensation packages. This would no doubt leave many babuswithout jobs, but that's really their problem.






With both China and the US announcing their voluntary commitment to cut carbon emissions ahead of the Copenhagen summit on December 7, the spotlight is now firmly on India. All this while India has been maintaining that though it fully supports the global effort to fight global warming and is more than willing to do its bit, it does not support legally binding carbon reduction targets given the impact they would have on the country's socio-economic development. This has been a reasonable stance, one that has been backed by compelling logic. It would be unfair for any climate treaty to impose upon developing countries such as India the same stringent carbon reduction norms as developed, industrialised countries. This is simply because there is a huge gap in the socio-economic status of the two groups. Developing countries cannot afford to commit to any policy that would impede their economic growth and the corresponding social benefits that accrue. Besides, it can neither be denied that the crisis that the world today faces from global warming is largely the creation of developed nations and their unbridled policy of industrialisation.


That said, with China and the US announcing specific voluntary reduction targets — China has pledged to cut emissions by 40 to 45 per cent per unit of GDP at 2005 levels by 2020, whereas, the US has indicated its willingness to cut emissions by 17 per cent of its 2005 levels by the same time — India can only hold back from declaring a ballpark emission reduction target at the risk of being isolated. It will be recalled that China, the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases by volume, and the US, the country with the highest per capita carbon emission figures, had both expressed reservations about committing to specific reduction targets. But that position now stands reversed. It is true that so far neither of the two countries has affirmed that the voluntary targets will be legally binding. Nonetheless, they are a significant declaration of intent and mark a crucial departure from earlier stated positions. What India needs to look at is a middle path or flexibility in carbon reduction norms. It could set a target and then argue its case that given its specific socio-economic position, the target will not be legally binding. This is also a position that Union Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has been arguing for quite sometime. Ahead of the Copenhagen summit, what is important to remember is that all countries should work together to evolve a common political consensus about a carbon reduction treaty. This can only be achieved by taking into account the reservations of individual countries and finding collective solutions to work around them. Talking at cross-purposes or unnecessarily muddying the issues at hand will serve no purpose.


            THE PIONEER




How should one read Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States? Measured against the experience of recent predecessors — such as Mr Singh's own trip to Washington, DC, in July 2005, when the India-US nuclear deal was announced and triggered one of India's most important foreign policy successes — this month's voyage across the Atlantic will probably seem a mild affair. There were no blockbuster moments and obvious game changers.

However, what was worth noting was the Prime Minister's sustained effort at attempting to talk up the American mood. For example, in an interview to Newsweek just before his departure, he was asked three successive questions on whether the economic recession had crippled the US and its strategic leadership. In reply to each question, Mr Singh sounded more optimistic than his American interviewer. He placed his hope in American innovation overcoming "this temporary setback" and said India "would like the US to succeed in that effort".

Perceptions of America's irreversible decline were overstated, the Prime Minister suggested. He quoted Robert Triffin, an economist who predicted in 1968 that the "dollar's role as a reserve currency" was over: "But the US bounced back. I hope that the same thing will happen once again."

At his interaction at the Council on Foreign Relations, Mr Singh re-emphasised his optimism in America bouncing back. He also, and this was a first for an Indian Prime Minister, resorted to a not-so-nuanced assessment of the India-China equation. Here he made two points.

First, there was more to life than GDP figures: "The respect for fundamental human rights, the respect for the rule of law, the respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious rights, I think those have values also."

Second: "India may appear an indecisive democracy at times. And it does, because many democracies are short-term maximisers. They're not able to take a long-term view. But I have also believed that once a democracy decides on the basis of a wide-ranging consensus, any reforms that are undertaken will be far more durable, will be far more effective than reforms introduced by the writ of a ruling group in a non-democratic set-up."

This sentiment is not a new one. It has been iterated by Indian public officials at a thousand conferences. However, for an Indian Prime Minister to have been so categorical in a third country, particularly before a Washington, DC, audience, was hardly commonplace.

What caused Mr Singh to be so forthright? Why was he, in a sense, restating old-fashioned American positions, putting his weight behind that country's economic recovery and stressing democratic societies were ultimately more likely to be prosperous than controlled polities?

The answer is a complex one and rooted in contemporary America's crisis of confidence. Visitors to Washington, DC, in the past few months have pointed to a strange defeatism that has gripped the Beltway. There is anxiety that Uncle Sam's time has passed, that decline has set in and the superpower is gradually sinking. Of course, this isn't the only view but it is the view of influential sections of the Democrats and of key stakeholders in the Obama establishment.

To some degree such thinking is a reflection of America's immediate crises — two wars, overseas troop deployments, a sluggish economy, rising unemployment. In the narrow area of diplomacy, however, it is also a product of the Democratic Party's longer term retreat from the strategic sphere.

The Democrat leadership is intelligent, even cerebral, and often well-intentioned. It is, however, largely representative of the liberal-extreme Left end of the American political spectrum. At its worst, it resembles a coalition of NGO interests and is lacking in what may be called the 'hard stuff'. The sense of realpolitik, the cold-blooded execution of military and coercive power, the big-picture strategic thinking: There is an absence of these qualities at the Democrat high table.

What does all this have to do with India? As a capital that has invested heavily in its relationship with Washington, DC — under both the NDA and UPA Governments — New Delhi is obviously concerned. If America loses its resolve, abdicates from its traditional role and begins to become an unpredictable animal, its allies will worry.

In 2009, the US's diplomacy has been marked by prevarication and vacillation. Take an example. In China, President Barack Obama issued a joint statement with his hosts seeking Beijing's help in problem-solving in South Asia. This past week, Mr Obama told Mr Singh he welcomed India's help in "establishing peace and security in Asia-Pacific".

In the old days, it would have been fair to estimate that the superpower was playing off regional rivals, inviting India and China into each other's turfs. Mr Obama's team, however, seems to have no such diabolical plans. Rather, it is bumbling and lumbering its way into one faux pas after another, making clumsy mistakes and then attempting to make up for them. It is increasingly giving the impression of amateurism.

In being unsure of its heft — substantial, despite the recession and the commitments in two Asian conflict zones — and conceding to the inevitability of Chinese economic supremacy, Mr Obama's America is actually in danger of losing a critical intellectual argument. It is legitimising the Chinese model in the eyes of developing countries. The liberal democracy-free market template is being questioned. 'The End of History?' debate is being reopened.

This is not the America India seeks. As a trading partner, India needs America's economy to rise again. As a strategic partner, it needs a restatement of the principles of the late-1990s and early-2000s, particularly in regard to Asia. This was the message Mr Singh was driving home in Washington, DC. He was articulating India's desperation for America to get back on track.

How soon will this happen? It depends on Mr Obama's desire and ability to free himself from his assortment of foreign policy lightweights and adopt a mainstream agenda. A likely date could be November 2010, should the Republicans sweep congressional elections and American voters send their Democrat President an unmistakable mid-term signal. Till then, India can only wait.






With the mind prepared for happiness or unhappiness, gain or loss, victory or defeat, considering them equal, one must act in the world. In this way, one does not incur any sin. The two main topics of the Bhagawad Gita are sankhya and yoga.

sankhya is the knowledge of the supreme as it is — deathless, changeless and eternal. Sankhya buddhi is to gain and become convinced of this understanding. A person convinced of the truth of this knowledge is freed from the bondage of samsara . What are the steps by which we are convinced about the supreme? First, we gain information, then we understand it and finally through reflection are convinced about it. The more convinced we become the more we are established in the reality. If the intellect is not properly purified and tuned, to gain Sankhya buddhi will become a difficult task. In order to become fit for this one does certain sadhanas called yoga. The understanding of these is called yoga buddhi.

We must understand and be convinced about the supreme and the path that will lead us there. Both the goal and the path must be equally clear because without conviction there will be a lot of confusion and agitation. Bhagawan has indicated the two paths of jnana yoga and karma yoga as the means for reaching the supreme reality. Sankhya yoga is the same as jnana yoga, and yoga buddhi is indicated as karma yoga. karma yoga is the path of action at the level of the body, mind and intentions. This helps to purify the mind and intellect.

From the following verse, we are introduced to the greatness of this yoga.


Neha bhikrama-naso' sti pratyavayo na vidyateSvalpam apy asya dharmasya trayate mahato bhayat (Gita 2.40).

Bhagawan says that those that understand and follow this path become free of fear. samsara is considered as the greatest of all fears. There is the fear of death, separation, disease and bondage. But even a little understanding of buddhi yoga and one's establishment in it frees one from fear. What is the specialty of this yoga? It is compared with karma kanda and we are told that there is no loss of effort on this path. In this world we work towards our chosen goals and find that despite the use of time, money and energy, we are unable to reach them. This is because we often waste our efforts, energy and time in unnecessary work. Our approach is not correct. But when an action is performed with the attitude of karma yoga, our energies are synergised and nothing is wasted.








Hafiz Saeed is portly, middle-aged, sports a heavily-hennaed beard and quite ordinary to look at. Just another Punjabi cleric, given to good life and influence. So why is the Pakistani Army so interested in protecting him despite global pressure after 26-11?

There is evidence that Saeed has been so useful to the Army in the past that he enjoys privileges that a retired General is entitled to. It was, therefore, not surprised that he was among the special guests at an iftar party hosted by Rawalpindi Corps Commander Lt General Tahir Mahmood in September.

Perhaps the first clear sign of the Army-LeT alliance was in the simple fact that as late as mid-January 2009, more than 40 days after the attack, and in the midst of the international hue and cry, LeT headquarters at Muridke, Lahore remained open and guarded by armed men. It was only after the Pakistan government was finally forced to file a chargesheet against Zaki-ur Rahman Lakhvi and others in February 2009 that the headquarters was deserted by the LeT leadership.

But, instead of going underground, the terrorist group moved right into the heart of Lahore and renewed its activities from a double-storied mosque complex called Masjid Jamia Qadisiya on Lake Road. Masjid Qadsiya is open and Saeed's son, Mohammad Talha Saeed and LeT leader's close associate Maulana Saifullah Khalid, take turn to lead the Friday prayers. There has been no let-up in the venom of jihad despite Saeed's absence.

Of the hundred and more leaders and members of LeT arrested in Punjab, as claimed by Rahman Malik, Pakistan's de facto Interior Minister, only 12 remained under house arrest for a period of one month. Hafiz Saeed was among them. Three days after his detention, he was allowed to leave his Johar Town home in Lahore and travel to a nearby mosque for offering prayers. His son, Talha Saeed, remained free and leads the Friday prayers in his father's absence. There was no restriction on Saeed's family members either from visiting him frequently. On January 9, the government extended the detention of six, Saeed included, for another 60 days, allowing the rest to go scot-free.

Besides Saeed, many of the detained leaders of LeT have remained relatively free; they even organised a public rally on the Mall in Lahore in January. The rally was led by Yahya Mujahid, the Central Information Secretary of LeT, one of the dozen supposed to be under detention. Hundreds of LeT activists in 50 ambulances took out a rally in the heart of Lahore, overseen by large contingents of the Punjab Police. Yet the government claimed the rally was taken out without its permission.

Another LeT leader who remained quite active during the period is Abdullah Muntazir, the official Jamaat-ud Dawa (JuD) spokesman, who, on January 6, told an interviewer that the government would regret banning his group. In a press statement subsequently, he said the Saeed-led organisation had always worked within the framework of law and if any of its schools has been found involved in promoting extremism among students, it should be the act of an individual.

What further exposes the Pakistan state's complicity with terrorist groups like LeT is the fact that government officials had warned the JuD leaders in advance. In Punjab, the police called up JuD leaders and told them to escape with documents and records before their offices were sealed. So when the police teams reached the site, the offices were either shut or deserted. In Islamabad, for instance, only two JuD activists could be arrested a fortnight after the Mumbai attack although the capital had considerable presence of the group in its main office in Masjid-e-Qaba and Khidmat-e-Khalaq Foundation in Kuri Shahar. In Rawalpindi, only one activist was arrested during the period whereas at least 39 known leaders went free.

Another telling indication of the complicity was the publication of JuD's venomous weekly, the Ghazwa. The December edition of the weekly termed the Mumbai attack as 'historic' victory for the Muslim warriors. On the back page, the magazine carried an appeal from the group to donate hides. The message read: "Donate the hides for the war against infidels in Kashmir and to teach a lesson to mean Hindus who have blocked Pakistan's waters…if you give Rs 25 as charity to a roadside beggar, it is not as rewarding as the charity which is used to buy the bullet that will hit the chest and forehead of a Hindu soldier who raped a Kashmiri Muslim woman."

Similarly, the Pakistani crackdown also left untouched many of the terrorist group's allied organisations, the most prominent being Idara Khidmat-e-Khalaq (IKK, loosely translated as Humanities Services Institution), a charity organisation which became the main conduit for the group's fund collections after the October 2005 earthquake in Pak-occupied Kashmir (PoK). IKK's relief and rehabilitation work after the quake firmly established LeT's presence in the area and its popularity as a charity organisation across the country. IKK also became a hub of fund collection from abroad, especially the UK and the US. The British authorities had discovered that the terrorist group had collected money from areas inhabited by British Pakistanis in London, Birmingham and Manchester.

A part of the collection, the authorities suspected, was diverted to help fund the terrorist plan to blow up as many as 10 commercial airliners taking off from Britain in 2006.

Though the US State Department designated the charity as a terrorist supporter in 2006, it has continued to operate quite freely in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world, including the US. IKK routed funds through the Bank of New York to its bank accounts in the Lahore branch of Bank Alfalah Ltd, an Abu Dhabi- owned banking network. A fortnight after the Mumbai attack, the terror group's Alfalah account was still open to accept donations.

Was it a mere coincidence that in the last week of May 2009, Hafiz Saeed's brother-in-law and LeT's second-in-command Abdur Rahman Makki addressed a Friday prayer meeting at LeT's new headquarters in Lahore and said Saeed would be released soon? Saeed was freed on June 2, 2009.

It is quite clear that the Pakistani Army and the government have gone to extraordinary lengths to protect LeT. The reason is not difficult to find. LeT, with its vast network of trained jihadis, commanders and training infrastructure, is Pakistan Army's key strategic instrument in keeping terrorism active in Kashmir and other parts of India. Since the Army cannot justify its stranglehold over Pakistan without projecting India as the arch enemy, LeT and its affiliates will remain long-term investments in keeping the proxy war alive.

 The writer is Senior Fellow, Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi








The 26-11 terrorist attack on Mumbai, the financial capital of India, was a unique kind of strike.

Firstly, it lasted the longest length of time for any non-hijacking act of terrorism. For 62 hours, it held the whole world in awe, thanks to the non-stop live TV coverage. Secondly, the intent and lethality of the attack indicated that this was not a sporadic act of terror but actually an act of war. Even without the startling revelations on the covert support from Islamabad, 26-11 resembled the Blitz over London in 1940. The insufficiency of the mere word 'terrorism' in relating the preparations underwent and the international footprint of the entire act is carried more if we put it in the context of a larger doctrine of asymmetric warfare.

Many questions arise at the first anniversary of this act — Is India capable of addressing the threat of asymmetric warfare? What are the lessons learnt from 26-11? Is the 'relative' peace during past one year a beginning of a more peaceful future or just a temporary phase? Is Pakistan's preoccupation with their internal problems a reason for peace during the past one year? Is US pressure on Pakistan actually working? Are India's counter terrorism strategies effective?

There are no simple and satisfactory answers to all these questions. The occurrence of 26-11 had clearly demonstrated the limitations in the functioning of India's political, police and intelligence agencies. It highlighted the need to bring in change at every level. As a start point, there was clear need of political direction both at internal and external levels. To an extent it could be argued that the diplomatic offensive launched by India against Pakistan and initiation of an overhaul of the country's internal security infrastructure has given some tangible outcomes. The diplomatic offensive has helped putting Pakistan on the back foot. Refurbishment of internal security apparatus is a lengthy process but a new beginning has been made.

An attempt has been made towards the establishment of a workable and dependable coordination mechanism interlinking all central and state agencies involved in countering terrorism. This has resulted in the establishment of the National Investigation Agency (NIA). Also, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Bill has been passed. So, in a way, some significant legal and structural provisions have been made to address the issue at hand.

It has been reported in certain quarters that the work output of intelligence agencies is now being monitored more closely and they are put under pressure to 'perform'. Also, some mechanism have been developed to invest into technologies which could refurbish the intelligence gathering process. A case in point is the launch of the high-precision spy satellite RISAT-2 to keep a watch on terror activities, including terror camps and terror hideouts across the border. This Israeli-make satellite is capable of seeing through camouflage and operates round-the-clock and during bad weather also.

This indicates that India is open to the idea of taking technological assistance from states like Israel and the US. In fact, the signing of the End-user Monitoring Agreement as part of US defence purchases during July 2009 was done keeping in view the requirement of technology and equipment for counter terror operations. Unfortunately, India is still far away from commissioning any police reforms, which is the need of the hour.

All this indicates that India's overall response towards playing diplomacy and building hardware for counterterrorism has been satisfactory. No untoward incident has happened post 26-11 baring a few cases of infiltration. Today, two arguments could be put forth with regard to the absence of any major terror attack over Indian soil post 26-11.

It could be the result of India's efforts towards establishing a robust counterterrorism mechanism.

It could also be that Pakistan is so preoccupied with its own problems that the India issue has taken the backseat for the time being.

The second argument is also valid and needs to be examined further. At this point of time it would be inappropriate for India to take Pakistan at face value. Over the past couple of months General Pervez Musharraf has openly accepted that the Pakistani State has used terrorism as a tactic to wedge asymmetrical war against India. Perhaps Pakistan has taken a 'tactical pause' because it is much preoccupied with its internal problems. Simultaneously, they are also aware of being subject to the international scanner. The US is also putting a significant amount of pressure on Islamabad to refrain from resorting to terrorism. However, all this does not mean that they have abandoned the path of wedging covert war against India, and this is what India needs to guard against.


Since the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the situation in Pakistan has deteriorated. The Pakistani Taliban has become bloodthirsty and seems determined to establish its rule of terror over many parts of Pakistan. The killing of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud has in no way deterred their activities. The Pakistani Army, particularly ISI, looks a bit puzzled at this point of time about the exact nature of the threat and how they should address it. Presently they are getting significant support from the US administration in the form of intelligence inputs, military hardware and money. For Pakistan today engaging the US is more important than troubling India. On the other hand, they are also aware of their own importance for the US as long as Afghanistan boils. Perhaps Pakistan under US pressure is paying lip service to India's concerns on terrorism. But, it needs to be understood that such a policy could backfire.

Even now, Pakistan appears to be playing a double game with the US. On the one hand it is trying to address issues related to terrorism in regard to Pakistani Taliban, but is not wholeheartedly supporting the American cause on the Afghan border. This selective approach to addressing terrorism indicates that Pakistan is not the part of any global war against terror. For it, terrorism is still a tool of relevance. This is what the Indian government needs to factor into its policy making.

The present situation in South Asia is very delicate. Building only defensive shield against asymmetric threat is not a permanent solution. What is important is to kill the problem at the 'boost phase' itself. From that perspective, much more needs to be done.

Over the past year, India has developed a reasonably defensive counterterrorism structure. However, this structure is not yet fully tested because Pakistan has taken a 'break'. India needs to learn lessons from what happened to Hemant Karkare, the officer of Maharashta Police's Anti-Terrorism Squad. His jacket was bulletproof as long as it was not put in use. India's counterterrorism mechanism should not turn out something like that.

The writer is Research Fellow, IDSA







The 26-11 attack was one of the profoundly tragic episodes in human history. I lived through it and had a ringside view of it from my seventh floor apartment window overlooking both the Taj and the Trident. It hit the rich and poor alike. International visitors were not spared. I had seen the Jaipur Hanuman temple blasts and the Sarojini

Market attack on TV. Without diluting the significance of those tragedies, I sincerely feel that the 26-11 attack involved entire mankind. It may be argued that the media gave it much hype through repetitive coverage. But here in Mumbai it definitely generated a sense of understanding and helped people appreciate the power of dialogue.

On that fated day, I left my house at 9 pm to dine at a nearby café opposite Bhadwar Park. Post-dinner I was supposed to meet some friends at Leopold Café, which is right behind my house. The first hint that I got of trouble was hearing from a friend who I'd bumped into telling me that there was some sort of a gang war happening at the Oberoi (Trident). Such things are déjà vu in Mumbai and so I didn't think much of it at the time.

Now, I am in this café with my friends. Suddenly we hear shots. Loud claps of thunder as bombs go off somewhere close by. We don't know where the sounds are originating (later I learnt it was the Leopold), but its time to make a run for home. But none of the taxi drivers are willing to take us.

Finally, one agrees at three times the fare. Actually the café is just a five-minute's walk from my place and while I am driven there, I see people running helter skelter. Some friends of mine who were approaching Leopold café, where the first round of firing happened, saw people dying all around them.

A friend, who was (still is) an Oberoi employee, was on duty at the Concierge desk. She was saved by a whisker, but another female colleague was shot and she died on the spot. Along with some colleagues she managed to get out through the basement and took shelter in INOX theatre, which is on an adjoining property. She spent the entire night there along with scores of people who were trapped in the theatre. A couple of my friends living right behind the Taj witnessed the massacre through a kitchen window.

Exacerbating my personal trauma was loneliness. I was alone in my 7th floor flat surrounded by war. The family I live with was away in the US. Even the neighbours were away as it was the wedding season. I had nobody to share my anxiety with and those hours of terror shook me from within. The sharp reports of bullets flying and acrid smoke from the blasts have not left my senses till date. It was as if I was caught up right in the eye of the storm and I wasn't outside the Taj, but actually inside. Often it got so loud that I felt the Taj would come down in a heap any time.

My TV was on; all I could do was pray. Hunger made little knots in my stomach and I went without a bite for more than 20 hours, as curfew was clamped. But I worried more for a friend and her family who were stuck in Golden Dragon restaurant of the Taj. I made repeated attempts to get information through the Taj Helpline. Some other friends were at Leopold's. When the curfew was relaxed for an hour on the afternoon of November 27, I went with a friend to look for food. But all the shops were closed. Finally, we found a departmental store opposite Churchgate station, which is 10 minutes' walk away from my house. But just as soon as we were inside, rumours went around that Churchgate station had been bombed. Everybody who couldn't go home the previous night (the train service had stopped) was camping there and within minutes you had thousands of people running like crazy on the streets. My friend and I rushed back with a packet of chips. That's all I got as food. Later that night I got some Maggie at another friend's.

Mumbai was full of rumours those three days. While I thank the media for keeping us updated on the happenings, I feel as a citizen that operations like these should not be put up for live telecast because it turns out counter-productive. I think we are escaping from ourselves by harping on the 'the spirit of Mumbai' and its ability to endure all forms of torment. This is plastic romanticism. The Mumbaikar, like human beings everywhere, is vulnerable to human feelings. It's impossible to face difficult things like 26-11 and 'move on'. If we pander that media-built notion, the Mumbaikar will forever end up being taken for granted. These days my mother calls me every night to make sure I have got home in one piece. I am sure much the same is happening with others. There is a fear in the city today.

I belong to a generation of Mumbaikars that has a bomb blast marking each phase of our lives. The 1993 blasts happened when I was in school and not quite old enough to feel its import. But the Mumbai Gateway blast, which happened in 2003, left an impression because I was then in Colaba. I narrowly missed being a victim of the July 11, 2006 train blasts. That day I was to have been part of a college project leaving for the suburbs. At the last moment the trip was cancelled. I would have been on one of those trains if destiny hadn't intervened. So, I went with a group of friends to Churchgate station to see if we could be of help. We handed out water and biscuits to the stricken people who couldn't get home. There were thousands of people there, wailing and sobbing. The sights and sounds of that evening dominated my dark memories till 26-11 happened.

If you take the accountability from the past attacks, I feel every strata of the Mumbai society has got affected with terrorist attacks. To a terrorist, bombing Mumbai makes eminently more sense than any other city in India. Being the financial capital of our nation and also the podium of glamour, it has a special vulnerability. No wonder Mumbai has taken more hits than even Delhi. That is why I affirm that Mumbai deserves special protection.








Remember the 3-6-3 rule for bankers? Pay depositors interest at 3 per cent, lend at 6 per cent and play golf by 3 pm. What a life! You wonder if, as a London banker, poet T S Eliot teed off as much as he wrote verse in the closet. Mind you, 3-6-3 may promote extracurricular skills lacking in one-dimensional Shylock. But it's got a flip side: boring banking. Boring, as in musty, thick-walled, dimly lit bank buildings, whose hoary stolidity suggests brand solidity. Or boring, as in banks sticking to lending or luring. Or, finally, boring as in that post-1930s regulatory choke chain restricting bankers' rivalry to recreational drives and putts. Just think: the world once got by minus Wall Street's sharks who play god, not golf. That surely was the age of financial innocence. It's another matter that exciting characters like war criminals, gangsters and tinpot dictators have all patronised many a bank of vintage reputation.

Sometime ago, economist Paul Krugman was nostalgic. Boring banking in America of the 1940s-1980s, he wistfully recalled, accompanied "economic progress". Calamity strikes, it follows, whenever bankers shed conservatism and get paid astronomically for it. Why did financial giants tumble last year, if not for ignoring capital inadequacy and the risks of hedging risks? Hmm...So, for healthy banking, check three things. One, how sleep-inducing your banker is. Two, how denuded his paycheck gets. Three, if he turns an ace golfer. Or, like Sethu, noted Malayalam litterateur, prefers to wear a writer's tag to a banker's. That's what you call escape artistry.

Chiding critics of his trade, RBI guv D Subbarao pits today's "24/7/365" formula against yesterday's 3-6-3. In India boring banking's "an oxymoron", he wants all the morons out there to know. There may be a point there. Nationalisation long kept banks suitably sedated; for that reason, it's never a dull moment today. Don't desi bankers have to work 24/7/365 to clear a decades-long backlog of curbed inventiveness? 3-6-3's backers won't be impressed. Financial inclusion and the like, they'll say, are kid's stuff elsewhere for bankers without babysitters. It's financial innovation which creates lethal instruments that needs tamping down. Exotica like credit default swaps have only just arrived in India, wearing nappies. Dull banking's a relative concept, then, with one man's enthusiastic goose another man's soporific gander. Touche.

But brace for Subba's counter-jab. If daredevil banks like Lehman turned out a lemon, so did goody-two-shoes banks like Northern Rock. More, a "utility", the standard commercial bank, can't avoid the trust deficit that follows the bust of a "casino", or big investment bank. So let 21st century banking learn its hard lessons but also forge ahead, vaults full of enterprise. Spare it Luddite solutions such as a caddie-less golf cart moving in reverse. Hear, hear. Whoever said bankers, with or without bowler hats, were crashing bores?






The latest in a series of bash-'em-ups by serial offenders in the Shiv Sena when they attacked a media organisation in Pune not only betrays a contempt for the rule of law but also an astoundingly naive world view and warped political ideology. Demagogic Hitlerian persuasions apart, i am less interested in historical comparisons than an immediate high-level probe that results in bringing to book the ringleaders of this reprehensible criminal act. By resorting to gratuitous violence and crude attacks on those it disagrees with, the Shiv Sena has not only alienated the media at large but also the Marathi community it purports to protect.

Little surprise then that its already dwindling political base is more confused than convinced. The ballot is always stronger than the bullet, however, and i would sincerely hope that better sense prevails when voters determine their own political fate the next time around.

There have been suggestions in recent days to muzzle the party and impose a media boycott on it but neither is this possible nor productive. Sensationalism sells, unfortunately, and imposing embargoes would in any case be in conflict with the very democratic principles we uphold everyday. The political manifestos of both the Shiv Sena and MNS, two sides of the same communal coin, are inherently sectarian, non-inclusive and incite followers to spew hate and vitriolic nonsense. Both deserve to be consigned to the dustbin of history but more likely than not, they will implode by virtue of their own proscriptions and without much help from anybody else.

That is not an excuse to remain silent and do nothing, however. We must continue supporting responsible news organisations and citizens' groups that raise difficult issues and ask difficult questions. I stress the word "responsible" though: media houses would acknowledge that they need to self-monitor and run in-house checks to address excessive bouts of frenzied reporting that may unwittingly fan the flames of communal discord. By the same token, civil society and those who claim to speak for it must take an unambiguous and consistent stand on sectarian politics if real change is to come about.

The doublespeak of Mumbai's high society is that even outspoken and otherwise liberal commentators like Shobhaa De went on news television to unfairly attack Karan Johar for apologising to Raj Thackeray and in the same breath defended several of Thackeray's political positions. Equally, those of us in government and on the right side of the law have a responsibility to protect civil society against abuses of power. That is the only collective way our democracy, imperfect as it is, can survive and resist the forces that threaten it.

I must say it is deeply unsettling that an attack of this sort should take place on the cusp of a year since 26/11. I am not suggesting for a minute that comparisons be drawn with last year's terror attacks and last week's mindless thuggery. But here's the rub the lack of similarity isn't strong enough and that is what irks me and ought to concern us all. All too often, the danger we face as a nation lurks within. Divisive forces create and thrive in a climate of social unrest and will go to any extent to pry open social fault lines wherever they exist. The only antidote to this subversion of democracy is a stronger system of checks and balances. That includes an independent news media with the courage and integrity to expose malpractices so that the force of public opinion, shame and law can bring about a correction. Our democratic institutions must show themselves to be accountable, transparent and accessible to the common citizen, and act swiftly in the interest of justice. It is imperative that government, in partnership with civil society, creates strong deterrents against an increasingly pervasive and violent form of political hate-mongering, wherever that may emanate from.

In the final analysis, politicians and people in public life are fair game for the media and we have to accept that reality. Those of us in political life may not always like or agree with what is said and written about us, but surely that doesn't give us the licence to ransack and rampage. There are other civil and legal avenues to resolve grievances; you debate, propose, oppose and sue if you must. That is what civilised societies do. If the media, with all its influence and reach, can be attacked with impunity; if the media is not free to seek accountability from political parties, leaders and the government of the day, how free or safe is the ordinary citizen we serve?

It may be a while before we start subscribing to Voltaire's lofty philosophical conviction of disagreeing with what is said but defending to the death the right of those we disagree with to say it, but this is as good a time and place as any to start making a difference and fight for the freedom and rights our founding fathers sacrificed so we could have ours.

The writer is a member of Parliament.







Going by what French prime minister Francois Fillon promised in a speech on the United Nations' tenth International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, France will have legislation by mid-2010 banning psychological violence within the couple. The sentiments behind such a move are laudatory dealing with situations where abuse may not be visible but exists nevertheless, harming the victim. But its practicality is dubious at best. Physical abuse is a clear-cut violation that must be curbed legislatively. When dealing with the psychological variant, matters are altogether trickier.

To begin with, there is no scientific consensus on the most basic issue pertaining to any potential legislation, what psychological violence is. One of the most widely used definitions lists three categories, verbal aggression, dominant behaviour and jealous behaviour. The US Department of Justice defines it as causing fear through intimidation and forcing isolation, while Health Canada says emotional abuse stems from urges for power and control. Looking at these, the problem with legislating such behaviour should be obvious the sheer subjectivity of the entire issue.

Should harsh words spoken in the heat of an argument, for instance, be deemed criminal? Who is to quantify them? What might seem mild to some might look emotionally abusive to others. Also, most of the definitions agree that unlike physical abuse, an isolated incident does not constitute emotional abuse. Only a sustained pattern of behaviour over time can be counted as such. This poses even more problems. How is such a pattern to be tracked and proved? On the flip side, is the law to legislate stray incidents in which one of the partners may have said something hurtful?

That emotional abuse is a real problem is not in question. But its nature is such that for the state to become involved to the extent of legislating is unrealistic. Certainly, where there are instances of overt aggression such as verbal threats of violence, there can and should be recourse to legal means. But in many instances, the issue is too nuanced for such measures. Governments should ensure widespread access to counsellors and therapy groups, not bring in the courts.






The French government's move to ban psychological violence within the couple is timely. Similarly, the suggestion to tag violent partners to prevent them from stalking their victims is also necessary. There's a continuum from stalking to psychological violence of other types. Many psychologists and counsellors have held that psychological violence is a major factor that ruins marriages. In fact, it is cited as a reason in many divorce cases, including in India.

Psychological violence can be as intense and devastating as physical violence. This could range from passive acts like refusal to talk to the partner, to extreme aggression including threats to hurt or kill. Testimonies of many victims of bad marriages clearly state how the partner had resorted to mental torture to get his or her way. Psychological abuse often leads to depression and suicides among people trapped in unhappy marriages. The matter clearly concerns the rights of an individual and must be treated as such by the legal system.

The argument against accepting psychological violence as a legal category is that it is difficult to define clearly what constitutes such incidents, unlike acts of physical and sexual violence. This is not correct. Psychologists have devised models based on different criteria, including psychometric-type tests, to define acts that qualify as psychological abuse. Some have even suggested that the definition of psychological violence or terrorism as defined by human rights bodies could be applied in cases of marital violence.

Let's be clear: psychological violence is a regressive act that has no place in a civilised society. If so, it is important that legal remedies are put in place to address the issue, both for prevention as well as redress. It is important that this task is left best to the government since civil society institutions are ill-equipped materially as well as socially to arbitrate in this issue. The tendency of many social institutions, secular as well as religious, is to avoid critical interventions in case of discord that could lead to a break-up of the marriage.







Even before Manmohan Singh arrived in the US, pundits were proclaiming his visit to be an empty show, devoid of substance. There is now the added danger that, amid the hoopla over the glitzy White House state dinner, symbolism will overtake substance. The fact is that a slew of agreements covering vital areas of life signed during the visit and the reiteration of values and common political and strategic vision underlying them have shown why Indo-US relations could be, as President Barack Obama put it, "one of the defining partnerships of the 21st century".

The visit also put to rest concerns about the US tilt towards China at India's expense. A reading of the two joint statements one issued on November 17 by Obama and Chinese president Hu Jintao in Beijing and the other by Obama and Singh in Washington this week offers a striking contrast. On one hand, the effusive words of the Indo-US statement were imbued with common values and political and cultural perspectives. On the other hand, the body language surrounding the visit and the cautious joint statement in Beijing suggested business-like deals between mutually suspicious partners who have to work together. That statement emphasised that "to nurture and deepen bilateral strategic trust is essential" for their relationship. Building trust is needed to overcome the political chasm that separates them. China sought assurance about its authoritarian rule: "Each country and its people", the joint statement noted, "have the right to choose their own path, and all countries should respect each other's choice of a development model".

Concern over China's unresolved quest to unify Taiwan and protests against its rule over Xinjiang and Tibet was also evident in the reiteration of "the fundamental principle of respect for each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity". Obama and Hu agreed, of course, on a number of issues, including their opposition to "the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction". The value of such assertions is, however, questionable: only a week earlier, the Washington Post quoting A Q Khan published a detailed account of China's critical role in the building of Pakistan's nuclear bomb.

Pakistan is clearly an essential US ally in the bid to wind down military operations in Afghanistan. Even so, Obama backed the call for a "global strategic partnership" with India by emphasising "the absolute imperative to bring to justice the perpetrators" of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, who are believed to hail from Pakistan. Indeed, his joint statement with Singh condemned "terrorist safe havens in Pakistan and Afghanistan". Repudiating Islamabad's demands for India to scale back its presence in Afghanistan as a condition for cooperation on counterterrorism, Obama said he "appreciated India's role in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts in Afghanistan" and wanted such efforts to be enhanced.

China was not mentioned by name in the joint statement, but it was very much the ghost at the table if only as the very antithesis of the values India and the US stand for. Obama quoted President Truman to call India a "great nation of free people", and the statement pointedly listed the two nations' common values of "democracy, pluralism, tolerance, openness, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights". Although the US does not formally recognise India as a nuclear-weapons state, Obama came close to offering that recognition when he said, "As nuclear powers, we can be full partners in preventing the spread of the world's most deadly weapons, securing loose nuclear materials from terrorists, and pursuing our shared vision of a world without nuclear weapons". The US-India joint military exercises, ongoing for more than a decade, will enter a new phase. The signing of two technical agreements providing encrypted communications and accounting for logistical expenses will remove the last remaining bureaucratic obstacles to greater military cooperation.

Rhetorically at least, China now welcomes the US to Asia as "contributing to peace, stability and prosperity in the region" and Sino-US military cooperation and dialogue will resume. But a series of naval incidents and Beijing's ongoing military build-up serve as reminders of Sino-US competition. Chinese and American mutual economic needs oblige cooperation, but political differences call for vigilance. Shared values and political philosophies of New Delhi and Washington, in contrast, open the door to an ever-deepening partnership.





Who doesn’t wish for happiness? Can money buy happiness? Do great achievements bring true happiness? Riches, success and achievements may bring name, fame and pride, but they do not always bring happiness.

If lack of money and success creates sorrow and suffering, their possession does not give happiness either. The question then is how can you be peaceful and happy, irrespective of whether you are a success or failure in life?

Krishna says in the Bhagvad Gita: “There is neither intellect nor bhavna (feeling for God) for the ayukta or the one who is not united, and to one devoid of bhavna , there is no peace. To the one without peace, how can there be happiness?â€
 Krishna says, clearly, that unless a person is tuned into God he cannot have peace and without peace, he cannot be happy. Krishna also says that an un-united person does not have intellect.

So if you want happiness, unite with God. For this, you don’t have to abandon the pursuit of riches, success and achievements. God is self-knowledge and wisdom of sameness towards all beings because all are God. An egocentric person remains alienated from wisdom that is God. If you are free from ego, you look at all beings as God and so are united to the wisdom that is God. You will be free of sorrow and will attain peace and happiness.

Krishna says that we do not have right to the fruits of action and, therefore, we should perform actions, leaving the fruits to God. How can you avoid worrying about the fruit while performing actions? When a person regards the fruits of action (success or failure) as ‘mine’ and performs focused on the object, he is automatically worrying about the fruit.

Moreover, in doing so, he fails to abide the law of God, which says that one does not have right to the fruits. What you have to really do is to steady your intellect with the thought that the fruits of actions are of God. And when the fruit accrue in the form of success or failure, joy or sorrow, you have to mentally renounce the fruit to God. Since you do not contemplate the objects, you will not be attached to them. You will break the chain that starts with attachment and gives rise to desire, anger, delusion, confusion of memory, loss of intellect and death. Your intellect will become steady.

Krishna calls the wisdom of steadying your intellect by renouncing the fruits of action to God as Buddhi-yog or discipline of intellect. In this state you can be freed from constant births in different bodies. If you don’t, you are bound by actions. You lose your intellect due to attachment, desire and anger and perish, only to take another birth in a new body.

To steady our intellect we have to bring change in our thoughts. We have to remain engaged in usual actions and enjoyments as earlier but with a steady intellect fixed on the thought that all fruits of action are of God. This will free us from desire and ego, and gain eternal peace and happiness.

The same wisdom that will give peace and happiness to us will also give us Self-realisation and make us immortal. It will lead our world to a new age where we will live in peace, happiness and oneness, realising that we are in union with God.







There is now a steady flow of climate change actions by governments as the Copenhagen summit approaches. The US has promised to cut its carbon emissions by 17 per cent. China promised to double the energy efficiency of its economy. The Canadian parliament has now passed a bill calling for carbon emission cuts. And there will certainly be more such actions to come. There is a growing demand inside the country that India follow suit and take "credible" action about cutting carbon emissions.


However, the assumption behind this demand is that what other countries have done is credible. The truth is that very few of these various initiatives stand up to scrutiny. The US offer, if set against the 1990 baseline figure used by Kyoto Protocol signatories, comes to a trivial 4 per cent cut in emissions. By saying it will cut carbon intensity rather than emissions, China is likely to increase its smokestack emissions by 50 to 100 per cent by 2020. All of these announcements have been national commitments, most are non-binding and none allow independent verification.


This does not mean these pronouncements are hot air. There is an acceptance among governments that the world must move to a less sooty pathway. But no one, other than a starry-eyed few, doubts such a shift will carry a large economic price tag. While they may be cloaked in planet-saving language, the fact remains that climate change negotiations will be about which country will bear how much of this price. Which is exactly why all governments, other than the original Kyoto Protocol signatories, are committing only to symbolic or non-binding carbon reductions. No developed country has made any credible offers regarding financial compensation or technology transfer to the emerging economies. Put in this perspective, India is at least being honest by not making any loud proclamations. While New Delhi faces some flak, the truth is most governments and analysts accept that India is a front-runner among emerging economies when it comes to reducing carbon intensity, maintaining global energy standards in manufacturing and in the general trajectory of its carbon emissions. But appearances matter in the run-up to Copenhagen. So India should consider a sweeping statement that is unilateral, non-binding and, unlike some other countries, genuinely reflective of its carbon future.








What should matter more — how a report on an undisputed moment of national shame 'leaked' its way into the public domain or what its findings are? So far, politicians across the divide have mostly huffed and puffed about how NDTV and The Indian Express were able to access the contents of the Justice Liberhan Commission report before it was tabled in Parliament. But given that we aren't quite talking about state secrets or national security here,  isn't it time to stop diverting the debate to the non-issue of the leak? How about some real questions? What does the commission amount to after 17 years and 48 extensions beyond a waste of taxpayers' money? Does the judge tell us anything we didn't know? Doesn't the platitudinous nature of both the commission's recommendations and the centre's action Taken Report (atr) make a mockery of the issue? And will the din over the report give L.K. Advani a new voice within his party?


Frankly, the report is a dud. Yes, it punctures a hole in the BJP's protective shield by crushing the party's claim that the demolition at Ayodhya was 'spontaneous'. Declaring that the "demolition cartel" could have been stopped by Advani had he done more than make 'feeble requests', the commission concludes that the kar sevaks went in to Ayodhya with their pickaxes and shovels with the specific intention of bringing the dome down. And in a humiliating irony for the BJP — given the recent crisis within the party — Liberhan decides that the RSS is the principal and the BJP a pliant student. But here's the problem — most of these sweeping summaries, even if held true by history, read like an extended magazine article that didn't get the benefit of a good editor. Surely, a judicial commission is meant to use the clinical tools of investigation and not the weapons of rhetoric? But while traversing through the history and geography of the Ayodhya dispute in his report, the good judge doesn't empirically explain how he arrived at his destination.


I'm not arguing that his conclusions are necessarily incorrect. For a movement whose war cry was, 'Ek dhakka aur do, Babri Masjid tod do', and whose deadwoods have come crawling out of oblivion this week to claim that December 6 remains the 'proudest day' of their lives, it's not hard to believe that the demolition was planned. But a fact-finding commission that has the luxury of a 17-year single focus needs to clinically prove its hypothesis; not merely opine and grandstand. Sadly, Liberhan has taken almost two decades to write what most journalists could have written in the immediate aftermath of 1992.


Ironically, the other gap in the report connects two men on opposite sides of the political trenches — Narasimha Rao and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Both were politicians who converted ambivalence and silence into a fine art of political strategy and thus remain opaque figures in many ways. History remains divided on the omissions and commissions of both in the shame of Ayodhya. The inclusion of Vajpayee and the benign forgiveness of Rao remain two other problem areas in the Liberhan report.


While in active politics, Vajpayee, labelled a "pseudo-moderate" by Liberhan, often managed to straddle ideological contradictions by locating within them an affable philosophical vagueness. Those who know him say he may have taken the odd ride on Advani's Ayodhya rath, but was never a constant traveller on a journey that made him distinctly uncomfortable. Others point to a speech he made in Lucknow on the eve of the demolition, in which he seemed to hint at the ensuing storm by asking how long "bhajans and kirtans could be sung standing". So, why wasn't this speech made a basis for summoning Vajpayee before the commission? Ironically, a Lucknow-based lawyer, I.B.  Singh submitted the video clip before the commission in 2004 and asked that Vajpayee be questioned. The plea was rejected. So on what legal basis then does Liberhan list Vajpayee among the 68 "culpable" for "communal discord?"

The worst that is said about Rao, on the other hand, is that he was "day dreaming". If the commission is to be believed, Rao was so naïve that he was "lulled into inaction" by the BJP's "false promises". Once again, Liberhan makes a faulty legal formulation. He argues that Rao could not have dismissed Kalyan Singh's government before the demolition because the UP governor had advised against it. But doesn't Article 356 mandate President's rule based on the governor's recommendation 'or otherwise'? Madhav Godbole — who was Home Secretary at the time — has gone on record to say that a Cabinet note was ready on sacking the UP government, but it never got the thumbs up from his political bosses. Interestingly, the Congress today seems keener to condemn Rao's inaction than Justice  Liberhan does.


In effect, the commission's findings seem to lack any robust consistency. The Home Ministry's ATR is vague and wishy-washy, but not much else could be derived from the judge's own over-generalised recommendations. Despite Liberhan's sweeping condemnations, it's peculiar that the report does not propose punitive action against any individual.


So, what the BJP needs to worry about is not what Liberhan says or how his report leaked. Yet again, the party's dilemma is ideological. Will the contradictions within take the party on another yatra into an anachronistic past? Or will it finally shed the cobwebs and realise that ironically, on the day the masjid/disputed structure fell, Ramjanmabhoomi died as a cause. And the India of 2009 just doesn't care.


One thing though is certain. We will never see anyone taking responsibility for the Ayodhya demolition — a black swan moment in the country's history — or for the communal riots that ensued and claimed thousands of lives. Will Parliament focus on that during the debate next week? Probably, and tragically, no.Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV  


The views expressed by the author are personal.








What a relief it was yesterday, when the useless controversy over Justice Liberhan's report was blown away as we remembered 26/11. It would have been perfect if we had remembered yet another anniversary — 60 years ago on Thursday, we passed the Constitution, the founding document on which all our laws rest. It was this document which mandated Justice Liberhan's inquiries, for instance. The Liberhan Commission report was delayed by due process and its findings are not exactly news only because… well, there was nothing new to find.


Investigating Ayodhya isn't exactly rocket science. The Babri demolition was played out before the eyes of the nation. All the data that Liberhan could ever need was available in the public domain, in television footage and newspaper files. And yet the commission required Rs 8 crore of public funds and 17 years of our time to deliver. Let's not hyperventilate too much about the expense. The government squanders more money every time it burps. The real cost lies in the years wasted, blamed as usual on due process. In those years, communal politics entrenched itself in the national consciousness as an inescapable given, though it was only a plot hatched by the handful of people that Liberhan has named.


Let me draw your attention to a case in neighbouring Bangladesh. It is a court case, unlike the Liberhan Commission, yet it bears looking at. Last Thursday, the Dhaka Supreme Court sent the conspirators in the Mujibur Rahman assassination case to the gallows. Curiously, the sentencing was barely noticed in India, though the matter bears striking structural similarities to the Babri demolition.


Hoping to spread the blame, the conspirators had tried to pass off a political assassination as a spontaneous event during a mutiny. Just as the architects of the Babri demolition are still insisting that it was the result of spontaneous public action. It was public knowledge that the murderers had gone room by room through the president's house in Dhaka, killing everyone, including an infant, in an effort to wipe out the family. Very public knowledge — the house is now a museum commemorating the dead. Just as public as the reams of information on the Babri demolition, which expose it as the outcome of a carefully conceived plan executed with logistical precision.


What the Babri demolition is to India, the Mujib assassination is to Bangladesh, a supreme act of impunity played out in the public gaze, which hijacked the political will of the people and the future of the nation. And yet the murderers got away with it for 34 years. That's twice as long as Liberhan took, but at least it has resulted in a sentence. Liberhan's report is toothless. It is only fodder for fiery speechifying in Parliament next Tuesday.

To do away with due process would invite anarchy. But does it always have to be so tediously cumbersome, even in cases of national importance where outcomes are more or less obvious, or at least fall within a narrow band of possibilities? The law must preserve its high ideals, but not to the extent that its practical value is degraded. Miscarriage of justice is criminal. But so is delay, especially in a region where impunity prospers so indecently because of it.


Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine

The views expressed by the author are personal.








Dubai, we are told, is an oasis. Except, of course, it is not. Dubai has no real, natural rivers — though, for all we know, someone built a gold-lined canal recently — and it definitely has no oases. Dubai is an articulation in steel and glass of a triumphant artificiality, a place where the real can blur into the imagined six times before breakfast. Another myth: Dubai has oil. Sure, there's oil money sitting around: but it isn't because Dubai itself has oil. Instead, it has turned itself into a receptacle for its neighbours' petroleum dollars, offering them a spectacular destination in return. Oh, and latterly, it has wanted to be something else: a giant, leveraged, financial instrument of a country, betting all its reserves on its own value and on continued good times elsewhere.


That has come crashing down now. Dubai World, a holding company for the city-state's government — essentially a sovereign wealth fund, and one of the world's largest — has asked its creditors for six more months to meet its obligations. A "debt standstill" may not amount to a sovereign default, the worst thing that can happen to an economy, but it comes pretty close. The revelation of Dubai World's inability to pay puts the focus squarely on the emirate's tattered finances: it owes at least $80 billion, probably more if off-balance sheet obligations are tallied. This is because over the past decade it has chosen to expand hugely, betting on its future as a location for the highest of high-end real estate; and has taken on even more debt to invest broadly elsewhere. (Most famously in an attempt to take over several US ports, scuttled by the US Congress for "security" reasons.)


That expansion, it is now evident, may have been unsustainable. As oil prices fell, as the super-rich it sought to attract cut down on expenditure, Dubai's finances tottered. Not even the easy credit sloshing around a post-stimulus banking sector could postpone the inevitable. And with Dubai's crash comes crashing down the city's hopes of being an "international financial centre" like Singapore. The bigger impact? Too early to say anything definitive. But small, overleveraged countries in southern Europe are being watched carefully. Do some of the global big banks have too much of Dubai on their books? That's another question.


Indian concerns, apart from having to watch what happens elsewhere — this comes with the territory if you are a biggish economy open to capital flows — will centre around the impact on Indian migrants in Dubai. Abu Dhabi has said it will bail out Dubai. A somewhat nervous financial world will be hoping that it will.







All of this week Mumbai has replayed in slow motion the trauma of a year ago. But if the city police were out to offer reassurance through pageantry, the parade of arms and routines they took down Marine Drive on Thursday in fact highlighted what's wrong with the law enforcement establishment in the state. After the terrorist attacks last November, Maharashtra's, and more keenly the city's, police have come under the scanner — for the command structures and standard operating procedures as they are on paper and as they came into play in the first hours after the terrorists started firing.


Maharashtra's police force is always a good story, for the overhang of glamour and rivalry that keeps matters edgy, and the superstar status even junior officers so effortlessly acquire. The personality of the officers dominates all else. Even now, a year on, the police appear unable to move beyond the fissures opened up after the developments of those first hours. It is not just that the self-valorisation we have witnessed this week is out of place; it is also that it refracts the focus to the inter-personnel rivalries that continue to find voice. Hassan Gafoor, the city police commissioner at the time of the attacks who was subsequently rapped by the Ram Pradhan committee and is now one of four officers believed to be in the running for the Maharashtra DGP's post, is battling a controversy over remarks he may or may not have made about the conduct of senior officers that night. Rakesh Maria, who was in charge of the Mumbai police control room then, is currently drawn into a public spat by Vinita Kamte on the circumstances that may have led her husband Ashok Kamte to Cama Hospital, and possibly his death. They are not the only ones, and to hear it from the state's own police force is to take away the impression that all that afflicts it cannot just be resolved through new arms and crack commando units.


Additionally, these controversies come amidst the delay by the state in announcing the successor to S.S. Virk, who retired as DGP on October 31. It should not take the first anniversary of 26/11 to flag up the need to fix Maharashtra's police force.






Accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2003, Shirin Ebadi said, "This prize belongs to the people of Iran. It belongs to the people of the Islamic states, and the people of the South for establishing human rights and democracy." Well, what belongs to the people of Iran has now been hijacked by the state of Iran, a first in the 108-year history of the Nobel. Like a schoolyard bully, the Ahmadinejad government has confiscated human rights lawyer Ebadi's Nobel, Legion d'honneur medal, and other honours, claiming that she owes the state $410,000 in back taxes because of the Nobel.


Iran, where the Achaemenid dynasty is said to have charted one of the first acknowledgements of human rights, is now a place where dissent is unspeakable. The rousing political protests following June's presidential election have been slapped down with the brute might of the state, the abuse of political prisoners and a systematic campaign to silence outspoken figures like Ebadi. Over 4000 people have been arrested and 140 of them, including pro-democracy activists and journalists, were charged with attempting a "soft overthrow" of the regime, on state television. Ebadi, Iran's first female judge and one of the most outspoken voices for freedom, is bound to irk the Iranian government further, given that she is applauded by a wider international civil society, and she wields a vocabulary of universal human rights. In fact, this taking away of the Nobel follows a much more thorough and pointed mission against her — her Centre for the Defence of Human Rights has been closed, three of her colleagues jailed, her husband was beaten up earlier this year, her bank accounts frozen.


How long can Iran get away with this persecution of freethinking voices? Ebadi, for her part, refuses to be cowed. And that courage is precisely the ineffable thing that Iran can never control.








Justice Liberhan has delivered only two real surprises in his report. It is also entirely understandable why only one has been taken note of in political debate. That, indeed, is his repeated censure of Atal Bihari Vajpayee. But the other real surprise, in fact even bigger and more significant than the somewhat gratuitous indictment of Vajpayee, has gone unnoticed — and that is entirely understandable too. In fact, the Liberhan Commission's total exoneration of Narasimha Rao has left the BJP cold, the left-secular intelligentsia stunned, and the Congress confused.


You can understand why the BJP does not care. You can also understand the indifference of the left-secular intelligentsia, because they had always led the canard that Rao was somehow complicit in that crime, that he was a closet Jan Sanghi. Pull down his dhoti, and you will find a pair of khaki shorts, they would say. But why is the Congress silent and unwilling to even acknowledge with a sense of vindication if not joy that they, their government and their prime minister were not to blame, and have been unfairly pilloried and punished for a crime Justice Liberhan says they never committed? That's because the commission destroys the canard they themselves have built against their own party. They did it not because they really believed Rao was a bigot and complicit in the destruction. Most of them (remember the ones who broke away from the party in the name of genuine secularism then?) saw it as a great excuse to pressure the then hands-off Sonia Gandhi to bless an insiders' coup, and replace Rao, preferably with Arjun Singh. Rao survived many internal coup attempts, but never recovered from the damage. In 1998, Sitaram Kesri even denied him a ticket to contest for the Lok Sabha.

Those who knew Rao well, including, I dare say, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, would never doubt his secular commitment. That he was a believer, visited temples, participated in rituals is also well known, and does not undermine that commitment. It is much easier for a non-believer to be secular. He was also cast in the old mould of Indian politics. So he would keep open communication and relationships with all sides, including the BJP. In fact, he had a particularly warm relationship with Vajpayee — remember that exchange at a political function where he described Vajpayee as a "guru" in politics and Vajpayee said Rao, instead, was the guru of gurus, "guru ghantaal"? But if anybody says he celebrated secretly when Babri fell, he does this complex and fascinating, wise but cynical, and patriotic but venal politician a great injustice.


But, for a long time, there were so many stories floating around about his "complicity" and these were mostly believed. Why did he take the BJP leaders' word that Babri won't be harmed? Why did he not go over the state government's head to order Central forces to open fire? Why did he not at once dismiss Kalyan Singh's government and take control of the state? The conclusion therefore was that deep down he was happy that Babri had been destroyed.


Politicians become much nicer beings when out of power, particularly if you are willing to go spend time with them in their years of wilderness. And I did that a few times with Rao, particularly during some periods of great crisis, notably the war in Kargil. I would land up in his Motilal Nehru Marg home (where Chief Election Commissioner Naveen Chawla now lives) and ask him: so how would Narasimha Rao have handled this crisis? He was out of politics, so I did not feel the pressure to be judgmental about him. But he was a wise man with six decades of experience and a remarkable memory. So as a student of political history you always learnt something. He was facing so many court cases, from corruption to bribery (he was eventually acquitted in all) and was left to fend for himself. Lonely, in a mostly empty home with some books, newspapers, an old treadmill and just a few pieces of creaky furniture and a computer as his only possessions, he was usually happy to see me. He enjoyed telling stories like a lonely grandfather. Sometimes he laughed at his own fate. His most memorable line to me, talking about the many cases he was facing, was: koyi kehta hai maine murgi churayee, koyi kehta hai murgi ke ande, par sab kehte hain ke hoon to chor (somebody says I stole the hen, some say I stole the eggs, but they all agree I am a thief anyway). And he would then laugh, almost giggle, for just about 15 seconds.


He knew I was always pumping him for information, and sometimes asked if I went home and noted it down some place. With time he dropped some reserve and spoke more freely about a lot that happened in the past, a political historian's delight. But on two issues he would go absolutely quiet: on what happened in the winter of 1996 when The New York Times said he had prepared to test at Pokharan but pulled back under American pressure, and second, when I probed him on how exactly did he lose control in Ayodhya. On Ayodhya, he would say, he will tell the commission whatever he has to say. On Pokharan, he would just say, arre bhai, kuchch to mere saath chita mein jaane do (leave something to take to my pyre).


But one afternoon, when I had dropped by in the middle of the Kargil war, he opened up on Ayodhya and gave his answers to the common questions listed earlier in this article. Why did he not ask the Central forces to open fire? What were the mobs attacking the mosque shouting, he asked, "Ram, Ram"? What would the soldiers opening fire at them have been chanting to themselves while following my orders to kill maybe hundreds — "Ram, Ram?" Reading the confusion on my face, he said, what if some of the troops turned around and joined the mobs instead? It could have unleashed a fire that would have consumed all of India. Then: why did he not dismiss Kalyan Singh? Mere dismissal, he said, does not mean you can take control. It takes a day or so appointing advisors, sending them to Lucknow, taking control of the state. Meanwhile, what had to happen would have happened and there would have been no Kalyan Singh to blame either. And why did he trust BJP's leaders? "It was Advani," he said, "and he will be made to pay for it." This was obviously a reference to how he had trapped a totally innocent Advani in the Jain hawala case. One thing you wouldn't associate with Rao was forgiveness.


He surely failed as prime minister to prevent the tragedy at Ayodhya. But his rivals in the Congress did their own party such disservice by spreading the canard that his (and their) government was responsible for that crime. This, more than anything else, lost them the Muslim vote in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar and gifted Mulayam Singh Yadav the "M" for his M-Y (Muslim-Yadav) vote bank. It is this lost vote bank that Rahul Gandhi is now trying to win back. But any dispassionate reading of recent political history will tell you that this is a self-inflicted injury. The Congress has itself built a mythology whereby the Muslims have come to hold their party as responsible for Babri as the BJP. And since they always voted against the BJP anyway, now they could only punish the Congress.


If you take Justice Liberhan's indictment of so many in the BJP seriously, you cannot at the same time dismiss his exoneration of Rao, and the government, and the Congress Party under him. You surely cannot put the clock back on so much injustice done to him, like not even allowing his body to be taken inside the AICC building. But the least you can do now is to give him a memorial spot too along the Yamuna as one of our more significant (and secular) prime ministers who led us creditably through five difficult years, crafted our post-Cold War diplomacy, launched economic reform and, most significantly, discovered the political talent and promise of a quiet economist called Manmohan Singh.







The resurfacing of Pravin Togadia and his vituperative rhetoric on national television after being incommunicado for the last five years seems to have signalled the resumption of strident Hindutva as the core of the Sangh Parivar's future strategy. The Liberhan report blames the RSS for running a "parallel government" that supervised meticulously all details in the events leading to the demolition of the Babri Masjid. It, with its offshoots the Bajrang Dal, the VHP and so on, collectively created an "immense and awesome entity with a shrewd brain, a wide encompassing sweep and the crushing strength of a mob." These "pseudo-moderates", which includes Vajpayee, Advani and Joshi, "portrayed the benign face of the Ayodhya campaign and gave false reassurances to the courts, the people, and the nation as a whole." Loquacious and eloquent, Justice Liberhan was expressively explicit in his indictment.


Finally the so-called "pseudo-secularists", those who have been at the receiving end of the BJP's favourite description of their opponents, have been given a new retort: "pseudo-moderates."


But the question is: can the report help stop the internecine war amongst various avatars of the RSS family?


The domineering attitude of the RSS has been dealt a body-blow; the resurgence of the BJP's Delhi "gang of four" along with a reprieve for Advani seems imminent. It could be a long wait for Marathi manoos Nitin Gadkari. After a gap of 18 months the BJP has reason to re-assert itself and demand the RSS stop the repeated public humiliation of its top brass. The question uppermost on everyone's mind is can the much-maligned and misused Mandir-Masjid card be encashed yet again at the polling booth?


Justice Liberhan certainly exceeded his brief. To good effect, he used his 17-year-old brush to paint the now defunct Muslim bodies as culpable as well, for their failure to provide leadership. These outfits were no match for the well-oiled, cash-rich, power-embedded swayamsevaks. Presently the ire among many Muslims is directed at the clean chit given to former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao. Madhav Godbole, the then-home secretary confirmed that the Centre was ready to implement President's Rule but the higher-ups flinched and spluttered in a state of shock.


Chastened and wiser, various voices within the Indian Muslim community are in favour of exercising caution. The experience of hindsight shows that minority rabble-rousing becomes little more than a complement to a strident communal reaction from Hindutva votaries. Wounded and humbled since the last Lok Sabha elections, when regional and sectarian political parties were negated, the timing of the Babri Masjid demolition report provides another opening to fringe parties to occupy the centre of the political discourse. Having traversed the political landscape and been rewarded with Rajya Sabha nominations from both the Janata Dal and the Congress — and now back as the new SP mascot — the firebrand orator Maulana Obaidullah Azmi, is, with Abu Azmi, expected to stoke fires in an effort to urge Muslims back to the SP, which they had abandoned after the Kalyan Singh cohabitation fiasco.


Remember, all parties know that the 17 per cent minority vote holds the key to future power in UP, so fragmented is the polity. Since 1992, a lot of churning has taken place; with newer, younger voters the chances of polarising communities on chauvinistic agendas have become rather limited. The personal, "mutually beneficial" alliance and then the public break-up of Mulayam Singh and Kalyan Singh will haunt both the backward leaders for a long time. Politicians can try to brazenly re-invent, refurbish and repackage themselves, but voters are unlikely to be fooled again easily.

If the Congress vacillates in taking on the Babri demolition culprits, along with further legal procrastination, the recent goodwill could evaporate just as quickly. Any obfuscation like a task force or committee can only delay justice. The absolute promise of never subjecting the country ever again to a similar outrage can gain credence only if the law of the land prevails.


And demonising the country's main opposition party as a whole, even if many of its members were guilty of aiding and abetting the mosque demolition, is no different from blaming all members of one community for the acts of a few. Since the ghost of Babri cannot name the destroyers, Lois McMaster's famous quote, "the dead cannot cry out for justice; it is a duty of the living to do so for them," should provide guidance to the state to do its duty.


The writer is chairman of the editorial board at the Kanpur-based Urdu newspaper 'Daily Siyasat Jadid'







The following is a very small selection from what I heard on 26/11 news TV. And I appeal to all of you: we must try to understand, whatever our religion, community or class, 26/11 news TV. Let this be our united pledge.


Boy, are we made of sterner stuff — this was from the nation via NDTV 24x7 to the terrorists. Also from NDTV 24x7 — fighting terror is not a one-night stand, it's a 24x7 job. However, this realisation should in no way be taken to contraindicate another thing NDTV asked us to do: put our hands together for India. India is bulletproof, I heard this on NDTV, even though our bulletproof jackets are not.


NDTV surveyed Mumbai and found remembrance so overwhelming that the city was in catharsis. In Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Kolkata, what we were seeing, more important what terrorists were seeing, and I take NDTV's word for it, was a new India. Indeed, as NDTV pointed out, this is the new India; and all we do in the media is to reflect on this new mood of this now great country (italics mine). I would venture to add that another aspect of this new India would be what an ex-cricketer said on NDTV when the broadcaster was live from Bangalore: how solid are we in our solidarity. From Bangalore, via NDTV, I also heard a message meant not just for new India: 26/11 was a wake-up call for every human being on earth. But, NDTV in Bangalore also alerted me to the fact that our new India apparently has a problem: terror resides within each of us.

The questions that reside in all of us: let's think about those, too. P. Chidambaram answers people's questions on CNN-IBN, with CNN-IBN adding its own questions. Don't you think the time has come to change VIP security, CNN-IBN asked the home minister. So, less security for VIPs means more security for all of us — is that it? What a fascinating idea. If I find a Pakistani terrorist pointing a gun at me, I will presumably feel safer knowing the SPG has abandoned Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi and are picnicking on the lawns of their bungalows.

The home minister, in response to that CNN-IBN question, asked whether we want our elected representatives unguarded to the point where they are in real danger and whether that represents an advance on the current system. He sounded most reasonable to me. But was I the only common man agreeing with him? The minister was also asked how citizens can be made more involved in security. The flag march in Mumbai, CNN-IBN said, only involved security personnel. Again, I was impressed. Flag marches where you and I and everyone join in as security personnel march by — terrorists will be terrified when they see commandos and citizen commandos hanging around together, being covered live by journalists and citizen journalists. But the home minister counter-questioned CNN-IBN, what do you mean by citizen involvement, and added that flag marches should necessarily involve only state security personnel.

Clearly, the sensible home minister was not going to impress the new India, I thought. And there was proof on Times Now. A 26/11 survivor was asked how he feels now — Times Now told him it didn't want to ask how he feels but still felt compelled to ask how he feels. The gentleman said that this home minister was no better than his predecessor. That was the nicest thing anyone has said about the former home minister. Also part of that radical political analysis was this: "we" didn't do anything about the government when "we" had the chance. But we had the chance, surely? General elections and Maharashtra elections. And we voted, didn't we? What was I missing? I was thinking, you see, of we as in we, not we as in new India. I was missing, as NDTV said, the beautiful positivity.







The steady stream of encouraging economic news from almost every part of the world over the last six months had led most governments and observers of the global economy to believe that the world had firmly seen off the crisis that struck when Lehman Brothers went down last September. Now, that calm has been shattered by the news of Dubai World, a large sovereign fund wholly owned by the emirate of Dubai, suspending the repayment of all its debt for six months. Interestingly, Dubai (one of the seven kingdoms which comprise the United Arab Emirates) has no oil reserves and therefore no petro-dollars to bail itself out of this difficult situation.


Dubai is quite simply a gigantic exercise in real estate development — big malls, fancy homes, seven star hotels, luxury islands are what you would most commonly associate with the once-upon-a-time fishing village and desert city. While the going was good, the city was able to attract the interest and deep pockets of the world's elite, making it a city of boom particularly over the last decade. But at some point, like all over-exuberant real estate development, this one too was bound to have an unhappy ending, Dubai World, through its real estate arm Nakheel, was heavily invested in the property and building business in Dubai. The global crisis would have inevitably squeezed the pockets of those who were buying all the glitzy properties in Dubai. Hence overcapacity was always going to be a problem. Finally, more than a year after Lehman went down, the evident overcapacity in real estate showed up and has effectively bankrupted Nakheel, Dubai World and Dubai.


The obvious question, of course, is why the long lag between the global bust and Dubai's bust? The answer lies in the nature of the global recovery over the last six and more months. What happened after Lehman in terms of the freezing up of credit and collapse of demand is well known. Governments reacted promptly by injecting vast amounts of cheap liquidity into the economy with a combination of monetary and fiscal policy. Obviously, the stimuli were the biggest where the crisis hit worst — in the US and the advanced economies. Banks, on the verge of collapse, in particular were pumped with a lot of cash — essentially at no cost. These actions, out of a Keynesian textbook, prevented a deep global recession — that's unambiguously good. However, like with strong medication, there was a powerful side effect.


It is a well-acknowledged fact that the real economy takes longer that the financial sector to bounce back after a crisis. In the meanwhile, there is plenty of cheap money floating around which needs somewhere to go. Since, the real economy cannot absorb enough, it ends up going to fuel bubbles in stock markets and real estate in particular. And that is what has been happening in the last six months. The kind of comebacks made by global stock markets, including the soaring Sensex, are not justified by the fundamentals of the real economy. The kind of property bubble which continued to be fuelled in Dubai, among other places over the last few months, was also not justified by fundamentals — there was never going to be a revival of consumption and demand to the level required to continue selling private islands off Dubai. So the bubble was fuelled until the lack of demand finally caught up and busted the developers, Dubai World. Now, there is danger of contagion — other such bubbles in other parts of the world may also get pricked. Given the exposure of major banks and financial institutions to Dubai World and other such bubbly enterprises, there remains a risk of the global financial system taking another hit just when it can least afford it.


Some countries will be more vulnerable than others — a lot depends on the structure and diversification of the economy. Dubai, as an emirate, was always vulnerable if the real estate bubble burst because there is little other economic activity there. There was an attempt to build a financial sector, but after the global collapse, there isn't much hope of a boom in finance anytime soon. In any case, over-dependence on finance doesn't pay rich dividends all the time. Recall what happened to Iceland last year. Iceland grew prosperous in the heady days of financial globalisation, through the development of a gigantic financial sector with liberal rules — the size of Iceland's financial sector was many times it GDP. So, when the crisis bankrupted the banks in Iceland, the government, even in theory using all its GDP, could not bail them out. The reason why Iceland hasn't recovered strongly even a year later is because there are no sectors other than fishing the economy can turn to. Of course, the crisis in Iceland caused problems for other small European economies like Hungary and Ukraine which needed IMF help. In Dubai, of course, it's a sovereign, government backed fund which is bankrupt, so obviously the government isn't in a position to bail it out. Now, the trouble in Dubai could potentially have a contagion effect on other countries. Small over-leveraged countries with bubbles in real estate and finance are vulnerable. There may also be the additional impact on creditor banks and financial institutions as well as the knock-of-confidence impact on stock markets.


There may be a silver lining for Dubai though. Dubai World could yet get a quick cash bailout, with very few conditions attached (other than perhaps loss of face for Dubai's Sheikh Maktoum), from the Abu Dhabi emirate, which is sitting on surplus cash. The two emirates are after all part of the same country even if the rulers are from rival clans. That may yet be the best outcome in the short run for Dubai, global creditors and the global economy. We are still at that stage of recovery when we can't afford a serious loss of confidence. Dubai, of course, will need to think harder about its long-term economic future after this fiasco.








The National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) promulgated by Pervez Musharraf in his capacity as the president of Pakistan in 2007, is a genie finally out of the bottle. A list read out by Pakistan's law minister has exposed the names of political and bureaucratic bigwigs who have apparently benefited from the indemnity the NRO provided to Musharraf's political rivals back then.


Daily Times reports on November 23: "The government has finally fulfilled its promise to reveal the names of those who benefited from the National Reconciliation Ordinance, albeit the list so far is still incomplete. Out of 8,041 beneficiaries, only the names of 248 have been published. Those 248 however, are very significant. They include the top leadership of the PPP, MQM and the PPP-Sherpao. They also include cabinet members, retired bureaucrats, technocrats, military officials and diplomats." The News made an attempt at bringing out the 'inside story': " The unannounced war between the Presidency and the PM House came out in the open when the list was strongly disputed by top friends and aides of President Asif Ali Zardari as many of them issued denials and explanations, with the president's secretary general Salman Faruqui, saying 'the innocent continued to be maligned with the guilty ones even after 12 years of media trial and no effort was being made to separate the two." Another story added: "Close aides of slain PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto... have demanded of the public office-holders, who benefited from the NRO, to voluntarily step down in the best interest of the party... Nawab Talpur, a former federal minister and now an MNA from Sindh, talked about a recent statement of PM Gilani, in which he offered tendering resignation if his wife is found an NRO beneficiary, was an example that should be followed by all ministers."


Continuing the controversy, Daily Times reported on November 24: " President Asif Ali Zardari asked PM Yousaf Raza Gilani to take into account reservations expressed by people saying their names had been wrongly included in the list NRO beneficiaries." Dawn attacked the NRO in an editorial on November 23: "This is not to say that the outcry against the NRO is a red herring; the NRO was a bad idea — morally, legally and constitutionally — in the first place and the government made it worse with the amendments it introduced to the Bill in the National Assembly before it was forced to withdraw the 'NRO Plus' recently." The News observed on November 23: "While Pakistan ranks among the world's most corrupt countries due to the deeds of its rulers, most of its citizens work tirelessly in an often futile effort to make ends meet. People everywhere are filled with disgust at the theft of state resources by those entrusted with them."


Back at you

As Indian PM Manmohan Singh's visit to the US proceeded, Pakistan was — as expected — watching it very closely. Pakistan foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi reacted strongly to Singh's interviews to the American media as he lashed out at Pakistan's incompetence in combating terror. "Speaking with the German press agency, DPA, Qureshi claimed Pakistan was compiling hard evidence of India 's involvement and interference in Balochistan and Fata. 'India should refrain from such nefarious activities...Unless (India) dispenses with its visceral animosity towards Pakistan, attaining viable peace and security in South Asia will be even more elusive'" reported The News on November 23.


Dawn added on November 23: "Breakdown of dialogue only works to the advantage of those who do not want to see peace in the region. There is no other alternative. It is for India to respond and reciprocate." Dawn reported Qureshi's comments on November 24: "I am disappointed... My feeling is India is dragging its feet and is looking for excuses not to resume the composite dialogue."







A year has passed, and the pain has mellowed but not gone away. Ruby Randhawa, my sister, was gunned down mercilessly at the Taj in the early hours of 27th November 2008.


Ruby was 6 years younger than me. Her personality was sunny. Every morning, she would dress according to the latest fashion with impeccably matching accessories before heading to work — she was a biology teacher in G.D. Somani School. Then, invariably, the call would come, when we discussed family issues and indulged in girlish talk to kickstart the day.


When Ruby came over, she filled the house with her lively voice and her animated stories. Being her elder and only sister, I bossed over her at times, but that too she'd take with a smile. We had an understanding. To flatter me, she used to ask "Bhenji, how old are you now?" "Sixty" I would say, to which she would reply "You don't look your age." One of my fondest memories of childhood is probably our rides to school in the morning, balancing both our chubby bodies on the small bicycle, our bags dangling in the flimsy basket in front and me pedalling with all my might.


Ruby was a fantastic mother and wife. Both her daughters being abroad for work and studies, she would ring them up several times a day to ensure that they were happy and guide them accordingly. On her visits to see them, she cooked and froze enough food to see them through for a month. We used to laugh at her for this. Now, recalling those moments, I feel happy that her interactions with the family were so intense.


It was listening to her students' tributes one year ago, that made me realise what she had achieved in life professionally, and how brilliant she was at her work: "Bubbly, wavy hair, a contagious toothy smile, strong-headed but always ready with a bearhug" that is how one of her students remembers her. Her devotion to her teaching profession was reflected in the faces of the many students who filed past her in solemn respect at the funeral. As Bittu Sehgal pointed out, she had rejuvenated the Environment Club at the Cathedral school where she had taught earlier. The Principal of G.D. Somani recollected the amount of ideas she kept throwing at him. The incessant chatter about her students while she corrected their work illustrated her total dedication. God only knows where she found time to knit sweaters and make lace. Whatever Ruby did, it was "dil se". And that is how people should remember her.


Every day over the past year, the thought of why she decided to have dinner at the Taj that night crosses my mind. She loved good food, and trying the new Indian restaurant at the Taj was a must for her. I console myself thinking that it was God's will.


However, looking at her silhouette as the body was recovered from the carnage that day, an overwhelming anger slid over me. A feeling that is hard to describe even now. Someone had shot five bullets in my sister's neck.


She was at the wrong place, at the wrong time. Is that fate? Could she have been saved if different measures had been taken? Who knows? In the end, we must resolve to overcome evil with good.

We painfully miss you, my dear sister. Your presence will always be felt.








If the Liberhan Commission's recommendations on religion and politics read like a Miss World speech, so does the hurriedly prepared Action Taken Report. The ATR, tabled in Parliament by the Central government on Tuesday, is couched in general terms. The one concrete proposal refers to the "Communal Violence Bill," languishing in Parliament since 2005. The reference is meant to reassure. For, when confronted with the complex web of systems that failed on December 6, 1992, surely the first step is to enact a preventive law.


The Communal Violence (Prevention, Control and Rehabilitation of Victims) Bill beefs up powers of preventive detention, punishment and rehabilitation in case of a riot. But its key feature is to strengthen the hands of the central government. In India, "law and order" is a "state subject", and communal violence, like other acts of arson, are the exclusive responsibility of the state. Section 55 of the Communal Violence Bill seeks to change this. It empowers the Centre to unilaterally declare an area as "communally disturbed", and arguably take over civil administration. Currently, the only way the Centre can do this is by declaring a state "emergency" under article 356 of the Constitution. In the era of coalition politics this is difficult. And since the Supreme Court pronouncements in S.R. Bommai and Rameshwar Thakur, even the judiciary may not play ball. The Communal Violence Bill is 356-lite; the Centre can take over parts of a state, without the checks and balances that declaring an "emergency" triggers.


The Congress-led Central government's claim that the Bill is a response to the demolition of Babri Masjid plays into its own version of what happened that fateful evening of December 6. The Congress narrative on Babri Masjid is that: (a) The BJP state government was entirely to blame; (b) the only way the Narasimha Rao central government could have intervened was by imposing article 356. In his book Ayodhya, 6 December 1992, then-Prime Minister Narasimha Rao answers the specific accusation of "Why was article 356 not invoked?". He argues that article 356 requires a recommendation from the governor, who, in this case advised that "the time is not ripe for taking any drastic step like the imposition of President's rule". Faced with this, there was little that Rao could do. The implicitation being: If the Centre had the power, it would have acted.


Really? India has a fine tradition of state governors safeguarding central government interests. The governor of Uttar Pradesh at the time was B.S.N. Reddy, a former Telugu Desam MP who had been jailed by the Congress during the Emergency. But he served at the "pleasure" of the President, which in non-legalese translation means that he could be fired at the prime minister's will. Even if Governor Reddy had a mind of his own, Narasimha Rao could have replaced him with a more pliant governor. The Communal Violence Bill empowers the Centre on the assumption that it is more willing to control a riot than the state is. That assumption did not hold in Ayodhya.


In fact, the Communal Violence Bill would have been irrelevant in the Gujarat of 2002, or Bombay of 1992-93. In Gujarat, the state and Centre were both run by the BJP. What was the chance that the BJP central government would have taken over Ahmedabad or Surat? And if they had, would it have made any difference? Ditto for the Bombay of 1992-93. The Congress ruled both Centre and state. Yet more than 1200 people were estimated murdered.


A law motivated by politics is likely to be opposed by those very impulses. The Communal Violence Bill has met with vociferous protests from the Opposition, who accuse it, not unreasonably, of diluting India's federal character. Even its other provisions are hotly contested. For instance, the Bill increases punishment for offenders. But with the number of people convicted under the existing laws close to zero, increasing the sentence is neither here nor there. The Bill also allows for preventive detention, which is anyway permitted under existing laws such as the National Security Act.


The absurdity of the Communal Violence Bill must be seen in the context of a more basic problem: the framing of a political question as a legal one. Politicians cannot outsource their job to commissions and courts. 17 years and 48 extensions were not enough for Justice Liberhan to bring about consensus on the "facts" that led up to the destruction of the Babri Masjid. And even the most sophisticated statutes (the Communal Violence Bill is hardly that) cannot work unless accompanied by political will. No law on earth can guarantee that.







Close observers of Dubai's real-estate fuelled economy may have seen the bust coming, but it comes at a particularly inopportune moment for the global economy, which is just about limping back to normalcy after more than a year of crisis and recession. What makes the declaration of default—how else can one possibly interpret suspension of debt repayments for six months by Dubai World (and its real estate subsidiary, Nakheel)—even more problematic is that it isn't just a singular corporate default. Because Dubai World is wholly owned by the government of Dubai, this is really a sovereign default. Unlike some of the other emirates in UAE, Dubai doesn't actually have oil reserves that would give it the cash to bail out its stricken company. Now, the only hope for a bailout is from Abu Dhabi, which has the cash reserves to bail Dubai out of this mess and prevent the more serious repercussions of a sovereign default.


The obvious worry around the world will be of contagion. Instances like this are usually followed by a domino effect when many other similarly structured economies will start to feel the heat of Dubai's meltdown. Dubai World essentially went down because it was over-invested in real estate, a bubble that was bound to burst at some point or the other. Now, other asset markets (property and stocks in particular) in different countries will be vulnerable to sharp correction. Small countries which are overleveraged—Portugal, Ireland and Greece, for example—will be particularly vulnerable. The trouble, of course, is that once a domino starts rolling one can't be sure where it will stop. At this stage of recovery, the world can ill afford even a handful of countries defaulting on their debt—the crisis of confidence that may unleash will set the recovery back many steps, not to mention the rise in cost of sovereign borrowing. At this stage, it's too early to say whether major banks and financial institutions are sufficiently exposed to Dubai's debt. The ones that are may face some trouble. Of course, if a domino starts, then many more will be. The last thing we need is for already damaged banks to be badly dented by this. Fortunately, India is diversified enough and not over-leveraged to take a direct hit. But as we aspire to higher levels of growth, what happens elsewhere does matter. More directly, what may be hit adversely in India are the huge remittances from workers in Dubai. A majority of these workers, largely from Kerala, were working in the construction industry in Dubai. Now that it has bust, they will likely have to return. At this point, one has to hope that Dubai can strike a deal with Abu Dhabi to stem this crisis very quickly.






Historically speaking, the US is the world's largest carbon emitter. That it's been surpassed by China as the top emitter is also well-known. Yes, many decades worth of development still leave a wide economic chasm between the two countries. China's per capita income remains less than a tenth of that in the US, despite a spectacular surge in prosperity. More pertinently, US per capita carbon emissions remain around ten times those of China. But their concerns on energy aren't very dissimilar. The Chinese derive 70% of their energy from carbon-intense coal, while half of the electricity used by Americans is derived from the same source. Both the world's top greenhouse gas producers know very well that their future economic growth rests on energy security. Whatever domestic critics may say, both have been making pragmatic moves to secure future energy interests—by way of incentivising energy efficiency and by way of investing in renewable energies. As for their stimulus packages, green projects accounted for 38% of China's and 12% of the US programme. Let's face it, the two have been moving in concert to grab the most pre-Copenhagen headlines. When the US President met his Chinese counterpart on an Asia visit earlier this month, their joint statement worked to lower Copenhagen expectations. Then came the latest development. The US said that, at Copenhagen, it will propose a direct CO2 reduction of about 17% over 2005 levels. The very next day, China came back with the proposal of cutting CO2 per unit of GDP by 40-45% in the same period.


If the Chinese move was seen as effectively deflecting pressure, the US announcement was celebrated because it marked the first time the Obama administration promised concrete emission goals. Obviously, our concern is where India figures in all this drama. Many of its recent announcements work towards counteracting the spoiler image. Added on to proclamations regarding a green GDP mechanism, fuel efficiency standards and so on was the leaked letter that environment minister Jairam Ramesh wrote to the PM. "We should be pragmatic and constructive, not argumentative and polemical," it read. But, surely, climate change negotiations call for a bit of both pragmatism and polemics. We must keep asking developed countries to subsidise poorer countries' efforts to cut CO2 emissions—China would keep us company on this front. On per capita levels, our carbon emissions, electricity consumption, car ownership et al really lag those of the US. Where we part company from China is at the level of emissions—three quarters of the 2007-08 global emissions growth came from China. It's obvious that US-China economic interests are very intertwined today. Additionally, if they are also doing the green tango together, India should prepare for a hard time at Copenhagen.







Dubai's debt default underlines what has been apparent to careful Dubai-watchers for a while: that such an attempt at creating an international financial centre out of thin air was not going to work. It is an opportunity to carefully understand the critical ingredients required for exporting financial services. And, it is a reminder that the market economy is surprisingly lenient for a surprisingly long time when presented with the spectacle of an entrepreneur trying to puff himself up to look bigger than he is.


For a full two decades, Dubai's rise out of the desert was a surprise. As with China, opinions were divided on whether this was a sham that would ultimately come apart, or whether this was a new success story of what can be done by imagination and pluck.


As with all such miracle stories, it started with a kernel of truth. Dubai did the right things at the outset, with public investment in a good port and airport, and a relatively liberal atmosphere for foreign business. Through this, it became a gateway for the world to access the Middle Eastern market and a gateway for people in the Middle East to step out of stifling conditions at home for a weekend.


This excellent starting point morphed into two things. The first was a real estate play. It was almost too easy to build grandiose buildings in the desert and sell them at fabulous prices. The second was the hope of Dubai as an international financial centre (IFC).


On a good day, the sales pitch that Dubai could make was as follows. With a zero income tax and infrastructure to beat Bombay, Dubai could bring in the best finance talent from Bombay to live and work in Dubai. The rich all over the Middle East did not like to keep money at home, and would prefer to deal with private bankers in Dubai when vacationing there on weekends. Corporations in the Middle East needed a place to do corporate finance. A two-hour plane ride took you to Bombay, where companies were outgrowing the shackles of the domestic market and needed a place to do sophisticated finance.


The reality is that IFCs are genuinely hard to create. They cannot be willed into place; they involve a complex ecosystem of many individuals and firms coming together. Deeper legal and regulatory reform was not even attempted in Dubai (as was done in Qatar): DIFC is an enclave with its own rules, and there is legal risk about the extent to which the rules within DIFC are grounded in constitutional law.


The rich in the Middle East did not like to keep money at home, but they mistrusted Dubai (an autocracy) and preferred the political stability of London. The corporations of the Middle East got their corporate finance done in London. The shaky foundations of economic growth in the Middle East meant that neither personal wealth nor corporate success had much to show beyond oil. For a while, many expats liked to live in Dubai, but eventually, the fact that this was a police state started getting out.


The great IFCs of the world—London and New York—have a combination of factors which makes possible export of financial services: a high-quality English-speaking labour force, good quality financial regulation, macroeconomic stability, rule of law located in a democracy, and a large natural hinterland with a significant fiscal capacity to cope with financial crises. When we pause to think carefully about these preconditions, Dubai really never fit the bill.


Which brings us to the leniency that the market economy exhibits towards showmen. Again and again, we see puffery getting taken seriously. It seems easy for an entrepreneur to make a splash, buy coverage from a corrupt media, get endorsements from a few celebrities, and kick off a ponzi story. It is easy to sink money into building glass towers, buy a few computers, set up a few financial exchanges, and produce fake turnover by having a few accomplices buying and selling on screen. The early investors make a lot of money in selling to the second crop, and good stories start getting around. Glossy analyst reports soon start flowing out, particularly from financial firms that are themselves invested in the project.


So capitalism does wrong in giving too much rope to these tactics. But capitalism is also harsh in that it is not possible to fool all the people, all the time. It takes a while—and in Dubai's case the party lasted a full 20 years—but in the end it is hard to keep up the facade. Dubai has a bright future as a port, airport, trading centre and vacation spot for the Middle East. Much of the effervescence beyond that might now come apart.


The author is an economist with interests in finance, pensions and macroeconomics








One year ago armed gunmen were terrorising Mumbai. This week Barack Obama toasted Manmohan Singh and India at a White House state dinner. It was a toast to everyone who favours prudence over haste, restraint over aggression, and diplomacy over war.


The clink of those two glasses was India's response to 26/11, and it was louder than a thousand artillery shells. Three days later the sound must be ringing in the ears of those who wish to do India harm.


26/11 has become shorthand for an event so horrifying that it defies description; "Mumbai attacks" just won't do. The number of such events has become distressingly large. India also has 11/7 and 13/12. Then there are the attacks elsewhere. In addition to America's 9/11, the Brits have 7/7 and the Spaniards have 11/3. It takes a Shakuntala Devi to keep them all straight.


One of the scariest things about 26/11 is how easily it could happen again. This is not a criticism of India's police and intelligence capabilities, imperfect as they are. In a free society, especially a large one with thousands of kilometres of land and sea borders, it is impossible to defend fully against suicide attacks. One can only minimise their number and their impact by working to ensure that no attacks involve chemical, biological or nuclear weapons.


If there are additional attacks on India, the government will find it increasingly difficult to resist some sort of military retaliation. We in America certainly cannot pass judgement if India elects to follow this course. Yet, India has surely noted that eight years after 9/11 the US is still grappling with the consequences of its response in Afghanistan and Iraq.


And as India continues to develop its economy and improve its global standing, its core predicament—that it has more to lose from a military confrontation than Pakistan does—becomes more acute. India's restraint thus far looks wise. As we mourn the victims of 26/11, we can celebrate a consequence of this restraint: the (almost) complete decoupling of India and Pakistan in the world's eyes.


India and Pakistan, different nations from birth, have taken starkly divergent paths since then. Today they have little in common apart from their ancestry. Nonetheless, for years Pakistan was successful in promoting 'Indo-Pak' as the prism through which the world sees India. India was complicit in the hyphenation by making Pakistan the focus of its foreign policy.


One of Singh's greatest achievements has been to change that, first with the US nuclear deal, and then with the response to 26/11. Had India retaliated for 26/11, it would have been pulled back into the Indo-Pak hyphenation for years to come. As it is, India's restraint has won the world's admiration, and foreign leaders like Obama treat Singh with a respect bordering on deference.


The Indo-Pak mindset will be slow to disappear entirely; to India's disappointment, it popped up again in last week's US-China joint statement. But Obama and Singh had plenty of things to talk about besides Pakistan: a global strategic partnership encompassing trade, economic development, clean energy, education, and health as well as counter-terrorism. With India safely above the fray, Pakistan is left to be part of a new, ignominious hyphenation: Af-Pak.


Watching Singh being feted in Washington must be tough on Pakistan's generals. But envy can be a powerful motivator. The day after the state dinner, Pakistan charged seven people for their roles in 26/11. It is a small step, to be sure, but perhaps the start of a journey to responsibility.


Pakistan is sandwiched between two countries that offer alternative visions for what it can become: either a failed state under threat of complete Islamisation, or a stable democracy respected by the world. Pakistan has to choose what it wants to be, and fight for that vision. India, for its part, can help Pakistan make the right choice through continued success on the world stage and refusing to be drawn into a mutually destructive conflict.


Perhaps, one day soon, Pakistan will no longer like to fight India and instead fight to be like India. That would be a fine tribute to India's handling of 26/11.


The author is a former US diplomat







Writers' Buildings workers have used every excuse in the book to beat the new work ethic that makes it compulsory for everyone to be at office by 10 am and leave only at 5.30 pm. Last week, when the code came into place, some blamed latecomings on trains, others on traffic jams, and some simply on old habits.


But on Tuesday, they didn't have to think hard. Bengal came to a halt for 12 hours from 6 am, thanks to a bandh called by the Socialist Unity Centre of India (SUCI), which is against perestroika, clings on to Stalinist ideals and is violently anti-CPM. It called the bandh to protest against spiralling food prices—it had called a bandh last April, too, to pin down the Centre for rising prices of essential commodities—and the state government's inability to control it. Surely, Bengal is not alone in suffering from the price rise.


Then again, is a bandh the answer to this problem? Railway minister Mamata Banerjee—the SUCI has an alliance with the Trinamool Congress—recently lashed out at the state government because she found out that prices of essential commodities varied from market to market. The least the bandh supporters could do was ask municipality inspectors to check why prices were different at different places.


Of course, good sense didn't prevail. What's more, in typical SUCI style, workers threw banana plants on overhead power supply lines, disrupting trains at many suburban stations, thus robbing lakhs of their daily bread. Even at a key station like Sealdah, all the morning local and long distance trains were delayed.


The bandh culture runs so deep that nowadays in Bengal, it doesn't really matter who is doing the calling—the people will ensure it's a success because no one will venture out. On Tuesday, banks, offices and schools were open, though attendance was thin at schools. If the response to the SUCI halt call was mixed, it was not because the people dared to challenge it, but because the Trinamool Congress didn't lend it wholehearted support, unlike last April when the shutdown was total.


Now, for the next one: the BJP has called a bandh on November 30, a Monday, to protest against price rise. It's perhaps not surprising why Bengal is not being able to attract big-ticket projects to the state.







This paper* shows that world demand can explain collapse in world trade, but that tight credit conditions have likely amplified the short-term trade response:


The collapse in world trade volumes in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 were exceptional by historical standards. This paper uses an aggregate global trade equation to assess the various potential factors driving recent trade developments, and finds that most of the collapse can be explained by world demand. Although the estimated long-run income elasticity of trade has almost doubled since the late 1980s, possibly as a result of growth in vertical supply integration, there is no evidence that this elasticity has changed more recently. Instead, tight credit conditions have likely amplified the short-term trade response. The global synchronisation of the recession likely accelerated the transmission of shocks through trade links, boosting the short-run trade response further. A portion of the trade decline in the fourth quarter of 2008 and the first quarter of 2009 remains unexplained (about 10-20%), which may reflect a breakdown in global supply chains over those quarters, although this cannot be confirmed.


 Calista Cheung and Stéphanie Guichard; Understanding the World Trade Collapse, Economics Department Working Papers No 729; OECD, October 2009








An old-fashioned cricket lover's reaction to Thierry Henry's handball — an obviously unsporting act that helped catapult France into the World Cup football Finals at the expense of a luckless Ireland — might have been, "it isn't cricket." The talented French striker did take less than exemplary advantage of a refereeing error, one of omission rather than commission, at a crucial stage in the game. But then, on the same scale of jud gment, much of cricket "isn't cricket." Would a similar incident in a major, high-stakes international cricket tournament elicit as much invective as Henry's transgression did in the British press? A cricketing equivalent might be the case of a top-rated batsman not 'walking' after edging to the keeper. (The rationalisation would essentially be the same as Henry's, "I'm not the ref.") Just as there is nothing in the laws of cricket that compels a batsman to 'walk' following an umpiring error, there is no rule in football that required Henry to call the attention of the referee to his own handling of the ball. For a Brian Lara or Adam Gilchrist or Kumar Sangakkara — three 'walkers' — there have been dozens of batsmen who have stayed put to take advantage of their good fortune. Gundappa Viswanath, a gem of a sportsman, recalled Bob Taylor at a critical stage in the Golden Jubilee Test between India and England in Bombay in 1980.


When it comes to chivalry, the track record of sport is actually mixed. To be fair to today's players, their counterparts in the old days were not subjected to the scrutiny of multiple camera angles, Super Slo-mo, Snickometer, and Hawk Eye. As the stakes have skyrocketed in an era of hyper-commercialisation, sportsmen have often struggled to maintain high standards of fair play in the constant glare of spotlight. Relying on proven technology to minimise, if not to eliminate, subjective human error will certainly help. The Decision Review System being tried out in the ongoing Test series between New Zealand and Pakistan is a step in the right direction. The DRS delivered on the first day of the Dunedin Test when TV umpire Rudi Koertzen reversed Simon Taufel's leg before wicket verdict against Brendon McCullum. In football, Michel Platini's proposal to place more officials behind the goal for spotting errors holds a lot of promise; it has been put on trial in the UEFA Europa League. It would be naïve to expect sportsmen to be moral exemplars in the heat of battle. But review systems would help keep them on the straight and narrow and might eventually even lead to self-regulation. Who knows? Maybe, we will see more Laras, Gilchrists and Sangakkaras in the future.







On November 23, 57 people travelling to nominate a gubernatorial candidate, Ismael Mangudadatu, for the 2011 elections in the southern Philippine province of Maguindanao were slaughtered in an armed attack by about 100 members of another faction, the rival Ampatuan clan, and the local police. The victims were herded on to a remote hillside, where some were shot, some beheaded, and some buried alive by an earthmover. Many women were raped before being murdered. Among the de ad were Mr. Mangudadatu's wife and two of his sisters. The dead are also thought to include 18 journalists, and the episode may be the largest single killing of journalists yet known. It appears that Mr. Mangudadatu had received death threats but thought fellow-Muslims, the majority in Maguindanao, would not harm his relatives if they filed the papers for him. The region, one of the poorest in the Philippines, has seen about 120,000 people killed in fighting between Islamist insurgents and state forces since the 1970s.


Even in a country where remote provinces are run by Afghan-style warlords and over a million unlicensed firearms circulate freely, the event has caused enough shock and outrage for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to declare a state of emergency in Maguindanao and another southern province. Troops have spread out across both regions; five police officers, including the Maguindanao police chief, have been relieved of their duties and will be questioned in the national capital, Manila. The Philippines independent commission on human rights, however, says the effect of the murders on provincial prosecutors is "chilling." The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines says that past investigations of political killings have produced few results; the Ampatuans are among Ms Arroyo's political allies. The current scandal has, nevertheless, been partly responsible for the Ampatuans handing over the apparent prime suspect, Andal Ampatuan Jr., to a regional presidential adviser — but only after the risk of fighting between their supporters and government forces became clear. Mr. Ampatuan is to be charged with murder. International human rights groups are watching the developments closely. The European Union and the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have come out strongly against the barbaric crime. Yet the causes are primarily political. Substantial amounts of central government money are at the disposal of regional administrations, and for local politicians and officials the spoils are considerable. The combination of ethno-religious tensions, money, and a catastrophically weak state is deadly — and carries lessons for all developing countries.











Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says Pakistan is "compiling hard evidence of India's involvement" in terrorist attacks on Pakistan's public and its armed forces. If he and the Interior Minister are correct, then we must conclude that the Indians are psychotics possessed with a death wish or, perhaps, plain stupid. While India's assistance for Baloch insurgents could conceivably make strategic sense, helping the jihadists simply does not.


As Pakistan staggers from one bombing to the other, some Indians must be secretly pleased. Indeed, there are occasional verbalisations: Is this not sweet revenge for the horrors of Mumbai perpetrated by the Lashkar-e-Taiba? Shouldn't India feel satisfied as Pakistan reels under the stinging poison of its domestically reared snakes?


But most Indians are probably less than enthusiastic in stoking the fires across the border. In fact, the majority would like to forget that Pakistan exists. With a 6 per cent growth rate, booming hi-tech exports, and expectations of a semi-superpower status, they feel India has no need to engage a struggling Pakistan with its endless litany of problems.


Of course, some would like to hurt Pakistan. Extremists in India ask: shouldn't one increase the pain of a country — with which India has fought three bloody wars — by aiding its enemies? Perhaps do another Bangladesh on Pakistan some day?


These fringe elements, fortunately, are inconsequential today. Rational self-interest demands that India not aid jihadists. Imagine the consequences if the Central authority in Pakistan disappears or is sharply weakened. Splintered into a hundred jihadist Lashkars, each with its own agenda and tactics, Pakistan's territory would become India's eternal nightmare. When Mumbai-II occurs — as it surely would in such circumstances — India's options in dealing with a nuclear Pakistan would be severely limited.


The Indian Army would be powerless. As the Americans have discovered at great cost, the mightiest war machines on earth cannot prevent holy warriors from crossing borders. Internal collaborators, recruited from a domestic Muslim population that feels itself alienated from Hindu-India, would connive with the jihadists. Subsequently, as the Indian forces retaliate against Muslims — innocent and otherwise — the action-reaction cycle would rip the country apart.


So, how can India protect itself from invaders across its western border and grave injury? Just as importantly, how can we in Pakistan assure that the fight against fanatics is not lost?


Let me make an apparently outrageous proposition: in the coming years, India's best protection is likely to come from its traditional enemy, the Pakistan Army. Therefore, India ought to help now, not fight against it.


This may sound preposterous. After all, the two countries have fought three-and-a-half wars over six decades. During periods of excessive tension, they have growled at each other while meaningfully pointing towards their respective nuclear arsenals. Most recently, after heightened tensions following the Mumbai massacre, Pakistani troops were moved out of North West Frontier Province towards the eastern border. Baitullah Mehsud's offer to jointly fight India was welcomed by the Pakistan Army.


And yet, the imperative of mutual survival makes a common defence inevitable. Given the rapidly rising threat within Pakistan, the day for joint action may not be very far away.


Today Pakistan is bearing the brunt. Its people, government and armed forces are under unrelenting attack. South Waziristan, a war of necessity rather than of choice, will certainly not be the last one. A victory there will not end terrorism, although a stalemate will embolden the jihadists in south Punjab, including the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Jaish-e-Muhammed. The cancer of religious militancy has spread across Pakistan, and it will take decades to defeat.


This militancy does not exist merely because America occupies Afghanistan. A U.S. withdrawal, while welcome, will not end Pakistan's problems. As an ideological movement, the jihadists want to transform society as part of their wider agenda. They ride on the backs of their partners, the mainstream religious political parties like the Jamat-e-Islami and the Jamiat-e-Ulema-Pakistan. None of these has condemned the suicide bombings in Pakistani universities, schools, markets, mosques, and police and army facilities.


Pakistan's political leadership and army must not muddy the waters, especially now that public sanction has finally been obtained for fighting extremism in Swat and Waziristan. Self-deception weakens, and enormously increases vulnerability. Wars can only be won if nations have a clear rallying slogan. Therefore, the battle against religious extremism will require identifying it — by name — as the enemy.


India should derive no satisfaction from Pakistan's predicament. Although religious extremists see ordinary Muslims as munafiqs (hypocrites) — and therefore free to be blown up in bazaars and mosques — they hate Hindus even more. In their calculus, hurting India would buy even more tickets for heaven than hurting Pakistan. They dream of ripping apart both societies or starting a war — preferably nuclear — between Pakistan and India.


A common threat needs a common defence. But this is difficult unless the Pakistan-India conflict is reduced in intensity. In fact, the extremist groups that threaten both countries today are an unintended consequence of Pakistan's frustrations at Indian obduracy in Kashmir.


To create a future working alliance with Pakistan, and in deference to basic democratic principles, India must therefore be seen as genuinely working towards some kind of resolution of the Kashmir issue. Over the past two decades, India has been morally isolated from Kashmiri Muslims and continues to incur the very considerable costs of an occupying power in the Valley. Indian soldiers continue to needlessly die — and oppress and kill Kashmiri innocents.


It is time for India to fuzz the Line of Control, make it highly permeable, and demilitarise it up to some

mutually negotiated depth on both sides. Without peace in Kashmir the forces of cross-border jihad, and its hate-filled holy warriors, will continue to receive unnecessary succour.


India also needs to allay Pakistan's fears on Balochistan. Although Pakistan's current federal structure is the cause of the problem — a fact which the government is now finally addressing through the newly announced Balochistan package — it is possible that India is aiding some insurgent groups. Statements have been made in India that Balochistan provides New Delhi with a handle to exert pressure on Pakistan. This is unacceptable.


While there is no magic wand, confidence-building measures (CBMs) continue to be important for managing the Pakistan-India conflict and bringing down the decibel level of mutual rhetoric. To be sure, CBMs can be easily disparaged as palliatives that do not address the underlying causes of a conflict. Nevertheless, looking at those initiated over the years shows that they have held up even in adverse circumstances. More are needed.

The reason for India to want a rapprochement with Pakistan, and vice versa, has nothing to do with feelings of friendship or goodwill. It has only to do with survival. For us in Pakistan, this is even more critical.


(The writer teaches Physics at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad. This article will appear in Pakistan's Dawn newspaper on Sunday.)







"Fantastic, thrilling, unbelievable," says the blurb on the back cover of the airport thriller Unholy Madness.


The plot is a bit far-fetched. There is this force of Islamic fundamentalist fighters called the Taliban.


They have two branches — one in Pakistan, the other in Afghanistan.


The Pakistan Army is trying to defeat the local Taliban, who have been killing hundreds of people in Pakistani

cities with suicide bombers and assaults by armed insurgents.


The Americans and the British have weighed in to help the fight against the Pakistan Taliban.


Meanwhile across the border to the west, the Afghan Taliban are killing American and British troops and they are supplied with weapons, vehicles and mobile phones from across the border in Pakistan, where the Afghan Taliban leadership is based.


So the Americans and the British are supporting a country, Pakistan, which has elements who are supporting the movement that is killing British and American troops.


You could not make it up.


And all I actually made up was the title, Unholy Madness.


The Afghan Taliban leadership are in Pakistan. Pakistan has failed to act against them. And they do kill British and American troops.


And United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the U.S. is standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Pakistan.



This strange, convoluted scenario comes sharply into focus if you look at a map.


The main fighting areas in Afghanistan are in the south — near and around the city of Kandahar.


Just across the mountains, along a proper road, there is the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the Afghan Taliban ruling council, the Shura, are thought to spend much of their time — directing and supplying their war effort against the Americans and the British from a safe distance.


And Quetta is not in the ambiguous "tribal areas" — it is proper Pakistan; it is the capital of the fully-fledged Pakistani province of Balochistan.


It would be entirely rational for Pakistan to support the Afghan Taliban — they have to hedge their bets.


The Taliban might rule Afghanistan again one day, and they need to have a good relationship with them, as they did before, when the Taliban were in power in Kabul.

Pakistan was one of the few countries to recognise the Taliban government — there was a Taliban embassy in Islamabad.


But it does mean American and British troops are being killed because Pakistan, in effect, has failed to shut down the Afghan Taliban supply lines from Pakistan into Afghanistan.


And looking at the map highlights another point — Afghanistan is landlocked.


The Americans and the British and the rest of ISAF — the International Stabilisation Assistance Force — get most of their supplies by road.


For years, lorries lumbering across the Khyber Pass with food, bottled water and groceries for the Western forces were attacked by the Taliban.


Now many more of those lorries are getting through untouched because security firms hired by the Americans and the British are paying the Taliban huge sums in protection money to let the lorries through.


And what do the Taliban do with the cash? They probably do not take holidays at beach hotels in Dubai.


So again, American and British soldiers are being killed with ammunition paid for, indirectly, with American and British money.


You could not make it up.



Meanwhile, in Kabul, life hardly improves. Poverty in parts of the Afghan capital is almost medieval.


"Old alms seekers with their seamy palms out-held and maimed beggars sad-eyed in rags and children asleep in the shadows with flies walking their dreamless eyes.


"Naked dogs that seem composed of bone entirely and small orphans abroad like irate dwarfs."


That is an extract from the novel Blood Meridian, by Cormac McCarthy — king of bleak.


I was reading that passage in Afghanistan last week after an afternoon walking around the capital and I thought: "That's Kabul."


But he was describing Mexico City 150 years ago.


To complete the Kabul picture you simply need to add:


Children in rags tug at your coat and you fish out a battered Afghan note worth barely 50p.


Then there are 10 small children grabbing at your hand and you cannot get away because the children are blocking the pavement.


And the road is a stream of rainwater, sewage and mud.


A woman with a baby under her burka sees you giving money to the children and begs for some herself.


And when you say you have no more one small boy persists and walks with you for 20 minutes until you relent and your reward is a genuine smile of gratitude.


The daylight thickens into night and there are no street lights.


By the glow of a storm lantern men sift through second-hand clothes on a cart and try to pick out a good winter coat.


Meanwhile, a young man desperate for work weeps as he talks to me and through accusing tears says: "You've been here eight years now, and what have you done?


"Why is my country so miserable?" — © BBC News/Distributed by the New York Times Syndicate








Little has changed in Quneitra, former capital of the Syrian Golan Heights, since Israeli forces withdrew behind the barbed wire and minefields of the nearby ceasefire line in 1974. A mosque crumbles slowly into the grass, a Greek Orthodox church visited by Pope John Paul II during his 2001 tour of the Holy Land lies abandoned. Here a ruined school, there a gutted hospital or flattened home.


Syria has made no attempt to rebuild. Until Israel vacates the two-thirds of the Golan Heights it first seized in 1967 and annexed in 1981, as Syria insists it must, it prefers symbolism to salvage. "This is a human tragedy," said Mohammad Ali, a senior official in Syria's Golan governorate. "There are over 400,000 Syrians from the Golan who live as expellees.


Compared with other aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Israel-Syria "track" is in theory relatively straightforward. President Bashar Al-Assad wants a full Israeli withdrawal from the Golan in return for ending the state of war. Implicit in such a deal is Syrian recognition of Israel, mutual security guarantees and normalisation of relations.


Talks mediated by Turkey last year raised hopes of a deal. But Israel's attack on Hamas in Gaza caused Syria to pull out, while Turkey, shedding its neutral pose, condemned Israeli actions. The rift with Ankara remains unrepaired.


U.S. President Barack Obama's willingness to engage with Syria also raised expectations of another "Damascus spring". This year he moved to ease sanctions, promised to send a U.S. ambassador back to Damascus and dispatched his West Asia envoy, George Mitchell, for talks. But Syrian officials have complained in recent weeks that Mr. Obama's words are not matched by actions — and that a rare opportunity may be missed.Syria's overall positive response to French and EU attempts to improve ties is one of several factors encouraging a belief that Mr. Assad's strategic calculations may be shifting. A recent rapprochement with Saudi Arabia has been matched by the signing of co-operation agreements with Turkey, a country Syria almost went to war with a decade ago.


Relations with Riyadh plummeted after Syria was accused of ordering the 2005 assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister and Saudi Arabia ally, Rafiq Al-Hariri. But like the Americans, the Saudi Arabians see a resurgent Iran, not Israel, as the primary regional threat. By repairing ties, they hope to break, or at least temper, Syria's links with Tehran.


Mr. Mitchell said again this week that the U.S. wanted to advance the Syrian track. But concerns about Syria's role in Iraq, its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and for Palestinian rejectionist groups, its human rights record, suspicious nuclear activities and alliance with Iran have increased domestic pressure on Mr. Obama to be cautious in reaching out to Syria, even though he might achieve a regional peace breakthrough.


Mr. Obama's Syrian overtures have had scant encouragement from Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's Prime Minister. "The Golan will never be divided again, the Golan will never fall again, the Golan will remain in our hands," he said in February. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








Iran had turned distinctly cool towards India after the latter voted against it at the International Atomic Energy Agency board in February 2006. This country was then in the thick of negotiations with the US for a civil nuclear agreement, and it was generally thought that the Indian preference was solely guided by the consideration of not upsetting the Americans. India has now secured that deal, and also concluded parallel agreements with Russia and France. Yet, its vote went against Tehran at the same forum on Friday, along with the votes of Russia and China, which had abstained in 2006 and broadly assisted Iran against Western diplomatic moves aimed at stymieing perceived Iranian moves at surreptitiously building a nuclear weapon. What's more, India's adverse vote has come in the backdrop of efforts between the two countries to re-build positive ties, as evidenced by the visit of the Iranian foreign affairs minister to New Delhi last month. It is reasonably clear that there is more to India's outlook on Iran's nuclear programme than the views of the US.


At a general level, while India has persistently declined to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it has held that a NPT signatory state — Iran is one — must abide by its obligations under the treaty not to look to build nuclear weapons, or in any manner appear to be a part of proliferation efforts. Indeed, while abjuring the NPT (and thus not obliged not to make the bomb), India has behaved with restraint on the issue of proliferation. For the past 60 years, it has campaigned against the idea of the nuclear weapon itself and has urged those who have the bomb to destroy it in a verifiable, time-bound manner. Iran, on the other hand, has given indications of its quest for the atomic weapon, although it denies this. At the specific level, too, New Delhi has its reservations and anxieties in the Iran context. It does not want more nuclear weapons powers in its neighbourhood than there are already. It is also discomfited by the A.Q. Khan disclosures that the rogue former Pakistan nuclear establishment chief had business links with Iran. Lastly, like several other countries, India nurses the worry that an Iranian bomb would lead to a tit-for-tat acquisition by some Arab states, and that may destabilise the oil-rich Gulf region, with a negative impact on this country's long-term energy supplies. For all these reasons, an international effort at restraining Iran — as the stricture implicit in the overwhelming IAEA vote suggests — appears as being reasonable today. The recent report of the IAEA director-general, Dr Mohammed ElBaradei, has heightened concerns about Iran's conduct. Until September this year, Tehran concealed from the UN's atomic energy watchdog that it was fabricating a second enrichment plant at Fordow, near Qom. If nothing else, this had shock value for the world. As a NPT signatory, Iran is entitled to IAEA assistance to secure for itself the right grade of enrichment to produce electricity. This is what Tehran says it has been doing. But its actions have left doubts even in the minds of traditional powerful allies such as Russia and China. Tehran has turned away from international proposals that would help it secure electricity from its enriched uranium.


Reports suggest that after being spurned by Tehran, the Obama administration may be looking to get more confrontational with it, and seek to use the negative IAEA vote to work for Security Council sanctions against Iran. Cornering a leading regional player in this fashion can be counter-productive. In order to avoid a flash point, it may be more worth everyone's while to further explore diplomatic options. New Delhi is stated to be of this view. Perhaps India should engage directly with China and Russia to work toward a modus vivendi that eschews harsh options.








Folks, I did it. I have become the first "journalist" to get an exclusive story from that dreaded monster Ajmal Amir Kasab.


It wasn't easy. In fact, it was almost as difficult as getting a table at the Piano Bar. I knew a friend whose cousin

had a friend who got his Labrador puppy from the same breeder as a top cop. Using this contact I was able to get a five-minute exclusive with the terrorist.


First I was made to wear a black cloth over my head, then, after banging into various things including benches and a low-lying fan, I convinced the authorities to let me have two holes in the cloth for my eyes. "But first you must promise not to read the location's name or make any attempt to figure out where you are". As I always do, I promised insincerely.


Black cloth, or no black cloth, the police made me pay for our taxi ride into Parel.


One of the cops helped me with my wallet, though I don't remember him returning it. A loud voice said,

"Welcome to Arthur Road Jail". Then the loud voice inquired with a colleague, "Is he Maharashtra Navnirman Sena?" When I answered in the negative, the loud voice continued in English. "Welcome to Arthur Road Jail. Check-in time is 12 noon. Hand baggage only, please". Soon I was led into a chamber where things got very dark. To ensure nobody fell down a flight of steps we all held hand and walked on tip-toes. It was not an extremely heterosexual moment. Then we were led into a small room. Lying tied to a bench was a prone form. At first I thought it was a puffed bag, but then my worst suspicions were answered. It was indeed the dreaded terrorist Kasab. My cop friends removed my black cloth and used it to cover Kasab's face. "Better you don't see him", they instructed.


I was appalled. The dreaded terrorist couldn't have been more than three feet tall. How many more such malnutritioned figures does Pakistan have?


"Begin the interview. Your six minutes starts now", a voice reminded me.


C.B.: Kasab, I' m Cyrus Broa…


Voice: "Don' tell him your real name" came thundering at me.


C.B.: "OK. OK. Kasab, my name is Chetan Singh, I'm going to ask you a few questions... er Are you Kasab?"


K: er…Oh... ah


Voice: "Of course he's Kasab. What do you mean ARE YOU KASAB?"


C.B.: No. No. I'm just trying to establish that he actually is who he says he is. Besides, with the cloth on his face I can't make him out from his pictures either.


Voice: "Okay, but one minute is already over".


C.B.: Got it. Now, are you Kasab?


(Keep in mind the conversation is now in Hindi/Urdu, so communication can get a little sketchy at times.)


K: My name is Kasab. How many times are you going to ask me?


C.B.: Did you go to school?


K: Yes.


C.B.: Let me clarify. I mean before terrorist school, did you go to a real school?


K: Yes.


C.B.: Okay, let me test your general knowledge. What is the capital city of Pakistan?


K: Er. Er... I… Can you give a hint?


C.B.: Okay, it's located in Pakistan.


K: Faridkot.


C.B.: Okay, give me the collective noun for the word geese. For eg. a pack of dogs, a ___ of geese.


K: ee… er… Faridkot.


C.B.: Can you vaguely, very vaguely, tell me a little about the theory of relativity.


K: It is er… located in Pakistan.


C.B.: In the term AK-47, what does AK stand for?


K: Faridkot


C.B.: To get sodium bicarbonate, I need to add what to calcium carbonate?


K: Can I ask for help please?


C.B.: No. No. Don't bother. A last question. If I had nine bananas, and five fell from my hand how many would be left?


K: Two?


C.B.: Two?


K: That's not fair I said it first.


Voice: "Okay that's enough, the time's up".


Soon the black cloth was exchanged again, and I was led through the prison gates once more. I thanked my friends, tipped the sentry on duty, thereby left one of the world's worst criminals behind forever. Then it dawned on me. Kasab was in the right profession. He had to be a terrorist. After all, he was too small and too stupid to do anything else.


I have decided to elongate my interview with Kasab into a book called Faridkot, My foot, with a sequel on the dreaded killer called, Kasab, What an Absolute Bore. Please, dear reader, book your copy now.








As Maharashtra chief secretary Johny Joseph prepares to retire this month, many babu-watchers are betting on senior Indian Administrative Service officer Chandra Iyengar to be the successor. Although no formal announcement has been made so far, but apparently Ms Iyengar's name has been cleared by the chief minister. If she does succeed Mr Joseph, the 1973 batch officer will be Maharashtra's first woman chief secretary. The state has had many able women officials but Ms Iyengar will be the first to occupy the top post. What's more, Ms Iyengar is the only woman who will qualify for the next 10 years.


Hopefully, caste interests won't trump a woman in today's Maharashtra. Ms Iyengar is believed to have drafted the initial Women's Bill which became the model for the bill introduced in Parliament — which itself is caught in a caste-trap.



The Directorate General of Hydrocarbons (DGH) is perhaps still smarting from the negative press it received in the V.K. Sibal episode. But with Mr Sibal now out of the picture, the regulator is now trying to project a no-nonsense attitude. Consequently, it has taken an aggressive stance against Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) for failing to keep its commitments in drilling oil in the Sunderbans region. ONGC, meanwhile, has doggedly refused to shell out the Rs 190 crores penalty demanded by DGH.


DGH Director-General S.K. Srivastava is unwilling to accept ONGC's rationale for relinquishing rights over the disputed block. Apparently, ONGC gave up exploration in the area after facing obstacles, despite spending more than Rs 640 crores. Mr Srivastava is not buying this logic and justifying the levying of penalty against ONGC for not abiding with the terms and conditions previously agreed upon. Sources say efforts are being made to break the current impasse.



Irregularities in promotion of non-IAS (Indian Administrative Service) babus to IAS cadre by state governments has long been a point of discord. But it is only now that Delhi seems to have decided to do something about these practices. The state under the radar is Madhya Pradesh whose chief secretary Rakesh Sahni has been told to scrap the promotion of non-IAS officers or babus who are either facing probe or are ineligible.


The Union Public Service Commission too has stated that a babu would have to score at least 50 marks in confidential reports over five years to become eligible for promotion to the coveted IAS cadre. But in Madhya Pradesh ineligible babus have been recently promoted in several departments.


The central directive however has frozen these appointments until Mr Sahni submits his report. In all likelihood, observers in Bhopal say, the babus who do not meet the criteria stand to lose much more than their promotions.








What lessons does the shortlived return of the Ayodhya issue hold for the BJP? Far from gripping popular imagination, the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission report on the political circumstances and general conspiracy that culminated in the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, has ended in an anti-climax. In less than a week, the entire report has been made public, scrutinised and dismissed as largely irrelevant.


One reason for this is, of course, Justice Liberhan's penchant for obiter dicta. Rather than a narrow focused inquiry into how the law was breached on that fateful Sunday, his report is a general essay in obfuscation — "blaming everybody other than the man who appointed him", to quote a Congress MP. Some of his recommendations — give the National Integration Council statutory powers and ban its members from politics; stop doctors and engineers sitting the civil services examination; license journalists — are trite, undemocratic or unworkable, often all of these.


The more important realisation, however, is that India has moved on. Ayodhya has long ceased to be a political magnet or even a compelling subject of public interest. As pensioners from the Ram movement of the 1980s and '90s were wheeled out before television cameras this week, most contemporary Indians were left bewildered. In screaming and shouting and feigning anguish, tired individuals and spent forces were playing out their fantasies. Nevertheless, yesterday's people were not making any impact on today's India.


Ideally, the lack of enthusiasm on Ayodhya should have a direct bearing on the wrenching struggle to define the future of the BJP. It could influence the debate between those who see the party as a political organisation and those who consider it the frontal wing of a millenarian cult.


Make no mistake, it is not as if the essential argument that underpinned the Ayodhya movement has been defeated. If a referendum were conducted, it is still likely that a majority of Hindus would want a temple built at the site, rather than a mosque or a non-denominational building.


However — and this is the big difference from 1990-92 — not too many Hindus are willing to see temple construction as an overriding priority, one deemed more critical than economic well-being, aspirations for themselves and their children, an expansive global identity for India, the need to secure Indians from the fear of terrorism.


The society that responded to a protest movement two decades ago — and the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation was, really, a gigantic protest movement against perceived failures of the Nehruvian consensus — has evolved into one that is more choosy, has nuanced ambitions and lower tolerance for political adventurism and direct action. The restiveness of agitprop has ceded space to concerns about governance. The age of Hindutva has passed; in a sense, it has yielded to the idea of Ram Rajya.


Unfortunately, not every stakeholder in the BJP is alive to this reality or conscious of this evolution. Certainly, there is no evidence that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has taken upon itself the task of repositioning the BJP, is equal to the job.


It seems to believe, for instance, that rhetoric on cow protection — the subject of the ongoing "Vishwa Mangal Gau Gram Yatra" — offhand statements on China and Tibet, and a non-sequitur announcement that Pakistan and Afghanistan are candidates for merger with India will automatically be transformed into mainstream issues, win and lose elections and shape national policy. The Ram temple only completes this catalogue.


Two decades ago, Hindu grievance was the centrepiece of the BJP's all-India platform. Ayodhya was a totemic symbol of this emotionalism. Now, the challenge before the BJP is to craft a pan-national appeal that will stay meaningful till the early 2020s. Whatever else this may or may not contain, it is difficult to believe responsive governance, economic hope, a technocratic rather than maximalist state, a less regulated and more entrepreneurial society and a secure India will not be part of the mix.


To convert these broad goals into workable policies will take astute political minds, not Sangh hand-me-downs. For instance, it would not do for the RSS top brass, in one of its now habitual media interactions, to say the Sangh is not opposed to industrialisation — name one person who claims he is — or that India should have attacked Pakistan in 2001 or that Akhand Bharat is an imminent reality.


Such pronouncements only expose the RSS to ridicule. It is dismissed as a collection of day-dreamers and drawing-room warriors with nothing substantial to contribute to public policy-making. Indeed, by stepping into areas they have no idea about, RSS busybodies are doing a Liberhan — going beyond their core competency and giving themselves the status of all-purpose ombudsmen. True, the BJP has a million problems and, as it stands, does not look electable or wholesome. Even so, the alternative to a party run by small-time crooks is not a party run by big-time cranks.


The Sangh and the BJP's would-be sole proprietors need to ponder the Congress' response to the Liberhan report. The ruling party has been tepid and largely non-committal in the face of the judge's admittedly hazy recommendations. It has not sought to dramatise its attack on the BJP and has been mindful of not provoking either Hindus or Muslims.


This is a calculated political call. The Congress is on the ascendant in Uttar Pradesh, having diligently won back both Muslim support and the favour of Brahmins and urban middle classes who self-identify as Hindus. It has no desire to rake up a slumbering issue such as Ayodhya and interrupt its carefully put together plan for the 2012 assembly election in the state.


Is the BJP even serious about challenging the Congress' emergent domination? A quiet burial of the Ayodhya business — after the usual quota of impassioned speeches and made-for-television sombreness — would perhaps offer a positive clue.


Ashok Malik can be contacted at








The Justice Liberhan Commission, appointed to investigate the December 6, 1992, demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya, has taken 17 years and 48 extensions to submit its report, at a cost of approximately Rs 8 crores to the taxpayer.


I am a little surprised that all the political parties are trying to score debating points on a report that was leaked to the media with the sole purpose of playing votebank politics and creating divisions within our society. The leak did not result in the desired controversy but instead brought together the Opposition and forced the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) to table the report within 24 hours. This decision was a good damage-control exercise.


Justice Liberhan's report places individual culpability for the demolition on 68 people, the bulk of whom are drawn from the Sangh Parivar — Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Bajrang Dal and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).


The report should be consigned to the archives at the earliest to avoid political damage. Motives will be attributed to the fact that while former Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao has been exonerated, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has been named in the report. This is very sad. The government's Action Taken Report (ATR), according to media reports, indicts no one in particular and has little substance. If the government proceeds on this report it will lose credibility with both, the majority and the minority community. Media reports already indicate negative reactions from the Muslim community which has demanded an apology from Justice Liberhan for certain remarks made against their community. I have a feeling that few in the media will devote much time to the report after reading the ATR.


Votebank politics is a reality as both majority and minority votes have the capacity to swing electoral results. We saw this happening in favour of the BJP in 1999 and then for the Congress in 2004 and in 2009.


We are now in a state of flux and with the Left and the BJP losing ground it is inevitable that there will be a realignment of political forces. Religion and caste still play a major role in elections. Currently, the Congress has an advantage but in politics nothing can be taken for granted. The results of the Assembly elections in Haryana and the byelections in Uttar Pradesh are just two examples. In Uttar Pradesh, the minority votes from the Samajwadi Party can travel both to the Bahujan Samaj Party and the Congress. All three parties will do everything possible to woo the minority community as they may determine close to 150 seats out of 400 in Uttar Pradesh.


The major electoral battle will come in the Assembly elections in 2011-12 in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala. Here the minority vote will be crucial for all the parties as these four states have the highest minority population in the country.


The Liberhan Report and its contents may well leave everyone confused and I don't see any advantage in this for any party. The cases relating to the Babri Masjid are already filed in Lucknow and Rae Bareli and they will probably go on for another five to ten years. Thereafter, appeals will go to higher courts. I don't think this issue should be allowed to fester for another decade.


The leakage of the report is a serious matter and I do not subscribe to the view that the home minister or Justice Liberhan had anything to do with it. Anyone who was part of the commission or in the home ministry could have leaked the report. Considering that so many pages had to be photocopied it was obviously someone who had easy access to the documents. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed regret and promised a full investigation into the leak. But I have grave doubts if anything will happen. Had anyone been serious about this lapse, the Central Bureau of Investigation would have been called in.


Sensitive issues have been leaked before and it will happen again. The media coverage of one year after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks may push out the Liberhan Report from the headlines. This will suit both the UPA and the Opposition, and the voting public will be saved from the trauma of living in the past.


The challenges on internal security will increase with time. Considering the constraints of a coalition government and the fluid situation in Pakistan, the UPA government and the home minister have done well.


The United States adopted strict security measures after the bombing of the World Trade Centre on September 9, 2001. After 26/11, whatever we do will not be enough. The situation in West Asia continues to be explosive and we all know the chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There are media reports that the Pakistani prosecutors have charged seven men with planning and helping to carry out the 26/11 attacks. All this means very little and may well be happening to ensure that aid from the US is not disrupted. The US is in a difficult situation in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Various terrorist organisations are aware of this and their infiltration in the Pakistan government, the Pakistan Army and the Inter-Services Intelligence is extensive.


Things may get worse in the immediate future. Whilst we may engage the global powers to provide assistance, the ground reality is that bomb blasts occur daily in the cities of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. We face severe challenges from several fronts and whilst we have much to do there is little doubt in my mind that the UPA government is giving internal security all its attention. Compared to 26/11, there is a marked improvement in our capability to tackle the challenges for the future.


Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister









The general impression till a few weeks ago has been that the Copenhagen climate summit next month will not achieve anything because governments across the world — developed and the developing — are not willing to accept cuts in carbon emissions. But there has been an unexpected development. First, the US and then China have announced plans to reduce carbon emissions. President Barack Obama announced on Wednesday that the US would reduce 7% of 2005 levels by 2020 and take it to 83% by 2050. China's state council, its cabinet, said on Thursday that it will reduce by 40 to 45 per cent of the 2005 levels by 2020.

There is plenty to quarrel with the figures because they are not as impressive as they look. Those who know the issue closely are well aware that this could be just a symbolic, almost an empty, gesture and that it does not help in substantial reduction of emissions which is urgently needed. There are others, the optimists, who believe that this is in the nature of an opening bid and as the climate conference gets going, these figures could serve as a baseline on which to negotiate further curbs.

Obama and Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao will also attend the summit. The American and Chinese moves should be seen as a signal that countries which had resisted any kind of commitment are now willing to accept voluntary obligations and that it is a good beginning.

Where does this leave India, which needs to undertake its own set of obligations if the climate negotiations are to be meaningful? In retrospect, the attempt by minister for environment and forests Jairam Ramesh in October that India should accept voluntary curbs stands vindicated. When the letter he wrote to Manmohan Singh suggesting voluntary curbs found its way into the media, there was a sharp and negative reaction from the green warriors in the country.


It was interpreted that Ramesh was arguing for Indian capitulation and even those who were not opposed to either Ramesh or the government agreed that Ramesh appeared to have weakened in the face of pressure from the US and other industrialised countries. In the light of the American and Chinese announcements it would seem that India has lost the initiative and that it could have easily occupied the high ground had it made the first move instead of sticking to stated positions.

Ramesh can still be blamed for not stating his views clearly. What is unacceptable is the government's secretive ways of decision-making. India can hope to play a major role in Copenhagen only if it debates the issue in the open in the country.







Ali Azam and I do not share the same taste in music. Not that it matters to him. With a beaming smile on his chubby red-cheeked face, he beats time enthusiastically on the sheepskin covered dashboard of the solid Toyota Land Cruiser. I am resigned to listening to the throaty warbling of Arabic songs forever, so it seems.

My family and I are on a ziayarat or pilgrimage to Yemen, with which Dawoodi Bohras have spiritual links. Alibhai came into our lives at the start of the trip as our designated driver. Apple cheeks not withstanding he was a little dictator. He admonished us on the quantity of our luggage and once we set off, refused to stop until we reached our destination. He was hardest on my mother-in-law, who sat in the front seat. "Mummy," he commanded, "you not sleep, or I feel sleepy!", words that left her bleary-eyed for the rest of the trip — and tone deaf as he turned up the volume of his favourite music, also ostensibly to keep awake!

In due course however, he unbent as his cultural pride got the better of him "Try, try, Yemani," he would urge as he quickly became our guide to all things Yemani.

Miles fly by as we cross the fertile valley from Sanaa to Zi Jibla, capital of the vast kingdom of Arwa Queen also known as the Queen of Sheba. From there to the Red Sea coast it is a flat featureless desert. We pass small-town markets that could well be in small-town India. But there were also sandy deserts with camel herds and sandstorms; and sad to say vast open stretches littered with every colour of plastic. "Yemen's shame," nods Alibhai sadly.

The roads are lined with dhaba-like eateries. In the city, Alibhai would let us alight, pick our drink, share his snack. But out in the villages, he wags his chubby finger and refuses to let me out. "No, no, only men", he would say to my husband.  It's easy to see similarities with our North-Indian dhabas. Every one of them had a bhatti where they cooked large qoobs similar to but flakier than our rotis. In vast "degs" dug into the ground were meats cooked with rice echoing the flavours of biryani.

Ascending the mountains from the tropical slopes rich with mango groves along the Red Sea we climbed into another world. Nothing prepares you for the stark vast vistas of Yemen's mountainous north. Dry and sparsely populated, the mountains occasionally reveal fortress-like squat mud buildings impossibly on high, inaccessible precipices.
Haras is fast becoming an international destination for adventure sports such as paragliding, but for me it meant warm people and many cups of kawah (sweet black coffee). Off the main roads down impossibly steep dirt roads we take a first hand look at a village. Surrounded by plantations of coffee and kat (a tobacco-like leaf) are mud houses with exquisite detailing in white and typical multicoloured windows. Although military presence is omnipresent in Yemen, the local people are happy to welcome us into their homes and delighted if our boys can join in a game of street soccer.

The average Yemani is nothing if not a very good businessman. In old town Sanaa, with it winding alleys and gorgeous mosques, we haggled over brightly coloured African baskets. "For you," said the smiling vendour, "I give for 1000 Yemani". I say, "No I have only 500." "For you" he begins again and I wait with bated breath, "I give for 1000 Yemani" And so it went on until he wore me out and I bought the damn thing at his price!

Here too, the mounds of spices made me nostalgic for home and I bought a few grams of a small dry yellow chilli used often in Yemani food. Although I still haven't figured out what to do with it, it has a daffodil-like symbolism for me, flashing upon my inward eye images of a simple pilgrimage that turned out to be an adventure sport.







The one thing about wine that makes it so difficult is that the average consumer assumes that she or he understands wine-speak. We make this common mistake because wine-speak uses English as a form of expression. But that said it is as similar to English as I am to Jason Statham.

Wine speak is the cult language of wine folk who get promoted in their own realms depending on how well they can speak this techno-babble. If you think those online gamers in their virtual 3D worlds speak in weird tongues then you have no clue how tough wine lingo can get.

If you use words like 'yummy','delicious' and anything that remotely resembles English and means something similar, then you can give up all hope of ever being a Master Poser. If you wish to know the words you really need to be using, go to a tasting and listen intently for someone who speaks of 'lashings of oak' and 'intense aromatic profiles'. Hunt out someone who is waxing eloquent about the 'sun-soaked vintage shining through in the robe' or the 'mineral-lined acidity-laced tannic-grip of a certain claret'. Gee, I can do this pretty well too, eh.

But this is why I don't consider much of tasting notes. My Indian Californian winemaker and philanthropist friend Avtar Singh Sandhu has often voiced his ire against tasting notes, wine competitions, rating wines on a point system and every time I have agreed to his viewpoint. If we, the citizens of the world cannot agree on things as varied as the colour of our house curtains to the government we want in power, how can we then so unintelligently lay our trust in the tasting commentary of someone we don't even know.

This person, whose notes we may be reading on the back of a wine label were generally written thousands of miles away, several time zones away, by someone who grew up in a different cultural mix and may perhaps has no idea of the traditions and trends in other parts of the world. More so, the wine note is for a wine that was tasted at the winery when it was made, so little relevant when we drink it a few years down in another jet-setting destination. Given so many variables and possible points of anomalies, how can we rely so heavily on indifferent, stranger tasting notes?

I will tell you how and why — because we don't trust ourselves. There, I said it. Isn't that sad though? For most other things in our life we decide for ourselves but with wines we drink what reads well or is rated well.

When people ask me how they can learn about wines, I only have one answer: by trying more of them. Tasting notes that don't read like English should be doubted and people who talk in wine-speak are obviously not spitting enough.

To end on a contradictory note, here are tasting notes I enjoy reading. SPAR, the supermarket chain, has localised tasting notes in the UK by adding a Geordie, Brummy or Scouse touch to the back labels. Switch your spell checks off when reading them. Here's one for a generic Merlot in Geordie (North-Eastern UK dialect): "A canny Merlot ableeze wi succulent blackcurrants an blueberries. This Merlot has legs leik a thoroughbred, strong an forward, tha sucks the leif oot of yer palate. Its stowed bouquet is a delight fer yer nose an will leave yee clamming fer moor. This ain ne blash".







The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) occupy an exalted position among the educational institutions in India and have become much sought-after brand names universally, with their graduates getting absorbed readily in the domestic and international markets. Those who opt to pursue higher studies abroad also find it easy to get into reputed universities with the IIT stamp. No wonder then that as many as four lakh students took the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) for admission to the 15 IITs this year with only 10,000 seats available. This extremely low and discouraging success rate at the admission test (less than 3%) does not seem to deter them from taking such a slim chance, going through two or three years of hard preparation and spending a lot of money on coaching classes.

For the sake of quality control, it is important to restrict the number of students taking the JEE since the number of seats cannot be increased any further. The only way to achieve this objective is by raising the qualifying marks at the class XII examination from the present 60% to as high as 85%. This is where the well-meaning minister Kapil Sibal ran into unexpected trouble. Perhaps 75% would have been more acceptable as it turns out now. Whichever percentage is finally decided upon by the IITs as the qualifying cut-off, the number of students who qualify with the raised bar will certainly not be as high as four lakhs. It will more likely be in the region of a few thousands and accordingly the success ratio will go up considerably to around 20:1 or even 10:1 which will be a lot healthier than the present 46:1.  This is where the merit of the suggestion lies.

The prevailing system of admission only benefits the coaching classes enormously because every student who has been scoring 60% at the plus-two stage looks up to them for acquiring that magical "competitive edge" and tends to ignore his regular studies.  It also brings in a tremendous workload to bear on the IITs, each of which  has a separate JEE Cell functioning right through the year with a lot of academicians and other non-academic staff working in tandem to organise such a complicated competitive examination in a fool-proof manner. The only saving grace is that the JEE is self-sustaining financially and does not eat into the institutes' funds.

If from 2011 the IITs do not have to handle as many as four lakh students, it will be a great relief for all those involved in organising the examination at several centres spread all over the country. Likewise all those students, who do not have the requisite scores, need not go through the futile but gruelling exercise and instead can concentrate on other ways to further their qualifications.

The prevailing system of education, particularly higher technical education, needs to be revamped thoroughly and urgently and it will have to be done with a great amount of study and consultation. The best way is to advise the universities and colleges to adopt the academic structure prevalent at the IITs. It gives considerable freedom to the teachers and the students. Some institutions have already started doing this. The benefits of such a
system will be phenomenal.

What then are those magical features that make the IITs so special? Even though there are several, the most important ones, quite clearly,  are: the strict quality control enforced at every stage, the academic freedom given to the teachers and the students alike, the tight course schedule which keeps the students on their toes all the time and above all a very healthy environment in the campuses that contributes to the development of the overall personality of the students.

As for the faculty members, only the highly qualified and experienced ones make it to the various departments. The recruitment policy allows even very young persons to be selected for the professor's post if they meet the exacting standards. The candidates do not have to wait until vacancies arise in each department. The faculty members frame the contents of the courses. And there is no interference from any board of education.
As for the students, they can also opt for any course(s) offered in any other department that they feel can enable them to compete in the job market as long as they do not overshoot the total 'credits' prescribed for the semester.

IITs, however, are not all about academics. At the campuses, Cupid strikes frequently. Instances of students marrying their classmates are galore!


(The writer is a former professor of Geology, IIT Bombay)






The first anniversary of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks passed by as the country saluted the irrepressible spirit of a megapolis which stood the spray of bullets, but never cringed in abject surrender. As cameras and reams of newsprint recounted the horrors that kissed Mumbai last year, I was particularly moved by the battering the kids of some of the slain residents have had to take. For the mature, it was a colossal tragedy, for the impressionable immature, it was — to take a cue from English poet, John Milton — innocence lost.

I remember a line from English author Graham Greene's delightful novel The Power And The Glory that there is always one moment in childhood when the door opens, lets the future in and thus changes life. The ghastly unfolding of the day saw that "moment" arrive in the lives of many a kid, prematurely. A life lost in the family and their lives changed forever. For most, it marked the marauding of childhood and stepping into manhood — manhood thrust upon by cruelty that altered the child's perspective in life.

"There is a garden in every childhood," said novelist Elizabeth Lawrence, "an enchanted place where colours are brighter, the air softer and the morning more fragrant." In the shattered pieces of that "garden" trampled upon by 26/11, one could see a four-year-old Omkar Surve wailing for his father, Sanjay, and his mother comforting him that he would soon be back from Singapore. Omkar's father fell to terrorist bullets at the Oberoi Trident hotel. Seven-year-old Ketki was too traumatised to speak about her father's death. Fourteen-year-old Aditya Sharma from Thane vowed never to celebrate his birthday again as his father was slain at CST on the same day. "How can I? My father's memories will haunt me," a devastated Aditya cried.

Now tell me, who will account for such corrupted innocence? Won't these kids grow up with a perspective shaped by blood? Won't it deprive them of every drop of the milk of human kindness at an early stage? The anger, dejection, and indeed, disenchantment will in some way find expression in the future. Distrust, writ large on their psyche, will impact their demeanour. Let's admit that personal loss can never be shared. To bear the cross would mean growing with a feeling of insecurity and cynicism, which at a later stage could concretise to a point of no-return.

Hail Mumbai. Here's where you shine with your indomitable spirit. The terminators have come and gone, calamities and carnages have tried to subjugate you, but to no avail, of course. It's this ever-so-accommodating city that one expects to give these hapless innocent children a chance to reconstruct their lives. It is the kindness of the great city that one expects would expunge the distrust sown by the traumatic experience. What someone said about New York after 9/11 can be said of Mumbai as well: The gutted, wrenched, scarred city has survived. Not the same though, but sane and more gracious in grief.


Let's all say Amen to that. 







We've been to countless high-powered meetings where hushed air conditioned conference rooms have spotless tables lined with a glass and bottled water. All the three neatly parked on coasters, waiting to slake parched throats pressing corporate strategy, governance models, quarterly results, and sometimes, ironically, sustainability… you get the picture: very corporate, very efficient and the very image of a perfect world.

Now here is what happens in reality: people in the meeting open the sealed bottle of water and perhaps take a sip or two. The bottles are left behind in the conference room after the meeting. Before the lights go out, the office boy comes along and trashes them. Precious drinking water goes down the drain. Worse, the plastic bottles end up in giant landfills.

And that is only the visible part of the story. Think about the energy that went into bottling the water, in manufacturing the bottle itself and in ensuring it reached you via some form of transport — all gone with a few sips.

We understand why it is important to package drinking water. It's to shield it from contamination, protect it from accidental handling, spoilage and ensure that it reaches you in the first place. Without good packaging, we'd perhaps have to see a huge loss in resources because of poor shipping and clumsy usage, adding to the cost. Finally, packaging gives us the chance to absorb information about the product — in this case, its use, constitution and origin.

You can see that there are three interest groups at play here — the consumer interest, the commercial interest and the government (for the environmental impact it has to manage).

The big challenge is to meet the needs of all three, ensure that the packaging is environment-friendly, usage of packaged water is kept to a minimum and the waste water generated by the bottles is minimised. It's not easy. The task requires a massive revolution in consumer thinking and legislation. And the more popular packaged drinking water becomes, the bigger is the problem.

Of course, this is not unique to Bangalore. But a solution adopted by Wipro, a Bangalore-based IT giant that needs no introduction, calls for attention. At all its conference rooms of the sprawling Wipro campus in Electronic City, visitors find a corner table that has the following: a clean, covered jug with drinking water, several glasses and a note saying that the water is safe for drinking, that it has been purified at Wipro's own local purification plant and that using this water helps reduce waste. It's a time- tested, sensible approach to addressing a severe environmental issue. Every small business uses it. It's just that the large ones need the courage to do the same. Today, bottled water in a corporate environment may look acceptable; in the world of tomorrow it will be as unacceptable as smoking. It should already be.

Wipro has a commitment to the environment that is reflected in its approach to simple things. It has a spirit of mutualism that it says is embedded in its approach to sustainability.

Azim Premji calls it focusing on the triple bottom line — people, profit and planet.


What can trigger the revolution required to save precious water, reduce the huge amount of trash generated by bottled water and curb spending on transporting it? Besides, ahem, saving the planet? The revolution can begin anywhere, through local regulation and government legislation, through consumer pressure and even through pressure for cost control. But the real answer is somewhat simpler: begin to carry your own reusable bottle of water, fill it up at the cooler, brazenly place it on conference tables before you and proudly pour from it.

A town in rural Australia, Bundanoon, recently managed to ban the sale of packaged, bottled water. It is perhaps the first place in the world to take such a determined and strong-minded step. The aim, say residents of Bundanoon, is to protect the earth and their wallets. In New South Wales, state departments and governmental agencies have been banned from buying bottled water in a bid to cut costs and save natural resources. Two thumbs up to them.

It's a great idea to emulate. And the best part is, entire delegations and study groups from Vidhan Soudha don't have to make visits to Australia and the US to understand how this was done. Even if one minister refuses to have bottled water at meetings, it will be a huge step forward. A small one. But a critical one.

We can continue to read annual reports and websites of companies that claim to have a business that demands conscience and how they are taking measures to reduce their impact on the environment through reduced travel and the adoption of green technologies.


But you know they are missing the wood for the trees if you still see packaged water on their tables.









The Chinese announcement on Thursday that it would cut carbon emissions by 40-45 per cent below 2005 levels by 2020 seemingly runs contrary to the agreement between India and China barely a month ago that they would coordinate efforts to combat climate change in the run-up to the Copenhagen summit on December 7. The two countries had rightly resisted acceptance of binding cuts to their carbon emissions, arguing that these would unfairly curb their development. They insisted at a joint meeting last month that the developed world should atone for the damage it had inflicted on the planet by providing financial resources and technology to help developing countries control their carbon footprints as they industrialise. While the Chinese would argue that they have stuck to their avowed stand of not accepting binding cuts, there is an undercurrent of softness in regard to the developed world's culpability that cannot be missed.


The fact that the Chinese move came a day after the US administration announced that it would offer a target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions "in the range of" 17 per cent by 2020 as compared to 2005 levels points to a possible agreement between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao when the former visited Beijing recently. It now remains to be seen what emerges out of the Obama-Manmohan Singh talks on the issue in Washington. That could well blunt the edge of Chinese intentions to project India as obstructionist.

According to latest data compiled by an European agency, China is now responsible for 24 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions, followed by the US with 22 per cent. Per head of population, China is still far behind the US, which remains the biggest polluter per person by a large margin. India is way behind both in total and per capita emissions. It would be a pity if the US, which has announced a measly cut and China whose emissions are at record levels, walk away with the propaganda advantage at India's cost. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has described the latest Chinese announcement as a wake up call for India. It is time India took concerted steps to show its earnestness in curbing carbon emissions while sticking to its principled position of seeking due compensation for the developing countries for the havoc caused to the environment by western style of development. 








The agony of people over the persistent price rise found an echo in Parliament on Thursday when Opposition members raised the issue of food inflation touching 15.58 per cent. The Centre seems to be running out of options to deal with the situation. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar tried to shift the blame for the relentless price spiral to the states. According to the minister, if the prices of fruits, vegetables, sugar, pulses, cereals and edible oils have shot up, it is not because there is a mismatch between demand and supply but because the states are not acting against hoarders.


Instead of scoring political points, the ruling and Opposition members should have tried to work out a strategy to alleviate the public pain. Opposition MPs who raised the issue were not present in the House to listen to the government response. It all ended with the familiar political blame game. The Agriculture Minister had committed a blunder when he said recently that the price rise would continue for at least a year. Such statements make a positive impact on hoarders' business and defeat efforts to rein in prices. Why the states, including those ruled by Opposition parties, are not acting against hoarders is beyond comprehension. State-level politicians do not seem to see any role for themselves beyond pinning down the Centre.


The Centre, of course, cannot run away from its responsibility. It is well known that whenever crops fail, hoarders become active and take advantage of the situation. The hoarders can be put out of business if large quantities of commodities are unloaded in the market to end the shortages. India has enough rice and wheat stocks and foreign reserves for food imports to cool the prices. Yet the Centre's inaction is baffling. The government should create additional storage capacity to have sufficient buffer stocks for effective market interventions. 








The war of words between the CPM and the Trinamool Congress over escalating political violence in West Bengal spilled over to the Lok Sabha this week. During the zero hour on Thursday and later during the debate on rising prices, Trinamool MPs raised slogans accusing the CPM for unleashing violence and demanding that a central team be sent to the state to assess the ground situation. The Trinamool Congress chief Ms Mamata Banerjee has been persistent in her demand that the Left Front government, which has lost heavily in recent elections for panchayats, local bodies, the Lok Sabha and in by-elections, must give way for an early Assembly election. She appears to have decided now to use the floor of Parliament to press the point.


While it is a case of the pot calling the kettle black, the CPM appears to be on firmer ground when it alleges that 200 of its workers and supporters have been killed in the state in recent months and that far from being the perpetrators of violence, it is actually the victim. This is so because unlike Ms Banerjee's party, it has backed its claim with names, addresses and identity of the deceased. It is also becoming clear at the same time that Ms Banerjee has been trying hard to distance herself from the Maoists, prompting a Maoist spokesman to warn her against 'lying' and maligning the outfit at public rallies. The Maoists reportedly took umbrage at Ms Banerjee's claim that it was the CPM which had invited them to Nandigram and provided them with a safe passage.


Unfortunately, the two parties seem incapable of working together in order to restore peace. Busy bad-mouthing each other and the incessant name-calling seem to have reached a point of no return. All political parties in the state are responsible, however, for bringing West Bengal to the brink. 









LAST year on November 26, a little before 9 p.m, 10 heavily armed people landed at a bustling fishing village in the heart of South Mumbai. A week earlier, on November 19, reports had indicated that a Pakistani vessel carrying terrorists had sailed from Karachi and was in a position about 50 miles south west of that port.


This did not attract much attention in either the Coast Guard (CG) or the Navy. At the maritime boundary,

separating India and Pakistan, the terrorists apprehended an Indian fishing trawler, Kuber, killed four of its five crewmen, and, using the fifth as hostage, headed for Mumbai. The journey of about 500 miles, all through India's Exclusive Economic Zone, was completed without any hindrance and the trawler arrived off that city by the evening of November 26.


As darkness fell, a small rubber craft was inflated and lowered in the water and into it went the terrorists, each wearing an inflated life jacket and carrying shoulder bags containing an AK 47, 10 loaded magazines and 10 grenades. In addition, several bombs made of lethal RDX were embarked.


If it is appreciated that all this was done even as the two craft rolled and pitched in the darkness, in a not too calm sea, the difficult nature of the mission becomes apparent. The chosen landing spot has about a 100 fishing boats, at anchor or beached, and into this congested area, spread over a water front less than a 100 yards wide, this small craft put its passengers ashore.


Landing on any shore, even the most desolate, is a very hazardous maritime operation; yet, it is this part of the mission that was so successfully accomplished, without any challenge. The passage covered two coastal states, Gujarat and Maharashtra, which account for almost 60,000 fishing boats of various sizes. 
These waters also host dozens of oil platforms of different sizes. CG patrol boats, and aircraft, provide occasional surveillance; that this stretch of water was crossed with such great ease speaks of its poor quality.


How was this allowed to happen and what has been done to prevent its recurrence is what any reasonable person should ask. After all, despite some shortages in force levels, there are two quite capable maritime security forces, i.e. the Navy and the CG, which should have reacted more positively to the input of November 19 rather than later plead "systemic failure".


Intelligence, meaning analysed inputs, is clearly the first imperative for preventive action against terrorism but this was not there; a National Intelligence Agency has only now been constituted. Security at sea had been a naval responsibility only in the blue waters while, in coastal waters, it came under the purview of the CG, and the area immediately on the coast within the jurisdiction of state marine police forces.


In the new security environment, in which coastal security has become important, an entirely war fighting role for the Navy can no longer be sustained; it must assume counter-terrorism duties in peace as well. The entire spectrum of maritime security, both at and from the sea, against state as well as non-state actors, has now been assigned to the Navy and joint control rooms set up in Mumbai and elsewhere but its authority is still not as complete as it should be.


Measures to augment resources needed for coastal security have been initiated but these will take some time to materialise fully. So, if the question is if, one year after the event, we are better prepared to safeguard our coastal security, the answer is, disappointingly, in the negative.


Unity of command is an essential prerequisite for successful counter-terrorism and the correct step would have been to place all maritime security forces under Naval control. This has not been done. For example, even as joint control rooms have been set up in major ports, sailing of a CG vessel still needs the approval of its CG superiors. This dilutes accountability.


The designation of the Director-General Coast Guard as head of a Coastal Command is also merely cosmetic; there is no addition to his duties. Making the Navy responsible for the entire gamut of maritime security, without providing it with the required managerial control, is something of a sham.


While acquisition of hardware such as boats, aircraft and coast radar stations cannot happen overnight, the

problem is more in their use rather than in their numbers; the terrorists could come in so easily not because we did not have enough forces but because we were not able to exploit them coherently. Bold steps are required to review what has been done and to rectify the deficiencies.


Similarly, much more attention must also be paid to port security which means not just physical watch over the ports themselves but equally on the ships which enter them. For example, the US requires all containers entering its ports to be X-rayed; India has no such control. An explosives-laden container, if exploded in docks at a major port like Mumbai can cause mayhem.


There continues to be considerable laxity in superintendence of fishing vessels; registration of all, as required, is only a distant possibility. There is also no record of fishing vessels leaving and returning to their villages. Had such records been maintained, it would have been known that the Kuber, which had left Porbander to fish off Sir Creek, was overdue for several days.


A search operation would have located the Kuber far from that area and, possibly, thwarted the Mumbai attacks. Security of offshore installations continues to remain an area of concern.


Until now, the Indian Navy trained only to counter military threats from nation state adversaries. The emerging environment requires adjustment in this mindset. This is happening, even if slowly, but all its efforts will not succeed if the required command and control arrangements are not put in place. More asymmetric attacks must be expected from the sea, not necessarily repeats of 26/11 but exploiting that medium in some way or another.


A fully empowered organisational structure must be put in place urgently, which will be tasked to direct, rather than merely coordinate, all aspects of sea-based activity which have security implications. If this is not done very quickly, it will not be long before another Navy Chief will have to be pleading "systemic failure".n


The writer is a former Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command








There seems to be something lacking in the diet of the young men of today. While I see several elderly men with a fairly respectable growth of hair on their pates, more and more young fellows between the ages of 25 and 40 suffer from premature baldness.


What they have lost on their heads they try and make up on their cheeks. Hence the rage for sideburns.


Film stars cannot be held responsible for setting the fashion. Several young men of my acquaintance, who sport sideburns, never go near a Bollywood production. They all, however, have receding hairlines.


Perhaps, in addition to a deficient diet, young people have to grapple with complex problems the likes of which never worried us in our time simply because they did not exist. Jobs were easier to find and a hundred rupee note went much further than it does now.


So much for the 25-40 age group. Lads in their twenties go one step further. While possessing all their hair, which they usually wear long enough to touch their shoulders, they cover their faces with beards of various shapes and sizes.


Perhaps by doing so, they think that they are emphasising their masculinity. It is possible, also, that some of them were born with receding chins, which a beard hides effectively.


In either case a beard on a young face is a good indicator for the beholder who, foxed by the long hair, "flare" pants and platform heels, might easily mistake a clean-shaven face as belonging to a girl.


The other day I scoured the "tailors and outfitters" shops in Connaught Place for a pair of readymade flannel trousers.


"Sorry," said the man behind the counter. "Flannels went out of fashion several years ago. We can give you a pair in terry-wool."


But the trousers that were produced for trying were so wide at the bottom that I took one look and beat a hasty retreat. In the end I bought myself a length of terry-wool and gave it to a darji for stitching. I didn't go to one of the C.P shops in case I was told that making clothes from customers' material was also out of fashion.


But it's an ill-wind that blows nobody any good. With hundreds of trouser-ends sweeping the ground, dry-cleaning establishments must be reaping a rich harvest. No wonder they are springing up like mushrooms all over the country.








Ashley J. Tellis, currently a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, served as a senior adviser to R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs in the George W. Bush administration. In that role, Tellis was intimately involved in negotiating the civil nuclear agreement with India.


In an interview Tellis says Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington this week helped create a better understanding of India's positions on key policy issues.


As for the arduous negotiations between the U.S. and Indian sides over the reprocessing of spent uranium supplied to India under the nuclear deal, Tellis says he is confident an agreement will soon be reached. "This is not something that keeps me up at night," he says.




AKS: What is your assessment of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington?


AT: Despite all the trepidations that preceded it, I think the final outcome has been very satisfactory and very welcome to both sides.


AKS: Was there more to this visit than just the symbolism attached to the first state visit of the Obama administration?


AT: I think this administration was trying to suggest that India is not forgotten – that India remains important, even though the constraints that the United States faces have increased because of the economic crisis and the rapid shifts in the balance of power worldwide.


I think the president emphasised that the US-Indian relationship is very unique, given the democratic traditions, the presence of Indian Americans, and the longer term national interests. India still remains very much in the constellation of America's closest friends.


AKS: What was the highlight of the visit?


AT: The personal chemistry between the president and the prime minister. If leaders feel that they can trust one another, it is the lubricant that makes all the other interactions go very smoothly.


On India's central concerns, Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, the whole issue of managing AfPak, India-Pakistan and terrorism, on all these issues India's concerns were heard – clearly.


AKS: But the Obama administration doesn't appear to have softened its position on issues such as nonproliferation, climate change and outsourcing – issues that are perceived by some in New Delhi as irritants in the relationship.


AT: It is too much to expect that the administration is going to back down on several substantive issues because these positions are tied very much to its perceptions of what U.S. national interest requires, but I think what you can say with a great degree of confidence is that there is clearly a better understanding of why India has taken the positions that it has. I think there is greater realism about India's capacity to do some of the things that may be expected of it. Thus, there is reason for optimism.


Despite the divergence, there is a clear commitment to working with India to achieve at least some key objectives.


AKS: Are there any points of convergence?


AT: Yes. First, climate change – the administration recognizes that while it would be nice to get binding commitments on controlling emissions from India today, those are not likely in the prospective future. Both sides have agreed nonetheless that they are going to do what is required to mitigate climate change through independent national policies, while working towards a regime where there is full transparency about what everyone is doing and there are ways of verifying that various objectives are being met even if those objectives are defined purely through national means. I think that is a very good step and it represents an important point of convergence.


Second, nonproliferation – both sides recognize that the critical issue is going to be Iran in the near term and over the longer term better nuclear security. I think the U.S. would very much like India to be supportive with respect to getting Iran to meet its obligations.


The key question is what does the U.S. want India to do? My judgement is that as long as the U.S. pursues the issues related to Iran in the IAEA Board of Governors and the United Nations Security Council, India will have no difficulty in supporting the U.S. on the specific objective of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons.


AKS: So then what are the Obama administration's expectations of India on Iran?


AT: The key objective of the Obama administration is to persuade India to use its influence to keep Iran – first, engaged with the international community; second, committed to meeting its obligations under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.


AKS: And is India doing enough?


AT: This is going to be an ongoing process. It is not something that one can assess right now – whether India has done enough or not. I think the PM was very clear, both in the remarks he made at the Council on Foreign Relations and in his private conversations during the last day [of his visit], about India's position. I think at this stage that is the best one can expect of India because it is not quite clear how the U.S. itself is going to proceed regarding Iran.


AKS: Have India's concerns regarding terrorism emanating from Pakistan been taken into consideration in Washington?


AT: The principle that the administration will hopefully articulate in the weeks and months ahead, but which it has recognised quite clearly in the aftermath of the conversations with the prime minister and his team, is that Pakistan cannot persist with its strategy of confronting terrorism selectively.


That principle is something the Obama administration has completely internalised. If there were doubts about this fact, I think the meetings with the prime minister and the discussions [during the visit] should, at least in Indian minds, erase all those doubts.


There will be a continued U.S. engagement with Pakistan; there is no alternative to the U.S. engaging Pakistan, but I think that engagement will be without any illusions. I think that was an important step forward. The point remains that the PM and the president understand clearly that Pakistan's past record on combating terrorism is unsatisfactory, and that while it has done a lot, there is much more that it has to do.


AKS: China was one of the issues discussed in the Singh-Obama meeting.


AT: India's position on China is much better understood today in the aftermath of this visit than was the case before. That was one of the most satisfactory outcomes of the events of the last day and a half.


AKS: Can the U.S. develop a strong relationship with China and India without it coming at the cost of its relationship with the other?


AT: The U.S. can, and it must, develop relations with both India and China.

During the Bush administration, we never thought of India as a counterweight to China in any mechanistic sense. The way we thought about it was that a strong India is in American interests... I think that basic proposition has not changed – at least I hope it has not changed – even though the stylistic colourations of how that is expressed [by Bush and Obama] obviously differs.


AKS: Do you believe New Delhi's anxiety over the U.S.-China joint statement was justified?


AT: India's concern about the U.S.-China Joint Statement was completely understandable. There has been a long-standing position in New Delhi that the issues related to India and Pakistan are issues to be resolved by the two countries. Not only is third-party intervention in these issues not welcome, the notion that China might actually be the third party with some role to play is particularly offensive to New Delhi because India does not see China as a disinterested party in the South Asian security competition.


AKS: U.S. and Indian teams worked hard to reach an agreement on reprocessing in the run-up to the PM's visit. Is the inability to wrap up this issue an indicator of the challenges India can expect in dealing with the Obama administration?


AT: We have had this happen in all previous summits where right up to the last minute people are working to complete a range of issues because a big meeting like this is an action-forcing event. But the fact that it wasn't completed does not surprise me because it is an involved negotiation and both sides find themselves in terrain that has not been ploughed before. The U.S. does not, as a matter of rule, give programmatic reprocessing consent rights easily. We have done this in only one or two cases previously – and India is the newest exception.


I have absolutely no doubt that within the next several weeks we will be able to reach an agreement on reprocessing and this will cease to be an issue thereafter. This is not something that keeps me up at night.








Look at the graph above. Look at the red line. Look at its dramatic slope upwards, after about 2002. It's one of the scariest things in modern history.


It shows the way China's emissions of carbon dioxide, the key greenhouse gas, soared in a way no-one ever expected they would, as the Chinese economy expanded explosively after the Millennium, with incredible, double-digit growth – at one stage more than 11 per cent per annum.


As a result, Chinese emissions of CO2 doubled in a decade, from 3 billion tonnes to more than 6 billion tonnes annually, and by 2007 China had overtaken the US as the world's biggest carbon emitter.


Although no one knows the current figures yet, it is likely that they are now running at well over 7 billion tonnes per year, with the annual increase alone greater than the entirety of Britain's CO2 output of about 580 million tonnes a year.


This abrupt, gigantic surge in the amount of carbon going into the atmosphere threw previous calculations about the future progress of global warming into confusion, and is the main reason why world CO2 emissions are now at the top of the very highest pathway previously imagined by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They are now putting the world on course, an international commission of climate scientists reported last week, for a catastrophic 6C temperature rise by 2100.


Anything China can do about its emissions, therefore, is to be given a fervent welcome, and this is the first, enormous significance of yesterday's announcement – the simple fact that China is taking internationally pledged action about them.


The Chinese have always insisted that, to bring their people out of poverty, unhindered growth is their natural right – the rich West did it, after all – and resented any idea of CO2 reduction targets. But the country's leadership has come to accept that the threat of climate change is so severe that they too must act.


They are not yet pledging an emissions cut, as the developed countries are doing; they want to carry on growing.


But the promised reduction in the economy's carbon intensity does mean that the rate of increase in emissions should slacken – i.e. that the slope of the red line above will become less steep, rather than steeper. And as 90 per cent of all future emissions growth will come from China and its fellow developing countries, that is very much worth having.


The other enormous significance of yesterday's announcement is that the 45 per cent figure is "a number on the table", something that is essential for a deal between the two key carbon players, China and the US (which account for 40 per cent of world emissions between them) at the forthcoming Copenhagen climate conference. Its announcement was brought forward and made immediately after the US announced its own number – a 17 per cent cut in US emissions from a 2005 baseline – on Wednesday.


To have any chance of holding global warming to the danger threshold of a C rise will require, of course, far, far more than the US and China are pledging. It will require far more than the European Union is pledging. But it is a beginning.n


By arrangement with The Independent








The chargesheet filed recently by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on diversion of funds of the North Cachar Hills Autonomous Council clearly exposed the links between politicians and militants and if the Central and State Governments are really serious in dealing with the menace, a thorough probe should be ordered to take strong action against all politicians found to be maintaining links with the ultras. The NIA investigation covered only a limited period and that itself found that a sizeable portion of funds meant for development of NC Hills went to the coffers of militant group DHD(J), commonly known as the Black Widow group, thus depriving the common people of the backward district of the fruits of development. Siphoning off funds earmarked for development for the benefits of the militants engaged in waging war against the nation is a serious offence and strong action should be taken against anyone found to be involved in such practices as the people doing so are also indirectly responsible for the death of those killed by the militants. It is often alleged that over the years, funds of the NC Hills Autonomous Council were diverted but the NIA was entrusted with the responsibility of investigating into only one particular case where two arrested militants confessed during questioning that the former Chief Executive Member of the Council , Mohit Hojai was responsible for paying handsome amounts to the militants. The Government of India should order a thorough probe by engaging a Central agency like the NIA or the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the allegations of misappropriation of funds by the people at the helm of the Council over the years to take exemplary action against those involved in such practices to ensure proper utilization of the funds in future.

A few months back, Union Home Secretary GK Pillai, during a visit to the State, announced the Government's decision to amend the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India to bring in more financial discipline to the Autonomous Councils created under the Schedule and the Centre should expedite the process of doing so to ensure that the benefits of the funds provided to the councils reach the common people. The Union Home Secretary also assured to carry out external audit of the Councils, which is necessary to ensure proper utilization of the funds not only by the NC Hills Autonomous Councils but also by the other Autonomous Councils. At the same time, the Centre should keep a close watch on the utilization of Central funds by the Governments of the north eastern States as the possibility of development funds going to the coffers of the militants in other areas cannot be ruled out.






According to the latest study report of UNICEF, a child dies every fifteen seconds in India due to neonatal diseases while 20 lakh children die before reaching their fifth birthday at the moment as against ten thousand more of such deaths in 1990. What is perturbing is that India alone accounts for 21 per cent of under-five mortality of the world even today in spite of some progress we could achieve in the health front in the last decade. In fact, half of such deaths occurred in India, Nigeria, Congo, Pakistan and China. Interestingly, among them, India and Nigeria together account for nearby one-third of total global number. The report says that in most cases the conditions that directly cause such death within the first 28 days of a child are preventable with proven low-cost interventions. There are a small number of diseases that directly cause more than 90 per cent of under-five deaths. These are pneumonia, measles, diarrhoea, malaria, HIV and neonatal conditions that occur during pregnancy and after-birth care. What is much more disturbing is that India's record on newborn and child mortality is even worse than that of our neighbouring countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka with 61 abd 21 per thousand respectively as against 72 per thousand in India. Again, nearly 5 out of every 1000 mothers die during child birth owing to inadequate care and unskilled birth attendant. Apart from this, the other major factor of such early mortality is mainly attributable to undernutrition and malnutrition.

According to the UNICEF report, though the percentage of malnourised children below the age of 3 years has decreased from 52 per cent to 46 per cent, it is still way below the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) which seeks to take measures through which both maternal and child mortality as well as morbidity can be reduced. While increasing age of marriage and spacing between births are major interventions for achieving both of these objectives, one would sadly note that there are in India some 300,000 girl under 15 years of age, who are not only married but who have already become mothers of at least one child if not more. Of these child mothers, 60 per cent have given birth to 2 children. Again, between 1990 and 2006, the use of improved sanitation in India has doubled though an outreach to MDG target remains a great challenge and requires an accelerated effort to outpace population growth. While a newborn child has right to equal chance of survival no matter where and to whom he is born, the health care facility, pre-natal and post-natal care of mother are certainly a public responsibility. Since under-age motherhood is a major reason for such a painful fallout and since child marriage is illegal in India, its occurrence must be drastically stopped. If we cannot address this problem well, we can never reach the millennium development goal. To help reduce child mortality in India the government will do well to pay heed to the seven points chalked out by the International Child Rights Organisation that include a full-fledged maternal, newborn and child survival plan, child health and nutrition and increased public expenditure from existing 1 per cent of GDP to 5 per cent on child health and sanitation.







As I started writing this piece, blasts at Nalbari had occurred and Assam is in state of utter shock. My view on 'talks', the centerpiece of this write-up, however, has not changed. 'Nalbari' has , on the other hand, strengthened my view that constant talks over 'talks' has rather diluted the importance that should go with it and 'talks' should not betaken as a sign of weakness for any party.

Some elements of Ulfa want that talks with the government should be resumed immediately. So is the case with NDFB or KNLF or DHD. Some insurgents have surrendered before the Government authority, some are caught or arrested and are under police or judicial custody. A section of intelligentsia says the insurgents engaged in mass killing and extortion too has right for to express their view point and has Human Rights on their side. Governments also, both State and Centre, have not really come out and say what its policy ultimately is with regard to surrender and talks. I found a sensible statement from present Home Minister Chidambaram when he says that there cannot be anything like 'cease fire' with an insurgent group. Cease fire is a word applicable only with a belligerent enemy country or its Army who wages a war against our country. There cannot be 'cease fire' with a militant or insurgent group, belonging to our own country, declared unlawful by the sovereign government. I hope that brings an end to this word of 'cease fire' with the insurgents groups we have and we stop talking about 'cease fire'. Now the question of talks with these groups comes. There seems to be lot of 'talks on talks' and government seems to be confusing the people as to what it really embraces within the meaning of 'talks with the rebel extremists, insurgents or militants' . There must be clear cut definition and scope as to what 'talk' means, who can initiate, its boundaries and limitations and who can be the participants. The talks with NSCN (IM) are continuing for years together with no result, but with more bickering and creating adverse precedents. The problem or confusion is more compounded by the fact that there are two groups almost among each insurgent group—pro talk and anti talk faction. The government acknowledging and recognizing one or the other has created more problems than solving anything. I would say, stop talking about pro and anti group.

With Nalbari blast just happening and the question of 'talk' coming up again in view of renewed violence taking place, the Government must lay out a procedure for talks and a drill to be followed by both the parties ( government and the warring group). There should not be loose talk on talks, particularly now.

The nature of insurgency in North East is changing. The new alliance between local insurgent groups and Islamic terror outfits, though not totally new, has a reached a new dimension of late bringing the insecurity aspect of Assam to a new height of threat. ISI and DGFI are now actively involved. North East Insurgency is getting internationalized gradually. Insurgency points out to an organisation who aims at throwing out a duly constituted Government through use of subversion and armed conflict. The dividing line between terrorism, insurgency and belligerency is thin and at moments, indistinct. JKLF in Kashmir, IRA in Ireland, Hizbul Mujaheedin in Afghanistan or LTTE in Sri Lanka are examples where true differentiation of each category cannot be made. Coming to insurgency in Assam and particularly talking about Ulfa, we must admit and acknowledge that talks and dialogue should be held between the outfit and the government, State or Centre. There should be no doubt about it, but the question must be first decided whom to talk with and what will be agenda of talks. So far as talks with Ulfa are concerned, for example, Government and ulfa leadership must first come to a meeting point on these two issues. Some outsider groups, both in Assam and Delhi , do raise empty slogan for immediate talks without first settling the first issue—who is authorized to talk on behalf of Ulfa and has it been so announced by the top leadership of the organisation. No government can bow down before the extremists and militants who believe in killing and extortions, in the name of development, peace and honour to the State and innocents are made the worst victims. That brings to the other issue– what all will be talked, the subject matter of discussion. No talks can ever meet success unless there is a clear agenda for talks. So far as Ulfa is concerned, let government give out the agenda as to what will be covered in the talks and whether the other party accepts it. If there is no meeting point on the agenda or subject matter of talks or dialogue, any talks in the air will fail.

Talk is a process. The process of talks and dialogue, for final settlement of issues, between two groups who perceive matters differently and where there are points of dispute, is a correct and civilized step, sanctioned both morally and legally by the civic society. Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a step which is recognized and promoted by the judicial system of the country also today. Although talks with insurgents and militants by the Government does not really belong the scope of ADR, its principle does. The State and the insurgent groups have disputes and that fact should be recognized by the both the parties. When one party asserts a point or a claim over the other and the other party denies it in the form and content it is claimed, fully or partly, 'dispute' comes into being and a mediation or conciliation proceeding may start. Here comes the role of a Conciliator. The Government appoints a Conciliator who goes into all aspects of the disputes in question and looks into all the matters of legality and within the terms of reference laid out for him. Both the parties, here Government and the Ulfa , must know what are the Terms of Reference for the Conciliator and they must accept as it is or with amendment. The Conciliator then will proceed with best of his judgment and wisdom . The Government will not interfere in between and rather would extend all necessary assistance so that the Conciliator can do his job with no fear or favor. The constitutionality and legality of the demands must be gone into details at this stage.

As it stands now, we find no such procedure for Arbitration and Conciliation has been taken or initiated between Ulfa and the Government. Lot of talk goes around as to who is pro-talk group and who is anti. Lots of demands flow that talks must be initiated. Lots are said about PCG , a group who neither represent people nor has the final declared authority to speak for Ulfa as their final word. The talks between Ulfa and the government must be straight, clear and direct. The government must come out and it must have acceptance from the other party as to – (a) who is the conciliator and what is his terms of reference, (b) who is the authorized representative to talk on behalf of the parties concerned, and (c) what are the points of discussion.

Assam needs peace and it is also a fact that people of Assam , by and large, are peace loving. The boys belonging to Ulfa are not dacoits either; they have been indoctrinated in some way. They also, at least the majority , I am sure do seek peace. Still fact remains that the government is the guardian of final law and order and they must know how to take two steps ahead if the militant group takes one forward for seeking peace. The government cannot look or act weak kneed either. Talk is must, but let there be direct exchange of views with no interference and no violence. Do not start talking about 'talks' under pressure immediately after a blast takes place. Talk about 'talks' only when things get normal and peaceful and with a positive frame of mind. Also, both the parties seeking dialogue and talks must understand and appreciate as to what people really want. They are the final arbiter.








Eid-ul-Azha is a festival of sacrifice. It is being celebrated this year the world over between 27 and 29 November 2009. This festival Eid-ul-Azha is celebrated on the tenth day of Dhul Hijja, the last month of the year in Islamic lunar Calendar.

Eid-ul-Azha (Arabic) is known by various names all over the world like Kurban Bayrami in Turkey, in Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia it is known as Hari Raya Haji. In West Africa it is known as Tabaski. In the Indian sub continent that includes India, Pakistan and Bangladesh it is known as Idu'z Zuha, Bakrid or Qurbani. The Chinese call it Guerbang Jie, its, it is called Babbar Sallah in Nigeria, ciida gawraca in Somalia, Opferfest in Germany, Offerfees in Natherlands and Aldozati unnep in Hungary. This way the festival of Eid-ul-Azha is known throughout the length and breadth of the world by so many names but the spirit to celebrate this festival among all the Muslims remains the same, irrespective of the location.

The festival is a remembrance of Prophet Ibrahim's great test of obedience to Allah. He was put through a very difficult test by God. God commanded him to sacrifice whatever was dearest to his heart and his most precious possession. Upon hearing this command Prophet Ibrahim prepared to submit to Allah's will and decided to sacrifice his son Ismail who was most dear to him. As the faithful father and son were on their way determined to obey God, the devil approached them on their way to persuade Prophet Ibrahim to disobey God and not to sacrifice his beloved son. But Prophet Ibrahim stayed true to God, and drove the devil away. As the great prophet and his son reached a place called Mina located near Mecca and was all set to apply the sword to the throat of his dear son, Allah stopped him there and revealed that he need not slaughter his son Ismail now as his "sacrifice" had already been fulfilled merely by his willingness and this demonstration of selflessness, faith and obedience towards Allah.

So it was learnt that this exercise for Prophet Ibrahim was merely a test of his faith in Allah. He had shown that his love for his Lord superseded all others that he would lay down his own life or the lives of those dear to him in order to submit to God. So Allah gave him a sheep to sacrifice instead as a ritual of this spirit of sacrifice.

Therefore this act of complete obedience to the will of God is celebrated each year by sacrificing a, sheep as per the tradition later continued by Prophet Muhammad, the last prophet in the lineage of prophets.

It's worth noting here that this ritual practised every year by the Muslims the world over on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha also firmly believe that this sacrifice itself has nothing to do with atoning for our sins or trying to please God by offering the blood and flesh of the sacrificial animal as misunderstood by some of the believers and also those outside the faith.

The symbolism is in the attitude - a willingness to make sacrifices in our lives in order to stay on the, straight path. Each one of us makes little sacrifices in life, giving up things that are fun or important to us. A true believer, one who submits himself or herself completely to the Lord, is willing to follow Allah's commands obediently without any exceptions. It is this strength of heart, purity in faith, and willing obedience that our Lord desires from us and is also the message of this festival Eid-ul-Azha.

Another important aspect of this festival is that it coincides with the annual Haj pilgrimage in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. In other words this festival is the grand finale of Haj which is performed by millions of believers from across the world in a congregation at Mecca. It is laid down in the five basic principles of Islam that it's a duty of every Muslim to perform Haj at least once in their lifetime if they can afford financially and physically.

On this day of Eid-ul-Azha prayers are offered in the mosques across the world and the sacrificial meat is then distributed after the Id prayers. Special delicacies are prepared and served among family and friends on the occasion. People wear their best clothing and attend Salat-ul-Eid /Namz (prayer) in the morning followed by a short sermon, after which everyone socializes. Next, lambs/goats are sacrificed and then people visit each other's homes and partake in festive meals with special dishes. Children receive gifts and sweets on this happy occasion. The needy and vulnerable in society are also remembered by showing them sympathy and consolation. One third of the meat is distributed among the poor. The rest is shared among the family, relatives and friends.

The faithful need to continue seriously pondering over the message of this great festival and think about how it can be applied in our daily lives. What is that we are willing to sacrifice that's dear to us for the sake of Allah. Young people may need to think whether they can sacrifice their early morning sleep for Salat al Fajr (early morning prayer)? Can we sacrifice something to give a little time out of our busy schedules for our old parents? Can we sacrifice a meal for the lesser privileged? Can we sacrifice our lavish expenditure for a more meaningful one?

(Published on the occasion of Eid-ul-Azha)








On friday, the Sensex fell 223 points, or 1.3%, joining global markets in a repeat of Thursday's fall, following reports of a possible debt default by state-controlled Dubai World. The development reinforces two key lessons of the financial crisis: one, despite India's limited financial opening, volatile capital flows can be disruptive; two, excessive borrowing, whether by a company or a country — remember Iceland and before that Argentina in 2001 — is dangerous.

As global markets roil, one can only wish the emirate had not invested in so many infrastructural marvels as it has. The prolonged closure of markets in the region till December 6, unsuited to a would-be global financial centre rivalling Singapore, is another reason for the uncertainty.

On the face of it, the problems at Dubai World, a conglomerate with interests across real estate, ports and the leisure industry, should not affect us much. The Reserve Bank of India has asked all banks to report their exposure to the troubled region, but does not see much cause for alarm. Thanks to conservative — too conservative, according to some — regulation by the RBI, Indian banks are unlikely to have much exposure to the beleaguered giant.

With west Asia ceasing to be the main source of remittances for India, these flows might not suffer much either. Nonetheless, as markets across the world tanked, it is clear that the panic and resultant flight to less-risky assets will take its toll of our markets too. If attempts at restructuring outstanding bonds, including that of troubled property unit Nakheel, that has to repay $4 billion on December 14 do not succeed, it could call into question the emirate's ability to deal with the $80 billion owed by the government and state-controlled companies.

Abu Dhabi, the major creditor, might yet restructure debt, after extracting its pound of flesh from its more flashy and adventurous neighbour. Credit default swaps on Dubai's sovereign debt have shot up to levels higher than Iceland's, as have spreads of other emerging market debt. This could rub off on Indian companies trying to roll external loans over or launch initial public offers.







Food prices are rising at a rate that neither consumers nor politicians can afford. On this, there is consensus. But on the more substantive question as to what should be done about it, there is more silence than disagreement. The Opposition wants to blame the government, the government wants to shift the blame to the states. But ultimately, there is only so much that food management can do when there is a shortage of food.

The Economist's index of food prices is up 18.3% over the last 12 months, showing that the problem is not just local. Growing prosperity and the accompanying rise in demand for more food, both directly and as inputs to higher-value foods such as eggs, milk and meat, are pushing up prices. Higher prices do act as an incentive for farmers to produce more, but for that response to feed through to higher output, demand and supply must interact in a functional market mechanism.

Both absent or sparse infrastructure and misguided regulation pre-empt the coming into being of a functional market for farm produce. Therefore, it is as important for the government to step up investment in rural roads, spot and future commodity markets, rural electrification and rural telecom and broadband access as it is for it to invest in irrigation, farm technology and its extension.

The debate in Parliament on the subject raised much heat, but shed little light. Some opposition members blamed farming becoming part of international trade for the present scarcity of food. They forget that since the reform process began, the terms of trade between industry and agriculture, which had been skewed heavily in favour of industry, have moved decisively in agriculture's favour.


And they can improve further, with an intelligent approach to subsidy, farm size, and movement and storage of farm produce. Politicians oppose organised retail, but the fact remains that organised retail can step in to supply the climate-controlled storage that vegetables require, to prevent farm prices crashing and consumer prices spiking. Integrating farming in a functional market, with intelligent state support, is the way to grow more food and stop wage inflation.






In recent times, the word 'outrageous' is most likely to be seen as an adjective used to describe hairstyles, tattoos, stunts and Rakhi Sawant. The word has lost much of its original sting due to the passage of time. Once a synonym for abominable and depraved, shameless and wicked, excessive and preposterous, it has now taken on a quirky avatar, usually appended to nouns to imply something absurd rather than atrocious, barmy not brazen, eccentric not egregious, odd not odious, nonsensical not nefarious, weird not villainous.

The transition could well be generational as singers Paul Simon and Britney Spears — with a 40-year age gap — used the word as titles for songs, but their interpretations were entirely different. That is why a list of Outrageous CEOs compiled by Forbes naming former Satyam promoter Ramalinga Raju rather than Virgin boss Richard Branson would seem a non sequitur for some. Surely, of all the adjectives to describe a man who has confessed to large-scale fraud, outrageous seems a rather charitable choice given its current usage.

Using it to describe the other nine in the list seems overly lenient as well, considering their misdemeanours — actual and alleged, as many are still under trial — range from conspiracy, fraud and running Ponzi schemes to insider trading and using federal bailouts to pay undeserved bonuses. If any traits got these gentlemen into this rogues gallery, it was not being quixotic, silly, puerile or loony — all listed as synonyms for outrageous these days.

The fact that many of those in the 2009 list may well go scot-free also gives an inkling about the flexible definition of the chosen adjective. If they then decide to sue the makers of the list for impugning their complicity in something unconscionable, under the same heading, next year's list could just as well line up record label bosses, Hollywood moguls, fashion czars, sports magnates and other flashy chief executives known for their outre lifestyles, rather than any overt white-collar crimes. Or we could be permitted to suggest more appropriate adjectives for this list of CEOs: scandalous, infamous, shocking or preposterous!







The Bombay Stock Exchange Sensitive Index (Sensex) fell 1.32% on Friday to their lowest close in more than two weeks, although the market ended well off its lows as initial fears over the impact of Dubai's debt problems gave way to bargain hunting.

Assurances by banks and builders that they had no material exposures to Dubai calmed rattled investors and eased concerns about an imminent outflow of foreign capital, helping the market pare most of a drop of 3.8%. ICICI Bank, diversified Jaiprakash Associates and developers DLF, Unitech and Sobha Developers were among those to end comfortably above their intra-day lows.

"I would not read too much into Dubai. Is there a direct impact on our market? The answer is 'No'," said Anand Shah, head-equities, Canara Robecco Mutual Fund. "Fundamentally, we are not impacted. But if the risk appetite comes off, the liquidity flow could reduce," he said.

The Sensex fell 222.92 points to 16,632.01, its lowest close since November 10, with 25 components losing ground.

The benchmark index has rallied more than 70% in 2009, on the back of foreign fund inflows of more than $15 billion.

ICICI Bank closed down 1.7% Rs 851.25, recovering from a fall of 6.4%, and State Bank of India ended down 0.5% after falling as much as 4.8%. Leading realty firm DLF recovered from a fall of 8% to end down 1%. Dubai said it wanted creditors of Dubai World and property group Nakheel to agree to a debt standstill as it restructures Dubai World, the conglomerate that spearheaded the emirate's breakneck growth. That sparked investor fears that debt defaults could hit other parts of the globe, rattling world markets.

"Valuations were at a point where they were looking for reasons to correct," said Nitin Rakesh, CEO of Motilal Oswal's asset management business. "Not just markets here, but markets globally were at year highs. This has been one of the strongest years in recent history globally," he said.

Engineering and construction firm Larsen & Toubro said its exposure to Dubai was $20 million to $25 million, while Bank of Baroda said it has exposure of 7-8% of its loan book in the United Arab Emirates.

L&T fell as much as 6.2%, but trimmed some of the losses and closed 2.7% lower at Rs 1,586.50.

Bank of Baroda declined 4.6% to Rs 521.40. "Based on available data, Bank of Baroda seems to have the biggest exposure to Dubai — this could cause the stock to come under some pressure in the near term," Morgan Stanley said in a note on India financial services.

In the broader market, losers outnumbered gainers in the ratio of 2.7:1, on relatively moderate volume of 382 million shares.

The 50-share Nifty closed 1.27% lower at 4,941.75 points, its lowest close since November 10.

Mahindra Satyam closed 2.4% lower at Rs 90.55. It fell 13.4% this week on concerns over its outlook after investigators said the extent of fraud that had hit Satyam Computer Services earlier this year could be bigger than revealed.

Ranbaxy bucked the market trend and rose 3.3% to Rs 444.05. The drug maker said it had launched a generic version of GlaxoSmithKline's medicine Valtrex in the United States.

Energy explorer Cairn India, which is a unit of UK-based Cairn Energy, fell 2.6% to Rs 268.30. A total of 800,000 shares changed hands in two block deals on the National Stock Exchange at Rs 265 per share.

Suzlon Energy rose 6.2% to Rs 74.05. The wind turbine maker said its German unit REpower Systems had signed a set of wind farm project contracts with EDF Energies Nouvelles and RES Canada for delivery of up to 954 megawatts.

State-run oil marketing companies Indian Oil, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum rose 0.2-1.8% as oil prices fell below $74 a barrel. These companies are made to sell products at mandated discounts.







MUMBAI: The Dubai debt crisis may have hit sentiment globally but the Indian stock market is unlikely to see any major outflow of investments from funds based in the trouble-hit country, according to brokers. This is because there are hardly any Dubai-based sovereign funds that have made big investments in shares or any other asset class in India.

Also, not many foreign institutional investors (FIIs) from that country currently hold large stakes in the listed Indian companies, say brokers.

Al Mal Capital, Baer Capital Partners, Commercial Bank International, Dubai Bank, Dubai International Capital, Emirates Bank International and Shuaa Capital are some of the funds registered as FIIs with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI).

According to the latest shareholding data available with stock exchanges, FIIs like Emirates Bank International, Shuaa Capital and Dubai Bank-owned small stakes in three companies — 3i infotech, Edelweiss Capital and Man Aluminium respectively. Their holdings stood 2.7%, 2.2% and 4.3%, respectively as on September 30, 2009. Their current holding could not be ascertained, as the updated shareholding data will be published only at the end of the current quarter.


"The Dubai crisis may affect fresh inflows from the region but we do not think it would have any major impact on existing investments," said Centrum Broking MD Devesh Kumar. Investors will wait and see if the problem is limited to the country or snowballs into a major financial trouble in the Middle East, added Mr Kumar.

Edelweiss Capital CMD Rashesh Shah feels the Dubai financial debacle is region-specific and it is unlikely to spill over to other countries. "The event would not have any big impact on fund flows though it has triggered nervousness in the market. We hope the problem would get solved soon, bringing back stability to the market," said Mr Shah. He also said Shuaa Capital has completely exited Edelweiss Capital and does not hold any stake currently.

"We see a remote possibility of funds pulling out their investments in Indian companies in a haste. There are hopes that Abu Dabi will bail the country out of the current crisis," said Harjit Singh Sethi, country head, Almondz Global Securities.

The events in Dubai had their adverse impact on FII inflows as a whole in the past couple of trading sessions. According to the BSE's provisional figures, foreign funds net sold Rs 1,057 crore of shares on Friday, and Rs 70 crore worth of shares on Thursday. However, for the calendar so far, FIIs have been net buyers of over $15 billion worth of equities.







MUMBAI: International prices of gold fell along with other assets following Dubai World's decision to seek time to repay loans, but it still remained expensive for consumers who buy the precious metal for making jewellery as the value of rupee too fell, said traders.

Leading jewellery exporter Rajesh Exports' chairman Rajesh Mehta said he expected offtake from across 25 of his showrooms to increase by 10-15% because of the falling prices. He, however, said demand could kick in in a big way only if prices stabilised around Rs 16,500.

The news of Dubai rescheduling its liabilities caused spot gold on the overseas market to crash by $52 on Friday, the biggest since January, to $1138 an ounce (31.10 gms). The local market mirrored the fall, though to a lesser degree, as the rupee weakened by 19 paise to close at 46.63 to the dollar. A weaker rupee makes gold costlier to import. The dollar index, which values the dollar relative to six leading currencies, was up over three-fifths of a per cent at the time of writing. Gold used to make ornaments closed down 1.5% at Rs 17,615 in Mumbai.

No margin-related problems were faced on the local futures market despite the front month contract falling as much as 4% intraday low of Rs 17,262. Since the news about Dubai came to light on Thursday evening many clients were advised to book profits and reverse their positions, brokers said. Futures, however, being a zero sum game, short sellers were squeezed on Thursday when stop losses around Rs 18,000 were triggered.

"Bulls took up the market to Rs 18,047 and triggered the stop loss at 18 k leaving shorts in doldrums," said Gnanasekar Thiagarajan, director of Mumbai-based commodity research firm Commtrendz. "Chances are if shorts had reversed their positions after booking losses they would have been hit by a double whammy." However, outfits such as Geojit Comtrade had from Monday itself advised caution to those who were long gold to book gains and go short as CFTC data — CFTC is the commodity market regulator in the US — showed a decline of net long positions.

"In fact by Wednesday itself we recommended a liquidation of longs and a reversal of positions, taking into account the shortened trading week for Thanksgiving Holiday in the US and first delivery of the near month contract on Comex division of Nymex," said Anand James, senior analyst at Geojit Comtrade.

The MCX contract mirrors Comex gold. At the expiry of a contract clients usually square off or rollover their positions to the month closest to the near month. Considering these factors and more importantly the run up of gold to record highs recently, many traders who were long gold played it safe by following their brokers' advice.








When we talk of professionals, whom do we normally think about? Doctors in white coats? Engineers in hard hats? Lawyers in black gowns? How about a man who makes a living from dealing with unclaimed corpses from public hospitals and police mortuaries? "This is not someone who is conventionally associated with the term professional," writes Subrato Bagchi, noted 'gardener' of corporate human resources, in his new book, The Professional.

"His name is Mahadeva. He came to live on the streets of Bangalore with his mother. When she fell ill and died in a government hospital, he became an errand boy under the tutelage of an old man who had helped in the admission process of his mother. After he'd grown up, he unwittingly turned into a 'collector of corpses' when the cops asked him to bury an unclaimed body and paid Rs 200 for the job. That's how he became the go-to guy for burying Bangalore's unclaimed dead. He did his job with such dedication, focus and concern for that soon he was much in demand," Bagchi writes.

"His work grew and he bought his own horse-drawn carriage... When his horse died, people who had watched Mahadeva all these years came together and bought him an autorickshaw." Till date, Mahadeva had buried more than 42,000 corpses and the work had earned him great public gratitude and goodwill. The chief minister of Karnataka felicitated Mahadeva for his selfless service to the waifs and wanderlings of Bangalore.

What makes him a true professional against someone who is simply professionally-qualified is the ability to work unsupervised and the ability to certify the completion of his work, Bagchi says, between the dead and the living, there is no one to question him. Bagchi's epiphany reminded your columnist of the story of Vyadha Gita from the Mahabharata in which an arrogant sanyasi is humbled by a butcher (Vyadha) as he learns about righteousness (dharma) which teaches that "no duty is ugly, none impure". It is only the way in which the work is done that determines the worth of both the doer as well as the deed.

The Vyadha Gita extols the importance of performance of swadharma (prescribed duty or duty in life). Accordingly, a butcher deemed low by birth but engaged in dharma and doing good to others is capable of teaching a Brahmin, regarded as being higher by birth but practising austerities for his own good. A true-blue professional is pure indeed.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Dubai World, which calls itself the flag-bearer of global investment, shocked the world as it asked its creditors for a moratorium of six months on repayment of its debt, estimated at $52 billion. The debt of the Emirate of Dubai is $80 billion, which includes Dubai World's $52 billion. What has upset the world financial markets is that the conglomerate that invested in everything, from realty to infrastructure to economic zones, had until last week been saying it would be able to pay its debts by mid-December. It was taken at its word because earlier Abu Dhabi had bailed out Dubai with a loan of $10 billion and stories were put out that Dubai was sitting on $20 billion in cash. But all this was misleading. As the crisis brewed, it was expected that Abu Dhabi would bail out Dubai again in the latest crisis, caused by the property bubble exploding. It is understood that Abu Dhabi wanted some quid pro quo, but that didn't happen. So, on Thursday, Dubai World sprang a surprise with the bad news that it needed to restructure its debt. The shock waves reverberated across the global stock markets. The underlying fear globally is that there could be other Dubais waiting to explode. Easy liquidity spawned by the sumptuous stimulus packages of various governments led to excesses both in the stock market and in the property market. The problem with Dubai is that it is an investment centre and people bought properties as investment. When prices fell, there were no buyers because people by and large use their homes there as second homes. Dubai is not London or New York. Besides that, the small emirate went berserk building fantasy hotels, malls and showrooms, and a lot of them are incomplete as the money ran out following the global financial crisis and the steep drop in oil prices from $140 a barrel nearly two years ago to around $75-78 at present. The impact in India could be three-fold. One, inward remittances from Gulf countries, which had started to dwindle following the global financial crisis, could fall further. Remittances from the Gulf region account for more than half of the $25 billion in inward remittances annually from expatriate Indians. Second, Indian companies doing business there will suffer as their payments will be held up and the prospects of further business might diminish as there may be a freeze on development activities. The third, harder to quantify, is the possible withdrawal of investments of the Dubai Investment Corporation from the stock markets. It is estimated that they have $2 billion in realty in India. Stocks in which they are invested could come under pressure. The exposure of Indian banks in Dubai is said to be not very significant. But lessons from the Dubai property crisis should not be lost on India or the emerging markets. Dubai is a microcosm of the emerging markets which, in good times of easy liquidity, created a property boom that become worthless in bad times. Millions of high-rises in the emerging markets, particularly China, could spell doom. Dubai tried to make itself a manufacturing hub, a tourism hub with shopping festivals and gold festivals, all out of nothing. India was spared a property bubble only because of the tight control exercised by Dr Y.V. Reddy, the former Reserve Bank of India governor, and then by his successor, Dr D. Subbarao. 

The true extent of the Dubai crisis and its impact on the real economy will surface as the crisis unfolds, but the message should be taken seriously by the rest of the world, including India.








"Don't have a seizure,

It's so much easier

To fake amnesia…"

From Bachchoo Pretending

Indian readers are probably not aware that the present Prime Minister of Britain, Gordon Brown, has only one eye and faltering eyesight in the other. He lost his eye in a sporting accident in his youth. It hasn't stopped him climbing the Labour and political ladder.

The nation found out, through an unfortunate occurrence in the last weeks, that Mr Brown had taken it upon himself to write personal letters of condolence to the families of the soldiers who had died in action in Afghanistan. He wrote to the mother of one Corporal Janes, calling her son a hero and extolling his courage in giving his life to Queen and country. The mother made the letter public, with some words and phrases heavily ringed in felt pen, complaining that the Prime Minister had called her Mrs "James" in error and misspelling her son's name further down in the text.

The newspapers antagonistic to Mr Brown's government jumped in to pillory the Prime Minister for disrespect to the fallen heroes of the war. He or his office should have exercised more caution. The papers were accusing him of carelessness or even of callousness and empty publicity-seeking gestures.

Mr Brown replied to the accusations in person. He held a press conference in which he apologised sincerely and profusely to Mrs Janes and said it was far from his mind or conscience to insult her or her son. He didn't make heavy weather of it, but he did say that his sight was not of the best and that it affected his handwriting.
On examining the letter as reproduced in the newspapers, one may with preponderant probability conclude that Mr Brown may indeed have scrawled "Janes" and the "n" in his handwriting had been misinterpreted as an "m".

There can and will never be any certainty about the folds or legs of the consonant used, but anyone watching his news conference would have seen that the apology was not an act. Here was a man with a physical disability who had taken time in his undoubtedly heavy schedule to write personal letters to those bereaved by the death of their relatives in a volunteer army engaged in what Mr Brown sees as a just and necessary war. Others in Britain, including myself, see it as a foolhardy if not dishonest enterprise.

Though Mrs Janes did tell the press that it was her opinion that the British troops in Afghanistan were not adequately armed or equipped and Mr Brown did promise a full report on the circumstances of Corporal Janes' death, the Afghan war is not the purpose of this column.

The letter of condolence is. The Palace also sends out such letters but on other, less grim occasions, it handles things differently.

When and if I am a hundred years old the Queen, or King William, will send me not a handwritten note but a telegram of congratulation which will no doubt be printed on a PC computer. His office, according to the bureau of statistics, will be busy every day with perhaps hundreds and thousands of these telegrams because the health, and consequently the longevity, of the nation has improved by leaps and bounds. Very many more British people will, a few decades into this century, live to be over a hundred years old.

It will be a task then for the monarch, or his office, to send out greetings to each of them and I suppose an email or text message will have to suffice. Not the same thing, though.

A telegram was always special, bringing what was supposed to be urgent news, a pressing greeting, an emergency communication, a last-minute notification, the fastest means of having a written message transmitted from the remote redoubts of the world.

When, in Victorian times the telegraph was first established in India and used almost exclusively by the Army and administration of the East India Company, it contributed to the defeat of the uprising of Indian mercenary sepoys in the employ of that company.

And telegrams were, no doubt, instrumental in the slaughter of the First World War. Beyond the Khyber there were no wires at the time and the Afghan wars in which the British colonial troops were massacred to a man may have had other outcome if there had been — but that's idle speculation, perhaps the fate of foreign troops in Afghanistan would not be affected by any technological innovation — not telegrams or drone aircraft.
E.M. Forster used the telegram in Howard's End to symbolise a world gone wrong. His phrase "telegrams and anger" is often quoted even now, but I wonder whether a generation of English readers puzzles over the word, referring to a dictionary to fathom what the hell a "telegram" was, as they haven't existed since they were abolished by the Royal Mail three decades ago.

The Royal greeting via telegram is the lone privileged survivor though I am certain that it will be supplanted by face-to-face-book ("What's a book, grandpa?") greetings where King William with his fetching grin will greet the centenarians personally on Skype or some succeeding technology which will allow him to bestow a kiss or a hug on the recipient.

Which leads me to wonder if telegrams are still used in India. I haven't heard of one for some time — the email and mobile phone having sufficiently penetrated the stratum of society which I am likely to read or hear about.
I remember the old institution whereby a domestic servant or other lowly employee desperately seeking a break would receive a telegram saying "Mother-in-law hopeless!"

There it was in Indian Post Office type on the khaki form with white ticker tape and a red embossment, and it would be proffered and presented to the employer to entreat his or her mercy and allow the domestic in question a few days' leave to go back to his or her village and deal with the hopelessness.

Though technology has moved on and there is certainly a miniscule change in the way domestic servants are treated by some, the rise in the number of servant-employing classes in our cities may still mean that some of the labour is restless and feel the yoke of bondage. They can, one presumes, have emails sent to them or even an SMS text message saying: "M-in-l hplss!" It just doesn't seem to have the same urgency.








Should we use taxes to deter financial speculation? Yes, say top British officials, who oversee the City of London, one of the world's two great banking centres. Other European governments agree — and they're right.

Unfortunately, United States officials — especially Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary — are dead set against the proposal. Let's hope they reconsider: a financial transactions tax is an idea whose time has come.
The dispute began back in August, when Adair Turner, Britain's top financial regulator, called for a tax on financial transactions as a way to discourage "socially useless" activities. Gordon Brown, the British Prime Minister, picked up on his proposal, which he presented at the Group of 20 meeting of leading economies this month.

Why is this a good idea? The Turner-Brown proposal is a modern version of an idea originally floated in 1972 by the late James Tobin, the Nobel-winning Yale economist.

Tobin argued that currency speculation — money moving internationally to bet on fluctuations in exchange rates — was having a disruptive effect on the world economy. To reduce these disruptions, he called for a small tax on every exchange of currencies.

Such a tax would be a trivial expense for people engaged in foreign trade or long-term investment; but it would be a major disincentive for people trying to make a fast buck (or euro, or yen) by outguessing the markets over the course of a few days or weeks. It would, as Tobin said, "throw some sand in the well-greased wheels" of speculation.

Tobin's idea went nowhere at the time. Later, much to his dismay, it became a favourite hobbyhorse of the anti-globalisation left. But the Turner-Brown proposal, which would apply a "Tobin tax" to all financial transactions — not just those involving foreign currency — is very much in Tobin's spirit. It would be a trivial expense for long-term investors, but it would deter much of the churning that now takes place in our hyperactive financial markets.
This would be a bad thing if financial hyperactivity were productive. But after the debacle of the past two years, there's broad agreement — I'm tempted to say, agreement on the part of almost everyone not on the financial industry's payroll — with Mr Turner's assertion that a lot of what Wall Street and the City do is "socially useless". And a transactions tax could generate substantial revenue, helping alleviate fears about government deficits. What's not to like?

The main argument made by opponents of a financial transactions tax is that it would be unworkable, because traders would find ways to avoid it. Some also argue that it wouldn't do anything to deter the socially damaging behaviour that caused our current crisis. But neither claim stands up to scrutiny.

On the claim that financial transactions can't be taxed: modern trading is a highly centralised affair. Take, for example, Tobin's original proposal to tax foreign exchange trades. How can you do this, when currency traders are located all over the world? The answer is, while traders are all over the place, a majority of their transactions are settled — i.e., payment is made — at a single London-based institution. This centralisation keeps the cost of transactions low, which is what makes the huge volume of wheeling and dealing possible. It also, however, makes these transactions relatively easy to identify and tax. What about the claim that a financial transactions tax doesn't address the real problem? It's true that a transactions tax wouldn't have stopped lenders from making bad loans, or gullible investors from buying toxic waste backed by those loans.

But bad investments aren't the whole story of the crisis. What turned those bad investments into catastrophe was the financial system's excessive reliance on short-term money.

As Gary Gorton and Andrew Metrick of Yale have shown, by 2007 the United States banking system had become crucially dependent on "repo" transactions, in which financial institutions sell assets to investors while promising to buy them back after a short period — often a single day. Losses in subprime and other assets triggered a banking crisis because they undermined this system — there was a "run on repo".

And a financial transactions tax, by discouraging reliance on ultra-short-run financing, would have made such a run much less likely.

So contrary to what the skeptics say, such a tax would have helped prevent the current crisis — and could help us avoid a future replay. Would a Tobin tax solve all our problems? Of course not. But it could be part of the process of shrinking our bloated financial sector. On this, as on other issues, the Obama administration needs to free its mind from Wall Street's thrall.








What lessons does the shortlived return of the Ayodhya issue hold for the BJP? Far from gripping popular imagination, the Justice M.S. Liberhan Commission report on the political circumstances and general conspiracy that culminated in the demolition of the disputed structure in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, has ended in an anti-climax. In less than a week, the entire report has been made public, scrutinised and dismissed as largely irrelevant.


One reason for this is, of course, Justice Liberhan's penchant for obiter dicta. Rather than a narrow focused inquiry into how the law was breached on that fateful Sunday, his report is a general essay in obfuscation — "blaming everybody other than the man who appointed him", to quote a Congress MP. Some of his recommendations — give the National Integration Council statutory powers and ban its members from politics; stop doctors and engineers sitting the civil services examination; license journalists — are trite, undemocratic or unworkable, often all of these.


The more important realisation, however, is that India has moved on. Ayodhya has long ceased to be a political magnet or even a compelling subject of public interest. As pensioners from the Ram movement of the 1980s and '90s were wheeled out before television cameras this week, most contemporary Indians were left bewildered. In screaming and shouting and feigning anguish, tired individuals and spent forces were playing out their fantasies. Nevertheless, yesterday's people were not making any impact on today's India.


Ideally, the lack of enthusiasm on Ayodhya should have a direct bearing on the wrenching struggle to define the future of the BJP. It could influence the debate between those who see the party as a political organisation and those who consider it the frontal wing of a millenarian cult.


Make no mistake, it is not as if the essential argument that underpinned the Ayodhya movement has been defeated. If a referendum were conducted, it is still likely that a majority of Hindus would want a temple built at the site, rather than a mosque or a non-denominational building.


However — and this is the big difference from 1990-92 — not too many Hindus are willing to see temple construction as an overriding priority, one deemed more critical than economic well-being, aspirations for themselves and their children, an expansive global identity for India, the need to secure Indians from the fear of terrorism.


The society that responded to a protest movement two decades ago — and the Ram Janmabhoomi agitation was, really, a gigantic protest movement against perceived failures of the Nehruvian consensus — has evolved into one that is more choosy, has nuanced ambitions and lower tolerance for political adventurism and direct action. The restiveness of agitprop has ceded space to concerns about governance. The age of Hindutva has passed; in a sense, it has yielded to the idea of Ram Rajya.


Unfortunately, not every stakeholder in the BJP is alive to this reality or conscious of this evolution. Certainly, there is no evidence that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which has taken upon itself the task of repositioning the BJP, is equal to the job.


It seems to believe, for instance, that rhetoric on cow protection — the subject of the ongoing "Vishwa Mangal Gau Gram Yatra" — offhand statements on China and Tibet, and a non-sequitur announcement that Pakistan and Afghanistan are candidates for merger with India will automatically be transformed into mainstream issues, win and lose elections and shape national policy. The Ram temple only completes this catalogue.


Two decades ago, Hindu grievance was the centrepiece of the BJP's all-India platform. Ayodhya was a totemic symbol of this emotionalism. Now, the challenge before the BJP is to craft a pan-national appeal that will stay meaningful till the early 2020s. Whatever else this may or may not contain, it is difficult to believe responsive governance, economic hope, a technocratic rather than maximalist state, a less regulated and more entrepreneurial society and a secure India will not be part of the mix.


To convert these broad goals into workable policies will take astute political minds, not Sangh hand-me-downs. For instance, it would not do for the RSS top brass, in one of its now habitual media interactions, to say the Sangh is not opposed to industrialisation — name one person who claims he is — or that India should have attacked Pakistan in 2001 or that Akhand Bharat is an imminent reality.


Such pronouncements only expose the RSS to ridicule. It is dismissed as a collection of day-dreamers and drawing-room warriors with nothing substantial to contribute to public policy-making. Indeed, by stepping into areas they have no idea about, RSS busybodies are doing a Liberhan — going beyond their core competency and giving themselves the status of all-purpose ombudsmen. True, the BJP has a million problems and, as it stands, does not look electable or wholesome. Even so, the alternative to a party run by small-time crooks is not a party run by big-time cranks.


The Sangh and the BJP's would-be sole proprietors need to ponder the Congress' response to the Liberhan report. The ruling party has been tepid and largely non-committal in the face of the judge's admittedly hazy recommendations. It has not sought to dramatise its attack on the BJP and has been mindful of not provoking either Hindus or Muslims.


This is a calculated political call. The Congress is on the ascendant in Uttar Pradesh, having diligently won back both Muslim support and the favour of Brahmins and urban middle classes who self-identify as Hindus. It has no desire to rake up a slumbering issue such as Ayodhya and interrupt its carefully put together plan for the 2012 assembly election in the state.


Is the BJP even serious about challenging the Congress' emergent domination? A quiet burial of the Ayodhya business — after the usual quota of impassioned speeches and made-for-television sombreness — would perhaps offer a positive clue.


Ashok Malik can be contacted at [1]








Being at an International Film Festival of India (IFFI) is always like being in a marathon — you are constantly dashing about, trying to fit in more than is humanly possible. There are films, interactions and, of course, multiple parties, every night! In the last few years I have noticed that the film festival in Goa is falling into a somewhat comfortable pattern — with the usual celebrities, as well as some new rising stars from India and abroad.


There is always an interesting package of films to view and if not, the weather is wonderful, the sea is warm and inviting, and the streets of Panjim are decked up like a long wedding celebration.


However, despite the positive factors, there are always those whose personal angst will make the glass half-empty. So among the down-to-earth filmi lot who are happy to imbibe the atmosphere and enjoy the moment, there are also the few snooty "real filmwallas", the moaners whose major achievement is to increase the level of global warming. Wrapped in their impervious cocoon of fame they forget that the glittering world of celebrity is ephemeral and that life on the red carpet does not ensure an eternal glow of notoriety. However, a few starry tantrums to settle the government officials who have invited them is always a good media story, so why not?


And so year after year, the media will mutter about "mismanagement and chaos" whereas actually I find that there are significant improvements taking place in the organisation of the festival every year.


Talking to those who actually run international film festivals we know that glitches happen the world over, except that most of them do not make headlines. Most desis who show their films at other festivals, however, are quick to condemn the home-grown IFFI but dare not say anything about their own treatment abroad: because if they complain, they might not get invited again?


This year at IFFI, I have enjoyed myself even more because I had a great time collecting material for my lecture at the festival on "Adaptation from literature for Hindi cinema". It is born out of a fury I often feel when I am in seminars and "learned discussions" in the UK and elsewhere where people talk about the lack of scripts and good ideas in Hindi cinema because they do not bother to delve deeper into the large treasure house of films which are actually based on literature.


And these are films that are obviously far more exciting than the usual bland Bollywood fare. To begin with, many of these "literary" films are based on unusual characters, off-beat themes and fascinating plots. I chose to talk about, not the ubiquitous Devdas, but Guide, Teesri Kasam and Shatranj Ke Khiladi, all adapted from literature. And when one reads the stories in the original form it is easy to understand why the director would have selected them. For instance, when I recently re-read The Guide by R.K. Narayan and compared it to the film, I was struck by the fact that actually the book is more impudent than the film. Though it was considered very avant garde at the time, the film is fairly conservative in its treatment of the story of an adulterous relationship.


Written more than 50 years ago, the audacious book is a racy recollection of the life of Raju the guide and his paramour, the whimsical, capricious Rosie who can live with one man while dreaming of the other, without remorse or guilt. Rosie will eventually lead to Raju's downfall and imprisonment. Yet, in the book, she is an intriguing character who is also a talented dancer. But the real story belongs to Raju.


In the film, on the other hand, director Vijay Anand (who incidentally had initially refused to make the film) changed this balance: the film belongs equally to Raju and Rosie since otherwise the unconventional love story would have bombed at the box office.


Therefore, Rosie is repackaged for us: from Narayan's complex minx, she is simplified into a dance-obsessed frustrated housewife. For the viewing masses, the repackaging of Rosie made her action (of running away and living with a man who wasn't her husband) more acceptable. Even so, Waheeda Rehman (who coincidentally was the chief guest at IFFI this year) had been warned at the time that acting the part of Rosie was like committing professional suicide. The film thus became middle-class melodrama, while the book remains a sophisticated exposition of the life of one man who turns from a sinner into a saint. Narayan's subtle humour and wit were mostly lost in translation.


However, another wonderful film Teesri Kasam, which was based on a short story by Phaneshwarnath Renu, was much more faithful to the original. Reading Teesri Kasam today is like doing a quick piece of time travel: it is a superb visually-intense, dialogue-rich story which even has references to songs (Sajanva bairi ho gaye hamaar, and Lalli lalli doliya mein mein lalli re dulhaniya) which were faithfully incorporated by director Basu Bhattacharya into the film.


Here, too, is another very unusual relationship between a bullock cart driver, Hiraman, and Heerabai, a "company ki aurat", i.e., a professional entertainer, a dancing girl, again played by Waheeda Rehman. The film and the short story are closely twinned, but the former diverges towards the end as, once again, the director feels compelled to expand the character of the dancer. Obviously, he has tried to arouse our sympathies towards her so that ultimately, as in Guide, we are able to comprehend the love that could have developed between Hiraman and Heerabai. Since once again it will be unrequited love, it is even more essential that we are moved by the plight of the two suffering lovers. In the short story, however, Renu is far more subtle — merely hinting at the romance, which ends before anything happens.


In Shatranj Ke Khilari (based on a short story by Premchand) the changes are even more extreme. It is obvious that successful directors such as Satyajit Ray could confidentially take a central idea from a piece of literature and sculpt it into something quite different. Ray not only changed the ending of the story (the two chess-mad protagonists do not kill each other over a game of chess but instead decide to play on after a futile quarrel), he, in fact, made the film into a far stronger allegory of a political chess game: the tussle between Wajid Ali Shah, the ruler of Awadh, and the British over the annexation of his kingdom.


And so while giving this lecture in balmy Goa, I am now convinced that the best films always emerge from literature! And happily I am now meeting many new producers/directors who are actually sourcing literature for their new films!


The writer can be contacted at [1]








One of the profound mysteries of medicine is why in the midst of an epidemic some people become severely ill and die while others remain unscathed. During the great plagues of past centuries, like the Black Death, smallpox and yellow fever, the answer was often cast in religious terms: Survival was a miracle and succumbing was a punishment. During this influenza pandemic of H1N1, doctors and health officials invoke "underlying conditions". This phrase, now so ubiquitous in news reports, is rightly understood to mean concurrent medical problems like diabetes and lung disease. But such underlying conditions are only part of the mystery of why this flu is so mild for some and so serious for others.


When faced with a new infectious outbreak, clinicians treat the sick while epidemiologists collect data on their characteristics: their age, gender, ethnic background, medical history, current medications and social factors like where they travelled and whom they contacted. Early in the H1N1 epidemic, health experts had an advantage in identifying risk factors for severe diseases because past cases of seasonal influenza proved, in part, to be prologue. Familiar predisposing conditions like chronic lung disease, diabetes, heart trouble, immunosuppressive disorders and pregnancy were present in many early deaths. With that knowledge, health officials tried to help the public find the midpoint between complacency and panic. But they were somewhat hamstrung in providing details about individual deaths in order to protect the confidentiality of patients and families; so in many instances, officials resorted to using that general phrase underlying conditions as an explanation. The result was that people who had such conditions appropriately felt increased concern while those without them felt a greater level of comfort.


But over the past weeks, the first scientific papers have been published in prominent medical journals detailing the demographics and medical histories of hundreds of patients who required hospitalisation and, in many instances, died. According to these reports, many of the patients who became very ill with H1N1 did, in fact, have the same underlying conditions as those who often develop severe seasonal flu.


Epidemiologists also found unexpected correlations between severe H1N1 flu and problems like obesity, hypertension and increased blood lipids. In Australia and New Zealand, aboriginal and Maori peoples were disproportionately stricken — as were Native American and Inuit populations in Canada. We also learned that in the United States, more than 25 per cent of all those hospitalised seem to have had no major underlying conditions. We learned important lessons from AIDS by moving from bedside observation to laboratory investigation, as epidemiologists and clinicians worked closely with basic scientists. As the virus spread, individuals were identified who did not become infected despite significant exposure to HIV.


HIV, like many other viruses, has proteins and sugars on its surface that allow it to attach to human cells at specific docking sites called receptors. Harnessing the power of modern molecular biology, researchers found that some people who were amply exposed to HIV yet did not become infected had a genetic difference in their receptors that prevented the virus from effectively attaching and entering their cells. This discovery led to a new drug to treat those with AIDS who did not have this genetic advantage, protecting yet uninfected cells from the virus. A similar strategy of studying the immune system of people who resist infection versus those who rapidly succumb is being applied to pathogens like hepatitis C.

Jerome Groopman, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and Pamela Hartzband are attending physicians at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre and professors at Harvard Medical School.








THE twin initiatives are decidedly vital and next month's climate control summit in Copenhagen can be expected to make some headway, if not reach an agreement just yet. And the initiatives have been announced by two seemingly adversarial polluters. Thursday's announcement by President Obama to reduce US greenhouse emissions by 17 per cent coincides with China's resolve to cut the growth rate of carbon output by 40 per cent. As a curtain-raiser to the UN-sponsored summit, the two signals of intent give rise to some hope. In the fullness of time, a multilateral treaty can perhaps be worked out. The USA never did have a formal target on emissions control, a prerequisite that the developing countries, pre-eminently India and China, had insisted on for any movement in climate control negotiations. The contours of the US blueprint are still not clear; the response of Congress must remain a vital factor. The White House has been circumspect enough to assert that the target will be "ultimately in line with final US energy and climate legislation." Suffice it to register that this is the first time that the USA has gone public with its target. No less crucial is the fact that President Obama will be present in Copenhagen.

On balance, China's resolve to effect a 40 per cent cut in CO2 emissions by 2020 ~ compared with 2005 levels ~ appears to be more ambitious not least because it is as big a polluter as the USA. Considering the pace of China's industrialisation, this may not amount to very much over the next decade. But one must concede that this is the first time that a fairly categoric resolve has been conveyed to the world by either country. Ironically enough, Beijing's announcement coincided with another day of smog, underscoring the ever so imperative need to clear the air. The decision has been packaged by the State Council as a "voluntary action and a major contribution to the global effort in tackling climate change." A beginning has been made barely two weeks before the world leaders converge in Copenhagen. A great deal now hinges on the rest of the developed bloc and also, of course, India.







A chief minister confronted by rapidly declining fortunes has kept himself away from candid encounters, turning instead to mass contacts in a desperate attempt to recover lost ground. His latest appearance on television was made easier since the channel is known to be "friendly'' if not directly engaged in fighting his party's battles. That helped Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to suggest that he is still passionately concerned about welfare of the masses. Anyone else from the CPI-M echoing similar sentiments ~ from Biman Bose who runs into foot-in-the-mouth accidents to Prakash Karat who is fighting off criticism that he had brought it all on the party by ditching the UPA ~ may have sounded amusing. The chief minister can declare with a hint of honesty that he is not inclined to hold office when it is not justified. But it is surprising that, after a series of staggering reverses, he should imagine there is room for conjecture on whether his government has lost public confidence. The question of a "fractured verdict'' arises when large sections of the electorate remain untouched. Even a politician with incredible skills in verbal jugglery cannot claim that people have not spoken through the ballot over the past few months.

That puts a question mark on the chief minister's position as a principled politician and his effort to draw a line between rights and responsibilities. When would he admit that the responsibility of fulfilling aspirations of millions as head of the government has ended and made way for the conclusion that the moral right to continue does not exist? Obviously, the choice of the moment is driven by compulsions that the Left does not as yet accept. Like any other party or coalition, it is averse to the idea of relinquishing power till the final bell. Mr Bhattacharjee is a loyal soldier and it is no secret that the dividing line between party and government has disappeared. The justification of the status quo as long as it is constitutionally valid is a straw that the Left clutches like any other ruling party. Morality in politics is as irrelevant as the thumping majority in the assembly that the chief minister may not reassert now in the manner he did at public meetings two years ago. More than principles, it is a matter of privileges of power and the possibility that miracles (or mistakes by a triumphant opposition) can yet save the Left. In the meantime, Mr Bhattacharjee can only offer incredible arguments.







A CLOSE call it was. The "caning" that the ancient observatory of Jantar Mantar took when sugarcane growers recently staged a mass protest could so easily have spilled over. Indeed more serious trouble was averted because shopkeepers in Janpath spotted trouble brewing and downed their shutters long before the police advised them to do so. Still, the damage caused to the fencing around the heritage site, the agitators leaving behind piles of litter ~ including empty liquor bottles ~ and human waste must set alarm bells ringing. It is bad enough that when Parliament is in session the Jantar Mantar area plays constant host to protesters of all description, traffic across the city is disrupted by "long marches" by Opposition parties (religious processions prove no less disruptive), but the threat of violence is very real should the agitators decide to challenge the police cordons and try to get up, close and personal to the legislature complex. Some folk still recall the damage to cars and buildings ~ as far back down the road as Connaught Place ~ when a protest by sadhus turned violent in the mid-1960s. And then when Raj Narain led a Socialist Party rally in the early 1970s. That can so easily happen again, the risk of collateral damage runs skyscraper high.

A twin-pronged remedy is necessary. Another "Hyde Park" will have to be found. Jantar Mantar/Parliament Street has too many banks and offices to play host to agitators. The experiment to shift them to where the original Boat Club was located (the venue of massive kisan rallies of Charan Singh and Indira Gandhi) was abandoned because of concerns over the ambience of the unique Central Vista (one of Tikait's ventures heavily fertilised the lawns), now the police are thinking aloud about the Ramlila Ground. While that may be at a "safe distance" from Parliament it too has commercial buildings nearby, and getting crowds there would also throw traffic out of gear. Presently the police, and to some extent the civic bodies, bear the brunt of agitators but it is time the political parties that organise the mass protests accept some responsibility too. A limit on numbers has to be complied with, party workers deployed to check violence. The tragedy is that while netas from across the country strive for their pound of flesh from "New Delhi", they care little for the Dilliwallah who is left bleeding.








THE expert group, set up by the Planning Commission in May 2006, to examine the development process and identify the factors behind the increasing social discontent and extremism, submitted its report on 28 April 2009. It makes the crucial point that governance has been generally indifferent. The Constitution tells us that the people are predominantly poor. It is an unequal and iniquitous society and the caste system signifies a grotesque system of inequality.

The Constitution has provided for two sets of rights ~ justiciable and non-justiciable. The former is called the fundamental rights and the latter the Directive Principles of State Policy. The first is enforceable by the courts and the second is politically enforceable. There are express provisions in the politically enforceable part. There are inter alia provisions against concentration of wealth and inequitable distribution of resources to the detriment of the common man. The government should constantly monitor the welfare of the people, notably social, economic and political justice. Failure to fulfil these obligations has resulted in protests, dharnas and other forms of agitation. The emergence of the Maoist movement is embedded in the failure of the governments to execute the mandate of the Constitution.


According to the expert committee, 58 per cent of the country's population depends on agriculture and allied occupations. The importance of land and its co-relation with livelihood was realised even during our struggle for independence. Land to the tiller was one of the early slogans of the Indian National Congress. In due course of time, the commitment to land reform was dropped. The poor, who was entitled to land for his livelihood, was deprived of his rights.
The Planning Commission's expert committee observed: "The poor have depended upon common property resources such as forests, pastures and water sources for the satisfaction of their basic survival needs. With the increasing tendency to see all resources as sources of profit the poor are being deprived of whatever access they had to such resources."

The Government of India's rope-trick points to an ascending growth rate. It is now 9 per cent ~ yet another optical illusion. The committee stated: "But it is a matter of common observation that the inequalities between classes, town and country and between upper castes and the underprivileged communities are increasing. The Constitution's mandate (Article 39) to prevent concentration of wealth in a few hands is ignored in policy-making."

The committee has referred to the failure of successive governments to look into the Constitutional provision of distributive justice. It has pointed out that the ruling parties, in the Centre and the states, have consistently avoided the Constitution's guidelines.

Far from enforcing the recommendations, the establishment has been blaming the Maoist movement as the obstacle to the country's progress. Misrule or indifferent governance always gives the deprived the right to revolt. And this revolt is now being led by the Maoists. In 2004, they were virtually wiped out in Andhra Pradesh, but they have regrouped and extended their operations to several states. Indeed, the CPI (Maoist) is now a potent revolutionary force in West Bengal. It is a state with a Marxist government and generally Left tradition. It also has a strong presence of Maoists who are convinced that distortions have come to plague the administration. The trend is pronounced in Singur, Nandigram and Lalgarh.  According to Comrade Ganapathi, the Maoists are now entrenched in 15 states.

Confronted with the possibility of Maoist insurgency and the equally possible large- scale social disorder, violence and instability, the home minister has announced his willingness for talks with the Maoists. It is important to realise that the talks can't be in the nature of employer-employee negotiations. Nor for that matter will the negotiations be geared towards an agreement between antagonistic forces. This is an attempt to prevent social disorder which can have prolonged and disastrous consequences. At stake is not the federal principle. It is the people and their well-being that are at stake principally in the affected states. This has to be kept in mind by the national government, the Maoist party and citizens' organisations. The Government of India will have to abide by the Constitution and implement the report of its own committee.


THE talks ought to be conducted within the broad parameters laid down by the Constitution, its Preamble and the Directive Principles. The government cannot go beyond the limitations imposed by the Constitution. Nor can it refuse to enforce these provisions. The Maoists must be prepared to accept these political realities and negotiate over what is contained in the Preamble and the Directives Principles. Socialism must be interpreted in terms of the Preamble and not in the Marxist, Leninist or Maoist sense. It must be interpreted in the context of what Einstein wrote in Why Socialism.

A belief in the principles of distributive justice, as envisaged by Western jurists after the socialist revolutions, would be adequate to judge whether a country's governance is in accord with the well-accepted principles of rights and justice involving the lives of millions of the poor. It is not a game between political parties to gain political advantage. It should be an effort to bring about a better world.

Human beings have reached a stage where they are no longer afraid of death and violence. They have been facing a variety of natural disasters, the latest being tsunami. We have been warned of the consequences of global warming. Malthus and his theory of population have been disproved. Has population diminished on account of disasters, pestilence and epidemics?

Peace talks can pre-empt violent social disorder. The idea is innovative. We must be aware of the complexities of the process of bringing the Maoists and the Government of India to negotiate. The Maoists should tell the government to enforce the report of the Planning Commission's expert committee and thus fulfil the fundamental obligations of the State.

(The writer is the all-India president of People's Union for Civil Liberties)








Few things are as potent as spectacle. The president of India in an anti-gravity suit and helmet, sitting in the co-pilot's seat in a Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jet, is fairly spectacular, particularly because she is a woman. There was less effusion when the former president, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, flew in a Sukhoi jet in 2006, and less frenzy in seizing upon symbolic dimensions of the flight. Certainly Pratibha Patil has made history in more ways than one, most obviously in being the first woman head of State to fly in a warplane. And it could not have been easy. It was a display of courage, spirit, trust in the men in uniform and enviable fitness. It was as if she was telling the world that the Indian armed forces had no reason to hide away their supreme commander — she could be out there with the best of them. She said she wanted to experience the efficiency of air force pilots, focus on the "spirit of sacrifice" of the armed forces and let them know that the country was with them. The symbolic import of that, so close to the first anniversary of 26/11, would no doubt have been valuable. The former president's flight too would have been similarly symbolic. But the greater impact came from the unexpectedness of Ms Patil's gesture — her image of traditional sobriety is a startling contrast to the figure in a combat pilot's G-suit.


India loves its symbols, but is conveniently inconsistent about accepting the symbolism. To go by the symbolism of the image the president presented is also to accept that women would have no problems in fighter planes. Although the president — as befit her position — remained charmingly non-committal about the issue of women flying combat aircraft, she did say that she had no doubt of women's capabilities. Naturally. Yet, the entry and progress of women in the Indian armed forces have not been easy, and certain episodes suggest that the work environment has not yet begun to alter adequately to accommodate women. Things are changing, but too slowly. There are certain areas of work still barred to women, not out of their choice, but through the policies of a paternalistic institution that decides what is best suited to women. Women have limited options in the forces.


The president in a Sukhoi may be an inspiring sight, but whom does it inspire? Maybe the armed forces, perhaps even elderly women with spirit and opportunity. It is easy to celebrate the actions of a woman in a ceremonial position — India is good at that. No culture in the modern world has so many powerful female deities, and few societies treat their women worse. A symbol can be enclosed in an iconic image of aspiration; it need not translate into an attempt to create gender-neutral policies of assessment in the armed forces or a welcoming environment for women. The president may have created history, but it may be long before India experiences its impact.









Iraqis dismiss it as "aimless soul-searching". Macaulay might have called it another of those "periodic fits of morality" that the public find so ridiculous. Yet, the lacklustre Gordon Brown's courageous promise that "no British documents and no British witnesses will be beyond (the) scope of the inquiry" into the Iraq war that opened in London on Tuesday will deserve even higher praise if it is carried to its logical conclusion to establish responsibility for what the Daily Mail called "the illegal toppling of Saddam". The Mail might have added "and murder" to toppling.


An ethical conclusion in London can set a precedent for Washington where the bigger guilt lies. Unfortunately, Brown's own responsibility will probably end before Sir John Chilcot, a career diplomat, and his four colleagues present their report. But the terms of reference strike at the secrecy that customarily shrouds governance and which we take for granted in India. It's all right producing a report on Kargil that is reckoned a triumph, but the quality of democracy would have improved immeasurably if five independent investigators had similarly been allowed access to documents and witnesses after the 1962 debacle. It might have helped to exorcize the ghost of Neville Maxwell's slur on Jawaharlal Nehru's forward policy and also given us a better understanding of what China is upto today.


Britain did not suffer similar ignominy in Iraq but revelations about the how and why of the invasion could be more demoralizing in the long term than physical setback. It is bad enough for the prime minister of the time, now living on his sparkle and making money hand over fist as he nurses global ambitions, to be shown up as a dedicated liar. Though Tony Blair told parliament that he received "detailed, extensive and authoritative" intelligence on weapons of mass destruction, the intelligence community had actually told him their information was "limited, sporadic and patchy". By pandering to George W. Bush's paranoia, Blair betrayed the sense of history that impelled Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour prime minister, to speak of Britain's "status in the world based on the righteousness of its actions". He turned the old joke about Britain being the 51st state of the United States of America into reality without demanding any of the assurances and guarantees that even Margaret Thatcher would have done.


Much of this was already known. Six years of fighting and insurgency in Iraq, two British parliamentary inquiries, Lord Hutton's investigation into the death of the scientist, David Kelly, Lord Butler's into the use of intelligence in the run-up to the invasion, and relentless media campaigning left few stones unturned. The titled high mandarins testifying before Chilcot are only crossing t's and dotting i's. What still remains obscure, however, is why Blair swallowed hook, line and sinker the Bush fantasy that invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein was essential for the peace and tranquillity of the Western world, and how he sold this to his party, parliament and the press. Robin Cook, the foreign secretary who ruffled South Block's feathers, bravely refused to be taken in and made a spirited speech denouncing the war. Clare Short, too, quit the government in protest. But no one else, not even Brown, dared even squeak. Labour politicians feared losing their jobs; Tories are always game for teaching uppity natives a lesson.


Yet, a former ambassador to Saudi Arabia confirmed on the first day of the inquiry that the invasion had nothing to do with Iraq's supposed nuclear arsenal. Bush hankered to oust Saddam from the moment he was elected in November 2001 even before he discovered a justification in the aim "to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, to end Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism and to free the Iraqi people". Condoleezza Rice warned that "nothing will change" in Iraq until Saddam was gone. Others proposed arming the Iraqi opposition. According to a former chairman of Britain's joint intelligence committee, the US was "scrambling to establish a link between Iraq and Al-Qaeda". It sounded "like a grudge match between Bush and Saddam". The "drumbeat" of war became stronger as the Pentagon emerged as the dominant force.


This is the most sinister aspect of the crisis. History was changed, a country destroyed, cities devastated, thousands of people killed and millions others plunged into suffering (including Iraqis who were tortured and murdered in detention centres like Abu Ghraib) because no one could check an obsessive megalomaniac. Bush may be India's friend, but Nero lives in everlasting infamy for less. Chilcot's inquiry is not, however, concerned with Bush's criminal hallucinations; it focuses on Britain's role. Even then, its remit is limited. Chilcot's is "not a court or an inquest or a statutory inquiry". He cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that: "No one is on trial".


A marked difference from our Shah Commission, which had no doubts about guilt before proceedings even began. Chilcot's warning that members of the public would be thrown out if they disrupt the proceedings is another point of departure. Members of the public at the Shah Commission were welcome to be as disruptive as they liked, providing it was on the right side. J.C. Shah himself dissolved in mirth when a government witness mocked a minor Emergency loyalist called Tamta as "Tamater"!


But this inquiry also suffers from serious drawbacks. Though Brown was forced to concede public hearings instead of the private proceedings he preferred, his government will censor the final report. No member has military experience, proven inquisitorial skills or electoral credentials. One of the panel's two historians once burbled that Bush and Blair could "join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill". The other provided the five tests for military intervention that Blair cited to back his action. As a former private secretary to John Major, the third member is as much a member of the establishment as Baroness Usha Prashar, who chairs the Judicial Appointments Commission. Perhaps it's to live down this charge that Chilcot is urging ordinary members of the public to give evidence and wants relatives of soldiers who were killed in Iraq to ask questions.


So far so good. But will the inquiry get to the heart of the matter? It's known that the British foreign office, too, contemplated "regime change" but abandoned the "option" as illegal. Lord Goldsmith, the attorney-general, did not think regime change "a legal basis for military action." Foreign office pundits regarded the Balkans, Sierra Leone and Afghanistan greater threats to the peace: Iraq could be contained through sanctions. At least sanctions were imposed by the United Nations; the "no flying zones" that Britain and the US forced on northern and southern Iraq enjoyed no legality save waffle about common law authorizing governments to act in their discretion to avert humanitarian catastrophes. This was victor's injustice even before victory.


Like Bush, Blair didn't talk of regime change to start with. "Our purpose is to disarm Iraq of weapons of mass destruction," he said. MI6 did not think there were any to disarm. Hans Blix, the chief UN inspector, told Blair so to his face. But witnesses confirmed that Blair assured Bush during their tête-à-tête at the latter's Crawford ranch in April 2002 — nearly a year before the invasion — that Britain would support military action "to bring about regime change". Books, papers, leaks and reports show how documents were crafted, evidence fabricated and words twisted. Brown's assurance about Chilcot's mandate means that both he and Blair can be called upon to testify. That commitment must be kept if this inquiry is to sustain respect. War crimes are not for Radovan Karadzic alone. Impeachment did not end with Robert Clive. The burden of the future bears down on Chilcot as he steers a careful path between whitewash and witch-hunt. Washington is watching.







The unrelenting rise is the prices of essential food items and vegetables is the most serious economic challenge for the government now. Food price inflation is above 15 per cent consecutively for the second week and there is no sign of it softening. The actual prices in the market are worse than the figures. Potato prices have doubled in one year and those of onions and pulses have increased by more than 40 per cent.

All items are becoming unaffordable, with even the most lowly ones mocking the buyers. The agriculture minister has said that price rise will continue and the Planning Commission says there is unlikely to be any relief till December end. The prime minister's economic advisor says the worst is yet to come. The wholesale price index which is hovering above one per cent now might go up to six per cent by March. The food prices are expected to rise further in tandem.

Continuous rise in the minimum support prices of agricultural commodities and an inefficient supply chain from the farm to the consumer have always been unhelpful factors. While MSPs ensure protection for farmers, an imperfect implementation of the regime has led to much of the gains not going to them and the cost being paid by the consumer. These are long-term issues but the immediate cause for the price rise now is the expected fall in kharif production due to poor monsoons and destruction of crops due to floods in some states. The kharif production may be short by 21 million tonnes. Rice and coarse grain output would be badly hit. The government expects the rabi crops to do better but that is months away and cannot provide immediate relief. It has sufficient exchange reserves for imports. Rice imports and the scrapping of import duty on rice may help but the situation on the ground is very grim now.

While the PDS needs to be strengthened to protect the weaker sections, who will be the worst hit, measures to check hoarding and speculation are needed to keep the prices in the open market in check. Even the middle-class and well-to-do sections are badly affected. There is no sign of any pro-active initiative by the government to check malpractices which create artificial scarcity and profiteering. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has said states also have a responsibility in keeping prices in check but passing the buck will not help the consumers.








It is to take advantage of his current popularity that Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa has decided to advance presidential polls by almost two years. Following the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in May this year, the Sri Lankan president has emerged as a Sinhala-Buddhist hero. And it is to win himself another six-year term as president before this wave of support begins to dissipate that Rajapaksa has gone in for early elections. While he does indeed enjoy immense popularity, it does seem he will have to fight for the vote of the Sinhala-Buddhist nationalists. This is because former Chief of Defence Staff Sarath Fonseka, who led the military operations against the LTTE and is far more of a 'war hero' than is Rajapaksa, is likely to challenge the president. Fonseka is expected to contest as the common candidate of a new opposition alliance of around a dozen political parties, ensuring a keen battle between him and Rajapaksa.

With the contest for the Sinhala vote likely to be close, neither of the candidates can afford to ignore the votes of the island's minority communities — the Tamils and the Muslims. And it is with this in mind that the two have made positive gestures towards the Tamils in recent days. In his resignation letter to the president last week, Fonseka expressed 'great concern' over the plight of nearly 2,00,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) still living in camps in northern Sri Lanka. Rajapaksa has sought to match that by announcing that all IDPs would be resettled by January 31. He has said that by early next month restrictions on the freedom of movement of the IDPs would be lifted.

For the lakhs of Tamils who have been languishing in the IDP camps, this is good news. They can leave the barbed wire camps to return home again. But what awaits them at home is another story. Very little infrastructure has survived the intense fighting that took place in Kilinochchi and Mullaitivu. The Tamils will need more than expressions of concern as they have suffered grievously. Fonseka and Rajapaksa will have to do more to erase the memory and devastation of a terrible war the former waged and the latter authorised.









After the Liberhan Commission findings' leak, the only other politically interesting news to leak out to the media is the still-to-be confirmed story that Kannada actress Radhika, who is linked to a prominent politician, delivered a baby girl, ostensibly her second, in a Bangalore hospital. Otherwise, it has been a supinely calm fortnight for Karnataka's recently volatile politics that almost wrecked BJP's first single party government in the south led by Chief Minister B S Yeddyurappa.

The Bellary Reddy brothers cum ministers, who piloted the recent dissident activity within the state BJP demanding a change of leadership, have temporarily halted their revolt as they must be busy fending off the twin attack on their mining business, which has been declared 'illegal', by the Supreme Court's central empowered committee as well as the Andhra Pradesh government. The cause celebre of their dissident movement, Shobha Karandlaje, who was dropped from the ministry like a hot brick by Yeddyurappa at the Reddy brothers' command, is keeping a low profile and an even lower voice, using her free time to circumambulate the flood-hit districts, Bellary not spared. Her no-nonsense approach impressed senior Congressman B Janardhana Poojary so much that he has voted her as the next chief minister-worthy!

But Yeddyurappa is in no mood to take on any challenge from within or outside his party for the moment. He has reportedly told the party's central leadership to leave him alone at least until he presents the next state budget. While his party leaders obliged him, he failed on the opposition front by ruffling the Congress feathers for showing no inclination to allow a CBI probe into the Reddys' mining 'scam', unlike his Andhra Pradesh counterpart. The Congress is also upset with the BJP government for cocking a snook at the constitutional authority of Governor H R Bhardwaj and criticising him for rapping it for its failure to provide timely and appropriate succour to flood victims even after drawing on huge Central funds.

The chief minister's so called competitor, the newly inducted Rural Development and Panchayat Raj Minister Jagadish Shettar, who dumped speakership of the Assembly to pursue active politics, is showing no inclination towards much activity, political or otherwise, either. He seems to be content with just his coronation and has settled well in his new assignment.


The rest of the BJP bandwagon, ministers, MLAs, MLCs and executives of various state-run boards and corporations, display varied states of uncertainty and inactivity, except that they were all looking a wee bit younger and sprightlier in schoolboy khakhi shorts and peaked caps, at the recent RSS rally in Bangalore. The sum total of it all is that the BJP central leadership's recent troubleshooting efforts in Karnataka managed just one result — operation failed, patients and disease alive!

The trust within the state BJP and party government is said to be so low that the right hand does not believe what the left is doing. Though all sides are overtly willing to blink first, nobody knows when the temporary truce might be violated and by whom. Everybody seem to be biding their time to get their revenge or demand their pound of flesh. And last but not the least, administration has gone on neutral gear.

The only sign of political activity is the run up to the election to 25 seats of the Karnataka Legislative Council to be held on December 18. Law, Parliamentary Affairs and Urban Development Minister Suresh Kumar, who is mostly identified with the Yeddyurappa camp, has valiantly claimed that the election would be fought on 'issues' like development works taken up by the BJP government and that the party was confident of bagging a majority of the seats. However, he adds in the same breath, that the outcome of the elections would not be a referendum on the performance of the state government as the 'issues' were different.

Whatever the issues, the Congress and Janata Dal (S) are planning to have a truck, which the BJP has described as 'unholy'. The genre of the tie-up apart, the Congress-JD(S) tie succeeded in 2008 Rajya Sabha and Legislative Council elections and if it succeeds this time as well, then the BJP will have a new cause to mope about.


That brings us to the elections to the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike or city corporation, which everybody seems to have given up on, going by the sordid state of Bangalore roads on normal days, let alone the mayhem when it rains. Even court and state election commission interventions seem to have had little impact on the state government, which appears to be in no great hurry to hold the polls.

Understandable in the present circumstances but how much longer does the government intend running the show without an elected council is the moot point. The BBMP polls have been due for more than two years.








 We have very few in our languages. The reason may be that Europeans and Americans consume a lot more alcohol than we Indians, and even those who drink, try to keep their identities under cover. Come to think of it, we don't have an equivalent for a hangover which follows excessive drinking or mixing different kinds of alcoholic beverages.

This brings me to the publication of what I can best describe as a drinking man or woman's dictionary compiled by Bhaichand Patel entitled 'Happy Hours & The Penguin Book of Cocktails'. It deals methodically with different kinds of whiskeys, gins, rums, brandies, liquors, beers — you name them, he tells you about them. And how to avoid or combat hangovers.

Bhaichand lives in a block next to mine. He is a Fijian Gujarati who I got to know in my years in Bombay. He held a good job in the UN and now gets a handsome dollar pension. He also has a valuable real estate in New Delhi — in short, he is never short of money. He is what the French call a bon viveur — (a good living). He believes that money is meant to be spent, not boarded. He travels round the globe at least once every year. When in Delhi, his top priority is partying. He throws the most lavish parties with vintage scotch, gourmet food and the best of wines. So he is well-qualified to write on liquor delights with authority. The most amusing part of his research is on the vast variety of cocktails with exotic names like fine & dandy, kiss in the dark, knickerbocker, maiden's blush, pink passport, seventh heaven, suffering bastard, kiss & tell, sex on the beach, etc. You can get tipsy reading about them.


In northern India there are different ways of addressing people depending on distances in relationship. The commonest is 'bhai' (brother) or more formally 'bhai sahib' or 'bhaiya'. However, care-takers of gurdwaras and raagis are also addressed as 'bhai sahibs' more to express respect than friendship. Amongst friends 'bhai' is used as expression of kinship and when discussing serious matters of life and death.

Closer than 'bhai' is 'dost' (friend). It is warmer than 'bhai'. We use it while talking about lighter matters or exchanging confidences. A grade higher and closer than dost is 'yaar', the closest English equivalent I can think of is comrade without its communist connotations. It is quite light-hearted, open armed kind of embrace of friendship. But beware! 'Yaar' and 'yaaree' are different. In Punjab 'yaaree lagaana' means having liaison with a member of the other sex.

Believe it or not, of all modes of addresses the warmest is to call your friend 'ulloo ka pattha' — son of an owl. No offence is meant, only all barriers of formality are knocked down and you open up your hearts. One condition has to be kept in mind: there must be some laughter in calling a close friend son of an owl. Without laughter and said sternly, the same words become abusive particularly if prefixed with 'oy, oy, oy'. Addressing another with 'oy, oy, oy' or 'abey ulloo key patthey' becomes a war cry for battle of abuses to begin.

What's in a name?

A north Indian was working in Mumbai and did not meet his wife for four years while his wife was in Himachal. At the end of four years he distributed sweets to his colleagues in office saying that his wife had delivered a son. His colleagues were shocked and asked how this 'happy event' happened when he had not seen his wife for four years.
The man said it is common in his part of the country, where  neighbours take care of the wives when their men are away. The colleagues asked him, "What name will you give to your son?" The man explained, "If it's the second neighbour who has taken care, then the name will be 'Dwivedi', if it is the third neighbour, then it will be 'Trivedi', if it is the fourth neighbour, then it will be 'Chaturvedi', if it is the fifth neighbour, then it will be 'Pandey'."

After listening to this, questions followed. What if it is mixture of neighbours? "Then the boy will be named 'Mishra'." And what if the wife is too shy to tell the name of the neighbour. "Then it would be 'Sharma'." But what if she refuses to divulge the name of the neighbour? "Then the name of the child would be 'Gupta'." If she does not remember the name then? "It is 'Yaad-av'."

But who knows whether the child resulted from a rape? "Then it will be named 'Doshi'." Finally, if the child happened because of the wife's burning desire? "Then he will be named 'Joshi'." And if the whole country had made efforts for the happy arrival? "Deshpandey".

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)









My friend, who has to cook meals for a large family, told me rather unhappily, "In these many years, I must have dished out mountains of food. The most exasperating part is that it takes hours of toil to make it, but just a few minutes to demolish it."

"Well," I answered, "there is one thing that is worse and that is when it does not get demolished." She smiled at this, her good humour restored.

Who can survive without food? It is the first need of every creature that is born and, quite likely, its last one too. Few things provide as much relish and enjoyment as food does. It is one of the greatest pleasures to be found in life. So highly do we value it, that we offer it in homage to our gods.

There are very few celebrations sans food, be it a birthday party, a wedding or even a death ceremony. If the food turns out to be middling, disappointment and even displeasure are sure to follow.

The varieties of eats that can be produced from a few basic ingredients are mind-boggling. The south Indian favourites, idlis, dosas and uthappams are all made from rice and dal. Yet how different they are from each other in taste, texture and shape!

How food is to be served has engaged the best and the most artistic minds. Crockery, cutlery, ambience and seating arrangements all have a role to play.

Brought together with finesse, they can make eating a truly memorable experience. Even the everyday cup of coffee transforms into a piece of art when capped in snowy peaks of cream ridged with dark chocolate. No wonder that celebrity dinners are carefully organised events. Preparations start weeks in advance so that they turn out to be affairs to remember.

Food has been the cause of upheavals and political events that have changed the course of history. Marie Antoinette's words, "Let them eat cake if they have no bread" still echo as the voice of ignorance if not callousness.

The sharp-witted Bernard Shaw quipped, "The sincerest form of love is the love of food." He was right. Even philosophers have to eat before they philosophise, proving beyond doubt that food indeed provides food for thought!







We were thrilled when President Obama decided to plunge fully into the Middle East peace effort. He appointed a skilled special envoy, George Mitchell, and demanded that Israel freeze settlements, Palestinians crack down on anti-Israel violence and Arab leaders demonstrate their readiness to reach out to Israel.


Nine months later, the president's promising peace initiative has unraveled.


The Israelis have refused to stop all building. The Palestinians say that they won't talk to the Israelis until they do, and President Mahmoud Abbas is so despondent he has threatened to quit. Arab states are refusing to do anything.


Mr. Obama's own credibility is so diminished (his approval rating in Israel is 4 percent) that serious negotiations may be farther off than ever.


Peacemaking takes strategic skill. But we see no sign that President Obama and Mr. Mitchell were thinking more than one move down the board. The president went public with his demand for a full freeze on settlements before securing Israel's commitment. And he and his aides apparently had no plan for what they would do if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said no.


Most important, they allowed the controversy to obscure the real goal: nudging Israel and the Palestinians into peace talks. (We don't know exactly what happened but we are told that Mr. Obama relied more on the judgment of his political advisers — specifically his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel — than of his Mideast specialists.)


The idea made sense: have each side do something tangible to prove it was serious about peace and then start negotiations. But when Mr. Netanyahu refused the total freeze, President Obama backed down.


Mr. Netanyahu has since offered a compromise 10-month freeze that exempts Jerusalem, schools and synagogues and permits Israel to complete 3,000 housing units already under construction. The irony is that while this offer goes beyond what past Israeli governments accepted, Mr. Obama had called for more. And the Palestinians promptly rejected the compromise.


Washington isn't the only one to blow it. After pushing President Obama to lead the peace effort, Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, refused to make any concessions until settlements were halted. Mr. Mitchell was asking them to allow Israel to fly commercial planes through Arab airspace or open a trade office. They have also done far too little to strengthen Mr. Abbas, who is a weak leader but is still the best hope for negotiating a peace deal. Ditto for Washington and Israel. All this raises two questions: What has President Obama learned from the experience so he can improve his diplomatic performance generally? And does he plan to revive the peace talks?


The president has no choice but to keep trying. At some point extremists will try to provoke another war. and the absence of a dialogue will only make things worse. Advancing his own final-status plan for a two-state solution is one high-risk way forward that we think is worth the gamble. Stalemate is unsustainable.







All roads into and out of the recession run through the housing market. During the summer, that road seemed to be heading toward recovery. These days, it seems to be headed back toward hard times. A reversal would have big implications for the economy and, by extension, the policies now being pursued by the administration, Congress and the Federal Reserve.


The Commerce Department reported this month that new-home construction fell sharply in October. That led many economists to reduce their estimates for economic growth in the current quarter.


Even this month's other seemingly good news had a dark lining. Reports from industry and government showed that sales of both new and existing homes rose in October. But much of that was driven by buyers who rushed to claim the first-time home buyer's tax credit before it expires on Nov. 30.


Though the credit has since been extended, it is not expected to spur many more sales anytime soon, in part because many buyers who would have been in the market in 2010 bought in advance of the first expiration date. The mini-frenzy of buying also did not prop up prices much, as a glut of homes on the market has depressed home prices over all. By conservative estimates, prices are now expected to fall by another 10 percent next year, bringing the average decline nationwide to 40 percent.


A weakening housing market in a fragile economy is a recipe for pain. Already, nearly a third of homeowners with a mortgage — 15.7 million people — owe more on their mortgages than their homes are worth, according to Moody's Negative equity combined with high unemployment greatly increases the risk of delinquencies and foreclosures, which, not surprisingly, continue to hit new highs.


A question for policy makers is, if real estate is not going to lead the way out of recession, what will? A related issue is where best to aim government resources as the hard times endure. The extension of the home buyer's tax credit, which failed in its first go-round to spark lasting improvements, was a giveaway to the real estate industry. Relief and recovery efforts that are focused on job creation more directly, rather than on favored industries, are needed.


The administration must also be prepared to alter its anti-foreclosure effort if, as expected, foreclosures surge again in 2010. And the Federal Reserve, whose interventions have sustained the housing market over the past year, must show flexibility. The Fed has made it clear that it would prefer to begin withdrawing support for the market in the months ahead. But without other strong and successful fiscal measures in place, that could do more harm than good.







We doubt that too many New Yorkers were shocked to be told that the United Homeless Organization, which collects coins in those big blue jugs on card tables in mid-Manhattan, was not a humble charity using direct appeals by disadvantaged workers to aid and empower the poor, but something simpler: a scam. Sidewalk transactions in the city, like sidewalk wristwatches and handbags, usually look more legitimate than they are.


Even so, it was a little jarring to hear the flagrant deceit described by New York's attorney general, Andrew Cuomo, when he sued the group this week. He wasn't saying that too little of the money raised went to good causes, but that none did. All those pennies bought nothing — no soup, no winter coats, no heating oil, no addiction treatment. Nothing went to the poor, Mr. Cuomo said, except what little the workers took home and spent on themselves. Hundreds of thousands of tax-exempt dollars, meanwhile, poured into the pockets of U.H.O.'s founder and director to be spent on cable TV, restaurants, trips and shopping, according to the lawsuit.


And in a city that pounces on parking violators at whack-a-mole speed, it was especially vexing to hear Mr. Cuomo say that U.H.O.'s tables operated openly for years without displaying licenses, just meaningless photocopies of the group's New York State incorporation receipt.


It's galling, but we hope anger doesn't harden any hearts. New Yorkers must not let a scandal leave them cold to real needs. All over the city, as around the country, food pantries are bare. People are living with or edging ever closer to hunger. The New York City Coalition Against Hunger reports that there is a "hurricane of suffering," which has been eased but hardly eliminated by a recent surge of federal aid. Last year 69 percent of soup kitchens and food pantries ran short of food, the coalition reported. The figure was 55 percent this year.


People should never be surprised that strangers asking for money could be lying — scammers in Manhattan? Get out! — but that is never a reason to close wallets and pocketbooks to reputable organizations (which can be found through the Better Business Bureau or the attorney general's office in any state). The standard spiel of the U.H.O. guys — even a penny helps — was always true, but it helps to make sure you know where those pennies go.







New York State's highest court has rejected the last vestiges of a lawsuit by families of inmates who claimed that the prison system overcharged them for telephone calls from their loved ones. The good news is that this suit — and an accompanying lobbying effort — has already succeeded in reforming a terribly unfair system.


New York, like many states, used the phones in its prisons as a profit center. MCI, which provided the phone service, agreed to pay the prison system 57.5 percent of the fees it charged for prisoners' collect calls. The state then allowed MCI to charge outrageously high rates: 16 cents or more a minute plus a $3 surcharge for every call. Families paid as much as $300 to $400 a month, according to one advocacy group.


The Center for Constitutional Rights, a public interest legal organization, and prisoners' families sued in 2004, charging that the exorbitant rates were unconstitutional. The suit rightly embarrassed New York politicians. In January 2007, Eliot Spitzer, the state's newly elected governor, announced that rates would be substantially lowered. The Legislature later made it illegal for the Department of Correctional Services to accept revenue in excess of its reasonable costs for operating an inmate phone system.


What was left for the New York State Court of Appeals to decide was whether family members were due refunds. They contended that the excessive fees were an illegal tax that violated inmates' equal protection rights. This week, the court, by a 5-to-1 vote, rejected the suit.


The decision is regrettable. But even the majority noted that the plaintiffs had strong arguments that the high rates were bad policy because they made it difficult for inmates to maintain family and community ties, and that released prisoners who lack these ties are more likely to return to a life of crime.


That is a message other states should heed. Prison systems may not have to subsidize these calls, but they should not be using them to balance their budgets. When prisoners cannot afford to keep in touch with their wives, husbands, parents and children, everyone pays.








Every year at Thanksgiving, parts of the Upper West Side of Manhattan become like a paradise for children. There's the exciting preparation of the balloons and floats for the Thanksgiving Day parade, and then, on Thursday morning, the parade itself.


The weather isn't always kind. I've seen the kids out there in snow, in freezing rain, in winds that threaten to send the balloons and their handlers soaring to distant venues. It doesn't seem to matter. The children come into the neighborhood in waves, holding the hands of adults or riding atop their shoulders, smiling, laughing, playing hide-and-seek among the police barricades. Finally, inevitably, they end up staring in absolute open-mouthed, wide-eyed awe as the mammoth, colorful helium-filled creations of their favorite characters begin making their majestic way down Central Park West.


We have an obligation and an opportunity at this special moment in history to do right by these youngsters, and all the rest of America's kids. It's a special moment because we've seen so clearly the many things that have gone haywire in the society, and while it may not be easy to articulate, we have a sense of what needs to be done.


The American economy is broken, ruined by the greed and irresponsibility of fabulously wealthy corporate chieftains and their shabby acolytes and enablers in government. While Wall Street is handing out billions in bonuses, American families are struggling with joblessness, home foreclosures and rampant debt. The economic woes are exacting a fierce toll on family life, and children are taking a big hit — emotionally, psychologically and otherwise.


One effect of the Great Recession, according to a recent series in The Times, has been a big jump in the number of runaway children, many of them living in dangerous conditions on the street.


Family homelessness is also up, and poverty is increasing. More than a third of all black children in America are poor, and that tragic percentage is expanding. The outlook for America's working classes is bleak. A few weeks ago a New York cab driver nearly broke down in tears as he told me he'd had to apply for food stamps to continue feeding his family.


A sense of urgency may be starting to emerge. With President Obama's jobs summit approaching, representatives from labor and progressive organizations gathered in Washington to warn of the lasting damage being inflicted on the prospects of young Americans by the continuing employment crisis.


Millions of youngsters like those who were suffused with such delight at the Thanksgiving Day parade are being buffeted by an economy that is eroding their quality of life, curtailing their educational opportunities and undermining their prospects for economic success as adults. That more attention is not being paid to this growing disaster is criminal.


Groups represented at the meeting in Washington, which was sponsored by the Economic Policy Institute, included the A.F.L.-C.I.O., the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the N.A.A.C.P., the National Council of La Raza and the Center for Community Change. Among other things, they urged the administration and Congress to provide substantial additional relief to economically distressed state and local governments, to invest in much more widespread infrastructure improvements, and to engage in some direct government creation of jobs.


All of that, in my view, would amount to just a first step. We remain stuck in an economic model that not only permits but encourages the continued existence of financial institutions that are too big to fail, which means that when one or more of them fail — as will surely happen at some point — we'll again be rushing to "save the system" by bailing them out at taxpayers' expense.


The system remains grotesquely unfair, with the deck stacked against working people, even as we're desperate to have them sustain the economy with nonstop consumer purchases. Keep in mind that at the start of the recession the collective wealth of the richest 1 percent of Americans was greater than that of the bottom 90 percent combined. The economic and political clout of that bottom 90 percent has only weakened since then.


We still have a hideously dysfunctional public education system, one that has mastered the art of manufacturing dropouts and functional illiterates. We have not even begun to turn that around.


We still keep fighting tragic, futile, stupid wars, squandering lives and resources and creative energies that could be put to use right here at home, where the need for nation-building is beyond critical.


The U.S. should be a paradise for young people. We need big changes in this country, approaches that are constructive, creative and fundamentally new, if we're going to give those smiling kids I saw on Thanksgiving Day the kind of society they deserve.


Gail Collins and Charles M. Blow are off today.








Midland, Mich.

THE ethanol industry, once the darling of corn growers, environmentalists and the auto industry, has fallen on hard times. Producers spent this year caught between falling ethanol prices and rising corn costs, causing many to go bankrupt. In response, they are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency to increase the amount of ethanol they can blend into gasoline to 15 percent, up from the current 10 percent. Allowing this, however, would only double down on a discredited environmental policy without solving the industry's fundamental economic problem.


That problem is simple: Ethanol prices trend higher and lower along with the price of gasoline, yet the cost of producing ethanol tends to rise with demand, since higher ethanol production exerts upward pressure on the price of corn. In a free market, corn prices might be expected to eventually fall as the market adjusts to increased demand. But because the government heavily promotes ethanol use through subsidies and regulation, the market is continually strained.


The problem is magnified because corn is a water- and fertilizer-intensive crop that requires considerable investment. Worse, since fertilizer is often an oil-based product, the cost of growing corn tends to rise at the very moment ethanol prices, which rise with oil prices, might bring a good return.


The ethanol industry has less incentive to control its costs and diversify its market as long as the federal government guarantees it a place at the pump. Yet Congress's solution to the plight of ethanol suppliers has been to mandate more ethanol use in gasoline. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 mandated that use of renewable transportation fuel rise from nine billion gallons last year to 36 billion gallons in 2022. Although some of this mandate must be met by advanced biofuels from switchgrass and other sources, corn-produced ethanol is the only large-scale alternative fuel currently available to meet Congress's mandate.


The ethanol industry appears to recognize that without government mandates there can be no sustainable market, hence the push for 15 percent ethanol fuel. But we should be wary on several grounds. First, many researchers are convinced that 15 percent ethanol in gasoline will cause problems in small engines in everything from lawnmowers to portable generators and boats. Some car engines will most likely tolerate the higher blend of ethanol, but others — especially those in older vehicles — will require costly repairs, a hardship likely to be borne by lower-income Americans.


Second, if ethanol use was really helping the environment, it might be worth putting up with higher costs. But many environmental groups dropped their support for corn-based ethanol after two studies published by the journal Science last February concluded that ethanol production actually increases the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. The main culprit is large-scale conversion of forest and grassland to corn production. Researchers at Princeton University estimate it would take 167 years of ethanol use in cars to offset the release of carbon from converting lands to agricultural production.


Third, a 2008 report prepared for the World Bank concluded that "the most important factor" in rising global food prices "was the large increase in biofuels production in the U.S. and the E.U." High food prices may be a hardship for American consumers, but they are downright deadly in poor African nations.


Last, Washington already protects American companies with a 54 cent per gallon tariff on sugar cane ethanol from Brazil and other countries that produce it at much lower costs than American farmers can. This tariff not only hits United States motorists in the pocketbook, it also leads to other mischief. An entire industry designed to evade the protectionist tax has cropped up in Trinidad and 23 other Caribbean countries that are exempt from the tariff. Trinidadian companies import sugar cane ethanol from Brazil, dehydrate it to comply with the American tariff exemption on products "substantially transformed" in the Caribbean Basin, and then sell it in America.


Allowing a higher percentage of ethanol in gasoline will not make us less dependent on such foreign energy sources. It will not help the environment. It will not lower consumer prices. And it will result in the poor of the world having less to eat. Instead of raising federal mandates on ethanol, Congress and the Obama administration should end them entirely.


Russell Harding, a former director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, is an environmental policy analyst with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.








Cherry Hill, N.J.

EVERY few years, college presidents feel a need to go public with their concerns over the commercialization of intercollegiate athletics. The report last month by the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, which warned that an arms race in spending on coaches at top programs is unsustainable, was the latest opportunity.

To be sure, costs are soaring, with athletic spending at big-time athletic programs outpacing classroom spending by a factor of three to four, according to William E. Kirwan, the chancellor of Maryland's university system. At the football powerhouses Florida, Alabama and Louisiana State, the head coaches all get more than $3.7 million a year in salary and other income. By my reckoning, that's more than the combined value of all the scholarships awarded to their players.


College presidents contend that their hands are tied by confounding economic forces. To pay for non-revenue sports like volleyball and track, they depend on their football and basketball programs. But this Faustian line of logic obscures some important points.


The rise of College Sports Inc. didn't happen by accident. Administrators at many universities have allowed athletic departments to operate independently, like stand-alone entertainment divisions. They have separate budgets, negotiate their own TV deals and, in some cases, employ hundreds of coaches and staff. And as long as they continue to collect ever-larger sums from ticket sales, boosters and television, who is going to tell them to spend less?


Another key element fueling the arms race is the increasingly indefensible tax treatment of sports revenues. Decades ago — before the lucrative television contracts, Internet marketing, Nike sponsorships and luxury boxes — Congress essentially exempted colleges from paying taxes on their sports income. The legislators' reasoning now appears shockingly quaint: that participation in college sports builds character and is an important component of the larger college experience.


Many booster clubs are recognized as charities under the federal tax code. At Florida and Georgia, to name just two universities, the athletic departments are set up as charities. Universities also have access to tax-exempt financing when building ever-larger stadiums and arenas. Boosters and donors benefit from generous tax deductions when they buy the best seats or endow an athletic scholarship. That's right: colleges now endow their quarterbacks and linebackers the same way they do a distinguished chair of American literature.


If college presidents really wanted to halt the college sports machine, they could try two options. They could insist that athletic departments operate within their university budgets, like the English or biology departments; or they could ask Congress to rescind the tax breaks on the commercial income earned by athletic programs.


That has about as much a chance of happening as Florida International did at beating Florida last Saturday. Can you imagine a senator from Texas or Pennsylvania embracing the idea of taxing the Longhorns or Nittany Lions? It would be political suicide.


From where I sit, college presidents really don't want to take responsibility for the college sports mess. To do so would require them to offend their powerful athletic departments and alumni. It is a no-win situation. And as we already know, in college sports, winning is everything.


Gilbert M. Gaul, a former reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and The Washington Post, is writing a book about disabled athletes.









Eidul Azha, one of the most important holidays on the Muslim calendar, should be a time of celebration and joy as families come together to make the traditional sacrifice. No doubt we will see much of that this year too. But there are reasons why the rejoicing will not be quite as extensive as it should be. High rates of inflation have eaten into many household budgets. People have little left for special occasions. Everywhere in our country there are families unable to purchase the new clothes and shoes which should be, for every child at least, a part of Eid. The prices of food items have risen too immediately before the festival – while the steady increase in the price of utilities affects many. The distribution of sacrificial meat will bring some delight, but the fact too is that it will be short-lived. The threat of terror attacks too, most notably in the larger cities north of the country, has also thrown a damper on celebrations. Traders report that shoppers have been reluctant to come out and the parks that fill on holidays have appeared distinctly less crowded than in the past. This in itself is a reminder of the toll terrorism is taking on our lives and affecting every aspect of it. The growing sense of political uncertainty adds to the gloom that takes some of the glitter away from Eid.

But the capacity of ordinary people to continue with their lives despite the odds is also quite extraordinary. We have seen this too everywhere. The exorbitant rates at which sacrificial animals are sold put them out of the reach of many. But ways have been found to share animals and to participate in the events that make Eidul Azha such a special occasion. In the final run, people find some way to get on with life and ensure that they can find festivity, no matter how great the odds. Occasions like these act also to expose the gaps in society. The wealthy are relatively unaffected by the hardships others face. There will, as always, be two kinds of Eid in the country: one for the privileged and the other for the impoverished. The real challenge for all of us – the government as well as citizens and welfare groups of every kind – should be to find ways to narrow this distance, so the time comes when people everywhere can enjoy festivals in a similar fashion, drawing all of us closer to each other as a nation.







We are told the prime minister is considering cutting the size of his cabinet from over 60 to about half that number, as per advice from the Finance Ministry. Ministers who are asked to quit the cabinet will be accommodated as the heads of various government departments. Criticism of the enormous cabinet, the largest in our history, has come in for months. It should indeed never have been so large in the first place. It is quite unacceptable that in a country as cash-strapped as ours we should have so humungous a cabinet, with so much spent on maintaining ministers in style. Indeed the existence of such a body exposes the irresponsibility of our government and its lack of commitment to the cause of ordinary people. Rather than the interest of the people it is the need to keep cronies happy that has been the dominant feature in the formation of the cabinet and the accommodation of so many within it, quite regardless of merit.

But there are other things which are just as important, if not more so, as size alone. The most important among these is efficiency and the perception that the cabinet is capable of running the affairs of the state. The total lack of conviction that this is the case has had a huge impact on the declining popularity of the government. People everywhere believe their problems have increased and that there has been a grotesque mismanagement of national affairs. As a result the difficulties faced by people have been growing. It is true too that for some of these the cabinet cannot be held solely responsible. We are all aware of the interventions that take place and the manner in which decisions are made. But our body of ministers should stand at the apex of decisions and take initiatives to ensure this is the case. The real challenge for the prime minister then is to create a more effective body. Cutting size could be one step towards this. But just as important is the need to find competence and commitment and creativity so that we get out of the quagmire we stand stranded in.







Two of the leading custodians of our rich cultural and historical heritage have recently voiced their concern over where we are headed – the Taxila museum and the Lok Virsa centre in Islamabad. Both have been at the forefront of the battle to protect and preserve that of which we are the stewards, an inheritance that stretches back thousands of years and which today is under threat – from extremism. Abdul Nasir Khan, curator of the Taxila museum, has said that the local administration has warned him of a possible attack. Weeks pass without a foreign visitor. He bemoaned the lack of research funding and expressed strong fears for the Buddhist relics that lie within our borders – already destroyed or desecrated by extremists with promises that they will continue to destroy in the future as they have in the past. Foreign missions have ceased their operations in archaeology and conservation. The museum in the Swat valley is abandoned, its showcases broken. In NWFP cultural tourism has been dead for a year and a half, with no sign of a revival in the foreseeable future.

Lok Virsa – a wonderful concept that has been starved of funds and support from the centre virtually since its inception – is looking for friends. As the National Institute of Folk and Traditional Heritage it has begun a campaign to recruit volunteers to support its work and to promote the national cultural heritage. The initiative will support the many programmes run by the museum and – hopefully – raise awareness in the wider population of the importance of preserving our culture. The alarm raised from Taxila and the Lok Virsa call for 'friends' reminds us that it is these difficult times we must not neglect that which is something we must guard and preserve for the global community. This is not only our heritage; it is the heritage of every person on the planet.








The special committee on constitutional reform, set up to frame recommendations with regard to the construct of the 18th Amendment, is likely to come up with its recommendations soon. The committee's focus and that of the nation in general is on certain covenants of the constitution — repeal of the 17th Amendment and 58-2(b). Many political actors have also come up with specific recommendations with a focus on these and related issues.

An amendment to the constitution is not a trivial matter — while we await a debate on any envisaged recommendation, it is opportune to review the nature and history of constitutional amendments in the past, particularly with a view to exploring if they had the potential to strengthen state functioning and bring welfare to its people. These insights can be instructive in today's environment as well.

Most of the amendments to the constitution have been made in a fire-fighting mode. The principal objective of each — notwithstanding that constitutional amendments have also included other issues — has been centred on one of the three following areas. First, defining power relationships between the presidency and the prime minister's office: the 1973 constitution provided for the separation of powers between the president and prime minister but greatly strengthened the position of the latter. The 8th Amendment in 1985, which validated the presidential order of 1977 and other marital law orders, while curtailing some of the powers of a uniformed president, changed the form of government from a parliamentary to a semi-presidential system. The 13th and 14th amendments weakened institutional checks on the prime minister's powers. The 17thAmmendment, which revived the constitution in 2002 and validated all the constitutional amendments promulgated under LFO number 24 of 2002, restored Article 58-2(b) and, therefore, the presidential powers. The current debate on constitutional amendments centred on 58-2(b), is aimed precisely at removing these and empowering the prime minister.

The second issue relates to enhancing or curtailing the powers of the judiciary and political parties. Of the 13 amendments — out of a total of 17 that were tabled — the first seven were focused on the prerogatives of political parties and the judiciary.

The third issue, considered germane by many in the country, is the role of Islam in state functioning. The second amendment to the constitution pronounced the qadianies as non-Muslims. The 9th and 15th amendments bill, both concerning enforcement of the shariat, could not be enacted.

Here it must also be recognised that a few amendments, other than these three areas, have also brought some value to the state system. For example, under the 12th Amendment, the salaries and remuneration packages of the judiciary were revised and under the 17th Amendment, women's representation in the parliament was increased, minorities were given the right to vote, the supreme judicial council was given the authorisation to file a reference against a judge, the right to dissent was granted and some other areas, which relate to political representation, were also addressed.

These notwithstanding, by and large, constitutional amendments have been about the three issues that have already been alluded to. This brings us to the question of whether this should be the case? Stalwarts in the area should know the answer.

A constitution is the most basic law of a territory from which all other laws and rules should be derived. It is true that constitutions are, in a sense, living documents and need to be revised form time to time based on emerging needs? However, amendments need to be focused holistically on all the core objectives that the constitution is meant to achieve. Constitutions serve many important functions. Regulating the relationship between institutions of the state and the relationship between the executive, judiciary and the legislature and the relationship of institutions within these branches is one. This is an area which has received the most attention but the focus has been highly narrow and has remained individual-centric.

The other most important function is to define the relationship between individuals and the state and third, to establish the broad rights of individual citizens. There has been almost no attention to these areas in successive constitutional amendments in Pakistan.

A review of the constitutional amendments in other countries reveals that these have focused on diverse subjects of public interest such as civil liberties, rights to privacy, citizens' privileges, immunities and due processes. In Pakistan, there is no such trend. The societal political culture being weak, there is also no pressing public demand.

Even the principles of policy, a set of values that guide action towards desired goals, have not been updated since the original framing of the constitution in 1973. The world has changed significantly since then and, therefore, the need for new normative frameworks. Thus, an attempt has been made to draw attention to the eight missing principles of policy and has recommended modification to the two existing principles.

Similarly, the question of rights needs a concerted focus. Under the constitution, most of the fundamental rights listed in chapter one, part two — entitled fundamental rights — fall within the domain of civil and political rights. Socio-economic rights have not been explicitly recognised as rights in this chapter. However, a reference to socio-economic rights features in two areas of the constitution. The objectives resolution, which forms the preamble to the constitution and was originally passed in 1946, makes an explicit reference to social justice as one of the five principles guiding the democratic state. Secondly, Article 25 and 38-d of chapter two, part two — entitled principles of policy — refers to 'equality of citizens' and 'promotion of social and economic well-being of the people', respectively. Other articles of relevance include Article 9 on 'security of a person' and Article 14 on 'inviolability of the dignity of man.'

Conventionally, these covenants are referred to as being the basis of socio-economic rights, with articles 8 and 9 read with Article 199 providing the basis of enforcement of fundamental rights. Article 9, in particular, has been broadly interpreted in case law in this regard.

However, socio-economic rights have not been explicitly recognised as fundamental rights. Every time a constitutional amendment bill was tabled, the opportunity to holistically review the matter of rights was missed.

Even in the area of civil and political rights, there is lack of clarity in relation to freedom of information, an important component of the international guarantee of freedom of expression.

The Pakistani constitution does not refer to the right to seek and receive information as elements of freedom of expression outlined presently in Article 19. However, despite this lack of clarity, the Supreme Court in a 1993 ruling stipulated that the right to freedom of expression includes the right to receive information, as discussed in these columns on October 12, 2009.

The word limit precludes a discussion on other areas, such as administration of the tribal areas and the subject of provincial autonomy, where amendments are also desired. The need to revisit the concurrent list and the federal fiscal system has been raised time and again; in fact, the 16th Amendment Bill — a private members' bill — was tabled on the subject of provincial autonomy but was not passed.

It is, therefore, imperative that once the existing constitutional fire-fighting is over, attention should be focused on other constitutional areas, which have remained orphaned in terms of the attention received.

The writer is the founding-president of Heartfile. Email:







THAT the killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Muiib-ur-Rehman have been brought to book is the biggest compliment to the judiciary of Bangladesh. First the lower court, then the High Court and finally the Supreme Court have pronounced death sentence to 12 retired and dismissed army men. Understandably, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was "overwhelmed with emotion" after the verdict. She was abroad when her father, her mother and three brothers were killed in a coup on August 15, 1975.

The credit of seeing the case to its ultimate end goes to Hasina and to her party, Awami League. They retrieved the case from the limbo 17 years ago when they came to power for the first time after the Sheikh's assassination. It was a lower court which sentenced the culprits during her regime. Whenever the opposition, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), headed by Begum Khalida Zia, came to power, it saw to it that the case would not move or move at a snail's speed. The prosecution would stall the matter as if it did not want the culprits to be brought to justice.

In fact, BNP secretary-general Khandakar Delwar Hossain confirmed the doubt by his churlish remark on the eve of the Supreme Court's verdict. He said: "People of the country will certainly accept the final verdict of the Supreme Court. Where was the dispute about it?" The people of Bangladesh have been waiting for the sentence for the last 34 years when the person who led them to freedom was killed by the army. Hossain unnecessarily revived the debate over the responsibility for the delay in the judgment, and showed where he and his party stood.

I was in Dhaka a few days after the assassination of the Sheikh and his family members. I went to Dhanmandi where they lived. The security men did not allow me to visit his home. But I could see how forlorn the place was. I could relate to the tragedy to the killing of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of a fanatic Hindu. I had then gone to the Birla House where Gandhi lived before the assassination.

Dhanmandi, like the Birla House, had an air of asceticism and spiritualism about it. Something touched me deep within. I remembered how only a few years earlier, I had interviewed the Sheikh. How buoyant and confident he was about the future of his country and outlined many plans to take the Bangladesh forward economically and socially. His emphasis was on the unity of the nation. I recalled the words he uttered at that time —Bangladesh belonged to its people, both Muslims and Hindus. This was the ethos of India's independence movement too. Would the nation follow the Sheikh's voice? Would his mission for unity be completed after sacrifice? At least these questions came to my mind. For the time being, I could see that the loss had fused the different religious communities. All constituted a nation in mourning.

Now that the case relating to the Sheikh's assassination is out of the way, the government at Dhaka should hold an inquiry into why the information conveyed by the RAW to the Bangladeshi authorities, that the Sheikh sahib faced the danger of assassination was not taken seriously. I believe some officers went from Delhi to discuss with the top officials in Dhaka at that time about the possibility of a coup and the elimination of the Sheikh. Probably, the accomplices of the killers or their influential friends did not want the warning to be taken seriously and did little to protect the Sheikh. Their negligence or complicity took away from Bangladesh the leader it wanted the most at that time.

I told the Bangabhandu what Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, then the President of Pakistan, had said in an interview. "…Our standard of living could rise substantially more than that of East Pakistan or whatever you want to call it and, in terms of per capita income, even more than India if we make a go of it and control our population. Of course, we do not have much of a population problem but we still have to control the population and have an economic policy attuned to modern times; develop our agriculture and industry; and oil — I think we have got oil and I think we are going to make a big search for it. So I think if we make a good go of it that is good enough."

When I conveyed what Bhutto said to the Sheikh, his reaction was: "We have more resources than Pakistan; we have fish, tea, jute, gas, fruits, fertile land and a handy people. We shall soon be on our own. It is Pakistan which will have to mortgage itself to sustain the present level of spending." How prophetic the Sheikh has turned out to be! However, Hasina has to make his dream about Bangladesh come true.

While holding the probe into the circumstances that led to Sheikh's assassination, one relevant factor that needs to be looked into closely is the supply of tanks to Bangladesh. India's minister D P Dhar, who was the civilian face of India's operation, had told New Delhi not to send tanks to Bangladesh. Who supplied the three tanks to Dhaka because the entire coup was carried out by the three tanks? I believe Cairo sent them. Why? Were the killers, senior army officers, involved in importing the tanks in one way or the other?

The chapter does not close with the Supreme Court's laconic judgment: "We find no cogent ground to interfere with the judgment of the high court" that had confirmed the lower court's judgment. Sheikh Hasina's government must strengthen the democratic forces in the country so that the freedom of people is not snatched away as it happened when the Bangabandhu was killed. Bangladesh had to suffer a long military rule which did its worst to destroy the values that were planted in the minds of people during the liberation struggle.

Hasina has to hark back those days and reignite the spirit of togetherness which her father had fostered. This requires the participation of people in the governance. It is not beyond Hasina, who has won this year's Indira Gandhi prize for peace, to do so.








"When I heard Taliban voices, I told myself: this was it," exclaimed a young officer in white shalwar-qameez as he addressed a rally in support of the Pakistani troops. He adjusted his walking aid to steady himself, "I was ready to die but was not prepared to let my badge be humiliated."

Captain (then Lieutenant) Omar Tirmizi said that since the injury to his leg made movement impossible, "I took out a grenade from my pocket and put it in my mouth. I decided to take the enemy with me." The crowd was deeply moved; so was I. Capt Tirmizi, of FF Regiment, was moments away from sacrificing his life when his comrades rescued him.


 Given the severity of his injuries, doctors had advised Capt Tirmizi complete bed rest. But, he came to the rally. despite the pain. "Please know that we have given our everything for this war and it hurts us dearly if the people we die for accuse us of not being serious about the war or playing double games." The very next day, another critical newspaper column claimed that the operation was a whitewash and the army was deliberately ignoring the Taliban.

Why are people still unsure about the seriousness of our forces after a thousand soldiers have laid down their lives for this cause? The answer lies in the miscalculated position of the army, particularly its mantra of "Good Taliban." The crux of the "Good Taliban" argument is that the Taliban fighting against Pakistani forces are evil, while those who fight elsewhere are "good." There are many reports indicating that the sympathy has evolved into some degree of cooperation between disgruntled elements in Pakistan and the Afghani Taliban. Leaders like Imran Khan and Fazlur Rehman and self-proclaimed analysts like Zaid Hamid elevate the Afghan Taliban to the status of heroes.

Both Pakistani and Afghan Taliban have to depend on each other. Gretchen Peters, author of Seeds of Terror: How Heroin Is Bankrolling the Taliban and Al Qaeda, points out that a significant portion of Taliban revenue comes from the drug trade. The Taliban do not grow poppy, but instead get money for providing security to drug shipments. When some of these shipments cross Afghanistan and enter Pakistan, it is the Pakistani Taliban who transport them down to the coast.

Peters writes that the other half of the deal is getting money to the drug lords. Some of this money follows the drug trade route backwards. Pakistani Taliban smuggle money to their counterparts in Afghanistan. This trade works on trust ties that have been nourished with time and the Pakistani Taliban earn hundreds of millions of dollars each year for their services. As long as the Afghan Taliban remain and benefit from the drug trade, they will hire business partners in Pakistan.


There are many other influences of the Afghan Taliban which have spilled over to Pakistan. The death formulas of hit-and-run assaults, suicide bombings and forceful imposition of a myopic mindset are gifts from the Afghan Taliban. Fazlullah was so inspired by Mullah Omar that he mimicked Omar's strategy for conquest. Afghan Taliban first weakened the Afghan state by repeatedly attacking the Afghan army and police and creeping into more territory. They would destroy the morale of the army and people by spreading terror through attacks and by beheading and displaying mutilated corpses of their enemies until the Taliban swept through Kabul with ease in1996.

Twelve years later, Swat fell victim to the same formula. Fazlullah would hang spies and Pakistani soldiers at the "Khooni Chawk" in Swat, another page from the book of Mullah Omar who hanged enemies like Najibullah in Kabul.

There is also reasonable evidence that the Afghan Taliban support the TTP's activities ("TTP gets Afghan Taliban support," The News, Oct 18). Escaped Pakistani Taliban are given safe havens in Afghanistan. Fazlullah enjoys protection from the Afghan Taliban, from where he phoned Associated Press a few days back to inform them that he was still alive. Azam Tariq, the current spokesperson of the TTP, released a propaganda video last week. The video proudly displayed the logo of Al-Sahab, the media publicity wing of Al-Qaeda. Al-Sahab had earlier released videos of many Afghan Taliban. Of course, the Afghan Taliban realise they need the sympathy of certain pockets in Pakistan for survival and will try to deny any connection with the bombings in Pakistan.

With this backdrop the only comprehensive strategy of eliminating Pakistani Taliban is the total eradication of the Taliban through a joint Pakistani-Afghan-US effort. This would require cutting off all backchannels with the Afghan Taliban, strict surveillance of the former handlers of the Taliban and a crackdown on smuggling through the Pakistani-Afghan border—in addition to military and political offensives.

While the current operation against the militants suggests that the army is really serious about eliminating the Pakistani Taliban, it does not shed much light on its attitude towards the Afghan Taliban. Until we get clear evidence of the army going against the Afghan Taliban as well, we must continue to ask the awkward question. Is our army really serious about eliminating the Taliban?

I know I will get my answer when I hear Zaid Hamid oppose the Afghan Taliban.

The writer is a Pakistani student at Harvard University. Email: skhurram@fas.








Last week, one of my readers, a doctor who has lived in America for the last 45 years, wrote, among other things, that Pakistan is a "river of sewage". He said that he was using these words because there are few honest people in Pakistan. Years ago, another doctor from America, my mother's friend, in fact, had said: "Pakistan should be folded up and dropped into the Arabian Sea." It had boiled my mother's blood, just as my reader's words boiled mine. Though I am not well-acquainted with my reader, I know that my mother's friend is one of the most generous and charitable women I have met (with the bulk of her charity going to Pakistan), but such harsh words?

Such harsh words, we are told, are because Pakistan is a corrupt country. But I wonder if there is more to it than meets the eye. I wonder if such harsh words are a justification for decisions taken to live abroad. As a result of living in four different countries (namely Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the US and the UK), I have come to the conclusion that every country has its strengths and weaknesses. And if we are to be honest, we cannot let personal decisions, whether taken on the basis of economics or simply lack of choice, influence our assessment of which nation is "good" and which is "bad".

I remember when I lived in Saudi Arabia as a child, many of my father's friends talked about how corrupt the prospects for employment were in Pakistan. They were convinced that it was impossible to land a good job in Pakistan without the fabled sifarish (nepotism). My father always argued with them, even though he had left Pakistan disillusioned by the prospects available to him then, but he hated bad-mouthing Pakistan, perhaps because it was his intention to move back one day (as he did).

It may also be relevant to note that some stories of nepotism in Pakistan may be exaggerated. As soon as I had graduated from law school and passed the New York bar exam, I moved back to Pakistan and found employment at a law firm without currying any favours. What is even more interesting, however, is that when I began working, a sifarish was made for a law graduate who happened to be the son of a high-ranking government official. The governmental institution which this gentleman in question ran was a client of the law firm's and, thus, the partners had little choice but to agree to offer his son employment. However, within three months, the sifarishi left because none of the partners trusted his work. So stories about how sifarish is endemic in Pakistan are not always true.

Just like the expatriates in Saudi Arabia, Pakistanis living in the US and UK cannot bash the country without taking into consideration the histories of the nations they are living in as well as their current shortcomings. It is true, that America gives its citizens the best shot at upward mobility and in spite of stories one hears about the ghettos, it has a good public school system. A large percentage of the student body at America's best colleges and universities comes from its public school system, who then go on to important positions in both the private and public sectors. This is not the case in Europe, where old-school ideas about aristocracy and nobility still inculcate hidden biases and advantages for students who have had the privilege of attending elite schools. Barack Obama is a testament to America's commitment to upward mobility, something that Europe will take a long time to deliver.

Nevertheless, America is not very good to those who are left behind, or those who are not clever enough to "make it". After more than 200 years of existence, several of those as a superpower, America has not been able to provide healthcare to its poorest. Europe is far better in this regard. The National Health Service in Britain has its share of long waits and arguably competence levels that do not match those who provide healthcare privately, yet where the NHS excels is access.

Consider the example of Khadim, who was an illegal immigrant. He used to work as a driver in Jhelum, but he decided that he could not bring up a family on Rs5,000 a month. so he somehow to get a six-month visit visa to the UK. Khadim never returned after his visa expired. He spoke no English, but managed to get a job at a central London laundry owned by a fellow Pakistani. He collected and delivered laundry, including mine. Khadim was a grandfather, but he worked six days a week, 10 hours a day and earned well below the minimum wage. I helped him out on several occasions, as I am sure other clients also did, but I still don't know how he managed to live on that money in London. He shared accommodation with several other Pakistanis and sent the bulk of his money home to his family. Khadim had one bad habit though: he smoked. In spite of my lectures, he continued to smoke.

One day, the smoke finally got to him and Khadim needed a quadruple bypass. If he hadn't died, he would have certainly been deported from Saudi Arabia, and suffice it to say that if in the United States, Khadim may have been a prime candidate for Guantanamo Bay. But in Britain, there are enough desi doctors in Walthamstow. Thus, Khadim not only got the operation for free, he also stayed in the hospital for three weeks without having to pay anything.

Khadim's story is not entirely atypical. If anything, he is a bit of an anomaly because the vast majority of Pakistani workers like him would find it very difficult to get a visa of any sort for either the UK or US. Thus, workers like Khadim will end up in the Gulf countries, such as Saudi Arabia, that give them a shot at altering the future of their families — something that the UK and US may not be willing to allow. And at great cost to themselves, including the distance as well as suffering maltreatment by employers, Khadim's counterparts in Saudi Arabia contribute most integrally to Pakistan's economy. They marry off sisters, build homes for their parents and purchase luxury items like air-conditioners for their siblings. Most of all, unlike many of the more affluent Pakistanis in the US and UK (not to mention the locals transferring money abroad), the Khadims of our world send all their money back home.

(To be concluded)The writer is a London-based lawyer turned political analyst.







In varying degrees, corruption has always been condoned as part of the system in Pakistan—oil necessary for the running of the political machine. So why the furore about it now? Has corruption crossed previous records, or is it because the polity has become sick and tired of the excesses of our rulers and bureaucrats, both khaki- and white-collared? Or is it the media and the courts which, with their newfound freedom and independence, do not hesitate to expose the rich and the powerful anymore?

Minister of State for Law and Justice Afzal Sindhu did well to release at a press conference the list of the 800-plus NRO beneficiaries. It was ostensibly a courageous thing to do for the government to release a corruption-laundering list which was politically damaging for the ruling coalition. According to some analysts, it was Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani's way of getting even with his boss.

If that was so, Mr Gilani was in for an unpleasant surprise. Just a day previously the prime minister had proudly proclaimed that if he and his wife had benefited from the NRO and that if their name appeared in the NRO list, he would resign. But one newspaper carried, along with the NRO list, another prominently displayed item claiming that the prime minister's wife had settled her default case with the National Accountability bureau (NAB). She was asked to pay only Rs45.5 million, against the total liabilities of Rs570 million. What a steal!

While Mr Zardari, basking in his presidential immunity, has preferred to remain silent on the issue, most of the bigwigs named in the list have disputed its veracity. MQM supremo Altaf Hussain, who had the highest number of cases withdrawn against him, including 31 on murder charges, has described them as politically motivated cases initiated in his absence from the country. The MQM also claims that the against its leadership are only criminal, and not corruption, cases, and that there is a big difference between corruption and criminal cases. As if someone's literally getting away with murder, as alleged, is less of a serious crime than corruption.

If, as is being claimed, everybody and his auntie in the ruling coalition was a victim of some political vendetta launched by the rulers of the day, and Musharraf, as a benign and humane ruler, had whitewashed crimes that were never committed, then there would be no issue. Unfortunately, the hapless people of Pakistan, especially in these hard economic times, think otherwise. Their politicians, including most of those in the opposition, live way beyond their means.

It is no wonder, then, that according to Transparency International, during the past year Pakistan has slipped in the corruption index from the 47th to the 42nd position.

According to a recent audit of the Rental Power Projects (RPPs) conducted by the Asian Development Bank, most of them simply do not make economic sense. Some of the owners of these projects have installed them simply to pocket the hefty compensation for not running them. One of the politically influential owners of such a project pockets millions of dollars a month for keeping it shut, on the pretext that the government has failed to supply gas to run the plant. This is buccaneering par excellence.

The owner of Haris Steel Mills, who decamped with just Rs9 billion of public money from the Punjab of Bank, in cahoots with the absconding head of the institution, has made the sensational disclosure in the Supreme Court about how he bribed his way out of the country. The people he bribed reads like a "who's who list," including federal minister Babar Awan. The same bank lent more than a billion rupees to one of its directors to buy out the mills owned by the family of the chief minister of the province at the time.

The present state of affairs does not bode well for the democratic system that was ushered in less than two years ago. Those who have never believed in democracy and have always sought an authoritarian dispensation are happy. It is another matter that it is precisely due to democracy that serious faults in the system can now be openly aired.

During the overt or covert rule of the generals, which has been the norm in Pakistan for more than half the country's life, instances of misuse of power and corruption hardly found space in the timid and controlled media. Rarely did the intimidated higher courts take to task such usurpers while they were in power. Musharraf is distinguished by his failure of his efforts to oust the head of the Supreme Court and ultimately had to leave.

It was during his rule that celebrated author and researcher Ayesha Siddiqua tried to launch her book Military Inc., which exposed the corrupt practices of military rule, including cantonment lands, grandiose defence housing schemes and kickbacks on defence deals, but was forcibly prevented from launching her book. It is obvious that military rule is no panacea for corruption, nor does it help to provide a clean government and good governance, just as have the civilian leader set no tradition of transparency.

Notwithstanding the need to clean the Augean stables, it is only civilians who will have to do the job themselves. Unfortunately, in the past they have completely failed in setting up a credible self-accountability mechanism. Mian Nawaz Sharif tried his hand at it by setting up the Ehtasab Bureau under the maverick Saifur Rehman, himself a bank defaulter. Despite its thoroughness, it became a vehicle for political vendetta mainly against the PPP opposition. Most of the cases instituted against Benazir Bhutto and Zardari were instituted during this period.

The successor of the Ehtsab Bureau, the co-called National Accountability Bureau (NAB) instituted by the military government, did no better. In fact, it was shamelessly used to buy loyalties through intimidation and plea bargains for the formation of the "King's Party." It was successful in these endeavours, but in the process whatever was left of morality and ethics in politics went down the drain.


With the credibility of the present government at its lowest ebb, thanks largely to perceptions about its own record, it is an onerous task to set up a body, which can do across-the-board accountability and ensure clean government. The courts can do this job to a limited extent, as at the end of the day politicians themselves will have to get their act together. If Messrs Zardari and Gilani are really sincere about running the system and provide a reasonably clean government, they will have to ensure taking the opposition on board.

Fortunately, PML-N supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif is in no mood to rock the boat, provided Mr Zardari also shows sincerity about the strengthening of the system. The government did well to present the Balochistan package in the parliament. Similarly, the virtual consensus on the NFC Award is also a welcome step. But in order to move forward Mr Zardari must seriously return its sovereignty to the parliament by expediting the repeal of the 17th Amendment.

We have heard for too long about the impending reshuffle in the cabinet, postponed many times now on one pretext or the other. Patently corrupt ministers should go and, if not willing to resign, those named in the NRO should be shown the door.

Mr Zardari's own issue is a thorny one. He enjoys presidential immunity, but since an example should be set from the very top, he should present himself for accountability before the Supreme Court by voluntarily waiving his presidential immunity. After all, he faced these cases for eight years in a hostile political environment.

Whenever I met the late Benazir Bhutto in exile, she always talked about the formation of a truth and reconciliation commission. It is time such a body, comprising credible politicians from both sides of the aisle and eminent jurists, is constituted by her successors. Its mandate should not only be limited to the cleaning up of the Augean stables but to set up standards of morality and fair play in politics.








It's dead today! Long live the Supreme Court for shielding the nation against the despicable NRO, better known as National Robbers Organisation.

Can the corrupt please stop sermonising on the spirit of sacrifice? We'll see them offering their Eid prayers surrounded by chamchas. Donning their traditional headgear — Asif Zardari in his Sindhi cap; PM Gilani in his freshly blow-dried hair; Maulana Fazlur Rehman in his checkered yellow turban; the Sharif brothers in their implanted heads of waning salt and pepper; Asfandyar Wali in his red bell-boy hat with ANP written in bold; military men in khaki, blue and white stiff caps and Altaf Hussain bareheaded but swathed in a shawl.

Should we be impressed? Not by them and nor by the governors, chief ministers, ministers, advisors and some hundreds of imams who preach about Islam without ever telling the faithful the true meaning of equality, brotherhood, unity, truth and love. "Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of God is (he who is) the most righteous of you. And God has full knowledge and is well acquainted (with all things)." (Al-Quran)

Today, blood and offal of cows, goats and camels will spill on the streets of Pakistan. It will lie there for days. Today, the housewives will be portioning off meat to be consumed by their own household (stored away in the deep freezers), neighbours and family members. The remaining bits will be offered to the poor passing by. Delicious brain masala; siri payey; kebabs; kapoora and gurdah curry will be prepared by cooks for fat cats dropping in at each other's homes to wish Eid Mubarak.

The poor with their kids will ring door bells the whole day asking for qurbani ka gosht. By the end of the day, the poor too will feast on the meat collected. The 'me first' syndrome is nowhere more evident than among the ruling elites. They have exploited religion, public sympathy and people's trust for personal gain. The politicians, bureaucrats, judiciary, military, industrialists and the clergy have been getting away with it for the last 62 years.

We don't need the moribund NAB to catch them. They should be made to take the catch-22 test:

"Are you an American citizen; a British subject; a green card holder? Are you of sound mind and body? Have you lied about your academic degrees? How much income tax did you pay this year? Have you ever paid any wealth tax, if yes, how much? How much did your wife/daughters spend in jewellery and clothes? Are you a bank defaulter? How much did you give away in charity? And to whom? How many sarkari Umrahs and Hajj have you performed to date? How many properties have you acquired in the last 20 years? How many cars have you bought in the last 10 years? List all the movable property items you own? How many times did you use your influence to help your children or your relatives in promotions/admissions to colleges at the expense of others who merited them? How many times have you willfully broken the law? How many times have you lied while under oath? How many times have you misused your official perks for your private gain? How many gifts have you received in lieu of giving undue favours? Have you ever taken a bribe or given one? How may jobs have you given away to your friends and family members? Have you ever committed fraud? Have you ever embezzled government money or property? Have you indulged in horse trading?"

Simplistic as the above questions sound, the Supreme Court is today our hero, our saviour and deliverer of justice. Let the citizens of Pakistan petition, my Lord Iftikhar Chaudhry, to get the corrupt to take the catch-22 test. All will flunk and should be sent to jail, but first seize their loot. We'll show you its locale. Their wealth is like an open, blue sky.

Email: &









FOLLOWING Asif Ali Zardari's highly charged speech delivered from the Presidency in Islamabad to a purely political gathering in Karachi the tone and tenor of which is still under discussion, other ministers and close associates of the PPP Co-Chairman too have started talking in the same pitch, polluting further the already murky political atmosphere. The PPP leaders have started, rather too early, firing shots in different directions and have even spoken of igniting the proverbial street power of the party.

This was particularly true of Sindh Home Minister and a close confidant of President Zardari – Dr Zulfiqar Mirza – who is believed to be actually running the Sindh Government when he made highly provocative and threatening remarks vis-à-vis PPP's coalition partner both in Sindh and in the Centre, the MQM, accusing it of deriving undue benefits from the controversial NRO. The way he talked amounted to transmitting war signals, which, all of a sudden, have raised the political temperature in the country taking it close to the boiling point. It was because of the sober and mature response of the MQM, which believed the remarks were personal opinion of Dr Mirza and not official policy of the PPP, that things remained within manageable limits otherwise the PPP seems to be on the suicidal path. Dr Zulfiqar Mirza had made similar references about MQM cases during the speech made on the occasion of foundation day of the Party while Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah had resorted to a scathing attack on the PML(N) leadership despite the fact that the 'N' leadership was trying its level best not to indulge in any attempt that could destabilize the Government. We feel sorry over this rupture in PPP-MQM relationship that may cause harm to the on going democratic process and is certainly against the interest of the PPP itself. All this shows that in spite of many sacrifices and setbacks in the past, the PPP has not learnt any lesson. First of all, almost all political parties want the PPP to complete its five year mandated tenure but the party itself seems to be on the destructive path and in a haste to inflict irreparable damage to its own cause. Secondly, one should remember that 21st century is not the century of using street power as economy has overtaken all other considerations elsewhere in the world but unfortunately in Pakistan the culture of strikes, shutter downs, wheel jams and long marches is being promoted by vested interests. We believe that those thinking on these lines are mentally bankrupt and must mend their ways. We would urge upon the PPP leadership that for God's sake reconsider their approach and pursue with sincerity the initial course of reconciliation so that the system moves on.








PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani seemed to be well pre pared and articulate during his press conference on Thursday the objective of which was to explain the Balochistan package and respond to the criticism by different circles. He clarified different points of the package in an argumentative and persuasive manner and hopefully it will satisfy those who are finding fault with an otherwise good initiative of the Government.The most important point highlighted by the chief executive related to his offer of talks to the Baloch leaders. He made it clear that the offer was valid for all leaders including estranged Brahmdagh Bugti and Talal Bugti. We believe that there should be general amnesty and when we talk of general amnesty it means breaking with the past and making a new beginning for the sake of larger interest of the country and the nation. This is because those who resorted to violence were forced to adopt such machinations in the face of denial of the rights and now that these rights are being acknowledged and granted there is every justification to make a fresh start. It has once again been emphasized by the Prime Minister that the package was not a final document but just a beginning and this means that the Government was ready to accommodate genuine and legitimate demands and address concerns of Baloch people. For this purpose, the Prime Minister has already made an offer for dialogue and more points could be incorporated in the light of the discussions with Baloch leadership. It is also pertinent to mention that a parliamentary committee is already seized with the issue of constitutional reforms, which also include provisions about strengthening of the provincial autonomy. Hopefully, the process would help provide necessary constitutional guarantees for protection of rights of the federating units and their control over their resources, which is one of the main demands of the Baloch people. As for missing persons, the Prime Minister was categorical that some of them might be able to celebrate Eid with their families and we hope with the passage of time the whereabouts of others would also be made known and a decision about their fate taken at the earliest.








HAJJ sermon (Khutba-e-Hajj) has great significance and importance for the Muslim Ummah and that is why the points raised by the Granf Mufti in the sermon receive much attention by Muslims across the globe. Every year, the opportunity is utilized to pinpoint weaknesses of the Ummah and the need to address them in the light of true teachings of Islam.

This year too, Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz rightly drew attention of the Muslims towards serious challenges confronting the Ummah including moral decay, conspiracies being hatched by the enemies to weaken fabric of the Islamic society, cultural onslaught aimed at depriving Muslims of their distinct Islamic identity, the damage being caused by terrorism and the leadership qualities required to address the challenges. We are confident that the clear-cut message of the Imam that terrorism has nothing to do with Islam, would not only further isolate the terrorist elements but also help remove misgivings that are being spread by some Western and other circles about Islam. Similarly, his emphasis on countering cultural invasion by global television channels needs to be given serious thought both by intellectuals and governments in all the Muslim countries. We have the forum of the OIC to debate the issue thoroughly and formulate a coherent and effective strategy to counter the invasion and help Muslims preserve their identity, values and traditions. It was also inspiring to hear from him that the Muslim rulers have enormous responsibilities especially with regard to provision of right kind of opportunities for the youth to galvanize their faculties and exploit their potential for progress and development. We hope that Muslims would also respond to his calls for respecting and helping each other and strict adherence to the teachings of the Holy Quran and Sunnah of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWS).









If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself you will succumb in every battle. Sun Tzu. Lamentably one thing that people are not ready to hear is— the truth. But then it's all about choices; either one chooses sweet lie or bitter truth? Spilling out the truth hurts but simultaneously it lowers your burden. No doubt it forms a lump in ones throat, leaves one confused and scratching ones head but then it's better than some fabricated ideal of happiness. Conclusion: even the harshest reality is better than the sweetest lie for it makes us stronger, wiser and ultimately makes us realize that what's done can be undone if handled with wisdom, prudence and determination.

Unfortunately we are plagued with the mentality that, it's never our fault! Even if we bump our head against the table we consider it the tables fault. We stay devoted to conspiracy theories and love indulging in the blame-game. Everyone seems to be responsible for the predicament that we are in but fail to acknowledge that we've always shot ourselves in the foot, umpteenth times and never once attempted to put our house in order. Vested interests have been able to exploit us because we provided them an opportunity. For the past three decades Pakistanis have been silent spectators to the rise of orthodox clergy and militant Islam and now when the chickens are coming home to roast and the terrorist onslaught seems to have the nation at its mercy, we've suddenly woken up to the threat. So whose fault is it? The harvest you reap depends on the kind of seeds you sow; if you sow corn, you will not reap wheat. We made choices and our choices had consequences that we are accountable for. Unless we accept responsibility, stop pointing fingers at others and start looking for solutions to harness our social, political and economic conditions we will continue to be disaster-prone and consequently allow others to walk all over us. It's easier to get into the enemy's trap than out again! Let's face the fact while a pile of trash kept heaping up since decades we merely used half hearted "cosmetic measures" to clean the mess but never attempted to clear the garbage entirely. Resultantly like felled timber Pakistan awaits fire.

In early 2005, a joint security assessment by CIA and U.S. National Intelligence Council predicted Pakistan would become "a failed state, ripe with civil war, bloodshed, inter-provincial rivalries and a struggle for control of its nuclear weapons and complete Talibanisation" by 2015. Was anyone bothered about the country's "shattered social and political structure" while Pakistan kept slipping towards chaos and lawlessness? American strategists have propagated the need to redraw political boundaries of Islamic states along ethnic lines.

The underlying belief is that smaller entities would be easier to micromanage through puppet regimes. In his article 'Blood Borders', Col. Ralph Peters, a Pentagon advisor, advocated the incorporation of NWFP into Afghanistan and creation of a sovereign 'Free Baluchistan', carved out of Baluch areas of Pakistan and Iran on ethnic affinity. Baluchistan borders Iran, Afghanistan, Central Asia and China and has a strategically located port that can provide to Central Asian countries and China an opening to Arabian Sea. In his article The Destabilization of Pakistan, Michel Chossudovsky, Director of Montreal-based, Center for Research on Globalization warns, "Washington's foreign policy course is to actively promote the political fragmentation and balkanization of Pakistan as a nation." Such predictions should have rung alarm bells in the corridors of power and rattled the nation. A responsible nation would have put all its resources to strategize and to counter these prophesies on "war footing." Unfortunately Nero kept playing the flute while Rome was burning!

In August 2001, Pakistan was described as having "failed to achieve political stability, sustained economic growth or a clear sense of national identity." Yet we blindly jumped to become Washington's front-line ally in the War on Terror without specifying a "time-frame or terms and conditions." We should have clearly stated the requirements and logistics support needed for the operations against Al-Qaeda, which was certainly not a paltry sum of $11 billion that Washington keeps parroting about. Compare it to the Iraq war consuming up to US$11billion a month and Washington spending on the average one billion dollars per month in Afghanistan for military operations, it would seem like a cruel joke being played. Spin is the name of the game! Washington loves to call "rent" for bases, logistic support and cost of fuel supplied to its troops in Afghanistan, aid. It's just like purchasing something from a shop and paying for your purchase but calling your payment, a tip.

While the Pakistani defense and foreign ministers have denied that Pakistani bases are being used to launch drones, it's a matter of record that the Pakistani bases were being used by the US, for which payments were made to Pakistan. In April 2003, the Centcom website had by mistake released classified details of all the assistance and help Pakistan had provided to the US during its invasion of Afghanistan to wipe out the Taliban. The website not only confirmed that bases were being used but had stated that 57,000 bombing sorties had taken off from the Pakistani soil to attack the Taliban. The data released by the Centcom had also stated that Pakistan had suffered a loss of $10 billion because of US invasion of Afghanistan. Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi also declared that over the past seven years losses suffered by Pakistan in the war against terrorism amounted to $34.5 billion. "Pakistan paid a huge price; both in economic and human terms, to protect itself and the world."

The fact that Pakistan has suffered more is because it offered more. The only appropriate response to Washington's never ending mantra of doing more is to say; we've done enough "you do more." The Friends of Pakistan also need to be asked whether they are "with us or against us" hoping against hope that they will be able to respond in the same haste that we did. Since Washington's approach has been to blow hot and cold with the same breath, it would not be wrong to conclude that Washington having dragged Pakistan into its "uncalled for" adventure in Afghanistan has once again abandoned Pakistan like the eighties and left it to fight a growing al Qaida-backed insurgency, on its own. One hopes that Washington realizes that a collapse of Pakistan would cripple the global campaign against terrorism.

The strategies of the Bush administration have created a far bigger crisis in South and Central Asia than what existed before 9 /11. For our ruling elite its time for reflection; where has subservience to alien masters led us? Pakistanis are dejected at the sorry state of affairs; they have lost hope, they have stopped dreaming. They feel betrayed! Every successive government has been worse than the other; cowardice has been their basic character. None showed commitment or political will to haul Pakistan out of misery and neglect, out of poverty and illiteracy, out of incompetence and inequality and out of Talibanisation and lawlessness. Today Pakistan is a fractured and dysfunctional state with enormous disparity and the gap between rich and poor increasingly visible. With these serious flaws in our governance we were bound to sooner or later face the crisis that we are in, at present. To deal with these extraordinary circumstances Pakistan needs leadership with extraordinary ability; leadership not— up for sale.







In an effort to heal the wounds of the past, a 39-point 'Aghaz-e-Haqooq-e-Balochistan' package was tabled at a joint sitting of the Parliament, which is a welcome move. There is no doubt that Balochistan was neglected during British Raj and no serious effort was made to develop the province and improve the living conditions of the people for decades. But one should not reject this package because similar efforts had proved infructuous.

Some nationalists and a few members of opposition parties have not appreciated the spirit in which this has been presented. And some Baloch sardars had rejected the package even before its details were made public. Anyhow, recommendations in the package were divided over five categories: constitutional, political, administrative, economic and monitoring mechanism. It proposed the facilitation of the return of political exiles, immediate release of political workers and political dialogue with all stake-holders. The package included setting up of a fact-finding commission to investigate the circumstances that led to the death of Nawab Akbar Bugti and stopping the construction of cantonments in Sui and Kohlu, withdrawing the armed forces from these areas.

If one dispassionately examines the situation one would reach the conclusion that on the one hand strong centre syndrome and on the other centrifugal tendencies on the part of some Baloch sardars were responsible for continuous confrontation and crisis in Balochistan. It goes without saying that people of Balochistan have the first right over minerals and other natural resources of Balochistan, and major part of the income from these assets should be spent on the welfare of the people of Balochistan. Of course, Baloch sardars should be given their share if income accrues from their area. It is unfortunate that some sardars are not willing to accept less than independence, and they openly talk about secession. Akhtar Mengal, Shahzain Bugti and Mir Byar Marri do not hide their ambitions of having an independent Balochistan. But no state worth its name would turn a blind eye to the efforts aimed at disintegrating the country and hold talks with such elements. Those who insist that the government should have talks with them, they should first ask these leaders to wean away from secessionist tendencies. In many countries of the world there are such contradictions that are resolved through talks.

But three Baloch Sardars insist that Balochistan was never part of Pakistan. But a glance through history would prove them wrong. The province was originally formed over the period 1876-1891 by three treaties between Sir Robert Sandeman and the Khan of Kalat. He was Political Agent for the British-administered areas which were strategically located between British India and Afghanistan. The province was abolished in 1955 and was merged into One Unit. In 1970, One Unit was done away with by Yahya government and the provincial status of Balochistan was also restored. Before appointment of Sir Robert Sandeman as political agent in Balochistan, British Raj used to give a part of stipend or 'dole' to big sardars; however a major part went to chieftains of the tribes, who used to share with tribal people. This two tier system was abandoned after Pakistan came into being and people of Balochistan were left at the mercy of sardars. Historical evidence suggests that before the British Raj, tribal people used to choose their sardar on the basis of his valour, his wisdom and his commitment to the welfare of the tribe. The British, however, gave sardars unprecedented powers and sardari was made hereditary.

In 1970s Baloch sardars had taken to the mountains in their tiff with late ZA Bhtto who wished to construct roads and schools in Balochistan. Cases were instituted against Marri and Mengal sardars. Late Zia-ul-Haq, however, adopted the old policy of reconciliation with local Baloch sardars and peace was restored in the province. In 1988 Balochistan Assembly was dissolved, when Nawab Akbar Khan Bugti was Chief Minister of the province, but later was restored under the orders of High Court. It has to be borne in mind that tribalism is firmly rooted in Balochistan, as ethnic and tribal identity is a potent force for both individuals and groups in Balochistan with the result that there exists deep polarization among different groups.

Each of these groups is based on different rules of social organization, which has left the province inexorably fragmented. Tribal group-ism has failed to integrate the state and enforce a national identity. Anyhow, leaders of Balochistan should be respected but at the same time they have to forget their bitterness of the past and make a fresh start. During an interview in a TV channel Mirbyar Marri said: "American enslavement is better than Punjab enslavement because Punjabis will come and occupy our lands for good. The Americans will only steal our oil and gas, while Punjabis will obliterate our national identity".

Marri, Mengal and Bugti are major tribes of Balochistan and their sardars consider entire Balochistan as their fiefdom. It has to be mentioned that sardars and feudal chiefs thrive even amid the centre's injustices and the clashes between them and the security forces. In other words, poor people of Balochistan stand to suffer in general by sardars during peace times and also become fodder for the sardars when they challenge the writ of the state. It is unfortunate that the civil society does not consider it worthwhile to comment on what sardars have been doing to their people. No human right activist cries over the atrocities inflicted on them by their feudal lords and sardars in their private jails.

The people of Balochistan have been waging struggle for their rights ever since the British left. There could have been some justification for resistance when they were under strong center and unitary form of government in 1950s and 1960s. But once the One-Unit was done away with and complete provincial status was given to Balochistan, the struggle should have ended. The present government has once again offered a package and President Zardari had apologized to the people of Balochistan for the excesses in the past, Baloch sardars should avail this opportunity to bring peace and harmony in the province with a view to improving the lives of hapless Balochis.







Obama's rhetoric of 'change' during his campaign is coming to an end demonstrated by a sweeping decline in his popularity graph. In the context of Pakistan, he spoke of Kashmir as a troubled spot and burning issue between the two neighbouring countries. That too has withered away after he took over the powerful chair in the Oval Office. Similarly, the abandoned expression of 'Do more' repeatedly uttered by his predecessor to Gen Musharaf, has reappeared recently when he stepped foot on the soil of China.

This utterance must have disappointed president Zardari, who up until now, seemed pretty pleased with himself, thinking that his counterpart in America understood him when he told him 'no more, do more'. As part of the dwindling promise of 'change', the expression has surfaced again. We know that the world became politically unipolar after the disintegration of the USSR leaving America as the only superpower. After the attacks of 9/11, this superpower drew a line, telling the rest of the world, 'you are either with us or against us'. Unlike democratic or rational traditions there were no gray areas in its stance leaving three brotherly Muslim countries-Iran, Turkey and Pakistan- in a fix. The Iranian leaders decided not to cross the line, looked into the eyes of the American leadership and refused to accept their demands. The Turkish leadership also didn't cross the line but they wanted to remain friends. The then Pakistani leader, who happened to be a military general, obediently crossed the line for fear of being punished.

As a result; Iran became the enemy. Though it suffered economically, it stood steadfast on its principles and took part in global politics despite humiliating threats from neo-cons and its allies. Ten years later, sticking to a principled stand and not succumbing to undue pressure, the US opened the door of dialogue. Turkey, remaining a friend, played a democratic game when its leadership took the matter to parliament and sought a blessing for not giving bases used against Afghanistan or opening a corridor to attack Iraq.

Pakistan, seeking to remain a friend, lost political vision ignoring the fact that as long as it remained nuclear, America would remain fearful of its friendship. In the process, it lost its national dignity and public integrity. Instead, it found terrorism, a worsening law and order situation and increasing poverty because of poor governance and massive corruption. Oh yes, it got a few billion dollars which was peanuts against the enormous aid given to Turkey and Afghanistan.

In other words, Pakistan became a whipping boy. After each whip it was told by its American friends to 'Do more'. The whipping carried on until the change of leadership both in America and Pakistan. The changed leadership in Pakistan having the mental setup of his military predecessor reportedly asked Obama not to use the expression. At some point, we are told, he also informed him Pakistan needed trade and not aid. Unfortunately, when Asif Ali Zardari was demanding trade in one meeting, he was holding a begging bowl for aid to the tune of 100 billion US Dollars in another meeting. This dichotomy surprised many donors. With this paradoxical attitude in the financial field, how could he tell the Americans 'no more' in response to their demand of 'do more' in the field of terrorism? It is beyond comprehension. If the leadership of Pakistan is serious about the term 'no more' and wants to make his voice forceful and convincing; he has to merge his words with his actions. Secondly; he has to understand two systems and three players in the whole game. The two systems are: western democracy and eastern ideology. Western democracy is based on individual freedom, equality, basic human rights, gender equity, one-man-one-vote, and capitalistic fiscal policy.

After a thorough study, one comes to know that individual freedom is a farce, basic human rights is a misnomer, gender equity is specific, one-man-one-vote is illogical and capitalistic fiscal policy leads to failure. The eastern ideology is based on the religious leanings of theology, philosophy and spirituality. Islam being the constitutional religion of Pakistan has a beautiful combination of the three ingredients. Unfortunately, theology has been hijacked and stained by the mullah; philosophy has been sabotaged and twisted by the secularist, and spirituality is colonised and distorted by the pir. This has left Islam one of the most misunderstood religions in the eyes of non-Muslims in the west especially in America.

The three players are the American leadership, the government of Pakistan, and the Pakistani public. It happens that the first two players have closed their ears and shut their eyes to the realities on the ground, while the third one being unaware of its rights has been ignored. In such a circumstance where western democracy is poorly practiced by the westerners, Islam is not followed in its true essence by a sizable number of Muslims in Pakistan, the American leadership is unaware of Pak public psyche and sentiments, Pak government is not able to explain the needs of its people to the Americans and the vast majority of poor people in Pakistan have been persuaded by the traditionalist mullah, what else could one expect but chaos brought about by a total disconnect between the two systems and three players. To make the situation worse, the country is headed by a leader who has minimum political exposure because his late spouse kept him away from grass root politics. And according to medical certification, prolonged incarceration has adversely affected his mental ability to differentiate between perception and reality. In the middle of such a chaotic state, we are left with no choice but to expect Americans telling our leader to 'do more' when he hasn't reached the level where he could respond by saying 'no more' in real terms.







People in Pakistan , by and large are greatly alarmed at the rapid influence of American officialdom into Pakistan . They are seen as expanding their activities rather too fast. Latest news is that these "guests" are planning to establish a diplomatic enclave in Pakistan which is probably going to be the biggest in the world. For initiating this project, they have acquired from the Government of Pakistan, eighteen (18) acres of land in Islamabad . The chancery, once raised, would be able to accommodate the Embassy staff. Also, it will provide accommodation for the garrison of hundreds of marines. Incidentally, the US plans to station in Islamabad hundreds of marines. Seen from any angle, this news is extremely disturbing as stationing of a foreign garrison in the capital would virtually mean creating a state within a state and as a result, the country's sovereignty will be put at stake. Incidentally, American Consulates in Karachi and Lahore have already been upgraded. In Peshawar , a five-star hotel is being purchased for expanding the Consulate. All these developments indicate that Americans are going to stay here for indefinite period as our overlords. As already hinted above, it has been observed that American officialdom is "gracing" Pakistan in quick succession. Prominent Congressmen, Senators, CIA – FBI and National Security officials, besides US military brass are seen visiting Pakistan in quick succession. Frequency of these visits indicates that these officials have started considering Pakistan as their second home. Mr. Holbrook's frequent visits to Pakistan is case in point. It is generally observed that he spends more time in Pakistan than in his own homeland. And interesting part of the story is that he behaves like a non-conformists and without observing diplomatic norms, he meets political leaders and visits various NGOs without even formally informing the concerned quarters.

It goes without saying that today USA is undoubtedly the sole super power, but severe reversals that it has recently received both in Iraq and Afghanistan , have considerably shaken its faith. Conscious of its vulnerability, it is trying desperately hard to establish its supremacy in the world. Towards this end, America is on the look out of a more stable and firmer base to oversee and operate against China , Russia and Iran . With this end in view, it has focused its attention on Pakistan . Keeping in view, Pakistan 's geo-strategic location, Americans feel that Pakistan is the ideal place to fulfill their purposes. In addition, US administration has opted for a micro-management policy in Pakistan and its official are interacting with the heads in every ministry which is of their interest.

Mr. Ata Rabbani, a noted scholar and political analyst, reveals that during the Musharraf days, there had been a covert understanding between ex-President Musharraf and the US . According to this understanding, the Americans were exempted from visa formalities and as such, they could come to and leave Pakistan at will. This being the case, Pakistan could not know how many Americans in uniform were lodged at any one time in the county. The dubious activities of private military contractor, Blackwater (renamed as Xe Services LLC/Dyn Corp) are creating great confusion in the Pakistani circles. Presently, they have undertaken training of recruits for anti-terrorism private security purposes. Idea behind this exercise is to guard American diplomats.

According to Mark Mazzetts, Mr. Musharraf had permitted Blackwater to carry out operations in the cities of Islamabad , Rawalpindi , Peshawar and Quetta . In the light of this report, the arrival in Pakistan on November 04, 2009, of 202 Blackwater personnel from Heathrow Airport by PIA flight PK-786 is significant. These Blackwater personnel who speak Urdu fluently are ostensibly hired to guard American diplomats. Further, it is learnt that the US contractors are training young men along with retired SSG commandos at Sihala Police Training College . These former guerilla commandos, now undergoing very tough physical training, do not know the reason for which they are being trained. However, they are told that they are being trained to safeguard American interests. In addition, Blackwater has also established a number of check posts in the villages around Kahuta.

There is an other issue which is intensely agitating the Pakistanis. Plainly speaking, US has always been against Pakistan going nuclear. Having failed in their efforts to stop Pakistan from acquiring this nuclear capability, the Americans are now creating conditions and are also exaggerating imaginary fears of Pakistan 's nuclear assets falling in the hands of Taliban. On this pretext, the CIA/Pentagon is covertly using Blackwater contactors to encircle Pakistan 's nuclear arsenal for any abrupt action.

These high profile US activities in Pakistan have generated a lot of public resentment and US Ambassador's rebuttal has not been accepted here in Pakistan . They feel that the American are not telling the whole truth. American's all secret antics indicate that Pakistan is going to be treated as a mercenary. And things as these stand, America is in a better position to dictate terms and use Pakistan as a ghost state, all in American interests. In view of these grim portents, it is high time Pakistan refuses to be used as a ghost state. Only by taking bold stand, we can preserve our independence!








The president will soon announce the deployment of additional U.S. forces to Afghanistan, in a speech likely to emphasize the importance of political progress there. Legitimacy is the most important outcome of a counterinsurgency strategy, not, as some have suggested, an input. It is unfortunate that much of the debate has ignored the role that additional military forces can play in building legitimacy and effective government in a counterinsurgency. Adding forces gives us leverage; military forces are vital to the success of any political strategy because they contribute directly to improving governance as well as to improving security. The recent American experience in Iraq illustrates how U.S. forces and diplomacy helped correct the behaviors of a sometimes malign government in ways that helped neutralize insurgent groups. In early 2007, many Iraqi leaders were using instruments of state to support sectarian death squads. The dysfunctional government could not secure the population, pass laws or provide services to its people. The implementation of a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy — enabled by the deployment of nearly six additional U.S. combat brigades — transformed Iraq's government within 18 months. Opponents of the surge argued that Iraqis would "step up" politically and militarily only if they knew that U.S. forces would leave. Instead, before committing to the fight, political leaders and populations throughout Iraq assessed whether U.S. forces would stay long enough to secure them. Iraqis stepped up precisely because of the absence of conditionality and time limits on U.S. force levels. If the Afghan government were fully legitimate, there would be no insurgency. U.S. and international actions must aim to improve the Afghan government's ability to provide basic services such as security and dispute resolution nationwide, building the legitimacy of the government in Kabul sufficiently to dampen a large-scale insurgency. They must persuade and even compel Afghan leaders to stop activities that alienate the people and create fertile ground for insurgents.

Adding American forces in large numbers would help. It is critical that the Afghan people be provided security. Continuous violence, insurgent intimidation and propaganda campaigns create a pervasive sense of insecurity that undermines the government. As we have seen in Iraq and some parts of Afghanistan, a reduction in violence can slow or stop the erosion of the government's legitimacy. It can also create space in which to resolve underlying tensions that had fueled the violence, through negotiation or the construction of more effective governmental structures, neither of which can occur without security.

But American military forces also contribute directly to efforts to improve Afghan institutions. In Afghanistan, as in Iraq, international troops will partner with army and police units. Afghan forces can learn by listening to the exhortations of mentors and by seeing the world's best military perform those tasks. Partnered American units also hinder illegal activities, such as extortion, that Afghan units might otherwise undertake.

American military forces can also help restrain politicians' abuses of power. U.S. forces can develop a picture of local power structures, including those through which Afghan officials abuse their power and exacerbate the insurgency. American commanders can collect evidence on individual offenders that a reformed Afghan judicial system would one day be able to use. In the short term, such evidence can be published, embarrassing the official and others involved. Since much of the corruption involves narcotics, the United States and its partners can use international legal mechanisms to pursue Afghan officials in more reliable court systems. We can also threaten to add the worst offenders to our target lists when abuse of power directly supports the enemy. Used systematically, as happened in Iraq, this leverage can dramatically alter the behavior of networks of people misusing their power. Making the deployment of forces conditional on the behavior of the Afghan government is counterproductive.

Withholding forces reduces our ability to control the violence and to spot the networks of corruption. It encourages Afghan leaders to avoid committing to support our objectives. Declaring that our military commitment depends on things not under our control undermines the confidence Afghans have in our staying power, dramatically reducing the likelihood that they will side with us against enemies who would otherwise kill them. Conditionality makes more sense when applied to financial aid, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently indicated. Afghanistan is desperately poor and depends on international aid to function. Threatening to withhold all aid would be foolish. But donor countries could establish specific targets for reducing corruption and improving the effectiveness of particular ministries and local governments. Continued aid to those institutions could be made dependent on their progress toward specific transparency and effectiveness milestones. Aid could be suspended or reduced to ministries or localities known to be run for the advantage of important members of the corruption networks, as a way to cajole President Hamid Karzai into removing them from power. This approach places the conditionality where we want it on our support to the Afghan government rather than on our ability to pursue our own security objectives.

Afghan governance will not improve as long as American forces are unable to provide security to the people and improve the capabilities of Afghan forces. It will not improve as long as Afghans think that the United States is not serious about the effort. Since 2005 the United States has failed to provide the military effort with enough resources, yet expected an effective Afghan government to blossom. This strategy helped bring us to the current crisis. President Obama should embrace and resource the counterinsurgency approach that Gen. Stanley McChrystal has proposed.—The Washington Post







IN laying siege to Malcolm Turnbull's leadership, his Liberal Party opponents are doing more than fighting to throw him over - they are dismantling the foundations of their own political future. Replacing the Opposition Leader will not mark the end of Liberal divisions.


While his supreme confidence and his inability to disguise his contempt for those who disagree with him obviously irritate his colleagues, Mr Turnbull understands the challenge facing the party - that the Howard imperium is over, and that the party cannot arrogantly assume voters will automatically reject Labor at the next election. Despite his errors of judgment, notably in the Grech affair, Mr Turnbull was working to liberate the Liberals from the delusion that they are the natural party of government, a belief still common among them. In negotiating over the emissions trading scheme, he was modernising his party by presenting it as a responsible opposition, not an aggrieved government in exile. Now, whoever leads the Liberals at the election will carry the burden of this week's strife - conservative MPs who prefer keeping rusted-on supporters happy, even if it means alienating swinging voters in marginal seats whom the Coalition must win back.


This week, Mr Turnbull was savaged for understanding what his opponents cannot comprehend, that whatever the science ultimately shows, Australians of all political persuasions believe humanity is responsible for global warming and the government has to act to reduce its impact. Mr Turnbull realises that the Rudd government's ETS is not so different from what John Howard planned to put in place when he realised in his last term in office that the electorate wanted action on climate change. Mr Turnbull responded to the political realities by accepting it was the task of a responsible opposition to find the flaws in the government's plan and demand improvements rather than reject it outright. He was right to do so. The Weekend Australian has always called for hard scientific evidence on human-induced global warming and has been criticised for publishing critics of the environmental orthodoxy. But the planet must be given the benefit of the doubt and the relatively low-cost ETS is the sort of market-based solution this newspaper has always advocated. Given the way the world is moving to limit emissions, it is important for Australia, as a major exporter of energy resources, to demonstrate an early commitment to cutting carbon pollution, if only to avoid the possibility of international sanctions in the future.


For all these reasons, Mr Turnbull is right to have backed the ETS and this week could have been a policy triumph for him, with him pointing to the government's concessions on the ETS legislation. It could have earned him the gratitude of Coalition MPs for the way he had defused climate change as an issue for the next election, allowing them to focus on issues where Kevin Rudd is exposed: debt and deficit and the growing problem of boatpeople. But this is not what a large number of Liberals and Nationals MPs and senators wanted. The reasons why say a great deal about the mindset of Coalition MPs, and all of it is alarming for conservative supporters.


Some Liberals are so possessed by contempt for the Prime Minister that they will do anything, including eviscerate their own party, rather than allow Mr Rudd to flaunt an ETS at the Copenhagen climate change conference next month. They have a point - there is a case for leaving the ETS legislation until we see what is decided in Denmark. But this is not so important an issue that it merits the mess the Liberals are making over the leadership. Some, such as South Australian senator Cory Bernardi, lack the subtlety to see that politics is about seeking consensus, not sticking to non-negotiable positions despite changing circumstances. Senator Bernardi's talk of principle on ABC TV's Lateline on Thursday night may have impressed climate change sceptics but he looked like a young politician more interested in dogma than debate. And Nationals such as Barnaby Joyce have used the debate to support sectional interests, regardless of the broader interests of his Coalition colleagues. Senator Joyce says everybody he talks to says the ETS is poison. But what people say in rural Queensland is not what voters say in the metropolitan and regional electorates that voted the Howard government out at the last election. It is certainly not what they say in Mr Turnbull's electorate of Wentworth, Joe Hockey's seat of North Sydney and similar inner-city electorates in Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide held on margins of 7 per cent or less. Labor is already talking to these voters, with Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner suggesting conservative ideas that global warming was a left-wing conspiracy was the sort of thinking that belonged among wild-eyed backwoodsmen in the mountains of Montana, not in the Australian parliament. As well as the swinging voters upset to see Mr Turnbull's support for the amended ETS under threat, many more will be appalled by the ill-discipline on display this week. The question Coalition MPs must ask themselves this weekend is how many seats are they prepared to risk losing to ensure Senator Joyce is a hero in the Queensland bush. Further, if the legislation is rejected in the Senate, will the government honour the concessions extracted by Mr Turnbull for farmers? And for all the talk about staying true to the Coalition's base, conservative voters have nowhere else to go. Nor, as we saw in 2007, is this group big enough to decide elections. The most illuminating aspect of this week's brawl is what it shows us about the mindset of many Liberals who still do not understand that when the government changes, so does the country. The result is that they have rejected Mr Turnbull's attempt to modernise the Liberal Party and ensured it will fight a Rudd-era election with an approach from Mr Howard's glory years.


It seems unlikely the Liberals will be led by anybody intellectually equipped to do a better job on the ETS than Mr Turnbull. Tony Abbott is an articulate conservative whose plain-speaking style appeals to people who were Mr Howard's battlers before they joined Mr Rudd's working families at the last election. But his leadership would be tainted from the start by the way he won it. In July, Mr Abbott appeared in a page one picture in The Australian surfing off a Sydney beach. In the accompanying story, he called on his colleagues to back Mr Turnbull and pass the ETS to avoid a double-dissolution election the Liberals could not win. The question for Mr Abbott is why has he changed his mind when all that has altered is that the government has agreed to Liberal amendments to the ETS. In abandoning Mr Turnbull's arguments for those of Senator Joyce, Mr Abbott has ensured that the fight over the ETS will continue, with climate change joining the other issues that already divide socially progressive and conservative Liberals. And Mr Abbott will give the government the gift Mr Turnbull so rightly fears - the ability to argue that the Liberals oppose action on climate change. Mr Abbott's most likely opponent, Mr Hockey, comes from the other end of the party, representing an affluent, educated inner-city seat close to Bennelong, which Mr Howard lost in 2007. Mr Hockey is in a difficult position, having backed the ETS as a Turnbull loyalist. If he calls for his colleagues to pass the ETS, he will start in the position where Mr Turnbull finished, with climate change sceptics white-anting his leadership to the election. If he reverses his position, he will forever struggle to explain why he changed his mind.


That the Liberals are in a shambles over a single issue demonstrates just what poor intellectual shape the party is in, with no unifying political philosophy. While in government, the party coasted, relying on the mythical Howard factor to keep them in power. But Mr Howard's success was more to do with Labor ineptitude and luck than popular support for his program. He lost the 1998 election on the popular vote. He was elected in 2001 just after September 11 and in 2004 Mark Latham led Labor to deserved defeat. Mr Howard lost the first election when he faced a disciplined Labor Party with coherent policies. Nor did Mr Howard ever address the need to radically renew his team. Given some of their simplistic warnings on the ETS, it is easy to assume Mr Tanner has a point about irrational conspiracy theorists.


The challenge for whoever is Liberal leader next weekend is to make it plain to the party that the strife must stop, that there is nothing to be gained by arguing against the ETS, that the opposition must focus on issues that the electorate wants to hear about, the economy and Labor's deficit. And the Liberal party machine must start looking for new candidates who can spell out why Mr Rudd's big-spending state is bad for the economy. The Liberals are on the edge of the abyss thanks to their handling of the ETS. They can avoid spiralling down into electoral oblivion by agreeing to the legislation and focusing on issues on which the voters will listen to them, or they can accept the possibility that whoever is elected leader, the next Liberal prime minister is not yet a member of parliament.








IT IS hardly an exaggeration to seek in Armageddon a metaphor for the battle that has erupted this week in the Liberal Party. The Bible tells of a catastrophic battle at the end of days. The Liberals' political Armageddon has been already been catastrophic and bloody. It calls into question the very existence of a united Liberal Party. It is hardly less significant for the future of our democracy.


Both the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Turnbull, and his opponents claim to be standing on principle, but both offer pragmatic reasons for their position. Turnbull believes, rightly, that the Liberal Party is unelectable if it appears opposed to an emissions trading scheme. Turnbull's opponents believe, also apparently with justification, that the party will split if it is asked to support the carbon pollution reduction scheme. For the sake of party unity, they want to delay. The party is thus forced to choose between what is good for the Liberal Party, or good for the country. We believe it must choose the latter.


Coalition rebels claim to have encountered a barrage of complaints from supporters urging them to delay the carbon pollution reduction scheme. That Coalition members should ignore the wishes of the vast majority of Australians to pander to the hard core of sceptics in their party base is a telling indication of what they think will happen at the next election.


The prospect of a Coalition victory at the next election is a distant one. The more pressing question, though, is whether it will avoid the kind of annihilation that will leave it in the wilderness for decades.


Turnbull's strategy of climate-change action is designed to appeal to middle Australia - those swinging voters the Coalition needs to win government. His opponents, in appealing to hard-core climate doubters and conservatives, take a small-target strategy to bolster the party core. That strategy contradicts the lesson taught most recently by the Liberals' most successful politician in decades, John Howard. Howard, a sceptic for years, smelt the change in public opinion on climate change ahead of the last election. Even he could see the futility of doing nothing. But his loyal lieutenants, bereft of their old leader and forgetting his pragmatism, have resorted to ill discipline and outright war. They are retreating to the ideological trenches before the election battle has even began.


The present split in the party goes beyond the Liberals' long-standing division between conservatives and libertarians. The conservatives have always tended to win the fight in the long run: they have stayed in the party while moderates or progressives have formed the Liberal Reform Movement in South Australia, and the Australian Democrats.


Howard and the dries triumphed over wets such as Ian McPhee and Fred Chaney in the 1980s. But this is different. Climate change has changed politics. Turnbull realises it, but the Liberal traditionalists do not. Doing nothing (the preferred traditionalist position on climate change) is in fact the most dangerous form of radicalism in the face of the environmental threat. A true conservative position is one that seeks to stabilise the environment, or at least mitigate catastrophic change. That is why in this battle it is Turnbull who represents the party's genuine mainstream, and his challengers who, paradoxically, have turned their backs on the past to chase a dangerous illusion.


Unlike past leaders under challenge, Turnbull does not sound or look defeated. To his credit, he is still set on dragging the Liberal Party into the 21st century, or go down trying. If he does fail, it will be a great tragedy of modern politics - the felling of a leader just as he began to seem most leader-like. If the party switches to Joe Hockey the tragedy will be twofold.


Hockey has publicly backed an agreement with the Rudd Government on emissions trading. If Hockey wavers in his support to win the leadership, he will lose credibility. It would destroy one of the party's few leadership options for the future. The alternative challenger, Tony Abbott, is less likely either to unite the party or to convince the electorate the Liberals know what to do about climate change.


Can the Liberal Party unite? Events are unfolding by the hour, by the minute. History warns what happens when corrosive divisions are left to fester and split a party in two. A split kept the Labor Party out of power for two decades in the middle of the last century. Australia needs a united opposition. Now, more than ever, it also needs an intelligent, engaged approach to climate change. The Liberals should be listening to Turnbull, not tearing him down.







THE world owes a debt of gratitude to Tareq and Michaele Salahi, the Washington couple who, relying only on their colossal hide and the clothes they stood up in, infiltrated a state dinner at the White House for the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. The Secret Service is flabbergasted. Questions are being asked at the highest level.


It is a long time since anyone used a dinner suit and an evening gown to such devastating effect. James Bond was always doing it, but the last person we are aware of who did this sort of thing was Arnold Schwarzenegger in True Lies, who emerged from a sewer and discarded his wet suit to reveal a dinner suit underneath, which got him into the baddies' mansion. The Salahis do not appear to have swum through any sewers to get to the White House, but they are reported to have ambitions to star in a reality TV series, which amounts to the same thing. Let us hope their feat brings style back into gatecrashing.







WHEN political parties are defeated after a long period in office, a familiar pattern sets in. There is a rapid turnover of leaders as MPs search for the man or woman who can guide them back out of the wilderness. That inevitably results in a public focus on the qualities of each successive leader, and so it has happened with the Liberals under Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. The internecine conflict that this week triggered mass desertions from the Opposition front bench, however, is not primarily about Mr Turnbull's leadership style, or character flaws that his colleagues might justifiably resent. Its meaning was explained best by the Opposition Leader himself yesterday as he defied calls to step down: ''We are at a turning point in the history of the Liberal Party. We can either be seen as a party of tomorrow, a progressive party which believes in taking action on climate change, or we can go backwards.''


The Liberals may yet avoid a formal split of the kind that has plagued the ALP in the past, but the stand-off between Mr Turnbull and those who want him to delay the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme resembles the deep ideological divides that tore Labor asunder in 1916, 1931 and 1955. Mr Turnbull is right to speak of history, because the alliance of liberals and conservatives that for 100 years has characterised the major non-Labor party, under various names, appears finally to be unravelling. It is also why he is right to have made support for emissions trading a defining mark of his leadership, even though that insistence now seems almost certain to bring about his removal from the post. Mr Turnbull's critics in the conservative wing of the party - whether those like Wilson Tuckey, who turned, snarling, on the leader early; or like Nick Minchin and Andrew Robb, who accelerated the attack; or like Tony Abbott, who pounced after scenting blood late in the drama - have become a pack, baying with one voice. They demand that the CPRS must be delayed until the new year, after the rest of the world has declared its preference in Copenhagen. By this they really mean that it should not pass at all, for these senior figures in the party room have bizarrely aligned themselves with the assortment of climate-change sceptics and conspiracy-theory adherents to be found on the Coalition's back benches, especially in the Senate. These denialists have convinced themselves - and now apparently Mr Abbott and other usually more astute political strategists, too - that co-operating with the Government in passing the CPRS before the Copenhagen conference means courting electoral disaster. Mr Turnbull knows that the opposite is true. The only beneficiary of an Opposition refusal to honour the CPRS agreement can be the Government, which would be able to go to next year's election reminding voters that the legislative response to global warming they have demanded since before the 2007 poll was made impossible by the Opposition. That is the electoral reality; Mr Turnbull's tragedy, and the Liberal Party's, is that too few of his parliamentary colleagues now seem willing to accept it.


Their refusal is what has brought the party to the historical turning point referred to by Mr Turnbull, because there is no sign that it is likely to change, whoever is anointed as leader in the meeting that will be held early next week. Mr Turnbull has spurned calls to step down beforehand, a stance that some see as another instance of his unhelpful arrogance but which is correct in the circumstances: by rejecting him the Liberals will be declaring where they stand on an environmental crisis facing the entire planet, and they should be prepared to do so honestly. The question will then be whether any alternative leader can bridge the gulf between the rival wings of the party that has opened up in the past week. If Mr Turnbull is succeeded by Joe Hockey, the Liberals will have an affable leader who ruffles few feathers among his colleagues and is broadly popular with voters. But he is a liberal, like Mr Turnbull, and stands with him on climate policy. He would therefore be susceptible to the same campaign of undermining that has afflicted Mr Turnbull. If the new leader is Mr Abbott, it would be a declaration that the party has resolved to break its pledge on the CPRS, even though at the cost of being reduced to a conservative rump at the next election. Yesterday, filibustering in the Senate ensured that the Government's mid-afternoon deadline for passage of the legislation was not met. The Government, conscious of how much hangs on the decision the Liberals must make about their leader, has accepted that debate must now continue into next week. When the Liberals choose, their choice will affect not only the fate of the CPRS and the outcome of the next election, but whether their party's name belies its nature.








Tony Blair has yet to testify before Sir John Chilcot's inquiry into the Iraq war, but he must already be squirming after the first week's evidence. Contrary to expectations, the mandarins have not pulled their oh-so-elegant punches. Freed from obligations of loyalty, they appear to be addressing the fundamental questions. Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy must be congratulating themselves on their choice of EU president. Had they been blinded by Mr Blair's stardust, the presidency would already have been badly tarnished.


On day one, we learned that British officials picked up the drumbeats from Washington soon after George Bush's election but had dismissed overthrowing the Iraqi leadership because "it had no basis in law". Sir Peter Ricketts, a former chairman of the joint intelligence committee and now the top official of the Foreign Office, said that up until March 2002, Whitehall distanced itself from regime change. Just one month later, Mr Blair told Mr Bush that he would support military action "to bring about regime change".


On day two, the inquiry heard how Mr Blair was told 10 days before the start of the war that Saddam's weapons of mass destruction had been dismantled. In the run-up to war, ministers were repeatedly told of "huge gaps in intelligence". This contrasts with Mr Blair's foreword to the September 2002 dossier in which he wrote that the intelligence had established "beyond doubt" that Saddam had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons. In fact, there was plenty of doubt.


Then came Sir Christopher Meyer, former Washington ambassador, who said that Blair's government had decided up to a year before the invasion that it was a complete waste of time resisting the apparently inevitable, but that there could have been a different outcome had Mr Blair succeeded in delaying the invasion by withholding British co-operation. Not all of these accounts should be taken at face value. Some, such as Sir Christopher's, could be self-serving. But few would doubt the integrity or weight of the judgment that Sir Jeremy Greenstock, Britain's ambassador to the UN at the time of the war, delivered yesterday. Revealing that he had threatened to resign at one stage, he said he regarded Britain's participation in military action as of questionable legitimacy, in that it did not have the backing either of the majority of UN member states or of the majority of people in this country.


No one is on trial in this inquiry, although it might hear evidence that could be used as a basis for criminal prosecution. Nor should all of Britain's misfortunes in Iraq be blamed on Mr Blair. What is already clear from the first week alone is that the decisions, secret or otherwise, that led to war were the product of systemic failure. Intelligence analysts, diplomats, in fact the entire machinery of the British government, proved supine against Washington's will. Under that pressure, almost everyone buckled. Few in the Foreign Office woke up to the revolutionary effect of toppling a Sunni Arab regime, of which Iran would be the chief beneficiary. This in itself is a major analytical failure, the consequences of which the FCO is having to grapple with to this day.


The lingering question is not what went wrong in Iraq, but whether the disaster could be repeated. Next week Barack Obama will commit the US to a troop surge in Afghanistan, a decision in which Britain will once again be in lockstep. At the same time, plans are now being laid to ratchet up UN sanctions against Iran. Neither the US nor Britain has kicked the intervention habit, and the conflict in Iraq is also far from over. So what confidence is there that another major military escalation in Afghanistan is based on sound intelligence, judgment and analysis? The chilling aspect of this week's evidence is that it sounds not so much a description of the past but the present.








Actors hate them. Celebs and paparazzi adore them. And they put critics under deadline pressure they can occasionally do without. Three good reasons, then, why our time-honoured (but increasingly dishonoured on the web) tradition of theatrical opening nights is ripe for reform. First-night tension can sometimes be creative, of course. Lots of actors, though, insist that first is too often worst. They complain that the pressures of a one-off press night can produce a letdown show. Whether that's due to backstage nerves, the mob-handed critics or a celeb audience more interested in itself than the action on stage is a hard call. Too often, though, there's a feeling that first nights don't do justice to a show that has buzzed in previews and will do so again once the run gets going. The risk for the critics, meanwhile, is of a rushed review of an unrepresentative performance. In the past, the Guardian's Michael Billington has been sceptical of such complaints. This week, though, he announced a change of mind. Why not, he now suggests, adopt the New York system, in which critics can attend a choice of preview performances and in which all reviews are embargoed until after the "official" opening-night with its red carpets and flashbulbs? It wouldn't work for one-off performance arts, like music. In the theatre, though, it would reduce actors' first-night nerves and give critics time to collect their thoughts. Inevitably, it won't stop the online embargo-breakers. For everyone else, though, it's well worth a try.







The Commonwealth, says a recent report from the organisation's in-house thinktank, is a "strange, rather casual hybrid body which has no formal constitution and does not offer its members any significant economic benefits". The leaders of its 53 members, meeting this weekend on the island of Trinidad, are attending out of tradition and duty – a school reunion for a class that has grown up since graduation, but whose former headmistress still enjoys getting her old boys and girls together every couple of years.


Unlike similar legacies of European empire – such as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie and the Comunidade dos Países de Língua Portuguesa – the Commonwealth does not exist to encourage its members to speak the old mother tongue. Global capitalism and US power mean that English does not need the help. Nor does Commonwealth membership bring any special assistance from the former colonial master: Britain has rather neglected the Commonwealth, closing high commissions in small states and generally treating the body as a slightly awkward part of its past.


Against the odds, however, the organisation is not just surviving its 60th anniversary, but growing. Rwanda, which has no British colonial connection, but a close relationship with east African states that do, and a strong distrust of France, is about to join. President Sarkozy has called by Trinidad this week too – though he has no intention of submitting a French application to join on the grounds that England ruled Calais until 1558. He would not be there, though, unless he thought the body had a point.


The Commonwealth's strength lies in its informality: a body of massive states and microdots, north and south, rich and poor, all, in theory, given equal status. It is the only important global political group that does not include the US, or China, or Russia – a club of mostly democratic, largely well-intentioned non-superpowers. Britain, with other international alliances, might not need it. But it provides a useful channel between the developing world and the developed, yesterday focusing on climate change, a dry run for the sort of talks between industrialised countries and everyone else that will soon take place in Copenhagen.


This new purpose helps hide Commonwealth embarrassment at failings in its other chosen task, strengthening democracy. Success with South Africa has been followed by failure in Zimbabwe, a record, admits an internal report, that "undermines the Commonwealth claim to moral leadership". At least that is honest. And in a world of international bombast, there is a place for a modest, decent, amiable club that wants to do some good.








Month-long negotiations on key labor issues among union, employer and government representatives ended in failure on Wednesday. Unionized rail workers went on a strike the next day. In both cases, the main obstacles to negotiated settlements were unacceptable union demands.


The key issues at the tripartite negotiations were the statutory ban on corporate pay to full-time union officials and the statutory permission to different groups of like-minded workers at a workplace to organize themselves into separate unions.


The union representatives demanded the relevant labor laws be revised so that corporate pay to full-time union officials will be made negotiable between labor and management, instead of being banned. They wanted to keep full-time union officials on the corporate payrolls no matter what.


Unions are supposed to advance the interests of workers in their adversarial relations with employers. As such, they should pay their officials out of membership dues. But they are making a dubious demand for continued corporate pay.


Will unions be able to do their jobs properly if their full-time officials are paid by the employers? Even if they do, is the corporate pay morally justifiable? Isn't there a danger of the continued corporate pay turning the legitimately adversarial labor-management relations into labor's parasitical relations with management?


To those questions, the leader of the nationwide Federation of Korean Trade Unions offered a lame excuse when he said on Wednesday, "It is urgent to change the (public) perception of the labor movement and unions. Full-time union officials are not the vanguard of protest but doing an important job of bridging labor and management closer."


According to a survey, employers paid a total of 428.8 billion won to 10,583 full-time union officials last year, up from 343.9 billion won to 10,327 in 2005. They could have put the huge amount of money to better use by spending it on charities and other worthwhile projects.


Permitting multiple unions at a workplace is less controversial. Labor agrees with the government on the issue, but it is opposed to the government's plan to make different unions send one unified representative to negotiations on wages and working conditions with management.


The minister of labor vows to surmount opposition from unions, which threaten to stage a general strike if their demands are not met, and to implement the statutory ban on corporate pay to full-time union officials and the permission to organize multiple unions at a workplace next year.


President Lee Myung-bak and the ruling Grand National Party have good reason to throw their full weight behind the labor minister's hitherto unwavering resolve. The government should not delay the enforcement of the statutory regulations, as it has done in the face of a union threat to launch a nationwide protest since they were written into law 13 years ago. Another delay would further damage the government's authority.


Yet, the ruling party is currying favor with labor, with its floor leader committing himself to an "alliance in policy" with the Federation of Korean Trade Unions. The floor leader says his party will be more resilient in accommodating the nationwide umbrella labor group's demands.


There is no denying that every vote from union members will count to the ruling party when an election comes around. But the party will do well to keep in mind that consistency in policy will prove to be no less important.


The party's backpedaling would embolden the striking railroad workers to hold onto a 6 percent pay increase when their government-invested corporation, Korea Railroad, has an annual operating loss ranging from 600 billion won to 700 billion won.


Instead, the party is urged to help turn the hemorrhaging corporation around by convincing the union to accept a management-proposed pay cut and make other concessions, including a cut in the number of full-time union officials, which now stands at 61.







Criminal charges cannot be pressed against a man having had sexual intercourse with a woman on a promise to marry her when he fails to make good on his word. The Constitutional Court has decided that such an act does not constitute a criminal offense any longer.


An article of the criminal code under which reneging on such a promise was an offense punishable with up to two years in prison or up to 5 million won in fines was ruled unconstitutional on Thursday. In a 6-to-3 decision, the Constitutional Court overturned its 2002 decision upholding the article as constitutional.


The latest ruling is consistent with an opinion from the Ministry of Gender Equality, which claimed in a report to the court that the article denigrated women by implying that they failed to exercise their right to decision making properly. As the ministry rightly pointed out, the article went against the principle of gender equality.


The new decision undoubtedly reflects the changing mores among Koreans, many of them now regarding consensual sex as a matter of privacy with which the state has no right to meddle. As the court said in its ruling, sex and love are indeed matters of privacy that are beyond the bounds of the law.


Even in the absence of the latest ruling, the article was rendered virtually invalid. During the past 10 years, only 6.4 percent of men against whom criminal charges were pressed were actually prosecuted. Those convicted numbered no more than three or four each year.


The ruling may have an impact on adultery, an offense punishable with a maximum of two years in prison. Given that the court contested the fate of the article on adultery closely when it ruled it constitutional last year, it may overturn its earlier decision in the near future, as it did this time.








GENEVA - Global trade contracted in 2009 at a rate not seen since the Great Depression, and those paying the heaviest price are those who can least afford it. So, when trade ministers from the World Trade Organization's 153 members gather in Geneva on Monday, the issue of how the WTO and the global trading system can help the poorest countries will be high on the agenda.


Driven largely by collapsing domestic demand and production levels, but also by a shortage of affordable trade finance, trade volumes will fall by more than 10 percent this year. Whether trade will recover next year is an open question. Despite some evidence that trade volumes grew over the summer, recovery has been patchy - and so fragile that a sudden shock in equity or currency markets could once again undermine consumer and business confidence, leading to a further deterioration of trade.


The world's poorest countries face the greatest hardship when trade languishes. They do not have the luxury of cobbling together fiscal-stimulus packages or rescuing ailing industries in order to cushion the shock brought about by the economic crisis. For them, trade represents a huge share of overall economic activity and is unquestionably the best avenue for exiting a crisis that has hit them hard.


The irony is that trade has collapsed just when these countries were becoming increasingly active in global markets, with their exports rising by more than 20 percent during this decade. For nations that depend on trade, the sharp drop in exports this year was crippling. Since the crisis began, export earnings of the world's poorest countries are down $26.8 billion, or 44 percent.


The WTO ministerial conference will provide an occasion to consider the best ways to generate growth and alleviate poverty in these countries. Concluding the Doha round of trade negotiations by the end of 2010 - as world leaders have said they wish to do - is one of them. A Doha deal represents one of the most valuable tools at our disposal to help meet the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.


Frankly, all of us already know what needs to be done. Yet the Doha round has fallen victim to basic misunderstandings - first, about why countries trade, and, second, about how they trade.


Countries trade, first and foremost, because it is in their interest to do so. It is in a country's interest to lower its import barriers so that it has cheaper access to goods and services that it cannot produce competitively. Trade increases competition and keeps inflation in check. In this way, trade can raise living standards. Moreover, countries that lower their import barriers also end up exporting more.


The reluctance of trade negotiators to pursue what is in their obvious self-interest reflects another, more serious misunderstanding about the manner in which nations trade. Consider U.S.-China trade in iPods. Every iPod that the United States decides not to import means a $150 "decline" in China's recorded exports, though only about $4 of that value is actually added in China. Japan, which contributes about $100 in value, suffers far more from China's supposed decline in exports. Clearly, the words "made in" mean something very different from what they meant 20 years ago. Our production processes are so globalized that a country's import tariffs could well penalize imports from one of its own global companies.


For many countries, particularly in the developing world, reducing obstacles to trade is insufficient for fuller participate in the global economy, because they also need to build their capacity to trade.

That is the central aim of the Aid for Trade initiative. Despite the economic crisis, Aid for Trade donor contributions to help the less fortunate have risen 10 percent per year since 2005, and major donors are on track to meet or exceed their pledges for future funds. Several major countries have agreed to increase their contributions this year to building infrastructure, productive capacity, and know-how in the developing world.


But Aid for Trade is no substitute for the market-opening opportunities and improved rules promised by the Doha round. WTO members have already agreed that rich countries - and developing countries that are in a position to do so - would open their markets completely to 97 percent of exports from the world's poorest countries, and dramatically reduce duties for those products where barriers remain.


As a result, cotton subsidies, which depress prices and displace African exports, would be sharply curtailed, and cotton exports from poor countries would receive duty-free, quota-free treatment in rich-country markets. All trade-distorting farm subsidies would be slashed by 70 percent to 80 percent in the major subsidizing countries. New rules on streamlining customs procedures would sharply reduce transit times. We must make progress on this agenda.


What is frustrating is that we are tantalizingly close to a deal which, according to the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, would deliver global economic benefits of $300 billion to $700 billion annually. But, to reap these benefits, we must close the deal. The ministerial conference ought to signal that we are ready to do so.


Pascal Lamy is director-general of the World Trade Organization. - Ed.








U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday ceremoniously received Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the first guest of the nation since the Obama administration began. The two leaders produced a joint statement in which they "reaffirmed the global strategic partnership" between their two nations.


The United States apparently sought to assuage India's fear that the Obama administration is cooler toward it than the Bush administration was, in light of moves to strengthen ties with China such as Mr. Obama's recent four-day visit to that country.


Although India is not a party to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the Bush administration in 2007 signed an accord to provide India with civilian nuclear fuel and technology. The U.S. and India are still sorting out rules for implementing the accord.


As if to highlight the fact that the U.S. and China do not necessarily share democratic values, the two leaders noted in their joint statement that "the shared values cherished by their peoples and espoused by their founders — democracy, pluralism, tolerance, openness, and respect for fundamental freedoms and human rights — are acquiring an increasingly greater prominence in building a more peaceful, prosperous, inclusive, secure and sustainable world."


They agreed to cooperate in seeking a world without nuclear weapons, fighting global warming and countering terrorism. They also agreed to "launch the U.S.-India Financial and Economic Partnership to strengthen engagement on economic, financial and investment-related issues."


The bilateral consultation mechanism will start next year. For its part, the U.S. will likely try to secure a strong foothold in the growing Indian market by using the mechanism as leverage. India's nuclear power generation market is estimated to be worth $150 billion.


Cool economic calculations aside, it appears that the U.S. — regardless of its ties with Pakistan, India's rival — views expanded cooperation with India as indispensable as it tries to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan.







The retrial of Mr. Toshikazu Sugaya will hopefully reveal how and why a false charge was made against him that resulted in him serving 17 1/2 years of a life sentence for the May 1990 murder of a 4-year-old girl in Ashikaga, Tochigi, Prefecture. He was released last June after a new DNA test revealed his innocence.


In the second hearing Tuesday, the Utsunomiya District Court decided to summon a former public prosecutor who pressed Mr. Sugaya to accept the charge, using the results of the original DNA test while interrogating him in connection with two other unresolved murder cases involving 5-year-old girls.


The court also decided to allow playback of part of the tape recording of the interrogation. As the defense counsel said, the decision is epoch-making. It will expose how the public prosecutor badgered Mr. Sugaya into accepting the charge. Mr. Sugaya may be able to question the former public prosecutor in future hearings.


In December 2008, the Tokyo High Court, responding to a retrial request, ordered a fresh DNA test. The results of a test conducted at the request of the prosecution by Osaka Medical College professor Koichi Suzuki were accepted by the high court, leading to Mr. Sugaya's release. Both he and Tsukuba University professor Katsuya Honda, who conducted a test at the request of the defense counsel, testified Tuesday that the original DNA test was so unsound that it provided no scientific evidence that Mr. Sugaya could have been the perpetrator.


The original DNA test analyzed bodily fluid taken from the victim's underwear and from tissue paper discarded by Mr. Sugaya. Professor Honda said that in the original test an attempt to compile images for DNA identification failed and that "it was absolutely impossible" to determine whether the DNA from the victim's underwear matched Mr. Sugaya's DNA.


In a 1992 case involving the kidnapping and murder of two young girls in Iizuka, Fukuoka Prefecture, a suspect was arrested in September 1994. Although he denied involvement in the case, he was subsequently convicted on the basis of the same type of DNA test that was used on Mr. Sugaya. He was executed in October 2008. This case and others that involved the use of such DNA tests must be re-examined.








The producers and crews of the movie 2012 may need to thank the clerics of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), who called on the government to ban the Hollywood blockbuster about the end of the world on Dec. 21, 2012, because their call seems to have piqued the curiosity of more Indonesians.


MUI South Kalimantan chairman Aywadie Syukur said the government should consider banning 2012 because it could mislead or confuse Muslims.


"Muslims should also be careful not to get carried away by anything negative or go against religious values," he said as quoted by this newspaper last week.


Of course it is not just the call that has seen Indonesians pack movie theaters. Surely it is because of the quality of the movie directed by Roland Emmerich. Daring to mention the date of Dec. 21, 2012 —  which is inspired by an ancient Mayan belief — as doomsday may be the reason many people around the globe chose to watch this Hollywood movie that cost US$200 million to produce.


But the call by the MUI clerics may spark more Indonesians to become curious about the film, in part out of fear that the government will really heed the MUI's call.


"I need to watch it immediately because I'm afraid the government will bow to the MUI's call to ban it," said a resident of BSD City in Banten after watching the movie at a theater in the area.


Since the movie opened last week, many Indonesians have joined other people across the world to pack movie theaters to watch it. Because of the great demand, nearly all operators here are playing it on more than one screen. In the Senayan City shopping center in Central Jakarta, for instance, the operators are showing the movie on four screens.


The question is, is it really necessary to ban such a movie? Is there any strong reason for those clerics to worry? Of course it is the duty of the clerics to preach to their followers about anything that may lead them off the straight and narrow. But issuing a statement or edict or a call should be done selectively, so that they are not disobeyed or rejected.


The MUI's reasoning for 2012 to be banned is questionable. Although the movies premise is inspired by a theme common to many holy books, including the Koran, what is shown in the movie is pure fiction, a made-up story that has nothing to do with religious teaching.If we tolerate such a ban, science-based movies such as Jurassic Park and the like could also be subject to similar bans because the plot is not in line with creation theory as laid out in several holy books. Even the Japanese cartoon Doraemon could face the same fate because its main character, a robot cat, often does acts ascribed in these books only to God.


It seems religious leaders need not be too worried that people will be easily misled by such fiction. Instead, they need to be more concerned about various social problems such as rampant corruption, which clearly runs against the teachings of any religion and is a far greater source of injustice.








Continuity, not change, is what most Chinese elites believe they will see in the relations of two global titans — the US and China — and has been confirmed by both heads of state during recent Barack Obama's visit to China.


It would be a continuity based on common awareness and acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of their fate and the effects of their interactions with the global community.


It is also a continuity driven by compromise to prioritize the economic slump, while each strives to be one step ahead in the realignment of global power constellation.


Security concerns, such as the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and Iran, as well as the US desire for China to play some role in Afghanistan and Pakistan, heighten the need for compromise.
Even more pressing is the cooperation in pushing for greater and more comprehensive climate change policies ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference.  


In his earlier campaign speech, Obama said China was, "Neither an enemy nor a friend, but a competitor that needs to be held responsible for regional stability."


He also demanded greater respect for human rights and currency adjustments, to which Chinese elites reacted composedly. They have learned from dealing with all the post-Nixon administrations how campaign rhetoric against China means little by the time president-elects came to office. Indeed so with Obama.


In a recent interview with Reuters, prior upon his departure to China, he said, "I see China as a vital partner, as well as a competitor. The key is for us to make sure that competition is friendly."


Continuity is also believed to be a manifestation of maturing bilateral relations. The US and China have gone through periods of tension, stability and institutionalization.


The latter is manifested with the inception of the Strategic Economic Dialogue between the US Treasury and its Chinese counterpart, and the Senior Dialogue on Security and Political Affairs involving the US State Department and the Chinese Foreign Ministry.  


This desire for continuity is an overarching mood of China's elites. Nevertheless, China's elites consist of a political spectrum that is complex and anxious about the ramifications of global economic crises.


During the initial stage of the crisis, China had to face a downslide of economic growth, an increasing unemployment rate, corruption, climate disasters, which has fuelled anxiety in some of the leaders.


Yet by August 2009, numbers showed China did not only survive the crisis but rebounded spectacularly. This is a serious boost of confidence preceding the summit.


China's engagement with America is not merely for the sake of China's pursuit for international prestige and influence. It is fundamentally about how it would serve China's national interests.  


The likelihood of a G2 (US-China) framework would be less obvious, if we looked at it from China's perspective.


In several high-level meetings involving China's foreign policy makers earlier, party elites determined the direction of China's diplomacy.


There will be a slight shift from Deng Xiaoping's earlier philosophy taoguang yanghui, yousuo zuowei (keep a low profile, bid time and do something) to a more active diplomacy (jiji waijiao) and enhance her functional diplomacy (lingyu waijiao).


However, China will be more cautious in leadership roles to avoid getting involved in too many complications. Additionally, China has acknowledged and welcomed the growing multipolar, not bipolar, system — a system deemed to serve her national interests better than any other polarity.


China is gearing up with her multilateral policies and continues to try and actively participate in many regional institutions that have been offered by different heads of state.  


Despite the preferences China may have on regional institution frameworks she would prefer, China has refrained from asserting a regional leadership role so far. Avoiding her neighboring countries' anxiety may be one of the contributing aspects.


However, dealing with mounting domestic challenges may be the greatest concern for party elites, despite the relatively encouraging statistics we can find in the media or other reports.


It is interesting that Obama mentioned internet freedom in China. Indeed, cyberocracy is phenomena that should not be underestimated. There are nearly 350 million internet users and more than 60 million are keen bloggers.


Not to mention the interconnectedness of the Internet and mobile users. This virtual public space will play a significant role in shaping public opinion and public-state engagements in the future, if not already.


So, no, it may not be the age of Chimerica yet. Nevertheless, Sino-US relations will remain as the most important bilateral relationship for a while.

The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Jakarta. She is currently a PhD candidate at the School of International Studies, Peking University.








Unity in Diversity (Bhinneka Tunggal Ika) is true pluralism. Yes! It is great! As a slogan! But this slogan is still an ethereal thing and therefore far from the reality of Indonesia.


A lot of work for all of us! In order to make it work, insight, intellect, and conscience are needed so we can work with - among many - at least the following nine principles of pluralism.


First, pluralism is not just plurality, but more than diversity, not simply relativism, but makes room for real and different religious and cultural commitments. It is a process of creating a society by acknowledging rather than hiding differences.


Second, pluralism does not relinquish the distinctiveness of one's own tradition of faith to reach "something higher or better".


In the public square of pluralism, commitments are not left at the door. Pluralism invites people of every faith to be themselves with all their particularities, and yet to be engaged in creating a civil society through the critical and self-critical encounters with one another.


Third, pluralism requires the nurturing of constructive dialogue, revealing both common understandings and real differences. Dialogue does not mean everyone will agree with one another.


The process of dialogue will inevitably reveal agreement or disagreement and our principle of it is that "whether you agree or disagree you are still with us." Therefore, encouraging a climate of dialogue is foundational for pluralism.


Fourth, pluralism is not the sheer fact of plurality or diversity alone, but is an active engagement with diversity.


Fifth, pluralism is more than mere tolerance of differences but requires deep knowledge of differences. Although tolerance is important, tolerance by itself may be a deceptive virtue. Sometimes an attitude of tolerance may stand in the way of engagement. Tolerance does not require people to know anything at all about one another.


As a result, tolerance can let us harbor all the stereotypes and half-truths that we want to believe about our neighbors. Tolerance does little to remove our ignorance of one another. Tolerance is definitely important, but it is too thin as a foundation for a society as religiously diverse and complex as that of Indonesia.


Sixth, the vigorous encounter of a pluralistic society is not premised on achieving agreement on matters of conscience and faith, but achieving a vigorous context of discussion and relationship.


Perhaps the most valuable thing people of many faiths have in common is their commitment to a society based on the give and take of civil dialogue in public or daily life.


Seventh, although pluralism and diversity are sometimes used as if they were synonyms, but diversity is just plurality which is plain, splendid, colorful, and "threatening".


Pluralism is the engagement that creates a common society from all that plurality and it is only one of the possible responses to this diversity. Some people may feel threatened by diversity or even hostile to it. Therefore, true pluralism is not a given but an achievement.


Eighth, throughout Indonesian history, religious and cultural diversity in our country has produced fault lines, fractures and divisions in which stereotypes and prejudices have old and new forms, as experienced by many of us. It is natural, as a way of expressing fear and uncertainty about this diversity itself.


But our religious and cultural diversity has also produced an opportunity of bridge-building, as diverse religious communities build unprecedented relationships with one another.


And, in the meantime, our Bhinneka Tunggal Ika is consistently calling: come as you are, with all your differences and angularities, pledged only to the common civic demands of Indonesian citizenship! Come and be yourself, contributing in your distinctive way to the "orchestra" of the Indonesian civilization symphony!


Ninth, true pluralism in Indonesia, finally, is a world of understanding where Indonesians are constantly appropriating the meaning of "we" in their religious and cultural diversity.


How do "we" relate to one another, when this "we" includes any Indonesian whoever and whatever he or she is in our public spaces? Indonesians are "we" who should face - per omnia saecula saeculorum, eternally - questions and challenges in appropriating the complex sense of who "we" are. <