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Thursday, December 3, 2009

EDITORIAL 03.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 03, edition 000366, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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







  5. Quantum Leap - DINESH C. SHARMA





















the statesman










































The unveiling by US President Barack Obama of his new AfPak policy — the earlier version has sunk without a trace and few, even in Washington, DC, would be able to recall its contours — has understandably failed to elicit enthusiastic response at home and abroad. There is diminishing support for the Afghan war in the US as Americans, convinced their homeland is now safe and secure from further terrorist depredations, clamour for the troops to be brought home. Emotive slogans of the Vietnam era are being revived to pile pressure on the Government. Those who wouldn't mind Afghanistan (and along with it, Pakistan) collapsing into appalling bloodletting have reason to feel let down by Mr Obama's decision to send in 30,000 additional troops: They had expected an immediate pullout, never mind the fact that the mess in Afghanistan and Pakistan is largely, if not entirely, of America's making. Yet, Mr Obama has not let down the nay-sayers entirely. He has promised that American troops will leave Afghanistan by mid-2011 after a "successful conclusion" of the war. Senator John McCain obviously couldn't resist the temptation of pointing out that wars are won by breaking the enemy's will and not by announcing an exit plan. But then, Mr Obama does not seem to have any intentions of winning the war on terror, but merely staying the course till he is sure that the "security of the United States and the safety of the American people" are no longer threatened. That could be ensured in a myriad ways, including handing over Afghanistan to Pakistan for the latter to install a puppet regime in Kabul; it matters little to Mr Obama that what is at stake is much more than American interests. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the Obama Administration protecting national interests; that's what Governments are meant to do. But if this war is only about America's interests, then the US President should neither claim that "this is not just America's war" nor expect others to bail out Americans on the battlefield with troops and logistics.

In a sense, given Mr Obama's dithering and his by now established inability to grasp the dynamics of the South Asian region, there really is nothing surprising about his 'new' initiative. Much of what he said on Tuesday was known in advance. If at all there is something that merits attention is his attempt to lay the blame at Afghanistan's door while absolving Pakistan — he has lashed out at the victim of Islamabad-sponsored terrorism while praising the criminal state of Pakistan. Mr Obama's crude and rude message to Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, that "the days of providing a blank cheque are over", is in sharp contrast to the billions of dollars he has gifted to Pakistan (and promised more) despite the "cancer" — about which the American President spoke so eloquently at West Point — having spread from Pakistani soil to Afghanistan and other countries. The man standing trial for masterminding the 9/11 attacks is not an Afghan, but a Pakistani jihadi who is proud of his misdeed. The Taliban are not inspired by Afghan culture but the hate preached in Pakistani madarsas. The various terrorist organisations that continue to extract a terrible toll of innocent lives have been lovingly nourished by the Pakistani establishment with American dollars. And, Osama bin Laden, as we all know, was no Lucifer when America was funding the first jihad. Mr Obama does tend to take liberties with history. That may please the Pakistanis, but it will leave most others cold.






The recent Swiss referendum banning future construction of Islamic minarets in Switzerland has ignited a heated debate across Europe amid cries of Islamophobia and concerns regarding how best to integrate the Muslim community. On Sunday more than 57 per cent of Swiss voters voted in favour of the proposal to ban construction of minarets. It was a culmination of public debates and efforts that spanned the last 18 months, led by Switzerland's largest party in Parliament, the Swiss People's Party. Right up to the referendum, the latter had campaigned how symbolically and culturally minarets are inconsistent with the Swiss set-up — there are only four minarets in the whole of Switzerland. Nonetheless, the proposal was opposed by the ruling coalition. As is the case with Swiss democracy — which is the most vigorous of all direct democracies in the world — the proposal had to be put up for a popular referendum. Now that the people of Switzerland have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a ban on the construction of minarets, this becomes law. It is true that this has attracted a certain amount of criticism from various quarters with some calling the move a blow to the secular tenets of the Swiss Constitution. But there are three things that need to be borne in mind. First, it is clear that the ban has come about through the existing democratic system in Switzerland. It is a different debate as to whether that system is ideal or not. The fact is that the ban proposal was brought up in an elected Swiss Parliament and was approved by the people of Switzerland themselves. You cannot have a more democratic mandate.

Second, the ban cannot be construed as a blow to secularism simply because it is not against Islam or Muslims but against a political ideology that the Swiss feel uncomfortable with. Almost every Swiss who voted in favour of the ban asserted after the referendum that he or she was not against Islam as a religion or the Islamic community, but was concerned about what Islamist symbols of power like the minaret represent. Whether one likes it or not this is the popular perception in Switzerland. Those who are opposed to such thinking had their fair chance to vote but were found to be in the minority. Thus, it can neither be argued that the referendum was biased in any manner. And finally, at the end of the day, decisions like these are for the Swiss people to make. After all, Switzerland is a sovereign nation that can boast of a vibrant democracy. Hence, what policy decisions such a democratic nation adopts should not be anyone else's concern. For, neither is Switzerland guilty of human rights violations nor abuses by a dictatorial regime. It has simply exercised its sovereign right within its democratic framework. It would be best if the Swiss were left alone.



            THE PIONEER




US President Barack Obama has finally declared that American troops will be on their way home from Afghanistan in July 2011, a decade after the world's sole superpower declared war on terror, a war yet unsuccessful. Inexplicably, Mr Obama ordered a simultaneous escalation of the ongoing war with 30,000 more troops to be expressly despatched to Afghanistan who will "help create the conditions for the United States to transfer responsibility to the Afghans". Republican rival Senator John McCain predictably pointed out, "The way that you win wars is to break the enemy's will, not to announce dates that you are leaving." However, truth is between two of America's Republican and Democrat Presidents in the past decade, if one went blundering in Asia, the other seems to be floundering.

That Mr Obama was charting an exit route from Afghanistan when he was in Beijing a fortnight ago was apparent in the joint statement he issued with his Chinese counterpart, Mr Hu Jintao. Embracing China as America's most credible global partner, economic and political, Mr Obama stressed on "our mutual interest in security and stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan", adding that the two must work together to bring about "more stable, peaceful relations in all of South Asia". In essence, pushed against the wall in Afghanistan, and in Pakistan as well, and aware that the Americans are running out of ideas and influence, Mr Obama appointed China as the new custodian of peace and stability in Asia, including monitoring India and Pakistan.

In itself, Mr Obama's decision to exit Afghanistan is not altogether misplaced. After all, the US is suffering from intense war fatigue. With 100,000 troops in Iraq and 68,000 in Afghanistan, the US war on terror has been both a financial and emotional drain on the American people for far too long. With the additional despatch announced this week, emotions are bound to run high. A Gallup survey poll released on Tuesday says only 35 per cent Americans are with Mr Obama on this war, 55 per cent clearly disapproving. From a domestic point of view, therefore, it makes ample sense for Mr Obama to exit the Asian theatre of war, a conflict that has at least ensured that American soil has not been a terror target after September 11, 2001.

While Mr Obama may well wish to hand over the baton to China, he must know that, unlike Pakistan, China will be no political or strategic myrmidon. All along the US war on terror Pakistan served as the ideal client state whose soil was liberally used by American troops to launch offensives in Afghanistan and Taliban-controlled Pakistan. As Pakistan got increasingly Talibanised, Washington started calling the shots directly from Islamabad. However, once the most trusted ally, Pakistan today has outlived its utility for the US in this war on terror. Indeed, after limitless casualties and millions of dollars gone, the Obama Administration has come to the conclusion that America's war on terror has been counter-productive. War has actually led to an unprecedented regrouping of terror groups in a region the US troops have so far presided over. Time therefore, it feels, to seek assistance from an Asian giant like China which wields the necessary influence on Pakistan to handle Afghanistan.

However, Mr Obama's freshly unveiled AfPak policy is of grave import for a country like India that continues to be a victim of terror and sits in a tense neighbourhood. While the US President may feel China has the required credentials to look after peace and stability in all of South Asia, China's aggressive posturing against India in recent months cannot be overlooked. It is another matter that the Indian leadership has been unable to convey this clear and present threat to the Americans in so many words. In what would easily go down as one of the most tepid US-India summits in recent years, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Washington failed to register a strong protest with Mr Obama for hyphenating India and Pakistan in his joint statement with China. "We did not, as such, seek any help," Mr Singh merely said, admitting, "It came up as we reviewed the world situation."

If indeed China is anointed Asia's guardian of peace and stability it spells trouble for India. As the most trusted ally of the US, Pakistan's status never really impacted India. The years of US military engagement in the region has only seen India grow from strength to strength — economic, political and strategic. Since 2001, even as India has sought its rightful place on the global stage, Pakistan has hurtled downhill, turning into a failed state, a rogue state, and a mock democracy where jihadis run amok. In a sense, therefore, despite being America's popular choice in the war on terror, Pakistan never really challenged India's position, regional or global. Also, American presence and interests in the region have prevented Pakistan from a military engagement with India.

However, Washington will not be able to remote control Beijing as it did Islamabad. China has regional and global aspirations, is a rapidly expanding economic power, hopes to be a superpower by 2020, and is intensely conscious of India as a credible rival in that race to the top. Already, recent months have witnessed renewed aggression from China, both verbal and physical, along its border with India. That it is seeking to prevent India from emerging as a strong Asian power centre has been apparent for some time now. If China now gets global — read American — legitimacy to monitor India's relations with Pakistan, the scenario is not too difficult to envision.

Hitherto, China has been overtly twisting India's arm along the disputed border with routine troop deployment and massive infrastructure build-up. Covertly, it has helped Pakistan against India, even clandestinely sponsoring its nuclear programme. In short, China has had a traditional contain-India policy that actively employs Pakistan. After the Americans exit the region and if China emerges as the Asian moderator, it will use every trick in the trade to needle India, all in the name of 'encouraging' peace and stability in Asia. While the Chinese posturing may not necessarily bring war clouds over the region, the pressure would be enough for India to get distracted from its rightful aspirations. Time New Delhi woke up to this possibility.







The present generation is living in a networked world. One can be logged into this global network any time of the day. The combination of online chatting, voice messages and web cams has helped countless people experience untold joy, bridge differences and build memories.

However, it was not so long ago that making friends through letters was in vogue. The postman was heartily welcomed by school and college-goers who eagerly awaited the long pages of correspondence from their pen pals.

Sadly, the concept of pen pals has slowly faded away and come to be replaced by 'online chat friends'. With the power of the Internet, befriending someone from Kashmir or Rajasthan sounds lame compared to having a friend in Alaska who is just a click away. But online chatting is more of an addiction than an exercise driven by curiosity. People, irrespective of which age group they fall in, anxiously wait for that time of the day when their virtual friend will come online to chat. They do this because they feel they have made a 'genuine' new friend who, even though is far away, is connected to him or her.

Online chatting is the root of cosmopolitan import. There can be no doubt that it opens up never before experienced vistas. Not only does it enhances one's social circle by expanding his or her friend list but also keeps an individual connected 24X7 even with their immediate friends, making the bond among them stronger.

The concept of making new friends through the Internet might appear to be much more wholesome than pen pals but it comes with certain risks. There will always be the risk of people taking advantage of the anonymous nature of online chatting to project themselves as someone they are not. Often, innocent people are victimised by these double-crossers. Some psychologists go as far as to label online chat as a forum for cheaters. The trend of online chatting has given birth to various cyber crimes. Something that has come to light recently through an exposé by a national news channel is that online chat rooms are full of sexual predators who take advantage of unsuspecting teenagers.

In such circumstances, one longs for those days of pen pals. The concept is far more satisfying than online chatting with anonymous strangers. It is also far more intellectually stimulating and one genuinely gets to learn about people from different cultures. But alas, those days are fast becoming a distant memory.







The new AfPak policy reflects Barack Obama's inability to grasp a simple fact: The US cannot hope to defeat jihadi terrorism by pampering Pakistan which sponsors jihad. Like AfPak-1, the new policy is bound to fail, despite his promise of bringing the war to a 'successful conclusion'

B Raman

US President Barack Obama's AfPak Policy-2, as unveiled by him in his address to American military officer cadets at West Point on Tuesday, December 2, is marked by critical words for the Government of Afghanistan and soft words for the rulers of Pakistan — as if evils such as corruption, poor governance, narcotics production and lack of accountability are confined only to Afghanistan and one does not find these evils in Pakistan.

It is these evils long tolerated by successive US Administrations that have landed Pakistan in the situation in which it finds itself today — a breeding ground of extremism and sectarianism of every hue. The cancer of extremism and jihadi terrorism did not spread to Pakistan from Afghanistan. It spread from the madarsas of Pakistan to Afghanistan with the encouragement and often at the instance of Pakistan's military and intelligence establishments. The root of this cancer is in Pakistan and not in Afghanistan. The surgery has to start in Pakistan. This harsh reality has been played down by Mr Obama in his address.

The Taliban, which nourished Al Qaeda and gave it shelter in Afghan territory, was born in Pakistan in 1994. Al Qaeda and the leadership of the Afghan Taliban escaped defeat by the US forces post-9/11 by taking shelter in Pakistani territory — Al Qaeda in the north Waziristan area of the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas and the Taliban headed by Mullah Mohammed Omar in the Quetta area of Balochistan.

From there, the surviving senior cadre of the two organisations moved to sanctuaries in the non-tribal areas. A recent report in the Washington Times has quoted retired US intelligence sources as saying that Mullah Omar and other leaders of his Taliban have shifted to the Karachi area from Quetta to escape attacks by American drone aircraft in the tribal areas.

Many senior Al Qaeda leaders have been operating from the non-tribal areas of Pakistan — some since even before 9/11. Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was reported to have orchestrated the 9/11 strikes in the US from Karachi from where he shifted to Quetta and then to Rawalpindi, where he was ultimately arrested. Abu Zubaidah was caught in Faisalabad in Punjab and Ramzi Binalshib in Karachi. One should not be surprised if it ultimately turns out that Osama bin Laden and his second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri have also been sheltered in the non-tribal areas and that is why the US has not been able to get at them so far despite offers of huge rewards and repeated drone strikes.

The command and control of both the Taliban and Al Qaeda are now located in Pakistani territory. Mr Obama said in his address at West Point: "Our over-arching goal remains the same: To disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to prevent its capacity to threaten America and our allies in the future.... We will strengthen Pakistan's capacity to target those groups that threaten our countries, and have made it clear that we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known, and whose intentions are clear."

Strong words regarding the safe havens for terrorists in Pakistan. But, as in the past, strong words do not presage strong action to force Pakistan to destroy those safe havens. The Pakistani military's operations in the Swat Valley and south Waziristan are meant to counter a threat to that country's internal security from indigenous elements. They are not directed against the external activities of Al Qaeda. Nor are they directed towards facilitating the military operations of Nato forces and the Afghan National Army in Afghan territory. The safe havens of organisations, which are seen as an asset and not as a threat to Pakistan, are being shifted from place to place to escape detection and action by the US.

If Mr Obama is serious about wanting to start withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan with dignity and honour by the middle of 2011, he has only two options. He can either force Pakistan's rulers to act against the safe havens, whether they are located in tribal or non-tribal areas, or act against them with available US capabilities. The Obama Administration like its predecessor, lacks the political will to do so.

Seeking partnership with a state perpetrator of terrorism is not the way of ending it. That is what Mr Obama has done in his address. That is why his revised AfPak policy is unlikely to meet the objectives which he has set for the US and other Nato countries. Mr Obama's West Point address contains the seeds of its pre-destined failure.

The writer is a former senior official of Research & Analysis Wing and an expert on counter-terrorism issues.








It has to be hoped that the significance of a Central team of observers directed by Union Home Minister P Chidambaram to check out the 'law and order' situation in West Bengal at the behest of the Trinamool Congress supported by the Congress is all sound and fury, that adds up to nothing.

If after the 75th amendment to the Constitution, interpretations of the law by the Supreme Court, Article 356 continues to be a menace, threatening State Governments with respectable majorities, then it shows up the serious flaws in the functioning of political democracy in India. It reveals that political parties are heedless of the moral consequences of their ambition to seize power, which is a far more dangerous trait than a dogged desire to get through a mandated five-year term, despite rapidly evaporating popular support.

The Congress in general and the Trinamool Congress in particular should be held accountable for jointly dismantling the protection that was built around the threat to use Article 356. There was a time when there was real menace when the Centre threatened to invoke Article 356, send a "Central team", seek "a report of the Governor". Memories of the malevolent use of the provision may have faded for some, but any move that revives the ghost that was exorcised is an indication that the polity is endangered.

It can be argued that there are circumstances under which Article 356 has to be invoked. In Karnataka and Jharkhand the provision has been used in recent years, when none of the political combinations could rustle up a majority that could offer a stable Government. Even then there was controversy over its use. There should be outrage over the manner in which the Congress and the Trinamool Congress are playing war games with the Constitution as a weapon.

Invoking Article 356 even as a threat is tricky in West Bengal. It begs the question is the ruling regime alone responsible for the spiral of violence? That significant numbers of Communist Party of India (Marxists) have seriously erred, abused power, is no longer an accusation levelled by the Opposition in West Bengal. The CPI(M) has acknowledged it; sat in conclave to work out methods to rectify the situation, agonised over weeding out mercenaries from the Marxists. By publicly holding itself responsible for the transgressions that have taken place, the CPI(M) has admitted its faults.

That does not wash away the sins committed by CPI(M)'s cadres and leaders. The erosion of CPI(M)'s popular support and the rising graph of the Trinamool Congress's popularity has confirmed in a series of elections, from the panchayat to the Lok Sabha to the recently held by elections that the CPI(M) has seriously erred.

The Trinamool Congress's success reflects to failure of the CPI(M) to hold on to its voters. While the Trinamool Congress can claim, as it does, that by offering resistance it has empowered the disenchanted who are no longer afraid to register their dissent, it cannot disclaim that it has resisted and returned, measure for measure, every perceived attack by the CPI(M) on its supporters it has successfully.

The task of 'Central teams' is, therefore, not as straightforward as the political class would have it. Either the Centre converts the process of assessment of the extent of constitutional breakdown into a burlesque or it apportions blame in a fair and equitable manner. In order to do so, the Centre would need to set a cut off date for assessing when the trouble started.

To adopt the Trinamool Congress version would require fixing the assessment period beginning 1977, for the party's refrain is that for 32 years "nothing" has worked in West Bengal, the CPI(M) has terrorised the population and appropriated the money instead of spending it on development schemes. Whether misappropriation and failure of development is tantamount to constitutional breakdown is a risky assessment, because many other States would be equally vulnerable by that yardstick.

To adopt the CPI(M) version, the trouble began in 2006 when the Trinamool Congress launched its 19-party rainbow alliance, which included the Maoists, via a sprinkling of frontal organisations. By deliberately destabilising the State's economy, by creating uncertainty to enable a regime of terror to be established, the Trinamool Congress has been charged with inciting violence and spreading despair.

In both versions, it is clear that the two sides have confronted each other. The rhetoric, the tactics, the accusations, the attacks are all part of a game that the two sides are engaged in; the trophy is power to rule West Bengal.

With claims by the Trinamool Congress of 130 martyrs and the CPI(M)'s claims of 160 plus martyrs, no visiting team can be left in any doubt that both sides have given as good as they got. To play the role of avenging angel is a tough call. Why the Congress has chosen to play it in West Bengal where its credentials vis-à-vis President's rule are suspect, is intriguing.







It was early April 2003. The city of Mosul in northern Iraq was in free fall. The holdout units of Saddam Hussein's military had abandoned their posts sometime during the night. By midmorning, looters were helping themselves and vigilantes were beginning their revenge. In a traffic circle, the garroted bodies of Saddam loyalists were propped up like scarecrows. At the university, libraries and labs were picked clean — right down to someone wheeling away a model skeleton that jiggled in a noisy dance of flailing arms and snapping jaw.

This is where I made a promise to a doctor I met amid the mayhem. I had come across Dr Salim Mohammed Yacoub after he banded together with colleagues to defend their hospital against the street pirates.

We talked for a long time. It began with his views on the American-led invasion of his country but soon drifted into a broader conversation about the utter helplessness of civilians, like himself, caught in conflict.

He then said something as profound as anything I've ever heard about war. "Remember, we don't live our lives in history books," Dr Yacoub told me.

I knew instantly what he meant. Scholars and pundits can analyse the strategic outcomes and judge the winners and losers from a safe distance. But there is none of that as war unfolds. There are just moments.

They come in every imaginable form: A car bomb's lethal spray of metal and glass, a unit pinned down by an ambush, neighbours turning on neighbours, a soldier packing for another tour, the pre-dawn salute of President Barack Obama at Dover Air Force Base for 18 soldiers killed in Afghanistan in a single week.

It's these countless fragments that have built the narrative of the post-9/11 years. We pore over them to try to make sense of where we are and seek clues about what could come. It was just the beginning of America's second war when I sat with Dr Yacoub. He said, "Come find me in five or six years, god willing. Then we can talk more about the wars and what they mean." I told him I would try my best.We are now at that point.

The doctor was right about one thing. There is much to discuss. In Iraq, it's now about holding the gains.

The country is moving toward some level of stability. But it came only after years that pushed Iraq perilously close to civil war between the Sunnis who lost power after Saddam's fall and the majority Shiites who took control of the aftermath. The tallies: More than 4,350 US soldiers dead; at least 87,500 Iraqi civilians killed, according to Government figures.

Insurgents still strike — most recently in late October with cars bombs that killed at least 155 people in strikes against Baghdad municipal offices — but the attacks no longer appear capable of bringing down the Government or seriously altering the Pentagon's plans to pull out the last troops in about two years. The war in Afghanistan launched by 9/11, meanwhile, seems to be drifting out of the grasp of America and its allies. This is because their enemy isn't a fixed target. The Taliban is not an army, but an ideology. It draws as much from its puritanical reading of Islam as it does from Afghanistan's own lore as a graveyard for invaders. But what I really wanted to talk about with Dr Yacoub is his own story since we last met.

I found Dr Yacoub in November. I tracked him down through his hospital — now called Al Salam, or Peace — which was closed from 2005 to 2007 when it was occupied by Kurdish fighters.

It's still surrounded by concrete blast walls in a city that's considered the last urban stronghold for Al Qaeda in Iraq and other Sunni insurgents.

Dr Yacoub remembered me and our conversation that day. I expected him to be surprised by my call and ask about my desire to make contact again. Instead, he simply recounted his life since the fall of Mosul. He sounded tired.

He remained in Mosul but kept a low profile while the hospital was closed. Doctors, academics and other professionals were sometimes hit by targeted killings by insurgents. Dr Yacoub took no chances.

He would rarely leave his neighbourhood and managed to make some money with a home clinic. Many colleagues fled to Syria or Jordan as the insurgency grew. He came close to leaving, but felt it was better to be a prisoner of violence in his own country than a refugee in another. "So much suffering," he told me by phone. "I've seen so much suffering."

I reminded him of what he said to me in 2003 — that it would take years to gain a fuller perspective on the war. Certainly, I noted, violence is easing. This must be good news.

"Yes, yes," he said. "That is true. It is safer. I am back at work. But war goes deeper. It can break a soul. It can break the spirit. It robs people of hope. Those are wounds that take a long time to heal."

"Was the war worth it? That is a question not just for this war, but all wars. Ask me — ask the living — and they may say yes. We cannot ask the dead that question. But I think the answer might be different."







Farmer suicides are not new in Odisha. Many cases have occurred after the economic liberalisation. It's only now that this silent death is being widely discussed. According to Government records, there were 3,509 farmer suicides between 1997 and 2008 in Odisha. These suicides were caused by flawed policy decisions and the impoverished farmers were pushed into desperation by the systematic denial of their rights. This amounts to a form of structural violence.

Farmer suicides are the result of lack of land reforms, neglect of the agriculture sector and the absence of a strong institutional credit system in the State. Our rulers totally forgot the land reforms of the 1960s and now the process of 'reverse land reforms' is the new occurrence. There is inadequate investment in the agriculture sector, apart from faulty policies which are so detrimental to small and marginal farmers that they commit suicide. Climate change, particularly erratic monsoons, has made the situation worse. The fondness of the political regime for heavy and mineral-based industries in Odisha, in the name of 'public interest', has not been in the interest of one of the most vulnerable segments of society: The small and marginal farmers.

Agriculture is the way of life for the majority of people in Odisha, so land is one of the primary necessities. Land is a fundamental asset and is the primary source of income, security, status and dignity. The record of rights in land has an important part to play in the functioning of the economy. Without land there can be no state, no habitation and no ground work for carrying on human activities. Access to land is, therefore, a critical factor in how wealth, power and status are distributed within society. In rural areas land decides power relationships and Odisha has witnessed many struggles, conflicts and uprisings over land.

Many families in Odisha lack access to land or a secure stake in the land they till. As a result, acute poverty and related problems of hunger, social unrest and farmer suicide persist. The landlessness of tribals and Scheduled Castes is a major concern. But it's important to note that although 70 per cent of the population depends on agriculture for their livelihood, even as people struggle to get land the Odisha Government is signing memorandum of understanding after memorandum of understanding to give away land to corporations on wholesale basis.

At the national level the importance of ROR was emphasised in the first Five-Year Plan, and plan after plan was designed with noble intent, but the sorry state of ROR on land continues. The revenue institutions have not been able to tackle the real issues and there has not been visible impact on the ground. The record of rights in land in Odisha is in a shambles and the complexity involved makes it a difficult problem to resolve. Land holdings of a size insufficient for sustainability, share-cropping, the lack of institutional credit, high input commercial crops, and problems of water-sharing and irrigation all play important roles.

The average land holding in Odisha is 1.34 hectares but the land distribution pattern in the State is highly skewed in favour of large farmers. The majority of farmers have land holdings of a size that is not sufficient for sustainability: 53.66 per cent marginal farmers and 26.22 per cent small farmers occupy 19.73 per cent and 26.93 per cent of the State's land, respectively. But a small number of large and medium farmers occupy an abnormally high share of cultivated land. In the districts of KBK, the figures are further skewed and unfavorable to small and marginal farmers.

Many small and marginal farmers and the landless cultivate large and medium farmers' land as share-croppers and also cultivate Government revenue and forest land in order to eke out a living. They thus must pay large shares of the crops to the owners and are labelled as 'encroachers' on forest lands. A large number of medium and big land owners no longer farmers, but have moved to the cities to work in administration, politics, business and trading. But they still receive almost half the harvest as absentee landlords.

In this situation it is not in anyone's interest to invest money in land development. The 1960s slogan, "Land to the tiller", is no more on the State's agenda. Arable land remaining almost the same, the per-capita availability of land in Odisha has considerably gone down from 0.39 hectare in 1950- 51 to 0.15 hectare in 2004-05 due to increase in population.

The Orissa Land Reforms Act, 1960, was designed to reform the law relating to land tenures, agrarian reforms and abolition of intermediary interest, conferring better rights on agriculturists to ensure increases in food production and permanent, heritable, transferable rights on land for the tiller. The provision was there that if land is cultivated continuously for 12 years or more by a person other than its owner, the rights to the land shall pass to the cultivator. But there have been no initiatives in the recent past by the Government to record the land in the name of share-croppers. There is further provision of rent not to exceed one-fourth of the gross produce of the land, but in practice owners claim almost half of the produce and farmer's have little option to protest.

-- To be continued







THE Opposition members' attribution of Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's recent outbursts in Parliament to his advancing age does strike true, but it is a shade below the belt. Pranab da may be short- tempered and his response to Opposition queries in the Rajya Sabha on Tuesday may have been a tad over the top but even his critics will not deny that for a man of 74 years, he is remarkably fit and efficient.


Due consideration needs to be given to the inordinate amount of responsibility that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and party supremo Sonia Gandhi have placed on Mr Mukherjee's shoulders. Besides being the Union Finance Minister, he happens to be the chief troubleshooter of the UPA government. Nearly every important crisis that the UPA government has faced in its first and second tenures has seen him in the forefront. He headed more than 50 GoMs in UPA's first tenure and is in charge of more than 15 in this one, having to take a call on sundry issues.


With a prime minister who is somewhat apolitical and a Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, who is relatively less experienced in politics, it is Pranab da with his years and political wisdom on whom the responsibility often falls to chart the UPA's ship through choppy waters, as happened during the impasse over the Indo- US nuclear deal last year. He also has to officiate as prime minister when Manmohan Singh is absent or indisposed.

This is certainly not fair on the man even if he may be the last person to complain.


More so if you remember that by not becoming prime minister, a post he very well deserved, destiny and political circumstances have been less than fair to him. The Congress Party is a huge banyan tree, so there is no reason why it cannot groom younger leaders to share Mr Mukherjee's burden. It could also, perhaps, cool his temper a bit.







THE United Progressive Alliance's second government seems to have mastered the tough art of imparting a top- spin to the political ball. Take the Prime Minister's visit to the US. With little to show, we had the National Security Advisor solemnly declaring that the PM had persuaded President Obama to order the US Federal Bureau of Investigation to visit India to provide details of the David Coleman Headley and Tawwahur Rana plot. However, a quick google search will tell you that the FBI officials' plan to visit India was known well before the PM left for the United States.


Somewhat similar has been the spinmeisters' take on the phone call that Mr Obama made to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh supposedly asking for an Indian training team to assist the Afghan National Army, an offer which the Indian side peremptorily rejected because it did not want to be seen as being part of an occupation army.


Actually, Mr Obama called more than a dozen foreign leaders before and after announcing his troop surge plan. As the US Ambassador Timothy Roemer's statement indicates, the US help sought was in terms of a regional initiative to assist the ANA to find its feet. This presumably includes other countries besides India.


Spin has become a necessary component of political communication. But as in cricket, it does not always work. And, as is well known, an improperly executed spin ball is liable to be sent to the stands for a six.






GIVE A hand to the Salahis. And while we are at it, perhaps give them a Padma award too. But for this couple gatecrashing the White House state dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last week, which Foreign Service babu would have predicted the kind of media coverage that the PM finally received? The audacious Michaele and Tareq Salahi duped the US Secret Service and actually got to shake hands with President Obama and our very own PM. Till this fiasco the US media studiously focused on the menu of the banquet, and Michelle's dress, not the chief guest.


Courtsey the Salahis the PM's state visit got mentions in five continents. Never mind the fact that little or nothing of the substance of the visit was actually detailed. But maybe that was all there was to the visit — the big party and the gate- crash.








New Delhi needs to ensure that any newAfghan initiative is carefully calibrated to deliver positive outcomes in PakistanIN 2005, during the visit of former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh to Kabul this writer had occasion to ask an American general whether the US would welcome Indian involvement in training Afghan forces. The American officer visibly recoiled. " At the moment," he said, " that would not be a good idea at all." This was the occasion when India formally presented the first batch of 300 light trucks it had promised for the Afghan National Army ( ANA).


The US general at the time was reflecting the Pakistani unease with the growing Indian presence in Afghanistan. Since then, India has made a mark with its purposeful and effective foreign aid programme. But it has also been the target of Pakistani rage, manifested in various statements made by its leaders complaining about the alleged activities of Indian personnel posted in Afghanistan, and also in a deadlier form by two bomb attacks on the Indian embassy in Kabul.


So the US decision to seek Indian assistance to train Afghan forces, even if it is couched as a kind of regional initiative, is significant. It is clearly the linchpin of a larger strategy of getting the ANA to take care of the security responsibilities and enable the United States to exit gracefully beginning 2011, significantly, the year in which Obama is also likely to begin his re- election campaign.



The direct application of force never works against insurgencies and political movements. Stamina and subtlety are things that can and do work. India needs to work with the US and other regional powers to break the thralldom of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It can do this through economic and social development programmes, which will, of course, require the protection of armed units to be able to establish themselves. This is broadly the McChrystal strategy. But the American general is likely to be shortchanged by his political masters in terms of available manpower. The European allies of the Americans are unlikely to commit any new forces.


As for the American call for Indian participation in training the ANA, it is both a bit too late, and too early.


It is late because a significant Indian commitment in the wake of 9/ 11 could have arguably helped stem the return of the Taliban. It is early because at this point it would be imprudent for New Delhi to commit itself. It would, first, stoke Pakistani paranoia and aggravate the already difficult India- Pakistan relations.


Second, it could conceivably land us in a losing enterprise. India needs to work out its entry strategy, just as carefully the Americans are thinking through their exit one.


Obama has been right to put forward an exit strategy even while committing forces. History is littered with examples of states that entered into war without knowing or planning the way out. However, put as baldly as it has been done, it also tells us about the thinness of the American commitment in Afghanistan. The US won't say so, but they must also be hoping that the Hand of God plays a role by delivering Osama bin Laden, dead or alive, by 2011. Should this happen, it could be passed off as a victory and set the stage for a quick American pullout from what is already a Vietnam- like quagmire.


There should be no illusions about the ability of the additional troops to change things in Afghanistan. What

they will do is to provide space and time for the Americans to Afghanise the war. Vietnamisation, in contrast, began too late to affect the outcome of the Vietnam war.


In these circumstances, it is important for India to keep its powder dry.


It must first ensure that it does not become part of the problem, and remains a part of the solution in Afghanistan. It can help the American enterprise by carrying on its civilian aid programme and perhaps intensifying it and be involved in regional diplomacy with Iran and Russia to assist the process of stabilising Afghanistan. And it can come forward with a programme that could take large number of Afghan personnel and train them here in India. In this way it can avoid the stigma of associating with what could turn out to be a lost war, or of being part of the foreign occupation of the country.



New Delhi has to play for the longer run. The contours of the US commitment are now quite clear. Even if it is not 2011, it will be 2012 or even 2015.


And even this will be defined by the forces the US has at its command, which are not likely to go over the 100,000 peak that will be achieved next summer.


But Afghanistan will remain a nearneighbour of India for a longer time.


Through history, the security of India, at least its northern part, has been determined by what happens on the other side of the Khyber Pass.


However, and this is also known, successive rulers of New Delhi have never quite grasped this. However, Pakistan now intervenes geographically, and that geopolitical reality has become more complex. What happens in Afghanistan is still relevant to the future of Indian security, though now somewhat indirectly. A stable and prosperous Afghanistan will have beneficial consequences for Pakistan which interfaces directly with India. On the other hand, instability, especially in eastern Afghanistan peopled by Pashtun tribes, cannot but spill over into Pakistan, with all the baleful consequences that we are witnessing at this very time.


It was in the first flush of mujahideen victory that the Inter- Services Intelligence Directorate began shifting the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba training camps to Afghanistan's Kunar province in the early 1990s.


Subsequently some Harkat- ul- Mujahideen camps also came up in Khost to train terrorists for the insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir.


If the Taliban regain control of Afghanistan, India can expect a renewed surge of jihadi attacks. It could be, as in the past, as part of a triumphant ISI operation. Or, worse, run by a clutch of jihadi groups over whom no one exercises real control.


The situation in western Pakistan is no longer stable and the outcomes there are difficult to predict. But one thing is certain: all the bad things that can happen to India because of Afghanistan will have to come through Pakistan.



So, India needs to focus sharply on the source of our greatest danger — Pakistan. That is the main reason why any Indian ground commitment, must be carefully thought through.


Aggravating tensions with a neighbour is never a good idea, but to enhance the paranoia of an already psychotic Pakistan would be foolhardy.


There are many in India who say they are past caring for what Islamabad says or does.


But the luxury of ignoring Pakistan does not exist and New Delhi needs to ensure that its policy in Afghanistan is carefully calibrated to generate desired outcomes in Pakistan.


India must be part of the Afghan solution, but it must avoid anything that smacks of a clumsy intervention. New Delhi must be a major player in the Afghan game. But it must play to win; the consequences of a defeat or a draw will not be too pleasant.


manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in



Quantum Leap




IN THREE days from now, the United Nations conference on climate change is scheduled to begin at Copenhagen, amidst a lot of hype and hoopla. It has been billed as the most important gathering of the present times on which hinges the future of humanity. Some have said this is the last chance for our leaders to save this planet from the catastrophe called global warming.


It is being projected as if any failure to reach an agreement at Copenhagen — which looks likely — will doom the future of billions of people. Can so many hoped be pinned to a single meeting? Is it really the last chance available for us to prevent an environmental disaster? Let's see what is at stake at Copenhagen. The world leaders are going to discuss the nitty gritty of a complex agreement on global climate. The basic issue is how to control emissions of greenhouse gases — which are emitted from a range of sources, from the cars in which you drive to work and the gobar cakes that villagers burn to cook food to large coal- fired power plants that spew tons of carbon and other gases into the environment every day.


If targets have to be fixed for such emissions, it would mean we change the way we produce power, the way we consume power, the way we commute, the way we cook and the way ( or what) we eat. It is not some esoteric treaty that politicians are negotiating. It is something that concerns you and me. It is about our lives, our lifestyles, our economy and our growth. In that sense, climate change negotiations are more about economic growth of nations and lifestyles of individuals than saving the environment per se.


Look at the complexities involved. First of all, nations have to agree that there is a problem and that we need to do something about it. Fortunately, this agreement exists notwithstanding deniers and skeptics. For the first time, the biggest carbon emitter, the US, is on board. Having agreed upon the need to act, the second step is about who will do how much. Countries have to spell out their individual plans to cut emissions and if those plans ( or targets) are acceptable to all. Then verification procedures have to be installed. Finance and technology has to be provided to poorer countries to effect the changes envisaged. Each one of these is a complex issue and to expect that one single meeting could resolve all of them would be a tall order, given the disparities that exist.


That's why I feel that Copenhagen is the beginning and not the end of the road. As Richard Horton, Editor of The Lancet observed last week: " Copenhagen is a starting pistol marking the beginning of concerted high- level political negotiations." So, let the race begin.




TOBACCO control rules are being openly flouted in India's commercial hub, Mumbai. There is a ban on advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products, but there is no Mumbai street where you can't find a cigarette advertisement.


Under the rules, companies are allowed to display product information at ' points of purchase' but the size of boards companies can place at retail points has been specified.


But cigarette companies are placing much bigger boards and are putting them in a contiguous manner — on two or more adjoining retail points in a row — cornering a much larger display area. Such displays are being put up on shops that are closed as well as on those which usually do not stock cigarettes.


The most surprising violation of the tobacco law can be seen at the new departure terminal of the Mumbai airport. Instead of setting up a fully covered and pressurised smoking room — as specified under the law — an open ' smoking corner' has been set up. Smokers are advised not to move out of the corner which is like an open STD kiosk.




WE ALL know about physical fitness and various products available to keep ourselves in shape. Soon we will have brain fitness products in the market. A Canadian cognitive science research centre, Baycrest, has floated a new company to develop and market brain fitness products.


Test- marketing will begin next year for the first product, Memory@ Work.


This is a corporate training programme that will teach employees, managers and team leaders how to use memory strategies to improve their performance in the workplace. Other products in the pipeline for test- marketing in 2011 and 2012 include brain exercise games for mobile devices and the web. The company says it would develop products based on the current knowledge of brain functioning and continually validate their efficacy in different populations.



INDIA'S record on the environment front has been poor, to say the least. India may be projecting itself on the other side of the divide in the international climate change negotiations today, but fact remains that we have done precious little for the environment in the past few decades.


Most of the ' new' proposals to limit carbon emissions being touted now like rollout of solar power and energy efficiency have been around for many years. We took an early lead in nonconventional sources of energy such as solar, wind and biomass, but all such plans suffered due to lack of political will and funding.


Energy efficient devices like solar cookers, solar lanterns and improved cooking stoves were developed and demonstrated in field almost two decades ago.


But energy and fuel efficiency was never given the priority it deserved. The pollution control norms and shift to CNG were a result of judicial activism rather than an act of the executive.


It is ironical that it is for these very areas that India is now seeking technology and finance on the global roundtable. Had we taken these steps seriously, we could have not only avoided tonnes of carbon emissions but also saved millions of lives. It has been estimated that the introduction of 150 million efficient low- emission cooking stoves in rural areas can avert 1.8 million premature adult deaths from heart and respiratory diseases every year.


dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in

AT the first India Pharma Summit held in Mumbai this week, a grand vision for making India a major player in drug development, manufacturing and outsourcing was unveiled by the Department of Pharmaceuticals in collaboration with industry. A report presented at the conference projected that the Indian drug industry could double its size from the present $ 20 billion to $ 40 billion within the next five years. A substantial part of this revenue would come from the outsourcing business in clinical trials.


One of the problems that the industry faces is the image problem in the West. Industry leaders complained that the media keeps highlighting unethical and illegal human trials of drugs in India by foreign companies. Then there are reports of fake drugs. To counter such ' negative' perception, the government plans to take up a branding exercise for the Indian drug industry in some export markets. But the image cannot improve unless issues like unethical clinical trials and massive pollution due to drug manufacturing in clusters such as Patancheru in Andhra Pradesh are addressed right away.








US president Barack Obama's outlined plan for a troop surge in Afghanistan, coupled with an exit strategy setting July 2011 as the kickoff point for the withdrawal of US forces, is likely to attract criticism from both sides. Domestic public fatigue with the war may cause some to say he committed too much, while those wanting the US to stay the course will say he didn't commit enough. But Obama has probably made the best of a bad situation. There are no easy answers in Afghanistan after seven years of mismanagement. Now, to obviate the danger of the Taliban deciding to simply wait out the US presence, a few focus areas are important.

The first is ensuring that the Afghan government is in a position to deal with the Taliban once the US withdrawal starts. And for that, the prime necessity is an effective administration in Kabul. Without good governance, Afghan president Hamid Karzai's government will lack the legitimacy it needs to succeed against the Taliban. How exactly Washington can apply pressure without making Karzai seem a US stooge is problematic, but Obama hinted at it in his speech when he spoke of reaching out to local leaders and elders. It will serve both to build effective local governance systems and exert pressure on Karzai to clean up his act if he does not wish to be left out in the cold.

Another important facet of beefing up the Afghan government is bolstering the Afghan police and military's size and capabilities. At the same time, the complementary task of degrading the Taliban's strength must be undertaken. For this too, reaching out to local leaders is important. But perhaps the crucial factor is Pakistan. If Islamabad allows militants safe havens, all the American efforts will be wasted. A US withdrawal with the Taliban's Quetta shura still intact would mean that a decade of war and loss of life was for nothing. As for hardliners in Islamabad, they would do well to remember that July 2011 is simply the starting point for the withdrawal. The actual pace of the drawdown will depend on the situation on the ground.

New Delhi must not cavil if large amounts of civilian aid flow into Pakistan, since that would shore up anti-militancy forces. It must, on the contrary, stay closely engaged with Washington and with Kabul, keep reminding Washington and other international capitals of the urgency of the task of turning Afghanistan around, and itself remain ready to help.







Meat grown in a petri dish? Sounds like science fiction, but it isn't. Scientists at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands have grown in-vitro meat, using cells from a live pig to replicate growth in a petri dish. They haven't been able to actually taste the pork they've grown because of lab rules. Nevertheless there's potential here for two giant breakthroughs. It could mean not only an end to killing animals for food, but also significantly aid the fight against climate change.

The United Nations estimates that as much as 18 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to livestock. Methane, which is a common digestive by-product from farm animals, is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming the atmosphere. As nations grow more prosperous, global meat and dairy product consumption is expected to double by 2050, thus expelling more greenhouse gases and contributing even more to climate change. Many public figures, from Nicholas Stern to R K Pachauri to actress Natalie Portman, have exhorted people to go vegetarian. If, however, meat can be grown in the lab rather than on farms, then people need not be asked to make great sacrifices for the sake of Mother Earth. They can, so to say, have their rack of lamb and eat it too.

Then there's animal cruelty. Animals in industrialised farms, bred for the sole purpose of human consumption, are reared in appalling conditions. What the barbarism of their treatment says about human compassion aside, the conditions in some abattoirs can be so terrible that the meat produced violates most safety standards. With lab-produced meat, such slaughterhouses would lose their raison d'etre, striking a blow for the milk of human kindness.

The same Eindhoven scientists have also been successful in creating fish fillets from the cells of a goldfish. That discovery points the way towards solving another pressing ecological issue: overfishing and the depletion of fish stocks. Some of the world's leading marine scientists have called on WTO ministers meeting this week in Geneva to devise new trade rules that would prevent overfishing, which is having catastrophic consequences on the world's oceans. Assuming some details can be worked out, we could soon have solutions to all these problems on our plate.






Biotechnology is aptly described as the "technology of hope" for its promise to deliver food security, life-saving drugs, alternate energy and environmental sustainability. India has many assets in its strong pool of scientists and engineers, vast institutional network and cost-effective manufacturing. Over 100 national research laboratories employ thousands of scientists. More than 300 college-level educational and training institutes offer degrees and diplomas in biotechnology, bio-informatics and the biological sciences, producing nearly 5,00,000 students annually. About 3,00,000 postgraduates and 1,500 PhDs qualify in biosciences and engineering each year. According to reports, outside of the US, India ranks the highest with 61 USFDA-approved plants and in excess of 200 GMP certified pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities.

The Indian government's national biotechnology development strategy is a comprehensive road map for this emerging sector. The document recognises the challenges of building both scale and critical mass in pursuing a global leadership profile. The biotech industry is poised to deliver a size of $5 billion by 2010 with biopharma driving the growth trajectory. However, funding, infrastructure, regulation and skill competency mapping pose obstacles in this path to the future. Conversely, India is uniquely placed to build a strong competitive edge. It offers an attractive cost arbitrage in research & development at roughly a third of that in the western hemisphere. Key enablers include a large, qualified English-speaking workforce, a network of reputed research laboratories and state-of-the-art pharmaceutical labs and manufacturing facilities. Further, the patient population offers a large, diverse pool for effective clinical research and development.

Ever-increasing cost and time involved in drug discovery and development, fierce competition and pricing pressure are all spurring western pharma companies to have an India strategy. A large number of blockbuster drugs are also set to go off-patent, giving the sector here tremendous opportunities. The industry is collaborating with global giants in clinical trials, discovery and development research, and manufacturing, thus rapidly moving up the value chain. In this age of hyper competition and wafer-thin margins, India's biotech sector is poised at an inflection point.

Yet the industry continues to face numerous challenges. Foremost is finance. Venture funding has abstained from investing in this sector on account of its high risk profile. Aversion to risk is also seen within the sector, which prefers low risk ventures based on services and generics, shying away from an innovation-led business model. The department of biotechnology has plugged this deficiency through a number of funding schemes. It is for entrepreneurs to avail of these funds and rise to the challenge of innovation.

The sector also faces the same infrastructural hurdles affecting Indian industry. The country continues to fall short on critical enablers such as quality roads and uninterrupted supply of power and potable water. However, beyond these common issues, the sector has its own problems. It requires a streamlined regulatory framework to accelerate commercialisation of products. Numerous regulatory agencies pulling in different directions slow down the process of growth. Bt Brinjal is a good example of how years of intensive research investment are unable to guarantee commercial returns. Human clinical trials are still an unresolved aspect. Further, essential strong industry-academia connections are sadly lacking.

The government can lead the way in facilitating growth by treating biotechnology as a priority sector. R&D is the bedrock on which biotech rests. The government must enable international patenting, which curiously does not qualify for tax deduction, and encourage investment. A regulatory environment that helps the drug discovery process and approves products without delays is urgently required. A five-year tax holiday on new products developed in-house can be a great incentive for R&D. Profits on such products can be mandated for reinvestment in R&D to encourage development of newer and better drugs at lower costs.

The biotech sector needs creativity to harness its potential and assume global leadership. There exists a huge opportunity for growth but only if innovation becomes part of the business ethic and a primary enterprise driver. It is no longer enough to produce clones of pharma products that have saturated the market, which do nothing to add value. Benchmarks must be set high and out-of-the-box thinking must become the norm. Profit margins can be maintained through contract discovery and manufacturing for foreign firms.

Extensive research requires expensive equipment that needs to be imported. The government can step in again by exempting or reducing import duties. It can also approve the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises's (ABLE) recommendation to set up a biotech fund to support first-generation biotech entrepreneurs up to the 'proof of concept' stage. ABLE has also urged the government to exempt venture funds investing in the sector from capital gains tax. That can act as a reward for longer-term investment cycles.

Already a major hub, India has all that it takes to become a global biotech leader. This will not only spur economic growth and provide much-needed jobs, but also ensure that we find answers to modern-day challenges in healthcare, energy, food security, and the environment. However, biotechnology's promise and India's potential can be realised only if government and industry work together and draw up a road map to facilitate innovation.

The writer heads a biotech company.







Whether it's his "original sin" or his "selfish gene", man has long been portrayed as violent by nature and driven by narrow self-interest. William Golding's novel Lord of The Flies suggested that human taste for bloody strife is so hardwired that even children must end up fighting and killing as a rite of passage. There is, it would seem, no state of innocence. Not so, say biologists. Many claim humans are by nature sociable. Though a degree of selfishness is a necessary survival tool, empathy propels us and makes us join hands. Studies show very young children to be nice and helpful towards non-relatives. Here's the surprise: this happens even before they learn social skills from their parents.

Developmental psychologists point out that infants instinctively know when someone needs assistance, and help or volunteer information. This desire to aid seems unconditional, not a product of training and unmotivated by rewards. Growing older, children become more selective but cooperate as part of a group. So, helpfulness, sociability and altruism appear to be natural inclinations, not society's behavioural hand-me-downs. None of this sounds unfamiliar. John Locke called man a social animal. Rousseau spoke of the inherent nobility of the untutored savage. Wordsworth eulogised the child that, with its inborn virtues, could be the father teacher of man.

The discovery of the skeletal remains of a fossil named Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus, recently shook assumptions about man's resemblance with killer chimpanzees. Though close to the last common ancestor of apes and humans and displaying gentler dental and other features than chimps, Ardi has raised doubts about the idea of biologically evolved human machismo. But do we need scholars to unveil what we see all around? Society wouldn't tick if people family, neighbours, strangers didn't help each other in daily life. Nor could global diplomacy function without countries trying to cooperate, uphold certain universal values or prevent nuclear war and destructive climate change. Yes, there's a dark side to us. But if there's a good chance that helpfulness and amity are innate resources, why not look at the bright side of our own natures?






Are humans born to compete? Or are they, as philosophers like Jean Jacques Rousseau have argued, unselfish and noble beings when in the state of nature? Some recent research by biologists seems to suggest that Rousseau's version of human nature might have been the right one. But like a lot of work churned out nowadays these researchers have got it wrong.

The history of evolution is a validation of the survival of the fittest. Charles Darwin, whose seminal Origin of the Species turned 150 years last week, has convincingly shown that all animals as well as plants have to evolve to compete and survive in a hostile environment. So it is but natural that humans too are imbued with the competitive spirit right from the beginning.


This can be backed up by numerous examples from real life where competitiveness far outstrips acts of altruism. But how early this attitude can set in was perhaps most chillingly portrayed in Nobel Prize-winner William Golding's Lord of the Flies where a group of boys marooned in a deserted island degenerate to savagery.

The lesson from Golding's allegorical novel is that if you take away the trappings of civilisation man's real nature is exposed. It's only through socialisation and the exposure from a very early age to rules and norms that humans learn to cooperate and be helpful to each other. If such socialisation does not take place early on it is very well likely that the competitive spirit will dominate.

It's not without reason we have all sorts of rules both ethical and legal to tame us and the state and its various agencies to enforce them. Thomas Hobbes had used the famous phrase 'nasty, brutish and short' to describe the human condition and to argue for a leviathan-like state to regulate and improve things. Life might no longer be short but it can still be nasty and brutish. To survive in this dog-eat-dog environment humans, including kids, have to develop a ruthless streak.






It could have been taken straight out of George Orwell's Animal Farm. I entered the hospital in my piggy mask, complete with snout. Masked creatures were everywhere, some with the snouts and some flat, but all moving sharply away as they encountered one another. I was there to be examined for possible HINI infection after four days of body ache, fever, cough and a slight wheeze. I gargled at the creature at the reception counter through my mask and was asked to step up to have my picture taken. I queried whether the mask should come off, and was met with a vehement shake of the head. From then on, things happened fast. I was whisked into the ER room and asked to lie down on a bed. Various gadgets affixed themselves on me and began whirring. "A small prick," said one mask. The other thrust something at me. "Put this in your axilla." "Where is that?" I had an inkling but something urged me to be pig-headed. "Everyone knows where the axilla is," came the superior comment.

I lay there waiting for the next onslaught, which came in the shape of a young man so approachable he wasn't even wearing a mask. After careful examination, he wanted to know when one was born. Was it for the fatal statistics? No, the young man had an interesting titbit. "HINI flu was in India between 1920 and 1959, so if you had been exposed to it then, you might have a milder attack now," he said. "I'll refer you to the head of infectious diseases just to be on the safe side." My last stop was to this lady's chamber. Pleasant and calm, she too had no mask. After a thorough check-up of my chest, she pronounced her verdict, "For safety, we'll start you off on the anti-flu virus and you should be fine after a week." So there one was, recuperating in my pen,, waited on much like the empress of Blandings, eating with great gusto, and gaining weight and strength. In the still of the night, when all you can hear is the grunting, whistling noise you are making as you breathe, it is not hard to imagine yourself back in Orwell's book. I go back this afternoon to that surreal hospital and wait for some pearls of wisdom. They shall not be cast before me in vain!







A paperless library is like a speechless politician or a Botox-less socialite. So you can imagine the collective dismay when Mumbai's British Council e-mailed its members that it was doing away with books of the turnable, returnable, dogearable, defaceable, losable, throwable variety, and would replace them with a computer key. Classify me as a musty relic under the Dewey decimal system or any other, but surely this was the end of civilisation, history, the cliched librarian and the pre-Google bookmark.


True, true, it has happened the world over. And i have seen the keying in on the wall from ancient Alexandria to the most futuristic of welfare states. Earlier this year, i made a pilgrimage to the scene of one of history's most famous libraries which became as famous for the mystery surrounding its destruction as for its fabled collection of scrolls.


With commendable secularism, its burning is variously attributed to Julius Caesar (collateral damage of one of his serial wars) the Coptic Christian Archbishop Theophilus (in 391) and the Moslem Amar ibn al'Aas (in 642).


Only one manuscript is supposed to have survived, and only a facsimile copy is enshrined in the museum of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, opened in 2002.


Inside the main hall, with light pouring as in a cathedral, researchers sat reverentially -- staring at computer screens. It was more culture sock than culture shock.


A couple of years earlier, my guide in Helsinki was extremely proud of the library as a key tool in bringing the welfare state to its senior citizenry. Ah, i thought, book deals on wheels along with the hot meals. No such backwardness. Seniors are ferried to the 'library' which is (Bingo!) rows of computers. Here they are helped with checking the progress of their welfare cheques, sauna membership, midnight-sun viewing trips and what have you.


Whatever happened to Miss D'Costa or Das Gupta Babu? Or to all the librarians of British Council, USIS, Loreto College, Calcutta Girls' High School and all their prim and persistent breed. Or even the eccentricities of the National Library, whose steps are as majestic as those of Mumbai's Asiatic Library. The latter may be guilty of many lapses in preservation and storage, but it would have nothing to compare with the former where on one occasion a requisition for a book came to naught. In the square marked for 'reason for non-availability', the clerk had inscribed in perfect copperplate script: 'Urinated by cat'.


Whatever will happen to such unforeseen frustrations when a library turns unfailingly, unimpeachably, uninterestingly virtual?


When i came to work in Bombay, now Mumbai, the British Council library was nowhere near the temple of yearning its Calcutta counterpart had been. When you became a slave to the philistine business of making a living, you can no longer indulge in the languorous strolls through groves of academe. In this fast train city, languorous strolls through any place were anyway an impossibility.


Equally, though the British Council was next door to the office by Mumbai's measure of distance, it wasn't literally so as my old haunt was to Loreto College. So, entering its gate on the old Theatre Road, now Shakespeare Sarani, and walking along a driveway stained with purple from the benevolent jamun tree was a daily after, in-between or instead-of lectures ritual.


Admittedly, part of it was the poseur component of college days. Books borrowed fell into different categories: those to study, those to devour, those to read, those to talk about, and those to strut around. Like locusts, we ravaged the shelves, discovering everything from The Compleat Angler to the Complete Molesworth. There was stuff that a library run by nuns would have none of, the irreverent found as much pride of place here as the sainted staples of Eng Lit.


And if truth be told, we also borrowed literary LPs. Here we heard the baritone of Sir Laurence Olivier reciting the Wasteland. And Dylan Thomas's savage plea to his dying father, "Rage rage against the dying of the light; do not go gentle into that good night."


Nor et tu, British Council unputdownable, undownloadable books.








Inevitably the single-most important facet of the United States foreign policy today for everyday Indians is its outlook on Afghanistan-Pakistan. New Delhi has rightly been concerned that the Barack Obama administration's first year was one of mixed signals when it came to the direction of its 'Af-Pak' policy. Washington seemed to be as much at war against Afghan President Hamid Karzai as it was against Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Sections of the Beltway spoke about negotiating with the 'moderate Taliban'. Mr Obama's officials dreamt of a grand bargain with Pakistan which consisted almost solely of concessions by India and Afghanistan. But all this was secondary to a clear message by President Obama that he was prepared to commit military forces in large enough numbers and for as long as it was needed to hold the line in Afghanistan. If the US was not prepared to expend blood and treasure to defend Afghanistan, then victory for the Taliban and their supporters in Pakistan was assured.


President Obama's Tuesday speech has at last made the sort of commitment so far lacking in his Afghanistan policy. By giving orders that 30,000 more US soldiers will be deployed in Afghanistan — bringing the strength of US forces to some 100,000 — the US president will have checked those who had come to assume Mr Obama did not have the stomach to be a war leader. By stressing that fighting in Afghanistan was ultimately about defeating al-Qaeda, Mr Obama also rejected Taliban and Pakistani contentions that allowing the militants back into Kabul would not also mean a return for Osama bin Laden. However, Mr Obama has partly undermined his message by promising that US troops would begin withdrawing from Afghanistan within 18 months. Given it may take six months for all 30,000 troops to be deployed, the impression is that the US expects to drive the Taliban from their mountain haunts in just a year's time. Mr Obama's timeline is relatively open-ended, but this sop to the left-wing of his party ensures that the Taliban will continue to believe they need only wait. The only thing likely to change this mindset will be bullets and bodies. Mr Obama may talk of a civilian surge and regional cooperation, but he has helped further ensure Afghanistan's future will be decided by fighting.







India's fleet of Sukhoi-30 fighter jets might have been grounded following the recent crash, but the pilots are alive due to the timely intervention of — you guessed it — a woman. Well, at least a woman's voice, warning them of impending doom if ignored. A female voice warning system in the cockpit — better known as 'Natasha' in the corridors of the Indian Air Force and 'Bitching Betty' in the United States — warned the pilots of an engine fire, allowing them to bail on time. Add to this the fact that the crash might have occurred due to a possible failure of the fly-by-wire system — following the male pilot's failure to get the plane to respond to his command — might just be the harbinger of things to come.


Now, fighter squadrons across the world might get into a combative mood at the idea of a real, live female for company up there. But the buzz in military circles is that those flying fellas are more likely to respond quicker to a lady's voice than to a grisly man's. Must be something in the air up there, for such luck rarely seems to befall ladies on land whose siren-like voices don't seem to do the trick. We're sure that the eternally harried human members of the female species are crying out 'Not fair!' right this moment.


It's not hard to imagine why. Think about it. If this 'voice' could somehow be adapted for daily uses on the ground, like warning that slob-of-a-spouse that the TV was going to self-destruct in 15 seconds unless he starts washing the dishes, changes the baby's diaper and puts dinner on the table, Natasha/Bitching Betty might just become a woman's best friend. It's still too early to write off the booming baritone in favour of the soothing notes of his mistress's voice. For, going by the same logic, the Natashas would probably need a Nathan very soon.








India's Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh doesn't get startled easily. He's quick-witted and sharp, boasts a world-class education (IIT Bombay and MIT) and diverse experiences on the boards of international and Indian institutions, and has been a newspaper columnist and author. One of his books is Making sense of Chindia.


None of that helped last Friday: the Chinese startled Ramesh.


The minister was in Beijing on a Chinese invitation, to discuss last-minute plans to present a united front at the critical 19-day climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, starting December 5.


He was pleasantly surprised when Premier Wen Jiabao — one of China's most powerful men — gave him an unscheduled audience.


When they met, the next surprise was not quite as pleasant. First, Ramesh was told of China's new plan to lead the developing world in presenting a united front against the West. Second, Jiabao told Ramesh, you will get a draft by tonight: read it overnight, and if it's fine, let's tell the world tomorrow.


The draft was written in simple English, and next morning, India had no option but to sign on to a plan that said China, India, Brazil and South Africa would stand united at Copenhagen.


The credit, rightly so, was China's.


With its slow, obstinate approach to climate change, India now looks like a holdout with no creative thinking. (In October too, it was China's idea to make the two countries sign an agreement to consult each other on climate issues.)


Two days before Wen's late cut, China had already hit us for a six with a surprise announcement that it would pare emissions intensity by 40 to 45 per cent.


The Indian government and sundry pundits quickly declared this was meaningless, that China would indefinitely continue to be the world's biggest polluter.


Admittedly, there is some hot air here, and it isn't all carbon dioxide — the stuff that's warming the globe. Emissions intensity is a measure of emissions per unit of GDP. That means total emissions can grow while cleaner technologies can pare emissions incrementally, say, for each tonne of paper. In the long term, a reduction in emissions intensity does slow emissions growth. In the short term, it allows developing countries to bring something to the negotiating table and lets rich countries take something away.


With its bold moves, China is acting like a leader, occupying its place in the sun, while India scurries in the shadows.
It didn't look this way last month. When I met Ramesh, he said: "Let us take on aggressive commitments domestically. Let us negotiate from a position of strength because we have a good story to tell the world."


Indeed, we did. India's technocrats have successfully run some energy-savings programmes. Three examples: India will save the equivalent of 10,000 mega watts (MW) of energy — enough to power Delhi and Mumbai — by 2012, as new conservation schemes and laws kick in; between 2011 to 2014, India hopes to save the equivalent of 10 million tonnes of oil and reduce national energy use by 7 to 8 per cent; by April 1, 2010, companies that cannot clean up will be able to buy energy credits from others that can.


We only had to add up the numbers and tell the world our story.


It never happened. Now, pushed by China, India is scrambling to put together a target for an emissions-intensity cut before Copenhagen, anywhere from 18 to 30 per cent.


By the time you read this, it may be official.


India's proclivity to ponderousness has previously served it well. The economy could shrug off the global economic meltdown and grow a stunning 7.9 per cent during July to September (second, of course, to China's 8.9 per cent — except that India's growth was real, led by consumer spending and private investment, not a state splurge like our rich neighbour) because the government was ultra-cautious in removing fiscal controls.


The big difference this time: even if you ignore the geopolitics of Copenhagen, India is still running out of time. Our climate is changing faster than we anticipated. Flip through the pages of this newspaper over the past 10 days and you will see what's in disarray: wheat yields in Punjab; the fish catch in Bengal; tea output in Assam's tea gardens; the harvest in Himachal's apple orchards; and the air quality in all our major cities.


We need swift incentives, radical action. ITC chairman Y.C. Deveshwar gave me one: Replace excise duty, break it into two taxes, one linked to energy savings. Another came from Finance Commission Chairman Vijay Kelkar last week: Sell 50 per cent of the public sector to create an 'environment fund' of $200 billion (Rs 94,000 crore) for green technologies.


Will India agree? A quick HT poll across four cities (albeit not statistically significant with 514 respondents) revealed that 61 per cent said 'yes' to voluntary emission cuts; 63 per cent wanted India to show leadership. Three things struck me at four schools I visited this past week. First, how well informed students were on climate change. Second, they were walking their talk — pushing parents to cut car and energy use and recycle. Third, the finely nuanced positions they presented on India's options at Copenhagen — none of which included holding to old, tired positions.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose officials insist he will visit Copenhagen only if the final agenda accommodates India's points of view, now knows we need a new climate deal.


India, and Indians, are ready to lead.








Tomorrow is Navy Day. Proudly proclaiming its role and justifying the need for a strong navy has always been the standard Navy Week format. Yet, year in and year out it almost sounds like a lament. I went through this drill a decade ago and wonder if anything has changed.


The Indian Navy knows deep within that it has to reckon with a nation besieged by a 'continental' outlook. For the sailors, it predicates the ground reality where the navy remains the 'Cinderella' among the armed services. Even the most profound advice that India is actually a maritime country with a maritime destiny is overshadowed by problems that plague our land frontiers. With a security paradigm conditioned by a Line of Control-(LOC) orientation, it's not without reason that our strategic focus remains riveted to the north. Perhaps this is because the seas around the subcontinent seem peaceful while the disturbed neighbourhood to the north compellingly draws our attention.


Hopefully, 26/11 has jolted us out of our nautical slumber and the purpose of a navy will soon be realised. Apart from the continental obsession it faces, there is a new issue that could derail the navy from its path of development. It's the nuclear deterrent that is taking shape with the launching of our first Indian-built Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) firing nuclear submarine, INS Arihant.


The strategic importance of the seaward leg of the nuclear triad can't be questioned. And as long as the ocean remains impervious to the electro-magnetic spectrum, the ICBM-firing N-submarine will remain the ultimate deterrent in the nuclear equation. Arihant has placed the Indian Navy in an exclusive league, yet it also poses a predicament for the navy.


We need to guard against the misconception that a nuclear deterrent reduces the need for conventional forces. INS Arihant and others that follow would be vital strategic assets, but they can't be considered as part of the navy's war-fighting capability. Unless this proposition is understood, it will be worrisome for the navy if it had to divert resources from a dwindling defence budget that is already skewed by a land-locked perception.


I recall the time when Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee spent a couple of days with our Western Fleet. The navy's combat-readiness was on display and the PM seemed pleased to see the business end of the navy. But even as he seemed to give me a profound nod, I noticed a glazed look in Vajpayee's eye. His mind was far away, well beyond the sea horizon. It was April 1999. A month later the LoC erupted and Kargil happened.


Several months later, I was at the University of Pune to deliver a talk on 'national security in the wake of Kargil'. I highlighted the vulnerability of our seaward flanks. It must have sounded like a philosophical refrain, for the media responded tongue-in-cheek: 'Next Kargil from seaward, warns navy chief'. It made me feel I'd got it all wrong.
Then out of the blue, 26/11 happened. It may have been a flash in the pan but it certainly awoke the nation from its nautical slumber. Now at least, we have the benefit of hindsight.


Sushil Kumar was Chief of the Indian Navy, 1998–2001


The views expressed by the author are personal








Today, terrorism is a global concern. As a long-term remedy, we need to educate people to value life itself more than religion, race or culture; to honour diversity and appreciate all religious and cultural traditions, for the world will not be safe if even a small pocket of people is left ignorant or fanatical.


Terrorism is based on a concept of God as favoring some and being angry at others. This notion undermines the omnipresence and omnipotence of God. How can an omnipresent God exclude some people? How can an omnipotent God be angry?


With this limited idea of God, you become the savior of God rather than the servant of God. Terrorism fails to recognise that God loves variety and diversity; that many different schools of thought exist in this world. The only way to get rid of fanaticism in the world is broad-based education, which is multi-cultural and multi-religious.


Each individual, especially children, should be familiar with all the other holy scriptures, traditions and schools of knowledge. We need to focus on spiritual education because spirituality alone can bring in peace.


Spirituality nourishes the human values of compassion, love, caring, sharing and acceptance. Spirituality is also finding the way to calm the mind and go deep in your prayers, irrespective of what prayer you do or what religion you follow.

It is honouring the values that are found in all religions. And it is concern for the common good of one and all, accommodating the diversity in thought, in deed and in behaviour in the world. First and foremost, we are part of the Divine. Our second identity is that we are human beings. The third is that we are male or female. The fourth: We belong to a particular nation. The fifth: We belong to a particular religion.


If the right order of identity is understood, then human values are honoured. Have confidence that we can achieve change through peaceful and non-violent means. And know that God is with us all.


(H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar writes exclusively for HT)








The figures are stark. And the once much publicised dream of a resurgent and reindustrialised West Bengal lies at their bottom. Of course, one did not need the ASSOCHAM Eco Pulse report to predict the speedy evaporation of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's promise of an investment friendly, hardworking Bengal. The course of political events in the last few years was indication enough. But now that the figures for 2006 (the data for 2007 and 2008, thankfully, are yet to be compiled) are out, Bengal suffered man-day losses amounting to 1.25 million, in sharp contrast to states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan, with impressively fewer man-day losses. Thus the warning that, with the possibility of frequent bandhs leading up to the 2011 assembly election, mounting losses might impact the flow of investment.


What did Bengal do wrong that real investment friendly states steered clear of? It long indulged in a politics not conducive to industry and investment. It also failed to jettison that politics in time, in keeping with its proclaimed new ambitions. Strikes and man-day losses occur elsewhere too, but nowhere is that the defining perception about the state. The recent BJP-sponsored 12-hour bandh about price and power tariff rise saw buses torched at about half-a-dozen locations, flights delayed and train services disrupted. The persisting image of Bengal is of passengers stranded at the airport and at train stations, of empty or emptier-than-usual offices.


While both the CPM (and CITU) and the Trinamool have vowed to discourage bandhs over trivialities, their practice still betrays their preaching. And it seems that their ready reckoner of protest will now be capitalised on even by "fringe players" like the state BJP. This latest rebuke, as those from other quarters, spells out the disastrous consequence of Bengal continuing to battle its own best interests.







India's capital has grown extraordinarily over the past decade — at more than double the national average. But the infrastructure and municipal services made available to Delhi's residents have not kept up. Electricity supply is increasingly erratic; water problems are endemic; and sewage and drainage is a constant political flashpoint. And any attempt to remedy these basic civic failures is continually scuppered by politics that emerges from one central problem: the perpetuation of the myth that people are entitled to free services, that the government must provide something for nothing.


It was announced by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit that a new tariff for water is to come into effect citywide shortly, after being cleared within the week. This is the first rationalisation of prices in five years; and it comes four years after misguided protests derailed a previous attempt to reform Delhi's water supply. Truthfully, merely revising prices upward — by 40 per cent for consumers that use more that 10 kilolitres a month — is unlikely to substitute for thorough reform. Those studying the problem agree that would require overhauling the Delhi Jal Board's operations; and, ideally, the next tariff hike should have been decided upon by an independent regulatory authority, insulated from political pressure. But the atmospherics this move creates are nevertheless welcome.


The most important aspect is the clear signalling that at least one state government is going to tackle the culture of everything-for-nothing. Dikshit said so outright: "If you want better services, be prepared to pay for them." As she reminded us, those who so often defend the current dysfunctional system as helping the poor should re-examine what it has actually created: a dependence on tankers that ferry in water to poorer districts, and a "tanker mafia" that extorts prices for that water considerably higher than would be any reasonable tariff set by a reformed authority. What keeps municipal services in Delhi, and across the country, stagnant is less government laziness and more bad politics, which does not make the case for reform. It is time that changed.






The cavalry is coming into town to take on the thugs but will not stay long. This essence of President Barack Obama's long awaited review of US options in Afghanistan has not pleased many in Washington. The American left in general and the so-called progressive wing of the president's Democratic Party in particular have no stomach for Obama's decision to escalate the war by sending 30,000 additional troops. On the right, those who seek muscular approaches to national security including the Republican Party, endorse a decisive confrontation with Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. But they are appalled by Obama's move to set a timeline to start withdrawing American troops — July 2011 — even before the surge begins.


The world cannot object to Obama's choice — to end America's costly war in Afghanistan after giving it one big shot during the next 18 months. All those with a stake in Afghanistan and Pakistan will, however, make a cold assessment of the political compulsions behind Obama's decision and the implications for their own interests. For one, a political transition is at hand in Afghanistan. As the US president declared Tuesday night, the current status quo is unsustainable. For another, the American electoral cycle — the mid-term elections in 2010 and the presidential elections in 2012 — is having a decisive effect on US military strategy. While the surge could help the US regain the initiative, the exit strategy might encourage the Taliban and its mentors to simply sit it out. Many will be downright sceptical about the president's plans to entice Pakistan to confront America's enemies by offering it a solid strategic partnership. After all, some of America's enemies are among the best friends of the Pakistan army.


For its part, Delhi should wish Obama well, because our interests are the same: oust Al Qaeda from the subcontinent, prevent the extremists from returning to power in Kabul, persuade the Pakistan army to dissociate itself from all terrorist groups including the Lashkar-e-Toiba, and encourage Islamabad to build normal neighbourly relations with Kabul and Delhi. At the same time Delhi must also prepare for potential US failure in Afghanistan and a reduced American commitment to Afghanistan from the middle of 2011. Instead of reacting to the multiple crises on our western frontiers as they unfold in the coming months, India must step up its own engagement with the many internal and external forces in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Above all, India must reach out to the Pashtuns who will determine not just Obama's prospects for success but also the future of our north-western frontiers.








The economics/finance cognoscenti's take on the Dubai sheikhs' bond repayment difficulties is that the world is unlikely to be shaken. But might not a few critical things get stirred? A minority of nervous types are arguing this. Post-Lehman it always pays to give nervous types a hearing.


One of the critical things is global markets' perception of the rich world's public debt. True, at $80 billion, the debt of Dubai World — a firm wholly owned by Dubai's royal sheikhs (aka the Dubai government) — may well be, as witty commentators have put it, a drop in the Burj Al Arab swimming pool; public debt in major countries is in tens of trillions of dollars. But all is not calm in the swimming pool.


Global public debt in 2010, according to recent analysis by Moody's, will increase by 45 per cent — yes, 45 per cent — from its 2007 level and reach nearly $50 trillion. Nearly 80 per cent of that jump will have been accounted for by the G-7 countries. Will the G-7, plus other European countries (Greece and Ireland, for example) that have piled up massive post-crisis public debt, spook the markets at some point of time? That's the question thrown up by the Dubai debt problem — because psychology is not unimportant in market perception. This is more so when lenders hedge against default.


The last point is unappreciated in discussions on global public debt risk. There are credit default swaps (CDS, yes, the same CDS that almost became a household term post-Lehman) that insure lenders against public debt default. CDS contracts are useful for lenders; useful, too, as market markers of a sovereign borrowers' capacity. But they can hugely increase the global impact of what is called a credit event: rumblings of debt repayment problems. If a CDS contract is written in a way that it becomes payable at the hint of a problem and if there are many, many such CDS contracts on sovereign debt around the world, a major financial impact can be produced without actual debt default. Incidentally, the cost of insuring G-7 sovereign debt has been going up.


In this mix one must add politics. Ultimately, lenders to governments judge the latter on their political determination. Politics decides whether there will be tax hikes and/or government spending cuts that make deficits sustainable. It determines the strength of debt repayment resolve. Dubai was supposed to have the political will to back its own creature, Dubai World. Now, Abu Dhabi is supposed to have the political will.


Of course, major rich countries or even minor European nations are totally different from sheikhdoms. For example, even though countries like Greece and Ireland are facing questions on their sovereign debt, markets have the assurance that their being part of the eurozone means the EU will step in if push comes to shove — the EU is assumed to have the political will. Similarly, though Britain's public debt is spooky and its AAA credit rating is being questioned, London is supposed to have the political will to properly manage its debt.


But will there be enough political will? Those downplaying a sovereign debt problem now are not looking at the problem over time. Lenders need to feel that over the next 20 years or so necessary corrections will be made. Everyone's favourite example is Sweden, which undertook a radical public debt surgery between 1993 and 2000. But a Goldman Sachs study shows the problem is tougher for some rich countries now. Britain, the study estimates, may need to make an adjustment (tax hikes and spending cuts) of up to 9 per cent of GDP to make public debt sustainable. That's huge. The problem is worse for some other European countries and for Japan. A JPMorgan study on sovereign debt even talked about the possibility of Britain going for an IMF bailout.


An American Enterprise Institute study says of the US that its debt levels resemble those of other nations that have defaulted. True, America's position is uniquely different (everyone accepts the dollar, too many people and institutions around the world hold US government bonds, the US is the biggest economy, so, no one therefore wants a run on US sovereign debt). But even America's AAA rating has been questioned. And there's no visible plan for fiscal adjustment in Washington. Given all this, the right question to be asked is whether markets will continue to believe there's enough political determination over time to tackle the debt problem.


Some very well-informed watchers of global finance are arguing that public debt problems are almost certain. Willem Buiter, a senior Bank of England official who has just been hired by Citi as its chief economist, argued in his blog that we must see "the massive build-up of sovereign debt as a result of the financial crisis" for what it is: "(it is) all but inevitable that the final chapter of the crisis and its aftermath will involve sovereign default, perhaps dressed up as sovereign debt restructuring or even debt deferral."


So, the point about the Dubai shake is that even if the sheikhs put together a bail-out (and call it something else), notice on the global debt problem has been issued from a desert city with an indoor ski-slope.


What about India, where public debt to GDP ratio is over 80 per cent and where tonnes of government bonds have been issued over the last 18 months? As it is for major Western countries or Japan, few are saying there's an immediate problem. India in fact is perceived more like a high-debt Western country than a high debt emerging economy. Its high foreign exchange reserves, relatively stable exchange rate, high growth rate, all contribute to this assessment.


But like major rich world debtors, India has a big potential problem. However, note a difference. Most of India's public debt is sold domestically and most of that is bought under fiat by sarkari banks. Very little official debt is sold to private sector foreigners or even to private domestic players. This means GoI doesn't get the best deals on its debt. But many in India think that is okay because, in the absence of widely and privately held public debt, a sudden, sharp crisis won't happen. They are wrong. Economic agents can still vote against India if its debt looks unmanageable. Credit ratings can come down sharply. Foreign investors can become wary. What India loses out on efficiency isn't made up for by a false notion of safety.







The Question Hour in Lok Sabha was adjourned early on Monday on account of the absence of MPs whose questions were to be answered. Three out of twenty questions listed were answered in the first 26 minutes, and the remaining 34 minutes remained unutilised.


The first hour of each day of Parliament is Question Hour, a period is used by MPs to ask questions to ministers. In the Indian context, it is important to note that MPs do not represent their parties during this Question Hour: there is no whip, the anti-defection law does not apply, and they are expected to raise issues that reflect the concerns of their constituents as well as that of the larger public.


The history of asking questions in the parliamentary system goes back to 1721, when Earl Cowper in the House of Lords asked the government whether the chief cashier of the South Sea Company had fled the country and had been arrested in Brussels. Subsequently, British MPs started asking questions in order to bring pressure to bear on the government, and a formal Question Time was adopted in 1869. Many parliamentary democracies have adopted variants of this system.


There is significant difference in the structure of Question Hour across countries. In India, an MP has to submit questions at least 10 days in advance. He has to indicate whether the question is starred or unstarred. Starred questions are answered orally; supplementary questions may also be asked, which too the minister has to answer orally. Unstarred questions receive written replies. Starred questions that are not answered (usually due to lack of time) also receive written replies. On Monday, written replies were tabled to the 17 questions that were not answered in the house. The UK follows a similar system, with two significant differences. Ministries may refuse to answer questions if the cost to do so is higher than a threshold amount (currently 750 pounds). Second, the prime minister answers questions, without notice, for half-an-hour every Wednesday. The system in Australia is designed to keep ministers on their toes. All ministers are expected to be present in the House, and MPs may ask questions to any of them. They do not have advance intimation about the questions.


Though ministers know the questions in advance, MPs can ask supplementary questions without prior notice. These supplementaries provide an effective tool for parliament to examine the competence of ministers. Often, our parliamentarians do not utilise this opportunity to hold the government to account. Being the first hour of the day, this period is frequently disrupted when MPs are agitated over some issue. During the last three years, about 45 per cent of Question Hour was lost to interruptions. Only about one-sixth of all starred questions were answered orally. Indeed, this issue was raised by Vice President Hamid Ansari at the whips conference in February 2008 when he asked, "Is not disruption of proceedings during the Question Hour a breach of privilege of individual members who await answers to admitted starred questions, and supplementary questions?"


The issue again arose in Rajya Sabha on February 27, 2008, as seven MPs stated that their questions could not be answered orally as some other MPs did not allow the House to run. The matter was referred to the Privileges Committee which submitted its report in July 2009. The committee concluded that "bringing such matters strictly under the purview of parliamentary privileges would not be an optimal solution to the problem as the intention of the Members complained against was not to prevent any other Member from speaking or from raising a particular issue or question the authority of the Chair, rather it was to express their discontent over the manner in which, they thought, they were being ignored." It however urged MPs "to be more circumspect and respect the rules of the House and abide by the directions of the Chair so that such incidents do not recur in future."


Monday's event was a rare one. The House did not run short of time — it ran short of MPs whose questions were listed. It may be useful for Parliament to amend its rules to require ministers to answer even such questions. Then other MPs may raise supplementaries. This process would help retain Parliament's role of keeping a check on the work of the government.


Speaker Somnath Chatterjee summed up the issue on a similar occasion in April 2007. On finding that 22 MPs who had starred questions were absent he said," Are we not inviting some critical comments from the people of India?" We hope that our MPs fulfill the important duty of keeping the government accountable.


The writer works with PRS Legislative Research, New Delhi








The editorial in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser, titled "Liberhan report as a one-day wonder" says: "When retired Justice M.S. Liberhan sought extension after extension for 17 years and spent crores of public money to 'unravel the conspiracy' behind the demolition of a structure that looked Islamic from outside and which was and continues to be one of the holiest Hindu pilgrim places, optimists expected him to deliver some kind of report that could be discussed across benches in Parliament and then given a decent place in the archives. The Liberhan Commission did not even achieve that. Not only was the report a damp squib, it did not even get the privilege of being placed on the table of the Parliament first. It was reduced to a newspaper scoop and a TV newsbreak. Ayodhya is a Hindu issue. Neither politics nor any other community has a say in it. There was no question of a conspiracy. Hindus had been demanding that they be allowed to construct a grand temple befitting the place of birth of Sri Ram. While secular politicians dithered over it and dragged it to the courts, the Hindu society for once took the matter into its own hands and set about to do that task. What happened in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, was a spontaneous manifestation of the collective Hindu angst and faith. Anyone who was in Ayodhya that day and witnessed that historic moment would not be looking for a 'conspiracy'. Justice (Retd) Liberhan was not there that day so he was only reconstructing as his fancy took him".


It adds: "And that was the biggest undoing of the report. No one is happy with the report. The pseudo-secularists, a section predominantly made of Hindus, feel that not enough has been said to implicate the 'culprits'. The Muslims are unhappy that some home truths have been said about them. Uncomfortable facts like why they consider themselves deprived and backward while they had been the rulers of the country for centuries (the answer to that would show up their leaders in bad light). The natural question that the public is asking is, if Kalyan Singh is culpable, why not P.V. Narasimha Rao? On the one hand, Liberhan says that there was no public involvement in the movement. Almost in the same breath he accuses the leaders of the movement of collecting money from the public".



In an opinion piece titled "Maximum city takes maximum brunt", Jay Dubashi writes: "Mumbai is on the boil, once again. About this time last year, on November 26, to be precise, it came under attack from Pakistani thugs, masquerading as jehadis, who killed over two hundred Indians and scared the city out of its wits. Now, once again, the ghosts of that attack are making the rounds. A Pakistani called David Headley — a bogus name, for the man is a Muslim — who is supposed to be a mastermind behind the last attack, is in the news again and so are others involved with him, though, of course, they deny it. Why do these things happen only in Mumbai? Because it is a city without political authority, where you can get away with murder. Mumbai should have been a powerful city, like London or New York, because of its financial clout, but is probably the weakest city in the state. The state government itself is so weak, it is almost non-existent. It is, in a way, Sharad Pawar's city, but the man is busy with other things — mostly to do with money — and comes to life only at the time of elections. So do other so-called leaders, including the home minister, a man called Patil, who is more concerned about running the municipality of his home town than Mumbai. All the ministers, including the chief minister, are a weak lot and have no clue about running a city like Mumbai which is the nerve-centre of the country's economic life".


He adds: "The trouble with Mumbai is that everyone is an 'outsider'. This is a tricky word, with political connotations, but the fact remains that 99 per cent of the state's politicians are outsiders and use Mumbai only to make money. There are also other 'outsiders', like a man called Abu Azmi, a builder from Uttar Pradesh who came to Mumbai forty years ago and is now rated one of the city's richest men. But, for all his years in Mumbai and Maharashtra, he still can't speak the local language and has never learnt it. It is not his fault; he doesn't have to learn it, for you can perfectly get along in Mumbai without knowing the local language, for almost everybody you encounter is an 'outsider' and does not know the local language either! Abu Azmi is not an exception. Most industrialists who have settled down in Mumbai do not know the local language. Tatas have been in the city for a century-and-a-half, and are renowned citizens of the city. But I have never heard any of them ever speaking Marathi, or, for that matter, even Hindi. They have never felt the need for it. Nor for that matter, had Dhirubhai Ambani, who came to Mumbai from his native Gujarat via Aden way back in 1960's and has been here ever since. So is his business. I have never heard them speak in anything but English or Gujarati or, occasionally, Hindi, for you can do even without Hindi in Mumbai".


He concludes: "We are actually both insiders and outsiders, particularly in India. In fact, I cannot see how an Indian can be an outsider in India. This whole great country is ours, no matter where we are. I am an Indian. I belong to all and they all belong to me. But there is a problem. If I belong to all, I must show that I belong to all of them and they belong to me. I must not run them down, because they do not speak my language or because they dress differently. We are all Indians, we are all one people, wherever we may live. It is a pity Abu Azmi doesn't realise this. He should have said, 'I am sorry I do not know Marathi, but I shall learn it, and next time I shall do my best to take my oath in it. After all, Marathi is as much my language as Urdu or Hindi, for I am an Indian'. Will he say it?"








It will not be surprising if the initial reaction to Obama's Af-Pak strategy announced in his West Point speech on December 1 is one general lacking in enthusiasm, both in the US and abroad. He has agreed to the surge of 30,000 troops asked for by the commander of the US forces in Afghanistan, General McChrystal. He has defended himself against the charge of dithering by pointing out that the General's proposal itself envisaged induction of troops only next year. The new points in his strategy over and above his March one are the following:


1. There will be a rapid surge of 30,000 US troops in 2010, to be followed by the beginning of withdrawal eighteen months later.


2. During this period, additional Afghan troops will be raised and trained to take over the responsibility from the US forces.


3. There will be improvements in civil administration in Afghanistan and stepping up of the infrastructure development with involvement of UN and other countries.


4. There is a promise of a longer term partnership with Pakistan going well beyond the period of operations against the extremists in the region. US will commit itself to the stability and prosperity of Pakistan. Islamabad is required to put in all-out efforts in eliminating all extremists.


All these may sound more of the same of what Obama spelt out in March. But if read with his other pronouncements, his letter to President Zardari and the Indo-US joint statement, it is clear that there are crucial elements in this strategy that hint at a new turn. He has spelt out very clearly as never before, the threat to the US from extremists in the Af-Pak area. He said, "This is no idle danger... no hypothetical threat... In the last few months alone, we have apprehended extremists within our borders who were sent here from the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan to commit new acts of terror. The danger will only grow if the region slides backwards and al Qaeda can operate with impunity... And the stakes are even higher within a nuclear armed Pakistan because we know that al Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons and we have every reason to believe that they would use them". By spelling out this danger he has sought to differentiate the Af-Pak case from Vietnam which never posed to US such threats.


The crux of the strategy is: during the surge of US troops in 2010-11, to build the Afghan capacity "that can allow a responsible transition of our forces out of Afghanistan". There are speculations that India may be asked to shoulder this responsibility and Obama's telephone conversation with the Indian prime minister just before his speech might be related to this. It may be recalled that Pakistanis have expressed concern about an expanding Indian presence in Afghanistan and General McChrystal in his report had expressed his understanding of Pakistani concerns. However in the Indo-US joint statement, Obama appreciated India's role in reconstruction and rebuilding efforts and the two leaders agreed to enhance their respective efforts in this direction in Afghanistan. It is obvious that Obama has rejected Pakistan's concerns on the Indian presence in Afghanistan. Whether he will now go further and request Indian help to train Afghan troops, overriding Pakistani objections, remains to be seen. If he were to do so and if India were to respond positively, that will constitute a material change in the situation and a radical change in US strategy. At the same time, it is difficult to envisage alternative options for Obama to train such a large Afghan force in such a short period.


In the joint press conference with Prime Minister Singh, in reply to a question on his Af-Pak strategy Obama said: "..after eight years... it is my intention to finish the job". In his present speech he says: "we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan. We are in Afghanistan to prevent a cancer from once again spreading through that country. But the same cancer has also taken root in the border region of Pakistan .That is why we need a strategy that works on both sides of the border." It has been reported that Obama had written to Zardari a letter delivered by US National Security Adviser General Jones in the second half of November. In that letter, he had proposed a long term partnership with Pakistan and at the same time warned that ambiguity in Pakistan's relationship with any of the five extremist groups — al Qaeda, Afghan Taliban, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba and Pakistani Taliban — could no longer be ignored.


Obama strategy appears to be to promise Pakistan long term partnership, at the same time compel it to act against all terrorist groups and build an Afghan army which will be able to defend Afghanistan against the Taliban. He is indicating that the US will not disengage, leaving a vacuum in Afghanistan. Pakistan is assured of long term help, provided it gives up its use of terrorism as an instrument of state policy. He is aware that Pakistan is using terrorism as state policy not only against India and Afghanistan but against the US, UK and other countries as well. Hence the warning that the ambiguity of Pakistan's relationship with terrorist organisations could no longer be ignored. Though the speech at West Point appears soft on Pakistan, it is clear that the focus of the strategy is raising the Afghan force to enable responsible transition of US forces out of Afghanistan, warning on Pakistan's ambiguous relationship with terrorist organisations, and outlining the continuing threat to the US homeland.


Will the Pakistani Army respond constructively and cooperate, taking action against all terrorist organisations? Or will they defy the US? Economically, Pakistan is in no position to reject the US partnership offer, as was evident from their acceptance of the Kerry-Lugar Act despite all the fuss the army, among various others, made. The US has been successful in thwarting the numerous attempts at terroristic acts in the US homeland. The US has also stepped up its surveillance and monitoring of communications and moves of various terrorist organisations in the Af-Pak region. Some of the terrorist organisations like the Pakistani Taliban have already turned on the Pakistani state. Others, if they are thwarted in their activities against outsiders, may also turn on their erstwhile patrons. The Obama strategy is a challenge to the Pakistani Army and its Inter-Services Intelligence.


The writer is a senior defence analyst








Of the many qualities of chalk and cheese, the most celebrated is how different they are from each other. But if you put them in a wok, throw in some vinegar, and cook for long enough, you'll eventually get a paste in which it's impossible to tell them apart. The concoction may not be good to write with, and even worse to taste, but it'll be pretty and white.


Team sports and world rankings form a similar mixture — interesting, perhaps worth discussing if you have time to kill, but quite useless in the larger scheme of things. They have no bearing on who will play the next tournament (unlike tennis and golf), and they're not a genuine yardstick because of the infrequency of matches and the varying quality of opposition at a given time.


So, as Mahendra Singh Dhoni's Indian cricket team was getting ready for the third Test against Sri Lanka with the No.1 rank within grasp, one wondered if media trumpeting would have any bearing on how they approached the match (do Spain prepare differently if their friendly against Croatia will give them first place on the FIFA list, or the All-Blacks train extra hard if a victory over the Springboks guarantees Rugby's top slot?) Far more interesting than that thought, however, was the irony behind India almost leading the world in a format it has cared so little about over the last year.


Talk to senior players and they say that Tests are primary — the only genuine, long-drawn assessment of cricketing prowess, of patience, perseverance, and battling hardships, a true reflection of life. Talk to youngsters and the confusion starts coming through because Twenty20 can give so much in so little time. Talk to the administrators and the conversation invariably veers towards their lack of interest in selling Test cricket, whose attributes are no longer appreciated in a world that doesn't have the time or the energy to sit through five days of cricket.


It could indeed be a hard choice — quick results and easy money on one side, tradition and quality on the other — but no other country has decided where its priorities lie as clearly as India has in recent times.


First came the IPL, then the second IPL, and now the third IPL is almost upon us. In the meantime, there have been five-match one-day series, seven-match one-day series, and triangular one-day series. Even the three Tests against the visiting South Africans next year — a contest between the two top-ranked Test sides in world cricket — have now been replaced by five ODIs and possibly two T20s.


In all, India have played six Test matches in 2009, as compared to 15 in 2008 and 10 in 2007 (when almost half the year was dedicated to one-dayers because of the World Cup). Going forward, since the BCCI seems to perceive international cricket only as the garnishing around the six weeks of IPL, the number is likely to remain in single digits in 2010, and dip further with time.


In such a scenario, Test cricket itself will not matter too much to our country in a few years; so what of its flimsy rankings?


And if we do put that argument aside for the moment, in keeping with the spirit of the times, who the best in the world is can be determined more accurately through universal acknowledgement rather than an ICC list — for example, Australia over the last decade, and West Indies in the '70s and '80s.


A few prerequisites must be fulfilled before a team becomes No. 1 in Test cricket. For India, they would be beating Australia in Australia and South Africa in South Africa (for them, it would be beating each other away from home, and India in India). The Indian team are scheduled to travel to South Africa next December, and that series might throw up some real clues about where they stand. The rest is just a delicacy cooked up to pass the time — two parts chalk and one part cheese.








Shilendra Kumar Singh (or SK, as he was universally known) was perhaps the Indian Foreign Service's most adept practitioner of the interface between politics and diplomacy. As a diplomat he was without peer, a voracious reader, a clear and concise writer with an incredibly neat hand, an excellent public speaker and an utterly charming conversationalist. Behind the friendly exterior lay a razor-sharp mind, a steely determination and a healthy scepticism which prevented him from falling for all that he was told. He buzzed at all the flowers in the garden but picked only the honey that he chose.


His experience ranged across most of the key dimensions of Indian foreign policy. Beginning as a Persian-language student, his first posting in Tehran took him as the consular officer on adventurous voyages to Gulf ports which have since become magic names for untold prosperity — but were then no more than havens for the dhows, where young boys dived for pearls and camel caravans stretched into the desert. He then had a stint at the United Nations in New York in the heyday of India's involvement with the UN and the early years of the Non-Aligned Movement. With India leading the decolonisation crusade and drumming up adherents by the day to the Non-Aligned Movement, Indian influence on world affairs was at its peak and our reputation for knowing our own mind and speaking it was at its height. Later, he was ambassador to a series of hotspots: Lebanon, as the PLO was being pushed out; Afghanistan, as the Soviet Union allowed itself to be pushed into a foolhardy invasion which eventually brought the Communist house of cards tumbling down; Pakistan, as it made its transition from Zia to Benazir Mark I; and then foreign secretary till he was prematurely ousted in a shameful coup by the V.P. Singh establishment and their IFS mercenaries.


But perhaps his highest point was as director, external publicity and South Block spokesman during the first few years of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and her Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Singh. That was when SK came into his own as a master player in the interface between politics and diplomacy. His contacts ranged across the political spectrum and he proved his mettle as an able communicator to members of Parliament and the media. It made his influence in the foreign office quite disproportionate to his relatively humble position in the foreign service hierarchy, but because he knew how to "walk among kings, nor lose the common touch" — whatever the grumblings of MEA mandarins — it was he who managed what initially appeared to be the public relations disaster of our ambassador to Rabat turning up as the only ever non-Muslim representative to the Islamic Conference and India then being rusticated from the Conference largely because communal riots broke out in Bhiwandi just as the conference was getting underway. There was a howl of public protest at India getting itself into this pickle but SK played his full role in restoring equilibrium.


After a long period in the shadows through most of the nineties, SK re-emerged in public office as Governor of Arunachal Pradesh and later as Governor of Rajasthan. For swinging the Arunachal administration around from lining pockets to people-oriented governance, SK will one day get appropriate credit. But as his role was constitutional, much of his contribution was out of the public eye. As we secure that sensitive border state, the people of the state and of India as a whole will have much to thank him for.


Like all who hold public office, SK had his share of detractors, especially as he handled matters of administration at headquarters. So those who got from him what they wanted quickly forgot their gratitude and those who did not carried their grievances to the grave. But that is life.


SK leaves behind his gracious lady, Manju, and two bright sons of whom we will hear much in the future, Shashank, an investment banker, and Kanishka, aide to Rahul Gandhi. They, I am sure, will carry the SK tradition of courtesy combined with competence very far forward.


Just a month ago, I lost another valued colleague, Gopi Arora. Now SK:"Tis all a chequer board of Nights and Days


Where Destiny with men for pieces plays

Hither and thither moves and mates and slays

Then one by one back in the Closet lays."

Goodbye, my friend.


The writer is a former Union minister,Congress MP and foreign service officer







That food prices are rising—the official year-on-year figure is around 15%—is well known. Of course, most households in the country would be aware of the situation without the statistical confirmation. Obviously the scenario is also bound to be of concern to politicians, whether in government or opposition. Still, it would be better if a debate on food prices takes place in more calm environs than the sort of tempers that were witnessed in the Rajya Sabha. For starters, the problem of rising food prices first needs to be better understood. And once that understanding takes root, the political class will better be able to navigate towards the appropriate solutions. In order to get a better understanding of the problem, the problem itself needs disaggregation from the overarching head of 'food prices'.


For instance, the rise in prices of cereals has been marginal largely because there are no supply issues given the presence of huge buffer stocks. The problem in sugar, an issue which agitated Brinda Karat, is quite different from the problem in vegetables. The sugar economy is deeply distorted by government interventions from the farm to the retail level—from fixing procurement prices to allocating distribution. Vegetables, which form the core of an average Indian's diet, have a completely different set of problems—largely the role of intermediaries between the farmer and retailers who make away with a large portion of the high price consumers pay. In pulses, there is a genuine problem of a supply-demand mismatch—we simply aren't producing pulses in the quantities that are required to meet consumption demand. In addition, the rest of the world isn't producing much either, so imports are not a fool-proof solution. Hence, the problem in the price of pulses may be more protracted. So, the government must respond to each of these problems in different ways. To the extent that cereal prices rise, the government should release buffer stock. On sugar, much fundamental market-based reform is needed domestically but imports could also play a crucial role in bringing prices down. In vegetables, the government needs to take a hard look at the kind of intermediaries that operate between the farmer and the retailer, which causes a huge divergence in farm prices and consumer prices. Incidentally, neither the farmer, nor the small retailer is making the additional profit—others are. More direct links between farmer and consumer must be established—big capital/modern retail is the answer. There is no magic wand for food prices. But intelligent politics can do a lot.







Twenty-five years ago, when 45 tonnes of methyl isocyanate, hydrogen cyanide, etc leaked from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, the wind was blowing in a southerly direction. It silently and swiftly carried the poisonous gases over to some densely populated shanties. Thousands died in their sleep—survivors, survivors' children and grandchildren feel gory aftereffects to this day. World media called it the worst-ever industrial accident. The Indian government appeared in hot pursuit of the people responsible for the tragedy. After all, there was evidence aplenty that the plant was neither well-maintained nor equipped to deal with contingencies. Charging Union Carbide with negligence, our government brought murder charges against its chief executive Warren Anderson and demanded $3.3 billion for compensating victims and their families. Five years later, pursuant to the Supreme Court's intervention, the government agreed to accept a lump sum settlement of $470 million, plus drop criminal charges against Anderson and his company. Today, survivors continue to cope with all kinds of disabilities with inadequate medical support; their children continue to be born with brain damage, missing palates, twisted limbs and worse. Today, too, people protest how inadequately Union Carbide—or Dow Chemicals that bought it in 2001—has compensated for its wrongdoing. But that chant wears thin now, not because it is unwarranted but because another malefactor has outstripped Union Carbide's offences since December 3, 1984.


That's the government itself. By 2004, independent estimates put the death toll at over 30,000 and health disorders had qualified another 5,70,000 people for compensation. Meanwhile, undistributed Union Carbide monies had ballooned to Rs 1,503 crore in RBI coffers. Information about how compensation has since been distributed remains sketchy and intermittent, with the only certainty being that many victims were given just Rs 25,000 for lost vision and the like. Every anniversary sees some gesture—like the Rajya Sabha mourning the victims yesterday. An earlier anniversary had seen the perimeter being smartened up with a pink and grey wall. Another year, 340 tonnes of toxic waste were gathered into a locked warehouse. There it sits today, held in leaking drums and sacks, contaminating water and soil like the rest of rusting plant equipment. In 25 years, we haven't gotten around to sanitising the site or cleaning up the water supply of its victims. The state's relief and rehabilitation minister Babulal Gaur—who was also Madhya Pradesh CM for a while—marked this anniversary by announcing he would open the site to the public. Unfortunately, this was to make the point that it's not tainted any more—"not at all harmful"! But Bhopal is only a symptom of systemic apathy. India, after all, has the highest number of industrial accidents per 1,00,000 workers. This is with less than 10% factories reporting in.







The pace of the dollar's slip and slide will quicken in coming months. Expect a further 10-15% devaluation of the greenback to come. This may help to take the edge off inflation in India but it will pose problems for rupee-based exporters competing against, or selling into, the dollar area, and of course China is a de facto member of the dollar area. The trigger for the latest round of dollar weakness will prove to be recent comments from Fed officials suggesting that they are not worried about dollar weakness. And while Fed chairman Ben Bernanke has tried to offset this impression, the markets always start off from a position of scepticism about the ability of policymakers to do anything. The question on traders lips is what can the Fed do about a falling dollar? Would it raise interest rates with the economy still mired in recession? Traders will conclude that this is unlikely and push some more on what they see as an open door.


Indeed, the clear impression is that the US wants a weaker dollar. Monetary policy is deliberately loose. Commentators chastise President Obama for not insisting on a dollar devaluation versus the renminbi during his recent Asia trip. We have often argued in this column that the US authorities—looking to appease their angry, relatively youthful, indebted voters, who are busy trying to rebuild their balance sheets from the drop in house prices—will opt to take risks with inflation rather than growth. A 12% deficit-to-GDP ratio and the brushing off of dollar worries are a testament to that.


The first rule of foreign exchange is currencies will go to that point which provokes a policy response. When US officials say they are not worried about dollar weakness, the dollar will fall until they are worried. The lesson for sceptical traders is that all of the turning points of the dollar in the past, 1985 (Plaza accord), 1987 (Louvre accord), 1992 (EMS crisis), 1995 (Tequila crisis) and 2002, are defined by points of policy intervention. On each of these occasions, dollar weakness or strength had reached a point of market or economic dislocation where the US and other countries were united in trying to stop it.


When Fed officials say the US is not overly concerned about a weak dollar, it reminds me of the late and first ECB president Wim Duisenberg explaining in 1999 that as the euro area was a more 'closed' economy than individual European countries—because of the heavy intra- European trade—he was not overly worried about the weakness of the euro. The foreign exchange market took the euro down until he was worried. The ECB, US Fed and others engaged in co-ordinated intervention to stop its slide in 2002. Where will the euro's peak be? Where is the point of pain that will provoke the ECB and the Federal Reserve being provoked into a monetary policy and intervention response? This is relevant to those outside the US and Europe because the euro is the main counterpart to the dollar in foreign exchange markets and so the euro's peak will coincide with the dollar's trough.


In looking for this point of pain, a young economist may start off by examining trade elasticities and the euro area's current account position. The euro area does not have a large current account deficit—though to be fair this is an average made up of big deficits in Spain and large surpluses in Germany, for instance. But the point of pain, like almost all issues in economics lies along a political nerve. The pain that matters is that being experienced by voters, and this is better summarised by the level of unemployment in the mix of countries that carry weight at the ECB, than anything else. Given the already high level of unemployment caused by the fall-out from the global financial crisis, this point of pain is probably closer to current exchange rate levels than it would have been before the crisis. I would hazard a guess that this point of pain is above $1.70 for the euro, just shy of 15% away. Assume a similar appreciation of the rupee. Although the rupee is a managed currency, dollar weakness will be associated with strong capital inflows into emerging markets and RBI will find it a heavy challenge to get the right balance between internal and external stability. That said, RBI is no stranger to challenge.


Why do exchange rates do that? Why do they act like a vindictive creature moving to points of pain? The best explanation I can give after a lifetime of personal experience in the currency markets is that the fundamental forces that act upon exchange rates to push them towards fundamentally sustainable levels are weak, and so the market is dominated by short-term players, which makes the forces of momentum strong.


The author is chairman of Intelligence Capital Ltd, chairman of the Warwick Commission, and member of the UN Commission of Experts on Financial Reform







The emirate meltdown can pose a big problem for India, and othersThere is a feeling of déjà vu in our official reaction to the Dubai crisis when we say that India will not be affected. If one recollects, we had said the same thing in 2007 when Bear Stearns went down as we scrambled to find out how securitisation and CDOs worked. We retained our high position when Lehman came down and it was only when the meltdown took place that we realised that even though our financial sector had stayed indoors all the time, our feet still got wet; and the rest, as the cliché says, is history.


The Dubai crisis, once again linked with real estate, means that the state does not have money to repay $59 billion that Dubai World owes. One is not really sure of the guarantee provided by the state, as the stance now is that the government was not a party to the bonds issued by the government-owned company. There are two aspects here. The first is that the government has the money but is not willing to help its own company, in which case the future of government-run companies will be questioned, as it is normally assumed that when we put our money in a public sector bank or undertaking, the government provides a guarantee somewhere. The other is that the government is distancing itself merely because it does not have the dollars, which is more serious. The issue is either of credibility or solvency, or a little of both.


The question is what would happen in case the government defaults. Dubai will seek help from the other Emirates, especially Abu Dhabi, and if it succeeds, the problem will become less acute. However, the broader issue is one of confidence, considering that Dubai was touted as being a global financial and gold hub given its natural advantages. Singapore will surely score in this respect and there is a major reputation hit for Dubai.


Did we see this coming? Not really, because while everyone knew that there were repayments due and that the economy was not insulated from the global meltdown, its inability to service debt was never seriously discussed, even though there were some feeble signs thrown by the rating agencies earlier in the year when the credit rating of several banks and government-backed issuers were put on the negative list.


Is India isolated? Absolutely not, because we are going to be affected quite clearly, though the magnitude could be a matter of conjecture. First, we have over $50 billion of remittances coming in every year, with this region supplying over a quarter of it. Second, we have over 4.5 million Indians staying in the Gulf and several jobs will be in jeopardy in case of a default and its backlash. Third, our trade with the UAE may not be very significant at around $30 billion per annum, but given that exports are primarily food products being consumed by the Indian population, there will be some impact. Fourth, while construction and project companies claim to be secure, it must be remembered that several of our engineering and construction companies have contracts in the GCC region, which will be affected either directly by defaults or indirectly through lower business in the future. Fifth, banks lending to companies in Dubai, either directly or to companies which have projects lined up in this country, would have to revisit their accounting books.


There are two other areas that have to be explored. The first is that if repayment is sought by off-loading US federal bonds, there would be reverberations in the US, which will mean excess selling that can drive up rates, something which the Fed has been trying to eschew for a long time. The other is whether there are similar bubbles elsewhere in the world where the Dubai model of rapid growth through the creations of world's 'first', 'tallest', 'largest', 'only' landmarks through high leverage exist. The creation of such empires, admittedly in retrospect, is a reflection of financial opulence with little character.


The lessons are the following. The first is that one needs to examine closely any fast growth story that is based on high growth sponsored by leverage. The second is that overseas investors will be wary of putting their money even in state-owned outfits as government guarantees appear to be porous. The third relates to rating agencies, which will again have to constantly send out signals to the world and warn of a crisis. The fourth is more of a question, and it is a puzzle with no answer—the latest issue of Economist talks of the high levels of debts in some developed countries. How is one to view them now against the backdrop of this seeming crisis?


The author is chief economist, NCDEX. Views are personal








The flaws exposed in the conduct of CAT has embarrassed the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, the nodal organiser of CAT in the country, as well as the US-based Prometric whose claim to fame thus far has been that it conducts international online tests such as GRE and GMAT. A veteran IIM tracker, I distinctly remember the time when the proposal for making CAT an online exam was mooted by the IIMs in 2007. A friend who also happens to be a senior faculty member at the country's top-notch B-school had, at that time, warned of the impending problems that could arise from such a move. To begin with, he said, given the huge discrepancy between the backgrounds of the students appearing for this test, CAT's paper-pencil format should not be dispensed with at one go. The rationale of this is becoming evident now: first, this would have ensured less load on an untried system and second, this would have provided a viable back-up plan.


The same friend gave me an agitated I-told-you-so call yesterday. In his eyes, and in the eyes of several of his ilk, Brand IIM and Brand CAT have taken a drubbing like never before. I tend to agree with him. The way in which the CAT-and-mouse game has unfolded over the past few days, leaving thousands of aspirants in the lurch goes to show two things—a complete lack of preparedness both on the part of the IIMs and the vendor, Prometric. Can you imagine this happening with any international online test? At a time when we are proclaiming ourselves as the next big thing in the IT arena, it's shameful to even attribute the server crashes that have occurred due to a mere virus attack. What is worse, thousands of students who appeared for the CAT's new online avatar are complaining of huge discrepancies in hardware. In layman terms, what this means is that some computers were painfully slow. If during a written exam, a student's pen runs out of ink, that's his problem entirely. But in an exam where the hardware is not up to the mark, how would a student be compensated for such differential treatment, my friend asked.


It's exactly keeping this in mind that the IIM directors who had met to discuss the online format had suggested an interactive, student friendly run-up. Failing which, CAT may continue to threaten the hand that wields the mouse.






This paper* examines the general and sectoral tariff structure of 120 economies, using exploratory data analysis:


A first element of conclusion is that tariff policies seem to protect more the labour-intensive sectors, with some variations in the case of agriculture. A second element of conclusion is that in tariff policies, the distinction between developing and developed countries is broadly relevant, but not overly determinant. A third conclusion is that agricultural tariff policy becomes a strong discriminating factor across countries as soon as other variables, such as level of development, are taken into consideration. For a given country, the tariff structure varies across sectors. Even if developed economies tend to share more common features than developing ones, no clear relationship can be established between the level of development and the overall tariff structure. From the negotiation margins perspective, developing countries that have joined the WTO recently faced stricter negotiations with their partners resulting in relatively low applied duties and water; as a result, these countries have a reduced negotiation margins in almost all sectors.


* Antonia Diakantoni and Hubert Escaith; Mapping the Tariff Waters; Working Paper ERSD-2009-13, World Trade Organisation Staff, December 2009








The 30,000 additional troops President Barack Obama is sending to Afghanistan may provide tactical relief to American commanders on the ground but whether this surge will help guarantee victory against terrorism and extremism in America's war there is an open question. The American campaign against the Taliban and the al-Qaida suffers from four deficits — political attention, military doctrine, Afghan capability, and a Pakistani commitment. The new Obama policy has hopefully ended the attention deficit triggered by the Bush administration's foolish and criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003. But the other handicaps still remain. Over the past few years, American military doctrine has leaned too heavily on the deployment of overwhelming firepower, deployed from afar, rather than on the granulated application of force. Thereby, U.S. casualties have been low but an unconscionably large number of Afghan civilians have died in what the Pentagon euphemistically calls "collateral damage." If the Taliban are to be defeated, the U.S. and its allies will have to be far more intelligent in their military methods than they have been so far.


The Obama package is supposed to address a part of the third deficit — Afghan national capabilities in the security field — but the kind of emphasis we have seen so far does not inspire much confidence. If the U.S. is serious about setting 2011 as the date by when the American combat presence in the country will start thinning out, the Afghan National Army will have to be staffed, trained, and equipped at a much higher level, a task that requires a higher magnitude of funding. By far the biggest weakness of the new Af-Pak policy is Mr. Obama's inability to craft an effective strategy to deal with the Pakistani side of the equation. Today, it is not just India that says the roots of the terrorist problem lie in Pakistan and that Afghanistan is a victim of instability emanating from across the border. In his speech on Tuesday, the U.S. president spoke of a cancer that has spread on both sides of the Durand Line. If he stopped short of identifying where the malignancy was worst, it was not for lack of information. Rather he hopes to cajole or even threaten Islamabad into taking action against the Taliban and other extremist groups which operate from its territory. The only problem is the 2011 exit date that Mr. Obama announced alongside the surge. With very little indication that the Pakistani military is ready to jettison its strategic patronage of terrorist groups, there is the possibility that Rawalpindi might well be tempted to instruct the Taliban to lie low till the appointed hour only to emerge triumphant once U.S. troops begin to leave.







India is among the few countries that still have the opportunity to nurture the health of their tiger populations. But estimating the number of tigers in the wild was a serious challenge for the Ministry of Environment and Forests until recently. Last year, the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) acknowledged the need for the best science to come up with a credible population estimate; the census technique of the past, primarily relying on pugmarks, was accepted a s faulty. The NTCA has now chosen to partner experts outside the government system in making the next assessment. In July, its consultation with scientists and other experts led to the conclusion that tiger presence is possible in a vast 310,000 sq km in India, with the core source populations of the cats spread over 40,514 sq km. Although tiger numbers have generally declined, a determined effort to secure habitat and end the poaching of tigers and their prey can help the populations bounce back. The value of good baseline data for effective conservation cannot be overstated. Since many States lack such data, success will depend on the readiness of their governments to start the process of assessing the health of forests from a wildlife perspective. For this, the field staff must become familiar with scientific sampling techniques such as camera-trapping, line transect sampling (for prey), and occupancy surveys (for all animals). These methods will produce credible estimates of tigers, co-predators such as leopards, and prey species — mainly deer, wild pig, and bison.


The Internet, remarkably, makes it possible to train field staff and students in far-flung areas in modern sampling methods at low cost. A good example is a training video titled "Monitoring tigers and their prey" produced with international support by research scientists K. Ullas Karanth and James D. Nichols, and filmmaker Shekar Dattatri. This visual resource, made available free by the producers on YouTube, should encourage forest departments of tiger-range States to start training the field staff immediately. It is important to remember that protocol-based sampling of large landscapes for signs (pugmarks, scat and tree scratch marks) to determine the presence of tigers requires validated techniques, not large funding. Conversely, intensive monitoring of reserves to arrive at population estimates needs investments in camera traps, and research support. The NTCA has been promised all the resources it needs to protect the tiger. It must deploy them fully to make the next status report on the tiger both comprehensive and accurate.









Henry Kissinger, always ready with an apt turn of phrase, once quipped: "if I want to speak to Europe, which number do I call?" Thirty-five years later, the European Union has made some progress, and there is now an EU President. The question today is a different one — who is this gentleman? How do you spell his name? Where exactly does he come from?


The election of a President is a step in the right direction, and will help to create a more perfect union. The same goes for an EU Foreign Minister. One cannot but wish them well. Yet, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that this election is a prime exhibit as to why the EU has been declining. The choices made by the 27 heads of government reflect precisely what is wrong with Europe today, best summed up in the motto, "Think small, and carry a small stick."


The notion that Belgian Prime Minister Herman Van Rompuy, the sum total of whose experience in prime time politics is a scarce 11 months in one of Europe's smallest countries, could defeat Tony Blair, for 10 years British Prime Minister and the only Labour Prime Minister to win three elections in a row, is so counter-intuitive as to be numbing. I do think Mr. Blair made a serious mistake in Iraq, and I do have many misgivings about the intellectual cover he provided to President George Bush's wrong-headed approach to the so-called "war on terror."


But the fact remains that Mr. Blair is one of the great political figures of our time, a giant among the candidates for the EU presidency (a close contender was Jean-Claude Juncker, Prime Minister of Luxembourg; I am not making this up). Mr. Blair's profile was also ideal for the job. A man from the centre-left, he gets along with the right — so much so that at one point both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel threw their weight behind him. He knows the United States well, and is widely respected there; he has recently launched his "Faith and Globalisation Initiative" with Yale University. He would have opened many doors in the Global South, where people know his incisiveness as a policy wonk, his eloquence as a communicator and his ability to get things done.


As a Brit, he could have been an honest broker between the two European heavyweights, France and Germany, while also considering the interests of smaller states. With Britain not being part of the Eurozone, Mr. Blair was also a compromise between the all-out federalists and the Euro-sceptics. In this age of fraught relationships between religion and politics, he is that rara avis in secular Britain — a politician who takes his religion seriously, so much so that he recently converted to Catholicism. At 56, he is still young, with plenty of energy and adrenaline for building up the EU. Mr. Blair was also available, something which cannot be said of another outstanding potential candidate, Felipe Gonzalez, former Prime Minister, who ruled Spain for 14 years.


Mr. Blair will thus continue to deploy most of his enormous talent as Middle East envoy, as well as at his Faith Foundation, his African Governance Initiative and at making obscene amounts of money at Tony Blair Associates — all endeavours which, though enough to keep a dozen men busy 24x7, still underutilise his capabilities.


Was the election of Mr. Van Rompuy merely a fluke?


Hardly, since his main competitors were mostly like him, unknown quantities from small member-states. In fact, one of them, when asked to come up with a job description for the new EU President, volunteered that what was needed was a chairman of the board rather than a president per se (he would, wouldn't he?). But assuming that the European heads are so insecure as to be intimidated by the possibility of having a genuine peer at the helm of the EU, one could have thought that, at a very minimum, they would have settled for an experienced and knowledgeable EU Foreign Minister, in the tradition of Foreign Affairs EU Commissioners like Christopher Patten and Javier Solana. This position will, after all, be the face of the "new" post-Lisbon treaty Europe to the rest of the world.


Some of the names on the table certainly fitted that bill — Massimo D'Alema, the suave former Italian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister; Joschka Fischer, the brash, Green former German Foreign Minister; David Miliband, the brainy U.K. Foreign Secretary; and Carl Bildt, the experienced former Swedish Prime Minister and current Foreign Minister.


Any of these candidates would have sent the right message about the EU being genuinely interested in reaching out to the world, rather than being consumed by internal squabbling and petty infighting. The spectacle presented by a number of the EU's smallest members — most prominently the Czech Republic' s delay in giving the go-ahead for the EU Constitution, haggling over exemption from the EU rules, including compensation for property expropriation — has been such that outside observers find it difficult to take the EU seriously. The EU is the biggest market in the world, but its politics is all about divvying up the enormous amount of money on hand, rather than about anything else, "a supersize Switzerland," as Simon Hix of the London School of Economics put it.


Most people had never heard of Lady Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, currently EU Trade Commissioner (a position she has held for a little over a year), who has now been chosen next EU Foreign Minister. She is a protégé of Prime Minster Gordon Brown, who tipped her for the job once David Miliband declined. She may very well be talented, and is apparently an effective negotiator, but no one claims that she has any foreign policy experience. The lack of name recognition and of foreign policy credentials does not bode well. This is the person President Barack Obama is supposed to call when addressing a U.S.-EU issue (will he?). This is not her fault. The "lowest-common-denominator" decision-making process the EU has adopted feeds on itself. Once you elect an obscure EU President, you may not be willing to put a star next to him as Number 2 (or such a nominee may not be willing to take it), so you keep going down the ladder.


Who should be blamed for this? Why is it that the great promise of European regional integration, one that raised so many hopes around the world and has been so widely emulated, has boiled down to this? Why is it that institutions that have taken eight years to build at great cost — whose very purpose, in Valery Giscard D' Estaing original design for a European Constitution, was to allow the EU to project itself more effectively on the global scene — are handed over to newcomers whose appointment signals that the intention is to keep Brussels in the hands of Eurocrats (it has been said the real winner of all this is EU Commission chairman Jose Manuel Barroso) rather than established political leaders? Aren't Europeans aware that the first incumbent of any senior political office sets the tone and pattern of how the powers of that office will be exercised long after he or she is gone?


It is easy to blame the small European countries, always worried about being trampled by the EU "elephants." Yet, they can hardly be faulted for defending their interests. The British Tories, in Opposition and true to form, took the lead in opposing Mr. Blair's candidacy, though their leader, David Cameron, has largely modelled himself after Mr. Blair, and his party fully supported the Iraq war. Saying the election of the latter by the EU would be "a hostile act," the Tories are already showing how they are likely to rule — with the fiercest and narrowest of partisanships.


Yet, in the end, it would be silly to blame the bit players for this outcome in the Great Game of Europe, though it is somewhat puzzling to read an editorial in the Financial Times lamenting the EU's small-mindedness and "minimalism," when the same paper editorialised against Mr. Blair's candidacy ("Beware of what you wish for…"). The EU was originally born out of the need of France and Germany to bury the hatchet of war. When all is said and done, it is still Paris and Berlin that call the shots. Unfortunately, on this occasion the successors of General Charles de Gaulle and Chancellor Konrad Adenauer did not show either the grand vision or the fortitude of their predecessors. They let themselves be intimidated when they should have stuck to their guns. Europe is all the worse for it.


(Jorge Heine holds the Chair in Global Governance at the Balsillie School of International Affairs, is Professor of Political Science at Wilfrid Laurier University and a Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario.)







Generally, it is dissenting writers, artists and journalists who find themselves hounded by libel lawyers acting for rich and powerful clients, not to mention prickly faith groups and vested political interests. But, increasingly, scientists are becoming a target of legal bullying as big businesses use the threat of costly defamation action to gag critical voices and stifle academic debate.


There is concern that some sort of self-censorship has already started to creep in with science journals and websites preferring not to publish potentially controversial research papers to avoid legal hassles.


Leading British scientists, including a former government chief scientific adviser, David King, are among the nearly 19,000 academics, writers and journalists who have signed a petition calling for science to be taken out of the purview of the country's libel laws.


The petition, initiated by Sense About Science, an independent charity which works with the scientific community, says that current libel laws have a "chilling effect" on free speech. They "deter" scientists and science writers from engaging in "argument and debate" on matters of public interest.


"Freedom to criticise and question in strong terms and without malice is the cornerstone of scientific argument and debate, whether in peer-reviewed journals, on websites or in newspapers, which have a right of reply for complainants… [but] libel laws discourage argument and debate and merely encourage the use of the courts to silence critics," it says arguing that defamation laws have "no place" in scientific disputes.


The campaign was triggered by the case of Simon Singh, a British-Indian science writer and Bafta-winning broadcaster, who is being sued by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) over an article in which he claimed that chiropractic treatments for illnesses such as asthma and ear infections were not backed by scientific evidence.


The BCA has been accused of trying to "silence" criticism of its practices by resorting to legal action instead of defending its position through public debate.


In another similar case, a leading British scientist has been sued by an American company for questioning its claims about the effectiveness of a heart device. Peter Wilmshurt, a consultant cardiologist at the Royal Shrewsbury Hospital, made the comments in a lecture at a cardiology conference in Washington two years ago.


Dr. Wilmshurt, angry that remarks made during the course of an academic discussion can become the basis of libel action, says that he will use "public interest" defence to argue his case and will not agree to an out-of-court settlement unless the company which is suing him recognises his right to criticise scientific research.


"I have got a responsibility to fight this. It makes me rather more angry that the law can be used in this way to suppress information that may be in the public interest for us to know. There is a fundamental principle of science at stake here," he argues.


The Singh and Wilmshurt rows feed into the larger debate on Britain's libel laws which are heavily weighted against the defendant or — in the words of one newspaper — "unique in the burden of proof that they impose on a defendant". More controversially, they allow cases to be pursued in British courts even if the alleged defamation has taken place in another country and the defendant is neither a British citizen nor a resident. It is enough for the allegedly libellous comments to appear on a website in Britain to justify legal action in a British court.


This, campaigners point out, has turned London into the "libel capital of the world" with foreigners who cannot sue in their own countries flocking to Britain to file cases. Sir Ken Macdonald, a former Director of Public Prosecutions, has warned that Britain is in danger of becoming an "international haven for people to attack scientists".


It has also become an issue across the Atlantic with Washington reportedly considering plans to legislate against enforcing damages awarded by British courts in cases not deemed defamatory under American laws. In a strongly-worded editorial, The Times said that it was "grotesque and shaming" that a democratic ally such as America needed to "protect the liberties of its own citizens from assaults emanating from the mother of parliaments".


A report by Index on Censorship and English PEN, the writers' campaign group, has called for a thorough review of British libel laws which, it says, impose "unnecessary and disproportionate restrictions on free speech" and do "not reflect the interests of a modern democratic society". They have encouraged "libel tourism" and spawned jokes about London which some refer to as a "town named sue".


The report makes a series of recommendations including a ban on cases being brought to London unless a publication in which an allegedly libellous article was published has at least ten per cent of its circulation in Britain.


Meanwhile, the government has been accused of muzzling scientists after Home Secretary Alan Johnson sacked his chief drugs adviser David Nutt for criticising government policy on classifying drugs. Three of Prof. Nutt's colleagues resigned in protest. Their point was that the government must stop treating scientists who work for it like automatons and instead respect their independence and the right to express their views even if the Home Secretary does not like them.


Elementary, Mr. Johnson?







Emmy Salomon was rounded up by the Gestapo in Amsterdam on May 11, 1943, when she went outside to get some fresh air. Her letter was written on May 17, 1943, just before her train left from Westerbork for Sobibor. She threw it out of the train somewhere on Dutch territory. Somebody posted it to the address on the envelope of the woman who was to look after her son, Rudolf. According to Red Cross records, she was gassed in Sobibor on May 21, 1943. Extracts from the letter r ead: "It is Monday evening, and we're ready to board the train. I promise you I'll be strong and I'll definitely survive ... Nothing can be done about this.

"We're ready to board the train with 2,500 people [and we're] going to work ...


"Take care of my husband, take care of my son, wherever he is ...


"Thanks a lot for everything. I hope to see you again.


"Bye bye, Many kisses, Emmy." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009








On April 20, 2005, a 26.7-million cubic foot balloon carrying a 459-kg scientific payload with 38 kg of liquid neon was flown from the National Balloon Facility in Hyderabad operated by the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR). The payload collected air samples from different heights ranging from 20 to 41 km and it was parachuted down safely. The samples were independently analysed at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), Hyderabad, and the Natio nal Centre for Cell Science (NCCS), Pune, and live micro-organisms were found. Such findings have enormous implications for astrobiology, besides providing important inputs to go into the question of how life started on our planet.


Astrobiology deals with life outside the Earth, a question that is increasingly gaining scientists' attention. For India, it was part of a pioneering series of experiments. Being interdisciplinary in character, astrobiology t had the participation of scientists from institutions specialising in different fields. As the subject grows in scope and interest, more scientists will come forward to participate with a distinct need for an Indian institution devoted to astrobiology.


While challenges to research progress in India abound, there are also several instances of world-class work being done. The upper atmosphere experiment carried out by biologists and space scientists from Indian research institutions clearly demonstrates the capabilities of Indian researchers. The idea was for an objective study of whether the Earth's atmosphere harbours living systems, especially extra-terrestrial micro-organisms like bacteria and viruses. This was the first time a serious attempt was made to analyse the microbial contents of the atmosphere under strict biological controls. The expertise developed by ISRO in recent years justified an attempt at sampling air from different heights using the balloon technology.


In this pioneering effort, the payload consisted of a cryosampler containing 16 evacuated and sterilised stainless steel probes. Thus, the valves attached to the cylindrical probes could be opened by a remote command from the ground headquarters and the ambient air pumped in. The expertise developed by the ISRO technical team was responsible for preparing such a complex payload.


The first flight in 2001 was successful in collecting air samples from various heights. After the payload was parachuted down and analysed by CCMB and also in Cardiff, U.K., several new bacterial species were identified. Encouraged by the findings, a second experiment with several improvements over the first balloon flight was planned and executed in 2005. The biologists at CCMB and at the NCCS reported finding 12 bacterial and six fungal colonies, with three strains identified as potential new species.


The question that came up then was: how did such life forms get to the upper atmosphere? If no workable method can be found to lift the bacteria from the Earth's surface to a height of 41 km, then based on the empirical evidence there is strong reason to consider them as being of extra-terrestrial origin.


The impact of this work can be profound if it is conclusively established that the microorganisms detected in these experiments are indeed extragalactic. The work has, therefore, generated interest amongst the international community of exobiologists. For example, if the species found at the height of 41 km is proved to be extraterrestrial in origin, it will open up possibilities of a broad vista of life existing all over this vast universe. It will also strengthen the hypothesis that life on the Earth itself may have been seeded by such microbial showers, making all of us extraterrestrial in origin. Needless to add that the realisation that we are not alone in the universe would be of profound significance in the study of the origin and status, and possibly the future of life, on this planet.


Preferential funding of research programmes is a huge challenge in India, especially for such interdisciplinary niche areas like astrobiology. While large initiatives such as satellite and space launch programmes are well-funded and they enjoy the public spotlight, we must find ways to encourage and support research in new and emerging areas as well. For greater impact in niche area research, the Indian science establishment needs to be endowed with the requisite infrastructural and funding commitment to conduct end-to-end research. Many of these niche research areas offer great opportunity for the Indian science establishment to negate legacy issues and be on an equal footing with the best research output in the world.


Perhaps the greatest hindrance to planning exciting experiments and achieving important results is the bureaucratic framework of our research institutes. The hierarchical structure, especially pay scales of our research institutes mimic the government's administrative structure. However, the creativity and efficiency of a scientist vis-À-vis the administrator evolve differently, with the scientist bringing differential skill and qualification requirements to the table. Besides, a young scientist is in the prime of his creative life and an administrator, on the other hand, gains maturity with age. To base the promotion criteria of a scientist on the same pattern as for an administrator is to ignore this fundamental difference. This more often than not leads to frustration among the younger generation of scientists as they see their bright new ideas getting ignored or going unappreciated.


While dwelling on the lacuna on one side, it is heartening to see how the balloon experiment breaks new ground.


This inter-institutional accomplishment illustrates the indigenous capability in successfully fabricating experimental set-ups of entirely new types. This trend for originality and creativity augurs well for Indian science. With fresh wind blowing in bringing global competitiveness and collaboration, attitudes to scientific research will change from that of a routine job to an adventure in creativity. It is important for creative young scientists to feel appreciated for the work done and the credit for such cooperative efforts, as seen in the recent Nobel Prizes, would justifiably be apportioned in proportion to the research contributions.


(Jayant Narlikar is Founder Director & Emeritus Professor, Inter-University Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics. Prof. Narlikar is a theoretical physicist widely known for fundamental contributions to astrophysics and cosmology. Along with Sir Fred Hoyle, Prof. Narlikar proposed an alternative to the Big Bang theory. He headed an international team which undertook and found evidence for micro-organisms in the stratosphere. An intriguing possibility is that the organisms could have arrived from space. Prof. Narlikar has authored or co-authored a hundred books (professional, science popularization, fiction). Prof. Narlikar is a member of three Indian academies of sciences and Fellow of the Third World Academy of Sciences.)








U.S. President Barack Obama focused his speech on Afghanistan. He left much unsaid about Pakistan, where the main terrorists he is targeting are located, but where he can send no troops.


Mr. Obama could not be very specific about his Pakistan strategy, his advisers conceded on Monday evening. U.S. operations there are classified, most run by the CIA. Any overt U.S. presence would only fuel anti-Americanism in a country that reacts sha rply to every missile strike against extremists that kills civilians as well, and that fears that America is plotting to run its government and seize its nuclear weapons.


Yet quietly, Mr. Obama has authorised an expansion of the war in Pakistan as well — if only he can get a weak, divided, suspicious Pakistani government to agree to the terms.


In recent months, in addition to providing White House officials with classified assessments about Afghanistan, the CIA delivered a plan for widening the campaign of strikes against militants by drone aircraft in Pakistan, sending additional spies there and securing a White House commitment to bulk up the CIA's budget for operations inside the country.


The expanded operations could include drone strikes in the southern province of Balochistan, where senior Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, officials said. It is from there that they direct many of the attacks on U.S. troops, attacks that are likely to increase as more Americans pour into Afghanistan.


"The President endorsed an intensification of the campaign against al-Qaeda and its violent allies, including even more operations targeting terrorism safe havens," said one U.S. official. "More people, more places, more operations."


That was the message delivered in recent weeks to Pakistani officials by General James L. Jones, the National Security Adviser. But the Pakistanis, suspicious of Mr. Obama's intentions and his staying power, have not yet agreed.


General Jones was one of a series of U.S. officials who arrived in Pakistan in recent weeks with the same message: No matter how many troops the President commits to Afghanistan, the strategy will founder unless the safe haven inside Pakistan is dealt with.


However, the U.S. does not have much leverage and is counting on a new attitude and a huge acceleration of efforts from a weak government. Making matters worse, President Asif Ali Zardari is often at odds with the nation's powerful military and intelligence establishment.


The question about Mr. Obama's Pakistan strategy is whether the new commitment of troops and resources can ultimately make America safer at a time of an evolving terrorist threat. Mr. Obama insisted that was his central focus.


"This is the epicenter of the violent extremism practiced by al-Qaeda," he said to the cadets at West Point, speaking of both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the murky border area between the two that offers refuge to extremists of many stripes. The region was the birthplace of the September 11, 2001, attacks, he said, and "it is from here that new attacks are being plotted as I speak". Many times in the speech he returned to that threat, saying it was what made this war different from Vietnam.



And he referenced another threat, one that focuses the attention of Mr. Obama's national security team daily, but which it speaks about rarely.


"The stakes are even higher within a nuclear-armed Pakistan, because we know that al-Qaeda and other extremists seek nuclear weapons, and we have every reason to believe that they would use them," he said.


Mr. Obama's decision to raise the nuclear spectre was notable because a succession of U.S. officials have publicly stated recently that the Pakistani arsenal is secure. In private, however, they have commissioned new intelligence studies on how vulnerable Pakistani warheads and laboratories would be if insurgents made greater inroads, with one official saying recently, "It is the scenario we spend the most time thinking about."


Even if Mr. Obama is successful in lessening the terrorist threat in the region, many analysts say that al-Qaeda has changed into a transnational movement beyond Afghanistan and Pakistan.


"There is no direct impact on stopping terrorists around the world because we are or are not in Afghanistan," said Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, the former CIA officer who was sent into Pakistan after 9/11 to determine if Osama bin Laden had access to the country's nuclear technology. The nature of modern terrorism, Mr. Mowatt-Larssen, now at Harvard, argued, is that a safe haven can be moved to many different states, and the bigger threat exists in cells, including in Europe and the U.S.


Even Janet Napolitano, the Secretary of Homeland Security, acknowledged in an interview this evening that the steps announced by the President would not address al-Qaeda cells in Africa or West Asia, or even homegrown extremists. But she argued that he had to begin somewhere.


"Can you totally eliminate the threat from al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda-types in Yemen or Somalia? No," she said. "But what you have done is taken a major action to limit their ability out of this major theatre, from which their leaders and major actions emanate."



Making the Pakistan plan even more complex was Mr. Obama's effort to reconcile two seemingly contradictory messages on Tuesday evening. He had to convince the Pakistanis that he was not planning to leave the region — as the U.S. did 20 years ago, after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan — while reassuring the American public that after an 18-month build-up, he would begin to head for the exits.


The U.S., he said, simply could not afford an open-ended war. Unlike President George W. Bush, he suggested, he would not set "goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost, and what we need to achieve to secure our interests." — © 2009 The New York Times News Service









US president Barack Obama has taken a complicated set of decisions in connection with Afghanistan and Pakistan (Af-Pak) on Tuesday. He has decided to send in 30,000 extra American troops, and he has promised that American pullout from Afghanistan will begin from the middle of 2011. He has also decided on increased American involvement — including drone attacks and CIA operations —  in Pakistan to fight the al Qaeda. The president is under intense domestic pressure to pull out of Afghanistan because Americans are more worried about the economic downturn and loss of jobs more than Taliban terrorism.

Obama is aware he does not have the choice of dealing with either the dampened domestic market or with the challenge of terrorism abroad. He has to handle them both at the same time. He sounded hopeful rather than confident that his Af-Pak strategy will work and that the US will not have to walk out of Afghanistan a defeated power as did the Russians in the 1980s. His dismissal of the comparison of the war in Afghanistan with the disastrous one in Vietnam in the early 1970s is again a gesture of bravado more than anything else.

What America does in Afghanistan and Pakistan is not strictly speaking an American affair. India has much to worry about and will have to assess the impact and implications of the new American moves. It was natural then that Obama should have spoken to prime minister Manmohan Singh over the phone before announcing his Afghanistan initiative.

Singh must have conveyed Indian concerns over the resurgence of Taliban in Afghanistan as well as in Pakistan. What is of major concern to India is the flawed American view that Pakistan is a full-fledged partner in the war against terrorism and that it needs full military and financial aid. A militarised Pakistan poses a threat both to Afghanistan and India because Islamabad will continue to abet Islamic fundamentalists in the two countries.

Though Obama even during his presidential campaign in 2008 had recognised that Afghanistan and Pakistan constitute a single problem, he has not yet formulated an effective policy which reflects that insight.

Finally, Americans can't do much unless the leaders in Afghanistan and Pakistan put in their own effort to curb the extremist elements in their countries.







It was a matter of some pride that India decided to honour the principles of jurisprudence when it began the trial of Ajmal Kasab, the one terrorist caught alive during the November 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai. And in spite of all the initial confusion over a defence lawyer, the trial began and has completed over 200 days, after which the prosecution wrapped up its case, which is somewhat remarkable given the slow pace at which the Indian judicial system normally works.

However, the incidents of the last few days culminating in the sacking of the defence lawyer Abbas Kazmi by the judge MH Tahiliyani has cast a needless shadow over the proceedings. Kazmi was accused not just of using needless delaying tactics but of lying to the court and then finally, imagining that he was "indispensable" to the case. The judge found his behaviour unacceptable. The lawyer subsequently claimed that he was insulted in court as "the terrorist's lawyer". Not the most dignified of responses.

Since the trial began, there has been a growing clamour from a section of the public that the trial is a farce, the evidence was straightforward and that Kasab should be hanged forthwith. These arguments were countered with the majesty of the system, which proved that India was a strong and secure democracy. But now the system has laid itself bare to ridicule.


It appears that the significance of the case has been lost in legal wranglings between the lawyers and the judge. This would be unremarkable — even par for the course — if this were any other trial. Now, lawyers feel that it would have been better if Kasab had been allowed to plead guilty, that the prosecution took too long, that the defence lawyer had needlessly tried to prolong the case and so on. That means that legal experts are going to pick holes in the trial and the public rage is bound to escalate.

The course before the court now seems to be to wrap up the trial as fast and as smoothly as possible. Due procedure must be followed but the case should not open itself to ridicule any more. There is a new defence lawyer and delaying tactics must not be attempted by him or accepted by the judge either. The verdict needs to be out before public anger rises any further. This is not to suggest that the trial be compromised in any way. Rather, it would be wise to understand the reality of the situation and move accordingly.







It's just a few days to the 17th anniversary of the Babri demolition. It is, therefore, time to forget the Liberhan commission and seek closure on the events of that tumultuous day.

We need to understand the real meaning of December 6, 1992 and not merely who did what that day. In our blind efforts to demonise the Sangh Parivar, we have ignored the real gains made by our polity since then. It speaks much for the shallowness of our intelligentsia that they are unable to see what is in front of their eyes.

Every society learns by making mistakes. It is one of the big ironies of life that learning happens only after societies and individuals sometimes pay a horrendous price for it, but there's no getting away from it. Emperor Ashoka learnt the value of moderation and non-violence only after the murderous Kalinga war. We learnt the value of a solid defence only after being ignominiously thrashed by the Chinese in 1962. The world recognised the jihadi nature of the Pakistani regime only after 9/11, the London bombings and 26/11, among other things.

Hindus have realised the follies of narrow Hindutva only after 1992 and 2002; they know that it diminishes Hinduism and is something the country cannot afford. Through a painful process, Muslims have made their own discoveries: that sham secularism and placing trust in rabble-rousers can land them in the ditch.

One of the unexpected conclusions of Liberhan is that the Ayodhya movement had widespread support among a segment of Hindus. This is the only conclusion one can draw when he condemns almost every single leader of the BJP-RSS-VHP-Bajrang Dal combine, and goes on to blame the common man for destroying the structure.

While it is obvious that the Sangh Parivar did not represent all Hindus, there is no doubt that in much of north India Hindus had developed huge awareness about the Ram Janmabhoomi issue. While few expected the worst to happen on December 6, when the masjid was brought down, there was a sense of momentary catharsis — as one columnist noted astutely — mixed with a strong sense of unease. One should not, therefore, dismiss LK Advani's comment — that it was the "saddest" day of his life — out of hand. His statement was at least half-true.

For many Hindus, the fall of the Babri ended their sense of rage at their own real or imagined powerlessness. The Ayodhya movement, by mobilising people across caste and gender barriers, enabled lakhs of men and women to discover their own agency and sense of public participation. Put another way, the bringing down of the masjid enabled Hindus to break out of the old mould of imagined passivity even while realising that this was not what they wanted. It is difficult for non-Hindus to understand these mixed emotions. The closest comparison could be what Muslims felt on 9/11, when the twin towers were demolished. There was a sense of both horror and hidden fulfilment. Political correctness stops Muslims today from glorifying 9/11, but one could sense a sneaking sense of admiration, even pride, in the body language of Muslims one met immediately after 9/11.

The subtext of what they said was this: "It was horrible that so many people died, but you must admire the audacity and courage with which the hijackers executed their plans."

Babri also served as a wakeup call for Muslims, who were till then willing to let obscurantist leaders and phoney secularists lead them to a dead end. After December 6, despite a short flirtation with communal politics, ordinary Muslims started to take matters into their own hands by sending their children to schools and organising themselves politically to demand the things they really needed: jobs and public recognition of their citizenship. In the decade after 1991, that is, in the post-Babri decade, Muslims have made great strides in education through their own efforts. Even though they lag behind Hindus on the literacy ratio (65.1 per cent for Hindus versus 59.1 per cent for Muslims in 2001), the gap is narrowing. In as many as 10 states, mostly in the western and southern regions, they are either better off or at least equal to Hindus in terms of the literacy rate.

Four states which account for half the Muslim population in India are almost entirely responsible for the community's backwardness — Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Apart from being poorly administered, three of the four are backward because of high migration from Bangladesh. In short, if we concentrate all our efforts on improving the lot of the poor and illiterate in these four states and reduce immigration from Bangladesh, Muslims would automatically catch up with Hindus —  at least on the literacy front.

December 6 was no more justified than 9/11 and we can't run away from the consequences. But, hopefully, both Hindus and Muslims have learnt from it to say "never again". However, one can never discount the ability of politicians to rake it all up again.







Exactly 25 years ago today, about 8,000 people died in Bhopal of the immediate effects of the poison gas that had leaked from Union Carbide's pesticide factory through the night. The Bhopal Gas Tragedy is the world's biggest industrial disaster and has till now killed 22,000 and injured almost 600,000. Even today, thousands die as the poison contaminates drinking water, creeps into vegetation, food, into the baby in the womb and into mother's milk.

But not all of it is because of the accidental release of 40 tonnes of methyl isocyanate on the night of December 2-3. The locals are also being slowly poisoned to death by toxic waste dumped around the factory that has leached into the soil and groundwater.

Astoundingly, defying all logic and civic sense, even after 25 years of sustained campaigning and international attention, the killer waste has not been cleaned up.

If the Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was responsible for the gas leak, our governments at the Centre and in Madhya Pradesh are responsible for the continuing deaths and the enormity of its aftermath. Complaints about water contamination had started before 1984. These were ignored. But after the gas leak —  now called the industrial Hiroshima — the contamination was impossible to ignore. Reams have been written about it, photographs and documentary films have shocked the world with graphic visuals of the maimed, the sick, the dying, environmentalists have been screaming from the rooftops, there have been demonstrations around the world. And yet the locals continue to drink the poisoned water and live off the poisoned land in Bhopal.

According to a new study by the Centre for Science and Environment, the groundwater in areas even 3 km from the factory contains almost 40 times more pesticides than is permissible by Indian standards. So what? These periodic disclosures don't shock us.

Five years ago, in a report to commemorate 20 years of the tragedy, the BBC showed how they took a sample of drinking water from a well and found its level of contamination to be 500 times higher than World Health Organisation limits. Several public interest groups, including Greenpeace, have collected samples from the soil, groundwater, fruits and vegetables, and found in them unacceptable levels of toxic materials that were used at the factory. Even the government's public health survey has declared the water there unfit for drinking. But the locals have no choice.

Apparently, the state government plans to build a Rs116 crore memorial at the factory site, like the Hiroshima Memorial. Nice. No need to pay the victims or give them proper healthcare or clean up the toxic waste.

The Hiroshima Memorial has detailed documentation of what led to the bombing and what happened afterwards. Maybe the State would document the whole story at Bhopal too? Would it start from the leak in 1984? Or from UCC's dumping tonnes of toxic waste around its factory from 1969? And then the thrilling part, where the State played a leading role. How it settled for $470 million in compensation instead of the $3.3 billion claimed, how it failed to disburse that for decades, finally paying a flat Rs25,000 to the affected and Rs1 lakh for those killed, not accounting for medical expenses, how it stashed up the huge interest accrued and tried to divert it elsewhere. And how it has still not cleaned up the toxic waste and is poisoning its own people and future generations. How the State has let Dow Chemicals, who now owns UCC, go free and even tried to woo it back to India, hoping for business investments. How nice to have a memorial to showcase the State's flagrant failings!

Alarmingly, our ministers don't realise that they are complicit in an enormous crime. For Union Carbide may have unleashed the industrial Hiroshima, but our government continues the silent genocide.









Members of Parliament are elected to represent their constituencies in the highest law-making body of the country and to diligently carry out legislative work. That is why the taxpayers spend Rs 14 lakh every hour to run Parliament. But in recent years there has been a steady decline in the commitment to parliamentary work. The ongoing session has been particularly bad. On the very first day, November 19, 175 MPs were absent. Things got only worse the next day when 192 of them played truant. But the worst was November 30 when as many as 216 of them gave Parliament a miss. Usually, question hour is held sacred, but on that crazy Monday, something extremely serious happened. Thirtyfour members who had listed questions were absent. As a result, question hour simply collapsed. This was the first time after 1991 that question hour had fizzled out. Nobody seemed to have any concern that when a question is listed, it is studied and the response prepared with great care by the ministry concerned. It is the best occasion to corner the government. According to a rough estimate, it costs at least Rs 1 lakh to compile the answer for one question. What was all the more unfortunate was that both new and senior members were absent.


Even otherwise, the number of sittings has been diminishing at an alarming rate. Last year, there were only 46. What a decline it has been, considering that in the first decade of 1952-61, there was a yearly average of 124 sittings, which fell to 81 between 1992 and 2001. State assemblies take their cue from the Centre and are similarly cutting down their sittings. There is urgent need to amend the Constitution to ensure that Parliament meets for at least 100 days every year.


Even when the Honorable Members do meet, they indulge in frequent disruptions and slogan shouting. Now we have even had the ugly spectacle of physical assault in the Rajya Sabha (Amar Singh catching SS Ahluwalia by the collar). All such unacceptable happenings have brought down the reputation of the political class several notches. The rot is not confined to any particular party but is noticeable in the entire spectrum. The time to apply correctives is now.








President Barack Obama has unveiled his much-awaited new strategy for tackling the Taliban in the Af-Pak region. In the course of his speech at New York's Military Academy on Tuesday, he announced not only his decision to dispatch an additional 30,000 US troops to join the multinational forces battling against the Taliban but also declared that there would be troop withdrawal from Afghanistan after 18 months – beginning in July 2011. Nowhere in his speech did he mention that the US forces – whose number will go up to 98,000 in six months, taking the total of multinational forces to nearly 1,50,000 – would return home after winning the war. Mr Obama clearly said, "these additional American and international troops will allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan." What he has done in Iraq will happen in Afghanistan too. The basic idea is to strengthen the Afghan security forces to take care of the Taliban threat themselves.


Mr Obama's strategy includes three core elements: "a military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that reinforces positive action and an effective partnership with Pakistan". The multinational forces may intensify the war against the Taliban but keeping in view that there be minimum collateral damage. The US has, perhaps, come to realise that it cannot achieve its objective in the Af-Pak region if all that it does for bringing about peace goes to strengthen the anti-American sentiment there. This factor will get weakened once the Afghan forces take over the anti-extremist operations. In any case, they have to do it now, as "America has no interest in fighting an endless war in Afghanistan".


It appears that the US wants to concentrate more on Pakistan and hence the talk of "effective partnership" with Islamabad and not allowing the tribal areas on the Pakistani side of the Durand Line to be used as "a safe haven for terrorists". That is what it should be. But under no circumstances should Pakistan be allowed to play the double game as it has been indulging in so far. All kinds of terrorists must be targeted for peace in the region and elsewhere.








Punjab Director-General of Police P.S. Gill has more than once made it public that Pakistan's ISI is trying to foment trouble in the state by luring foreign-bound Punjabi youths to countries like Malaysia and Greece with the help of Babbar Khalsa activists and training them in subversive activities with the aim of reviving terrorism. Although there is not much visible activity on the ground other than sporadic arrests of youths, dubbed terrorists by the police, one would expect the DGP to have credible information and to keep the police ready for any eventuality.


At his press conference in Chandigarh on Tuesday the DGP also pointed to increased activities of Left-wing extremists in Punjab to deal with which the police has set up a special anti-Naxalite cell. Though the Maoists and Naxalites are mostly active in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Orissa, their plans to spread over to other states are well known. If they are eying the border state of Punjab now, the police has all the reason to prepare itself before it is too late. In fact, reports say that Israeli experts are being invited to train the Punjab Police in anti-terrorist operations, riot control and disaster management. These are the areas which the police in every state must learn to handle.


The threat from the ISI and Leftist extremists may be real, but it is not enough – and may be even dangerous – to leave it to the police alone. That police methods of dealing with disgruntled youth can be counter-productive need not be over-emphasised as Punjab had witnessed much bloodshed for more than a decade in the not-too-distant past. The mistakes committed at the police, administrative and political levels should not be repeated. The situation is on the boil as disillusioned youth are either heading abroad or turning to drugs in large numbers. The state leadership needs to focus on creating jobs through development and making youth employable by improving the quality of education and health.









News about the Indian economy is rather puzzling because the "pink" papers declare that recovery from the financial crisis has begun strongly and is reflected in the more than 9 per cent industrial growth in September and the Sensex crossing the 17000 level. Analysts, on the other hand, warn of high inflation, more job losses and slow recovery in the near future. It is, however, true that India is fast reaching the pre-crisis stock market level. This means a huge amount (nearly $16 billion) of "hot money" or foreign institutional investment (FII) is coming in and this is being used to buy equity in well-known Indian companies as well as debt.


No doubt, India is now considered a top emerging market which is prompting FIIs to borrow money in western countries where interest rates are near zero and investing in India, where the prospects of growth are brighter as compared to the industrial countries, many of which are still struggling to get positive GDP growth.


The proposed disinvestment of major public sector undertakings and the promise of further reforms by the UPA government have acted as positive signals for the FIIs and they expect India to grow at a high rate in the next one year. But there is no guarantee that these institutional investors would like to remain in India for long. We suffered from their mass exit soon after the financial crisis hit the world in 2008 when they withdrew $14 billion, causing distress in the financial markets in the form of a severe liquidity crisis.


Hot money is also going to other emerging markets because while industrial countries as a group are to grow at 1.3 per cent in 2010, the "emerging" market countries are supposed to grow at 5.1 per cent. Thus, countries like Brazil are also facing a similar situation of a huge inflow of FII funds. This sudden surge in foreign institutional investment inflows led to the Brazilian currency (the real) hardening against the dollar. Brazil took the bold step of imposing a 2 per cent tax on all FIIs recently. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad also imposed a tax on such foreign inflows in the post-Asian crisis era of 1997.


In the case of Brazil, it was done mainly to prevent a further rise in the value of the real (it had gained 36 per cent against the dollar) and, therefore, preserve Brazilian exporters' competitiveness. If the real is costlier, then imports would be cheap and exports expensive. Taiwan has banned foreign investment in time deposits and Indonesia is thinking of banning overseas investors from acquiring central bank bills.


India is facing a similar problem of the rise in the value of the rupee in terms of the dollar (by 6 per cent in the last four months), which is hurting exports. Besides raising the value of the rupee, strong FII inflows are going to lead to too much liquidity in the financial system and this could be inflationary. Many are worried that food prices, which have been rising phenomenally (nearly 16 per cent annually) and hurting the poor, will go up further. To control inflation, the RBI will have to raise interest rates which may harm investments and result in lower industrial growth.


Many economists are also pointing out that the asset (equity) prices have been artificially jacked up by the FII buying spree. If the stock prices are going up and do not reflect the ground reality of the companies' performance and profits, then clearly a bubble is being formed which will be followed by a bust. That the bubble is going to bust, some think, is imminent. This will bring about another slowdown. Today FII stakes in corporate India are at their highest in the nine-year history of FII investment. It is fairly concentrated in the top 10 to 25 stocks, which account for 60 to 75 per cent, respectively, of the current FII investments in the country.


Thus, what should India do? The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) has tightened the rules regarding the Promissory Notes, a popular tool of investment for foreign investors (PNs are instruments issued contractually by FIIs to third parties reflecting a right to participate in the economic benefits of price movements and corporate action in Indian securities). A committee has also been appointed to look into the matter and prepare plans to scan FII holdings in firms frequently.


But should the government impose a tax like Brazil has done on FIIs - the so-called Tobin tax --- or should it let FIIs have a free run and come in unabated and leave when they want?


These are big policy questions, but keeping in mind the plight of the exporters, who even today are struggling to expand their sales abroad, stemming an unruly inflow of foreign funds into the Indian markets to prevent the rupee's rise would be a wise step. There are others who argue that financial inflows are important, especially when they are going into infrastructure stocks, because these would help this important sectors' growth. FIIs have played a key role in keeping liquidity high in the markets and have helped interest rates remain low. Many also argue that restrictions on FII inflows can easily be evaded and are, therefore, ineffective. Such thinking is in favour of keeping the financial flows unchecked.


Recently, however, even IMF Managing Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn and the Asian Development Bank chief warned that the surge in capital flows into developing countries could destabilise local currencies and asset prices. What probably is best for India is foreign direct investment (FDI ) and this has been rising over the years quite remarkably - it was $24 billion in 2008. But India can never hope to attract the high level of FDI that China has been getting over the last 20 years. It is because of China's skilled labour force and modern infrastructure that foreign investors feel assured of the returns. There is also smoother functioning of the government machinery which foreign investors find easy to deal with.


FDI brings in technology knowhow along with foreign exchange. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh promised recently at the American Business/Investors' Forum in Washington that India would make FDI procedures smoother and also assured the opening up of more sectors.


Foreign investment has made funds available to the private sector, which has been the driving force behind the high level of growth achieved by India from 2005 to 2007. A total clampdown on FIIs is obviously not advisable, but keeping them under surveillance would be prudent to control the volatility of such flows.


If recovery from the aftermath of the financial crisis in India is indeed fast and is reflected in a higher rate of growth, the FIIs would stay. Otherwise, they would exit at the end of this year. Getting a clear picture of the economy's health is important for FIIs, but it is far from easy.








They were a bunch of restive boys, whose visit to Chandigarh had begun with a pilgrimage to the Govt Museum and Art Gallery in Sector 10. They were tired after travelling back from the Queen of the Hills. A few had been sick, since they were not used to hill roads, but they perked up when their Principal told them the three-foot sculpture they were looking at was Buddha's foot—"the other foot is in Lahore".


Fakir Syed Aijazuddin, OBE, is uniquely qualified to talk about the two museums, and the treasures that they hold. He is chairman, Executive Committee of the Lahore Museum, and has been visiting Chandigarh since the mid-1950 when the museum was set up under the leadership of Dr M S Randhawa. Aijazuddin and his wife Shahnaz have fond memories of Dr Randhawa's hospitality.


Aijazuddin wears many a cap — chartered accountant, author, columnist, now head of his alma mater, Aitchison College, Lahore, where many of the scions of the most-noted families of the region studied. He had come to India, leading a party of young students who had to join in the celebrations of another fine old institution, Bishop Cotton School, Shimla, as it celebrated its sesquicentennial this year.


My alma mater, Yadavindra Public School, Patiala, however, traces its lineage back to Aitcheson College because after Partition, the Maharaja of Patiala founded YPS around a nucleus of Aitchisonians — teachers and students — who had been displaced from Lahore. As a Yadavindrian, my friend Gurpreet Bhattal had asked me to join a delegation that met these Aitchisonians in Chandigarh, something I had gladly done.


"One-third of the Lahore museum came to Chandigarh," Aijazuddin told his students, as he was escorted by the director, NPS Randhawa, who took them around, showing miniatures and sculptures of a heritage that preceded the international border. As Aijazuddin took diverse strands and wove them into a tapestry of artistic history of the region, he reminded one of Chandigarh's own Prof B N Goswamy, interacting with whom is an education. No wonder the two families have strong ties.


"If we expect them to respect our culture, we must do the same," he gently chided his boys, as they broke into giggles over some of the pictures, even as he explained the relationship between various gods and goddesses to them.


Aijazuddin laments that young Indians and Pakistanis are not aware of each other's cultural heritage these days. As the visiting children were told to go to Sector 17 for shopping and recreation for a few hours, their Principal said he wanted more exchanges between people who have not visited each other's countries, not just those who have the nostalgia for the land that was once there.


Many of us like my friend Gurpreet and I, who live in Corbusier's modern city, have never visited Pakistan, but we have a foot in Lahore and quite like the Buddha statue, our ties transcend the physical divide.








The pace of climate change is very fast. A rise in temperature is threatening the meltdown of glaciers, resulting in serious damage to our ecology and environment. Expected frequent floods, more land under water, prolonged droughts in certain areas and drastic shift in the monsoon are major concerns for Indian agriculture.


Climate change seems to be a key driver for agriculture in the 21st century. Under the present scenario climate risk could cost nations up to 19 per cent of their GDP by 2030 with developing countries being most vulnerable, according to a study carried out by a working group jointly set up by the Climate Work Foundation, the Global Environment Faculty, the European Commission, McKinsey, the Rockfeller Foundation, Standard Charted Bank and Swiss Republic.


Agriculture contributes to climate change as well is affected by it. Global agricultural activities account for 20 per cent of the total anthropogenic emission of green house gasses (GHGs). Deforestation and transforming soil into cultivable land and burning of crop residue release about 30 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Flooding areas for paddy cultivation, activities related to animal husbandry, particularly raising ruminant animals, release most of methane and usage of nitrogenous fertilizer, legume cropping, animal waste contribute largely to nitrous oxide emission.


Major factors like change in temperature, rainfall pattern, increase in CO2 levels and surface runoff have important and differential global effect on agricultural productivity where some areas may gain, others will lose significantly.


Predictions that global agricultural production will have a small impact is based on the assumptions that small increase in temperature and availability of more CO2 will increase the production of crops like rice and wheat largely in temperate and developed countries.


However, the production in tropical and mostly developing countries will be worst hit, where the crops are mostly at the limit of their heat tolerance. Even a small increase in temperature will result in a significant yield reduction as is evident by crop-climate models.


Noted agricultural scientist M.S. Swaminathan says that an increase of 2°C temperature is likely to decrease per ha yield of wheat by 0.45 MT and rice by 0.7 MT in India due to the shortening of crop life and certain physiological changes in plants.


According to his estimates, just a 0.5° C rise in temperature could reduce the yield of wheat by 10 per cent in states like Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh.


An impact assessment of climate change on field crops, livestock and micro organisms under controlled environment and simulation models should be carried out for getting a clear picture of the issues.


Various aspects which require attention are agricultural production, spatial and temporal availability of surface and ground water for irrigation, sensitive plant processes like pollen viability, fertilisation, grain development, diversity and dynamics of hostile insects and micro organisms.


It is highly desirable to create inter-disciplinary climate change cells in universities to undertake research. Network projects will be desirable to address local and common problems. A number of agencies, including Rockfeller Foundation and Bill & Milinda Gates Foundation, are ready to provide necessary support for this priority area investigations.


Adaptive measures are required to be undertaken. The agronomic practices followed presently for raising crops need appropriation under the changed climate scenario. For example, nitrous oxide emission can be contained with a judicious application of nitrogenous fertilizers with better treatment and management of animal waste in agriculture practices.


The maintenance and enhancement of soil properties and reduction of fossil fuel through the use of multipurpose adapted livestock breeds are other concerns for consideration to reduce CO2 emissions.


There is need to learn more from this year's drought in 246 districts of 10 states of the country. We need to be more proactive in approach to prepare contingency plans, particularly for temperature and rainfall related risks. Strengthening of the short, medium and long range weather forecast system will be highly beneficial for developing a data-based decision support system for translating advance information on weather into operational management practices.


The expected altered patterns and distribution of pest and diseases can be effectively managed by appropriate forecasting system, covering a wide range of parameters for preparing contingency plans. Preparation and adopting climate change triangle (host-pest-climate change), especially in relation to virus-vector plant diseases should be undertaken.


The search for biotic and abiotic stress tolerant genes must be intensified to create a gene bank, both for plants and animals for development of new heat, drought and flood tolerant genotypes.


The Indo-Gangetic plains is among the areas expected to be hard hit by warmer temperatures and water scarcity, according to a report by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.


The report says that wheat in northern India is likely to suffer as the increase in heat is expected to shorten the grain filling period with a sudden rise in temperature, thus causing qualitative as well as quantitative loss.


This factor needs a careful and priority consideration while developing suitable genotypes to withstand the vagaries of this single effect of climate change to sustain wheat production in north Indian states.


Lastly, equally important is the capacity building process for which efforts must be intensified to increase the level of climate literacy among all stakeholders of agriculture like scientists, policy-makers, science administrators and much more important, the farmers, who must have the knowledge and ability to adjust to climate change by quickely adopting suitable and recommended practices.n


The writer is the Vice Chancellor, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, Udaipur








My question for Switzerland and other European countries enthralled by the right wing: When did Saudi Arabia become your role model?


Even before 57.5 percent of Swiss voters cast ballots on Sunday to ban the building of minarets by Muslims, it was obvious that Switzerland's image of itself as a land of tolerance was as full of holes as its cheese. When the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP) came to power in 2007, it used a poster showing a white sheep kicking black sheep off the country's flag.


This was no reference to black sheep as rebels – the right wing doesn't do cute – but to skin color and foreigners. Posters the SVP displayed before Sunday's referendum showed women covered from head to toe in black, standing in front of phallic-looking minarets. Such racism preceded and fed into the bigotry that fueled the referendum.


Predictably, the election results sparked cries of "Islamophobia," but the situation for Switzerland's 400,000 Muslims is not (yet) dire. The four existing minarets were not affected by the vote, and there are still 150 mosques or prayer rooms in which to worship.


Further, the Council of Europe, the continent's top human-rights watchdog – whose chairmanship, ironically, Switzerland recently took over – has already said the ban could violate fundamental liberties, and the Swiss justice minister said the European Court of Human Rights could strike down the vote.


But the real issue here is more fundamental than whether or when Muslims can build minarets in Switzerland. Until Europe confronts long-simmering questions about how it treats immigrants – Muslims and others – the continent will continue to convulse with embarrassing right-wing eruptions that strip it of any right to preach to anyone on human rights and liberties.


Europe is an aging continent that depends on the "foreigners" its right-wing politicians love to rail about. In Switzerland, for example, it's difficult for immigrants and even their children to get citizenship.


As a Muslim who believes in the separation of church (and mosque and synagogue) and state, I pay attention when people say they are opposed to political Islam. But to suggest, as nationalist parties in Switzerland did, that minarets are symbols of political Islam is ridiculous.


Minarets are used to issue the call to prayer, not to recruit people to Islamic political groups. If the SVP finds such prayer calls too noisy, I'd like to see it try to stifle church bells.


Raising the specter of "political Islam" or "creeping Islamicization" to frighten voters diminishes the concerns that ought to be discussed, such as an ideology's opposition to many minority and women's rights. And that's where the difficult questions lie for Europe's Muslims. They, too, have a right wing that breeds on fear and preaches an exclusionary and inward-looking Islam. It is the perfect foil for the non-Muslim political right wing on the continent. But while these conservative Muslim views might hold some moral sway, they have none of the political power of the SVP and its cohorts.


Meanwhile, condemnations from the Muslim world – where some have semi-jokingly called for a boycott of Swiss chocolate – underscore the other sort of hypocrisy that must be confronted if Muslim complaints of bigotry are to be taken seriously.


The Grand Mufti of Egypt, for example, denounced the ban as an "attack on freedom of belief." I would take him more seriously if he denounced in similar terms the difficulty Egyptian Christians face in building churches in his country. They must obtain a security permit just for renovations.


Last year, the first Catholic church – bearing no cross, no bells and no steeple – opened in Qatar, leaving Saudi Arabia the only country in the Persian Gulf that bars the building of houses of worship for non-Muslims. In Saudi Arabia, it is difficult even for Muslims who don't adhere to the ultra-orthodox Wahhabi sect; Shiites, for example, routinely face discrimination.


Bigotry must be condemned wherever it occurs. If majority-Muslim countries want to criticize the mistreatment of Muslims living as minority communities elsewhere, they should be prepared to withstand the same level of scrutiny regarding their own mistreatment of minorities.


Millions of non-Muslim migrant workers have helped build Saudi Arabia. Human rights groups have long condemned the slave-like conditions that many toil under, and the possibility of Saudi citizenship is nonexistent. Muslim nations have been unwilling to criticize this bigotry in their midst, and Europeans should keep in mind that Sunday's ban takes them in this direction.n


 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








In my practice as an oncologist specializing in gastrointestinal tract cancers, a recent week was fairly typical. I saw 50 patients, ranging in age from 32 to 87, equally divided between men and women. Though a couple of them have inherited a gene that may have caused their GI cancers, I have no explanation for why most developed their disease. It is as if they were simply struck by lightning.


My patients seek state-of-the-art therapy, access to clinical trials and new treatments, all of which we provide at our institution. Almost all of them have insurance, and most have some form of prescription drug coverage; their access to care is virtually limitless. We employ the latest diagnostic tests, targeted chemotherapy, minimally invasive surgical techniques and incredibly precise radiation. Yet, despite the many recent advances in detection and treatment, of the 50 patients, 40 of them are likely to lose the fight.


At the moment, there is a giant disconnect between patients, the cost of care and the clinical benefit of the treatment – a disconnect that has caused us to lose perspective.


When it comes to cancer care, we're not getting what we pay for.


Cancer medicine is often regarded as an area of significant progress and clinical research, so we should be able to tell without much difficulty what kinds of treatment are valuable and what kinds aren't. But given that 80 percent of my patients will die of their cancer, it's clear that we have not found an "optimum" therapy.


Few cancer clinical trials are designed to "cure" patients. They are commonly aimed at detecting small differences between the treatments being compared: an extension of average survival from 5 months to 6 months, for example. These trials typically cost millions of dollars (often including taxpayer support), take years to complete and can involve thousands of patients. It is this kind of care that many Americans are afraid they will lose access to as a result of health-care reform.


Globally, cancer care is a medical luxury. With some diseases such as colon cancer, the treatments alone cost more than $15,000 a month, yet on average add only a few months to survival. Most poor countries do not support any cancer care; most developed countries highly restrict it because of its cost and limited effectiveness.


In cancer medicine, fewer than 5 percent of all patients in the United States enter clinical trials. That means more than 95 percent are treated with the "standard of care" – a legal term denoting a minimum level of care for an ill or injured person.


How did we end up here? The answer is simple: Cancer patients are scared for their lives and will accept what is offered, and we oncologists want to offer improved outcomes and recommend the best treatments we can. Insurance will pay for these treatments. A portion of fees collected by cancer doctors and hospitals is based on how much chemotherapy we administer. So the more drugs we give, the more radiation we give, the more we collect from health insurance. The incentive system makes it less lucrative to talk to patients – to counsel them, to help with their decision-making – than to treat them, regardless of the value of the treatment.


The future of cancer care will rely on personalized medicine. This requires a significant change to our medical system, which is built around one size-fits-all treatment and seemingly unrestricted access to care. The system answers our emotional needs and provides some hope for a cure, but moves us forward only a few yards at a time.n


 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post








Slow progress of construction of roads and fencing along the international border with Bangladesh has seriously affected border management and the Centre must take adequate steps to ensure that the work is completed within a specific time frame. The Centre has sanctioned construction of fencing in a stretch of 565.428 kilometres along the international border in Assam-Meghalaya sector, but so far, fencing is completed only in a stretch of 157.102 kilometres and work is in progress in a stretch of 133.735 kilometres. At this rate, no one knows as to when the job will be completed and it is reported that the Government of Meghalaya has not yet given sanction for construction of fencing in some parts of the international border. The Centre should take serious note of the slow progress of construction of fencing and senior officials of the Government of India should also visit the border from time to time to monitor the progress and quality of work. It is a fact that only construction of fencing will not totally stop infiltration of foreigners and other anti-national elements, but a fencing can be a major deterrent and will definitely be of great help to the Border Security Force (BSF) in improving border management. However, on the positive side, the Government of India recently sanctioned a project for installation of flood lights along the international border, which will improve vigil along the border at night by a great extent. But at the same time, only sanctioning of flood lights will not be of any help and the Centre must ensure that the project is completed within a stipulated time frame.

On the other hand, smuggling, particularly of cattle to Bangladesh has become a cause of concern and only the BSF men deployed along the border cannot be expected to totally check the menace. The seizures by the BSF along the border have increased considerably and so far this year, the troops of the border guarding force seized smuggled items including cattle worth more than Rs 53 crore in the Assam-Meghalaya sector alone. But the disturbing fact is that cattle heads are brought from different parts of the country to be smuggled out to Bangladesh mostly through the riverine international border and efforts must be made by the concerned State Governments to prevent smugglers from bringing in cattle heads to the border. Another disturbing aspect is that in recent times, the BSF personnel also seized forest produce including wooden logs when those were being smuggled out of the country and smuggling of forest produce is taking place despite a ban on felling trees in the North East. The Forest departments of the NE States should take serious note of the issue to help the BSF in preventing smuggling of timber to Bangladesh.







Not much unlike the greedy giant American financial institutions lending out recklessly to realty sectors to get rich quick and triggering the world financial crisis in September, 2008 with the world still battling to get out of economic melt-down, the decision of Dubai's government-ran investment fund, called the "Dubai World" with its debt obligation of $59 billion to seek a "standstill" agreement to defer its repayment liability had not only sent shock waves to stock markets of different countries but also had plunged different countries of the world into anxieties as to how to deal with the impact of such a debt default. Corporate organisations, investors and bankers the world over are now busy analysing the impact of Dubai World's rescheduling of debt. Though the quantum of debt crisis is much smaller compared to the US loan problem, the ongoing efforts of global economic revival would be lengthened if the problem is not quickly addressed in an appropriate way. The amount of Dubai World's debt repayment liability accounts for around 60 per cent of Dubai's total debt obligation. Though it is a huge problem for Dubai government which has to come out with an adequate bail-out package, the panic created in India is more a psychological unsettlement than a probable fall out in reality. Indian corporates having their exposures to civil construction, power sector, hydro-carbon, gas and oil contracts, etc. spread throughout Middle East region need not much worry because their interest in Dubai is limited and would lose only little even if the latter defaults on its debt.

Many companies operating in engineering and construction have exposures to the Arab nations under excellent prospects and have only limited exposure to Dubai market. Hence any material impact of the Dubai crisis on India's financial sector is most unlikely. Government of India is also of the same view. The Governor of Reserve Bank of India also views that we should not unnecessarily be panicky with our exposure in UAE estimated at only Rs 7000 crore and has asked the commercial banks for details as a precautionary measure even as bankers do not find any reason for panic as their investments are quite safe. However, India cannot ignore the impact of debt repayment crisis on around five million Indians living and working in Dubai and remmitting foreign exchange of $10 billion annually since they have the fear of loss of job and livelihood. However, since there are huge business interests of many highly developed countries and since Dubai government cannot just allow the situation to degenerate further, there is certainly the possibility of a quick bail-out package emerging shortly to prevent a damage to the economy of Dubai. One would certainly, therefore, expect that the economic panic so far spread across the globe due to Dubai's corporate debt default would be proved unreal sooner than later.







Gregarious habits are observed not only among the life-forms, but also among the material, forms, covering upto the nano existence. Mankind and many other life-forms live in hierarchical structures with other friendly species in the environment of friendly nature, as a community, for production, distribution and expansion of their societies. The policy of divide-and-rule is common in all human hierarchies for their administration and control. But the policy must be judiciously used never to the breaking point of the hierarchy. So political consciousness is natural in mankind. But its appropriate uses are the matters to be cultured. But there is danger, if faith gets mixed up with it, thereby denying logic, as in religion. Therefore Mahatma Gandhi believed in the fellowship of faith and the unity of all religions. But the social aim of Gandhian faith was denied by the subsequent political environment. The Vaishnavite faith of Gandhi stood for the future reality of the down-trodden as the structural foundation of the society, where occurred the failure. However, Gandhi by name is not acceptable to logic, without knowing the history of evolution of man starting from matter, life, society, sex, habitat, health, education and security.

The genes of life appear from the triple transformationof the particulate micro-materials. Virus is the missing link between matter and life, which are innumerable in kind. Therefore without appropriate education for unity in diversity, the ignorant or the wicked ones are lured by ill-earned income and infiltrate into the politics of caste, creed and religion or even into the respectable subjects, like language developing societies, geriatric societies, backward area developing societies etc with camouflaged political identity.

But the evil deeds boomerang in the society. So such unholy practices deny the principle of universal harmony, resulting in the internal oppression, pausing thereby a challenge to the hierarchical society, arising out of the internal deprivation of its members due to inadequate and inequal distribution. This is the failure of the human community. As a consequence, the system of hierarchy becomes internally oppressive and externally aggressive. This in turn demands apoliticalism and that the community system of the hierarchies must have the egalitarian character. But it is merely wishful thinking without the structure, where the commune system of the hierarchy must exercise through it.

Sage Jaamadagni and his son Parashurama, the fifth incarnation of Vishnu, were the killers of the Kshatriyas who were the Kings. But Parashurama failed, leaving the warning that Kings were the unavoidable devils, the future legacy of mankind, since the alternative is anarchy which is riot acceptable. Rama, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu was an ideal man. But Rama too was a political head. So the legacy was passed over to the future of the would be mankind and the kind of their commune. This also opens the need of the philosophical triad of Vaishnavism for apolitical balance, noting that the universe looks for dynamic balance even without politicalism.

Philosophy is the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence. The reality is known from the structure. So we have to look into the aspects of knowledge and existence from the structure of the Reality which has a triadic character. Reality is one and the only thing. It is the interacting triad of matter, energy and motion. It has age but no measure of space and time. It is eternal. It comprises innumerable particulate existences interacting with each other. But they are not eternal. Time and space are relative appearances. Appearance, growth, decay and disappearance, are the nature of the particulate existences. The universe is in imbalance looking for a balance. This is because matter, energy and motion are convertible among each other, the totality remaining the same. This is due to the inherent character of the Fire-breeder God, who is eternal. The interface between the combination of the two opposites of eternity and non-eternity, is the generator of the cosmic illusion, which is the middle-third of the triad. Recycling of the waste is the continuity. This was the primary issue of Swami Vivekananda in his Jnana-Yoga (Advaita Ashrama). The great sanyasin took up the issue of cosmic illusion in the chapter Maya and Illusion. He raises the question : Why can't we know this secret of the universe? Because we talk in vain, and because we are satisfied with the things of the senses, and because we are running after desires; therefore we, as it were, cover the reality with a mist. The mind is limited, that it can not go beyond certain limits, beyond time, space and causation. As no man can jump out of his own self, so noman can go beyond the limits that have been put upon him by the laws of time and space. Every attempt to solve the laws of causation, time, and space would be futile, because the very attempt would have to be made by taking for granted the existence of these three.

Thus we find that Maya is not a theory for the explanation of the world: It is simply a statement of facts as they exist, that the very basis of our being is contradiction, that everywhere we have to move through this tremendous contradiction that wherever there is good, there must also be evil, and wherever there is evil, there must be some good, wherever there is life, death must follow as its shadow, and every one who smiles will have to weep and vice versa. Nor can this state of things be remedied. Thus the Vaishnavite philosophy is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It voices both these views and takes things as they are. The very same phenomenon which is appearing to be good now, may appear to be bad tomorrow.


God is self-existent. He projected the senses outwards. So a man looks outward, not within himself. So a wise man desiring immortality looks with inverted senses to perceive the self within him. Here the word used for the Soul is very significant : it is He who has gone inward, the innermost reality of our being, the heart centre, the core, from which, as it were, everything comes out; the central sun of which the mind, the body, the sense-organs, and everything else we have are but rays going outwards. Men of childish intellect, ignorant persons, run after desires which are external, and enter the trap of far-reaching death, but the wise, understanding immortality, never seek for the Eternal in this life of finite things.

So mind culture from the heart with dedication to God and appropriate work having malice to none are the ways to harmony. These are the prescriptions for the Jnan-Yoga, in conjunction with Karma-Yoga and Bhakti-Yoga. Among the three Bhakti-Yoga has to rule. These then can reach the soul of man. In the Anaadi Paatan, authored by Mahapurush Samkardeva, the inter-connection is expressed thus: "All forms of life have their mind in the hearts whereas God reflects on their minds." Therefore a man decides for himself and is the doer of his own destiny.

Cosmic illusion is generated in the second world where things appear upside down. This is described in the story of sage Agastya. He once saw ancestral spirits dangling head down and asked them who they were and how they had come to be in that unpleasant plight. They replied "Dear child, we are your anecestors. If you discharge not your debt to us by marrying and begetting progeny, there will be no one after you to offer us oblations. We have, therefore, resorted to this austerity, in order to persuade you to save us from this peril." So Agastya had to marry, and she was the daughter of a King. She was very much devoted to Agastya and enjoyed his company in deer skin and the garments of bark in the Aashrama of the sage. But conjugal life needed privacy, comfort and valuables for which Agastya had to beg from wealthy kings. The sage found from their accounts that there was no balance left. The expenditures turned out to be equal to its income. Since asking money from the good kings would only burden their subject, sage Agastya had to look for foul means for earning money from the wicked people, by torturing them.








In the present context of environmental awareness, 'global warming' is the buzzword that reverberates in every corner of our planet. It is a highly discussed and debated issue among environmental scientists and academicians. Though we are not fully aware of global warming but knowingly or unknowingly we all, more or less, are contributing to 'global warming and climate change.' With the advancement of science and technology our participation in global warming processes has been rising.

The survival of life on earth depends on the absorption of incoming solar radiation which warms the surface of the planet. This incoming energy is reflected back into space as low intensity infra-red radiation. However, the atmosphere of the earth contains small quantities of carbon dioxide and some other gases (called Green House Gases or GHGs) which absorb some of the outgoing infra-red radiation and reflect it back to earth, thus increasing the warming of the surface. Global warming thus refers to increase in the average temperature of the earth's near surface air and ocean by a steadily thickening blanket of human induced GHGs (water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitro oxide, methane and Ozone) in the earth's atmosphere. Thus, rise in the average temperature near the surface is scientifically termed as global warming. As per the IPCC (Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change) report the measured average atmospheric temperature near the earth's surface rose by 0.74º Celsius during the last 100 years (1906-2005). 11 out of 12 hottest years on record occurred between 1995-2006.

Historically, the main contributors to global warming have been on account of human induced activities such as fossil fuel consumption, industrial activities, deforestation, population growth, agriculture systems, changing land use pattern, and waste decomposition carried out in the developed countries. Human activities since the beginning of the industrial revolution have led to unprecedented changes in the chemical composition of the earth's atmosphere. We are living in the midst of constantly changing climatic conditions, largely a result of human interference and if allowed to continue can cause irreparable damage to the flora, fauna and human life. Global warming will have strong effect on the rise of temperature in the earth, variability of rainfall, drought type situation and rise in the sea level. The overall change in the natural characteristics of the earth for global warming continuously for a long time period is known as 'climate change'. So, the climate change is a result of global warming. Climate change is definite if the globe becomes warm.

Global warming and climate change can have serious effect on agricultural productivity. Productivity of most crops may decrease due to increase in temperature and decrease in water availability. Quality of crops may also be detoriorated. Increasing temperature would increase fertilizer requirement for the same targets of production and result in higher GHG emissions. Increased frequency or droughts, floods, storm and cyclone may again affect crop production.

The impact of climate change arising from global warming in forest ecosystem is also very high. In India forest accounts for about 20 per cent of total geographical area and it can play a very important role in economic development of the country. According to the IPCC reports, even with a modest global warming, most forest ecosystem will be impacted through changes in forest species composition, biodiversity and plant productivity. Plant flowering, bird arrival, date of breeding will be affected from climate change. Forest dependent communities will also be affected from such impact of climate change. More than 30 million people of India are directly involved in gathering and trading non-timber forest products such as fruits, seeds, flowers, leaves, honey, gum etc. Any impact on forest biodiversity will have adverse implications for the livelihood of forest dependent communities. Again critically endangered species of forest could become extinct for the change in natural setup.

One of the most important and visible indicators of climate change is the recession of glaciers and snow covers in many parts of the world. The Himalayan region has the largest concentration of glaciers. The region is rightly called as the 'water tower of Asia'. The Himalayan glaciers feed seven of Asia's greatest rivers including Ganga and Brahmaputra. The ensure water supply to about one billion people. Continuously melting down of glaciers in Himalayan region is expected to have serious conseuences on biodiversity, agriculture production, livelihood system of people and industrial advancement. Global sea level rose by 10-25 cm during the past century due to continuous melting down of glaciers.

Coastal belts are more prone to the devastating impacts of global warming. Global assessment shows that 1 metre sea level rise can lead to welfare loss pf $1,259 million, in India equivalent to 0.36 per cent of GNP. Sundarbans, the group of 102 islands is located along the Bay of Bengal. It spreads over parts of India and Bangladesh. These are the homes for Royal Bengal tiger. The sea level around the Sundarbans is rising due to global warming and the islands are under threat of getting submerged. 2 of 102 islamds have already submerged.

The need for cooperative global action to meet the challenge of climate change was recognised as early as two decades ago, when the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in December, 1988. But the formal practical effort to address climate change began with the adoption of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992. 








For most of us, the Bhopal gas tragedy is an industrial accident, in which, 25 years ago to this day, large quantities of poisonous methyl isocyanate escaped from the Union Carbide factory at Bhopal, killing thousands of people and maiming the lives of half a million others.

However, that was only the beginning of the tragedy, which continues to unfold as a saga of official callousness, political and administrative ineptitude, legal procrastination, botched medical study of the effects of mass poisoning, large-scale, prolonged human suffering and its cynical exploitation by a few and overall failure to leave the accident behind and move ahead.

Natural degradation of chemicals has cleaned up the factory site, to the extent it can, rather than any organised attempt by any agency. An initiative by Ratan Tata to clean up the toxic site proved stillborn. American chemical giant Dow, which purchased Union Carbide 16 years after the Bhopal accident, continues to encounter public hostility on account of this failure of the system to achieve closure at least on those aspects of the tragedy on which closure is possible.

Not that Dow is blameless on this count. When it bought Union Carbide, it bought into its moral and legal liabilities, of which the plight of five lakh victims form a large chunk. Dow has chosen not to recognise this, taking an entirely legalistic view of things.

As as far as the victims are concerned, no one has played fair — not the courts that put their seal on a paltry monetary settlement that remains final although the actual number of victims has turned out to be five times as large as the group for whom the compensation was worked out; not the government that distributed compensation 20 years after the accident and arbitrarily terminated a judicial probe; not the Indian Council of Medical Research, which discontinued its studies for mysterious reasons; not industry, which turned its back on the accident.

It was easy for Dow to step into this breach and do something tangible to help the victims of the world' worst industrial disaster — as an act of good faith, even if it did not itself play a role in creating it. Instead, Dow has chosen to pretend that its philanthropy with the Jaipur foot would wash away the Bhopal stain. It still is possible for Dow to heed the call of 24 US Congressmen to make amends. And for Indian industry to join in, not because it is legally obliged to, but because it is a stakeholder in India and in this country's humanity.







The reported preliminary thinking of the Kirit Parikh committee on oil price reform is far too timid. The panel reportedly wants to liberalise retail prices of petrol, but have market-determined prices for diesel only so long as crude oil prices stay below $90 per barrel. But given the weakness of the US dollar and the fact that crude already quotes at $77 a barrel, this amounts to continuing with administered prices for diesel, the most used petro product.

In any case, the idea of 'freeing' petrol prices while 'fixing' diesel prices by fiat would merely distort both prices and demand. It would be perverse incentive to step up fuel adulteration as well. As for the subsidy on domestic fuels, kerosene (SKO) and cooking gas (LPG), now amounting to over Rs 20,000 crore annually, the panels favours a further study to find out how the poor benefit. But various studies have shown that LPG is consumed mainly by the non-poor and SKO is used as an adulterant or smuggled cross-border.

Keeping retail fuel prices unchanged even as crude prices rise has meant a huge increase in government liabilities and widened the fiscal deficit. Estimates suggest that 'under-recoveries' in oil crossed Rs 1,00,000 crore in 2008-09, and the petroleum ministry reportedly estimates the subsidy bill to add up to Rs 54,000 crore this fiscal.

The monies would be a drain on budgetary funds for years. Such massive consumption subsidies for the non-poor send wrong policy signals and grossly misallocate resources. Worse, the under-recoveries would mean non-scheduled borrowings by oil companies which, given the volumes in oil, would tend to harden interest rates in general. Further, non-reform of oil pricing would needlessly jack up relative prices for 'green' fuel alternatives.We need prompt decontrol of oil prices and an end to the effective ring-fencing of retail sales.






The ancient Greeks, as is well known, had a whole culture, mythology and literature built around the distinct undesirability of offending the immortals. But modern-day Yanks, it seems, have had other ideas. Remember the incident a couple of years ago when a Democratic senator from Nebraska, well, sued God?

Mr Ernie Chambers, in fact, based his suit on grounds of the Almighty having a rather pronounced predilection for terrorist acts. The suit sought a "permanent injunction ordering (the) defendant to cease certain harmful activities and the making of terroristic threats" citing that the "defendant directly and proximately has caused, inter alia, fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues..."

One could argue that it was God just being himself (assuming traditional patriarchal notions on Him). But the Senator wasn't satisfied. His argument was that he was trying to stop all those nasty natural disasters from befalling the world, but also that his lawsuit was meant as a preventive blow against a law that could seek an end to frivolous lawsuits. That, the Senator believed would be a travesty of the, well, Law, since it would restrict access to the courts.

Now this might be a matter for the atheists and believers to slug it out, but the piquancy of the situation did become apparent as the Senator, rather predictably, failed to serve notice to God. The Senator had confided that despite his "most sincere and zealous efforts" he could not find a location to serve the Defendant.

Of course, he admitted as much in court while sitting a few feet away from the table reserved for God and his attorney. While at the same time trying to impress upon the judge to take official cognisance of God's omniscience and omnipresence, arguing that the suit needn't be served since He anyway was aware of pretty much everything. The suit, eventually was dismissed, citing its abstractness and hypothetical basis. The Senator retired peaceably too. No thunderbolts. But why didn't some enterprising Indian soul come up with a PIL...?







Today, like every other day of the past few years, mankind will release more than 116 million tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Emissions are rising faster now than in any other decade, in spite of our concerns about climate change, and without new policies our daily emissions will be 140 million tonnes by 2020.

As governments struggle to finalise a new, globally acceptable climate treaty, the difficulties are clear. Yet there are still grounds for optimism, mainly because we already have solutions we can use to build a low-carbon energy supply.

As technological advances have made wind and solar power increasingly competitive, they have become the fastest growing segment of the energy market. There is great interest in offshore wind power, in the Desert project that involves tapping solar power generated in the Sahara desert, and in similar initiatives in the Gobi and Mojave deserts.

This is an encouraging sign that renewable energy is moving toward large-scale power production. But if we're serious about developing low-carbon power sources, we also need to develop a power system that can deliver them: a flexible and efficient smart grid that will effectively balance our energy consumption with the availability of wind and solar power. The technology is available now, but it needs to be implemented.

We also need to put renewables into perspective. Our only major source of renewable power today is hydro, and less than 3% of the world's electricity comes from other renewable sources. Clearly, they are just one part of our overall strategy to combat climate change.

Surprisingly, our best prospect of reducing emissions is one that gets little attention: energy efficiency. Projections by the International Energy Agency show that using energy more efficiently has a greater potential to curb carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years than all the other options put together.

Yet out of $112 billion invested in clean energy around the world in 2008, just $1.8 billion was spent on improving energy efficiency, according to a study by the UN Environment Programme and New Energy Finance.The reluctance to invest in energy efficiency is surprising. Investments can usually be recouped through lower energy costs in less than two years and businesses normally leap at such rapid returns. There is clearly something else going on.


A major obstacle is a lack of knowledge about energy efficient equipment in private households, companies or public authorities, which is further complicated by the variety of available options.

There is also a lack of incentives. Why should a landlord invest in energy efficiency if the tenant will reap the benefits? Why should a purchasing manager spend more of his budget on efficient equipment if the savings all go the department that pays the electricity?

In addition, energy-efficient solutions are rarely photogenic, and many have obscure names. Variable-speed drives, which raise the efficiency of electric motors, sit in plain metal boxes, belying the fact that their energy saving potential is many times greater than the famed compact fluorescent light bulb.

The European Union took an important step in June, when it set efficiency standards for most of the electric motors used in industrial applications. The move was barely noticed, yet it is expected to save 135 billion kilowatt-hours per year by 2020. That's three times more than the savings expected from phasing out incandescent light bulbs in the region. This equals (x times/ x per cent the electric power consumption in country x — to be localised in different countries).

Governments can really help by identifying and removing the barriers to the implementation of energy-efficient technologies. Getting the international community to agree on binding targets for global CO2 emissions may look like hard work, but it will come to nothing unless we take the simple step to use energy more efficiently.

And since more and more energy is being consumed as electricity, it is vital that we focus on ways of improving electrical energy efficiency at every stage of its production and end use.

(The writer is CEO, ABB Group)








You can live either in expectation or in gratitude, never in both. With expectation there is a desire to possess things. You become the owner. With gratitude, you become the enjoyer. When you are the owner you enjoy only the few things that you own. When you are the enjoyer, you enjoy everything in Existence. When you look to own, nothing will seem enough. When you enjoy, everything seems to be overflowing! That is the difference.

When we believe that what we need is always only outside of us, we will only continue searching! When we believe that Existence always gives us what we need, we will find everything within us. Working with expectation is like pouring clarified butter into fire to quench it. Can you quench fire by pouring clarified butter into it? Never! In the same way, you can never feel fulfilled if your actions are rooted in expectation.

Try to sit down and make two lists: one of all the things that you have and one of all the things that you don't have. The first list should include every single thing that you have, starting from your eyes, ears, hands and legs, because there are people who don't have some of these. Include all your physical and mental faculties before moving to material things. If you write very sincerely without leaving out anything, you will not be able to complete the first list! That is the truth. If you find you are unable to finish the first list, it means gratitude has started happening in you!

The problem is that there is a continuous expectation in us all the time. That is why gratitude doesn't happen easily.

We continuously receive input from our eyes, nose, ears, tongue and touch. Based on this, we continuously expect something or other to happen in a certain way. When we see someone who has a better house/ car, it registers in us. When we hear of some great achievement by someone, it registers in us. Our energy moves only outward, constantly following our five senses, never inwards towards self.

Gratitude is when this process reverses and you suddenly awaken to the abundance in you! With gratitude there is no expectation or greed. When you start experiencing deep gratitude, your responses to situations change. You start resonating with Existence. Your body will flow with that resonance, with a cool grace and softness. All your actions will arise out of this grace. There will be no violence, only joy will be flowing. Then anything you do will only make life sweeter.

Be Blissful!






Workers are the backbone of the industrial sector, but they are ignored by the employers. The tendency of the management is to extract maximum work from workers by paying minimum-possible wages. Such industries are run by big capitalists and industrialists.


Workers and the factory owners are always engaged in a dispute related to wages, bonus, number of working hours, overtime, pension, compensation, medical benefits or provident fund contribution, etc. To solve all the problems of the workers, the trade union movement was launched and, accordingly, various trade unions now exist that are constantly working for the welfare and betterment of the workers.

Trade unions also get worker participation in the management as company shareholders. By doing so, the workers are encouraged in sharing profit of the company and they become a partner of the company, ensuring total involvement of the workforce while taking decision for maximum production apart from maintaining industrial harmony.

Keeping in view the prevailing economic conditions and global recession, the trade unions apart from protecting the interest of the workers also look after industrial growth of the country. The workers, as part of the management, can improve the productivity and expand the business of the industry. This way, a new industrial relation is formed to face the international competition.

The trade unions also consider the question of contractualisation of workers' services in industrial and services sectors. It has been noticed for the past several years that in the name of globalisation of market, productive and service centres are engaging labour on contract basis, victimising and eliminating permanent workers. The trade unions take seriously this alarming situation that leads to industrial disturbances contributing to more strikes and lockouts, thereby reducing production and prosperity of the country besides badly affecting growth rate.

To control the deteriorating situation and protect the workers as guaranteed by the Constitution, I suggest the following measures:

No employer should be allowed to employ more than 10% of workforce as contractual labour, or Completely prohibit contractual workers from the regular job/ production. Let the managements engage contract labour purely on temporary basis, or Contractual workers and trade union may be asked to form a labour cooperative society through which the recruitment of contract labour may be made and the wages along with other benefits may be determined in consultation with the labour cooperative society and trade unions. All the future permanent vacancies are to be filled with the above workers.

If the above three proposals are not acceptable to the industry and the government, then all the contract workers should be paid wages, allowances and other facilities on par with permanent workers on the principle on equal pay for equal work. This way, the trade unions provides enthusiasm and encouragement to workers which, in turn, results in increased productivity.








The impact of trade unionism on productivity has long been a bone of contention among analysts of unionism. As Derek Bok and John Dunlop wrote in 1970, "For more than a century and a half, economists have debated the effects of 'combinations of workmen', or collective bargaining, on the efficiency of business enterprises."

Traditionally, in India, trade unions and managements may not have seen eye-to-eye on various matters concerning production and productivity, but with globalisation and competitiveness, times have changed. Enlightened managements now look at trade unions as partners in their efforts to compete in the domestic and world markets because without their support, it would be difficult to achieve excellence in operations. My belief is that unions typically improve productivity by providing workers with an internal 'voice' at the workplace.

However, in India, a number of practices and shortcoming in law still exist, which are a precursor to industrial strife that impacts organisational productivity. One is the appointment of an outsider as a union office-bearer. The outside office-bearers have no personal stake or direct knowledge of day-to-day affairs of the industry and the value an outsider adds in the collective bargaining process is suspect.

Another hurdle is the absence of a regulatory provision of compulsory recognition of unions. Struggle for recognition leads to unnecessary strained relationship between the union and management. Lack of proper regulations lead to multiplicity of trade unions in an organisation, leading to internal strife. Increased strife and inter-union rivalry impacts organisational output. Another fallout of strained union-management relationship is job loss for workmen as the management chooses to increase capital investment, automation and outsourcing of jobs.

My experience says that progressive unions are associated with higher productivity, lower employee turnover, improved workplace communication and a better trained workforce. Increased productivity implies economic growth and development. This means if industrial relations are good, with management and unions working together to produce a bigger 'pie' as well as fighting over the size of their slices, productivity is likely to be higher under unionism. At Maruti, this environment along with various Japanese practices like kaizen, quality circles and suggestion schemes helped in nearly doubling the productivity. It is now meeting international benchmarks.

Most studies of productivity find that unionised workplaces are more productive than comparable non-union workplaces. Higher productivity runs hand-in-hand with good industrial relations. However, if industrial relations are poor, with management and labour ignoring common goals to battle one another, productivity is likely to be lower under unionism. The important aspect to this is that there needs to be a constructive dialogue and regular communication between the management and the staff so that there is a better appreciation of the health of the company and its future plans.

Needless to say, managements that adjust to the union and turn unionism into a positive force at workplace reap the benefits in the long run.








Workers are the backbone of the industrial sector, but they are ignored by the employers. The tendency of the management is to extract maximum work from workers by paying minimum-possible wages. Such industries are run by big capitalists and industrialists.

Workers and the factory owners are always engaged in a dispute related to wages, bonus, number of working hours, overtime, pension, compensation, medical benefits or provident fund contribution, etc. To solve all the problems of the workers, the trade union movement was launched and, accordingly, various trade unions now exist that are constantly working for the welfare and betterment of the workers.

Trade unions also get worker participation in the management as company shareholders. By doing so, the workers are encouraged in sharing profit of the company and they become a partner of the company, ensuring total involvement of the workforce while taking decision for maximum production apart from maintaining industrial harmony.

Keeping in view the prevailing economic conditions and global recession, the trade unions apart from protecting the interest of the workers also look after industrial growth of the country. The workers, as part of the management, can improve the productivity and expand the business of the industry. This way, a new industrial relation is formed to face the international competition.

The trade unions also consider the question of contractualisation of workers' services in industrial and services sectors. It has been noticed for the past several years that in the name of globalisation of market, productive and service centres are engaging labour on contract basis, victimising and eliminating permanent workers. The trade unions take seriously this alarming situation that leads to industrial disturbances contributing to more strikes and lockouts, thereby reducing production and prosperity of the country besides badly affecting growth rate.

To control the deteriorating situation and protect the workers as guaranteed by the Constitution, I suggest the following measures:

No employer should be allowed to employ more than 10% of workforce as contractual labour, or Completely prohibit contractual workers from the regular job/ production. Let the managements engage contract labour purely on temporary basis, or Contractual workers and trade union may be asked to form a labour cooperative society through which the recruitment of contract labour may be made and the wages along with other benefits may be determined in consultation with the labour cooperative society and trade unions. All the future permanent vacancies are to be filled with the above workers.

If the above three proposals are not acceptable to the industry and the government, then all the contract workers should be paid wages, allowances and other facilities on par with permanent workers on the principle on equal pay for equal work. This way, the trade unions provides enthusiasm and encouragement to workers which, in turn, results in increased productivity.




The impact of trade unionism on productivity has long been a bone of contention among analysts of unionism. As Derek Bok and John Dunlop wrote in 1970, "For more than a century and a half, economists have debated the effects of 'combinations of workmen', or collective bargaining, on the efficiency of business enterprises."

Traditionally, in India, trade unions and managements may not have seen eye-to-eye on various matters concerning production and productivity, but with globalisation and competitiveness, times have changed. Enlightened managements now look at trade unions as partners in their efforts to compete in the domestic and world markets because without their support, it would be difficult to achieve excellence in operations. My belief is that unions typically improve productivity by providing workers with an internal 'voice' at the workplace.

However, in India, a number of practices and shortcoming in law still exist, which are a precursor to industrial strife that impacts organisational productivity. One is the appointment of an outsider as a union office-bearer. The outside office-bearers have no personal stake or direct knowledge of day-to-day affairs of the industry and the value an outsider adds in the collective bargaining process is suspect.

Another hurdle is the absence of a regulatory provision of compulsory recognition of unions. Struggle for recognition leads to unnecessary strained relationship between the union and management. Lack of proper regulations lead to multiplicity of trade unions in an organisation, leading to internal strife. Increased strife and inter-union rivalry impacts organisational output. Another fallout of strained union-management relationship is job loss for workmen as the management chooses to increase capital investment, automation and outsourcing of jobs.

My experience says that progressive unions are associated with higher productivity, lower employee turnover, improved workplace communication and a better trained workforce. Increased productivity implies economic growth and development. This means if industrial relations are good, with management and unions working together to produce a bigger 'pie' as well as fighting over the size of their slices, productivity is likely to be higher under unionism. At Maruti, this environment along with various Japanese practices like kaizen, quality circles and suggestion schemes helped in nearly doubling the productivity. It is now meeting international benchmarks.

Most studies of productivity find that unionised workplaces are more productive than comparable non-union workplaces. Higher productivity runs hand-in-hand with good industrial relations. However, if industrial relations are poor, with management and labour ignoring common goals to battle one another, productivity is likely to be lower under unionism. The important aspect to this is that there needs to be a constructive dialogue and regular communication between the management and the staff so that there is a better appreciation of the health of the company and its future plans.

Needless to say, managements that adjust to the union and turn unionism into a positive force at workplace reap the benefits in the long run.







Statistics and percentages have many perspectives and can, therefore, be presented or interpreted in many ways. Hence, while it is true that half of India is below 25 years of age, it is also true that the other half is above that! In fact, only 8% of India is about 60 and above, which implies that there are almost 100 million Indians in their silver years. There are also about 27% Indians in the age group 36-59 i.e. almost 300 million of them. This particular age group should be of significant interest to marketers since it is in this group is a large sub-group that has the disposable income to spend on myriad products and services.

It may be a good strategy for marketers to hedge their bets for future when the reach out to those below 25 years old (or even below 35) today, but then majority of these young, even when employed, have limited disposable/discretionary income. Yet, a lot of the new product development and most of the advertising and communication is being consciously or sub-consciously directed towards the "future" customers. This indifference could be a missed opportunity for marketers.

Be it packaged food and beverages, clothing and accessories, personal care, leisure, entertainment and health, the above 35 age group has its own aspirations and needs for specific products. It would, therefore, be a good idea for marketers to study the non-baby boomer segment more closely and make an objective effort to spot any opportunity that may be going abegging in the din of "young" India!







People born between 1946 and 1966 are referred to as the 'Baby Boomers'. In general, baby boomers are associated with redefinition of traditional values, and if I were to put it in context of the Indian consumer, the Indian baby boomer is not shy of going out and spending, as against the previous generation, who possibly spent only when necessary.


In Europe and North America, boomers are widely associated with privilege, as many grew up in a time of affluence. As a group, they were the healthiest and wealthiest generation and amongst the first to grow up genuinely expecting the world to improve with time. It is no different here in India, or indeed, in any market. By the sheer force of its numbers, the boomers are a demographic bulge which remodeled society as it passed through it. Two downturns of the US economy survived due to the full spending power of the boomers.

Incomes in the Indian market have surged since the early 90's and while the youth has benefited from new opportunities and packages, the boomers were at the right place at the right time. Today, most are parents of teenagers or young adults and we know how marketers have capitalized on 'pester power' over the years.

Surveys have indicated that Asian baby boomers make saving a priority, which would then be used for children's welfare and personal travel, with investments and home renovations coming next. This group has begun flexing its economic muscle to wear that branded suit, drive that coveted SUV and use world-class brands. Marketers can remain indifferent to boomers at their own peril.








Chaotic action is preferable to orderly inaction in the realm of policy to arrest global warming and climate change. With the United Nations mandated climate-change negotiations set to begin next week in Copenhagen, there's a seeming rush to declare national positions on emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) by the US, China and India. It does make sense to voluntarily further reduce our economic intensity of emissions (per unit of output).

But in tandem, what's required is that we call for credible reduction of GHGs in the mature economies, by 2020, pitch for stepping up collaborative efforts for climate-friendly technologies and initiate action on a parallel front. The mavens point out that reducing the emission of light-absorbing carbon particles or black carbon — it causes urban 'haze' — can be done cost-effectively. More important, the measures would mitigate global warming rather well.

Now, the latest models reveal that if the levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere continue to increase at current levels, it will lead to untoward global warming and irreversible climate change. Given the risks, reduction of GHGs is certainly warranted. The Kyoto Protocol did require that industrially-developed economies make substantial reduction in their emissions from 1990 levels, but these have not been adhered to. Hence, the import of the Copenhagen meet to policy-engineer climate action.

Now it can be posited that if restrictions are placed on CO2 emissions, the use of fossil fuels has to be reduced. It follows that if the cost burden increases as a result, a panoply of supply-side effects would come to the fore that would affect incomes, employment and output. However, if proactive climate policy leads to cost efficiencies, it would rev up production and growth. The concept points at 'no-regret potential', the idea that considerable cost-efficient possibilities to reduce emissions of GHGs do exist.

So, the utilisation of a no-regret potential of climate policy implies both a reduction in inefficiencies — which leads to a shift of the marginal cost curve — but it also means utilisation of technologies with rising marginal costs — or movement along the cost curve. And combining both the effects in one cost curve yields a resultant average cost curve with decreasing inefficiency. The UN-mandated inter-governmental panel on climate change did cite back in 2001 that energy efficiency gains of 'perhaps 10-30% above baseline trends over the next two to three decades can be realised at negative to zero net cost'. It implies a no-regret potential equalling 10-30% of CO2 emissions. China, now the biggest emitter of GHGs, has reportedly declared that it would reduce its intensity of emission (per unit of output) 40-45% from today's levels by 2020.

Given that China's output of goods and services is likely to be more than 100% larger a decade hence, what's really proposed is just about 20-25% effective reduction in the emission intensity by 2020. It would be within the no-regret potential of 10-30% as per IPCC projections. As for India, 2007 figures suggest that CO2 intensity of output is almost 50% lower (read: more efficient) than China's. But it's also due to the fact that manufacturing has a low relative share in total output here. Besides, the mavens point out that in India, there's ample potential for cost-effective measures to reduce emissions in power generation and consumption, transportation and in heavy industry.

Further, apart from cost and price effects, it is reasonable to expect that proactive climate policy would give rise to a range of innovation effects and technical change. However, it is unclear how policy, regulatory instruments and standards would boost innovative outcomes. It is possible to envisage a scenario when policy-induced technical change and innovations significantly shore up productivity gains. The spillovers could have both income 'multiplier' and attendant 'accelerator effects'.

But when it comes to the investments and resources required for the technical change and innovations to fructify, there can really be no equivalent of the no-regret potential. There would necessarily be high uncertainty — and not merely quantifiable risks — involved in developing 'green' technologies and systems.

It is because of the huge costs and uncertainties involved in making the paradigm shift to a low-carbon economy that the wealthy, mature economies have not been forthcoming on commitments. Which is why at Copenhagen, India needs to call for heightened cross-border industry collaboration, for a whole range of climate-friendly technologies. The empirical macroeconomics of climate change and CO2 reductions remain uncertain. But an India-centric location of the research and development effort should make the costs far more viable. Also, the scope for intellectual property protection and the real possibility of unlocking value at the bourses ought to be so much more attractive here.

Additionally, note that the warming effect of black carbon is 20-50% that of CO2. The use of hydrocarbons, particularly diesel, is responsible for 35% emissions of the particulate matter, the rest is due to the burning of organic biomass etc. The speedy diffusion of particulate filters and, say, solar cookers would substantially cut back on black carbon emissions. About time too.








This is one of the last bastions yet to fall in the great gender debate: the apparent gap between male and female performance in mathematics. The bulk of evidence in the past 50 years suggests the gender gap in maths does not exist before children enter school but, despite the enormous progress made by women in many educational spheres, is large and significant in the middle school years and beyond.

In 1960, there were 1.6 males graduating for each female graduate in the US. In 1970, women made up only 9% of combined medicine, dentistry and law degree recipients. Thirty years later, women accounted for 47% of full-time and 44% of part-time students pursuing such degrees. In 2004, women accounted for 45% of all doctorate degrees.


However, when it came to maths scores, nothing seemed to have changed: 'female' scores lag 'male' scores, while on verbal tests, there is no clear gender difference. Why?

Using a sample of more than 20,000 children from roughly 1,000 schools who entered kindergarten in the fall of 1998 and tracking their progress — after factoring in information on family background, school and neighbourhood characteristics, teacher and parent assessments and expectations — a recent NBER paper tests important theories for gender differences.

These range from biological theories that seek to explain differences in terms of innate differences in spatial ability, higher-order thinking or brain development to sociological theories that emphasise societal factors — how girls are socialised into believing that maths is not important, useful, doable or part of their identity — as the cause of the gap.

Consistent with the prior literature, the authors find girls and boys are on par in both maths and reading when they enter kindergarten. By the end of the fifth grade, however, girls had fallen more than 0.2 standard deviations behind their male counterparts by an equivalent of 2.5 months of schooling in maths. This finding held true in every region and in every racial group and across all levels of the socio-economic distribution, every family structure, and in both public and private schools. Underperformance by girls was evident not just in mean test scores but also in the upper tail of the maths distribution.

In a bid to determine the reasons, the authors tested a number of socialisation hypotheses but found no compelling support for them. Thus, although teachers tended to rate girls more favourably than test scores would predict, girls lost nearly as much ground on subjective teacher ratings of maths ability as they did on standardised tests, suggesting their poor relative performance was not simply the result of standardised testing.

Parental expectations regarding maths are generally low for girls. But accounting for test scores even after controlling for these expectations did nothing to reduce the gender gap. Surprisingly, the authors found girls with mothers working in maths-related jobs lost as much ground as those whose mothers were not in such jobs, suggesting that low familial expectations for girls in maths were not the reason for lower scores.

In another puzzle, girls seemed to fare no worse in states with greater levels of gender inequality in wages, employment or education. Surprisingly, the paper finds the gender maths gap especially large among children who attend private schools, have highly-educated mothers and have mothers working in maths-related occupations. All these are factors that, arguably, should contribute to girls' success in maths, suggesting this is one mystery to which we still do not have the answers.

Clearly, much more research needs to be done — by a woman? — to understand why there is a gap and, most importantly, why it persists. Till then, Larry Summers, former US Treasury Secretary and now director of the National Economic Council under President Barack Obama, will only have to point to maths tests scores in support of his obnoxious remarks about 'innate differences between men and women' as a reason fewer women succeed in careers in science and maths.

(An empirical analysis of the gender gap in mathematics; by Roland G Fryer, Jr & Steven D Levitt; Working Paper 15430)








He's considered one of the finest minds in the commodities space, calling the $147.27/bbl record level for crude oil almost to the dot, last year.


He is now of the view that crude oil prices will break through $100/bbl as we approach 2011 and that gold will cross $1,500/ounce by the first half of 2011. Francisco Blanch, head of Global Commodity Research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch spoke to ET Now on the outlook for commodities, the weakening dollar and why food prices are going to continue to rise sharply. Excerpts:

Everything happening in commodities hinges on the dollar. Do you believe it is going to weaken from current levels?

I think the dollar could weaken further against a number of emerging market currencies. As a house, we believe strongly that the dollar will weaken against the yuan, but we also believe the dollar will strengthen against the euro as we believe we are getting very close to the limit of euro-dollar strength at around 1.50 which is where we stand today. So it's a bit of a mixed bag for the dollar. The depreciation of the dollar is almost complete and what we're entering now is a phase where all currencies will, if you like, be the base, against another anchor now, which is gold.

A number of people believe the dollar will bounce back by about 15-20% in the coming months. What should we expect to see in the commodity markets then?

First, if the dollar does strengthen 15-20%, it will do so against the euro and not against currencies of emerging market economies — the peso, the won and the yuan, for instance — which for the most part, are undervalued. The rouble and the rupee will also strengthen against the dollar. So we believe any recovery in the dollar will be against some G10 currencies and that should be driving commodity prices a lot lower. Moreover, commodities will gain stability from the strength of emerging market currencies against the dollar. We could, of course, see a pullback in commodities. But that's not our base case scenario.


Commodities seem to have had a dream run in the past few months. But which commodity classes are attracting the maximum amount of money? Also, how much money do you believe will have flowed into commodities by the end of this year?

It's hard to estimate, but we think we're looking at about $200 billion flowing into what we call commodity indices and portfolio commodity exposure. There's also a lot of money flowing into commodities through debt or equity instruments, direct ownership of physical commodities and purchase of real assets. The number there is much bigger, though we do not have an estimate for that. But we are seeing more money coming in as investors are worried about the real value of currencies.

But would you say there's far too much money chasing too few opportunities in the commodities space?

I think commodity demand for the next 10 years is going to expand tremendously. Supply fundamentals remain fairly tight on a medium-term horizon. In fact, one of the key arguments we have made on many occasions is that the credit crunch and the energy crunch are two sides of the same problem, which is the misallocation of capital that has gone on for over a decade, since the Asian crisis, roughly, to the middle of last year. It's no coincidence that you had an oil price spike and a collapse in credit markets happening within the same three-month window.

For some people, it's hard to put the two together but for those of us who are in the commodities space and look at quantities, we can see how it's impossible to generate growth if you don't have more oil, coal, etc which is effectively what happened in the first half of last year. So I think as we get back on a strong growth track with all these massive fiscal measures, they will be able to generate demand, but the supply will not be there.

What percentage would you say investors should hold in commodities as part of their overall investment portfolio and where would you say one should be placing the maximum amount of money within this asset class?

I would say, anywhere between 3% and 10%. In some cases, up to 15% of a portfolio should be allocated to commodities. This is true for most institutional investors. Within that space, the commodities that have the best potential for appreciation are gold, copper and crude oil. Zinc and platinum could be added to the portfolio if one is looking for some diversification. Maybe some agricultural commodities too, which would perform well in future. I would steer away from natural gas and aluminium. Natural gas is very volatile, and because of the cost of rolling forward futures positions, a negative carry is associated with them. In the case of aluminium, inventories are high and there are no supply bottlenecks.

We're seeing gold prices continue to climb. The fact that certain central banks are buying it is acting as a sentiment booster. But where is gold going to finally settle?

That depends upon a number of factors from inflation to money supply to economic growth and interest rates. We've been highlighting that gold will move to $1,200/ounce on currency weakness which is what we have seen so far. Now we believe gold will gain from $1,200 to $1,500. So, we will see cyclical strength push gold prices higher. Now, central banks are buying gold and so are individuals and private pension funds. The question is why, and the answer to that I think is credit risk as well as dollar weakness for now.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




A look at his country's new Afghanistan line — enunciated from the US Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday — suggests that the President, Mr Barack Obama, is not a doctrines man, and that he is perfectly at ease listening to the dictates of practical politics. After the President's announcement, it is clearer than ever that without grudging America its new plan, India must do its own hard thinking on Afghanistan where, for good reasons, it has committed more than one billion dollars, the most development assistance it has offered any country. More than any other country, and longer than any, India has known the meaning of Pakistan-nurtured terrorism, and geography is not about to change. As immediate neighbours of Pakistan, India and Afghanistan have been subjected by Islamabad to the same brand of statecraft where extra-state elements do the talking through the barrel of the Kalashnikov and the improvised explosive device (IED). Helping build up an independent Afghanistan in a manner that makes its social and political structures resistant to extremism and terrorism from the Pakistan side is in India's long-term security interest. That is unlikely to be the case for the US and its Nato allies, if growing public opinion trends in those countries and the articulation of their leaders is any guide. In March this year, not long after taking charge, the US leader had enunciated his AfPak policy in a widely-noted speech which acknowledged for the first time that America's mission to bring peace and stability to Afghanistan was closely intertwined with eradicating the safe haven that Al Qaeda and Taliban had found on the Pakistan side of the border. It was a fighting speech which suggested that the jihadist paradigm nurtured in that tribal territory threatened international — not just regional — stability and had to be destroyed for the world to breathe easy. The March 27 address came out of a "comprehensive" review, the President noted. Barely three months later, however, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, his handpicked military commander in Afghanistan, was instructed to once again take a "comprehensive" look at the deteriorating situation and suggest the way forward. While mouthing some of the President's vocabulary, the commander's report turned the March AfPak doctrine on its head. And now from West Point, we have yet another putative policy fulcrum being indicated on Afghanistan. Its thrust is that 30,000 more US troops would be introduced into Afghanistan in the next six months to neutralise the momentum of the Taliban, and that the American exit from Afghanistan would commence from July 2011. This may not necessarily amount to cutting and running. To be fair, the President did note: "We will execute this transition responsibly, taking into account conditions on the ground." Mr Obama also said the US will continue to "advise and assist" Afghanistan's security forces to ensure they can "succeed over the long haul". Some may detect in this a trace of practical wisdom. From the Indian perspective, the effect of this announcement on the Taliban and on Pakistan's ISI will merit watching. These quarters are likely to be heartened with the Obama announcement, although no timetable has been laid down.
The President's new vision statement suggests that the Pakistan Army taking on the Pakistan Taliban (not to be confused with the Afghan Taliban) in Swat and South Waziristan has influenced Mr Obama's present thinking. The Indian view on these developments is much more contextual and nuanced. For America, there is another, crucial, consideration. Emerging from the worst recession since the 1930s, the US leader noted: "We simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these (Iraq, Afghanistan) wars." The Taliban and its patrons will no doubt note this. So must India.








First it was Dubai, with its glittering path-breaking facade, and now it is the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Abu Dhabi. At 38, as the federation of seven emirates preened itself to celebrate the National Day, Dubai sprang a bombshell by seeking a six-month freeze on billions of dollars of debts plunging regional and world markets, the capital with the world's biggest sovereign wealth fund was going about its business to become the new magnet for the region.


It was ironical that days before Dubai shocked the markets, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and the federation's Prime Minister, met the international press, including myself, to show the stiff upper lip. Sheikh Mohammed is a hands-on ruler in managing Dubai's ascent to the region's trading hub and the aggressive, if extravagant, development of hotels, malls, marvels of tourist attractions and the world's highest building at 800 metres, still under construction, piercing the sky like a missile. Dubai recently opened a spanking new metro.


The world economic crisis was particularly unkind to Dubai because it prospered on tourists and a diversifying economy and borrowed to build brash new attractions, including a ski slope in a mall. When tourist levels and hotel occupancy fell and property prices halved, Dubai was in trouble, to be bailed out by Abu Dhabi to the extent of $10 billion, with two Abu Dhabi banks more recently buying Dubai paper for $5 billion. Dubai can still call upon the remaining $5 billion tranche Abu Dhabi had agreed upon.


Dubai will rise again because it has the fighting spirit and the painful process of reorganisation and pruning has begun. The rising star today is Abu Dhabi, which possesses ample supplies of oil and gas and is the place where serious money is. A round of meetings with high foreign affairs, economic and banking officials in the capital last week provided an overview of how it is aspiring to reach the stars. If there is an element of rivalry between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, it adds zest to new development projects.


For years, Dubai had left its more serious, if not staid, sister far behind with its glitzy developments and more liberal mores. Only in recent time has Abu Dhabi picked up the gauntlet of becoming a modern metropolis with the accoutrements that go with it in the form of art, entertainment, music and other cultural assets. It built the immense Palace Hotel, more a palace than a hotel, launched its own international airline Etihad to compete with the older and better known brand of Dubai-owned Emirates, is setting aside an entire island for museums and art events in the form of opening branches of America's Guggenheim and France's Louvre. An exhibition of European masters in the original was given a run in Abu Dhabi followed by the French Radio Orchestra performing in the Palace Hotel.


Only recently did Abu Dhabi hold the first Formula 1 race on a brand new track built on the island of Yas, with the racetrack partly going under a specially built hotel. There are a string of other brand hotels that have been built and the authorities hope to make the island a new residential settlement attracting visitors through high-profile entertainment and sporting events, with a wing for foreign buyers in designated zones. Non-nationals cannot buy property in the UAE except in special areas, a move pioneered by Dubai. A stadium with a retractable roof to seat 65,000 is on the drawing board.


The UAE is very conscious of its small population of 864,000 citizens against 3.62 million expatriates. A vigorous effort is, therefore, on to place the accent on equipping young Emiratis with higher education, with generous scholarships being offered in a number of fields, including nuclear engineering. Some 2,300 students are studying in the United Kingdom and 1,218 are in the Unites States after the effects of the terrorist attacks of 2001 having waned among Americans.


The minister for higher education, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, admitted that Abu Dhabi was seeking nuclear energy for peaceful purposes although it was not interested in enriching uranium on its soil with a view to diversifying its energy resources. Abu Dhabi has 100 years of oil reserves, but its officials emphasise that oil is a finite commodity and is going ahead in seeking renewable energy with a city to be built on that basis. To a visitor, it comes as a surprise that so much attention is being devoted to renewable energy while the use of conventional energy would seem to be profligate. The UAE's per capita energy consumption is the highest in the world.


An entire city of Masdar is being planned to house around 1,500 clean technology companies with 40,000 residents and 50,000 commuters providing a research and test base for renewable energy technologies. The aim is to rely on 100 per cent renewable energy to make it carbon neutral. Masdar was established in 2006 with seed money of $15 billion. It is the largest such venture in the world.


Although the UAE is acquiring modern arms and is home to Western, including French, bases underlining the fact that it lives in a dangerous neighbourhood, its accent is on seeking regional stability. It is a constituent of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) whose progress is at best patchy. The GCC, which includes Saudi Arabia, is promoting a common currency but Abu Dhabi says it will stay out of it and progress towards a common customs union, the initial backbone of the European Union, is slow because of the member countries' divergent trade interests. For instance, Dubai being the centre for entrepot trade it is, would look askance at imposition of common duties.


Despite the buffeting Dubai has suffered, the weather is fair for the UAE.


Abu Dhabi is now demonstrating that it can show the way to a happier region and world. Dubai traded on its superb infrastructure, sinking much money to make it an efficient regional hub. Abu Dhabi hopes to make a bigger splash because it has deeper pockets and is speeding ahead with new infrastructure and construction projects. It has plans to beat Dubai and will build an even higher tower.








Let me start with the bottom line and then tell you how I got there: I can't agree with the US President, Mr Barack Obama's decision to escalate in Afghanistan. I'd prefer a minimalist approach, working with tribal leaders the way we did to overthrow the Taliban regime in the first place. Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan.


I recognise that there are legitimate arguments on the other side. At a lunch on Tuesday for opinion writers, the President lucidly argued that opting for a surge now to help Afghans rebuild their Army and state into something decent — to win the allegiance of the Afghan people — offered the only hope of creating an "inflection point", a game changer, to bring long-term stability to that region. May it be so. What makes me wary about this plan is how many moving parts there are — Afghans, Pakistanis and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation allies all have to behave forever differently for this to work.


But here is the broader context in which I assess all this: My own foreign policy thinking since 9/11 has been based on four pillars:


l The Warren Buffett principle: Everything I've ever gotten in life is largely due to the fact that I was born in this country, America, at this time with these opportunities for its citizens. It is the primary obligation of our generation to turn over a similar America to our kids.


* Many big bad things happen in the world without America, but not a lot of big good things. If we become weak and enfeebled by economic decline and debt, as we slowly are, America may not be able to play its historic stabilising role in the world. If you didn't like a world of too-strong-America, you will really not like a world of too-weak-America — where China, Russia and Iran set more of the rules.


* The context within which people live their lives shapes everything — from their political outlook to their religious one. The reason there are so many frustrated and angry people in the Arab-Muslim world, lashing out first at their own governments and secondarily at us — and volunteering for "martyrdom" — is because of the context within which they live their lives. That was best summarised by the United Nation's Arab Human Development reports as a context dominated by three deficits: a deficit of freedom, a deficit of education and a deficit of women's empowerment. The reason India, with the world's second-largest population of Muslims, has a thriving Muslim minority (albeit with grievances but with no prisoners in Guantánamo Bay) is because of the context of pluralism and democracy it has built at home.


* One of the main reasons the Arab-Muslim world has been so resistant to internally driven political reform is because vast oil reserves allow its regimes to become permanently ensconced in power, by just capturing the oil tap, and then using the money to fund vast security and intelligence networks that quash any popular movement. Look at Iran.
Hence, post-9/11 I advocated that our politicians find sufficient courage to hike gasoline taxes and seriously commit ourselves to developing alternatives to oil. Economists agree that this would ultimately bring down the global price, and slowly deprive these regimes of the sole funding source that allows them to maintain their authoritarian societies. People do not change when we tell them they should; they change when their context tells them they must.


To me, the most important reason for the Iraq war was never weapon of mass destruction. It was to see if we could partner with Iraqis to help them build something that does not exist in the modern Arab world: a state, a context, where the constituent communities — Shias, Sunnis and Kurds — write their own social contract for how to live together without an iron fist from above. Iraq has proved staggeringly expensive and hugely painful. The mistakes we made should humble anyone about nation-building in Afghanistan. It does me.


Still, the Iraq war may give birth to something important — if Iraqis can find that self-sustaining formula to live together. Alas, that is still in doubt. If they can, the model would have a huge impact on the Arab world. Baghdad is a great Arab capital. If Iraqis fail, it's religious strife, economic decline and authoritarianism as far as the eye can see — the witch's brew that spawns terrorists.


Iraq was about "the war on terrorism". The Afghanistan invasion, for me, was about the "war on terrorists". To me, it was about getting Osama bin Laden and depriving Al Qaeda of a sanctuary — period. I never thought we could make Afghanistan into Norway — and even if we did, it would not resonate beyond its borders the way Iraq might.


To now make Afghanistan part of the "war on terrorism" — i.e., another nation-building project — is not crazy. It is just too expensive, when balanced against our needs for nation-building in America, so that we will have the strength to play our broader global role. Hence, my desire to keep our presence in Afghanistan limited. That is what I believe. That is why I believe it.









The contamination of at least 55 workers at Kaiga nuclear power plant is a personal tragedy for them and their families. Those of us who have been opposing this dangerous and unforgiving technology are sympathetic to their plight. The incident raises serious questions regarding safety practices at our nuclear installations. The explanations offered by officials in the nuclear establishment have been inadequate and fanciful.


Note that nuclear power plants have been on "high alert" since the arrest of David Coleman Headley and Tahawwur Hussain Rana. Supposedly, security has been "beefed up". So it is all the more surprising that anyone can "cause mischief" by adulterating drinking water in a cooler with tritium. The official explanation of it being the handiwork of a "disgruntled" employee raises more questions than it answers.


One, if some "insiders" are so callous as to attempt to cause serious bodily harm to random fellow workers, does it not say something about the process of recruitment itself and about the level of employee job satisfaction within the nuclear power corporation? What is to prevent more "disgruntled" elements from sabotaging vital reactor safety systems and putting the public and surrounding countryside at grave risk? If the heightened security system is so lax as to allow such shenanigans, how can people trust the nuclear establishment's ability to provide fool-proof security?


Two, heavy water is expensive. It costs over Rs 20,000 to produce a litre. That such precious materials are easily available to any mischievous insider does throw light on the culture of casual disregard for waste and corruption in the organisation. Heavy water gets tritiated only after use in the reactor as moderator or coolant. That this used heavy water seems to have been stored on the premises is surprising because there's no need to do so.


Newspaper reports of Dr Anil Kakodkar's explanation have not been clear as to how tritium contaminated water in a cooler. There has been a mention of "tritium vials" having been added to the cooler. If this is true, it is even more worrying since although heavy water is expensive, its cost is peanuts compared to the cost of producing tritium — estimates range from $30,000 per gram to $100,000. If vials of purified tritium, a vital component of thermonuclear weapon systems, are available to any disgruntled element, we indeed have a much larger problem on our hands, especially given the planned rapid expansion of nuclear power infrastructure.
Surendra Gadekar is a physicist andanti-nuclear activist




I do not agree that the Kaiga nuclear plant is unsafe. In the recent event, there was no plant malfunction or escape of radioactivity from the plant. There is no danger to the general public.


What has happened is that someone working at the plant has indulged in a criminal act. It appears that a sample of reactor water containing a small amount of tritium was not taken to the laboratory as required, but was diverted.


This kind of problem is comparable to that faced in chemical industries handling poisonous substances or in pharmaceutical industry handling dangerous biological material. The safety of operation in these industries is ensured by strict supervision and surveillance and use of monitoring and detection devices. Similar practices have been used at nuclear installations also.


Of course, it was a lapse, and we have to have procedures in place that prevent diversion. We must strengthen both administrative and technological measures to prevent recurrence of similar events. Also, we must introduce an assessment of the psychological health of plant personnel, especially those showing distress, and counselling.


But we must assess the impact of this episode at Kaiga in an objective manner. India has been operating nuclear power units using heavy water since 1971. At present, India has 16 heavy water-type nuclear units in operation. Two more are due to start operating in 2010. A number of larger size units are being taken up for execution. The safety and operating records of these reactors have been very good. From the safety standpoint, the parameters of interest are: the collective radiation dose received by an operating person in a year, the background radiation at the boundary of the station, the radioactive discharges in a year, and heavy water loss in a year. All these parameters have shown a remarkable reduction over the years.


Similarly, the period for which a reactor unit has operated without interruption has exceeded one year on many occasions. In one case, it exceeded 500 days. One of the reactors at Kakrapara registered the highest capacity factor among all reactors generating power in the world. These achievements are a result of improvements in design, enhanced quality of equipment and materials, and above all the competent performance of our scientists, engineers and technicians. Therefore, the take-away from this is that while India has learnt to design, build and operate nuclear power units in a safe and reliable manner, we need to further improve our operational practices to prevent recurrence of the Kaiga incident.


Dr M.R. Srinivasan is former chairman of Atomic Energy Commission








Michaele and Tareq Salahi finally actually got invited to an exclusive Washington gathering. But they're not sure they want to accept. It is, after all, an invitation to Thursday's Congressional hearing into their Night of Living Dangerously, the notorious White House party-crashing incident.


The Salahis discovered the secret to sneaking through a mythical gate, and that has now taken on the import of one of Dan Brown's ancient portals; the breached White House wall serves as a prism to examine our society, the US President and American values. We live in an age obsessed with "reality" and overrun by fakers. The mock has run amok.


This decade will be remembered for the collapse of the Twin Towers, the economy and any standard of accomplishment for societal prestige. TV and the Internet wallow in the lowest common denominator. Warhol looks like Whistler.


But if Congress investigates social climbing and party-crashing in Washington, it won't have time for anything else.


Because even the outrage over the fakers is fake. The capital has turned up its nose at the tacky trompe l'oeil Virginia horse-country socialites: a faux Redskins cheerleader and a faux successful businessman auditioning for a "reality" show by feigning a White House invitation.


Yet Washington has always been a town full of poseurs, arrivistes, fame-seekers, cheaters and camera hogs.


Lots of people here are trying to crash the party, wangle an invite to the right thing, work the angles and milk their connections to better insinuate their way into the inner circle.


Barack Obama is the ultimate party crasher. He crashed Hillary's high-hat party in 2008 and he crashed the snooty age-old Washington party of privileged white guys with a monopoly on power.


Sneaking past the White House gates with the slippery Salahis, we catch a rare glimpse of a Secret Service, a social office and a Pentagon with glaring — and chilling — vulnerabilities and liabilities.


The Washington Post reported the Secret Service guard waved in the Salahis, breaking the rules, because he "was persuaded by the couple's manner and insistence as well as the pressure of keeping lines moving on a rainy evening."


Because Barack Obama has broken historic barriers and excites strong passions, he requires a heightened level of Secret Service protection. Now, he isn't getting the minimum required. Vetting guests does not involve emotion or leeway. Famous lawmakers like Pat Schroeder have been turned away after showing up without IDs. Whatever Michele Jones, the Pentagon-based liaison to the White House, emailed the Salahis to enhance their delusion of having a shot at a dinner, she was mindlessly enabling fabulists.


Desirée Rogers, who has also been asked to testify on November 26, has been cruising for a bruising since

telling the Wall Street Journal in April: "We have the best brand on Earth: the Obama brand. Our possibilities are endless". She wanted to pose for the Journal in an Oscar de la Renta gown in the First Lady's garden, but the press secretary, Robert Gibbs, vetoed that. The statuesque social secretary brandishing a Harvard MBA and animal-print designer shoes is not any mere party planner. The old friend of the first couple from Chicago has the exalted and uncommon title of social secretary and special assistant to the President. Instead of standing outside with a clipboard, eyeballing guests as Anne Hathaway did in The Devil Wears Prada, Desirée was a guest at the dinner, the centre of her own table of guests, just like the President and First Lady.


As Michael Isikoff wrote in Newsweek, Rogers sidelined Cathy Hargraves, the East Wing staffer whose job it was to go to check off the names of each guest from a printout.


Rogers told Hargraves that the Obama team felt no need for those services because, given the recession, there wouldn't be many lavish dinners. But even if it's just two state dinners a year, as the First Lady plans, one big mistake is too many.


Also, the rejection of the Bush appointee has unseemly echoes of Hillary Clinton sacking the White House travel office staff, unnecessarily politicising an office that required old pros. Rogers also conjured up a White House closing ranks on itself, allowing far too many West Wing staffers, mid-level political aides, press flacks and speechwriters to attend the prestigious premiere state dinner, rather than people more relevant to the Indian guests of honour. The Obama team always talks of making the White House "the People's House", so why let it look like the White House Mess?


Even before the Salahis swept in preening, the Obama staffers were there preening, standing around celebrating themselves. And of course, savouring the wonder of the Obama brand.








There is a strong lobby in India which has traditionally argued that poverty is forever on the rise in our country and that the story of high growth in the last quarter of the 20th century is "make believe", without any impact on people living below the poverty line. Every time there is a report on India's high gross domestic product (GDP) growth, it is followed by a study showing either that the percentage of population below the poverty line has increased or that the rich have become richer and the poor, poorer.


Typical of this attitude is the recent statement of Indian sports minister M.S. Gill that India cannot afford to bid for the Olympic Games as there are too many poor people in India. Mr Gill seems to forget that there is a vast difference between being a poor country and having a large number of poor people.
India cannot be called a poor country by any reckoning if we take into account the country's GDP, foreign exchange reserves, per capita income and the abnormally large number of very rich people here. Yes, there are a large number of poor people, but that only reflects our lopsided distribution pattern and not our overall status as one of the few fast-growing countries today.


At last there are new research findings which convincingly show that the Indian high-growth scenario since 1991 has visibly reduced poverty. Two economist researchers, Martin Revallion and Gaurav Dutt, have in their paper, "Has India's economic growth become more pro-poor in the wake of economic reforms", shown that whereas one person out of two lived below the poverty line during the 1950s and 1960s, by 1990 only one in three was below the poverty line, and by 2005 only one in five. They have used 47 rounds of national sample surveys to conclude that the post-reform process of urban economic growth has also brought significant gains to the rural as well as urban poor. This is, indeed, very refreshing. It justifies the trust most reformers had that substantial increase in the overall growth rate would have a ripple effect, comparable to what happened in the West during the 19th century.


In an earlier study of the period before 1991, when economic growth was very slow, these two economists have shown that India's per capita GDP growth was just one per cent in the 1960s and 1970s, three per cent in the 1980s and 4.5 per cent after 1981. This modest growth did not give any benefit to the rural poor. During this period both China and Brazil did a better job at poverty reduction, largely because of their better educational facilities. So it is truly heartening to know that poverty reduction is taking place now at an appreciable rate, and that the employment opportunities in rural areas are growing.


The point that needs to be emphasised is that voluntary bodies and social organisations can play a major role in the process of poverty reduction. They can replace government officers who are known to take commissions on the money that is to be spent on rural infrastructure. It is necessary that voluntary organisations take their due place and serve as a link between the government and the people for whom money and schemes are sanctioned.


The issue of poverty should not only concern the government but all the wealthy sections of Indian population, including the corporate sector. For example, each rich Indian could adopt one poor person, educate him/her and provide gainful employment.


Our traditional ideological opposition to allowing the corporate sector the right to acquire and cultivate large tracts of land must be replaced by an attitude where the private sector is welcome to developing land in such a way that enough employment is generated along with agricultural development. Interestingly, during the first three five-year plans the emphasis on heavy industry brought little benefit to the rural poor, except when the Green Revolution occurred.


On the other hand, the post-1991 developments, with emphasis on the service sector, had a definite, positive effect on the rural economy.


Today we are planning to become a middle class country largely on account of the development that has linkages with agriculture, schools and health sector. But we need to devote considerable attention to health, housing and educational opportunities which would enhance employment-generation capability among the rural poor. Another important point to remember is that in order to enhance the income capability of the rural poor, one need not necessarily go down the route of creating a whole lot of schemes and projects which do not help the poor directly but result in large-scale corruption by the people entrusted with the implementation of those projects. It may be better to provide for grants to poor families, say those below the poverty line, directly so that they can spend money on their own and at the same time their per capita income also increases.


All this must supplement the government's efforts which, in recent years, have led to a situation where India is no longer a debtor country and where high volumes of purchasing power has spread from the metro cities to many small towns and village areas, and when countries like the US are seeking investment from India Inc and International Monetary Fund recently sold large volume of gold to India. India is not a poor country today although there is a very large number of poor populations.


The main contents of the poverty on India are: lack of housing facilities, lack of clothing, lack of educational opportunities, lack of healthcare, and lack of adequate employment opportunities. All these can be taken care of by time-bound programmes such as National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. The health facilities provided for the poor in Andhra Pradesh by the late chief minister, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, produced miraculous results in dealing with these problems. The corporate sector must be involved as it has an important role to play.


Nitish Sengupta, an academic and an author, is a former Member of Parliament and a former secretary to the Government of India








TECHNICALLY, unfortunately only technically, the Army is correct in asserting that it would be premature to condemn the four Generals and other officers involved in the Sukhna land scam since the legal process is yet to conclude, but there can be no denying that the reputation of the service at large has already taken a beating. That the defence ministry has taken a grave view of various aspects of the scandal and is monitoring developments confirms public disquiet.

For the common man the fate of the individuals is of limited significance, what disturbs is that land acquired for boosting the national defence effort was being transferred in questionable circumstances. The outcome of this probe could have widespread impact for there was every possibility, not to mention likelihood, of similar transfers elsewhere. The corruption angle apart, it is time that the defence services understood that the land they hold is not their personal property, also that they appreciate all the assets provided to them (even if they deem them inadequate) were provided from public funds, so they cannot escape accountability.

The military is not really a class apart, no law unto itself. Nor are military personnel ~ despite all the jingoism ~ doing anybody a great favour by donning the uniform. The sun set on that romantic era long ago: today they are doing a job just like anybody else, hopefully they are doing it professionally.

Yes, there was a time when the military conducted itself in such honourable and dedicated fashion that it did merit adulation as a "class apart": yet if the brass were to take an honest look within they might realise that they have forfeited the right to such elevated consideration. Worse, that a skewed sense of what it takes to preserve morale has caused many a smokescreen to be laid over an unacceptably high number of cases of corruption, indiscipline, diversion of funds, dubious promotions, indeed even sexual harassment. Refusal to recognise the erosion of the standards that constituted the once-hallowed military ethos means that no remedial action is underway, the rot has been evident for over a decade now. No laughing matter is a quip doing the rounds that if an RTI petition extracted the names of all defence personnel facing inquiries the numbers would exceed the names on the Republic Day awards list!







THE manner in which two aspiring stars of reality shows managed to gate-crash the American President's dinner for the visiting Indian Prime Minister is an extraordinary example of a consummate performance in a fiercely tense situation. The persistent fear of being nabbed and facing the consequences of their misadventures were obviously overtaken by the overwhelming desire to pull off a stunt that would leave the Secret Service looking for holes in the system.

But while losers on television merely risk the embarrassment of shedding a few tears or taking a guarded swipe at the dubious method of an SMS vote, the gate-crashers may have to pay dearly for their mischief. However, the polo-playing socialites who mocked the security network at the White House by walking the red carpet and making use of photo-opportunties with the President and subsequently rubbed it in by posting their success story on Facebook, may have suggested more exciting ways in which small screen contests may be conducted. If they could sneak into a state dinner, it throws up the possibilities of locations more thrilling than the confined spaces from where Big Boss or Sach Ka Saamna have thrived on candid exposures and produced stars overnight.

The two who have made it to the headlines may now have no regrets for not making it to the dizzy heights they aspire to on the small screen. Reality shows are all about gambles that are good as long as they last. But tracing a secret route to the East Room was perhaps the most daring and laced with all the ingredients of a comic thriller that fetched them a few days of stardom. There is no information as yet that heads will roll in the Secret Service or that the couple will be subjected to rigorous investigation of how fact can indeed be stranger than fiction. But now that the story is out, Hollywood may relish the prospect of a real-life saga that would be more enduring than the brilliant spread ~ and a sequel to Mission Impossible without the terrors of gadgets and guns.







NEPAL'S Maoists are to set up 13 parallel regional administrations in a bid to topple the Communist-led coalition government headed by Madhav Kumar Nepal and restore "civilian supremacy". The high point of their plan ~ massive rallies ~ has the potential of creating all-round disorder. More than the Prime Minister, the target is President Ram Baran Yadav whose action in reinstating Army chief Rukmankud Katuwal, dismissed by Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal ~ better known as Prachanda ~ provoked the latter into quitting. Yadav has since been a bee in Prachanda's bonnet. Whether or not the President's action was unconstitutional is for experts to decide, but if Prachanda had not lost his nerve over the issue the constituent assembly would by now have made considerable progress in rewriting the constitution to meet the May 2010 deadline. Both the CPN (United Marxist-Leninist) and the Nepali Congress are against a parliamentary debate on the President's action. And unless the parliamentary deadlock is broken nothing will work. Only a few days ago the Maoists allowed parliament to function for three days to pass the budget, but they must also realise that in the changed political scenario they have a constructive role to play.

Last week Prachanda met the President, suggesting there was no personal enmity between them. This also raised expectations that the two might sort out differences. Of late, Prachanda has been trying to find a way out of the impasse he had himself created. Last month he met Nepali Congress chief GP Koirala in Singapore and they reportedly agreed to try and set up a high-level political mechanism, but it does not seem to have found favour with Koirala's party men. Being the largest party ~ the Maoists command 40 per cent of seats in parliament ~ it must be galling for Prachanda and his supporters to play second fiddle to smaller parties.







London, 2 DEC: Want to keep tooth decay at bay? Down a goblet of red wine daily, says a new study.
Red wine, when drunk in moderation, is already thought to have a protective effect against various heart diseases and some forms of cancer. But scientists have also been probing whether it could help to prevent dental decay.
Now, researchers in Italy have found that red wine is good for teeth as it contains chemicals that could ward off decay by stopping harmful bacteria from sticking, the Daily Mail reported.

The most damaging bacteria, called streptococcus mutans, live in the mouth and feed on sugar in the diet. Once it sticks to enamel, the organism triggers a process called demineralisation, where acid starts to punch holes in teeth.
In their study, the researchers at Pavia University exposed the bacteria to a small amount of red wine that had all its alcohol content removed.

This was so they could clarify if it was the alcohol, or something else in wine, that had a beneficial effect. The results showed harmful organisms were unable to cling to teeth or saliva once exposed to red wine.








IT was an occasion of great pomp and ceremony. The US President and First Lady took pains to ensure that their banquet became a memorable affair, with all the sparkle and glitter that can enhance such events. The White House dinner in honour of Dr Manmohan Singh and Shrimati Gursharan Kaur became a major social event, for which invitations were much sought after. Being the first state visit of the Obama Presidency, it became a deliberate model of elegance and style: the ambience, the food, the entertainment, the little extras, all combined to make a statement of exceptional welcome for the visitors and their country. Quite deliberately, and with as much eloquence as the leaders' speeches, the reception arrangements emphasised the value attached by the hosts to the connection between the two countries.
That being acknowledged, one must ask what else there was to the visit, for obviously it was not conducted for the party alone, however grand it may have been. A number of memoranda came out of it, a joint statement by the leaders and several agreements signed by their representatives: it is in these, some argue, that the real substance is to be found, the true measure of the visit. That may be so, but yet this was an occasion where the display was no less significant than the written outcome. There is no real parallel in India for this sort of grand state affair, for New Delhi protocol tends to be inflexible, bringing a humdrum sameness to such occasions, drilled and efficient, with more than a touch of the army mess in the ceremonials.


This is not the practice elsewhere, as, for instance, in the UK where we have just seen a state visit, with full ceremonies, by India's President. There, only two or three state visits take place every year, as distinct from the numerous working affairs that go on ceaselessly. This permits a different sort of statement when desired, to permit ritual and ceremony to convey a special message.

The Prime Minister's US visit had something of this ritualised symbolism, with the difference that it brought together leaders who exercise effective and not merely emblematic political authority. The elaborate welcome to the Prime Minister showed India as a genuine partner of the USA and a valued friend, conveying a direct and tangible message that cannot quite be expressed by joint statements and communiqués alone.

This is not to play down the importance of the talks or the many bilateral agreements during the visit. It is to be noted that the two sides gave further substance to the Global Strategic Partnership they have formed, while reiterating shared concerns over terrorism, where they zeroed in on South Asia. Their joint call to eliminate safe havens and sanctuaries for terrorists in Afghanistan and Pakistan is particularly noteworthy, showing as it does that the two simultaneously face dangers from terrorists taking advantage of the same sanctuaries. In the past, while the two sides have been united in principle in combating terror, their priorities have been subtly different, with the USA focused principally on its Afghan concerns while India's trepidations about the vulnerability of its heartland have remained intense. Now, the joint statement issued in Washington should give a clearer message to the entire region on this critical issue, especially to Pakistan.

The nuclear issue also featured prominently. For long, the Indo-US nuclear deal has been the measure to judge all meetings between the two, almost to the exclusion of all else. That issue no longer commands its former centrality, for the essentials have been satisfactorily resolved some time ago, but yet it remains a subject for close attention. In some respects the issue is even now hanging fire, and all obstacles to the full cooperation India desires have not been removed. However, when raised in the talks, the matter seemed to have caused no concern to either side, and India's Prime Minister dismissed the remaining issues as minor, expecting them to be sorted out in a couple of weeks. Indeed, the summit statements indicated that on the nuclear subject attention had shifted to a different set of questions, dominated by the problem of non-proliferation. Renewed international effort to curb the nuclear spread, with the distant ideal of the global zero on the far horizon, is where the challenge now seems to lie. India may well become more forthright and assertive in its dealings on this matter, as already witnessed in its response at the IAEA on reports about Iran's secret uranium enrichment plant.


Climate change was another tricky issue that figured in the talks. This is a matter that has divided India and the USA for years, ever since the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 which gave certain temporary exemptions on emissions to developing countries, notably India and China. Though the USA was party to the agreement, it soon began to have second thoughts and to demand that India and China, major polluters, should take on stricter obligations to reduce emissions, notwithstanding their much lesser historical responsibility than that of the older industrial countries. This has been at the centre of sometimes acrid discussion between developed and developing countries in international forums. While ready to work within its national frame to curb pollution, India has refused to accept specific targets that would be subject to any sort of international overview. Until quite recently, China shared this approach, but it seems now to have become ready to accept targets for reduction of emissions. Although some Indian spokespersons have said they are unafraid of going it alone, there are signs, as the Copenhagen conference approaches, that India, too, may be prepared to re-think its position. A joint negotiating position seems now to have been constructed collectively by India, China, Brazil and South Africa.


Progress also seems to have been made in the bilateral Indo-US setting, with both leaders expressing satisfaction with their exchanges on this subject.

As the visit showed, there are few bilateral issues that create distance between India and the USA. They disagree here and there but on the whole it is now a question of identifying and pursuing the new opportunities that have been created. India can be expected to be a more active participant in matters on the global agenda, like terrorism, human rights, disarmament, climate change, to name only a few. For this, it needs to clarify its own perceptions and purposes. For instance, in the sphere of disarmament, issues like CTBT and FMCT are just over the horizon and may well take a bigger share of world attention before long. These and other complex issues need careful preparation so that we can hold our own when discussions commence. As our capacity has grown and we have climbed inescapably onto a bigger stage, we need to ensure that we are suitably equipped for the fresh tasks that have fallen to us.

The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary








In his first policy address on Afghanistan after assuming office, Barack Obama, the president of the United States of America, had enumerated an exit strategy for the US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization allies. In his latest policy announcement from West Point, Mr Obama sets a clear date — 2011 — for the exit process to begin despite the absence of any indication that the 'strategy' adopted has got him closer to anything resembling success. Why Mr Obama commits himself to a time frame is obvious. With 55 per cent of the domestic population and a sizeable section within his own party having turned against the Afghanistan war, the initiation of the countdown had become a necessary rider to an announcement of a troop surge, without which Mr Obama runs the chance of losing whatever has been gained in eight years of fighting. The problem with this "new" policy is that other than its USP of the roll-back time, it is no different from what had existed before. It remains dependent on the same variables — the uncertainty about additional troops being able to provide the breakthrough on the ground, the peculiar situation in Afghanistan, and Pakistan's intransigence in clearing its own territory of terror links.


Of the three, the last is perhaps the most dispiriting. Mr Obama is acutely aware that the headway achieved in the first few years of the war in Afghanistan was lost when Pakistan emerged as the "safe haven" for terrorists. Yet, other than continuing the unpopular drone attacks along Pakistan's borders or cajoling Pakistan into action by giving it generous military and non-military aid, there is hardly much the US can do. Mr Obama made his frustration known in a letter to his Pakistan counterpart earlier this month. But with the steadily decreasing stature of Asif Ali Zardari in Pakistan, it is unlikely to carry much weight within the establishment that is again completely in the iron grip of the Pakistan army. Despite the internal threat and bloodshed, the army is still unwilling to take on the Afghan Taliban or al Qaida networks, with which it hopes to neutralize India's strategic gains in Afghanistan.


The situation may turn out to be as disappointing for the US within Afghanistan if it fails to coax the Hamid Karzai government to root out corruption and form a more broad-based government. Mr Karzai's refusal to remove his brother, charged with corruption, from the government in Kandahar, and his growing obduracy towards the US are not very encouraging signs. There remain Mr Obama's hopes of building up a civilian resistance to the Taliban. But that may not work out within the prescribed time frame. With the pious announcement of withdrawal, without the groundwork complete, Mr Obama may be giving time to his adversaries in Afghanistan to work out their plot. Meanwhile, he may be losing his own.







With the IIMs making a mess of the online CAT, and the West Bengal assembly suspended for more than a week because the new mikes do not work, the country seems to be on a regressive high. The institutes of management are quietly toying with the idea of pen-and-paper re-tests; and although it may be quite alright for legislators to be throwing furniture at one another, screaming every day is bad for the Constitution. In each case, the unreadiness is all — and unreadiness of a rather shameful kind. The state assembly and the IIMs are, in their own way, premier institutions. The latter, especially, are supposed to be excellent (and expensive) at teaching people how to manage complex situations smartly. So, the best way to go about damage control could be with not passing the buck (for once) and with learning the right lessons from such a goof-up.


The people who matter, and have suffered, most in the CAT fiasco are the candidates. To them, what excuses Prometric makes as the IT firm entrusted with computerizing the test do not matter. Those who are truly accountable to the candidates are the testing authorities, and in that, the IIMs have failed to maintain the highest standards of professional decorum. Not only have the authorities not been up to the technological demands of the tests, but they have also mishandled the management of the ensuing crisis and its aftermath. Simply being in efficient and transparent communication with the inconvenienced candidates would have been better for the IIM 'brand' than being unapologetic and evasive about taking responsibility. These qualities, combined with inefficiency, do not bode well for the pursuit of excellence, which is supposed to be the IIM hallmark. Retro-managers and muted legislators have some serious updating to do if they do not want to look flustered by technology that is not even particularly cutting-edge.









University status for Presidency College has hit banner headlines — a rare recognition for an academic institution. The motive force, ultimately, is middle-class Bengali sentiment for a cultural icon. Presidency ranks with Rabindranath and Satyajit — hence the strained efforts to flaunt its links with those stalwarts.


This is not to deny the college's unique and sustained role in Bengal's education. I myself owe it a profound debt from three years as a student and 19 as a teacher there. But now that the dream is turning real, we need to weigh the prospects soberly.


Presidency's chief lasting assets are its treasure-laden library and selectively well-endowed laboratories. In most other respects its infrastructure, though exceptional for a college, are inadequate for a university. The land and buildings cannot possibly suffice: a new campus is imperative, with the funds to stock and people it. Thereby hang several depressing tales.


One relates to staffing. Presidency is served by a floating body of government college teachers. Their Presidency posting is a matter of accident. A university will call for site-specific recruitment on a different pattern. Present teachers may apply for berths, but cannot demand them. The whole process raises complex procedural and even legal issues, not to mention pressure from the powerful teachers' lobby. This may be the biggest roadblock to a smooth transition, which mere money or goodwill cannot remove.


A partial model is offered by the upgrading of Bengal Engineering College, Shibpur. But as one of the very few state-run engineering colleges, Shibpur had a more singular status vis-a-vis both the government and Calcutta University. It also had vastly more land and infrastructure. Presidency will have to steer a trickier course.


The structural problems are compounded by intangible ones which have never been dispassionately assessed. It is simply untrue to say that every teacher at Presidency in pre-Left days was a worthy scholar: there were always some unfit to teach anywhere. The balance was more than redressed by a core staff (largely, though not always, protected from transfer) with learning and research skills unknown in undergraduate colleges elsewhere, and a somewhat higher level of funding. The system was shored up by a network of official privilege and sentimental loyalty that evoked deep resentment in those outside the charmed circle.


That resentment found potent political expression once the Left Front came to power. The transfer policy was intensively applied to bring to the college (a) a few exceptional scholars who had earlier not found favour; (b) some sincere and competent teachers who made best use of the opportunity; and (c) a band of apparatchiks who virtually ran the college for a decade, almost designedly rubbishing its academic needs. Their efforts culminated in a great symbolic drive to abolish admission tests. The move failed, but vitiated and demoralized college life for years. This was when Professor Atin Gun was manhandled in the staff room, and the venerable Professor Amal Raychaudhuri accused of admitting students against bribes.


Presidency was sunk in these self-destructive broils just when the academic scenario was changing radically. It was the most intensive phase of founding and consolidating new universities in India: often with serious defects, but introducing new patterns and purposes that Presidency simply passed by.


What did it thereby lose out on? First, the confidence of its serious teachers and, still more crucially, its potential future teachers. The new universities promised more opportunities and less bureaucracy (on which more below); so, as never before, did non-government colleges. Recruitment to the Government Educational Service has undeniably declined in recent times. Outstanding Presidency alumni no longer think of returning to teach there, and probably could not find berths if they tried. To regain that confidence is no easy task: in the global era, it is hard enough to retain them in India, let alone West Bengal.


This loss of morale also affected infrastructural reform. The efforts of Professor Subrata Datta ensured that at Presidency, even Arts teachers learnt about computers before their compatriots elsewhere; but this was not backed up by upgrading the infrastructure as a whole.


The root problem was, and remains, what we might call mental infrastructure: the mindsets and procedures controlling planning and expenditure. India's education system is hag-ridden by bureaucracy. Even within this prison, the government college occupies a special chamber of little-ease. When I left Presidency in 1991, the principal's financial power in many vital matters was capped at Rs.2,000. As professor-in-charge of the library, I once obtained Rs 8 lakh to buy books but lacked Rs.10 for a pot of glue to label them. The problem is not financial but systemic.


Anecdotes can trivialize, but only by their means can I convey the endemic problems and frustrations of the milieu. In my 19 years at Presidency, I attended just two international conferences. Obtaining the clearances took 54 and 37 visits respectively to Writers' Buildings. Those travelling without clearance were reprimanded and humiliated, threatened with criminal action, or forced to conceal academic distinctions that should be proudly announced. Some rules have now been relaxed, but new curbs put in their place. And needless to say, the problems are multiplied by the clerical incompetence of the secretariat.


Our government colleges are still effectively governed by the Bengal Education Code of 1930, indeed the 19th-century dispensation underlying it: predating the jet plane, the electronic text, information technology, and the concept of collective project-based research. These are the most important of countless innovations that have transformed the academic as most other sectors of life. Their blessings may not be unmixed, but they are radical; more crucially, they are non-negotiable. Some recent teachers at Presidency have made heroic efforts to introduce them, but working against the grain of the system. Their labours have not had proportionate reward.


No institution can mark time: it either advances or declines. By not changing sufficiently in relation to its milieu — which includes other premier institutions in the state — Presidency has effectively fallen back, in ways that cannot be gainsaid by invoking its 'hallowed traditions'. It has a daunting deficit to make good.


University status presents an opportunity. It needs hardcore plans and decisions to back up what is, as yet, no more than a political fiat. I repeat that the search for the right teachers poses the greatest challenge. Guest lecturers and eminent visitors are the icing on the cake: Presidency University must stand or fall by the strength of its core, tenured staff. This is an asset that the government is loath to dispense, even while officials proliferate at the secretariat. Incredibly, the staff strength at Presidency was actually reduced with the introduction of full postgraduate teaching. Many colleges across the land function with two, or one, or no full-time teacher in an Honours department.


Let me close with that reminder of the wider picture: for we must not repeat the folly of thinking that Presidency can flourish by isolating itself from the general scene. (This is not a plea to make it an affiliating university.) Along with many hostile forces, the mush and snobbery of its loyal alumni have played no small part in drawing affliction upon the college. Presidency University can only prosper in interaction with other institutions; above all, as crowning a respectable system of universal schooling that seems no part of the state agenda. A well-staffed Presidency will work little good if there continue to be 60,000 missing teachers in primary schools for poor children. Till those schools provide a student catchment across social divides, elite downstream institutions can only survive by diverting one another's waters. That thought should temper the current bhadralok elation over Presidency.


The author is professor of English, Jadavpur University, Calcutta








The past week was full of events that invariably induce fear and anxiety: serial blasts in Assam, killings in Bengal and ambushes in Jharkhand and Manipur, apart from being the first anniversary of the terror attacks in Mumbai. Characteristically, the powers that be went into an overdrive, triggering off a blame-game and petty exchanges that overlooked the collective psyche of the nameless multitude comprising the world's largest democracy.


That the views of the man on the street are inconsequential is evident at every step. Damodar Tandel, the chairman of the National Federation of Fishermen's Co-operative in Mumbai, was one of the first to tip off the police about the possibility of firearms and terrorists landing on the Maharashtra coast, having been alerted by Devabhai Bhagat, a fisherman from Gujarat. A year later, Tandel lamented, "I passed on the information to DCP Madhukar Kohe. Had the security forces acted promptly, an attack like 26/11 could have been averted."


Since then, one would have expected maritime surveillance to be near foolproof. The Maharashtra government proudly displayed its Force One combat squad and new firearms on Thursday; it has issued identity cards to its fishermen, but it has not been able to match Gujarat's efforts in securing the shoreline. Gujarat has installed a Rs 100 crore tracking and warning system on 10,000 boats. The commendable patrolling by boat and hovercraft along the Kutch coast, with its proximity to Pakistan, must be seen to be believed. Though the terrorists sailed to Mumbai from Porbander, incursions into Gujarat have been kept in check.



Tandel's regret that the police did not act on information deserves scrutiny, given that delayed dissemination of data is one of India's weaknesses. Whether it is an utter lack of cooperation between crack commando units like the NSG and the local police or the army/Unified Command and security agencies, intelligence inputs are seldom acted on. In contrast, in the United States of America after 9/11, the rigorous frisking, especially at airports, while inconveniencing passengers, did manage to deter attacks of similar proportions. As the former Texas police officer, Patricia Spencer, puts it, "This is about intelligence and monitoring suspicious chats on the Net. A great deal of data is obtained from confidential informants as well. Also, the military overseas is constantly working on information."


Once there is synergy between the security and intelligence wings, it should be 'leakproof'. A reporter's craving for a 'scoop' may put national interests at stake. Sometimes, operational data is divulged to the media by politicians and security heads hungry for quick fame, jeopardizing defence strategies and putting thousands of lives at risk. For a country with an unwieldy population, India could use its citizens to act as the eyes and ears of its defence. The problem is the rampant corruption and utter lack of accountability, leading to more hoax calls than genuine alerts. It will require true maturity to prevent our society from living in perpetual fear.


After 9/11, Vamik Volkan, professor of psychiatry, said: "Regression is an inevitable and necessary response to certain levels of trauma, threat or stress." Surely, with a defence modernization allocation of $40 billion (till 2012), India can do better than to allow its citizens turn regressive. We boast of counter-terrorism schools that train foreign soldiers, including US marines. Surely it is not too late to devote our resources to equipping the jawans and police with the skills, weapons and technology that will save their lives and those of our people. After all, candle-lit cathartic exercises do not bring back the dead.







In Bhopal, Uddalak Mukherjee discovers that the State's attempt to influence the people's memory of the gas tragedy has failed, but only for nowTwenty-five years ago, on the night of December 2-3, nearly 41 tonnes of methyl isocyanate were released into the cold night air in Bhopal. The highly toxic chemical had been stored in an underground tank inside the premises of Union Carbide India Limited — a pesticide plant that was a subsidiary of the American multinational organization, Union Carbide Corporation. On that night, the factory had been closed for some urgent repair work. A few days after the accident, it was learnt that faulty maintenance had led to water seeping into the underground tank with its deadly content. The resultant, immensely powerful, exothermic reaction released noxious fumes on a sleeping city. Thirty six of Bhopal's 56 wards were badly affected. The immediate official death toll was put at 2,500, and the number of injured at 600,000. Subsequently, the government acknowledged that nearly 8,000 people had died in the first three days after the disaster. Another 15,000 people have died since, as a result of the fatal after-effects. The Central government has admitted, ipso facto, that the total number of people affected by India's worst industrial disaster is over 574,367.


Recently, the Madhya Pradesh government decided to open the Union Carbide factory to the public for seven days to commemorate 25 years of the incident. The opening of the doors of the doomed site was set to be a symbolic act by which the government hoped to erase the people's memories of a terrible night, and to dispel doubts that the factory was still a repository of toxic waste.


The act of remembering a traumatic event can be a complicated process. Even in a liberal democracy such as ours, sinister attempts are made by the State to influence how people choose to remember events such as the Bhopal gas tragedy. In the course of shaping public memory, the people are made to abandon truths that should never be forgotten. I visited Bhopal in the last week of November to see how a Welfare State goes about its task of tweaking public memory. Some of the people I met in Bhopal are members of the present government, and have been the architects of an intelligent and devious programme meant to represent Bhopal's horror selectively. I also met others — ordinary men and women — who are resisting the State's insidious attempts. This is their story. It is also the story of a city, and perhaps, in the larger context, of a democracy whose future depends on which version of the truth is allowed to prevail in collective memory.


Gaur stated that the government was only trying to assuage the people's feelings. What he didn't say was that this move by the political class was being seen as another endeavour to bury the memories of the State's own failings in relation to the disaster. But burying the truth was proving to be a difficult task, even for an astute politician like Gaur. This is because, in a way, that night in Bhopal has never really ended.

Bhopal's survivors made 2,000,000 visits to medical centres for treatment in 2008 alone, a fact that indicates that people continue to suffer from debilitating health conditions. In February 1989, the Indian government had entered into a settlement in which the Union Carbide Corporation agreed to disburse a sum of Rs 600 crore among 105,000 people at an average of Rs 57,143 per victim at the prevailing value of the rupee. Subsequently, the government found that the number of victims was over 574,367. The paltry compensation offered by the American company could never be enough to sustain the long-term medical costs of the survivors. Moreover, litigations continue to be filed over the non-receipt of compensation.


Gaur pinned the state government's lapses on an inherent weakness in India's federal polity. The Centre, said Gaur, seldom acts on "local" issues such as this one. This lack of political will to engage with the demands and rights of Bhopal's survivors is endemic to India's politicians. Gaur admitted that none of the BJP's central leaders, including L.K. Advani, has shown much interest in this matter. The Congress has proved to be as indifferent as its rival. In 2007, Kamal Nath, a Union minister in the ruling alliance, is said to have written a letter to the prime minister demanding that the cases against Dow Chemicals be dropped. The BJP is in power in Madhya Pradesh, and Gaur, expectedly, promised that he would continue to fight for the victims. Before I left, he told me two more things. He has not forgotten that December night, and that he, too, is its victim.


There are others who remember that fateful night, but for reasons that are different from Gaur's. Qamar Saeed Khan worked as a production supervisor in the MIC unit at the Union Carbide factory. That night, 25 years ago, Khan remembers hearing the sound of sirens first. He had rushed out of his house and seen a white cloud descending slowly over Bhopal, even as people coughed, vomited, and died on the streets. After the accident, the factory was shut down and Khan lost his job. The management denied him his employee benefits. Khan is also critical of the government for failing to establish a transparent mechanism to dole out compensation. He said that he knows of people who had received compensation even though they lived outside Bhopal. Khan's daughter, who was born after the disaster, was detected with a kidney ailment. The former executive now runs a poultry farm to help his family survive.


Not surprisingly, Khan told me things that Gaur could not have, even if he had wanted to. For instance, this is what Khan had to say about the allegations that the factory is contaminated — in the early 1990s, in compliance with the court's orders, a decontamination operation was started inside the factory. Khan, an expert in this field, was involved in the process, and by his estimate, nearly 120 tonnes of contaminated soil had been removed before the operation was stalled. The deeper recesses of the soil in the factory are certainly contaminated, said Khan, and there is a possibility that tonnes of hazardous waste have been left behind in drums inside the premises. I showed him a copy of the DRDO report, and also reminded him how the Union environment and forests minister, Jairam Ramesh, on a visit to the factory, had held a clump of soil, and declared that he was alive. Khan smiled tiredly, and wondered whether Ramesh knew that the residents of Arif Nagar near the factory still complain of a foul smell in the water. Or that livestock have reportedly died after falling into a well inside the factory. Khan's assumptions are consistent with the findings of the Centre for Science and Environment, which has detected unacceptable levels of toxic residues in a three kilometre stretch around the factory. The concentration of the residues, according to the CSE, was 1.1 to 38.6 times higher than the permissible limits.


Some people in Bhopal are also working hard to remind the world what had transpired after the disaster. Abdul Jabbar Khan, the convener of the Bhopal Gas Peedith Mahila Udyog Sangathan, is one such person. For Jabbar, the story that unfolded after the calamity is one of deliberate, institutional failure. For proof, he listed a few of the lapses at every level of State care: health, law and the environment. For instance, despite the apex court's instructions, the state government has not maintained the medical records of the victims, and the medical centres that were established to provide care to the survivors lack the desired infrastructure. In January 2005, a legal notice was issued against Dow Chemicals to appear on behalf of the Union Carbide Corporation in the criminal cases. However, the Madhya Pradesh High Court disposed of the case in five weeks, after ruling in favour of the accused. In 2006, a technical sub-committee of the task force for the removal of toxic waste lying inside the factory had recommended that the waste be transported to the US for treatment. But the state pollution control board is yet to act upon the recommendations of the sub-committee.


It is not enough to remember what has and has not taken place in Bhopal over two-and-a-half decades. There are important lessons that need to be kept in mind from what Bhopal experienced. The gas disaster is an example of the State colluding with a corporate body to exploit its own people. There are many examples of this lethal union between the State and big business in liberalized India: the sale of the Niyamgiri hill, rich in bauxite, to the mining firm, Vedanta, the agreements that have allegedly been signed to extract the minerals from huge swathes in central Indian states, and so on. But Bhopal is unique as it had set a precedent in an urban setting long before the opening of India's markets.

Another message from Bhopal is that in our democracy, the State, at times, acquires a totalitarian edge. The State is invested with supreme powers, and the absence of strong checks and measures means that it may succeed in repressing people, as well as pivotal institutions such as the judiciary, that are supposed to safeguard public interest. Finally, Bhopal also reminds us that the resources the State uses in pursuit of a particular agenda may not be tangible entities, such as the bureaucracy, media or police. It often utilizes intangible resources — public memory, for instance — to succeed in its dishonourable objectives.


After meeting Jabbar, I visited the Union Carbide factory but I was denied entry (I wondered why, considering that the government claims it to be completely safe). From the rusty gate outside, the factory resembled a ghost town. Its yellow walls were covered with slogans protesting against 25 years of injustice, the paint was peeling off its iron gates, and a tower, partially covered by foliage, loomed in the distance. I watched the factory standing among activists who were painting slogans on another wall to mark the occasion. Some local residents had gathered and they, in turn, watched us. Their faces were inscrutable, but I thought I saw in them a sense of resignation.


After my return, I read that the government of Madhya Pradesh had decided against opening the factory. Babulal Gaur had fished out another of his improbable excuses. Municipal elections were scheduled to take place soon, and the electoral code of conduct, apparently, prohibited the government from making "major policy announcements". Perhaps Gaur and the other elected representatives had realized, a little late in the day, that even if they were to open the factory doors, those who had survived that long night are unlikely to forgive or forget.









On this 25th anniversary of the world's worst industrial mishap that occurred in Bhopal — where the US multinational Union Carbide's plant spewed poisonous gas killing over 3,000 people within hours — the wounds still remain unhealed, the conscience guilt-riddled and the tragedy unmitigated. More people died later. The government placed the death toll at over 15,000 while others claimed it could be 25,000. Through the decades the Bhopal tragedy became a symbol of the callousness of industry and the indifference of governments. Union Carbide, which was later taken over by another company, has not accepted responsibility for the mishap. Successive Central and state governments failed to bring justice and succour to the survivors and the kin of the dead. No official of the company or the government whose duty it was to ensure adherence to safety norms has yet been punished.

The compensation paid to the victims has been meagre. The out-of-court settlement between the government and the company went against natural justice and hurt legitimate entitlements. There is still no legal closure of the survivors' claims. Deaths continue and thousands of people continue to seek medical treatment. The government issued health cards to three lakh victims but they do not get proper treatment. There are no case records, no facilities for specialised treatment and even necessary equipment in the hospitals. The medical, economic and social rehabilitation of the victims is far from satisfactory, and a good part of the work was actually by non-government agencies. Toxic substances from the factory and the waste from it have contaminated the soil and ground water. There has been no attempt to redress this.

Listing out the failures and lapses is itself depressing. Long and persistent campaigns have only marginally helped to draw attention to the needs and problems of the victims. Governments have not learnt any lessons from the Bhopal tragedy. Toxic chemicals still endanger the lives of many people and companies and government officials flout the rules and get away with it. A lesson for the people is that human life, especially in poor countries, is at a discount. The powerful can get away with massacre. Governments support and collude with them and are insensitive to the people. The latest example of this insensitivity was the state government's decision to open the Union Carbide factory as a tourist spot. The plan has been shelved for the moment, but what a macabre idea to commemorate a tragedy!








The radioactive contamination of drinking water at the Kaiga Atomic Power Station in Karnataka's Uttara Kannada district lays bare the shoddy safety measures in place at the nuclear power plant. Some 55 employees at Kaiga are reported to have been detected with radiation levels beyond permissible limits during a routine medical check-up. They drank water from a cooler that had been mixed with tritium, a highly radioactive substance. Kaiga authorities claim that it was an act by a disgruntled employee. Some are pointing to the hand of outsiders. Whether the work of an insider or not, the intentional poisoning of water with radioactive substances is deeply worrying. It might be possible for investigators to zero in on who is responsible for the poisoning, thanks to CCTVs. But we need more stringent and foolproof measures to ensure that violation of established protocols and procedures will not be possible in future.

Government officials often point to multi-level security arrangements that are in place at nuclear power plants to underscore how secure they are. But security in nuclear plants has to be tight at all times. Nuclear safety experts have warned in the past that safety is not given the priority it deserves. Workers are discouraged from raising issues regarding their immediate environment and its impact on their health. Issues of importance for safety that are raised are often brushed under the carpet or quickly silenced in the name of national security. It is this culture of silence on safety and security that is undermining our nuclear plants from within.


Authorities of India's Atomic Energy Commission and the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL), which owns the Kaiga plant, have sought to assure employees as well as residents of nearby villages that the situation is under control. They have said that there has been no radiation leak, nor has nuclear material from the plant gone missing. But such statements alone are unlikely to allay apprehensions. Even a single incident or lapse, however minor it might be, shakes public confidence. Kaiga needs to come clean on what happened. Else, conspiracy theories and rumours will abound.









Many newspapers and magazines in India played a notable role in moulding public opinion during the freedom struggle. India, unlike many countries, still has a growing print medium. Television, because of its immediacy and opening of the economy, has rapidly become the more powerful purveyor of news. The internet has yet to take off as a news medium but in time will become important.

The press has developed norms of behaviour — sometimes violated — over its long history. Television and the internet need such norms. All media need independent regulation when content is false, against social norms or the public interest.

The print medium has had a tradition of experienced editors, trained journalists, cross-checking of reports, separating news from opinion, and relatively balanced reporting. However, the growing dominance of the profit motive (dependent on size of circulation) has led to unethical practices by some newspapers. Some papers charge for publishing handouts, pictures of individuals, and favourable reporting. Some have lowered the status of the editor in relation to the marketing management. This has led to looser controls on news quality. But on the whole, print medium remains a bastion of balanced news reporting.

The print medium has in the past investigated and publicised social evils and unacceptable acts: the sale of women in 'Kamla', the Bhagalpur blindings by police, the exposures of the Jain havala, the Telgi fake stamp paper case, and now the expose of Madhu Koda that incriminated well-known politicians and bureaucrats, the Kuo oil scandal are some of the instances.

In a society in which the police are inefficient if not corrupt, the government prosecution very tardy and the judicial process painfully slow, these investigations are valuable in raising issues and bringing at least some cases to justice. However rarely is an exposure followed up over the years to show outcomes. This is necessary.

There are also avoidable mistakes — for example, in the allegations in print that the parents murdered teenager Arushi. But print has been a thorn in the flesh of errant officials. The Right to Information Act will only strengthen their efforts. But they do need conscientious reporters and good editors who insist on getting all reports verified.

Television unlike print is a relatively new medium. It has yet to develop the institutional arrangements, principles and the mores of print. The oldest, leaving aside the unadventurous Doordarshan, is NDTV, also the most objective.


Television lends itself better to 'sting' operations by which some public person is tempted before a hidden camera to commit acts that incriminate him. A sting can be protested as illegal. But if based on good information and exposes an evil, it serves a public purpose when the police investigations favour the rich and powerful.

There are a growing number of entertainment programmes that depict abhorrent social and illegal acts like marriages of under-18s, multiple spouses, etc. 'Reality shows' often allow vulgarity, obscenity and bad behaviour on screens in prime time when families including children, are watching. These must obviously be self-censored and if not, need external regulation.

Television reporting has also effectively exposed and pursued issues that have led to action against the rich and powerful —the Ansal cinema fire that killed many, the Nanda scion who killed people with his speeding BMW and tried to conceal his part in the killings, the Jessica Lall murder case by a politician's son and his subsequent release on parole when many poor prisoners are not given parole, are only some instances in which television brought criminals to justice that they tried to escape from by misusing a corrupt  government system.

In our society which allows the rich and powerful much latitude and active help to escape consequences of their acts, the fourth estate has a socially responsible and necessary role. But the journalists who file the reports must be trained to be sure and have multiple checks to ensure veracity. Editors must ask questions and not merely accept a story as a 'scoop' or as 'breaking news.' Perhaps journalists must be professionally recognised. If they violate a code of ethics they might be disbarred. Media entities must be headed by professional and qualified editors, not businessmen or managers.

Self-regulation in India has been ineffective, as witnessed among accountants, doctors, architects, sports bodies, and others. It is invariably weak, slow and soft. An independent regulatory body that reviews content, lays down a code of behaviour, punishes violations of the code, functions with total transparency, wide consultations, and reasoning, is necessary for all the media and especially television.

This might help avoid the sorry instances of the past when for example, television reporters made mistakes in Kargil and during the 26/11 invasion of the Mumbai hotels and the CST railway station, by their reporting and put the lives of security people in danger.

Training, professional status for journalists in all media, professional editors, an independent regulator, codes of behaviour and ethics whose violations are punished are necessary if media is to play its vital role in our society.








Tehran's furious reaction to fresh demands to halt uranium enrichment and cease construction at a newly revealed nuclear facility near the holy city of Qom was consistent with the country's increasingly erratic behaviour. Iranians are a prickly people, highly susceptible to affronts, and they are particularly upset over pressure to halt nuclear research.

Since India and Pakistan developed nuclear bombs in secret without being subjected to sanctions and threats of military action, Iranians ask why they are targeted when their programme is designed to produce only fuel for power plants. Iran's clerical rulers believe themselves to be cornered and under siege.

Therefore, no one should have been surprised by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's response to a resolution adopted last Friday by the International Atomic Energy Agency castigating Iran for building the Qom facility without informing the agency and pressing Iran to halt uranium enrichment. He said Iran would construct 10 new industrial-scale nuclear facilities and install 5,00,000 centrifuges with the object of producing annually 250-300 tonnes of fuel for power plants. Experts say this is empty talk since Iran does not have funds, technical expertise and equipment to carry out such a scheme.

More serious is the threat that Tehran would consider reducing cooperation with the IAEA which it regards as a tool of the US and its allies. Although Russia, China and India were among the 25 members backing the IAEA resolution, they made it clear they do not support stronger sanctions. While China and India are eager to take part in the development of Iran's energy sector, Russia is engaged in the construction of Iran's sole nuclear power plant at Bushehr.

Why is Iran so determined to maintain its modest nuclear programme? University of Michigan professor Juan Cole argues that Tehran seeks a 'rapid breakout capability' rather than an arsenal of bombs. This means achieving the ability to, in Cole's words, "make a bomb in short order if it is felt absolutely necessary to forestall a foreign attack". This would mean Iran "would have the advantages of deterrence without the disadvantages of a bomb".

Cole believes his theory explains Iran's contradictory behaviour: its rejection of the bomb as 'un-Islamic', cooperation with the IAEA, and the failure of the IAEA to discover "any trace of a weapons programme".

Iran's rejection of the proposal to send most of its low-enriched uranium to Russia for preparation for medical use is explained by Tehran's desire to maintain a stock for a potential bomb if the need arises. Cole contends that the West opposes Iran's drive to achieve "rapid breakout capability" because it would change the balance of power in the region and remove "forcible regime change as an option".

Ahmadinejad's statement coincided with the adoption of legislation allocating $20 million for anti-western militant groups and investigations into US and British conspiracies against the clerical regime.

If the law is approved by the Council of Guardians, the recipients of funding are likely to be the Lebanese Shia Hizbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Washington, in particular, insists that Iran halt aid to these organisations, regarded by the US and Israel as terrorist groups. This law, submitted to the majlis last August, could be Iran's reply to US financing of anti-regime radio and television broadcasts and Kurdish, Baluch and Arab insurgents who have carried out assassinations and staged bombings in ethnic minority areas.

Meanwhile, a US intelligence report revealed that Tehran has boosted its naval capabilities and is reinforcing its naval presence in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian leaders have said that they would "consider closing or controlling the Strait if provoked," the report said.

The detention on Nov 25 by the Iranian navy of a British-crewed sailing yacht that strayed into Iranian waters en route from Bahrain to Dubai showed that the Iranian navy is on the alert and prepared to act against any perceived provocation.

Iran's increasingly assertive behaviour could be a consequence of a three-way power struggle between Ahmadinejad, Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guards Corps or pasdaran.  Gary Sick, a US expert on Iran, holds that the pasdaran carried out a soft coup following the disputed presidential election in June.  In his view, the military is now consolidating its power and could, eventually, install army rule. If Sick is correct, Iran could react to sanctions by providing aid to insurgents in Iraq or encourage Hizbollah and Hamas to resume attacks on Israel.

If Israel makes good on threats to attack Iran's nuclear plants, Tehran could also stir up trouble for US and Nato forces in Afghanistan as well as in strategic Gulf states, particularly Shia majority Bahrain which hosts a major US naval base. Closing the Strait of Hormuz, even for a short period, would shut off the flow of Gulf oil to India and the East as well as to the West, drive oil prices through the roof, and exacerbate the global economic crisis.









The creator is a patron of diversity. No phenomenon in nature is a carbon copy of another. Rain differs from sleet though its genesis is from the same hydrological cycle. Twin-creatures similar in physical form arising from the same fertilised egg split into two, show differences in personality traits. Even fingers of the same palm are not of the same size.

People who are differently abled were created by the same god. Men and women with different features, interests, unique patterns of thinking, quaint individual personalities… Living, pulsating humans with rich life blood coursing their veins, creating different dreams, drives and ambitions. Yet thrown into the same stereotypical category, referred to by the same cruel, grating word 'handicapped'.

Not man, woman, girl, boy, child, merely 'handicapped'.

Affected with a condition which left my lower limbs weak, I have had to wear calipers ever since my infant feet took their first steps. When I grew up enough to comprehend language, my eyes used to burn with tears every time I heard myself being referred to by blunt vernacular versions of the aforementioned H-word used by a child or an insensitive adult.

Life soon taught in its harsh signature style that this was just a tip of the problem — concealed beneath was a whole iceberg of prejudice and discrimination. Childhood saw me ostracised, isolated by peers and irreversibly scarred by the unfair treatment meted out by my so-called teachers in the small town school I attended.

Things improved after we shifted to Bangalore. Good grades in school and college, some worthy teachers and gem-like pals were soothing balm on scars. But sometimes there is still a dearth of peace. Direct it may not be, but discrimination still exists between the lines — in the form of cliched myths that the mainstream entertains about the differently-abled.

Cliche 1: A person with disability has to have superhuman willpower, however trying the circumstances might be. Breaking down once in a while like other humans do is never ever allowed.

Cliche 2: A physically challenged person has to be a paragon of virtues and a model of good, docile behaviour.

Cliche 3: A person with disability has to channelise all energies towards work and career only. And what about the sexual dimension of one's personality? Oh, that shouldn't exist for any intent or purpose however attractive one may be.

On behalf of all the people who are differently abled, I voice my opinion: we require no praise, no censure. Placing us on the pedestal would be unnecessary. Accept us for what we are — normal human beings capable of love, fun, laughter, achievement and yes, even mistakes. After all, aren't we all equal contenders in the race of life?







Israelis would dearly love to see abducted soldier Gilad Schalit safely home, and the entire episode of his cruel captivity finally concluded. That is indisputably the national consensus.


But no similarly overwhelming consensus exists regarding the price which a sovereign responsible government should pay for Schalit's release, given the risks of further kidnappings and killings orchestrated by those Palestinian terrorists who could go free in a prisoner exchange.


Precisely because of widespread concerns over the terms and costs of a deal, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly promised full disclosure and a comprehensive public debate on the specifics of any swap.


Yet precisely the opposite is happening, with the formal sanction, as of this week, of a Supreme Court ruling. Rather than informing the citizenry, whose lives may be on the line because of the number and caliber of convicted killers slated to be let loose imminently, censorship is being employed to prevent us from finding out the specifics - at least until 48 hours before the deal goes into effect, by which time it will be a fait accompli.


Denied information, the Israeli public is being denied the opportunity for open, comprehensive debate on an issue that potentially affects us all.


WE ARE being told, as per the state's November 29 affidavit to the Supreme Court, that the German go-between insists on strict secrecy as the Schalit deal takes final shape, and that leaks would render the Hamas position more extreme and intransigent. Such silence may make sense in the earliest phases of establishing contact; near the finish line, this argument insults our intelligence.


Very little stays hush-hush in these hi-tech times. Snippets of information unpublished here are routinely relayed to foreign news outlets. We are engulfed by truths, half-truths and innuendo anyhow, from tendentious sources in the Arab media and beyond. We don't live in a vacuum.


Besides, can anyone still buy the line that keeping our population in the dark will keep Hamas from adopting yet more uncompromising positions? Why, to take just one example, would an impassioned Israeli debate about the merits of releasing the Fatah Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti, jailed for murder, prompt a raising of the Hamas price?


Surely, if anything, the reverse is true. Surely, the resonance of any public misgivings over such a step would prompt greater Hamas urgency and flexibility over a deal, amid fear that Israeli public pressure would stymie it.


Is the thick veil of secrecy, in fact, intended to prevent Israelis from discovering just how little compromise there has been on Hamas's part and how flexible our government has been? Perhaps, were the full list of arch-murderers about to be freed made public in reasonable time, substantial shock and opposition would be generated to discomfit the government. Perhaps the government fears being caught between two opposing forces of popular pressure.


AS THINGS stand, we are essentially being admonished that there are things we are better off not knowing and that others must be trusted to make our decisions for us. This, of course, is inherently anti-democratic.


It is surprising that the Israeli media - which had been broadly supportive of any deal, until a more balanced debate emerged in recent days - hasn't united against the unwarranted censorship. It violates our elemental rights and goes against journalism's intrinsic logic.


Except in the cases of wartime and actual battlefield action, censorship is an ineffectual and frequently misused relic. Israel's security-oriented censorship regulations comprise 41 articles, dating back to the 1950s and early '60s, many of them somewhat ludicrous nowadays.


The capacity they have to suppress politically sensitive information may have been justified in Israel's infancy, but it cannot be countenanced in this day and age.


The suspicion, in the Schalit affair, is that censorship is not safeguarding a vital national security interest as much as shielding edgy politicians from adverse public opinion.


All Israelis will potentially be affected by the repercussions of a deal to free Schalit - and, for that matter, by a decision not to proceed with such a deal. Whether we agree or not to the price that is being demanded, we have the right to know, in good time, exactly what that price is.








Many of us were deeply disappointed when our prime minister approved a broader settlement freeze than initially envisaged. It is surely bizarre to impose such harsh restrictions for almost a year on major settlement blocs which even the previous US administration had recognized would always remain within Israel. What makes it even more galling is that the Palestinians refused to make any reciprocal gesture, reinforcing the belief that unilateral concessions embolden rather than moderate the radicals.


But before accusing Binyamin Netanyahu of betrayal, lacking the courage to stand up against American pressure, or challenging his integrity, a dispassionate review of the options he faced is warranted. Politics is, after all, the art of the possible.


In making his decision, Netanyahu was obliged to take into account two cardinal elements. Firstly, we are dependent on the United States for our military and technological superiority, without which we would face an abyss. In addition, in the absence of US global support and employment of its veto at the UN, the Europeans would have a free hand to unilaterally approve a Palestinian state which could soon be appropriated by Hamas. Our adversaries could also impose crippling boycotts and other punitive measures against us.


Secondly, the US is one of the very fewremaining countries in which public opinion remains overwhelmingly pro-Israel. Any US administration inclined to adopt policies which would visibly undermine Israel's security would trigger a major backlash from the public.


Yet, despite Netanyahu's repeated denials to the contrary, the "liberal" Obama government is markedly less friendly than recent Democratic and Republican administrations.


That is not to suggest that President Barack Obama hates Israel, as some of his more extreme US critics allege. But he certainly displays a lack of chemistry with Israel. There is also no denying that many of his former intimate political associates and friends were hostile toward Israel. In addition, he has surrounded himself with advisers, some Jewish, whose track records on Israel are disconcerting.


In fact, the Obama administration has been insensitive to some of our most profound concerns and has certainly displayed a penchant to deal much more harshly with Israel than with the Palestinians. Even if motivated by good intentions, this policy has proven to be an abject failure and simply intensified Palestinian intransigence, encouraging them to believe that the US will bring Israel to its knees without requiring any reciprocity on their part. Presumably to impress the Arabs, the administration has also made a point of publicly distancing itself from Israel, even behaving inappropriately toward our prime minister. It is thus no coincidence that Obama's personal standing here is appallingly low. We simply don't have faith in him.


HOWEVER THESE factors and our reliance on the US do not oblige us to behave like a banana republic and accede to every diktat of this administration. We must simply ensure that if we are obliged to resist a particular US demand, it should be over an issue on which Congress and the American people would be inclined to support us.


Alas, the settlement issue has become so convoluted and distorted in the minds of the public that even many American Jews are confused and unable to distinguish between outposts, isolated settlements and the major settlement blocs.


In this environment, in addition to weighing the awesome consequences of a major breakdown with the Americans, Netanyahu was also obliged to take into account the Iranian nuclear threat and the negative fallout from the Goldstone Report.


To his credit, despite walking a diplomatic tightrope, Netanyahu's performance as a statesman has been impeccable - resisting the initially brutal and draconian demands from the US administration while recognizing the danger of being dragged into a confrontation over the settlements which, rightly or wrongly, have become our Achilles' heel among the American public.


In the final arrangement he negotiated, any suggestion that Jerusalem would come under the rubric of settlements was firmly rejected. Housing under current construction would proceed and public requirements such as hospitals, schools, synagogues, etc. would be maintained.


Netanyahu's action should not be viewed in isolation. It is only the first in a highly complex series of negotiations. The ball is now in the Palestinian court. Should they come to their senses and renew negotiations, in their present frame of mind they will undoubtedly be making demands which we will be obliged to reject. These will include the Arab right of return, the status of Jerusalem and possibly a role for Hamas.


A deadlock will also ensue should the Palestinians reject the stipulation in Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan address that Israel retain defensible borders or refuse to undertake that a Palestinian state be demilitarized.


In the immediate short term we must also demand that real action be taken toward dismantling the terrorist entities and ending anti-Semitic incitement. Should the Obama administration try to pressure us to compromise on these issues, we will be obliged to resist and, as a last resort, appeal for support from Congress and the American people. But we would be in a much stronger position to generate public support on such issues than on the settlements.


It was to be expected that the settlers, concerned about their homes and livelihoods, and others would be deeply distressed and would fiercely criticize Netanyahu. However they must resist indulging in character assassination and defamation of the prime minister or fanning hysteria among those who do not comprehend the highly complex issues at stake.


DESPITE UNDERSTANDABLE bitterness and frustration, opponents of the freeze should take into account that Netanyahu's action is not unprecedented. Menachem Begin also introduced a three-month freeze on settlement construction when he initiated negotiations with Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. They should also ask themselves why men of principle from the national camp like Moshe Ya'alon and Bennie Begin have endorsed Netanyahu. And opponents of the freeze should be wary and remember how their predecessors undermined a previous politically moderate government, which led to disastrous consequences for the entire nation.


It has frequently been stated that Israel will only be able to make peace under a right-wing government. The fact that despite this painful decision, Netanyahu enjoys the support of the vast majority of the population is an affirmation of this adage.


But there are difficult days ahead. The prospects for a Palestinian state which would genuinely make peace with us are more remote than ever. If the Palestinians once again shoot themselves in the foot and refuse to negotiate, the suspension of the freeze should be reviewed and the Obama administration will hopefully cease pressuring us for more unilateral concessions.


On the other hand, if negotiations are resumed and the Obama administration backs Palestinian demands which undermine our long-term security, our resolve and ability to stand firm will be put to the test. Ideally, such a situation would warrant a unity government. However if our dysfunctional political system inhibits this, we the people should seek to empower our government by enabling it to demonstrate that it enjoys the support of the bulk of the nation.







With the start of his trial earlier this week in Germany, the saga of Nazi guard John Demjanjuk is finally nearing an end.


Sixteen years after Israel's Supreme Court overturned his conviction for war crimes and allowed him to walk free, this Ukrainian-born fiend, who is said to have voluntarily joined the SS, will at last be made to pay for his involvement in unspeakable acts of horror at the Sobibor death camp in 1943.


"As a guard, he took part in all the various parts of the extermination process after the deportation trains arrived," said German prosecutor Hans-Joachim Lutz, as he read the 10-page indictment on Monday. "He willingly participated in the killing of the Jews because he wanted them dead for his own racist ideological reasons," Lutz told the court, noting that the defendant unloaded Jews from trains arriving at Sobibor, undressed them and herded them directly to their deaths in the gas chambers.


As a result, Demjanjuk is accused of having aided in the murder of 27,900 Jewish souls - men, women and children - enough to fill a small stadium. If found guilty, he could face 15 years in prison which, given his age of 89, would amount to a death sentence.


Though more than 60 years have passed since the Holocaust, there is something reassuring about the fact that its perpetrators are still being made to answer for their actions. Normally speaking, the way of the world is to move on and forget. As Cervantes wrote in Don Quixote: "There is no remembrance which time does not obliterate." But the Demjanjuk trial proves once again that the atrocities inflicted on our people in the killing fields of Europe have not become just a stale detail of history.


THIS, AT least in part, is thanks to the unwavering efforts of Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Wiesenthal Center, whose determination has kept the quest for justice very much alive. Zuroff and his organization deserve our collective thanks for cajoling various European governments into remembering not to forget.


Fortunately, Demjanjuk's trial will also serve as an important educational tool for a new generation of Germans. It will help to inform them about what their forefathers did to the Jewish people, and remind them of the everlasting debt they owe to our nation.


At a time when Europe is turning increasingly hostile both to Jews and to Israel, this is a lesson which bears reinforcing again and again.


And yet, despite it all, I can't help but feel that there is something deeply unsettling about this trial.


Not because of Demjanjuk's age or alleged infirmity, which some observers have suggested be taken into account. Only a misplaced sense of morality could presuppose that such factors should have any bearing on the case against a man who took part in mass murder.


Nor do questions of legal technicality, or the years of proceedings that Demjanjuk has undergone, bother me in the least. The pursuit of justice against those who murdered Jews must know no boundaries of time.


More fundamentally, it is the location of this tribunal that disturbs me. With all due respect to the German prosecutor, the trial of John Demjanjuk should have taken place in Jerusalem and not in Munich.


Jump back to July 1993. After Demjanjuk had been found guilty of being the infamous killer dubbed "Ivan the Terrible" of Treblinka, his lawyers appealed to Israel's Supreme Court. The justices ruled that the case had not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt, so they set aside the conviction.


But in their decision, the justices also declared that even if Demjanjuk was not "Ivan the Terrible," he had clearly done some terrible things.


They found there to be "overwhelming evidence" that Demjanjuk had "participated in murder" at Sobibor, which are the very charges he is now facing in Germany. And the justices also noted that he had been a member of the SS Wachmanner, "whose purpose was murder and whose objective was genocide and whose like is unknown in the history of humanity."


Nonetheless, then-attorney-general Yosef Harish turned down pleas from Holocaust survivors and Knesset members alike, and refused to retry Demjanjuk for his crimes at Sobibor. Various petitioners immediately turned to the Supreme Court in an attempt to force Harish's hand before Demjanjuk left the country.


Astonishingly, at the hearings, the state's representative, Nili Arad, told the justices that Israel would not pursue further legal proceedings against Demjanjuk, claiming "it is not in the public interest for this man to be put on trial." The justices refused to intervene, sadly demonstrating that a court of law is not always necessarily a court of justice. Shortly thereafter, Demjanjuk returned home to Cleveland a free man.


In other words, the State of Israel knowingly and willfully allowed a participant in the Nazi murder machine to escape prosecution in Jerusalem, leaving it to others to do the job.


This was nothing less than a disgrace. There was clearly enough evidence to justify putting the Sadist of Sobibor on trial in Israel at the time, but politics and public relations appear to have gotten in the way.


And so it took another 16 years to get Demjanjuk back into a courtroom for his evil deeds. Who knows how many of those he tormented may have died in the interim, going to their graves without seeing justice done.


Like others, I will follow the Demjanjuk trial through the press in the coming weeks and months, hoping and praying that he gets his due. But the sense of bitterness and disappointment is still there.


Israel had this murderer in its hands, and instead we let him go. And for that, there can be no forgiveness.








The primary role of civil society is to "give voice" to ordinary citizens and ensure that government officials hear from those most affected by their decisions. The ability of citizens to inform public policy is the hallmark of any democracy, including Israel. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can be at the vanguard of democracy and pluralism, promoting the values of free and open debate.


Therefore, it was striking that some of the most prominent Israeli NGOs boycotted the December 1st Knesset conference on "Foreign Government Funding for NGO Political Activity in Israel." The agenda included the political, diplomatic and legal issues raised by the phenomenon of NGOs which receive tens of millions of shekels from foreign governments, often without the knowledge of the Israeli government and public. Legislative proposals were also considered.


Minister Michael Eitan and MK Zeev Elkin invited officials from Israeli NGOs to speak at the conference, in order to include representation from groups that would be affected by future legislation. B'Tselem, the Association for Civil Right in Israel (ACRI), and Adalah receive millions in European government support. These NGOs have a vested interest in making their voices heard, and they were given an open platform.


But they refused to attend. Instead, NGOs and their allies initiated a campaign to delegitimize the conference and silence its organizers. They pressed MKs like Daniel Ben-Simon to cancel participation in the event, and wrote angry op-eds in The Jerusalem Post (David Newman) and Ha'aretz (Didi Remez). Reflecting the pervasive secrecy and lack of full disclosure, Remez did not reveal that he works for Ben-Or Communications. In this role, he has a direct and personal interest in many of the organizations he was defending: the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), Bimkom, Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I), and Yesh Din.


These over-the-top reactions and silencing of critics reflect the "democracy deficit" and secretive nature of human rights NGOs in general. This trend is more pronounced among Israeli groups that rely heavily on foreign government funding.


THE ACTIVITIES of these organizations embody the narrow political goals of a few ideologues and their European backers. These opposition groups cannot claim to be rooted in Israeli civil society when they are funded by the EU and various European governments (including Switzerland and Norway).


When Ir Amim lobbies on Jerusalem or Yesh Din initiates dozens of court cases against government policy, whose interests are being represented? Money talks, and in these examples, the governmental sponsors come from the EU, UK, Netherlands, and Norway. This highly problematic foreign funding is a "back door" for European governments to influence Israeli policy, in sharp contrast to legitimate diplomatic means.


The target audiences for the foreign-funded Israeli NGOs are increasingly located outside of Israel. B'Tselem's Washington and London representatives lobbied intensively on behalf of the Goldstone Report. And Breaking the Silence's "testimonies" alleging Israeli war crimes were featured in numerous United Nations submissions, university campus tours, and international media articles. These anti-Israel campaigns are accompanied by avoidance of any potentially critical discourse - as seen in the boycott of the Knesset conference.


Similarly, David Newman's ideological attack on NGO Monitor is based on straw-man arguments and reflects his personal bias. There is an obvious reason why our detailed report did not address right-wing groups: European governments only fund NGOs from a narrow segment of Israel's political spectrum. Given this imbalance, the attempts by European governments to manipulate Israeli policy are brought into sharp focus. Certainly, the question of Diaspora support for organizations that represent the Right and the Left is important and should be given separate attention. But, that issue was not at stake in the Knesset event.


Ironically, those that claim to defend human rights do so by stifling criticism and free expression. In contrast, NGO Monitor promotes transparency, critical analysis, and debate. On this issue, officials of the NGOs that benefit from this foreign largesse may be correct - public disclosure and debate will not help them promote their ideologies or biases. NGOs have long been shielded by the "halo effect," which allows their reports to be taken at face value, and now believe that they should be immune from all criticism and investigation.


Unfortunately, in eschewing substantive dialogue and delegitimizing those who disagree with or criticize them, the NGOs weaken the very democratic processes that they claim to promote.


The writer is the managing editor of NGO Monitor.








What if a publication ran an article on the 9/11 atrocities by a reputable historian alongside another claiming it was a CIA-Mossad inside job? Or published an article on the Holocaust by, say, Yehuda Bauer next to another by denier David Irving? Or juxtaposed an article explaining that the Earth orbits the sun with another decrying Galileo as a dangerous heretic?


"Crazy," "nuts" and "outrageous" are some of the impolitic words that come to mind. A more academic term might be "epistemologically challenged" - that is, unable to distinguish truth from falsehood or the credible from the outlandish. It is this grave condition which currently afflicts one of the leading academic publishers in the US.


In 2008, Macmillan Reference USA, a division of Gale, Cengage Learning, published its Encyclopedia of Race and Racism, a three-volume affair covering everything from inner-city riots in the US to pseudo-scientific theories about race. Among the dozens of articles was an entry on "Zionism" penned by Noel Ignatiev, a far-left American academic. Ignatiev does not have a pedigree in Middle Eastern politics or Jewish history. What he does have is an intense hatred for Israel.


His article faithfully recycled the kinds of canards about Zionism which used to appear in those grubby pamphlets issued by official Soviet publishers in the 1960s and 1970s, with titles like "Beware! Zionism." In keeping with his Soviet precursors, Ignatiev depicted Zionism as an ideology of racial superiority akin to Nazism, accused Zionist leaders of collaborating with the Nazis, and portrayed Israel's 1947-48 War of Independence as one long episode of ethnic cleansing.


NOT SURPRISINGLY, a major public controversy followed the appearance of his entry on Zionism, with articles in the Jewish press and on countless blogs. The American Jewish Committee sent a detailed memo to Gale Publishing explaining the myriad flaws in Ignatiev's piece, and joined with other Jewish groups and prominent academics in urging that the entry be pulled. Last December, at the height of the row, Gale executives responsible for the encyclopedia visited AJC to discuss how the matter might be resolved.


It was a courteous, if inconclusive encounter. The executives acknowledged that the entry was an embarrassment. They implied that its publication had been a regrettable oversight. They proposed issuing additional material to counter both Ignatiev's distortions and to correct the impression that the editors regarded Zionism as the only form of nationalism worth examining in a publication about racism.


On the key matter of pulling the article, they were reluctant to commit either way, but their body language suggested to us that Ignatiev's piece would remain undisturbed.


Nearly a year later, Gale has instituted an absurd compromise whereby Ignatiev's unedited entry sits alongside a far superior contribution by an Israeli academic, Uriel Abulof. Those familiar with Zionist history will doubtless find areas of disagreement with Abulof, but the point is that his article is thoughtful and well-researched. His bibliography includes Ze'ev Sternhell and Arthur Hertzberg, whereas Ignatiev relies on the likes of fringe writers such as Lenni Brenner and Moshe Menuhin, author of The Decadence of Judaism in Our Time. By juxtaposing Abulof with Ignatiev, Gale has devalued Abulof's contribution and wiped out the very clear line which separates scholarship from propaganda.


It's important to recall that we are talking aboutan encyclopedia, not a collection of opinionated essays. "The purpose of an encyclopedia," wrote the French philosopher Diderot, who devoted himself to assembling the great work of the French Enlightenment called the Encyclopédie, "is to collect knowledge disseminated around the globe."


An encyclopedia is not, therefore, Counterpunch, the frequently anti-Semitic on-line magazine to which Ignatiev has also contributed, or Race Traitor, the strange on-line journal he started. One turns to an encyclopedia for an overview, a dispassionate account of the development of a particular subject, a summation of its key controversies.


If an encyclopedia can be opened up to someone like Ignatiev, then why not also include a Holocaust denial outfit like the Institute for Historical Review, which views itself as heroically confronting the shibboleths of World War II?


This is a question which Gale's executives are now obliged to answer. They might also ponder why they could not bring themselves to bravely and publicly admit that they made a mistake, instead of allowing the Encylopedia of Race and Racism to promote exactly the sort of crude bigotry which its other entries disdain.


The writer is the American Jewish Committee's associate director of communications.








The settler leaders' lawless behavior after the decision to temporarily and partially freeze settlement construction in the West Bank reminds us of Defense Minister Ehud Barak's metaphor of a "villa in the jungle" to describe Israel's place in the region. Only a few kilometers from Tel Aviv, the laws of democracy give way to the law of the jungle. Once again it turns out that only an ultra-thin layer separates the rebels and tree cutters in the illegal outposts from the core of the settler establishment.

The heads of the settlements' local councils, who receive their salaries from the public coffers to enforce the law, have taken the lead in the fight against the government. Senior public officials who block Civil Administration inspectors from entering their settlements and who threaten to continue building during the freeze are acting as if they were on their own private estates. This is why Talia Sasson, in her March 2005 report on the outposts, described the regional-council heads as the "moving force" behind the establishment and development of illegal outposts; her recommendations have still not been implemented.

But nothing could have moved in the illegal outposts without the support of the highest political levels, as Sasson wrote in her report. Through approvals, financing and glances the other way, the message trickled down to the lower levels of the civil service and army. The words of the Civil Administration officer who presented the freeze order to Shomron Regional Council head Gershon Mesika before Mesika proudly threw the order in the trash speak for themselves. The uniformed officer said he "apologizes for the contents of the document." The ministers of transportation and environmental protection acted the same way Wednesday when they refused to send out inspectors to help enforce the freeze.



The highest authority for enforcing the law in the territories and implementing the cabinet decision is the defense minister. Barak must order Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi and the head of the Civil Administration to take all legal measures to implement the cabinet's decision to freeze construction in the settlements. The criminal council heads must be arrested and put on trial; this would show that enforcing the law does not stop at the Green Line.

A government that demands that the Palestinian Authority ensure law and order among the Palestinians in the West Bank is not allowed to be sympathetic to the organized lawlessness of the Jewish residents there.








Benjamin Netanyahu made history twice. The first time was when he adopted the two-state solution in his Bar-Ilan speech, and the second was when he decided last week to freeze settlement construction. The Palestinians dismiss his steps and the Europeans say they're not enough. The skeptics are skeptical and the cynics are cynical. But the truth is that Netanyahu circa 2009 is situating himself to the left of Yitzhak Rabin circa 1995.

Unlike Rabin, Netanyahu now accepts the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state. Unlike Rabin, he is issuing orders prohibiting construction throughout the Jewish West Bank. Netanyahu has crossed the Rubicon, on both ideological and practical levels, and reinvented himself as a centrist.

At the beginning of this decade, Ariel Sharon underwent a similar process, with the road map his equivalent of Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech. The road map expressed his support for the two-state concept, while insisting that essential basic conditions be fulfilled before the establishment of a Palestinian state.


But a short time after accepting the road map, Sharon revealed that its trails led to a dead end. No Palestinians met the basic conditions, no Palestinians were capable of signing a final-status agreement, no Palestinians had the power to implement peace. When the father of the settlements finally came out in favor of dividing the land, it turned out that there were no Palestinian leaders likewise committed to dividing the land.

Thus was the disengagement born. Although Sharon was aware of its flaws, he realized that disengagement was the only plan of action a centrist Israeli leader could advance without a real partner for real peace.

Six years later, Netanyahu has reached the exact same point. He accepts the principle of two states, and receives no response. He suspends construction in the settlements, and is rejected. He courts Mahmoud Abbas, and is disparaged. The son of Ze'ev Jabotinsky's personal secretary wants a historic reconciliation with the Palestinians, and the Palestinians are slamming the door. He is offering the Palestinian national movement negotiations over the establishment of a Palestinian nation-state, and has found that there's no one to talk to and nothing to talk about. Zilch. A brick wall.

Few people are close to the prime minister, but among the few who are, some say he has indeed undergone a turnabout. Israel's might, not the settlements or the settlers, is his top priority. Therefore, had there been a proposal on the table assuring Israel's security in exchange for a painful withdrawal, Netanyahu would not hesitate. The tragedy is that there is no such offer - and no such table. Negotiations haven't even begun. Abbas isn't giving Netanyahu anything he can use to put the centrist worldview he has adopted into action.

Under such circumstances, Netanyahu has two options. One is Shaul Mofaz's plan: the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders. The second is Disengagement II: the evacuation of about 20 West Bank settlements and their transfer to the Fayyad government. The Mofaz plan has major advantages, but it makes Netanyahu fear unlimited and unrestrained Palestinian sovereignty. This means he might be forced to seriously consider the other option. We can't rule out that in 2010 Netanyahu will find himself pushing a limited withdrawal, just as Sharon did in 2004 and 2005.

Disengagement II will have to be completely different from its predecessor. It will have to be coordinated with the Palestinian Authority and granted European support, and it will have to turn the evacuated area into an economic prosperity zone. It will need to prevent Palestinians from smuggling in weapons and increasing their military might, and must assure Israel's right to self-defense. Such a plan would have to be part of an overall strategic outlook that pushes both peoples toward peace through measured, circumspect and coordinated unilateral steps. A second disengagement would have to be an improved version of the first, a plan with a political dimension and an economic depth that would strengthen the moderates - Palestinians as well as Israelis.

If the prime minister dares to go forward with Disengagement II, things would be easier for Israel on all fronts. It would help Netanyahu in domestic politics, just as the first disengagement helped Sharon, and it would turn the prime minister into the new leader of the Israeli center.







We heard a vague voice from the past yesterday: Tzipi Livni sent a letter. We haven't heard from her for months, but here she is. Kadima's leader sent a letter to Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, as if to remind us of her existence. The letter is worthless and misleading. Livni calls on the European Union to refrain from taking steps regarding Jerusalem, which would be seen as "an attempt to prejudge the outcome of issues reserved for permanent-status negotiations." As if Israel had not unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem and is not continually housing more settlers there - Livni of course doesn't consider that "an attempt to prejudge."

But this hollow propagandistic letter should be set aside and we should listen to the oppressive and disgraceful silence of our main opposition party. Livni's letter only emphasizes the vacuum.

She could have sent the letter as a foreign minister in Benjamin Netanyahu's government. We don't need an opposition party for that. But Livni chose not to join the government, a move that stirred a great deal of admiration, in me at least. She said her choice was based on ideology and values, but eight months after the government formed we are left without an opposition. So it was all a fraud.

Israel's largest party is betraying the role it took up voluntarily. It would even be preferable to have an opportunistic Kadima in the government; at least it wouldn't be camouflaged. With the nonexistent Meretz and the disappearing Labor Party, Netanyahu is the leader of the left as well as the right; to his left is an emptiness and a great silence above the abyss.

Her majesty's opposition has lost its voice and disappeared. With the exception of the dramatic change in her external appearance, Livni has gone underground like her father in his day, during the Mandate. Should we or shouldn't we freeze the settlements? Silence. Should we or shouldn't we go through with the Shalit deal? No answer. Should we or shouldn't we release Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti? Nothing at all.

This oppressive silence has been broken recently only by the pretender to the throne, Shaul Mofaz, who released another useless diplomatic plan without bothering to meet first with even a single Palestinian. He was only seeking attention, not bypassing the government on the left. Two days ago he said the settlement blocs are "a strategic asset for the State of Israel" and the settlement freeze is "a mistake of the first magnitude." With great difficulty Mofaz muttered something about the need to abide by the government's decision, referring to the settlers' revolt. We don't need an opposition for that either; that can be done from within the cabinet.

That is how Kadima stole the left's votes. Tens of thousands of naive (and foolish) people gave their votes to the "center" party, which is not centrist but clearly right-wing, like the entire imaginary Israeli center. In what way is Kadima's Tzachi Hanegbi preferable to Likud's Gideon Sa'ar for voters who deserted Labor and Meretz for the party of the Great White Hope? Why is Mofaz preferable to Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and in what way is Livni better than Netanyahu?

Instead of isolating itself in the opposition, Kadima blurred itself into oblivion. It's true that with his vain words Netanyahu pulled the dubious ideological rug out from under Kadima - after all, hollow talk about two states is what Kadima does - but Netanyahu went one step further and declared a construction freeze in the settlements, even if a temporary and absurd one. When Kadima was in the government it didn't do even that.

This is the last chance for Kadima to make clear its uniqueness, if it exists, or to admit an absence of such uniqueness and join the government. Livni has chosen: neither this nor that. She is cloaking herself in silence and waiting for better days.

But those days will not come, unless Netanyahu fails. Meanwhile, Kadima could have acted. Instead of writing letters to Sweden about Jerusalem, Livni could have visited Jerusalem, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan and presented an alternative. But nothing. adima's ambitions have shrunk to one issue only: Livni and Mofaz both want to be prime minister. That's nice. What will they do differently from Netanyahu? Not a thing, except for scattering smiles and promises to the world, which for no reason is fond of Livni. As in the "find the hidden object" pictures for children, you are invited to search: Where is the opposition? Hint: It's hiding in the junkyard.







The day after his electoral victory in 1977, Menachem Begin came to the settlement of Kedumim and, referring to another settlement, declared, "Many Elon Morehs will be established." Rabbi Moshe Levinger, deeply moved, responded with his own announcement: We are depositing the settlement portfolio into your hands, Mr. Prime Minister. But Begin, whether because he personally was never involved in settlement or because he had already begun to crumble under pressure, did not meet these expectations.

Thirty years ago this month, the Yesha Council of settlements was set up. Not long after its establishment, Begin returned from one of his frequent visits with U.S. president Jimmy Carter - many of which were superfluous and merely invited pressure - and announced a settlement freeze. The freeze, especially coming from Begin, aroused the settlers' wrath. The new council began to take energetic measures, including nonstop demonstrations, political pressure, personal visits to veteran members of Begin's Herut movement and a prolonged (and genuine) hunger strike.

At its height, Begin invited the striking council leaders for a meeting. "I promised Carter to freeze [construction]," he explained, with genuine sorrow on his face, "and a prime minister must keep his promises."

"But before that you promised the people of Israel to establish many Elon Morehs," one of his guests pointed out. And Begin, always ready with a sharp retort, fell silent.

The settlers' determined struggle led not only to the gradual abolition of the freeze but also to soul-searching among their supporters: If a freeze was possible under Begin, who knows what might happen if Likud were not in power? And thus, as settlement activists began combing every city and neighborhood in search of new settlers, the great settlement boom of the 1980s began. It was this surge - and not necessarily the pioneering but closed settlements established by Gush Emunim - that created irreversible facts on the ground that even the construction freezes and loss of life that followed the Oslo Accords could not defeat.

Even during the worst periods of terror, the settlement movement had reserves of young people who provided revitalizing reinforcement to the veteran settlements. And this was happening at a time when the kibbutz movement - most members of which joined the battle against settlement in Judea, Samaria and Gaza - was already in an advanced stage of calcification on the ideological and, as a result, on the human level.

This vitality - the consolidation of a generation that will constitute another link in the chain - is what those enforcing the freeze are now seeking to crush. There is no other explanation. Benjamin Netanyahu, though he does not share the desire to destroy the settlement enterprise, lacks the strength of character to abide by his promise to resume construction in another 10 months. The U.S. administration, the Europeans and the settlements' domestic foes (whose activity against the settlements and the Netanyahu government is financed by European money) will not let him.

They understand that in the long run, if there is no place in the veteran settlements for young people, these settlements will eventually die. And therefore there will be no need to uproot settlers by force - something that after Gush Katif even they realize no Israeli government will be capable of doing.

The freeze has outraged residents of central Israeli towns like Givat Shmuel and Petah Tikva no less than Begin's freeze a generation ago outraged settlement supporters in Tel Aviv and Ramat Gan. Thus if those leading the struggle make do with unfreezing a few hundred building permits, or even more, they have been graced with neither strategic vision nor an understanding of history.

The time has come for them to elevate themselves from mere settlement activists - an important job in normal days - to leaders of a movement. The freeze, which a priori appears detrimental, actually presents them with a positive challenge: to reinvigorate the drive and capacity for achievement of the movement that succeeded in reviving Israel's pioneering spirit.







At a "seminar" conducted on the eve of the state's founding, David Ben-Gurion discovered that the Haganah's method of fighting gangs during the Arab riots was not suited for the expected invasion of the country by Arab armies. Bypassing the Haganah's General Staff, which had not internalized the change, Ben-Gurion organized the arms purchase that made possible the victory in the War of Independence.

Six decades later, Israel is trapped in a similar asymmetry: It has a light and mobile army designed to confront other countries' mobile armies by carrying out "a swift transfer of the war to the other side." Rival armies are to be surrounded near their capitals and threatened with destruction if Israel's conditions for ending a war are not accepted. But today Israel is being threatened by stationary armies of countries and terror organizations prepared to fire huge quantities of rockets and missiles from fortified positions. According to Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, this will force Israel to use its army in long drawn-out battles with large numbers of casualties, both soldiers and civilians.

The Second Lebanon War was based on the naive assumption that surprising Hezbollah with breathtaking aerial maneuvers, without a ground operation, would cause shock and awe that would deter and end the rocket fire. In Operation Cast Lead, an intermediate doctrine was tried combining the pinpoint destruction of sources of fire with airstrikes designed to sow fear; we would also achieve deterrence and domination of the launching areas. As in Lebanon, the war in Gaza became drawn-out and the threat was not removed.

The lesson is clear: The rockets, their location and the cynical use of civilians on both sides as hostages has made the operational concept of the Israel Defense Forces, like that of the Haganah before the War of Independence, irrelevant to the threat. We have to return to the "seminar."

Israel cannot sacrifice hundreds of its soldiers in drawn-out battles. There is no point in returning to the myth that has failed, to the effect that psychological pressure will achieve deterrence without a decisive victory, destroying the enemy's ability to fight. Israel must not "protect itself to death" and spend a fortune protecting the home front while enlarging and overprotecting the ground forces, turning them into an army liable to collapse. We surely mustn't reconcile ourselves to the prediction that in the next war more civilians than soldiers will be harmed.

Israel must neutralize the doctrine being used against it with a doctrine of its own. Instead of slow and targeted destruction of individual launchers, we need to systematically bomb launch areas to destroy most of the launchers, weapons and the people firing - after a preliminary warning is issued to civilians, as is required. Ground forces will be used after we bomb the area, if controlling it is essential, and only after the maximum destruction of positions and tunnels by firing from a distance. Implementing this doctrine will require tremendous firepower, and top priority must be given to acquiring the necessary aircraft and ammunition. The technological challenge is negligible compared to the ethical and legal problems created by the new doctrine. During the discussion on ethics at the "seminar," it is vital to remember that Israel's adherence to the checks and constraints chosen by its civilized society, while its rivals have eschewed such constraints, might turn out to be a mechanism for self-destruction. On the ethical issue it is also worthwhile to cite Ben-Gurion, who said that if you must place all the moral values on one side and the nation's requirements for existence on the other, security issues take precedent. Because if there is no physical existence there is no moral existence.

The writer is a senior lecturer on strategy at Ashkelon Academic College.







To be a success, the White House job summit on Thursday must do more than put ideas on the table. It must produce an agenda for creating jobs.


Americans need to know how the administration plans to reduce a 10.2 percent unemployment rate — a 26-year high and rising. They need to know how the government will foster hiring and help replace the eight million jobs eliminated so far in two years of recession. Economic growth alone cannot repair damage that severe.


First, President Obama must change the terms of the debate. When he announced the job meeting last month, Mr. Obama said he was determined to meet the "great challenge" of unemployment. In the next breath, he tried to dampen expectations, warning of the "limits to what government can do and should do." He said he was open to "responsible" and "demonstrably good" ideas to create jobs. It would be tragic if that pre-empts bold ones.


Mr. Obama's mixed message in the teeth of a crisis seems intended to appease Republicans and conservative Democrats who argue that federal budget deficits preclude more aid to combat rising unemployment. The argument is wrong, and giving it credence puts politics ahead of Americans' needs.


Mr. Obama must instead make the case that the immediate need for more federal help trumps the longer-term need for deficit reduction; otherwise, the economy is in for a self-reinforcing stretch of joblessness that would cost more in the end than additional spending today. Mr. Obama should detail separate plans for taming the deficit — including ironclad commitments to pay for health care reform. What he must not do is continue to conflate the need for job creation with the need for deficit reduction to the detriment of jobs.


Once job creation has the priority status it deserves, the next step is to build on proven programs and add new ones to address the scale and nature of joblessness.


Unemployment benefits are crucial to preserving and creating jobs because they provide spending money that would otherwise be missing from the economy. A first order of business must be to extend the package of jobless benefits that passed in early 2009 and is scheduled to expire at the end of this year. Similarly, with state budgets in critical condition, another round of fiscal relief is needed. Such aid is funneled quickly to employees, beneficiaries and contractors and helps to stave off tax increases and spending cuts.


Beyond that, the government must tackle direct job creation. A $10 billion program to build and renovate schools that was cut at the last minute from this year's stimulus bill should be resurrected. Passage of the transportation bill and the clean-water bill, currently before Congress, are also important for job creation because they provide financing for specific projects.


With unemployment among 16- to 24-year-olds at 19 percent, direct job creation must also provide entry-level and generally low-skilled jobs, such as repair and maintenance work at local, state and federal parks and other public venues. Pragmatism should guide whether money for the projects is funneled through local or state governments, nonprofits or federal agencies.


There are several suggestions for how to help pay for job projects, such as a financial transactions tax on Wall Street and redeploying money from the bank bailout to small business lending. An aim should be to identify financing sources that will phase in over time as the economy strengthens.


A successful summit will position Mr. Obama well to use the State of the Union address in January to focus on even larger public and private investments that will be necessary to develop the new industries and new technologies that will be the basis for good jobs at good pay.







The New York State Senate held an emotional debate on Wednesday in which there was talk of belief and conscience and eloquent reminders of earlier civil rights struggles. It then took a stand against equality and fairness.


By a 38-to-24 vote, lawmakers chose to continue the state's discrimination against couples who want to get married and simply happen to be the same sex.


Like Gov. David Paterson and advocates who pressed for the vote, we had hoped a sufficient number of senators would do the right thing when required to take a stand. In the end, though, not a single Republican possessed the courage or sense of justice to depart from an obsolete and narrow-minded party line, even the handful who had indicated that they might.


Also succumbing to what Senator Thomas Duane, a Democrat of Manhattan, called "contagious lack of backbone" were eight Democrats: Joseph Addabbo Jr., Darrel Aubertine, Rubén Díaz Sr., Shirley Huntley, Carl Kruger, Hiram Monserrate, George Onorato and William Stachowski.


Mr. Paterson was right to insist on the vote during the current special session, but he was too weak to get the job done. The Democratic Senate leaders — John Sampson of Brooklyn, Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx, and Malcolm Smith of Queens — also failed to deliver.


Beyond any ideological divide, the disappointing result, which is at odds with the sentiment of the majority voters registered in recent opinion polls, is yet another sign of Albany's ongoing squabbling and dysfunction.


The defeat was particularly stinging on the heels of last month's narrow approval in Maine of a referendum to block same-sex marriage and a vote last year in California overturning a State Supreme Court decision that acknowledged the right of same-sex couples to marry.


The heartening news was that the day before the disappointing Albany result, the City Council in Washington, D.C., approved a marriage-equality bill by a wide margin. A second vote is still needed, but it now appears likely that marriage equality will become the law in the nation's capital — barring improper interference from Congress. We remain hopeful that once fair-minded New Yorkers have a chance to digest Albany's insult on Wednesday to some American families, they will raise their voices and insist on another vote — and this time there will be a just outcome.







This farm lies on an eastward-facing slope, which rises gradually to a thickly wooded ridge in the west. I can feel the mass of that hill whenever the sun goes down, and yet, where wind is concerned, there's very little lee to it. Last week, the wind came ripping over the crest, knocking down a couple of fence sections and gnawing at the trees with a suctioning, siphoning sound. All day long, the air boomed and roared.


By evening, even the horses were weary. They had been blown about all day as though they weighed a few ounces instead of a thousand pounds apiece. A tree cracks in the distance and they trot, alarmed, across the pasture. A whirlwind of leaves twists past, and they race away from it. The corner of a tarp gets loose, and off they go. They transmit this anxious energy to me, undiluted. I prefer the way the pigs and chickens react. In a high wind, the pigs snooze together at the back of their house, straw pulled over their heads. The chickens sit on their perches, knitting and doing their accounts.


Sometime during the night, the wind dropped and the next morning was nearly still, smoke rising almost straight up from my chimney and from those down the valley. There was a strange sense of propriety about, a primness in the way every tree had relaxed and, at the same time, come back to attention. In this new silence, the horses seemed enveloped in stillness. They were no longer bracing themselves. Their bones and sinews had relaxed.


And I relaxed, too. I stood in the sun feeling the strength of its rays now that the wind wasn't scattering them. When the wind blows, the horses always stand with their heads facing away from it. In the quiet of the morning, they were no longer magnetized. Without a wind, they were free to face in any direction they chose. Without a wind, the day could go any way it wanted.








Imagine you're a villager living in southern Afghanistan.


You're barely educated, proud of your region's history of stopping invaders and suspicious of outsiders. Like most of your fellow Pashtuns, you generally dislike the Taliban because many are overzealous, truculent nutcases.


Yet you are even more suspicious of the infidel American troops. You know of some villages where the Americans have helped build roads and been respectful of local elders and customs. On the other hand, you know of other villages where the infidel troops have invaded homes, shamed families by ogling women, or bombed wedding parties.


You're angry that your people, the Pashtuns, traditionally the dominant tribe of Afghanistan, seem to have been pushed aside in recent years, with American help. Moreover, the Afghan government has never been more corrupt. The Taliban may be incompetent, but at least they are pious Muslim Pashtuns and reasonably honest.


You were always uncomfortable with foreign troops in your land, but it wasn't so bad the first few years when there were only about 10,000 American soldiers in the entire country. Now, after President Obama's speech on Tuesday, there soon will be 100,000. That's three times as many as when the president took office, and 10 times as many as in 2003.


Hmmm. You still distrust the Taliban, but maybe they're right to warn about infidels occupying your land. Perhaps you'll give a goat to support your clansman who joined the local Taliban.


That's why so many people working in Afghanistan at the grass roots are watching the Obama escalation with a sinking feeling. President Lyndon Johnson doubled down on the Vietnam bet soon after he inherited the presidency, and Mikhail Gorbachev escalated the Soviet deployment that he inherited in Afghanistan soon after he took over the leadership of his country. They both inherited a mess — and made it worse and costlier.


As with the Americans in Vietnam, and Soviets in Afghanistan, we understate the risk of a nationalist backlash; somehow Mr. Obama has emerged as more enthusiastic about additional troops than even the corrupt Afghan government we are buttressing.


Gen. Stanley McChrystal warned in his report on the situation in Afghanistan that "new resources are not the crux" of the problem. Rather, he said, the key is a new approach that emphasizes winning hearts and minds: "Our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent troops; our objective must be the population."


So why wasn't the Afghan population more directly consulted?


"To me, what was most concerning is that there was never any consultation with the Afghan shura, the tribal elders," said Greg Mortenson, whose extraordinary work building schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan was chronicled in "Three Cups of Tea" and his new book, "From Stones to Schools." "It was all decided on the basis of congressmen and generals speaking up, with nobody consulting Afghan elders. One of the elders' messages is we don't need firepower, we need brainpower. They want schools, health facilities, but not necessarily more physical troops."


For the cost of deploying one soldier for one year, it is possible to build about 20 schools.


Another program that is enjoying great success in undermining the Taliban is the National Solidarity Program, or N.S.P., which helps villages build projects that they choose — typically schools, clinics, irrigation projects, bridges. This is widely regarded as one of the most successful and least corrupt initiatives in Afghanistan.


"It's a terrific program," said George Rupp, the president of the International Rescue Committee. "But it's underfunded. And it takes very little: for the cost of one U.S. soldier for a year, you could have the N.S.P. in 20 more villages."


These kinds of projects — including girls' schools — are often possible even in Taliban areas. One aid group says that the Taliban allowed it to build a girls' school as long as the teachers were women and as long as the textbooks did not include photos of President Hamid Karzai. And the Taliban usually don't mess with projects that have strong local support. (That's why they haven't burned any of Mr. Mortenson's schools.)


America's military spending in Afghanistan alone next year will now exceed the entire official military budget of every other country in the world.


Over time, education has been the single greatest force to stabilize societies. It's no magic bullet, but it reduces birth rates, raises living standards and subdues civil conflict and terrorism. That's why as a candidate Mr. Obama proposed a $2 billion global education fund — a promise he seems to have forgot.


My hunch is that if Mr. Obama wants success in Afghanistan, he would be far better off with 30,000 more schools than 30,000 more troops. Instead, he's embarking on a buildup that may become an albatross on his presidency.








Now is the winter of our discontent. And, officially, it's still fall.


I have developed a whole new appreciation for the hysteria over Tiger Woods. Many critics of the news media believe we are spending way too much time worrying about why a golfer had a car accident at the end of his driveway. But given the incredibly depressing nature of all the big news stories of the week, if you want to focus on Tiger's marital problems, I am in total sympathy.


The president ordered 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. The New York State Senate defeated a same-sex marriage bill. Even the murder and racketeering trial of John Gotti Jr. ended badly.


I have been a fan of this particular judicial proceeding ever since the day that Gotti got into a courtroom brawl with a prosecution witness that ended with Junior shouting: "You're a punk! You're a dog! You're a dog! You always were a dog your whole life, you punk dog."


However, on Tuesday, it vanished from the news cycle when the judge declared the fourth mistrial in five years because of a hung jury.


Meanwhile, in Washington, the U.S. Senate began its groundbreaking debate over a national health care plan. In honor of this historic event, the Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire — who you will remember was so bipartisan a while back that President Obama wanted to make him the secretary of commerce — passed out a list of tips on how to best stall any conceivable progress with meaningless points of order.


The way things are going, we should get to a vote at about the same time that the president is planning to get the troops out of Afghanistan.


Much of the debate has revolved around mammograms. You will remember that recently a government task force suggested that women who don't have any special predisposition to breast cancer consider beginning mammograms at 50 rather than 40.


"This was based mainly on cost," said John Ensign, a Republican who was actually completely wrong despite the extensive expertise he brings to the debate in his capacity as the only veterinarian in the Senate.


The practical effects of the task force recommendation, under the health care reform bill, might be to increase the number of insurance policies that require a co-payment for those early tests unless a woman's doctor intervened to say that they were needed. Given the fact that some experts never did think the early mammograms were a good idea, and that others now believe they actually do more harm than good, this did not seem like the worst possible thing in the world.


Especially since, um, right now a lot of women have no health insurance and no mammograms at all.


The Democrats, terrified by cries of "rationing!" are now trying to amend the bill to expand insurance coverage of health care screenings for women. Not to be outdone, the Republicans seem bent on making sure that every single 40-year-old woman in America gets a free mammogram even if she never sees a doctor for anything else for the rest of her life.

Another big debate topic has been cost. The price tag on the bill needs to be kept under control — except, of course, when it involves mammograms. That's a concern for us all since spending on health care is spiraling out of control and threatening to wreck the economy.


So you really did need to pay attention when the Republicans offered their first big motion of the debate, under the leadership of that famous fiscal hawk and former G.O.P. standard-bearer, John McCain. ... Who got up and demanded that the bill be stripped of $450 billion in proposed Medicare savings.


"Come back with another bill. Only this time, don't put the cost of it on the backs of senior citizens of this country," he said.


It was a riveting moment. Perhaps never before had a member of the Senate dared to suggest that a piece of pending legislation should be changed so that senior citizens would be exempt from suffering.


Medicare eats up more than 3 percent of the gross domestic product, and it is the one entitlement that the government has no current prospects of ever getting under control. You would think that shaving some of its costs might interest a guy who practically based an entire presidential campaign on his opposition to a $3 million DNA test for endangered grizzly bears.


But no, there was McCain, waving the bloody shirt and predicting that cutting the cost of Medicare would — Yes! — "eventually lead to rationing of health care in this country."


Whatever happened to the John McCain who wanted to balance the budget and work with the Democrats to fight global warming? Gone the way of the wild grizzly, I guess.


Let's try not to think about what January will bring. Maybe another sports hero will do us a favor and run into a fire hydrant.








EVERYONE knows the power of deadlines — and we all hate them. But their effectiveness is undeniable. People procrastinate. Deadlines help. They speed up performance and, paradoxically, reduce the anxiety of uncertainty. So when President Obama announced on Tuesday night a strict timetable of 18 months before the drawdown of troops from Afghanistan — how did that affect the psychology of the nation?


The emotional effect of the pronouncement depends on the party involved. For the military brass, 18 months is a blink of an eye, so the deadline could motivate them to perform at their peak, or it might paralyze them with fear; for the troops and their loved ones, 18 months is an eternity. But for all those with an immediate stake in the war, a clear timetable reduces uncertainty — at least along the "when" dimension, if not the "what" dimension.


After all, no one likes to wait. And the only thing worse than waiting is waiting with uncertainty. A team at Emory University examined what happened when people waited for an impending electrical shock. Some people dreaded the shock so deeply that they chose to receive a more powerful shock earlier rather than wait for a lesser shock to arrive at a later, random time.


One of the key jobs of the human brain is to simulate the future, and the less information it has to work with, the more anxious it becomes. Pinning things down in time makes waiting less troubling. With a clear idea about the order and timescale of events, people are more patient and less anxious. And that is the hope implicit in President Obama's declaration of a timeline.


But what about those people with a less immediate stake in the war? Here the president's task becomes more complicated. Some years ago, psychologists posed a deceptively simple question: if I were to offer you $100 right now, or $110 a week from now, which would you choose? Most subjects chose to take $100 right then. It didn't seem worthwhile to wait an entire week for only $10 more.


And the further an event lies in the future, the less people care about it. So if offered $100 now or $500 18 months from now, many people still take the $100. The consequence is that there's little difference between President Obama promising 18 months from now versus 18 years from now. In the human ken, both are obscured in the mists of the distant future.


So for his timetable to have emotional power, President Obama would do well to define and adhere to intermediate goals. A year and a half offers little in the way of reassurance, but everyone can value action month-by-month.


I don't want to imply that people only care about the short term — after all, people do build college saving funds and retirement plans. It's simply that the present holds more sway than the future. Recently, researchers used brain imaging to monitor people making money-now-or-more-later decisions, and they discovered that the neural networks involved in short- and long-term decision-making are fundamentally separate. In situations of choice, the two systems are often locked in battle against one another.


Subprime mortgage offers are perfectly optimized to take advantage of the I-want-it-now system, as are chocolate cookies, temptations for marital infidelity and all manner of things that people choose now and regret later.

People manage the influence of the short-term systems by proactively binding their future options. We see this when a person in good health signs an advance medical directive to pull the plug in the event of a coma, when an alcoholic rids the house of drink to avoid future temptation, or when a person socks money into a Christmas account to keep himself from spending it before December.


Such deals with oneself are what philosophers call Ulysses contracts, after the hero who decided in advance to lash himself to a mast to resist the sirens' song. The present, calm Ulysses was negotiating with his future, more emotional self.


In the same way, by drawing a line on the calendar, President Obama hopes to favor his administration's long-term strategy over the unknown siren songs that will be heard over the next year and a half. Nations, like people, are continually buffeted in the winds of short-term events. In deference to a long-term strategy, the president hopes to bind the nation to the mast to ensure we stick to the plan.


David Eagleman is a professor of neuroscience at the Baylor College of Medicine and the author of the novel "Sum."








IN the Mumbai kindergarten my son went to, the children never had to clean up after themselves; that was the servants' job. So I really liked the school my son attended when we moved back to Brooklyn, where the teachers made the children tidy up at the end of the day. "Cleanup time, cleanup time!" my 6-year-old sang, joyfully gathering his scraps. It's a wonderful American tradition: you always clean up the mess you made.


This is the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal gas disaster, an epic mess that started one night when a pesticide plant owned by the American chemical giant Union Carbide leaked a cloud of poisonous gas. Before the sun rose, almost 4,000 human beings capable of love and anguish sank to their knees and did not get up. Half a million more fell ill, many with severely damaged lungs and eyes.


An additional 15,000 people have since died from the aftereffects, and 10 to 30 people are said to die every month from exposure to the hundreds of tons of toxic waste left over in the former factory. But amazingly, the site still has not been cleaned up, because Dow Chemical, which since acquired Union Carbide, refuses to accept any responsibility. The groundwater is contaminated; children of the survivors suffer from genetic abnormalities; and the victims have long since run out of their measly compensation and are begging on the streets.


I have traveled to Bhopal and seen the post-apocalyptic devastation, seen the sick, seen the factory. Methyl isocyanate is a deadly chemical used to kill insects. The night that 40 tons of it wafted out of the factory is, for the survivors, a fulcrum in time, marking the before and after in their lives. They still talk about "the gas" as if it were an organism they know well — how it killed buffalo and pigs, but spared chickens; how it traveled toward Jahangirabad and Hamidia Road, while ignoring other parts of the city; how it clung to the wet earth in some places but hovered at waist level in others; how it blackened all the leaves of a peepul tree; how they could watch it move down the other side of the road, like a rain cloud seen from a sunny spot.


All over India, when misfortune strikes — when a child is ill, for example — people burn chilies to drive away the evil eye. The gas smelled like chilies burning, and people said to one another, it must be a powerfully evil eye that's being driven away, the stench is so strong.


Fleeing the gas, the Bhopalis clutched their children. Some babies fell, gasping, and their parents had to choose which ones to carry on their shoulders. One image still comes up over and over in their dreams: in the stampede, a thousand people are stepping on their child's body.


In 2001, the maker of napalm married the bane of Bhopal: Dow Chemical bought Union Carbide for $11.6 billion and promptly distanced itself from the disaster. If Union Carbide was at fault, that was too bad; it had just ceased to exist. In 2002, Dow set aside $2.2 billion to cover potential liabilities arising from Union Carbide's American asbestos production. By comparison, the total settlement for Bhopal was $470 million. The families of the dead got an average of $2,200; the wounded got $550; a Dow spokeswoman explained, that amount "is plenty good for an Indian." As Representative Frank Pallone of New Jersey observed in 2006, "In Bhopal, some of the world's poorest people are being mistreated by one of the world's richest corporations."


Union Carbide and Dow were allowed to get away with it because of the international legal structures that protect multinationals from liability. Union Carbide sold its Indian subsidiary and pulled out of India. Warren Anderson, the Union Carbide chief executive at the time of the gas leak, lives in luxurious exile in the Hamptons, even though there's an international arrest warrant out for him for culpable homicide. The Indian government has yet to pursue an extradition request. Imagine if an Indian chief executive had jumped bail for causing an industrial disaster that killed tens of thousands of Americans. What are the chances he'd be sunning himself in Goa?


The Indian government, fearful of scaring away foreign investors, has not pushed the issue with American authorities. Dow has used a kind of blackmail with the Indians; a 2006 letter from Andrew Liveris, the chief executive, to India's ambassador to the United States asked for guarantees that Dow would not be held liable for the cleanup, and thanked him for his "efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate."


What's missing in the whole sad story is any sense of a human connection between the faceless people who run the corporation and the victims. In 1995, a Bhopali woman named Sajida Bano sent a handwritten letter to Union Carbide. The factory had killed her husband in 1981 in an accident, and then, on the night of the disaster, her 4-year-old son. "You put your hand on your heart and think," she wrote, "if you are a human being: if this happened to you, how would your wife and children feel?" She never received a response.


The survivors of Bhopal want only to be treated as human beings — not victims, not greedy money-grabbers, just human beings who've gone through hell and are entitled to a measure of dignity. That includes concrete things like cleaning up the mess and providing health care for the sick, and also something more abstract but equally important — an acknowledgment that a wrong was done to them, and an apology, which Bhopalis have yet to receive.


That was another fine thing my son learned in the Brooklyn school: when you've done something bad, you should say you're sorry. After a quarter of a century, Dow should acknowledge that it is responsible for a very big mess. And now, it's cleanup time.


Suketu Mehta, a journalism professor at New York University, is the author of "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found."








After weeks of waiting we finally have The Speech which may ultimately define the presidency and legacy of Mr Barack Obama. The president made his pitch before an audience of cadets at West Point, America's premier military academy, and it was something less than a vintage performance. He touched a lot of bases in the 4,635 words he spoke including several references to Pakistan – but this was mostly a speech about Afghanistan and how America is going to find an honourable military exit before Mr Obama finds himself up for re-election. Thus we have the outline of an endgame militarily – America is to send an extra 30,000 troops to fight a war that some military analysts see as unwinnable in conventional terms against an enemy that has never suffered a decisive defeat by force of arms. America is set to begin its withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2011 – but there is no date for final disengagement, no commitment in what timeframe the troops will go. All will depend on the ground situation. This by implication means nothing, as a pullout has just been mentioned but is not actually intended. The extra forces that will be deployed are not expected to defeat the Taliban but only try to reverse their momentum and create a space for the Afghan forces to take over. President Karzai has been told to clean up his act (again) and Pakistan has had the stick waved at it (again) by being told that 'safe havens' for terrorists will not be tolerated. The totally unnecessary reference to Pakistani nukes and its control was in bad taste and could have been avoided. It was like rubbing salt on open wounds. This is not how hearts and minds can be won.

Mostly, the speech was about the bricks and mortar of warfare. What was missing was a description of the bricks and mortar that would go into nation-building and here lies the weakness at the heart of the Obama strategy. A sketchy 272 words were devoted to the process of nation-building and reconstruction. It is the failure to give equal weight to the military and civilian vision that has bedevilled the engagement of America and the NATO countries in Afghanistan from the outset. Ousting the Taliban was easy – they took one look at what was coming around the corner and packed up and went home. Soon after this they embarked on a long and successful campaign that now sees them as de-facto rulers of large parts of the country – because there was no strategy to provide a civilian alternative to their rule. There still isn't. It is not the failure to win the war that will ultimately define the outcome of the battle for Afghanistan, it is the failure to fight for, win and hold the peace. Unless and until the same resources and determination are devoted to winning the peace there is no point in trying to win the war. The Taliban will now sit on the sidelines, waiting for the US will and determination to exhaust, because as the Taliban are fond of saying… 'You may have the watches, but we have the time.' It is but certain that Washington and Obama will have to revisit this strategy a few months down the line. And when that happens the costs, both political and financial, may be way higher than Obama's liking.







The ANP has lost another legislator to terrorism. Dr Shamsher Ali, who represented the party from one of the seats it had won from Swat, was killed when a suicide bomber walked unchallenged into his home in Kabal tehsil and detonated himself besides the MPA. Two of his brothers were among the 13 injured. The fact that the bomber was so easily able to enter the house is a reflection of the dangers inherent in relaxing security cover. It appears that with the defeat of the militants in Swat there has been a dropping of some precautions. This is understandable. Living in a state of siege is, after all, not easy. But the latest, tragic incident should act also as a reminder of the need to keep security high. Shamsher Ali becomes the second ANP legislator to fall to militants. A provincial minister died in a bomb blast in Peshawar in February this year. Attempts have been made on at least two other ministers and the party chief at his home in Charsadda.

The ANP has faced a great deal of flak recently. It has been accused of corruption and mismanagement. But we should also keep in mind that its MPAs and activists have, almost alone, spoken out across NWFP against extremism. In parliament its members have stood behind bills seeking rights for women. There have been mutterings, even from within parliament, against them. There is certainly a great deal to criticize the NWFP government for. But it should also be given credit for taking a stand on at least some issues, and for pledging after the latest loss to continue the battle against extremist violence. It is, quite possibly, no coincidence that the assassination of Dr Shamsher Ali took place in the Kabal area. This had long been a stronghold of Fazlullah, the TTP leader in Swat. Now one of the country's most wanted men, he is thought to have fled Swat, possibly for Afghanistan. But there are now new fears that his henchmen may be attempting to continue operations on his behalf. Fazlullah had declared ANP legislators and councillors affiliated with the party to be sworn enemies. In some of his more virulent speeches he had labelled them as enemies of Islam. The possibility of a militant resurgence of any kind still needs to be guarded against in Swat. In this respect General Kayani's assurance on his last visit to Mingora, that there would be no troop pull-out until the final defeat of the militants, is reassuring. But dangers continue to lurk and it is essential that a full plan for the valley be put in place so that militants do not find the niches and crevices they need to regain their hold on society.







When Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton pulled the Al Qaeda card on Pakistanis during her visit to the Islamic Republic, many thought it was classic Clintonian rage unfettered. Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown first congratulated President Zardari on his country's successful jihad against terrorists and then hung up the phone and told the BBC that Pakistan needs to do more against Al Qaeda. That was chalked up immediately by followers of British politics to Brown's now legendary incompetence. Perhaps, he read the briefing notes all wrong, or forgot to take his medication, we all thought. After all, this is the man that has single-handedly brought the greatest era of Labour politics and its dominance in Britain to a pathetic end.


But of course, Secretary Clinton (being the Obama administration's sharp-toothed diplomatic supremo) and PM Brown (continuing Tony Blair's legacy of being the US government's poodle) were just setting up the ball for Obama to smash. Unlike what we've come to expect from President Obama, however, this was no smash. A less thunderous or less effective Obama speech is hard to conceive of.

If President Obama is the Muhammad Ali of political oratory, then his much-anticipated Afghan strategy speech was, at least to his admirers (even those from faraway places like Islamabad) as bitter as Ali's 1971 loss to Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden. It was his first grand failure. In the past, Obama's oratory skills have helped him do the things he was looking to get done (Reverend Wright, Election Night, healthcare). His effectiveness is borne of the clarity he creates and the trust he engenders.

At West Point on Tuesday, President Obama was least like himself than we've ever known him. He was guarded, defensive, and less than entirely convincing. The biggest reason for the speech's failure is that it deliberately skirted around the central issue that plagues the American war in Afghanistan.


If there is one overwhelming area of consensus among pundits that think about these things for a living, it is concerning where the epicenter of America's problem in Afghanistan lies. That place is Pakistan. More specifically, it is Pakistan's willingness and its ability to take on and defeat, decisively, those terrorists that would either themselves, or through proxies, seek to harm the United States.

President Obama's speech almost entirely ignored this aspect of his country's Afghanistan strategy. Where he didn't ignore it, he fudged the issues so grandly that his talking points were eerily similar to some of the most emphatically unrealistic analysis of what is going on in Pakistan these days. In the most distressing part of Obama's speech, he repeated the spurious link between extremism and the security problems in Pakistan, saying "…as innocents have been killed from Karachi to Islamabad, it has become clear that it is the Pakistani people who are the most endangered by extremism. Public opinion has turned. The Pakistani Army has waged an offensive in Swat and South Waziristan. And there is no doubt that the United States and Pakistan share a common enemy."

Pakistani public opinion is decidedly against extremist groups and extremism -- but even a cursory look at the data and the news would disabuse anyone of the notion that Pakistan and the United States face a common enemy.

For Pakistani decision makers (and cynics are welcome to insert all the acronyms here that they like, but the fact is that the military and politics of this country are ultimately inextricable) Pakistan's enemies are those terrorists that are killing Pakistanis. America's enemies are those that are killing Americans.

It is true that Pakistanis are getting killed at the hands of FATA-based terrorists, and that Americans (soldiers) are getting killed at the hands of the same militants. That is about where the similarities end.

The FATA-based terrorists that attack Pakistan have been, and will continue to be, hunted down by the Pakistani military because it makes eminent political and strategic sense to do that. But the terrorists that operate in Afghanistan (from FATA), seeking to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan do not pose a threat to Pakistan. At least, that is what the calculus of Pakistani decision makers has been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. Pakistan might take action against them, off and on, but will do so purely as a secondary proxy for American military power. The Pakistani military, in that case, will represent a better investment for US power than either the US military or the mercenaries that it uses, where it can. But the motivation for such piecemeal action against terrorists targeting Afghanistan will always be material. That's not how wars are won.

The Kandahari Taliban represent an even more complex creature, and I deliberately categorise them separately from the FATA-based terrorists that are killing American soldiers. Many within the Kandahari Taliban are ready to embrace their Poppalzai brother in Kabul, and snub both the hardcore elements within their ranks, as well as the Dostum and Masood proxies that have had an uncontested run of Afghanistan's spoils since 2001-2002. Pragmatists in the Karzai camp, as well as among both US military and diplomatic circles, know that the end-game in Kabul will require accommodation with such Taliban.

President Obama could have tried to outline these broad strokes to his audience at West Point and around the world in his speech. Instead, he chose to continue a dangerous tradition of dealing with Pakistan clandestinely. This is a deeply fascinating choice of strategy. Constant efforts to buy, coerce or cajole Pakistan's military and political elite into doing things that they consider suicidal simply has not worked. Pakistan's government will take the money, but it will not deliver the product.

It did not work for eight years under the Bush and Mush tag team. It was never going to work with a PPP government whose strongest instrument is a dislocated former Islamist Pakistani intellectual who has as keen an understanding of Pakistani politics, as Sarah Palin does of Russian geography. Now, with the PPP government buckling under the weight of its own broken promises, it seems Richard Holbrooke has convinced people that a hybrid diplomatic relationship, with six toes in the General Headquarters of the Pakistani military, and four in service of the president and prime minister -- whoever wins the skirmish -- is going to somehow yield success in getting Pakistan to take on the Taliban of Afghanistan.

This would not make for a very good suspense thriller. The ending is the same as the beginning. Pakistan will not abandon the Kandahari Taliban or any other proxies of Pakistani power that will be useful in Kabul. The regional imbalances that drive existential fears in Pakistan don't make Pakistan less committed to having influence in Kabul; they make Pakistan more committed to it.

Of course, Pakistan enjoys no moral authority whatsoever in Afghanistan. But it does enjoy being the only other country that Pakhtuns call home. It does enjoy an extremely long border with Afghanistan. It does enjoy clandestine services that have 30 years of experience in cultivating and leveraging assets in Afghanistan that have a demonstrated record of strategic success. Ethnically, geopolitically and in terms of intelligence, Pakistan has an insurmountable advantage in Afghanistan.

The seven-week victory of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan in 2001 was an illusion that was aided by General Musharraf's sleight of hand, and the kind of firepower that America is unlikely to use again in the near future. As an alternative to the Kandahari Taliban, despite the presence of 100,000 US and NATO troops, billions of dollars and the support of 43 countries, the Northern Alliance has failed its sponsors.

Continued reliance on the Northern Alliance to provide good governance, on the US military and NATO to hold territory, and on Pakistan to take on the Kandahari Taliban are all delusions. President Obama's refusal to recognise the immobility of America's position in his speech is his greatest failure to date.

The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website






The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor

There is nothing especially surprising about the reaction of Baloch nationalists to the government's package for the province. It would indeed have been odd if the response had been different. There has, after all, been a long breakdown in trust. Though the rather inane comments from some of the younger nationalists say nothing for the intellectual underpinnings of the Baloch struggle, the reaction to the package has been, more or less, unanimous. Veteran leaders such as Ataullah Mengal and Dr Abdul Hayee Baloch have been almost equally scathing in their rejection of the proposals laid down, and the announcement of the package has been followed by emotional outbursts on television from a number of Baloch.