media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 08, edition 000370, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- TESTING CRICKET
- HE'S HERE, HE'S THERE...
- LIBERHAN'S TIME-PASS - SANDHYA JAIN
- INDIA REQUIRES INTERNAL STRENGTH - SUDHANSU R DAS
- CASTLES IN DUBAI'S SAND - PREMEN ADDY
- OBDURACY AS POLICY - BARRY RUBIN
- SEPARATIST IDEOLOGY OF SUPREMACY - PRAFULL GORADIA
- START I ENDS, BUT NO NEW TREATY IN SIGHT - VLADIMIR YEVSEYEV
- TREAT HYDERABAD STIR WITH ALL SERIOUSNESS
- BEST IN WORLD, FINALLY
- SACKING KASAB'S LAWYER WRONG - BY JYOTI PUNWANI
- HOWRAH EXPRESS - ALOKE BANERJEE
TIMES OF INDIA
- HEADY MOMENT
- COAL COMFORT
- A THOUGHTLESS TAX -
- SPEAK IN MANY TONGUES
- DON'T PERVERT ARTISTIC VISION -
- MAD MEN -
- LISTEN TO THE GITA -
- DIRECT YOUR ACTIONS FOR THE COMMON GOOD -
- TEST OF THE BEST
- KEEP AN EYE ON THE TABLE
- REFORM THE REFORMER
- SUMIT MITRA
- ARTICLE 356 LITE?
- TRADING FAILURE
- BECAUSE THEY CAN
- IN PRAISE OF FUMBLING - JAITHIRTH RAO
- HUNG UP ON DISCRETION - ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
- THE PLANET'S PRICE TAG
- WHY CAN'T SPORTS CHANNELS KEEP THEIR EYE ON THE BALL? - SHAILAJA BAJPAI
- SEEING LIKE A STATE - PIYUSHMANKAD
- THE GUESSING GAME IN JHARKHAND - RAHUL VERMA
- MITIGATING PRICE
- GIVE A WIDE BERTH
- DEFT POLITICS PUTS REFORM IN FRONT - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
- ADHOC CRISIS HANDLING IS SUB-OPTIMAL - RAMKISHEN S RAJAN
- DON'T STOCK WHEAT, LET IT FLOW - SANDIP DAS
- KASHMIR'S BLOODY ROAD TO PEACE
- INDIA SCALES TEST SUMMIT
- CHANGING CULTURES WITHIN MEDICINE - K.S. JACOB
- PUT AGRICULTURE HIGH ON AGENDA - WILLIAM D. DAR
- LABOUR LAUNCHES A CLASS WAR AGAINST "TOFF" TORIES - HASAN SUROOR
- AFGHANISTAN: WOMEN'S PLIGHT MAY WORSEN - JON BOONE
- BULGARIA TO HOST NATO SIMULATION EXERCISE
- SOFTEN THE LOSS
- PASSING THE TEST
- LET THE FAILURE BE CLEAR - GWYNNE DYER
- MISSING THE WOODS FOR THE TREES - RANJONA BANERJI
- A QUESTION OF INTELLIGENCE - PRAKASH BELAWADI
- WHAT'S YOUR PLAN - SUMAA TEKUR
- TRYST WITH TOP SPOT
- STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD
- WAITING FOR JUSTICE
- IS 'STEEL FRAME' CRUMBLING? - BY AMAR CHANDEL
- THE MAIDEN SHOT - BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI
- BANE OF PAROCHIALISM - BY AMULYA GANGULI
- GIRLS ATTEND SCHOOLS IN THE SHADOW OF THE BOMBERS - BY RAYMOND WHITAKER
- DELHI DURBAR
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- OBAMA'S AFGHAN MOVE
- BAMBOO PROSPECTS OF NE
- A FARCE CALLED THE SECURITY COUNCIL - DN BEZBORUAH
- DOWNSTREAM IMPACT OF HYDEL PROJECTS - NEERAJ VAGHOLIKAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
- INDIA TOPS TEST TEAM RANKINGS
- AFFIRMATIVE ACTION
- CLIMATE FIZZ
- CAT GLITCHES: SOME OBSERVATIONS - V RAGHUNATHAN
- INCUBATING INNOVATION IN INDIA - KIRAN KARNIK
- INNOVATIONS MUST BE USER CENTRIC, SAYS SHANTANU KHOSLA - SHANTANU KHOSLA
- KNOWING THE DECISIVE MOMENT - MUKUL SHARMA
- LAND ACQUISITION: FAIR LAW NEEDED
- WITHDRAWAL SYMPTOMS - BY GOVIND TALWALKAR
- CAP & TRADE: THE ONLY AFFORDABLE TRUTH - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- GERMANY, IN BLACK AND WHITE - BY JAYATI GHOSH
- PHILIPPINES IN LIMBO - BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN
- EUROPE'S MINARET MOMENT - BY ROSS DOUTHAT
- ACHIEVEMENT, YES!
- BRAIN WAVE
- DIRECTOR ON THE RUN
- RED BARON'S DEATH CERTIFICATE FOUND IN POLAND
- ALIENATION IN KASHMIR - BY ARUN COOMER BOSE
- HOME TRUTHS
- QUIET PROMISE
- DECLARED DEAD - CHANDRASHEKHAR DASGUPTA
- LIVING IN HOPE - MALVIKA SINGH
- A PRISONER IN THE HOUSE - ASHOK GANGULY
- SINKING SHIP
- PATIENT APPROACH
- SWISS INTOLERANCE
- CONFLICT OF INTERESTS - BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
- STATE UNIVERSITIES AS CENTRES OF POLITICKING - BY VATSALA VEDANTAM
- CHEERS TO DAUGHTERS - BY KALPANA M NAGHNOOR
THE JERUSALEM POST
- ALL PAIN, NO GAIN
- BORDERLINE VIEWS: GIVING TO ISRAEL - AN ALTERNATIVE - DAVID NEWMAN
- NO HOLDS BARRED: WHY DO CHRISTIANS REFUSE TO HATE? - SHMULEY BOTEACH
- ENCOUNTERING PEACE: 2 CAPITALS FOR 2 STATES FOR 2 PEOPLES - GERSHON BASKIN
- THE AG'S CHALLENGES
- THE WINK BECAME A REBELLION - BY YOEL MARCUS
- THE TRIUMPH OF POPULISM - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
- SERVICE AS A SOCIAL NORM - BY REUVEN GAL
- ON PEACE WITH SYRIA, ISRAELI POLITICIANS ONLY TALK THE TALK - BY ELIE PODEH
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- PAKISTAN AND THE WAR
- THE ENDANGERMENT FINDING
- TAX TAX REVOLUTION
- IT WORKED FOR THE BORGIAS
- A FEARFUL PRICE - BY BOB HERBERT
- AN INNOVATION AGENDA - BY DAVID BROOKS
- COVERAGE WITHOUT BORDERS - BY ROGER MAHONY
- THE NEXT SURGE: COUNTERBUREAUCRACY- BY JONATHAN J. VACCARO
- AFTER THE NRO
- GOJRA LESSONS
- SURGE, AND THEN WHAT? - RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI
- RAWALPINDI CARNAGE - MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- DUBAI: WHAT WENT WRONG - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
- THE STAKES AT COPENHAGEN - MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
- HOPE AMID GLOOM - ROEDAD KHAN
- THE SWISS SHAME - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- GATES' FEEBLE ATTEMPT TO ALLAY PAK FEARS
- SEEKING ULEMA'S HELP AGAINST TERROR
- OBSERVANCE OF SINDHI TOPI DAY
- INDIA & US HAND IN GLOVE - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- WHERE IS THE HUMANITY? - SHAIMA SUMAYA
- LIVING WITH NUCLEAR IRAN - DR SYED JAVED HUSSAIN
- ELECTIONS IN UZBEKISTAN - DR A RASHID MALIK
- BE STILL..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- COPENHAGEN MEET
- DUBAI CRISIS
- BEST IN TESTS..!
- THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION AND THE INTERNET - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- TERRORISM IN SOUTH-WEST ASIA - RIPAN KUMAR BISWAS
- MAKE TCB A PUBLIC LIMITED COMPANY - MD. ASHRAF HOSSAIN
- GLOBAL WARNING
- THINKING TIMES
- CITIZENSHIP LAW IN OFFING CAN IT PROVIDE THE SOLUTION? - HARI BANSH JHA
- MY JOY BOX - TIKA GURUNG
- NC GC UNLIKELY TO MEET MARCH DEADLINE - PRAKASH ACHARYA
- THE CLOCK IS TICKING ON HOSPITAL REFORM AGENDA
- WRITING OFF REFORM IN JAPAN
- TIME TO COOL DOWN, MALCOLM
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- TOO MUCH HEAT IN WARMING DEBATE
- A QUESTION OF HOME
- TOO SOON FOR A MEMORIAL TO THE WORST OF DAYS
- CONTRACTORS SHOULD NOT HAVE ACCESS TO POLICE FILES
- BOLIVIA: REVOLUTIONARY CHANGE
- IN PRAISE OF THE YOUNG FOUNDATION
- REFORMING THE STATE: THE SMARTEST GUYS IN THE ROOM
THE KOREA HERALD
- CLIMATE CONFERENCE
- N.K.-MADE JEANS
- BRAIN-MACHINE INTERFACES AND ETHICAL PROBLEMS - JENS CLAUSEN
- LONG WAY TO GO
THE JAPAN TIMES
- FOCUS ON FACTS IN COPENHAGEN
- A HINT OF HEDGING ON AFGHANISTAN - BY GWYNNE DYER
- SEXUAL LIBERATION TAKING TRAGIC TURN IN INDIA - BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN
- INSIDE THAILAND'S HIDDEN SEPARATIST WAR - BY DUNCAN MCCARGO
THE JAKARTA POST
- WILL THE FORESTRY SECTOR BE PRETTY IN COPENHAGEN?
- SBY'S PANIC BUTTON
- REDD+ AND INDONESIA - UNITY IN BIODIVERSITY - JATNA SUPRIATNA
- REMEMBERING THE 1975 BALIBO INCIDENT: AN OPPORTUNITY TO CORRECT PAST WRONGS? - ABOEPRIJADI SANTOSO
- QUALITY OF RECOVERY
- HOME DEMOLITION
- BALANCING ACT FOR POST-CRISIS ERA - BY LIU YUHUI (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- 2-WAY DIALOGUE ONCE A YEAR - BY NIKOLAI PETROV
- DON'T HOLD YOUR BREATH FOR A MODERN RUSSIA - BY VLADIMIR RYZHKOV
- TOWARD A STRONGER EUROPEAN SECURITY - BY WOLFGANG ISCHINGER, IGOR IVANOV AND SAM NUNN
INDIA PROVES IT'S STILL FUN
With the Test series win over Sri Lanka ensuring Team India the top spot in international Test cricket rankings, the debate over the existential status of the traditional version of the game has once again surfaced. The question being asked is what is the relevance of Team India becoming the best Test team in the world when Test cricket itself is on its last legs. It would be a fair assessment that with One-Day Internationals and T20 cricket pulling in the crowds, Test cricket no longer enjoys the same position it did in the past when fans would enthusiastically discuss and analyse the finer points of a match even if it ended in a slow-paced, grinding draw. Besides, times have changed and no one today has the patience to sit through each and every over of a five-day match. In that sense, the evolution of the various cricketing formats has only mirrored the changing pace of life in our society. Much of the success of T20 cricket can be attributed to the fact that nowadays fans identify with the quickness of the format three-and-a-half hours of boundaries and sixes that conclude in a definite result. It is because of our present fast-paced lifestyle that Test cricket sometimes appears to be passé.
Nonetheless, to say Test cricket is on its way out and need not be given the same importance as the other formats would be wrong and unfortunate. For, one should realise that there are two categories of cricket fans: Those who appreciate the finer points of the game and those who view cricket simply as entertainment. These two categories have existed ever since competitive international cricket came into being. Earlier, since there was only Test cricket, it was difficult to clearly distinguish between the two groups of fans. But with the birth of the ODI and T20, formats which are clearly built around those who enjoy cricket for its entertainment value, the latter's numbers have seen a significant increase. However, this does not mean that nobody appreciates the finer aspects of the game any more. For starters, most of those who play the game professionally will affirm that Test cricket is the most challenging of all the three formats and that the value of winning a Test series is incomparable. Second, connoisseurs of the game will vouch for the fact that Test cricket separates the men from the boys and that the five-day format is the only one that can truly expose a team's as well as an individual cricketer's strengths and weaknesses. Hence, as long as knowledgeable cricket fans purists who value the skills and traditions of the game exist, Test cricket will continue to occupy the seat of reverence in the cricketing world. But will the ranks of traditionalists not dwindle in the face of the onslaught from the money-spinning formats? The answer is a firm no. The reason why Sachin Tendulkar is considered the greatest batsman of the present generation is not because he can guarantee a victory for Team India every time he bats, but because his batting technique and skills are matchless. The reason why Rahul Dravid is ranked as a world-class cricketer is because he is one of the most technically sound batsmen. Those who can appreciate these qualities will surely appreciate Test cricket. In terms of change, India's series win over Sri Lanka has only proved one thing: Test cricket is more fun when it produces results.
HE'S HERE, HE'S THERE...
CLUELESS US HUNTS FOR OSAMA BIN LADEN
There's nothing startlingly new about US Defence Secretary Robert Gates's admission that America does not know where Al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden is at the moment. Or, for that matter, America has been clueless these past eight years about the movements of the world's most wanted terrorist. Mr Gates, who made this disclosure during a television interview, need not have gratuitously added that had the US been aware of Osama bin Laden's location, American troops would have gone after him. The clarification only serves to lend credibility to the warped claim by members of the Al Qaeda fan club that the US has not tracked down or 'smoked out' Osama bin Laden because that would have brought the Afghan war to an end, which Washington, DC, is loath to do. For, there is no reason to believe that the US is keen to get the man who directed the 9/11 terror strikes on America but for which there would have been no 'global war on terror' it's only when American interests were hurt that realisation of the true dimensions of global jihad sank in, prompting retaliatory action. Yet, the fact remains that Osama bin Laden, much like Scarlet Pimpernel, has led the US-led troops on a merry dance; the bombing of Tora Bora caves may have produced exciting video footage, but they neither killed Osama bin Laden and his associates, nor did they scare Al Qaeda sufficiently to give up its murderous campaign. In more recent times, drone strikes have at best helped neutralise minor functionaries of Osama bin Laden's network of terror, but like a hydra-headed monster, Al Qaeda has survived every attack.
However, it must be said that the US has failed to look for Osama bin Laden with right earnestness in the country where he is most likely to be hiding. There is sufficient reason to believe that Al Qaeda's top leadership shifted base to North Waziristan soon after the fall of Mullah Omar's Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The Pakistani Government's writ does not run in this region and, ironically, this fact provides Islamabad with an excuse for not being able to lead the Americans to Osama bin Laden. But the US need not have been deterred by Pakistan's calculated inability; it could have opted for either of two methods to get Osama bin Laden arm-twisted the Pakistani establishment for actionable intelligence or marshalled all resources in bombing North Waziristan back to the Stone Age. By now the Americans should know that the third option of being gentle with Pakistan and gifting its corrupt rulers with billions of dollars does not work. On the contrary, it is in Pakistan's interest to keep Osama bin Laden in good health. After all, if the Americans get hold of him, they will have no need to be nice to Pakistan any more.
The brouhaha over the leak of the Liberhan Commission Report, submitted six months ago after 17 years and an expenditure of Rs 8 crore of tax-payer money, has come at a time when the judiciary is making the news. First there was the unseemly wrangle over Supreme Court judges resisting public disclosure of their assets under demands for higher accountability.
Then there was the controversy over the collegium choosing Justice Paul Dinakaran of the Karnataka High Court for elevation to the Supreme Court, despite allegations of corruption, including encroachment of Government land, against him. Now the Supreme Court is resisting an RTI order to make collegium procedures public, so people may know how judges are selected.
Further, Mr Rajinder Sachar, former Chief Justice of Delhi High Court, is going to Dublin to try, by private tribunal with no legal standing, the Government of Sri Lanka for alleged atrocities on its Tamil citizens while waging a prolonged war against terrorists to keep the island nation united! A former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court had similarly flown to a dubious UN meet in Durban and suggested that caste be equated with race, which the UN has now taken up with alacrity to harass a non-Christian country at the behest of Western evangelists.
Hence, when a retired Supreme Court judge transforms a three-month assignment into a 17-year-tenure, we can only conclude that the problems bedevilling the judiciary are deep-seated ones. The Forum for Judicial Accountability was long overdue.
The judiciary failed to deliver in the Ayodhya dispute. After the image of Sri Rama Lalla appeared in the Babri premises on the night of December 22, 1949, the courts dragged their feet in the matter of deciding the title suit, allowing emotions to fester. Matters should have been expedited after the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was launched, but the dominant political logic of 'put everything on hold' prevailed.
De facto Hindu re-acquisition of the site on December 6, 1992 could have settled the issue, but that was not acceptable to Muslims or their 'secular' mentors, and matters were allowed to drag on. Ironically, when the archaeological excavations of the site, directed by the courts, yielded firm evidence of the existence of two prior temples from two different historical periods below the Babri Masjid floor, one of which covered the illustrious Gahadvala kingdom, the judiciary still failed to give a verdict.
Mr Liberhan meanwhile continued his investigation into the demolition of the Babri structure. Possibly he failed to sift anecdotes from facts, for he indicted Deoraha Baba (famous for living in a tree and blessing politicians by placing his feet on their heads), though the latter died in 1990! Interestingly, Baba had a vision that a cataclysmic event would one day take the masjid away; he instructed his followers to be alert and ensure that the entire rubble was removed from the site when this happened, else the masjid would return. This prescience explains why kar sevaks raced to dump the rubble into the Saryu, or carried mementos away; but it does not make the deceased Baba a party to the event.
Mr Liberhan's inexplicable indictment of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, when he did not even issue him a formal notice in the 17 years of the Commission's existence, shows his non-serious approach to his job. He failed to comprehend that when then Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi opened the locks and permitted Hindus to worship inside the precincts of the Janmabhoomi, he was politically though tacitly acknowledging Hindu claim to the site.
There was really no going back for the Hindu community once this decisive step had been taken; Muslim leaders and intellectuals should have seen the writing on the wall and retreated with grace. But they allowed themselves to be persuaded by those with no stake or empathy for either mandir or masjid , and pitch-forked the community into tumultuous confrontation. Whatever the excuse for the early violence following the Babri demolition, currently the conflation of all Muslim violence with global jihad cannot advance the Muslim case in any country.
Mr Liberhan's exoneration of former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and then Home Minister SB Chavan for inaction is inexplicable. Intelligence Bureau reports overlooked by the Commission clearly state that 'Balidan Jathas' (suicide squads) were in Ayodhya and that kar sevaks from Andhra Pradesh "would be given the first opportunity for kar seva ". The insinuation is obvious.
Doubts, if any, could have been settled by the video coverage shown to select journalists by then Defence Minister Sharad Pawar, soon after the demolition. The existence of the footage has been confirmed by several journalists, but has never been made public for unknown reasons. How Mr Pawar alone came to possess it is equally mysterious. A Commission doing a serious job should have procured the footage. Mr Liberhan was doing time-pass.
The UPA's Action Taken Report on the Liberhan Report is equally uninspiring, being extremely selective in what it accepts, agrees with, or merely takes note of. For instance, Mr Liberhan says "The constitutional scheme to separate religion from politics was intended to insulate the issues of governance from those of theology the use of religion, caste or regionalism is a regressive and dangerous trend, capable of alienating people and dividing them into small sections." Response: Noted.
Then, "The events of December 6, 1992 and the many subsequent events have already shown to the nation the danger and the disruptive potential of allowing the intermixing of religion and politics." Response: Agreed.
Finally, Liberhan suggested, "A Government which is formed on the premise of religion or which has religious issues on its political agenda must also be barred " and " in order to achieve the ideal of a secular state, the incorporation of religious agenda within political manifestos or electoral promises is made an electoral offence and should incur summary disqualification for the individual, or for the political party if such blatant resort to the religious and casteist sentiment is part of the party's substantive poll plank." Response: Noted. The matter will be examined further.
The Congress Manifesto for the 2009 general election, which offered minorities reservation in Government jobs and education and a special development package for 90 minority-concentration districts and won back the Muslim vote-bank would invite disqualification under this proposal. Hence it has been noted and put into cold storage!
INDIA REQUIRES INTERNAL STRENGTH
SUDHANSU R DAS
For decades India has been following the principle of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam and, as a consequence, has become a soft target for terrorism. It has also lost territory to China and Pakistan. This has happened because India has forgotten that only a strong nation can practise the philosophy of Vasudaiva Kutumbakam.
As per the ground reality, we have politically turbulent Pakistan and Nepal, as well as an iffy Sri Lanka as our neighbours. China till date remains belligerent towards us and has built massive military infrastructure along the LAC. Its naval expansion in the Indian ocean is driven by the objective of becoming the 'big brother' in Asia.
On the other hand, the US's dependence on Pakistan to fight the Taliban has compelled Washington, DC, to strengthen Islamabad's military might, which has become a chief concern for New Delhi. Pakistan continues to use terrorism as an instrument of state policy. A US Government report on terrorism says 70,000 innocent civilians have been killed in Kashmir since militancy started, and that more than five lakh Kashmiris including majority of Kashmiri Pandits have left the Valley due to terrorism. The systematic and planned demographic change in the Kashmir Valley and in the border districts of the North-East is truly alarming.
Assam's former Governor, Lt Gen SK Sinha, in a letter to the President gave a clear picture of how Bangladeshi migrants have emerged as the majority in the districts bordering Bangladesh, and that sooner or later these people would demand merger of the districts with that country. In 45 Assembly constituencies and in four Lok Sabha constituencies, Bangladeshi voters clearly influence the results.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has recognised Maoism as the country's biggest internal security threat. Terrorism of any form is a huge drain on the country's resources and weakens the nation. The Government must give a free hand to the security forces to go after anti-national elements of all hues. Any word of hatred against any community must be sternly dealt with as the safety of the common man should always comes first. A strong cohesive India is the need of the hour. Unless the country strengthens itself from within and ensure internal security and good governance, there is no point in blaming our neighbours for our woes.
CASTLES IN DUBAI'S SAND
AS WITH NEW YORK'S WALL STREET AND THE CITY OF LONDON, DUBAI AND ITS HIGH LIFE EMBODY THE UNACCEPTABLE FACE OF CAPITALISM, WHERE WORST PRACTICE IS SACRED AND BEST PRACTICE SCORNED. BEHIND THE DUBAI GLITZ, NOW LOSING SHINE, IS THE SORDID REALITY OF IMMIGRANT SLAVE LABOUR
The Dubai fantasy is a remake of the Biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, of the multiplying villainies of human nature held together by insensate greed, the manic pursuit of fast bucks. Full-time parasites, fading celebrities and and their escorts and minions from West and East wanted a piece of the action, convinced that the new Gulf El Dorado would be the Bacchanalian nirvana for which they craved. Opulent life-styles based on round-the-clock feasting, drinking and free-wheeling sex were an irresistible allure. What an anti-climax that the promised orgiastic experience should end in post-coital despair.
If they had read their Shelley these spirits of darkness would have known that a traveller from an antique land had encountered two vast and trunkless legs of stone in the desert, that near them, on the sand, half-sunk, lay a shattered visage with wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command. On the pedestal were these words: 'My name is Ozymandias,/King of Kings:/Look upon my works, ye Mighty, and despair.' Nothing remains. Round the decay/ Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare/The lone and level sands stretch far away."
Dubai World's financial collapse encapsulates Pharaonic conceit without the grandeur and folly of epic proportions. For several years and months the scatophagous British tabloids, and even the broadsheets, never shy of netting a salacious yarn, were abuzz with tales of the Dubai miracle, of a lush tropical paradise carved out of a bleak landscape of sand and merciless sun, of skyscrapers that reached for the stars, of under-soil air conditioning for the convenience of the millions of the great, the good and the idle, all liberated from the curse of the work ethic, Protestant, Islamic, Hindu or heathen.
As with New York's Wall Street and the City of London, Dubai and its world embody the unacceptable face of capitalism, where worst practice is sacred and best practice scorned. Behind the Dubai glitz is the sordid reality of immigrant slave labour. Thousands of the Subcontinent's poor and others further afield Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Indians, Filipinos and Thais have been drawn to the Gulf sheikdoms in expectation of gainful employment, of wages that would exceed those on offer at home. Many signed up for jobs through loan sharks. On arriving at their destinations, their passports were confiscated by their employers; their wages a parody from which they had to repay debt and a usurious rate of interest. As hewers of wood and drawers of water, their living quarters and food were in sync with their lowly status. Women answering advertisements for nurses and housekeepers were often forced into sequestered prostitution and concubinage.
Tales of the new Arabian nights rarely got (or get) the appropriate column inches in the international press or receive generous time on radio and television. However, there is no lack of space for sexual titillation and exotic derring-do. For instance, an English couple, clasped in a clinch that endangered the art in the solitude of the early morning beach, were hauled off to a police station by a bemused Dubai constable.
It made the headlines in British newspapers, with droves of the paparazzi flying out to take shots of the sinning pair, who turned out to be neither man nor wife, but having taken to their cups only too well, if not too wisely, found themselves in a one night stand, as such adventures are described.
Under the sharia'h the offending parts may have risked amputation, but with camel corp Whitehall mandarins in overdrive mercy subsumed justice and the chastened couple received an expulsion order from the wardens of paradise, returning to the regulated public comforts of the British capital.
And so to an older tale. It was the time of the first Gulf war, in the early 1990s, waged by President George HW Bush to eject the invading Iraqi forces from oil-rich Kuwait, ruled then and now by the al-Saba house. Like most Gulf monarchies, the family possessed sumptuous mansions in the West, not least in the favoured watering hole of London. The lady of the al-Saba household had hired an Indian maid whom she whipped and humiliated at will. One day the tormented soul escaped and flagged down a passing taxi. Speaking no English, but with the aid of imaginative signs and gestures, she explained her plight. The sympathetic driver took her to the Indian High Commission, whose staff promptly sent her back to her Kuwaiti mistress in the interest of the Indo-Arab cause. The woman suffered further punishment, was chained to the floor like a dog. A neighbouring Sri Lankan domestic, plucking up courage, reported the matter to the nearest police station. The Detective Inspector in charge was soon knocking at the al-Saba door but, receiving no response, broke it open and released the captive.
Recalling this from memory, the woman was given shelter by the anti-slavery society in London and legal proceedings were set in motion. Delaying tactics from the al-Sabas took the case from court to court. Eventually the case reached the High Court with a judge and jury in place. The result was a triumph for British justice. The judge awarded the complainant some £ 325,000 in compensation, which included the accumulated interest arising from al-Saba procrastination.
When the verdict was announced the humble Indian domestic turned to the judge and jury with a respectful Namaskar. For Indians it was surely a moment of the deepest shame.
Shame is what the public at large in Britain is experiencing with the revelations emerging at the public inquiry into former British Prime Minister Tony Blair's role in former US President George W Bush's Iraq war. When Mr Blair's name was put forward for the European presidency it was contemptuously cast aside by France and Germany and other members of the EU for the little known Belgian Premier, the truest judgement on the reputation of the former British Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, the inquiry goes on. Whether it ends in a stich-up of anodyne platitudes only time will show.
OBDURACY AS POLICY
PEACE IS HELD HOSTAGE TO PALESTINIAN INTRANSIGENCE
The Arab-Israeli, or Israel-Palestinian, conflict is the most misrepresented subject in the entire world. The most basic facts are often distorted and the most fantastical of narratives provided, even in college classrooms, about what has actually happened.
On the most single important issue in this framework why isn't there peace, who wants and doesn't want peace, and how can peace be achieved there is a common set of arguments against Israel. It goes like this: How can the Palestinians make peace when they are suffering so much and when Israel builds settlements, or Israeli leaders make statements saying they want to keep some of the territory or won't give up east Jerusalem, or do a variety of other things? The idea that the Palestinians don't yearn for peace, are eagerly trying to make some kind of agreement, but are only stopped by Israeli intransigence seems completely self-evident to the point that any challenge of this idea is ridiculed, ignored, or treated as some kind of dishonest manipulation.
By the way, many of the things said are factually wrong. Israel has neither constructed new settlements nor expanded their boundaries for 15 years. But for the moment let's leave aside the factual issues.
Nothing could be simpler than to answer these claims.
Here's the answer: If the Palestinians are miserable and want to get rid of settlements they have and have had a very simple solution: Make peace. Their 'interest', in the framework of these claims, would be to make a good deal for themselves as fast as possible.
Yet they have refused to do so on numerous occasions going back for decades. In fact, this is the 13th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel agreement at Camp David which first opened the door to a Palestinian state. Then there was the Reagan plan and US-PLO dialogue of the 1980s, followed by the peace process of the 1990s, the Camp David 2 and former US President Bill Clinton offers of 2000, and most recently the offer of former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert (who was absolutely desperate for a deal in order to save his political career) and most recently the Israeli Cabinet's peace plan.
If the Palestinians made a deal they would get an independent state with its capital in east Jerusalem. They would enjoy tremendous sympathy in the West to help them get the best possible terms. What wouldn't they get? They'd have to swap, say, three or four percent of the West Bank's territory in exchange for an equal amount of Israeli land and they wouldn't get all of east Jerusalem.
That's about it. Oh, and they'd also get many billions of dollars in compensation.
What else would they have to give up? They'd have to agree that a peace treaty ended the conflict, which makes sense. They'd have to resettle Palestinian refugees in Palestine, which also makes sense. They might well have to accept security guarantees for Israel and some limits on their own armaments. But, okay, they could bargain on that and get the best deal possible.
Again, though, there would be no Jewish settlements on Palestinian state soil, though some would become part of Israel due to the land swaps.
Note that right now the Palestinian Authority is refusing to negotiate at all, nominally because Israel is building a few apartments in Jerusalem. So what? That should be an incentive to negotiate faster so that the construction doesn't go on and on, becoming ever more irreversible.
Why is it so hard for people to understand these basic points? Of course, they have been misinformed and nobody's pointed these things out to them. To some extent, the demonisation of Israel has distorted their comprehension.
But the truly fundamental problem is that understanding that the solution for the Palestinians is to make a peace agreement and that Israel isn't blocking this outcome is that it leaves them with a paradox for their minds to resolve: Why if the Palestinians are suffering so much won't they make peace?
Here's the answer: The Palestinian leadership wants total victory and Israel's elimination. They are willing to go on letting their people suffer for a century in pursuit of that goal. They hope that the world will give them everything they want without their having to make any concessions. They realise that saying "no" and letting the conflict continue gives them more not less leverage internationally because they make Israel look like the guilty party and think, consequently, it is being punished in European policies and public opinion.
So the arguments being made by Westerners who think they are being sympathetic to a suffering people just don't make sense. In fact, they make things worse. Indeed, they are part of a Palestinian strategy to avoid making peace and encourage such intransigence.
Again, the calculation goes something like this: The longer the Palestinians refuse to make a compromise peace, the more people will blame Israel, turn away from it, and pressure it into unilateral concessions. This is a masochistic-based approach, a willingness to suffer in exchange for gain, and a gain that partly comes from many onlookers' inability to believe that anyone could use such tactics.
And yet the truth is right out in the open. Don't like settlements? Don't like "occupation." Then make peace and get rid of these things.
-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East.
SEPARATIST IDEOLOGY OF SUPREMACY
THE SWISS REFERENDUM ENDORSING THE PROPOSED BAN ON THE CONSTRUCTION OF ISLAMIC MINARETS IS PART OF THE BACKLASH TO MUSLIM IMMIGRANTS REFUSING TO JOIN THE MAINSTREAM OF HOST COUNTRIES
On November 29, the Swiss electorate in a referendum passed a constitutional ban on minarets in their country. Switzerland has about three and a half lakh Muslims who have aroused a sense of threat amongst the rest of the people. The referendum was sponsored by a Conservative legislator Ulrich Schuler. The grounds cited were: The minaret is a political symbol against the integration of Muslims with the rest of the Swiss people. Secondly, this minority of today holds a threat of taking over not only the country but also most of Europe. The Swiss wish to resist the threat in order to preserve their culture. Mr Schuler has emphasised that London and Paris have Muslim ghettoes in their suburbs and the Swiss do not want that to happen in their country.
Mr Schuler has also found that Muslims have practiced double standards. In this context, academician Prof Aighedd has asked: How many churches have been constructed in Muslim countries in the last 60 years? The answer is a big zero. In Christian countries, mosques have been built by the thousand during the same period. Mohammedans do not allow in Islamic countries synagogues or temples, apart from churches. They do not permit non-Muslims to set foot on Mecca and Medina but they move about with impunity in say Bethlehem or Vatican.
The enmity between Christians and Moslems is much older than the legendary eight crusades fought between 1095 and 1270 for the control of Jerusalem and the shrine of the Holy Sepulchre or the tomb in which Jesus was buried. Europe, or rather Spain, was first invaded by the Moors of north Africa in 711 AD. By 732, the invaders went across France right upto Poitiers where an eight day battle was fiercely fought. Led by Charles Martel, the Franks defeated the Muslims and saved western Europe from further conquest. Spain had to suffer the Moors until the 14th century but when they were crushed there were three alternatives: Conversion to Christianity or exile or death.
The association of Switzerland with Islam began recently. In 1970, there were fewer than 20,000 Muslims in the country. Today with nearly five per cent of the population, Islam is the country's second religion after Christianity. Being a highly federal polity, the policy towards immigrants varies from canton to canton. It is one in Geneva, another in Zurich and yet another in Neuchatel. In Geneva, wearing a headscarf by a Government teacher is not permitted; the controversy over one instance is pending in European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. In the Zurich canton, wearing a headscarf is freely tolerated and has never been a political issue. After some controversy, Muslim girls are exempted from learning to swim in public schools. Friday prayers are allowed to be organised in jails. Many of those who came away from Kosovo were drug dealers and in one jail had 20 per cent of its inmates were such men. As a result, on Friday afternoons the jail seemed more like a mosque than a prison!
Halal meat is another controversy. Switzerland prohibits the slaughter of animals before they are knocked unconscious. The Muslims of Neuchatel especially import halal meat from France. Another Muslim dispute in Switzerland is over graves and cemeteries which in Islam need to be eternal and not subject to recycling every 25 years. In Europe, the practice is to recycle as an answer to the shortage of land. Whereas Islam does not approve of removing the dead. This canton's Constitution prohibits isolated burial areas or private confessional cemeteries. Unless the Constitution is amended, this dispute cannot be resolved. In Zurich there is a cantonal decree which also forbids separate burial areas. This decree was part of the struggle against religious discrimination. The mayor, then sympathetic to the Muslims, suggested that they collect funds and set up a separate private cemetery.
Despite the several cantonal differences of attitude to Muslims, this referendum has thrown up a national or confederal verdict that minarets should not be allowed. The problems being faced are little different in other European countries as well as the US. Be it Britain, France, Holland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Sweden. The Muslims in Britain have gone to the extent of demanding a separate Islamic Parliament. In the state of Michigan, community leaders have alleged that the local public schools are taking away their youth from Islam. In their view therefore 100 per cent pure Islam, nothing less than the restoration of the khilafah, the Islamic super power is essential. Little wonder that Samuel Huntington called Muslim minorities as indigestible by non-Muslim societies. The real enemy of the US is now the religiously driven militant Islam, reiterates this historian.
Prof Wilfred Cantwell Smith five decades ago in his seminal work Islam in Modern History had written: The question of political power and social organisation, so central to Islam, has in the past always been considered in yes-or-no terms. Muslims have either had political power or they have not. Never before have they shared it with others.
START I ENDS, BUT NO NEW TREATY IN SIGHT
MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON COULD CONSIDER AMENDING THE OLD STRATEGIC ARMS REDUCTION PACT, WRITES VLADIMIR YEVSEYEV
On December 5, 2009, the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, one of the key arms control treaties ended. This carefully developed agreement, which included a wide range of mutual monitoring measures, was signed before the collapse of the Soviet Union, but came into force only in December 1994.
According to the START I treaty, Moscow and Washington, DC, pledged to reduce their nuclear arsenals during seven years to 6,000 warheads. Part of the agreement was the memorandum of understanding, which defined the rules for counting warheads for every type of intercontinental ballistic missile, submarine-launched ballistic missile and heavy (strategic) bomber.
In January 1993, the Russian Federation and the US signed an additional treaty on the limitations of strategic nuclear forces. This treaty was mostly based on the procedures and provisions agreed upon at the signing of START I, enacting only new quantitative limits (up to 3,000-3,500 warheads until January 1, 2003) and some new procedures.
The US Congress ratified the START II treaty in January 1996, but in Russia the ratification process dragged on until April 2000. The formal reason for this was the lack of sufficient funds in Russia's federal budget. The real reasons stemmed from the worsening of Russian-US relations given Nato's military intervention in the Balkans. Unfortunately, in June 2002, the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (1972), which prevented START II from coming into force. Nevertheless, both sides fulfilled the START II provisions that corresponded to their national interests. Among other things, Russia stopped destroying its heavy missiles and refitting ICBMs with single warheads.
One month earlier in Moscow, the framework Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty was signed. The only thing that the sides were able to agree on was the minimum levels of operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads (1700-2200). According to the treaty, reduction of the number of warheads must be concluded by the end of 2012.
The signatories determine the sequence of the process of nuclear disarmament and the content and structure of each nation's strategic nuclear forces independently of one another. All of this was no problem during the validity period of START I, but could be a problem now if a new treaty on a reduction of strategic nuclear forces is not signed.
All of the above demonstrates that in the last 20 years, only one basic agreement was in effect the START I treaty. All other nuclear disarmament agreements were fully or partially based on this agreement, which was the culmination of many years of difficult Russian-US negotiations on reduction of strategic nuclear forces.
The negotiation process was practically rolled back in the mid-1990s and resumed only in 2009.
In July 2009, the Presidents of Russia and the US agreed to conclude a new legally binding agreement on replacing the still valid START I treaty. Negotiators determined the reduction levels for strategic delivery weapons (500-1100) and warheads installed on them (1500-1675). However, at the time, they were not able to agree on a considerable reduction in the number of delivery weapons, rules for counting warheads, or the use of conventionally-armed strategic delivery weapons. But mutual interest in the process of nuclear disarmament was expressed.
The subsequent negotiation process was rather bumpy. Nevertheless, according to some reports, both sides were able to reduce the ceiling for strategic delivery weapons (to 700) and group them with conventionally-armed strategic delivery weapons. In this case, the number of strategic delivery weapons with nuclear warheads is reduced to 600, which suggests a considerable convergence of negotiating positions. Russia responded by agreeing to count only the actual number of warheads installed on delivery weapons, which allows their eventual dismantling (removing the additional number of warheads). In addition, Moscow has agreed to limit the regions where strategic guided missile systems (Topol and Topol M) are based.
If this information is confirmed, then most of the difficult issues in reduction of strategic nuclear forces have been overcome. It would then be easier to agree on a system of mutual checks and inspections.
Such a document could be signed in December 2009 in a European capital, for instance. Of course, it will not yet be a full-fledged agreement since there was no time to develop one, but it could be amended with corresponding protocols and memorandums in the near future.
-- The writer is Senior Researcher at the International Security Center, Institute of World Economy and International Relations at the Russian Academy of Sciences
TREAT HYDERABAD STIR WITH ALL SERIOUSNESS
IT WOULD be dangerous to dismiss the ongoing student- led agitation in Hyderabad as a mere law and order problem, which can then presumably be tackled by unleashing the might of the state law enforcement machinery. It would also be simplistic to assume that it is a purely political movement, even though, a political cause autonomy for the state's Telangana region is the nominal reason for the current agitation. Indeed, the arrest of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti president K Chandrashekhar Rao, which provided the flashpoint for protestors to hit the streets in the Andhra Pradesh capital, may no longer be driving the agitation forward.
There appears to be a volatile mix of forces at play at the moment. The demand for a separate Telangana, and the failure of successive governments at the state and central level to find a satisfactory solution to the issue does lie at the root of the current crisis. It is important to remember that the original Telangana agitation began as a students' movement in 1969, and evokes strong emotional responses among students hailing from the region even today.
At the political level, there is by now a virtually open battle for dominance within the state Congress. There is a clear political challenge being posed to the Congress high command- appointed chief minister K. Rosiah. On his part, Mr. Rosiah hasn't helped matters by suggesting that a solution will be forthcoming from the party high command. With media reports suggesting the involvement of organised political forces and money power, there is a real danger of a return to the kind of situation which prevailed in 1992- 93, when a battle for political power was fought in the backdrop of serial communal riots. The changed demographics of the city, with large enclaves of ' resettlement' colonies of people brought in from Naxal- affected regions, has meant the ready availability of a group of people who already consider themselves disenfranchised in the current set- up.
The government at both the state and central levels needs to act quickly and decisively, if Hyderabad's recent gains on the economic development front are not to be lost. Politically, the ruling Congress party needs to find some means of credible engagement with the youthful agitators.
The underlying economic causes the lack of development and opportunities for youth in the Telangana region also need to be addressed, if we are to hope for any meaningful and lasting solution.
BEST IN WORLD, FINALLY
SKIPPER Mahendra Singh Dhoni, coach Gary Kirsten and the entire Indian team deserve the big round of applause they have received for comprehensively defeating Sri Lanka in the series to become the No. 1 team in ICC Test rankings.
Coming as it does after some prominent flop shows in the shorter versions of the game this year the World T20 and the Champions Trophy Dhoni has rightly emphasised that we must not attribute his success in Tests to his good fortune. Yes, luck does play a huge role in the world of sport. But so do leadership skills. Also, let us not forget here that a captain is as good as the team he has. And this is where the role played by the seniors in the team becomes significant.
India set out on the quest to be number one in 2000- 01 when we beat the Australians at home. But after taking over the captaincy, Dhoni infused fresh energy into the exercise. It has obviously helped that in gung- ho Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir India has the world's best opening pair and the middle order is rock solid with ageless wonders like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.
But the bigger role has been played by the bowlers with Zaheer Khan, S. Sreesanth, Harbhajan Singh, and even rookie spinner Pragyan Ojha showing great striking ability. The way Dhoni used these bowlers was amazing and so was his gamble to put on part- time bowlers when he needed to break a partnership.
The South Africans who India displaced from the top slot could enjoy their reign for only three months, but they could well bounce back if they beat England 2- 0 or more in the series beginning December 16.
So there's no room for complacency.
SACKING KASAB'S LAWYER WRONG
BY JYOTI PUNWANI
THE accused has to be almost lifted by policemen to enter the court; the senior defence lawyer is sacked and an obviously unfit junior appointed in his place. A year after Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving terrorist of the 26/ 11 attack on Mumbai, was arrested, his trial has gone horribly wrong. No longer can we claim proudly that we gave even a terrorist whom the world saw committing his awful crime, a fair trial.
When Kasab is finally convicted, we won't have the satisfaction of looking back at legal proceedings wherein the overwhelming evidence against him was tested at every step.
It was his insistence on testing the evidence that cost Abbas Kazmi his job and Kasab an able defence lawyer.
Even in routine trials, defence lawyers refuse to accept affidavits presented by the prosecution as evidence.
Cross- examination of witnesses is the defence's right. Besides, there is an established procedure that's followed in all criminal trials the prosecution files an application requesting the court to take its evidence on record, the defence files its reply, and then the judge gives a ruling.
This procedure was flouted by the prosecution. When Kazmi insisted that it be followed, he was sacked. In other words, Kasab's defence lawyer was sacked for being a thorough professional.
Would it have been better for Kazmi to have treated this trial as a paid holiday? The media went to town calculating his monthly income when his fees were announced Rs 2,500 per hearing. Nobody bothered to find out how much the prosecution was being paid. Nor to inquire exactly how much time had been given to Kazmi to study the 14,000- page chargesheet.
The first time he requested half a day's adjournment to prepare for an important witness, he was turned down.
Being a professional in this particular case was never easy for Abbas Kazmi. Early on, he declared that he would not admit the documents presented by the prosecution. Any defence lawyer would have done the same, but Kazmi had a special reason for doing so: in the Afzal Guru case, the Supreme Court had adversely commented on the defence for having admitted the prosecution's documents. Immediately, he was accused of wanting to delay the trial by the high- profile prosecutor on national television. In court, the judge also expressed his displeasure.
Had Kazmi initially admitted all documents, and now, declined crossexamination of witnesses described as formal by the prosecution, the trial might well have been complete by 26/ 11, the promise made by the prosecution time and again. Only then it wouldn't have been a trial, but a farce that would have made us a laughing stock in the world. But was cross- examination necessary, given the overwhelming evidence against Kasab? That's the question Kazmi has been asked again and again. His answer has always been grounded in the Constitution that lays down the basis of our criminal law every accused is presumed to be innocent till proven guilty. In this case, even after Kasab's admission of guilt in court, the prosecution insisted, as a measure of abundant caution, that all the evidence be taken on record and the trial go on.
So why the sudden rush? Whence the need to flout procedure? Perhaps the answer lies in the wealth of detail emerging from the cross- examination: the guns that jammed; the walkie- talkies with dead batteries; the Quick Response Teams that froze; the calls for reinforcements that went unanswered. Then there are the more serious questions that have arisen why was the identity of Abu Jindal, the man described by Kasab as their only Indian trainer in Pakistan, never traced? How did the man whose SIM card was used by the terrorists, have an ID card issued by the Government of India, Ministry of Urban Development? Who knows what more would have come to light had the remaining 340 witnesses taken the stand? These 340 were described by the prosecution as " formal'' witnesses. They included survivors, doctors who performed autopsies, and panchas . As Kazmi pointed out in his reply, the evidence contained in their affidavits could not be described as " ancillary'', but went to the " heart of the matter''. He had to cross- examine them.
Kasab's trial was the next best thing to a full- fledged inquiry into the 26/ 11 terrorist attack, an inquiry the government is not going to conduct.
The Ram Pradhan Committee report is unlikely to be tabled; even if it is, its findings cannot be entirely relied upon since it refused to meet persons such as Vinita Kamte, wife of Additional CP Ashok Kamte. Having gone to great lengths to unearth the circumstances surrounding her husband's killing outside Cama Hospital, she wanted to raise her doubts with the Committee. The Committee has praised the handling of the crisis by Joint CP Rakesh Maria in the Control Room. Vinita Kamte's findings have left Maria red- faced.
Even ATS chief Hemant Karkare's wife has often complained that she doesn't know why her husband was left to die on the road outside Cama " like a dog''. The facts that have emerged from Kazmi's cross- examination in this context are significant: despite frequent calls for reinforcements from and around Cama Hospital, none arrived.
In the days since Kazmi's sacking, his successor, who was his assistant, has already cut a sorry figure in court. The assistant's assistant has openly disagreed with his decision not to cross- examine witnesses. Outside court, he has demeaned his office by declaring gleefully that now that he will get Kazmi's fee, he need not travel by train anymore. Is this what we want to show the world? It is ironic that when Kasab's first lawyer was disqualified before the trial started, this same man was her assistant. Yet, the judge ignored him and thought it necessary to look for a senior defence counsel. He handpicked Kazmi, who had appeared for some of the accused in the Mumbai 1993 bomb blasts trial.
Kazmi has had to pay a heavy price for accepting the brief. His trusteeship of one of Mumbai's oldest clubs was revoked the day he was appointed. In court, he has been mocked at by the prosecution; outside, the media has criticised him simply for behaving as a professional, and also chosen not to report his cross- examination. Perhaps worst of all, he has failed to establish a relationship with his client, having had to interact with him only in the full glare of everyone in court.
Indeed, after Kasab's admission of guilt in court, Kazmi offered to resign, for Kasab had not consulted him before deciding on such a drastic step. However, he has put Kasab's requests to the court: a newspaper, some ittar to offset the unbearable stink in his bullet- proof cell Undertrials are supposed to get all this, but then Kasab is no ordinary undertrial.
It's because Kazmi is no longer there that Kasab's current physical state must alarm everyone. The man whose cocky smile, so out of place in his own trial, made the judge and his own lawyer reprimand him time and again; who once rushed to his feet to say that a witness was lying; who wondered, after noticing the decorated wrists of everyone in court if anyone would tie him a rakhi ; now sits with his chin sunk in his chest, unable to keep his eyes open, deaf to the judge's repeated reprimands. He has complained repeatedly that his food is being drugged; prison doctors have rejected his claim. Any defence lawyer would have asked for an independent team of doctors to examine his client. Who will do that now that Kazmi has been sacked?
The writer is a Mumbai- based political commentator
PRANAB THE BEST CM CANDIDATE, SAYS CONG
AT the three- day chintan sivir of the state Congress which concluded on Sunday, party MP Adhir Choudhury made an observation that was on everybody's mind but was never discussed before publicly. If a change of guard indeed occurs in West Bengal after the 2011 assembly polls, Pranab Mukherjee could be a far better and more acceptable chief minister than Mamata Banerjee, he said.
Even top Trinamool leaders and those of the Left agree in private that among all the current day political leaders in the state, Pranab is the most experienced and capable. He has not only successfully chaired different ministries in the Union cabinet for long but has been the Central government's principal troubleshooter in nearly every crisis situation it has faced in recent times. Yet the top post in Writers' Buildings will surely elude him as has the top chair in South Block.
West Bengal Pradesh Congress could have become the legitimate successor of the Left Front government had not Mamata Banerjee walked out of it a decade ago to form her Trinamool Congress. Splits have always been a part of Congress tradition. But unlike all previous splits, no senior leader of the party other than Ajit Panja had left the Congress to join the Trinamool.
But Mamata could wean away the bulk of grassroots level Congress activists, who were determined to fight the CPM. The Congress will have to pay a heavy price for not setting into motion any genuine and consistent struggle against the Left Front government. The Trinamool Congress did that and gradually grabbed the Opposition space in the state.
The distinct possibility of the Left Front's exit from power after 32 years of uninterrupted rule is making a large section of the state Congress leaders jittery.
Mamata is tightening her fist and has been refusing to hand over winnable seats to the Congress, as was seen during the Lok Sabha polls. Most of the top Congress leaders, who never refrained from criticising Mamata in public even till recently, are sure to be denied tickets in the coming assembly polls. Also, it is unlikely that Congress leaders will get important portfolios in Mamata's cabinet if the Congress- Trinamool alliance manages to come to power. Many audacious Trinamool leaders openly say that they no longer need the help of the Congress to come to power in the state.
From the chintan sivir, Pranab expectedly reminded Mamata of the simple electoral arithmetic that unless the Congress- Trinamool alliance remains intact, it would not be possible to remove the Left Front from power. Pranab gave Mamata two clear messages: " United we stand and divided we fall," and " Congress must be given its due honour and share of power." This was to secure more seats and cabinet berths, those who attended the meeting said. But the post of chief minister will surely remain out of reach for the Congress.
Maoists look to steal govt's thunder
TO combat the government's campaign that the Maoists were stalling developmental activities in their areas of influence, the rebels have now decided to take up development projects themselves.
With the help of People's Committee Against Police Atrocities ( PCPA), the Maoists will now set up 15 health centres in West Midnapore and Purulia. Seven of them have already started functioning with doctors from Kolkata and Midnapore town paying weekly visits.
In a written statement, Maoist politburo member Kishanji said that the PCPA would also dig 50 shallow tubewells and build small dams to improve irrigation in the Salboni- Belpahari- Goaltore region. Seven tubewells for drinking water supply have already been dug, he claimed.
Significantly, Kishanji said the Maoists were ready to apologise if the government could prove that the war unleashed by the rebels had indeed stalled development activities.
The West Bengal government has made tall promises on several occasions that development works would start in the Maoist dominated areas on war footing. The chief minister paid a visit to Midnapore. The chief secretary and senior departmental secretaries also visited the area and drew up an action plan. But nothing has happened in the last three months.
In such a situation, the Maoists' decision to undertake developmental works will clearly blunt the government's attempts to isolate them from the people. Many villagers in the Lalgarh area had expressed dissatisfaction over the repeated bandhs called by the rebels. By sinking tubewells and setting up health centres the Maoists will surely win back their support.
Mughal daughter- in- law awaits hike in pension
Aloke. Banerjee@ mailtoday. in
SHE could well have become the empress of India. But history chose to traverse a different course and Begum Sultana, married in the great family of Mughals, now lives in a slum in Forshore Road in Howrah with a monthly pension of Rs 400.
The British arrested Bahadur Shah Zafar and packed him off to Rangoon following the great uprising of 1857. It was in Rangoon that Bahadur Shah's great grandson Bedar Bakht was born in 1920. Soon after, Bedar was brought to Kolkata by his parents. He continued to evade British sleuths till India gained Independence.
After independence, the government allotted Bedar a pension of Rs 250 per month, which was raised in 1967 to Rs 400 a month. In 1965 Bedar married Sultana and to make ends meet, he found work in a leather factory.
After her husband's death in 1980 Sultana's life was a hard battle for survival.
She opened a roadside tea stall and sold bangles and was forced to forget that she had been married in a family, which had once ruled India. It is useless to indulge in such thoughts, she says now.
Sultana has repeatedly appealed to the government for an increase in the pension she still receives. The NDA government had given her a one time assistance of Rs 50,000 in 2004. A desperate Sultana met president Pratibha Patil last September and was assured help. She was told that her pension would be increased, but she is still not aware by how much.
CPM central committee member and former panchayat minister Surjyakanta Misra and the present minister of the department, Anisur Rahaman, have been doggedly grappling with each other a development being described as " very rare" during the 32 years of Left Front's rule.
The bone of contention is the transfer of the principal secretary of the department M. N. Roy.
Roy, known to be close to Misra, has headed the panchayat department for the last eight years. So did Misra. But earlier this year, the CPM felt that panchayat was one of the departments that had not performed up to the mark, as a result of which the Left had to suffer heavily in the panchayat polls. So Misra, who also heads the health department, was replaced by Rahaman.
Immediately after becoming the minister, Rahaman wanted Roy out and favoured a particular officer who is now in the finance department. Misra, however, strongly opposed the plan to remove Roy.
During a meeting of the CPM's panchayat cell last week, the two ministers reportedly engaged in a heated exchange on the issue.
While the new minister argued that new faces must be brought in to speed up work in the department, Misra said the removal of an efficient officer would set a bad precedent.
A RECENT order of the Allahabad High Court has rekindled hope among Singur farmers of the return of their plots of land acquired by the state government for the now abandoned Nano project.
On Friday, the High Court ordered the Uttar Pradesh government to return about 2500 acres of land acquired from farmers at Ghaziabad for a power project that was to be set up by a powerful industrial house. Former Prime Minister Viswanath Pratap Singh had launched an agitation in 2004 demanding the return of land to the farmers.
An upbeat Trinamool Congress, which had led the agitation in Singur, is now preparing to move the Kolkata High Court to pray for return of land to farmers in Singur as well. Trinamool MP and advocate Kalyan Banerjee would file a case in Kolkata High Court citing the precedent created by the Allahabad High Court.
Ever since the Singur agitation began in 2006, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been saying that according to law, land once acquired for a public purpose cannot be returned to farmers. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee, however, continues to demand that about 400 acres of land taken from " unwilling" farmers must be returned.
After the Allahabad High Court order, the Trinamool is planning to revive its agitation in Singur.
TIMES OF INDIA
For the first time since rankings were introduced in 2001 India has grabbed the top spot in Tests. Although the number one ranking could well prove to be short-lived, this is an occasion to savour. For a country that is obsessed with cricket, much too often Team India's performance didn't match the expectations of fans. But for the past decade the Indian team has been far more consistent, particularly in Test cricket.
The beginning of the long ascent to the number one position can be traced to the 2000-01 home series win against Australia, which saw one of the most riveting Test matches at Kolkata, where India won after following on. Skipper Sourav Ganguly along with coach John Wright instilled a competitive spirit and professionalism, which the team lacked earlier. The bedrock of the Indian team was the batting quartet of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V V S Laxman and Ganguly and the spinning duo of Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The biggest difference post-2000, however, was India's away performances. Traditionally poor travellers, India had their first-ever series victory in Pakistan in 2003-04 followed by rare wins in West Indies, England New Zealand. And India matched the Aussies - the top outfit since the mid-1990s - in Australia by drawing one series and narrowly losing another. India also won their first Test match in South Africa in 2006-07.
Under the captaincy of M S Dhoni - who took over in 2007 after short stints by Dravid and Kumble - Team India has ratcheted up its performance, not having lost a game in the last 12 Tests. Crucial to India's winning ways is the opening pair of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir who are now the world's best, averaging nearly 60 runs an innings. Sehwag, with his appetite for big totals scored at a scorching pace, is today the most feared bat in Test cricket. Indian bowling has also got over its dependence on spin with Zaheer Khan proving to be an able fast bowling spearhead backed by a host of talented, if unpredictable, pacers.
India might, however, not be able to hold on to the number one spot for too long because of its playing schedule that has only two Tests - and that too against lowly Bangladesh - in the next 11 months. This means that the next two teams, South Africa and Australia, who play four and eight Tests during the same period have a chance of overtaking India. And irrespective of what the rankings say, India is still to register away series wins against Australia and South Africa. BCCI as well as ICC have to give a serious thought to the cricketing calendar if Tests are to retain their primacy. Suggestions such as a world Test championship and changes in the format need to be considered. But that's for the future. For now India has bragging rights.
TIMES OF INDIA
Together, India and China - that account for 45 per cent of the world's coal use currently - will lead the envisaged 73 per cent leap in global demand for coal by 2020, says a report prepared by the International Atomic Energy Agency. India not only has 10 per cent of the world's coal reserves but imports some as well to meet the rising demand from sectors like steel. According to the World Bank, 53 per cent of India's commercial energy demand is met by coal. Therefore, it is neither practical nor possible to shun coal altogether and turn to new energy sources.
The only way feasible right now is to explore how best coal can be turned 'clean' to reduce the carbon intensity of its emissions while simultaneously looking at other, less polluting options. India's current coal-based capacity of 81,355 MW emits 540 million tonnes of CO2, which is 60 per cent of the country's total carbon emissions. To improve energy efficiency and reduce CO2 emissions from the power sector, the government plans to allot Rs 74,000 crore to be spent over the next five years.
All this could help reduce India's CO emissions by 98.5 million tonnes by the end of the five-year period. Upgrading of old coal-based power plants, converting them from conventional CO2 spewing plants to ones that are less polluting, could be done by installing super critical power generation equipment. Canada, France and the US have signed MoUs with India for transfer of clean coal technology. Initiatives are also under way to capture and use coal bed methane as a secondary energy source.
Any initiative to reduce the carbon intensity of coal needs sustained technological and financial support if it is to have any impact. Now that India has promised to reduce its carbon intensity by 20-25 per cent by 2020, it is up to India's climate change negotiators at Copenhagen to ensure that rich countries agree to contribute to technology and adaptation funds to facilitate emissions reduction in developing countries in an equitable manner. Such technology transfers should pertain not only to non-conventional and renewable energy sources, but also to a new generation of coal-based power plants that are less polluting than their predecessors.
TIMES OF INDIA
A THOUGHTLESS TAX
There are several substantive issues dividing the developed and developing countries as we enter the Copenhagen conference on climate change. But none are more gratuitous than the threat posed by the US Congress - in its proposed legislation such as the Waxman-Markey Bill - and in remarks by President Nicolas Sarkozy and French proposals, that any carbon tax (or its equivalent "cap premium" in national cap and trade schemes) in the developing countries which falls below the one in the developed countries would be "equalised" or countervailed through border taxes or in other equivalent ways.
Such proposals are based on fears that have little grounding in economic analysis. They are also likely to be considered violative of the WTO rights of the developing countries on whom such tariffs would be imposed and, even if found WT0-legal in a challenge at the WTO Dispute Settlement Mechanism, will certainly provoke WTO-legal retaliation in several ways by countries that are hit with such tariffs. Besides, the implementation of such tariffs raises impossible conceptual problems in implementation. In fact, the threat of such tariffs will certainly produce "local warming" at Copenhagen and undermine the progress to a satisfactory conclusion of a new climate change treaty.
At the outset, the demands are driven by a misguided sense of "fairness" and morality: that, unless others cut their emissions, we should not be asked to cut ours. If a pastor at one's church said to his flock, however, that it should be virtuous only if others are, that moral restraints by oneself in the presence of licentiousness by others should be rejected, his sermons would be popular but would draw the wrath of his superiors.
But there is also the fear of trade uncompetitiveness of one's industries if other countries do not have an identical burden: virtue practised alone would have too high a cost. This sounds more reasonable; but the fear is not grounded in compelling economic analysis. Careful empirical analysis at Brookings Institution by Warren McKibbin and Peter Wilcoxen, under the leadership of economist Lael Brainard, now with the US Treasury, have demonstrated that uncompetitiveness is a much-exaggerated fear.
Importantly, the Netherlands Bureau for Economic Policy Analysis concluded recently that raising import tariffs on imports from low-carbon-tax countries would have little impact on total carbon emissions. For example, only 6 per cent of cement produced is traded internationally whereas only 8 per cent of China's steel, admittedly carbon-messy, is exported. In short, the most polluting industries serve the domestic, not the export, market.
Then again, many fear that our industries will go abroad to exploit lower carbon tax burdens. But many studies show that the investment decision, as to where to locate, reflects several factors such as infrastructure, availability of raw materials and political stability.
The administration of carbon tariffs is also a complex task that will raise hackles. For example, in today's interdependent world economy, most production involves importation of components and raw materials from several sources. Calculating the carbon content of a product is therefore as arbitrary as calculating the "local content" and source of origin in implementing preferential trade agreements and eligibility for cheaper market access; and, because it involves imposing tariffs rather than exemptions from tariffs, it will be more contentious and productive of disharmony.
What are the better alternatives to carbon-tax-equalising tariffs? There are several. First, the use of such carbon tariffs must be effectively ruled out. This cannot be done by mere advocacy and hoping that governments will become more enlightened. This is particularly so because, if there is ambiguity about the WTO-illegality of such tariffs, the temptation to go this route will be great. So, the Copenhagen accord, when concluded, must contain a moratorium under which no such tariffs would be levied, foregoing therefore the use of Articles II, III and XX at the WTO to do so.
Second, we need to shift to an incentive, rather than a punishment, mode. At the moment, there is ambiguity about our ability to use green subsidies. In fact, under the 1995 Subsidies and Countervailing Measures Code at the WTO, the use of green subsidies unless they are strictly across-the-board is actionable. Even the currently designed cap-and-trade regime in the United States, with its many exemptions for different industries and hence differential sector-specific subsidies implicit in the scheme, is actionable. We need, therefore, to get a waiver from the SCM Code; or we need to amend it.
Finally, we can also unite behind the proposal to free trade in environmentally friendly products and services. This market has been variously estimated but is likely to be close to a turnover of half a trillion US dollars. Surely, this has to be a matter of high priority in any climate change treaty.
TIMES OF INDIA
SPEAK IN MANY TONGUES
There's really no business like show business. The big Hollywood apocalypse movie, 2012, might not possess much in the way of artistic merit, but that's not really the point. The movie's a big hit, not just in its native America, but right here in India, where it has reportedly outdone home-grown films like Kurbaan and De Dana Dan at the box office. The movie, dubbed in several Indian languages, is poised to join Titanic and Spiderman 2 as the biggest Hollywood success stories in the Indian market. The interesting thing is that the Hindi version of the film has done better than its English language version, clearly indicating how much everybody loves a good apocalypse.
Snobby moviegoers may cry into their popcorn over the alleged abomination that is a dubbed film. But the success of such movies, um, pardon the pun, speaks for itself. Both Spiderman 2 and Titanic benefited from reaching out to a wide variety of Indian audiences across the country. Purists can tom-tom the pleasures of subtitles all they like, but they forget that in a country with high rates of illiteracy, dubbing is the best way to reach people who might want to watch a film but are unable to read subtitles. Or would they rather that this section of people be deprived of choice when it comes to entertainment in non-Indian languages?
Sure, sometimes voice-overs can lead to unintentionally hilarious consequences. But that doesn't mean the entire practice ought to make way for a far more elitist method of watching movies made in foreign languages. After all, subtitles are often enough to put even educated moviegoers off a film. Who wants to go to the cinema and spend the next few hours reading dialogue while parsing it with what the actors are doing and probably missing out on all the nuances in trying to keep up with the subtitles? Besides, it's not as if subtitles are any better quality than voice-overs - one has only to watch the helpful dialogue appear on many English movie channels on television to become aware of that!
TIMES OF INDIA
DON'T PERVERT ARTISTIC VISION
It wasn't bad enough that we had to suffer through endless English trailers and promotional spots showing the highlight of the latest summer special, 2012; an aircraft carrier crashing into the White House. Or, for that matter, Peter Parker moping through yet another angst-filled quarter-life crisis (Spiderman 2). Studio bosses in their market-dictated wisdom decided that the audience should be given twice the opportunity to suffer through Hollywood's excesses. And so from the days of Spielberg's dinosaurs (Jurassic Park) through Jack and Rose's maudlin love story (Titanic) to the misplaced aircraft carrier, Indian movie theatres have played Hollywood blockbusters - and, really, any movie in a foreign language - dubbed in Hindi and a variety of other Indian languages. And in the process, distorted the directors' artistic vision - or whatever passes for it in the case of the summer blockbusters - entirely.
A movie of merit stands on the basis of the marriage of its visual aesthetic to the language that gives it texture. Dubbing a movie - an entirely hit-and-miss process in India with poor voice-over artists, mangled dialogue and characterisation that is entirely absent - strips it of this. As anecdotal evidence, the movie Red Cliff is a prime example. A historical epic titled Chi bi in the original Chinese, it garnered rave reviews and a slew of critic's awards in the US. But by the time it hit India, the Chinese had been replaced by an execrable English dubbing. To hear an Indian voice-over artist try to explain the tea ceremony in English with an attempted American accent strained credulity to the point of herniating it.
Far better to let the original audio track remain for foreign releases and opt for subtitling instead of dubbing. The essence of the movie is preserved this way. Subtitles, even if poor translations, convey the meaning without perverting the aesthetic. It is a win-win situation. Hollywood blockbusters' box office returns are unlikely to be affected. They tend to be special effects spectaculars low on dialogue, with the former as the selling point. And movies of other kinds with greater artistic merit and substance will be seen and enjoyed as their directors intended them to be.
TIMES OF INDIA
I have always been made to believe that genius and madness are two sides of the same coin. Hungarian scientists who worked tirelessly for years to confirm their suspicion that "genius is somewhat madness but not vice versa" have dispelled any doubts one might've had. The proof the scientists found was that both cases had the same gene. To their pleasant surprise, they found that this gene was responsible for the psycho and depressive cases they had studied. In worst-case scenarios, the gene led to mental illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. I was immediately reminded of a brilliant teacher in my school decades ago on reading this report in the reputed Psychological Science journal. He was somewhat on both sides. While some of us admired and saluted him for being a genius, others - the less imaginative and uncaring ones - took great pleasure ridiculing and condemning him as a mental wreck. I knew, of course, the many ways his day-to-day life was quite off the track, but he never harmed or abused anyone. Still, some people failed to understand his above-average behaviour.
If we go back into history, we'd learn that a shocking number of people whom we today regard either as gods or great minds had to face either death or lifelong torture. Jesus Christ was crucified because he dared to express his abnormal ideas, and Socrates was stoned to death for challenging then prevailing societal norms. They said, ''Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the better cause.'' Christ's teachings and miraculous cures began to attract large crowds, and that became his undoing. The powerful kings and aristocrats thought him to be a threat to their authority. The famous French chemist and philosopher, Antoine Lavoisier, was sent to the guillotine during the French Revolution by the anti-scientific establishment for his scientific inquiries. Giordano Bruno, an apostate Dominican, was condemned by the Inquisition at the turn of the 17 th century. Galileo Galilei, Copernicus and Kepler were not exactly done to death but the sufferings they had to endure were worse than one-time quick death.
TIMES OF INDIA
LISTEN TO THE GITA
Confirmation of the culpability of the sangh parivar, particularly its nucleus, the RSS, in the sacrilegious crime and national shame of demolishing the Babri masjid by Justice Liberhan, may or may not result in the prosecution and punishment of the actual perpetrators of the crime. The mosque's destruction, nevertheless, has inflicted unprecedented and unredeemable ignominy on the heritage of our motherland and the well-known syncretic ethos of Sanatana Dharma - popularly called Hinduism.
No jail term for the sangh parivar leaders would restore the image of syncretism and equal respect for all religions that ensured the embracing of all victims of religious prosecution - from Jews to Parsis, Ahmedias and Bahais. The sangh parivar has subverted the Indian ethos of tolerance.
Do the Hindu scriptures sanction the demolition of religious shrines of other faiths? The answer is a big ''no''. The conceptual and philosophical framework of Hinduism is enshrined in three treatises - the Brahmasutras, Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. Equal adoration of all varieties of divinity and paths towards God and the recognition of the right to salvation/liberation that all living beings have - including plants and animals - are deemed to be the most ennobling and elevating features of Hinduism. Ill will towards even non-believers is not permitted.
Applying this yardstick, the sangh parivar can never be recognised as a body of Hindus, though a few self-proclaimed pundits characterised the destruction of the Babri masjid as a holy war and part of a Dharmayuddha. The act is in direct conflict with the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita.
The Gita is quite explicit about one's approach to any form of worship. In three shlokas, the relevant principles are unambiguously laid down. In Chapter 4, Shloka 11, Lord Krishna proclaims: "In whatever way men identify with me, in the same way do I carry out the desires; men pursue my path, in all ways." Again in Chapter 6-30, He preached: "He who sees me everywhere and sees all in me, he never becomes lost to me, nor do I become lost to him." Finally, in Chapter 7-21, He says: "Whatever form any devotee with faith wishes to worship, I make that faith of his steady."
Significantly, Uddhava Gita or the last message of Lord Krishna further reiterates the ideal of equal respect to all forms of worship. In Chapter 10, Shloka 26, He says: "In whatever form, at any time, a devotee of mine may reflect on a particular thing with his intellect, concentrating the mind on me as possessed of infallible will, he gets that very form."
The goons who razed the 16th century masjid in Ayodhya to the ground actually acted against the letter, spirit and ethos of the above stipulations of Lord Krishna. The divine chant of Lord Shiva - Jai Shiv Shankar - was also polluted by the marauders of the Babri mosque when they shouted this as a slogan of victory. The literal meaning of Shankar is one who blesses everybody with peace - Sham Karoti Iti Shankaram.
The Buddhist shrine at Bodh Gaya is an undisputed site known to be the place where prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and became Lord Buddha. Strangely, even today, Buddhist institutions in Bodh Gaya are controlled by Hindus. There is no politician-led mass movement for their 'liberation' by Buddhists. Hindus are in no mood to voluntarily give up their authority here - thanks to the success of economics and commerce over propriety and ethics.
Can we expect the sangh parivar to desist from launching any further misadventures? For the sake of amity among communities and the unity of the nation, it is high time that the sangh parivar adopts the line of judicious prudence and accepts the status of all socio-cultural and religious monuments in the country as on August 15, 1947 in tune with the assurance to minorities given by Gandhi, the Father of the Nation.
TIMES OF INDIA
DIRECT YOUR ACTIONS FOR THE COMMON GOOD
On many occasions we may have a feeling to perform a virtuous or meritorious act to instil âthe feel goodâ factor. This is a noble thing to do and one can increase the benefits arising from such actions by being mindful of a few things.
No sooner than he uttered these words, all the pretas died and the Buddha explained to the people that they were reborn in higher worlds.
Often when actions of such nature are performed they may arise out of a feeling of guilt, of pride in doing good deeds, or to fuel ambitions in this life. While such feelings will bring no benefit at all, those that arise out of a pure mind, uncontrived, unconditioned and unconceptualised, the merits of such actions can be magnified.
Actions by themselves have no direction of their own; they have no capacity to bring merit unless the action is dedicated from an arising from the source, towards a particular person or people and the goal of directing the dedication.
One day, the residents of a town invited the Buddha to a meal. Soon after they left, 500 pretas â" those born in the hungry ghost realm â" arrived and requested him to dedicate to them the merit of the alms the people would offer to the Buddha. On asking the reason, the pretas said they were the parents of these residents and were reborn as pretas due to their miserly behaviour. The Buddha agreed on the condition that they accompany him. On seeing them the people were horrified. On the Buddhaâs explanation and reassurance to them they calmed down. The Buddha made a request for dedicating their sources of merit to the pretas. The people agreed unanimously.
The Buddha said: âMay all the merit of this offering/ Go to these pretas/ May they be rid of their ugly bodies/ And obtain the happiness of higher worlds!â
âTherefore, bear in mind that all actions ought to be from a pure mind and so arising, be dedicated to bring benefit to those they are intended towards for any small reason. Be it the familyâs well-being, parentsâ good health, for the peace of the dead or to bring enlightenment for all sentient beings. Whatever is your meritorious action, small or big, if it is dedicated without conceptualisation â" pure in intention and motivation â" it will bring benefit to the people you have in mind. If not, it is like having wholesome food mixed with poison! Also bear in mind that all actions are illusory, by nature empty and magical. Therefore, have no attachment towards them. Only then that dedication would be non-toxic.â
Not just this. The benefits go further as Chagme Rinpoche says: âWhen we hear about (unconceptualised) good done by others, if we cast out all negative thoughts of jealousy and really rejoice in the depth of our hearts, it is said that the merit we gain will be equal to theirs.â
Jetsun Mila, Tibetâs yogi and poet, says: âBetween the hermit meditating in the mountain/ And the donor who provides his sustenance/ There is a link that will lead them to enlightenment together/ Dedication of (pure) merit is the very heart of that link.â
Such is the nature of genuine feeling towards pure actions. Therefore, let raise the bodhichitta â" mind of enlightenment â" within yourself. Do meritworthy actions with purity. Dedicate the act to the end in view. Bear in mind that all of it is empty by nature, illusory and dream-like. And revel in the goodness done by others. You will then experience bliss within.
The writer is a practising Nyingma Buddhist
TEST OF THE BEST
It has taken 77 years, oodles of disappointment, a nation's enduring adulation and a high-adrenalin shift from the 'nice guys' of yore to the charming aggression of Dhoni's lads for Team India to clamber to the top of a ranking that really matters in a country of over a billion cricket crazy citizens. For those of you who don't know what we're talking about and still call yourself Indian no matter where you might be we've finally arrived at the top of the International Cricket Council's Test cricket rankings. Pity, though, that we might be able to stay on for just a wee bit, but then beating bottom-of-the-barrel Bangladesh in the sole Test series of 2010 won't keep the hyenas at bay. So, while the Board of Control for Cricket in India lavishes Rs 25 lakh each on the men of the moment, a penny each for a billion thoughts of those who gave the initial heave-ho.
Team India's growth numbers would put the Chinese economy to shame. In the last two years, we've pocketed series wins against Pakistan, Australia, England and Sri Lanka, brought one back from faraway New Zealand recently, and drawn at home against South Africa. Cynics might not be satisfied till we pull off a Trojan surprise in Oz and grind the Proteas to dust in Durban, but for all true-Blue Indians who have spent eight years gazing wistfully at the Australians up there, it's time to celebrate. Period.
Cynics may also be pre-occupied with looking over their shoulders at the South Africans and Aussies hot on our tails in the rankings chart, but for the cracker-bursting, dhol-whipping, bhangra-boogying aam aadmi, tomorrow's definitely another day. The one-day table beckons but we're at the head of the five-day feast for now. Let's enjoy the high. At least till tests do us part.
KEEP AN EYE ON THE TABLE
The significant risk to the India story at this juncture is inflation, pushed along by food prices. Wholesale food inflation rose an alarming 2 percentage points a week to 17.47 per cent in November, triggering comments from the Prime Minister's economic advisory committee as well as the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development that it could raise non-food inflation a benign 2.2 per cent at the moment unless the central bank begins tightening its monetary policy. The Reserve Bank of India, too, has been flagging broader inflationary expectations for quite a while. Although monetary policy is a blunt instrument to tackle a supply shock with, the RBI's hawkish stance on prices can only stiffen as the knock-on effect works its way into core inflation (minus food and energy). The central bank is most likely to drain some of the excess liquidity in the system before it starts raising interest rates.
The current orthodoxy does not countenance any threat to India's growth momentum. Depending on how you choose to measure it, food makes up from 25 per cent to 65 per cent of the weight in the several price indices the government puts out. Persistently high food inflation is squeezing household budgets and, therefore, consumption. The supply-side policy response is fairly well established. The Centre draws down grain stocks to feed the poor, sells some of it in the open market to keep a lid on prices, lowers taxes on food imports, pays more for farm produce, and ensures availability of power for irrigation. All of this, however, is predicated on states ensuring bottlenecks are cleared in the public distribution of food. There appears to be evidence that last-mile problems linger, playing into the hands of speculators.
Drought management capabilities in India lack the ability to tackle successive ones. The prospect of another low harvest next year poses a bigger threat than the likelihood of a double-dip recession in the West. Interest rates can do little to contain the demand for food and inflation can only rise as the government replenishes its granaries at higher prices. Mitigation, not management, is what should shape India's approach to drought. That would involve technology upgrades, a shift towards drought-resistant seeds, and rehabilitation of water delivery systems.
REFORM THE REFORMER
The convulsions that have gripped the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) India's flagship city development programme with only three years to go for the termination of its assigned lifespan of seven years, is symptomatic of the country's predilection to put politics above all other issues, including the vital ones. The Mission, aimed at pulling India's 63 cities out of their dilapidation, which is somewhat reminiscent of Dickensian London, is conditional upon a bunch of mandatory reforms. The stake is large Rs 120,536 crore, of which 35 per cent would come from the central government, provided the state governments and the municipal bodies shelled out the rest, and the latter two cleaned up their act as far as reform is concerned.
But reform to the Indian politician is a horrid word. It means not only a possible run on the 'vote bank', but of losing the charm of discretionary power for which they are in politics in the first place. The CPI(M), which rules West Bengal, admittedly finds reform detestable ideologically too. But so do many others, fearing it will make them lose 'votes' as well as 'notes'.
They have dragged their feet on almost every point in the Mission's reform agenda. Reform of property tax by making it fully online should be welcome to everyone in normal circumstances. To the venal politician, however, it means losing the opportunity to under-assess a property for a consideration. Nor does it leave him with the option of sending a demolition team with a bulldozer to visit the house of the person he doesn't like. Moreover, the Mission's mandate demands full accounting of budgets for basic services to the urban poor.
Considering how little is actually spent by municipalities for the slum-dwellers, the idea of disclosing the sum actually spent on the poor cannot but be dreadful to the party in power. To the politician, even more distasteful is the idea of transferring to the municipal body the power of shaping its own budgets, and of institutionalising citizens' participation. Much worse than Oliver asking for more, it is like giving Oliver what he asked for.
JNNURM is a two-pronged programme, with one arm for improving the urban infrastructure as a whole (the passenger-friendly Volvo buses being a part of it) and another for gentrification of slums. The Union government, far from being tight-fisted, has been generous in transferring the early installments for the approved projects. But it cannot give more as most states are unwilling to accept the reform agenda. West Bengal has even refused to repeal the Urban Land Ceiling Act, a relic of Indira Gandhi's 'Emergency' era. Maharashtra did it at the last moment.
Expectedly, the programme is running at a very slow pace, with not even a quarter of the projects completed and less than a third having got off the ground. It is in this context that one should judge the pyrotechnics of an invitee at a recent national conference on the fourth anniversary of JNNRUM, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed. He accused Mamata Banerjee, the railway minister, of not releasing slum land in Kolkata owned by the railways for re-housing the poor slum dwellers in new constructions to be built under the Mission. Having spearheaded the land-losers' agitation at Singur and Nandigram in the recent past, Banerjee is expectedly wary of de-stabilising lives of the urban poor. This is specially so after the last Lok Sabha polls in which they seem to have voted for her en masse. The incident shows that fear of electoral backlash to reform cuts across party lines.
India is passing through a development dilemma in which even public-spirited politicians (hoping it's not an oxymoron) are fearful that improvement measures initiated by them might be misunderstood by voters. For instance, JNNURM is ready with funds to augment and modernise urban drinking water supply schemes, provided the urban local bodies receiving the grant agree on a user fee for operation and maintenance of the new lines. But most states would not like their cities to levy charges on drinking water, which, as they fallaciously argue, is regarded as a public good in India. However, a nominal water tax is in existence in most metros, but having water metres clamped on taps, as demanded by JNNURM, is still out of the question. Pressure is being mounted on the Mission to drop it from its reform agenda.
What then can save our cities? Carving them out of their states? It is fanciful thinking, considering that 60 per cent of India's GDP comes from its urban areas. Lawmakers will not agree on parting with the cities. A way out, perhaps, is in making the seven cities with over 4 million population in 2001 mega-cities as they are called, follow the Greater London Authority (GLA) model. Following GLA's inception in 1999, the Mayor of London is accountable only to an elected assembly of 25 members in taking all strategic decisions regarding the city. Such autonomy has brought about wide-ranging changes without any fuss like the hefty 'congestion charge', which every Londoner cribs about but nobody questions the cause. There is still huge scope of intervention by Whitehall (read Sheila Dikshit in Delhi or CPM headquarters on Alimuddin Street in Kolkata), but nobody has the authority to question the strategic vision of the man in City Hall.
Ironically, the jinxed JNNURM was indeed pushing Indian cities to a similar situation. It demanded that the elected municipalities be given "city planning functions". But why should the Indian politician surrender the opportunity to rule the cities from the background?
Sumit Mitra is a Kolkata-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.
ARTICLE 356 LITE?
The Communal Violence Bill, in limbo in Parliament since 2005, has got a fresh lease of life. The Centre's Action Taken Report on the Liberhan Commission's recommendations had mentioned the "Communal Violence Bill". A changed version of the 2005 draft has now been cleared by the Union cabinet, and is likely to be tabled in the current session of Parliament. The big question is, will the legislation change anything?
"Law and order" being a state subject, the responsibility to prevent and deal with communal disturbances lies with the state government, unless the Centre imposes President's Rule, as it did after (but, controversially, not before) the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. Apart from providing for tougher punishment and rehabilitation, the key feature of the 2005 draft of the Communal Violence Bill was that it increased the powers of the Centre to respond to communal violence. The new version of the bill empowers the Centre even more. The Centre can declare a particular area in a state as "communally disturbed", without the consent of the state government, and even if there is no loss of life. And the unified command created under the legislation will be controlled directly by the Centre. The benefit of this is that it would allow the Centre to respond with greater haste to communal violence where the state perhaps would not (say in Faizabad district in the December of 1992), without having to take over the entire state administration. Therefore, the bill provides the Centre with a sharp tool, not the blunt one that President's Rule might be seen to be.
But sharp tools, in the hands of the mala fide, can have devastating consequences. Till the '90s, all too often Article 356 was misused to dismiss unfriendly state governments. It has only been in the last decade or so that judicial precedents such as the S.R. Bommai and Rameshwar Thakur cases (not to mention coalition compulsions), have limited Article 356's misuse. The current phase of coalition governments at the Centre, with representation of regional parties that are especially wary of Article 356, too has curbed recklessness in New Delhi in imposing Central rule. The latest draft of the Communal Violence Bill does not have enough checks and balances to inhibit misuse. Rather than first enact the law and then wait for judicial checks to evolve, it is hoped that enough safeguards will be incorporated in the draft to ensure that it does not become a political tool to needle "unfriendly" state governments.
The climate summit at Copenhagen has begun, and at the end of the lengthy discussion and negotiation, we will probably have some idea of how serious the world's governments are about its changing climate and what the methods are that they are likely to use to do something about it. One of those methods, it is likely, will be to use a variant of the cap-and-trade mechanism that Europe already uses for greenhouse gases, and the US for sulphur dioxide. In this system, a "cap", a maximum, is set on the amount of a gas that a country can emit; permits, "rights" to emit that gas, are then assigned to different industries and companies; and those permits are then traded, so that efficiency improvements can be driven by the market for permits.
The system has two great advantages: first, it has been seen to work in reducing emissions; second, it isn't untested, adapting it elsewhere is easier. But its significant problems have been thrown into sharp relief by reports that ArcelorMittal, the steel combine, will gain as much as a billion pounds from the European version of cap-and-trade. How? Essentially, they lobbied successfully for more permits than they needed and then hoarded them. Negotiators in Copenhagen must ask the question: can we afford to introduce systems so susceptible to rent-seeking? What methods could reduce the discretion available to policy-makers?
The international dimensions of cap-and-trade are also problematic. On the one hand, in the absence of international agreements, you get situations like ArcelorMittal's: where a multinational company could threaten to move manufacturing to a non-capped location in order to pressure government into giving it more permits. On the other hand, in any international cap-and-trade system, developing countries may get short shrift, their industrialisation held hostage to pollution elsewhere. While some form of linkage for already existing cap-and-trade systems is a likely outcome of the meeting, the news from Europe is that it is not a panacea. And it strengthens the argument that cap-and-trade is not as simple or effective an idea as a straightforward, comprehensive carbon tax.
BECAUSE THEY CAN
There must be a million ways to honour men and women for success. The form and content of the honour depend more often than not on the honourer than the honouree. In all likelihood, our cricketers who just became top-notch in the ICC's test rankings will not complain. But then why does it seem there's perhaps something unspeakably flashy about the BCCI's decision to bestow a Rs 25 lakh cash award on each member of that formidable team and Rs 10 lakh to each support staff and selection committee member?
Because the BCCI could have rewarded the players and the selectors, et al, for choosing them in a million different ways. India's cricket board of riches unparalleled in the cricketing world would not have gone about the business like the veritable town-crier if they did not find themselves overwhelmed by their own wealth and sense of self-importance. "Because we can" seems to be the BCCI's self-justification in this as in other cases. To not make a mistake, there is nothing wrong with monetary awards per se. But it is the dangling of that money before the cricketers that is abhorrent. What's more, it almost deprecates Team India's feat. After all, were the boys not merely doing their job? And were they not always, at least in the board's estimation, capable of being number one?
Rightfully, the reality check came from the captain of the team, M.S. Dhoni, himself: it was "a dream come true", but the boys try to play every match well while the ratings "take care of themselves". Indeed, standing on the top of the world today is the result of the effort and application of the last year and a half. Do reward the boys for their spectacular success, but don't make a spectacle of them!
IN PRAISE OF FUMBLING
The recent crash in Dubai should not come as a surprise to readers of this column. The idea that "if we build the infrastructure, demand will follow" is a flawed one. Building of excessive infrastructure can, and more often than not does, lead to the creation of ghost towns. Our otherwise exemplary neighbour, China, too is obsessed with huge infrastructure projects. Every small provincial town is building a large international airport. One hopes that they don't end up being starved of flights.
India, of course, in keeping with our traditions (Vedic, Vedantic, Gandhian, Nehruvian, Composite Cultural, Hindutvic and Vam-Panthic) is quite different. We believe in pathetic, backward, insufficient, over-used creaky infrastructure. It is only in the last few years that we are making a half-hearted and desultory attempt at doing something about our urban requirements. Airports are slowly getting upgraded, metros are being planned and occasionally getting built and so on. Very slow, completely inadequate by global standards and an object of derision to some and shame to others. But is our "fumbling" tardiness such a bad thing? If we start with the assumption that infrastructure must more or less pay for itself, do we not need to face up to the fact that we are indeed a very poor country and the ability of our citizens to pay for usage is very limited? The overdue (and aesthetically somewhat pleasing) Bandra-Worli sea-link in Mumbai is priced at Rs 50 for a one-way trip for each vehicle and at Rs 75 for a round-trip. In international money that translates to a tad more than a dollar one way and less than two dollars for a return. And guess what, the sea-link is not all that crowded. This means that we do not have too large a base of consumers with an effective monetised demand at a price point which is trivial by international standards. My recent forays on the Mumbai-Pune and the Ahmedabad-Vadodara toll-ways also revealed relatively light usage despite reasonably low toll charges. A sobering situation. But then we are a poor country and we need to bear this in mind when we talk casually about pouring millions and billions into infrastructure and moving fast rather than in our usual stumbling, fumbling style.
Dubai has very few people. But they assumed that it was quite in order to dig islands out of the sea, build cloud-capped towers and gorgeous palaces that are called hotels in contemporary parlance and then sit back for the people to arrive and stay in them. Prospero's dream ended with insubstantial shadows. Dubai has turned into a nightmare for its own residents and the usual tribe of moronic bankers around the world who have recklessly lent money to that small island country and who will doubtless now look for bailouts from their home country tax-payers.
India, on the other hand, has many people. So raw demand for roads, buildings and other paraphernalia is never a problem. But Indians are poor, very poor. Ay, there's the rub. Translating the raw demand into effective paying capability is a challenge and therefore the argument needs to be made emphatically that we should not rush into creating too much infrastructure which cannot be paid for. Ironically, delays and our bumbling approach may actually be helping us. Who ever thought that a little Indic tardiness and inefficiency may have a silver lining! This is not to suggest that Dr Manmohan Singh should not proceed energetically with the construction of our highway system. The wise emperor Sher Shah built roads because he knew that this increased the prosperity of his realm and the welfare of his people. Our prime minister cannot do wrong by imitating his illustrious professional forebear. And Nitish Kumar would do well to remember that the great Sher Shah started his career in Bihar. The people of that state deserve a wise ruler concerned with their welfare after an agonising four and a half centuries of absence, they are hopeful that they finally do have such a ruler.
In the twenty-first century, we know that national prosperity depends more on human capital and on soft infrastructure than on hard buildings. And in the area of education, let's face it, there is plenty of monetised demand in India. The annual revenue of the Kota coaching classes of IIT entrance exams exceeds the combined budgets of all the IITs put together. Clearly upwardly mobile Indian parents are willing and able to pay for good quality education for their sons and daughters. And if we invest today in turning out large numbers of high quality educated persons, then we can assure ourselves of prosperity far more certainly than the Dubais of the world with their glitzy shopping malls and race courses. After a long time, our exalted socialist government seems to have opted for competence in the human resource development ministry. Considering that human capital development has to be our single most important national priority, it remains a mystery as to why previous governments of distinct ideological hues were happy to staff this ministry with shrill voices untouched by visions of modernity or progress. Be that as it may. A good beginning has been made and as the saying goes a task well-begun is considered half-done. Once again after considerable fumbling we seem to have arrived at a sanguine outcome.
Many of my well-meaning NRI friends have over the years held Dubai up to me as a model worth imitating. In their opinion Dubai demonstrated a rare efficiency in contrast to India's shabby performance. And as the boom continued year on year, the Cassandra-like warnings about an unsustainable bubble were routinely dismissed. I, for one, am quite happy if we stay focused on human beings first and roads and canals as an important but secondary priority. We may yet astonish the world that our fumbling strategy while not ideal has its merits.
HUNG UP ON DISCRETION
ANANDITA SINGH MANKOTIA
The country's telecom sector is sending out contradictory signals. While India has emerged as the world's fastest growing telecom market adding more than 10 million subscribers, the ongoing CBI probe into the spectrum scam alleged to be in the range of Rs 60,000 crore and the uncertainties and delays regarding holding auctions for 3G spectrum have raised questions for investors, which need thorough answers.
The industry has done a lot to keep the sector running but it's high time that the government kept pace with the march of technology and matched it up with policy actions, ending all the regulatory uncertainty.
That uncertainty is certainly glaring. There's a spectrum crunch and the government has awarded new licences, making India break its own world record for the largest number of operators per circle. While a maximum of five operators exist in other countries, we have 14 players! So, of course, a fierce tariff war has begun in a market already characterised by the lowest tariffs in the world taking its toll on the once highly-valued telecom shares.
Finally, the current policy on mergers and acquisitions in the sector discourages inefficient operators from selling out.
Telecom directly impacts the country's GDP growth and, in spite of the global financial crisis and the domestic liquidity crunch, the rock-solid sector continued to outperform others. But what the 500 million-plus subscriber industry now desperately needs is some sort of policy direction what does the government expect of the industry? and a relevant policy framework, rather than the unusually complex and often bizarre and irrational decisions initiated by Telecom Minister A. Raja that not only puzzled industry experts but have now become a subject of ridicule from the courts as well.
Currently Indian mobile operators only provide second-generation (2G) telecom services: mobile phones in India can only deliver basic voice and data services. The government has now announced that it will auction airwaves for third-generation operation (3G spectrum) to private operators. (It had failed to do so for some time.) The 3G spectrum would provide for faster download of data and for video streaming, apart from decongesting the overused networks of the operators which causes call drops. The government has already budgeted Rs 35,000 crore as revenue from the proposed auctions in the current fiscal year.
It takes a lot of effort to build a robust industry from scratch, and it takes even more to derail it; yet, a lot of damage has already been done, and undoubtedly the PM understands this. Appointing Sam Pitroda credited with bringing about the telecom revolution in this country in the mid-'80s to ensure that the miserably delayed 3G auctions are held on the scheduled timeline is a step in the right direction. That the move came barely a week after Raja announced his inability to hold the auction in time only shows that faith in Raja is quickly wearing out.
But this isn't sufficient. To ensure that telecommunications not only continues to grow but is propelled onto its next growth trajectory, the government must now come out with a comprehensive telecom policy, one which holds for at least the next five years, and isn't meddled with barely a year after being initiated. For instance, barely two years after allotting licences to a few applicants on the pretext of inviting more competition, and after having sought suggestions from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai), Raja has now written to the regulator asking if more competition is indeed needed or if operators may be limited. This is only one of the many non-understandable issues plaguing the sector and dragging it down.
Trai is currently working out a consultation paper on mergers and acquisitions, whether 2G spectrum currently allotted to operators in tranches after they attain particular numbers of subscribers too should be auctioned instead of the current practice, and whether the number of players should be restricted so that spectrum, which is a scarce resource, can be utilised efficiently.
The stage is all set for a new policy direction. The government must use the opportunity to clean up the sector and ensure that a strong, coherent policy is in place so that no one is able to meddle with it in the future. Competition must be promoted but not at the cost of efficiency. Some tough decisions will have to be taken; but the governemntmust act soon, before it's too late.
The writer, a special correspondent, covers the telecom sector for The Financial Express,
THE PLANET'S PRICE TAG
Maybe I'm naïve, but I'm feeling optimistic about the climate talks starting in Copenhagen on Monday. President Obama now plans to address the conference on its last day, which suggests that the White House expects real progress. It's also encouraging to see developing countries including China, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide agreeing, at least in principle, that they need to be part of the solution.
Of course, if things go well in Copenhagen, the usual suspects will go wild. We'll hear cries that the whole notion of global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast scientific conspiracy, as demonstrated by stolen e-mail messages that show well, actually all they show is that scientists are human, but never mind. We'll also, however, hear cries that climate-change policies will destroy jobs and growth.
The truth, however, is that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is affordable as well as essential. Serious studies say that we can achieve sharp reductions in emissions with only a small impact on the economy's growth. And the depressed economy is no reason to wait on the contrary, an agreement in Copenhagen would probably help the economy recover.
Why should you believe that cutting emissions is affordable? First, because financial incentives work.
Action on climate, if it happens, will take the form of "cap and trade": businesses won't be told what to produce or how, but they will have to buy permits to cover their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So they'll be able to increase their profits if they can burn less carbon and there's every reason to believe that they'll be clever and creative about finding ways to do just that.
As a recent study by McKinsey & Company showed, there are many ways to reduce emissions at relatively low cost: improved insulation; more efficient appliances; more fuel-efficient cars and trucks; greater use of solar, wind and nuclear power; and much, much more. And you can be sure that given the right incentives, people would find many tricks the study missed.
The truth is that conservatives who predict economic doom if we try to fight climate change are betraying their own principles. They claim to believe that capitalism is infinitely adaptable, that the magic of the marketplace can deal with any problem. But for some reason they insist that cap and trade a system specifically designed to bring the power of market incentives to bear on environmental problems can't work.
Well, they're wrong again. For we've been here before.
The acid rain controversy of the 1980s was in many respects a dress rehearsal for today's fight over climate change. Then as now, right-wing ideologues denied the science. Then as now, industry groups claimed that any attempt to limit emissions would inflict grievous economic harm.
But in 1990 the United States went ahead anyway with a cap-and-trade system for sulphur dioxide. And guess what. It worked, delivering a sharp reduction in pollution at lower-than-predicted cost.
Curbing greenhouse gases will be a much bigger and more complex task but we're likely to be surprised at how easy it is once we get started.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by 2050 the emissions limits in recent proposed legislation would reduce real GDP by between 1 per cent and 3.5 per cent from what it would otherwise have been. If we split the difference, that says that emissions limits would slow the economy's annual growth over the next 40 years by around one-twentieth of a percentage point from 2.37 per cent to 2.32 per cent.
That's not much. Yet if the acid rain experience is any guide, the true cost is likely to be even lower.
Still, should we be starting a project like this when the economy is depressed? Yes, we should in fact, this is an especially good time to act, because the prospect of climate-change legislation could spur more investment spending.
Consider, for example, the case of investment in office buildings. Right now, with vacancy rates soaring and rents plunging, there's not much reason to start new buildings. But suppose that a corporation that already owns buildings learns that over the next few years there will be growing incentives to make those buildings more energy-efficient. Then it might well decide to start the retrofitting now, when construction workers are easy to find and material prices are low.
The same logic would apply to many parts of the economy, so that climate change legislation would probably mean more investment over all. And more investment spending is exactly what the economy needs.
So let's hope my optimism about Copenhagen is justified. A deal there would save the planet at a price we can easily afford and it would actually help us in our current economic predicament.
WHY CAN'T SPORTS CHANNELS KEEP THEIR EYE ON THE BALL?
On the evening of the day Virender Sehwag was punishing a cricket ball for being "bad", DD Sports decided to punish its viewers (always supposing it has any). Live from somewhere, it broadcast a cricket match between the team from the Netherlands and the Star team from India. The batsmen swung the bat like blows they hoped would land on the ball and missed. The fast bowlers bowled in slow motion; at least once the fielder ran away from the ball. The commentator said this match looked like an exciting encounter. Wonder how he would have described the Nawab of Najafgarh's knockout knock?
DD Sports may not have the telecast rights to any cricket match played by the Indian cricket team but what stops it from having bragging rights? Why can't it lay its hands on the highlights of the matches news channels manage to capture those and review the day's play so that the viewers in Najafgarh, along with millions of others throughout the country who cannot pay for Neo Sports, may watch what happens to a bad ball when it picks on Sehwag: like the bad guys, it gets hit. Very hard.
So, Sehwag kya sabse destructive batsman hai in the world, asked Neo Sports, that Thursday night. The anchor promised ki Hindi mein baat karenge but that was like Delhi's Daredevil captain promising not to hit the cherry. So he ended up mixing up his delivery, rather like Zaheer Khan did during the Mumbai test match, and this is what it sounded like: "Our phones are buzzing... and yaad rakhna, say what's on your mind...Aapko kya lagta hai, he can pass Lara?" Next time, anchorji, don't make vaadas you know you cannot keep.
Neo Sports should keep its finger off the ad button a little more frequently. Too often, it cuts for a commercial while play is in progress or just after Virender Sehwag got out. We wanted to see his and the players' reactions, listen to the public applause and watch him walk back to the pavilion. That's human nature, something Neo needs to allowances for. The only time we positively ache for a commercial break is when we switch to the TV serials. They are so bankrupt of ideas, we have to look elsewhere for entertainment. Where better than the ads? The latest Fevicol commercial will make you laugh where Amoli (Bairi Piya), Anandi (Ballika Vadhu), Ammaji (Ne Aana Is Desh Mein, Lado) and Aapki Antara (Zee) only make you cry. Vodafone's zoo-zoos have made a welcome reappearance while the boy-dog act in Surf Excel touches everyone who ever loved a dog and even those who haven't. And if you have seen the latest Coca Cola ad where the brown liquid courses through a couple of students at a library, well, that's much more imaginative than watching Thakurji thrash Dipesh senseless because he had the himmat to slap his wife, 10 times. Yes, 10 times (Bairi Piya).
As if that is not enough, we have to watch him kick the scoundrel an equal number of times, so on and so forth, till his face is as red as a new cricket ball's. Is this entertainment? Is Virender Sehwag the most world's most defensive batsman? Once in a while, you chance upon a programme that makes you glad you had stopped by. Friday night's Dubai: Desert Storm (NDTV 24x7) was once such halt. Through the personal accounts of people from the subcontinent who went to Dubai seeking employment and better wages, we learn of how they have been confined to crowded ghettos, often working as illegal workers as the dirham dream faded. Living in matchbox flats, poor on sanitation, cramped for space, these men without families and short on expectations warn others not to come chasing the windfall. The feature was topical, it was poignant and saddening but compulsive viewing.
SEEING LIKE A STATE
TRIBAL HOUSING IN RURAL MADHYA PRADESH, INDIA, CIRCA EARLY 1960'S
Way back in the early nineteen sixties, the Government of Madhya Pradesh, at that time the largest state in the country, and my cadre state in the Indian Administrative Service, had taken up a programme for the welfare of tribal people, who constituted a big part of its population, and still do.
As a part of bringing modernity and progress to these supposedly backward sections of the society, brick and mortar houses were built for them as a pilot project in the Betul district, located in a picturesque part of southern MP. This was a favourite district of the British civil servants as it reminded them of the rolling, sylvan countryside of their own country. These houses were to replace the traditional huts which were made of bamboo, plastered with mud, covered with thatch on the sloping roofs, and often decorated with beautiful tribal drawings and motifs.
A good deal of money was spent (maybe there was a World Bank loan!), houses were built in an urban row-house pattern, and these were handed over to the tribals with much fanfare by political bigwigs who got a nice photo-op, and maybe even some genuine satisfaction at having done something good for these ' ignorant, poor people'.
Three months down the line, a team went to visit the place to see how the tribals had taken to the new life style. To its utter disbelief, the team found that the tribals still continued to live in their traditional thatch roof huts, and were using the newly built houses to keep their beloved livestock!
Buffaloes, cows and goats were happily munching their feed off cement floors, and the air was redolent with the unmistakable smell of dung and droppings. The tribal people just could not sleep in those brick and mortar houses, or use the strange toilets, or cook in the confined kitchens, and so what better use of the new houses than to utilise them to keep their precious cattle? The project, obviously, was not a success.
So much for well-intentioned development plans conceived and implemented without any real understanding of the people being 'modernised', and without any consultation with them.
ANECDOTE TWO: RURAL HOUSING IN EARTHQUAKE HIT GUJARAT, INDIA, CIRCA EARLY 2000'S.
A devastating earthquake hit the Kutch district of Gujarat in January 2001, a most unwelcome millennium 'gift' to this arid part of the country.
The reconstruction work brought in many donors and civil society, apart from the government agencies. What was done to rehabilitate some of the villages has thrown up an interesting story of contrast with that of the tribals that I have narrated above.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB), Manila, was one of these donors, and that gave me, as the Indian executive director on the board of that Institution, an opportunity to visit Kutch along with the ADB President Tadao Chino in early 2002.
We visited two newly built villages, and received the warm and traditional welcome of rural Gujarat. Gujarati being my mother tongue, communication with the local populace was not a problem, and there was no fear of 'lost in translation', as I also functioned as the unofficial interpreter whenever needed.
We found that the newly built villages had small but neat two room houses of brick and mortar, with mosaic floors, electricity, and even an attached toilet. To me, it seemed that these would be rejected by the villagers the same way the tribals of Betul had rejected the houses built for them.
However, when we got to talk to these people and the officials and the NGO representatives who had helped build the houses and donated substantial amounts themselves, we found that even though these houses were very different to the traditional village houses, the rural folk were actually quite happy to live in them!
The major reason for this positive reaction was that in their own eyes, it marked a transition, in fact elevation, from being poor villagers to becoming something akin to the urbanites, whose lifestyle they saw on TV and which they now aspired to.
I was rather surprised to learn that they did not mind too much that the new design meant a major change in lifestyle, or that it was not possible to keep their cattle in or near the houses, or that the toilet was a part of the house and not far from the kitchen. They were still happy, and loved the comfort of sleeping under a fan and the convenience of not having to trudge to the fields for their daily ablutions!
In fact many of them appeared to be planning to shift from their traditional occupation of agriculture to some other activity, or just keep a small hut on the farms to sleep in when they needed to tend their crops, but otherwise continue to live in the newly built habitats. The new villages, with their pucca houses, community centres and amenities like water pumps and electricity were, for them, a dream come true, and the earthquake a blessing in disguise, at least in this respect.
I asked myself, why this difference in attitude from that of the tribals of Betul, and realised that the main reason why there was no criticism or rejection by them of these new style houses was that the state government had, very wisely, followed a participative process, and had in fact left the planning of the new villages and houses largely to the NGOs and the end users, unlike in the case of Betul where all planning was done by outsiders who wanted to provide what they considered to be 'good' for the tribals to them.
I asked myself two questions. One, has India changed so much over the years as to throw up such a diametrically opposite reaction to the same type of development initiative? Two, is there a lesson here for the planners and practitioners of development?
The answer to both these questions is a definite yes.
What is really relevant is that the lesson is the same now as it was forty years ago, which is that only development initiatives which are done in consultation with the beneficiaries shall succeed, and where they feel that they are participants in development and not just recipients of charity. They are no fools, and the professional practitioners of development and well-paid warriors against poverty are not as wise and all knowing as they might think they are.
The writer is a former civil servant.
THE GUESSING GAME IN JHARKHAND
The five-phase Assembly elections in Jharkhand, which began on November 25, are likely to be dominated by four Ms Maoists, Marandi, Madhu Koda and the Munda tribe.
The Naxal threat looms large over the electoral process. They have made a mockery of security arrangements. In the last two years, they have abducted an MLA, murdered an MP and even killed ex-CM Babulal Marandi's son. This election is a now-or-never chance for Marandi to become the new rallying point for tribals when the original architect, Shibu Soren, is fast aging. The third M, Madhu Koda has come to stand in for the corruption, political instability and bad governance that has marred the long cherished dream of a separate Jharkhand. After a fortnight's hide and seek, Koda has now been arrested.
The Munda community is strategically important for the BJP. As Marandi's JVM and Soren's JMM are going to battle for the same tribal slice of Santhals, Orans and Hos, the BJP's fortunes rest on the solid support from Mundas along with upper-caste and OBC votes, to cross the threshold in many of the twenty eight seats reserved for STs and nine for SCs in the eighty one member house. (Even though the process of reorganising constituencies under the fourth delimitation was completed in Jharkhand, elections in the state are being carried on the old boundaries. The fourth delimitation has been challenged in the Supreme Court, raising serious doubts over the 2001 Census on which the delimitation is based.)
Jharkhand has, by and large, remained a BJP stronghold since the 1991 Lok Sabha elections and the party always managed more than 25 per cent of votes except in the 2005 Assembly elections. And if the assembly segment-wise results of the 2009 Parliamentary election is an indicator, then it's advantage BJP again.
The party has deftly managed seat-sharing formulae with JD (U), showcasing Nitish Kumar's record in Bihar and hitting hard at the Koda government's misconduct. However the BJP may find itself in a spat over chief ministerial candidates and internal tension over the JD(U) not pulling its weight. What's more, these calculations are easily upset if Jharkhand voters view national and state elections as distinct and consider six months a long gap.
There may be reason to believe in recent assessments of the BJP losing ground, but whether former BJP man Babu Lal Marandi can turn the tables in the Congress's favour is the crucial question. The Congress has snapped ties with JMM for Marandi, who has been declared by various surveys as the most popular leader in Jharkhand.
Even though JVM got more than 35 per cent votes in the 19 seats it wrangled from the Congress in May 2009, the Congress-JVM alliance needs help, as many JVM workers have returned to their parent party since the Lok Sabha elections. The organisational hiccups within the alliance raise doubts about the parties' ability to transfer votes to each other and add to the alliance's social composition.
Secondly, the political fragmentation in the state that has seen six chief ministers in last eight years is witnessing a gradual shift in voter preference, from mainstream parties and allies to smaller political formations and Independent candidates. These local vote-pullers mainly RJD, Left parties, splinter groups of JMM and Independents got around 35 per cent of the voteshare in the last two elections. Though their seats-votes ratio is asymmetrical, the trend opens interesting lines of inquiry as to whether voters choose these options when they lose confidence in mainstream parties.
Jharkhand's demography raises another large question why the Congress failed to secure even a quarter of the total votes polled in past elections when traditional support blocs like Adivasis (26 per cent), Muslims (13 per cent) and Dalits (11 per cent) constitute no less than half of state's population. It is none other than the aforementioned local vote pullers that are pulling away a large proportion of votes from these backward communities. By extending reservation benefits to the Kurmi-Mahato community, the BJP has damaged the Congress' and the JMM. In such a scenario, Soren needs to stake everything to retain his shrinking base, which hovered around 21 per cent of the votes in the 1991 Lok Sabha elections of present-day Jharkhand, which has dropped to 12 per cent in 2009. Soren must remember that organisations need to continuously reinvent themselves to remain relevant. Regional satraps like Lalu, who nurse ambitions beyond their state need to learn the art of devolving power by developing a credible leadership within their party in Jharkhand.
This fragmentation also reflects the voter's resentment of non-performing governments in Jharkhand. The verdict on December 23, razor-edge as it is likely to be, will definitely reveal the 'cost of ruling' of the last four years.
The writer is with Lokniti, CSDS and these are his personal views.
When the music band Coldplay released A Rush of Blood to the Head, it tried to balance the environmental damage caused by this album's production and the accompanying concert tour by planting 10,000 mango trees in southern India. That's carbon offsetting in a nutshell. Within a few years, most of the saplings had died a quiet death in the arid soil of Gudibanda, Karnataka. That's, in short, why sceptics question offsettingit's often ill-planned and inefficient in cutting emissions. Still, the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) is one of the biggest and most successful initiatives to have emerged out of the Kyoto protocol. It makes for most of today's global carbon market, expected to be worth around $122 billion this year. One indicator that the US is serious about Copenhagenafter having kept out of Kyotois precisely the intense lobbying going on over the cap & trade system, which is cousin to both ETS and offsetting. But the US also looks set to repeat the mistakes of the EU plan. While there was talk of auctioning all permits in the early stages of climate legislation, now the bulk of them look like they will be given away. The problem with such procedures has leaped to the forefront with news that ArcelorMittal has actually received more carbon credits (worth 1 billion pounds) than it needs, which will mean it can; 1) postpone cutting emissions for years, and 2) sell surplus permits. If the buyers get a cheap deal in turn, they too will choose to pollute rather than clean up.
On the other hand, the offsetting process is by now a well-established way of helping developing countries move from high carbon projects to ones with lower carbon intensity. Take the ongoing Copenhagen summit itself. The 17,000-odd people gathering in the Danish capital for a two-week discussion on global warming are expected to releasevia their travels and their stayas much CO2 as about 2,00,000 US passenger cars do in the same period. As an offset measure, the host nation has kept aside $1 million to help pay for a project in Bangladesh that will reduce emissions in the brick-making industry. Environmental extremists may argue for more carbon-friendly ways of conferencing, but those who agree that Barack Obama and Manmohan Singh's attendance reflects the seriousness of their commitment to mitigation strategies would also agree to see things in contextthe footprint of their Copenhagen journey will be more than justified by any significant agreement on how emissions are produced and compensated. The success of ETS may have been limited so far, but if the programme really gets global reach, then we can start making it more efficient and accountable.
GIVE A WIDE BERTH
The reported move to put the model concession agreement in the ports sector under the scanner and to amend the protocols in the request for qualifications (RFQ) document to accelerate the flow of investments while preventing anti-competitive practices is a welcome development. The RFQ or expression-of-interest is the first in the two stages of the bidding process for the selection of private partners in infrastructure projects. The RFQ helps shortlist the most eligible bidders and is key to the success of the PPP projects as the cost and quality of the service provided is dependent on the most suitable partner. The model RFQ, which was first issued by the ministry of finance in early 2007, was later revised based on the recommendations made by the inter-ministerial group after incorporating the suggestions of various stakeholders. Detailed guidelines for inviting applications for pre-qualification and short-listing of bidders were issued in end-2007 and then amended in May 2009. The guidelines issued clearly stated the need for restricting the short-list of pre-qualified bidders to six or seven companies. Bidders were also not allowed to occupy two consecutive berths in a portthis it was believed would lead to monopolies and anti-competitive practices.
However, these restrictive guidelines have not really helped the development of the ports sector. The model guidelines need to allow more flexibility for sector-specific and project-specific needs. A similar problem of excessively restrictive guidelines had hobbled the roads sector until Roads minister Kamal Nath moved to liberalise the guidelines. Now, the shipping ministry is making a move to relax the earlier guidelines. A major change under consideration is the doing away of the current restriction on adjacent berths, a policy that has only proved to be counter-productive. Of course, the loosening of restrictions will not mean giving away to anti-competitive practices. In fact, minor private ports within a radius of 150 km will likely not be allowed to bid for terminals in major ports as it has been found that this leads to unproductive squatting with a view to establish a monopoly or at the very least restrict fair competition. Government estimates show that private sector investments in the ports sector should go up to Rs 26,157 crore in the seven years up to 2013-14 to supplement the internal resources of Rs 16,059 crore. The only way to achieve the target is to begin by amending the tough rules which discourage private investment in ports.
DEFT POLITICS PUTS REFORM IN FRONT
It goes without saying that major policy reform in a democratic system is a very difficult exercise. Those who fret about the slow pace of change in a fractious, multiparty democracy like India need to only look at how difficult reform is even in the two-party USlook at healthcare and climate there.
UPA has drawn a lot of flak for going slow on crucial areas of policy reform. In the tenure of UPA-2, without the Left, the lack of urgency in reform has led many commentators to point a finger directly at sections of the Congress party which are resistant to reform. There is obviously some truth in this. But the Congress is hardly the only political party that faces a difference of opinion within.
Interestingly, a common perception is that the wing resistant to reform is on top in the Congress and therefore in UPA. Two recent policy initiativeson climate change and disinvestmenthowever, suggest otherwise. What is perhaps even more important is how the reformist wing of the Congress has, using clever politics, deftly shifted the goalposts on these two important issues, with minimal opposition from within.
Consider climate change. To begin with, India took the classical developing country positionthe West has done the damage and they must fix it; in per capita terms our emissions are very low, and therefore we need to do nothing. Such a 'do nothing' view would have had wide endorsement in large sections of the Congress.
However, from the point of view of climate change, what matters is the absolute level of emissions, which need to be cut across the board. In India, emissions will continue to grow fast, never mind per capita. In the long run, India cannot escape from some form of global commitment on emissions reductions without being tarnished with the spoiler tag. What's more, it's in our self-interest to take action on reducing emissionsenough research has shown that developing countries will suffer disproportionately more from the effects of climate change. That's the reality.
The forward-looking sections of the Congress and the government have realised this. However, from a political point of view, there is absolutely no chance of selling this line on committing to absolute cuts in emissions either to the Congress or to the opposition. So, the government, with some intellectual help from the Chinese, cleverly shifted away from emissions per capita to emissions per unit of GDP (or carbon intensity) as the target.
Needless to say, there was some initial opposition, even from within the negotiating team. But once the facts were put on the table (backed by a Planning Commission study), a lot of the opposition, especially within, died down, largely because they were convinced that we had not moved towards the final goal of committing to legally binding absolute emissions cuts. The government on the other hand, through this incremental change, has managed to entirely shift the debate away from the unsustainable per capita position. So we are no longer in a 'do nothing' position and have to start taking some action to mitigate climate change. Once that momentum gathers, the next debate will naturally be on emissions cuts (in absolute terms). And who knows, once climate mitigating actions take root and make financial sense, industry may even support further action in its own interests.
Perhaps an even bigger bogey for the Congress than climate change has been disinvestment. The Left did not allow it in UPA-1 and even now in UPA-2 many in the Congress believe that PSUs must be preserved (again a do-nothing position). From a long-term economic point of view, this is as unsustainable as not doing anything about climate change. There is no reason for the government to be in the business of business, especially in India where government has many other, more worthwhile, things to doeducation and health for starters. Add to that the inclination of politicians to use PSUs as means of patronage, and there is even less reason for the government to dabble in running enterprises.
But economics rarely persuades politicians. However, if disinvestment is packaged well, it may yet gather momentum and it seems that the government has at last chanced upon a workable formulalisting of PSU shares on stock markets. This avoids the controversy of selling a PSU to a private or foreign buyer in one go, or handing over management control straight away, while gradually offloading government stakes in the companies.
In the case of SBI, where a Bill on dilution of stake will likely be in Parliament this session, the government is arguing that diluting its stake from nearly 60% to just over 50% is necessary for the state-owned bank to raise equity and grow stronger. Who can argue with that?
Let's face it. Reformist economists and smart scientists will not change the direction of policy in India. Only reformist politicians who know how to use the tools of crafty political strategy can do that. It's good to see some finally tumbling out of the UPA cupboard.
ADHOC CRISIS HANDLING IS SUB-OPTIMAL
RAMKISHEN S RAJAN
Almost a fortnight into Dubai World's now famous default, details still remain sketchy regarding the exact size of the debt, whether the debt is purely corporate-based or carries implicit or explicit guarantees from the Dubai government, and the extent to which Abu Dhabi will rescue its highly leveraged emirates neighbour. Lack of transparency and effective communication on some of these issues no doubt contributed to the knee-jerk reaction of financial markets.
This said, the problems of extremely high leverage and moribund property markets in Dubai were fairly well known. Like other highly leveraged economies such as Hungary, Iceland, Ireland and Latvia, Dubai was initially impacted by the global financial turmoil in late 2008 when its corporates found it next to impossible to refinance some of their huge pending projects within Dubai and asset purchases globally. However, after the bailout by the Abu Dhabi government (through the federal central bank) to the tune of $10 billion in February 2009 and a further infusion of $5 billion by two Abu Dhabi banks just days before the debt standstill announcement, there was a general belief that the problemswhile deepwere largely contained.
However, immediately after the debt standstill announcement, there were worries that this crisis could derail the recovery in global markets.
But so far the risk seems to have been largely contained and the Dubai crisis appears to be more of a hiccup in the financial markets and fears have generally eased about the direct fallout from the Dubai debt delay. Once again, this is not altogether surprising. Many other emerging economy crisesMexico in 1994-95, Thailand in 1997-98, Brazil and Ecuador in 1999 or Argentina in 2001were predominantly regional in nature. Only the Russian crisis in 1998 threatened to turn global and that too largely because of the extent of leverage of the US hedge fund LTCM.
The quasi-sovereign nature of the Dubai debt crisis and the complicated relationship between Dubai, Abu Dhabi and the other emirates makes this crisis rather peculiar. Unlike other emerging market crises, there is likely to be limited impact on the UAE's US dollar peg given the large reserve holdings of the Emirates Federation in general.
This is a double-edged sword for Dubai, though. On the one hand, Dubai does not have to fear the impact of currency devaluations on the domestic currency values of liabilities. These so-called balance sheet effects have, in the past, had severe negative impacts on many other emerging economies as many of their banks and corporates have gone bankrupt due to currency mismatches (that is, assets and revenues in domestic currencies and liabilities in foreign currencies). Conversely, however, Dubai cannot depend on the exchange rate adjustment as a means of cushioning itself from the negative shock over time (via stimulating exports and loosening of domestic monetary policy).
In this regard the Hong Kong experience in 1998 is relevant. When the New Taiwan Dollar and the Singapore dollar both depreciated in 1998, Hong Kong's US dollar peg was faced with a major speculative attack. The commitment of the city to its currency board arrangement implied that it had lost price competitiveness vis-à-vis many of its export competitors (its real exchange rate was overvalued and needed to be adjusted). Given the currency peg, the brunt of the adjustment of the real exchange rate had to take place via prolonged domestic price deflationHong Kong faced a very painful period of asset price deflation, wage declines and unemployment the next half decade.
However, the big difference between Hong Kong and Dubai is that the former was a net creditor with limited extent of leverage of corporates. Dubai, in sharp contrast, is a net debtor and needs to worry about how it can reschedule its bourgeoning external debts. The international financial system has not developed a good mechanism for international debt restructuring and bail-outs/bail-ins when it comes to bond financing. (The fact that some of Nakheel's financing was via Islamic bonds further complicates matters, as the jurisprudence on these instruments is hazy.) Absent established codes of conduct or formal frameworks for bond workouts, the approach to crisis resolution internationally has been rather ad-hoc, muddled and informal. Despite this, international debt rescheduling/restructuring is not without precedent and has actually been done reasonably smoothly in Ecuador, Argentina, Pakistan, Ukraine, Uruguay and elsewhere. One has to wait and see what the endgame of Dubai's debt-fuelled binge is and whether it is the harbinger of further failures elsewhere.
The author is associate professor, School of Public Policy at George Mason University, Virginia
DON'T STOCK WHEAT, LET IT FLOW
That the government is holding huge wheat stocks in excess of 28 million tonneslargely due to bumper production and procurementat a time when wheat product prices (mainly of flour) are rising is baffling.
Flour prices, which have remained stable for more than two years, are showing signs of moving upwards as stocks with private flour millers are almost nil because of massive government purchases in the last two years.
It is here that the government's plan to offload almost 1.5 million tonnes of wheat into the open market assumes importance. The Open Market Sales Scheme (OMSS) was devised by the government to intervene in the market to check any surge in prices of wheat and rice. But rigidity in fixing the price at which wheat will be sold to bulk buyers (flour mill owners) and states has stalled this much-awaited scheme.
Last month, the price fixed by government to sell wheat under OMSS found no takers as it was far above the prevailing market price. The pricing as worked out by an expert committee consisting of food ministry and FCI officials was cost of purchase by FCI (MSP) along with additional carry forward, storage and freight cost etc.
In Delhi, the cost of wheat worked out to Rs 1,400 a quintal while in Kerala it worked out to Rs 1,789 per quintal, which was way above the prevailing market price. Flour millers wanted the government to fix the wheat price under Rs 1,150 per quintal. Of late, though a committee recommended a lower price for the open market sale of wheat, this was rejected by empowered GoM.
These delays are adding to the holding cost of FCI and state agencies which indirectly push up the food subsidy bill. It costs somewhere around Rs 17 per quintal per month to stock wheat in FCI godowns, a sum which the government can ill afford to overlook in a year when the food subsidy is already tipped to cross estimates because of an increase in minimum support price and massive procurement by state agencies.
Besides, wheat is a perishable food item and its quality is fast deteriorating in godowns, another reason why stocks should be put into the market quickly.
KASHMIR'S BLOODY ROAD TO PEACE
Hunched against the bitter December cold, as he walked home alone from Friday evening prayers at his local mosque, it is unlikely that Fazal Haq Qureshi saw the man who fired the shot that shattered his skull. Mr. Qureshi was, however, well aware that death would stalk his journey along the road to peace in Jammu and Kashmir. The veteran secessionist leader, who was playing a key behind-the-scene role in the ongoing secret dialogue between the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, had seen many of his closest friends pay the price for walking that path. APHC chief Mirwaiz Umar Farooq's father, Mirwaiz Mohammad Farooq, was assassinated in 1990 for trying to end the violence that had torn the State apart. Pro-dialogue Hizb-ul-Mujahideen commander Abdul Majid Dar was assassinated by his one-time comrades in 2003. A year later, the Hurriyat's most vocal peacemaker, Abdul Gani Lone, was murdered by a Lashkar-e-Taiba hit squad.
New Delhi and the APHC must do all they can to make the sacrifices of the doves worthwhile. The odds against success, it is evident, are enormous. In the wake of the Kargil war, the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee initiated an ambitious effort to make peace with secessionist groups in the State. Later, after the 2001-2002 India-Pakistan military crisis, both countries renewed their peace efforts. Former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf ensured jihadist infiltration across the Line of Control was scaled back; in turn, India opened dialogue with the APHC. In 2006, envoys representing the two governments agreed to shape a resolution of the conflict on the basis of five mutually-acceptable principles. But General Musharraf's political position had deteriorated by this time, making it impossible for him to sell the deal to Pakistan's military. Islamabad's reluctance to be seen as compromising on Kashmir at a time when it is engaged in an unpopular war at home has made further progress on the 'five principles' deal difficult. Mindful of the imperative to move towards a solution in Kashmir, New Delhi has begun a quiet dialogue with the Hurriyat. Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram and Hurriyat leader Mirwaiz Umar hope that their secret dialogue will help craft a consensus around the five principles within Jammu and Kashmir, and thus put pressure on Pakistan to move forward. The attempt to assassinate Mr. Qureshi was obviously to warn moderate leaders to stay away from talks with New Delhi. New Delhi and the APHC must not waver and must stay the course. It is imperative that the murderous conflict that has claimed thousands of lives be ended soon and peace allowed to return to the Kashmir Valley.
INDIA SCALES TEST SUMMIT
India's ascent to the top of the ICC Test rankings after the 2-0 series triumph against Sri Lanka is a reward for the consistency and the quality of its cricket, both home and away. A powerful batting line-up with the supremely gifted Virender Sehwag providing the innings momentum at the top of the order and a buzzing bunch of pacemen to complement the spinners have made India a threat away from the subcontinent. The side has bucked the odds, shown self-belief in times of adversity, and is less dependent on conditions to force results. Since defeating England away in 2007, India has never slipped below the third rank. It is a great credit to the side that Australia and South Africa are the only other countries to top the rankings since the ICC Test championship was introduced in 2001. India's feat gains even greater significance when one considers that the rankings take crucial factors into account more points are awarded for defeating a team on foreign soil or beating a side that is ranked higher. This momentous achievement has been made possible by the concerted effort of several men.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a promising leader of men, and the quietly efficient Gary Kirsten have teamed up well in a captain-coach association. Others have weighed in. Sourav Ganguly instilled self-confidence in the side and the decision to open with Sehwag a move that added a different dimension to the side was his. John Wright put together a competent pace attack, a crucial element in India's away success. The visionary Greg Chappell groomed the younger cricketers; he saw the spark in the now-prolific Gautam Gambhir. Maestro Sachin Tendulkar has been an inspiration while Rahul Dravid has brought with him technical expertise and cricketing acumen. Anil Kumble played his part as a captain and a champion leg-spinner. V.V.S. Laxman brought grace and elegance to the middle-order and despite fluctuations in form, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan have added value to the side. The selection panel's emphasis on stability has been vital to India's success. In the last six years, India has drawn a Test series in Australia, and defeated Pakistan, England, the West Indies, and New Zealand away from home. India, though, is yet to win a Test series in Australia and South Africa. Those should be the final frontiers for the side. But matters of concern persist. Although India will end 2009 as the best Test team, that status is endangered by the fact that it will play very little Test cricket over the next 12 months. The onus is on India's cricket administrators to ensure Test cricket's primacy isn't eroded by the IPL's success.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
CHANGING CULTURES WITHIN MEDICINE
THE CHANGING CULTURES WITHIN MEDICINE, WITH THE FOCUS ON DISEASE, CURE AND SPECIALIST APPROACHES, PREFER COSTLY TECHNOLOGY AND PROFIT TO CLINICAL EVALUATION, HOLISTIC CARE AND SERVICE.
Medicine continues to be a valued career choice in India. However, the many changes in society over the past few decades have made it a less attractive option today. The changes in the social and financial climate have also resulted in major shifts within medicine. The changed culture within medicine appears pervasive and, in many ways, irreversible. Medicine today looks less of a vocation and more of a business opportunity.
Many recent changes, some subtle and others more obvious, have had a significant impact on the practice of medicine. Even subtle shifts within society have had a major impact on the traditions of medicine, with some catastrophic and others no less monumental.
PREVENTION VERSUS CURE
Prevention is less fashionable than cure: employing urgency-driven curative medical solutions, instead of long-term public health policies, is common. Diarrhoea, potentially a killer disease among the vulnerable and often caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation, is commonly treated with antibiotics with no provision to address the root causes. This is also true for the relationship between tuberculosis and poor housing or chronic malnutrition and inadequate nutrition. Much of the effort of today's champions of public health ends up in provision of curative services, albeit at the small hospital or clinic. They succumb to the constant demand for better curative services. Such services thwart public health efforts by treating diseases and preventing death (reducing their impact on social consciousness), which should have been prevented in the first place using public health strategies. Cynics would argue that there is less money to be made through public health interventions.
Curing a disease is more glamorous than healing an illness: The medicalisation of distress has lowered the threshold for seeking help from physicians. About a third of people who visit physicians do not have a demonstrable medical disease. Many visit doctors when they are in distress or are unable to cope with life's incessant demands. However, recent advances in technology have made diagnosis and cure attractive and profitable for hospitals and medical practitioners. Physicians are taught to focus on underlying structural and functional defects and they often tend to disregard the human context of illnesses. Many physicians, with their focus on disease and cure, get irritated with patients who present symptoms with no obvious medical causes as determined by expensive laboratory investigations. They dismiss the patients' concerns and rarely focus on the illness or practise the art of healing.
The clinical-technology divide: Clinical assessment forms the bedrock of medicine. However, the phenomenal improvement in medical technology, while revolutionising the practice of medicine, has come at a price. It has also changed medical traditions. There is a naive belief that technology will provide answers to every clinical problem; that its widespread and indiscriminate use will do away with the need for clinical judgment. The sole reliance on technology has also resulted in a devaluation of clinical skills and the failure of the younger generation of doctors to understand its role in medical diagnosis and management.
Technology in certain situations is crucial for diagnosis and management; in others, it can complicate matters. Many diagnostic tests and screening strategies are not absolute and when applied in low prevalence situations, produce false positive results leading to further testing or unnecessary medication. For example, the electroencephalogram (EEG) is only an adjunct in the diagnosis of epilepsy, a condition that should be diagnosed based on history and clinical examination in the vast majority of patients. The EEG's moderate diagnostic sensitivity and specificity for the condition means that it may record "abnormalities" in normal people when employed indiscriminately and be negative in those with genuine seizures. The inappropriate use of technology will mean costs in terms of not just finances but also psychological stress. The focus on technology to the exclusion of clinical assessment as practised, for example, in the United States, has resulted in an expensive and grossly iniquitous health care system.
Generalist versus specialist approaches: Over the years, the general trend has been to seek specialist advice even for minor illnesses. Such help comes at a price. The absence of a generalist who can act as a gatekeeper means that even simple problems are seen in tertiary care centres and viewed through a specialist's lens. The specialist, with his or her perspective of excluding the rarest of rare conditions in the field, usually ends up over-investigating even the most innocuous of symptoms. In addition, the specialists' compartmentalised view of the body often does not allow them to see the big picture and tie up multisystem problems. The lack of confidence in the basic doctor and the absence of family medicine as a speciality compound the problem.
Profit before service: The fall of communism, the rise of capitalistic thought and economic liberalisation have had a major impact on medicine and health care in India. The 1990s saw a reduction in the emphasis on public expenditure with an increase in private and out-of-pocket expenses for health care. The poor functioning of government health facilities resulted in private hospitals and medical practitioners flourishing. Medical tourism has become a profitable industry. Performance incentives in the private sector essentially imply a commission for ordering tests or prescribing branded medication and medical devices. Contracts and commissions replacing salaries also mean that there is no limit to the incomes of physicians, laboratories and hospitals concerned. The complete absence of regulation and audit in these matters often results in unethical practices. Profit before service has become acceptable. Business models and wealth are the new standards to judge the success of doctors.
Hospital and pharmaceutical industries have increased their influence on the practice of medicine. The lack of enforcement of clinical guidelines and standards and the direct conflicts of financial interests often result in unnecessary diagnostic tests and medication and increased costs.
The system of capitation fees for admission to private colleges has increased the investment in medical education. The money transactions often said to be necessary for obtaining the regulatory permissions to start and run courses are transferred by medical colleges to students and doctors. The need to recoup the investment makes those who set up such facilities and those who pass out of them look at their institutions and careers through a business lens. Many such practices, unethical and some even illegal, appear to be the norm.
The many changes have had a cumulative effect, have resulted in increased costs and reduced access to health care for the majority of the population. The iniquitous distribution of health services means the most vulnerable and marginalised, who probably are in the greatest need of health services, are unable to access them. The cost of seeking health care is known to be the single important reason for indebtedness in the country. Yet, the changed culture within society and the medical profession refuses to acknowledge the need for equity.
THE WAY FORWARD
The special social status accorded to physicians necessarily mandates a social commitment to serve the people, especially the underprivileged and the marginalised. Such social obligation is necessary from not only individuals but also institutions, professional medical societies, regulatory authorities and governments. There is need for social audits and for greater social recognition for those who live, work and serve in disadvantaged areas.
Selection to medical schools should also evaluate social consciousness, a record of such service and a commitment to serve vulnerable sections. In selections for higher medical education, greater weightage should be accorded to those who serve in areas of need. The commercialisation of medical education and health care needs to be checked, unethical procedures should be curbed and illegal practices rooted out.
In the changing social climate, it may be necessary to reiterate the need for social commitment from physicians. There is need to reemphasise community responsibility, to highlight service and to provide equitable access to health care for all. Surely, the special social status accorded to physicians should be acknowledged by a social commitment to the health care needs of all people, not only those who can pay. However, it is unrealistic to expect changes in the prevailing medical culture without concomitant alterations in society. The challenge is to transform the prevailing cultures within medicine and in society.
(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore)
PUT AGRICULTURE HIGH ON AGENDA
THE G8 COUNTRIES HAVE PROMISED TO INCREASE THE SPENDING ON AGRICULTURAL DEVELOPMENT BY $20 BILLION OVER THE NEXT THREE YEARS. THE AMOUNT IS WOEFULLY LESS THAN THE $44 BILLION THAT WILL BE NEEDED EACH YEAR TO END MALNUTRITION.
WILLIAM D. DAR
At the world leaders' meeting in Copenhagen, it is imperative that governments pledge to adopt up-to-date technologies to boost food production as well as outweigh the negative impacts of climate change.
A clear signal that agriculture urgently needs attention is that India, the second-biggest producer and consumer of rice, may have to import 2 million tonnes to shore up 2010 supplies. If this happens, it would be the first time in over two decades that the country imports the grain. Though the government has assured that there is enough stock of rice, it has kept the import option open for subsequent review. Thanks to a severe drought, the summer-sown crop harvest could fall 18 per cent to 69.45 million tonnes compared with the previous year. The monsoon rainfall this year was 23 per cent below normal the worst since 1972. Next came floods, which further damaged crops.
In the same way, recent storms in Philippines destroyed 1.3 million tons of rice and the south-east Asian country may have to buy a record 2.45 million tons before the end of the year.
Just the news that both India and the Philippines could import huge quantities has swollen the price of rice. Prices will further jack up should Thailand and Vietnam, the world's largest rice exporters, decide to keep their stocks rather than export them. Pulses in India cost higher every day. Some varieties have crossed the Rs. 100 a kilo mark, putting it out of reach for several Indians.
Last year food scarcity set off riots from Haiti to Egypt. Fresh unrest looms large over developing nations if food costs shoot up. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), food prices in 31 poor countries remain stubbornly high and more than one billion people have to go hungry every day. FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf rightly says that the hunger crisis affecting one sixth of all of humanity poses a serious risk for world peace and security.
Keeping pace with a growing world population is not easy for farmers. As demand for food increases, they struggle to extract more crops from each acre of land. Farmers who practise rainfed agriculture in the semi-arid and dry tropics are especially vulnerable as rains here are erratic, soil fertility is poor and crop pests abound. Despite the high risks, rainfed agriculture is practised on 80 per cent of the world's farm area, and generates almost 70 per cent of the world's staple foods. The drylands are home to more than 2 billion people. Of these, 1.5 billion depend on agriculture for a living with670 million comprising the poorest of the poor. Sixty five percent of India is semi-arid.
Adding to the conundrum is a progressively warming world. Climate change is expected to expand drylands by 11 per cent and this will increase the frequency and severity of droughts across the globe. Unsurprisingly, crop productivity is expected to decline.
Here's my point: Countries in semi-arid tropics need to be in a better position to feed their own people. They need to grow more food for themselves. New policies that push investment into agricultural productivity and increase farmers' access to food markets are essential.
Why? First, food self-sufficiency would prevent undue pressure on the international grain trade. It would check wild fluctuations in global prices and avert panic buying in an already thin market.
Second, do we really want to ignore 670 million poor people who not only earn a living from farming but also have to produce the bulk of food? When agriculture is hit, broader economy-wide impacts may also arise. A case in hand is the Kenyan drought of 1998-1999. According to a recently-launched Met Office report commissioned by Barclays, the Kenyan drought caused an overall loss amounting to 16% of GDP, but around 85% of this was incurred through foregone hydropower and falls in industrial production and only 15% due to agriculture.
HOW CAN SCIENCE HELP
ICRISAT scientists have developed farming systems resilient to shocks, buffering crucial resources like water and nutrients and adapting crops to warmer temperatures and new pest patterns. Changing crop varieties and efficient irrigation can indeed help mitigate risk in the agriculture sector.
We have proven innovations in crop, soil and water management that farmers could quickly deploy in these times of crises. For example, we can help farmers produce more food with less water. Also, ICRISAT-developed pearl millet hybrids can produce seeds even under very hot temperatures and improved sorghum lines are capable of giving good yields even in harsh conditions. In the nutrient-starved soils of sub-Saharan Africa, ICRISAT helps increase agricultural productivity with fertilizer microdosing, which ensures that the right quantity of scarce fertilizer is given to the crop at the right time.
Yet another powerful tool is the integrated watershed management: building micro-irrigation structures advantageously located in the trail of runoff rainwater that would otherwise have just gone down the drain. This advanced watershed system, a model of which ICRISAT set up in Kothapally village of Ranga Reddy district in Andhra Pradesh, uses modern science tools, including GIS, satellite data and remote sensing for maximum efficiency. Advanced watershed systems combine training farmers about high-yield seed varieties, different cropping patterns, and other skills including manufacturing green manure.
Agriculture and food security should be high on international agenda. The G8 rich countries have promised to increase spending on agricultural development by $20 billion over the next three years. While this is commendable, the amount is still woefully less than the $44 billion that FAO estimates will be needed each year to end malnutrition. Also, rich countries have to match their words with action.
But developing countries also need to get their house in order. A paradigm shift from instating makeshift measures during droughts and floods to long-term agricultural solutions needs to come about. Governments need to increase spend on agri-science research and rural infrastructure including roads. Our farmers need better facilities to make them less dependent on erratic rains. To be exact they need superior training, technology and marketing opportunities. These will make farming a profitable enterprise for our smallholder farmers.
Agri-entrepreneurs need to be encouraged by helping them tap into a pool of commercial technologies. This would in turn help farmers access innovative and improved farming systems through small and micro enterprises. Policies could help boost local agricultural production by speeding up irrigation investments, and subsidising farm implements and high-yield seeds. At state-sponsored workshops farmers can learn how best to protect crops during droughts. Also, improve the linkages between farmers and markets.
To tide over the agrarian crisis, smallholder farmers need to be part of the solution. Access to technology, markets and financial funding will help them not only produce more food but also get profitable returns.
(Dr. William D. Dar is Director-General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics.)
LABOUR LAUNCHES A CLASS WAR AGAINST "TOFF" TORIES
THIS IS THE SECOND TIME THE LABOUR PARTY UNDER GORDON BROWN HAS LAUNCHED A "TORY TOFFS" CAMPAIGN.
The outcome of the battle of Waterloo may or may not have had anything to do with the playing-fields of Eton but the Labour Party believes that the outcome of the next year's general election could well hinge on how effectively it is able to play the Eton card against the Tories by portraying them as 'elitist" and out of touch with the "real" world.The buzz is that the party is set to launch an all-out class war against the Tories in the run-up to the elections, expected next May. And on the face of it, the Tories look quite vulnerable to a class attack. Most of the Tory team waiting to move into Downing Street grew up on Eton's famous playing fields and their background is far removed from that of the ordinary people they aspire to "serve."
Not that Labour is entirely without its own "toffs" (some half a dozen of its cabinet members were privately educated) but that's small beer compared to the Tories. The Tory shadow cabinet, led by David Cameron, is dripping with millionaires and as many as 18 prospective cabinet ministers went to expensive fee-paying schools.
As The Times columnist Janice Turner pointed out: "We are about to elect a Cabinet containing 18 millionaires, to give political power to the already immensely powerful, to draw our government from the narrowest social bandwidth. But to question whether their golden lives might prevent them understanding our lowly lives is frowned on as prejudice."
And then, of course, Tories have a history of being on the wrong side of Britain's class war. Which makes it easier for Labour to attack them. Both Mr. Cameron and George Osborne, the shadow chancellor, come from highly privileged backgrounds with considerable family wealth. Both went to Eton; and, at Oxford, they were leading lights of the notoriously exclusive and hard-drinking Bullingdon Club. Much to their embarrassment, the media have dug up an old group photograph in which they appear with other members of the club (including another Tory high-flyer, the London Mayor Boris Johnson ) in bow ties and the club's trademark tailcoat looking every inch the "Tory toffs" that their Labour critics say they are and represent.
In a rare rhetorical flourish that surprised his own colleagues and was seen as Labour's opening shot in the upcoming class warfare , Prime Minister Gordon Brown brought the house down when, during the Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons, he taunted the Tories saying that their economic policies were 'dreamt up on the playing fields of Eton." Referring to the Tories' proposal to raise the threshold for inheritance tax, he said: "This must be the only tax change in history where the people proposing it the leader of the opposition and the shadow chancellor will know by name almost all of the potential beneficiaries."
There is an irony here. When the Tories first announced the proposal in the autumn of 2007 it sent the Tories poll ratings soaring and Mr. Brown, who was considering calling an early election, changed his mind fearing that he might lose. Moreover, Labour was to claim later that it was actually their idea but had been stolen by the Tories before the government had a chance to make the announcement.
But that was two years ago. Since then public mood has changed because of the economic crisis and any concession to the rich is now seen as an insult by ordinary people struggling to cope with the recession. Labour believes that it can tap into the current anti-rich mood in the country by branding Tories as the party of the rich and the privileged.
In public, the Tories are putting up a brave face saying that they have nothing to be "embarrassed" about their educational or family background and that, in the end, what matters is what they have to offer to the country.
"My view is very simple... that what people are interested in is not where you come from but where you're going to, what you've got to offer, what you've got to offer the country," Mr. Cameron told the BBC denouncing the Labour strategy as "petty" and "spiteful."
But privately the Tory leadership is reported to be concerned about the apparent success of the Labour strategy. According to one poll, Mr. Brown's portrayal of the Tories as a rich people's club resonates with a majority of voters.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that many leading privately-educated Tories have pointedly failed to reveal their school background in their biographical sketches posted on the party's official website. Only four out of 17 who went to private schools mention their schools while in sharp contrast out of the 15 state-educated shadow ministers all but one name their schools.
Mr. Cameron has been forced to deny that there is an attempt to suppress the class character of his shadow cabinet.
"I don't think it's any secret where I went to school... as far as the Conservative website is concerned, I'm sure we can sort it out," he said.
This is the second time that Labour under Mr. Brown has launched a "Tory toffs" campaign. Its previous attempt during a key bye-election last year when its activists in ridiculous "top hats" trailed the Tory candidate boomeranged. But, buoyed by a string of new polls showing that Tories are losing momentum, the party is hoping that it might just strike lucky this time.
AFGHANISTAN: WOMEN'S PLIGHT MAY WORSEN
Rape was put on the statute book as a criminal offence this year but it is still not widely regarded as a serious crime
A law permitting Shias to deny their wives sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands was quietly passed
The already dire plight of women in Afghanistan risks deteriorating further as the U.S. and its allies take steps to turn around the war against the Taliban, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.
Eight years after the Taliban were ousted from power, rapists are often protected from prosecution, women can still be arrested for running away from home, and girls have far less access to schools than boys, the report says.
With the insurgency strengthening in the south and making inroads into the north, the few gains made for women's rights since the U.S.-led invasion of 2001 could be further eroded if Hamid Karzai's government and the international community push for peace talks with factions of the fundamentalist movement.
Among the examples of abuses against women collected by the organisation was the case of a woman who was gang raped by a group that included a powerful local militia commander.
Although she fought to have her rapists prosecuted, they were subsequently pardoned by Mr. Karzai. Later, her husband was assassinated.
Rape was put on the statute book as a criminal offence this year but it is still not widely regarded by the police or the courts as a serious crime, with the attackers often receiving greater legal protection than the victims. One survey found that 52 per cent of women had experience physical violence, while 17 per cent reported sexual violence.
"Police and judges see violence against women as legitimate, so they do not prosecute cases," said Soraya Sobhrang, a commissioner at the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.
Human Rights Watch said that more than half the women and girls in Afghan prisons were held for "moral crimes", such as adultery or running away from home although the latter is not a crime under Afghan or Islamic law.
"Whether it is a high-profile woman under threat, a young woman who wants to escape a child marriage, or a victim of rape who wants to see the perpetrator punished, the response from the police or courts is often hostile," the group said.
Rachel Reid, of Human Rights Watch, said the situation "could deteriorate."
She added: "While the world focuses on the Obama administration's new security strategy, it's critical to make sure that women's and girls' rights don't just get lip service while being pushed to the bottom of the list by the government and donors."
The report also warns that wives in half of all marriages are younger than 16, and up to 80 per cent take place without consent.
A 13-year-old girl said that after she escaped marriage she was pursued by her husband's family. Years later she still has not succeeded in getting a legal separation from her illegal marriage and women's activists have been denounced in parliament for giving her shelter.
Campaigners have also been angered by the murders of high-profile women, including Sitara Achakzai, an activist and member of Kandahar's provincial council, who was shot dead in April.
A female member of parliament, who cannot be named, said: "I've had so many threats. I report them sometimes, but the authorities tell me not to make enemies, to keep quiet. But how can I stop talking about women's rights and human rights?"
In August, Afghanistan quietly passed a law permitting Shia men to deny their wives food and sustenance if they refuse to obey their husbands' sexual demands, despite international outrage following a report in the London-based Guardian newspaper about an earlier version of the legislation, which Mr. Karzai had promised to review.
Although western and Afghan politicians like to hail the increase in school building since 2001 as a major success story, the Human Rights Watch report says the participation of girls remains very low, with just 11 per cent of secondary school-aged children in education.
Mr. Karzai, who was reappointed as president after a fraud-marred election regarded by most legal experts as unconstitutional, is due to announce his new cabinet in the coming days.
Human Rights Watch called on Mr. Karzai to release all women detained for running away from home and offer them compensation.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
BULGARIA TO HOST NATO SIMULATION EXERCISE
Bulgaria will host the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) computer-assisted exercise called Phoenix-2010, where terrorist attacks will be simulated, experts told Xinhua at a workshop for the preparation of the event in Sofia on Monday.
The goal of this exercise is to train civil and military organisations from different countries to have a coordinated emergency response to a suite of disaster events.
It will take place in November 2010 in the National Centre for Modelling and Simulation "Charalitsa". The Phoenix-2010 scenario and technical tools are still under discussion between Bulgaria, the NATO Industrial Advisory Group and NATO Research and Technology Organisation.
The Joint Exercise Management Module (JEMM) and Joint Conflict and Tactical Simulation (JCATS) implemented by NATO are among the possible technologies to be used in execution of this computer-assisted exercise.
SOFTEN THE LOSS
The news that the Indian government is planning a special fund to help Indians workers who have had to return to the country because of job losses in the Gulf is a welcome one.
The Return and Resettlement Fund will assist such returnees with all possible help so that they can stabilise their lives after losing their jobs and more in the Gulf.
The El Dorado of the Gulf, especially Dubai is now looking like a mirage. There was a time when 'Go Gulf young man' (and woman) was the mantra of many who then headed there for the untold riches that were promised. Through the 1980s and later, there were jobs to be had in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, whose local population was simply inadequate in numbers and skills to handle the scorching pace of growth.
Though Indians did find white collar and even senior management assignments, for the most part workers from the subcontinent formed a bulk of the blue collar labour force in construction and such like. Post the 1990s, when the construction boom began, the demand for such workers shot up.
In time news filtered out even from the tightly controlled sheikhdoms about workers' protests against the ill-treatment and poor working conditions and occasionally riots too broke out. Clearly something was rotten in the state of Xanadu.
It was the financial crisis that tipped things over. The dream projects came to an abrupt halt, investors pulled out and when the biggest domestic player in real estate, Dubai World announced it would defer interest payments to its creditors, the panic buttons were pressed. Expat workers from India and elsewhere were escaping from the Emirate, leaving behind cars, houses and unpaid credit card bills and bank loans.
There are over 5 million Indians in the Gulf countries, over a million and a half in the UAE alone. Not all have lost their jobs but many who stay back are naturally worried about the future. No fund will be able to fully compensate their losses but at the very least the morale-boosting message will go out that the country will look after its own. Apart from money, such returnees will also need counselling. These workers sent back their earnings to India and boosted the country's foreign exchange coffers. Now the Indian government should look at all possible ways to help them out in their hour of need.
PASSING THE TEST
India's rise to the number 1 Test team in the world is a testament to the hard work and dedication shown by this cricket team. And also, as many cricket commentators have pointed out, the hard work of the last two decades. India's ascension to the top spot is all the sweeter because it came with an emphatic victory over Sri Lanka, where batsmen showed their sharp edge and bowlers their fine skill. The exploits of Virender Sehwag with the bat just seven runs short of a triple century left both purists and fanatics open-mouthed in awe.
The victory had the additional icing of being played at Mumbai's Brabourne Stadium, the once prime venue owned by the Cricket Club of India, which made history in India's early cricketing days. Sehwag used the historic ground like a practice field. He was backed ably by his colleagues and his captain.
India has now won major accolades in all three versions of the game the World Cup in 1983 in the One-day version, the World T20 in 2007 for the new short version and now the Test championship. For all the punishment that the cricket team faces from fans and commentators, all these are no mean achievements. We have been a cricketing nation for seven decades and we have been passionate about the game for as long. Now that passion gets a fine answer which comes from a fine performance.
One problem for Indian cricket is that it has for too long behaved like a one-trick pony, where its flashes of brilliance could not be sustained. Or, it has been a serious plodder, keeping its head above the water but not doing enough to be a threat to the top dogs.
Now India has the chance to redeem that reputation. Many have said that we are unable to play as a team, that we have too many stars, that the interference from officials is a severe hindrance. India has never been short of talent, but it was felt that we lacked the "killer instinct". We have experimented with coaches, captains and strategies and sometimes we have paid for those experiments with humiliating losses.
But now we have shown ourselves and the world that we are serious contenders. Funnily enough, with this ranking, the pressure on us only increases. The true mark of a champion is consistency ask Roger Federer or even, the Australian cricket team and India now has to live up to the high standard it has set for itself and for the world. The way forward promises to be exciting.
LET THE FAILURE BE CLEAR
Sometimes the best is the enemy of the good and sometimes"good enough" is the enemy of all mankind. That is why Jim Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world's leading climate scientists, wants the global summit on climate change in Copenhagen to fail.
The summit is supposed to work out a successor to the Kyoto accord, which expires in 2012. In theory, the follow-on treaty would mandate deeper cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, and find some way of bringing the developing countries into the process as well. But for Hansen, the methodology is so flawed that the new treaty is not worth having.
"I would rather it not happen," he told The Guardian recently. "The whole approach is so fundamentally wrong that it is better to reassess the situation." In diplomacy, "good enough" solutions predominate because of the need for compromise, but in this case, Hansen argues, it is better to have no deal than the wrong deal.
"This is analogous 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 ind a compromise and reduce it 50 per cent or 40 per cent."
He's right and most of the negotiators at Copenhagen know it. It's surprisingly common in international negotiations. Almost everybody involved knows what the one really fair and effective deal would look like, although they feel doomed to settle for something much worse. In this case, the fair and effective deal would take full account of the history, and it would look like this.
It would require the rich, industrialised countries to take really deep cuts in their emissions: 40 percent by 2020, say, and another 40 percent by 2035. The developing countries would cap the growth in their emissions at a level not much higher than where they are now but they must be allowed to go on growing their economies, which means that they will need more energy.
All that extra energy has to be clean, or else they will break through the cap. They will therefore have to get their new energy from wind farms or solar arrays or nuclear plants, all of which are more expensive than the cheap coal-fired power plants they rely on now.
Who pays the difference in the cost? The rich countries do, by technology transfers and direct subsidies.
What makes this lopsided deal fair is the history behind it. Emissions in the developed countries have stabilised or declined slightly (except for Canada, where they continue to soar), but they are still at a very high level. Indeed, what has made these countries rich is burning fossil fuels for the past 150-200 years and in doing so, they have taken up almost all the available space.
In the early 19th century, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the air was 280 parts per million. It is now 390 ppm, and four-fifths of that extra CO2 was put there by the ancestors of the one billion people who live in the developed countries. The point of no return, after which we risk runaway warming, is a rise in average global temperature of two degrees Celsius. That is equivalent to 450 ppm of carbon dioxide.
All we have left to play with is the distance between 390 ppm and 450 ppm, and on a business-as-usual basis we'll cover it in less than thirty years. All the economic growth of rapidly developing countries like China, India and Brazil 3-4 billion people has to fit into that narrow band of 60 ppm that the developed countries left for them.
That is why the post-Kyoto deal must be lopsided but it is still politically impossible to sell that deal to people in the developed countries, most of whom are (wilfully) ignorant of that history. What we have on the table instead at Copenhagen is a bastard version of the deal in which the rich countries buy the right to go on emitting large amounts of greenhouse gases by subsidising clean power and other emissions reductions in the poor countries.
The Copenhagen summit will certainly fail to deliver the right deal. The danger is that it will lock us into the wrong deal, and leave no political space for countries to go back and try to get it right later. Public opinion is climbing a steep learning curve, and the assymetrical deal that cannot be sold politically today might be quite saleable in as little as a year or two.
So the best outcome at Copenhagen would be a ringing declaration of principles, and an agreement to get back round the table and do the hard negotiations over the next 12-18 months. Since the US Congress has still not mandated any reduction in American emissions and Canada will do its best to subvert the proceedings, that is also a quite likely outcome.
MISSING THE WOODS FOR THE TREES
The revelations about the sex life of golfer Tiger Woods, which have dominated the media over the last week, are both awful and exciting. Let us be honest here. We all enjoy gossip and when the gossip involves a celebrity, why, it makes our coffee break conversation that much more enjoyable. Us humans like our little doses of sleaze and salaciousness. It panders to our "I'm all right, Jack" sense of smugness that separates us from the poor sod currently facing the Inquisition.
The moralists will tell you that our inner Torquemada is bound to get its comeuppance one day and that our pettiness will rebound on us. Perhaps, there is a larger collective conscience at work which ensures that what goes round comes round and a rightful order finally prevails. But for the moment, the current victim with his head in the stocks is Tiger Woods, world's greatest golfer, husband, father of two and by most accounts, something of a sex maniac. We are enjoying this public pillorying, this auto-de-fe.
And yet, what exactly is Tiger Woods's crime? That he cheated on his wife? For which are we to burn most of the human race at the stake? That he pretended to be all goodie-goodie but turned out to be oh-so-bad? More fool us for forgetting about human nature.
That people spent their money on shoes and shaving gear from large multinational corporations because Woods endorsed them? Stack up one more victory for the PT Barnum principle: there's a sucker born every minute.
The fact is, the big problem is between his family and him. Yes, what he did was to break the faith but somehow what we are doing to Woods and his family is almost as bad. As far as his faith with the public is concerned, it has to do with his game of golf. Has Woods been accused of picking a golf ball and slipping it into a hole when he shouldn't have? (I gather that would be a terrible misdemeanour in golf.) No. Has he been accused of fudging his handicap? No. He remains the world's best golfer, with 14 major titles and an expertise that fills golf aficionados with awe.
In which light, surely the shock of his little episodes of "transgression" belongs to a realm which says 'let him who has no sin cast the first stone'? Woods is not a politician who had promised to bring about a return to morality and was suddenly caught with his pants down. His reticence may have been mistaken or interpreted as cleanliness, but that is surely the problem of the interpreter.
The question is double fold: do we ask too much of our public figures more than we ask of ourselves and how much intrusion into private life is fair game? I cannot blame the media here because I know from experience that if the public wasn't interested, the media would not do it. Does it go overboard now and then? Sure, but that's an error of judgment not a complete misreading of public sentiment.
In the case of Woods, it certainly seems that this full-scale public vilification and humiliation does not fit the crime. He may have lost his marriage, he has jeopardised his children's wellbeing and he has suffered a severe loss of public face. He cannot redeem himself on the golf course because there is no golf to be played at this time. And now, all the inner details of his taste in women (white and somewhat removed from high society), his sexual prowess (whatever), his text message style (mundane), his need to record his sexcapades (childish) and his lack of interest in black issues (an expectation perhaps beyond his means) are out there for us to salivate over.
Somehow, it seems that it is time for this circus to pull down its tent and move on to the next town. There is almost nothing more about Woods that is left for us to destroy, unless he has truly abandoned birdies for the birds. In which case, he can retire with a bogey, a sad victim of the vicious glare of public opinion.
A QUESTION OF INTELLIGENCE
Waking up to a cold, gloomy and wet morning in March in a hotel room in Cambridge, Mass, earlier this year, I saw this startling headline in the local newspaper: "Spy System Loots Computers in 103 Countries." Underneath, the story ran the opening paragraph: "A vast cyber spy network controlled from China has infiltrated government and private computers in 103 countries, including those of the Indian embassy in Washington and the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama."
That was the story that came to mind on seeing DNA's New Delhi-datelined story "Chinese break into army network near N-E border" (Josy Joseph, Dec 4, 2009). The DNA story reveals that Chinese intelligence agencies could have impregnated Army computers with malware, including Trojan viruses, which gave access to privileged information.
The New York Times story had reported on March 28 an electronic spy ring called GhostNet based in China, which scoured computers for data and e-mails and turned on web cams in remote locations. Researchers at the University of Toronto, Canada had discovered the Internet spy ring researchers, one presumes, who had no special interest in spying or investigative journalism. The Times report indicated, without implicating the Chinese government directly, that the spy system was controlled from China.
The Toronto researchers were following up on work already done by two other independent researchers at Cambridge, UK Ross Anderson and Shishir Nagaraja, who had apparently discovered the Trojans cleaning up computers at Dharamsala. The Cambridge document, available on the Internet, is quite straightforward in accusing the Chinese: "The Snooping Dragon: Social-Malware Surveillance of the Tibetan Movement."
What was disturbing in the Times story was that among the affected computers 1,295 computers in 103 countries, to be precise were those belonging to embassies, foreign ministries and other government offices of countries. What was even more disturbing was that there was hardly any ripple in the Indian newspapers or TV channels in the wake of this report.
The point of interest here is how journalism has been radically affected by the Internet age. The old beat system of reporting, where a defence correspondent was expected to do espionage stories or a science correspondent would break news on cancer research, does not hold anymore. It could really be a cub reporter or stringer sitting in front of a computer at home who finds the Big One. The question of intelligence here is of context and relevance.
Anderson and Nagaraja believed that GhostNet was focussed on the governments of South Asian and Southeast Asian countries. Now here is the context: Where is the largest Tibetan settlement in India? The answer is Bylakuppe, 4 km from Kushalnagar in Coorg, Karnataka, home to 40,000 refugees hostile to the Chinese establishment.
In April 2005, when the Chinese premier Wen Jiabao came on a two-day visit to Bangalore, he was shocked by Tenzing Tsundue, the general secretary of the organisation Friends of Tibet, who appeared on top of the Indian Institute of Science building, planted the Free Tibet banner and shouted, "Azaadi hona chahiye," as the international media watched the embarrassed Chinese delegation.
Was that an external affairs story? Or a crime story? Speaking of GhostNet, whose story is it now, anyway? In a delicious twist in the tale, the Chinese delegation was here partly to develop cooperation in the areas of science and IT. So, it must surely belong to the IT correspondent?
We could even pose questions beyond journalism: How much of this problem must be owned by the Centre and how much by the state? Will the Union home ministry share information with Karnataka and its police on these sensitive issues? Without being alerted and alive to the relevance of the information, what will the local policemen make of the unwitting intelligence?
While we can resolve the question of beats at our leisure, it surely does not take too much debate to come to the conclusion that GhostNet would like to watch the moves and places of people who handle security in our city and state. Anderson and Nagaraja report:
"The malware is remarkable both for its sweep in computer jargon, it has not been merely 'phishing for random consumers' information, but 'whaling' for particular important targets." It can turn on webcams and audio-recording functions of the infected computer, "enabling monitors to see and hear what goes on in a room."
"What Chinese spooks did in 2008, Russian crooks will do in 2010 and even low-budget criminals from less developed countries will follow in due course," say Nagaraja and Anderson. Something for all of us to worry about and the IT capital of India to do something about.
WHAT'S YOUR PLAN
It took me ten minutes and three months to fill out a form that was patiently waiting for my attention since it was mailed to me months ago. My financial plan for the year would be decided based on the particulars I fill out in that form. It was a tax-saving exercise, and should have been of considerably high interest to me. Yet, I sat on it for months, putting off the auditor each time he called to check the status and always finding something "more important" to do.
Last week, the auditor cracked the verbal whip, and, out of sheer anger, I put a pause on my day's work and got down to filling out the form. It took exactly ten minutes. Later that night, I began mulling over all the long-term needs I compromise on to put out the immediate fire. I admit, I'm not a great fan of planning ahead maybe also because it's so contrary to the Zen philosophy of living in the moment. I also cringe when people ask me the all-time favourite planning question: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
We cannot escape the fact that the future is soon going to become the 'now'. A plan should, therefore, be looked at as a beacon of light from a distant tower so one knows which direction to move towards. Yet, there is fear, uncertainty and self-doubt when it comes to planning the future. The way to go about this, according to Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, is to make a clear distinction between what's "important" and what's "urgent".
Urgency has to do with events that intrude upon us and demand our immediate attention unimportant phone calls, office gossip, business meetings with no purpose or agenda and so on. To do this, we need to sift through the unimportant, but urgent, matters that drive our day-to-day activity, so we can attend to what's most important.
The 'important' has to do with things that are aligned with the overall direction we have chosen in life. And for this, planning is important so we are prepared for the many circuitous turns life takes.
Reminds me of what American writer EB White said: "I arise in the morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day." But planning is vital, because plans are nothing; planning is everything.
Sumaa Tekur is an editor with DNA
TRYST WITH TOP SPOT
TEAM INDIA HAS ARRIVED
It will not be exactly right to say that India has reached the top spot in Test cricket for the first time ever since it started playing, because ICC Test rankings were introduced only in 2001. Yet, scaling the peak is a major achievement in a field dominated by the likes of Australia and South Africa now and the West Indies and Sri Lanka earlier. Team India has become a befitting claimant to the numero uno position thanks to its sterling performance both with the bat and the ball in recent years. The victory over Sri Lanka powered by the man of the series Virender Sehwag who plundered 293 runs in one innings is a befitting icing on the cake which was in the making for many years. There is always room at the top and India may be replaced by some other team in the not-too-distant future but what matters is that the ranking has given the country the self-belief that it amply needed and has whetted its appetite for excelling.
Today, India has a formidable batting line-up Sachin, Sehwag, Dravid, Dhoni, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Laxman and an incisive pace attack to complement its spinners. Together, they can rattle any team in the world on their day. The old fear that they are mediocre away from home and fumble against speedsters has given way to a formidable, professional reputation.
The new-found success is based on several factors. Under Dhoni, the boys have gelled into a cohesive unit with none of the old groupism and bickerings. The players from smaller towns who have now proved their mettle are deeply committed. The team has started being more important than individual milestones. The Gary Kirsten-Paddy Upton duo has trained them in a thorough manner without being flashy. What matters is that there is adequate bench strength and every player knows that he has to give off his best every time he enters the arena. And now that they have got the top spot, they know what they have to live up to.
STRIKING THE RIGHT CHORD
COPENHAGEN OFFERS A CHANCE TO SAVE THE WORLD
It is a matter of relief that the legitimate concerns of two key negotiators on India's climate change stance at Copenhagen Mr Chandrashekhar Dasgupta and Mr Prodipto Ghosh have not been brushed aside and Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has thought it fit to hand out assurances to them that India would not buckle under pressure. Mr Ramesh's hint in a recent interview that India may be "flexible" on the stand of the developing world that emissions of all countries must be judged on per capita basis, understandably raised apprehensions among many. Another statement that India was ready to open its emission reduction actions to international scrutiny without being compensated made matters worse. By addressing these concerns and allaying fears of a sellout to the West, the government has committed itself to the straight path.
The impression of the two negotiators was that on the eve of the Copenhagen talks, India had been offering unilateral concessions without getting any assurances of reciprocity. This was particularly irksome because in the weeks preceding the negotiations, India had been vociferous about the need for the developed world to commit to the transfer of technology and finance to meet the objectives of greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation to climate change. The argument of India, China and others of the developing bloc was that it was the West which was responsible for the gloomy ecological scenario due to its reckless carbon emissions during the phase of rapid industrialisation and consequently it must pay the price for the catastrophic consequences for the world.
With the Copenhagen summit having opened on Monday, all mankind would be watching how the rich and the developing countries rise to the challenge of saving the planet from an ecological catastrophe. India would be called upon to assume a leadership role which takes the needs of the developing world into account and yet approaches the issue with some flexibility so that the rich agree to join wholeheartedly in the process of redemption. A right mix of firmness and flexibility would indeed be the desirable course.
WAITING FOR JUSTICE
BHOPAL VICTIMS DESERVE ADEQUATE RELIEF
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh aptly echoed the nation's sentiment when he said last week that the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy that occurred 25 years ago deserved adequate compensation. Unfortunately, this is one area where successive governments have failed to keep their promise. Though the Centre justifiably appropriated the gas victims' right to legal defence under the doctrine of "the state as a parent", it failed to prove that the Union Carbide plant's faulty safety systems caused the horrendous incident that claimed over 20,000 lives. The Centre did little to bring Carbide's former chairman Warren Anderson and other directors to book for criminal liability. The nation watched the shocking spectacle of Anderson getting bail from a Bhopal court soon after his arrest on December 7, 1984 and his flying back by a state government plane to New Delhi from where he managed to leave the country.
The compensation awarded by the Supreme Court in 1989 $470 million was not only unfair and inadequate but also diluted the Union Carbide plant's civil liability. NGOs like the Bhopal Gas Peedith Sangharsh Sahyog Samiti have been running from pillar to post for adequate compensation but without success. They first approached the apex court, then the state government, the Madhya Pradesh High Court and now the apex court again.
There is a need to make a realistic assessment of the tragedy and sanction suitable compensation to the victims and survivors. The focus should be on the severity of the damage caused to the people's health. Sadly, even after 25 years of the accident, illnesses like tuberculosis, cancer and blindness continue to plague survivors. Latest studies show how the water, air and land in the plant vicinity continued to be polluted, having an adverse effect on those living there. The extent of the damage looks far wider. What would a victim do with a compensation of just Rs 25,000 which is not enough even to repay one's debts? The government should understand the gravity of the situation and act accordingly. Clearly, justice must not only be done but must also be seen to be done.
IS 'STEEL FRAME' CRUMBLING?
CIVIL SERVANTS THEN AND NOW
BY AMAR CHANDEL
The Indian Civil Service was termed the "steel frame" before Independence for it held together a disparate subcontinent with steeply uneven levels of economic and social development with uniformly good governance through which the law was maintained and the prices held in check. It is ironical that in the 61 years after 1947 this frame, the most valuable inheritance of the new Republic, has been converted into an engine of corruption and non-performance.
Independent India consciously continued the civil service after changing the nomenclature to the Indian Administrative Service. Initially, civil servants operated the levers of power efficiently in line with the vision of great patriot-statesmen like Sardar Patel and Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad in a Cabinet headed by the visionary Jawaharlal Nehru. Today national and international surveys reveal that poverty in India is widespread and the law and order situation all over the country has become nightmarish, while many a civil servant has been caught red-handed, mired in corrupt practices. Yet, very few have been prosecuted and punished.
The general decline and degeneration of the civil service, according to most serving and retired IAS officers, has been caused by the service having fallen victim to its own exclusivity without the objective and eagle-eyed caliper, akin to the superintendence by the British Crown. Administrative history is replete with examples of ICS officers who were either dismissed or removed from service for betraying the power reposed in them. The situation in recent years is quite to the contrary. Black sheep and corrupt officers have not only proliferated but have climbed from success to success owing to their unholy commitment to their counterparts in the political firmament.
The Indian population under the poverty line determined at 27.5 per cent by the Planning Commission in 2004-05 or 42 per cent as estimated by the World Bank in 2005 owes this tragic fate to poor governance by an elite service in which a minister and the secretary of the department are two faces of the same coin and together responsible for the tragedy that is India.
In every state of the country (the worst being UP) IAS officers have become the praetorian guard and the devil's equipment for blithely carrying out orders against public interest by couching them in legally perfect and justifiable documents. In many cases, crafty civil servants themselves suggest ways and means to their political masters on how to fill up their coffers out of public money or in tandem with industrial houses. In the process, such IAS officers keep their very substantial share of illegal money which is invested in industry and foreign bank accounts.
Curiously, some officers having made a substantial pile have moved on to the political arena.For the political dispensation, loyalty and pliability of civil servants has been the main criterion for giving key postings and certainly not their merit. As a result, many of the most undeserving officers went up the promotion ladder in leaps and bounds while the scrupulous and deserving got shuttled from one place to another. A few resisted; others sold their souls to the devil.
The degeneration was complete when traders/ contractors/ wheeler-dealers with equally inferior morals came into the picture. Together they enjoyed so much power that they managed to circumvent the whole system of good governance. Civil servants became uncivil masters while the public was enslaved. While politicians fear going back to the voters every five years; civil servants are there for their entire life and career.
The Punjab province has had some ICS stalwarts. The Lawrence Brothers, Sir Penderell Moon, Bakshi Tek Chand (the first Indian Deputy Commissioner of Lahore), Tirlok Singh (whose land settlement formula for displaced persons has been accepted as an authoritative work by the Supreme Court), N. K. Mukherjee (who later served as Governor during the years of militancy), M.S. Randhawa, E.N. Mangat Rai, A.L. Fletcher to name only a few readily come to mind.
Fletcher Sahib was the model Financial Commissioner, Revenue, of Punjab. When the then Chief Minister telephoned him to influence decisions while he was presiding over the court, the FCR issued contempt of court notices to the Chief Minister.
The quality of political leadership in terms of governance and morality has reached rock bottom. A senior IAS officer, who was a successor Financial Commissioner to the legendary Fletcher Sahib, told me quite honestly that on court days, he received lists from the Chief Minister, the Revenue Minister and other important political dignitaries containing a fiat on the defendants or the plaintiffs who had to win their cases. This officer told me about the hopelessness of attempting to take revenue decisions on the basis of merit and record.
Public school education has come in for a lot of criticism for being elitist. But the fact remains that during British time, they were an ideal nursery for future civil servants. Sense of service and honour was instilled in their minds from a very early and impressionable age. Even when they came from a more modest background, young IAS officers of yore underwent invaluable training in which idealism was drummed into their minds by seniors of impeccable integrity. Such role models are now difficult to find.
There is another basic flaw at the recruitment stage when civil servants who have achieved the age of 30 years are permitted entry into the service. A former Director of the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, went on record wringing his hands about the impossible task of infusing any kind of idealism into such hard-boiled recruits.
There was a time when a corrupt civil servant was publicly identified and till he was removed from service he was ostracised by his peers. Today we witness the reverse phenomenon where civil servants, who are caught making money on the sly, are protected by the herd mentality of their colleagues. Almost all inquiries and investigations are scuttled and end in nought. The civil servants do not realise that in the process they endanger the credibility of the premier service.
Corruption in the police force is more tragic for it wields the power of arrest and detention and the concomitant humiliation that goes with it. As many as six Director-Generals of Police in Haryana and Punjab have been jailed for corruption while only recently an IPS officer was held for murder.
When I asked a senior IAS officer known for his integrity and uprightness what should be done to retrieve the situation, he looked towards the well-manicured lawn in front of his old-style house and said wistfully that once poison ivy wraps itself around the hedge, there is no way that it can be gotten rid of without uprooting the entire hedge. Who is going to show the moral courage to take such a drastic step?
It is understood that the UPSC is thinking of replacing the preliminary examination with an aptitude test common for all applicants. Says its chairman D P Agarwal: "The emphasis will be on testing the aptitude of the candidates for the demanding life in the civil service, as well as on ethical and moral dimensions of decision-making". The trouble is that even if they do manage to hire the right men for the job, the wrong ones who are already there would tend to act as a contagion. The weeding out will have to be done very thoroughly if there is to be a turn-around in the country.
THE MAIDEN SHOT
BY MAJOR-GEN G.G. DWIVEDI
There was deafening silence. The only sound was of the fierce pounding of the heart deep inside the chest cavity. It was after a gruelling march of some 30-odd km that we had closed in on to Commila (now Bangladesh). Better part of the battalion was now stretched astride the road between the Commila airport and outer fringes of the town. Tumsum Bridge was the first objective. The fact was that the night of December 7 was destined to be part of history, one way or the other.
The start of operation for the initial phase of attack was to be silent one. As part of the leading platoon of the company, we had reached the close proximity of the enemy's defences. One could see hazy silhouettes of men, frantically loading up weapons and equipment. So far, the surprise element was intact. To ensure that we did not give out the show by transmitting on radio set, the company commander asked me to walk back a few hundred yards and seek in person the commanding officer's permission to commence the attack.
Barely had I covered hundred odd yards along with runner Chhotu Ram in toe, carefully avoiding stepping on string of men deployed close to road, all of a sudden flashlights appeared on the road. Apparently, two vehicles were heading towards the town. What could these be? Certainly not our own vehicles. As I was pondering over the issue, all hell broke lose! Everyone seemed to be firing at the vehicles, with whatever one had at hand.
Suddenly the leading vehicle, a Dodge jeep, screeched to a halt, right in front of me, barely at a handshake distance. Its tyres had possibly flattened, and it was taking fire from all directions. Trigger happiness was at its height. There were four of five occupants in the vehicle. One of them was firing the mounted Bren Machine Gun.
I too cocked my carbine. Adopting perfect battle crouch position I squeezed the trigger, aiming at the Bren Gunner. I felt the jerk of the burst. Suddenly, the Bren Gun stopped firing. Possibly the grip of the man had loosened up. It was a perfect hit at soft spot, right in the chest. He crumbled yelling, "have mercy".
I exulted! After all, I had proved worthy of the long years of arduous training. I had stood my ground and was unfazed in the face of fire. Still maintaining battle crouch position, unmindful of bullets flying, I was upbeat, having passed muster in real battle. My first shot being perfect hit, undoubtedly I had earned my spurs. There was nothing left to prove now. Within seconds, from a greenhorn, I stood transformed into a battle hardened soldier.
In fraction of a second, I realised my carbine was not firing anymore. There was "double feed" fault which I failed to rectify. Chhotu Ram with one jerk pulled me down to lying position, while feverishly chanting "Hanuman Chalisa". In less than a minute, there was a big bang and the vehicle was now ablaze; an inferno, a huge ball of fire.
There was utter confusion real fog of war. Battle for Commilla was being fought fiercely. As usual, it is always a few plucky hearted who carry the day. Company Havilder Major Krishna Ram was the hero that night as it was he who set the stage for the fall of Commila, through his superhuman deed. He thus earned the distinction of winning the first Vir Chakra for the battalion. Alas! Posthumously.
Later on, during the long service career, one went through series of operational assignments, but no skirmish was as close as the one at Commila. Today, 38 years later, as I reflect back on the event, my mood is very somber. I am no more excited. In fact I have deep respect for the victim who fell to my fire, as he was a brave soldier who manned his weapon under most precarious circumstances. In the hindsight, I solemly wish my maiden shot need not have been a "bulls eye".
BANE OF PAROCHIALISM
THE THACKERAYS ARE STILL MARGINAL PLAYERS
BY AMULYA GANGULI
The Thackeray family is passing through a topsy-turvy period. After his demoralising defeat in the Maharashtra assembly elections, Bal Thackeray had bemoaned his loss of faith in the "Marathi-speaking people". Suddenly, he demonstrated his old penchant of being more extremist than his challengers. Like all fighters, he took calculated risks. The most audacious of them was his targeting of Sachin Tendulkar, unarguably the tallest of Maharashtrians today.
By criticising Sachin's view that Mumbai belonged to all, Balasaheb showed how he would not allow his feelings for the primacy of Marathi manoos to come in the way of his habit of speaking frankly. If necessary, he was prepared to hit out at the most celebrated of Marathis if that person claimed to be an Indian first and a Maharashtrian next.
Perhaps to guard his flank, Balasaheb then placed Sunil Gavaskar ahead of Tendulkar as a truer Marathi. But his aggressive tone was reminiscent of the old warhorse who could bring the Maximum City to a halt whenever he wanted.
Even as Balasaheb heaved a sigh of relief for having worsted Raj for the time being, there were reports about his daughter-in-law, Smita, joining the Congress. Considering that other Shivsainiks before her like Chhagan Bhujbal, Narayan Rane and Sanjay Nirupam had similarly crossed the floor, the rumours caused little surprise. How she was positioning herself against her father-in-law and others in the family was also evident from her article in the Loksatta which said that language was supposed to "link" people, not divide them.
However, as the bahu showed signs of restiveness, Raj performed a minor somersault by enabling the Shiv Sena to grab the Mumbai mayor's post by ordering the MNS councillors to abstain from voting. Perhaps he felt that the persistent criticism of the MNS for helping the Congress and the NCP to win by dividing the saffron vote bank persuaded Raj to soften a little. Since the Samajwadi Party abstained from voting, thereby helping the Shiv Sena candidate, the subterranean "link" between the MNS of the Marathi manoos and the Samajwadi Party of the Hindi-speaking people was also obvious.
These twists and turns show that while the Thackerays may succeed in occasionally hitting the headlines, their outfits the Shiv Sena and the MNS would never be stable enough to be anything other than marginal parties. Balasaheb's earlier lament, therefore, that "it is the Marathi-speaking people who have betrayed us" remains valid.
What seemed to be worrying the Shiv Sena chief was his inability to comprehend why even after his four-decade-long championing of the Marathi cause, the people of the state should have rejected him in favour of a new kid on the block. Since the latter was mouthing the same slogans, why did the people believe that he had a better chance of achieving what the aging patriarch could not?
Even if this perception among the people was true, what probably mystified the elder Thackeray was why a section of his supporters had turned to Raj although they must have known that there was no real chance of his attaining power. If, instead of trying a new alternative, the saffron-minded electorate had stood behind the Shiv Sena and the BJP, these two allies could have given the Congress-NCP combination a run for its money.
However, this isn't how the voters look at an election scene. Except when there is a wave as in 1977 after the Emergency or in 1989 after Indira Gandhi's assassination the electors seemingly follow their own preferences without giving much thought to a candidate's or a party's chances of success or failure. This unfocussed attitude explains why, apart from the Congress-NCP and the Shiv Sena-BJP alliances, Independents and other parties won as many as 41 seats in Maharashtra this time up from 32 in 2004 with a vote share of 26.6 per cent. It is worth pointing out that their percentage is higher than that of any other party, with the Congress coming second with 21 per cent.
The lesson for all the four main contenders, therefore, is that in terms of percentages, one-fourth of the electorate remains outside their political ambit. Since this section of what can be called floating voters is an important feature of a democracy, a primary objective of all parties is to win them over to add their votes to those of the committed supporters. However, these unattached voters rally for or against a party only when popular feelings are running high. Otherwise, they refuse to be politically labelled.
The senior Thackeray scripted his own downfall the moment he adopted the conflict-ridden politics of sub-nationalism with an excessive focus on the Marathi manoos in the mid-Sixties. Although he became a person to reckon with in Mumbai, his was the influence of a mafia don, for he was feared and not admired. While other state-based parties such as the Dravida Kazhagams, the Telugu Desam, the Akali Dal, the Biju Janata Dal and the Asom Gana Parishad, among others, not only acquired power but also a measure of legitimacy, the Shiv Sena earlier, and the MNS now, never quite achieved this status.
The explanation perhaps lies in their penchant for street violence which is the hallmark of both the Senas. None of the other parties, except for the AGP's predecessor, the All Assam Students' Union, based their politics on direct attacks on specific groups, as the Shiv Sena and the MNS have done with regard to south Indians and the Muslims, in the case of the Shiv Sena, and the north Indians where the MNS is concerned.
The adoption of such tactics could not but limit the growth potential of these two parties. Sections of the working class and the lower middle class may have voted for them. But neither the enlightened and liberal Marathis, nor the other non-Marathi residents of the state. Once a party purposefully stymies its own capability to widen its base of support, it is pointless to accuse the voters of betrayal. In a way, such a narrow-minded attitude underlines an incapacity to appreciate the dynamics of a democratic system with its innate tilt towards a diverse polity.
GIRLS ATTEND SCHOOLS IN THE SHADOW OF THE BOMBERS
BY RAYMOND WHITAKER
Hasina Shah, 10, used to enjoy going to school, where Pashto and Urdu were her favourite subjects. "That was before the Taliban planted a bomb that explosion," she says.
Though Muslim and traditional in outlook, Hasina's home district of Buner in north-west Pakistan favours the education of girls. That could not be more different from the outlook of the Islamist extremists who seized the area earlier this year. Hasina described the process of intimidation that followed.
"First, two men stopped girls on their way to school and told them: 'We don't want you to attend,'" she said. "Word quickly spread, and some families kept their daughters at home." Then older girls were told they could only go to school if they wore the all-enveloping burqa, which is not customary in Buner.
Finally, in April, the Taliban resorted to murder. "We were having an Urdu lesson on a Monday morning when there was a blast, and the wall fell down," Hasina said. "A girl in another class was killed. All the children were screaming and crying. I ran all the way home."
Shortly afterwards, the Pakistani government, backed by Britain and the United States, launched a military assault to drive the Taliban out of Buner and the neighbouring district of Swat. Hasina and her family, like nearly two million others, were forced to flee for their lives. But even though the militants have departed, and the family was able to return home in October, life is still far from normal.
After the school was repaired, the fears both of pupils and of parents kept many away at first. Hasina plucked up the courage to attend after the first week, but became so nervous that she would go home at break. "Then two people came to the school and talked to me and the others about what had happened," she said.
"That helped us. I'm still talking about it a lot with my friends, and some of us are still scared, but I'm now staying for the whole day."
The visitors to the school were counsellors paid for by ActionAid, whose work in Buner and Swat is being supported by The Independent on Sunday Christmas appeal. The charity is seeking to train 300 teachers in psycho-social support for traumatised pupils as part of a programme to restore the education system in a region laid waste this year by fighting.
In Swat, where nearly half of the 800 schools were damaged, ActionAid aims to provide temporary facilities for 7,000 pupils, who will be taught in tents insulated against the mountainous district's freezing winters.
Such help cannot come fast enough for the secondary schoolgirls being taught in an open alleyway at a primary school in Mingora, Swat's capital. "We used to have such a beautiful building," said the vice-principal, sitting at her desk on an open veranda.
"Masked militants came one day last February, during the holidays, and told people living near the school to leave if they didn't want to die. Then they blew it up."
Although there is a heavy army and police presence in Mingora, the extremists continue to broadcast threats on FM radio, keeping nerves on edge. All the teachers I spoke to asked for their names to be withheld, and female teachers and pupils remained veiled in photographs for their safety.
"The authorities suggested we rent a building, but we feel safer here in government premises," the vice-principal said, indicating the policeman guarding the gate. Nor was the destruction confined to girls' schools: nearby was a boys' high school in which every door and window had been blasted out. The first-floor staff room was still in use, despite having one wall and part of the floor missing.
As bad as the physical damage has been the educational disruption suffered by tens of thousands of children who spent much of the year in refugee camps, and now find it impossible to concentrate on their studies. Months after they returned, many pupils are staying at home, either because of emotional disturbance or because their parents fear further acts of terrorism. The Taliban's medieval attitude to women has hurt female education in particular.
"Problems started to emerge a couple of years ago," said Saira, a teacher in a mixed primary school in Mingora. "There were irregular curfews, and the school would be open for a day, then closed for 10 days. "Schools started to receive letters from the Taliban, telling women teachers and older female pupils to wear the burqa," Saira said. "We complied, but then they demanded that all women stay at home. Finally they started killing women they accused of 'immorality'. I saw two with their heads chopped off."
The Taliban were driven out of Mingora soon afterwards, but some teachers have decided, in the words of one of Saira's colleagues: "Teaching is not safe any more I want to do something else." Most, however, are determined to carry on.
"If my pupils are going to die, I will die with them," another female primary teacher said. Your donations to ActionAid will help not only to support brave women like these but to fight the ignorance and illiteracy on which extremism thrives.n
By arrangement with The Independent
SC IS BOTH LITIGANT AND ADJUDICATOR
What prompted the Supreme Court to don the dual role of the litigant and adjudicator on the judges' appointment issue? After the Central Information Commission's fiat to the apex court to provide information on SC judges' assets to an applicant under the RTI, it challenged the order in the High Court. The HC upheld the CIC's ruling that the CJI was covered under the RTI. This forced the SC to appeal against this ruling before a larger Bench.
If the verdict of the larger HC Bench goes against it, the SC would have to seek relief from itself. So, when the CIC recently directed it to provide details of three judges' appointment, the apex court filed a case with itself.
We need a mechanism such as the National Judicial Commission as in some Commonwealth countries for dealing with complaints against the judiciary.
Najma draws attention
Rajya Sabha member Najma Heptulla, demonstrated the aggressive part of her personality when the House was debating an issue concerning the plight of women. She noticed Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel and Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor engaged in animated discussions.
Hum bewakoof ki tarah bolte hain, lekin koi wahan nahi sun raha (we talk like fools, but nobody listens to us on the other side), she said, drawing Deputy Chairman K Rehman Khan's attention towards the treasury benches. Khan smiled and said that the word bewakoof (fool) is being expunged from the proceedings since it is unparliamentary.
Main apne aap ko keh rahi hoon (I am talking about myself, was the cryptic reply of Najma. Her statement had a telling effect on those on the treasury benches as everybody attentively heard the remaining part of her speech.
With all eyes fixed at the BJP leaders post the tabling of Justice M.S Liberhan report in the Lok Sabha recently, the one man who must have been missing attention is former party loyalist Jaswant Singh.
Away from the BJP benches sits a lonely Jaswant, who usually tip toes into the House these days and parks himself along side his JD(U) friends in the third row on the opposition side. Though he sits firm, consciously denying emotions a place on his face, he can't after all hide his interest in the play-out marking the post-Liberhan report tabling phase.
It was only after the tabling of the report that Jaswant started attending the LS since its winter session commenced. In fact the first day he attended the House was the anniversary of 26/11. The timing of his entrance coincided with the sparring between the BJP and leader of the House Pranab Mukherjee on the issue of delayed compensation to terror victims.
Contributed by R. Sedhuraman, Ashok Tuteja and Aditi Tandon
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
OBAMA'S AFGHAN MOVE
US President Barack Obama's decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan to "seize the initiative" in the ongoing onslaught by US-led NATO forces against the Taliban marks a major policy decision of the Obama administration. Under growing domestic pressure to withdraw from a war without any tangible benefits to the US, President Obama deliberated long three months to arrive at a decision that more forces could defeat the Al-Qaeda , crush a resurgent Taliban and pave the way for an honourable withdrawal.The President's decision has been greatly influenced by the growing threat of the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the democratic forces and the fear that their victory in Afghanistan would pose a big threat to Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.India has welcomed the US decision on Afghanistan saying, "India was very pleased that pressure on the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan and on the Pak-Afghanistan border will not be eased." India has reasons to be pleased considering the growing belligerence of the Taliban threat to attack Indian cities from across the border of Pakistan and growing apprehension of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling in the hands of the Taliban.
Indian Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his recent State-visit to the United States had appealed to President Obama not withdraw from Afghanistan as it would prove to be a big blow to the democratic forces in the world, besides threatening peace and security in South Asia.Though India is not directly involved in the armed conflict in the war-ravaged country, it has been contributing millions of dollars for infrastructure building efforts like roads, airports, hospitals, schools etc.Thousands of Indians are there in Afghanistan helping in the reconstruction work. Both the US and India share a common objective to see that the democratic forces triumph in Afghanistan.In the final analysis, President Obama has taken a gamble in pushing forward the US involvement in the face of warnings that he may be trapped in a Vietnam-like quagmire before the US presidential elections of 2012. Under the circumstances, the support of Western NATO alliance and countries like India would be crucial to strengthen the forces of democracy in Afghanistan.More importantly President Hamid Karzai's government in Kabul must rise to the occasion to win the minds and hearts of the Afghan people to crush the Taliban.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
BAMBOO PROSPECTS OF NE
It is more than an established fact that bamboo resources of north-eastern region occupies centre stage of its economic development not only because it is in abundant supply and it can be put to wide-ranging uses but also because bamboo-based products can potentially avail Green House Gas mitigation benefits with activities in plantation stage, bamboo gasification for power and charcoal preparation for thermal use besides its potentiality to replace scarce timber. It may be recalled that the three-day World Bamboo Congress held at Bangkok in last September, in fact, shifted its focus from China, the long-time centre of attraction, to India and, more particularly, the north-eastern region where almost 70 per cent of the country's bamboo resources originate. It is important to note that the region is already known for its bamboo technological expertise and the Director of United Nations Industrial Development Organisational Centre for South-South Industrial Cooperation also visited Assam to get acquainted with the bamboo technological excellence of north-eastern region.
With technological know-how, bamboo could emerge as a viable alternative to wood and could effectively revive the plywood factories of Assam in their new form. China has already fixed its eyes on Nagaland for developing bamboo industry in the State which is equipped with as many as 46 bamboo varieties. The venture could also take a leading role in fighting against climate change to help global efforts in this direction. In real term, the benefits to farmers in North-East could be substantial because unlike other forest resources, various species of bamboo grow in this region in natural conditions. Unlike timber, bamboo also takes much less time to mature and could lead to fast harvesting and replenishment. The National Bamboo Mission (NBM) that has put special stress on plantation and processing of bamboo has set a target of planting 1,72,000 hec. of bamboo in forest land of the country and another equal area of land in non-forest area by 2012. Bamboo products when developed under modern use of technology will have wide market not only in the home country but also in many countries of the world, particularly in the US and European nations. According to the Chairman of advisory body of the National Mission on Bamboo Application, though China is presently dominating export market of bamboo products, India with its vast resources has the potential to enter world market in a big way. However, despite vast possibilities, investors are yet to demonstrate much enthusiasm even though many expressed their keen interest in New Delhi international conference last year to participate and develop bamboo cultivation. This is in spite of the National Mission on Bamboo Application providing interest-free loans to promising entrepreneurs. With gradual revival of sense of security in the region, investment must be forthcoming to this promising venture soon. The farmers should, however, be encouraged to grow and replenish various bamboo species to meet well the upcoming demand.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
A FARCE CALLED THE SECURITY COUNCIL
When the United Nations Charter finally came into effect on the 24th October 1945, the United Nations consisted of six principal organs, 15 agencies and many programmes and other bodies. The six principal organs are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Secretariat, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the International Court for Justice located at the Hague in the Netherlands. The total budget for the UN approved by the General Assembly for the biennium 2004-05 was $3.16 billion. So one can get a fair idea of how lavishly the UN is able to spend the money of its member nations.
The United Nations Security Council has the primary responsibility within the UN for maintaining international peace and security. The Council may, therefore, investigate any dispute that threatens international peace and security. The Security Council has five permanent members, namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. It now has ten non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. Until 1962 the Security Council had only six non-permanent members. Decisions on procedural issues are made by an affirmative vote of nine members. On all other matters, the affirmative vote of nine members must include the concurring votes of all the five permanent members. It is this stipulation that gives the permanent members the veto power that can sometimes sabotage sane decisions merely because they may go against the interests of one or the other of the permanent members.
For an organ of the UN that has the maintenance of international peace and security as its exclusive mandate, the choice of the permanent members was rather unfortunate to begin with. All the permanent members are nuclear weapons States. Did the comity of nations honestly believe that the five nuclear powers alone were best suited to discharge the responsibility of maintaining peace in the world? What kind of peace could five nations with the destructive power of nuclear weapons ensure anywhere in the world? A warped kind of peace that was based solely on the principle of deterrence? Was this the kind of peace that the world was looking for after two destructive world wars? But that was not all. These five nuclear powers decided that they alone would be the permanent members for all times to come. It was as though they had permanently shut the door of the Security Council to all other member countries of the UN. It was as though the rest of the world had no right of choice as far as the permanent membership of the Security Council was concerned. It was as though the hegemony of the five members unto perpetuity could be rammed down the throats of the rest of the world. It was as though no other country had the right to even think of other permanent members of the Security Council. This was most undemocratic, to say the least, for a world organization that was under an obligation to choose democracy as its sole means of survival.
What is common about the five permanent members of the Security Council that gives them the arbitrary right to remain permanent members of the Council unto perpetuity and to keep out all other contenders solely on the strength of their veto powers? All of them are countries with nuclear capability. Three of them are European countries with the sole exception of China. The United States, with a short history of just a few centuries, has a culture largely borrowed from Europe. These four countries were also World War II allies. China, the odd one in the group, wielded some clout both by virtue of being a nuclear power and also because it is the most populous country in the world. But where does one see any sign of the UN Security Council striving for even a semblance of fair representation to at least all the continents of the world? What about a fairer representation to Asia with a far greater population than any of the other continents of the world? More importantly for us, what about a place for India that is the second most populous country of the world besides being a nuclear power and a country that bids fair to become a major economic power in the near future? What about permanent memberships also for countries like Brazil (so far South America has gone unrepresented)?
However, far more germane to the issue of the perpetual hegemony of the big five is the kind of hypocrisy that we have long been witness to in respect of both non-proliferation and disarmament. None of the permanent members of the Security Council will ever do anything about reducing the extent of their own nuclear capability or setting an example to the rest of the world in respect of cutting down on proliferation by the big five. What we have been witness to over the decades is sermons to the rest of the world. This must constitute the least effective way of ensuring world peace.
India's efforts to get the United Nations to increase the size of the Security Council and to have more permanent members than the present five has not made much headway because both the United States and China are opposed to having India as a permanent member. France and Russia have responded positively to the idea while Britain has been non-committal. However, one can see that the opposition of the US and China are beginning to wear thin in the face of wider world opinion and the force of irrefutable logic. Ironically enough, any country making a bid for a place among the permanent members of the Security Council must be a nuclear weapons state. And this status is decided by Article IX (3) of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which goes as follows: "For the purposes of this Treaty, a nuclear weapon State is one which has manufactured and exploded a nuclear weapon or other nuclear explosive device prior to 1 January 1967." So, all that is really needed for India, already a de facto nuclear weapon State, to become a de jure nuclear weapon State for purposes of formal recognition is that Article IX (3) of the NPT should be amended to change the date mentioned at the end from 1 January 1967 to 1 January 1975. Hence all that the amendment needs is a change in the last two digits to the date. According to Article VIII of the NPT, a special conference to amend the NPT can be held at any time, and this is likely to be early in 2010. However, the million-dollar question is whether the United States and China will agree to the amendment. The veto powers of the five permanent members of the Security Council will prevail. And China and the US are unlikely to let the amendment go through. In fact, one should not be greatly surprised to find one or more of the permanent members of the Security Council even sabotaging a conference convened to bring in such an amendment. However, the surge of world opinion against the permanent hegemony of the present permanent members of the Security Council is already gaining momentum, and it may be just a matter of time before the Security Council is compelled to change its composition especially in respect of the number of permanent members. After all, there was a similar resistance to increasing the number of non-permanent members from six to ten, but the United Nations had to succumb to world opinion and bring about a change in 1962. Another change in the composition of the Security Council seems inevitable and imminent, and when Article IX(3) of the NPT does get amended and paves the way for India's eventual inclusion among the permanent members of the Security Council, the people of India will hopefully remember that this was almost entirely due to the initiative of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Perhaps the only initiative of international significance to match the present initiative of Dr Manmohan Singh to get Article IX(3) of the NPT amended as a precursor to India's inclusion as a permanent member of the Security Council is Jawaharlal Nehru's creation of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM). Be that as it may, the comity of nations cannot go on countenancing a Security Council that appears to be as farcical and bizarre at present as Henry Kissinger or Barack Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
DOWNSTREAM IMPACT OF HYDEL PROJECTS
The Ministry of Environment & Forests (MoEF) in New Delhi has been sticking to a 10 km Lakshman Rekha (a strict norm) while evaluating the downstream impacts of large hydroelectric projects, ignoring the major concerns being raised in the Brahmaputra valley. In September this year a wide array of civil society groups from Assam sent memoranda to the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, expressing concern about how the downstream impacts of mega dams (mainly in upstream Arunachal Pradesh) were being ignored during the evaluation of these projects for various clearances by the Centre.
In the current winter session of Parliament, Rajya Sabha MP from Assam, Birendra Prasad Baishya, asked the Power Ministry about the steps taken by it to address the serious downstream concerns about dams in the State. On November 23 Bharatsinh Solanki, Minister of State for Power, gave a reply in the Rajya Sabha. He referred to post-clearance downstream studies currently being undertaken in the Lower Subansiri, Ranganadi Stage I and Pare hydroelectric projects. The reply interestingly also said: "Further, the Ministry of Environment & Forests while approving the Terms of Reference (ToR) for the construction of big dams, includes the assessment of downstream impacts in the ToR for preparation of Environmental Impact Assessment report."
On what basis has the Power Ministry made the claim that the MoEF includes downstream impacts while prescribing ToR for Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) studies? Is it referring to the absolutely inadequate ToRs which are restricted to only 10 km downstream, ignoring the impacts on the Brahmaputra floodplains in Assam? In the context in which Baishya had asked the question, the answer of the Power Ministry is clearly misleading. The MoEF has prescribed ToRs for over three dozen dams in the North East in the last two years and in all except one case, the collection of 'baseline data' has been restricted to only 10 km downstream! The actual 'prediction of impacts' in the downstream has in most cases been restricted even further, only between the dam and powerhouse! Only one limited aspect of the studies, the 'dam-break analysis', looks at a distance beyond 10 km downstream. This study predicts how much area downstream will be flooded in case of the dam-breaks. But there are a number of important downstream livelihood and ecological issues other than the possibility of 'dam-break' which require a comprehensive downstream impact assessment to be done in advance.
Where did this 10 km Lakshman Rekha emerge from? The MoEF has been following a general practice of asking for baseline data to be collected in a 10 km radius of a project while conducting EIA studies. While this 10 km. distance may be a useful rule-of-thumb as a starting point, there is nothing in law which prohibits the MoEF or its Expert Appraisal Committees (EACs) to look at a distance beyond 10 km wherever relevant. In fact project authorities need to approach the MoEF for a process called 'Scoping' before they commission the EIA report. The precise objective of the 'Scoping' process is for the EAC/MoEF to prescribe site specific ToRs to conduct EIA studies as per the local context.
The first impact of a dam is on the river; therefore it is logical that we properly study the impacts of a dam on the river system downstream. Neither impact assessment studies nor public hearings are being held in the downstream affected areas in Assam for projects coming up in Arunachal Pradesh and other upstream States. There is nothing in the environmental laws which prohibit the holding of public hearings in downstream Assam. The continuing decision of the MoEF to ignore these vital downstream issues during the decision-making stage clearly defies logic.
The Central Government has instead resorted to prescribing downstream studies after giving a green signal to projects! What is the use of such studies? Should these studies not be done in advance to decide whether to grant or reject clearances to specific projects? Solanki in his reply in Parliament referred to two such post-clearance studies commissioned in the Dikrong Panyor (Ranganadi) and Subansiri river basins by the Central PSUs NEEPCO & NHPC respectively. The MOEF while evaluating the 1500 MW Tipaimukh hydroelectric project for environmental clearance ignored the downstream concerns and granted clearance in October 2008. They instead prescribed a post-clearance downstream study as a formality: "Due to construction of the dam, downstream impacts of the project in the State of Assam should be studied."
There is only one project where the MoEF has transgressed the 10 km Lakshman Rekha while prescribing the ToR for EIA studies before environmental clearance. It has asked for partial downstream impact assessment studies (other than dam-break analysis) beyond the 10 km. distance in the 3000 MW Dibang multipurpose project in August this year.
In a very recent development, the MoEF appointed EAC on River Valley & Hydroelectric projects has in its October 2009 meeting recommended the 1750 MW Demwe Lower project on the Lohit river for environmental clearance without a downstream impact study on Assam or a public hearing in the state. It remains to be seen if the MoEF accepts the EAC recommendations or is responsive to the widespread public concerns in downstream Assam.
If the MoEF goes by the obvious logic that the Lohit river flows through downstream Assam, it will ask for comprehensive impact assessment studies and public consultation in the State before deciding whether to grant or reject environmental clearance to the 1750 MW Demwe Lower project. Meanwhile, the public has no option but to feel frustrated with the insensitivity of the current decision-making process which is ignoring the local context and uniformly restricting studies to only 10 km downstream of a mega hydroelectric project. The demand from the Brahmaputra valley is clear: "Damn this Lakshman Rekha."
(The writer is a member of Kalpavriksh, an environmental action group).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THROUGH THE THIRD EYE
SECOND TO NONE
AS TRS chief Chandrashekhar Rao and TDP leader Chandrababu Naidu struggle to revive their political fortunes, the Congress high command seems to have become aware of the lack of a credible leadership in Andhra Pradesh. The party high command may have finally got CM Rosaiah elected as the CLP leader after a balancing act with YSR loyalists saw his widow entering the state assembly. But then, both Rosaiah and PCC chief Srinivas lack mass appeal and a social base. In a state where the Congress' traditional support comes from the Reddy community, the party now finds itself without a single established Reddy leader. And any attempt to groom a second-rung Reddy leader could invite swift resistance from the YSR Jr camp. The 'leadership vacuum', party old-timers say, posits the pitfalls of the present high command's style of putting all the eggs in one basket unlike the traditional Congress style of grooming 2-3 leaders in every state as part of the in-house balancing and 'checkmating' games.
The ongoing twists in the Mulayam-Amar Singh partnership have made some people in the RJD take a closer look at the life and friendships of their boss, Lalu Yadav. Many RJD fellows think that what Amar is to Mulayam, Prem Chand Gupta is to Lalu. In fact, Gupta, once a small businessman from Haryana, had become so important to Lalu that he even became one of the RJD cabinet ministers in the first UPA regime, much to the anger and envy of old associates of the RJD chief. With Lalu's blessings, Gupta even made it to the Rajya Sabha more than once from Bihar. But he seems to have done a Houdini ever since the RJD lost its way in Bihar. This MP, RJD people say, is now ensuring he doesn't attract media glare or cross the path of party colleagues. Practical stuff in a battered party!
BJP president Rajnath Singh's entry as the opening BJP speaker in the Liberhan report debate was not the only twist that upset the Advani camp's script for the Lok Sabha floor show. Murli Manohar Joshi is the other issue. It is well known that LK & Co would love to push Dr Joshi into a tight corner. But then, they are also paranoid about Joshi's proximity to the RSS. BJP floor leaders also found, much to their dislike, that Dr Joshi became a key party speaker when the House debated inflation and the Indian stand at Copenhagen. The LK camp then devised a ploy to keep him off the Liberhan debate, saying none of the saffron leaders indicted in the report would speak. After all, why allow Joshi to steal the thunder and end up indicting Advani for expressing tactical 'regret' for the demolition? So, many in the BJP are now praying Joshi doesn't make any unscheduled 'intervention' during the two-day debate, especially after Mohan Bhagwat's debate-eve margdarshan.
THE LEFT ANGLE
The Left may have become marginal, but that doesn't stop the comrades from gaining a strategic role in the present House. With a giggle, many Left MPs aver the BJP, faced with post-Liberhan House isolation, is going out of its way to appease the comrades to remain afloat in the 'mainstream opposition camp'. So, the BJP, which often demanded the dismissal of the WB Left Front regime, has joined the CPI()M in protesting the alleged 'UPA bid to sack' the Buddha regime. From the cane farmers issue to price rise, BJP played second fiddle to the likes of the Left, Mulayam and Ajit Singh. It even sacrificed 'parivar pride' by not raking up the Liberhan issue before the scheduled debate on the issue. The Left is now taking credit for forcing the BJP to play the 'constructive cooperation' role. The things the spectre of political isolation can do...
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA TOPS TEST TEAM RANKINGS
On the morning of December 6, when the last Lankan batsman edged Harbhajan into Dhoni's gloves, the country erupted with joy. India had not just won but become the No. 1 Test-playing team with 124 points, followed by South Africa with 122, Australia with 116 and Sri Lanka with 115. India won the second and third Tests by an innings after recovering from 32 for 4 on the opening day of the series and holding on to draw the first Test.
However, holding on to the No. 1 spot will be difficult for no fault of the Indian team. As per the Future Tests Programme (FTP) agreed to by the BCCI, India will play just five Tests in 2010! Other countries will be playing more Tests and racking up more points. Again, a marginal difference of points does not make a national team an outstanding side that dominates the Test arena like first the West Indies from the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s, and then Australia.
With much more cricket throughout the year, especially ODIs and T20, and with Indian cricketers playing 45 days of IPL during what used to be the summer break, injuries are more common, especially for fast bowlers. The BCCI has to be far more focused on spotting and developing new talent to take over when bowlers are injured or when batsmen retire. The best middle-order batting line-up in contemporary cricket is made up of Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman, all three of whom are in their mid-30s and could retire in a year or two.
Hundreds of millions of Indian fans have made the BCCI the most affluent cricketing board in the world. Other boards like Cricket Australia have a vision plan that is implemented at the grassroots. Whereas the BCCI still doesn't have a bowler-coach for the national team, something every IPL squad has! Instead of resting on the laurels of commercial success, the BCCI would do well to emulate Cricket Australia.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
It's welcome news that a clutch of companies, led from the front by the Tatas, are putting in place policies to diversify the social base of their workforce, by trying to give preference to those from the deprived sections of society, other things being equal. This is all to the good, but falls short of either what accelerated social change requires or what politicians hankering to represent the deprived sections would find as acceptable levels of corporate commitment to their cause. While reservations in the private sector would be a bad idea, it would make sense for the private sector to ward off populist pressure to bring these in.
This is indeed why our industry chambers have set up committees on affirmative action. It is important for industry, as much as for the political class, to appreciate that the present era is special when it comes to tackling social discrimination on the basis of caste. This is because of the rapid economic growth and concomitant structural diversification in the economy arising from globalisation.
In the pre-Independence days when anti-caste movements and related ideas of social reform were most forceful, the material condition for linking social reform with economic change did not exist: economic growth was at a snail's pace, agriculture remained predominant and primordial and the scope for inter-generational social mobility was close to zero. High correlation between birth and occupation forms the material basis of caste.
If the hewers of wood and scavengers of nightsoil could hope to see no occupation for their next generation other than their own, reform of caste remains some minor reshuffling of ritual hierarchy. And this is what came about from social reform movements unrelated to economic change. Today, when economic change is vibrant, the anti-caste agenda is virtually dead. What we do have are caste solidarity movements that reinforce, rather than degrade, caste distinctions.
The challenge is to revive the anti-caste agenda of social reform, and marry it with globalised growth and economic diversification. It must, of course, have political leadership. Companies can help through community outreach that nurtures, educates and empowers people at levels of engagement several steps prior to hiring.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
Carbon dioxide in the air causes climate change. The same gas in water produces fizz. It apparently has a similar effect on some of our negotiators, activists and the Opposition. Their brouhaha over the Centre's supposed change of stance at the Copenhagen climate summit is so much froth. India's proposal to voluntarily reduce its intensity of CO2 emissions, up to 20-25% by 2020, makes perfect sense in terms of economics, public policy and negotiating position. Our move would likely be at negative or zero net cost.
Consider, for instance, thermal power plants that account for over half our carbon emissions. India would invest Rs 74,000 crore in the power sector over the next five years to cut back on emissions. But in the process, new technology with supercritical boilers and superior thermal efficiency would generate much more power without proportionate addition of fuel inputs like coal and, effectively, add over 20,000 mw in new capacity to the system. Given the fact that setting up greenfield capacity would be at a far higher cost, the rationale for revving up thermal efficiency and reducing emission intensity is, for the expert, a no-brainer. Yet our negotiators seemed stumped.
Besides, India's gameplan puts us on a strong wicket at Copenhagen. We are now at a vantage position to seek legally-binding, mandatory emission reductions by the wealthy nations. Note that constructive action abroad is likely to fast-forward technological change, speeding up commercialisation of ultra-supercritical boilers, etc, for added efficiency improvement in power systems. We also plan to have 20,000 mw of emissions-free solar power capacity by 2022 we have zilch today.
Given widespread energy poverty in India, our utilities, corporates and households need to be far more efficient in usage. The idea that the poor use carbon-spewing biomass as fuel and so we cannot afford to bring down our emission intensity does not wash either. What's required is proactive policy to diffuse solar lamps and cookers and end open-ended subsidies on hydrocarbons, that serve to divert fuel for adulteration and smuggling across the border. The Centre now needs to follow through with purposeful energy policy reforms.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CAT GLITCHES: SOME OBSERVATIONS
The youngsters thwarted by technical and viral glitches at the computer terminals of the online CAT (or Common Admission Test), and even their parents, deserve our deepest sympathy. The anxiety, trauma, uncertainty and concerns faced by such students are real indeed and what is unfortunate is that nothing that IIMs do now can quite undo the damage suffered by those students. But, do the glitches faced by the world's largest show of on-line testing ever, tell adversely on the integrity, credibility, fairness and reliability of the IIMs' entrance test process, as has been made out in several sections of the press? One must disagree.
Consider some of the following statistics. The on-line CAT involves testing nearly 250,000 students over a ten-day period, spread across 32 cities, 104 locations and 361 labs. The famed on-line Graduate Management Aptitude Test (GMAT) held internationally, comes nowhere near the on-line CAT on any of these parameters. For example, in GMAT, there would barely be a dozen-odd candidates in any given lab or even a city, taking the test on a given day.
So why did IIMs attempt a transition from a well-oiled physical paper-and-pencil test to an on-line one in the first place? Clearly, if the number of students taking the CAT were to go on increasing at the present rate, very soon conducting such a test manually would have been nearly impossible. The transition simply had to be made. Now was perhaps better than later, when the numbers would only be larger still.
What is more, the basic task of printing the mammoth number of test papers typically involves several faculty members spending a couple of weeks non-stop yes , they cannot leave the premises at a high security printing press, ensuring that the integrity of the process remains protected. It is because IIMs hold the integrity of CAT absolutely sacrosanct that the process has almost never been compromised over the decades, save once, when coincidentally, IIMs were engaged in a bitter fight with the then government, and a leak was reported from the government press. But, year after year, to subject a select group of faculty to undergo such hardship and shoulder such an onerous task, not only seems seriously unfair to those faculty members, but also a highly risky proposition to the institution of CAT.
Few major initiatives are without some initial hiccups. When Terminal 5 opened in Heathrow, there were initial setbacks. Our on-line voting system wasn't without its share of initial glitches either. Of course, hind-sight always has a 20/20 vision and we can now recount a host of things the IIM Admission team could or should have done or not done. But IIMs couldn't have built their credibility over the years without possessing the competence required to do all the homework required for the transition.
Nor have their post-glitch efforts been found wanting. The percentage of total affected labs has steadily gone down from 13% on the opening day (November 28, 2009) to 0.8% on December 4, 2009. Also, while candidates may complain of slow downloading of questions, few may be aware that the system does not count the download time of the questions against them. What is more, the system captures the entire proceedings of the tests in all the labs on videos, adding up to nearly 14,500 hours of footage. This should enable the administrators to precisely pin-point the problem terminals and address the issue to ensure that not a single student suffers, or gets unfair advantage, on account of the technical glitches. But even if it should prove impossible, IIMs are bound to do whatever it takes to address the challenge to the integrity of their system.
The experience suggests that perhaps IIMs should think of conducting their CAT along the lines of GMAT spread out through the entire year, rather than concentrate the test in a span of ten days. This is because in the Indian environment, the maintenance standards of hardware of the many far-flung institutions operating the labs are hardly uniform. The problems inherent in quarantining the local area networks may be many. Superimpose upon these challenges, the sheer size of population taking the test, perhaps what the IIMs have attempted is inherently impossible. Perhaps the CAT questions should be randomly drawn from a much larger bank of questions, which IIMs have no doubt built up over the decades. If CAT is to be a reliable test, and if IIMs are to go international in due course, with some additional work, there is no reason why CAT cannot be made to work the same way as GMAT.
IIMs have established their credibility through decades of hard work. It is easy to trash it all in no time by creating a wrong perception in the minds of the people if we are not careful about how we react to the issue. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. The era of manual tests is over. IIMs are doing the right thing going online. Yes, they have hit some bumps. But let us not pillory them for their mistakes, but appreciate them for their initiative.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INCUBATING INNOVATION IN INDIA
Like "faster, higher, stronger", the motto of the Olympics, the magic mantra for most successful corporates is "cheaper, quicker, better". A strong comparative advantage in any of these can be the key ingredient to doing well. Examples abound: low-cost airlines and the mobile telecom sector symbols of India's growth demonstrate the advantages of being cheaper; "fast" food and courier companies have built their businesses around "quicker"; and many consumer goods owe their success to the claim of "better". India's IT-BPO sector has established global pre-eminence by combining all three and its cheaper-better-quicker formula has enabled phenomenal growth, resulting in exports of almost $50 billion this year.
Yet, while individual companies may thrive by specialising in one or more of the three drivers, this is not really sustainable. As standardisation and commodification take place as they inevitably do, for most goods and services there is a rapid convergence amongst all players on all three dimensions. Hence, for sustainable competitive advantage, one has to look elsewhere. The answer lies in innovation. It is innovation that can create differentiation or bring about radical changes in cost, quality or delivery time. Continuous innovation is, then, the best way of ensuring on-going, long-term competitive advantage, especially in the knowledge and technology sectors.
There is a considerable amount of research about the structural, systemic, human and other factors that make a company innovative. However, of broader interest is the challenge at the societal or country level: can one create through policy or other interventions an ambience that gives an impetus to innovation? This is a particularly important and pertinent question for India. It is knowledge-based sectors (including IT, knowledge-enriched manufacturing and agriculture) that are going to be increasingly important for India, especially if it is to capitalise on its demographic dividend by creating a large and well-educated work force. Also, knowledge industries with their higher value-add and lower energy-intensity will greatly aid government's plan to reduce carbon emissions per unit of incremental GDP growth.
Innovation is particularly pertinent for India because the massive problems in health, education, livelihoods and food security cannot really be solved by conventional and incremental-change approaches; they need innovative and creative solutions that ensure step function growth and radical change. Fortunately, we have the advantage of four key innovation-driving factors: democracy, demography, diversity and adversity. The last needs no explanation it is what most Indians have experienced for centuries and is a major stimulus for out-of-box thinking. While adversity is, hopefully, a rapidly eroding "advantage", the other three are India's long-term and unique 3D advantage.
Few countries have the rich diversity that habituates Indians to differences in language, ethnicity, religion, cuisine, dress and appearance. It is but natural, then, to accept diversity in thoughts and ideas. Democracy especially India's raucous, cacophonous, chaotic version ensures that all shades of opinion and ideas are voiced. Finally, the large and growing proportion of young (the "demographic dividend") ensures that the open-minded and rebellious change drivers and creative minds have a major voice.
Two countries, outstanding innovators, have "created" the 3D conditions: both Israel and the US have used immigration as the vehicle for ensuring diversity and a younger demographic. It is hardly surprising that creativity (even beyond technology) flourishes in California, with its waves of Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Indian immigrants. Israel, through its encouragement to Jewish immigration from all countries, has created an ethnically and culturally diverse population (including, by one estimate, over 200,000 people from India; a far greater proportion of the total population than in the US).
These factors do provide fertile soil for creativity and innovation, but how to ensure the planting of seeds and the nurturing of the shoots? The US has accelerated innovation through tax regulations that encourage venture capital, and laws (like the Bayh-Dole Act) that facilitate transition of academic research to the commercial world. The result has been epicentres of innovation like Silicon Valley, based on plentiful private seed capital and technology from universities. In Israel, the government has played a more direct role, particularly through the office of the chief scientist (OCS).
OCS provides high-tech start-ups with seed funding, which is treated as a grant (and so can be written off). Its seed funding of less than $100 million a year has created an ecosystem which has produced billion-dollar companies and given Israel a dominant position in many vital high-tech fields including, particularly, security software. Other vital factors have been the high investment in R&D (4.5% of GDP, compared to less than 3% in the US and under 2% in India) and easy transfer of technology from the defence sector to the commercial world.
India has much to learn from these examples if it is to become as it must a major global hub for high-tech innovation. A huge increase in R&D investment by both the government and the private sector is essential, as are tax laws that encourage this and provide an impetus to seed funding. Government could kick-start large-scale seed funding by setting up a grant-making seed fund for high-tech with a budget of Rs 1,000 crore per year, to be administered by a non-governmental group of industry and academic experts. Government must also move quickly to leverage and monetise or utilise the R&D and embedded intellectual capital that is locked in R&D institutions of the government. CSIR has made a start through the innovative move of creating a commercial arm (CSIR Tech). This for-profit holding company will act as the conduit to funnel CSIR intellectual property to private commercial ventures, with its scientists permitted to be part owners. Other government R&D organisations including those under the space, atomic energy and defence departments must do something similar.
To be a powerful country, India must be in the forefront of the knowledge and technology world; to be competitive and prosperous, it must be innovative. Creating an ecosystem that incubates and promotes innovation, converting undoubted potential to reality, requires policy intervention and funding by the government.
(The author is a policy and strategy analyst)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INNOVATIONS MUST BE USER CENTRIC, SAYS SHANTANU KHOSLA
Innovation is always a hot topic. There are legions of books, articles, speakers, consultants, awards and more all focused on innovation. But in the midst of all this noise, I think it's important to begin with the most basic question: Why does Innovation really matter?
Innovation matters for two fundamental reasons: First, innovation is the key to improving quality of life for people in every part of the world. We face enormous challenges today as individual companies and institutions, but also as nations, as societies and as a planet. I believe most, if not all of these, challenges can be highly responsive to innovation.
Second, innovation is the primary driver of business, financial and economic growth. I don't know of a company or a country that has prospered and grown over the long term that has not also been an innovation leader.
This is why we look to consumers for inspiration for innovation. It is my firm belief that innovation MUST be consumer driven and it must be managed as a social process. At the end of the day, innovation is a human activity. On one hand, innovation benefits human beings and ideally it should be inspired by and focused against their needs and aspirations. At the same time, innovation requires human creativity and human collaboration. It should not be managed as a mechanical process, but rather as a flexible social process that very deliberately enables creativity and connections and collaboration. Innovation inspired by consumer needs can be a powerful transformational experience making the world a better place. And that is what we like to believe we are about: Touching Lives and Improving Life.
Keeping this in mind, I have come to believe in four core principles of innovation:
Social Responsibility Sparks Innovation the social challenges that we face today as a planet is perhaps the strongest driver of innovation. These challenges, daunting as they are, are also hugely inspirational.
Innovation Requires A Global View Of Scale - We must understand that today we live in a world where there are as many similarities as there are differences. A person in rural china or India may have more in common with rural Mexico or Brazil than with urban China/India. Similarly, Mumbai or Shanghai has more in common with NYC than with the rest of the country.
Collaborating For Open Innovation - The idea is simple and it's an idea whose time has come. If innovation is a social process then it needs to be managed as such. We need to get out of our silos of company research labs and connect with the world's most inspired minds to develop solutions that improve consumer's lives. Why does P&G open up its innovation process? We have a great R&D organization - P&G employs more PhDs than MIT, Harvard and Stanford put together - but we also realize that for every P&G technologist and R&D manager there are at least 200 people on the outside of P&G who also have great ideas and likely have solutions, even better solutions than we can identify ourselves, to our technical challenges. These external creative people also have great product ideas which could benefit from the scale and global reach that P&G can bring to the party. At P&G, we've learned to look broadly across a broad range of partners across Manufacturers, Academia, Suppliers, Competitors and others. In India for example we work with the Indian Institutes of Management as well as the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Go Beyond Product Innovation - To really tap into the power of innovation to touch and improve lives, we need to define innovation broadly across multiple dimensions. Even as we make breakthrough products, we need to invent new packaging, new materials, new ways of communicating, of doing business, of managing people and even invent new ways innovating.
I believe if these principles became integral to how companies approach innovation we will have innovation that responds to human need.
As a company, P&G is committed to touch and improve the lives of more consumers in more parts of the world more completely, now and for generations to come. And Sustainable growth is possible when innovation integrates with ethical business practices and care for the environment. Organizations and governments need to leverage emerging technologies and collaborate with stakeholder communities across geographies to co-create value to make everyday life a little better now and in the future.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
KNOWING THE DECISIVE MOMENT
Why do some people suddenly opt out of doing what they're doing so successfully? Bill Watterson, the creator of Calvin & Hobbes, a comic strip which was so popular that it was syndicated daily from November 1985 to December 1995 in over 2,400 newspapers worldwide simply decided to stop one fine day when the comic collections were selling more than 30 million copies. Australian cricketer Glen McGrath quit test playing while the Aussies routed England in the Ashes an.d then left ODIs when they won the World Cup and he was adjudged player of the tournament. And now Oprah Winfrey says she's going to stop her multi award winning TV talk show in 2011 after a blitz run of 25 years.
People have their different reasons. Some probably feel they've had enough, others that it's time to move on, and yet others out of an impending fear of failure, oversaturation or even boredom. Watterson said he was leaving because he felt he had achieved all that he could in the medium; McGrath reportedly commented that it was better than being gently eased out when he wasn't able to contribute the best for his country; Winfrey thinks, because a quarter century is long enough to be doing something. "When I'm done ...I'm done," she revealed to her unbelieving audience.
Yet a lot of others hang on for a lifetime and more if they could when their ability, expertise or craft is clearly gone for all to see. It's a fact that Einstein contributed nothing of much value to science for the last two-and-a-half decades that he lived compared to his earlier astounding breakthroughs and was increasingly isolated from mainstream research. Most critics are also of the opinion that the greatly acclaimed Satyajit Ray should have stopped making films after his medical condition deteriorated and that the last few films he did manage to complete after becoming semi-ambulatory were embarrassingly mediocre.
Admittedly, letting go of a good thing is difficult especially when we've run with something for so long that it's become routine. Smokers in general and those in failing relationships know this better than most people. Yet routine is what defeats us eventually; not the game plan. And there's the trick: the game plan. It includes the immediate game being played but doesn't necessarily exclude the rest. Very often it's better to leave the moment behind before the moment has left us because it always does.
LAND ACQUISITION: FAIR LAW NEEDED
The Allahabad High Court order quashing the UP government notification on acquiring agricultural land for the Anil Ambani group's 1,400MW power plant at Dadri is a landmark one as it establishes the right of the farmer to sell or not sell his land. The state's earlier Mulayam Singh Yadav government had used emergency powers to sidestep the provision requiring that objections be invited from owners of the land. Around 2,500 farmers had already given up their land, and now the court has ruled that if any of them so wish they can return the money and take their back after the government hears their objections. The land problem is hardly peculiar to this project: at several places across the country ranging from Singur in West Bengal (where the Tatas' Nano project was thrown out) to Kerala and more recently the Konkan coast people are in revolt over their land being taken for development. Agitations are going on now against a nuclear plant proposed at Jaigad in Sindhudurg (Maharashtra) and thermal power projects coming up on the Konkan coast with a combined capacity of 18,100MW. The Konkan Bachao Samiti claims the lush area will be polluted by coal, uranium and hazardous waste and endanger marine life. Earlier, the country's largest SEZ which was to be set up by the Mukesh Ambani group at Raigad near Alibag got stalled due to objections from 22 villages that were likely to be affected. The Centre as well as state governments will sooner or later have to come up with a land acquisition law that really takes care of the interests of farmers and also the needs of industrial development, which is so vital to the country's growth. Simply acting in the name of "public good" no longer holds water as farmers and others whose land is to be acquired have realised they are being cheated. Not only will terms like "public good" need to be precisely defined; farmers too will have to be treated equitably in case there is no alternative to acquisition of their land. Way back in 1948, India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had told villagers about to be displaced by the Hirakud Dam that if they had to suffer it was because the country's overall interest demanded it. This mindset no longer finds any resonance across India: no government can tell people that they should put up with hardship or impoverishment in the name of development. Neither the State nor corporate bodies can shy away from the responsibility of rehabilitating people who are displaced by their projects. It has been estimated that over 21 million people have been displaced for various development projects across the country. Several suggestions have been put forward on how they should be given relief: the World Bank and the World Commission on Dams has suggested the "land for land" formula so that a farmer gets land equal to what has been taken from him, plus adequate compensation. A trustee of the Research Foundation for Governance in India suggests that an independent judicial body be set up to hear objections from people who are to be displaced and to rule on the quantum of compensation if there is any dispute. The existing procedures are completely arbitrary and weighted in favour of the government, which is no surprise as many of the laws date back to the colonial era.
BY GOVIND TALWALKAR
The United States President, Mr Barack Obama's speech on December 1, 2009, about the troop surge in Afghanistan has raised several questions and doubts not just in the US but around the world. It must be admitted that Mr Obama is facing a very complex and intricate situation thanks to the suicidal policies of his predecessor, Mr George W. Bush. It was Mr Bush who withdrew US troops from Afghanistan without finishing the job and invaded Iraq. This criminal negligence on part of Mr Bush empowered the Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Moreover, Mr Bush gave free rein to both, the then Pakistan President, Mr Pervez Musharraf, and the President of Afghanistan, Mr Hamid Karzai. While Mr Musharraf used 80 per cent of the US aid to strengthen defences against India, Mr Karzai squandered the money and neglected his own people. All in all, Mr Obama finds himself in a corner.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have not only exhausted the US treasury but also the patience of the American people, many of whom have lost their loved ones. That is why the war in Afghanistan is now very unpopular and Mr Obama has to tackle opposition on several fronts. His vice-president Joe Biden is against an increase in the troop level. He instead wants to focus on training the Afghan Army. Also, Ms Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, does not find any rationale in sending additional US troops.
Mr Obama has to mollify his own party colleagues and convince the people of America to have faith in his decision. Another factor that weighs in is the election of the Congress in 2010. The economic meltdown and precarious job situation have aggravated the problem further.
Naturally, Mr Obama has to be realistic. He chose to take the middle path and declined General Stanley McChrystal's demand to increase the troop level by 40,000. He scaled it down to 30,000. This infuriated the Republicans who are doubtful about the effectiveness of the surge. However, the Republicans were the ones who did not question the wisdom of Mr Bush's policy of abandoning Afghanistan and going after Saddam Hussein.
Mr Obama, thus, is being opposed by the Left and the liberals as well as the Right. He has set a target date of July 2011 for withdrawing US troops from Afghanistan and handing over responsibility for security to the Afghan forces. The first batch of US troops is to go to Afghanistan by Christmas and it would take till May or June 2010 to deploy the 30,000 additional troops. By December 2010, the military situation will be reviewed. However, Mr Obama did not mention that any further decision about the troop level would depend on the prevailing situation then. He omitted this, perhaps to placate the opponents of the surge. It was left to Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, to disclose this to the Congressional Committee.
Both in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Obama's speech has evoked widespread criticism. Their leaders might have welcomed the additional soldiers, but the media and commentators are unanimous in branding Mr Obama's speech as a repetition of the American policy of "cut and run".
Mr Obama's new strategy puts emphasis on training the Afghan Army in the hope that they take over responsibility by July 2011. This is unrealistic. More than 10,000 soldiers of the Afghan Army have already deserted. The rest are ill-equipped, ill-trained and several have taken to drugs. Afghan police is corrupt and so is the government. Mr Karzai has proved his incompetence and his people do not trust him. A report about Mr Karzai's brother being an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency has also done a great deal of harm. Since the Afghan Army is neither equipped nor trained to takeover, the question is to whom would the US handover charge?
At present, 80 per cent of the Afghan territory is controlled by the Taliban and it is foolish to suppose that the Taliban and Al Qaeda are different or separate. They have the backing of a section of the top brass in the Army and the Inter-State Intelligence. In a recent article, Pulitzer award-winning journalist Seymour Hersh has given details of these cozy relations.
The reaction to Mr Obama's speech in Pakistan is hypocritical, to say the least. Most Pakistani leaders systematically stoke the feelings of the populace against America but at the same time make more and more demands on Washington. And now that the US wants a deadline for withdrawal of its Army, Pakistani commentators and politicians are accusing the US as being fickle. They point out that the Afghan Taliban would withdraw temporarily, and wait for the US soldiers to leave. Many of them might migrate to Pakistan and Balochistan.
This avalanche of criticism could have been avoided if Mr Obama had been more explicit. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in his deposition before the Congressional Committee that the withdrawal time line does not apply to 68,000 troops already in Afghanistan or to those under North Atlantic Treaty Organisation command.
This means that all US forces would not start coming back from July 2011. Mr Obama, however, gave the impression that the US would start withdrawing completely. Because of his political problems he has given a misleading impression.
The fact of the matter, thus, is that the US might start withdrawing the additional troops just sanctioned in phases, but it will maintain its 68,000 troops as at present. Mr Obama has asserted that the Taliban would be disrupted, dismantled and destroyed, and that he will finish the job. But Mr Obama and his administration's confidence is misplaced. Al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents have found a safe haven in Pakistan and they can persuade the tribal lords to cooperate.
Also, they are beyond the capacity of Mr Karzai. Considering this, Mr Mikhail Gorbachev has publicly suggested to the Americans to learn from the experience of the Soviet Union and plan for withdrawal.
Mr Gorbachev too, however, forgets that though Pakistan was a nuclear nation in the 80s it had not developed bombs and had no home-grown terrorists out to challenge the government in Islamabad. Not only the US but the whole world is worried about the safety of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.
Back then Mr Gorbachev had suggested wider collaboration of the Soviet and the Western countries to find a solution for the Afghan problem and create a tolerably stable government. That offer was rejected by the West then, but it could be revived now.
CAP & TRADE: THE ONLY AFFORDABLE TRUTH
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Maybe I'm naive, but I'm feeling optimistic about the climate talks that started in Copenhagen on Monday. The US President, Mr Barack Obama, now plans to address the conference on its last day, which suggests that the White House expects real progress. It's also encouraging to see developing countries including China, the world's largest emitter of carbon dioxide agreeing, at least in principle, that they need to be part of the solution.
Of course, if things go well in Copenhagen, the usual suspects will go wild. We'll hear cries that the whole notion of global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a vast scientific conspiracy, as demonstrated by stolen email messages that show well, actually all they show is that scientists are human, but never mind. We'll also, however, hear cries that climate-change policies will destroy jobs and growth.
The truth, however, is that cutting greenhouse gas emissions is affordable as well as essential. Serious studies say that we can achieve sharp reductions in emissions with only a small impact on the economy's growth. And the depressed economy is no reason to wait on the contrary, an agreement in Copenhagen would probably help the economy recover.
Why should you believe that cutting emissions is affordable? First, because financial incentives work. Action on climate, if it happens, will take the form of "cap and trade": businesses won't be told what to produce or how, but they will have to buy permits to cover their emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. So they'll be able to increase their profits if they can burn less carbon and there's every reason to believe that they'll be clever and creative about finding ways to do just that.
As a recent study by McKinsey & Company showed, there are many ways to reduce emissions at relatively low cost: improved insulation; more efficient appliances; more fuel-efficient cars and trucks; greater use of solar, wind and nuclear power; and much, much more. And you can be sure that given the right incentives, people would find many tricks the study missed.
The truth is that conservatives who predict economic doom if we try to fight climate change are betraying their own principles. They claim to believe that capitalism is infinitely adaptable, that the magic of the marketplace can deal with any problem. But for some reason they insist that cap and trade a system specifically designed to bring the power of market incentives to bear on environmental problems can't work. Well, they're wrong again. For we've been here before. The acid rain controversy of the 1980s was in many respects a dress rehearsal for today's fight over climate change. Then as now, right-wing ideologues denied the science. Then as now, industry groups claimed that any attempt to limit emissions would inflict grievous economic harm.
But in 1990 the United States went ahead anyway with a cap-and-trade system for sulphur dioxide. And guess what. It worked, delivering a sharp reduction in pollution at lower-than-predicted cost.
Curbing greenhouse gases will be a much bigger and more complex task but we're likely to be surprised at how easy it is once we get started.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that by 2050 the emissions limits in recent proposed legislation would reduce real gross domestic product by between one per cent and 3.5 per cent from what it would otherwise have been. If we split the difference, that says that emissions limits would slow the economy's annual growth over the next 40 years by around one-twentieth of a percentage point from 2.37 per cent to 2.32 per cent.
That's not much. Yet if the acid rain experience is any guide, the true cost is likely to be even lower. Still, should we be starting a project like this when the economy is depressed? Yes, we should in fact, this is an especially good time to act, because the prospect of climate-change legislation could spur more investment spending.
Consider, for example, the case of investment in office buildings. Right now, with vacancy rates soaring and rents plunging, there's not much reason to start new buildings. But suppose that a corporation that already owns buildings learns that over the next few years there will be growing incentives to make those buildings more energy-efficient.
GERMANY, IN BLACK AND WHITE
BY JAYATI GHOSH
A recent documentary film made by one of Germany's most renowned investigative reporters, Gunter Wallraff, has once again created a public debate about racism in Germany. Wallraff known for his undercover exposes of social and political problems in Europe for the past four decades disguised himself as a black person by painting his skin dark and donning a curly black wig. He then secretly filmed the responses of ordinary Germans to what should be straightforward actions like renting accommodation, purchasing things in shops and attending football games.
The responses, recorded in this riveting documentary, Black on White, ranged from patronising and mildly insulting to absolutely violent. He was almost beaten up by neo-Nazis after a football match in eastern Germany. Outside a small-town nightclub he was told by a skinhead: "Europe for whites, Africa for apes". Perhaps even more disturbing are the quotidian acts of discrimination that he recorded: being told by a landlady that she could not possibly rent out her flat to a black person, or not being allowed to try on an expensive watch by a shop owner who willingly handed over the same watch to the next (white) customer.
Many non-white residents who live in Germany point out that such incidents are part of normal life for them. Last year in Berlin alone, the police registered 140 violent race attacks, and these are seen as only the tip of the iceberg. Many foreign students, especially but not exclusively in eastern parts of the country, have suffered violent attacks, while a much larger number have experienced subtle or open racial discrimination in different ways.
Of course, this is not a German problem alone, as Europe in general and western Europe in particular struggle to come to terms with becoming multi-racial societies. Past historical and economic trends as well as current demographic patterns have contributed to a process that is unlikely to be reversed, but it has been associated with social tensions that are also increasingly reflected in the greater popularity of very right-wing political forces.
The current economic downswing, with its attendant effects on employment and wages, has of course exacerbated such unfortunate tendencies across the region, as actual or perceived "outsiders" get targeted. This notion of the alien as scapegoat is a very old social tendency. We can find examples of it in India as well, in reprehensible and divisive forces like the ones displayed in demands for reservations of jobs for Marathi-speakers in Maharashtra, or attacks on other linguistic or ethnic groups in Northeast India, and so on.
But Germany is perhaps a unique and even extreme case, because of its complicated recent history of integration as well as its Nazi past. The issue of racism has been politically sensitive for some time: just two years ago, the Social Democratic former minister Uwe-Karsten Heye, who now leads an anti-racism organisation called "Show Your Colour", was widely pilloried for suggesting that there were parts of the country where black people were not physically safe, even though many black supported his claim. The German government refused to attend the Durban Review UN Conference against Racism held in Geneva in April 2009, citing concerns that it would be used "as a platform for other interests". In general the government's response has been denial rather than proactive intervention to stop the problem.
What explains the apparent spread and occasionally virulent form of racism in Germany? A book by Sudeshna Chakravarti (German Racism: An old or new disease, K.P. Bagchi & Company, Kolkata 1998) provides a fascinating insight into this question. Chakravarti visited post-unification East Germany over extended periods in 1991 and 1992, and again in 1994, and had extended discussions with refugees, journalists, writers, members of political parties, film directors and common people. Her short book provides a thoughtful and illuminating account of the different forces that have contributed to the problem.
As she notes, Germany has a rich thread of racism in its history, from the colonial period to the Nazi images of Aryan racial supremacy. But even so the renewed wave of racism in Germany cannot be attributed to a single reason. "There are many complex and interwoven factors the old colonial heritage; the memories of occupation by coloured troops (during the World War II); the racism of the Nazi era, which was even more virulent and deadly but whose targets and methods were somewhat different; the imperfect de-Nazification, under the cover of a socialist state in the German Democratic Republic; the all enveloping crisis following re-unification; the present recession, which has affected even the prosperous West Germany; the need to find scapegoats for the general misery; the psychological urge to unite the 'natives' of the two Germanies, at the expense of the aliens; the general rise of racism and fascism all over Europe".
The analysis remains remarkably contemporary, pointing to the depressing conclusion that in this respect very little has changed 20 years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall. Indeed, Chakravarti notes that "the fall of the Berlin Wall opened Hitler's grave", unleashing neo-Nazi tendencies that had been suppressed rather than eliminated in the years of Communism. Controlling this will require more active intervention from the non-racist mainstream of German society as well as the state.
PHILIPPINES IN LIMBO
BY SHANKARI SUNDARARAMAN
The Philippines last week witnessed the imposition of martial rule in the southern province of Mindanao. This emergency was imposed in the aftermath of a massacre of 56 people who were part of a pre-election rally and candidacy campaign in the run up to the May 2010 election. Under the provisions of the martial law, arrests can be made and suspects can be detained without prior authority. The President can maintain martial law for a period of 60 days and this can be revoked or extended by the Congress.
With the end of the Marcos' regime in 1986 and the onset of the People's Power under Cory Aquino, the Philippines had embarked on a period of democratic shift in its political process. However, subsequent inept governments, failed leadership and corrupt state machinery are significant factors that have undermined the democratic process within this fragile island nation.
Even as the country and the international community is getting a grip on the violence that ravaged the Philippines' southern province of Mindanao on November 23, 2009, the spiralling events triggered by the incident are still keeping the country in a state of limbo. The incident occurred in Maguindanao, a central province of the southern island of Mindanao. In an election related campaign 56 members of a group were abducted and killed.
Those killed included 30 journalists and women. In fact, the incident marks a case where the most number of journalists have been killed in one single event. Also the reaction and outcry to this has been more stringent given the brutality of the attacks the violence also included suspected acts of rape of women victims, as well as mutilation and beheadings.
The incident which marks the first case of pre-election violence is a critical reminder that the months ahead till the elections in 2010 are likely to be fraught with violence and political unrest. In this case violence erupted over the proposed candidacy of Ismael Mangudadatu, who was to file his nominations for the post of provincial governor. This candidacy threatened the incumbent governor of the province who belonged to the Ampatuan family which has been a close ally of the Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
In the context of the current attack, the government's slow response has been seen as complicity. The slow reaction in booking the Ampatuan family for using its henchmen to target the family and supporters of the opposing candidate is being seen as a serious lacuna.
This is likely to lead to more acts of violence in the run up to the elections. What is more worrying is that the incident also involves a local politician and police officer who orchestrated events that led to the violence.
One of the problems of the south is that the region has never been totally subdued and under control. In fact, both under the Spanish and the Americans, the region remained outside the central control. Factions and families with political allegiance and leanings have been acting as local warlords and this has made the region's problems far more intransigent.
Another factor is that several families and clans are responsible for holding large tracts of land under their control. These groups, especially in the south, where law and order issues have been fast deteriorating over the past eight years of the Arroyo regime, have often acted with impunity and utter disregard for the law. In some senses chiefs and small clan leaders have been able to establish a certain degree of fear and coercion in these regions which allows them the power to sustain their activities.
In fact, as expected, the blame for the recent attacks has been placed on the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). This is despite the fact that the region where the massacre occurred is an area where the Muslim minority community has been appeased with the formation of what is known as the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao. This was a provision that was endorsed between the Central government and local community to ensure that the region could be brought under some form of political functioning. While the blame may be placed on the MILF, witnesses to the incident have blamed the local groups.
As the first ever massacre of the largest number of journalists covering an electoral rally and candidacy campaign, this incident has received severe international outcry. The pressure from these groups may have instigated initial responses and imposition of marital law. However, the trial needs to be seen through by the Arroyo government if the run up to the forthcoming elections in May 2010 is to be successful.
The current clash between the Mangudadatu and Ampatuan families, while indicative of the kind of factionalism that abounds within the region, also puts to question the modus vivendi of the government in responding to the culprits.
Ms Arroyo's best option is to come down severely on the perpetrators of the crime. Given that she herself does not have the constitutional right to contest for another term for the presidency, she needs to ensure that the legacy she leaves behind is one that will take a harsh stand on any form of violence that threatens the fragile democracy that is in place.
The insurgency within the south is critically impacted by the split among the various groups clamouring for rights within limited political spaces. Moreover, without any constitutional changes, which allow for the current unitary system to be altered to a more accommodative federal one, there is little hope for a political outcome to the crisis in the south.
It is here that issues of regional autonomy and accommodation of differing identities within given state structures must be explored by the Arroyo government if the 2010 elections are to usher in a more democratic path for the country. This alone is the legacy that she can now leave behind for the country.
Dr Shankari Sundararaman is an associate professor of Southeast Asian Studies atthe School of International Studies, JNU
EUROPE'S MINARET MOMENT
BY ROSS DOUTHAT
They toasted to progress in Europe's capitals last week. On December 1, the Treaty of Lisbon went into effect, bringing the nations of the European Union (EU) one step closer to the unity the Europe's elite has been working toward for over 50 years. But the treaty's implementation fell just days after a milestone of a different sort: a referendum in Switzerland, in which 57.5 per cent of voters chose to ban the nation's Muslims from building minarets.
Switzerland isn't an EU member state, but the minaret moment could have happened almost anywhere in Europe nowadays in France, where officials have floated the possibility of banning the burqa; in Britain, which elected two representatives of the fascistic, anti-Islamic British National Party to the European Parliament last spring; in Italy, where a bill introduced this year would ban mosque construction and restrict the Islamic call to prayer.
If the more perfect union promised by the Lisbon Treaty is the European elite's greatest triumph, the failure to successfully integrate millions of Muslim immigrants represents its greatest failure. And the two are intertwined: they're both the fruits of the high-handed, often undemocratic approach to politics that Europe's leaders have cultivated in their quest for unity.
The EU probably wouldn't exist in its current form if the continent's elites hadn't been willing to ignore popular sentiment. (The Lisbon Treaty, for instance, was deliberately designed to bypass most European voters, after a proposed EU Constitution was torpedoed by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005.) But this political style forge a consensus among the establishment, and assume you can contain any backlash that develops is also how the continent came to accept millions of Muslim immigrants, despite the absence of a popular consensus on the issue, or a plan for how to integrate them.
The immigrants came first as guest workers, recruited after World War II to relieve labour shortages, and then as beneficiaries of generous asylum and family reunification laws, designed to salve Europe's post-colonial conscience. The European elites assumed that the divide between Islam and the West was as antiquated as scimitars and broadswords, and that a liberal, multicultural, post-Christian federation would have no difficulty absorbing new arrivals from more traditional societies. And they decided, too as Christopher Caldwell writes in Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, his wonderfully mordant chronicle of Europe's Islamic dilemma that liberal immigration policies "involve the sort of non-negotiable moral duties that you don't vote on".
Better if they had let their voters choose. The rate of immigration might have been slower, and the efforts to integrate the new arrivals more strenuous. Instead, Europe's leaders ended up creating a clash of civilisations inside their own frontiers.
Millions of Muslims have accepted European norms. But millions have not. This means polygamy in Sweden; radical mosques in Britain's fading industrial cities; riots over affronts to the Prophet Mohammad in Denmark; and religiously inspired murder in the Netherlands. It means terrorism, and the threat of terrorism, from London to Madrid.
And it means a rising backlash, in which European voters support extreme measures and extremist parties because their politicians don't seem to have anything to say about the problem. In fairness, it isn't clear exactly what those leaders could offer at this point. A large Muslim minority is in Europe to stay. Persisting with the establishment's approach makes a certain sense: keep a lid on prejudice, tamp down extremism, and hope that time will transform the zealous Islam of recent immigrants into a more liberal form of faith, and make the conflict go away. Caldwell's book, the best on the subject to date, has a deeply pessimistic tone, but it shies away from specific predictions about the European future. Other writers are less circumspect, envisioning a Muslim-majority "Eurabia" in which Sharia has as much clout as liberalism.
But even a decadent West is probably stronger than this. The most likely scenario for Europe isn't dhimmitude; it's a long period of tension, punctuated by spasms of violence, that makes the continent a more unpleasant place without fundamentally transforming it.
This is cold comfort, though, if you have to live under the shadow of violence. Just ask the Swiss, who spent last week worrying about the possibility that the minaret vote might make them a target for Islamist terrorism. They're right to worry. And all of Europe has to worry as well, thanks to the folly of its leaders now, and for many years to come.
BUT DON'T LOSE PERSPECTIVE
COMPREHENSIVE though the 2-0 series-success might appear on the score cards, there were periods during the Test series against Sri Lanka when the Indians were not having their own way. To have shown requisite resilience, and the capacity to regain the initiative is what makes the result more satisfying. And it presents to the discerning fan more cause for elation than the "number one" spot that is sending this cricket-crazy country round the bend. It is so typical of the hype (media-generated?) that now surrounds cricket that the President found it necessary ~ or good PR ~ to issue a congratulatory message, while true-to-style the BCCI came up with liberal cash awards. It can think of no honour other than a bankroll. Few care to reflect on the value of ICC rankings, particularly since it does equate with a tournament involving all Test playing countries. The system is less than a decade old, so it hardly suffices as a yardstick against which current performances can be assessed with those of the past. Maybe a computer buff might crunch out numbers telling us how many points would have been accrued to Bradman's "Invincibles" or Clive Llloyd's West Indies powerhouse. Even then, cold statistics miss the flavour and "variables" that render the five-day game an encapsulation of life itself. Were not the victories in the West Indies and England by Wadekar's squad more genuine milestones than climbing the top of the ICC's tree ~ still a sapling to be sure? This is not to take anything away from the performance of Dhoni's men (Kirsten's too) over recent months, only a plea to be realistic.
The joy could be short-lived. India are just two points ahead of South Africa who will have every chance of ousting our heroes during the Tests against England early in the New Year. Australia are six points adrift, capable of bridging the gap. Dhoni has no illusions: he says it will be difficult to sustain the top spots since India are scheduled to play just two Tests in the next six months. So if the number-one ranking is to have lasting value it must translate into a schedule in which the purest form of the game is balanced with the money-spinning shorter versions. That the "summit" was ascended at the Brabourne is iteration of the celebrated maxim ~ "old is gold".
OR DID NADIA ONLY SEE SOME JAW-JAW?
There was clearly a difference in perception between the Congress high command and West Bengal Congress leaders on the agenda for the brainstorming session at Krishnagar in Nadia district. While New Delhi expected the state unit to reinforce its alliance with Trinamul in the context of successes already achieved, there continued to be serious pockets of dissent on how far the alliance has helped the party to grow as a political force. The tensions which have arisen already can be traced to reservations on the high command's, and PCC chief's, categorical announcement that Mamata Banerjee is undisputed alliance leader and shadow chief minister who will also decide on local elections to be held between now and 2011. The reservations caused a virtual revolt in Siliguri which was followed by a Trinamul tit-for-tat with a hint from Delhi that such distortions should never recur. But the fact that the PCC organised the brainstorming session in Krishnagar where its leader, Shankar Singh, has been leading the anti-alliance campaign was a significant pointer that several leaders echo his feelings. The dissenting voices have been partly silent after the results of the municipal and assembly by-elections in which the Congress was seen to be only a Trinamul ally but they keep cropping up. Pranab Mukherjee's contribution cleared the air on his and the high command's position but, at the same time, should have pleased dissenters with a message to Trinamul that it cannot ignore the Congress.
There is obviously a yawning gap between leaders who have been reduced to following instructions from Delhi and Congress workers at lower levels who have discovered the inspiration and the incentives for joining hands with Trinamul. Miss Banerjee has generated a new climate that has in many areas prompted a shift in loyalties while leaders at the state level have reason to feel left out. These leaders may be apprehensive about their position in the new climate and wonder if it makes sense for the PCC to play second fiddle on all issues. Clearly, it does not suit the local satraps. At the same time, they may not have a choice if the high command, in particular 10 Janpath, is convinced about the immediate priority - depending on Trinamul to dislodge the Left. After three days at Krishnagar, this dichotomy still needs to be settled. Or else the brains assembled at the session may have just produced noise.
DIRECTOR ON THE RUN
LIFE'S CRUEL LESSONS FOR A MASTER
IT is a comment on the unrelenting judicial system in the USA and Europe that a film-maker of the stature of Roman Polanski, accused of raping a minor during a photo shoot in Los Angeles in 1977, can only draw some comfort from being shifted out of a Swiss jail to his own villa overlooking the Alps. The crime has haunted him all these years and virtually ruined his career in films. The victim, now happily married and the mother of three children, has gone on record as having said that she would like the prosecution to drop the case. But the law has taken its course and there is little prospect that the 76-year-old Oscar winning director of Knife in the Water would be able to make the films he wants to while being on the run from countries that have extradition treaties with the USA. While this is a sad denouement for one of Poland's most outstanding artistic talents, it also emphaises that positions and connections do not matter in the eyes of the law. The point is pressed home by the fact that while Polanski holds parties and orders sumptuous feasts in a Swiss town that is famous for its gourmet delights, he cannot escape the ankle bracelet while he is held under house arrest and which makes sure he does not flee from the law as he did 31 years ago.
The threat of extradition and the possibility of being sentenced in the USA may prompt the grand old film-maker to rest on the laurels he has achieved. In that case, film buffs may be denied the consummate skills with which he is capable of weaving magic on the screen. At the same time, they can only regret that a director on the run has also produced mediocre work possibly under pressures that he cannot shed. From trying to escape the law to paying the victim for his misdemeanours and another hefty amount as a deposit to the Swiss authorities for his bail, Polanski may have unwittingly brought it all upon himself. And, with all his exceptional powers of observation, the master may not have believed that his personal life would be more tense than anything he has shown in his films.
RED BARON'S DEATH CERTIFICATE FOUND IN POLAND
LONDON, 7 DEC: Nearly 91 years after his killing, the death certificate of the legendary First World War German flying ace, dubbed the "Red Baron" from the favourite colour of his fighter jet, has been discovered in western Poland. Von Richthofen was born in what is now Wroclaw in Poland, formerly Breslau, in 1892. After scoring victories over 80 allied aircraft during the war, he was shot down near the River Somme in France on 21 April, 1918. Now, genealogist Mr Maciej Kowalski has come across the death certificate of the "Red Baron" in the archives of the town of Ostrow Wielkopolski which was the base of his regiment and his last official address, The Daily Telegraph reported. ~ PTI
ALIENATION IN KASHMIR
WHERE MORE BOMBS MEAN MORE BENEFITS
BY ARUN COOMER BOSE
AT the time of Independence, it was in Kashmir that Mahatma Gandhi saw the only ray of hope. It was literally a remarkably peaceful oasis in the whole of northern India, then being convulsed by communal riots. Not a single Pundit was hurt or humiliated, although they constituted barely five per cent of the Valley's population.
Sixty years after, the place reeks of nothing but hatred and hopelessness. Almost every Pundit family has been hounded out of their homeland, around 50,000 Kashmiris have been killed over the past 20 years, and nearly half-a-million soldiers and para-military personnel are stationed to maintain a semblance of peace and authority. Billions of rupees are being pumped into the Valley for ensuring its security and in the name of development. One has lost count of the meetings held by our leaders and their interlocutors with the leaders of both the mainstream parties of Kashmir, including the Hurriyat. And yet an end to the ongoing confrontation is nowhere in sight.
Government spokesmen mention the fewer killings in the last two years and the heavy turnout of voters in last year's assembly elections as indicators of better times to come. But they overlook the fact that the heavy presence of the army and para-military forces makes it difficult, if not impossible, for PoK-based militants to cross the LoC or for the locals to procure arms and to organise an attack. More significant is the fact that since 2005 their trans-LoC patrons have been less helpful than before. To that can be added the fatigue and hopelessness that have overtaken the majority of Kashmiri youth, after years of sacrifice and, what they view as, Pakistan's treacherous conduct in recent years. They participated in the assembly elections not to endorse their acceptance of the status quo, but to meet their daily needs and to help their friends and partymen to secure power and resources for their benefit. But, in the Lok Sabha elections, last May, half of them did not turn out for the polls. Even in pre-independence India, staunch nationalists usually cast their votes, and sought government jobs for their children. But that did not denote their acceptance of British rule over India. The same with the Kashmiris.
Commenting on the consequences of the dismissal and arrest of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah in August 1953, Syed Mir Qasim wrote in Hayat-e-Dastan: " This single incident cut the umbilical chord that joined Kashmir with India. Thereafter, the clever Kashmiris would accept the favour shown to them, but they would never pardon those who had treated their unquestioned leader with insult".
Thereafter events within Kashmir, within the rest of India, and even abroad continued to add to their sense of alienation and self-confidence till certain almost last minute acts of omission and commission caused their accumulated grievances to explode into violence by the end of 1989. If their sense of alienation and urge for separation was so strong 20 years ago, one can well imagine the fanaticism at the moment.
Any meaningful effort towards bringing an end to this ongoing conflict and to usher an era of peace must start with a sincere search for what the Kashmiris wanted and still want most. Usually, all our discussions relating to the Kashmir problem start with the widely accepted myth that the Kashmiris opted for accession to India. Far from it; they just wanted to be left to themselves in peace when the tribals invaded the Valley. Succour could come only from India, and for their sheer survival they agreed to pay the price of Indian help by accepting Delhi's jurisdiction over only three subjects ~ defence, foreign affairs, and communication.
Unlike other princely states J&K never signed the Instrument of Merger, and sought to retain its separate identity, as far as possible, through the much-debated Article 370. Besides, they had reposed their faith in Nehru's assurance that the future of the state would be decided through a free and fair plebiscite. But, neither was the promised plebiscite ever held, nor has Article 370 been allowed to play its expected role. When Sheikh Abdullah tried to assert the state's autonomy, he was shabbily treated. None should forget that the Kashmiris acceded to India to save their identity and independence from the Pakistanis by paying a small price to India in return for the protection she would provide. Never did they want to merge themselves into the vast country.
But, after clearing the valley of the raiders India dug in its heels, and appeared to slowly transform J&K into any other state, if not in form but in fact. That is what they could not tolerate.
Kashmiris sequestered between the Pir Panchal and the mighty Himalayas are consciously different from other north Indians in their language, dress, dietary habits, social mores and religious practices. Pundits, almost all of them, are meat-eaters, and their important religious festivals are Shiva Ratri and Navaratra, and not the Holi and Diwali. Even the Muslims believe in pirs whose mazars dot the Valley. This is the reason why they are looked down upon by most Indian Muslims. Naturally, the shameful demolition of the Babari Masjid went virtually unnoticed in Kashmir. At the same time they are particularly proud not only of the Valley's scenic beauty, but also of their literary and philosophical heritage and unique achievements in the field of crafts. That is why secessionism that appeared as a passing phase among the Tamils and the Sikhs has remained as permanent a feature of their lives as opposed to India's integrating efforts. Religion may be a factor that widened the divide between India and Kashmir, but it is not that significant.
LESSONS TO LEARN
AS Brig Arjun Ray (who later retired as a Lt Gen) has written in his Kashmir Diary that, while interrogating the Kashmiri terrorists he learnt that most of them complained of the way Kashmiris were being treated, but not of any ill treatment of Islam as a religion. In fact, Peter Bergen and Swati Pathak have pointed out in their study that most terrorists are products of normal educational institutions, and seek to avenge their community's secular grievances. Their findings have been recently confirmed by researchers of Flinders University at Adelaide in Australia. The agitation for the Partition of India was led by western educated Muslims, but was opposed by the Dar-ul-Uloom and most Jamaats.
We are also in the wrong when we believe that development will divert the attention of the beneficiaries away from the path of violence. But, what happens is quite the contrary. While in 1950-51 India contributed only 3.7 per cent of this state's revenue, by the late eighties this percentage had risen to 72. Now, it must be around 90. As a result, J&K has the lowest percentage of people below the poverty level at 3.5. In terms of population, it has more universities then any other Indian state, and over 5 per cent of the population are in government service ~ only next to Nagaland. Yet, all these have only fuelled the flame of alienation by raising their expectations, boosting their self-confidence, and by creating the belief that "more bombs mean more benefits".
Violent separatism embedded in ethno-cultural distinctiveness cannot be bribed into silence. The safest course is to leave the agitators to themselves, and once that is done old adversaries turn into allies. The case of Vietnam and her changed relationship with the US is a case in point. The same US is nowhere near success in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nor will she ever succeed as long as she relies on bombs and bribes. These are lessons for all. How long shall we waste our blood and scarce resources in this violent Valley?
The writer is former Head of the Department of History, Jammu University.
It seems that the only thing that has consistently, and convincingly, changed since the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 is the temperature of the earth. The principles of the protocol aimed at arresting the rate of global warming by reducing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the positions taken by the major and minor players in response to its stipulations, and the prevailing sense of an impasse remain as they used to be 12 years ago. Yet, a grand conference on climate change on the heels of an equally grand economic depression betokens a rare sense of urgency that can only be explained by a subliminal change in attitudes. For the spectacle of 15,000 delegates from 192 nations gathering in Copenhagen for a two-week summit to combat environmental disaster suggests an overwhelming consensus on at least one thing: the imminent dangers facing a steadily polluting world.
It has been unanimously agreed on by big and small nations alike that the earth must be saved, and for that to happen GHG emissions have to be cut. But the bone of contention remains over who is to do how much and in return for what. According to the Kyoto Protocol, industrialized or developed nations, being the worst polluters, are expected to take on legally binding emission reduction commitments, an idea that was met with unmitigated scorn in the West (Australia, the biggest polluter per person, refrained from signing the treaty for a long time, while the United States of America, the biggest emitter, is yet to ratify it). It was pointed out that the developing nations, increasingly aspiring to a mechanized, 'first-world' lifestyle, were the chief culprits. Suddenly the tables were being turned on Asia particularly on the new regional powerhouses, India and China.
India has taken a considered stance on the matter. Like most emerging economies, it has pledged to act but not without adequate incentives (economic aid, in this case). India is one of the lowest emitters, both in terms of per hectare and per capita emissions. But the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, has refused to make a virtue out of numbers. It is undeniable that India remains one of the most polluted countries in the world, and it is only going to get worse as it gradually makes the transition from a largely-agrarian to an industrial economy. In India, recycling is a way of life, although that is fading away as per capita income increases need will slowly be replaced by greed. Above all, the effects of climate change are universal, and the Indian subcontinent has experienced them to its acute detriment. The devastating tsunami a few years back, followed by the cyclones, droughts and floods at regular intervals, should be portents of things to come. Investing in climate control is as essential as buying an insurance policy to safeguard one's own home.
When the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, initiated his "quiet diplomacy" sometime back, he seemed to be going back on a government policy stated by the prime minister the State would have no truck with separatists in Jammu and Kashmir. Yet, the secessionists are the principal target of Mr Chidambaram's diplomacy that is searching once again for the elusive consensus on the future of Kashmir within the Indian Union. The carnage in Mumbai and the bumbling ways of the National Conference government may have rekindled concerns about Kashmir. But there can be no questioning the will to find a political solution to Kashmir, nor the implicit acknowledgment on the part of the government that it would be foolhardy to ignore the moderates who abjure violence and are willing to open a dialogue with the Centre. Despite the misgivings and mistrust that have characterized such dialogue, the quiet diplomacy made a comfortable start and decent progress. There is believed to have been two rounds of secret parleys between government representatives and separatists, led primarily by the moderate Hurriyat faction of Mirwaiz Umar Farooq who has shown grit and commitment to take the dialogue forward. Of course, there are challenges. Apart from the opposition from hardliners, particularly from Kashmir's Islamist icon, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, there has been rebellion within the Hurriyat against the talks. The assassination attempt on the moderate Hurriyat leader, Fazal Haq Qureshi, is bound to tie down the talks further by acting as a dampener and playing up the people's fears.
Not just the government, but the moderate separatists too have to fight against tremendous odds to take the process further. Apart from the gun and the fear of being accused of selling out, they also have to contend with the rivalry of parties within the state that suspect the leadership of usurping their political space. It is not an easy journey. Hopefully, it will not be abandoned midway as before.
DEVELOPING COUNTRIES MUST KEEP THE KYOTO PROTOCOL ALIVE
The prime minister of Denmark, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, is now calling for a "political declaration" at the Copenhagen climate change conference, instead of the promised "ambitious" and "binding" outcome. In other words, brave words will take the place of bold deeds at Copenhagen. India and other developing countries are reluctant to accept this lowering of sights and are still hoping for substantive results.
The Danish announcement is disappointing but not unexpected. In a previous article in these columns (October 21), I had observed that "great expectations have understandably been built up for the Copenhagen conference, against the background of dire scientific estimates of the extent and severity of climate change impacts. Sadly, these expectations will not be met. With barely six weeks left for the inaugural session, the negotiations remain deadlocked".
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the developed countries have an obligation to progressively reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The alarming reality, however, is that the total emissions of these countries have continued to increase since 2000. Moreover, they are not prepared even now to commit themselves to reductions on the required scale. The prospects of climate change legislation in the United States of America remain uncertain. Thus, President Barack Obama is not in a position to make a firm commitment at Copenhagen and can only announce a modest "provisional" target. The commitments made by other developed countries to date fall woefully below the required level and are, moreover, subject to various qualifications.
A detailed analysis by the Austria-based International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis shows that the cuts contemplated by the industrialized countries would reduce their emissions by only five to 17 per cent (depending on attached conditions), compared to the 1990 baseline. Developing countries have called for a reduction of at least 40 or 45 per cent in the emissions of developed countries. The figures being mentioned by the developed countries fall short even of the European Union call for a cut in the range of 25-40 per cent and this is a very low range, derived from an analysis that specifically excludes lifestyle changes.
Instead of implementing their commitments on the required scale, the developed countries are aiming to shift a large part of their convention obligations to the shoulders of developing countries, especially the so-called "emerging economies" like China, India, Brazil and South Africa, which they view as current or potential competitors in the global economy. They want a new agreement under which developing countries, with the exception of the Least Developed Countries, will have new, legally binding, commitments to moderate their greenhouse gas emissions and even to make financial contributions for climate change mitigation and adaptation in other developing countries.
These proposals are inconsistent with the UNFCCC. The convention recognizes that the "largest share of historical and current global emissions greenhouse gases has originated in developed countries, that per capita emissions in developing countries are still relatively low and that the share of global emissions originating in developing countries will grow to meet their social and development needs". It accordingly requires the developed countries to reduce their emissions in a time-bound manner. Affluent developed countries are also required to contribute financial resources and transfer technology to the developing countries, in order to enable the latter to respond effectively to climate change.
The convention provides that developing countries are to be compensated for the incremental costs of measures taken to moderate their rising emissions. It expressly recognizes that the "extent to which developing country Parties will effectively implement their commitments under the Convention will depend on the effective implementation by developed country Parties of their commitments under the Convention related to financial resources and transfer of technology and will take fully into account that economic and social development and poverty eradication are the first and overriding priorities of the developing country Parties."
More than any other international agreement, the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol are equity-based instruments protecting the interests of poorer countries. These equity-based agreements are now under threat.
Current negotiations are proceeding on two tracks, corresponding to the two climate change agreements the Framework Convention and its Kyoto Protocol. The two-fold mandate is to "enhance implementation" of the convention and to lay down the post-2012 emission reduction commitments of developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol. The negotiations have made little progress because most developed countries have been dragging their feet in committing themselves to specific cuts. Indeed, they have made it clear that they are looking for a new agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol a new agreement that will impose legally binding commitments also on developing countries.
This has been accompanied by a disinformation campaign of truly Goebbelsian proportions. The lie is being propagated that the Kyoto Protocol is due to "expire" in 2012 and that a new agreement is, therefore, required to take its place. The truth, of course, is that 2012 marks only the end of the first commitment period in the protocol. The protocol specifically provides for subsequent commitment periods. Article 3.9 requires that "commitments for subsequent periods for Parties included in Annex I shall be established in amendments to Annex B" and that the "meeting of Parties to this Protocol shall initiate the consideration of such commitments at least seven years before the end of the first commitment period". Indeed, that is the mandate of the ongoing negotiations launched in 2005. Yet, the falsehood that the Kyoto Protocol "expires" in 2012 is being endlessly repeated in the international media, so that many of our own commentators have come to accept it as the truth.
At Copenhagen, the developed countries will renew their muscular efforts to change the two-fold mandate. They want to merge the two negotiating tracks in order to make it easier to lay the Kyoto Protocol to rest. We must ensure that Copenhagen does not become the graveyard of the protocol. We must be vigilant to ensure that the Copenhagen "political declaration" contains no formulation that can be interpreted as a death sentence for the Kyoto Protocol or a mandate for launching negotiations for a new agreement to replace it. Likewise, we must ensure that the mandate remains focused on the implementation of the convention, not its amendment or re-interpretation. The two-track approach must be maintained.
In an incisive speech on November 10, the South African environment minister, Buyelwa Sonjica, declared that "we will not be pressured into accepting a weak outcome that re-interprets the Convention and the Bali Action Plan to the disadvantage of developing countries We cannot accept the demise of the Kyoto Protocol; we cannot turn the clock back on more than a decade of progress in building the international climate regime; and we cannot start a process of renegotiation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change."
These words echo the sentiments of billions of people in the developing countries.
THE AUTHOR IS A RETIRED AMBASSADOR AND IS CURRENTLY A DISTINGUISHED FELLOW AT THE ENERGY AND RESOURCES INSTITUTE
LIVING IN HOPE
The three wheeler phatphat, unchanged in model over the years and with no technical upgradation whatsoever except for the switchover to CNG, continues to pollute India with unnecessary noise, smoky emissions and the consistent breaking of traffic rules. It was once the cheap vehicle that transported you from one point to another, but today it is symbolic of all that is unhealthy and wrong in terms of pollution. This little menace that makes us all cough and choke needs to be urgently considered and its negative impact on our towns and cities requires early and definite redressal. For decades, there have been no rules for this vehicle, and it has managed to run amok. The time has come to phase these vehicles out and replace them with a more modern, non-polluting, silent machine.
We cannot talk about the imperatives of climate change on one platform and then permit the worst polluting entities to carry on and poison us all and our children. The scandal that never seems to be tackled with firm and determined resolve is the conscious destruction of the once-mighty river Ganga. A barrage of positive activism by NGOs and many well-argued interventions by the powers-that-be have resulted in neither any good nor in an immediate stalling of the wrongdoing. Rapacious businessmen, aided by greedy, unthinking bureaucrats who have defied their mandate to conserve and protect by doing just the opposite in the name of development, and politicians and 'planners' in a hurry to 'show' short-term results by clearing anti-environment projects fast, have dealt a severe blow to the future lives of their children and grandchildren, all for some quick bucks.
Rajiv Gandhi had an acute concern for the rapid degradation he witnessed. The cleaning of the Ganga, in its broadest sense, was a project he was serious about. But the bureaucratic octopus saw to it that all his demands and policies were thwarted and then diluted. He passed away prematurely and thereafter, conservation and protection of environment were given the short shrift, allowing corruption to enter and take root. Illegal mining, the felling of prime and pristine forests for the timber trade, rampant poaching of our extraordinary wildlife, the poisoning of our rivers by dumping industrial waste into them, the accumulation of wastes in our towns and cities because our municipalities are not accountable, in short, the breaking of all laws by law makers themselves for personal gain, have made India a playground of disease.
The government watches in silence and is unable to act with force. The Ganga, in its higher reaches, is becoming a trickle. The Yamuna, which once flowed along the walls of the capital of Emperor Shah Jahan, has been reduced to a filthy, polluted sliver of a river. We should be ashamed of ourselves. Every great world capital that has a river within its boundaries has nurtured, sanctified and respected that lifeline. We seem paralysed. We seem unable to grab the essence of the problem and ensure that various mechanisms are put in place and made to work. We use the excuse of committees and suchlike to delay processes that would ensure reform. Corruption seems to have overwhelmed all those mandated to govern India.
Our bureaucrats and politicians cry hoarse on national and international fora about not wanting to be dictated by Western powers on the issues of control and other such rules. But that is a separate call. Surely they believe that they need to cleanse their nation of the poison they have injected into the public space? Will they be irresponsible and fight international protocols, make a lot of nationalistic noise, only to detract from the truth of their great failure? Will Jairam Ramesh change the course? Yes, he can.
A PRISONER IN THE HOUSE
China's uneven behaviour springs from the Communist Party of China's resolve not to relax its hold on the polity, writes Ashok Ganguly
I have just finished reading a book about Zhao Ziyang (Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang), a former prime minister of China. The book is an editorialized transcript of a number of recordings made by Zhao Ziyang while he was under house arrest from 1989 until his death in 2005. While under house arrest, Zhao used the music cassettes of his grandchildren to record a revealing history about modern-day China, Chinese leaders and the uncompromising, absolute power of the Communist Party of China.
Zhao Ziyang began his political career as a minor party official in a remote region of China. It was during the time when China was struggling to recover from the effects of Mao Zedong's disastrous Cultural Revolution. Zhao came to the notice of leaders in Beijing early in his career, and Deng Xiaoping brought Zhao to the capital. This was in the early Eighties, which saw the cautious beginning of Deng's economic reforms in a bid to rescue China from the excesses of the Mao years.
Zhao continued to rise in the party hierarchy by his contribution to China's economic policy, and was eventually appointed prime minister by the politburo at the command of Deng Xiaoping. Zhao's eventual downfall has been attributed to his public pleading for a peaceful compromise on the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. Zhao's pleas were opposed by his main rival, Li Peng. Deng overruled Zhao, and ordered the army to crush the Tiananmen uprising in which several thousand lives were lost. Zhao's ultimate house arrest and disappearance from public view and memory was carried out with unique Chinese efficiency.
This account may help explain the way China reacts to many national and international events. Nothing has basically changed in the Chinese polity in the last 20 years, or even since 1949. In order to perpetuate the monolithic supremacy of the CPC, Deng Xiaoping triggered off the brilliant shift to an economic growth model that would make China a world power without having to make any political compromise.
During the 2008 economic downturn, China's exports plummeted and it put in place a massive economic stimulus package to sustain employment and maintain social order. A senior member of the politburo observed that the current working generation of Chinese were born around or after 1978. They are the principal beneficiaries of China's economic boom and have little memory of the Mao era. China must protect this generation from the economic downturn however it can. Employment will be generated even if it means ripping up railway lines and relaying them. China cannot afford another Tiananmen- like uprising. The CPC is fully committed to protect its hold over the Chinese people.
That the CPC has its own way in all matters, however, is a myth. Several uprisings by disaffected populace in various parts of China have been crushed and the news kept out of the public domain. Rare events the uprising in Tibet and the riots in Xian that get publicized are more of an exception. But no one should underestimate the determination of the CPC to use whatever means in order to retain its unchallenged supremacy.
Which brings me to recent events in India-China relations. China's overpowering influence in Myanmar and Nepal is now growing. Pakistan is an old ally of China. That China was a major supplier of defence and other aid to Pakistan is well known. It now appears that China provided Pakistan with bomb-grade uranium way back in 1971. India's dealings with China and vice versa have remained fragile ever since China attacked India in 1962. China has and will continue to blow hot and cold. Issuing separate paper visas to Indians from Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh is the latest in a series of Chinese diplomatic pettiness. Its intemperate statements regarding the prime minister's and the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh must have something to do with the CPC worries about its inability to totally subdue the indigenous population in Tibet.
To maintain the political supremacy of the CPC, the Chinese will continue to act in an unpredictable manner. It will make the right noises regarding climate change to earn international brownie points, while diverting rivers and building environmentally disastrous dams that may affect parts of India adversely. China will continue to claim the presence of a free press and a good human rights record, while officials in its districts, and even in Beijing, keep private prisons to illegally detain citizens who protest against injustice. This was recently exposed by the Human Rights Watch.
The world may continue to be starry-eyed about China, but India knows that it must deal with a troublesome and unpredictable neighbour. China may not be envious of India's economic progress but it certainly is apprehensive of our vibrant democracy.
Zhao Ziyang had espoused political reforms, not because he was a democrat at heart, but because they were a practical means to harness the energy of the masses for growth and development in a more sustainable and inclusive manner. Although Deng and his colleagues found such espousal anathema and got rid of Zhao, the debate over China's political future is not over. The Soviet Union did not last, the Berlin Wall had to fall; who can predict how long the CPC can continue as the sole ruler of China?
Last week, in an effort to stem the rapid decline in popularity of the Left Front in general and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in particular, Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee made a passionate plea before a multitude of supporters, urging them not to desert the sinking ship, and posed the question, "In the 32 years, have we done nothing?" Later in the speech, he observed, "Amra Paschimbangake samner dike egiye niye jete cheyechhilam (We wanted to take Bengal forward)". The use of past tense, with its implication of a sense of resignation, may not have been a slip of tongue and reflects the present mindset of a large section of Left Front supporters in the state.
For political observers, that a coalition of like-minded parties which has ruled the state for 32 long years would lose ground at some stage was a given, but the rapidity with which this has come about has taken everyone by surprise. There is little doubt that the present downturn emanates from a combination of failed policies and promises, with the resulting loss in confidence spread across all segments of the electorate.
But how has the Left Front fared in the 30 odd years at the helm? As regards growth rates, West Bengal matched India's 3.1 per cent for the period 1970 to 1980. Between 1980 and 1990, the state fell significantly behind, as it grew at 4.2 per cent against the 5.6 per cent of the country as a whole. During the Nineties, it was a full percentage higher than India's 5.7 per cent. Thus, on this score, the state is slightly ahead of India as a whole. Unfortunately, growth rates and 'domestic products' do not tell the whole story. A clearer picture emerges when the state is judged on the human development index a summary measure of living a long and healthy life, being educated, with a decent standard of living and the human poverty index as measured by the probability at birth of surviving till the age of 40, adult literacy rate and access to improved water source. According to a study made available by the national human development report of the Planning Commission on the HDI, West Bengal ranked 22nd in 1981, an equally dismal 20th in 1991 and in a study covering only 15 states in 2001, it ranked 8th. HPI rankings for 1981 and 1991 show West Bengal in the 17th and 20th positions respectively. No drastic economic changes have taken place in the intervening years, and it is safe to assume that the state has more or less retained its rankings on both these indices.
The prime reason why even a well-meaning government cannot significantly improve on these indices is that this would require a sizeable investment and, with its finances in disarray, the state government is not in a position to do so. For the last few years, wages, pension and interest payments have constituted 100 per cent or more of revenue receipts and of this, interest liability alone accounts for 43.3 per cent, the highest among frontline states. Significant investment has come from the private sector primarily in areas where employment is largely restricted to white-collar jobs. A majority of the literate unemployed cannot be absorbed into the fast-growing services sector because they lack communication skills in English. The decision to banish English from state government schools and making it optional in colleges more than 20 years back is haunting a whole generation.
When one scrutinizes the performance of the Left Front government over its three- decades-plus span, one finds a depressing story of how the finances of the state were utilized only to strengthen its cadre-based panchayats and not towards the general well-being of the population. The causes behind the Left Front's remarkable longevity are to be found in the way it kept the vast majority of the electorate deprived so that they looked up to the Front to solve their day-to-day needs while the CPI(M) successfully projected itself as the only pro-poor party, there being no worthwhile Opposition till now.
There are several social and political fallouts of the prolonged Left rule. The most significant one is a contempt of authority a result of the refusal of law-enforcers to bring law-breakers to book. From office-goers who do not find it mandatory to report on time, political parties that successfully call a bandh irrespective of the court order banning it, a government that disdainfully flouts a court order preventing it from fouling up the Maidan by holding a book fair or a political rally, to the health minister who, in response to questions regarding the sorry state of affairs in government hospitals, answers with a deadpan face that they must be good or else why would people flock to them, the list goes on.
Will a change in government alter things? 'Unlikely' would be too harsh a judgement on the future. The smart money is on what is undone in 32 cannot be done in five.
''UNCONDITIONAL TALKS WILL BRING ULFA TO THE TABLE.''
An opportunity for negotiating a settlement to the decades-long insurgency in Assam has opened up with ULFA chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa, his deputy commander-in-chief Raju Baruah and eight others, including their family members, now in Indian custody. ULFA's top leaders have been operating from Bangladesh since the early 1990s and despite repeated requests, successive governments there refused to hand them over, even denying their presence on Bangladeshi soil. The Sheikh Hasina government has broken with the past by facilitating the handover of not only ULFA leaders but of two Lashkar-e-Toiba militants wanted in India for their role in last year's serial blasts in Bangalore. This co-operative approach on the part of Bangladesh could mark the beginning of a new phase in bilateral relations. ULFA has suffered a significant setback with Rajkhowa and Raju Baruah in Indian custody.
However, its fighting capability might not have been severely dented as Paresh Barua, its military commander, is still in hiding. It is possible that ULFA has split and 'moderates' Rajkhowa and Raju Baruah have surrendered with the aim of engaging in negotiations with the Centre and ultimately participating in over-ground politics.
The Centre has offered the ULFA talks on the condition that it renounces violence and the goal of independence. But Rajkhowa has responded with some tough words. He has ruled out giving up the demand for independence and has said he will not engage in dialogue as a prisoner. But this is no reason for despair. It is unrealistic to expect an insurgent leader to renounce his organisation's long-standing goals even before talks begin. It is through talks that he can be persuaded to water-down his objectives.
There are lessons that the Centre can draw from its experience with negotiating with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Isak Muivah (NSCN-IM) group. The NSCN-IM was not expected to abjure its sovereignty goal; the talks were unconditional. This flexibility paved the way for talks and has enabled the survival of the ceasefire and the peace process with the NSCN-IM. A similar flexibility will bring ULFA into the mainstream. There is no doubt that ULFA's independence goal is against the Indian Constitution. But it is only through talks that its leaders and cadres can be convinced to give up that goal. Unconditional talks will bring ULFA to the table. A bit of patience and flexibility could prove rewarding.
''THE VOTE WILL BLOT SWISS IMAGE AND CREDENTIALS.''
The result of a referendum held in Switzerland last week, which imposed a ban on construction of minarets on mosques, was as unexpected as it was offensive to the secular and tolerant traditions of the country. Switzerland is known for its pacifism, neutrality and advocacy of human rights causes and has been ahead of most other countries in promoting positive state policies in these areas. Social attitudes in the country have also been tolerant and non-confrontational.
Therefore the ban has shocked everybody, though it will not have more than symbolic value now. There are only four minarets in the country and the mosques number only about 165. The Muslim population in the country also is not large. They are only four lakh among 7.6 million. The minarets and the mosques are almost invisible, as is the Muslim presence in society. And yet the vote was decisive with 57 per cent of the people and 22 of the 26 cantons voting for the ban.
The Muslims in Switzerland are mostly from the Balkan countries and from Turkey. The vote is said to be more anti-Turkish and, therefore, based on nationalistic considerations, and not anti-Muslim. Another argument is that the anti-minaret campaign, initiated by the right-wing Swiss People's Party, had a more effective strategy which appealed to the people. Yet another argument is that a provocative motion at the UN by Libya for dismemberment of Switzerland had a role in the vote. But these arguments are weak and the fact is that the vote has embarrassed many and given a boost to the right-wing intolerant sections all over Europe. It has been condemned by the mainstream political and government leadership of the continent, the UN Human Rights Commission, the Vatican and Islamic countries and organisations. Switzerland may also face penal action in European fora.
The referendum decision can be reversed by the Swiss supreme court or the European Court of Human Rights. But the vote will blot Switzerland's image and credentials. There is another campaign in the country now to limit the entry of skilled migrants from other countries. This too is part of the ultra-nationalistic agenda of the rightwing. The open and liberal ethos of the country is unfortunately under stress.
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS
DISCLOSURE OF ASSETS BY JUDGES REVEALS THAT 18 SUPREME COURT JUDGES HAVE INVESTED IN SHARES AND MUTUAL FUNDS.
BY SUDHANSHU RANJAN
Investment in shares by judges of the supreme court has become a major impediment in the dispensation of justice as judges are recusing themselves from cases one after another on the ground of conflict of interest.
This follows the brouhaha created by some lawyers over the issue of conflict of interest when Justice Kapadia did not withdraw from a case involving Vedanta after making a blithe announcement in the court that he too has shares in Sterlite, Vedanta's sister concern, and Justice R V Raveendran went ahead with the hearing of a case involving Mukesh Ambani's Reliance India and Anil's RNRL on the ground that he had shares of both companies and that none of the parties in either case had objected to the presence of either after disclosure.
Disclosure of assets by the judges of the supreme court has made a significant revelation that out of 21 judges who declared their assets 18 have invested in shares and mutual funds. This is going to make the debate over the conflict of interest in the judiciary more intense whether judges should be allowed to invest in shares.
Justice S H Kapadia pulled out of a case concerning ITC Limited as his wife and he own large numbers of shares of the company. The case was listed seventh time before the bench, but the disclosure did not come earlier. Before it, he recused himself from another case related to acquisition of shares by London-based Vedanta Resources in Sesa Goa, an iron ore exporting company on the ground that he owned shares in Sterlite Industries, a sister concern of Vedanta. Justices Raveendran and Markandeya Katju recused from different cases.
Even before the controversies veering around Justices Kapadia and Raveendran could die down, a fresh revelation about Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P D Dinakaran, already under cloud, jolted the nation that he passed orders in favour of a family whose hospitality he had enjoyed in Canada.
The issue of conflict of interest is not new. When supreme court was hearing the bank nationalisation case, Justice Shah announced in the court at the outset that he and some other judges owned shares of private banks. But since the counsel of the Union government did not object to their presence, they did not pull out of the case. Two days later, advocate R K Garg filed an intervention petition supporting the ordinance by which 14 banks were nationalised. The judges expressed amazement as to how such a petition could be entertained as a law was valid until set aside by the court.
Garg then questioned the legitimacy of their being on the bench when they held shares of some banks. The court took him to task that they had made the disclosure. However, the court struck down the ordinance. Indira Gandhi was so convinced about the prejudice of Justice Shah that later, during the Janata regime, she refused to appear before the commission headed by him alleging bias. However, Justice M H Kania set a good precedent in 1988 when he recused himself from the Bhopal gas leak case after disclosing that he owned Union Carbide shares. He did not consult lawyers either. In fact, no-objection certificate from lawyers is not a convincing plea for a judge to hear a case with conflict of interest as lawyers are tongue-tied in alleging bias against a judge.
The principle of automatic recusal in a case of the conflict of interest is well-settled. The first case of judicial review in the world (Dr Bonham's case, 1607) has its genesis in this very conflict. In Britain, the regulation prescribed that no doctor would practise unless registered with the College of Physicians which was also empowered to prosecute and punish the violators of the rule.
One Dr Bonham was prosecuted and imposed a fine of 10 pounds, out of which half went to the state and the remaining half remained with the college. Bonham challenged it on the ground of bias that the college had a pecuniary interest in it and so, it could not be the judge. Allowing his petition, the court invalidated the regulation. Again, in Dines vs Proprietors of Grand Jn Canal (1852), the House of Lords spelt out that the dictum that no one could be a judge in his own cause was "not to be confined to a cause in which he is a party, but applies to a cause in which he has an interest".
The supreme court of India upheld this principle in A K Kraipak and Ashok Kumar Yadav. In fact, the concept of curative petition, introduced by the supreme court in Rupa Ashok Hurra case (2002), when all other avenues of appeal and remedy are exhausted, was taken from a judgment of the House of Lords (Pinochet 2) which upheld the same principle. A person was prosecuted at the behest of the Red Cross. After the arrest warrant was issued, it came to light that one of the law lords was a member of the Red Cross who had not disclosed it. The case was heard afresh without that law lord.
In fact, the virus of the 'conflict of interest' seems to have crept inside the belly of the whole system of government and is gnawing at its flesh. None of the three wings the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary seems to be immune to it. Recently, parliamentary committee on public undertakings asked its members to disclose their business interests. The move came against the backdrop of objections raised by some members under Rule 255 of the Rules and Procedures of Conduct of Business in the Lok Sabha about the presence of some members in the committee who have huge stakes in infrastructure business.
In the executive, the conflict is rampant. However, just one example will suffice. Genetic Engineering Approval Committee (GEAC) of the Union ministry of environment is the competent body to grant approval for the GM food. Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) applies for approval to the GEAC as its institutes are preparing GM food, but the DG, ICAR, is its ex-officio member.
STATE UNIVERSITIES AS CENTRES OF POLITICKING
THOUGH THE VC CAN TAKE DECISIONS, THEY ARE SUBJECT TO THE APPROVAL OF THE CHANCELLOR, WHICH MEANS THE STATE.
BY VATSALA VEDANTAM
It was a sad day indeed when the Karnataka State Universities (KSU) Act made the minister for higher education the pro-chancellor of state universities. It was a blatant assertion of the government's stranglehold on higher education. It also spelt the death knell of academics with the entry of politicians into the sacred portals of universities which are temples of learning and not politicking.
Even when it was promulgated in 1976, the Act made sure that the universities would be subservient to the government by investing the Chancellor, who represents the state, with enormous powers to approve or overrule the decisions of all other authorities, including the Senate, Syndicate, Academic Council. In the process, it diminished the role of those authorities and centralised important decision making with the government. Nothing could be worse for the health of a university. Or, for the proper functioning of the vice-chancellor who was stripped of all executive powers despite being the head of the university.
Fortunately, there have been vice-chancellors who have been courageous enough to assert their views in the interest of academics. This probably led to the decision of making the minister for higher education a pro-chancellor which downgraded the office of the VC completely.
Although it is a fact that the state government has to exercise its authority, being the main funding agency of the university, its powers should be limited to the finances alone. It should have no role in the academics, much less its governance.
When there were official bodies like the Senate, Syndicate and Academic Council, consisting of faculty members, with a vice-chancellor to hold them together, where was the need for the state to step in and interfere with their functioning?
Not happy with the powers it has enjoyed to appoint its own choice of members into those august bodies, it finally decided to play a more powerful role by exercising its authority in the guise of a pro-chancellor who stood ranked above the VC. The fact that that office was to be held by a minister tells the rest. The recent unsavoury events in Bangalore University with regard to the appointment of registrars show the extent to which the VC's post has been degraded in Karnataka.
BU is said to be the largest university in Asia with nearly 500 affiliated colleges and more than 50 post graduate departments. But quantitative strength alone does not make for excellence. On the other hand, the university is tottering under this excessive weight of 3,00,000 students in its affiliated colleges. Its gargantuan examination scheme is dogged by corrupt practices. Inefficiency and mediocrity have been the bane of this university. Its teaching faculty, with the exception of some outstanding teachers, leaves much to be desired.
Like all other state universities, it receives its main funding through an annual block grant from the state government. This is where the entire bureaucratic machinery of the state holds a whip over the university and its authorities, including the vice-chancellor himself. Since the state enjoys the powers of legislation to make rules and regulations, or change the KSU Act itself, the university is unconditionally subordinate to the government.
In 1979, the same state government appointed a review committee to examine the weaknesses of the state universities and to recommend reforms. Many eminent educationists and scientists were on that panel. Whatever happened to their recommendations? One of them specifically spelt out the decentralisation of universities and their affiliated colleges. In this context, the committee made a strong case about the role of vice-chancellors.
"He should have all the powers needed to function effectively", it said in clear terms. It also added that utmost care should be taken while selecting vice-chancellors. Thirty years later, the state government has literally trashed that report by violating the office of the executive head of a university. It has also trespassed into a domain where it has no business. What more, it has given sanctity to such trespasses by making significant changes in the KSU Act itself. Although the VC has powers to make important decisions in the university, every decision is finally subject to the approval of the Chancellor, which means the state. In this context, we should note the comments of the Centre for International Higher Education on universities in India.
"India's colleges and universities have become large, underfunded, ungovernable institutions. In many of them, politics has entered campus life, influencing academic appointments and decisions at all levels. The system provides few incentives to perform to the highest standards. Bureaucratic inertia hampers change. Student unrest and faculty agitation disrupt normal operations, delays examinations, foments tensions."
Does this describe the state of affairs in Bangalore University?
CHEERS TO DAUGHTERS
JUST LET THE GIRLS BE AND INSTEAD CONCENTRATE ON THE BOYS UNTIL THEY SHINE.
BY KALPANA M NAGHNOOR
Ashee always worried about me, even as a five-year-old. She would squeeze her head between my busy hands and concerted face and look deep into my eyes hoping to discern if her mother was happy at the chore, and she would smile in that particular way, to infuse a little cheer into my life she had already begun mothering me.
It's possibly because we had that wonderful start. She is my second child and I slipped into motherhood easily that time. Shivy, my first born, was gentle, well-behaved child who, then in her two-year wisdom, forgave her mother the follies of first-time parenting and watched over Ashee too. This set a pattern in our lives. I have always been Ashee's prime concern. Even across the seas she worries if my walks stretch into late evening, and wonders where I have been shopping for such long hours. I remain amused as I have been all through her growing years. Shivy quietly keeps me updated on Ashee. Why the hell does Indian society shun the girl child?
It's perhaps this prejudice which actually bonded us together. A mother and her girl must not be tampered with by our society. Just let the girls be and instead concentrate on the boys. Polish the apples until they shine.
"Mom it's Diwali!" They sigh across the phone line. "What have you made?" they ask. I tell them. I've taken care to make their favourite dishes. "Ummmm! We can get the flavours!" they squeal in delight, we are so together in spirit and in mirth we laugh in unison, aware of the blue nautical miles of the Pacific Ocean that separate us. I have no regret at letting them go, to empower themselves.
"We lit a candle before Ganesha," they tell me. The Ganesha is the tiny idol I gave to take with them when they left for Australia. I smile from the memory of it. "We kept some candies as offering and we later ate them!" they giggle. Like I didn't know they would devise ways to eat chocolate. But not this time, this was serious puja offering! These are innovative girls, who will light candles instead of diyas and find ways to keep tradition alive, and who with their simple ways brighten the world tomorrow!
"What about little Kary?" people who know me may ask. Well, she is my strength. Cheers to girls!
THE JERUSALEM POST
ALL PAIN, NO GAIN
Let's tally the diplomatic benefits that have accrued to Israel since Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's November 25 announcement of a 10-month moratorium on new settlement construction. That statement followed tardily on his June 14 address at Bar-Ilan University formally accepting the creation of a demilitarized "Palestine" as the endgame to negotiations.
Since the freeze was announced, US Special Envoy George Mitchell has managed to contain his enthusiasm. While acknowledging that Netanyahu has gone further than any previous Israeli leader, Mitchell could bring himself to say only that he wants to see permanent status negotiations resume "as soon as possible."
To which Mahmoud Abbas essentially responded: "I don't think so."
In an interview with a Washington-based think tank, Mitchell did at least reiterate Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent statement that negotiations should be "based on the 1967 lines with agreed swaps."
This is significant, because the Obama administration had previously been seen to be backing away from George W. Bush's April 2004 letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon, in which the former president said a negotiated outcome would have to be based on a 1967-plus formula.
Unfortunately, in an extraordinary tactical blunder, Netanyahu allowed consensus settlement blocs to be included in his freeze.
THE administration's minimalist response to Netanyahu's two historic announcements, along with its failure to persuade Arab governments to take steps toward normalization with Israel and demonstrate that the Arab Peace Initiative is not simply a propaganda ploy, can only make one wonder where this freeze is going to lead.
If it means so little to the White House and nothing to the Palestinians - if it is, moreover, not part of some larger coherent strategy in which Netanyahu enunciates what Israel's boundaries ought to be - and if the moratorium's gut-wrenching impact domestically is all pain and no gain, what are its benefits?
Indeed, a Swedish EU initiative "takes note" of Netanyahu's freeze by proposing to sanctify the Palestinian position on Jerusalem as Europe's own policy.
It's bad enough that Europe rejects Israeli sovereignty over west Jerusalem on the grounds that it does not want to prejudge a negotiated outcome. But to watch Sweden (which is finishing its tenure as rotating president of the EU) push so hard to acknowledge east Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, even as Abbas refuses to negotiate, is profoundly demoralizing to an Israeli mainstream which genuinely seeks accommodation with the Palestinians.
Evidently, it's politically easier for elements in the EU to parrot PLO demands, rather than support an equitable solution that also takes Jewish sensibilities into account.
Of course, Abbas's demand for a settlement freeze is patently bogus in the first place. A prospective peace deal would permanently resolve the issue of where Jewish rights could be exercised and which settlements would be uprooted. So why are we arguing about a freeze when we should be negotiating borders?
The real reason Abbas does not want to talk is because he hopes that by hanging tough, an exasperated Washington will impose the Fatah position on Israel. On top of that, he does not want to appear conciliatory when Hamas's fortunes are on the rise.
It doesn't help that Netanyahu is placing Abbas in an untenable position. The PLO, which ostensibly eschews armed struggle, has been demanding the release en masse of Palestinian prisoners since 1993. To which Israel has responded in dribs and drabs under the rubric of "helping Abu Mazen."
Yet by taking a single IDF soldier captive and by adhering to its original demands for three years, Hamas is on the threshold of achieving the release of 1,000 terrorists, including the vilest in the Israeli prison system. The popularity of the Islamists will skyrocket; Fatah's will nosedive.
To add insult to injury, Netanyahu is reportedly toying with freeing Marwan Barghouti, whose arrival in Ramallah would be one big headache for Abbas and hasten a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas at the expense of both Israel and Abbas. No wonder the rais is sulking.
So Netanyahu's US-pressed freeze has pitted settlers against soldiers. It hasn't swayed Abbas or the Arab League. Hamas is bemused. Europe is little impressed.
The Obama administration, which so far has merely offered parsimonious praise, needs to do better.
THE JERUSALEM POST
BORDERLINE VIEWS: GIVING TO ISRAEL - AN ALTERNATIVE
For many people in the Diaspora the connection with Israel comes in three forms. Either it is the constant barrage of media focusing on the conflict, or a once-in-lifetime bar mitzva or Taglit trip to the country, or the constant requests by Israeli institutions and organizations to donate funds.
Fundraising has always been a big part of the Israel-Diaspora connection. It s often the basis for what is known, in the UK at least, of the Kol Nidrei appeal, where the sermon is turned into a fund-raising event on behalf of Israel.
This has changed in recent years, as many rabbis feel it inappropriate to exploit the occasion of Kol Nidrei, when so many people crowd into the synagogue, many of them for their once-a-year visit. The purpose of such fundraising in recent years has also taken on a wider objective, rather than focusing solely on Israel. The raising of funds for local community education and Jewish welfare programs is as important, some would say even more important, for the future of these communities.
Increasingly, too, donors are giving directly to causes with which they feel an affinity rather than to the large anonymous organizations such as the United Jewish Appeal, or the Jewish Agency, where funds are often distributed to causes which fall only within the gambit of the political preferences of these organizations, often dictated by the political structure of the Israeli government at any point in time.
Both the haredi and the Reform communities increasingly give directly to their own institutions, while Israeli universities, hospitals, yeshivot and other welfare organizations are all out there making a pitch for their own - equally worthy - causes. It is argued that giving directly results in more of the money actually arriving at the destination rather than getting swallowed up in local administrative and organizational costs of the fundraising bureaucracies.
BUT THERE are alternative ways of giving - some leaving a far deeper and lasting impression. One method with which I have become involved is the bringing of unused Sifrei Torah (Torah scrolls) to Israel. It is common to attend large synagogues in Diaspora communities which, when the ark is opened, are resplendent in rows of unused scrolls which could be put to better use. During the past 10 years I have been fortunate enough to bring a number of such scrolls from the UK to synagogues just starting up and which lack even their first or second Sefer Torah - the minimum a synagogue needs to be able to function on a daily basis.
Obviously one has to know which Sifrei Torah are worth bringing. Many of the unused Torah scrolls are unfit for use, or the cost of repair is just too great. However, it is common for many of the scrolls to require relatively small corrections to the tune of $2,000-$3,000. For a community receiving its first scroll, this is a relatively small amount when compared to writing an entirely new scroll, while for a donor, this is also a relatively small amount which enables a perpetual link with a young community in Israel.
Choosing a recipient community is not always easy, given the demand for scrolls. There are many young communities springing up on a daily basis which lack even a single Torah scroll, while there is also a need within the IDF - many of the more remote army bases simply do not have scrolls available - especially to be used in the field. I have been fortunate enough to bring two scrolls from the London-based Federation Synagogues of Notting Hill (no longer in existence) and Ilford to my own community of Metar and to the neighboring Kibbutz Kramim, both in the northern Negev.
My criterion for choosing recipient communities is that they are new, young, do not have available resources and will be using the scroll on a regular basis. There is no point in bringing a Torah scroll from one place where it lies unused to another place where it will also remain collecting dust. After all, the whole purpose of writing a Torah scroll is so that it should be used, not simply to be adornments which are just taken out to dance with once a year on Simhat Torah.
It is an uplifting experience when, at the end of the day, two communities come together at a joint dedication ceremony and create an Israel-Diaspora link which will endure for generations and is not just based on money.
I MYSELF experienced this uplifting when, some years ago, my younger son read his bar mitzva portion from a scroll which had been brought from the synagogue in London where his great grandfather had served as rabbi some 70 years previously. His grandfather (my father) surmised in his sermon that it was very possible that he was listening to his grandson read to him from the same scroll that he himself read from for his own grandfather (a Lithuanian immigrant to the UK at the end of the 19th century), nearly all of whose descendants are now resident in Israel.
Add to that the fact that the scribe informed us that this particular scroll was probably written in Germany during the 1920s and 1930s and was therefore probably brought to the UK by refugees fleeing the Nazi regime. If there ever was Jewish continuity, this was it.
There are many ways of giving and forging links between the Diaspora and Israel, many of them leaving a far deeper spiritual link between the donor and the recipient than the number of zeros in a checkbook.
The writer is professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University and editor of the International Journal of Geopolitics.
THE JERUSALEM POST
NO HOLDS BARRED: WHY DO CHRISTIANS REFUSE TO HATE?
Visiting Zimbabwe can be a heart-wrenching experience. It is a beautiful land of warm and soft-spoken people. But hovering over the landscape at all times is the specter of extreme poverty and political oppression. The poverty is merely tragic. But the political oppression is brutal, murderous and criminal. Most of the people I met went quiet with fear on the subject of Robert Mugabe, afraid that a stranger may be a government agent and any criticism can make you the next target of his thugs.
One innocent victim was Ben Freeth, a sunny Christian farmer who, after publishing an article in the Western press about the illegal and murderous farm seizures being carried out by Mugabe's Zanu (PF) party, was savagely beaten and later watched as his farm was burned to the ground. When I met Freeth in Harare last week he described to me and my friends from the Christian relief organization ROCK of Africa which was hosting us, how in the midst of the assault that fractured his skull, he suddenly reached out and touched the feet of his assailants and said, "Bless you, bless you." My Christian counterparts were deeply moved by this quintessential story of Christian love for one's enemy. I, however, was aghast.
Ben is a hero who, at the risk of his life continues to serve as a spokesman for the thousands of white families who have been brutally dispossessed of their land and many of whom have been killed. But I could not help but challenge this aspect of the story. "Every ounce of blessing we have in our hearts has to be reserved for all the AIDS orphans that I saw dotting this once-proud land. These wretched thugs deserve not our blessing but our contempt, not our love but out hatred."
A debate broke out in the room. I alone maintained my position. My dear friend Glen Megill, a saint who founded ROCK of Africa, said, "Shmuley, Jesus told us to love our enemies."
Yes, I said. But your enemy is the guy who steals your parking space. God's enemies are those who murder His children. And Jesus never said to love God's enemies. To the contrary, the book of Proverbs is clear, "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil." Psalms reinforces the point. "Those who love God hate evil."
This is something that has always puzzled me. My Christian colleagues at ROCK of Africa are angels. In 10 days we distributed corn seed to the poorest villages, gave out mosquito nets, hugged and prayed with AIDS victims and put on large feasts for hundreds of hungry villagers and children who dwell in mud huts. We colored pictures with orphans in Harare and gave them toys and presents. The hearts of evangelical Christians are enormous repositories of loving-kindness. But why must the heart be so wide as to extend to Mugabe's killer henchmen? What place have murderers earned in our hearts? The same is true of my many Christian brothers who have told me that their faith commands them to love Osama bin Laden.
MY FEAR is that such distortions of Christian teaching undermine our resolve to confront evil regimes. When Jesus enjoined to "turn the other cheek," he meant to petty slights and humiliations. Does any sane person really imagine that he meant to ignore and overlook mass murder? Mugabe has brought a reign of terror to Zimbabwe, making its name synonymous with wholesale slaughter, political intimidation, brutalization of opposition elements and illegal land grabs. The country is now the poorest nation on Earth, with an annual per capita GDP of just $200. Donor agencies estimate that more than 5 million Zimbabweans, representing almost half the population, currently rely on food handouts. The stores are half empty and last year they were completely empty. The ATMs often have no cash. Many of the gas stations have run out for the day. Even Victoria Falls is nearly bereft of tourists.
The black population is extremely welcoming and exhibits the nobility of spirit of those who have suffered much but complain little. A white population of approximately 4,000, down from about 250,000, still remains. They seem to love Zimbabwe, consider it their home and insist on staying.
They are, of course, hopeful signs, especially the new unity government which has brought Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara into shared power with Mugabe. I interviewed Mutambara, a 43-year-old former Rhodes scholar whom I knew from Oxford and who is now the country's deputy prime minister (the full interview is available on my Web site). A compelling man of vision, eloquence and academic brilliance, he is convinced that within two years, Zimbabwe will be completely ready for free and fair elections. I hope he is right.
But farm confiscations continue and Mugabe's gangsters still terrorize political opponents. And the only hope for Mugabe to be completely and utterly marginalized is if the international community comes together to push him off the scene. This will not come if the man does not chill our bones. We must not bless but curse his rule.
I don't do well with tyranny. I have undisguised contempt for tyrants and knowing that I was staying just a few miles from Mugabe's house spooked me throughout my stay in Harare. As you drive by his home you are told that you are not allowed to look for fear of attracting suspicion and being arrested.
Highly-educated locals told me there is a law that says that you cannot stare at his motorcade either and that his guards have been known to fire on those who do. Is this a man whom my Christian friends tell me I must love?
No, I refuse. I will go further. Anyone who loves the wicked is complicit in their wickedness. Anyone who blesses the cruel is an accomplice to their cruelty.
I choose to bless the courageous people of Zimbabwe rather than the tyrant who has slaughtered and impoverished them. I choose to bless a country like America which fights to liberate the weak in Iraq and the oppressed in Afghanistan rather than the Saddams and the Taliban who have brutalized them.
Most of all, I choose to bless people like Ben Freeth that one day the long arm of justice will catch up to his tormentors and they will discover that while God is indeed a long-suffering God, for those who continue to slaughter innocents He is also a God of justice.
The writer, founder of This World: The Values Network was on a relief mission to Zimbabwe with ROCK of Africa. To read his blogs and see videos of the visit, go to www.shmuley.com.
THE JERUSALEM POST
ENCOUNTERING PEACE: 2 CAPITALS FOR 2 STATES FOR 2 PEOPLES
Not one country in the world recognizes our capital, Jerusalem, as the capital of Israel. Even the United States footnotes the following on the State Department Web page: Israel proclaimed Jerusalem as its capital in 1950. The US, like nearly all other countries, maintains its embassy in Tel Aviv. UN Security Council Resolution 478 declared the 1980 Jerusalem Law that declared Jerusalem to be Israel's "eternal and indivisible" capital null and void, affirming that it was a violation of international law.
The European Union is debating its own position on Jerusalem. The debate is a much better reflection of the reality of Jerusalem than any of the governing politicians in Jerusalem have the courage to admit. After lying to the public for 42 years about Jerusalem being the united eternal capital of Israel, it is time to admit there are two Jerusalems - one Israeli and one Palestinian. Even Teddy Kollek, the 20th century Herod, admitted in 1988 that "coexistence in Jerusalem is dead." This was a great blow for the man who believed he had united the city.
Since the birth of the State of Israel, Jerusalem has never been united. From 1949 to 1967, it was divided by a wall and barbed wire, and since 1967 it has been divided politically, culturally, ethnically and nationally. While it is true that the massive Israeli annexation of land and building in what was once called east Jerusalem has changed the definitions of the division, with a near Jewish majority in east Jerusalem, the geography is not the proper definitive term. It is more correct to speak about Israeli Jerusalem and Palestinian Jerusalem.
LET'S ADMIT it to ourselves, we, as Israelis, don't really care about the Palestinian parts of Jerusalem. Even though they have been under our rule for the past 42 years, we don't treat them as equal parts of the city. They do not receive nearly the same services as Israeli neighborhoods. Their educational system is backward, underfunded, crowded and incapable of filling the needs of the people there. Today, one of Jerusalem's Palestinian neighborhoods, Kafr Akab, is located beyond the separation wall after the Kalandiya checkpoint.
We have to sincerely ask ourselves: Do we really want the Shuafat refugee camp as part of the eternal undivided capital of the State of Israel? To the best of my knowledge we do not chant: If I forget thee Umm Tuba, let my right hand wither, or by the waters of Babylon, we sat and wept when we remembered thee Jebl Mukaber.
We do not say: Next year in Walaja and we certainly do not pray for the peace of Sur Bahir. For Beit Hanina's sake, I will not be silent.
In a way, we are fortunate that the city is so segregated - it makes its political partition possible. As a member of prime minister Ehud Barak's expert committee on Jerusalem prior to the Taba summit in January 2001, we sat around a large aerial photograph and drew lines of division of sovereignty, based on the Clinton parameters for Jerusalem which stated: what's Jewish to Israel, what's Arab to the Palestinians. We were instructed by the prime minister to design Israel's strategy for the future of Jerusalem on that basis, and it can be done.
Of course, the most sensitive part of Jerusalem is the Old City. It is less than one square kilometer and is composed of four quarters - the Muslim (the largest quarter by far), Christian, Armenian and Jewish. There are two possible solutions for the Old City: a special international regime which would protect and guarantee the rights and the security of all within its walls or the application of the Clinton parameters to it as well - meaning that the Palestinians would have sovereignty over the Muslim, Christian and probably the Armenian quarters and Israel would have sovereignty over the Jewish Quarter.
The heart of the heart of Jerusalem is the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. For the Muslims, it is their third most holy place. Here Ibrahim brought Ishmael for sacrifice (according to their tradition) and here the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven to begin receiving the revelation of the Koran. For Muslims, the commandment of hajj is not complete until visiting Jerusalem after Mecca and Medina.
For Jews, it is the most holy place. Wherever Jews are in the world they face Jerusalem in prayer and within Jerusalem, they turn their prayers to the Temple Mount. Current and long-standing Halacha, and the decisions of the Chief Rabbinate and the important haredi rabbis, is that Jews should not enter the Temple Mount. The reason is that we don't know the location of the Holy of Holies and the rabbis want to prevent the site from becoming impure.
Since 1967, Israel has claimed sovereignty over the Temple Mount, but in practice it is controlled by the Muslim authorities. It would be completely possible to turn the status quo into de facto Muslim sovereignty and from the Jewish point of view, we could easily say that when the messiah comes, the terms of sovereignty can be changed (if so desired by God).
Recognizing that Jerusalem is two cities is the first step to making peace with the Palestinians and the Arabs. Jerusalem should not be left for the end of the process. The Europeans got it right - peace begins with Jerusalem. The walls and fences that have been built in the city over the past years must come down. The only walls that should remain are those around the Old City.
Jerusalem will become a place of great international importance - when there are over 150 embassies in the city (that could serve two states) and it is open, modernized, environmentally conscious, as cities of international importance are. Then, it will not only be the city of peace, it will also be a much more pleasant city to live in.
Resolving that Jerusalem will be the capital of two states is not only doable, it is the only way that Jerusalem will be recognized as the capital of Israel.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and a member of the leaders
THE AG'S CHALLENGES
Incoming attorney general Yehuda Weinstein, whose appointment was approved by the cabinet on Sunday, will face five challenges: the war on crime, eliminating corruption, enforcing the law in the territories, implementing international law, and protecting the rule of law in the face of threats from those who seek to undermine it.
Weinstein, who takes office on February 1, will be the first attorney general since the 1960s to come from a private legal practice. As a highly-regarded defense attorney, he and State Prosecutor Moshe Lador will have to lead and coordinate the fight against organized and violent crime, along with investigative and intelligence units in the police and other agencies. The law-enforcement system has chalked up successes against the heads of criminal gangs, and there should not be any letup.
Weinstein must also lead the fight against government corruption following the successful term of Menachem Mazuz, who after stumbling in closing the "Greek island" case against former prime minister Ariel Sharon has not flinched from dealing with senior government officials, bringing several of them to justice. Weinstein will have to show at least the same measure of independence and resilience that Mazuz showed in the face of political pressure.
The law must be enforced everywhere under Israeli control; one of the new attorney general's first tests will be enforcing the security cabinet's decision to freeze construction in the settlements despite settlers' threats to rebel against the state's authority. He will have to be uncompromising in addressing ideological lawlessness, which threatens to tear apart the fabric of Israeli society and government.
The appointment of a new attorney general was preceded by controversy regarding qualifications for the post due to Weinstein's lack of experience in public, administrative and constitutional law. He will have to quickly address shortcomings and lead the government and defense establishment in implementing international norms regarding the laws of war. All this comes against the backdrop of the stern warning Israel received in the Goldstone report. The attorney general represents the law and his voice must be heard before decisions are made on using force.
Weinstein will have the dual responsibility of serving as the government's legal adviser and the head of the state prosecution; he must maintain the power of his office and pass it on in its entirety to his successor. Weinstein's appointment must halt Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's initiative to split the office of the attorney general, which would be inappropriate and damaging, and would threaten to undermine the rule of law in Israel.
THE WINK BECAME A REBELLION
BY YOEL MARCUS
What this column described on Friday as Benjamin Netanyahu's "big wink," a clever tactical ruse designed to freeze construction in the West Bank for 10 months only, has turned into a full-fledged revolt much faster than we expected. Not only do the settlers not believe the prime minister's promises that they will be able to build again when the 10 months are up, but members of the "septet" of leading cabinet ministers have also been assailed by doubts.
Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon has declared publicly that "this was not the child I prayed for when I voted for the freeze." While some argue that Ya'alon is simply a bit slow on the uptake, he surprised us once before, and not long ago, when at a conference of Moshe Feiglin's supporters in Likud he compared members of Peace Now with viruses (in contrast to the "vipers" he discovered when he served as army chief of staff). And now, after initially supporting the construction freeze, he has recanted. This is not the first time he has spoken out of both sides of his mouth. All we wanted, he said, was to throw a bone to the hungry U.S. administration.
Netanyahu has repeated, on a smaller scale, Ariel Sharon's mistake when he unilaterally evacuated the Gush Katif settlements in the Gaza Strip without receiving anything in exchange from the Palestinians. But Bibi has yet to evacuate anything; ultimately, he merely made a minor gesture in order to reduce the pressure on Israel, mainly from U.S. President Barack Obama, who will soon receive the Nobel Peace Prize for the nonexistent peace he has made. So it is all the more understandable that the Palestinians are not impressed by the promised freeze and are not hastening to Bibi's aid.
Council heads of West Bank settlements have made it clear that they will not carry out the freeze orders; they compared the government's decision to the White Paper under the British Mandate. Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer claims his inspectors are "too busy" with their regular work to hand out construction freeze orders. Likud activists are demanding that the party's central committee convene urgently. Danny Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council of settlements, charged that the Netanyahu government is "frothing at the mouth" to enforce the freeze. Shaul Goldstein, head of the Gush Etzion Regional Council, penned a harsh letter to Bibi: "Israel has turned into a totalitarian state. The enforcement method is liable to cause a civil war .... The defense minister's modus operandi recalls benighted regimes."
Benny Begin, like many other cabinet ministers, does not believe there is a Palestinian partner. There is no one to talk to, these ministers say. But so far, the "there's no one to talk to" department is supporting Bibi's move and will continue doing so as long as it is clear that the "10-month freeze" is an empty gesture.
In the settlements, however, the waves of protest and opposition currently look like a tsunami in the making. The concern that it could eventually flood the country, sweeping aside everything in its path, is a serious one. We are not talking here about mere vocal opposition like that of MK Tzipi Hotovely. And Bibi is trying to look determined in the face of the rebellious settlers, whose motive is ideological.
They present themselves as being like the old-time pioneers who built the country, dunam by dunam. When Netanyahu decided on the limited freeze, I assume he thought the settlers would understand that this would prove that the Palestinians don't want to reach an agreement with Israel. But the settlers are not willing to play such dangerous games. That is why they do not want to wait 10 months to see whether Bibi will keep his promise; whether his statement that "the settlers are our brothers and sisters" has any meaning. And for all his remonstrances, we are now, for the first time, witnessing a confrontation that borders on rebellion or insurrection between an elected government and its citizens in the West Bank.
Instead of "two states for two peoples," Bibi's initiative has revealed an Israel with two peoples inhabiting a single state. It is not clear whether he realized the opposition would be this fierce and this violent. But it is clear that when the time comes to evacuate outposts the opposition will be even more violent and could even degenerate into bloodshed. Because over there, they don't buy ruses accompanied by a wink.
If negotiations with the Palestinians resume before the 10 months are over, as the settlers fear will happen, this will not be an "edict of destruction," as Danny Dayan claims, but rather a renewed effort to determine the state's permanent borders. Ze'ev Jabotinsky is dead and the dream of the "Greater Land of Israel" was buried by Sharon. Netanyahu must prove that he is cut from the cloth that turns a compulsive manipulator into a leader of the nation as a whole - and that he has the strength of mind to suppress the rebellion.
THE TRIUMPH OF POPULISM
BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
"Everyone told me I had to make a statement to the media immediately, but I decided not to talk to the media for five months so I could learn before I speak. I see politics as a serious profession and I'm not built for gimmicks," said Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich at the Eilat journalism conference last week.
Brave, unusual words. But who is this Shamalov-Berkovich? How many readers have heard of her?
She is a Knesset member, one of the 120 who determine our fate. She joined the Kadima faction at the beginning of July, replacing Haim Ramon.
Shamalov-Berkovich took part in the panel discussing media-political relations, beside Likud MK Miri Regev. Both are new parliamentarians, and both are young at 44. But while everyone knows Regev, Shamalov-Berkovich is lost in the crowd and the media are not the least interested in her.
As veteran media adviser Roni Rimon bluntly put it when speaking on the panel: "Miri's place in the next Knesset is assured, while Yulia has no chance because the media have a monopoly on the election of MKs."
I spoke to Shamalov-Berkovich after the conference. She says her agenda is "Zionism, love of Israel and restoring Israelis' faith. We must be a light unto the nations, a special state." You have to admit that these are refreshing words, the likes of which we haven't heard for a long time.
Shamalov-Berkovich has grave complaints about the media, their lack of seriousness and preference for sensationalist headlines. She says journalists incorporate commentary and spin into news reports, while she wants the media to convey information objectively. Commentary should be distinguished from news reports.
Shamalov-Berkovich admits that MKs cooperate with the sensationalist media. "They know what the media want and provide them with gimmicks instead of serious content. We live in an era in which the packaging is important, not the content," she says. "But politicians who make decisions on the basis of how will it look in the media are betraying the public's trust."
Regev said during the discussion that "politics is not a profession and an MK must push things he believes in."
But if we examine Regev's actions we see she believes mainly in standing out in the media. She knows that journalists seek conflicts and prefer the interesting to the important. If it is possible to blast the prime minister while endearing herself to the public by using base, populist means, she'll do it. Anything to get maximum exposure.
Thus Regev criticized the value-added tax on fruits and vegetables with foaming rage, although there's no difference between a tomato and a cucumber on the one hand and bread and milk on the other. She also lashed out against the drought tax, although it proved effective in saving water.
The system for primary elections must be driving the MKs mad. They are forced to seek the lowest common denominator with simple, populist messages, while competing to ingratiate themselves with the public. Each tries to dish out more benefits and ward off more taxes, because that's what the public likes.
The result is that good people are not willing to enter politics and standards for MKs are declining. So maybe we should change the primary system?
During the conference I happened to talk to Likud MK Ofir Akunis, chairman of the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee. "You know it was right to impose VAT on fruits and vegetables, and that the drought tax was right," I said to him. "So why didn't you express these views?"
Akunis smiled at me. "Let's say I agree with you that these views are right," he said. "If I had said so, do you know what would have happened to me in the Likud primary? At best I would have reached the 60th slot" on the party list.
In other words, populism will continue to triumph. MKs and the media will continue to go for gimmicks and sensationalist headlines rather than serious issues. And there will be more Miri Regevs in the Knesset than Yulia Shamalov-Berkoviches.
SERVICE AS A SOCIAL NORM
BY REUVEN GAL
Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi has called for a form of universal national service in Israel, with the army picking those conscripts best suited for military service and the others assigned to civilian duties.
In Ashkenazi's utopian vision, all the young people in the country - whether Jewish, Arab, secular, Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox - will report to induction centers upon receiving their call-up papers.
"The IDF will have the first choice, and will take the people it needs. After that, everyone moves on to the next pavilion and are then classified for civilian service. They could serve in the police or the fire brigade," said Ashkenazi, not forgetting to add hospitals, schools, nursing homes and environmental activities. Such an arrangement, he asserted, would not only meet the country's security requirements, but also answer a social need.
It sounds straightforward, and even fair - the right thing to do. But in fact, Ashkenazi's proposal reveals a lack of understanding of what conscripting manpower for civilian services would mean, or of what constitutes a readiness to contribute to the community. Conscription would not supply the answer to the social need of which he spoke.
Military and civilian service are two separate and different things. Military service is essential and compulsory when there is a danger to the existence of the state. Consequently, with the passage of time since the end of World War II, and especially since the end of the Cold War, many countries have adopted voluntary service models.
For its part, Israel is still under an existential security threat, and therefore maintains a system of compulsory conscription.
The need for civilian national service does not spring from an existential threat. The activities of the 13,000 young people doing national service in schools, hospitals, fire stations and with the police are indeed meant to fulfill vital needs, but they do not have to do with the survival of the community.
The morality of demanding that people who are exempt from military service serve instead in other areas is dubious. They should certainly not be imprisoned as deserters if they balk at it. Would ultra-Orthodox or Druze women whose customs and traditions bar them from such service be put in jail?
This is where a more ethical alternative to compulsory service comes in - volunteerism. National service duties take in such tasks as assistance to children with special needs, work in hospitals and HMOs, road safety instruction; it is hard to imagine having to do such things under a conscription order. They should be done out of an inner commitment, not external coercion.
There is also a practical consideration: There is no organizational framework for absorbing tens of thousands of teens into community service programs. Moreover, aside from having to find the budgets and identify the tasks, there's also the danger that a flood of cheap labor will push out salaried workers and lead to a rise in unemployment.
Calls for universal national service may sound right, but they are wrongheaded in terms of both security and social needs. A controlled, egalitarian and impartial nurturing of the existing national service system will gradually produce a normative state of affairs in which youngsters serve the community - in the military or in a voluntary civilian framework - and it will be so accepted and established that only marginal elements will stay out of it.
Social norms will be more powerful and more ethical than conscription papers, even if they are signed by the chief of staff.
The author served until recently as the head of the National Civilian Service Administration in the Prime Minister's Office.
ON PEACE WITH SYRIA, ISRAELI POLITICIANS ONLY TALK THE TALK
BY ELIE PODEH
The ritual "track dance" is in full swing: the Syrian track first - no, the Palestinian track first. A future scholar researching the history of the main contacts between Israel, Syria and the Palestinians starting in the 1990s will discover a marvelous cyclical pattern: Whenever the Palestinian track reached a dead end or a breakthrough beckoned, the Israelis began talking about the Syrian track, and vice versa.
What the two tracks have in common is that no breakthrough has really occurred in either. The reasons for this are many and varied, but there is no denying that Israel bears much of the responsibility. The Barak, Sharon and Netanyahu governments seem to have preferred making noises about peace to doing anything about it. The Olmert-Livni government seems to have been the only one that took steps toward reaching an agreement, behind the scenes via Turkey.
Making do with noises about peace has a number of advantages. Psychologically, it gives our leaders, and perhaps some of our citizens, the feeling that Israel really wants peace, while the other side just talks about it. Politically, it doesn't cost anything.
There's nothing new in that the Syrian arena is more amenable. The Syrians are not as internally divided as the Palestinians, there is apparently "someone to talk to" there, and the issues and possibilities for resolving them are familiar. Some of them have already been agreed on. So why has the Syrian track been pushed aside? The answer is to be found in the inability of Israeli prime ministers to make a clear decision about withdrawing from the Golan Heights.
They fear the electoral implications of such a move because of the Golan's special status in Israeli public opinion. Unlike Judea and Samaria, an ideological question is not at issue, and different pretexts are given for not negotiating with Syrian President Bashar Assad: His government bankrolls terror attacks, it's in a strategic alliance with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, all he wants is to dip his toes in the Kinneret, and so on.
Without belittling the importance of these matters, it should be stressed that if Anwar Sadat's positions had been scrutinized like this, there would have been no peace deal with Egypt. His first demands included not only Israeli withdrawal from all Egyptian territory it had conquered, but also a solution to the Palestinian problem. This linkage made the negotiations so difficult that Sadat walked out.
The Egyptian precedent teaches us several things about the Syrian track: First, Israel will not receive any advance concessions that could be used as bargaining chips in negotiations. Even if Syria is not prepared to formally cut its close ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas, a serious diplomatic move would drive a wedge through this axis, with a significant affect on the regional balance of power. Second, tough initial bargaining positions do not necessarily reflect the final positions. Significantly, the Syrian position, unlike the initial Egyptian one, does not call for a solution to the Palestinian problem.
Israeli politicians mouth lofty slogans about the importance of peace with Syria, but they aren't prepared to face up to the price to be paid. Instead, they pose preconditions. Israel's situation in the Middle East is at rock bottom. Beyond the familiar regional threats, Turkey has moved away and the regimes in Egypt and Jordan have to defend themselves against public opposition to peace with Israel. We need from our decision makers a more active and effective policy, as well as cooperation with moderate elements. The Syrian arena, unlike the Palestinian one, offers an abundance of opportunities for bold and creative leadership, but that has not been forthcoming.
The writer teaches in the Department of Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PAKISTAN AND THE WAR
President Obama has articulated a reasonably comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan, but there is no chance of defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda unless Pakistan's leaders stop temporizing (and in some cases collaborating) and get fully into the fight.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, former President George W. Bush tried to buy off Pakistan's military leaders who pocketed billions of dollars in American aid and continued to shelter the Taliban. Mr. Obama must demand more while finding ways to bolster the country's weak civilian leadership and soothe anti-American furies.
In a world of difficult strategic and diplomatic challenges, this may well be Mr. Obama's toughest.
In his speech last week, Mr. Obama laid down a marker for Islamabad, declaring "we cannot tolerate a safe haven for terrorists whose location is known and whose intentions are clear." In private, administration officials have been even more explicit, warning Pakistani leaders that if they don't act the United States will, including with more attacks by unmanned aircraft.
Such strikes have killed several top extremists, but the program is hugely unpopular in Pakistan and Mr. Obama must be judicious about expanding it. That means three things: extremely careful targeting, no civilian casualties or as few as possible, and no publicity.
Drones won't be enough. Pakistan's civilian and military leaders must finally be persuaded that this is not just America's war, it is central to their survival. In recent months, the Pakistan Army has gone after Taliban fighters in the Swat Valley and Waziristan. Yet the Army leadership is refusing to strike at the heart of the Taliban command in Baluchistan Province.
In part, they are hesitating because of legitimate fears of retaliation. But there are also many Pakistani officials and not just in the intelligence services that continue to see the Taliban as an ally and long-term proxy to limit India's influence in Afghanistan. To change that thinking, Mr. Obama will first have to persuade Pakistanis that the United States is in it for the long haul this time. The president sent conflicting messages in his speech, promising Pakistan a long-term partnership "built on a foundation of mutual interest, mutual respect and mutual trust," but also suggesting that there will be a quick drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan.
Mr. Obama privately has promised Pakistani military and civilian leaders what one aide described as a partnership of "unlimited potential" in which Washington would consider any proposal Islamabad puts on the table. Congress has already authorized a $7.5 billion aid package, over five years, for schools, hospitals and other nonmilitary projects. But this won't mean anything if it does not follow through and actually finance the program. The White House should also press Congress to pass long-stalled legislation to establish special trade preference zones in Pakistan.
Presuming security needs can be met, President Obama should visit Pakistan so he can tell Pakistanis directly that their fears of abandonment or domination are unfounded. Mr. Obama also must keep nudging India and Pakistan to improve relations. That may be the best hope for freeing up resources and mind-sets in Pakistan for the fight against the extremists.
Mr. Obama told a small group of journalists at a White House lunch last week that reducing tensions between the two nuclear rivals, though enormously difficult, is "as important as anything to the long-term stability of the region." He is right.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE ENDANGERMENT FINDING
The Environmental Protection Agency formally declared on Monday that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases constitute a threat to human health and welfare. The move empowers the agency to regulate these emissions and gives President Obama an important tool if Congress fails to pass legislation to reduce global warming emissions.
Mr. Obama and the E.P.A. administrator, Lisa Jackson, have said repeatedly that they would much prefer a comprehensive legislative approach. But while the House has passed a broad climate change bill, the prospects in the Senate are uncertain. The threat of regulation gives Congress extra incentive to act; regulation would provide a strong backstop if it does not.
The E.P.A.'s declaration known as an "endangerment finding" is a necessary precondition under the Clean Air Act to regulatory action. Earlier this year, the administration proposed new rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. Those rules, which have been broadly accepted by industry and will be accompanied by big increases in fuel-economy standards, will now be finalized.
The finding also allows the E.P.A. to regulate emissions from stationary sources including power plants, refineries and factories. So far, Ms. Jackson has offered no specific proposals though she is working on them beyond a "tailoring rule" that would limit any new regulations to big operations that produce 25,000 tons or more a year of carbon emissions.
Even so, the mere prospect of regulation has inspired something approaching panic, with industry groups like the Chamber of Commerce railing against "top-down, command-and-control" regulation. The House, in an otherwise admirable climate change bill, included a provision restricting the E.P.A.'s authority to control emissions.
This is utterly wrongheaded. The Supreme Court ruled two years ago that the E.P.A. has clear authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gases. It should be retained as both a goad and a backstop.
There is one obvious way to keep the E.P.A. from having to use this authority on a broad scale. And that is for Congress to pass a credible and comprehensive bill requiring economywide cuts in emissions.
No one would be cheering louder than Ms. Jackson, who has neither the resources nor the ambition to regulate what would amount to 70 percent of the American economy. If Congress fails to act, she will have no choice.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TAX TAX REVOLUTION
One sure way for a government to save taxpayers' money is to do a job only once, not twice or more. A research report released last week by the New York State comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, backs up that sensible but all-too-often-ignored principle with real-life examples of governments saving money by sharing services, consolidating functions and cooperating.
Mr. DiNapoli evidently hopes that it's possible to get jaded New Yorkers to listen to common sense by telling them that some people somewhere else have found ways to lower their property-tax bills.
New York State has thousands of local governments that control counties, towns, villages, fire districts, schools, garbage collection, sewer treatment, water supplies and who knows what else. No one is even sure how many there are: Mr. DiNapoli counts more than 3,000. The attorney general's office says it's more like 10,500.
Whatever the number is, every one of them could potentially save money by working with its counterparts to eliminate or shrink duplicative services and redundant employees. But old habits and bureaucrats' keen survival instincts keep them from acting. Even simple things like merging back-office business functions face resistance from residents unwilling to cede local control. Very seldom does practicality trump parochialism.
There are exceptions. Not so much in the prideful fiefs of Long Island, where garbage, sanitation and especially school districts might as well have their own moats and portcullises, but in upstate and western New York, where dwindling population and entrenched economic problems have forced people to swallow hard.
Take the tiny village of Pike, southeast of Buffalo, which at the end of this month will cease to exist. By 31 votes to 5, the village chose to be dissolved into the Town of Pike, after which officials estimate that tax rates will fall by 4.7 percent within the village's old boundaries and 5.3 percent in the town outside.
It's a big change for Pike. But it will take a lot more and bigger mergers to start saving real money. Still, Mr. DiNapoli says it's possible. His report calculates theoretical savings of up to $765 million through means far less drastic than village dissolution, like sharing equipment, merging accounting functions and records management and forming health-insurance cooperatives.
Saving money through streamlined government is hard, dull work. Governments throughout New York State, which is scraping the bottom of the revenue barrel, would be foolish not to work harder at it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IT WORKED FOR THE BORGIAS
Being a member of the Senate club comes with an infinite number of clubby perquisites. Almost nothing could compare to senators' imperious ability to place secret "holds" on legislation and nominations no questions asked, no debate allowed.
Wielded like poison rings, they finally embarrassed enough of the Senate to mandate an end to the secrecy two years ago in a high-minded reform entitled the Honest Leadership and Open Government Act. The theory was someone concerned enough to stop a measure cold should at least have the courage to say why.
It's time to be shocked, shocked that that promise is proving to be nothing more. No enforcement process was written into the legislation, so it's up to senators to come clean or not. If they don't, then the hold is removed after a set time. But in a new twist on statesmanlike cooperation, secret holds can be handed on from one anonymous member to another.
Lawmakers are still using secret holds to delay presidential appointments (it took 40 days from confirmation hearing to confirmation vote for the new census director) and hold back worthy legislation. Measures to improve government transparency seem particular targets, according to a study by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The study found two cases where secret holders nobly owned up. Cowardice is far more common, with secret holds blocking a long overdue measure still in limbo to end senators' ability to hide their campaign expenditures in Dickensian-era paper filings.
There is no sign that the world's greatest deliberative body will revisit secret holds. It should at least muster the decency to rename the reform. How about the Broken Promise About Cheesy Gamesmanship Act?
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A FEARFUL PRICE
BY BOB HERBERT
I spoke recently with a student at Columbia who was enthusiastic about the escalation of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. He argued that a full-blown counterinsurgency effort, which would likely take many years and cost many lives, was the only way to truly win the war.
He was a very bright young man: thoughtful and eager and polite. I asked him if he had any plans to join the military and help make this grand mission a success. He said no.
There was an article in The Times on Monday about a new study showing that the eight years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan were taking an emotional toll on the children of service members and that the difficulties increased the longer parents were deployed.
There is no way that the findings of this study should be a surprise to anyone. It just confirms that the children of those being sent into combat are among that tiny percentage of the population that is unfairly shouldering the entire burden of these wars.
The idea that fewer than 1 percent of Americans are being called on to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq and that we're sending them into combat again and again and again for three tours, four tours, five tours, six tours is obscene. All decent people should object.
We already knew that in addition to the many thousands who have been killed or physically wounded, hundreds of thousands have returned with very serious psychological wounds: deep depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and so on. Other problems are also widespread: alcohol and drug abuse, family strife, homelessness.
The new study, by the RAND Corporation, was published in the journal Pediatrics. The children surveyed were found to have higher levels of emotional difficulties than their peers in the general population.
According to the study:
"Older youth and girls of all ages reported significantly more school, family and peer-related difficulties with parental deployment. Length of parental deployment and poorer non-deployed caregiver mental health were significantly associated with a greater number of challenges for children, both during deployment and deployed parent reintegration."
The air is filled with obsessive self-satisfied rhetoric about supporting the troops, giving them everything they need and not letting them down. But that rhetoric is as hollow as a jazzman's drum because the overwhelming majority of Americans have no desire at all to share in the sacrifices that the service members and their families are making. Most Americans do no want to serve in the wars, do not want to give up their precious time to do volunteer work that would aid the nation's warriors and their families, do not even want to fork over the taxes that are needed to pay for the wars.
To say that this is a national disgrace is to wallow in the shallowest understatement. The nation will always give lip-service to support for the troops, but for the most part Americans do not really care about the men and women we so blithely ship off to war, and the families they leave behind.
The National Military Family Association, which commissioned the RAND study, has poignant comments from the children of military personnel on its Web site.
You can tell immediately how much more real the wars are to those youngsters than to most Americans:
"I hope it's not him on the news getting hurt."
"Most of my grades dropped because I was thinking about my dad, because my dad's more important than school."
"Mom will be in her room and we hear her crying."
The reason it is so easy for the U.S. to declare wars, and to continue fighting year after year after year, is because so few Americans feel the actual pain of those wars. We've been fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan longer than we fought in World Wars I and II combined. If voters had to choose right now between instituting a draft or exiting Afghanistan and Iraq, the troops would be out of those two countries in a heartbeat.
I don't think our current way of waging war, which is pretty easy-breezy for most citizens, is what the architects of America had in mind. Here's George Washington's view, for example: "It must be laid down as a primary position and the basis of our system, that every citizen who enjoys the protection of a free government owes not only a proportion of his property, but even his personal service to the defense of it."
What we are doing is indefensible and will ultimately exact a fearful price, and there will be absolutely no way
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AN INNOVATION AGENDA
BY DAVID BROOKS
The economy seems to be stabilizing, and this has prompted a shift in the public mood. Raw fear has given way to anxiety that the recovery will be feeble and drab. Companies are hoarding cash. Banks aren't lending to small businesses. Private research spending is drifting downward.
People are asking anxious questions about America's future. Will it take years before the animal spirits revive? Can the economy rebalance so that it relies less on consumption and debt and more on innovation and export? Have we entered a period of relative decline?
The first thing to say is, let's not get carried away with the malaise. The U.S. remains the world's most competitive economy, the leader in information technology, biotechnology and nearly every cutting-edge sector.
The American model remains an impressive growth engine, even allowing for the debt-fueled bubble. The U.S. economy grew by 63 percent between 1991 and 2009, compared with 35 percent for France, 22 percent for Germany and 16 percent for Japan over the same period. In 1975, the U.S. accounted for 26.3 percent of world G.D.P. Today, after the rise of the Asian tigers, the U.S. actually accounts for a slightly higher share of world output: 26.7 percent.
The U.S. has its problems, but Americans would be crazy to trade their problems with those of any other large nation.
Moreover, there's a straightforward way to revive innovation. In an unfairly neglected white paper on the subject, President Obama's National Economic Council argued that the U.S. should not be in the industrial policy business. Governments that try to pick winners "too often end up wasting resources and stifling rather than promoting innovation." But there are several things the government can do to improve the economic ecology. If you begin with that framework, you can quickly come up with a bipartisan innovation agenda.
First, push hard to fulfill the Obama administration's education reforms. Those reforms, embraced by Republicans and Democrats, encourage charter school innovation, improve teacher quality, support community colleges and simplify finances for college students and war veterans. That's the surest way to improve human capital.
Second, pay for basic research. Federal research money has been astonishingly productive, leading to DNA sequencing, semiconductors, lasers and many other technologies. Yet this financing has slipped, especially in physics, math and engineering. Overall research-and-development funding has slipped, too. The U.S. should aim to spend 3 percent of G.D.P. on research, as it did in the 1960s.
Third, rebuild the nation's infrastructure. Abraham Lincoln spent the first half of his career promoting canals and railroads. Today, the updated needs are just as great, and there's widespread agreement that decisions should be made by a National Infrastructure Bank, not pork-seeking politicians.
Fourth, find a fiscal exit strategy. If the deficits continue to surge, interest payments on the debt will be stifling. More important, the mounting deficits destroy confidence by sending the message that the American government is dysfunctional. The only way to realistically fix this problem is to appoint a binding commission, already supported by Republicans and Democrats, which would create a roadmap toward fiscal responsibility and then allow the Congress to vote on it, up or down.
Fifth, gradually address global imbalances. American consumers are now spending less and saving more. But the world economy will be out of whack if the Chinese continue to consume too little. The only solution is slow diplomacy to rebalance exchange rates and other distorting policies.
Sixth, loosen the so-called H-1B visa quotas to attract skilled immigrants.
Seventh, encourage regional innovation clusters. Innovation doesn't happen at the national level. It happens within hot spots places where hordes of entrepreneurs gather to compete, meet face to face, pollinate ideas. Regional authorities can't innovate themselves, but they can encourage those who do to cluster.
Eighth, lower the corporate tax rate so it matches international norms.
Ninth, don't be stupid. Don't make labor markets rigid. Don't pick trade fights with the Chinese. Don't get infatuated with research tax credits and other gimmicks, which don't increase overall research-and-development spending but just increase the salaries of the people who would be doing it anyway.
This sort of agenda doesn't rely on politicians who think they can predict the next new thing. Nor does it mean merely letting the market go its own way. (The market seems to have a preference for useless financial instruments and insane compensation packages.)
Instead, it's an agenda that would steer and spark innovation without controlling it, which is what government has done since the days of Alexander Hamilton. It's the sort of thing the country does periodically, each time we need to recover from one of our binges of national stupidity.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
COVERAGE WITHOUT BORDERS
BY ROGER MAHONY
AS the leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops noted last month, the current health care reform bills in Congress are fundamentally flawed because they fall short in three critical areas: the prohibition of federal financing for abortions and the protection of current conscience laws; the inclusion of meaningful provisions to ensure affordability; and the defense of immigrants' rights to health care.
Although all three areas are critical for this proposed legislation to be acceptable to the Catholic Church in our country, I would like to focus on the lack of adequate health care for immigrants who live in our midst but who do not yet have legal standing.
The two bills are quite different. The Senate bill bars undocumented immigrants from using even their own money to buy health insurance in the government-sponsored marketplace, or exchange, being proposed. The House bill allows undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance from the exchange, if they use their own money and receive no federal subsidy.
Most studies estimate that more than 10 million undocumented immigrants live in our country. Many have been here for decades. The majority of these immigrants live in "mixed families" some members of the family were born here, while other relatives are here without documents. It is unrealistic to think that these millions of people with roots deep in their communities are somehow going to pack up and move back to their country of origin whether that is Korea, the Philippines, Russia, England, France or Mexico. Most have their children in local schools, the vast majority of them have jobs here, and all are contributing to the betterment of our nation.
It makes no sense to deny this large population necessary health care services. It certainly does not help Americans as a whole to remain healthy when millions of people, including schoolchildren, cannot get basic preventive care like immunizations and medications.
When undocumented immigrants are intentionally excluded from health care coverage, they are forced to go to the only place where they will be accepted for care: trauma centers and emergency rooms the most expensive health care delivery systems in the country. What a foolish waste of money, particularly in a time of economic stress for everyone.
Using their own money, undocumented immigrants could receive basic health services through less expensive community clinics and doctors' offices. Studies have shown that immigrants are generally younger and healthier than citizens, and use health care facilities and resources less frequently. Giving them access to less costly preventive care would help keep them that way. And by paying into the system, immigrants would make health care less pricey for all by spreading the risks and costs among a larger pool of participants.
At least the House bill allows undocumented immigrants to purchase health insurance from the proposed exchange. It's difficult to understand anti-immigrant groups' objections to this provision. No one would be rewarded for lacking proper documentation, since undocumented immigrants wouldn't be eligible for subsidies.
The Senate bill takes us in the opposite direction and needs to be changed. How is the health of the entire country helped when the Senate will not even allow immigrants to use their own money to purchase their health insurance?
In many conversations with people around the country, I have found that the dreadful anti-immigrant rhetoric that dominates talk shows does not represent the views of a majority of Americans, who do not reject immigrants out of hand as a burden. Instead, they want to find a way for these people to emerge from the shadows and to begin down a path to legal status.
To deny our immigrant brothers and sisters basic health care coverage is immoral. To allow people's basic health needs to be trumped by divisive politics violates American standards of decency and compassion. We should pass health care reform that provides access to all, in the interests of the common good. We must also enact comprehensive immigration reform that better balances our country's need for a stable work force with the orderly flow of immigrants to help bring greater prosperity to all Americans.
Otherwise, in our country there will remain a permanent underclass left standing in the waiting room, asking for a doctor's visit that will never come.
Roger Mahony is the cardinal archbishop of Los Angeles.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE NEXT SURGE: COUNTERBUREAUCRACY
BY JONATHAN J. VACCARO
THE Taliban commander was back in the village. Our base roared to life as we prepared to capture him. Two Chinook helicopters spun their blades in anticipation in the dark. Fifty Afghan commandos brooded outside, pacing in the gravel. I was nearby, yelling into a phone: "Who else do we need approvals from? Another colonel? Why?"
A villager had come in that afternoon to tell us that a Taliban commander known for his deployment of suicide bombers was threatening the elders. The villager had come to my unit, a detachment of the United States Army stationed in eastern Afghanistan, for help.
Mindful of orders to protect the civilian population, we developed a plan with the Afghan commandos to arrest the Taliban commander that evening before he moved back into Pakistan. While the troops prepared, I spent hours on the phone trying to convince the 11 separate Afghan, American and international forces authorities who needed to sign off to agree on a plan.
Some couldn't be found. Some liked the idea, others suggested revisions. The plan evolved. Hours passed. The cellphone in the corner rang. "Where are you?" the villager asked urgently. The Taliban commander was drinking tea, he said.
At 5 a.m. the Afghan commandos gave up on us and went home. The helicopters powered down. The sun rose. I was still on the phone trying to arrange approvals. Intelligence arrived indicating that the Taliban commander had moved on. The villagers were incredulous.
This incident is typical of what I saw during my six-month tour in Afghanistan this year. We were paralyzed by red tape, beaten by our own team. Our answer to Afghans seeking help was: "I can't come today or tomorrow, but maybe next week. I have several bosses that I need to ask for permission."
The decision has been made to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan, and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top American commander there, is expected to speak to Congress this week about his strategy for the war. Our troops can win the war, but they will be more effective if the bureaucracy is thinned.
In my experience, decisions move through the process of risk mitigation like molasses. When the Taliban arrive in a village, I discovered, it takes 96 hours for an Army commander to obtain necessary approvals to act. In the first half of 2009, the Army Special Forces company I was with repeatedly tried to interdict Taliban. By our informal count, however, we (and the Afghan commandos we worked with) were stopped on 70 percent of our attempts because we could not achieve the requisite 11 approvals in time.
For some units, ground movement to dislodge the Taliban requires a colonel's oversight. In eastern Afghanistan, traveling in anything other than a 20-ton mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle requires a written justification, a risk assessment and approval from a colonel, a lieutenant colonel and sometimes a major. These vehicles are so large that they can drive to fewer than half the villages in Afghanistan. They sink into wet roads, crush dry ones and require wide berth on mountain roads intended for donkeys. The Taliban walk to these villages or drive pickup trucks.
The red tape isn't just on the battlefield. Combat commanders are required to submit reports in PowerPoint with proper fonts, line widths and colors so that the filing system is not derailed. Small aid projects lag because of multimonth authorization procedures. A United States-financed health clinic in Khost Province was built last year, but its opening was delayed for more than eight months while paperwork for erecting its protective fence waited in the approval queue.
Communication with the population also undergoes thorough oversight. When a suicide bomber detonates, the Afghan streets are abuzz with Taliban propaganda about the glories of the war against America. Meanwhile, our messages have to inch through a press release approval pipeline, emerging 24 to 48 hours after the event, like a debutante too late for the ball.
Curbing the bureaucracy is possible. Decision-making authority for operations could be returned to battalions and brigades. Staffs that manage the flow of operations could operate on 24-hour schedules like the forces they regulate. Authority to release information could be delegated to units in contact with Afghans. Formatting requirements could be eased. The culture of risk mitigation could be countered with a culture of initiative.
Mid-level leaders win or lose conflicts. Our forces are better than the Taliban's, but we have leashed them so tightly that they are unable to compete.
Jonathan J. Vaccaro served as an officer with the United States Army in Afghanistan from January 2009 to July 2009.
I. THE NEWS
AFTER THE NRO
Reports that the government may be contemplating a new law to protect NRO beneficiaries are disturbing. The notion of a law that offers public office-holders safety if action is not taken within three years of quitting office is absurd. But we know the motives behind such a law. The element of desperation here cannot be disguised. With the federal and provincial governments deciding not to defend the law before the Supreme Court, the verdict in the matter should come fairly swiftly. A complete list of NRO beneficiaries has already been sought. The government decision may have come because it could find no way to defend an indefensible law. Some say all lawyers of rank were reluctant to stand for it in the matter. The government is not motivated by good intention and the steps taken to have a draft at the ready that could save the corrupt is evidence of this.
The petitioners in the SC case have demanded all NRO beneficiaries be arrested. The honourable thing of course would be for all these people to step down from whatever office they hold and face the courts. We all know this will not happen even though these persons in many cases swear they are innocent. Our country has paid a heavy price for the failure of its leaders to act in its interest. Its economy has floundered. Social unease has grown. There is a multitude of problems which face people in the form of inflation and joblessness and the disquiet they breed. Bombers continue to tear apart our cities. In this situation what we need is a readiness on the part of our leaders to make sacrifices and put national interests above their own. We are unlikely to see any of this. As a result we face more tumultuous times ahead. Finding a way out is not easy. The situation is a perilous one with much lying with the courts which have grown in standing even as political leaders have lost respect and dignity.
I. THE NEWS
An inquiry tribunal headed by an LHC judge and set up following the violence in Gojra this year, which saw the homes of Christians being set alight and leading to the deaths of seven members of the community, has recommended that the country's blasphemy laws be amended. This of course is hardly surprising. Over the past decade in particular it has become clear that the legislation, placed on the statute books in the 1980s as part of the late General Ziaul Haq's 'Islamisation', has been used chiefly as a weapon of victimisation. Fifty Christians have been killed since 2001 after being accused of blasphemy. Hundreds languish in jails; most them Muslims. They have suffered due to the major flaw in the law that allows for the immediate detention of the accused after a complaint of blasphemy. The unscrupulous have used this to have business rivals and others with whom they have petty disputes put away.
The Gojra tribunal also took up the issues of the diverse threats facing the country including terrorism and noted there was a need to avoid adding to the dangers. It noted that the Gojra incident was an indication of how an unruly situation could be quickly created. To avert any repetition of this, it suggested that the security apparatus and intelligence agencies keep a more stringent watch on happenings in their area. This is significant. The events that unfolded in Gojra were preceded by days of activity by an extremist organisation. This played a key role in building up the mob frenzy that led to women being burnt in their homes following an unproven allegation of blasphemy. It is apparent the group was able to operate in the area with little serious effort by law-enforcers to prevent it from doing so. There are accusations too that elements within the security setup may have backed it as hatred was spread. We need to act now to prevent such hatred from staining our society. It has already created fissures that run deep through it. We must act to prevent the cracks from deepening by amending the blasphemy laws and ensuring that banned organisations are not able to function as they presently continue to do.
I. THE NEWS
The failure to capture or locate any of the senior leadership of the Taliban in Swat or Waziristan may show a lack of capacity or competence by our forces and agencies but this pales into insignificance beside the failure of all concerned to find Osama bin Laden. We may never know what part we have played in the hunt for him, but we may be sure that the US has deployed every resource at its disposal to find him and failed. Defence Secretary Robert Gates said on Sunday that US intelligence agencies did not know where the Al Qaeda leader was and had lacked reliable information on his whereabouts for years. The US has sophisticated surveillance systems both on and off the planet. Systems that can identify faces and read car number plates from geo-stationary satellites which can also stream live video. Systems aboard long-loiter drones that fly day and night. Systems that can read encrypted emails and pluck phone calls from the ether. But suppose they are the wrong systems for the target they seek
What the US has lacked from the outset in its hunt is that most vital of intelligence assets humint. Human intelligence is based upon a network of informers that reveals what is going on inside a target organisation or group. They are often paid for their work and run the risk of discovery with death a likely outcome if they are revealed. The lack of human intelligence is perhaps unsurprising considering the milieu within which Osama exists. He lives in a word-of-mouth culture, where messages are passed by individuals who have memorised them and there is yet to be invented a surveillance system that reads minds. He exists within a social context that is largely impermeable to external probing if it so desires and is protected by an honour code hard-wired into the minds of those who host him. He and those around him do not use mobile phones, or so it is rumoured, nor the Internet. And the most recent report is that he spends more time in Afghanistan than he does in Pakistan because of the need to avoid the eyes of the drones which might spot him if he is in the open. Looking for Osama bin Laden by relying on modern technologies is like fishing without a hook unlikely to succeed. There is a 50-million-dollar reward on offer for him and so far nothing but silence. We expect no change in the foreseeable future.
I. THE NEWS
SURGE, AND THEN WHAT?
The first surge of 21,000 troops in Afghanistan ordered by President Barack Obama soon after he assumed office didn't achieve much. After another review of the failed US strategy, and an agonisingly long wait of 92 days during which his war council repeatedly met, he has decided to send another 30,000 soldiers on a tough mission to reverse the Taliban momentum, increase the beleaguered Afghan government's security capabilities over the next 18 months and stabilise a country that has come to be known as the graveyard of empires.
With 68,000 US troops deployed in the country and another 30,000 set to join them by next summer, the United States was not only commanding the NATO forces but also setting the goals of the war. Now Obama will be overseeing a threefold increase in the number of US forces in Afghanistan and escalating a war in a distant, hostile land with no firm prospects of success. Its outcome will define his presidency, decide his political fate and influence the chances of Democratic Party candidates in the next year's elections.
The war hysteria built up by Washington has put pressure on reluctant US allies, particularly in Europe, to contribute troops and resources to the first NATO mission outside its traditional sphere of influence. Some 25 NATO members out of 28 have been coaxed to send 7,000 additional troops to Afghanistan and the organisation's aggressive secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, is pushing others to do their bit. About 42,000 troops from 42 nations, excluding the US, are already deployed in Afghanistan, and in the words of Rasmussen, the extra deployment will see "a new momentum" in the allies' Afghan mission.
Once the initial enthusiasm about the renewed war effort subsides and the NATO mission gets prolonged, the strong opposition in every western country to deployment of forces in Afghanistan could become still stronger. The most recent public opinion survey in Germany is instructive: two-thirds of the respondents wanted their soldiers to be pulled out of Afghanistan as soon as possible.
It is obvious that President Obama's hand was forced by his military commanders to send more troops to Afghanistan. The delay in his making up his mind underscored the president's dilemma in choosing a course that would escalates fighting, cause more death and destruction, cost the limping US economy a fortune and still fall short of ensuring success. As the commander-in-chief of the US armed forces, he will be responsible for victory or defeat, though the military commander in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, will also have to bear responsibility and show results after demanding the 40,000 additional troops and warning that he could face defeat if his demand wasn't conceded.
The president tried to appease everyone: the Pentagon and the Republicans, who wanted the troops' surge, Democrats who were opposed to an open-ended conflict and the vocal anti-war lobby that accused the military-industrial complex and the neo-conservatives of landing America in another unwinnable war.
Despite being vague, his exit strategy marking July 2011 for starting the withdrawal of the 30,000 "surge" forces was designed to placate the Democrats and liberals, but it appears unrealistic and may not work. Besides, it has provoked the Republicans into accusing the president of endangering US troops and emboldening the Taliban fighters who may simply opt to retreat and wait out the 18 months before the American soldiers start pulling out from Afghanistan. Such a Taliban strategy would also provide the US and its allies an opportunity to claim that attacks by the insurgents have gone down and most of Afghanistan has been stabilised and thus it is time to start sending their troops home.
A clever politician, President Obama didn't promise outright victory in Afghanistan, even though he spoke forcefully about the need to defeat Al-Qaeda. A victory will also require defeating the emboldened Afghan Taliban, an uphill task considering the performance of US-led NATO forces during the last eight years. Other benchmarks of victory will require enabling the Afghan government to stand on its own feet, ridding President Hamid Karzai's government of corruption and undertaking some "nation-building" projects in Afghanistan.
Since victory in Afghanistan cannot be achieved without Pakistan's cooperation, as US government functionaries say, reaching that elusive goal would require strengthening Islamabad's ability to fight the terrorists and curb the militancy through both military and non-military assistance. This, indeed, is a tall order and will require patience from the US where voters are growing impatient that America is in the midst of its longest war.
The "surge" of 21,000 troops ordered by President Obama achieved limited success. A strong contingent of 10,000 US Marines was sent last summer to the Taliban stronghold of Helmand, joining the 9,000 British and a few thousand Afghan National Army forces to launch offensives to capture territory and strengthen the Afghan government in outlying, poppy-growing districts.
After much fighting and casualties and displacement of villagers, the US and British military commanders are now saying that their troops weren't sufficient in number to control the captured places. The Taliban fighters simply pulled back to their safe havens, to bide time, launch hit-and-run attacks and plant roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have taken a heavy toll of the foreign forces.
This meant the need for more boots on the ground and thus the decision to double the number of US-led forces in one province, Helmand, alone in a bid to hold territory and keep the Taliban at bay. Gen McChrystal has already started implementing a new policy to abandon remote military bases and concentrate on defending towns and cities. The vacated outposts, like those in Nuristan, Paktia, Paktika and other Pakhtun-populated provinces, have been taken over by the Taliban and the change publicised through videotapes containing footage of their fighters happily displaying war booty.
On the ground the battle in Afghanistan is starkly uneven. On the one hand are the US-led coalition forces that will total 147,000 by next summer when the "surge" troops from all NATO countries are in place. In addition, there are around 103,000 so-called private contractors or, to put it bluntly, mercenaries assigned all kinds of tasks ranging from supplying foreign forces to protecting convoys and sensitive installations.
Then there is the Afghan National Army, now 90,000-strong and to be raised to 134,000 in 2010, and the Afghan National Police numbering more than 70,000. In fact, there are proposals to double the national army or even raise it to 400,000, without explanation as to who is going to pay for such a large force in a country that is dependent on foreign aid to run its government. Another armed force is the "Arbaki," the village militias like the government-backed "lashkars" operating in Pakistan's tribal areas and districts.
ll this makes a formidable force of heavily-equipped foreign troops alongside Afghan forces, who may be lacking in training but know how to fight, particularly if ethnic Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras are deployed in Pakhtun areas to battle the Taliban. And yet this huge force is unable to defeat the lightly-armed Taliban fighters, whose strength until now was estimated at not more than 15,000.
Retired general James Jones, the national security adviser to President Obama, now believes the Taliban fighters number 27,000, a figure that appears on the high side. The same general recently estimated that there were less than one hundred Al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. It is intriguing that these one hundred loyalists of Osama bin Laden, based in Afghanistan and some more hiding in Pakistan and able to cross the long, porous border, constitute the group that in President Obama's view is occupying the epicentre of violent extremism and posing the biggest security threat to the US.
The outnumbered and outgunned Taliban and other resistance groups in Afghanistan know they cannot fight such a large and well-resourced military force. As has been their practice, they will retreat instead of fighting head-on, melting away and regrouping whenever opportunity arises to inflict painful blows on the coalition forces. They could follow the principle laid down by one Afghan Taliban commander who famously remarked that "the Americans have the watch and we have the time."
The Taliban have shown determination until now in facing a superior enemy, and they will try to wait out this period while still keeping the resistance alive, in the hope that the foreign forces will leave eventually or offer them a negotiated political deal.
The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar. Email: rahim firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
The terrorists struck at a Rawalpindi mosque last Friday, injuring and killing nearly 100 people while they were offering Jumma prayers. The casualties included high-ranking serving and retired military officers also. This horrific assault proves that the government has yet to find a solution to suicide bombers who now operate in squads. The response of the government was typical. As usual, the carnage was condemned by those who count in the official hierarchy followed by instructions from the president, prime minister and interior minister to send a 'report'. We all know what happens to such reports.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has urged the ulema for the umpteenth time to issue a fatwa against suicide attacks, who have always obliged proclaiming that terrorists cannot be Muslims because they are murdering the same. Malik calls them kafirs but such statements have becoming hollow and reflect growing frustration on his part. This is understandable because which minister would not feel frustrated when he is clueless regarding how and where a suicide bomber is trained, and how the security cordon around Rawalpindi and Islamabad is breached.
It is illogical to think that a fatwa can restrain suicide bombers from killing those of the same faith as them. Many murders, kidnappings, rapes and highway robberies take place every day in Pakistan, all committed by Muslims against Muslims.
If terrorism can be stopped with the power of the fatwa, then the interior minister should also try issuing fatwas against just about any criminal in the country, thus bringing about peace in the society. Malik will agree that this is wishful thinking because human nature never changes. Muslims have been killing Muslims since the early days of Islam and will probably continue to do so till the end of time.
However, Muslims are not the only ones killing those who share their faith. In fact, Christians have been far ahead than Muslims in this respect. For example, European Christians killed 16 million co-religionists during the FirstWorld War and another 60 million during the Second World War. However, what Napoleon and later Hitler could not achieve, a United Europe, by waging murderous wars was achieved peacefully through the people's consensus. For European Christians, there is nothing left to fight for because at the last count, the number of member states of the European Union (EU) stood at 27while others are already waiting to acquire membership. .
Prime Minister Gilani told the Al Jazeera last Friday that the Taliban cannot take over Pakistan as if it was a 'vegetable'. No one is likely to disagree with this assumption. Pakistan armed forces backed by the people are quite capable of defeating the ragtag but cruel militants spawned by the Al Qaeda and Taliban. The latter have the option of seeking forgiveness and laying down arms but Pakistan doesn't have an option. It has to fight back till the last Taliban has been accounted for.
It is true that the Taliban cannot take over Pakistan but they have shown that they can mount a suicide attack whenever they want to. Previously, they would just send one suicide bomber to carry out the mission. Now they send out anywhere between three to five trained bombers. They have been brainwashed to die rather than get arrested which is why not a single has been arrested so far.
The Taliban will never be able to take over Pakistan but they will continue to terrorise us. It is imperative that the government formulate a comprehensive plan to battle them. The barricades that our security personnel have put up all over the place do nothing except blocking traffic. They cannot restrain suicide bombers. May be, the government should seek the help of friends, who know how to deal with terrorism effectively. Otherwise, this current war could go on for another decade.
I. THE NEWS
DUBAI: WHAT WENT WRONG
DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN
Dubai World, the flagship holding company of Dubai, with $100 billion in assets and $59 billion in debt, sought a six-month standstill agreement from its creditors on November 25, 2009. Bonds amounting to $4 billion and belonging to Nakheel the property unit of Dubai World - were maturing on December 14, 2009. The standstill agreement means that Dubai World will negotiate with creditors to extend maturities.
It was indeed a shocking development. Stock markets around the world convulsed as investors scrambled to understand the implications of the restructuring of debt. Only two hours before Dubai revealed that it was seeking a standstill arrangement for Dubai World, it had completed a transaction of $5 billion fully subscribed by Abu Dhabi through its two state-controlled banks. Dubai has shattered the confidence and lost its credibility in the eyes of global bond investors. The question now will be about the nature of the sovereign support provided to various borrowers in the region. The cost of protecting Dubai's paper against default has quadrupled putting the Emirates in the same league as Iceland.
What went wrong? Was the announcement sudden? Will Abu Dhabi bail Dubai out? What is the nature and extent of Dubai's debt burden? What are the future prospects of Dubai? How can this crisis affect Asian economies in general and Pakistan in particular? These are important questions and an attempt has been made to answer them.
Dubai witnessed an uninterrupted explosive growth over the last several years at the back of easily available cheap credit. Such an impressive growth not only created excess capacity but also bred over-confidence. The absence of oil wealth encouraged Dubai to diversify its economy by developing trade, tourism, transport and real estate. Also, a series of free zones dedicated to different sectors of the economy succeeded in attracting world-class companies and as such Dubai had positioned itself as the financial and economic hub of the Middle East. When the going was good, Dubai never looked back and continued to over-leverage itself, thus accumulating a debt of over $80 billion or 100 per cent of the GDP. In plain language, Dubai was carried away by its own success.
Last year's global economic meltdown halted the pace of economic activity in Dubai. The non-oil sectors that Dubai developed over the years were hit hard by the global economic crisis. The value of the assets within and outside the Emirates dropped sharply and incomes from tourism, hotel and airline continued to decline, thus creating cash flow problems. The rise of sunk investment eroded Dubai's debt-carrying capacity.
The chapter on Dubai's financial crisis was already written some five months ago. The Economist, in its July 11 issue this year, published an excellent article under titled "Trouble in the United Arab Emirates" warning about the brewing financial crisis in Dubai by the year end. What an accurate forecast it was. The Economist, quoting Standard & Poor's (S&P), stated that the risk to Dubai economy has increased substantially and that the uncertainty regarding the government's willingness to provide support to Nakheel was rising as well.
The fact that Dubai will be facing a serious debt crisis was known to the market as well as to the authorities. It is in this perspective that in February 2009, Dubai wanted to raise $20 billion in a phased manner to honour its debt obligations. In February this year, the UAE Central Bank bought a $10 billion bond out of the proposed $20 billion transaction. On November 25, two Abu Dhabi state-owned banks bought another $5 billion bond, leaving $5 billion to be issued later.
Dubai's debt payment obligations reached an unsustainable level. Some $13-17 billion is said to be due in 2010 with almost $5 billion due in the first quarter. The S&P has estimated that up to $50 billion worth of debt will have to be repaid by 2012. Realising the unsustainable debt payment obligations, Dubai took a decisive action to address its debt problem without apparently taking Abu Dhabi into confidence.
Dubai is wounded and its reputation is badly damaged. It will now be more dependent on Abu Dhabi for a bail-out. It goes without saying that the economies of Abu Dhabi and Dubai are too enmeshed to allow one part to fail. Abu Dhabi will certainly bail Dubai out of the crisis. However, there would be no blank cheque for Dubai. Abu Dhabi will not like profligacy of Dubai to continue on the back of its financial resources but at the same time it will bail out Dubai on a case-to-case basis to avoid a serious long-term negative impact. Dubai, for its part, will not be able to make economic or political decisions that Abu Dhabi finds disagreeable. The latter would also like to demand a stake in some of Dubai's healthy assets in exchange for financial support. Furthermore, Abu Dhabi would push Dubai to adopt a more conservative development model.
Dubai's crisis can be contained and will not upset the world economic recovery. Sufficient financial resources and willingness exist in this region to contain the fire. Asian economies in general and Pakistan's economy in particular are not expected to experience a significant negative effect as the exposure of their banks in UAE are very limited and should not be a source of concern. As far as workers' remittances are concerned, its rate of increase is expected to moderate in the short-to-medium term because Dubai's economy is also expected to grow moderately.
It takes years to build the confidence of the global investors but it takes just one moment to shatter them. This is what Dubai did last year. Much will now depend on the way Dubai's authorities unruffle foreign investors' fears.
The writer is dean and professor at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan @nims.edu.pk
I. THE NEWS
THE STAKES AT COPENHAGEN
MALIK AMIN ASLAM KHAN
While facts about climate change becomes clearer, the economic warnings louder, the physical reality unambiguous and world opinion strongly in support, the politics on the issue, unfortunately, lags behind. Although scientific certainty, ominous economic implications and increasingly evident physical presence should have been strong drivers for shifting the political paradigm, they have still not proved sufficient for the disentanglement of the complex web of global politics caught up in the UN system in unending discussions on the post- Kyoto climate regime.
Within this backdrop, the world is converging in Copenhagen (COP15 climate summit) to decide upon the future the political course and chart out a new international order based, hopefully, on low-carbon economic growth. The foundations for the Copenhagen goalpost were laid at the Bali Climate Summit in 2007, which set a two-year deadline for an agreement to replace or complement the Kyoto Protocol after the end of its first commitment period in 2012.
At the crux of the "Copenhagen challenge" remains a pivotal injustice which is inextricably linked with any "agreed outcome" of the climate debate. Although the developed countries bear the primary responsibility for creating the crisis, the effects will be felt more quickly and acutely in the developing world which, ironically, is also the least prepared to deal with it.
The climate is already changing and it is not waiting for the political web to entangle, the economics to get ironed out or the technologies to be developed. With severe consequences and immediate unmanageable impacts it presents a "clear and present danger" to vulnerable countries like Pakistan that are, in most cases. A recent ranking of countries affected by climate change (the Maplecroft Vulnerability Index) has placed Pakistan in the high/extreme category and at 29th in a list of 166 countries.
This should not come as any surprise. The country's economy is critically dependent on the frozen glacial storehouse in the north, termed as the country's "blue gold." This is the lifeline of the economy as it feeds almost 70 percent of the river flows in the country. Recent reports suggest this precious resource is melting fast, which is evident from enhanced runoffs into the ocean as well as the increasing presence of glacial lakes in the mountains.
Aside from this critical vulnerability, the freak cyclonic activity along the coastal belt and the rapidly shifting weather and rainfall cycles, coupled with the inability to adapt agricultural cropping patterns are clearly indicating that the physical reality of the climate issue is already beginning to bite in Pakistan. Moreover, the spectre of massive climate induced population displacements creating streams of refugees is ominously predicted for this region and this could easily turn out to be a dangerous "terrorism multiplier" for a country like Pakistan already caught up in the throes of this menace.
Thus, integrating climate change within mainstream development as well as disaster planning is no longer a lingering indulgence, predicated by some global agreement, but an immediate and unavoidable necessity for the country.
To retain its credibility, it is essential for the global climate regime to urgently ensure that the global adaptation regime quickly finds its feet at Copenhagen and match announced commitments with actual funds. For starters, the global adaptation fund, so far mired in procedural formalities, needs to be operationalised with a renewed financial commitment, so that its presence is felt not just in bureaucracies but on the ground in impacted countries like Pakistan.
On our part, we encounter a large adaptation "deficit" between the level of our preparedness and the quantum of our needs. COP15, however, provides an opportunity to showcase our vulnerability, ensure that any UNFCCC categorisation of vulnerability accounts for our particular national circumstances as well as extends a forum to position the country to get priority access to the scant global adaptation funds. This opportunity needs to be leveraged and maximised to Pakistan's advantage at Copenhagen.
Pakistan can be termed one of the worst victims of climatic injustice. We are one of the lowest emitters of greenhouse gas and lowest contributors to the issue, and yet have to bear most of its consequences. We are, quite understandably, not obliged under the convention to make any emission reductions.
Nevertheless, we cannot remain permanently oblivious to the global agenda being formulated on the climate issue and endeavour for and advocate specific elements advantageous to Pakistan, such as per-capita-based entitlements, to be a part of the emissions allocation architecture for future commitments at COP15.
Moreover, there is a large natural overlap between our national priorities and climate priorities which needs to be leveraged in formulation of national policies. It is in our national interest to decouple our economic and emissions growth and turn to a low-carbon-growth trajectory fed by efficiency enhancements and the injection of the abundant renewable resources available in the country.
In addition to this the development of peaceful nuclear energy, construction of large dams as well as utilisation of untapped coal reserves remains a priority for our energy security. We thus need to endeavour that the UN climate regime provides us with the availability, finance and access to the best available "green" technologies for the development of these resources, while at the same time ensuring that no adverse emission-control commitment is imposed upon us, even indirectly through veiled constraints.
However, the country needs to get out of the adaptation-only mindset and position to capitalise the significant opportunity presented by the carbon market which has literally exploded in the past three years, torpedoing globally from $30 billion to $1 trillion, while leveraging about $16 billion of energy investments in developing countries onto cleaner paths.
This market has created a new international commodity (carbon-reduction credit) and its development has, undoubtedly, been one of the silvers linings in a situation where the political process is paralysed. At the Copenhagen talks we need to be cognisant and involved with the rapid advances in this sector, especially the development of financial instruments such as the programmatic CDM and REDD (reduction of emissions from deforestation and degradation), both of which can create opportunities for financially crediting our national programmes for promotion of energy efficiency, forestry and renewable energy.
In particular, REDD is an innovative development that is aiming to redefine the role of the forestry sector by giving a financial value to a standing forest, based upon the carbon it is absorbing and rewarding countries for avoiding deforestation. The global deforestation of standing forest stock accounts for almost 20 percent of global carbon emissions and REDD is providing a clear incentive to reverse and arrest this situation. Pakistan stands to benefit from an involved and informed presence on these promising opportunities at the Copenhagen summit.
The politics of climate change is at a crossroads. One road leads to implementation of commitments, deepening and broadening of commitments, display of voluntary actions and a shared vision based on principles of equity and transparency. The other road leads to denying the inevitable, passing the buck to the future, procrastinating on agreed actions and adding to the already widening divide of mistrust.
The onus is now on the political negotiators to decide the future course. It has to be an approach that is driven by environmental effectiveness, motivated by economic efficiency and ultimately packaged through political compromise. Only this path can ensure that we do not bequeath a climate catastrophe to our future generations.
The writer is former minister of state on environment and member of the Core Group on Climate Change. Email: amin@ comsats.net.pk
I. THE NEWS
HOPE AMID GLOOM
The writer is a former federal secretary.
The fish, according to a Chinese saying, begins to rot from the head. Accountability in Pakistan must therefore start from the top and applied first to the rulers, who should no longer feel they could get away with impunity.
With Gen Musharraf's exit, we thought we had reached the summit. Alas! The ascent of one ridge simply revealed the next daunting challenge. With the demise of the NRO and revival of corruption cases against the rulers, optimism engulfed us all. That hope soon began to fade.
I am in despair about Pakistan. My fear is that the corrupt will get off again. There is an air of deja vu about it. Who will prosecute these corrupt rulers? They are the ones who will appoint the prosecutors! Who will produce evidence against the accused persons if they remain in control of the administrative machinery? Who will come forward and depose against the high and mighty? It is unrealistic to expect anyone to testify against them in an open court of law. I can hear them laughing. As many times before, history too will laugh and stick out its tongue at us.
Flashback to the failed experiment in accountability in 1990. The president had dissolved the National Assembly and referred six glaring cases of corruption, nepotism, favouritism and abuse of power against Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, and another nine such cases against her federal ministers, to special courts established under the law. The president was assured that the court proceedings would not take more than three or four months. The prosecution had no doubt about the outcome as all the references were supported by unimpeachable documentary evidence. They were in for a big shock.
In spite of our best efforts to expedite the proceedings, none of the six references against Benazir Bhutto could be decided one way or the other for more than two years. Adjournments were frequently asked for and freely given. No opportunity was missed to delay the proceedings. Why should the respondents have expedited the proceedings when they knew that time was on their side; that witnesses who could prove the cases against them may forget, or lose interest out of sheer disgust, or be won over, or most important of all the political situation may undergo a favourable change?
We soon realised that we had got off the main track. We were horrified to learn that every interim order passed by the special court in the course of the inquiry could be appealed against. The proceedings in the special courts could thus be brought to a standstill, pending disposal of the appeal.
We soon realised that under our existing judicial system it takes longer to get an answer from the accused than it takes to send a man to the moon and bring him back. There are so many loopholes in the system that the final judgment could easily be avoided for years. On one pretext or another, Ms Bhutto successfully evaded submitting her reply to the prosecution case made out against her after a long, tortuous, and dilatory process in which some witnesses were cross-examined for months. No wonder, some of them became nervous wrecks. With no support from the federal government, the fate of the references was sealed and the result was a foregone conclusion.
Once Benazir Bhutto returned to power, all references were decided in her favour with lightning speed. The objective situation had changed. Benazir Bhutto was now occupying the Prime Minister's House once again. The word "accountability" was not uttered or heard again in the corridors of power as if it were a dirty word.
What conclusions could be drawn from this failed experiment in accountability? First and foremost, that nobody in this country, neither the government nor the opposition, is interested in accountability as it is understood in the West. Secondly, people lost faith in the integrity, objectivity and impartiality of the judiciary, the watchdog charged under the Constitution with the responsibility of keeping a strict watch on the excesses and arbitrariness of the executive and the conduct of holders of public office. Thirdly, accountability has been reduced to a farce and most important of all, no matter how honest, upright, and well-intentioned you may be, your chances of bringing the guilty under the existing judicial system are almost nil.
In South Korea, two former presidents, both military men, were sent to jail and prosecuted on charges of human rights violations and corruption. Former US congressman Dan Rostenkowski, chairman of the influential House Ways and Means Committee, was sentenced to 17 months in prison for abusing his office and using employees to mow the grass at his summer house and to take photographs at the wedding of his daughter. He was also accused of using his House office account to buy stamps, which he then converted to cash.
As the former congressman, the once powerful lawmaker, stood up to hear the sentence. US district judge Norma Halloway rebuked him for his violation of the faith of his constituents who had elected him from 1959 to 1994. "You shamelessly abused your position," Judge Halloway said. The New York Times commented: "Pretty petty stuff, people thought, and pretty unlikely behaviour for a figure as powerful and as capable of commanding support as Mr Rostenkowski. But the case against him turned out not to be petty. He goes to jail for having abused his office. That is a flashing yellow light for every officeholder."The country needs, and, unless I mistake its temper, the country demands ruthless accountability of corrupt rulers. When will a president or a prime minister in Pakistan go to jail for mega-corruption? And when will a president or a prime minister go to prison for having abused his office? When will the superior judiciary rebuke a president or a prime minister for "betrayal of trust" and call his conduct reprehensible while sentencing him to prison, as Judge Halloway did Congressman Rostenkowski? That will be the finest hour of our superior judiciary.
"Though thou exalt thyself as the Eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down," saith the Lord. A page has been turned in time's ledger. Fortune has turned her back on this president and his regime. It is a moment of truth for him for, as Churchill said, "with primacy of power is also joined an awe-inspiring accountability for the future."
The objective situation has undergone a favourable change with the triumphant return of Chief Justice Iftikhar Choudhary, in honour and dignity, to the Supreme Court, on a wave of popular support. The relationship amongst the three pillars of the state has shifted dramatically. The nexus between the Generals and the superior judiciary has snapped. An era of deference by the Supreme Court to the Executive has given way to judicial independence, if not judicial supremacy. The Supreme Court, the guardian of the Constitution, has undergone a major transformation. It has been baptised in the waters of public opinion. After years of subservience, it is on its feet and holding its head high. The days of subverting the Constitution and treating it like a scrap of paper are over.
The nation is looking up to the Supreme Court, the only ray of light and hope, amid the gloom, to ensure ruthless accountability of those who betrayed the people's faith, who bartered away the nation's trust and who plundered the country's wealth. Unless the men at the top are called to account now and those found guilty among them sent to prison, the entire democratic process will be reduced to a farce once again; clean politics and an honest democratic government according to the Constitution and law will remain an illusion.
Email: email@example.com, www.roedadkhan.com
I. THE NEWS
THE SWISS SHAME
First things first. The victory on Nov 29 for Yes-sayers in the Swiss referendum on banning minarets is not an attack on Islam. It is secularism that has been trampled upon. Only 330,000 Muslims in a country of 7.5 million, with 150 mosques (only four with minarets), hardly pose a threat.
The Islamophobia peddled by the far-right in Europe, the SVP (Swiss People's Party) in case of Switzerland, is not merely paranoia. For neo-Nazis in Europe, it is a calculated strategy to turn European Muslims, ten percent of the EU's population, into present-day Jews. By scapegoating Muslims or invoking fears of Europe's ''Islamisation,'' the far-right is widening the base of its support. Dismantling of the social-welfare state has only made the job easy for the far-right.
It is easy to scare a jobless European, or the one risking redundancy, that his/her job has been stolen by an immigrant. This fear translates into banning of the burqa in France, compulsory language courses in Denmark for immigrants seeking citizenship or, for instance, the rise of Geert Wilders in Holland, who vows to ban madrasas there. (If this paranoid trend continues, one could also expect as absurd a development as banning Muslim names.)
Hence, it is no coincidence that the referendum was held during a financial crisis. Recently, the major Swiss bank UBS averted bankruptcy with billions from taxpayers' money while construction and SBB Cargo workers were on strike. By demonising the minuscule Swiss Muslim community, an attempt has been made to divide working people in the name of national identity and divert attention from economic problems.
Ironically, if one goes by mainstream Western media, these absurd bans are presented as attempts to contain Islamic fundamentalism. For instance, in an editorial comment, The Wall Street Journal applauds the Swiss ban on minarets. The WSJ thinks the referendum "was a decidedly mild-mannered sort of protest" and advocates measures necessary to combat Swiss "fears" of "radical imams and terrorist acts." By the way, newspapers like The Wall Street Journal never enlighten us as to the state funding of fundamentalists groups in France back in the 1970s lest striking Muslim immigrant workers should join communist unions.
Incidentally, the first European ''affair of the veil'' also took place in France back in 1989. Neither are we informed that every ban on an ''Islamic symbol'' to contain ''radical Islam'' helps from the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt win new recruits. These proscriptions reinforce the superficial ''clash of civilisation'' myth. A ban on the burqa or minarets, instead of helping contain radical Islam, in fact, help fundamentalists spread their influence. This perhaps is also the aim of the European far right. After all, Khalil Gibran's Father Samaan would be rendered jobless without Satan.
True, it is Muslims who are at present targeted and discriminated against in Europe. However, it is ultimately democracy that is being undermined. A democracy practising discrimination is apartheid suitable for Zionist Israel, not for Enlightenment's Europe. It paves the way for fascism. Fascism, like religious fundamentalism, always needs an enemy within. This enemy within is always a minority. Hitlers begin with Jews and end up with the working classes. For Hitler the Jewish minority was merely a pretext. The actual target was always the majority non-Jewish Germans.
The Swiss ban also offers an opportunity to the Muslim world for some soul- searching. There are few Muslim countries that do not discriminate, if not persecute, their religious minorities. Saudi Arabia, the Vatican of the Muslim world, does not permit non-Muslim immigrant workers even to carry a copy of the Bible or the Geeta, let alone allow the followers of these religions to build churches or temples. Hence, the reaction to the Swiss ban was a deafening silence by totalitarian rulers right across the Muslim world.
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: mfsulehria@ hotmail.com
GATES' FEEBLE ATTEMPT TO ALLAY PAK FEARS
US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has tried to allay fears of Pakistan in the wake of announcement of new Afghanistan strategy that not only focuses on Pakistan but also depends totally on the country for success in the neighbouring country. It was in this backdrop that Gates stated on Sunday that the United States would not pursue Taliban leaders in Pakistan and that it was up to Islamabad to address the threat posed by militants on its territory.
The question arises as to what necessitated the US Defence Secretary to make such a statement. This is because a deep and widespread perception has developed in Pakistan that the new Afghan strategy has something ominous to do with Pakistan. The reports about intention of Americans to pursue Taliban leaders in Pakistan are not unfounded as there have been categorical statements from the US functionaries about joint operations against militants. They have also been talking about presence of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leadership in Pakistan alleging that the Pakistani authorities knew where they could be. Similarly, the US officials have also been alleging presence of so-called Quetta Shoora of Afghan Taliban besides making deliberate leaks about emergence of Punjabi Taliban in southern parts of the province. All this propaganda campaign is perfectly in line with the worldwide US approach to prepare grounds before launching of strikes in any part of the globe. In fact, there have been reports in the US media that the new Afghan strategy also envisages expansion of drone attacks in Pakistan. It is also meaningful that for the first time the US President himself spoke about threats to 'nuclear Pakistan' prompting analysts to conclude that the nuclear assets of the country were the ultimate target of the United States. As for consolation by Mr Gates, it would be worthwhile to point out that in the same statement he has raised alarm bells by saying that "at this point" it is up to the Pakistani military to deal with this problem, meaning thereby that the US could intervene at a later stage. Therefore, apprehensions in Pakistan are not totally baseless and that also explains why there is an increase in anti-American feelings in the country. We think that President Obama, who claims to be champion of peace, will have to do more to allay fears of 170 million people of Pakistan.
SEEKING ULEMA'S HELP AGAINST TERROR
INTERIOR Minister Rehman Malik is perfectly right when he emphasizes the need of consensus against terrorism and has sought backing of Ulema and Mushaikh to root out the menace. Talking to media after his meeting with religious scholars in Karachi on Sunday, the Minister said the Government would benefit from the suggestions made by Ulema for addressing the problem.
It is indeed a healthy and positive trend and we hope more concerted efforts would be made to involve religious leaders and scholars in the ongoing campaign against extremism and terrorism that is not only damaging interests of the country but also bringing bad name to Islam. We say so because despite a tirade launched by some circles against Ulema, the religious leaders and scholar still hold crucial and vital position in the society. People enter into regular contact with them during prayers five times a day and also listen to their sermons during Friday congregations and other religious festivals and events. Mosque and pulpit can, therefore, be used effectively to create right kind of awareness among people about the nature of the threat and designs of the perpetrators of such heinous crimes. Majority of Ulema especially the enlightened ones are fully convinced that terrorism has no place in Islam and those indulging in such acts are enemies of the religion. However, there is a need to channelise this opinion by seeking a unanimous verdict (Fatwa) from Ulema and Mashaikh, as this would have far-reaching influence in mobilizing the public opinion against extremists and terrorists. It is understood that the terrorism would die down only if the entire nation stands against the threat and terrorists find no sanctuary in any part of the country. We, therefore, hope that the Ministry of Religious Affairs would convene a sort of grand Jirga of Ulema and Mashaikh for brainstorming session and adoption of a unanimous resolution or Fatwa against terrorism.
OBSERVANCE OF SINDHI TOPI DAY
PEOPLE across the political divide in Sindh observed a unique cultural day, the Sindhi Topi (cap) and Ajrak Day to highlight the centuries old culture of the Province. It was an innovative idea and people from all shades of opinion thronged with enthusiasm and joyfully celebrated the Day with largely attended rallies across the Province and in the Capital Islamabad.
Interestingly, the observance of the Day was not announced by any political party but the common people of Sindh decided to celebrate the Sindhi Topi day and it came at a time when the world over there is resurgence among all enlightened people to discover their roots. In this perspective it is essential that specific events be arranged to promote local culture so that the coming generations are kept abreast with the rich cultural heritage of all the Federating Units. What was more welcome was that the PPP, MQM, ANP, STPP, PTI were joined by nationalist and social organisations who took out separate rallies with participants adoring Sindhi Topi and Ajrak. They converged at the Karachi Press Club and then in an impressive show of solidarity in their ranks for the culture of Sindh jointly marched up to the Provincial Assembly building which augurs well for national unity. Sindhi Topi and Ajrak have been symbols of the Sindhi culture and civilisation for thousands of years and the people of Sindh have an emotional attachment with these cultural symbols. As part of their culture and sanctity of the Cap and Ajrak, people offer them to their guests as a token of respect. Wearing of Sindhi Topi and Ajrak not only give a festive look but also inspire respectability. We are of the opinion that observance of such Days to highlight the culture and traditions of different provinces would build a good and positive image of Pakistan. Therefore such events be organised on an annual basis not only in Sindh but also in other parts of the country where foreigners should also be invited. Such functions would not only revive and promote our cultural heritage but also promote national unity and soft image of Pakistan abroad.