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Friday, December 4, 2009

EDITORIAL 04.12.09

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Editorial

month december 04, edition 000367, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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THE PIONEER

  1. TALKING WITH ULFA
  2. DEBILITATING STASIS
  3. PERCEPTION OF REALITY - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  4. 2012 reflects US mindset - Trina Joshi
  5. IRAN'S BLUFF AND BLUSTER - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
  6. LIBERHAN LIBERTIES - ANURADHA DUTT
  7. THEATRICAL AGITATION BY TRS - KALYANI SHANKAR
  8. ODISHA FARMERS ALIENATED FROM THEIR OWN LAND - BIDYUT MOHANTY & K ANURADHA

MAIL TODAY

  1. NECESSARY CORRECTIVE ON QUOTA ISSUE
  2. QUIETER PLEASE
  3. IN THE WOODS
  4. BACK TO NORMAL GROWTH ? - BY SUDIPTO MUNDLE
  5. THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
  6. A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF IMRAN KHAN - JUGNU MOHSIN
  7. ' PATIENT SAFETY FIRST DURING DRUG TRIALS' - BY DINESH C. SHARMA IN NEW DELHI
  8. RAISINA TATTLE

TIMES OF INDIA

  1. ASSAMESE CHEER
  2. BURNING ISSUE
  3. DEFINING THE FUTURE -
  4. 'ALL SPIRITUAL TEXTS WILL HAVE TO BE RE-EDITED'
  5. NO SPACE IN SPACE -

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. LONELY HEARTS CLUB
  2. NOW TO PLAY GOOD COP
  3. COLD, NECESSARY CUTS - RK PACHAURI
  4. BRABOURNE, BAREBONED - AYAZ MEMON
  5. MY CHEMICAL REACTION - VANITA SHRIVASTAVA
  6. SOUL SEARCH - BARKHA

INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. DOOR'S AJAR
  2. COURSE IN AUTONOMY
  3. A TIME FOR NUMBERS
  4. NEVER AGAIN? - JAVED ANAND
  5. COLLEGE STREET CELEBRATION - SAGNIK DUTTA
  6. CHANGES IN SCRIPT - PRANABDHALSAMANTA
  7. VISION STATEMENT - SARITHA RAI
  8. BUDGET CONCERNS
  9. LIBERHAN REPORT - SEEMA CHISHTI

FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. FINALLY, INTENSITY ON CLIMATE
  2. WISE ON VISA
  3. MINEFIELD IN MINES IN EASTERN INDIA - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
  4. WHY A BAILOUT FOR DUBAI MAY BE TOUGH - SANJAY BANERJI
  5. BETWEEN TWO BUDGETS, TAXING QUESTIONS - SURABHI
  6. REPORT CARD

THE HINDU

  1. BEYOND EXPECTATIONS
  2. BIGOTRY IN SWITZERLAND
  3. A DAUGHTER'S LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE - NUPUR BASU
  4. REVITALISING INDIA-RUSSIA TIES - VLADIMIR RADYUHIN
  5. COPENHAGEN "MUST FAIL," SAYS A PIONEER - SUZANNE GOLDENBERG
  6. GOOGLE WOOS RUPERT MURDOCH ON ONLINE CONTENT - CHRIS TRYHORN, MERCEDES BUNZ AND RICHARD WRAY
  7. FILLING UP THE KNOWLEDGE DESERTS IN WIKIPEDIA - MARK GRAHAM

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. CLIMATE: INDIA ACTS, IT'S TIME US DID TOO
  2. US AFGHAN EXIT IN 2011 WORRYING - BY INDRANIL BANERJIE
  3. THE WEARY STATE OF THE INDIAN NAVY - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
  4. BUTTERFLY EFFECT - BY SHEKHAR BHATIA
  5. A 17-YEAR, 48-ACT FARCE - BY BALBIR K. PUNJ

DNA

  1. TEMPORARY VICTORY
  2. OF MICE AND MEN
  3. END OF A MIRAGE - S NIHAL SINGH 
  4. INDIVIDUAL NATURE

THE TRIBUNE

  1. BIG CATCH RAJKHOWA
  2. KASHMIR INITIATIVES
  3. RESIGNATION OR IMPEACHMENT
  4. SEVEN DOSSIERS AND STILL WAITING - BY B.G. VERGHESE
  5. FASHION SENSE - BY RANJIT SINGH 
  6. OBAMA'S AFGHAN STRATEGY - BY JULIAN E. BARNES, NED PARKER AND LAURA KING
  7. COPENHAGEN: DON'T FORGET WATER - BY JAMES G. WORKMAN
  8. GENERATING POWER FROM WASTE IN PUNJAB VILLAGES - BY RAVI DHALIWAL AND A.S. GHUMAN

THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

  1. SEVERE BLOW TO ULFA
  2. POLICE-PUBLIC TIES
  3. LEGAL PROVISION NEEDED TO PROTECT MENFOLK - NEELOTPAL DEKA
  4. THE PUBLIC REPORT ON BASIC EDUCATION - DR H K GOSWAMI

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. BRING ON THE PENSIONS BILL
  2. SAVE THE HOUSE
  3. SURGE IN CLARITY?
  4. AN EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE MODEL - ARUN MAIRA
  5. THE TRUTH ABOUT FALSE GODS - MUKUL SHARMA
  6. SHOULD INSURERS' EXPENSES BE CAPPED?
  7. STRONGER ENFORCEMENT OF EXISTING CAPS VITAL
  8. PUBLIC INTEREST JUSTIFIES CAPPING OF EXPENSES
  9. FOR A BINDING CLIMATE TARGET - T K ARUN
  10. WE WON'T EXPAND TOO FAST: PARKER - RATNA BHUSHAN

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. CLIMATE: INDIA ACTS, IT'S TIME US DID TOO
  2. A 17-YEAR, 48-ACT FARCE - BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
  3. A POISONOUS CLOUD STILL HANGS OVER BHOPAL - BY SUKETU MEHTA
  4. US AFGHAN EXIT IN 2011 WORRYING - BY INDRANIL BANERJIE
  5. THE WEARY STATE OF THE INDIAN NAVY - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
  6. THE LONG HOT WINTER - BY GAIL COLLINS

the statesman

  1. PRIZE CATCH
  2. SELF-CONTRADICTORY
    LANGUID SHIPYARDS
  3. MARRIAGE 'BADFOR WAISTLINE'
  4. THE FOOD COURT - BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. REVIVING GLORY
  2. UNSAFE HAVEN
  3. TO BE A SUITABLE BOY - ASHOK MITRA
  4. NOTES FROM PARADISE - MALVIKA SINGH

DECCAN HERALD

  1. THE DAY AFTER
  2. POSITIVE SIGNS
  3. MAYA'S TRAVAILS - BY KANCHA ILAIAH
  4. HEAPING MISERY IN THE NAME OF SEZS - BY KATHYAYINI CHAMARAJ
  5. ZEST FOR LIFE - BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN

THE JERUSALEM POST

  1. THE PARTNERSHIP

HAARETZ

  1. A WARNING AND AN OPPORTUNITY
  2. THE BIG WINK  - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. GIVE THE NERD A CHANCE - BY ADAR PRIMOR
  4. I HAVE NO BROTHER –  BY YOSSI SARID
  5. AN END TO VAGUENESS - BY ZEEV STERNHELL
  6. THE BEDOUIN ARE NOT TO BLAME - BY CLINTON BAILEY
  7. 0HEZBOLLAH'S DELUSIONS - BY JONATHAN SPYER
  8. SLOWLY BUT SURELY - BY ODED ERAN
  9. THE FRUITS OF CHRONIC MISTAKES - BY ZIAD ABUZAYYAD

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. GOOD NEWS ON PREMIUMS
  2. DANGEROUS WORK
  3. PROTECTION FOR THE VULNERABLE
  4. TAKE THE WAR TO PAKISTAN - BY SETH G. JONES
  5. OUR TIMELINE, AND THE TALIBAN'S - BY MAX HASTINGS
  6. REFORM OR ELSE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  7. THE ANALYTIC MODE - BY DAVID BROOKS

I.THE NEWS

  1. GRAND LARCENY?
  2. BRAVE SOULS
  3. PAY UP!
  4. FAMILIAR ROAD -- ALL TOO FAMILIAR REFRAIN - AYAZ MIR
  5. ANNE PATTERSON'S BLACKWATER-GATE - FASI ZAKA
  6. WHEN THE BROKE GO LAVISH - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
  7. THE PERILS WE FACE - DR MASOODA BANO
  8. OBAMA'S AFGHANISTAN STRATEGY AND PAKISTAN - shimSHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  9. SWAT: SOME QUESTIONS - ZUBAIR TORWALI

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS OF NEW AFGHAN STRATEGY
  2. FOOLISH IDEA OF STAGING PRO-ZARDARI RALLIES
  3. TO REDUCE TROOPS IN IHK IS NO SOLUTION
  4. THE LESSONS FROM DUBAI - M D NALAPAT
  5. AFGHANISTAN: PROBLEMS & PROPOSALS - IBNE ZYA
  6. PRINCIPLES OF SUCCESS - WAHIDUDDIN KHAN
  7. OBAMA'S AFGHAN EXIT STRATEGY - SULTAN M HALI
  8. SET YOUR SIGHTS HIGH..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS

THE INDEPENDENT

  1. CHT CONUNDRUM
  2. DROUGHT TOLERANT PADDY
  3. A MAJOR BREAKTHROUGH
  4. EVICTION NOTICE..!
  5. UNFORGETTABLE EVENTS - ABDUL KHALEQUE
  6. UNDERSTANDING PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES - JULIAN FRANCIS
  7. SAARC PROSPECTS - BY NURUDDIN AZAM
  8. CHILE'S PRESIDENTIAL MINUET - CARLOS GERVASONI

THE HIMALAYAN

  1. OUR MORAL FIBRE
  2. LEFT IN A LURCH
  3. BALANCED DEVELOPMENT URGENT TASK - KAMAL RAJ DHUNGEL
  4. LEARNING THE NAKED TRUTH - BUDDHI GAUTAM
  5. MAN, MACHINE, AND IN BETWEEN - JENS CLAUSEN

THE AUSTRALIAN

  1. WALKING A FINE ELECTORAL LINE
  2. PEACE PRESIDENT GOES TO WAR
  3. A NEW PREMIER, BUT IS ANYBODY LISTENING?

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. REES'S BROADSIDE SHOULD SINK LABOR
  2. OBAMA'S SURGE IN AFGHANISTAN
  3. BIG BANKS AND RETAILERS PREY ON SMALL-FRY CONSUMERS

THE GURDIAN

  1. FOOD SUSTAINABILITY: MODIFIED OPINIONS
  2. IN PRAISE OF… PAUL MCCARTNEY
  3. BANKERS' BONUSES: TIME FOR A WINDFALL TAX

THE KOREA HERALD

  1. RELIANCE ON TRADE
  2. MYSTERY OF SILENCE
  3. FRESHMEN WITH UNLIMITED POTENTIAL - M.K. THOMPSON

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. SECRET PACTS ON OKINAWA
  2. TRYING TO DODGE A SECOND DIP

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. FILM PARTY POOPERS
  2. COMBATING CORRUPTION, THE NATIONAL EPIDEMIC - IKA YUNIA FAUZIA
  3. COMPLICITY BETWEEN POP CULTURE AND RELIGION - BONNI RAMBATAN
  4. SILALLO TESSIRAPI': INDIGENOUS IDEA ON PLURALISM - SAMSUL MAARIF

CHINA DAILY

  1. A HARD CHOICE? NOT AT ALL
  2. DON'T PLAY WITH FOOD SAFETY
  3. MANAGING INFLATION EXPECTATIONS SMARTLY
  4. WHAT CHANGES WILL LISBON TREATY BRING FOR EU
  5. US WILL BE FORCED TO RETREAT IN THE WORLD - BY HAN DONGPING
  6. BEWARE OF NEW BUBBLES AND ACT - BY DING YIFAN
  7. A LESSON FROM THE DUBAI CRISIS - BY YI XIANRONG

 THE MOSCOW TIMES

  1. FROM START TO FINISH - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
  2. NABOKOV'S MANUSCRIPTS DON'T BURN - BY NINA L. KHRUSHCHEVA

 

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THE PIONEER

EDIT DESK

TALKING WITH ULFA

CAUTION IS THE OPERATIVE WORD


Recent developments have strengthened the view that the separatist outfit United Liberation Front of Asom is weakening and could be open to negotiations with the Government. This has had the reciprocal effect of the Government, both at the Centre and in Assam, going on record to state that if ULFA leaders were to abjure violence and give up their separatist agenda, peace talks with the outfit could become a serious possibility. It is true that ULFA today is facing factionalism and leadership issues within its ranks. The split appears to be between those who are in favour of talks with the Government and those who are not. Nonetheless, even though some of the group's top brass have indicated their willingness to come to the negotiating table, this could be just a ruse to buy time. The leaders of ULFA have in the past shown their inclination to participate in talks only to secure a reprieve from security forces. So far there is nothing to suggest that this tactical ploy will not be repeated again. Indeed, the banned outfit could be playing for time to regroup and sort out internal issues plaguing its leadership. Besides, it is also true that the Congress-led UPA Government as well as the Congress Government in Assam like to make a show of cracking down on ULFA, but come election time take a much more lenient view. Unlike the NDA regime that had decided to come down on the outfit with an iron fist and had undertaken several security operations such as 'Operation All Clear' in collaboration with Bhutan to flush out and exterminate the separatists, Congress Governments have tended to use ULFA to their advantage. This is something Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is well-versed with, having mastered the art of employing the services of ULFA cadre to shore up his electoral prospects. Hence, there is a question mark on the Government's sincerity towards ending the menace that ULFA has come to represent.


Nonetheless, it cannot be denied that the ULFA leadership, of late, has been facing a lot of heat. The reason for this can be attributed to the fantastic job that the Awami League Government of Bangladesh has been doing in arresting ULFA leaders who had taken refuge in that country and smashing their network. Only last month two top ULFA leaders — Sasha Choudhury and Chitraban Hazarika — were arrested by Bangladeshi authorities and handed over to India. The determination with which Dhaka has been going about in cracking down on anti-India forces operating from its soil is truly commendable. Unlike the previous BNP-Jamaat-e-Islami regime, the present regime led by Sheikh Hasina Wajed sees India as a valued partner. It would be prudent for India to repay the sentiment. It is welcome that in the build-up to the Bangladeshi Prime Minister's official visit to New Delhi later this month, the two countries have finalised the drafts of three key treaties on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, transfer of sentenced prisoners and a bilateral agreement on combating terrorism, organised crime and illicit drug trafficking. The treaties will be signed when Sheikh Hasina comes visiting. Given that now we have a friendly regime in Dhaka it will be pertinent for New Delhi to enhance its bilateral relationship with the former to the maximum extent possible. This will not only be mutually beneficial but also gainful for India's larger strategic interests in the region. For, given a hostile Pakistan, an uncertain Nepal and an aggressive China in the neighbourhood, it would be good to have a friend we can count on in Bangladesh.

 

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THE PIONEER

DEBILITATING STASIS

LEFT FRONT SHOULD CALL EARLY ELECTION


The recent visit to Kolkata by a Central team, comprising officials of the Ministry of Home Affairs, to assess the law and order situation, has understandably set tongues wagging in West Bengal about the possibility of imminent intervention by the Union Government to dismiss the Left Front regime and place the State under President's rule by invoking Article 356 of the Constitution. Much of this speculation is no more than proverbial kite-flying as any such action would work to the advantage of the CPI(M) and its allies who would then pretend to be victims of a grand conspiracy hatched in New Delhi. The claim, needless to add, would find a resonance among the people and help revive the morale of the Marxist cadre who are at the moment a dispirited lot. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram is nobody's fool: More than anybody else in the UPA Government, he realises that it would be a folly to try and hasten the fall of the Left Front Government by dismissing it, rather than let it suffer a crushing defeat in the 2011 Assembly election. He decided to send a team to Kolkata to keep his Cabinet colleague, Minister for Railways and Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee in good humour. He has been sufficiently cautious not to be seen as acting in a partisan manner while pandering to Ms Banerjee who insists that the State Government must be dismissed immediately as it is unable to control spiralling political violence.


Ms Banerjee's impatience is understandable. Having trounced the Left Front in the Lok Sabha election and in local polls, she feels confident about dislodging a regime that has been in power for more than three decades now. It is also true that West Bengal desperately needs a Government which is in control and can get things moving in the State. Ever since the Singur debacle, the Left Front has been struck by amazing paralysis — it is in power but unwilling to demonstrate its authority. With the CPI(M) in disarray and cadre deserting the party in droves so that they don't find themselves trapped on the wrong side of the fence in a post-Left Front scenario, everything has virtually come to a standstill. Bureaucrats, sensing the days of Left supremacy are over, are busy looking for exit options from current assignments; suddenly, nobody wants to be seen as being in close proximity to the Marxists anymore, although this was considered a badge of honour till recently. It is not surprising that in this situation administration should suffer grievously. The immediate impact of the collapse of authority is being felt on the law and order front as violence continues to escalate. This paper believes that the Left Front should opt for a mid-term election to end the debilitating stasis. The sooner this is done, the better it shall be for West Bengal.

 

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            THE PIONEER

COLUMN

PERCEPTION OF REALITY

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY


BBC radio suddenly broadcast a programme on Vande Mataram the other morning. If that was surprising, the angle the BBC chose was even more so. The theme was why Indian Muslims find Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay's patriotic song objectionable, encouraging a speaker to complain that Muslims have suffered discrimination in India ever since independence.


That sense of victimisation extended this week to the placid pastures of Switzerland where mosques can no longer flaunt minarets. US President Barack Obama's promise to send another 30,000 troops to Afghanistan will undoubtedly aggravate Muslim grievances. Operation Enduring Freedom was supposed to be the civilised world's united effort to stamp out terrorism. Instead, it seems to be turning into a war between Muslims and the rest. One had only to be in the small English town of Luton this week to get a taste of the passion with which some seemingly ordinary British Muslims identify with the Taliban.


Baroness Sayeeda Warsi of Dewsbury, a personable young woman of 38 who is regarded as the most prominent Muslim in the British establishment (she is the Conservative shadow minister of community cohesion), felt the brunt of their hate. Luton Muslims jeered at her as she walked down a road and spattered her with eggs. Initially, the Yorkshire-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants, a criminal defence lawyer by training, tried to ignore the "extremists", as she called them. But as they became more raucous and violent, she fled into a sari shop.

The protesters probably belonged to the Al Muhajiroun organisation which wants Christian Britain (the monarch is supreme governor of the Church of England) to introduce sharia'h law. They accuse Baroness Warsi of being anti-sharia'h. They also complain that by supporting the war in Afghanistan, she is helping to kill Muslims.


That's what it is all about. Afghanistan is becoming the touchstone on which believers judge non-believers. No wonder America's West Asian allies dare not send troops to join Operation Enduring Freedom. The ruling elites in these countries hate and despise Al Qaeda and forces like the Taliban as much as the US does. But many ordinary Arabs look on fundamentalists as defenders of their faith. That also explains US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's belief that only the Army in Pakistan is fighting the terrorists. Also British Prime Minister Gordon Brown's demand — sharply made to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari whom he telephoned and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani whom he met yesterday — that Pakistani leaders back their promises with action. Militant Muslims might choose to see his bluntness in urging them to catch Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as colonial bullying.


Current revelations about the other Western-Muslim war, the one in Iraq, are making it easier to criticise Operation Enduring Freedom. Two British parliamentary inquiries and two specialised investigations had already established that Saddam Hussain was not making weapons of mass destruction, as claimed. Now, senior mandarins testifying at the high-powered inquiry ordered by Mr Brown confirm that President George W Bush was raring to destroy the Iraqi leader from the moment he was elected, and that Mr Tony Blair promised him military support at their tête-à-tête at the Crawford ranch. Neither needed evidence of Saddam's wrongdoing.

Not that such evidence would have made any difference to Luton folk. When 200 men of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Anglia Regiment, paraded through the town after a stint in Iraq, they were greeted with catcalls, "Butchers of Basra" placards and accusations of murdering Muslim women and babies. The reported horrors of the Abu Ghraib detention centre reinforced the conviction that any war where the adversary is Muslim is unjust. The return to Britain of an ethnic Somali (also Muslim) prisoner from Guantanamo Bay with tales of torture at the hands of American and Pakistani investigators, the latter acting under US orders is further fuel to the jihadi fire.

The 2001 Census listed 1.6 million Muslims in Britain, accounting for three per cent of the population. They have been in a demanding mood for some years, taking full advantage of Britain's social welfare services while sympathising — sometimes secretly, sometimes openly — with the British state's enemies. The authorities tread with caution. When Mr David Cameron, the Conservative leader, accused the Government (mistakenly as it happened) of funding extremist Muslim schools, thereby prompting the screaming newspaper headline "£113,000 aid to fanatics who want to kill us", one of Mr Brown's Ministers warned against making "false accusations which smear every Muslim with the same extremist brush". The damage had been done by the time Mr Cameron apologised.


As the Swiss referendum showed, the dichotomy extends far beyond Britain. Switzerland's 400,000 Muslims (four per cent of population) are mostly Bosnians and entirely European in looks and lifestyle. Switzerland has only four mosques with minarets. Nevertheless, the populist Swiss People's Party pressed for the referendum to ban minarets, its Mr Ulrich Schluer citing the European Union court's proscription of crucifixes in Italian schools to argue that Muslims should not display totems of their faith either. SPP posters of a veiled Muslim woman against a background of missile-shaped minarets recalled Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan referring to minarets as the bayonets of Islam.


With European intolerance and Muslim bigotry feeding on each other, 57.5 per cent of respondents supported the SPP. Though the ban must be framed into law, it does not really hit out at Islam. For, as Mr Taj Hargay, chairman of Oxford's Muslim Educational Centre and imam of the Summertown Islamic Congregation, points out, minarets are "not integral to contemporary mosque design." Thanks to today's sophisticated communications technology, muezzins no longer need lung power to summon the faithful to prayer. Minarets are no more than a form of ornamentation like pointed arches. In any case, Swiss laws on noise pollution rather defeat the minaret's original purpose.


But tradition makes prisoners of men, and no one will admit that customs and practices that were desirable in the boundless sands of 15th century Arabia are not so in a busy 21st century European city. The real damage is psychological. As the president of the Zurich-based Federation of Islamic Organizations, Mr Taner Hatipoglu, warns, the ban will have a negative impact on Muslim relations with and "social integration" in mainstream society.

As with Vande Mataram, it's the perception that matters more than the substance.

 

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

2012 reflects US mindset

Trina Joshi


When the doom dawns, China will save the world' is probably what 2012 is trying to convey. The film is based on a Mayan prophecy about an apocalypse that will push living beings to the brink of extinction in three years from now. A Hollywood production, the film's myopic view of the world has projected China as the most-bankable country after the US — a projection akin to what US President Barack Obama seems to be convinced of and wants the world to endorse.


The film begins with an Indian geologist revealing to an American research team that our Earth's crust is melting at an unprecedented pace, that will result in huge volcanoes, tsunamis and earthquakes. With general consensus among the G-8 countries, the US entrusts China with the task of building a Noah's Ark that will survive the impact of the disaster. The idea is to save the human race and animals from becoming history. But the catch is that only leaders of developed countries, along with those who can afford its $2 million ticket will be allowed into the ark as they consider it's their responsibility to rekindle life on earth and preserve traces of the past after the disaster. Latin American, African and Asian countries don't factor in, while making an exception only for China as an acknowledgment of its meteoric rise.


As movies are known to mirror the society of a country and its Government's mindset, 2012 exemplifies America's pretence for China over India — hence the exception to the privilege reserved only for developed countries to accommodate China while not having a single representative from India, not even the geologist who set the alarm bells ringing.


American officials may reject India's objection to the US's China policy, but the Obama-Hu joint statement does give Beijing a vigilante's role in South Asian affair. A "rising and responsible global power" — as Mr Obama describes India — does not need third party intervention in its bilateral issues.


Washington's soft take on Beijing can be due to two reasons: Either the US has accepted China, its biggest creditor with holding approximately $740 billion in US debt, as the next superpower, or it's trying to leverage distrust between India and China. That would leave America's status as the sole superpower unchallenged and untouched.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IRAN'S BLUFF AND BLUSTER

THE MULLAH-LED THEOCRATIC REGIME IN TEHRAN HAS HAD ITS WAY FOR FAR TOO LONG. WITH LAST WEEK'S IAEA VOTE, EVEN CHINA AND RUSSIA APPEAR TO HAVE GIVEN UP ON IRAN. THE WORLD MUST NOW ACT IN UNISON TO BRING THE IRANIAN REGIME TO HEEL BY CALLING TEHRAN'S BLUFF

RUDRONEEL GHOSH


As Iran continues to defiantly thumb its nose at the international community over its nuclear programme, it is fast becoming evident how tenuous a leverage any of the P5 nations has on Tehran. Till now the conventional wisdom has been that at least Russia and China are capable of pulling some strings in the theocratic state. However, that perception has taken a significant jolt with both the two countries deciding to vote in favour of an IAEA resolution last week, censuring Iran for its covert nuclear enrichment facility at Qom. Tehran has responded by announcing the construction of 10 more such facilities in the near future. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has further elaborated in a televised interview that Russia has made a "big mistake" by voting the way it has, and that it has failed to "accurately analyse" the world situation.


Over the last few months certain things have become amply clear. There is a dictatorial regime in Iran that has a vice-like grip on the country. As was evident in the aftermath of the June presidential election, this regime is absolutely unwilling to yield space to any kind of opposition. If necessary, it will employ brute force to crush its opponents. It has no qualms about rigging elections and arbitrarily sending people to the gallows for dissent either. Plus, it has an extremely loyal armed force in the form of the Revolutionary Guards and an obedient bunch of thugs in the Basij militia to quell any kind of protest. This kind of a set-up virtually insulates Iran from internal unrest and external interference, leaving little room for any foreign power to create strategic assets in that country.


As a result, there is little elbow space to effect a regime change in Tehran, either from within or without. A consequence of this is the fact that there are few anti-Tehran groups operating in Iran. Those that do exist, like the Jundullah and the People's Mujahideen of Iran, are at most minor irritants for the Iranian regime.

On the other hand, any US-backed measure against Iran is detested by the Iranian people. In fact, it is precisely because of this reason that the Iranian regime welcomes punitive US-UN sanctions. They do little to harm Iran in real terms and are great for bolstering the image of the regime for not buckling to enemy foreign powers. The existing US-UN sanctions target the sale of any dual use material that can aid Iran to boost its nuclear programme or conventional missile weapon systems. They also target certain key individuals in the Iranian regime, especially those in the Revolutionary Guards, and Iranian banks.


Nonetheless, none of these measures has had a crippling effect on Iran to the point that Tehran falls in line. Collectively, they are at best a rap on the knuckles. This is primarily because Iran has another trump card — oil and gas. The country is the fourth largest exporter of crude oil in the world and OPEC's second largest producer, which makes it a key determinant in the global oil trade. Any severe sanction imposed on Iran will see oil prices hit the roof.


But Iran's greatest advantage is its capacity to project a possible military intervention on its soil as cost prohibitive. Over the years, Tehran has successfully made it known to the US and its allies that any military action against it will be met by retaliatory strikes that will severely affect shipping of oil through the Persian Gulf and jeopardise the security of neighbouring pro-America Arab states, apart from Israel. This is what security analysts call retrospective deterrence, a game Iran is a master at playing. This not only deters Western powers from undertaking punitive military action but also allows Iran to go on the diplomatic offensive.

Given the present impasse, the international community would do well to call Iran's bluff. The Iranian regime is responsible for countless human rights abuses, is obsessively anti-Zionist and wants to acquire nuclear weapons. The combination is lethal for West Asia and the world. The need of the hour is tougher economic and trade sanctions against Iran, combined with the threat of punitive military action. This is the only way Iran can be made to climb down. Nonetheless, for such measures to succeed it is imperative that action against Iran is seen as being truly international and not merely US-led. For, the consequences of the latter might not only strengthen Iran's position but even backfire.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

LIBERHAN LIBERTIES

DEMONISING HINDU BELIEFS DEFINES PSEUDO-SECULARISM

ANURADHA DUTT


The Liberhan Commission report, probing the circumstances of the Babri Masjid demolition, is on expected lines as it 'indicts' some Hindutva proponents and exonerates Congress leaders even though the locks of the mosque were unlocked during the tenure of the Rajiv Gandhi-headed Government at the Centre. The inquiry commission clearly does not seem to believe that is any cause for indicting the Congress for its failure to challenge the order of the Faizabad District and Sessions Court to open the locks of the Babri masjid structure on February 1, 1986. Or the fact that Rajendra Kumari Bajpai, Minister for Waqf , had advised angry Muslims "to take recourse to law and not to create disturbance", a reflection of the ruling regime's stance at that time.


However, the supposedly shocking revelation about the late Congress stalwart Gulzari Lal Nanda being a closet Ramjanmabhoomi temple supporter really serves to expose the anti-Hindu proclivities of temple opponents. Given here is the relevant excerpt, concerning Nanda, who briefly served as acting Prime Minister after the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru and Lal Bahadur Shastri in 1964 and 1966.


"Professor Rajendra Singh, RSS leader Dau Dayal Khanna, Gulzari Lal Nanda, the die-hard Hindus, in connivance with people with similar thoughts, started conceiving and exploiting the local dispute at a national level".

The report adds: "Maybe for their selfish political reasons or for advancing their old theory of Hindu Rashtra".

While Nanda is not alive to admit or deny the charge, it is inexplicable why the temple campaign and, by extension, Ram, should be demonised, considering that Ramchandra, as one of the most important incarnations of Vishnu, is central to the Indic worldview as much as regimen of worship. Over several millennia, he has been revered as being 'Maryada Purushottam', supreme among men in dignity, just as Krishna is 'Leela Purushottam', supreme in sportive play. His popularity owes to the belief that the Ram mantra gives deliverance quickly. Mahatma Gandhi, the Congress's enduring mentor as much as of the secular lobby, which is most strident in opposing the proposed Ram temple at Ayodhya, too drew inspiration from him throughout his life.


The king of Ayodhya was the spiritual and temporal ideal, and his rule was just and moral. He was the compassionate saviour of the destitute woman Shabari, rewarding her pure devotion by accepting berries she had tasted to ascertain their sweetness. He so redeemed her. In an expanding theistic universe, a great syncretistic thrust came from the story of Ram. He was the god of the twice-born but equally dear to those dwelling outside the pale of society. His other great devotee, Valmiki, was at first an outlaw. He waylaid travellers and robbed and killed them, as a means to support his wife and children. Chanting the name of Ram, at the behest of the sage Narad, transformed him completely. Valmiki eventually authored the Sanskrit epic Ramayan, which inspired numerous retellings of the saga in India and south-east Asian countries, and in the present time, widely viewed television serials. The story of Ram has thus become part of the world's heritage, a universal moral allegory. Therefore, for Indians to try and demonise this heritage is tantamount to denying it.


Ram's immense compassion especially endeared him to marginalised people. Goswami Tulsidas' Ramcharit Manas, written in the spoken tongue, Awadhi, further popularised his worship. The aspiration to restore his birthplace was the inevitable outcome of the growing reach of Ram bhakti. And divested of politics, there is nothing unnatural in such a desire. Just as Bethlehem is sacred for devout Christian because it is Jesus's birthplace, and Mecca is revered by Muslims for being the birthplace of Prophet Mohammed and Islam, so too Ayodhya, an ancient town and pilgrimage, long preceding the advent of Islam, has a special hold on the Hindu psyche for being the birthplace of Ram. And the popular belief is that the site of the Babri mosque was the exact spot where he was born.


Apparently, two years after the battle of Panipat in 1526, Mir Baqi, a general in Babur's army, destroyed a Ram temple in Ayodhya and built a mosque on its remains. The Nirmohi Akhara, a sect of sadhus, in the 18th century laid claim to the site, considering it to be Ram's birthplace. They were opposed by the mosque's custodians because usurped and desecrated Hindu pilgrimages represented for them the dominion of Islam. Today, sadly, nothing less than demonising Hindu gods and beliefs fits our definition of the secular ideal.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

THEATRICAL AGITATION BY TRS

THE DEMAND FOR A SEPARATE TELANGANA, TO BE CARVED OUT OF ANDHRA PRADESH, NO LONGER ATTRACTS POPULAR SUPPORT. THAT EXPLAINS THE TRS LEADERSHIP'S INCREASING FRUSTRATION

KALYANI SHANKAR


Telangana is in the news once again and Telangana Rashtra Samithi chief K Chandrasekhara Rao is on a fast unto death for a separate Telangana State, creating some tension in Andhra Pradesh. People will soon see through his opportunism.


Why is the TRS chief resorting to such gimmicks? Is it because he feels that he has become irrelevant in State politics after the people rejected his party in the 2009 polls? A leader who thought that he was going to play a crucial role in the formation of the Government at the Centre and who was keeping his doors open for all parties is dejected that he lost out.


However, can the Telangana card be of use more than once? The TRS performed well in the 2004 elections on this emotive issue but the 2009 elections showed that there was not much sympathy for the cause as the TRS was unable to deliver on its promise.


The sentiments for a separate Telangana are as old as the Nizam's Hyderabad State. Telangana, comprising 10 districts, including Hyderabad, was part of the erstwhile Hyderabad State. After the police action in 1948 September, the Hyderabad State remained as a composite unit until 1956. It was merged with Andhra State in 1956 to form Andhra Pradesh although the people of Telangana wanted to have their own identity.


The reason why the Telangana issue is coming up time and again is because of the perception among the people in the region that not much development has taken place and if it becomes a State they may get allocation of adequate resources from the Planning Commission. They complain that they are backward in every possible way — be it in jobs, irrigation, infrastructure, education.


Some unscrupulous politicians have been taking advantage of this issue and using it for their own purposes to launch agitations. In the late-1960s, Maari Chenna Reddy, who later became Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh twice, led the Telangana movement but soon gave it up and joined the Congress.

A late entrant for the movement was Mr K Chandrasekhara Rao, who came out of Telugu Desam Party. He not only revived the movement successfully but also TRS won 24 seats in the Assembly as well as six seats in the Lok Sabha. The Congress then joined hands with the TRS and the Left parties to form the Government at the Centre. The understanding was based on the Congress's assurance of creating a separate Telangana State. Mr Chandrasekhara Rao became a Minister in the first UPA Government along with Mr A Narendra but later resigned on the plea that the UPA had not done anything to create a separate State.


The 2009 poll story was different. He teamed up with TDP leader N Chandra Babu Naidu and joined the "grand alliance". However, to his dismay, Mr Rao found that the TDP had cut into his votes rather than the Congress's votes and the result was that his party won just nine Assembly seats and two Parliament seats, including his own. The other MP, actress-turned-politician Vijayashanti, is already with the Congress.


Why is the movement not picking up? It may be a long way for the people of Telangana to achieve their goal because of geopolitical reasons. People from the other two regions — Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra — are opposed to dividing the State. More over, Hyderabad, the pride of the State, will go to Telangana if a separate State is carved out. If one goes by vote-bank politics, although Telangana has a sizeable number of seats, the two regions combined together carry the prize.


Second, the Telangana movement lacks credible leadership. When he launched the movement, Mr Rao had some support. Expelled BJP leaders like Mr A Narendra and some disgruntled TDP leaders joined him, but soon differences surfaced and they left him. Today Mr Rao has the support of his nephew and a few other leaders.

Third, people are disenchanted with Mr Rao for not delivering on his promise. He instigated students to join his movement which he claimed would be non-violent. But when the students, enraged at his ending the fast, went on the rampage in Karimnagar and Hyderabad, he resumed his fast again. He seems to be riding a tiger now.


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THE PIONEER

OPED

ODISHA FARMERS ALIENATED FROM THEIR OWN LAND

HIGH FARM INPUT COSTS AND MINDLESS INDUSTRIALISATION ARE TO BLAME, WRITE BIDYUT MOHANTY & K ANURADHA


In Odisha, although it is not legal to lease land, concealed tenancy persists with tenants having little protection under the law. The share-cropping system is financially oppressive and most share-croppers are unable to break out of poverty and debt. Share-cropping is an open secret in Odisha as big land owners are no longer cultivators. At the same time, these farmers are not entitled to any institutional credit for their crop.


Farmers who till 'encroached' land have no incentive to develop the land. As per Government survey (2003-04), there are 4,45,450 landless families in the State but only few have got land rights. There are vast numbers of landless, marginal and small farmers in the State, particularly in the KBK region, who lack rights on encroached land. The problem of land alienation of tribals in the tribal belt is well known. With each passing year more and more tribals become marginal small farmers due to land alienation and development-induced displacement. But when democratic people's organisations raise the issue they are branded as Maoists and brutally oppressed. The recent killing of two tribals on November 20 in Narayanpatna area of Koraput district is a stark example.


The Orissa Money Lenders Act, 1939 (modified in 1979), clearly states that every money lender should be registered and prohibits business without registration. The rate of interest is also defined in the Act. There are also provisions for punishment for money-lenders. But it is no secret that private money-lenders operate with impunity charging annual interests from 60 per cent to 120 per cent. Farmers get trapped in a cycle of debt when they use these local money-lenders as they have no other option.


It is very difficult for small farmers to get credit from the bank and cooperatives. It is ironical that people belonging to the upper economic strata can easily get approval for a car loan or some other consumer credit scheme, but for a poor farmer the door is firmly shut. Thus, in lean years these farmers fall prey to private money-lenders and the debts pass from one generation to the next. Suicide is the only way out.


Aggressive marketing campaigns by seed and fertiliser companies and the assurances of the Government's agricultural extension offices combined with the necessity to do as much as possible with small holdings induce small and marginal farmers to gamble with high input commercial crops. Investment costs for this type of farming are high and require loans. This is what pushes them to money-lenders.


On the other hand, the growth of mineral-based industries is causing a water crisis for farmers. Small and marginal farmers cannot afford the cost of lift irrigation. Besides, there is little electricity in remote areas to operate the lifts.


India is fast changing from a welfare state to a state that is saying farewell to its constitutional obligations towards the poor. The farming subsidies of the 1960s and 70s are decreasing and, at the same time, subsidies to big industries and multinational corporations are increasing. There are bailout packages for companies but the only bailout poor farmers have access to is suicide. In this situation perhaps the Government wants these farmers to work as daily wage labourer in the industries. The priority of the state has changed and overemphasis on mega mineral-based industries has become costly for poor farmers.


The state should not forget that Odisha remains an agrarian economy. Administrators, planners and policymakers should always focus on development of agriculture and realisation of the full agricultural potential of Odisha and its people. More than half of the area in the State which is irrigable is yet to receive the benefits of irrigation. Instead of borrowing from the World Bank and other financial institutions for high-speed roads, airports and power reforms to feed the growing needs of industries, the state should borrow money for completing its long pending irrigation projects which would provide water to millions and also save lives.


Growth in the Indian economy does not necessarily lead to increase in per capita income of the poor farmers in Odisha. Unfortunately, the agriculture sector, irrigation, land reforms, and institutional credit for the poor have become outdated issues for politicians. The recent talk of inclusive growth by the Planning Commission does not bode well for the poor farmers of the State. Suicide by farmers is a stark example of 'exclusive growth' which is prevalent. This is a wake up call for everybody to bring back the focus on agriculture and development for the sake of poor farmers.

 

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MAIL TODAY

EDITORIAL

NECESSARY CORRECTIVE ON QUOTA ISSUE

 

THE Supreme Court must be commended for dispelling any misconception that may have arisen about the application of quotas for socially and economically backward sections for entry into educational institutions and government service. By upholding the decision of the Haryana government denying Scheduled Castes and Tribes reservation in postgraduate medical courses, the court has stressed the difference between the power of the state to make a law granting quotas, and citizens seeking them as their ' right'. As it has stated, while a state has the right to make such laws under articles 15 ( 4) and 16( 4) of the Indian Constitution, whether it chooses to do so or not is a matter of its discretion, depending upon the need it feels for such a measure.

 

What the judgment reiterates is that there is nothing immanent about provision of reservation in the Indian Constitution.

 

It was originally conceived as a short- term measure the Indian state was adopting to address the socio- economic disparities that existed when this republic was born.

 

The fact that quotas persist more than 60 years after Independence is thus a comment on the failure of the Indian state to provide the underprivileged sections quality primary and secondary education that helps them compete with the rest of the population on equal terms.

 

What is perhaps worse, is that reservations have become a ploy for our politicians and governments to seek favour with the electorate, the very people they have let down by their failure. This is more than evident when you remember that though the SC has excluded the ' creamy' layer among Other Backward Classes from the ambit of quotas, the Centre has raised the bar for what constitutes the creamy layer so high that the descendants of the well- off from these castes can bag most of the seats on offer, leaving the lot of the truly needy unchanged.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COMENT

QUIETER PLEASE

 

UNION Home Minister P. Chidambaram is sending the right signals by announcing a draw down of forces in Jammu & Kashmir.

 

But it is somewhat inexplicable as to why he is broadcasting the fact that he is having a quiet dialogue with the separatists in the Valley. By their very definition " quiet talks" ought to mean talks that are not publicly disclosed. But in standing up in Parliament and acknowledging that he is indeed talking to separatists and getting " encouraging responses" from them, he is jeopardising the future of the dialogue. This is because of the perverse nature of separatist politics where every leader seeks to outflank the other.

 

Therefore anyone seen to be talking to New Delhi would soon find himself ostracised, or the target of a verbal, if not physical attack.

 

It is no secret that many actors in the J& K stage, and not necessarily only the separatists, are somewhat leery about the dialogue. Unfortunately, many parties in the 19- year old conflict have developed a vested interest in ensuring that normalcy does not return to the state. For that reason it is important that the dialogue takes place in total confidentiality.

 

Given what the state has gone through any process of normalisation will be a long haul and the government should be prepared for that. Therefore it is vital that the players conserve their stamina, rather than allow it to be wasted in combating elements who are working overtime to foil the peace process.

 

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MAIL TODAY

IN THE WOODS

 

GOLFER Tiger Woods of the United States is like Sachin Tendulkar in India. Everything about these two greats is under scrutiny — their life, their families, their professional achievements. They had another thing in common — a squeaky clean public image.

 

Or at least one of them did till recently.

 

Woods, the world's richest sportsman, is a practising Buddhist, but isn't faith always frail in front of temptation, especially when confronted with women ready to offer you their bodies and soul? He begged for forgiveness from his family and his fans — thereby acknowledging what he calls " transgressions", but for a man who was among the top five sporting role models of perhaps all time, the letdown means that he may have to go off a few school textbooks. Sadly, the golfer may have got his drive right, but when it comes to personal integrity, his behaviour has been well under par.

 

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MAIL TODAY

COLUMN

BACK TO NORMAL GROWTH ?

BY SUDIPTO MUNDLE

 

If compelled to choose, lower inf lation at the cost of slightly lower growth is the best option

 

There has been a great deal of excitement among policymakers and analysts during the past couple of days about the 7.9 per cent growth that the Indian economy has recorded during the July- September quarter. The growth rate has exceeded even the official forecasts that are usually quite optimistic. Some have sought to explain why second quarter ( Q2) growth has been so high while others have opined that this growth will not be sustained during the second half of the year. Yet others have asserted that India is now back to its normal growth path of 8 per cent plus.

 

Sound judgment on any of these issues has to be based on a clear understanding of the main sources of high Q2 growth and an assessment of the risks of sustainability associated with those sources. In this context it is useful to recognise a fundamental distinction between agriculture on the one hand and industry and services on the other.

 

In agriculture variations in production are primarily attributable to supply side conditions, including the extent and timing of rainfall.

 

Levels of supply and demand are then balanced through price changes. Economists call this market clearance through price adjustments, though this mechanism is somewhat distorted in India by government assured support prices for food grains and a few other commodities.

 

In industry and services where producers are able to control levels of production much better compared to agriculture, variations in production are mainly explained by conditions on the demand side: market clearance through quantity adjustments. Prices in these sectors are less adjustable and more rigidly linked to costs of production.

 

DEMAND

Turning now to the composition of high Q2 growth, it turns out that it is almost entirely accounted for by growth in industry and services, led by social and personal services at 12.7 per cent, mining and quarrying at 9.5 per cent and manufacturing at 9.2 per cent. In contrast agriculture has grown by less than 1 per cent compared to the corresponding period last year. The earlier discussion of demand led variations in levels of production in industry and services would then suggest that high Q2 growth is mainly attributable to buoyant demand conditions, an assessment that is reinforced by a sharp fall of over 45 per cent in inventories.

 

Are these buoyant demand conditions likely to be sustained? That depends on the outlook for the main components of external and domestic demand, i. e., net exports, private consumption expenditure, investment and government consumption expenditure. External demand or net exports ( exports net of imports) is the most risky component of demand. This was the main channel through which recessionary impulses were transmitted from the developed countries to the Indian economy during the past year.

 

Though exports have continued to decline, the value of imports has fallen faster, partly because of an appreciating rupee. This has helped increase the net demand for Indian products abroad.

 

However this could change.

 

Though recession has bottomed out in most of the developed countries, it is not clear at this moment what will be the final effect of the Dubai debt default a few days ago. Earlier analysts debated whether recovery in the developed countries would follow a sharp V shaped path or a more gradual U shaped path, the majority view opting for the latter.

 

Recently, a view has emerged that the recovery will be aborted by a second global economic shock. Thisimplies that the developed countries will follow a prolonged W shaped recovery path, with a second slump waiting to happen. Is the Dubai default that second economic shock? Hopefully not, but it could be. After all when defaults on housing mortgages started to build up in the US from early 2007, nobody had expected that it would snowball into a full fledged global economic crisis by October 2008. We have not yet seen the final effects of Dubai.

 

Among the domestic sources of demand the two largest are private consumption and investment, which together account for about 90 per cent of total demand. Their combined growth is a little over 6 per cent. Whether or not this will be sustained for the rest of the year will depend on several factors, specially what happens to inflation, interest rates and the fiscal stimulus.

 

CONSUMPTION

Finally, there is government consumption expenditure that accounts for only around 10 per cent of aggregate demand but has been the fastest growing component. It grew by nearly 27 per cent compared to the same period last year, when the government was still attempting to compress expenditure.

 

This is the most buoyant driver of high growth in Q2 and it is of course a direct consequence of the fiscal stimulus being pursued by the government.

 

Thus, apart from the external risks, the possibility of sustaining high growth will depend very much

 

on inflation and the fiscal and monetary policies that the authorities pursue. Here the authorities are in a dilemma. Food prices are now inflating at over 15 per cent. This will put upward pressure on wages and wage costs in industry and services, leading to more generalised inflation.

 

CONSOLIDATION

This will in turn lead to a reduction in purchasing power, and reduced growth via reduced private consumption demand. To rein in inflation the RBI has signaled moves towards a tighter monetary policy and interest rates are likely to rise later in the year. Also, while the fiscal stimulus has not been withdrawn, the Government is now working towards fiscal consolidation in the next budget.

 

These policies may help curb inflation, which is also good for growth, but they will have a more direct negative impact on growth.

 

What should the government do? First, there are conflicting policy goals of sustaining growth and curbing inflation but also multiple policy instruments. Monetary policy conducted by the RBI should be assigned to containing inflation, which is a central bank's principal mandate. Fiscal policy can then continue to focus on promoting growth.

 

If the government is eventually forced to choose between growth and inflation then hopefully it will opt for lower inflation at the cost of slightly lower growth. Rising inflation will soon become a political liability.

 

It is no longer just the blue collar and white collar workers who are complaining about the rising price of food,

but even the elite.

 

The author is Emeritus Professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy ( sudipto. mundle@ gmail. com)

 

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MAIL TODAY

THE LAHORE LOG

OBAMA'S AF- PAK GAMBLE

BY NAJAM SETHI

 

PRESIDENT Obama's Afghan Package aims to please all the major " home" constituency " principals" in the game, more or less. The 30,000 troop surge costing US$ 10 billion a year should satisfy the Pentagon which had demanded a bit " more". The 18- month deadline for starting the process of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan should partly appease American and European liberals who are opposed to the war. Indeed, it will nudge dithering NATO governments in Europe to pitch in with troops at a time when public opinion is against any long term involvement in Afghanistan. It should also help to dilute the anti- war backlash in America when the Congressional elections are held next year and give heart to the Democrats.

 

Finally, it would give President Obama another eighteen months to firm up or change course for more effective results before the next presidential election in 2012.

 

But some major principals in the region are likely to have mixed feelings about it.

 

The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, should be pleased that the Americans have decided to back him with guns and money, despite a failed election and widespread corruption and mis- governance in Kabul which has created serious misgivings about his ability to deliver the agenda of building the state ( army and police) and nation ( reconstruction and reconciliation). But he is not going to like the pressure of delivering in eighteen months what he has not been able to deliver in eight years.

 

I ndeed, the very idea of an eighteen month " exit strategy" is a dangerous non- starter from his point of view. The manual of the Taliban- Al Qaeda, like that of all guerilla outfits, explicitly revolves around the idea of time, space and will: time is to be traded to the Americans to create the will of the Afghans to resist the occupation forces and this will is used to capture space. This is exactly what the Taliban have done so effectively in the last eight years. Waiting out the Americans for another few years at most will motivate the resistance forces to dig in, protect, preserve and strengthen themselves.

 

No Afghan would want to be on the eventual " losing" side. Thus the very idea of a given timeframe for exit based on American domestic compulsions should spur the Taliban to offer resistance even more fiercely.

 

Pakistan's security establishment, too, is not likely to warm to the Obama strategy.

 

For starters, the president and prime minister have said that Pakistan hasn't seriously been in Washington's review loop. This is a significant statement in view of a critical shift in Pakistan's stand on the war against terror. Originally, during General Pervez Musharraf's time, Pakistan's stated position was that of a " supporter" or " facilitator" of the US war effort in Afghanistan. However, now, under General Ashfaq Kayani, Pakistan views itself as one of the " principals" in the great game because the Afghan backlash has engulfed Pakistan and sucked its army into military operations because the Taliban- Al Qaeda network poses an existential threat to its nation and state. This means that it is not enough for the Obama administration to inform the Pakistani security establishment of US goals in the region and seek its backing with offers of economic and military assistance. What is needed is a definite Pakistani input and component of the strategy that protects and enhances Pakistan's security environment in the long term while securing core American interests of " getting out" in the short term.

 

Several components of Pakistan's security interest are at stake. One, Islamabad would like any future political dispensation in Kabul to be " favourably" disposed or " friendly" towards Pakistan.

 

The reason is obvious enough: given the fact that the Pashtuns of Afghanistan constitute a majority there and the Pashtuns of Pakistan occupy a significant chunk of Pakistan's state and society, Islamabad would like the Pashtuns of Pakistan to look towards it, and the Pashtuns of Afghanistan to look to Kabul, for sustenance. Indeed, the last thing Pakistan would want is a government in Kabul that covets Pakistan territory in the NWFP and tribal areas. The fact that the US- backed Karzai government has not been interested in diffusing Pakistani fears of irredentism by recognising the Durand Line in the last eight years as the international border between the two countries is one reason for not warming towards it.

 

The other is President Karzai's inability or unwillingness to build a domestic Pashtun consensus based on national reconciliation policies that reflect the ethnic balance in Afghanistan but also build trust and confidence with Pakistan based on its " fear" of Indian hegemony in the region. Indeed, the fact that India seems to occupy a significant space in the Kabul- Washington alliance aimed at building the Afghan state and nation is cause for concern in Islamabad. It is no secret that India is being encouraged to carve out a stake in reconstruction activity — roads, schools and hospitals — even as its security establishment is increasingly involved in the training and schooling of the nascent Afghan police and army.

 

Kabul and Delhi's alleged involvement in the Baluch issue, which figured in the joint statement at Sharm al Shaikh recently, remains a destabilising factor.

 

Certainly, the joint Obama- Manmohan statement from Washington recently emphasising a joint strategy to uproot " terrorist safe havens" in the neighbourhood ( read Pakistan) without even alluding to the resolution of outstanding disputes that have provoked Intel- proxy wars in the region and created de- stabilising non- state actors has peeved security experts in Pakistan.

 

In fact, the US threat veiled in the new Obama strategy of extending attacks on the Al- Qaeda- Taliban networks in the " safe havens" of Pakistan could create serious strains in the US- Pakistan relationship by alienating the Pakistan army and destabilising the government via a severe anti- American backlash. This would happen if the drone attacks were to be extended to Baluchistan, or if American boots- on- ground operations were to be conducted in Pakistani territory without the knowledge and approval of the Pakistani army, against elements of the Afghan Taliban who have historically been associated with, or friendly towards, the Pakistani military, and who may realistically expect accommodation in any future Afghan dispensation.

 

President Obama's Af- Pak strategy is full of US- Afghan misgivings. It is a case of too- little, too late, as far as the troop surge is concerned. It is also a case of demanding a lot from Pakistan without giving it strategic due. Without critical adjustments on the ground quickly, it is not likely to succeed in its ambitious objectives.

 

The writer is the editor of Friday Times ( Lahore)

 

A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF IMRAN KHAN

JUGNU MOHSIN

I'M writing a book called " Tracing ( And Colouring) My Roots". I traced them and traced them with a pointy pencil and at various junctures I made little drawings, showing the valour of my forefathers and colouring in bits here and there with my crayons. As I was tracing my roots, I came across an ancestor whose name appeared to be Shylock Khan. Surely there must be some mistake I thought; it must be Shahrukh Khan.

 

But when I looked closer, I saw that it was indeed Shylock Khan who was caught smuggling hashish from FATA to Venice where he presented it to the Doge as an exotic spice which the Doge instructed his chefs to put in his spaghetti Bolognese. Having eaten hash- laded spaghetti, the Doge and Shylock Khan started tripping and envisaging a feast of courtesans at a masquerade ball with pitchers of wine and bunches of grapes. But there in the middle of the masquerade ball appeared the one- eyed Mullah Omar as a gate crasher. Followed by Meera and Mahesh Bhatt as Hansel & Gretel, Prameshwar Godrej ( as a gargoyle), Musharraf ( as himself), me ( as an obstetrician), Yusuf ( as a fiddler), Jemima in a spaghetti strap dress ( as a Freudian Slip), Rehman Malik ( as Lady Chatterley's Lover), Paris Hilton ( as an Oxford don), Shaukat Aziz ( as the couper at the roulette tables) and various other friends and relations and future dignitaries.

 

When suddenly the Doge came to his senses, he realised that he had taken a banned substance and broken the law so he decided to chop off Shylock's head. Mercifully, that didn't happen because Shylock ran away to FATA in a burqa before the masquerade was over. Which is just as well, because if he hadn't run away in a burqa, my family tree would have come to an abrupt end. Once Shylock arrived in FATA, he saw that the place had been conquered by the Mughals so he promptly changed his name to Shahrukh Khan.

 

In my next bit of tracing of my roots, I discovered, horror of horrors, that there were even some women in my family tree. Mercifully, many of them were buried alive at birth and the others were kept long enough to give birth to sons and then retired. Through the generations, we were warriors, hunters and gatherers and cricketers. And then suddenly I came upon an ancestor who was an electrician, who always got elected to head our tribal jirga. It is from here that I got my cue that I would endeavour to get electrocuted while brandishing my brand of politics. If there is ONE free and fair election in Pakistan, I am bound to get electrocuted, Inshallah.

 

Im the Dim

 

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MAIL TODAY

' PATIENT SAFETY FIRST DURING DRUG TRIALS'

BY DINESH C. SHARMA IN NEW DELHI

 

INDIA may be fast emerging as a hub for outsourced clinical trial services and drug development, but for achieving success in this area the government must take measures to protect patient safety, a new report has warned.

 

New drugs that are tested on humans in India should meet the same level of regulatory requirements as in major global markets, and in addition should have uniquely Indian components based on safety, the report has suggested.

 

The report was presented at the first India Pharma Summit in Mumbai this week.

 

" There should be zero tolerance for violation of patient safety issues during clinical trials," it says.

 

The report — sponsored by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry — has suggested that India should devise a system for prioritising clinical trials based on national interests.

 

based on national interests.

 

' National interests' for the purpose of clinical trials may be defined as " drugs, for diseases relevant to Indian populations which may or may not have a high priority in other countries including orphan drugs". A list of criteria for trials that will not be allowed in India should also be prepared.

 

It may include, banned drugs in other countries and phase- I trials for drugs developed outside India unless justified.

 

Priority should be given to clinical trials, which will give Indian manufacturers and researchers a competitive advantage in global markets, the report notes.

 

India is fast emerging as a hub for clinical trials for MNCs for advantages such as availability of large number of ' treatment naive' people, high rates of recruiting patients and trained manpower for conducting trials.

 

Currently, the business of outsourced clinical trials and manufacturing is pegged at $ 2.6 billion ( Rs 12,000 cr) per annum.

 

Falguni Sen, a professor at Fordham University, New York, who wrote the report, said all such measures were necessary to gain public trust for clinical trials.

 

" The media has been criticised for sensationalising a few cases without investigating systemic issues. At the same time, mediapersons have complained of lack of transparency in the drug discovery enterprise," Sen said.

 

" The media plays a critical role in locating abuse of the system, especially in identifying unethical trials and unreported serious adverse events." Public trust is a critical issue for growth in the pharma industry, the report says. A working group should be formed to investigate ways in which adequate post- trial care of people who participate in trials could be provided. Also, Sen said, people should be educated on ' acceptable risk'.

 

Police to furnish Batla shootout FIR copy to accused

 

AGENCIES

THE Delhi High Court ( HC) has directed the city police to provide a copy of the Batla House encounter case FIR to the accused as sought by them under the Right to Information Act.

 

The court, however, set aside the Central Information Commission ( CIC) order directing the police to make public the postmortem examination reports of two suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorists and Delhi Police inspector, M. C. Sharma, killed in the shootout last year.

 

" The police have not been able to explain how and why the disclosure of the FIR, even when the name of the informant is erased, would impede the process of investigation, apprehension or prosecution of offenders," Justice Sanjiv Khanna said.

 

The court passed the order on a petition filed by the Delhi Police challenging the CIC order directing them to disclose the contents of the FIR and postmortem examination reports.

 

" I do not see any reason to interfere with and modify the order passed by the CIC directing furnishing of the copy of the FIR minus the name of the informant," the judge said.

 

The court, however, agreed with the contention of the police that making public the postmortem report would hamper the ongoing investigation in the September 13 blasts in the Capital last year.

 

Furnishing of postmortem report at this stage would jeopardise and create hurdles in the apprehension and prosecution of offenders who may, once information is made available, take steps which may make it difficult and prevent the state from effective and proper investigation and prosecution, it said.

 

The HC had on March 31 stayed the CIC's order directing the police to reveal information under transparency law.

 

A suspected Indian Mujahideen terrorist and prime accused in the serial blasts case, Atif Ameen, and co- accused Sajid were killed during the Batla House encounter in Delhi on September 19 last year.

 

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MAIL TODAY

RAISINA TATTLE

SEIZE THE DAY

 

A SENIOR bureaucrat, who is to retire shortly, has made numerous trips to Europe and North America. For, his spouse has been posted across these two continents for quite some time.

 

There were some hiccups in his recent trip to North America, but the situation was taken care of. The ' modus operandi' of our industrious bureaucrat is to lap up even the most insignificant of invitations and rush abroad to every country where his spouse is deputed to handle important assignments.

 

Quite a good lesson in making the best of one's pre- retirement days!

 

LAP OF LUXURY

IN A flagrant violation of the Congress's much- touted austerity drive, a UPA minister recently made a trip on a private jet to a country bordering Africa and Europe. This trip was ostensibly to participate in a conference. The same minister let his detractors wag their tongues again when he directed a public sector unit ( PSU) to refurbish his office at a cost.

 

" Nothing wrong with it," one of his cronies says. " For, our minister needs to be very comfortable in his office." Though we can't reveal who the luxury- loving netaji is, watch this space for AICC chief Sonia Gandhi's reaction.

 

THE GAME'S ON

THE game of musical chairs has begun.

It's a game which will keep top guns of the industry glued to their seats as interested spectators. For, the winners will decide on their quantum of daily bread with or without butter or jam.

As many as 10 chairman- cum- managing directors ( CMDs) of PSU banks will retire in 2010. In addition, three plum posts will fall vacant after the superannuation of Ranjana Kumar of the Central Vigilance Commission, D. Swarup of the Pension Fund Regulatory Authority and S. S. Kohli of the India Infrastructure Finance Corporation.

 

There are, as always, a number of contenders. May the most pliable win.

 

UNEQUAL DEMOCRACY

WHEN the UPA came to power for the first time in 2004, there were nine ' dollar millionaires' in India. In 2008, the figure shot up to 53. Ten corporate houses had trebled their assets during this high- growth period. Not to be left behind, the number of crorepati MPs doubled in the Lok Sabha. Juxtapose their galloping wealth — recession notwithstanding — to the grinding poverty of 83.6 crore people of the country who still live on less than Rs 20 a day. Ours truly is an unequal democracy.

Just take cover

< jungle a fight,>

In this case, whenever the Ambani siblings cross swords — and they have been doing that quite often — the PSUs take cover. Pitiable as it may sound, the largest power company in the country, the National Thermal Power Corporation, has appealed to its administrative ministry seeking protection against shrapnel which may splinter from the clash of the titans. Is this a telltale sign of the power and glory of the private sector in general or of the Ambani brothers in particular?

Capital greed

< term his after years two even bungalow plush the use to continued He chairman. officio ex- Sabha's Rajya was he when him allotted which Road Murti Teen at accommodation additional vacated vicepresident former The it. of go let recently longer, any Capital in bungalows one on cling Unable man. sad be must Shekhawat Singh>

 

As a former vice- president, Shekhawat is entitled to occupy only his Aurangzeb Road bungalow, but had got three extensions to occupy the Teen Murti Lane property as well.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

ASSAMESE CHEER

 

Good news has finally followed bad in Assam. The Nalbari attack and just a few days before that, the burning of 12 tankers and derailment of four train bogies at Jorhat had created the expectation that the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) would ramp up its activities. But with the detention of Arabinda Rajkhowa, one of ULFA's founders and its current 'chairman', the scenario has been turned on its head. If ever there was an opportunity for New Delhi to make progress in the state, this is it. ULFA's pressure points have become apparent in the recent past, perversely enough after the Nalbari attack. The contradictory crosstalk that emerged from some of the organisation's lower level leaders at that point highlighted the tension between the pro-talks and anti-talks factions within ULFA. Rajkhowa's capture and New Delhi's offer of safe passage he is firmly in the pro-talks camp provides an opportunity to focus on this.


The larger takeaway, however, may be about the north-east as a whole. By some accounts, there are over 120 militant groups operating in the region. At least 30 of them demand sovereignty. Factor in highly porous national borders and it becomes apparent that these are not problems New Delhi can resolve entirely on its own. That is why recent events in Bangladesh are heartening. Rajkhowa was not the first arrest. Biswa Mohan Deb Barman, National Liberation Front of Tripura president, as well as two other ULFA leaders and a Lashkar operative have been captured in the past few days.


These point to a new sensitivity to Indian concerns on the part of Dhaka. Without Dhaka cracking down on cross-border safe havens and training facilities, any north-east initiative by New Delhi would be made more difficult. Cooperation on the part of Nepal and Myanmar is a must as well. The revised extradition treaty with the former could be useful here. Admittedly, it may face hurdles due to domestic opposition in Nepal, but New Delhi must persist with low-key efforts to push it through. As for Myanmar, a potential way forward is one that was, in fact, suggested by Dhaka in 2008 when it mooted a counterterrorism treaty between all three countries.

But these initiatives will amount to little if New Delhi lacks political will in engaging rebel groups who want to talk, while putting pressure on those who don't. Insurgency cannot be defeated unless at least a section of insurgents are weaned away and offered an honourable exit. The offer of unconditional talks with ULFA is a good one, but it is just the beginning. There should be enough of both carrots and sticks to bring rebel groups to the table.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

BURNING ISSUE

 

It's been on the back burner far too long. The smokeless chulha concept is at least 20 years old in India. Conceived by the ministry of non-conventional energy now known as the ministry of new and renewable energy and designed by scientists, the stove was being promoted as the answer to India's indoor pollution woes that was causing great concern on account of its implications on health. According to the World Health Organisation, 5,00,000 lives are lost every year to indoor pollution caused by burning of wood, coal and dung for cooking purposes that cause or aggravate respiratory diseases. The victims are mostly women and children.


The WHO estimates that pollution levels in Indian kitchens are 30 times higher than recommended safe levels. Even where smokeless chulhas have been introduced, the non-availability of good after-sales service agents discourages households from turning to this option. As a fairly uncomplicated device, the smokeless chulha can be manufactured locally and the task of monitoring its use and providing maintenance services could also be done at the local level.


Although the initial interest in developing a smokeless stove was prompted by health concerns, it is now being seen also as one of the ways by which carbon dioxide emissions and methane emissions could be reduced. Soot and CO2 are believed to be the two largest contributors to global warming. Biomass burning including cooking fires and burning of leaves in winter are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions.


Therefore, the relaunching of biomass cooking stoves with improved technology and design, and facilitating proper ventilation in rural homes to ensure better air quality are welcome steps that could improve energy efficiency as well as help reduce emissions. The initiative could rope in collaborators under the UN-advocated Clean Development Mechanism so that technology transfer and funding issues can be resolved. With India preparing to set its own emission targets in terms of carbon intensity per unit of GDP or energy efficiency there is a need to explore the potential of simple and technologically feasible projects like the green stove, solar lantern and energy-from-waste initiatives that would help the country go green grassroots up. It will answer the criticism that India is taking up new-fangled ecological causes such as limiting emissions at the cost of its poor, since the widespread introduction of the smokeless chulha will empower the poor by helping to improve their health.

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TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

DEFINING THE FUTURE

Sitting with President Barack Obama at the historic State Dinner for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, i watched as our nations' leaders launched a new phase in the enduring global partnership between the United States and India that will shape and define the 21st century. Prime Minister Singh's visit was a watershed in the partnership between the world's oldest and largest democracies. We are moving forward from phrases like "natural allies" to "indispensable partners" and "one of the defining relationships in the next century".


This was a time to reflect on the great achievements of our past and to look forward to our bold initiatives to solve global challenges through an expanded partnership that encompasses all the critical challenges in the decades ahead from counterterrorism to climate change, education to women's empowerment, and science to security.

We are committed to working together to protect our citizens from terrorism, to develop trade and economic opportunities for Americans and Indians, to educate our future generations so they can solve the global challenges facing the planet, and to invest in new technologies which will provide us all an environmentally-sustainable and economically bright future. Prime Minister Singh's visit reaffirmed our energetic and optimistic partnership whose ties are local in nature but global in their legacy and impact. I will enumerate five key cornerstone outcomes that frame the relationship moving forward.


First, our partnership is indispensable for global peace and security. Together, the United States and India will work together to ensure peace, stability and prosperity in South Asia. Our new Counterterrorism Cooperation Initiative will strengthen our combined efforts already at unprecedented levels in critical areas such as forensic science, information sharing and transportation security. Our leaders are committed to strengthening efforts to build a free and stable Afghanistan. We have committed to expand defence cooperation between our two nations and together, our two great democracies will work for global non-proliferation and to realise our shared vision of a world free of nuclear weapons.


Second, energy security, food security and climate change are interlinked the solutions to these 21st century global threats cannot be sought in isolation and will be pursued collectively in a new US-India Green Partnership. This will ensure greater access to clean and affordable energy for all Indians, while producing economic opportunities for citizens of both countries. We both understand the importance of promoting a successful outcome in Copenhagen in accordance with the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities.

Third, i am proud to see the strong cooperation between the United States and India in the field of public health. Our nations stand committed to implementing a joint Global Disease Detection Programme to enhance detection of new health threats and better respond to pandemic disease.


Fourth, the dignity, strength, safety and prosperity of our nations depend on the education of our citizens. In visits to schools in New Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai, i have seen the determination and commitment of students and their families to use education as the key to unlocking a better future. The new Obama-Singh 21st Century Knowledge Initiative will further strengthen linkages between American and Indian universities. We are also substantially expanding the Fulbright-Nehru fellowship programme, a catalyst to the exchange of ideas and innovation that has helped our great countries become what they are today.

Finally, the United States boasts the largest economy in the world, while India has one of the fastest growing. Together, our countries have the potential for greater expansion that will spur the world's economic growth. We are working together to fuel the increase of trade between our countries and developing a Framework for Cooperation on Trade and Investment that will push technological innovation and collaboration while promoting inclusive growth and job creation.


Democracy, pluralism, tolerance, respect for fundamental freedoms these shared ideals are beacons of freedom, peace and stability to the world. They energise the vibrant linkages between our citizens that make our partnership truly unique in the world. Both our countries begin their constitutions with the words "We the people..." and the people of our nations form one of the closest bonds.


When i met with President Obama in the White House last July, he challenged me to meet as many of the one billion Indians as possible from all walks of life. I have since met with a broad range of national and community leaders, businessmen, farmers, Nobel laureates and schoolchildren. There are many miles to go in this magnificent journey. The bright intellects, smiling faces and courageous hearts have inspired me and will do the same for President Obama when he visits India. I am honoured to embrace the promise of our interlinked aspirations. My time in India assures me that the strategic partnership our great nations share is enduring. There will be difficult moments and occasional disagreements as in any relationship. Most of all, it is a partnership and warm friendship that will deepen, shaping and defining this new global era.


The writer is the US ambassador to India.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'ALL SPIRITUAL TEXTS WILL HAVE TO BE RE-EDITED'

 

Kancha Ilaiah, professor of political science at Osmania University, is known for his outspoken views on the caste system in India. In his first and most famous book, Why I Am Not A Hindu, he dissected the Hindu social system in an earthy style, though often taking liberties with historical validity. In Delhi recently for the release of his latest work, Post-Hindu India, he spoke to Subodh Varma:


What do you mean by post-Hindu India?

Hinduism is in a state of crisis, facing a kind of civil war within. The primary reason for this is the stranglehold of the varnashram system which keeps 750 million Hindus subjugated and humiliated. These are the Dalits, tribals and the backward classes. Hinduism has failed to convince them that they are part of it, despite the fact that they were the carriers of all science and technology for centuries. Hinduism is the only religion that has failed to negotiate and engage with reason and science. No social reformer, except Phule and Ambedkar, challenged the caste system. Other religions are now competing to win over these people hence there is an imminent explosive crisis.


How did Hinduism suppress science and reason?

The technologies for human survival from agriculture to leather tanning to metal-work were all developed by the labouring sections, that is, the Dalits, tribals and backward classes. The upper castes simply took away the fruits of their labour and invention. The tanners developed the art of leather tanning. The best technology of washing through use of soaps found in soils was discovered in India. The barbers, who wielded the razor, developed the science of surgical treatment of ulcers and boils, and so on. But they were all treated as outcastes. Instead of according them honour and upgrading their sciences they were humiliated. Marriage out of one's caste was prohibited, thus obstructing the free interchange of knowledge, as happened in other religions. It was said that God doesn't approve of working with hands; it is impure. In this way science and technology stagnated and its practitioners got subdued.


You claim there is a war in progress.

 

You may not see it on the surface now, but in the hearts of the oppressed castes there is anger and hatred. Today it is a war of nerves. Tomorrow it may erupt as a war of positions. There are only two options: either complete equality is granted to the Dalit-bahujan communities or they embrace other religions like Buddhism, Christianity or Islam. Granting equality would mean embracing Dalits and all lower castes and tribals, eating with them, treating them as equals, and an end to the allegation that they are merit-deficient. All spiritual texts will have to be re-edited. It is difficult to see this happening. The other competing religions offer spiritual democracy, as opposed to the spiritual fascism of Hinduism. This competition is the war.

 

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TIMES OF INDIA

NO SPACE IN SPACE

"Thou shalt see my scars and know that i had my wounds and also my healing" were Rabindranath Tagore's pearls of wisdom. Yet, if one yearns to enter China's manned space programme, any scar on the aspirant having stars or planets in his eyes would be grounds for instant elimination. Any scar acquired from a sharp-edged identified flying object from the kitchen or from the cutting edge of a scalpel from the surgeon, besides being an eye-sore, might dangerously burst open in extreme space conditions. Ergo, no scars. A runny nose is the other wet blanket. It's a pity there is no ready remedy for this nasal malady. Perhaps the handkerchief and tissue cartel is clogging medical research and making it soggy. Consequently, an entrant having a nose for space odyssey might sniff-sniff: 'It's my bad luck my nose is running for the two weeks running.'


The recruiters not only frown upon scars and runny noses but also screen the aspirant's medical history for three generations. If one's maternal grandpa or paternal grandma had postural vertigo, it is feared the bequeathed genes might play havoc with his insides while levitating askew in zero gravity like a pair of jeans in a washing machine. And so it might help if his robust, apple-cheeked pa, grandpa and great grandpa with his ma, grandma and great grandma had all trooped in chirpily with no walking sticks to chaperon him to the selection centre. Halitosis or bad breath that grants one privacy by keeping people at an arm's length is the next no-no. China may not want a traveller from any other planet in the galaxy to swoon when their space envoy opens his mouth to greet him during a serendipitous rendezvous. But of all the criteria mentioned here that certify an applicant qualified to board a space vehicle, the one that speaks volumes of China's chivalry is its nod for the empowerment of women. The aspirant who wants to go to outer space should get the unequivocal assent from his wife. Otherwise, he will be ejected from the programme. The countdown for the launch may be approaching zero, but if she comes running, waving her arms shouting, 'Hey, Lee, don't go. I might be pregnant', the take-off may perhaps be aborted.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

LONELY HEARTS CLUB

 

The Beatles, in the context of Ms Eleanor Rigby and other jar-inhabiting people, may have asked the right question: "All the lonely people, where do they all belong? All the lonely people, where do they all come from?" But it's a University of Chicago psychology team that seems to have come up with part of the answer: they belong to one contagious lonely hearts club. The study, published not in a dating column but in the more prestigious Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, has found after analysing data collected from over 4,000 people over a decade that lonely people increase the chances of making someone they know feel 'lonely'. Paradoxical as it may sound, lonely people lead to more lonely people. Which makes the white-coated ones come to a radical conclusion: like the common cold and depression, loneliness is a disease. All it now needs is a solid Latin name.

 

One of the researchers, quoting John Donne's wise-guy line about no man being an island, went on to explain that "something so personal as a person's emotions can have a collective existence and affect the vast fabric of humanity". Okay, so that sounds more from the stable of the existentialists than from the Metaphysical poets, but hang on, can't there be an opportunity in this mass feeling of solitude? We can already see special club nights dedicated to the 'lonely' clientele.

 

Special features could include the DJ playing songs like Elvis's 'Only the lonely', Mohammed Rafi's 'Akela hoon mein' and the Beatles's 'Yer Blues' (with its immortal lines, "Yes, I'm lonely, wanna die," special rooms for solitary confinement, and 'happy hours' drinks that will not include a '1+1' deal but only drinks sold at 50 per cent discount.

 

The fact that there are a whole lotta lonely people out there who will finally be seen as 'ill' rather than plain anti-social by the rest of us is heartening. The next breakthrough we're looking forward to is a quick-fix way of
shaking off all those 'too-sociable' people and having some quality time alone.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOW TO PLAY GOOD COP

 

The decades-long insurgency movements in the north-eastern parts of India have always been a sort of abstraction for the rest of India. Even New Delhi's handling of the violence — uninterrupted since the early '90s, was, at best, incremental, and at worst, using a fly swat to take on something nastier. But over the last year, with the Union government paying more attention to a North-east under militant siege, things have changed for the better. Much of this has been possible due to the new relationship that has been forged and nurtured with Bangladesh under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government.

 

The arrests of top leaders of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) such as Arabinda Rajkhowa this week show that the outfit's traditional 'breathing grounds' in Bangladesh have now become unwelcome to such insurgent groups. Ms Hasina has had reasons of her own to make a U-turn from Dhaka's earlier adversarial policies against Big Brother India. For one, Islamic fundamentalists, with whom her predecessor Khaleda Zia politically flirted with quite openly, have turned into a veritable bugbear for Bangladesh since the regime change in Dhaka. With one common adversary, it makes ample sense for Dhaka to cooperate with India by shutting the doors to banned outfits like Ulfa.

 

New Delhi has also shown a more mature and nuanced approach in playing the Ulfa card. Taking advantage of the schism(s) within the insurgent group, the Government of India has been playing good cop-bad cop to its advantage. Rajkhowa's handover to the Indian authorities should lead to talks between the 'Real Ulfa' and New Delhi and the subsequent crackdown on the more extremist elements of the outfit. The Ulfa, clearly, is a broken force. It is at this juncture that New Delhi can play an important ameliorative part in 'reclaiming the North-east' by enhancing governance and infrastructure across this neglected part of India. And let New Delhi not dither anymore over repealing the much misused Armed Forces Special Powers Act in the region. Demolishing the Ulfa automatically allows — indeed, demands — such a move being taken, which, in turn, will make other insurgent groups redundant.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

COLD, NECESSARY CUTS

RK PACHAURI

 

Two days before Copenhagen, governments are staking their positions on the boundaries of the agreement that they would accept coming out of that meeting. The focus today is entirely on what governments may have to do to deal with the problem of growing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), which is leading to human-induced climate change and creating impacts that would prove extremely harmful for several societies across the world. However, based on current indications, Copenhagen would hopefully move the world towards an effective agreement, but may still not result in legally binding and precisely defined commitments. Governments are likely to continue negotiating the details of an agreement that all countries hopefully would sign on to, possibly before  2010 is out. However, particularly in democratic societies, the only means by which action can be taken by governments, business and civil society would require the public being convinced that reducing GHG emissions is in their individual and collective interest.

 

In this context the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) clearly pointed out that lifestyle changes and behaviour patterns can contribute to climate change mitigation across all sectors. The question is often asked whether these lifestyle changes would prove to be a setback to society, which has reached unprecedented levels of comfort with large choices of goods and services defining a pattern of growing consumption. The response lies in the reality that much of the consumption the world is addicted to is questionable, in terms of the benefits it provides to human beings. Scientist Paul Ehrlich labelled countries in the world as developing, developed and mal-developed. In his interpretation, mal-developed countries are those that have been consuming more and more and imposing higher and higher negative impacts or externalities on natural resources and the global commons.

 

These societies would have to redefine their values and preferences to alter their consumption and avoid harmful impacts on various ecosystems. One set of products being consumed at an increasing rate worldwide is animal protein. This trend is becoming universal. Even in developing countries where rapid increases in income have taken place in recent decades, meat consumption has gone up substantially. The result is not only a major setback to global efforts towards achieving food security but it also adds to the mounting emissions of GHGs.

 

There are some facts about the entire meat cycle that have remained unknown. For instance, the livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land. Livestock production accounts for 70 per cent of all agricultural land and 30 per cent of the world's surface land area. A total of 70 per cent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by cattle pastures, and crops for animal feed cover a large part of the remaining land. Today's meat cycle, and the rearing of animals for meat is essentially in the nature of a factory-type production system. Animals are fed on foodgrains that otherwise could have been used directly for human consumption.

 

The meat cycle also accounts for large consumption of water. For instance, 1 kg of maize requires 900 litres of water, but the production of beef takes 15,500 litres. Livestock is also responsible for 64 per cent of ammonia emissions that contribute to acid rain. The extent of foodgrain diverted for production of meat amounts to one-third of the world's cereal harvest and over 90 per cent of soya production. Overall, it takes around 10 kg of animal feed to produce 1 kg of beef and 2.1-3 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of poultry meat. In very simple terms, a farmer can feed up to 30 persons throughout a year from one hectare with vegetables, fruits and cereals. If the same area is used for the production of eggs, milk or meat, the number of persons that can be fed varies from five to ten.

 

Over a year ago, I addressed a large audience of over 700 people in the city of Ghent in Belgium,  exhorting them to reduce meat consumption for mitigating GHG emissions. I was delighted to see that the result was a movement which led to the city designating one day a week as a meat-free day. Yesterday, on December 3, Paul McCartney and I addressed the European Parliament on the same subject and made a plea that all of Europe should introduce one meatless day a week to make a difference. One important co-benefit of reduced meat consumption, of course, is the improvement of health that would accrue from a vegetarian diet. In fact, the World Cancer Research Fund advises people to "eat mainly foods of plant origin".

 

While a global agreement is essential, the effectiveness of any agreement reached in Copenhagen will remain weak unless human society as a whole takes action to change its own values and lifestyles. Perhaps a good start for society would be to cut down consumption of meat that would bring about a substantial reduction in GHG emissions. One or two meatless days a week can be the quickest, most effective action to reduce GHG emissions and improve human health.

 

RK Pachauri is Chairman, Intergovernmental  Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Director-General, The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI)

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRABOURNE, BAREBONED

AYAZ MEMON

 

Nostalgia has this enigmatic quality to make one feel both young and old. Walking into the Cricket Club of India (CCI) this week on the first day of the third Test against Sri Lanka, I felt 17 once again — only to feel like Rip Van Winkle a little later.

 

I had watched the previous Test played here in early 1973 and memories of that match came back in a rush. The game was drawn but there was excitement galore: Salim Durrani hitting sixes on demand, Gundappa Vishwanath hooking a ball into the swimming pool to the roar of a packed stadium.

 

Incidentally, this was the same body of water into which, some two decades later, New Zealand all-rounder Chris Cairns ("charged to the gills" as a source described it) had jumped with a Bollywood starlet after a party. It was a soggy romp that left the elitist club's officials fretting about the rules being broken and Cairns's team management crimson with embarrassment.

 

Almost every brick and seat in this quaint stadium has a story to offer — most genuinely cricketing, some salacious — but perhaps none more significant than the confrontation of the CCI with the Mumbai Cricket Association which ended with international cricket being shifted to the Wankhede Stadium in 1974. In hindsight, the power struggle was highly avoidable.

 

Mistakes were made on both sides and overnight, the CCI was robbed of its soul — all over the allocation of some seats.

 

Ergo, in the 36 years since the last Test was played here, the CCI had become something of an anachronism. Started in 1933 after much debate and politicking to promote sport — and particularly cricket — it had been reduced to a venue for all kinds of events major and mundane including, diabolically, even dog races. The CCI still had a vote in the Board of Control for Cricket in India's (BCCI) power structure, but it hosted international matches only as alms.

 

Ironically, Mumbai now has perhaps the most number of stadiums where first class cricket has been played than any other city in the world. Apart from the CCI and the Wankhede, there is good old Bombay Gymkhana (where India played its first home Test in 1932-33), the RCF ground, the new Mumbai Cricket Association ground at Bandra-Kurla and, not too far away, the slick D.Y. Patil stadium in Navi Mumbai. Heck!

 

The purpose of this article, however, is not to pine for what might have been with the CCI, but use this saga as an allegory for what needs to be done ahead. India, I believe, is on the cusp of a sports revolution and what is going to drive this transformation — apart from growing disposable income — is planned infrastructure.

 

Recent controversies over the construction of stadiums for the Commonwealth Games bring home the problems of ill thought-out government expenditure. Too often, infrastructure becomes redundant once the event is over, as the examples of Balewadi near Pune, where the national games were once held, and several others across the country show.

 

Real value is only possible if the money spent on infrastructure gets adequate returns on investments. Which is why public-private partnerships may be the way to go. Studies across the globe show that sports infrastructure is viable only if it is used between 250 and 300 days a year. Private partnerships would create a vested interest that would work towards this objective by creating multi-purpose stadiums that can be used for all kinds of things, including convention centres, academies et al. The government should only monitor to disallow greed and wastage.

 

Of course, for a true transformation, the mindset of people also has to change. On the first day of the Test against Sri Lanka, the members' stand of the CCI was almost bare. And this after 36 years of pining. But that is a different story altogether.

 

Mumbai-based Ayaz Memon writes on cricket and other matters

 

The views expressed by the author are personal

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

MY CHEMICAL REACTION

VANITA SHRIVASTAVA

 

I had just woken up in the sleeper compartment of my train on December 4, 1984, when my eyes focused on a newspaper with screaming headlines about the industrial disaster at Bhopal. At that point, I was not even remotely connected with Bhopal. But methyl isocyanate (MIC) was something that instantly caught my attention as just two days before, I had mugged upon how to prepare it for my upcoming chemistry exam.

 

That an innocuous reaction could produce something so deadly was all that I could think while travelling back. As expected, our chemistry paper that year was flooded with questions on MIC, its manufacture and how it reacts with different compounds. I scored exceptionally well.

 

Twenty-five years down the line, I have forgotten the organic reaction that churns out the compound. But having lived in Bhopal for more than a decade, I have grasped its toxic power, something that I could never have understood through a simple chemical equation written in a textbook.

 

The toxicity of the gas still resides in the people of Bhopal — in the form of failing vision, reproductive disorders, congenital malformations and respiratory diseases. There are children who want to study but can't because of blurred vision; children who want to lead a normal life like others but can't because of congenital diseases; women grappling with cancer and abortions; men still coming to terms with their breathing problems; families still consuming contaminated water.

 

Since 1984, non-governmental organisations have mushroomed, research centres have been established, hospitals for gas victims have been built and compensations disbursed. But the morbidity of the whole affair lingers.

 

Money flowed, but so did corruption. People with no connection to the tragedy walked off with compensation. Some even called their relatives from outside Bhopal to get their names included in the victims' list.

 

There is no point in having discussions and seminars on the Bhopal tragedy. What is required is a genuine effort to arrest the genetic disorders caused by the gas. The next generation of gas victims must be saved.

 

For this, serious research work is needed — certainly not the type that's being done at Bhopal now with inadequate funds and poor infrastructure. The research should be targeted on producing drugs to treat the change in the genetic structure caused by MIC.

 

Countless number of dharnas and protests have taken place in the last 25 years. Endless reports have been made on the prevailing contamination. A number of warrants have been issued against the-then Union Carbide Chairman Warren Anderson.

 

But the ghost of the disaster continues to haunt and it probably will even 50 years down the line. Meanwhile, I took out my tattered organic chemistry book yesterday to look up the chemical reaction that I had mugged 25 years ago. I understood its toxicity this time.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

SOUL SEARCH

BARKHA DHAR

 

Temples, mosques, gurdwaras and churches as god's abode mesmerise us with divinity. Our prayers and visits to these places unfold our senses to the spiritual vibrations all around.

 

While this solaces us, a higher and deeper state of communion with oneself is the almighty within, a silent spectator of us inside out. This inner power is the magnificence of our soul that simulates true colours from life until death. As a voice of realisation and a window to change, our soul's beauty surrounds our journey through nobility in thoughts, truth in words, acceptance for actions and equality as service to humanity.

 

Laleshwari, the great mystic of Kashmir once said, "My guru gave me but one precept, from without withdraw your gaze within, fix it on the innermost self." Her verse  suggests the embellishing power of our soul. For saints like Laleshwari, yogis like Vivekananda and humanitarians like Mother Teresa, soul was the force that traversed them from darkness to light.

 

All of us are gifted with this tranquil state at birth and have a chance to realise its opulence throughout our life. Our soul's infinite power is a pedestal to cosmic connection and a spark for a conscious existence. Such internal ignition emanates by abandoning social discrimination, inculcating secularism, sharing abundance with rough sleepers, hugging the ones in pain, wiping the tears of the suffering and above all realising that joy and sorrow are momentary.

 

With humility as our hope and soul's realisation as respite, we are equipped to promote values like honesty, truth, sharing opportunity and unity in our children. This helps them understand that a helping hand or holding hands is just as important as folding hands before God.

 

Invoking our soul also evokes our mind from a sleepless state to contentment and inspires us through our twilight years. Tuning in to the magical lyrics of our soul and searching the gold mine within helps us transcendent through petty desires in life. Yoga and meditation are good modes to start soul search.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

DOOR'S AJAR

 

In a bold move, the government has decided on a pilot scheme to allow for citizens of Japan, Singapore, New Zealand, Luxembourg and Finland to visit India without the hassle of lengthy visa procedures in their home countries. This project has been undertaken unilaterally, bypassing give-and-take policies that often keep immigration formalities oppressive in the name of reciprocity. Visas on arrival open up a host of possibilities — especially for tourism.

 

Last year alone 3.3 million visitors came to India. This is abysmally low. Take, for example, the number of tourists visiting Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia last year. They respectively saw 7 million, 9.6 million and 11.5 million visitors in 2008 — all three countries have a visa-on-arrival policy. India is lagging behind in tapping into the profits that accrue from tourism. One cannot but recall China's misfortune during the Olympics as it curbed visas — to cover up bad publicity due to Tibetan protests and security threats — resulting in an 11 per cent drop in revenue. Naturally, this policy of opening up is not one which can be exercised without caution. It is understood that security concerns, especially in India's near abroad, may hamper an entirely liberal visa regime — but this pilot initiative ought to embolden the home ministry.

 

As Indian cities experience a makeover — seen in infrastructural development at Mumbai and Delhi airports, individual states' own PR drives and better rail connectivity — India is likely to attract more attention. Precaution should be exercised, but increased liberalisation should be on the agenda. For as Robert Louis Stevenson said, "There are no foreign lands. It is the traveller only who is foreign." Leaving the door ajar to curious visitors is a step in the right direction.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

COURSE IN AUTONOMY

 

When Kolkata's St Xavier's College was granted autonomy under the UGC 10th plan in 2006, there was a justifiable sense of despair among Presidency College alumni and well-wishers that an institution which had first raised the issue of its autonomy as early as 1972 had lost out owing to the state government's unwillingness to lose control of the "elite" college. St Xavier's, as a minority Jesuit institution, has historically been mostly out of bounds for the CPM's "democratisation" and politicisation of institutions. And the contrast in the predicaments of the two colleges in 2006 was the hallmark of the party's strangulation of higher education. Presidency, with its reputation and pantheon of haloed alumni, has for long been throttled by a mediocre staff not its own and subject to transfer, with better academics kept out, its formidable library and laboratories severely compromised, and in recent years its results deteriorating and students exiting prematurely for integrated courses and semester systems elsewhere.

 

Today, Presidency looks set to become a unitary university, with its alumnus Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee defying his party and pre-empting Mamata Banerjee (who has of late raised the issue of autonomy) to intervene in its behalf. But there's a chasm between the token grant of university status and the practical reform of the institution. The size of the University of Calcutta — with almost 200 colleges affiliated to it — made decentralisation and autonomy for its better colleges an imperative. Yet the challenge for Presidency will be appointing a quantitatively and qualitatively adequate faculty (its present staff cannot be given automatic appointment), investing in a new campus and upgrading infrastructure, apart from designing courses. Academic excellence is after all independent of institutional status, and Presidency hasn't been a centre of excellence for some time.

 

India's current ambitions in higher education entail preserving and improving existing brands and salvaging faded brands. Falling in the latter category, Presidency's task is unenviable. Following the tabling of the bill in the assembly, if Presidency does emerge a university, it will be a significant departure. It will then have to build new to meet the demands of education and research in a globalised world. And it has to make up for its lost decades.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

A TIME FOR NUMBERS

 

The government appears to have taken a final call going into the climate change summit at Copenhagen that India's traditional stand, that developing countries are not obliged to cut emissions, is unlikely to change. Yet there remains considerable wiggle room available to India's negotiators. The temptation, however, to keep that wiggle room as large as possible, at the cost of atmospherics going in, must be avoided. The government for a while dithered over whether to quantify India's already decided voluntary efforts on climate change — from renewable energy to reforestation. A mistake: it allowed others to seize the initiative, and to let the focus for some considerable time be on how India was the sole major participant who was unwilling to quantify. The belated announcement by Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh in Parliament today of India's best estimate of the figures — emissions per rupee of national income will decline by 20 to 25 per cent between 2005 and 2020 — should be seen as India's attempt to ensure that Copenhagen starts without any finger-pointing.

 

The debate in the Lok Sabha that preceded Ramesh's tabling of the figures revealed two things about the discussion in India: first, the level of awareness about the problems and possible solutions is still pretty low; and second, it is likely climate change itself will at some point in the future cease being the near non-issue in national politics it is at present. (Almost without exception, parties trotted out their younger MPs: Jyoti Mirdha, Ananth Hegde, Jayant Chaudhary.) The beginnings of a political conversation began to be apparent: the speakers from the BJP, for example, warned against "bending the knee" to foreigners, and against "making India the carbon sink of the world"; MPs from primarily agrarian parties or areas, were uncomfortable talking of the problem's history, but became eloquent about the danger that erratic rain patterns or salinity present to farmers; and still others expressed concern about reforestation efforts, and whether or not those would cause the displacement of forest-dwellers. At least one Congress MP expressed the hope that the prime minister would go to Copenhagen.

 

India's climate negotiators will only have their hand strengthened by the release of these numbers: their fears that the simple act of quantification increases the chances that the numbers will become "legally binding" are groundless. The echoes of the growing popular concern on display in the Lok Sabha, too, will strengthen their hands in the "political commitment" that is likely to conclude the Copenhagen negotiations.

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

NEVER AGAIN?

JAVED ANAND

 

On December 2, Harsimrat Kaur Badal, the 43-year-old Akali Dal MP from Bathinda, filled the Lok Sabha with sadness and remorse with her poignant account of the victims and survivors of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi, and how even after 25 years they have not been given justice... House Leader and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said he agreed with Kaur that the tragedy should never happen again. "Not just tragic, it's horrendous," said Kaur.

 

Never again? Fact is, the "horrendous" has happened: again and again. Mercifully, 1984 has not again happened to Sikhs. But it happened to Muslims in 1989 (Bhagalpur), 1992 (Ayodhya, Mumbai) and 2002 (Gujarat) and to Orissa's Christians in 2008. It happened just a year before 1984 too, to Muslims in Nellie (Assam). By the definition given in the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 1948, that adds up to six "genocidal killings" in 25 years. Only in India, the world's largest democracy.

 

Never again? Great idea. Will someone, please, do something to stop the carnage carnivals that are a familiar feature of the Indian landscape? But if the report of the Liberhan Commission, the Union government's ATR (Action Taken Report), editorials and comment pieces in the media are anything to go by, there's little room for hope that that which must not happen will not be allowed to happen ever again.

 

Who can rescue Justice Manmohan Singh Liberhan, a reckless man apparently bent on digging his own grave? Seventeen years is a long time, eight crore a lot of rupees. And he can't even get the date of Mahatma Gandhi's assassination right: January 31, says the report. Howlers apart, the learned judge seems all too eager to portray the then Prime Minister Narasimha Rao as a "helpless" man. In his detailed account of the build-up to December 6, 1992, he also carefully skirts any mention of the role of the previous Congress regime in the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid as a trade-off — sarva communalists' sambhav — for the Shah Bano case (1986). Had Justice Liberhan been more candid his report could possibly have dwelt on the inability, or unwillingness, of the Indian state to address the unsettled "law of the land" vs "religious belief" duel.

 

It is easy to punch a dozen holes in Justice Liberhan's report. But to unceremoniously bury it would be yet another horrendous thing to do for it's the only documentation on how, and who all, pushed the Indian Republic to the brink in 1992. Despite the howlers and bias, it contains invaluable and highly incriminating information which both the state and society must address if "never again" is sincerely meant. With all its faults the report remains a damning evidence-based account of what the institutions sworn to protect the Constitution of India did when rogues inveigled their way inside the system and manipulated it to the hilt aiding those leading the charge from without. The commission's report can be summed up in a simple sentence: unless the System (pillars of state) addresses the rot within, forget about ever meeting the challenge from without. It's about the future, not only the past.

 

Among the favourite war cries of the kar sevaks and their ringmasters before and on December 6, 1992 in Ayodhya was this: "Bade khushi kee baat hai, police hamare saath hai!" ("Oh happiness, the police are on our side!") The commission's report establishes in minute detail how this was not about ordinary constables manning the barricade. This was the message repeatedly sent out — within hearing range of the Allahabad high court, the governor of UP, the Supreme Court of India and the Union government — by UP's chief minister, Kalyan Singh. Kalyan Singh surprises no one. But the report also indicts five top IAS and five IPS officers among others who, though sworn to serve the Constitution, functioned as loyal soldiers of the Sangh Parivar's private army.

In Gujarat in 2002 it was the same story with a slight difference: "Ye andar kee baat hai, police hamare saath hai!" ("I'll tell you a secret, cops are on our side!") The Union government now promises action on its communal violence prevention bill. The only problem is that instead of making policemen and civil servants more accountable and enforcing the principle of "command responsibility", the new legislation proposes more powers to them. Never again?

 

In conclusion, says Justice Liberhan, "historians, journalists and jurists may — and should — explore these dimensions and tell these untold stories for the benefit of the current and unborn generations." The dimensions, the untold stories have to do with "the intransigent stance of the high court of Uttar Pradesh, the obdurate attitude of the governor [of UP, a Congress appointee], the inexplicable irresponsibility of the Supreme Court's observer and the short-sightedness of the Supreme Court itself".

 

You read it right, the learned judge counts his own brotherhood among the culpable and here are his parting words: "These cannot unfortunately be dwelt upon in this report (not being part of the commission's mandate) although I have neither suppressed nor minced words about these at the appropriate places and in appropriate contexts in my report."

 

When was the last time a judge spoke like this? If all we can do is to damn Justice Liberhan's report, we are doomed. Dare I say a word more except that I have read it in full? Painful and time-consuming though it is, perhaps you should too.

 

P.S. On April 22, 1993, Stephen Lawrence, a young black man was stabbed to death by five white racists at a bus stop in London. The accused were all acquitted for lack of "firm evidence".

 

Heeding the cry for justice from Lawrence's parents, the then home secretary of the UK, Jack Straw, appointed a three-member commission headed by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny. The Macpherson Report was published on February 24, 1999.

 

While tabling it in Parliament, Straw said the report "challenges us all, not just the police service". The prime minister declared his commitment to "drive home a programme of change".

 

Action on the recommendations of the Macpherson Report led to a roots-and-branch overhaul of the policing system in the UK. It can be no one's case that racialism has altogether vanished in the British police system. Every new entrant is now made aware of the no nonsense message of the "Hate Crime Manual": "There is no place in the police service for those who will not uphold and protect the human rights of others." Another planet?

 

The writer is co-editor, 'Communalism Combat' and general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy

express@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

COLLEGE STREET CELEBRATION

SAGNIK DUTTA

 

Since its inception, Presidency College epitomised a critical attitude towards worn-out convention and traditional ideals. The spirit of rational scientific enquiry that guides the college was in keeping with the vision of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio, one of the pioneers of the Bengal Renaissance in the 19th century. As a hotbed for left-of-centre politics, the college became a breeding ground for dissident voices protesting against the mis-governance of successive Congress governments in West Bengal in the late '60s. In fact, the anti-establishment trend is evident in the constant tussle between a consolidation of progressive democrats called the Independent Consolidation and the CPM government-backed SFI to gain control over the college union in successive years. The state government's constant interference in the administrative and academic life of Presidency since the late '70s was in effect an effort to seize control.

 

The assent of Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Governor Gopal Krishna Gandhi to the bill that proposes a unitary university status for Presidency College is the result, thus, of a long and protracted struggle for autonomy. Autonomy was first proposed in 1972, during the tenure of the Siddartha Shankar Ray government in Bengal, apparently in an unsigned article in the college magazine which some professors attribute to Dipankar Banerjee, a well-known member of the economics department. Bureaucratic opposition prevented it from materialising then.

 

The necessity for academic autonomy was felt primarily because of the need to upgrade curricula to meet global standards, to retain teachers of a high academic calibre who were being transferred because of the policies of the West Bengal Educational Service and to frame independent methods of evaluation and assessment.

 

Successive commissions set up by the state government as well as the UGC mostly recommended autonomous status, the most significant being the state's Ashok

 

Mitra Commission, which submitted its report in August 1992, and the UGC's Udgaonkar commission in the '80s. English professor Supriya Chaudhuri, who has taught at Presidency, was present during "a presentation to the Udgaonkar committee on behalf of the Department of English at that time. An obstructive bureaucracy and an intransigent Left Front government came in the way."

 

The most recent report, in February 2006 by the National Assessment and Accreditation Council team headed by Madras University's vice-chancellor, strongly recommended complete academic autonomy for the college. The government's dilly-dallying was primarily because many within the CPM — such as the late Anil Biswas, CPM state secretary — staunchly opposed easing party control over the college. The government persisted in its rigid stance towards the autonomy issue even as it granted St Xavier's College autonomy. Opposition also came from university administrators, who didn't wish to lose the jewel in its crown, the most famous affiliated college.

 

In fact the government's notorious transfer policy, which it promoted as an attempt to stem elitism and make resources available to all colleges, was actually an attempt to consolidate party control over the college and facilitate political appointments. The transfer policy had existed since the colonial era as a policy of the then Indian Educational Service and was applied to a few elite colleges such as Presidency College, Lady Brabourne College, Bethune College, etc. What was meant to be a means to ensure fair distribution of faculty members across colleges was appropriated by the state government to further its own ends. Academic standards became a casualty in the process; several teachers left in the '80s, notably from the English department. Supriya Chaudhuri explained: "First there was the fear of transfer. Also, there was too much interference from the government — even if you had to apply for leave to attend an international conference, you needed permission from Bikash Bhavan or Writers' Building." Jayati Gupta, a former head of that department, and who taught there since April 1980, added that "there hasn't been a single appointment to a professor post in English in the last 15 years, though there are three vacancies."

 

In fact, some present and former teachers are apprehensive of the current proposal, as it doesn't lay out a clear roadmap as to how recruitment of teachers would take place. Political scientist Prasanta Ray suggested that following the model of the Bengal Engineering and Science University at Shibpur might help. "After the college became a unitary university, it opened up all its teaching posts for applications from professors teaching across the country... In fact, current professors teaching here should also re-apply and prove their academic merit." Jayati Gupta suggested that if there is no clear roadmap for appointment, then current faculty members might become permanent staff of the new, autonomous institution without any proper assessment of their academic credentials.

 

The draft bill for autonomy is therefore just a step, though it comes too late. Presidency should eventually aspire towards becoming what the current HRD minister would describe as one of the "innovation" universities —with global teaching standards, world-class infrastructural facilities for research and above all a vision of academic excellence.

 

sagnik.dutta@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

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PRANABDHALSAMANTA

 

US President Barack Obama would have liked a few things to have worked differently before he spoke at West Point on Tuesday. In an ideal script, his administration's attempt at finding middle ground with Iran would have started delivering results, India and Pakistan would have begun some sort of a peace dialogue and China would be leaning heavily on the Pakistan Army to deliver the goods on its western border in line with US plans.

 

Three key regional stakeholders — India, Iran and China — engaged around Obama's most important strategic priority of defeating terror in Afghanistan and Pakistan, stabilising the governments there and then rationalising their presence in due course was indeed an ideal plank for announcing a military surge. In return, the US would have looked to positively address India's concerns over terror emanating from Pakistan, Iran would have got a deal on reprocessing low enriched uranium — a move that could have eventually pulled Iran out of increasing isolation — and China could have emerged as a partner in power with the US, playing an influential role in Obama's key global priorities. Add to that a more forthcoming participation from NATO allies would have further cemented the American president's ground.

 

The script, however, did not go by plan. Let's start with Obama's visit to China. The US wanted the joint statement to reflect clear support from China for Washington's Af-Pak plans — fight terrorism, maintain domestic stability and achieve sustainable economic and social development. China agreed but drove a hard bargain by insisting on adding another line supporting "growth of relations between India and Pakistan", besides drawing a commitment from the US to "strengthen communication, dialogue and cooperation on issues related to South Asia".

 

As India figured this out, the constituency for support to Obama shrunk rather dramatically in New Delhi and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not shy away from playing the China card during his just concluded trip to Washington. There is no doubt that the US is continuing to lean on India for resuming talks with Pakistan. But after initial forays, both sides have backed off fearing domestic backlash. Asif Ali Zardari is still painted in poor light as a weak leader for having been told off by the Indian PM at Yekaterinberg while Singh has had his own share of political problems after Sharm-el-Sheikh. Result: Even an otherwise eager Pakistan did not seek a meeting among foreign ministers at Port of Spain as the gulf widens between both sides.

 

Iran, of course, has turned down the US package deal on reprocessing fuel in France and Russia for use in the Tehran Research Reactor. This triggered strong reactions in Washington and paved the way for the Iran nuclear programme to be referred back to the UN Security Council. The fear that Iran is just a year away from developing a nuclear weapon has returned and Obama seems to be in no position to straddle middle ground on the issue.

 

In short, the regional context has just not fallen in place for Obama since the time he unveiled his Af-Pak strategy back in March. His administration has pursued what can somewhat be described as stakeholders' diplomacy by trying to build on common ground among regional actors with growing stakes in the Af-Pak situation. He has sought to adopt the same approach in dealing with the economic crisis or furthering his non-proliferation and disarmament agenda. But in this case, the US Af-Pak interlocutors clearly underestimated other sub-regional narratives like the complex and unpredictable nature of Indo-Pak rivalry, the negative fallout of an increasingly assertive China on its neighbourhood, underpinnings of Iran's nuclear ambitions or for that matter an over appreciation of commitments from its European allies. While it is somewhat correct to assert that Obama has taken a leadership decision against all political odds to remain engaged in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the fact is regional players are hedging stakes and still unwilling to go the distance. With Iran now preparing for another pitched battle with the West, it has completely removed itself from the equation for the moment. So, US will count on better cooperation from India and China.

 

Here is where lies India's predicament. While China has several options in terms of influence in Pakistan to keep up its show of support, India has very few. All offers of support and assistance in Afghanistan by way of reconstruction and capacity building will not count against the pressure for resuming the peace process with Pakistan. While New Delhi has always desired peace, it would like to control the timing of any such decision which is linked to 26/11investigations.

 

Either way, India will need to take a political call. And this will have to be based on the assessment on how much of a chance New Delhi gives to Obama's surge and exit plan. There is no doubt in India that the longer the US stays in Aghanistan and Pakistan, the more comforting it is for New Delhi. So now that Obama has made his political decision, India too will have to reassess and that would also have to include a fallback plan as and when Washington decides to reduce presence. In all scenarios, one conclusion is clear: status quo in policy is no longer an option.

 

pranab.samanta@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

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SARITHA RAI

 

It is a contraption no taller (but a lot slimmer) than a 120-litre refrigerator and it rides in the back of a Toyota Qualis. Five days a week, it is ferried to the districts surrounding Bangalore to scan the eyes of premature, low-birth weight babies in rural and semi-urban Karnataka. The scanned images of the babies' retinas are beamed remotely to a doctor's iPhone. A diagnosis is swiftly arrived at and laser treatment given. It is an all-out effort to prevent a deadly and blinding condition afflicting premature newborns called Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). This is tele-medicine at its most efficient, bridging the yawning gap between a patient and a medical specialist in a poor country.

 

Two million babies are born prematurely every year in India where healthcare facilities are either inaccessible or inadequate in large parts. Tele-ophthalmology could potentially speed up diagnosis and treatment, preventing certain and irreversible blindness in newborns. The project is the creation of Dr Anand Vinekar, a pediatric retinologist of the Narayana Nethralaya eye hospital in Bangalore. Dr Vinekar is an alumnus of St. John's Medical College, and subsequently trained at the Post Graduate Institute in Chandigarh and a premier pediatric retinal centre in Michigan, USA. Dr Vinekar and Narayana Nethralaya are now teaming up with state governments and New Delhi's National Rural Health Mission to implement the remote diagnosis-and-treatment model elsewhere in the country.

 

A set of technicians and government ophthalmologists from the backward northern districts of Karnataka are now being trained. The entire project is set to become the very first private-public partnership to prevent infant blindness in India. "Tele-ophthalmology and, more generally, tele-medicine, has the potential to make remote diagnosis affordable and effective," says Dr Vinekar. Consequently, in countries like India, tele-medicine could spawn a workable healthcare model that could help in early detection and prevention of disease. Meanwhile, governments in Ghana, Thailand and Sri Lanka have expressed interest in launching similar projects.

 

"A convergence of portable, low-power and well-connected medical devices will drive networked healthcare and virtual doctor concepts," says Sham Banerji, CEO of i2i Telesolutions, which provided the back-end software for Vinekar's tele-ophthalmology project. Banerji who recently quit as head of Texas Instruments' Indian software division to start up the tele-medicine software firm, predicts that for many under-served and under-developed markets in the future, a patient's first encounter with healthcare could well be via a broadband network.

 

Take Dr Vinekar's tele-ophthalmology project. The screening and treatment apparatus goes round the southern districts of Karnataka five days a week with a technician, a project manager and a driver. The team visits 18 sites — district hospitals, medical college hospitals and private neo-natal ICUs — where premature newborns (less than 35 weeks old and less than 2,000 gms birthweight) are kept. Trained technicians take pictures of the retinas of premature babies and transmit them over broadband networks to pediatric eye surgeons. A surgeon armed with an iPhone could be sitting practically anywhere in the world. The ophthalmologist can enlarge the scans using the phone graphics capabilities. In a few minutes the expert determines whether the baby has ROP and needs immediate treatment. Timing is critical because the window of treatment is an extremely small one extending to hours rather than days or weeks.

 

One in two premature babies in India suffers from ROP where blood vessels of the retina are immaturely grown. Dr Vinekar refers to the condition as "a tsunami of a disease" that comes and goes within the third to eighth week of a premature baby's life.

This is merely the tip of the iceberg as far as the potential of tele-medicine goes. By merely looking at the eye scans, Dr Vinekar and his team have detected other conditions such as hole in the heart and ocular cancer in babies. As in the case of Dr Vinekar's project, socially relevant research could marry technology to set off a healthcare revolution. Tele-medicine could fell the separating barrier between poor patients and healthcare.

 

saritha.rai@expressindia.com

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

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Let me start with the bottom line and then tell you how I got there: I can't agree with President 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. 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 NATO 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:

 

1. 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.

 

2. 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.

 

3. 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 U.N.'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.

 

4. 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.

Iraq was about "the war on terrorism." The Afghanistan invasion, for me, was about the "war on terrorists." To me, it was about getting 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 New York Times

 

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INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

LIBERHAN REPORT

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

Predictably, Urdu papers have not expressed any surprise at the findings of the Liberhan Commission that enquired into the issues connected with the demolition of Babri Masjid in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, as the conclusions about leaders of the sangh parivar being responsible for the demolition of the Liberhan Commission is on "expected lines". Kolkata and Delhi-based daily Akhbar-e-Mashriq, in its editorial (November 26) wonders: "It cannot be said if the Central government would have tabled the report in Parliament or not, if its contents were not revealed by a newspaper and a TV channel." Patna and Ranchi-based daily Qaumi Tanzeem (November 25) has noted with sarcasm the observation of Justice Liberhan that the then Prime Minister, P.V. Narasima Rao "kept on daydreaming" and waited for a report from the (Uttar Pradesh) Governor after which he could get activated. About Liberhan Commission's observation about Atal Bihari Vajpayee's role in the process of demolition, the paper writes: "He was not present in Ayodhya at the time of the demolition and perhaps his presence there was not needed because he had given a particular direction to this matter (by giving a provocative speech in Lucknow on December 5, 1992). His job was completed and future work was to be done by those who were present there as kar sevaks."

 

Most papers have an apprehension that no action will be taken against those held responsible for the demolition. Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj, in its editorial on November 25 writes: "Based on the Action Taken Report (ATR), prepared by the government, it is not difficult to conclude that in the light of this report the government does not intend to take any action to punish those responsible for the demolition of Babri Masjid... The 68 held responsible for the demolition by the Liberhan Commission do not find mention anywhere in the 13-page ATR of the government."

 

DUBAI JITTERS

The anxiety felt in India due to the $59 billion debt rescheduling crisis of Dubai World is amply reflected. Rashtriya Sahara, in an editorial (November 30) writes: "It is true that India has achieved success to a great extent in keeping its economy unaffected by the economic crisis of the US. In spite of that the reports of the possible Dubai World crisis are causing worry because many big Indian companies in the real estate sector had made announcements, in recent months, for large-scale investments in Dubai." Hindustan Express (November 30) writes: "Experts opine that in case effective steps are not taken to deal with this crisis, if nothing else, a large number of Indians employed in Dubai will be affected and it does not need to be said that lakhs of Indians are working in Dubai..."

 

WAHABISM AND JETHMALANI

Former Union Minister and well known jurist Ram Jethmalani's recent statement at a conference in the capital that Wahabi ideology was at the root of terrorism in the world and his allegation that Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia were promoting terrorism (resulting in the walkout of the Saudi envoy from the conference hall) has been the subject of much ridicule and anger. Akhbar-e-Mashriq, in its editorial (November 23), clarifies: "What is generally called Wahabi movement was actually an Islamic movement of the seventeenth century whose objective was to espouse adoption and practice of a purist Islam by Muslims in their lives. This movement was linked with the philosophy of Imam Taimia who worked for eradication of heresy and un-Islamic practices and distortion in religion." Hindustan Express, in its editorial on the same day writes: "There cannot be two opinions about the fact that the Wahabi movement (launched by Sheikh Mohammad Bin Abdul Wahab) was not against non-Muslims. The world knows that he had started the movement for reform among Muslims and even if he took part in any armed struggle it was in that part of Arabia where, at least during his time, there was no population of non-Muslims..." Qaumi Tanzeem (November 24) wonders how Jethmalani, who wrote sometime ago an article in a leading English daily where he praised Islam and its leaders profusely describing them as broad-minded (roshan khayal), could now describe Islam as a religion promoting terrorism and put the blame for its spread on Muslim countries.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FINALLY, INTENSITY ON CLIMATE

 

At around 6 pm on Thursday, when environment minister Jairam Ramesh stood up to explain his government's position on climate change and how it would present the same at Copenhagen, he began by saying how impressed he had been by the quality of discussion that had preceded his presentation. Over four hours, 18 speakers from different political parties and different states took turns lobbing questions at the minister. Their engagement showed the Indian Parliament in really good form. Not just because the legislators appeared informed and concerned, not just because their questions were rarely gratuitous, but also because—in contrast to some of the world's other prominent legislatures—they were taking climate change seriously. They weren't bickering about whether man had caused it or not, but agreed that man has to do something to fix it. Sure, the rich-poor binary came up a few times. But that's understandable in India's larger political economy. Sure, there were fears that the rich countries are trying to give poor ones a bad deal. That's understandable too—note how little talk there is these days about who shall pay how much for cutting emissions. Overall, however, there was recognition that the problem cannot be ignored, that it must be tackled on a priority basis.

 

The minister didn't announce anything stunningly unexpected. He had been expected to declare that India would cut carbon intensity—the amount of CO2 emitted for each unit of GDP—by 20-25% between 2005-2020, which is what he did. This is not too impressive if one considers that our carbon intensity anyway declined by 17.6% over the previous 15 years, or that China has announced a 40-45% target. But the minister made it clear that this is only a base goal, and that pursuant to a good Copenhagen deal he would be willing to commit to much more. What he will not commit to are legally binding emission cuts or a peaking year for India. What he flagged off as an indication of the government moving on multiple fronts included improved energy-efficiency certificates for industries, mandatory fuel efficiency standards, an ambitious solar power programme, green building codes, regular updates on the forest cover that absorbs 10% of India's greenhouse emissions and accelerated adoption of green coal technology. He also flagged mitigation action's accountability to Parliament, rather than an international institution. Finally, the significance of yesterday's Parliamentary proceedings lay less in the magnitude of new measures announced, and more in the fact that we saw diverse legislators are united in their concern for climate change, and the minister is trying to fashion the agenda in as transparent a fashion as possible. Including admitting that, in his judgment, per capita is an accident of history. And India needs to move beyond this argument.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

WISE ON VISA


We may at last be seeing the first signs of liberalisation in our otherwise tough visa granting regime. A report in The Indian Express on Thursday confirmed that the government had in principle decided to grant a visa-on-arrival facility at airports to citizens from five countries. That list of countries comprising Singapore, Japan, Finland, New Zealand and Luxembourg may not seem significant enough, but it's important to remember that this is just a start. What is more important is the general direction we are heading in, at least on the issue of short-term tourist and business visas. For too long we have refused to be liberal in granting tourists the permission to visit India either because of security concerns, or because we have been concerned about lack of reciprocity from other countries. However, while security is obviously a matter of concern, granting visas on arrival to nationals of some countries (we don't realistically expect citizens of every country in the world to be accorded this special status) doesn't necessarily mean sacrificing security altogether. Obviously, even those who are granted visas on arrival will be screened at special counters in airports for security reasons. And reciprocity, while very welcome, cannot be a binding constraint on our own policy decision. After all, if we allow more tourists to visit India with less hassle, it will boost the economy—the tourism economy is around 5% of GDP and it is employment intensive. More than 5 million foreign tourists visited India in 2008 and tourism earned the economy $11.7 billion in foreign exchange in 2008. Of course, for a country of India's size and attraction, all these numbers are fairly small. Note that India doesn't figure in any list of top 25 tourist destinations (among all countries) in the world, and lags behind even in Asia.

 

Obviously, not all of India's tourism problems have to do with the visa regime. There are probably even more important issues related to infrastructure that are the real binding constraints. Still, a more liberal visa regime is probably the easiest move at a policy level to immediately make all those statistics on tourism a little more impressive. One also hopes that this liberalism with tourist visas translates into a more liberal regime for temporary workers as well. Unfortunately, all the policy decisions on work visas in recent times linked with the issue of Chinese labour have been rather in the opposite direction of liberalism. Like in tourism, we are only doing our own economy harm if we deny temporary work visas to Chinese or other workers who are involved in the completion of critical infrastructure projects. A liberal visa regime—tourist or work—is unambiguously good from an economic point of view.

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

MINEFIELD IN MINES IN EASTERN INDIA

SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

 

There are so many tales about postings in the economic departments in Ranchi of late, each more bizarre than the other, that they could have all been brushed aside as hyperbole. The problem are the tales I heard from two very senior government officials from the Centre who have been posted in the state capital, that are impossible to brush off.

 

Going by the evidence they have uncovered in the past few months, Jharkhand's problems are now strikingly similar to those faced by some of the mineral rich countries in Africa. The state has been engulfed by a fatal combination of extremely attractive booty in its mines, an administration that has ceased to exist in the war for state power and a public that is too poor to be able to demand accountability—the state's per capita income at Rs 20,811 in 2006-07 is 44% lower than the national average, and a thin middle class partially co-opted into the spoils system.

 

This has created a buccaneering spirit of an earlier century, right in the middle of India of today. As a result, and this is where the analysis becomes very disturbing, the better corporations have at many points ceded ground to the rogues. So it is difficult to say if and when the state will come out from the mess.

 

Orissa has fared better, as the state administration is far more stable. But here too there are similar examples. In Kalinganagar, in the Jajpur district, about 11 steel companies have set up shop. Among them, Tata Steel has made the deepest investment among all for rehabilitation of the people who had to move out because of the mines and the factories. Yet the current agitation is largely directed at this company. Whether this is spawned by corporate rivalry is difficult to pin-point, but in the absence of the state as a regulatory player, the accusations are difficult to sort out.

 

So it will be facile to blame Madhu Koda, the former CM of Jharkhand, as the only rogue element. He was obviously the most visible node in the mines. But that there will be a number of others is just stating the obvious.

 

The evidence being put together in Jharkhand by the investigative agencies shows the rot has spread through the state bureaucracy at the top level. In a report that could soon create a huge ripple, one of the agencies has found that since 2005, none of the mines opened up for private mining by the state was given without a bribe. The report also adds that the state government bureaucracy repeatedly delayed sending up to the Centre the list of bidders till the favourites were included in the list. This, the report says, was apparently the reason why massive delays often occurred in giving out leases.

 

Even Steel Authority of India had to wait for more than two years to get a fresh lease on Chiria Hills. So, a significant section of the bureaucracy has become pliable. For any administrator the chance of cutting through this graft system is terribly difficult.

 

These are serious allegations. But equally serious are those that cannot be put in the report. These are the allegations about the state government officials who are sorted into slabs for payouts. Incidentally, one of the authors confided in me that he now records conversations with all government officials, so deep is the level of mistrust in the state.

 

The problems with the allocation of the mines in these states are also an indictment of the Central government. India has not suddenly discovered its mining riches. Yet for the last 60 years since independence, we have not worked out a system for allocation of mines that satisfies the norms for efficiency, equity and growth.

 

Yet, despite the rise in the number of investors, the government of these states still uses the same rudimentary technique to map the area instead of the latest geospatial surveys. Incidentally, the Jharkhand government has not uploaded its data on mines since the year 2002 on its Web site, run by the NIC. Its data, for instance, on the collection of state revenues from minerals is from the year 2002-03, when it received Rs 798 crore from the source.

 

The Centre, too, has restricted itself to the collection of royalty from the exploitation of the mines, without involving the state governments in significant capacity-building exercises. The departments of mines in both Orissa and Jharkhand are seriously understaffed in terms of technical people. There are only six geologists in Jharkhand mining department and there are vacancies for 33. The peculiar combination of IAS-dominated senior bureaucracy and a poorly trained staff graduating from the ranks of promoted clerks is a norm here too, just as it is for government departments in most states. This means project appraisal is a formality and the only conduit is the flow of cash to settle all arguments. As FE reported in one of the stories, Koda cleared 41 files for iron ore mining leases in a single day during his stint.

 

To expect regulatory oversight in this jungle is obviously absurd.

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WHY A BAILOUT FOR DUBAI MAY BE TOUGH

SANJAY BANERJI


The current state of hesitation on the part of the UAE Federation to underwrite a general bailout to the creditors of Dubai World (DW), and the inability of the city state to bail out DW directly indicates that much of the adjustment will fall back on the creditors themselves in the coming days, once the debt restructuring process begins. The apparent reluctance by the other six members of the UAE to infuse liquidity also illustrates the classic problems inherent in every financial crisis—lack of co-ordination and readiness to resolve problems of an individual country, city state or institution on a collective basis.

 

Speculation is rife about Abu Dhabi's exact role in this restructuring process. The alleged cultural differences between Abu Dhabi and Dubai are cited as barriers to the former's unwillingness to act as its neighbour's saviour. However, the primary reason for inaction is cold calculation of costs and benefits associated with such an endeavour. The costs will be Abu Dhabi's, and the immediate gains will mostly go to Dubai and DW. To give a concrete example, the price of the $3.5 billion sukuk, or Islamic bonds, issued by DW's subsidiary fell from 110 cents to 55 cents last week in three days following the news that DW wanted to defer its interest payments. Any news of assistance will certainly make the price of these bonds a bit higher and will help investors who are holding these bonds as well as their issuer, DW, but the cost will be shared by other parties.

 

Hence, either free riding or general inaction is the very natural response of other partners and this is an endemic problem in every debt crisis, irrespective of time and place. Usually, one or two institutions take the role of funding a rescue operation and provide the leadership.

 

Rescues of AIG in recent times, hedge fund Long-Term Capital Management in 1998, or Latin American debt issues in the 1980s are examples of such a co-ordinated rescue from either a consortium of bankers (LCTM), by government (AIG) or at times, IMF or the World Bank. It all started with JP Morgan's single-handed contribution in injecting liquidity to stop contagion in NY stock markets back in 1907. Hence, as of now, Dubai, too, will be a creditor-led reorganisation.

 

However, issues in Dubai are more complicated because at this point, it is not liquidity but insolvency that is at the heart of the problem. And the problem is also the structure of Dubai's economy. Unlike its neighbours, it lacks oil reserves and activities like trading (wholesale, retail etc). Financial services and construction sectors constitute almost 55% of its GDP. These are mostly service-related sectors that would do well only when the economy around Dubai fares better and that's not happening soon. Hence, there is nothing much that this city state can promise to its current and future creditors against a concession and this immediately hinders the process of smooth rescheduling of its debt.

 

Still, restructuring of its debt will begin soon and at the ground level; it will involve both assets and liability restructuring. TDW will be forced to sell many of its prized assets, like ownership of the port and other real estate properties, and scrap many of its current projects. On the liability side, a part of the debt will be converted to equity, or trade credit will be arranged together with some waiver for a part of the principal or interest. However, there are two basic impediments to the process of liability adjustments that may make the problem worse in the coming days. First, it is sovereign debt. Hence, no country-specific law (bankruptcy or otherwise) will hold in the process of debt restructurings. Second, there are multiple creditors and it is not clear which creditor has the priority claims in the structure of debt contracts between DW and its vast network of creditors. The priority rule does not matter in good times because every creditor gets paid off but will certainly be a bone of contention in times of default unless an independent body (UAE central bank) cooperates with the creditors in charge of the restructuring process.

 

As far as the long-term effects are concerned, the effect on the capital markets of the rest of world will not be significant, other than a minor contagion-related fear that will make costs of insuring sovereign debt of emerging markets higher, leading to some short-term tremors.

 

Lacking vast tracts of oil, Dubai has tried to carve a niche by combining trading, tourism, financial sectors and real estate, and created a market for immigrant labour from a wide array of countries. Finance has followed from interested quarters but the script here is the same as with other bubbles. People in higher office simply forget that it is the real wealth that lends life to the financial assets and not the other way around.

 

The author is reader in finance at Essex University

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

BETWEEN TWO BUDGETS, TAXING QUESTIONS

SURABHI


It's that time of the year again when finance ministry babus will kick off the Budget-making exercise. The preparations, however, seem to be a little odd given that a large number of the tax changes announced in the Union Budget 2009-10 are yet to be notified. While there isn't much of a delay in indirect tax proposals, which are usually notified soon after the Finance Bill for a year is passed, it's mostly the direct tax changes that get delayed.

 

Take for example, the safe harbour rules or more importantly, the rules for taxation of perquisites—it's been a good five months since these were announced in the Budget on July 6, but they are yet to be notified by the tax authorities. A related issue of refunding the fringe benefit tax paid by companies in the first tranche of advance taxes also remains unaddressed.

 

Similarly, guidelines for setting up the dispute resolution panels were late by over a month and a half from the original deadline of October 1. They were finally issued last week, although the members were appointed by the CBDT this Monday.

 

These are all pressing proposals as they will significantly alter the direct taxes regime for both companies and individuals, who need to plan their tax outgo accordingly. For instance, the whys and hows of perquisites taxation have got both corporate and individual taxpayers confused.

 

A similar situation arose last year as well. Then finance minister P Chidambaram had introduced a tax on commodities transactions, and everyone was left guessing when it would be notified. It was only in this year's Budget that the tax was formally abolished. Finance ministry officials have been promising that these notifications will be issued shortly. It's obvious that the preparation and consequent deliberations on the draft Direct Taxes Code have kept them all occupied. Taxpayers need clarity and stability in tax treatment while making their investment decisions. This is one of the reasons why most tax changes are announced at the start of the financial year in the Budget. If notifications have to be delayed for months on end, tax changes may well be delinked from the Budget exercise.

 

surabhi.prasad@expressindia.com

 

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FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

REPORT CARD

 

Drawing on an empirical analysis of data for 15 UAE banks through end-2008, this paper* emphasises the importance of making available to banks additional instruments to manage their liquidity:

 

The UAE's current monetary and foreign exchange regime may not have to undergo far-reaching changes, were plans for future financial integration to materialise. Monetary conditions in a fixed exchange rate regime with a fully open capital account are determined by the anchor currency. Although minor adjustments are conceivable, more far-reaching changes will have to be vindicated by the decisions made in the context of the GCC monetary union (GCCMU). In all likelihood the monetary regime of GCCMU will consist of a merger of the regional pegs into a single fixed exchange rate against the dollar. As to the features of sterilisation operations, the monetary union will require a central coordination so that liquidity management operations are based on the liquidity situation observed at the level of the GCC region. This would force a unification of the features of liquidity management instruments towards one set of GCC-wide tools.

 

Alexandre Chailloux and Dalia Hakura; Systemic Liquidity Management in the UAE: Issues and Options; WP/09/261, International Monetary Fund, December 2009

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BEYOND EXPECTATIONS

 

The Central Statistical Organisation's estimate of a robust GDP growth of 7.9 per cent during the second quarter of the year (July-September 2009) has come as a surprise to policy makers and the markets alike. It compares very favourably with the 7.7 per cent recorded at the same time last year. During the first quarter, the economy grew by 6.1 per cent and even that appeared respectable considering that practically all advanced economies and most developing countrie s were at that time still mired in recession and were posting negative growth rates. At one level, the acceleration seen in the second quarter seems to reinforce the forecasts of the IMF and the World Bank that India and China, along with a few other developing countries, will be in the forefront of a global recovery. It is more than likely that growth projections for 2009-10 by official as well as non-official forecasters will be revised upwards. That would be a significant development, considering that barely three months ago most of them were lowering their projections in the wake of inadequate rainfall during the early phase of the South West monsoon. The Reserve Bank of India stuck to the forecast of 6 per cent growth with an upward bias made in its annual credit policy statement. The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council was slightly more upbeat with its projection of 6.5 per cent.

 

The second quarter growth has been driven by strong performances of the manufacturing sector, which was up by 9.2 per cent compared to 5.1 per cent last year, and the mining and quarrying sector that registered 9.5 per cent as against 3.7 per cent. The growth in the services sector too has been impressive with the Community, Social and Personal services sub-segment posting a 12.7 per cent growth. The impact of the stimulus measures is continuing but there are signs of private consumption expenditure reviving. While there are reasons to be optimistic, a word or two of caution will be in order. Agriculture and allied activities have grown by just 0.9 per cent, down from 2.7 per cent a year ago and 2.4 per cent in the previous quarter. Even that does not take into account the estimated fall in the production of rice, pulses, and oil seeds during the Kharif season. The consensus is that agriculture will fare worse in the third quarter. To place the current growth rate in perspective, the economy grew by 7.2 per cent on an average between 2000-01 and 2004-5 and by 9.2 per cent between 2005-06 and 2007-08. While the current growth rate is in line with the trend over the longer period, regaining a 9 per cent growth momentum will be a task for the medium-term.

 

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

BIGOTRY IN SWITZERLAND

 

In a referendum called by general popular initiative on November 29, the Swiss electorate voted by 57.5 per cent for a constitutional ban on the building of minarets throughout the country. This deeply unsettling result has caused a ripple of tension in this usually tranquil region. The vote went against all expectations and against the wishes of all the major political parties including the referendum's instigators, the Swiss People's Party (SVP). This disturb ing indication of a prejudice against Islamic symbolism sits oddly with Switzerland's image as a leader in human rights advocacy and international mediation. The result has also been condemned by ministers in the European Union governments, by the Vatican, and by Islamic authorities around the world, many of whom have also advised calm. The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, whose office is based in Geneva, has called the result discriminatory and divisive. Switzerland may also face action in the European Court of Human Rights; it currently chairs that court's parent body, the Council of Europe.

 

The ban will not affect the four minarets already standing in Switzerland, and the vote has no connection with the facts of such Muslim presence as there is in the country. The population of about 7.6 million includes approximately 400,000 Muslims; almost all are Europeans or have strong European cultural connections. The 160 or so mosques in Switzerland are also said to be almost invisible. The ban, however, has nothing to do with forms of Islam or with whether minarets and domes are essential to Islamic devotional architecture; mosques without them exist all over the world. Instead the SVP campaign for the ban focussed on the burkha, on the Sharia law, and on the allegedly widespread oppression of women in Islamic cultures and countries. The main campaign poster showed black minarets standing together like rockets against the background of the Swiss flag. In front of the flag, a woman in a black burkha stared towards the viewer. The clear and inflammatory message was that Switzerland had been or was about to be taken over by Islam. Such a message would almost certainly resonate with other European electorates. A German tabloid says that if given the chance German voters would probably vote the same way as the Swiss. This victory for fear and demagoguery shows clearly the failure of mainstream European politicians to deal decisively with xenophobia, bigotry, and racism among their own populations.

 

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

A DAUGHTER'S LONG ROAD TO JUSTICE

SHEIKH HASINA HAD TO WAIT FOR THREE-AND-A-HALF DECADES TO SEE JUSTICE DONE IN HER FATHER'S CASE. SHE CAN NOW CONCENTRATE ON DELIVERING ON THE ISSUES THAT ARE ON THE FRONT BURNER.

NUPUR BASU

 

For Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the Supreme Court verdict sentencing five former army officers, accused of assassinating her father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, to death is a delayed but sweet retribution. It has been a long road to justice for the daughter of the Father of the Nation. She has had to wait for three-and-a-half decades to see justice done. The architect of the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971 was assassinated on August 15, 1975.

 

Civil society, the media — both radio and television — and a majority of newspaper editorials were quick to welcome the final verdict.

 

Delivered amid high security by a five-member Bench of the Appellate division, there was consensus that the judgment was a step towards setting the nation's history right.

 

BLACK HOLE

For the first 21 years after the killing, the case went into a black hole due to an indemnity ordinance promulgated by President Khondker Mushtaque Ahmed to shield the killers. It was only in 1996, when the Awami League was elected back to power, that Parliament disabled the Act and Mujibur's personal secretary filed a first information report to press ahead with charges against his assassins.

 

The Bangabandhu case again took a back seat during the Bangladesh Nationalist Party regime of Khaleda Zia and the subsequent caretaker government. It is only after Sheikh Hasina romped home with a convincing victory in December 2008, did hopes of getting justice for the assassinated leader brighten up again. With the pronouncement of the verdict, Sheikh Hasina can now seek the political closure of her personal tragedy and concentrate on delivering on the issues that are on the front burner.

 

Violence and counter-violence have become a way of life in the subcontinent and Bangladesh is no exception. The mutiny on February 25 and 26 in the headquarters of Bangaldesh Rifles (BDR) in Dhaka by jawans resulted in a bloodbath. Disgruntled over low wages and alleged abuse and misuse by their superiors, the jawans went on a killing spree, gunning down the Director-General of BDR and his wife, and dozens of top army officials. The death toll is reported to be 148.

 

Coming as it did just two months after she took charge as Prime Minister, the mutiny left Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League, and the people of Bangladesh stunned. Sheikh Hasina showed great courage in personally going to the BDR headquarters and facing the enraged army officers who were baying for the jawans' blood. She took them on at a free-for-all post-mortem meeting (all captured on YouTube and beamed to millions) and assured them that justice would be done, but only after a proper inquiry was conducted.

 

During a visit to Bangladesh in May, I spoke to several journalists and members of civil society who praised the courage that a shocked and shaken Sheikh Hasina showed following the mutiny.

 

Bangladesh is impatient to move on. It wants the Awami League to deliver on its promises after getting a resounding verdict in the last election. Neither the last caretaker government nor the graft-ridden regime of Khaleda Zia delivered on its promises. There are huge expectations from Mujib's daughter.

 

HEAVY PRICE

Sheikh Hasina is aware of the price she has had to pay for being out of power. Last summer, on her way back from London, she was suddenly informed at the airport that the caretaker government had barred her from returning to Bangladesh. For the next few days, she stayed in a rented flat in London with her sister and lobbied tirelessly with the media, the British and American MPs, and the Bangladeshi community in Britain. Finally, the caretaker government relented and she boarded the flight to Dhaka like a heroine.

 

A woman whose father fought for the liberation of her country could not be deterred by political rivals. The entire episode turned out to be bad publicity for the caretaker government and a great boost for Sheikh Hasina, who was headed for an election. She won handsomely a few months later.

 

The trial of war criminals is one of the issues that is occupying mind space in Bangladesh. Civil society is keen that it be conducted in a transparent and just manner. Several Jamaat leaders are in the list of accused and this has led to further polarisation of opposing camps. There is a new effort at retelling the sacrifices of the martyrs of the liberation struggle, in which three million lives were lost. Efforts such as building Liberation War Museums are on.

 

Sheikh Hasina has a huge stake in reviving the liberation patriotism to counter the anti-liberation forces. After all, it is the elements of patriotism that remember the sacrifices her father made for the country.

 

A background paper distributed during a meeting to plan a new Liberation Museum in Dhaka which I attended this year read: "It is an effort at connecting our present with our past. An effort at telling ourselves that it was indeed a war to uphold a distinctly different culture that this nation has, as opposed to the so-called two-nation theory on which the theocratic state of Pakistan was based. A nation cannot be born for the sake of a particular religion alone."

 

Rabindranath Tagore's 147th birth anniversary celebrations peaked in public spaces and on the many Bengali television channels in Bangladesh. In comparison, the media coverage on Tagore in India pales into insignificance.

 

But apart from attempting a Bengali cultural and social revival, there is pressing business to be attended to. The problem inherited by all of South Asia ails Bangladesh too — of home-grown terrorists. So in this very crucial term of office, Sheikh Hasina is a Prime Minister with a mission. She has made it very clear that she will move against forces — referred to as Jongis (terrorists) in Bengali — that support terrorism on Bangladeshi soil.

 

'FIGHT OR PERISH'

Supported by an experienced Home Minister Sahara Khatun and a young, hands-on and media savvy Minister of State for Home Tanjim Ahmed Sohel Taj, Sheikh Hasina has put the fight against counter terrorism on top of her government's agenda. The popular saying in Bangladesh these days is: "Fight terrorism or perish like Pakistan."

 

Tracing the missing grenades and weaponry after the BDR mutiny remains a major area of concern for the Awami League, lest they fall into the wrong hands within Bangladesh or across the border in India or Pakistan.

 

The arrest of ULFA mastermind Arabinda Rajkhowa in the country last week and his handover to India this week demonstrate that the Hasina government is determined not to allow Bangladeshi soil to be used as a safe haven for terrorists.

 

The global recession too has fuelled social problems. It has meant the huge migrant workforce of Bangladeshis

abroad being shown the door and repatriated back home. It is estimated that by year-end, one lakh workers may be forced to return to their country.

 

Sheikh Hasina's new slogan is the dream of a "Digital Bangladesh." The Prime Minister is keen on shoring up Information Technology and knowledge-based industries in Bangladesh to address joblessness, and is reported to have channelled 4,900 crore Bangladeshi takas to establish such industries.

 

The slogan may be ridiculed by frustrated cabbies trying to negotiate the car through thousands of rickshaws on Dhaka's mindboggling streets. But for millions of middle-class students passing out of the country's universities, it offers a ray of hope for a safe, self-reliant and modern Bangladesh 38 years after it gained independence.

 

(Nupur Basu is an independent journalist and documentary filmmaker.)

 

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THE HINDU

REVITALISING INDIA-RUSSIA TIES

THE TWO COUNTRIES ARE REDISCOVERING THE VALUES OF THEIR TRADITIONAL FRIENDSHIP IN THE FACE OF ONGOING SHIFTS IN GLOBAL POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC EQUATIONS.

VLADIMIR RADYUHIN

 

After a period of drift in bilateral relations India and Russia are poised for re-energising their ties when the leaders of the two countries meet in Moscow for an annual summit next week.

 

Certain frostiness that clouded Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's previous visit to Russia two years ago is gone. Relations have been on the upswing ever since the maiden visit of President Dmitry Medvedev to India in December 2008, when the two c ountries signed an intergovernmental agreement for the construction of another four nuclear reactors at Kudankulam. This year, which is the Year of India in Russia, has seen a string of top-level contacts unprecedented in the post-Soviet history of Indo-Russian relations. In June Mr. Singh visited Russia for the summit meetings of the BRIC (Brazil-Russia-India-China) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organisation). Indian diplomats acknowledged that Mr. Singh's participation in the SCO summit — the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister — was a special gesture towards Russia as the host country.

 

In September President Pratibha Patil paid a five-day state visit to Russia to assure the Kremlin that New Delhi's ties with other countries (i.e. the United States) "would not be at the expense of our relationship with Russia." Later the same month Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma brought a 70-member delegation of Indian leaders to a Russian-Indian Forum on Trade and Investment. This was followed in quick succession by the visits of External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Defence Minister A.K. Antony.

 

Indian diplomats have noted a perceptible warming towards India in the Kremlin as well. Moscow sent a strong signal of the importance it attaches to ties with India when it appointed a heavyweight, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Sobyanin, as the Russian co-chair for the Indo-Russian Inter-Governmental Commission (IRIGC) on Trade, Economic, Scientific, Technological and Cultural Cooperation. In a remarkable departure from the established diplomatic tradition whereby preparations for bilateral summits are held in the host country Mr. Sobyanin undertook an unplanned trip to India in October to better prepare for the December visit of the Indian Prime Minister to Moscow.

 

In another sign of Moscow's renewed focus on India President Medvedev in October appointed a new envoy to New Delhi, Alexander Kadakin. The Centre for Political Conjuncture, a Kremlin-connected think tank, described the appointment as a "strategic move" aimed at revitalising ties with India. It was during Ambassador Kadakin's previous tenure in New Delhi in 1999-2004 that India and Russia declared strategic partnership.

 

Today the two countries are rediscovering the values of their traditional friendship in the face of ongoing shifts in global political and economic equations.

 

"Indian elites have awakened to the fact that the Pax Americana is a thing of the past and they should not put all their eggs in the U.S. basket," says Andrei Volodin of the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies.

 

"Russian leaders, for their part, have realised that global power is fast gravitating to the Asia-Pacific region, where India is an increasingly important player," the expert opined. Economic ties with the Asian region are instrumental for the success of Russian plans to redevelop Siberia and the Far East.

 

The challenges of dealing with China's rising power are further encouraging India and Russia to reach out to each other, Prof. Volodin said.

 

The global economic crisis has also played a role pushing India and Russia closer to each other. Defying a world trade slump, Indo-Russian commerce has grown more than 10 per cent this year and is well on track to attain the target of $10 billion the two countries set for 2010. This shows the potential for growth that is yet to be tapped. At its annual session in October the Inter-Governmental Commission has set a new target for 2015 — $20 billion, which would still be a modest figure compared with either country's trade with China, but would mark a huge leap from the past decade when bilateral trade stagnated at $2-3 billion a year.

 

To achieve this target the two countries must concentrate on diversifying their trade basket, away from commodities into advanced technologies. During Mr. Singh's visit to Moscow the sides are expected to sign key accords in high-tech sectors — a new nuclear power deal to expand cooperation beyond the Kudankulam plant and a 10-year defence cooperation programme.

 

Experts, however, warn of pitfalls that may still mar the auspicious atmosphere for the coming summit. The most serious problem is the continuing standoff over the upward price revision for the refurbishment of the Gorshkov aircraft carrier.

 

"Absence of progress in the price talks is a worrying sign, especially in the context of a recent British offer to sell India an aircraft carrier," said Ruslan Pukhov, a leading Russian defence analyst and director of the Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies. "It could be a prelude to the cancellation of the deal. The Russian military would be only too happy to add the Gorshkov in their inventory. But such an outcome would deal a painful blow to our defence cooperation with India."

 

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THE HINDU

COPENHAGEN "MUST FAIL," SAYS A PIONEER

JAMES HANSEN, WORLD'S LEADING CLIMATE CHANGE EXPERT, SAYS SUMMIT TALKS ARE SO FLAWED THAT A DEAL WOULD BE A DISASTER.

SUZANNE GOLDENBERG

 

The scientist who convinced the world to take notice of the looming danger of global warming says it would be better for the planet and for future generations if next week's Copenhagen climate change summit ended in collapse.

 

In an interview with the Guardian, James Hansen, the world's pre-eminent climate scientist, said any agreement likely to emerge from the negotiations would be so deeply flawed that it would be better to start again from scratch.

 

"I would rather it not happen if people accept that as being the right track because it's a disaster track," said Dr. Hansen, who heads the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York.

 

"The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation. If it is going to be the Kyoto-type thing then [people] will spend years trying to determine exactly what that means." He was speaking as progress towards a deal in Copenhagen received a boost with India revealing a target to curb its carbon emissions. All four of the major emitters — the U.S., China, EU and India — have now tabled offers on emissions, although the equally vexed issue of funding for developing nations to deal with global warming remains deadlocked.

 

Dr. Hansen, in repeated appearances before Congress beginning in 1989, has done more than any other scientist to educate politicians about the causes of global warming and to prod them into action to avoid its most catastrophic consequences. But he is vehemently opposed to the carbon market schemes — in which permits to pollute are bought and sold — which are seen by the EU and other governments as the most efficient way to cut emissions and move to a new clean energy economy.

 

Dr. Hansen is also fiercely critical of U.S. President Barack Obama — and even Al Gore, who won a Nobel peace prize for his efforts to get the world to act on climate change — saying politicians have failed to meet what he regards as the moral challenge of our age.

 

In Dr. Hansen's view, dealing with climate change allows no room for the compromises that rule the world of elected politics. "This is analagous to the issue of slavery faced by Abraham Lincoln or the issue of Nazism faced by Winston Churchill," he said.

 

"On those kind of issues you cannot compromise. You can't say let's reduce slavery, let's find a compromise and reduce it 50 per cent or reduce it 40 per cent."

 

He added: "We don't have a leader who is able to grasp it and say what is really needed. Instead we are trying to continue business as usual."

 

The understated Iowan's journey from climate scientist to activist accelerated in the last years of the Bush administration. Dr. Hansen, a reluctant public speaker, says he was forced into the public realm by the increasingly clear looming spectre of droughts, floods, famines and drowned cities indicated by the science.

 

That enormous body of scientific evidence has been put under a microscope by climate sceptics after last month's release online of hacked emails sent by respected researchers at the climate research unit of the University of East Anglia. Dr. Hansen admitted the controversy could shake public's trust, and called for an investigation. "All that stuff they are arguing about the data doesn't really change the analysis at all, but it does leave a very bad impression," he said.

 

The row reached the U.S. Congress, with Republicans accusing the researchers of engaging in "scientific fascism" and pressing the Obama administration's top science adviser, John Holdren, to condemn the email. Mr. Holdren, a climate scientist who wrote one of the emails in the UEA trove, said he was prepared to denounce any misuse of data by the scientists — if one is proved.

 

Dr. Hansen has emerged as a leading campaigner against the coal industry, which produces more greenhouse gas emissions than any other fuel source.

 

He has become a fixture at campus demonstrations and last summer was arrested at a protest against mountaintop mining in West Virginia, where he called the Obama government's policies "half-assed".

 

He has irked some environmentalists by espousing a direct carbon tax on fuel use. Some see that as a distraction from rallying support in Congress for cap-and-trade legislation that is on the table.

 

He is scathing of that approach. "This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening," he said. "We've got the developed countries who want to continue more or less business as usual and then these developing countries who want money and that is what they can get through offsets [sold through the carbon markets]."

 

For all Dr. Hansen's pessimism, he insists there is still hope. "It may be that we have already committed to a future sea level rise of a metre or even more but that doesn't mean that you give up.

 

"Because if you give up you could be talking about tens of metres. So I find it screwy that people say you passed a tipping point so it's too late. In that case what are you thinking: that we are going to abandon the planet? You want to minimise the damage." — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

GOOGLE WOOS RUPERT MURDOCH ON ONLINE CONTENT

CHRIS TRYHORN, MERCEDES BUNZ AND RICHARD WRAY

 

Google has made its first concession to those who accuse it of exploiting the content of news providers by allowing media companies to restrict internet users' free access to paid-for material.

 

The U.S. company's decision to restrict users' ability to bypass paywalls through its news aggregation service Google News comes as Rupert Murdoch prepares to introduce charging at his papers globally.

 

Mr. Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation, has been turning up the heat on Google in recent months and this week used an appearance before U.S. regulators to repeat his charge that news aggregators who pay nothing to the producers of content are guilty of "theft".

 

But Google's senior business product manager, Josh Cohen, said publishers erecting a pay wall needed Google's search engine to reach an online audience more than ever.

 

"Each new click, each visit, each page view, each reader they get, represents a business opportunity," he said in an interview with the Guardian. "I would argue that if you are putting up a paywall, getting traffic and being discovered is even more important because you have got a smaller set of users who are potentially willing to pay. Discovery is just as important."

 

Google's change of stance relates to Google News, which allows users to search for specific news stories and groups relevant versions from different papers together in a list. Until now users have been able gain access through Google News to individual stories that would otherwise be locked behind a paywall under its First Click Free programme. By repeatedly searching on the aggregation service they can therefore avoid paying for access to newspapers that require online subscriptions, such as the Financial Times and Mr. Murdoch's Wall Street Journal.

 

LIMITING ACCESS

From now on, they will be able to gain free access to five stories a day before coming up against a requirement to register or subscribe to websites with paywalls.

 

Announcing the move on a company blog, Mr. Cohen said publishers would still be able to charge for their content and make it available via Google. "The two aren't mutually exclusive," he said.

 

Google would treat as "free" any preview pages — usually the headline and first few paragraphs of a story — from subscription websites, and then label the stories as "subscription" on Google News, he said.

 

"The ranking of these articles will be subject to the same criteria as all sites in Google, whether paid or free," he added. "Paid content may not do as well as free options, but that is not a decision we make based on whether or not it's free. It's simply based on the popularity of the content with users and other sites that link to it."

 

Industry insiders said the changes represented the first time Google had acknowledged that it had been potentially causing harm to publishers but felt they failed to address fundamental concerns about some of the search company's activities.

 

Mr. Murdoch and his lieutenants believe that Google has exploited the presence of externally produced quality content on its search index to generate huge amounts in advertising revenue for itself. Rather than submit to Google's power to reach readers in an attempt to build a huge free online audience, they think newspapers should instead concentrate on making money from the loyal minority of readers who can be persuaded to subscribe online.

 

Few in the industry think that Mr. Murdoch will want his newspapers to come off Google altogether, as he recently threatened, given its ability to provide a shop window even for paid-for content. His rhetoric is seen by some as part of a strategy aimed at winning regulatory assistance to curb Google and possibly to pave the way for an advantageous deal with it.

 

Still, many in the industry are sceptical that Mr. Murdoch's paywall plan will work for general news, now that free access to online newspapers has become widely established. Nevertheless, many traditional news organisations, even those that have for now decided to remain free online are unhappy about the way Google News works and would like to see it offer some payment for including their content. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE HINDU

FILLING UP THE KNOWLEDGE DESERTS IN WIKIPEDIA

AN ANALYSIS OF WIKIPEDIA ENTRIES REVEALS THE WORLD'S KNOWLEDGE DESERTS — WHICH MAY PROVIDE A SECOND WAVE OF ACTIVITY FOR THE ONLINE ENCYCLOPEDIA

MARK GRAHAM

 

Are Wikipedia contributors running out of topics to write about? Recently, much has been made of the fact that the growth in the number of new Wikipedia articles has been gradually slowing and the number of volunteers apparently falling. But Wikipedia still has much to do, with whole continents that remain a virtual terra incognita and the next explosive growth in the online encyclopaedia will come from places that have not previously been represented.

 

Roughly half million "geotagged" Wikipedia articles fall within the boundaries of any one country. These articles are either about distinct places (such as cities, buildings, forests) or about events that occurred in distinct places.

 

There is clearly a highly uneven geography of information in Wikipedia. The United States has the most articles about places or events (almost 1,00,000), while some smaller countries such as Tonga have fewer than 10.

 

But it is not just size that is correlated with extremely low levels of wiki representation. Almost the entire continent of Africa is geographically poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably, there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the 53 countries in Africa (or perhaps more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, Asia, and the Americas).

 

There are some countries that are crammed with a dense amount of floating virtual information, such as Germany (with an average of one article tagged for every 65 sq.km.), while others remain as virtual deserts, such as Chad (with an average of one tagged article every 17,000 sq.km.).

 

Sharp divides between the Global North and the Global South can likewise be seen when looking at the number of geotagged articles per person. Austria, Iceland and Switzerland all have around one geotagged article for every 1,000 people, while in China or Guinea there is just over one article for every 5,00,000 people.

 

It needs to be pointed out that only a relatively small number of Wikipedia articles are geotagged. The main reason for this is that a lot of information simply is not geotaggable: It would not make sense to assign co-ordinates to the vast majority of articles on topics such as apples or Teenage Ninja Mutant Turtles.

 

Some explicitly spatial articles do remain untagged. The reason that Burkina Faso has more geotagged articles (1,071) than South Africa (945), Kenya (217) and the rest of Africa is probably down to diligent editing rather than more actual content in Burkina Faso.

 

Every day, countless decisions are made and countless opinions formed based on information available in Wikipedia. If this were not the case, the articles on Israel, Kashmir and Taiwan would not host such hotly contested edit wars.

 

Representations within the online encyclopaedia therefore undoubtedly have cultural, economic and political effects.

 

But what of the places that are not even represented? We often hear claims that peer-produced information is broader in scope and more accurate than traditional methods of content creation. This is certainly true, particularly for topics that generate a lot of interest such as "Paris" or "New York". However, as we increasingly rely on (and trust) web 2.0 sources such as Wikipedia, what will be the effects of this new terra incognita in our shared map of knowledge?

 

It may be that when broadband reaches more parts of Africa — helped by the landfall of superfast cables in August — that more people there will start discovering Wikipedia, and that the site will see a second explosion of new editors and articles about places that have so far been ignored. Or it may be that by then Wikipedia will be passed by in favour of something new.

 

The answers are unclear, but we should nonetheless acknowledge the significant geographic gaps in an encyclopaedia that is described as having reached its limits. It is conceivable that it will only be a matter of time until a new generation of wannabe Wikipedia editors in Zambia, in Indonesia, and in much of the rest of the world begin to fill in the blank spots and construct dense layers of virtual representation.

 

But it is equally conceivable that as peer-produced projects such as Wikipedia become our primary sources of knowledge, we could begin to see permanent information inequalities between different parts of the world. In any case, it is clear that we are far from running out of topics to write about. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE: INDIA ACTS, IT'S TIME US DID TOO

 

Leave alone give the lead as the world's most influential country, the United States has been a laggard in addressing the question of climate change — a defining issue of our times — which touches on the livelihood, indeed the very existence, of millions around the world, especially in its poorer regions. Had America been supportive of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which views the heating of the earth's surface in a given theoretical framework that assigns differing roles to industrialised and developing countries, and prescribes for the two sets of countries differential action trajectories to mitigate the global emission of carbon dioxide, the world would have breathed easy as climatic dislocations and disjunctions caused by the ever-rising volume of greenhouse gases pose a direct threat to human life. Instead, America did the opposite and began to question the science that posited climate change. US President Barack Obama's arrival on the scene at least changed that. And yet, in the week before the landmark Copenhagen climate summit, the US stance has not altered in any significant manner, although the atmospherics are a lot better. Indeed, the broad impression is that the US position is a catching disease which might have infected some Europeans too. The net result is that the basics of the Kyoto Protocol are at risk of being overturned or seriously modified by leading Western powers. It is fair to say that never has the schism been sharper between the industrialised nations and the rest of the world on a crucial matter that concerns us all. In the event, the positions adopted by India and China — two rapidly industrialising developing countries — in Copenhagen are likely to have a shaping influence on the course of the climate negotiations in future, although the two are not in an identical position.

 

On Thursday, minister of state for environment Jairam Ramesh assured Parliament that India will play a positive role in Copenhagen, as behoves a "deal-maker" and solution-finder. But, in line with the Kyoto understanding, it will not accept binding emission cuts. That is the obligation of industrialised countries, from which they are seeking to resile. The minister also announced a cut in emission intensity — the metric that signifies the cut in emission in relation to a unit increase in GDP — of 20 to 25 per cent by 2020 over the level obtaining in 2005 without any external assistance for transiting to green technologies. Recently China had announced its proposal for a 40 per cent reduction in the same category. Mr Ramesh has also publicly said the cut that China envisages to effect by 2020 was reached by India in 2005. The environment minister has held out the assurance that if Kyoto is not jettisoned at Copenhagen, and the industrialised countries offer some assistance, India would be prepared to make deeper cuts in its emission intensity.

 

The voluntary and unilateral actions of developing countries would have a positive bearing on arresting the rise of greenhouse gases, especially since China has now emerged as the world's leading polluter in absolute (as distinct from per capita) terms. Nevertheless, long-term impetus to deliberating climate change and mitigation strategies will be elusive if the US does not pitch in with a meaningful contribution in Copenhagen. Mr Obama, who is due to attend the summit, has offered a provisional cut of 17 per cent in US carbon emissions over the 2005 level. This is way short of 40 per cent over 1990 levels by 2020 envisaged in international climate deliberations so far. The life conditions of many will be impacted positively if the leading nations can produce an equitable outcome in Copenhagen, or at least the promise of one.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

US AFGHAN EXIT IN 2011 WORRYING

BY INDRANIL BANERJIE

 

U.S. President Barack Obama's latest policy statement on Afghanistan, delivered at the US Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday, has generally been interpreted as a sign of American resolve to "stay the course" in that country. There is to be no precipitous military withdrawal or policy retreat. Rather, the US is going to despatch another 30,000 heavily-armed troops into that country to break the back of the unusually resilient Taliban. Regional powers, India included, would have reason to be relieved. They will not have to immediately face the dreadful scenario of a military vacuum in Afghanistan leading to a Taliban resurgence.

 

A more careful reading of Mr Obama's speech, on the other hand, does not necessarily sound like good news. For he has reiterated that his most important goal is the rebuilding of America and everything else must necessarily be secondary: "Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power... That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own".

 

The Afghan war is going to cost the US $30 billion this year, according to Mr Obama, who feels that "over the past several years, we (Americans) have lost that balance and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our friends and neighbours are out of work and struggle to pay the bills, and too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars".

 

In other words, the US President has decided he cannot stray from his central task to rebuild an economically-battered America. Mr Obama was not elected by the American people to solve the Afghan problem. He was elected with a specific agenda of building a new America, where market fundamentalism is to be replaced by welfare and social concerns. Mr Obama promised to fix the economy, provide more job security, healthcare and welfare measures for the underprivileged. This is his priority. His aim would be to deliver on those promises and keep the Democrats in power.

 

Interpreting the December 1 Afghanistan speech without understanding American politics would be naïve. So what exactly did he mean? The answers are all there in the text. Yes, there would be 30,000 extra troops to bolster those already on the ground in south and eastern Afghanistan. But this extra military commitment would have to show results in just 18 months. It requires no military genius to realise that such a turnaround is simply not realistic on that timeframe.

 

The notion that the US needs to stay militarily engaged in Afghanistan for as long as it takes has been rejected by Mr Obama. While acknowledging that "there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility", he was categorical in rejecting "this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests... As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces".

 

There are three parts to his latest Afghan strategy, which include "a military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that reinforces positive action and an effective partnership with Pakistan". The extra troops are being sent as a final option to create conditions for a winding down of American military presence. Mr Obama was unequivocal is stating that "these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011".

In other words, what we are really looking at is an exit policy and not a sustained US military presence in Afghanistan. This will come as bad news not just to the Indian strategic community but also to numerous US analysts, who had come to realise that a genuine transition in Afghanistan would require at least a decade more of US military and development mentoring. This clearly is not going to happen.

 

New Delhi needs to worry because there is going to be a renewed attempt to resolve the India-Pakistan impasse over Kashmir. A number of influential American foreign policy analysts today believe that resolving the Kashmir dispute by essentially making the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir the international border, along with some "minor adjustments", would for once and all end conflict between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours, as Pakistan and India are commonly referred to these days in the West.

 

Washington realises that in the days to come it would have to increasingly rely on Islamabad to maintain order in Afghanistan. Mr Obama aims to do this through a combination of coercion, cajoling and cash. Pakistan will have to carry the "White Man's Burden" and in exchange Mr Obama has promised that "America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed". What will ultimately be unleashed, however, is impossible to predict in these tumultuous times.

 

Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE WEARY STATE OF THE INDIAN NAVY

BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH

 

As is well known, after 26/11 the Indian Navy (IN) was given the additional responsibility of coastal security. It is a common military principle that the "security of own base" is paramount. It is foolhardy to conduct distant blue water operations only to find that your unguarded base (eg, Mumbai) has been devastated by terrorists, or by a surprise enemy strike. Navy Day, on December 4, 2009, is an appropriate occasion to talk about the "blue water" requirements of the Navy.

 

Any Navy takes about 15 to 20 years to build a capability based on crystal-ball-gazing for the next half-a-century. Unfortunately, this crystal ball is not always accurate and urgent changes become essential sometimes. The Indian Navy, already saddled with blue water anti-piracy patrolling off the distant Gulf of Aden, needs to factor in the threat of maritime terror, while its limited budget needs to be optimised to also cater for the Chinese Navy's blue water threat, expected by 2025, along with the needs of nuclear-submarine-based second-strike capability.

 

Medium naval powers like Britain and France maintain a fleet of a dozen tactical nuclear submarines (SSNs) and four strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs), but have decided to keep only one aircraft carrier each. The Chinese (when they get their carrier in 2012) will have a similar ratio, while the Russians have a much higher ratio of nuclear submarines to carriers. America, with global expeditionary warfare capabilities, is an exception — it has 62 nuclear submarines and 11 aircraft carriers. I was, therefore, surprised by a foreign media news item which said that "India has recently lodged a firm expression of interest to buy one of the two state-of-the-art 65,000 tonne carriers, which are still being built by in the UK" (due for delivery in 2016, but deemed "unaffordable" by the British since the F-35 fighter jets meant for it would cost $150 million each at 2009 prices).

 

Large aircraft carriers, though vital for blue water sea control operations, are very expensive to buy ($3-4 billion each, depending on the size), operate and maintain. A carrier needs to operate a minimum mix of 30 to 50 or more expensive aircrafts, (fighters, air early warning aircraft, helicopters). Each carrier, in addition, requires a protective screen of about six expensive destroyers or frigates and a replenishment tanker for refuelling.

 

Notwithstanding the high costs, it is a fact that the Indian Navy requires two aircraft carriers for blue water operations, which only carriers can perform. These would be the INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) due to be commissioned in 2012, and the INS Vikrant (being built at Kochi shipyard), due for delivery after 2016. Each of these could carry a mix of about 30 aircraft and helicopters. Any proposal of buying a third aircraft carrier would come at the expense of badly-needed platforms like submarines, frigates, destroyers etc. An aircraft carrier has a life of 50 years. However, given the estimated 20-year-life of the second-hand INS Vikramaditya, and the fact that it would take us 20 years to get government sanction, design and build it, there is a need to begin the process for a replacement indigenous aircraft carrier now.

 

Coming to other blue water operations, the first involves anti-piracy patrols off the Gulf of Aden, which are

being carried out since August 2008 by destroyers and frigates costing about Rs 5,000 crores and Rs 3,000 crores each, respectively. A cheaper and more-cost effective option would be to use long-range offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), costing around Rs 300-500 crores each. A dozen such platforms are needed for anti-piracy patrols and also for protection of offshore oil rigs (three OPVs are already being built in Goa, and nine more need to be ordered).

The second aspect of blue water operations involves controlling or denying (during wartime) the "choke points" through which all ships must pass before entering or exiting the Indian Ocean region. This task is best performed by conventional submarines, SSNs, frigates/destroyers and Long-Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) aircraft .

 

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India report of August 2008 brought out the shortcomings of our ageing conventional submarine force and submarine rescue capabilities. Since the 30-year indigenous submarine building plan is running a few years behind schedule, the government needs to consider outright import of six conventional submarines with air independent propulsion system, and two submarine rescue systems. Three imported destroyers, with BMD (ballastic missile defence) capability and three imported frigates are also needed, since Indian defence shipyards are overbooked, and force levels are declining.

 

If media reports about a Russian-built Akula SSN being inducted into the Navy in 2010 are indeed true, than it's welcome news, but more would be needed, and ideally ones that are indigenous.

 

Next, I come to the SSBN Arihant which was launched on July 26, 2009. Here too, for deterrence to work, more indigenous SSBNs would be needed, with missile ranges of about 5,000 km. To monitor shipping in specific areas of the Indian Ocean region, there is a need to import long-range (1,500 miles) high frequency "sky wave" coastal radars. Similar radars are in service in China, Australia and Russia. These are different from the short-range (40 miles) coastal radars being inducted by the Indian Coast Guard. 

 

Lastly, I come to the issue of modern digital data links and network-centric warfare. Having completed phase one of the data link (i.e. real time situational awareness), the Indian Navy with its dedicated satellite (launch in 2010), should move to phase II, i.e. "real time fusion of various sensors and shooters", which would mean that data provided by one sensor platform would be accurate and timely enough for another platform to fire its weapons at the designated target.

 

To conclude, more money is needed. The government must increase the defence budget from its present 1.99 per cent to over three per cent of the gross domestic product. The Indian Navy needs to additionally prepare not only for the nuclear era, but also for BMD and maritime terrorism.

 

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chiefof the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

THE WEARY STATE OF THE INDIAN NAVY

BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH

 

As is well known, after 26/11 the Indian Navy (IN) was given the additional responsibility of coastal security. It is a common military principle that the "security of own base" is paramount. It is foolhardy to conduct distant blue water operations only to find that your unguarded base (eg, Mumbai) has been devastated by terrorists, or by a surprise enemy strike. Navy Day, on December 4, 2009, is an appropriate occasion to talk about the "blue water" requirements of the Navy.

 

Any Navy takes about 15 to 20 years to build a capability based on crystal-ball-gazing for the next half-a-century. Unfortunately, this crystal ball is not always accurate and urgent changes become essential sometimes. The Indian Navy, already saddled with blue water anti-piracy patrolling off the distant Gulf of Aden, needs to factor in the threat of maritime terror, while its limited budget needs to be optimised to also cater for the Chinese Navy's blue water threat, expected by 2025, along with the needs of nuclear-submarine-based second-strike capability.

 

Medium naval powers like Britain and France maintain a fleet of a dozen tactical nuclear submarines (SSNs) and four strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs), but have decided to keep only one aircraft carrier each. The Chinese (when they get their carrier in 2012) will have a similar ratio, while the Russians have a much higher ratio of nuclear submarines to carriers. America, with global expeditionary warfare capabilities, is an exception — it has 62 nuclear submarines and 11 aircraft carriers. I was, therefore, surprised by a foreign media news item which said that "India has recently lodged a firm expression of interest to buy one of the two state-of-the-art 65,000 tonne carriers, which are still being built by in the UK" (due for delivery in 2016, but deemed "unaffordable" by the British since the F-35 fighter jets meant for it would cost $150 million each at 2009 prices).

 

Large aircraft carriers, though vital for blue water sea control operations, are very expensive to buy ($3-4 billion each, depending on the size), operate and maintain. A carrier needs to operate a minimum mix of 30 to 50 or more expensive aircrafts, (fighters, air early warning aircraft, helicopters). Each carrier, in addition, requires a protective screen of about six expensive destroyers or frigates and a replenishment tanker for refuelling.

 

Notwithstanding the high costs, it is a fact that the Indian Navy requires two aircraft carriers for blue water operations, which only carriers can perform. These would be the INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) due to be commissioned in 2012, and the INS Vikrant (being built at Kochi shipyard), due for delivery after 2016. Each of these could carry a mix of about 30 aircraft and helicopters. Any proposal of buying a third aircraft carrier would come at the expense of badly-needed platforms like submarines, frigates, destroyers etc. An aircraft carrier has a life of 50 years. However, given the estimated 20-year-life of the second-hand INS Vikramaditya, and the fact that it would take us 20 years to get government sanction, design and build it, there is a need to begin the process for a replacement indigenous aircraft carrier now.

 

Coming to other blue water operations, the first involves anti-piracy patrols off the Gulf of Aden, which are being carried out since August 2008 by destroyers and frigates costing about Rs 5,000 crores and Rs 3,000 crores each, respectively. A cheaper and more-cost effective option would be to use long-range offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), costing around Rs 300-500 crores each. A dozen such platforms are needed for anti-piracy patrols and also for protection of offshore oil rigs (three OPVs are already being built in Goa, and nine more need to be ordered).

 

The second aspect of blue water operations involves controlling or denying (during wartime) the "choke points" through which all ships must pass before entering or exiting the Indian Ocean region. This task is best performed by conventional submarines, SSNs, frigates/destroyers and Long-Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) aircraft .

 

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India report of August 2008 brought out the shortcomings of our ageing conventional submarine force and submarine rescue capabilities. Since the 30-year indigenous submarine building plan is running a few years behind schedule, the government needs to consider outright import of six conventional submarines with air independent propulsion system, and two submarine rescue systems. Three imported destroyers, with BMD (ballastic missile defence) capability and three imported frigates are also needed, since Indian defence shipyards are overbooked, and force levels are declining.

 

If media reports about a Russian-built Akula SSN being inducted into the Navy in 2010 are indeed true, than it's welcome news, but more would be needed, and ideally ones that are indigenous.

 

Next, I come to the SSBN Arihant which was launched on July 26, 2009. Here too, for deterrence to work, more indigenous SSBNs would be needed, with missile ranges of about 5,000 km. To monitor shipping in specific areas of the Indian Ocean region, there is a need to import long-range (1,500 miles) high frequency "sky wave" coastal radars. Similar radars are in service in China, Australia and Russia. These are different from the short-range (40 miles) coastal radars being inducted by the Indian Coast Guard. 

 

Lastly, I come to the issue of modern digital data links and network-centric warfare. Having completed phase one of the data link (i.e. real time situational awareness), the Indian Navy with its dedicated satellite (launch in 2010), should move to phase II, i.e. "real time fusion of various sensors and shooters", which would mean that data provided by one sensor platform would be accurate and timely enough for another platform to fire its weapons at the designated target.

 

To conclude, more money is needed. The government must increase the defence budget from its present 1.99 per cent to over three per cent of the gross domestic product. The Indian Navy needs to additionally prepare not only for the nuclear era, but also for BMD and maritime terrorism.

 

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

BUTTERFLY EFFECT

BY SHEKHAR BHATIA

 

This story was told to me by a member of the family who runs a small resort in Kerala. She has a Mandarin Orange tree in her garden. It's a beautiful perennial bush, a great favourite of birds who seem to love the taste of its bitter-sweet fruit, shaped like a miniature orange. Butterflies hover around its small, fragrant flowers and also lay eggs on the leaves of this tree. Every morning she would pluck the leaves on which tiny green caterpillars — known for their voracious appetite — had made holes, and throw them away. She believed that the caterpillars were destroying her beautiful tree. On some days she would do this twice — morning and evening.

 

Intrigued by this ritual, a foreign guest asked her why she was plucking the leaves, and when she explained, he said, "Madam, for the sake of a beautiful tree you are destroying an entire species". Since then she has not plucked the leaves. Now the caterpillars pupate on the tree, and in season there is a riot of fluttering butterflies.

I have a similar tree in our backyard and when I looked at it after hearing her story, it suddenly dawned on me that apart from a couple of stray butterflies that might have drifted in, I have not seen them in large numbers for quite some time. I see all kinds of birds, but no butterflies. And I haven't plucked any leaves; in fact, I have not seen a green caterpillar either. Even bees are not visiting the garden. Two summers ago they had built a nest behind a neighbour's house. Swarms of them would come to our stretch of green for water, jostle for space with birds, and fly back to their nest as the sun went down. According to an article in the Globe and Mail, "One teaspoon of honey, about 21 grams, contains 16 grams of sugar, or 60 calories. It takes 12 bees their entire foraging lives, combined flying time of about 9,700 kilometres, to produce this much".

One day last year, the neighbour had the nest smoked out. They were worried about getting stung. For reasons I do not know, I have not spotted a single bee since then.

 

In the US and Europe, vast colonies of bees have vanished (they leave their hives and do not return) because of a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists believe it is caused by multiple viruses and pesticides that have affected the immune system of bees. They are worried because bees are important for our existence. It's been estimated that they contribute $47 billion a year to the US economy by pollinating crops; today, many farmers have to rent bees to pollinate crops. I am not a birds and bees specialist; I am just a keen home gardener who is wondering why the honey bees and butterflies have stopped coming to his backyard.

I spoke with Dr Arun Pratap Singh of the Forest Research Institute, Dehra Dun, a Ph.D in butterflies and an entomologist who discovered a new species in the Western Himalayas that is named after him. He said there are some 1,450 butterfly species in India of which 450 are rare and protected. At last count, Delhi had 88 species, including one called Red Pierrot that migrated from the Western Ghats.

 

He said the reason we see fewer butterflies is loss of habitat caused by urbanisation and shrinking forest cover. And then there is poaching. In one of the more famous cases, last year two Czech nationals were caught poaching butterflies in the Northeast, but they managed to escape.

 

I recently watched a fascinating hour-long talk on the internet by Peter Laufer, the journalist who has written The Dangerous World of Butterflies. He talks about Yoshi Kojima, the world's most notorious butterfly smuggler, and a species called the Queen Alexandra's Birdwing, the largest butterfly in the world with a tip-to-tip wing span of 12 inches, that can fetch $10,000 in the market, dead or alive.

 

Dr Singh said bees migrate when there is not enough nectar in an urban neighbourhood. Butterflies, however, are far more delicate than bees. While their habitat, too, is shrinking, they are also more sensitive to air pollution and climate change — the global climate change and what he called "micro-climate change" caused by the urbanisation of the neighbourhood. The answer, he said, lies in preserving their natural habitat ("leave the remaining forests alone") and creating mini-habitats for them in your backyards — greenery, succulent plants, flowers and water to sustain life forms.

 

We know a lot more about bees than butterflies because bees have commercial value (they are the key pollinators) and have been studied for social behaviour. Scientific studies on the importance of butterflies as indictors of environmental change began only in late 1980s, says Dr Singh.

 

I wonder if there are other reasons why we know more about bees than butterflies — perhaps because bees have been around for more than 100 million years (humans go back 6.5 million years). Perhaps that's why even now there is no collective noun for a group of butterflies.

 

Shekhar Bhatia can be contacted at shekhar.bhatia@gmail.com

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

A 17-YEAR, 48-ACT FARCE

BY BALBIR K. PUNJ

 

Are all judicial enquiries a farce that end up making the country no wiser, after spending crores of taxpayers' rupees?

 

This question was raised earlier when the Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission, investigating the conspiracy-assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, submitted its report after 11 years of a fruitless inquiry with nothing more than a few sphinx-like conclusions. The issue has now been revived, after the Liberhan Commission Report — on the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 — was leaked to the media recently.

 

Even the critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are surprised that the Liberhan Commission, which comes 17 years after the demolition, has found former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee guilty merely on the basis of his statements that a temple should be built at the place known as Ram Janmabhoomi.

 

No one has ever said that Mr Vajpayee ever advocated or condoned the demolition. Nor was he present at the site of demolition or in the mass meeting that was held on the fateful day. The commission did not even question him before making such a sweeping remark, thus violating all principles of justice.

 

It seems that the chairman of the commission was not even bothered about getting his facts right. For instance, Justice Liberhan says that general elections were needed in 1991 because the BJP had withdrawn support from the Janata government. Whereas the fact is that the March 1991 elections became inevitable because the Congress withdrew support from the Chandrasekhar government after keeping it in power for four months. Without checking these basic facts the commission concludes, "Religion was used for political objectives".

 

The commission's prejudice shows up in many places throughout the report. The commission was not asked to lecture on the BJP, it was set up to probe the demolition issue and the culpability of some leaders in that. The report says, "Advani's rath yatra in 1990 brought the BJP and its allies to power in many states in 1991". But the fact is that the BJP came to power only in Uttar Pradesh and elections were due in that state as well as in Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.

 

As an arbitrator, Justice Liberhan should have examined the background more deeply and listed the obdurate policy adopted by the leaders of the Muslim community. At the early stages of the controversy, the Sangh Parivar was intensely seeking a compromise but it was the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi that revived the issue by holding a shilanyas and then kowtowed to Muslim orthodoxy by nullifying through a law the interpretation of a Muslim Personal Law provision regarding maintenance to divorced women. This move strengthened the Muslim orthodoxy — liberal Muslim leaders left the Congress and the more orthodox ones, like C.K. Jaffer Sharief, increased their hold on the party.

 

As a result, the Muslim orthodoxy was alert to any attempt to liberalise Muslim Personal Law and started stonewalling all attempts at a compromise on the mandir issue. The Chandrasekhar government also tried to push through a compromise but did not succeed primarily because the Muslim leadership would not hear of any compromise whatsoever.

 

The dispute over the ownership of the plot and the historical background — the existence of a Ram temple before it was demolished to make way for a mosque by a conquering general — went on and on in the courts for ages, with no attempt to conclude the hearings and give a verdict.

 

The background to the demolition should have been brought out while deciding on the event itself. Hindu public opinion did not receive any hope of a decision either through negotiation or through the courts.

 

Why this freeze on the issue of building a temple did not enter the commission's perspective in its consideration of the act of demolition is a mystery. It only speaks of the criteria that Justice Liberhan applied, transposing his own views of what secularism should be on to the job he was entrusted with. That alone explains the long lecture he has given on secularism, politics, media and other matters instead of concentrating on the demolition itself. When the report is debated in Parliament there will surely be questions about the Commission's views on secularism, Hindutva and other ideological issues.

 

Opponents have often used the event of demolition itself to beat the BJP with and demonise it. This had been going on for the last two decades without any of these critics offering any solution to the basic issue of an emotional demand getting blocked both in the courts and in one-to-one negotiations.

 

The "liberals" in India remain silent when it comes to Islamic orthodoxy and obduracy but are vociferous in denouncing a demand from the Hindus that touches the core of their faith. The Liberhan report has failed to examine this long history of obduracy and obfuscation of Islamic leadership in all issues concerning its interaction with people of other faiths.

 

What is the fate of non-Muslim populations in Muslim-majority countries? Is even carrying a Bible allowed in Saudi Arabia or holding of public non-Islamic worship in any Muslim-majority country? Why is it so when almost all non-Islamic countries freely allow public demonstration of Islamic rites? Do the Baha'is in Iran, the Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Ahmaddiyas in Pakistan — let alone Hindus — come up in the public discourse of liberals in India? Why is a disused mosque in Ayodhya so important while temples demolished in Kashmir receive no attention?

 

While all are flabbergasted at Justice Liberhan's convoluted and confused treatment of the Ayodhya agitation, his recommendations on the role of the media are bizarre. He wants media regulation and licensing of journalists. Surprisingly for a judge of his stature, Justice Liberhan seems to overlook the constitutional impropriety of trying to licence journalists (even if it is by an independent body) as it flies in the face of Article 19(1) of the Constitution.

 

In short, the Liberhan report moves from being farcical to ridiculous.

 

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at punjbk@gmail.com

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

TEMPORARY VICTORY

 

The arrest of leaders of an insurgent group, the inner divisions within the group, give an advantage to any government dealing with armed rebels. Right now, this is the case with the Assam and Central governments in their handling of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa). The arrest of Arabinda Rajkhowa in Dhaka is the culmination of the arrests of top leaders of the rebel organisation, considered the political top brass. Paresh Barua, the man who directs military operations and who is suspected to have shifted from Bangladesh to China, is still at large. It would indeed be premature to declare total victory over the Ulfa. That is why, Union home minister P Chidambaram refused to make a public statement about it. Even Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi has referred to it in a roundabout fashion. It is not very important as to what the government says or does not on the issue. What is more important is what does the government do in the light of the new development.


The Ulfa remains a menace and a nightmare for the people of Assam. Its violence has resulted in the death of hundreds of innocents. The inability of the authorities to deal with the Ulfa is a political and a security failure. Security experts have argued that Ulfa's success is due to the external help it got from places like Bangladesh and now that the new government in Dhaka has decided to help, the scene has altered. This may indeed be the case, but it is not the whole story. It cannot be ruled out that political parties in Assam and at the centre have tried to gain mileage out of the troubled situation, and it is one of the reasons that the challenge of insurgency lingers in almost every part of the North-east.


The deeper and crucial issue is of course that of lack of development in the region. The main reason for the backwardness is entirely due to the insincerity and incompetence of the mainstream political parties. The insurgents have the fig leaf of a pretext. The rebels too have no clear ideas about development. It results in a battle of attrition, where parties in power have something on their hands because they are incapable of pursuing a people-friendly development agenda. People demand better politics that would result in better governance. It is yet to emerge. In the short term, the ruling parties can declare success over the insurgents however short-lived it may be.

 

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DNA

EDITORIAL

OF MICE AND MEN

 

It's been a question which has intrigued humankind since we started thinking: why do women live so long and why do they live longer than men? Evolutionary biologists have their own explanations but researchers in Japan have found a practical explanation: women have no sperm. This essential in reproduction apparently helps men have bigger bodies than women but what men gain in girth they apparently lose in longevity. The culprit is one gene which is active only in men. The research was done on mice, but in research what works for mice works for men.

 

In popular culture, the long life of old crones has been variously credited to their ability to suck the life out of men, to behave like tarantula spiders and to generally develop some supernatural witch-like qualities against which poor men are hapless. Since the vast panorama of human history is littered with incontrovertible evidence of suppression of the female of the species, it can safely be assumed that collectively, men can find the idea of old, wise women threatening.

 

Strangely, that coincides with the thinking that some evolutionary biologists have come up with to explain why women live so long. On the face of it, women should die soon after they reach menopause since once they cannot procreate they serve no purpose. Men can procreate till they die. But scientists feel that since women have plenty to offer society in the form of their cumulative and collective wisdom, nature keeps them going. So, like the sexless ants are vital to the wellbeing of the community, so are old women. The ancients perhaps instinctively understood this, so the importance of grandmothers' tales.


But the Japanese research also raises a few more intriguing questions, to do with the psychology of human kind. Sigmund Freud felt that all women suffered from penis envy and wanted what they could not have. But if it is sperm which cuts down your lifespan, perhaps nature has balanced out matters pretty well — we all want what we cannot have.


Other geneticists have tilted the balance in favour of women claiming that the Y chromosome — which gives men their manliness —  is facing extinction and all nature is intrinsically female.


Meanwhile medical science continues to push the envelope and women are giving birth whenever they like, people are changing genders, babies are born in laboratories and yes, men are also quite wise. Whatever the world throws at us, we have the ability to twist it to suit us. That is, perhaps, the most enduring human success story.

 

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DNA

END OF A MIRAGE

S NIHAL SINGH 

 

Is the Dubai dream as the El Dorado of the Middle East over? Despite the shock waves caused by the emirate's announcement that it was seeking a freeze on repaying billions of dollars in debt, there was no apparent change in the rhythm of the city. Traffic was light but that was because of almost everyone taking advantage of a string of holidays combining Eid with National Day festivities by leaving for trips abroad.


Bankers and businessmen huddled together behind closed doors to do their sums and they did not add up. Dubai World and its realty subsidiary Nakheel are iconic landmarks, the creator of such extravagances as The Palms, islands built on reclaimed land in the shape of the hardy tree holding luxury villas and condominiums favoured by film and football celebrities. These projects, including a manmade ski slope in a mall and the world's tallest building under construction, were funded by borrowed money.


Dubai's debt is $ 80 billion, 100 per cent of its GDP, and as the world economic meltdown began with the downfall of Lehman Brothers, Dubai felt its tremors with the rest of the world. But the Abu Dhabi emirate, by far the richest of the seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates, bailed Dubai out with tranches of $20 billion, $10 billion snapped up immediately and two Abu Dhabi banks recently chipping in with $ 5 billion. The decision to ask for a six-month moratorium on repayment of a few billion dollars under the Islamic banking system came as a bolt from the blue.


The universal assumption of bankers and other lenders was that Abu Dhabi, with its deep pockets, would bail Dubai out yet again. The announcement on the freeze was made just before the long break with markets opening only on Monday. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Makhtoum, the ruler of Dubai and prime minister of the Federation and the creator of the modern city, immediately left on an official visit to Britain. The federal government in Abu Dhabi seemed to have been taken by surprise and gave no public reaction for days.


Unlike oil-rich Abu Dhabi, Dubai has little oil and has been diversifying its economy. Its attempt has been to attract tourists Las Vegas style, creating marvels in the desert, make the city with its superb infrastructure attractive to the expatriate by offering a lifestyle he could not enjoy at home, tempt celebrities and the super rich to buy expensive property and invite foreign capital.


Dubai's ambitions grew as it smelled success, with more and more extravagant projects leaving the drawing board for the construction site. But then Lehman Brother went bust and each country fended for itself. Property prices in Dubai fell by half. The Central Bank governor, Sultan Nasser Ahmed Al Suwaidi, confessed in Abu Dhabi before Dubai sprang its surprise that the UAE had invested excessively in the real estate sector.


Dubai has also invested in real estate and companies abroad and must now count the costs of its profligacy. It is assumed that at the end of the day Abu Dhabi will give Dubai a helping hand to overcome its present crisis. The question is what it will demand in return because the emirates function with a wide autonomy and usually shoulder the costs of their mistakes.


The question for the large expatriate population and tourists arriving to gawk at the slightly wacky marvels is whether the flavour of Dubai will change. Many new extravagant projects have been scrapped, rows upon rows of newly built apartment blocks remain empty and buyers saddled with expensive investments are waiting for a fair breeze to arrive. The never-say-die motto has been born out of compulsion as much as hope.


Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed is a determined leader and is setting about reorganising his iconic brands and reassessing the growth model. Few doubt that the city will surmount the present crisis with a moratorium imposed on expensive eye-catching projects simply because the kind of money needed is not available. The city's dilemma is that a less glitzy version might not prove appealing to the hordes of tourists who flock to its perennial sales, its gold souk, its seemingly endless marvels.


Expatriates are not leaving, except for those made redundant by the consequences of the world economic crisis. For the upper strata, life is good, with plush golf courses, imported entertainment groups and no personal income tax. But they are beginning to wonder whether Dubai's brash glitzy persona can remain unchanged.

Along with Oscar Wilde, Dubai has always believed in the adage that nothing succeeds like excess. Minus the excess, will Dubai remain Dubai?

 

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DNA

INDIVIDUAL NATURE

 

The location of the individual in the scheme of things makes it inadequate in every way. Its reactions cannot eliminate some amount of error. All individual experience is a form of error in some degree, though all error becomes an element of perfection in the Absolute.


The aim of life of the individual is to overcome the urge for organic reactions in relation to external perceptible objects and to transcend itself in the all-comprehensive Absolute, which is the essential reality of all individuals. These reactions among individual natures are either unconscious or conscious. The unconscious urges are termed instincts and the conscious ones are those which constitute the rational processes in the individuals.

Beyond these reactions of a twofold nature, there is the supreme integrating principle, viz, intuition and direct realisation of the highest essence of experience.


These instinctive urges are powerful, and being ingrained in the very constitution of the individual, refuse to be easily subdued. The most powerful of these involuntary unconscious urges are those of self-preservation and self-reproduction.

The instinct of self-preservation is sometimes wrongly called 'food-seeking' instinct. Food is only a means to the fulfilment of the will-to-live or the love of life which is inherent in
everyone, and which is the end.


This urge is not within the control of the rational intellect, and it overcomes the other urges by its intensity of expression. It has several ramifications, primarily connected with, as well as secondarily related to it. It tethers the individual to bodily life and thwarts all ordinary attempts at turning a deaf ear to it. This instinct, this craving for life, this love of individual personality can be overcome only in a higher understanding and feeling relating to a wider experience transcending gross physicality and distorted psychic personality.

Teachings of Swami Krishnananda

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BIG CATCH RAJKHOWA

ULFA SHOULD TALK INSTEAD OF FIGHTING

 

Arabinda Rajkhowa, chairman of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), is listed as one of India's most wanted separatist leaders. As such, his arrest in Bangladesh can indeed be called a big catch. There is no official confirmation whether he has already been handed over to the Indian authorities along the India-Bangladesh border in Tripura. The government is perhaps keeping quiet on the issue because he can be instrumental in opening peace talks at least with the moderate faction of ULFA.

 

 A hint in this regard was given in the Rajya Sabha by Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram on Wednesday when he said that the ULFA top leadership would make a political statement in the next two days. Mrinal Hazarika, leader of the pro-talks ULFA faction, has said that the faction is with him if he takes the initiative to engage in peace talks with the government. Hazarika, along with about 150 rebels of the Alpha and Charlie companies of ULFA, two most potent striking units of ULFA, had declared a unilateral ceasefire in July last year.

 

How far these talks are successful in bringing about peace is debatable, considering that ULFA commander-in-chief Paresh Baruah and his deputy Raju Baruah are still at large and are learnt to be shuttling from one place to another in China, Malayasia, Thailand and Bangladesh. But they are the only leaders of note who are still in a position to keep up the armed struggle. All others like general secretary Anup Chetia, vice-president Pradip Gogoi, finance secretary Chitraban Hazarika, foreign secretary Sashadhar Choudhury and political adviser Bhimkanta Burogohai are already in custody.

 

Many of them have been accounted for thanks to the cooperation of Bangladesh under Sheikh Hasina Wajed. Sashadhar Choudhury and Chitraban Hazarika were handed over by the Bangladesh authorities to India last month and now it is Rajkhowa, along with several other senior ULFA leaders. Sheikh Hasina had pledged that she would not let terrorists use Bangladesh territory for their nefarious activities and she has fulfilled that promise. Other countries like China and Myanmar should also realise that such elements are nobody's friends. Only international cooperation against them can keep them under check. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

KASHMIR INITIATIVES

TROOPS CUT, TALKS DESERVE A CAUTIOUS WELCOME

 

Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram's announcement of a reduction in the deployment of armed forces in Jammu and Kashmir as a response to the incidents of violence being the lowest in 2009 during two decades of Pakistan-sponsored militancy is doubtlessly a bold move. By his own admission, it could be a risky step but it stands to reason that such a step be taken with adequate safeguards built in so that law and order as a subject could progressively be restored to the state police as is the case in other states. 

 

It goes in Mr Chidambaram's favour that in the one year that he has handled the Home portfolio, there have been no major incidents of terrorist attacks both in Kashmir and the rest of the country. The situation in Jammu and Kashmir has improved substantially with a growing number of tourists, both Indian and foreign, making a beeline for the 'Switzerland of the East.'

 

It is indeed noteworthy that the Manmohan Singh government has, in conjunction with a reduction of troops, signalled its willingness to engage in talks with all shades of opinion, including those who are considered hardline separatists. There is a fresh earnestness to find a peaceful solution to the Kashmir imbroglio which deserves to be welcomed. With Pakistan being pre-occupied with its own survival in the wake of Taliban and Al-Qaeda attacks on it, this is a time when outfits like the ISI have loosened their sinister grip on Kashmir separatists. It is, therefore, prudent to deal with misguided groups and to seek to bring them into the mainstream now. It is understandable that Mr Chidambaram has favoured "quiet" talks and "quiet diplomacy", away from media glare.

 

All this is not to detract from the need to tread with utmost caution. The reduction of troops must be a gradual and well-calibrated process. The government must be ready to send reinforcements anytime on short notice. Any attempts at third-party mediation must be resisted and the Pakistan government must be kept at bay. The effort being made to solve the long-festering problem could well be worth the while.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RESIGNATION OR IMPEACHMENT

JUSTICE DINAKARAN FACES CHORUS FOR ACTION 

 

It is surprising that Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran continues in office despite serious charges of corruption levelled against him by eminent jurists, the Supreme Court Bar Association, the Bar Council of India and the advocates' associations of both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Following two reports by the Tiruvallur District Collector confirming his involvement in the encroachment of government land in Kaverirajapuram, the Supreme Court collegium has put his elevation to the apex court on hold. Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan has sought a report from the Survey of India too. Once this report is released, the collegium can expedite a decision on Justice Dinakaran.

 

Even as the nation is anxiously awaiting the collegium's decision, questions have been raised on Justice Dinakaran's moral authority in continuing in office. Mr Fali S. Nariman, the Bar Association of India president, and Mr M.N. Krishnamani, the Supreme Court Bar Association president, met the CJI on Wednesday and appealed against his elevation. Whether the charges against him are conclusively proved or not, Justice Dinakaran is looked upon by people at large as an epitome of corruption. In the circumstances, the best course for him is to quit the high office gracefully and protect the image and prestige of the judiciary.

 

In the event of Justice Dinakaran's refusal to quit office, the collegium would do well to take cognisance of reports of land grabbing by him and advise him to quit forthwith. If impeachment is the only way out, Parliament may have to step in though this process is cumbersome. If Parliament had failed to impeach Justice Ramaswami of the Supreme Court in 1992, it was because MPs from his home state of Tamil Nadu decided to vote against the impeachment motion and the ruling Congress abstained from voting. One wonders what fate would befall Justice Dinakaran if it comes to that.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

SEVEN DOSSIERS AND STILL WAITING

MAIN CULPRITS BEHIND 26/11 WALKING FREE

BY B.G. VERGHESE

 

The country has relived the horror of 26/11 a full year after the event, vainly waiting for Pakistan to respond with more than empty words, counter- accusations and injured innocence. Seven dossiers later, Pakistan is still brazenly waiting for more evidence while prime movers like Hafez Saeed, the former LeT head and now the chief of the Jamat-ud Dawa, a wolf in lamb's clothing, walk free. Meanwhile, it faces punishment in the Talibanised inferno of its own creation. It is the innocent who bleed while the ideologues, the military and hapless civil-political regime they manipulate watch and wait for something to turn up.

 

Far from fighting the so-called war on terror, Pakistan is an epitome of world terror, having nurtured this scourge over the years, earlier, with American assistance and silent approbation, to finetune it into an instrument of state policy under the protection of its own nuclear umbrella, which too it was allowed and assisted to create by China and America for short-term collateral gains unmindful of huge future collateral damage from which India has surely been the worst affected.

 

Hillary Clinton formally described this as a period of incoherence in America's AfPak policy. This incoherence clearly remains as General Stanley MacCrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan, has high praise for Indian humanitarian assistance to that devastated country and yet asks Delhi to be solicitous of Pakistan's sensitivities even as Washington periodically arraigns Pakistan for thwarting, if not aiding, the Taliban in Afghanistan. The Pakistan calculation is that sooner or later, the Americans will tire of Afghanistan and once again walk away after proclaiming some kind of victory, leaving the field clear for it to use that unhappy land as a strategic asset and the Taliban as its sub rosa strike force in pursuit of its eastern ambitions.

 

Obama has now joined with Hu Jintao, the Chinese Premier, to call for "more stable and peaceful relations in South Asia". This is a gratuitous barb - coming just as A.Q. Khan has again reminded the world through the Pakistan media that Beijing assisted Islamabad with enriched uranium and the blueprint of a tested nuclear weapon in 1982 - notwithstanding the further remark that neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan "can or should be used as bases for terrorism".

 

Even as Ajmal Kasab's trial continues in Mumbai, new evidence keeps surfacing of other sinister players operating out of Pakistan or with Pakistani connections. Headley, an American, and Rana, a Canadian, both of Pakistani origin, increasingly appear to have been involved in the Mumbai terror plot or were possibly planning more mischief elsewhere in India. Evidence points to their having been in touch with the same Pakistani handlers as the 26/11 terrorists. Meanwhile, more arrests have been made in different parts of the country and huge caches of arms found. Much of this evidence might yet be circumstantial, but as the dots are joined, the emerging picture suggests that the Pakistani state and not just non-state actors remains active and working to a plan to wage a terrorist jihad in India.

 

It might be argued that a distinction must be drawn between Islamabad and rogue elements within the state and genuine non-state actors, former protégés now out of control and creating mayhem within Pakistan itself. Such subtleties provide cold comfort. Even if their background is ignored, the Pakistan state refuses to take on these ideologues and cover organisations. The trial in Rawalpindi of Lakhvi, Zarar Shah and five others for their role in 26/11 inspires little confidence as it proceeds fitfully in camera, with long adjournments under different judges, one of whom recused himself as he was under threat.

 

Pakistan's defence is now offence. It has charged India with assisting those perpetrating terror in Balochistan and within the Federally Administered Tribal Area through Afghanistan. The Americans and others have publicly pooh-poohed such fantasies and have, on the contrary, accused Pakistan of colluding with the Taliban in Afghanistan while selectively fighting it in Pakistan and of harbouring the Quetta Shoura and other Taliban and Al-Queda leaders within its territory. The Pakistan Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, farcically asserts he has clear evidence of India's complicity but will only reveal details "at the right time". Such humbug fools nobody, not even Pakistanis themselves.

 

The problem is that nobody quite knows who is in charge in Pakistan. Not Asif Zardari who has his back to the wall especially after his National Reconciliation Order indemnity against corruption charges was rescinded. Gilani? The military, with the ISI in tow? Sundry ideologues in cahoots with rogue elements within the civil establishments and military? External players like the Saudis, who have guaranteed all manner of deals and provided massive (possibly non-state) funding for the spread of madarsas and the Wahabi-inspired Taliban ideology? The Americans are hoist with their own petard and afraid that if they push too hard Pakistan might collapse under the weight of its many contradictions in which scenario desperate men might use or sell nuclear material to dubious elements even if the actual nuclear arsenal can be protected in these circumstances.

 

What then should India do on the first anniversary of 26/11? Not rant and rage or encourage chauvinist bravado. Nor refuse to engage Pakistan quietly. Merely sitting on its hands is no policy. It must endeavour to strategise to assist incipient civil, democratic forces in Pakistan to rally and build themselves to reclaim the state. This will include educating the Americans and Europeans, especially about the deeper identity crisis in Pakistan which is at the root of its misbegotten militarisation and Islamisation, and regionalising the AfPak solution with international guarantees to create a neutral Afghanistan.

 

Pakistan has to find its soul, not in enmity but in friendship with India, ending the trauma of Partition and the negativism and hate inherent in its founding philosophy. For its part, India must go forward boldly with a Kashmir settlement, internally certainly and externally if possible on the lines of the Manmohan-Musharraf package of cohabitation between the two parts of J&K, making boundaries (the LoC) irrelevant, but retaining the existing twin sovereignties. This was first enunciated by Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah in 1964 in an embryonic confederal idea that could evolve over time.n

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

FASHION SENSE

BY RANJIT SINGH 

 

How do you like this dress?" my better half asked me. As all husbands know, this question, like the unanswerable question 'have you stopped beating your wife?' is a potential trap from where it is very difficult to escape. Having recently become a fan of the TV channel showing fashion around the world, much to my wife's discomfort and despite her snide remarks about my age, I thought I would try the knowledge gained to impress her.

 

I said instead of a traditional dress why don't you go in for fusion style like Indian prints with western silhouette or contemporary style with old world glamour? Alternatively the dress could be a fusion of antique embroidery and handlooms with futuristic cuts. Warming up to my brilliance (foolishly, I was to realise later) I said the dress you choose must reflect all the energy, vibrancy and chic of a modern metro. It should be glittery, high on funk, studded, beaded, draped and flouncy!

 

She turned around and asked me if I was feeling OK. I said I was fine and that elegance is not an attitude but a way of life and it must get reflected in the clothes that you wear. I suggested that she look for something with plenty of shoulder and sleeve effects with soft feminine details in a transparent and water like fabric which should be colourful, dramatic and versatile! On the other hand she could look for something where the accent could be on minimalism, in colour, fabric and furbishing. The quality of the cloth should be that it defines elegance — timelessness; a quality that conveys permanence in a world infatuated with the temporary.

 

The glare I got from my wife would have been a warning enough for a lesser man, but having decided to exhibit all my knowledge in front of her friends I continued bravely unmindful of the consequences. The dress, I said could be a juxtaposition of fabrics, intriguing drapes with the subtlest hint of sparkle and shine. Foliage embroidery, with just a hint of peach would create a delicate harmony which would be difficult to match.

 

As far as the colours were concerned they could either be in pinks and oranges or greens and aquas with a subtle base of pewter . It could also be a deep blue-black offset by cream to create lot of character and give a more saturated look than a simply contrasting stark black and white. The colours could be in harmony with each other or, preferably, clashing so as to bring out the character of a modern woman!

 

By this time she had had enough of my unwanted suggestions, and in a tone, which experience had taught me never to disregard ,she suggested that I stick to what I did best, that is wait for her and her friends in the car, till she finishes buying a dress.

 

The consequence of my indiscretion is another story, which I cannot share with others, but the silver lining is that I am spared from driving her to the market when she now goes shopping for her clothes. Though my stock has gone up with her friends but it has nosedived with the woman that matters the most to me!n

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

OBAMA'S AFGHAN STRATEGY

POLICY BEARS RESEMBLANCE TO IRAQ SURGE

BY JULIAN E. BARNES, NED PARKER AND LAURA KING

 

In crafting his new Afghanistan policy, President Barack Obama borrowed liberally from an unlikely source: the playbook of George W. Bush. Obama was an outspoken critic of the former president's decision to increase troop strength in Iraq in early 2007, a point nearly four years after the U.S.-led invasion when the country was in the midst of sectarian war. He maintained his opposition throughout the presidential campaign, shrugging off Republican criticism that he was overlooking the subsequent decline in violence.

 

The Afghan strategy Obama announced Tuesday shares similarities with the Iraq "surge": a fast push into the country, a limited duration, an emphasis on training local forces and a hope of flipping the allegiance of insurgents.

 

But experts say there are key differences between the two countries, particularly in the nature of the insurgency, the terrain, the quality of security forces and the political atmosphere. Some of what worked in Iraq is likely to prove more difficult in Afghanistan, they say. And even in Iraq, a year and a half after the added troops left, the gains are not necessarily secure.

 

"It is a concept very similar to the Iraq surge," said Frederick W. Kagan, a military scholar who helped conceive the Iraq build-up strategy and advised Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, on his assessment of the war there.

 

Scholars and defense officials have debated which factors were the most critical in Iraq. What is not in doubt is that violence levels in Iraq fell quickly, positioning the U.S. to begin the withdrawal of the large military force that remains, which is to begin after parliamentary elections early next year.

 

The buildup was supposed to give "time and space" for Iraqi security forces to develop, and for Iraqi politicians to make compromises on key legislation meant to reconcile sectarian factions. While the security forces improved, reconciliation remains elusive.

 

Obama was dismissive of the "time and space" argument as a senator, but on Tuesday officials from his administration used the same language, arguing that Obama's plan would allow the Afghan government to develop its security forces, enact reforms and fight corruption.

 

Senior defense officials said they looked carefully at the strategies that worked in Iraq, while crafting the new Afghanistan policy.

 

Testifying Wednesday before the Senate, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates wryly drew some comparisons between the two deployments – including the need to explain the strategies in front of skeptical lawmakers.

 

"This is the second surge I've been up here defending," Gates said.

 

One of the most important developments in Iraq began largely independent of U.S. actions, when Sunnis turned against militants. Sunni insurgents who had been fighting both Iraqi Shiites and foreign forces broke with the militants. Sunni tribal leaders who either had sympathized with the insurgency or feared speaking out against it quickly sought out an alliance with U.S. forces. The Americans then helped organize them into local security forces and, in essence, paid them not to fight the U.S. or Iraqi militaries.

As violence ebbed, there has been some success in bringing the former fighters into the political process. But relatively few have been given jobs in the security forces, as promised. Many of the original leaders of the Sunni revolt in Baghdad have been arrested, are in hiding or exile, or face legal proceedings.

 

In Afghanistan, it may prove more difficult.

 

Military officials have been trying a variety of pilot projects aimed at getting Taliban foot soldiers to change sides and support local government elders.

 

"I think they should be faced with the option to come back; if they are willing to come back under the constitution of Afghanistan," McChrystal told reporters in Kabul after Obama's speech.

 

Stephen Biddle, a military analyst who advised Gen. David H. Petraeus during the Iraq buildup and McCrystal on Afghanistan, cautioned that Taliban foot soldiers may not switch allegiance as easily as Sunni fighters in Iraq did.

 

Sunnis, Biddle said, had been defeated in a sectarian civil war in Baghdad and soured on their alliance with al-Qaida in western Iraq. The Taliban, in contrast, believe they are winning.

 

"The key Taliban factions have just not been beaten on the battlefield," Biddle said.

 

Defense officials and military experts caution that other differences between the two countries will be very important.

 

Unlike Iraq, which has a well-developed infrastructure, Afghanistan is rural and rugged, with very few usable roads. That leaves coalition troops far more dependent on air power and travel on remote rural tracks that the insurgents seed with roadside bombs.

 

"The situation in Afghanistan is a lot more complicated than Iraq, primarily because of the geography," said David Sedney, a senior defense official. "In many cases, you are almost fighting a different war every valley."

 

Mark Moyar, an expert on counter-insurgency and a professor at the Marine Corps University, said other differences mean it will be difficult for the Afghanistan build-up to show results as quickly as the Iraq surge.

 

"Afghanistan's population is highly dispersed, whereas Iraq's is concentrated in cities," Moyar said. "Thirty thousand troops can secure far more people when the population is concentrated than when it is spread out," Moyar said.

 

The effort to strengthen Afghan security forces depends at least partly on the credibility of the central government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was re-elected this year in an election tainted by fraud. U.S. officials have roundly criticized his administration for being ineffective and corrupt.

 

In Iraq, many politicians now view Bush's gamble in 2007 as a success. But they are skeptical that the lessons can be applied to Afghanistan.

 

"The equation in Iraq was more realistic, and we are more open to the outside world," said Ali Alaaq, a Shiite

lawmaker from the ruling Dawa party. "Iraq has political potential and talent ... that the other country lacks."n

 By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

COPENHAGEN: DON'T FORGET WATER

BY JAMES G. WORKMAN

 

Climate change conjures up factory smoke, corn ethanol, cap-and-trade, hybrid cars. It also evokes Al Gore, drowning polar bears, African famine and Hurricane Katrina. All these triggers and the issues they invoke, backed by mounting evidence of irreversible risks to humankind, will converge next week in Copenhagen.

 

Our collective political will may yet secure the Earth's equilibrium through an overarching deal – although short of a treaty – by the end of the U.N. climate-change conference there. Or it could all come unglued. Delegates chosen to decide our fate deliberately have removed the one element that can tip the scales.

 

We know fossil fuel emissions matter immensely. But the most volatile chemical compound isn't methane,

nitrous oxide or even carbon dioxide. It's water.

 

Scientists stress water's profound link with climate change, and how wise water management could bind global efforts to cool our warming planet with local efforts to absorb its unavoidable shocks. Even the public gets it. Yet our delegates wallow in denial. In a misguided effort to avoid dissent, they have erased water from their working draft, forgetting how water is the planet's one common denominator.

 

Start with the atmosphere. Climatologists differ on some science but agree on this: The most potent greenhouse gas – more than double the impact of carbon dioxide – is water vapor. As CO2 begins to concentrate, global warming rapidly evaporates more surface moisture. Up there, rapidly accumulating water vapor magnifies the greenhouse effect.

 

Back down here, water is also the medium for adapting to those greenhouse effects that are well underway. Virtually every effect we dread – urban heat waves, melting snowpack, longer droughts, increased wildfires, drying reservoirs, rising sea levels, desiccating soils – boils down to the loss of fresh water. Even regions feeling more sudden, torrential rain can't use their extreme runoff; to absorb unpredictable floods, dam operators must empty their reservoirs.

 

So whenever we say climate volatility, we really mean water volatility.

 

That truth goes beyond semantics. The lack of secure water unravels development as billions lose access to clean, healthy lifelines. Unstable water undermines food security because of drier farms, eroded topsoil and diminished irrigation. And it cripples energy security, with less water to turn turbines, cool nukes, pump oil or boil into steam for generation by coal, solar and geothermal plants.

 

Geopolitical concerns alone should compel Copenhagen's delegates to make water adaptation strategies their top priority. But rather than defuse it as a threat multiplier, or integrate it in coping mechanisms, negotiators surgically deleted all references to water from the draft text.

 

Some estimate that for every thousand clean-energy and carbon-mitigation obsessed delegates descending on Copenhagen, fewer than a dozen deal with adaptation through water. Having dehydrated the negotiations, no one can discuss how all the planet's thirsty species, including 6.8 billion humans, will cope with the water volatility that is inevitable even if all emissions ended today.

 

Yet even as delegates repress water's strategic import, the world does not. A Pew Research poll found that, over the past 18 months, Americans' concern about climate change has evaporated from 44 percent to 35 percent; a GlobeScan/Circle of Blue international survey found 87 percent of those polled worried about increasing freshwater shortages, up 5 percentage points from 2003. The inverted priorities reveal three things.

 

First, to regain public trust and reestablish their democratic legitimacy, climate delegates must restore water to its rightful place at the fulcrum of decisions. If voters don't fully value the invisible, silent and delayed effect of burning coal and gasoline, they definitely grasp how humans both affect and depend on an increasingly volatile water cycle. In the face of extreme instability, society demands a route to resilience.

 

Second, climate resilience can't be regulated from above but can be encouraged to emerge from below – through water. Water can be more securely stored in the efficient "natural infrastructure" of flood plains, groundwater and aquifers, rather than sacrificed to the sun in shallow evaporation reservoirs. Human ingenuity can be tapped through judicious conservation incentives that instill a stronger sense of local water ownership in us all.

 

Finally, water must be the delegates' most compelling political catalyst. Even climate skeptics see the risks of scarcity and the virtue of securing water for human use. By embracing water as the tangible link between global vapor up there and local river basins down here, delegates could forge a more integrated, meaningful treaty that endures.

 

It's not too late. Water remains a magically cohesive element without which all life withers. To replenish the Earth, in the next round of negotiations, Copenhagen delegates must just add water.n

 

By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

GENERATING POWER FROM WASTE IN PUNJAB VILLAGES

BY RAVI DHALIWAL AND A.S. GHUMAN

 

A total sanitation campaign (TSC) is being initiated in south-west Punjab to ensure better public health. The brainchild of Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Badal, the campaign aims to provide clean drinking water, access to health care and sanitation in villages. Already a success in Bangladesh and African countries, the TSC will start in Kotbhai village in the Gidderbaha assembly segment.

 

The TSC comes after the success of Reverse Osmosis (RO) plants, which provide safe drinking water to cancer-stricken villages in south-west Punjab and the Telemedicine project for villagers who cannot afford to go to cities for treatment.

 

With over 130 towns and 12,500-plus villages and a population of 2.5 crore, Punjab annually generates 3.5 million tonnes of solid waste apart from an additional 35 million tonnes of livestock waste (cow dung) and 40 million tonnes of agro waste (wheat straw, paddy stubble etc).

 

Says Apramjeet Singh Ghuman, a US-based engineer, who is closely associated with the project, "A solution to the problem of rural waste is necessary if we want to reduce child mortality and combat disease."

 

Much of agro waste is either burnt in the fields, causing air pollution, or mixed with cow dung and conserved for use as manure. The TSC aims to improve the quality of life through awareness about sanitation and health. It also aims at covering schools and "anganwadis" to promote sanitary habits among students.

 

"The TSC will try to eliminate the practice of open defecation to minimise the risk of contamination of drinking water sources and food," says an expert.

 

Adds Ghuman, "The sanitation model has to be sustainable and will require the collective will of the community to do away with some prevailing practices and require collective behavioural change".

 

Under the TSC mini power generation plants will come up on vacant lands
or lands to be provided by panchayats. The household, agro and livestock waste will act as fuel for generating power. At Kotbhai a 300 kilo watt power plant, based on US technology, will be established and power will be supplied to the Punjab State Electricity Board.

 

Once the pilot project at Kotbhai village takes off, it is proposed to group several villages into clusters so as to form viable waste-to-energy units elsewhere in Punjab.

 

"If 50 per cent of the livestock and agro waste generated by Punjab is tapped, we will be able to generate 500 MW of electricity that can used by the 1.8 crore village population, assuming electricity usage at 100 units per month per five-member household," says Ghuman.

 

Villagers will have to be trained to maintain the sanitation facilities and the maintenance expenses will be borne by them. The cost of community sanitary complexes will be met by panchayats and Self Help Groups (SHGs), which have a very successful run in districts like Muktsar, where the TSC is being initially started. Institutions and organisations operating and maintaining the sanitary complexes may collect suitable user-charges.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

SEVERE BLOW TO ULFA

 

With the Government of Bangladesh adopting a strong stand against the leaders of the militant groups taking shelter in that country, the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is the worst sufferer as even its chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has been picked up. In fact, the security forces of Bangladesh reportedly started keeping a close watch on the movements of the leaders of the militant groups since September and in the first part of November, two senior leaders of the ULFA including Foreign Secretary Sasha Choudhury and Finance Secretary Chitraban Hazarika were picked up and handed over to India, while, the Commander in Chief of the outfit Paresh Baruah was forced to leave Bangladesh after he was named as an accused in the 2004 Chittagong arms haul case. Now the detention of Rajkhowa along with the Deputy Commander in Chief of the outfit Raju Baruah dealt a severe blow to the ULFA and only two of the Central committee members of the outfit including Paresh Baruah and Jiban Moran are outside the security net. However, the detention of the ULFA chairman is shrouded in mystery as for two days after the incident, the State and Central Governments remained silent over the whole episode and contradictory reports added to the confusion. One fails to understand the reasons behind the secrecy maintained by the Government over the issue and the Central and State Governments should come out with a statement clarifying the position to remove doubts from the minds of the people of Assam.


The Union Home Minister, P Chidambaram made a statement in the Parliament on December 2 stating that the Centre was expecting a statement from the ULFA on the issue of talks , which gave birth to speculations that the ULFA chairman may be forced to issue a statement in favour of talks shortly. But it is doubtful whether talks with only one faction of the ULFA will bring the desired results as Paresh Baruah, who has the control over the armed wing of the outfit is still outside and if talks are held without his presence, a section of the ULFA members with the capability of indulging in subversive activities will always remain underground. Instead of starting the process of talks only with one faction of the ULFA, the Government should make efforts to bring both the sides to the negotiating table if it is really interested in finding a long lasting solution to the problem of militancy. The ULFA lost an opportunity to start talks with the Government from a stronger position when the peace process for talks between Government and the people's consultative group ended in a deadlock in 2006 and if the ULFA starts talks with the Government now, it will have to start from weaker grounds as majority of the top leaders are under the security net.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

POLICE-PUBLIC TIES

 

The need for the police to don a humane and people-friendly mantle was perhaps never as urgent as it is now. While none would dispute the indispensability of the police as an instrument of law-and-order maintenance and public grievance redressal, the fact stands that the image of the police has taken a severe beating over the years. The public perception of the police is invariably one of dislike and aversion, and most people would be happy to keep a safe distance from the man in uniform. Obviously, there are good reasons behind the plummeting public trust in this law-enforcing agency and it is for the police to address these concerns at the earliest. Widespread corrupt practices and lack of transparency in its functioning, all-pervasive political interference hindering its impartiality, and an intimidating attitude towards the common man have blackened the police's image, effectively distancing it from the masses. The abysmal police-public relation has, in turn, seriously affected the police's ability to function in the desired manner. While transparency in its functioning is critical to winning public faith, the police should also strive to reach out to the commoners by involving themselves in social activities like police-public meetings, blood-donation and de-addiction camps, sports activities, etc. Once it establishes a good rapport with the people, it would be easier for the force to handle criminal and anti-social activities in a more efficient manner because of greater public support and cooperation. If it succeeds in ensuring justice to the people, honour and trust are sure to follow. The police should also endeavour to clean its image by keeping undue political influence at bay. Much of the inefficiency and dehumanization of the police stems from the worrying police-politician-criminal nexus.


Along with developing cordial ties with the public, another urgent need is to modernize the forces. It needs to devise a long-term mechanism to meet the emerging challenges in a changing environment. A plethora of ills such as manpower shortage, inadequate infrastructure and amenities, lack of training, etc., plague the functioning of the State's police. Modernizing the forces to tackle crimes and criminals that are getting increasingly sophisticated is a must. The police personnel invariably work under a lot of stress, and any drawback vis-a-vis even the basic amenities could have a further demoralizing impact on the members of the force. The Government had recently taken a few initiatives to effect some much-needed changes in the police but a lot still remains to be done.


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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

LEGAL PROVISION NEEDED TO PROTECT MENFOLK

NEELOTPAL DEKA

 

For years, there has been loud debate and even orders from courts to do away with or, at least, amend Section 498A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with the offence of matrimonial cruelty. This clause is considered to be rampantly abused, with several examples of husbands and their families being arrested without a preliminary inquiry on allegations of harassing their wives for a range of reasons, including dowry. Recently, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has written to all state governments, advising them that arrest for an alleged offence under Section 498A should be the "last resort," not the first step. In a communication sent to the Chief Secretaries and DGPs of all states and the administrations of the Union Territories, including Assam and all North-Eastern states the MHA cited misuse of the Section.


The Indian Penal Code, 1860 was amended in the year 1983 to include the provisions of Section 498A which deals with the punishment of the husband and his relatives if a married woman is subjected to cruelty. The offence is cognizable, non-bailable and non-compoundable. Hence, once a complaint is lodged on some grounds the accused has a lot to bear before he can be given a clean chit. With the rise in modernisation, education, financial security and the new found independence the radical feminist has made Section 498A a weapon in her hands. Many a helpless husbands and in-laws have become victims of their vengeful daughters-in-law. Most cases where Section 498A is invoked turn out to be false (as repeatedly accepted by High Courts and Supreme Court in India) as they are mere blackmail attempts by the wife (or her close relatives) when faced with a strained marriage. In most cases Section 498A complaint is followed by the demand of huge amount of money (extortion done legally!) to settle the case out of the court. This Section of the IPC is unique to India as it not only discriminates on the basis of gender (Man Vs Woman), but also discriminates against women based on therelationship with their husbands.


The MHA letter to state govenrments, incidentally, states that in light of judicial pronouncements, an attempt was made earlier to find a via media by amending Section 498A to make the offence compoundable. "However, this could not be pursued because of the opposition from women organisations," the letter says. Incidentally, in its judgment in the case Savitri Devi Vs Ramesh Chand and others in 2002, the Delhi High Court observed: "...the misuse of the provisions of Section 498A ... is hitting at the very foundation of marriage itself and has proved to be not so good for the health of the society at large." The judgement further observed, "These provisions were though made with good intentions but the implementation has left a very bad taste and the move has been counter- productive. There is a growing tendency amongst the women which is further perpetuated by their parents and relatives to rope in each and every relative including minors and even school- going kids nearer or distant relatives and in some cases against every person of the family of the husband." This was echoed by the Supreme Court. "The object of Section 498A is to prevent dowry menace. But...many instances have come to light where the complaints are not bonafide and ... filed with oblique motive. It may become necessary for the legislature to find out ways how the makers of frivolous complaints or allegations can be appropriately dealt with." In 2003, the Justice Malimath Committee, submitted a report to the MHA on reforms in the Criminal Justice System, recommended that the Section be made bailable and compoundable to give a chance to the spouses to come together.


There are lots of vital issues that demand a careful scrutiny of the judicial fraternity. Firstly, that a woman (not necessarily every woman) can be much more cruel than a man (not necessarily every man). Secondly, while intending to protect the life of a person, Section 498A of IPC jeopardizes lives of around a dozen innocent persons, whether they are children, young or old. Hence, the provision is discriminatory and in violation to the Article 14 of the Constitution of India. Thirdly, instead of restoring equilibrium, the provision aggravates disequilibria. Hence, it is not only imbalanced but also there is a failure of guarantee of right to life under Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Fourthly, for the reasons stated above the provision is not only imbalanced and discriminatory, but also ultra vires. Because of these maladies the provision needs to be amended at the earliest to protect the life and liberty of the innocent people. Prior to that the learned and honourable courts may consider imposition of heavy penalty as done in case of vexatious PILs. Such PILs are not only vexatious but in the matter of the cases may be false, mala fide, malicious and revengeful.


As regards the observations made above about the discriminatory IPC provision 498A, there is a growing need for the protection of the menfolk. If women can be victims of cruelty and domestic violence, so can happen in the life of a man. The society as a whole and the legislators are all aware about the misuse of this penal provision, yet there are voices not to amend this provision. In such a situation there can be only one alternative, to have a similar penal provision for the protection of the husband which may be added as "498B Wife or relative of wife of a man subjecting him to cruelty". The legislators may keep this new Section with similar wording and penalties where the words 'Husband' and 'Woman' will be substituted by the words 'Wife' and 'Man'.

The IPC Section 498A was originally designed to protect married women from dowry harassment and cruelty by husbands and/or their relatives. Unfortunately, this law has been misused to harass men and their families rather than protect genuine female victims of harassment. The Supreme The IPC Section 498A was originally designed to protect married women from dowry harassment and cruelty by husbands and/or their relatives. Unfortunately, this law has been misused to harass men and their families rather than protect genuine female victims of harassment. The Supreme Court of India itself has labelled the misuse of Section 498A as "legal tertorism" and cases have been filed with an oblique motive. In such cases, acquittal of the accused does not wipe out the ignominy suffered during and prior to the trial. Sometimes adverse media coverage adds to the misery. A study conducted by the Centre for Social Research indicated that 98 per cent of the cases filed under Section 498A are false. This a provision not only adds gender discrimination, it harasses other women in the society as well. In the 98 per cent of false cases, in every instance when one daughter-in-law files a false complaint, sometimes two women (an innocent mother-in-law and sister-in-law) are arrested and undergo stress, humiliation and harassment in the hands of the exploitative police, lawyers, staff and officials in Indian courts before being acquitted several years later. The law has been always justified based on its intention of protecting women. But the Section 498A allows women unlimited scope to fabricate lies (with no penalty of perjury) and given that women are encouraged to keep filng false cases the statistics of 'dowry harassment" are bound to rise, while the problem of genuine harassment is left unchecked. Hence, to maintain the equilibrium a Section 4 98B is required to be added i the IPC.

 

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THE ASSAM TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

THE PUBLIC REPORT ON BASIC EDUCATION

DR H K GOSWAMI

 

The Public Report on Basic Education (PROBE) was based on a survey of primary schooling in rural Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh in 1996. The PROBE report found abysmally low coverage of incentive schemes. However, when the same villages were re-surveyed in 2006, the number had increased dramatically : for example, the proportion of schools that reported operational incentives had risen from 10 per cent to 49 per cent in the case of uniforms, and 47 per cent to 98 per cent for textbooks. Mid-day meals were reported to be served in 84 per cent of the sample schools and scholarships were being given in 81 per cent. The ten year period (1996-2006) has also been marked by substantial progress towards universal enrolment. In 2006, 95 per cent of children in the 6-12 year age group were enrolled in schools.


The introduction, universalization and routinization of the mid-day meal scheme (MDMS) have been the biggest change since 1996. At the time of the PROBE survey in 1996, most States were implementing the mid-day meal as a 'dry ration' scheme conditional on 80 per cent attendance (children were given 3 kilogram of grain to take home). But ten years later in 2006, 84 per cent of households surveyed reported that their children got a cooked meal in schools.


The mid-day meal scheme can play an important role in boosting enrolment and attendance: the food attracts children to school on a daily basis. It can be viewed as a nutritional supplement- since unlike private schools, children in government schools, in rural as well as urban areas, tend to be from poor families and one nutritious meal at school can enhance their health. In many schools, children now enjoy a varied menu through the week, including eggs.


Another important role of the mid-day meal scheme is the socialization role whereby children learn to eat together. This, in turn, contributes to weakening longstanding caste barriers. Moreover, the mid-day meal scheme can be an important part of the child's education : it provides an opportunity to teach the child many crucial habits related to health and hygiene, nutrition and so on. Significantly, the results of the 2006 PROBE survey on mid-day meal scheme is encouraging. Most teachers (around 91 per cent) said that all children consumed the meal at school (although there were some hints of caste discrimination). Good practices were generally being followed : in 64 per cent of the schools, investigators observed that children washed their hands before eating and in more schools (79 per cent) after eating.


Free textbooks are another example of reasonable success as far as school incentives are concerned. Textbooks are the key to the learning process at school. The distribution of free textbooks lightens the financial burden of schooling. In 2006, 98 per cent of schools reported the distribution of free textbooks (up from 47 per cent in 1996). Further, in the 2006-07 academic session, 72 per cent of schools distributed textbooks in the beginning of the academic session. Timeliness is important because their distribution towards the end of the academic year is useless.


School incentives play diverse roles. One aspect is to reduce the cost of education: the provisions of uniforms and textbooks lighten the financial burden of sending children to school. Cooked-day meals and to a large extent, textbooks and uniforms directly help in enrolment of children. Two, some incentives encourage regular attendance, apart from boosting enrolment. Third, for children, textbooks, uniforms and meals make the school appealing and something to look forward to. Finally, school incentives are important for an equitable schooling experience, Wearing uniforms, sharing meals, using the same books foster a sense of equality which is of much value in itself.

Some cases of leakages in school incentive schemes were recorded by the PROBE survey investigators. Leakages appear to be higher for incentives with a high 'resale' value, namely, scholarships for Scheduled Caste/Scheduled Tribe students and uniforms. This is a cause for serious concern, suggesting the urgent need to take steps to plug the leakage. In the mid-day meal scheme, there is anecdotal evidence that there may be deficiencies in the quality and quantity. For example, the 'dal' served is watery or the menu is not followed. Nevertheless, the fact remains that most children in government primary schools do get cooked food most of the time.

Meanwhile, the latest audit report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India pointed out several deficiencies in infrastructural facilities for the mid-day meal scheme. The report, incorporates audit reviews fore fourteen States in the last five years. These State are Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana, Jammu and Kashmir, Kerela, Madhya Pradesh, Manipur, Orissa, Tripura, Uttarkhand and Uttar Pradesh. Food being cooked in open was a regular feature across States leading to several cases of food poisoning, the report said. In Andhra Pradesh, 95 per cent of central funds released in 2007-08 for building kitchen sheds remained unutilized till March 2008. In Orissa, during test check it was observed that 92 per cent of the schools did not have kitchen sheds. In Uttar Pradesh, many schools did not have sufficient utensils. In primary schools at Lohari, Jhansi district empty paint containers were used for serving meals. "In West Bengal, during 2004-05, cooked meals were served to only 63 per cent of the targeted days," the country's top audit watchdog CAG report says.


(The writer is former principal, Mangaldai College)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRING ON THE PENSIONS BILL

 

We welcome the move to reintroduce the lapsed Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority (PFRDA) Bill to give statutory powers to the authority and allow foreign direct investment into the pension sector. The regulator is already up and running, at an impressive pace. However, it is necessary to provide the regulator and the New Pension System it has put in place legal backing. A vibrant pension sector will, apart from creating much needed old age security, foster the further growth of markets for both equity and debt, making financing of infrastructure projects easier.


While the government considers the new bill, it would be advisable to introduce a new element in it: a provision to allow subscribers to the Employees Provident Fund Organisation (EPFO) to voluntarily choose to transit to the New Pension System. The savings of a worker who opts for NPS will be deployed in an appropriate mix of debt and equity to give the right profile of risk and returns. This is what pension funds, the world over, do. Employees who are risk-averse and want a guaranteed yearly fixed return can stay with the EPFO and the outfit's fate will be determined by how well the NPS performs over the years.


A clutch of competing pension funds sharing a common accounting and record keeping infrastructure, overseen by an efficient pension fund regulator, should ideally be placed to generate much higher returns at low cost to India's working population. Shifting to rising proportions of debt in the allocation between debt and equity as a person ages should offer the needed protection against any sudden slump in the markets at the time of a saver's retirement, depressing the value of her investment.

 

Regulation should also allow a subscriber to opt to stay invested for a few more years after retirement. The NPS has attracted only around 2,775 voluntary subscribers, showing a clear need for aggressive marketing of the scheme by the regulator. The recent decision by the PFRDA to allow NPS subscribers to open a Tier 2 savings account from which funds can be withdrawn at will, as in the case of civil servants' General Provident Fund (GPF), would definitely serve to make Tier 1 pension savings that much more attractive.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SAVE THE HOUSE

 

The inhabitants of the redoubtable Gaul village that perpetually keeps the Roman hordes at bay in the Asterix series have one enduring fear: that the sky can, any day, fall on their heads. That, of course, is a charmingly funny little comic-book myth. But perhaps quite a reality in India, where, habitually, myths have a habit of becoming all too real.


The latest person to aver that would perhaps be petroleum & natural gas minister Murli Deora. After the roof of his Sansad Bhawan chamber caved in during the last parliamentary session, Mr Deora has, it is learnt, shifted his Wednesday open house sessions — a weekly interaction with fellow parliamentarians and people from their constituencies — to his office at Shastri Bhawan.


Predictably, close aides of the minister are thanking their stars no one was hurt (the chamber was empty) when a huge chunk of the office ceiling came crashing down, bringing down the ceiling fan for company, destroying it completely and creating a three-feet deep crater in the recently-laid vinyl floor. Leaders enjoy a fan following, but probably not of this kind.


Suffice it to remember the many instances where falling fans have, in fact, caused injuries to attendants of the rich and the famous. Not everyone can afford to change places. And thus the incident has alarmed the other inhabitants of the building. The accidental observer, walking into the aforementioned building, might well be forgiven for ruminating on the extraordinary devotion to the Almighty the inhabitants display, given that they are now keeping an eye on the ceiling even while working away while seated at their desks.


After all, if it can happen in the honourable mantri's chamber, how can the other plebian rooms be safe? One wonders if that is the reason why the lawns of Sansad Bhawan are favoured more by assorted media persons in this session than the House itself. The vigours of democracy can bring the House down, but not quite in this literal fashion. Time for some constructive measures.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SURGE IN CLARITY?

 

By itself, the announcement of US President Barack Obama's new Afghanistan strategy, revolving around sending in an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan and a pullout date commencing in 2011, is a tacit admission of the failure of the reconstruction project.


And the greater focus on leaning on Pakistan to stop differentiating between various terrorist groups — if one also takes cognisance of Obama's letter to President Zardari — underlines the recognition of Pakistan as the major problem. Given that the US' main aim has been to end the terrorist threat to its interests, that unambiguous recognition is significant. But whether it will amount to anything is a moot point given the wider US inability to come up with an effective strategy to deal with Pakistan.


That has, not least, to do with the need to juggle the various centres of power in Pakistan, and the very real US dependence on the Pak army. It is, thus, a moot point whether Islamabad can, in the foreseeable future, be forced to dismantle the terrorist network that targets India.


New Delhi must also be aware of the undesirability of a situation where US pressure on Islamabad is sought to be balanced with pushing India into shifting its stand on talks with Pakistan. The larger south Asian peace process must, as a principle, be envisaged and guided solely by its own political and civil society. New Delhi must remember that Indian and US interests in the region converge only until a certain point and that India will have to deepen and broaden its engagement with the various players in Afghanistan in order to keep pursuing its long-term interests in the region.


In Afghanistan itself, given the increasing identification of the Karzai regime as more a part of the problem than the solution, the idea of dealing with local tribal leaders and arming militias against the Taliban would not help the creation of a unified federal entity. And an even worse eventuality than the talk of engaging with the 'moderate Taliban' would be real possibility of these, and sundry Islamic extremist warlords, sauntering in again once the American's leave. While staying the course, India must also start hedging its bets.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

AN EFFECTIVE GOVERNANCE MODEL

ARUN MAIRA

 

India aspires for faster economic growth, even exceeding China's pace of over 10% if possible. Also, India wants inclusive growth.


India aspires for faster economic growth, even exceeding China's pace of over 10% if possible. Also, India wants inclusive growth. And India needs socially, politically and environmentally sustainable growth. Every list of what is required to accelerate inclusive growth in the country includes the need for better governance. The poor infrastructure, inefficiencies in public services, corruption and lack of accountability are all laid at the doorstep of poor governance.


There is nothing as practical as a good theory, scientists say, because solutions based on good theory are more likely to produce the results desired. What are some theories of governance? Webster's dictionary gives two definitions of governance. One is: governance is 'a method or system of government or management'. Therefore, effective governance for India would be a method or system that will produce our desired outcomes and that fits our conditions.


Three characteristics of India that its system of governance must fit are its scale, diversity and democracy. India and China are unusually-large countries. With over a billion citizens each, they are almost four times larger than the next largest country. While both are diverse, India's diversity is incredible: the number of languages, religions and races that co-exist within one nation. Unlike China, India let the genie of democracy out of the bottle at its Independence. It now has a free and energetic media, active civil society organisations, a plethora of political parties and, of course, free and fair elections. Therefore, unlike China, 'governance' in India cannot any more be limited to the dictionary's other definition of governance: government; exercise of authority, ontrol.

Let us return then to the first definition: a system of government or management. Any system can be improved at three levels. The most superficial level is an improvement in procedures. Procedures are nested within work processes. Reengineering work processes within the system can improve efficiency much more. Most fundamental though is the architecture of the system itself. The architecture, as in a good building, must fit the context and the outcomes desired. Good architects provide the concepts and guidelines within which engineers design processes and craftsmen execute the procedures.

India's model of governance must be founded on four architectural principles.


l Minimal critical rules: Since government in democracy must be by the people, power and responsibilities must be further devolved as the 73rd and 74th amendments of the Constitution require. Management of states and local bodies must conform to a minimal set of critical principles, and not to manuals of centrally-determined rules and procedures which is the prevalent mode of governance. Development and deployment of the few, most critical principles is the great art of decentralised governance rather than framing of bureaucratic rules.


l Permeable boundaries: In 'a world broken into fragments by narrow domestic walls' (Tagore's words), cooperation is not easy. Boundaries between institutions in India, even amongst government ministries, have become too rigid. To counter this, 'lateral linking organisations' must be deliberately built to cut through these walls. These can take many forms, such as shared learning forums and joint projects. The design and support of these must receive as much, if not more, attention than the design and maintenance of the up-and-down reporting and control structures of the government and management.

l Flexible resources: Diversity is attractive. It is also a great source for innovation; whereas homogenisation and specialisation create efficiency but kill creativity. India must nurture its diversity and deliberately take advantage of it, in the design of its organisations.


l Aligned aspirations: India is not one large battleship. It is a flotilla of a million boats. They will bump into each other as they sail forth in their own ways. They cannot be called to order by a central command. They will coordinate only when they all want to go towards the same vision. Therefore, a decentralised, diverse and democratic India must have a shared vision to keep the flotilla together on its journey.


A SHARED vision emerges from conversations about what people care about, not from arguments to prove who is right and who is wrong. Argumentative Indians must learn to listen to others and respect other views also. 'Big fights' and 'hard talks' on TV are entertaining but can be divisive too. Elected assemblies in India are degenerating into brawls. Therefore, the country's democratic governance model must incorporate good processes for listening, dialogue and consensus-building, in addition to the conduct of elections that India has mastered.

The first three principles have been distilled from an analysis of complex self-adaptive systems that have the ability to learn and adapt to changing environments. Systems in nature have this ability: thus, they can adapt themselves and evolve, unlike mechanical, engineered systems that need external interventions to change them.
The fourth principle is a hallmark of human systems. Unlike plant and animal systems, human societies can consciously choose to change the ways in which they function. Studies of organisations and nations that have transformed themselves reveal the power of a shared vision of what their members want.


All four principles have been validated by examining the histories of organisations that have succeeded over long periods and against great odds by innovation and adaptation. A governance model for India, based on these architectural principles of complex self-adaptive systems, can provide the designs of management and government systems for India's very complex system that must self-adapt from within. Analysis of governance failures in India invariably shows that one or more of the above principles have been violated.


Finally, the governance model must be based on the paradigm of 'learning together'. What India hopes to accomplish has never been done before. Within 25 years, we must be a much larger and much more inclusive economy, with technologies and lifestyles that cannot ape those of the west because they must change too for the world to avoid an environmental catastrophe. Systems thinking, smart experimentation and rapid organisational learning are the skills we need to realise our aspiration of much faster, more inclusive and more sustainable progress to our vision.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE TRUTH ABOUT FALSE GODS

MUKUL SHARMA

 

Karl Popper, the Austrian-British philosopher of science, is probably best known for his proposal of falsifiability: that any theory, conjecture or claim can only be meaningful if it can also be proved false. Thus, to claim that 'all swans are white', for example, makes sense because it can be falsified by the discovery of even a single black or green or whatever swan. In other words, true science advances by advancing theories that have been deduced from generalised observation for which counter-factual claims have not arisen yet but, importantly, can in theory be made at some time in the future. As Einstein put it, "No amount of experimentation can ever prove me right; a single experiment can prove me wrong."


On the other hand, if someone else were to come up with a theory that asserts there is an alien oven-toaster-griller in a galaxy far away that controls our destiny, how can any experiment ever prove it wrong? One could, of course, always say that the person presents no evidence in support of that claim, but he or she could then just as well turn around and ask if the rest of us have any evidence to refute it. On whom does the onus lie? Popper tried to resolve the issue by saying that if evidence cannot be presented to support a case, and yet the case cannot be shown to be false, not much credence can be given to such a statement.

 

A lot of philosophers, scientists and atheists use a similar argument to deny the meaningfulness in the claim for the existence of God — especially an all-powerful, omniscient entity. Being a transcendental being, beyond the realm of the observable, claims about it can neither be sustained nor undermined by observation. Does it make sense?

The short answer is no. But, in fact, the overwhelming majority of human beings at any given point in their history and across myriad cultures has chosen to go along with it without questioning its empirical validity. And that's in spite of the amount of sometimes seemingly purposeless pain, suffering, evil and unnecessary brutish deaths which an omnipotent, loving and, ultimately, 'good' god would and should have the power to allay if not eliminate. So, does it make sense?


If we are not bound by an uncompromising belief in the claim to His absolute unlimited powers, Popper's falsifiability proposal still holds true and the long answer surprisingly turns out to be yes. Because there's ample evidence to the contrary.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHOULD INSURERS' EXPENSES BE CAPPED?

STRONGER ENFORCEMENT OF EXISTING CAPS VITAL


In our country, where the insurance sector is well-regulated with detailed laws, a cap on expenses already exists under the current framework.


In our country, where the insurance sector is well-regulated with detailed laws, a cap on expenses already exists under the current framework. Section 40B of the Insurance Act, read with Rule 17D of Insurance Rules, stipulates fairly stringent limits on the expenses of management in life insurance business. This cap on expenses includes all charges whether incurred directly or indirectly and includes commission payments of all kinds, any amount of expenses capitalised, head office expenses and so on. Further, insurance companies only collect fund management and policy administration charges from the policyholders as per the product design, which is the income stream of life insurance companies.


All expenses including the salaries of CEOs are met out of this income stream only. If the gross income is inadequate to meet the expenses, shareholders bring in funds as share capital to meet the deficit. Thus, the entire expenses including CEOs' salaries are met out of the funds that belong to the shareholders. In this scenario, any other cap would only create a sub-cap that would limit the flexibility available to the industry players to forge ahead in a competitive arena and deliver more innovative products to the customers.


Multiplicity of laws generally creates an atmosphere that leads to participants looking for loopholes and capitalising on them. This could lead to unhealthy practices. The need of the hour is stronger enforcement of the existing caps without diverting energies into further monitoring of sub-categories.


Insurance players here are at various stages of their evolution and, as such, discretion should be in the hands of the leaders and shareholders to plan and execute their business strategies. This would enable the insurance industry to grow and flourish. A vibrant, dynamic, healthy insurance industry is a must in a country like India that lacks a formal social security system. Let's try and work towards unleashing the true potential of the insurance industry that seeks to serve over one billion people in the country. It would help increase penetration of insurance, improve financial inclusion, fuel growth, improve employment, boost realty and generate demand for IT, ITeS and healthcare diagnostic services.

 

Public interest justifies capping of expenses

Insurance companies spend lavishly, particularly on advertising and for maintaining posh offices. Where does this money come from? The income of an insurance company is from the premium it collects for the policies it issues.

Insurance companies spend lavishly, particularly on advertising and for maintaining posh offices. Where does this money come from? The income of an insurance company is from the premium it collects for the policies it issues.

Indiscriminate expenses incurred on marketing and administrative costs result in cost over-runs that adversely affect profitability. So, a balancing act is done by resorting to 'economising' in other areas.


In order to curtail costs, insurance companies act in an arbitrary manner when it comes to handling claims. For instance, premium is loaded without justification, renewal is refused when a policy is expected to become onerous, sanctioned claims are not released unless the insured signs a receipt giving full and final discharge, etc. Presently, industry-wise, the maximum number of cases in consumer courts are against insurers. Courts have had to intervene either by restraining an insurance company from indulging in unfair trade practices or by directing the Irda to formulate policies so that insurers do not act in a manner prejudicial to public interest.


The advent of the private sector into what was once a government monopoly has resulted in acute competition. The focus is to capture business, forgetting the service aspect. Legitimate claims are often repudiated on flimsy grounds, and for reasons contrary to settled law. This is opposed to public policy and defeats the purpose of insurance. So, it is the duty of the regulator to issue appropriate directions in public interest to curtail costs, which is not a new concept. In fact, sections 40B and 40C of the Insurance Act, 1938, respectively deal with limitation of management expenses of life insurance and general insurance companies.


There cannot be a dispute about the necessity to ensure that legitimate claims are settled, which is not possible as long as insurers manage their business in a lopsided manner, viz., incurring needless, heavy expenses and economising by wrongly rejecting claims. Hence, public interest justifies the necessity for the regulator to step in to curtail management costs. If this is not done, the authority would fail in its duty to regulate the industry keeping in mind the socio-economic requirements.


(*Consumers Welfare Association)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

STRONGER ENFORCEMENT OF EXISTING CAPS VITAL

 

In our country, where the insurance sector is well-regulated with detailed laws, a cap on expenses already exists under the current framework. Section 40B of the Insurance Act, read with Rule 17D of Insurance Rules, stipulates fairly stringent limits on the expenses of management in life insurance business. This cap on expenses includes all charges whether incurred directly or indirectly and includes commission payments of all kinds, any amount of expenses capitalised, head office expenses and so on. Further, insurance companies only collect fund management and policy administration charges from the policyholders as per the product design, which is the income stream of life insurance companies.


All expenses including the salaries of CEOs are met out of this income stream only. If the gross income is inadequate to meet the expenses, shareholders bring in funds as share capital to meet the deficit. Thus, the entire expenses including CEOs' salaries are met out of the funds that belong to the shareholders. In this scenario, any other cap would only create a sub-cap that would limit the flexibility available to the industry players to forge ahead in a competitive arena and deliver more innovative products to the customers.


Multiplicity of laws generally creates an atmosphere that leads to participants looking for loopholes and capitalising on them. This could lead to unhealthy practices. The need of the hour is stronger enforcement of the existing caps without diverting energies into further monitoring of sub-categories.


Insurance players here are at various stages of their evolution and, as such, discretion should be in the hands of the leaders and shareholders to plan and execute their business strategies. This would enable the insurance industry to grow and flourish. A vibrant, dynamic, healthy insurance industry is a must in a country like India that lacks a formal social security system. Let's try and work towards unleashing the true potential of the insurance industry that seeks to serve over one billion people in the country. It would help increase penetration of insurance, improve financial inclusion, fuel growth, improve employment, boost realty and generate demand for IT, ITeS and healthcare diagnostic services.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

PUBLIC INTEREST JUSTIFIES CAPPING OF EXPENSES

 

Insurance companies spend lavishly, particularly on advertising and for maintaining posh offices. Where does this money come from? The income of an insurance company is from the premium it collects for the policies it issues.

Indiscriminate expenses incurred on marketing and administrative costs result in cost over-runs that adversely affect profitability. So, a balancing act is done by resorting to 'economising' in other areas.


In order to curtail costs, insurance companies act in an arbitrary manner when it comes to handling claims. For instance, premium is loaded without justification, renewal is refused when a policy is expected to become onerous, sanctioned claims are not released unless the insured signs a receipt giving full and final discharge, etc. Presently, industry-wise, the maximum number of cases in consumer courts are against insurers. Courts have had to intervene either by restraining an insurance company from indulging in unfair trade practices or by directing the Irda to formulate policies so that insurers do not act in a manner prejudicial to public interest.

The advent of the private sector into what was once a government monopoly has resulted in acute competition. The focus is to capture business, forgetting the service aspect. Legitimate claims are often repudiated on flimsy grounds, and for reasons contrary to settled law. This is opposed to public policy and defeats the purpose of insurance. So, it is the duty of the regulator to issue appropriate directions in public interest to curtail costs, which is not a new concept. In fact, sections 40B and 40C of the Insurance Act, 1938, respectively deal with limitation of management expenses of life insurance and general insurance companies.


There cannot be a dispute about the necessity to ensure that legitimate claims are settled, which is not possible as long as insurers manage their business in a lopsided manner, viz., incurring needless, heavy expenses and economising by wrongly rejecting claims. Hence, public interest justifies the necessity for the regulator to step in to curtail management costs. If this is not done, the authority would fail in its duty to regulate the industry keeping in mind the socio-economic requirements.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

FOR A BINDING CLIMATE TARGET

T K ARUN

 

India must resist developed country pressure to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, goes the cry. Such a position helps only the rich, in a tearing hurry to grow richer, the environment be damned. It is in the interest of India's poor for the country to adopt a stringent policy regime to control emissions domestically and thus contribute to a binding deal to cut emissions globally.


Climate change has been identified as the new battleground, as an elaborate conspiracy by the developed world to throttle growth in the developing countries. India should, according to this logic, refuse to accept any binding commitments on cutting emissions. So strong is this pressure that minister for environment Jairam Ramesh has committed to Parliament that India would not accept any binding emission reductions at the forthcoming Copenhagen climate change summit. Instead, India will join China in offering voluntary cuts in emission intensity.

India is about 17% of humanity, but accounts for less than 5% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, the average quantity of greenhouse gas emissions per head for the world is 3.4 times the per head emissions in India. American emission levels are some 18 times India's. When the Indian economy grows fast, India's emission levels will grow. Any attempt to cap India's emissions will mean restricting India's ability to grow and that is not acceptable.


Further, the developed countries have done the bulk of the damage to the environment over the last couple of centuries, raising the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, leading to global warming, melting glaciers, rising sea levels, change in weather patterns, and the rest of it. Therefore, the bulk of the responsibility for arresting, reversing and mitigating the damage must also fall on them. On these, there can be little dispute.


But India cannot base its entire climate change negotiating strategy just on this claim that India does not need to do anything. As the second fastest growing large economy, one whose additions to global greenhouse gas emissions would be significant as it continues to grow, India has to offer the world something more than its historical good conduct.


Especially when other developing countries such as China, Brazil and Indonesia have announced their own measures to combat climate change. Accepting this logic, minister Jairam Ramesh has told Parliament that India can safely undertake to reduce the emission intensity of growth by 20%-25% by 2020.


Emission intensity refers to the amount of emissions required to generate one unit of output. In other words, what India proposes is that the amount of emissions required to produce one unit of GDP in 2020 would be a quarter less than the amount of emissions that was required to produce one unit of GDP in 2005. This, of course, provides for significant rise in absolute levels of emissions.


The way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to raise energy efficiency, raise the efficiency of converting heat generated by burning fuels into electricity (thermal efficiency), substitution of fuels that generate more greenhouse gases with fuels that generate less, improve logistics, design buildings and towns to function with less energy. The amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can be reduced by growing more trees and plants, which absorb the gas to make food.


High greenhouse gas emissions essentially means high levels of pollution, aside from their contribution to climate change. The section of society most vulnerable to the ill-effects of pollution are the poor. They already are malnourished, have reduced immunity, are more exposed to noxious gases and particulate matter in the air and can afford healthcare the least, when pollution makes them fall ill.


The impact of climate change also hits the poor the worst, whether it is drought or floods, rising sea levels or reduced crop yields. So attempts to fight climate change help the poor the best. A call to proceed with business as usual is a call to allow the rich to grow richer while heaping additional misery on the poor.


This, of course, is simplistic. The poor also have a stake in growth — that is their ticket out of poverty, and if climate change mitigation hinders growth, that hurts the poor. too.


But why should climate change mitigation hurt growth of the poor? There are any number of no-regrets options available in policy and technology choice that would allow the economy to both resist climate change and accelerate growth. Jairam Ramesh told Parliament about our plan to have 22,000 MW of solar energy by 2022, the policy to have clean coal technologies for power generation, fuel efficiency norms for all vehicles, green building codes. All these make sense.


What would additionally make sense is for India to accept a binding target for emission intensity, in return for, one, a deal that commits the US and Europe to steep cuts in their absolute levels of emissions, and, two, technology and funds that would help India lower its emission intensity further. Binding, please note, is not a four-letter word.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WE WON'T EXPAND TOO FAST: PARKER

RATNA BHUSHAN

 

The most recent claim to fame of UK-based Whitbread Plc, which owns coffee shops, budget hotels and pub-restaurants including Costa Coffee, Premier Inn, Beefeater and Taybarns, is that it has shrugged off global recession to post healthy-double digit growth – something that prompted its CEO Alan Parker, to claim that he has the 'best job in the country'. The global CEO of one of coffee retailing giant Starbucks' biggest rivals, Mr Parker, on a five-day visit to India, shared insights on growth prospects about Costa Coffee cafes and the just-opened Premier Inn budget hotel with ET. While the 50-stores-old Costa Coffee broke even on investments in India recently, the first Premier Inn hotel opened on Thursday. Excerpts:


Organised coffee retailing in India remains a niche segment. How is Costa Coffee performing in India?

India, along with China and Russia, is among three of our fastest growing markets outside the UK. Emerging markets contribute 30% of our turnover. So, Costa Coffee's prospects in India look good. India is the only country in the world in the Costa universe for which we don't import roasted coffee; we source it locally (from parts of South India).


Having said that, it takes a few years for consumers to become familiar with a new brand. We have been in India about four years, and operate close to 50 stores here, across big and smaller cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Agra and Jaipur. We have broken even on Indian investments in September this year. Globally, we operate 1,500 Costa Coffee stores, with total system sales of Pound 500 million inclusive – inclusive of both franchisee and self-owned store sales. Our international presence is across 24 countries.


Two of your brands—Premier Inn budget hotels and Costa Coffee—are in India now. What's your priority?
Both, actually. We are have just set up the first Premier Inn in
Bangalore this week. But of course, Costa is more established in India.


What's the expansion footprint for Costa? As you expand, are you considering multiple franchisee partners?
We would rather have one strong partner. Our India franchisee partners, RJ Corp-owned Devyani International, will steer this expansion. In five years, I want India to have 250 Costa outlets. We are very clear that we don't want to expand too fast. We have, in fact, rationalised some stores. Till now, we have been mainly in the Northern part of the country. Now we are planning a big push in South India. All financial investments are being made by Devyani. Globally, our model differs from country to country, but outside of the UK, our business is mainly based on the franchisee model. The way we go about it is, a combination of local management and expertise, while leveraging the global equity of the brand.


Most coffee chains (including yours) which started off as 'specialist' cafes are now offering multiple food options. Are you diluting the equity of coffee retailing?

No, I don't think so. The Costa brand is what draws people to the store. But yes, people who order a coffee at our stores, do buy food. So, we offer a variety of localised flexible food offerings for the consumer. In India, for example, we have much more vegetarian options.


Food inflation is up. Are you holding on to prices?

Prices of food will go up marginally.

Almost all coffee chains talk of unique coffee, multiple food options and experience. What's Costa's differentiator, compared to rivals like Barista Lavazza and Café Coffee Day?


Coffee. A recent independent research has shown that seven out of 10 people who define themselves as 'coffee lovers' preferred Costa cappuccino compared to rival brands in blind taste tests across British cities.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

CLIMATE: INDIA ACTS, IT'S TIME US DID TOO

 

Leave alone give the lead as the world's most influential country, the United States has been a laggard in addressing the question of climate change — a defining issue of our times — which touches on the livelihood, indeed the very existence, of millions around the world, especially in its poorer regions. Had America been supportive of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which views the heating of the earth's surface in a given theoretical framework that assigns differing roles to industrialised and developing countries, and prescribes for the two sets of countries differential action trajectories to mitigate the global emission of carbon dioxide, the world would have breathed easy as climatic dislocations and disjunctions caused by the ever-rising volume of greenhouse gases pose a direct threat to human life. Instead, America did the opposite and began to question the science that posited climate change. The US President, Mr Barack Obama's arrival on the scene at least changed that. And yet, in the week before the landmark Copenhagen climate summit, the US stance has not altered in any significant manner, although the atmospherics are a lot better. Indeed, the broad impression is that the US position is a catching disease which might have infected some Europeans too. The net result is that the basics of the Kyoto Protocol are at risk of being overturned or seriously modified by leading Western powers. It is fair to say that never has the schism been sharper between the industrialised nations and the rest of the world on a crucial matter that concerns us all. In the event, the positions adopted by India and China — two rapidly industrialising developing countries — in Copenhagen are likely to have a shaping influence on the course of the climate negotiations in future, although the two are not in an identical position. On Thursday, the minister of state for environment, Mr Jairam Ramesh, assured Parliament that India will play a positive role in Copenhagen, as behoves a "deal-maker" and solution-finder. But, in line with the Kyoto understanding, it will not accept binding emission cuts. That is the obligation of industrialised countries, from which they are seeking to resile. The minister also announced a cut in emission intensity — the metric that signifies the cut in emission in relation to a unit increase in GDP — of 20 to 25 per cent by 2020 over the level obtaining in 2005 without any external assistance for transiting to green technologies. Recently China had announced its proposal for a 40 per cent reduction in the same category. Mr Ramesh said the cut that China envisages to effect by 2020 was reached by India in 2005. Mr Ramesh has held out the assurance that if Kyoto is not jettisoned, and the industrialised countries offer some assistance, India would be prepared to make deeper cuts in its emission intensity. The voluntary actions of developing countries will have a positive bearing on arresting the rise of greenhouse gases, especially since China has now emerged as the world's leading polluter in absolute (as distinct from per capita) terms. Nevertheless, long-term impetus to deliberating climate change and mitigation strategies will be elusive if the US does not pitch in with a meaningful contribution in Copenhagen.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A 17-YEAR, 48-ACT FARCE

BY BALBIR K. PUNJ

 

Are all judicial inquiries a farce that end up making the country no wiser, after spending crores of taxpayers' rupees?


This question was raised earlier when the Justice Milap Chand Jain Commission, investigating the conspiracy-assassination of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, submitted its report after 11 years of a fruitless inquiry with nothing more than a few sphinx-like conclusions. The issue has now been revived, after the Liberhan Commission Report — on the demolition of Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 — was leaked to the media recently.


Even the critics of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are surprised that the Liberhan Commission, which comes 17 years after the demolition, has found the former Prime Minister, Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee, guilty merely on the basis of his statements that a temple should be built at the place known as Ram Janmabhoomi.
No one has ever said that Mr Vajpayee ever advocated or condoned the demolition. Nor was he present at the site of demolition or in the mass meeting that was held on the fateful day. The commission did not even question him before making such a sweeping remark, thus violating all principles of justice.


It seems that the chairman of the commission was not even bothered about getting his facts right. For instance, Justice Liberhan says that general elections were needed in 1991 because the BJP had withdrawn support from the Janata government. Whereas the fact is that the March 1991 elections became inevitable because the Congress withdrew support from the Chandrasekhar government after keeping it in power for four months. Without checking these basic facts the commission concludes, "Religion was used for political objectives".
The commission's prejudice shows up in many places throughout the report. The commission was not asked to lecture on the BJP, it was set up to probe the demolition issue and the culpability of some leaders in that. The report says, "Advani's rath yatra in 1990 brought the BJP and its allies to power in many states in 1991". But the fact is that the BJP came to power only in Uttar Pradesh and elections were due in that state as well as in Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.


As an arbitrator, Justice Liberhan should have examined the background more deeply and listed the obdurate policy adopted by the leaders of the Muslim community. At the early stages of the controversy, the Sangh Parivar was intensely seeking a compromise but it was the Congress government of Rajiv Gandhi that revived the issue by holding a shilanyas and then kowtowed to Muslim orthodoxy by nullifying through a law the interpretation of a Muslim Personal Law provision regarding maintenance to divorced women. This move strengthened the Muslim orthodoxy — liberal Muslim leaders left the Congress and the more orthodox ones, like C.K. Jaffer Sharief, increased their hold on the party.


As a result, the Muslim orthodoxy was alert to any attempt to liberalise Muslim Personal Law and started stonewalling all attempts at a compromise on the mandir issue. The Chandrasekhar government also tried to push through a compromise but did not succeed primarily because the Muslim leadership would not hear of any compromise whatsoever.


The dispute over the ownership of the plot and the historical background — the existence of a Ram temple before it was demolished to make way for a mosque by a conquering general — went on and on in the courts for ages, with no attempt to conclude the hearings and give a verdict.

The background to the demolition should have been brought out while deciding on the event itself. Hindu public opinion did not receive any hope of a decision either through negotiation or through the courts.


Why this freeze on the issue of building a temple did not enter the commission's perspective in its consideration of the act of demolition is a mystery. It only speaks of the criteria that Justice Liberhan applied, transposing his own views of what secularism should be on to the job he was entrusted with. That alone explains the long lecture he has given on secularism, politics, media and other matters instead of concentrating on the demolition itself. When the report is debated in Parliament there will surely be questions about the Commission's views on secularism, Hindutva and other ideological issues.


Opponents have often used the event of demolition itself to beat the BJP with and demonise it. This had been going on for the last two decades without any of these critics offering any solution to the basic issue of an emotional demand getting blocked both in the courts and in one-to-one negotiations.


The "liberals" in India remain silent when it comes to Islamic orthodoxy and obduracy but are vociferous in denouncing a demand from the Hindus that touches the core of their faith. The Liberhan report has failed to examine this long history of obduracy and obfuscation of Islamic leadership in all issues concerning its interaction with people of other faiths.


What is the fate of non-Muslim populations in Muslim-majority countries? Is even carrying a Bible allowed in Saudi Arabia or holding of public non-Islamic worship in any Muslim-majority country? Why is it so when almost all non-Islamic countries freely allow public demonstration of Islamic rites? Do the Baha'is in Iran, the Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia or Ahmaddiyas in Pakistan — let alone Hindus — come up in the public discourse of liberals in India? Why is a disused mosque in Ayodhya so important while temples demolished in Kashmir receive no attention?


While all are flabbergasted at Justice Liberhan's convoluted and confused treatment of the Ayodhya agitation, his recommendations on the role of the media are bizarre. He wants media regulation and licensing of journalists. Surprisingly for a judge of his stature, Justice Liberhan seems to overlook the constitutional impropriety of trying to licence journalists (even if it is by an independent body) as it flies in the face of Article 19(1) of the Constitution.


In short, the Liberhan report moves from being farcical to ridiculous.

 

Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at punjbk@gmail.com [1]

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

A POISONOUS CLOUD STILL HANGS OVER BHOPAL

BY SUKETU MEHTA

 

I really liked the school my son attended when we moved back to Brooklyn — the teachers made the children tidy up at the end of the day. "Clean-up time, clean-up time!" my six-year-old sang, joyfully gathering his scraps. It's a wonderful American tradition: You always clean up the mess you made.


Thursday was 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 travelled 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 tonnes 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 travelled 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.
All over India, when misfortune strikes, people burn chillies to drive away the evil eye. The gas smelled like chillies 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 clean-up, 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 four-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 cleaning up the mess, providing health care, an acknowledgement 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.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

US AFGHAN EXIT IN 2011 WORRYING

BY INDRANIL BANERJIE

 

U.S. President Barack Obama's latest policy statement on Afghanistan, delivered at the US Military Academy at West Point on Tuesday, has generally been interpreted as a sign of American resolve to "stay the course" in that country. There is to be no precipitous military withdrawal or policy retreat. Rather, the US is going to despatch another 30,000 heavily-armed troops into that country to break the back of the unusually resilient Taliban. Regional powers, India included, would have reason to be relieved. They will not have to immediately face the dreadful scenario of a military vacuum in Afghanistan leading to a Taliban resurgence.


A more careful reading of Mr Obama's speech, on the other hand, does not necessarily sound like good news. For he has reiterated that his most important goal is the rebuilding of America and everything else must necessarily be secondary: "Our prosperity provides a foundation for our power... That is why our troop commitment in Afghanistan cannot be open-ended — because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own".


The Afghan war is going to cost the US $30 billion this year, according to Mr Obama, who feels that "over the past several years, we (Americans) have lost that balance and failed to appreciate the connection between our national security and our economy. In the wake of an economic crisis, too many of our friends and neighbours are out of work and struggle to pay the bills, and too many Americans are worried about the future facing our children. Meanwhile, competition within the global economy has grown more fierce. So we simply cannot afford to ignore the price of these wars".


In other words, the US President has decided he cannot stray from his central task to rebuild an economically-battered America. Mr Obama was not elected by the American people to solve the Afghan problem. He was elected with a specific agenda of building a new America, where market fundamentalism is to be replaced by welfare and social concerns. Mr Obama promised to fix the economy, provide more job security, healthcare and welfare measures for the underprivileged. This is his priority. His aim would be to deliver on those promises and keep the Democrats in power.


Interpreting the December 1 Afghanistan speech without understanding American politics would be naïve. So what exactly did he mean? The answers are all there in the text. Yes, there would be 30,000 extra troops to bolster those already on the ground in south and eastern Afghanistan. But this extra military commitment would have to show results in just 18 months. It requires no military genius to realise that such a turnaround is simply not realistic on that timeframe.


The notion that the US needs to stay militarily engaged in Afghanistan for as long as it takes has been rejected by Mr Obama. While acknowledging that "there are those who oppose identifying a timeframe for our transition to Afghan responsibility", he was categorical in rejecting "this course because it sets goals that are beyond what we can achieve at a reasonable cost and what we need to achieve to secure our interests... As President, I refuse to set goals that go beyond our responsibility, our means or our interests. And I must weigh all of the challenges that our nation faces".


There are three parts to his latest Afghan strategy, which include "a military effort to create the conditions for a transition, a civilian surge that reinforces positive action and an effective partnership with Pakistan". The extra troops are being sent as a final option to create conditions for a winding down of American military presence. Mr Obama was unequivocal is stating that "these additional American and international troops will allow us to accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces and allow us to begin the transfer of our forces out of Afghanistan in July of 2011".


In other words, what we are really looking at is an exit policy and not a sustained US military presence in Afghanistan. This will come as bad news not just to the Indian strategic community but also to numerous US analysts, who had come to realise that a genuine transition in Afghanistan would require at least a decade more of US military and development mentoring. This clearly is not going to happen.


New Delhi needs to worry because there is going to be a renewed attempt to resolve the India-Pakistan impasse over Kashmir. A number of influential American foreign policy analysts today believe that resolving the Kashmir dispute by essentially making the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir the international border, along with some "minor adjustments", would for once and all end conflict between the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours, as Pakistan and India are commonly referred to these days in the West.


Washington realises that in the days to come it would have to increasingly rely on Islamabad to maintain order in Afghanistan. Mr Obama aims to do this through a combination of coercion, cajoling and cash. Pakistan will have to carry the "White Man's Burden" and in exchange Mr Obama has promised that "America will remain a strong supporter of Pakistan's security and prosperity long after the guns have fallen silent, so that the great potential of its people can be unleashed". What will ultimately be unleashed, however, is impossible to predict in these tumultuous times.

 

* Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE WEARY STATE OF THE INDIAN NAVY

BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH

 

As is well known, after 26/11 the Indian Navy (IN) was given the additional responsibility of coastal security. It is a common military principle that the "security of own base" is paramount. It is foolhardy to conduct distant blue water operations only to find that your unguarded base (eg, Mumbai) has been devastated by terrorists, or by a surprise enemy strike. Navy Day, on December 4, 2009, is an appropriate occasion to talk about the "blue water" requirements of the Navy.


Any Navy takes about 15 to 20 years to build a capability based on crystal-ball-gazing for the next half-a-century. Unfortunately, this crystal ball is not always accurate and urgent changes become essential sometimes. The Indian Navy, already saddled with blue water anti-piracy patrolling off the distant Gulf of Aden, needs to factor in the threat of maritime terror, while its limited budget needs to be optimised to also cater for the Chinese Navy's blue water threat, expected by 2025, along with the needs of nuclear-submarine-based second-strike capability.


Medium naval powers like Britain and France maintain a fleet of a dozen tactical nuclear submarines (SSNs) and four strategic nuclear submarines (SSBNs), but have decided to keep only one aircraft carrier each. The Chinese (when they get their carrier in 2012) will have a similar ratio, while the Russians have a much higher ratio of nuclear submarines to carriers. America, with global expeditionary warfare capabilities, is an exception — it has 62 nuclear submarines and 11 aircraft carriers. I was, therefore, surprised by a foreign media news item which said that "India has recently lodged a firm expression of interest to buy one of the two state-of-the-art 65,000 tonne carriers, which are still being built by in the UK" (due for delivery in 2016, but deemed "unaffordable" by the British since the F-35 fighter jets meant for it would cost $150 million each at 2009 prices).


Large aircraft carriers, though vital for blue water sea control operations, are very expensive to buy ($3-4 billion each, depending on the size), operate and maintain. A carrier needs to operate a minimum mix of 30 to 50 or more expensive aircrafts, (fighters, air early warning aircraft, helicopters). Each carrier, in addition, requires a protective screen of about six expensive destroyers or frigates and a replenishment tanker for refuelling.
Notwithstanding the high costs, it is a fact that the Indian Navy requires two aircraft carriers for blue water operations, which only carriers can perform. These would be the INS Vikramaditya (ex-Gorshkov) due to be commissioned in 2012, and the INS Vikrant (being built at Kochi shipyard), due for delivery after 2016. Each of these could carry a mix of about 30 aircraft and helicopters. Any proposal of buying a third aircraft carrier would come at the expense of badly-needed platforms like submarines, frigates, destroyers etc. An aircraft carrier has a life of 50 years. However, given the estimated 20-year-life of the second-hand INS Vikramaditya, and the fact that it would take us 20 years to get government sanction, design and build it, there is a need to begin the process for a replacement indigenous aircraft carrier now.


Coming to other blue water operations, the first involves anti-piracy patrols off the Gulf of Aden, which are being carried out since August 2008 by destroyers and frigates costing about Rs 5,000 crores and Rs 3,000 crores each, respectively. A cheaper and more-cost effective option would be to use long-range offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), costing around Rs 300-500 crores each. A dozen such platforms are needed for anti-piracy patrols and also for protection of offshore oil rigs (three OPVs are already being built in Goa, and nine more need to be ordered).


The second aspect of blue water operations involves controlling or denying (during wartime) the "choke points" through which all ships must pass before entering or exiting the Indian Ocean region. This task is best performed by conventional submarines, SSNs, frigates/destroyers and Long-Range Maritime Patrol (LRMP) aircraft .

 

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India report of August 2008 brought out the shortcomings of our ageing conventional submarine force and submarine rescue capabilities. Since the 30-year indigenous submarine building plan is running a few years behind schedule, the government needs to consider outright import of six conventional submarines with air independent propulsion system, and two submarine rescue systems. Three imported destroyers, with BMD (ballastic missile defence) capability and three imported frigates are also needed, since Indian defence shipyards are overbooked, and force levels are declining.


If media reports about a Russian-built Akula SSN being inducted into the Navy in 2010 are indeed true, than it's welcome news, but more would be needed, and ideally ones that are indigenous.


Next, I come to the SSBN Arihant which was launched on July 26, 2009. Here too, for deterrence to work, more indigenous SSBNs would be needed, with missile ranges of about 5,000 km. To monitor shipping in specific areas of the Indian Ocean region, there is a need to import long-range (1,500 miles) high frequency "sky wave" coastal radars. Similar radars are in service in China, Australia and Russia. These are different from the short-range (40 miles) coastal radars being inducted by the Indian Coast Guard. 


Lastly, I come to the issue of modern digital data links and network-centric warfare. Having completed phase one of the data link (i.e. real time situational awareness), the Indian Navy with its dedicated satellite (launch in 2010), should move to phase II, i.e. "real time fusion of various sensors and shooters", which would mean that data provided by one sensor platform would be accurate and timely enough for another platform to fire its weapons at the designated target.


To conclude, more money is needed. The government must increase the defence budget from its present 1.99 per cent to over three per cent of the gross domestic product. The Indian Navy needs to additionally prepare not only for the nuclear era, but also for BMD and maritime terrorism.

 

Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief
of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

THE LONG HOT WINTER

BY GAIL COLLINS

 

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 US 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 US Senate began its groundbreaking debate over a national healthcare plan. Republican Judd Gregg of New Hampshire — who you will remember was so bipartisan a while back that Mr 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 US 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 healthcare 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 healthcare 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. 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 Grand Old Party 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 three 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 healthcare in this country". Whatever happened to the John McCain who wanted to balance the budget and work with the Democrats to fight global warming? Let's try not to think about what January will bring. Maybe another sports hero will do us a favour and run into a fire hydrant.

By arrangement with the New York Times

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

PRIZE CATCH

RAJKHOWA DOWN, BARUA TO GO?


WITHOUT question, the arrest of Ulfa founder-member and chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa is a signal event. Despite the conflicting reports ~ one said he was held in Dhaka and pushed to West Tripura, from where he was flown to Delhi, while another said he had surrendered ~ could his arrest be a part of a hidden agenda, in return for something, between New Delhi and Dhaka, coming as it did before Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid's visit to India on 19 December? Again, knowing full well that Dhaka had intensified searches for Ulfa leaders, why did Rajkhowa see fit to stay put in that city? He could not have lost his way, or was his a deliberate move to get caught? His arrest substantiates India's repeated allegations that Bangladesh was not only harbouring insurgents from the North-east but was also allowing them to run several training camps, something which Dhaka repeatedly denied. It also lends credence to several reports that Ulfa leaders had been running lucrative businesses and living an ostentatious life in that country.


With the arrest last month of Ulfa's "finance secretary" Chitraban Hazarika and "foreign secretary" Sashadhar Choudhury, the last of the Mohicans is now self-styled commander-in-chief Paresh Barua. Reportedly shopping for arms in China, he may find it difficult to stoke revolutionary zeal, however much he might wish to do so. But for lasting peace, his presence at the peace talks is a must. Rajkhowa is reportedly in favour of talks ~ in 2005 he agreed at the behest of Assamese writer Mamoni Goswami and appointed a People's Consultative Group, which, however, became dysfunctional within a year after three rounds of talks, mainly because neither side trusted the other's sincerity. Union home minister P Chidambaram is now taking a tough stand ~ that any outfit willing to come to the negotiating table must dump ideas of secessionism and sovereignty, surrender arms and eschew violence. With Rajkhowa now in the bag, in all fairness Delhi should not insist on these preconditions simply because it did not set such parameters while dealing with Mizo rebels, and now with the Nagas. 

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

SELF-CONTRADICTORY
OBAMA'S ESCALATION-EXIT PARADIGM


IS the rhetoric reminiscent of the First World War? Barack Obama's presentation on Afghanistan is a faint echo of the pledge made to soldiers in August 1914 that they would "be home before the leaves fall". In trying out the prescription close to one hundred years later, the US President has made himself a victim of double-think run wild. His resolve to beef up the presence of American forces with an additional 30,000 troops has been matched with a pledge to pull out in another 18 months. One facet of this Afghan policy contradicts another, and it is unlikely in the extreme whether public opinion within USA will be convinced. Nor for that matter will it be easy for the likes of Hillary Clinton and Robert Gates to make this escalation-exit paradigm readily acceptable to Capitol Hill. Almost certainly not the audience at the US military academy in West Point, precisely the segment that will have to gear up for a bleak winter in still more difficult conditions and in an ever so fractious country. In the net, President Obama may have befuddled the increasingly sceptical domestic constituency still further and more crucially ahead of next year's midterm elections. International relations are guided by realpolitik, not by self-contradictory expressions of intent eight years after the war began. The Taliban is far from crushed, they may be biding for time... only to regroup after the Americans start their outward march. That prospect is for real given their fantastic fanatical fury. The President has justified the strengthening of forces by claiming that fighting the Taliban is crucial for American security. Which itself makes the 18-month time-span for the pullout uncertain; by 2011 America will be on the campaign trail for the next presidential contest. It may not be an open-ended conflict, but Obama has renewed the pledge to carry out Bush's war. And Osama bin Laden remains as elusive as the WMDs. What the US President calls the "cancer in the region" may remain ever so incurable.


Mr Obama has delivered a fairly tough message to Hamid Karzai with the assertion that "the days of providing a blank cheque are over". The caveat comes rather late in the day, after the Afghan President's second election served to reinforce the fraudulence that itself was an expression of defiance of the US and Western powers. Mr Obama has no alternative but to work with a spurious centre of authority. He has made a pregnant statement, but it is doubtful if the escalation-exit strategy will be remarkably successful.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

LANGUID SHIPYARDS

ADMIRAL'S VALID LAMENT


INEVITABLY did "hot" issues such as Chinese naval activity, the Gorshkov deal, the indigenous nuclear-propelled submarine and plugging gaps in coastal security dominate Admiral Nirmal Verma's first major media interaction as "Chief". Yet of possibly greater significance was his pointing to the tardy functioning of the three domestic yards which are primarily tasked with warship construction. Part of maritime folklore is the theory that "great navies are built, not bought" but in recent years the Indian navy has had to turn to foreign yards, Russian mainly (with not entirely satisfactory results), for the production of major surface combatants. Sadly, it was not the lack of technological competence of domestic yards but the lethargic fashion in which they functioned that triggered exercise of the foreign option. Not only was more foreign exchange than necessary expended, but wages that ought to have ended in Indian pockets went elsewhere.


What was even more disturbing was that the service which played the lead role in the self-reliance effort (perhaps it had little alternative, having long received only the crumbs of the defence budget) was forced to change tack. Full value did not accrue from the rather efficient design bureau, and it was not a matter of pride that what began with Nilgiri and Godavari had to be continued abroad. For as the Chief lamented, one ship a year is just not good enough. That the three yards in focus are all "under" the ministry of defence only enhances the disappointment. Hence there is every need to follow up proposals to also actively involve the yards at Kochi and Vizag in defence-related activity, and even more importantly, as Admiral Verma advocated, to make conditions attractive for private industry too.


What the Admiral has done is to bring welcome focus on the ineffectiveness of the defence production sector ~

traditionally it has been the Defence Research and Development Organisation that has taken all the flak. Many of the ordnance factories are obsolete, produce stores at the lower end of the technology-scale, the Defence PSUs are only marginally better for theirs' is almost entirely licensed production of equipment developed by foreign principals. This weak link in the chain has been overlooked, and its overhaul must assume top priority. Just because the foreign exchange position is comfortable is no reason to abandon the self-reliance endeavour. Critical to that is the research/production sector securing the confidence of the forces.

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MARRIAGE 'BADFOR WAISTLINE'

 

London, 3 DEC: It seems marriage is bad for your waistline, for a study of 3,000 married women has found that more than 50 per cent of females feel that there is no longer the need to impress their new husbands.
The study revealed that over a third of all brides found it difficult to eat healthily during the first year of their marriage because they no longer had the wedding day or honeymoon to motivate them.


A quarter admitted they turned to comfort eating to cheer them up because they were so upset that their big day was over, while 31 per cent said they did so simply because they did not know what to do with themselves when they no longer had a wedding to plan for.


While 22 per cent of newlyweds put on weight within a year of the ceremony, more than one in five of those brides who gained weight ended up rowing with their partner over the extra pounds, the Daily Mail reported.
More than half said they no longer worried about their appearance and weight after their big day, while one in five overindulged on their honeymoon. ~ PTI

 

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

THE FOOD COURT

SECURITY CAN'T BE LEFT TO IMPORTS

BY BHARAT JHUNJHUNWALA


THE Centre has initiated a policy of reducing domestic agricultural prices and allowing the domestic production to decline. The rationale is that the country's food security can be ensured through imports. Hitherto, sugarcane prices were decided by the state governments and the rates hovered between Rs 160 and Rs 180 per quintal. The Centre has now abolished this system and fixed an all-India price of Rs 130 per quintal. In a parallel move, a nominal increase of Rs 20 per quintal has been made in the Minimum Support Price of wheat against Rs 80-100 in the previous years.


This increase is deceptive. A larger increase in the price of inputs means that the real price obtained by farmers is less than previous years. This reduction in prices is likely to lead to a decline in production. The union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, has indicated that the government may resort to imports to meet any shortage that ensues.


Why do the developed countries, who are great votaries of free trade, maintain high-cost domestic production and not rely on cheaper imports for meeting their food requirements? Almost all of them, notably the United States, the European Union and Japan provide huge subsidies to their farmers to maintain the domestic high-cost production instead of importing cheap food.


The cost of production of wheat in the United States is about Rs 20 per kg, but the domestic price is less because of the subsidies. The United States is a major exporter not because it produces wheat competitively but because it provides subsidies to its farmers. It seems the developed countries do not want to depend on the global market for their food security. They provide subsidies to their farmers, produce more than their requirements, export the excess production and make other countries dependent upon their exports.


THE WHEAT TRADE

THE USA is not willing to import wheat from Australia because it values its food security more than the economic gains from cheap food. We can see a strange convergence of interests between the governments of India and the US. India is keen to import cheap wheat from the US and the latter is keen to export cheap wheat to India.


Is food security important only for the developed countries and not for developing countries? The Government of India does not answer this question. Instead, it behaves as if the international markets will provide food security to our people. This is the reason why the Centre has embarked upon a policy of reducing domestic farm prices and inviting a reduction in production. The British had made our country dependent upon imports of cheap cloth made in Manchester. Similarly, the UPA government is making the country dependent upon the import of cheap wheat produced in the US. It seems that North Block's policies are being dictated by the White House.


The argument advanced by the government is that availability of cheap imported food will enhance the welfare of our consumers. A higher price will have to be paid to the farmers to increase domestic production and this will lead to unrest. This argument is valid. But one has to examine the overall impact of high domestic prices on different sections of our society.


The maximum benefit of high prices accrues to the big farmers. But a part of it also trickles down to the farm workers. The wages of unskilled workers in parts of the country rose from Rs 200 to Rs 300 per day in the last harvesting season because the price of foodgrain was high. The high prices are, therefore, a mixed bag for the farm workers. They stand to lose because they have to pay high prices for the food they buy from the market; but they stand to gain because of the higher wages that landowners are willing to pay buoyed by the same high prices of farm produce.


The impact on urban workers is more complicated. They are directly hit by the high price of food they buy from the market. But there is a close connection between the wages of rural and urban workers. People migrate from rural areas to Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai in search of higher wages. They calculate the earning by staying at home in relation to what they will make by migrating. If the wage rate for farm workers increases in Bihar because of the high price of wheat, then the attraction for remaining in the village will be all the greater. They will migrate only if they receive higher wages in the city.


Migration largely takes place through contractors who promise higher wages in order to get the workers to leave their homes. Workers will be unwilling to migrate in view of higher local wages. This will lead to less availability of workers in the cities and translate into higher urban wages. Therefore, high prices of foodgrain will be a mixed bag for urban workers as well. They will have to pay a higher price for foodgrain but also get higher wages. The continuation of rural to urban migration despite increase in food prices is proof that the workers still find it profitable to work in the cities despite rising food costs. Therefore, we should not worry too much about the impact of high food prices upon the poor.


HIGHER PRICES

There is another beneficial impact of higher food prices on the poor. Higher prices provide an incentive to the big farmers to increase production. More land is brought into cultivation or extensive irrigation is made through diesel pumps. This leads to an increase in demand for farm workers and again pushes up their wages.
The truth is that higher prices of foodgrain pose a problem only for the urban middle class. They have to buy food at a higher price, but their wages do not rise in the same proportion. It seems the government is wholly focused on the interests of the urban middle class. Government employees were, for example, given a 40 per cent increase in salaries over and above the dearness allowance by the Sixth Pay Commission. An employee getting a salary of Rs 8,000 per month was given an increase of about Rs 3,000. His total monthly expenditure on food would be, say, Rs 4,000. The increase in the cost of food would be, say, fifty per cent or about Rs 2,000. He will be partly compensated for this increase in price in the increased dearness allowance. The net burden on the family will be approximately Rs 1,000. Against this, they have already been given an increase of Rs 3,000.


But they are not satisfied and they also want cheap foodgrain in addition to the increase in salaries. The government is reducing the price of food items to satisfy this very strong lobby. And this has endangered the country's food security. The poor are the shield behind which the Government is serving the urban middle class.
The writer is former Professor of Economics,Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

REVIVING GLORY

 

There is much in a name, whatever Juliet may say, and changing the name of Presidency College to Presidency University trails promises of great things to come. That is to happen in the future, of course; so far the change in status boded forth by the change in name is still contained in a bill. The bill is yet to be tabled, and its provisions yet to become public knowledge. It is good to think that West Bengal will have a university that will have as its basis an institution once known for its excellence. It is still rich in the tools and materials of learning, as its extraordinary library demonstrates. For those who feel that tradition would be a positive input in the process of turning a college into a university, Presidency has a brilliant tradition of remarkable teachers, students and researchers close to incomparable among undergraduate colleges, and so may be expected to revive that again. There might be magic in its walls.

 

But to unleash that magic much serious work needs to be done. Presidency College has been twice-bound so far — to the West Bengal government and to the University of Calcutta. Not only does it have to abide by the rules and regulations, systems and procedures, syllabi and examinations, that are determined by the university for its affiliate colleges, it also has to play by all the government rules regulating government colleges. As does every other government college affiliated to Calcutta University. In its best years, Presidency College was outstanding in spite of these rules and procedures; in these less noble times, it perhaps needs to be freed of its shackles to return to the heights again.

 

The freeing will not be a simple matter. Changing a label does not work like a magic wand; the toils that bind the college have to be loosened one by one and a new system laid in its place. The details of that system will depend on the vision behind it — and on the funds that will surely be made available. Besides, a university is a very different creature from a college, however remarkable that college might once have been. A modern university — does West Bengal have any? — is a complicated, many-layered institution, demanding highly developed skills of many kinds to just run it, apart from the learning and expertise needed in classrooms to produce the best students and the best research. Presidency as university will have to acquire the human content necessary to be true to its label: it will have to make offers the best cannot refuse. Given the present state of the college, deeply mired as it is in the self-destructive politicking and tyranny of vested interests normal in the rest of West Bengal, all this may seem a tall order. But it can be done. If the chief minister has taken such a bold step — after even autonomy was denied the college — he must also be confident of keeping politics out as the institution is reborn.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

UNSAFE HAVEN

 

The capture of Arabinda Rajkhowa is a major step forward for both New Delhi and Dhaka. It could prove to be a defining moment in India's long battle against armed insurgencies in Assam and elsewhere in the Northeast. With the ceasefire in Nagaland, the insurgencies in Assam and Manipur have long posed the gravest threats to peace in the region. It was never a secret that Mr Rajkhowa, chairman of the United Liberation Front of Asom, and most of his senior comrades operated from bases or shelters in Bangladesh. If the leaders of the previous government in Dhaka had denied this, it only reflected its policy of baiting New Delhi. But hiding or using another country's terrorists and rebels as a possible tool of diplomacy rarely works. Not just rebels from India's Northeast but also other terror groups are known to have used Bangladesh as shelter or training base for their cadre. In helping the capture of the Ulfa leaders, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh's prime minister, has shown remarkable political acumen. Her decision will help India but it will also assure the world of a refreshing change of policy in Dhaka.

 

However, the capture of Ulfa leaders or their surrender is winning only half the battle. The Northeast has seen the fall of several insurgent groups and new insurgencies being born. Even before the capture of Mr Rajkhowa and several of his Bangladesh-based colleagues, the Ulfa had lost most of its popular support. The chief of its armed wing, Paresh Barua, who is still at large, may continue to delude himself by hoping to create a 'sovereign Assam' with his armed struggle. His opposition to peace talks is a desperate gamble to keep the outfit and its movement alive. The Centre and the Assam government should ignore Mr Barua's ploy and engage the captured leaders in a renewed peace initiative. Fighting the Ulfa's rebellion is only half the task; winning peace for Assam is the real challenge.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

TO BE A SUITABLE BOY

INDIA MUST ABIDE BY THE US'S CONDITIONS TO GET ITS SUPPORT

CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA

 

Politicians over here — and, along with them, the media — are miffed no end. Why, oh why, is the United States of America so deferential towards China, while India is treated as a kid who is not yet fit to watch adult movies? During his recent visit to China, Barack Obama, for instance, went out of his way to reconfirm the American position that Tibet was an integral part of China. He carefully kept away from the entire range of sensitive issues relating to human rights, and only made a polite suggestion about the desirability of allowing the internet to roam free. The Chinese authorities could even persuade the US president to include in their joint statement a reference to the delicate state of Indo-Pakistan relations and how it impinges on Asian stability: the sly allusion to Kashmir was much too obvious. The US, it seemed, was determined to see no evil in China.

 

When it is India, it is, New Delhi laments, a different story. Obama may compliment India on being an emerging world power and an indispensable ally of the US. He may throw a glitzy State dinner for the Indian prime minister. For the present, that, though, is about all. The nuclear deal signed with such fanfare by the previous American administration is yet to be "operationalized", New Delhi continues to be denied certain categories of extremely sensitive "high" technology. India may vote with the nuclear Big Five against Iran; it cannot still gain entry into their exclusive club, it is not yet recognized as a "responsible" nuclear power.

 

The Americans have their reasons for this differential approach. China's massive holdings of dollars — close to 2300 billion — are almost ten times what India possesses. The Chinese, if they so choose, can unload the whole of this stock in the world financial market and ruin the American economy. True, that is a most remote possibility, since, for its own sake, China would not like to see an economically devastated US, the country where it sends by far the biggest chunk of its exports. At the same time, a crucial segment of US imports are from China; American citizens have fallen in love with low-cost Chinese consumer goods. With no signs of a dip in unemployment, the American nation has to be kept happy with at least a stable cost of living; imports from China are most helpful in that direction. Of about equal — perhaps even greater — significance is the magnitude of US investments in China, currently ranging at around 80 billion dollars each year (the total flow of foreign direct investment into India is yet to reach the annual rate of even eight billion dollars). Given the wobbly state of the domestic economy, the US administration dearly wishes investments in China to grow further and further. If the American president has to lobby hard on that account with China's leaders and humour them an extra bit, he will do so. China is already a superpower on the basis of its own capabilities and is duly accorded the appropriate consideration.

 

In about 20 years' time, when the size of the Chinese economy might be as large as that of the US's and its military prowess too expanded equally enormously, India could indeed be greatly needed by the Americans as an indispensable strategic ally to combat Beijing's overbearingness.

 

That kind of futurology does not constitute a part of the current American agenda. As of now, India can fulfil only a limited purpose. It has impressive manpower and a standing army of more than a million. This manpower would be handy to tackle the Taliban menace in West and South Asia. American involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has made the electorate increasingly uneasy. The Asian war has to be wound down; the troops have to be brought back home. Washington is keen to see India join a grand concordat with the US and Pakistan against the global terror unleashed by the Taliban. American diplomacy is proceeding on the assumption that vis-à-vis India, it is in an advantageous position at the bargaining counter. If India wants to have American endorsement for entry into the charmed circle of "responsible" nuclear powers and free access to reprocessing facilities for spent fuel, it has to pay a price. The price is general support to American foreign policy, followed up by readiness to send battalions of the Indian army to Afghanistan.

 

New Delhi is in a bit of a jam. The prime minister has gone on record; in this region, the Taliban do represent global terror as much as the Laskar-e-Toiba does. Going a step further, he has implored the US and its allies not to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan at this juncture. The American riposte can well be — and presumably has been — to ask India to take the logical next step and send its own troops to Afghanistan. The US is in a position to use even another ploy. The Americans have been wanting India and Pakistan to come to a deal on the Kashmir issue. The problem here, in the American view, is more at the Indian end: New Delhi's concern about possible domestic reactions to a settlement over Kashmir which rendered the valley into something less than an "inalienable" part of India. The hint may already have been dropped: bury the hatchet with Pakistan and come to an arrangement over Kashmir, the nuclear deal will be through.

 

The nuclear deal, Kashmir and Afghanistan thus have turned into interconnected issues. India is dying to be recognized in the comity of nations as a big and as "responsible" a power as China. It can reach that status only if the US acts as its sponsor. The Americans have set a price tag for that sponsorship: India should agree to despatch troops to Afghanistan and, at the same time, reach an accord with Pakistan on Kashmir. A Pakistan-India entente which places Kashmir on the back-burner is of crucial importance to the US on two counts: it permits Pakistan's rulers to concentrate on the Taliban, it also lessens Pakistan's sensitivity towards deployment of an Indian army contingent in Afghanistan.

 

Since the two conditions the US has apparently set are difficult to swallow, India is likely to continue to hem and haw. The prospects, the realization is dawning, are not very hopeful. Played into an awkward corner, our prime minister turned into a pityingly self-righteous mood before an American audience: his country may not have as huge an economy as China's, India's gross domestic product growth may not be as remarkable as China's, but it is a free multi-cultural, multi-lingual, multi-ethnic democracy, it respects all human rights. Thank heaven for little mercies, the prime minister's speech writer did not drag in five thousand years of civilization, Gautam Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi.

 

A superpower does not whine, nor is it in need of beating its own drum. Anyway, contrary to what is said for form's sake, the Americans are not very particular about human rights where practical issues are involved. They have not bothered about human rights in Latin America in the past, they are not bothering about them in Iraq or Afghanistan either. They are much more interested in what China can do for the American economy at this moment, never mind the human rights business.

 

Not that New Delhi does not comprehend the nitty-gritty of realpolitik. In their feeble way, Indian authorities have been transmitting messages to the Americans. The directive to profit-making public undertakings to shed 10 per cent of their equity and the compulsory registration of all public sector corporate units in the stock exchanges constitute an open invitation to international — and especially American — finance capital to come and partake of the grand Indian spread. The banking and insurance sectors too have been offered on a platter to external — meaning American — parties. India might even toe, unabashedly, the American line at Copenhagen.

 

But to qualify as a suitable boy in American eyes, India perhaps has to do much more, and not just in the economic arena. For one, troops must be sent from India to Afghanistan so that American boys could go home.

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

NOTES FROM PARADISE

BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH

 

Looking at India from a small and perfect 'Shangri-la', it was clear that the degradation of our values, ethics and material resources in the desperation to ape and clone alien cultures that are deemed 'modern', and the desire to acquire wealth at any cost by breaking rules and norms, have reduced India into a weak and vulnerable State. Why has this happened with such rapidity post Independence? After all, we in India had a nation galvanized under a leader — Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi — who hit the correct nerve and liberated us from colonial domination. He was a leader of extraordinary stature, as were the others around him. They were committed, passionate men and women who gave up their lives of comfort to build and serve an infant nation state. They brought their skills and strengths to the table and laid a foundation that we could have built upon and been a superpower at the dawn of this new millennium. Instead, we corrupted, mutilated and mangled our base.

 

The reason is very simple and straightforward. There is a severe crisis of leadership in India and this has been so since 1975 — a watershed year for our fledgling democracy. In the period of Emergency, deviations from the statute book and laws of the land, the legitimization of corrupt practices, the increasing reluctance of government babus, aided and abetted by elected representatives, to enforce the law and established mandate, destroyed the early constructs. What followed after the withdrawal of special powers that the declaration of the Emergency had introduced was the same high-handed misuse of authority and law. No leader or party collective had the gumption to cure the near-fatal illness. Now it has become the basis of all governance and exploitation. Transgressions of the law drown transparency and clean administration.

 

RAPACIOUS BREED

People follow their leaders, like Indians followed Gandhi. We need new leaders who will lift us out of this quagmire. What we witness everyday when Parliament is in session, and thereafter in the larger public space, makes one want to squirm and throw up. National leaders biffing one another, others adjourning the proceedings because they do not want their misdemeanours exposed to the national public, political workers breaking into private offices and physically attacking individuals because of disagreements, politicians joining illegal demolition sprees, the police force in complete denial, unable, maybe unwilling, to enforce the law, the lower and upper courts being influenced by personal predilections, an elite class comfortable in the all-pervading muck because this horror protects their illegal privileges, and more, are the various ingredients that have curdled the spirit of our great and plural civilization.

 

The rapacious breed of elected leaders has been responsible for the criminalization of society as well as for the dilution of the many processes that make for civilized living. The poison unleashed has managed to suffocate civil society. Till the corrective is not made at the top, at the level of the person who stands for office, India will continue to sink into the depths of social anarchy. High percentages of growth in such an anarchic situation will only fuel disorder. The only reason we are still standing is that there are a few scores of leaders of calibre at the helm — very few, when you think of working for a billion-plus citizens who deserve the dignity of life and living.

 

We need thoughtful, compassionate, committed leadership. In the 'Shangri-la' that lies at the crown of the sub-continent, the monarchy is far more democratic than our democratically elected rulers. We have many lessons to learn. We need to change the priorities, rewrite the methodology, and govern from the panchayat upwards, with transparency.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

THE DAY AFTER

"IS THE US INTERESTED ONLY IN AN EXIT ROUTE?"

 

US President Barack Obama's new strategy for Afghanistan involves a surge in US troop deployment, even as it lays out a time-table for withdrawal of troops from the war-ravaged country. It promises an additional deployment of 30,000 soldiers beginning early next year. With this US troop strength in Afghanistan will touch 1,00,000. While this aspect of the new strategy signals a step-up in US commitment to stabilising the situation in Afghanistan, the other component ie the July 2011 deadline when American troops will begin pullout suggests that it is aimed at an early exit, a desire not to get mired in a Vietnam-like situation. The next 18 months will be critical for the success of the strategy as the US will have to go after Taliban/al-Qaeda fighters and their safe havens even as they build Afghan troops to takeover security duties fully. The Obama administration will be hoping that just as Bush's surge and exit strategy worked in stemming violence in Iraq, the strategy will work in Afghanistan too. Obama's strategy recognises the importance of Pakistan's full co-operation in the fight against terrorism to achieving objectives in Afghanistan. Obama has acknowledged that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are in danger from the Taliban/al-Qaeda.


While Obama's promised surge in Afghanistan will be welcomed by many with the short timeframe envisaged sending alarm bells ringing in the region. There is concern that Afghanistan-Pakistan are unlikely to stabilise within 18 months. It raises questions whether the Americans are more interested in finding an exit route rather than a way to improve the security situation. Are the Americans then looking for a way to cut and run? There is concern that the Taliban/al-Qaeda will choose to melt away now to conserve their assets and return to fight after the Americans have withdrawn. Some are raising a worrying but important question. What will happen the day after? Why should they fight the Taliban now if 18 months from now they will return to become their new masters?


The situation in Afghanistan can improve only if the international community pulls together. Currently it is the US that is bearing the main load in the military operations while its NATO allies look for exit options. India is contributing in a big way in reconstruction, while other donors fall short on pledges. And Pakistan will have to fight terrorism of all kinds and shades for Afghanistan to stabilise.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

POSITIVE SIGNS

"CELEBRATION HAS TO GO IN TANDEM WITH CAUTION."

 

The 7.9 per cent growth in GDP for the second quarter of the year, as estimated by the Central Statistical Organisation, is a pleasant surprise, and has improved the sentiment which had been dampened by the Dubai blues. The performance of the economy is better than at any time in the last six quarters and has provided confidence about its resilience and momentum. The annual GDP projections are bound to be revised upwards and it is possible that the economy may register a 7 per cent growth for the whole year, above the best estimates given by anybody. Other indicators like the pick-up in exports, though they are yet to register growth, and the growth of industrial output at near 10 per cent, also support the cheer.


But the caveat is that the high figures owe much to one-time, non-recurring factors. The performance was mainly accounted for by the growth in community and social services, mining, manufacturing and services. The Sixth Pay Commission payout is still showing a positive impact on consumption and demand. The government's stimulus packages, which increased public expenditure, have given strength to the manufacturing and services sectors. More importantly, the growth of agricultural sector at  0.9 per cent is deceptive. The adverse fallout of the poor monsoon and drought is yet to be reflected in the figures. This is bound to bring down the composite growth figures as it will affect the performance of various sectors.


The strong signals from the economy may tempt the government to withdraw the tax incentives and stimulus measures. The rise of inflation will also be another reason for that. The RBI has given indications of reviewing its fiscal and monetary policy in the emerging scenario. But the government and the RBI should go in for a gradual change of policies and take only incremental steps. The economy can be said to be growing independently only when fresh investments come into their own. There are signs of that, as projects worth Rs 4.8 lakh crore are to be commissioned this year, up from 2.8 lakh crore last year. But as RBI governor himself stated last week the recovery is still fragile and our dependence on world economy is more than expected. Therefore expectations have to go in tandem with caution.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

MAYA'S TRAVAILS

IF A POLITICAL ISSUE IS SOUGHT TO BE SETTLED THROUGH THE LEGAL MEANS, IT WOULD HAVE DIFFERENT IMPLICATIONS TO OUR DEMOCRACY.

BY KANCHA ILAIAH


Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati's response to the legal hurdles to her plans to set up Ambedkar parks and Kanshi Ram memorials was quite brave and intelligent. A team of anti-Maya lawyers (belonging to both BJP and Congress ideology) filed a public interest litigation in the supreme court pleading to stop the construction.


The supreme court constituted a committee, which held that there is great danger to the environment of UP because of these parks, though they are not polluting industries. There is not enough evidence that in order to construct these statue-parks, they had cut down any trees at all.

Based on the recommendations of the experts committee, the supreme court ordered stoppage of work at all construction sites. The court threatened to forcefully stop the work or otherwise it would take over the sites by deploying special armed forces. Hence the work was stopped.


However, within a few days, Mayawati declared that her government would build massive Kanshi Ram green parks around Lucknow and other cities of Uttar Pradesh. She also announced that a long stretch of green corridor would be created on the outskirts of Lucknow. If the anti-Mayawati forces want to cut her sovereign powers based on the democratic decision of her cabinet (right or wrong) by using the court, she wants to assert her power. She wants to appeal to the psychological alienation of the Dalit masses and show them that she was bent upon creating alternative sites of socio-spiritual satisfaction of those people by building more Dalit-Buddhist icon parks.

 

After all, the Dalits and green environment are not enemies of each other. They did not cut down forests to own hundreds of acres of land nor did they cut down trees to build mansions for their comfortable living. But to see how much teakwood is there in the houses of the every principled environmentalist of Delhi and other cities one only needs to visit their houses.

 

So like Orwellian principles of 'Animal Farm', the theory of even simplicity and environment changes from caste to caste and culture to culture. Even the courts seem to be getting drawn into this controversy. That it poses a danger to democracy needs to be seen in future. Already the Dalit-Bahujan masses have been losing faith in our judicial institutions. If the courts involve in far-fetched interpretative judicial activism in Dalit cultural life (of statue building or otherwise) their alienation would become more pronounced. That does not harm Mayawati but harms democracy, rather irreparably.


Courage
There is a gross mis-reading of Mayawati's abilities to handle her own affairs. We do not know how much money she has but she has enormous courage and confidence. Though efforts are on to dislodge and destroy her legally, she seems to be gaining politically.

 

On the one hand, Congress is attempting to take her Dalit and Brahmin vote-bank away and on the other, it is attempting to project the Brahmin leadership at the top (Rita Bahuguna Joshi, Manish Tiwari and so on). At the ground level, it is sending Rahul Gandhi into Dalit huts to eat with them and sleep in their homes so that a psychological repositioning of them could take place. But will the Congress succeed?

While all her opponents are trying to drag her into litigations so that her administration becomes totally dysfunctional, she seems to be gaining strength. If a political issue is sought to be settled through the legal means, it would have different implications to our democracy. If Mayawati is spending money on monuments when the masses are suffering from lack of food, education and employment, such a government should be faced politically only.


The recent byelections in UP have shown that her voters are not getting alienated from her. If more and more feeling of harassment on account of Ambedkar parks is generated, then more and more consolidation of the Dalit vote would take place and Mayawati will prove her opponents wrong.


She has an ideological agenda. The rock bed of that agenda is the Dalit social force. The BSP from the days of Kanshi Ram has an ideological position on men and matters. The Congress and more so, the Samajwadi Party cannot convince the Dalits on that count.
The Samajwadi party, in particular, has no ideology whatsoever. The Lohia-JP ideology has no social basis. The Muslims have no problem with her so long as she does not allow the BJP to play round.


If Ambedkar parks that are coming up as alternative sites of socio-spiritual culture of Dalits are shown as anti-democratic by the Hindu legal pundits, the Dalits will tell them that they will back Mayawati more and more on religious and ideological grounds.


As these parks are essentially anti-Hindu-Buddhist monuments, she is constructing history. If they stop her activities in the name of protection to environment, the Dalits might feel that the so called environmentalists have saffron threads to their wrists and that is where they see a common ground between the BJP, the Congress and the Samajwadi Party.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

HEAPING MISERY IN THE NAME OF SEZS

THE SEZS WILL SPEW POISONS INTO THE LAND, WATER AND AIR AND RUIN THE LAND'S ABILITY TO SUSTAIN LIFE.

BY KATHYAYINI CHAMARAJ

 

Sixty-two years seem to have dulled the country's desire for Independence: The government appears to be having a bout of nostalgia for the 'good old days' and has decided to bring back 'foreign territories' a la East India Company in the form of Special Economic Zones.


A coastal corridor of 'Special Exploitation Zones' or REZs (Real Estate Zones) — as those concerned about this regressive development prefer to call them — are all set to affect 4.17 crore persons living in these sensitive areas. In a policy unveiled in 2007, these SEZs were demarcated for creating Petroleum, Chemicals and Petrochemicals Investment Regions (PCPIRs).


A contented people, who ask for nothing from the government, make their living in these areas, carrying on sustainable fishing practices or cultivating their little plots of land, nurturing and nourishing the earth that sustains them. Into this self-sustaining system, the government wants to plant these SEZs, which will be given huge subsidies, tax exemptions, incentives and freedom from several laws to maraud the land as they deem fit. In return, the SEZs will spew poisons into the land, water and air and ruin the land's ability to sustain life. The government then calls this 'public purpose'.


GENERATING WASTELANDS

The SEZ will create a few thousand jobs for outsiders while displacing thousands more who are currently surviving on that land. The government locates the SEZ on fertile land and converts it into a wasteland and then gives wasteland to those displaced, on which they can grow nothing. The government calls all this 'development'.


The government doesn't seem to have learnt any lessons from the two-decade-long struggle against the Sardar Sarovar Project as it is continuing to repeat the same mistakes. Critics are not against value addition per se. While a food processing unit near agricultural land would be welcome, a petrochemical or IT company on well-irrigated land would be an anachronism, when the government has 69 per cent of land, which is arid in India, to choose from.


 What is being questioned is also the undemocratic process of land acquisition. A series of public hearings by civil society groups, led by the NAPM and the NCPRI, is in progress around the country to look into the pros and cons of these 'foreign islands' on Indian soil.


At the public audit of the Mangalore SEZ, for instance, farmer after farmer spoke of how the draconian KIADB Act and other coercive measures are being used to acquire their land. The Tamil Nadu audit revealed that revenue records are being fudged to show wet lands as dry.  A referendum at Raigad had 96 per cent farmers saying 'no' to the project, because of which the government kept the result of the referendum under wraps.

A government-funded study itself says that the quality of life index of the people will improve by 0.02 as a result of these projects. No one seems to have paused to think whether it is worth spreading such havoc in people's lives for this alleged improvement of 0.02.


DESTROYING CROPS

What can one say about a state that violates its own laws and procedures with nonchalance; fudges its own revenue records and master plans to cheat its own people; colludes with the greedy rich to defraud the helpless poor of their meagre assets; levels with bulldozers — without so much as a by-your-leave —  the food crops the poor have grown through hard toil on their land?


What does one say when the state thinks nothing of de-housing its people without providing them alternative shelter; goes back on its own promises to them to provide jobs and compensation; threatens them with dire consequences when they complain against its misdoings; beats them up and imprisons them when they protest against the injustice meted out to them?  All these were realities revealed by the sufferers during the public audits.

 

If an ordinary citizen had committed all the above offences, he would have been jailed immediately with a dozen cases under various sections of the IPC filed against him. But there are no jails to which one can send an errant state. The insolence, arrogance, contempt and violence with which the state treats its own poor people are incomprehensible.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

ZEST FOR LIFE

FOR AN OCTOGENARIAN, SHE HAD AN AMAZING RANGE OF INTERESTS.

BY KAMALA BALACHANDRAN


She would have been upset if Sachin Tendulkar had got out at 87. "He was playing so well," she would have said, "he could easily have reached a hundred.

 

It's such a pity that he had to go". That's just what those of us who have had the good fortune of knowing 'akka' are saying now. She was playing such a glorious innings. Why did she have to quit the scene all of a sudden?

I wonder if 'akka' herself ever thought of her mortality. May be not. She had so many interesting things to pack into her day, that she would not have considered thinking about aches and pains. That was not the only aspect in which 'akka' differed from her contemporaries. I have never met another octogenarian who actively pursued such an amazing range of interests. Akka was deeply into music; watched all day and night matches live, tried out new recipes from cook books and TV shows, tailored her blouses, keenly followed news stories and serials.


And most importantly, she had the time and energy to cultivate and nourish relationships. 'Akka' had the time for everyone single person who came into her life. She kept in touch with those still in the paper age through phone calls and letters; and she reached out to the gen2 and gen3 through the e-mails. Perhaps the name 'akka' stuck because she herself seemed to belong to a borderless generation.


Considering the number of contacts she kept alive, I am surprised that even a couple of hours per day on the net sufficed. For she not only not miss sending in a birthday/wedding day greeting, she also acknowledged the acknowledgements to that. With the result that at any given time, the ball was firmly in the court of the recipient!


'Akka' was perhaps the only person who sincerely went through all the baby pictures and travel pictures family and friends loaded into the web album. Proof of this was in the detailed commentary that came from her within days of the posting.


I remember with guilt that I had grabbed a little more of 'akka's time with my pastime. 'Akka' read every one of my published articles, and promptly called to congratulate and convey her comments.


'Akka' once mentioned that she liked movies with a message. "I wish they would make more films like that," she said. I wish god would make more people with the same mould that he made 'akka' with.

 

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THE JERUSALEM POST

EDITORIAL

THE PARTNERSHIP

 

For decades, under Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Binyamin Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon, the Likud was the ideological and practical partner of the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.

 

As Netanyahu's foreign minister in the late 1990s, Sharon even memorably issued a call to Israeli Jews to "grab the hilltops" of Judea and Samaria, so that no future prime minister would be able to relinquish that land. But in time, Sharon underwent a radical policy shift: the settlement "bulldozer" became the very prime minister he had warned against, overseeing the forced evacuation in 2005 of every last Jewish resident of the Gaza Strip and a partial dismantling of settlements in northern Samaria, and planning for further unilateral withdrawals - possibly to the line of the security barrier - as he vowed to finalize Israel's permanent borders.

 

When Sharon was felled by his failing health, Ehud Olmert, another former Likud hardliner - who as mayor of Jerusalem had resisted routing the security barrier to sever fringe Arab neighborhoods from the expanded, post-1967, Israeli-sovereign Jerusalem - intensified the shift. As prime minister, Olmert, who had accompanied Sharon on the ideological journey from the Likud to Kadima, declared that Israel had to separate itself from the Palestinians if it hoped to maintain its international legitimacy, and if it hoped to remain both a Jewish and a democratic entity.

 

To that end, Olmert and US President George Bush pursued what became the Annapolis process, ultimately convening regional and international leaders late in 2007 in the cause of a dramatic bid for regional peace. So desperate was Olmert for a deal with the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, and so convinced that one was at hand, that he offered to trade all of Judea and Samaria (with limited land-swaps to maintain the major settlement blocs), to divide Jerusalem, to relinquish Israeli sovereignty in the Old City in favor of a joint oversight arrangement, and to pursue a solution to the Palestinian refugee claim that would not remake Israel's fundamental demographics.

 

But Abbas walked away. And the Israeli electorate, which largely recognized the logic of a genuine accommodation with the Palestinians but which had also largely doubted Abbas's desire or capacity to serve as an effective partner, delivered its skeptical verdict via an election result in February that brought Netanyahu back to power.

 

NETANYAHU, TOO, has shifted positions. He too has endorsed Palestinian statehood, setting out no less than a "vision" for an independent Palestine, with the provisos that such a state be demilitarized and that it accept Israel as a "Jewish state" - accept, that is, that Israel's 76 to 24 percent, Jewish to non-Jewish population balance will not be remade by an influx of Palestinians.

 

In an international climate increasingly unsympathetic to any Israeli sovereign expansion beyond the hard-to-defend, pre-1967 borders, however, Netanyahu remains ideologically committed to the settlement enterprise and has vowed to drive a better bargain than Olmert sought with the Palestinians.

 

For months, at the cost of increasing friction with Washington, Netanyahu resisted President Barack Obama's demands that he freeze all construction over the pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem. Now, even in the absence of promised steps toward normalization from Arab states, and in the absence too, thus far, of any sign that Abbas is coming back to the negotiating table, he has reluctantly sanctioned a 10-month suspension of new building, east Jerusalem excepted.

 

That Netanyahu assented to the moratorium even at settlements where Israel expects to ultimately expand sovereignty can only reflect the intensity of the pressure he is facing - not only from Washington, but from most of the international community, emphatically including self-perceived strong supporters of Israel in western Europe.

 

The dismay in the "national camp" is understandable. A moratorium, even with all its caveats and the promise

of a resumption of building 10 months from now, is not what it anticipated from a Likud prime minister.

 

And yet, his hawkish critics may want to reflect, Netanyahu, acting today with the support of ministers like Bennie Begin and Moshe Ya'alon, determined to preserve as much of the settlement enterprise as he can and wary about the prospects of peacemaking, is the best defender of the settlers' interests they are likely to see in the Prime Minister's Office.

 

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

A WARNING AND AN OPPORTUNITY

 

The Israel Defense Forces chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, has proposed requiring all young Israelis to do national service, in order to expand the reservoir of candidates for induction into the army. In a lecture at a conference for high school principals, which Anshel Pfeffer reported on in yesterday's Haaretz, Ashkenazi posed a challenge to the state's political leadership by calling for "building new models of service."


The chief of staff's initiative stems from his recognition of Israel's changing demographics: The ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities, neither of which serve in the army, are growing, while the groups that do serve - the secular, religious-Zionist and Druze - are shrinking in proportion to the total population. About half of all first-graders today are either Arab or Haredi, and in the absence of mass immigration, it is clear that the IDF will have trouble filling its ranks with new recruits if the existing exemptions remain in force. "In another decade or two, we will face a reality in which perhaps only a minority will be drafted into the IDF," Ashkenazi warned.

The chief of staff deserves praise for his willingness to stare this societal reality in the face; until now, the army has tried to obscure it via periodic reports about a "rise in draftees' motivation" and a well-publicized battle against "draft-dodgers from north Tel Aviv." For fear of causing trouble for politicians, the army has preferred not to assail the Haredi community's mass draft-dodging, nor has it made an effort to recruit Arabs. Local initiatives by individual officers, like the "Blue Dawn" project to recruit Haredim as air force technicians, have indeed been relatively successful, but they have not been translated into a comprehensive policy. Widening the circle of those who contribute to the state via military or civilian service is of great importance to maintaining Israel's social cohesion, and slowing the nation's disintegration into warring, separatist tribes. Service would entitle young Arabs and Haredim to economic benefits currently only given to soldiers and would connect them to social networks that would make it easier for them to find jobs. And nothing is more important than this: Unless Haredim and Arabs are integrated into the labor market, Israel's economy will shrink and ultimately collapse.


Ehud Olmert's government made an effort to implement the recommendations of the Ivri Committee which, in 2005, proposed a model for voluntary civilian national service. The agency in charge of the program was transferred to the Prime Minister's Office, and its public relations material stressed that it encouraged service within the volunteer's own community and was not in any way connected to the army. Those who joined were promised the same benefits that demobilized soldiers receive. But to date, only a few hundred people have volunteered, and the project has not affected real change in either Haredi or Arab society. Arab community leaders fear that civilian service will ultimately lead to forcible induction into the army, and they justly complain about long years of discrimination. The Haredim, meanwhile, prefer to have their young men study in yeshivas.


The model that the chief of staff proposed - compulsory national service, with the IDF choosing those who it wants to draft and the rest serving in civilian programs - would be difficult to implement under existing circumstances, given the growing distrust between Arabs and the Jewish establishment as well as between Haredi and secular Jews. But his idea ought to spark a dialogue between the state and the separatist ommunities, with the goal of formulating an arrangement that would encourage their integration into mainstream society and ensure both the state's future security and economic growth.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE BIG WINK

BY YOEL MARCUS

 

On the eve of every battle, David Ben-Gurion would come down with the flu. It's not clear whether it was a real flu, a psychosomatic flu or just a legend that has been handed down through the generations. In any case, it's no small matter when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cancels an important trip to Germany at the last minute because of a "slight flu," especially when, according to media reports, this cancellation cost the government half a million shekels.


The next day, as well as on the following days, Bibi actually looked healthy and active. So healthy that he began work on the settlement freeze - declaring proudly that "the decision on the freeze is one-off and temporary. The settlers are our brothers and sisters. It's important to me to make it clear that the freeze is only for 10 months and that on its final day we will resume construction."


While Civil Administration inspectors continue handing out freeze and demolition orders in several settlements - at least those that have let them in - many settlers have torn up the official orders in front of the inspectors, while cursing and warning that the situation is liable to deteriorate into a civil war. And as the uprising gradually spreads and Defense Minister Ehud Barak declares that government decisions must be carried out even if force is required, Bibi continues to utter placating words reminiscent of Levi Eshkol's "half-tea, half-coffee."

"The future of the settlement enterprise will be decided only in a final status agreement and on our terms," Netanyahu said, reassuring the extremists. What he is letting people understand by that is that it's important to please the U.S. administration, while at the same time preparing the enema - the reader will forgive me if I tell it like it is.


When serious and extremist politicians like Likud MK Benny Begin voted to freeze construction, we cannot assume that means they've since converted to being Peace Now activists. Bibi convened the senior ministers, one or two at a time, and winked at them in some way to indicate that it's all just talk. To put it nicely - he told them he was "torn," but in any case nothing will come of it.


This is also why, from the perspective of veteran observers, his character, behavior and shticks have not changed since his first term. One reason King Hussein of Jordan admired late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was because he could be taken at his word. A recently published political biography of the king by Israeli historian Avi Shlaim describes how Hussein looked on brokenhearted as Netanyahu dismantled the cornerstones of the peace process one after the other, lowered the Palestinian threshold of expectations and worked to weaken the Palestinian Authority and postpone the withdrawal stages that had been decided on in the Oslo Accords.


At the same time, Netanyahu issued instructions to build 2,000 housing units in the Jordan Valley. Within a short time, "he managed to alienate Israel's allies in the world." At the Mayo Clinic in the United States, where King Hussein was hospitalized on his deathbed, the doctors and nurses used to say he'd contracted the "Bibi virus."

But let's say that the 10-month freeze passes, then what? In a short conversation with me, Ephraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, levels harsh criticism against the U.S. administration. When the Americans demand that Bibi make a gesture to strengthen PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), they apparently fail to understand that Abu Mazen is not capable of being a partner to peace negotiations. The Bush administration once supported Mohammed Dahlan, the former PA security chief in Gaza, as the ideal leader for negotiations with Israel, and look how he evaporated. U.S. President Barack Obama needs a Palestinian leader who is acceptable to all the Palestinians. Not a partner like Abu Mazen - who criticizes Obama, describes Israel as a "destroyer of nations" and does nothing. Anyone who wants to strengthen the PA, says Halevy, must release Marwan Barghouti, who was the leader of Fatah in the West Bank.


Netanyahu made a clever tactical move when he initiated the 10-month construction freeze. Why be the only guilty ones in the eyes of the world, when the Palestinians are once again returning to their traditional habit of missing every opportunity? "We will thin out construction in the settlements a little, but after 10 months we will resume building," Netanyahu has reassured the settlers. The Palestinians will drag their feet, but what if the Americans present a plan? Bibi is convincing the extremist Likud activists that in a final-status agreement the settlement blocs will enjoy a respectable position.


Meanwhile, the Palestinians are playing into Likud's hands. They are not returning to the negotiating table, Abu Mazen is busy being mad at Obama instead of seizing the moment. If I were a Palestinian, I wouldn't wait another minute; I would shout to Abu Mazen: begin immediate diplomatic negotiations on the basis of two states for two peoples, or go home. By their refusal to do so, they are playing into the hands of the extremists in Israel.

Netanyahu's step may be a tactical one, full of winking, as though he's going for the big thing - but it's not necessarily a strategic move. What is certain is that the political biography that will be written about him when the time comes will be called "The Big Wink."

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

GIVE THE NERD A CHANCE

BY ADAR PRIMOR

Harry Potter, Woody Allen, Tintin and their likes paved the way. Herman Van Rompuy, the big daddy of the nerds, for whom being gray is second nature and his primary color, who is so far from charismatic that he has only seen stardust in his rosiest dreams, and whose name alone is enough to cause mass flight: It is he, the ultimate anti-hero. And he and no other has been anointed by the Europeans as the first European president in the history of the old continent.


What has not been said about Herman ("Who?") Van Rompuy? That he's a clown, that he's odd, unknown, that he has a habit of cloistering himself in Benedictine monasteries to write meditative odes and haiku.


It is said that he has no vision or experience, a perfect "nobody" whose appointment overwhelmed Wikipedia with hysterical on-line comments.

 

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And what has not been said about Europe, which chose to be led by such an odd man, of all people? That the continent has hit bottom, that it is responsible for this pitiful exercise in "euro-minimalism," that it has again not missed the chance for a ridiculous display of dullness, that it distanced itself from the circle of the world's major players and has become irrelevant.


When former French president Valery Giscard d'Estaing undertook the task of drafting the European constitution about eight years ago, he promised the document's signatories that their busts would adorn the continent's cities. But where does America stand and where is Europe, where is George Washington and where is Van Rompuy?


Is it possible that the outgoing prime minister of Belgium will be the one to lead a continent whose gross domestic product is comparable to that of the United States? Is this the man who will attract the world's attention to a revitalized European Union, or in the words of British Foreign Secretary David Miliband, to "stop the traffic" in Washington or Beijing?


One can understand the critics of this anti-climax following the euphoria of the ratification of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU's constitutional document. One can understand those who are frustrated by this, and who in their mind's eye had already seen Europe become the "next thing" in the international arena. At the same time, the criticism presents a partial and distorted picture that does great injustice to Van Rompuy.


For example, it was argued that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not want a leader who would overshadow them, and therefore they appointed a "political dwarf."


True, but in the constant struggle between "Europe" and the nation-states of which it is composed, the power of the individual countries, especially France and Germany, is decisive.


So therefore the appointment of Van Rompuy should be seen as a positive development. He is a person trusted by the elements of the traditional power behind the union, without which the organization would not exist.


For that reason, it is possible that a charismatic personality like Tony Blair, who can "stop traffic" around the world, would find himself stuck in traffic in Europe itself. Power struggles would have wrecked the chances of advancing his initiatives. His record as a former leader of the most Euro-skeptic country on the continent, his total identification with the Bush administration and his involvement in the war in Iraq certain would not have helped him.


"Europe" was always a lofty ideal, the way to which is dull and down-to-earth, without a single flash of brilliance. Its leadership must mediate among 27 heterogeneous countries representing about half a billion people. They have to mediate between nationalist standard-bearers and supporters of a federal Europe, between right and left, north and south, large countries and small ones, between long-time members and new ones.


Under such circumstances, Van Rompuy could turn out to be a successful leader. He is considered a wizard at negotiations, a master of maneuver and compromise, a discrete team player who is an expert at building bridges and creating consensus.


This "virtuoso mediator" is also considered someone who pulled off the miracle of continuing the existence of the kingdom of Belgium as a single entity, at a time when people were already resigned to a split between the Flemish community and French-speaking Walloons.


The Lisbon Treaty gives Van Rompuy a new continental echelon, including a pan-European foreign service and thousands of representatives in 130 countries. In Israel there are those who remember his initial visit at the end of the 1980s, when it was said that his approach was sympathetic.

 

He might already be put to the test soon. The Swedes, who are serving in what will be the historic last of the EU's rotating presidencies, want to go home with an achievement by passing a declaration proclaiming East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine. The initiative is expected to fail.


If it passes, Israel is expected to view it as an act of arson in its relations with Europe. Van Rompuy may turn out to be the right person to extinguish the flames.

 

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 HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

I HAVE NO BROTHER

BY YOSSI SARID

 

"The settlers are our brothers," Prime Minister Netanyahu said this week, trying to convey their holy wrath. But let me make it clear: T hey are not my brothers. I don't have any brothers like that, or sisters.


It's hard to be a Jew. Recently it's been even harder, and not because the whole world is against us, but because we are against the whole world. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion was right. It's important what Jews do - and what we did was cut ourselves off, like an errant planet that has strayed out of orbit. The settlers have cut us off. The world is looking at us through its telescope and asking "Is this Israel?" I am also asking the same question.

Unless we were switched at birth, or there was a horrible case of mistaken identity. This is not our imagination. We don't belong to the same family. When I see them burning with desire to use improper means, setting fields alight, chopping down olive trees, hitting children on their way to school, beating soldiers and chasing away inspectors, I immediately look at myself to make sure that they are not me. I deny any kinship. I am not part of them.

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When I see a Jew running over a wounded Arab terrorist again and again, I am absolutely certain that any connection between us is coincidental, happenstance, and that I'm obligated to sever it completely. I have to save my human image before I, too, am run over by that silver Mercedes. And when I see Jews expelling Palestinians from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah - evicting and taking over, getting into warm beds that haven't even had a chance to cool, leaving entire families in the cold - I am filled with disgust.


What do I have to do with these people? Brothers we are not, but rather strangers in the night. It is said that there are judges in Jerusalem. Where are the judges? What happened to them? Were they also born into this?

It is actually those who preach but don't practice love of one's fellow Jew who show a greater readiness to commit hate crimes. Actually he who at every opportunity mentions that "we are all Jews" is the one who relies on blood ties and ignores common values.


True, we are not responsible for the blood type running in our veins. Dad and especially mom are responsible for it. We were born like that, born and that's how it is. We have no reason to complain about it; we never wanted to be otherwise. It's good for us to have our no-fault-of-ours Judaism, but it's a bitter pill to be in the company of scoundrels who justify their deeds through race theory.


Why don't they part ways with us, ridding us of responsibility for them? Why don't we part company from them before their heresy brings the house down on our heads?


The connection based on values and culture is our responsibility, and we don't always recognize the full gravity of our responsibility.


This requires me to say: it is better to have a close or distant neighbor than a very distant brother beyond the hills of darkness, and with whom I have no dealings.


A connection by blood is not a condition or guarantee of a common language regarding a few values. And not every one of our compatriots is an ally; sometimes he has his own interests.

Let Shimon Peres stand up and give us his views. What will we do with the rebel state he founded in Sebastia in the West Bank, which is now endangering the existence of another state - the one Herzl and Ben-Gurion founded before him in Basel and Tel Aviv?

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

AN END TO VAGUENESS

BY ZEEV STERNHELL

 

We should welcome the open differences of opinion in the Likud party regarding the future of the territories occupied during the Six-Day War. The political establishment is approaching a point where it will no longer be possible to evade decisions that will be among the most crucial in the state's history.


It is a mistake to play around with the idea that such decisions can be made without an open confrontation with the settlers. Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak will have to decide what they prefer: to be remembered as having capitulated to the settlers or as having taken a courageous leap forward, as befits important national leaders.


The rift on the right is genuine, and can be exploited to reorganize the political system. The settler wing, from Moshe (Feiglin) to Moshe (Ya'alon), should join the National Union party and all the others who share their viewpoint, and together they can all create a new political body. However worded, the implication of the split in Likud, for the new rebels, will be a conscious choice to continue the occupation without any kind of time limit.

Such a decision will be based on a reasonable assumption that, in the absence of any genuine progress, a third intifada will break out in the territories - which will lead to a closing of the ranks in Israel and a postponement of any negotiations until sometime in the unforeseeable future. But in any case, a barrier will be created between the settlement right and the ordinary, sane right; the difference between the latter and Kadima is mainly psychological and laden with personal grudges, but no more than that. Everyone there understands that true peace and security - or in other words, the ability to stop, if not completely destroy, Iran's nuclear capability and following that to become gradually integrated into greater Europe - requires an immediate and total freeze on expansion in the territories.


In terms of leadership and personal relationships, if Netanyahu is now able to live in peace with people like Silvan Shalom, Benny Begin and Dan Meridor - who for years did not hesitate to publicly express their disgust with him - there's no reason why he can't find a way to cooperate with Tzipi Livni and Shaul Mofaz.


The Labor Party, which effectively split a long time ago, must institutionalize the present situation. Barak and his people will assume their natural place in the center, on condition the defense minister can accept the fact that he doesn't have what it takes to be a party leader.


On the other hand, the left will start a social-democratic party, similar to what exists in Europe.


Does the expanded center and the left have a majority in Israel that will support it? We can reasonably assume that it does; not all the ultra-Orthodox are happy to bite the hand that feeds them, nor is the Russian immigrant population composed entirely of rightists like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Not everyone there considers settlement beyond the Green Line the Zionist ideal, and not everyone is willing to sacrifice Israel's future on the altar of the settlers' interests.


Thus we are gradually seeing the beginning of a situation in which Israeli society will have to decide what it prefers: a future of peace, relative security and economic prosperity in exchange for territories, or holding on to the territories while endangering the future of the Jewish state.


It's true that the people who believe the situation in the territories can continue indefinitely, because the population under occupation in any case has no choice but to accept the fact of Israeli power, are with their own hands preparing the foundations for a binational state. The first stage toward that gloomy tomorrow is the unprecedented delegitimization of Israel, which has become prevalent among wide circles of the Western intelligentsia. We are already in the midst of this stage. All those who believe they can do whatever they please in greater Jerusalem, including its Arab neighborhoods, in spite of the fact that two nations live in the city, would do well to reconsider.


For the political elite, the coming month will be a final opportunity to prove that among them are also leaders who want to enter the history books, not only politicians who will be satisfied with barely a footnote, like President Shimon Peres.


In any case, a surrender to the Jewish uprising in the territories will signal the end of the careers of both Netanyahu and Barak. The two would do well not to rely on the fact that a successful attack against Iran, if there is one, will atone for their weaknesses and enable them to pose as heroes. Time is short, and it is a time of trial: History does not forgive those who fail at the crucial moment.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE BEDOUIN ARE NOT TO BLAME

BY CLINTON BAILEY

 

The young Bedouin man accused of vandalizing the archaeological site at Avdat on the night of October 3 claims that he did it after the Interior Ministry, the Green Patrol (Lands Administration inspectors) and the police carried out a series of house demolitions in the central Negev, including that of his own shack-home, earlier that day. Without justifying his alleged deed, it pays to try to understand this man's frustration, since he is one of thousands of Bedouin citizens in the Negev in the same predicament. Their residences may be "illegal" in the eyes of the state, but there is no alternative housing for them.


During the 61 years that the state has existed, it has halted the migrations of the Negev Bedouin and forced them into temporary settlement at spots it has chosen. Over time, the Bedouin exchanged their tents for corrugated-tin shacks. With the state ultimately intending to settle them in new, permanent towns, they were prohibited from building permanent residences, lest these prove an impediment to moving them into the planned future communities. The state also deprived them (until court rulings forced its hand) of running water, electricity, and proper educational and health facilities.


Between 1965 and 1990, Israel indeed built seven new towns, which were able to absorb half of the Negev Bedouin, but no houses could be constructed for the remainder, as the infrastructure of the new towns was never completed. Empty lots exist in these towns, but as the Israel Lands Administration has recoiled from paying the prices demanded for them, they remain undeveloped, and those Bedouin have remained in the shacks that are now being destroyed.


Since 1998, successive governments approved construction of 10 additional towns for the still-unsettled Bedouin, hoping to attract them with improved services and the opportunity to keep their tribes together. The task of planning these towns and laying their infrastructure was delegated to a new body, "Abu Basma" (named for the Negev region where they are slated to be built), headed by a former director general of the Interior Ministry, Amram Kalaji. Since its creation, in 2003, this body has received substantial budgets, including a grant of NIS 450,000,000 in 2007. Until now, however, Abu Basma has come up with plans for only one of the 10 locales. Except for constructing a few schools in the anticipated towns, it has neither built infrastructure nor prepared plots for housing.


Clearly, it is not the Bedouin still living in shacks, or those who ran out of patience and built houses without proper permits, who are responsible for the lack of legal plots. The responsibility rests with successive Israeli governments that did not view the problem as important enough to provide funds for buying up the empty lots in the existing towns, or for increasing the number of officials needed for negotiating with the Bedouin who are expected to move, so that their homes could be planned and erected quickly and efficiently.


Meanwhile, the Negev Bedouin population has grown. When I began my research among them 42 years ago, they numbered 30,000; now there are 170,000. Children have grown up and married, and each new couple needs a home. But owing to the lack of available plots in "recognized settlements," they are constrained to erect tin shacks illegally alongside the homes in which the government compelled their parents to live. Officials estimate that some 2,000 such structures join the increasingly ugly Negev landscape each year.


This picture presumably underlies the unfounded claim that the Bedouin are "taking over the Negev and stealing state land" - a claim that is increasingly heard in public discourse. The truth is that they are neither taking over nor stealing: They are simply citizens who are born, grow up, eventually get married - and need to live somewhere.

Such unfounded claims, however, did not just appear on their own. They were created to divert attention from flawed governmental policies and the inability of law-enforcement agencies to deal with the "illegal building." Apparently, those who spread such charges want funding designated for "increased law enforcement" - meaning demolishing the existing meager housing - rather than for preparing alternative homes for Bedouin.


"Increased law enforcement" vis-a-vis citizens whom the state has forced to break the law is not the solution. It is a brutal approach that spawned the Avdat incident and is destined to lead to disaster. The proper solution lies in implementing with increased efficacy existing government decisions. It is also the ethical one.


Dr. Clinton Bailey researches the history and culture of the Negev Bedouin. His latest book is "Bedouin Law from Sinai and the Negev" (Yale University Press).

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

HEZBOLLAH'S DELUSIONS

BY JONATHAN SPYER

 

The latest events in Lebanon offer an image in miniature of larger regional developments. The Iranian-backed Shi'ite Islamist movement Hezbollah is pursuing a long-term strategy intended to eventually deliver Lebanon into its hands. In the short term, the greater commitment of the movement's cadres and its public is delivering impressive results. But at the core of the strategic thinking of Hezbollah and its patrons lie a series of delusions, which are likely to bring about the defeat of the movement over time. Between that point and the present, however, further strife and conflict are likely.


The pro-Western March 14 movement won an unexpected victory in elections in Lebanon in June. But the subsequent protracted coalition negotiations succeeded in emptying that victory of most of its content. The composition of the new Lebanese government will enable the Hezbollah-led opposition to block any legislation not to its liking. More important, the new government's official mission statement will include a commitment to maintain Hezbollah's independent, Iran-facilitated military capacity.


Supporters of March 14 had little choice but to concede to the demands of the "losing" side in the election. The violence of May 2008 proved conclusively that they are incapable of resisting the armed might of Hezbollah. Hezbollah may have paid a price in terms of its legitimacy in the eyes of non-Shi'ite Lebanese for demonstrating its power, but it acquired the ability to silence any further dissent on issues it deems of cardinal importance.


But the foundation of the new Lebanese government is ultimately only one small element within a larger process taking place in Lebanon. This is the way the power of Hezbollah and its constituency is growing in all areas of life in the country. The organization recently released a new manifesto. A particularly notable aspect of the document was the call for an end to "sectarianism" in Lebanon and the expression of the desire for rule by an "elected majority." This demand reflects the self-confidence of the movement, rather than a newfound appreciation for democratic principles.


While it is impossible to carry out accurate demographic surveys in Lebanon, Hezbollah certainly believes that the Shi'ites are on the rise demographically, due to their high birthrate and low(er) emigration rate. Senior Israeli officials who are knowledgeable about the country concur with this assessment. They also note the growing strength of Shi'ite officers in the Lebanese Armed Forces, particularly at mid-level. This development, alongside the latest political moves, is slowly blurring the borders between the official Lebanese state and the parallel state maintained by Hezbollah.


The slow, full-spectrum advance of the Shi'ite Islamist camp in Lebanon resembles developments elsewhere. No one situation is exactly like any other, of course, but it is not hard to detect the common elements in the steady advancement of Islamic politics in Turkey, the rise of Islamist radicals within the Iranian clerical regime, the onward march of Hezbollah and the strides made in recent years by Palestinian Islamism. In all cases, this is not the delusional, apocalyptic Islamism of Al-Qaida and its ilk. The rising Islamic forces in the region do not go in for violence-as-gesture, nor do they envisage the triumph of the rule of righteousness in the immediate future.

The significant differences between these rising forces and the delusional Salafi fringe has led many in the West to believe that "pragmatic," localized Islamism can be accommodated rather than confronted. Such a belief ignores a large part of the picture. Certainly in the case of the regime in Iran - in particular in the form it has assumed since the disputed election of last June - and its ally in Lebanon, the political methods may at times be slow and cumulative, but the ends are serious and sincere, and note should be taken.

Hezbollah's new manifesto condemns the United States as the "root of all terror," and a "danger that threatens the whole world." The document also reiterates the call for the destruction of Israel, describing the need to "liberate Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa" as a "religious duty" for all Muslims. There is not a shred of evidence to suggest that these sentiments are intended for the printed page only. Indeed, recent visitors to Lebanon speak of a high, almost delusional state of morale among circles affiliated with Hezbollah. In the closed world around the movement, it is sincerely believed that the next war between Israel and Hezbollah will be part of a greater conflict in which Israel will be destroyed.


The true balance of power is rather different, of course. And as Hezbollah slowly swallows other elements of the Lebanese system, the conclusion being reached in Israel is that any differentiation between the movement and the nest it has taken over is increasingly artificial - and will not be maintained in a future conflict.


The history of the region shows that anti-Western ideological waves can indeed eventually be accommodated and dealt with pragmatically - but this cannot be achieved at the moment of their rise. The examples of pan-Arabism and Palestinian nationalism suggest that only following military defeat and socioeconomic failure are flexibility and pragmatism likely to make an appearance. Political Islam has not yet reached this stage. Current events in Lebanon show its local Shi'ite manifestation to be in a state of rude health. It is brushing aside local foes, marching through the institutions, as tactically agile as it is strategically deluded. Yet its latest manifesto suggests that it remains the prisoner of its ideological perceptions. The recent history of the Middle East, meanwhile, indicates that gaps between reality and perception tend to be decided - eventually - in favor of the former.

Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs Center at the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

SLOWLY BUT SURELY

BY ODED ERAN

 

When it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we are witness to an utter cacophony of statements and counter-statements, as well as much cheap talk. This is especially true now. In this case, however, talk is not cheap and it can even be dangerous. Most of the threats and dire predictions come from frustration, and frustration should never be a substitute for carefully drafted policy based on cool-headed analysis.


Israel's current government will have trouble at home when it tries to implement its decision to freeze settlement construction for 10 months. It may collapse outright if it attempts even more "painful decisions." The Palestinian Authority is in constitutional disarray, and has been ruptured by the deep geographic and political split between the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Most Israelis and Palestinians reject the status quo, but neither side is capable of doing more than accepting in principle the 2003 road map and the two-tate solution.


Given this situation, the responsible way to handle things is to attach a gradual political action plan to the Palestinian state-building proposal that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad put forth in August.

Partial agreements between the Israeli and Palestinian governments cannot take the place of a final-status agreement, but they can serve as precursors. A major element of this approach should be changing the status of territory in the West Bank. The two sides would agree to expand Area A, where the Palestinians currently have both civil and security authority, by reducing Area B, where Israel maintains non-civil powers. U.S. General Keith Dayton's success in building up the Palestinian security forces over the past four years should provide encouragement for this idea. As the capabilities of the Palestinian internal security forces improve, Israel can review its policy, and the PA should be able to assume more responsibilities in terms of both substance and territory.

Israel can coordinate economic projects with the PA in Area C, where Israel currently maintains all powers - civil and security. Area C constitutes 60 percent of the West Bank, and a gradual, partial transfer to the Palestinians can be conducted without harming Israel's security concerns. The two sides can also negotiate other issues, such as the nature of their economic relations, which could include transitioning from the current customs union to a regime closer to a free-trade agreement.


Another measure that pertains to Israeli relations with the United States is the dismantling of unauthorized outposts. Israel relies on U.S. commitments; it, too, should honor its written commitments to its strongest ally.

Positive results from this kind of gradual approach may lead to other constructive measures, even in Jerusalem. It is ludicrous to give the Temple Mount and the Shoafat refugee camp equal historical, religious and national significance. Regardless of Palestinian ambitions regarding Jerusalem, Israel should define its own interests there more precisely. This could even lead to altering the route of the security barrier around the city.


This is not a perfect solution, in that it does not end the drawn-out Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is, rather, an honest attempt to suggest a way extricate the process from its current impasse. While the proposal does not foreclose discussion of final-status issues, it aims to avoid the pitfalls of all previous attempts to reach a comprehensive agreement at a single summit or in a one-year process. This incremental approach can be synchronized with Fayyad's Palestinian state-building process. It would give the Palestinians a chance to sort out their domestic political differences, and Israel time to prepare mentally, politically and in terms of security for life alongside an independent Palestinian state.


The international community can be involved as well. Rather than float willful and harmful ideas, as Sweden does, the Quartet can give both sides assurances and assistance in monitoring implementation and linking it to the road map. Unilateral action by either side will cause serious long-term damage, and the way to avoid it is to return to a steady, agreed-upon course of action that will ultimately lead to two states.


Oded Eran is director of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS). This article is based on a document written by him and INSS colleagues Shlomo Brom and Giora Eiland. It will be presented at the Insitute's third annual conference, December 14-15.

 

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HAARETZ

EDITORIAL

THE FRUITS OF CHRONIC MISTAKES

BY ZIAD ABUZAYYAD

 

When Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad announced his two-year plan for building the institutions of a Palestinian state, in August, it was received warmly and favorably in international forums. They viewed it as the first serious institution-building blueprint, one that could pave the way to a declaration of the political independence of a Palestinian state. It was assumed at the time that, while creation of the institutions proceeded, the negotiation process would be put to the test under the new American administration. And that in light of this test, it would be possible to proclaim the state with unanimous approval both at home and abroad, if the political process followed a positive course or, should Israeli intransigence undermine it, with at least the backing of the international community.


President Barack Obama was overly hasty in adopting a firm stand on the issue of Israeli settlement activity: His call for a construction freeze and his denial of the legitimacy of the settlements raised false hopes among the Palestinians. False, because soon enough, the administration retreated under Israeli pressure, and instead appealed to the Palestinians to give up their demand for a complete freeze on settlement activity. Their subsequent disappointment led to their own hasty declaration of the intention to go to the UN Security Council to seek international recognition of a Palestinian state, without waiting for the two-year period proposed by Fayyad so as to allow the right conditions to arise. That announcement has elicited negative reactions, particularly from the American administration.


President Obama now understands that in next year's midterm congressional elections, his party could lose its two-house majority, if he incurs the enmity of mainstream Jewish groups and the Christian right. The president also has to contend with the subject of health-care reform, for which he is still seeking approval; an economic crisis, from which his country has yet to recover; the escalating war in Afghanistan; Iraq, from which he still cannot extricate himself; and several other challenges. Obama faces a situation that requires domestic support and calm if he is to be able to achieve even partial success. None of the above will be possible if he finds himself on a collision course with Zionist and Jewish groups and the Christian right. Indeed, the statements of his secretary of state on Jewish settlements and her praise for Benjamin Netanyahu's government were considered an insult to the Arabs, an abandonment of the Palestinians and surrender to the Israeli position.


The settlements issue dates back to the Oslo talks, where those negotiating on behalf of the Palestinians - including Mahmoud Abbas, today the president but then the mastermind behind the scenes - failed to wrest an agreement from the Israelis for a building freeze in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In retrospect, Abbas' flexibility was not helpful. Ongoing settlement activities meant that the status quo was not preserved, "facts" were created on the ground, and the outcome of the negotiations was determined even before they began. Now he feels he shares responsibility for this failure.


After then-president George W. Bush launched the Annapolis process, two years ago, negotiations between Abbas and prime minister Ehud Olmert commenced, in parallel with talks between Ahmed Qureia and Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni - and neither of the Palestinians stipulated that negotiations would halt if settlement construction proceeded, even though that was one of Israel's principal obligations according to the road map proposed by the Quartet in 2003. And so settlement construction continued to gnaw away at East Jerusalem and the West Bank.


Today, the Palestinian leadership is reaping the fruits of its past chronic mistakes. From a tactical perspective, the fact that it has entrenched itself behind the demand for a settlement freeze only put Benjamin Netanyahu in a more comfortable situation, relieving him of having to do anything serious to facilitate the resumption of the peace process.


The recent announcement by the Netanyahu government regarding a "limited freeze" on construction in the settlements is meaningless, so long as it excludes Jerusalem, public buildings, and some other 3,000 housing units alleged to be already under construction in the West Bank.


Ironically, the lack of seriousness demonstrated by the Netanyahu government makes it more difficult for Abbas to retreat from his own position. He feels he has been betrayed, misled and used as a cover by Israel for continuing its own settlement policy. At the same time, the dream of the Palestinian state is fading quickly, this time perhaps forever, leaving the scene open to further bloodshed and violence. Netanyahu's cunning, maneuvering and throwing sand in the eyes are not helpful. Nor are settler protests and other demonstrative acts.

Although there is little basis for optimism, the Netanyahu government will need to undertake serious, substantial if there is any chance of resuming negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians with a clear agenda, framework and timetable meant to lead to an end to the 1967 occupation.


Ziad AbuZayyad is editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal, and a former minister and PLC member in the Palestinian Authority.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

GOOD NEWS ON PREMIUMS

 

The health insurance industry frightened Americans — and gave Republicans a shrill talking point — when it declared in October that proposed reform legislation would drive up insurance costs for virtually everyone by as much as thousands of dollars a year. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office persuasively contradicted that claim this week.

 

Undaunted, the industry issued a rebuttal report, claiming again that premiums would soar. We find this second industry report no more persuasive than the first.

 

In its long-awaited study, the C.B.O. estimates that most Americans would pay the same or less in premiums in 2016, after reforms have kicked in, than they would pay under current law. Those who work for large employers (more than 50 workers) would, on average, see their premiums hold steady or drop by up to 3 percent per person covered. Those who work for small employers would also not see much change — anywhere from a 1 percent increase to a 2 percent reduction.

 

The insurance industry and its Republican allies are eagerly trumpeting the C.B.O.'s finding that by 2016 the cost of insurance for 32 million people projected to buy individual policies (on new exchanges or directly from insurers) would be 10 percent to 13 percent higher than the average premium for nongroup coverage under current law.

 

What critics fail to acknowledge is that some 14 million people who would be buying policies with their own money would be getting more for their higher premiums. The typical policy after reform would cover a substantially larger share of enrollees' costs (with lower co-payments, deductibles or other out-of-pocket expenses), and would offer a slightly wider range of benefits, than the typical policies currently sold to individuals.

 

Meanwhile, the remaining 18 million of the people buying their own coverage would be eligible for federal tax credits that would reduce their premiums on average by 56 percent to 59 percent below what they would pay for skimpier coverage if no bill passed. This huge benefit was essentially ignored in the industry's October study.

 

The insurance industry is not giving up. On Thursday, the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association issued a report contending that the C.B.O. underestimated the expected medical costs of people who will be buying policies on the individual (nongroup) market.

 

It believes they will be sicker on average than C.B.O. projects and that covering their medical costs would drive up average premiums on the individual market by $1,500 for individuals and $3,300 for families. It argues that, with new rules requiring insurers to accept all applicants without regard to pre-existing conditions, many people will wait until they get sick before applying.

 

By contrast, the C.B.O. projected that the sickest of the currently uninsured people would qualify for Medicaid (where they would have no impact on premiums) and the remaining uninsured who would have to buy their own policies would be younger and healthier than those who currently buy such policies, making it less costly to insure them.

 

As for the supposed last-minute scramble, the budget office believes this will be a minor factor. It notes that there would be a limited annual enrollment period, so people who are diagnosed with a serious illness can't just demand immediate coverage. Further, the legal mandate to obtain coverage, the penalties for noncompliance, and the generous subsidies for low- and middle-income people would encourage most people to enroll without waiting to become sick.

 

That makes sense to us. And we have far more confidence in the C.B.O.'s expertise in evaluating a wide array of databases and in its objectivity. The chief message Americans should derive from the C.B.O.'s analysis is that tens of millions of uninsured Americans can be covered without driving up costs for everyone else.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

DANGEROUS WORK

 

From revealing accounting shenanigans at Enron to uncovering fraud at WorldCom, whistle-blowers have exposed some of the most egregious cases of corporate wrongdoing. Yet too many remain vulnerable to employer retaliation.

 

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the most significant investor-protection legislation since the Great Depression, passed only after WorldCom's internal auditor revealed a multibillion-dollar accounting fraud that ultimately bankrupted the telecommunications company.

 

The legislation recognized the importance of informants and included provisions intended to protect whistle-blowers at public companies from being dismissed, demoted or otherwise penalized for reporting wrongdoing. But it was so poorly written that, in the end, it left many whistle-blowers dangling in the wind.

 

According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, of 1,455 retaliation complaints to the Labor Department since the passage of the law, the government has ruled in favor of the whistle-blowers only 21 times. By contrast, 996 cases have been dismissed.

 

Most often, the reason for the dismissal has nothing to do with the merits of the case. Rather, the Bush administration's Labor Department decided that because the legislation did not specifically protect workers at subsidiaries of public companies, those workers remained unprotected. The department has since rejected complaints against units of Siemens, Berkshire Hathaway, the American International Group, among others.

 

As it moves to overhaul the nation's financial regulations, Congress needs to plug the hole. The House already is moving in this direction. The Investor Protection Act that passed the House Financial Services Committee last month includes an amendment extending whistle-blower protection to workers at subsidiaries and affiliates of public companies.

 

The financial reform proposal submitted to the Senate banking committee by its chairman, Senator Christopher Dodd, before Thanksgiving does not include a similar provision. It should be added later on.

 

If any new regulatory regime is to be effective, it will need the help of insiders willing to expose illegal goings-on at the nation's biggest companies. Those whistle-blowers will need to know that they will be protected.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

PROTECTION FOR THE VULNERABLE

 

The federal government is stepping up enforcement of an important law — the Civil Rights of Institutionalized Persons Act — which authorizes the Justice Department to sue prisons, jails, mental institutions, nursing homes and other facilities that violate the constitutional rights of the confined. In New York State, the department has already intervened three times this year to try to improve protections for vulnerable people.

 

Earlier this fall, the department threatened to sue New York's juvenile justice system unless it agreed to correct barbaric conditions and abusive practices at some facilities. It has involved itself in a lawsuit brought against the state on behalf of thousands of mentally ill adults who are being isolated from the community, in clear violation of sound medical practice and federal law.

 

In a "letter," actually a 40-page report, to Westchester County made public this week, the Justice Department detailed abusive conduct by guards at the Westchester County Jail in Valhalla.

 

The jail came under federal scrutiny in 2000 after a guard kicked a mentally ill man into a coma. The injured man later died, and the guard was convicted and sent to prison. The Justice Department inspected the jail last year, and the new report found that some conditions violate the inmates' constitutional rights.

 

The investigation relied in part on videotapes that corrections officers made of their encounters with inmates in order to protect themselves from charges of abuse. In this case, federal officials say, the tapes showed them repeatedly injuring or needlessly inflicting pain on inmates. According to investigators, the officers obscured what actually happened by filing inaccurate incident reports. Supervisors who could have uncovered the abuse by viewing the videos seem not to have done so.

 

In what investigators described as a typical case, officers justified placing a woman in restraints and spraying her with mace by describing her in the incident report as out of control and "very combative." The report says the tape shows an officer driving the woman's head into a wall, while other officers wrestled her to the floor, applying handcuffs and leg restraints. An officer then sprayed her face with mace. The report also cites pronounced deficiencies in medical care at the jail. And, as is often the case in jails and prisons, the Westchester facility's care for mentally ill inmates is said to fall far short of constitutional standards.

 

Westchester will need to make sweeping reforms to bring its jail into compliance with federal law and basic standards of decency. If it fails to do so, the Justice Department should sue the county to force those changes.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

TAKE THE WAR TO PAKISTAN

BY SETH G. JONES

 

Kabul, Afghanistan

PRESIDENT OBAMA'S decision on a timetable for withdrawal of American troops only makes official what everyone here has known for a while: the clock is ticking in Afghanistan. The Taliban have long recognized this, and many captured militants have reminded their interrogators that "you have the watches, but we have the time."

 

As we quicken the pace, the top American commander here, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, has repeatedly noted that there are many issues to focus on: building more competent Afghan Army and police forces, adopting more effective anticorruption measures and reintegrating "moderate" Taliban and other insurgent fighters into Afghan society and politics.

 

But perhaps the most difficult issue is largely outside of General McChrystal's control (and got short shrift in President Obama's speech at West Point): undermining the Taliban's sanctuary in Pakistan. Thus far, there has been no substantive action taken against the Taliban leadership in Baluchistan Province, south of the Pashtun-dominated areas of Afghanistan. This is the same mistake the Soviets made in the 1980s, when they failed to act against the seven major mujahadeen groups headquartered in Pakistan.

 

This sanctuary is critical because the Afghan war is organized and run out of Baluchistan. Virtually all significant meetings of the Taliban take place in that province, and many of the group's senior leaders and military commanders are based there. "The Taliban sanctuary in Baluchistan is catastrophic for us," a Marine told me on a recent trip to Afghanistan's Helmand Province, across the border from Baluchistan. "Local Taliban fighters get strategic and operational guidance from across the border, as well as supplies and technical components for their improvised explosive devices."

 

Like a typical business, the Taliban in Pakistan have an organizational structure divided into functional committees. It has a media committee; a military committee; a finance committee responsible for acquiring and managing funds; and so forth. The Taliban's inner shura, or governing council, exerts authority over lower-level Taliban fighters. It is composed of the supreme Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, his principal deputy, Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, his military commander, Abdullah Zakir, and roughly a dozen other key leaders. Many Taliban leaders have moved their families to Baluchistan, and their children attend Pakistani schools.

 

Mullah Baradar is particularly important because he runs many of the shuras involving senior Taliban commanders, virtually all of which are in Pakistan. "Omar is reclusive and unpolished," one Taliban figure recently said to me, "and has preferred to confide in a small number of trusted advisers rather than address larger groups."

 

Yet Pakistan and the United States have failed to target them systematically. Pakistani Army and Frontier Corps

forces have conducted operations in Pakistan's tribal areas to the north, and the United States has conducted many drone strikes there. But relatively little has been done in Baluchistan.

 

The United States and Pakistan must target Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. There are several ways to do it, and none requires military forces.

 

The first is to conduct raids to capture Taliban leaders in Baluchistan. Most Taliban are in or near Baluchi cities like Quetta. These should be police and intelligence operations, much like American-Pakistani efforts to capture Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other Qaeda operatives after 9/11. The second is to hit Taliban leaders with drone strikes, as the United States and Pakistan have done so effectively in the tribal areas.

 

The cost of failing to act in Baluchistan will be enormous. As one Russian diplomat who served in the Soviet Army in Afghanistan recently told me: "You are running out of time. You must balance counterinsurgency efforts in Afghanistan by targeting the leadership nodes in Pakistan. Don't make the same mistake we did."

 

Seth G. Jones, the author of "In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan," is a civilian adviser to the American military.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

OUR TIMELINE, AND THE TALIBAN'S

BY MAX HASTINGS

 

London

IT is hard to be optimistic about the outcome of President Obama's troop "surge" in Afghanistan. The additional forces sound large in headlines, but shrink small in the mountains. The commitment is intended as an earnest indication of America's will. But neither the number of troops nor the timeline that mandates a drawdown in less than two years is likely to impress the Taliban, who think in decades, or for that matter the Afghan people.

 

Most decision-makers on both sides of the Atlantic now privately believe we are in the business of managing failure, and that is how the surge looks. The president allowed himself to be convinced that a refusal to reinforce NATO's mission in Afghanistan would fatally weaken the resolve of Pakistan in resisting Islamic militancy. Meanwhile at home, refusal to meet the American generals' demands threatened to brand him as the man who lost the Afghan war. Thus the surge lies in the realm of politics, not warfare.

 

As the president said, the usual comparisons with Vietnam are mistaken. Today's United States Army and Marine Corps are skilled counterinsurgency fighters. Their commanders, especially Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan, are officers of the highest gifts. Combat and casualties are on a much smaller scale than in Southeast Asia four decades ago.

 

The critical fact, however, is that military operations are meaningless unless in support of a sustainable political system. One Indochina parallel seems valid: that war was lost chiefly because America's Vietnamese allies were unviable.

 

If we lose in Afghanistan, it will not be because American soldiers are defeated, but because "our" Afghans — the regime of Hamid Karzai — cannot deliver to the people honest policing, acceptable administration and visible quality of life improvements. I'm hardly the first to say this. Yet the yawning hole in Mr. Obama's speech at West Point, and in American policy, is the absence of a credible Afghan domestic and regional strategy.

 

It would be hard to overstate the cultural chasm separating Afghans from their foreign allies and expatriate returnees. Scarcely a single Western soldier speaks their languages. In the entire country there are only a few hundred competent administrators, and most of them are corrupt. Last year, I met an Afghan minister who had spent more than half his young life as an exile. He spoke and acted like a Californian. To Pashtun tribesmen, he must seem like a Martian.

 

"Democracy has been a disaster for our country," an Afghan businessman once told me, in tones of withering scorn. Like most of his kind, he may live in Kabul, but he has one eye on the airport.

 

In Pakistan, there is great uncertainty about the impact of the surge. The West's purpose is not to remake Afghanistan, an impossible task, but to promote regional stability and encourage the Pakistanis in their struggle against militants.

 

The strategic importance of these objectives is not in doubt. The question is whether they are attainable, and whether an increased troop commitment in Afghanistan will do much to advance them. The Islamabad government sincerely, even passionately, wants the United States and its allies to continue their Afghan campaign. But among Pakistan's vast population, the West is much more unpopular — indeed, hated — than it was in 2006 or, for that matter, 2001. There is a danger that the surge will intensify that popular alienation, further fueling Islamic extremism and thus terrorism.

 

Little progress can be made toward regional stability without reducing tensions between Pakistan and India. India's dalliance with the Afghan government, which has been given hundreds of millions of dollars in Indian aid, has increased the deep paranoia of the Pakistani Army and intelligence service. The status quo will only lead powerful elements of Pakistan's security forces to continue to support Islamic militants as proxies against India.

 

Few responsible participants in the Afghan drama, even the most pessimistic, urge a precipitate withdrawal. We are too deeply committed for that. What seems important is to recognize that politics and diplomacy are the fundamentals, though they cannot progress unless security improves. Even the most limited stabilization program will founder unless all the regional powers, including Iran, become parties to it. It is difficult to imagine that the Karzai administration can raise its game sufficiently to gain a popular mandate strong enough to stop the Taliban.

 

President Obama said on Tuesday, "Unlike Vietnam, we are not facing a broad-based popular insurgency." Yes, the Taliban command limited support, and have relatively few hard-core fighters. But many Afghans, especially Pashtuns, unite in dislike both for the Western "occupiers" and the Kabul regime.

 

Progress depends, as General McChrystal seems to recognize, on reaching accommodations with the tribes from the bottom up, not the top down. The smartest surge will be one of cash payments to local leaders. You can buy a lot of Afghans for a small fraction of the cost of deploying a Marine company.

 

Perhaps the greatest problem for Western policymakers is that Taliban leaders watch CNN and Al Jazeera. They know that the British public has turned against the war, probably irrevocably, and that American opinion is deeply divided. They believe they have more patience than us, and they may be right.

 

The president's troop surge was perhaps politically inescapable. But any chance of salvaging a minimally acceptable outcome hinges not on what American and allied soldiers can do on the battlefield, but on putting together a coherent political strategy. Mr. Obama's speech represented a gesture to his generals rather than a convincing path to success in Afghanistan.

 

Max Hastings is a former editor of The Daily Telegraph and the author of the forthcoming "Winston's War."

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

REFORM OR ELSE

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

 

Health care reform hangs in the balance. Its fate rests with a handful of "centrist" senators — senators who claim to be mainly worried about whether the proposed legislation is fiscally responsible.

 

But if they're really concerned with fiscal responsibility, they shouldn't be worried about what would happen if health reform passes. They should, instead, be worried about what would happen if it doesn't pass. For America can't get control of its budget without controlling health care costs — and this is our last, best chance to deal with these costs in a rational way.

 

Some background: Long-term fiscal projections for the United States paint a grim picture. Unless there are major policy changes, expenditure will consistently grow faster than revenue, eventually leading to a debt crisis.

 

What's behind these projections? An aging population, which will raise the cost of Social Security, is part of the story. But the main driver of future deficits is the ever-rising cost of Medicare and Medicaid. If health care costs rise in the future as they have in the past, fiscal catastrophe awaits.

 

You might think, given this picture, that extending coverage to those who would otherwise be uninsured would exacerbate the problem. But you'd be wrong, for two reasons.

 

First, the uninsured in America are, on average, relatively young and healthy; covering them wouldn't raise overall health care costs very much.

 

Second, the proposed health care reform links the expansion of coverage to serious cost-control measures for Medicare. Think of it as a grand bargain: coverage for (almost) everyone, tied to an effort to ensure that health care dollars are well spent.

 

Are we talking about real savings, or just window dressing? Well, the health care economists I respect are seriously impressed by the cost-control measures in the Senate bill, which include efforts to improve incentives for cost-effective care, the use of medical research to guide doctors toward treatments that actually work, and more. This is "the best effort anyone has made," says Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. A letter signed by 23 prominent health care experts — including Mark McClellan, who headed Medicare under the Bush administration — declares that the bill's cost-control measures "will reduce long-term deficits."

 

The fact that we're seeing the first really serious attempt to control health care costs as part of a bill that tries to

cover the uninsured seems to confirm what would-be reformers have been saying for years: The path to cost control runs through universality. We can only tackle out-of-control costs as part of a deal that also provides Americans with the security of guaranteed health care.

 

That observation in itself should make anyone concerned with fiscal responsibility support this reform. Over the

next decade, the Congressional Budget Office has concluded, the proposed legislation would reduce, not increase, the budget deficit. And by giving us a chance, finally, to rein in the ever-growing spending of Medicare, it would greatly improve our long-run fiscal prospects.

 

But there's another reason failure to pass reform would be devastating — namely, the nature of the opposition.

The Republican campaign against health care reform has rested in part on the traditional arguments, arguments that go back to the days when Ronald Reagan was trying to scare Americans into opposing Medicare — denunciations of "socialized medicine," claims that universal health coverage is the road to tyranny, etc.

 

But in the closing rounds of the health care fight, the G.O.P. has focused more and more on an effort to demonize cost-control efforts. The Senate bill would impose "draconian cuts" on Medicare, says Senator John McCain, who proposed much deeper cuts just last year as part of his presidential campaign. "If you're a senior and you're on Medicare, you better be afraid of this bill," says Senator Tom Coburn.

 

If these tactics work, and health reform fails, think of the message this would convey: It would signal that any effort to deal with the biggest budget problem we face will be successfully played by political opponents as an attack on older Americans. It would be a long time before anyone was willing to take on the challenge again; remember that after the failure of the Clinton effort, it was 16 years before the next try at health reform.

 

That's why anyone who is truly concerned about fiscal policy should be anxious to see health reform succeed. If it fails, the demagogues will have won, and we probably won't deal with our biggest fiscal problem until we're forced into action by a nasty debt crisis.

 

So to the centrists still sitting on the fence over health reform: If you care about fiscal responsibility, you better be afraid of what will happen if reform fails.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE ANALYTIC MODE

BY DAVID BROOKS

 

Many Democrats are nostalgic for Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign — for the passion, the clarity, the bliss-to-be-alive fervor. They argue that these things are missing in a cautious and emotionless White House.

 

But, of course, the Obama campaign, like all presidential campaigns, was built on a series of fictions. The first fiction was that government is a contest between truth and error. In reality, government is usually a contest between competing, unequal truths.

 

The second fiction was that to support a policy is to make it happen. In fact, in government power is exercised through other people. It is only by coaxing, prodding and compromise that presidents actually get anything done.

The third fiction was that we can begin the world anew. In fact, all problems and policies have already been worked by a thousand hands and the clay is mostly dry. Presidents are compelled to work with the material they have before them.

 

The fourth fiction was that leaders know the path ahead. In fact, they have general goals, but the way ahead is pathless and everything is shrouded by uncertainty.

 

All presidents have to adjust to these realities when they move to the White House. The only surprise with President Obama is how enthusiastically he has made the transition. He's political, like any president, but he seems to vastly prefer the grays of governing to the simplicities of the campaign.

 

The election revolved around passionate rallies. The Obama White House revolves around a culture of debate. He leads long, analytic discussions, which bring competing arguments to the fore. He sometimes seems to preside over the arguments like a judge settling a lawsuit.

 

His policies are often a balance as he tries to accommodate different points of view. He doesn't generally issue edicts. In matters foreign and domestic, he seems to spend a lot of time coaxing people along. His governing style, in short, is biased toward complexity.

 

This style has never been more evident than in his decision to expand the war in Afghanistan. America traditionally fights its wars in a spirit of moral fervor. Most war presidents cast themselves as heroes on a white charger, believing that no one heeds an uncertain trumpet.

 

Obama, on the other hand, cloaked himself in what you might call Niebuhrian modesty. His decision to expand the war is the most morally consequential one of his presidency so far, yet as the moral stakes rose, Obama's emotional temperature cooled to just above freezing. He spoke Tuesday night in the manner of an unwilling volunteer, balancing the arguments within his administration by leading the country deeper in while pointing the way out.

 

Despite the ambivalence, he did act. This is not mishmash. With his two surges, Obama will more than double the number of American troops in Afghanistan. As Andrew Ferguson of The Weekly Standard pointed out, he is the first Democratic president in 40 years to deploy a significant number of troops into a war zone.

 

Those new troops are not themselves a strategy; they are enablers of an evolving strategy. Over the next year, there will be disasters, errors and surprises — as in all wars. But the generals will have more resources with which to cope and respond.

 

If the generals continue to find that stationing troops in the villages of Helmand Province leads to the revival of Afghan society, they will have the troops to do more of that. If they continue to find that order can be maintained only if social development accompanies military action, they will have more troops for that. We have no way of knowing now how those troops will end up being used. And we have no clue if it will be wise to withdraw them in July 2011.

 

The advantage of the Obama governing style is that his argument-based organization is a learning organization. Amid the torrent of memos and evidence and dispute, the Obama administration is able to adjust and respond more quickly than, say, the Bush administration ever did.

 

The disadvantage is the tendency to bureaucratize the war. Armed conflict is about morale, motivation, honor, fear and breaking the enemy's will. The danger is that Obama's analytic mode will neglect the intangibles that are the essence of the fight. It will fail to inspire and comfort. Soldiers and Marines don't have the luxury of adopting President Obama's calibrated stance since they are being asked to potentially sacrifice everything.

 

Barring a scientific breakthrough, we can't merge Obama's analysis with George Bush's passion. But we should still be glad that he is governing the way he is. I loved covering the Obama campaign. But amid problems like Afghanistan and health care, it simply wouldn't do to give gauzy speeches about the meaning of the word hope. It is in Obama's nature to lead a government by symposium. Embrace the complexity. Learn to live with the dispassion.

 

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

GRAND LARCENY?

 

The lengths politicians will go to in order to save themselves are astonishing. Still more astounding is their lack of regard for dignity – whether their own or that of their nation. Since the NRO controversy broke out in full earnest last month, the episodes involving desperate efforts by those affected by the scuttling of the law to prevent the wheels of justice moving freely have accelerated. The latest such incident has unfolded in Geneva, where the Pakistani high commissioner to the UK, accompanied by a former deputy attorney general, took away a carton-load of documents related to cases under the NRO. The two men had flown into Switzerland for the purpose; and in scenes played out by Geo TV – which would have been comic had they not been tragic in terms of the crimes of corruption committed by the powerful – refused to answer questions about what they were doing.

However, there is nothing very mysterious about this. As this newspaper and Geo TV have reported, a visit was paid to a Swiss lawyer who held the documents pertaining to corruption cases against Pakistani politicians. These cases had been dropped from the Swiss courts on the orders of the Pakistan government under then president Pervez Musharraf when he put the NRO into effect. We all know that President Asif Ali Zardari is the key person behind all this. Quite apart from his alleged corruption – of which ample evidence is said to exist even if the Swiss documents have been destroyed – one must also wonder at his frightening lack of acumen. Evidently Mr Zardari has failed to realize that actions such as the one in Geneva mean only that he is held in still greater contempt by the people of Pakistan. More and more among us wonder how we can continue with a man around whom so much controversy swirls as our head of state. The brave efforts to defend the president, essentially on the basis of the fact that he was democratically elected, are waning in view of his total inability to change his image or to learn from past mistakes. Indeed, by misusing the powers he possesses, to dispatch government officials to seize materials from lawyers, Mr Zardari demonstrates what appears to be a complete unwillingness to change his ways. It is also obvious that the president is a scared man. Perhaps he sees the net closing in around him. He has in fact been helping to draw it tighter through antics such as the Grand Document Snatch in Geneva. One day we may laugh at these events. Today we must mourn at being governed by leaders who think only of themselves and are willing to do almost anything to save their own necks.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

BRAVE SOULS

 

The two navy personnel who died when they stopped and checked a teenage suicide bomber, who blew himself up as he was being searched, are heroes. Through their timely intervention they prevented the terrorist entering the Naval Headquarters in Islamabad. Other security men who have died at check posts too deserve our thanks. There is evidence that these guards, who have so often died in bomb attacks, are doing a commendable job. In the event of the latest bombing they acted on the tip-off of an alert passer-by and searched a boy loitering near the entrance to the Naval Headquarters. Views vary as to whether his target was a senior navy officer or a school run within the premises of the headquarters. One schoolboy was injured. But had the bomber been able to enter the toll could have been much higher.


In this case, as in others, the bomber too is a victim. Aged only 16, he was seen loitering near his target for over 20 minutes. We can only wonder what thoughts, what fears, ran through his mind. We still do not know how many other children may be in the hands of terrorists. We do not know where they come from or how they have been lured away from parents themselves snared in the trap of poverty. But we must do more to save other teenagers who could be unleashed on unsuspecting people everywhere. Tightened security measures have begun to pay off. So too has greater vigilance by citizens. We need to encourage more involvement from people if militancy and all the suffering it brings are to be controlled. The first steps towards this have been taken. We must continue to march along the same path till we see an end to terrorism and its many horrors.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

PAY UP!

The Federal Board of Revenue says it is going to be aggressively pursuing between two and three hundred 'rich' people who have not paid their taxes by December 31. This is a novel approach, as the pursuit of the rich – and by extension powerful – has never been a priority for any government agency concerned with taxation. As a nation we are tax-evaders, and a report by the World Bank titled 'Tapping tax base for development' in September 2009 estimated that every Pakistani citizen evaded tax amounting to Rs4,800 in the year 2007-08, while the total tax evaded in the period stood at Rs796 billion. In 2007-08, total tax revenue collection stood at Rs1.1 trillion or 10.3 per cent of GDP. Our tax system underperforms because it has a narrow base, with taxes being levied on a limited number of sectors, businesses and individuals. Persistent anecdotal reports suggest that less than two per cent of those who should be paying some form of taxation actually do so. Non-payment of legally imposed taxes has been a consistent impediment to development throughout the life of the nation.


Against this background we would have to welcome the proposed actions by the FBR whose chairman has said … "the rich should step forward and discharge their national obligation" although we do view with a degree of scepticism his assertion that those who don't pay up face arrest. We are told that the FBR has information on about one million rich people with national tax numbers who are not filing tax returns. And there is an undisclosed number of 'rich' who, the FBR knows, have no tax number at all. Two or three hundred out of more than a million (and the question has to be asked … is one out of every 170 people in the country 'rich'?) is a drop in the ocean and unlikely to make much of a difference in the short term. But if a culture of compliance can be kick-started by the FBR, then that is, eventually, going to be to the good of all.

 

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I. THE NEWS

 FAMILIAR ROAD -- ALL TOO FAMILIAR REFRAIN

AYAZ MIR


There's a sense of déjà vu about all this. We have seen it all before. The Soviets went down the same road and what did they have to show for their efforts? They were no more successful in pacifying Afghanistan than the Americans are now proving. Eventually they had to get out, that being the most sensible thing about their entire Afghan adventure, begun amidst high hopes in December 1979 and ending in humiliating circumstances in February 1989.


It takes a leap of faith, and a fistful of salt, to believe that what didn't work for Brezhnev's Kremlin is going to work for Obama's White House.


Bleak and grim thoughts but the facts, alas, support no other conclusion. Barack Obama is sending 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan to be deployed over the next six months. Then the US begins withdrawing from Afghanistan after 18 months. Does this add up to a winning strategy? Osama bin Laden, if he is still around, and Mullah Omar, very likely the Ho Chi Minh of the Afghan resistance, are not likely to be impressed.

Cut away the rhetoric and in Obama's West Point speech the two crucial things were only these: 30,000 more troops and the beginning of withdrawal in eighteen months. This is the clearest signal anyone could get that even as the US prepares to put more troops on the ground, the outlines of an eventual withdrawal can already be detected on the horizon.


Will this deter the Taliban? The prospect embedded in Obama's speech is only likely to embolden them. The 68,000 troops the US has in Afghanistan and the 35,000 troops provided by its assorted allies are fighting a war about which there is no shortage of predictions that it is already a lost war. Will 30,000 more troops reverse this tide? Will the failures of the last eight years be finally redeemed?


The Soviet Union's Afghan experience is not the only spectre looming over this conflict. The other spectre, more haunting for the US, is Vietnam. Obama was at pains to stress Afghanistan was not Vietnam. There was an international coalition fighting the war in Afghanistan, unlike in Vietnam. There wasn't the kind of popular resistance in Afghanistan that there was in Vietnam. And Vietnam, unlike Al Qaeda, had not attacked the US.

He was noting only the dissimilarities. If only he had dwelt a bit on the similarities. The US was stuck in Vietnam fighting a war whose purpose was less clear with each passing day. As victory seemed elusive American commanders in the field kept asking for more troops, to turn the corner that never really arrived. Eventually, the US had half a million troops in South Vietnam. It was bombing Hanoi and Haiphong in the North and the war had been extended into Cambodia to cut off Vietnamese supply routes and deny the Viet Cong safe havens. In the context of purported safe havens in Pakistan, this sounds familiar, doesn't it?

The Americans bled, just as the Soviets were to bleed later in Afghanistan, but victory remained as elusive as before. Short of nuclear weapons, the US tried everything, throwing more bombs -- just think of this -- than the total tonnage of bombs used in the Second World War. There was even a Hamid Karzai in the form of the South Vietnamese dictator, Ngo D