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Thursday, December 10, 2009

EDITORIAL 10.12.09

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month december 10, edition 000372, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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
































  4. N.K. SINGH














  3. SIR! DID YOU?


























Russia has clearly walked the extra mile to accommodate India's interests in developing a civil nuclear programme pegged to the Nuclear Suppliers Group exemptions and covered by IAEA safeguards. As much is evident from the Agreement on Cooperation in the Use of Atomic Energy for Development Purposes which was signed during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Moscow. The India-Russia nuclear agreement goes much beyond the India-US civil nuclear deal primarily because it not only guarantees uninterrupted fuel supply for reactors to be set up under the accord even if it were to be terminated at a later date, but also gives India upfront reprocessing rights. The India-US nuclear deal is yet to be 'operationalised' because the Americans are demanding further non-proliferation guarantees and are yet to make up their minds about allowing India the right to reprocess spent fuel. There is a third distinguishing feature of the Russian deal which sets it apart from from the 123 agreement: Technology transfer. If seen in totality, what has been offered by Moscow is much more than Washington, DC would ever agree to, no matter how many assurances and guarantees are provided by New Delhi. To that extent, old time-tested friendships, it would appear, are far more rewarding than new alliances. Tragically, this simple fact is lost on the Prime Minister who is easily impressed, if not persuaded, by the Americans, as has been witnessed ever since the UPA came to power in 2004. If a dispassionate comparison were to be made between Mr Singh's visit to Washington, DC and his meeting with US President Barack Obama, and his talks with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev as well as the clutch of agreements, including the crucial Programme of Military and Technical Cooperation for 2011-2020, then it would be obvious that Moscow wishes to enhance bilateral relations through concrete measures and not vacuous talk. It would be pertinent to note that while Mr Obama has been keen on excluding India from his Afghanistan strategy for whatever it is worth — analysts believe it is not worth the paper it is printed on — Mr Medvedev has unhesitatingly sought our cooperation for ensuring what has been described as a "stable and prosperous Afghanistan" and in dealing with terrorism in the region, which means Pakistan.

Of course, we cannot entirely ignore the proverbial slip between the cup and the lip. Our recent experience with supplies of Russian military hardware has been far from satisfactory; this is best exemplified by the huge delay and enormous cost over-runs in refitting Admiral Gorshkov for the Indian Navy. There are other issues linked to defence supplies, too, which require urgent attention for India to view Russia as a reliable source and dependable supplier. Most of these issues are linked not to bilateral relations but internal problems which are for Moscow to resolve. And the sooner Russia does that the better it shall be for its own image as well as its role in a multipolar world: It makes little or no sense to let the US emerge as the sole dependable ally for those who choose to make common cause with the Americans on American terms, or are forced into accepting those terms in the absence of any option. Hopefully, Russia has realised that it has left the field open for far too long and will now get busy with making amends. For the moment, we must wait for Moscow to walk the talk and keep the promises it has made.






Commercial space tourism has received a boost with Virgin Galactic unveiling SpaceShip Two, the space pod that will take paying customers on a trip beyond the Earth's atmosphere by 2011. It is hardly surprising that the event has got millionaire space enthusiasts gushing at the possibility of becoming astronauts-for-a-day. Apparently 300 people are already on Virgin Galactic's waiting list and a couple of hundred more have expressed interest in space tourism on the company's website. A typical Virgin Galactic space jaunt will cost $ 200,000 and involve the SpaceShip Two taking passengers on a two-hour space flight during which those on-board will get to experience six precious minutes of weightlessness before crashing back down to Earth. All of this sounds very fascinating indeed. Nonetheless, there is a bigger issue here that cannot be overlooked. Proponents of commercial space tourism like Dennis Tito — the first commercial space tourist — and Richard Branson have been vigorously pushing the idea of space joyrides for the average Joe. However, sending people into space is a serious matter that cannot be taken lightly. Any flight into space is a risky proposition. There are numerous safety issues involved. Professional astronauts spend months training for a space flight. They have teams comprising hundreds of people who oversee and conduct various aspects of the space mission. Yet there are times when things don't turn out the way they are supposed to. Astronaut Kalpana Chawla's tragic death exemplifies this point. Therefore, in order to allow private space tourism operators to carry on with their venture in a safe and secure manner they would have to be subjected to stringent guidelines and regulations.

But given the inherently risky nature of space flights, the problem is that there are no guidelines stringent enough to ensure 100 per cent safety for the space tourists. In such a scenario, the question is should Governments around the world encourage the growth of a commercial space tourism industry knowing full well that there is no way one can ensure the safety of the amateur astronauts. Also, there is a clear distinction between space exploration for scientific purposes and space tourism. It is very important that the two are never confused. The agencies and the people involved in the former are skilled professionals who are dedicated to studying space and its various qualities. Thus, when an astronaut undertakes a trip to the International Space Station, he knows why he is doing what he is doing and is trained and prepared for any eventuality. But profit-driven companies advertising space tourism will tend to water down the risks involved with the venture in order to attract more customers. This is simply unacceptable; the issue of space tourism needs to be looked at afresh.



            THE PIONEER



Even in the worst of adversarial relations, there is merit in keeping the conversation going. Snapping dialogue leads to unwarranted erosion of painstakingly nurtured confidence building measures and people-to-people contacts. Between India and Pakistan playing cricket in a third country is not cricket. One year after 26/11, and seven dossiers later, much water has flown down the Indus and Ganga without breaking banks. Pakistan has repeatedly called for resumption of composite dialogue held in abeyance since Mumbai, saying let terrorists not hold the peace process hostage. India is unmoved, refusing to revive talks till the 26/11 culprits are punished.

Track II, the saviour during such an impasse, provides a useful feedback on the mood in the two countries though both country delegates tend to toe the official line with few good exceptions. Last month's Friedrich Ebert Stiftung-hosted India-Pakistan conference in Singapore, the seventh in a row after the attack on Parliament, proved a useful exception. It has good luck charm as its members have become Vice Presidents, Prime Ministers, Members of Parliament, editors and media advisors to Prime Ministers.

Here are a few vignettes of the conference which covered US strategy in AfPak and the ongoing wars against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan; prospects of India-Pakistan cooperation in Afghanistan; unrest in Balochistan and India's alleged involvement; sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan; situation and internal dialogue in Jammu & Kashmir and the four-point Kashmir formula; and India-Pakistan relations post-Mumbai; and the way ahead.

First, the macro view. Compared to India which has fared commendably in assimilating and integrating tribal areas in the North-East and managing unrest and alienation in Jammu & Kashmir, the Pakistani experience has been bitter and unsuccessful.

While India has used carrot and stick, that is dialogue and calibrated military force, Pakistan has resorted to maximum military means to quell insurgencies, employing intense fire power including air and heavy artillery which has led to civilian casualties, displacement of population, alienation and destruction of infrastructure.

The list of foul-ups is long — the separation of East Pakistan, the turmoil and turbulence in the Frontier Tribal Areas, sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan and the unrest in Balochistan, which is now ripe for another Bangladesh. The discussions on Balochistan and Gilgit-Baltistan were especially embarrassing for the Pakistani side as the two delegates from these areas pulled no punches.

The big picture emerging in new Pakistan as visualised by its delegates seemed too good to be true. The new actors in this new Pakistan were a fiercely independent media, an independent judiciary and a robust civil society. According to this visualisation, the Army and the ISI had said tauba and so had the ISI to dirty tricks. For abundant caution there was a post script — both will say tauba once more.

The Pakistani specialist on Afghanistan painted a bleak picture of US and Pakistani military campaigns to quell their respective Talibans. He felt that the wars were unwinnable due to poor intelligence. Privately though, a Pakistani mentioned that the ISI was very strong inside Afghanistan, confirming Gen Pervez Musharraf's recent assertion that the ISI had penetrated all militant organisations though ground operations do not reflect proportionate success.

The Afghan Taliban will not negotiate and reconcile as they know they are winning even after the civilian and military surge is effective. The elusive Mullah Omar had a 98 per cent following among the Taliban and was the blue-eyed boy of the Pakistani Army. He would not annoy it as the Taliban need sanctuaries in Pakistan. Latest reports indicate that he has been moved from Quetta to Karachi to avoid being struck by US drones.

The Afghan expert added that foreign forces are anathema for the locals. Who is helping the Afghan Taliban, he asked. Iran was playing a double game and Russia and China had secretly received Taliban delegations.

Afghanistan has become an emotional and contentious issue between the two countries. Islamabad seeks strategic depth which some Pakistanis feel is an outdated concept and shudder at the thought of a Taliban takeover. The last thing India wants is a return of the Taliban and certainly no depth of any kind for Pakistan. This does not translate into encirclement of Pakistan as the delegates feared. Despite the common goal of minus Taliban, both countries are cancelling each other out, rather than cooperating to help Afghans grow and prosper.

Pakistan will not even permit nutritional biscuits to be sent overland and since 2002 these have been transitted through Iran at 20 per cent extra cost. Pakistan is highly suspicious of India's generosity — $ 1.2 billion developmental assistance — as their delegates sarcastically enquired: "Where was India when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and Pakistan hosted 5 million refugees?"

Surprisingly, a Pakistani delegate said that Islamabad must recognise that India as a regional power has a role to play in Afghanistan. Their respective agendas must be discussed to allay each other's concerns. Ideally they should undertake joint projects in sectors like IT, communication, power, health, etc. Such was the mixed picture on cooperation in Afghanistan.

The discussion on Balochistan was the first of its kind, thanks to its mention in the Sharm el-Sheikh joint statement. The Baloch presenter painted an explosive situation of the province and how the richest and largest region was impoverished due to wrong policies and misgovernance of Islamabad. Another Bangladesh, he warned, was in the offing. Unsubstantiated allegations about India's involvement were listed which included training of 600 Baloch by R&AW inside Afghanistan.

That Kashmir was no longer the core issue was the breaking news. Terrorism, poverty, illiteracy, etc, were priority concerns. Pakistanis may have disowned Gen Pervez Musharraf but in India he is credited with the four-point Kashmir formula which has secured broad consensus in Jammu & Kashmir as well as in the rest of India.

For the time being, India is no more Enemy Number One. Islamabad has come around to allowing simultaneous release of Indian movies in Pakistan but is not prepared to accept India's offer to switch its troops from east to west to fight the Taliban to the finish with the assurance of no harm from India. How can we trust India after what it did in creating the Mukti Bahini in East Pakistan, asked the Pakistanis. The lesson from Singapore was: Keep talking but also open the official line quickly.







A story is told of how when the Ramayan-recitalists of Banaras were hounding Sant Tulsidas for 'plebianising' the Sanskrit epic into Awadhi, a sagely verdict turned the tide in his favour. Madhusudan Saraswati, next only to the Shankaracharya and Swami Vidyaranya as the expounder of Advaitavada (monist non-dualism) described Tulsidas as a grove of holy basil whose poetic leaves are kissed by a bee called Lord Ram. Madhusudan Saraswati, who famously raised the Naga Sanyasi militia to protect Hindus, was a Bengali from Barisal district. He knew Krittibas Ojha had transliterated Ramayan into Bengali as early as 14th century. Madhusudan Saraswati's intervention helped Tulsidas's Ramcharitmanas become a popular scripture with the Hindi-speaking masses.

The ties between Hindi and Bengali run deeper than Hindi's critics like Kajol Chatterjee imagine. The easiest way to verify this would be to visit the 'Hindi fiction' shelf in a public library. There could be complete shelves of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, Bibhuti Bhusan Bandopadhyay, Tarashankar Bandyopadhyay, Ashapurna Devi, Bimal Mitra, Shankar, Mahasweta Devi's novels rendered into Hindi. Translations into Hindi from other Indian languages pale in comparison. Comparative studies of Hindi and Bengali novelists crop up in PhD lists of universities frequently.

The holy cities of Hindi region, Hardwar, Mathura, Vrindavan, Banaras, Allahabad, etc, have always loomed large on the Bengali mind. Bengalis have lived in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand for generations without any discrimination. Swami Vivekananda first set up his headquarters at Mayawati Ashram, Almora. The first woman Chief Minister to be elected by any State of India was a Bengali — Sucheta Kripalani neé Majumdar of Uttar Pradesh (1963-1967). In 1957, Lucknow elected Pulin Banerjee of the Congress, a Bengali, over Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Bengalis played a leading role in the establishment of Lucknow University. Atul Prasad Sen, the well-known Bengali poet, was a leading advocate of the city. Famous economist and historian brothers Radha Kamal and Radha Kumud Mukherjee were professors in Lucknow University. Khandwa-born Kishore Kumar struck gold in the Hindi film industry whereas the Bengali music industry was less than fair to him.

Thus, it is hoped Bengalis will take a more welcoming view of Hindi.








After weeks of speculation and inspired leaks to the media we have finally been told the contents of sealed envelopes filed with a United States court in the Headley-Rana Chicago conspiracy case. David Coleman Headley's direct role in the conspiracy underlying the November 26, 2008 attacks on Mumbai is now authoritatively established.

The specific charges against Headley in connection with the Mumbai conspiracy include making five extended trips to the city — in September 2006, February and September 2007, and April and July 2008 — and each time taking pictures and making videotapes of various targets, including those attacked in November 2008. More specifically, it is interesting to note the FBI says Headley discussed potential landing sites for a team of attackers who would arrive by sea in Mumbai, and he was instructed to take boat trips in and around the Mumbai harbour and take surveillance video, which he did during his visit to India starting in April 2008.

What is even more interesting in the fresh public revelations in the Headley case is the identity of Headley's alleged Pakistan-based controller and a key go-between with Al Qaeda-affiliated 313 Brigade leader Ilyas Kashmiri. Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed (Abdur Rehman), who is described as a retired Major in the Pakistani Army, was also charged in the larger Chicago conspiracy case in connection with the planned attack on a Danish newspaper's office. The FBI communication, however, makes no mention of any direct role of Abdur Rehman in the Mumbai conspiracy.

While we await more details to surface in the days to come following the visit by the FBI team to New Delhi, it is interesting to overlay the timeline of Headley's activities in India with attacks of mass terror in India.

The wave of mass terror attacks staring 2005 and culminating with the 26/11 Mumbai attacks has an interesting overlap with what we have learned of Headley's initiation into terror activities directed against India.

Late November 2005 saw the first of deadly serial bomb blasts in New Delhi, the same period was also when Headley, we are told, was made aware of his surveillance role to be played in India. It maybe of significance to note that while the Indian Mujahideen e-mails ascribed responsibility of all serial blast attacks to its still elusive mastermind Guru al-Hindi, the e-mails were careful to exclude the November 2005 blasts in Delhi while starting the chronology from the 2006 Varanasi blasts.

Back in 2005 responsibility for the Delhi blasts was attributed to Lashkar's Al Qama. Recent revelations in the Headley case, yet to be confirmed by the FBI, indicate Al Qama is in fact the same person as Headley's Lashkar controller identified as 'Lashkar Individual A' in the Chicago chargesheet and also known as Sajid Mir. The Chicago conspiracy sheet indicated an interesting inter-jihadi factional dynamic between Headley's other controller who we now know to be Abdur Rehman and the Lashkar's Sajid Mir (Al Qama) with Abdur Rehman and Headley describing the Lashkar as having "rotten guts". This specific conversation, according to the FBI chargesheet, is reported to have taken place in the aftermath of reports of Ilyas Kashmiri's death in a drone strike when Abdur Rehman and Headley debated the implications of his death and the fate of planned terror strikes.

This inter-jihadi factional dynamic alluded to by Abdur Rehman and Headley may perhaps explain why the Delhi blasts of 2005 were attributed to Lashkar's Al Qama while all subsequent blasts were almost always described as having a Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami connection starting specifically with the 2006 Varanasi blasts with the exception of 7/11 which is attributed to Azam Cheema.

If Abdur Rehman indeed was the Pakistan-based controller of HuJI activities, including Bangladesh-based modules, it raises an interesting series of questions about his role in all of the attacks of mass terror in India with a HuJI link.

While the Varanasi blasts and subsequent Hyderabad blasts were blamed on HuJI's India-based lieutenants like Shahid Bilal hardly anything has been uncovered on the next layer of command within HuJI based in either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Similarly the Indian Mujahideen chain of command as well terminates with the Indian origin Amir Raza Khan with no clarity on his immediate Pakistan-based handler.

A closer examination of Amir Raza Khan's antecedents is warranted to perhaps establish Abdur Rehman's role if any in the HuJI inspired attacks in India.

It is interesting to note that the chargesheet in the 2001 HuJI conspiracy to kidnap Sachin Tendulkar and to target former President Abdul Kalam named Amir Raza Khan's brother. In addition to Asif Raza Khan the chargesheet named two other Pakistan-based HuJI commanders Omar Sheikh and Azam Cheema. Azam Cheema's name surfaces again in the interrogation of another associate of Amir Raza Khan and his brother. In May of 2003 the Indian Express in Kolkata revealed details of Aftab Ansari's interrogation. Ansari a Dubai-based underworld fugitive responsible for the attack on American Consulate in Kolkata, who was serving time in India, mentions that Amir Raza Khan was working with Azam Cheema in addition to Hashim Akhtar and Tahir, both based in Islamabad. Tahir is also blamed as the reason for Azam Cheema's estrangement from Lashkar.

The most extensive insights into the HuJI network come from interrogations of Babu Bhai a key accused in the 2006 Varanasi blasts languishing in a jail in Uttar Pradesh. Babu Bhai's revelations made public in May 2008 name an Abdur Rehman as the key HuJI recruiter and handler. While Indian investigators connect the dots in the Headley case they must dig deeper into Abdur Rehman as well to determine his role if any in previous attacks of mass terror attributed to HuJI.


The writer tracks terrorism in South Asia.







The Federal Bureau of Investigation has filed before a Federal court in Chicago a Criminal Information Report charging David Coleman Headley, previously known as Daood Gilani, a US national of Pakistani origin, on 12 counts. Six of these counts related to participating in a conspiracy to bomb public places in India, murder and maim persons in India and Denmark, providing material support to foreign terrorist plots and the Lashkar-e-Tayyeba. The remaining six counts related to participating in a conspiracy to aid and abet the murder of US citizens in India. This refers to the massacre of six US nationals by the LeT in Mumbai during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

It is learnt that it has been called a Criminal Information Report and not yet an indictment because the charges relating to India are largely based on voluntary admissions made by him during his interrogation after he was arrested by the FBI on October 3 on a charge of conspiring with Pakistan-based elements to carry out a terrorist attack in Copenhagen against a Danish journal which had published caricatures of Prophet Mohammad in 2005. The FBI had originally filed a criminal affidavit giving details of evidence collected on the basis of technical intelligence which justified his arrest and interrogation. Subsequently, they submitted to the court in a sealed cover information obtained during his initial interrogation to justify his continued custody. This sealed cover has now been opened and its contents incorporated in the CIR.

The FBI has described the investigation against Headley as still active. A formal indictment would follow after the investigations into his disclosures in India and Pakistan. The National Investigation Agency has already started an investigation into his activities in India during his periodic visits, but no arrests would appear to have been made as yet during this investigation. Rahul Bhatt, an aspiring actor and son of filmmaker Mahesh Bhatt, who was the only Indian whose name had figured in the e-mails exchanged by Headley with his Pakistani handlers, could be a material witness during the investigation and prosecution in the US as well as India. The CIR against Headley, however, does not refer to Rahul.

The FBI has also filed a separate CIR on two counts in the same court on December 7, against Major (retd) Abdur Rehman Hashim Syed, a Pakistani citizen based in Pakistan. The two counts relate to conspiring to attack the Danish newspaper and its employees. The CIR against the retired Pakistani Major does not refer to the 26/11 attacks. In the affidavit filed earlier by the FBI against Headley, there were references to two handlers of Headley in Pakistan — a person referred to as 'Individual A' and an LeT office-bearer referred to as 'LeT member A'. Headley was allegedly in touch with 'Individual A' in connection with the Copenhagen conspiracy and with 'LeT member A' in connection with the Indian and Copenhagen conspiracies. 'Individual A' appeared in the earlier affidavit as an associate of Ilyas Kashmiri of the 313 Brigade. He had introduced Headley to Ilyas Kashmiri and was acting as a cut-out between the two.

The earlier affidavits had not identified 'Individual A' and the 'LeT member A'. The CIR filed on December 7 has identified 'Individual A' as Major (retd) Abdur Rehman. While the report does not say anything about the arrest of the Major, media reports have said that he has been arrested by the Pakistani authorities at the request of the FBI. For reasons which are not clear, no CIR has been filed against Ilyas, who seemed to have initiated the conspiracy relating to Copenhagen. The FBI has not yet named the LeT handler of Headley called 'LeT member A'.

The details of Headley's participation in the 26/11 related conspiracy are as follows:

2005: The LeT, of which he had become a member, asked him to "travel to India to perform surveillance."

February 2006: He changed his name from his original "Daood Gilani" in order to "present himself in India as an American who was neither Muslim nor Pakistani."

June 2006: Obtained permission from friend and businessman, Tahawwur Hussain Rana, to open an ostensible consultancy franchise in India. Rana is a Canadian national of Pakistani origin living in Chicago, who was running an immigration consultancy service.

September 2006: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

February 2007: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

September 2007: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

April 2008: Visited India for several week, making a surveillance video as he took a boat ride through the Mumbai harbour.

July 2008: Visited India for several weeks, then Pakistan.

The FBI's CIR does not refer to any Indian visit by Headley in November, 2008. There is also no reference to any role of his in connection with the July 2006 explosions in some suburban trains of Mumbai.

The second conspiracy for which Headley has been charged relates to the planned terrorist attack in Copenhagen for which he had visited the city earlier this year on behalf of Ilyas Kashmiri and Maj Abdur Rehman. It is known that Ilyas heads the so-called 313 Brigade based in the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas. Maj Abdur Rehman also probably belonged to the 313 Brigade. The LeT and the 313 Brigade were aware of each other's conspiracies relating to India and Denmark.







Some days back, heavy unseasonal rains wrecked havoc in north Karnataka. There were over 200 casualties, and numerous houses were washed away. Professor TV Ramachandra of Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, ascribed the disaster to the fact of climate change, warning that "such freak conditions are going to become frequent". Karnataka is suffering the consequences of climate change in other ways as well. For instance, streams in the Western Ghats, which were earlier perennial, have become seasonal. Deforestation and change in land use adversely affect ecology, resulting in alarming depletion in rainfall.

Underlining the reality of climate change, and global warming, in particular, the Indian Space Research Organisation has cited satellite imagery that shows a 1.5-km retreat of the Gangotri glacier over the past three decades. It is a timely disclosure, against the backdrop of the 193-countries summit on climate change, currently being held at Copenhagen. While ISRO is being cautious about blaming the retreat of Himalayan glaciers on global warming, the fact remains that its own studies confirm that some of them have indeed melted in the past two decades. This is of utmost importance, given that a month ago, Minister of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh released a Government report, titled Himalayan Glaciers: A state-of-art review of glacial studies, glacial retreat and climate change. The study avers absence of evidence to support the claim that climate change has caused 'abnormal' shrinking of Himalayan glaciers. By associating with the report, even if he did not endorse it, the Minister gave credence to it. It was subsequently debunked by some renowned experts.

Mr RK Pachauri, head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations environmental agency, dismissed the report on the grounds that it had few "scientific citations". Contrary to satellite images, which show the Gangotri glacier receding, the report claimed that the glacier, the main source of the Ganga, was now 'practically at a standstill'. Worse, Mr Ramesh's assertion that he was ready to take on "the doomsday scenarios of Al Gore and the IPCC" fuelled the ire of experts, who felt that denying the reality of global warming was not only myopic but would prove disastrous for India. Mr Pachauri had summed it up as "climate change deniers and schoolboy science".

A more sinister trend in the developed First World has manifested as a cynical questioning of the very premise of climate change and global warming, with sections of the media also joining the debate. The controversy has gathered momentum in the wake of an alleged break-in at a premier climate research institute, with e-mail accounts being hacked and files stolen. Data reportedly available via the break-in is sought to be deployed by those who oppose cuts in greenhouse gas emissions as evidence that climate change warnings are not rooted in facts. A New York Times report — 'Leaked e-mails give naysayers ammo' — mirrors the scepticism: "In recent days, an array of scientists and policymakers have said that nothing so far disclosed — the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data — undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science.

Yet the intensity of the response highlights that scepticism about global warming persists, even as many experts thought the battle over the reality of human-driven climate change was finally behind them. On dozens of websites and blogs, sceptics and foes of greenhouse gas restrictions take daily aim at the scientific arguments for human-driven climate change. The stolen material was quickly seized upon for the questions it raised about the accessibility of data to outsiders and whether some data had been manipulated".

However, the timing of the break-in, just before the Copenhagen summit, suggests that there is more to it than meets the eye. Some detect a plan by vested interests to derail negotiations on climate change and a new global accord to curb emissions. For, if binding cuts in emission can be enforced on the developed and developing countries, indiscriminate industrial growth will be curtailed since this is considered by climate change experts to be one of the primary causes of global warming. And such curbs will certainly be an extremely unwelcome prospect for uninhibited advocates of incessant consumption and free markets. Opposed to them are those who traverse the sensible course of sustainable development: That mankind should use as much of the earth's resources as are within its capacity for self- renewal.







While the crucial issue of environment and the effects of global warming will continue to dominate national and international debates for long, the Siddhpur municipality in Ahmedabad paved the way to curb the use of plastic bags in the city.

Despite a Government restriction on production and use of plastic bags of less than 20 micron thickness, they are being blatantly manufactured and used. This shows how far we can stray from the core concept of preserving our environment by flouting rules which actually will benefit not only us but the entire ecosystem.

Sometimes it requires a voice from within to remind us, not only of the violation of the ban but the dangers of polluting our environment. This voice has come from the Siddhpur municipality which has in a sense gone beyond its routine duties to effect this change.

The municipal staff formed three groups for this and came to the conclusion that these poly bags found their way into town through people coming from outside.

This was followed by a crackdown. The teams fanned out in the area, confiscating polybags and sending them for recycling. Those found guilty of using them were reprimanded. The campaign had the desired effect not only on the users but those who manufactured and sold plastic bags.


However, this was only a battle won in the long war the municipality had declared on plastic bags and it kept up the heat. Sure the usage of plastic bags had virtually stopped. The challenge was now to provide a viable option so that inadvertently things do not slip back into the old practice. Officials in the team hit upon an innovative idea, one that would entail not only an immediate solution but a long-term one and would create awareness about the issue amongst the local community bringing an attitudinal change. Forty-seen sakhi mandals or women's group had been formed as part of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. This was the perfect network the municipality needed to propose the usage of paper bags in place of plastic ones.

Rather than merely deflect their message through the existing functionaries of these sakhi mandals, the municipality went a step further to select and train a group exclusively for this. Fifty women living below the poverty line were identified to make paper bags. They were put through training and later they formed a group. To their great joy, members of this pioneering group started saving Rs 100 each month.

This was a good beginning but not enough. It was important to set a high standard of quality for these bags to really become a part of the market and people's consumption patterns in the long run. The municipality conducted an extensive survey of the business community and documented the expectations of quality, design, choice of material, thickness and size. In all the idea was to cater to what the customer would want rather than imposing a uniform model devised by the officials without 'market research'.

It is indeed a mature market-sense and purely professional way of bringing about social change that has marked the progress of this initiative. The production of paper bags was not adhoc but based on the sound findings of this survey. The newly formed groups were literally partners in progress. When it came to buying raw materials for paper bags and other activities, they showed a high level of enthusiasm and participation. The idea of paper bags had taken roots and had caught the imagination of those making them. And they were involved in all stages of production.

The women worked out the cost of raw material, making charges and profit before finalising the selling price of the bags. Based on this calculation, the cost of paper bags was fixed at Rs 54 per kg. Interestingly, the cost of plastic bags in the market is Rs 120 per kg. At once the dual benefit became clear dispelling the common notion that for environmental protection, only high-cost technologies can work. Not to mention, the generation of employment for women living below the poverty line.

At present, groups make paper bags for provision stores to hold products weighing between 250 gm and 2 kg. These groups earn Rs 15 a kg as labour charges. They make between two to eight kg of bags in a day. Thus their earnings are anything between Rs 30 and Rs 120 a day sitting at their homes. They are now contributing to their family income, their sense of economic worth and to the larger cause of the environment.

There is yet another advantage and indicates the ripple effect of this path-breaking initiative. Plastic bags now do not form part of the garbage collected from the town and as a result the task of garbage disposal has become easy. This effort by a tiny band of municipality officials has not remained confined to the local context. Their efforts and the subsequent impact are being documented by the City Managers' Association, Gujarat. Inspired by the municipality's efforts, other local organisations are also taking up this task of making paper bags. One small step has set the ball rolling!








IT IS hardly surprising that India has emerged as the hottest hiring destination in the world. A global employment outlook survey has found that more hiring managers in India — among the 71,000 interviewed across 35 countries — expected to add to their employee strength over the coming quarter than in any other nation in the world.


There are a number of reasons for this.


First and foremost, is the resilience displayed by the economy, which has been the first among major nations ( along with China) to have bounced back to a relatively high growth path. Job additions are a function of expected future growth in any enterprise. When the expectation is poor, hiring slows or stops. The process is reversed when expectations turn positive.


The relatively small shrinkage in growth during the worst phase of the crisis has clearly strengthened corporate India's belief in the economy.


There is also the fact that India Inc was by and large protected from the worst fallout of the financial markets crisis which devastated other developed economies over the last year. Coupled with some strategic stimulus measures from the government, these have ensured that Indian corporates are better placed than their rivals to take advantage of the recovery which is now clearly visible even in the worst- hit economies.


However, challenges peculiar to India remain. The first is the creation of adequate jobs at the entry level for the flood of skilled and unskilled youngsters joining the workforce every year. A youthful population means a youthful workforce, but it also means that more young people with little or no experience, or skills, are looking for jobs. That the State Bank of India attracted an astounding 3.4 million applicants for 11,000 clerical jobs last month, bears witness to the twin challenges of job creation and skills development facing the country.






ADVOCATE Prashant Bhushan is right in asserting before the Supreme Court that he did not commit contempt of court by talking about corruption in the judiciary in an interview to a magazine. It would be a tyrannical court that does not care about the freedom of speech and prevents a lawyer of standing from stating his views about an institution of which he has been a part for years. In any case we have had several instances of late which have put the conduct of some members of the judiciary under a cloud. Former chief justices of India have also talked about it


It's high time that the judiciary stopped using the contempt provision to stifle criticism.


The modern idea behind the contempt law is to prevent obstruction of justice — Mr Bhushan has outlined its true spirit in the memorable words of Lord Denning. But our judges seem to take it as a shield that grants them impregnability.


The legislature has displayed some forward thinking by amending the Contempt of Courts Act, making truth in public interest a defence against contempt provisions, though the courts have been made the final arbiter in the matter. But even this counts for little given that the Supreme Court has repeatedly declared that it has inherent power on contempt issues and legislation like the Contempt of Courts Act do not govern its functioning.






REGRETTABLY, Sir Richard Branson did not unveil SpaceShipTwo by entering the hangar on an elephant and the opening night party was merely a sound and light show. Knowing Sir Richard, it would not have been such a bad idea to make an entry on possibly the slowest moving " vehicle" to showcase the fastest moving commercial vehicle that will take humans on sub- orbital flights at the edge of space.


Be that as it may, the Burt Rutandesigned SpaceShipTwo is a wonderful exposition of how even the most quirky of ideas that border on science fiction can become reality if innovation is accompanied by the human desire for exploration.


The ticket to space is expensive at $ 200,000 ( Rs 92 lakh), but then if you have that much money, you might as well buy some bragging rights back on earth, and perhaps a tale or two for your grandchildren.








There are hidden facets to the sorry episode of the Babri Masjid that also implicate others


THE LIBERHAN Report can be excused for its longwinded vacuity as also the time it took to see the light of day. But the more hilarious aspect of the aftermath of the tabling of the report is the manner in which politicians of various persuasions have reacted to it. All of them have come up with their own version of the truth. In Indian politics, truth never prevails, but all that prevails is true.


In a mature democracy, it would have been the norm for the BJP to accept that they participated in a criminal act that vitiated public life and divided people.


Equally so, the Congress ought to have apologised to the country for P. V. Narasimha Rao's inept handling of the entire situation.


Mulayam Singh ought to have kept silent in Parliament, if only because he was, until recently, extolling the virtues of a certain Kalyan Singh. The Left too ought to have toned down its self- righteous bluster, especially after their cosy understanding with the BJP recently in trying to bring down the UPA government over the issue of the nuclear deal. " In the congregation of the righteous", said a poet, " the sinners are well- disguised: do not seek to count them".




For the BJP and certain of its leaders, the Liberhan report seems like a godgiven opportunity to revive its ever- dwindling fortunes. Just as their conception of Hindutva is stuck in an imaginary past, so are their political calculations. They hope to revive the irrational mobilisation of the rath yatra and karseva movements, if only to rectify their rockbottom status in the arena of Uttar Pradesh politics.


Even if their hope of a revival on the lines of the Ayodhya movement clashes with pictures of Narendra Modi in denims, they would love to live under the fatal illusion that they have the moral and intellectual wherewithal to merge and resolve all such contradictions.


The spectacle of Rajnath Singh thundering about the existence of a Ram Temple in the past and the assurance of a temple in the future weeks before he is to be given the marching orders by the RSS in favour of a man whose sole claim to fame is building flyovers is all too delicious for the ordinary spectator. After all, flyovers for the BJP are the new temples of their conception of modern India.


In all this, the RSS presents a picture that is a strange mixture of bravado, innocence and lack of contrition. They have been consistent in stating that they have no regrets about the demolition of the Babri Mosque.


But they are equally consistent in saying that a spontaneous surge of karsevaks resulted in the felling of what has been known as the disputed structure. This theory of spontaneity and popular sentiment has served the RSS and the Sangh Parivar well over the years in their systematic attempts at subverting democracy, the rule of law and the Indian Constitution.


One just has to remember the rhetoric at all levels within the Sangh Parivar in justifying the post- Godhra riots and the systematic killing of Muslims to know that this is a familiar tool in their kit of medieval barbarity. The only consolation that the Sangh Parivar has is that even the Congress borrowed the same set of rhetorical devices in order to justify the massacre of innocent Sikhs in 1984 and continues to condone similar acts by not acting on the findings of the Srikrishna Report concerning the 1992- 93 riots in Bombay.


Is there, then, a difference between the Sangh Parivar and the Congress? The difference is a small, but significant one. The Congress condones similar acts of violence for political expediency and does so with cynical impunity. The Sangh Parivar indulges in acts of organised violence in the name of God, Hinduism, cultural pride and with the express purpose of destroying a plurality of the ideas of India.


In keeping the mandirmasjid issue alive, the RSS also has a different agenda. It hopes to alienate Muslims to an extent by which it becomes untenable for them to exist as first- class citizens in India, and, thereby, foist its limited, shortsighted and dangerous idea of a Hindu nation.




A few examples would suffice. The former RSS sarsanghchalak , K. P Sudarshan, wrote a pamphlet published in 2000 called ' Sangh ki saphalta ka rahasya' ( The Secret of the Sangh's Success). He writes that when Indira Gandhi visited Afghanistan and wanted to lay a wreath at the tombstone of Babur, the Afghans had to clean the place overnight. The tombstone was in a state of acute disrepair. Sudarshan cites an official in the Prime Minister's party asking the caretaker of the cemetery about Babur's tomb and its sorry state.


The caretaker is supposed to have replied that they did not care because Babur was no Afghan.


Sudarshan goes on to say that it is unfortunate that many Indian Muslims still connect themselves to Babur. He goes on to explain how the structure that was demolished was on purpose designated as Babri Mosque, and they created futile anger in the country upon its demolition.


Sudarshan's amnesia makes him forget that if his story of the Afghan caretaker of the cemetery is a desirable one, then the Sangh ought not to have screamed and shouted as much as it did when the Bamiyan Buddhas were blown away by dynamite sticks. After all, the Buddha was no Afghan either! But Sudarshan's perverse creativity in rewriting history reaches hitherto unscaled heights when he dismisses the historical veracity of a structure that is a few hundred years old, but argues that the existence of a Ram Temple at the very spot was historically true and incontrovertible.




But there is one other gem in Sudarshan's pamphlet.


He quotes a fax sent to Narasimha Rao on 10 December 1992 by a senior leader from Maharashtra.


Sudarshan says that this leader advised Rao not to ban the RSS in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri mosque because Balasaheb Deoras was a friend of the Congress government.


Deoras wanted the government to survive for five years and was not in favour of frequently bringing governments down.


This unnamed Maharashtra leader warns Rao that if the Sangh was banned, a section of the Sangh sympathetic

to Rao's government would turn hostile.


Despite this advice, the Sangh was banned. It would do us all a lot of good if Sudarshan could release the copy of that fax to the Indian people now and expose this senior Maharashtra leader.


But nothing of this sort is likely to happen. The irony is that all those associated with this act of mob violence and vandalism will go scot- free. In the case of L. K. Advani, like the proverbial cat with nine lives, he will probably see a revival in his political fortunes and his political ambitions. In the meantime, the RSS will go on with its business of sullying Indian public life in a manner only it can and has perfected over the years. History, perhaps, will forgive those karsevaks , but it will scarcely condone the likes of Advani for being complicit in the RSS's agenda of the diminution of what India is all about.


The writer teaches politics in University of Hyderabad








SEVERAL of Bangalore's movers and shakers in the field of environmental sciences and activism have flown to Copenhagen for the climate summit. From their flights they would have seen impressive arrays of offshore windmills in the North Sea.


There is nothing Quixotic about windmills anymore. They work. For instance, on Samsø island located in an arm of the North Sea — curiously right in the middle of Denmark — windmills power 22 villages. They are complemented by other renewables like solar cells and plants that burn bales of straw to heat houses.


It all started in 1997. Samsø won a contest to become Denmark's first renewable energy island. It marked a huge shift from a heavy dependence on oil and gas. With their heating needs, each Samsinger — inhabitant of Samsø, typically a farmer — was putting into the atmosphere, over ten tonnes of carbon dioxide annually, half the count of an American, ten times that of an Indian.


An outsider, engineer Ole Johnsson, studied the island's wind speed and made plans. It worked. By 2005 they were producing more electricity than they were using from renewables.


Now their carbon footprint is one of the smallest in the world.


Windmills are there in Karnataka too. There are a lot of them in Chitradurga, for instance. In Muppandal area close to Kanyakumari in Tamil Nadu, there is one of the world's largest concentration of windmills.


From a distance they look like a palm grove. These windmills are largely owned by private companies and the electricity they generate is offered to the grid. The companies get tax sops. But there is no local ownership or participation.


Sometimes local people are angry about these giant structures in their backyard, offering them nothing other than their noise. In Chitradurga there were protests.


The Indian wind energy sector has an installed capacity of about 10,900 megawatts — ranked fifth in the world. India's total installed power generation capacity is 150,000 megawatts — over half of it coming from coalbased thermal power plants and just about a tenth coming from renewables.


Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's plan to cut the intensity of carbon emissions by 20- 25 per cent by 2020 is expected to include more renewables — though coal is still going to be the mainstay. Although India generates a dismal quantity of solar power now, the government envisages 20,000 megawatts of electricity from sunlight by 2022.


As of now the best use of solar energy is limited to off- grid initiatives.


For instance Sagar island in the Sundarbans delta is lit up by solar lanterns. So are many hill villages in Kashmir.


There are on- ground problems like villagers filling the batteries of their solar system with canal water, instead of distilled water, with disastrous effects. " How do you find distilled water in a remote hill village?" asks Renewable Energy minister Farooq Abdullah.


" The government has to think about the users and their problems too." On ground and on the drawing board the government has a lot of thinking to do. And tell the world about it all. Meanwhile, one awaits news from the Indian delegation to Copenhagen.


It must be tough over there.


As the Time magazine put it: " Negotiations over carbon emissions resemble the end of a Quentin Tarantino film, when everyone has a gun pointed at everyone else and no one can make a move."





NOW when the world ponders how to cut carbon, a top bureaucrat in Bangalore is going to bike it to Ooty. Commissioner for Transport & Road Safety, Government of Karnataka, Bhaskar Rao, has signed up for a 900 km bicycle ride called the BSA Tour of Nilgiris.


It is a 900+ km, 8- day cycling tour that kicks off on 16th December 2009, with 70 participants. Rao was the Director ( Operations), Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation and has served in Kosovo, Europe with the United Nations Peace Keeping Force. He was also the Commissioner of Police, Mysore City. He is interested in marathon and long distance cycling and is a keen supporter of green movements and a champion of traffic awareness.


" It is quite literally an uphill task," Rao said. " And I was looking for a personal challenge that would also send out a message for protecting the environment." Earlier, Rao had done the Bangalore– Mysore– Bangalore circuit on his Hercules and the Discover Karnataka rally, a 800 km ride in six days.


But being in the transport department, Rao surely knows that the vehicular population is increasing by leaps and bounds making biking difficult. It can only be hoped that his rally will draw the attention of the authorities to the problem.



EVEN AS the government talks about cutting emissions, and the transport commissioner bikes it, bikers and walkers in Bangalore are living in fear. There is no space. Even the existing pedestrian lanes are being cut off to widen roads.


Celebrity bikers like the author Ramachandra Guha, who used to go to work to the Indian Institute of Science many years ago, have given up biking on city roads. The Environment Minister's carbon plan should also include bike lanes and pedestrian paths.


A model that targets individuals not nations

max. martin@ mailtoday. in


PRINCETON University scientists have found a way out of the climate détente. A paper from its Carbon Mitigation Initiative refers to the emissions of individuals, instead of nations.

The group used the income distribution of a country to estimate how its fossil fuel CO2 emissions are distributed among its citizens.

From this data they built up a global CO2 distribution graph.


Then they proposed a simple rule to derive a universal cap on global individual emissions and find corresponding limits on national aggregate emissions from this cap.


All of the world's high CO2- emitting individuals are treated the same, regardless of where they live. Any future global emission goal ( target and time frame) can be converted into national reduction targets, which are determined by '' Business as Usual'' projections of national carbon emissions and in- country income distributions.


The paper, " Sharing Global CO2 Emissions Among One Billion High Emitters," proposes a way out of the logjam, the scientists note.


They must be convincing. As the saying goes: " You throw a stone in Princeton, and it will land on a Nobel laureate."








The debate in Parliament on the Liberhan commission report turned out to be a damp squib. Over two days, legislators nitpicked about the report and hardly any thought was given to the impact of the Babri masjid demolition at Ayodhya on Indian democracy and secularism. BJP leader Rajnath Singh set the tone by calling the report a "bundle of errors" and taking exception to the indictment of senior BJP leaders, including former prime minister A B Vajpayee. Like Rajnath, BJP's Sushma Swaraj harped on the inaccuracies in the report and suggested that it was politically motivated. Both leaders were more intent on playing to the gallery than dealing with the complicity of the BJP in the destruction of the mosque.

The initial Congress response by Salman Khursheed was a tepid one where he sought to blame the Narasimha Rao government and exonerate Vajpayee. It was only in the final session that home minister P Chidambaram took up what was at the heart of the report - that the demolition of the Babri masjid was meticulously planned by the sangh parivar and that it wasn't a spontaneous combustion. He pointed out that the sangh parivar's politics represented a vision of India which clashed with Congress's, and that the people had rejected the Sangh's version. He further said that the Rao government had made a wrong political judgement for which Congress had to subsequently pay at the hustings.

The report itself - which indicted people like Deoraha Baba who had died two years before the Babri demolition - lends itself to some justified criticism. But what was conspicuously absent in the debates was any sort of soul-searching or a discussion of how best to prevent such events from happening in future. The BJP found fault with the report while the Congress preferred to pass the buck to a person who is no longer there to defend himself. Perhaps the only sensible suggestion was made by CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta who said punitive action against the guilty might not be feasible but pleaded for the "isolation of fundamentalist forces".

In this context, of much greater importance than the debate on Liberhan is the Communal Violence Bill that is likely to be tabled in the ongoing session of Parliament. It empowers the Centre to intervene during acts of communal violence without the concurrence of state governments. That was the primary reason given by the Rao government, and corroborated by the Liberhan report, for not stepping in at Ayodhya. Though there are misgivings about giving the Centre enhanced powers to intervene in states and upsetting the federal structure, such legislation is needed, with adequate checks, to prevent Ayodhya-like events from occurring again.







It took the US Human Genome Project more than a decade and $500 million to sequence genes drawn from several volunteers. A team of Indian scientists at the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has reported mapping of the entire genome of a 52-year-old Indian male in just 10 months, at a cost of $30,000 or Rs 13.5 lakh. With this achievement, India joins the ranks of the few countries - the US, UK, Canada, China and South Korea - which have successfully sequenced the human genome. Earlier, CSIR scientists had mapped the genetic diversity of the Indian population and also completed sequencing the genome of the zebra fish, commonly used in laboratories as a model for researching human diseases.

There are greater chances of arriving at a better understanding of the genetic make-up and peculiarities of local populations with countries creating their own DNA sequences, as such knowledge is crucial in comprehending country-specific health trends and genetic traits that would otherwise remain largely a mystery. This will enrich knowledge of the different genetic variations that occur in different population groups as well as enable the identification of genes that predispose some to certain diseases.

The male, whose genome was decoded by CSIR scientists, is predisposed to heart disease and cancer, and this information has been gleaned from the sequencing of his DNA. Therefore, the technology is invaluable in diagnostics and could be useful in medical treatment as well. Drugs designed to target the affected genes could be formulated, though at present to do so would involve high costs and such an option would be out of reach of the average patient. However, as with all sci-tech breakthroughs, costs are bound to come down - as it has in the case of the genome mapping technology and various computer models - and it is only a matter of time before they become affordable.


Law and ethical resolutions tend to lag behind implementation of scientific and technological advances, and the relatively new field of DNA sequencing is no exception. What if an individual's genome patri were accessible to employers and insurance companies who might use the information against the employee or client? Should an individual choose to reveal details of his genetic 'horoscope' to his family and friends or keep it private? Would the knowledge impact the individual's own perspective of life and how he lives it? There's plenty of fodder for debate, especially since predisposition to a disease does not mean it would actually manifest in the person.






During Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to the United States, he appeared to reverse India's decades-long refusal to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). On Fareed Zakaria's GPS show on November 29, Singh responded to a question by indicating that India would be willing to join the NPT as a nuclear weapons state. No Indian leader has ever publicly expressed willingness to accept the NPT.

The prime minister also suggested that India would welcome a US effort to help it become a nuclear weapons state under the NPT. If India intends to follow through on the prime minister's expression of NPT interest, this transformation will have significant implications for India as an emerging geopolitical actor and for nuclear diplomacy, including President Barack Obama's vision for a world free of nuclear weapons.

The NPT has been one of the most excoriated treaties in Indian foreign policy. Even before it was finalised in 1968, India made its opposition clear. India continued to criticise the NPT after its completion, complaining that it discriminated against countries that did not have nuclear weapons, heightened difficulties for countries trying to develop nuclear energy and failed to force existing nuclear weapons states to engage in serious disarmament.

India's NPT opposition has been presented as consistent with the principles of non-discrimination and the need for nuclear powers with massive arsenals to get serious about disarmament. But, India's hostility also reflected its security interests in developing nuclear weapons to deter threats from Chinese conventional and nuclear capabilities. India's NPT stance was, thus, grounded in principles important to the Indian polity and calculations about power-and the combination of principle and power gave India's opposition deep roots in its foreign and national security policies.

This background helps explain why Singh's interest in joining the NPT represents a radical departure from prior Indian policy. The PM did not elaborate on his desire to become part of the NPT, but such a statement could not have been made without the Indian government having concluded that the balance of principles and interests now favour India being receptive to the NPT.

In terms of India's NPT opposition on principled grounds, Singh may have concluded that continued opposition according to these principles no longer serves the purposes it once did. China once opposed the NPT for similar reasons before it joined as a nuclear weapons state in 1992, which reflects a Chinese realisation that opposition to the NPT had diminished traction in the post-Cold War world. The emphasis on non-discrimination and heightened disarmament obligations dovetailed with India's and China's Cold War support for non-alignment and equality of weak and strong states under international law. The Cold War's end and India's and China's emergence as rising powers have made non-alignment anachronistic and the principle of sovereign equality less appealing.

From the perspective of India's interests, a willingness to join the NPT could pay dividends for India, which will outweigh costs resulting from its NPT "flip-flop". India's interest in the NPT will enhance the treaty's status at a time when it is under attack because of North Korea's behaviour and perceived Iranian nuclear designs. With the NPT Review Conference approaching in May 2010, India's support will allow it to argue that it is strengthening the fight against nuclear proliferation. India's NPT acceptance would also act as a warning to Iran without India risking good relations with Iran through a direct challenge against Iran about its nuclear intentions.

India could, thus, leave behind criticism it has received in nuclear diplomacy, including over the US-Indian civilian nuclear accord concluded in 2008. Indian accession will bolster the NPT as the central agreement in the fight against nuclear proliferation, but the NPT's disarmament obligations do not threaten India's nuclear arsenal.

An Indian change on the NPT would also put Pakistan in a difficult position because this manoeuvre would increase scrutiny of Pakistan's past and present nuclear activities. Any effort by Pakistan to try to join the NPT would generate controversies because of Pakistan's involvement in proliferation through the A Q Khan network and the concerns about the security of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal.

India's interest in the NPT would also challenge existing NPT members because they must amend the NPT's definition of a 'nuclear weapons state' to permit India to join. NPT members will have to undertake strategic calculations in light of India's growing significance in world affairs. Can the existing nuclear weapons states oppose Indian accession without appearing to sacrifice non-proliferation for selfish interests? In this way, India puts itself at the centre of nuclear diplomacy in ways that its opposition to the NPT never did.

In short, an Indian willingness to accept the NPT would represent a shrewd policy shift because it inserts India's ideas, interests and influence into nuclear diplomacy in a manner that could bring substantial benefits to India and pose policy challenges that will test the mettle of friends and foes alike.

Fidler is the director and Ganguly is the director of research of the Centre on American and Global Security at Indiana University, Bloomington.







It started with one woman on the side. Then it went up to five. It's hovering at nine right now, and by the time this is published, the number of Tiger Woods's lovers - former and current, real and alleged - could be in double digits. The entire sorry saga has turned into a monster, rampaging across media outlets and devouring print space and airtime.

On a personal level, one can feel sorry for Woods; his life is being dissected under a spotlight with the entire world as an audience. One can feel even sorrier for his wife, Elin Nordegren, who is mired in this distasteful business for no fault of hers. But at the end of the day, that is the nature of the modern celebrity business. Woods knew exactly what he was getting into. He worked the system; now it is working him, and there is no point in complaining about it.

Arguments about an individual's right to privacy would be naive here. The Tiger Woods phenomenon is due in large part to the media. The implicit nature of that compact is that the media can undo what it created. Granted, the foundation of his celebrity is his astonishing talent, but his wealth - and he is the richest sportsperson in the world - is built on a certain image.

Picture that image as a blue-chip stock; as the most bankable blue-chip stock in the sporting world, in fact. Various companies invested tens of millions in it, getting Woods to endorse their products and services. But the stock's value was based on false accounting and with its rapid fall in the market, advertisers could stand to lose money as sales of Tiger products take a hit.

If this were a large company going bust, we would have no objections to the media covering every aspect of it. In a way, this is much the same. Woods made his image a marketable commodity. And when he did that, he exposed himself to public scrutiny with all its attendant perils. Now, he is paying the piper.






The lurid headlines are enough to make one blush. As Tiger Woods's marriage has disintegrated before the eyes of his hordes of fans and non-fans, the sad reality is that most reactions to his so-called downfall have carried no small tinge of Schadenfreude. The world's best golfer, the richest sportsperson on the planet, is human and fallible? No way! The unseemly glee with which people have reacted to this story only underscores how much we actually hate celebrity, and how happy it makes us to watch someone famous fall from grace.

The irony, of course, it that it is we who put these people on a pedestal and expect them to forever conform to whatever ideals we deem necessary. And God help them if they dare to put a toe out of the little neat boxes we put them in, because we'll fall upon every minor and major transgression like a pack of coyotes picking off the flesh of a dead animal.

It may be anathema to the gutter press to let as potentially juicy a story as an all-American squeaky clean sports star breaking his marriage vows pass by without making a full five-act production out of it. But it's disappointing, if unsurprising, to know that not a single shred of decency prevents anyone from giving in to their baser instincts and inner voyeurs to gobble up the latest salacious Tiger-did-a-porn-star story.

Sure, Tiger Woods is famous. But does that entitle us to all access 24-hour coverage of the breakdown of his marriage? He's not someone whose fame has ever depended on his marriage. He's a god on the golf course and has single-handedly saved that sport - that's why all his sponsors are sticking by him. Whether or not he's cheated on his wife should be immaterial to anyone but his wife. It's nobody's business but the couple's. The man has a right to his privacy, and so does his wife. There's no call for the general public to make themselves feel better about their lives by watching a play-by-play of Tiger's many alleged transgressions and Elin Nordegren's reactions to it.






The car left the highway, and as it entered the city limits of Brussels, a sense of familiarity took hold of me. Having spent the past three days in some of Europe's timeless and serene cities, Brussels has warmed my heart. Unlike the unreal and picture postcard look of the cities one had passed through, there was graffiti on Brussels's walls, the pavements had cracks at places, and there was even some dirt on the sidewalk.

After impeccable order and perfection, the slight chaos and imperfection of Brussels was comfortingly real. The heart of Brussels is its central square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It means Grand Place in English, and is called Grote Market in Dutch. Shops and establishments had placards featuring only one language, while others had both. The linguistic tension between Dutch and French was palpable, mentioned often in unrelated contexts. Brussels reverberated with echoes of what we live with everyday.

Albert, our driver in Brussels, came from Kosovo, and was fluent in English, Dutch and French. A product of a Christian and Muslim marriage, which he pointed out nostalgically "was not such an issue back then", he dreams of returning to Kosovo one day. Apparently, many girls in Kosovo are named 'Indira', inspired by our charismatic late prime minister. Albert also took us to what he claimed proudly was the best place in Brussels to eat Belgian fries. It was a different matter that on the shop they were listed as French fries! The place he took us to was like any roadside stall that exists in India. Stand in queue and take your pick of sauce with fries. I stood in line awaiting my turn.

Like other Indian travellers, the first thing one noticed was the absence of crowds. Brussels is not crowded, but it does have the reassuring presence of others in the streets. The Grand Place was teeming with young people. As we walked the square, students accosted us twice trying to sell us something. Sitting on the steps in the front of the imposing town hall in the evening, the Grand Place seemed like a movie set. The towering, glittering buildings framed a cobbled square, where people sprawled on the floor, painted, ate and drank. A few cops even chased someone across the square. The bustling, familiar, heartwarming essence of Brussels seemed to celebrate life, and that was the best part.







Forget that old Scottish ditty about the truant Bonnie.The latest lament is :

'The planet is warming with the ocean,

The island's sunk into the sea,

In Denmark there's a panicked commotion.

So un-change my climate for me. For me!

Oh bring  back, oh bring back,

Oh bring back my ice-cap to me.'

Move over, population explosion, AIDS and the builder lobby. Over-hyped, over-funded and over here is climate change. It is the newest doomsday bandwagon, and it has rattled its way to Copenhagen.

No cynical asides here, please. This UN meeting serious. So let's not raise frivolous questions about the increase in the carbon footprint caused by the droves of delegates flying across the globe to attend, and the rise in temperatures resulting from all the hot air being expended there. They are trying to prevent something as grave as the death of the planet, so we must ignore their sins of emission and commission.

Our own Nobel Laureate R.K. Pachauri  heads the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Our own Jairam Ramesh has been raising the ante, the anti, and the antsy in the preceding weeks in a bid not to get pushed off the front page by such wannabes as the Liberhan leak and deadly Headley. Plus, the issue allows plenty of scope for our favourite pastime of America-bashing.

No wonder the local decibel level has risen along with the sea levels.There's a great deal of chatter about the Copenhagen conference even among those who don't know the difference between an oasis and the AOSIS.

However, as in much else, our 5,000-year-old civilization is difficult to surprise. We've been there, done that,scratched our names on the monument of history. So there's nothing in this CC business that we haven't seen before. And the most parallels are to be found in the great melting Gandhi cap of politics.

Which is why my neighbourhood neta  rolled his eyes and drawled through a mouthful of paan, "Yeh climate-shimate ka hulla kya hai? Political climate toh change hota hi rahta hai." He then squirted out a trajectory of betel juice.That act may or may not have been a comment on the fuss in Copenhagen. But it was pure JUSSCAN.  Just like that callous conglomerate of carbon spewers, he didn't care two spittoons for the Polluter Pays Principle.

Hmm, I thought to myself, there's indeed much in common between the climate change debate and our political o-zones. One, if the former is centred on fossil fuels, fossils still fuel the discussion at the centre and in our states. Two, take the 3Rs of resource-saving.. Among politicians, there may be no sign of reduction, but these hardy ego-warriors are ever ready to reuse and recycle themselves. True, greenhorns have begun to gas, but they are still being confined to their party greenhouses.

Three, it is said that, if unchecked, climate change could lead to unprecedented ecological, economic and social disaster. However, any objective observer of the proceedings in parliament and state assemblies has to concede that our politicians are ahead of the game.

They have long ago released the hypothetical trillion tons of toxic emission, and they routinely raise the temperature well above the doomsday mark of two degrees centigrade. Borehole, methane, oscillation, forcing mechanism, desertification (of the sinking ship), they have known it all, shown it all, already.

So naturally my neighbourhood neta was dismissive about the current brouhaha. "Kaunsi nayi baat hai in  this so-called disaster? Or even in the UN declarations to check it, from Rio-Shio onwards?" Then, with a smirk and another squirt, he quipped, "Kyoto ki saans bhi kabhi CO2 hota hai."








The Telangana issue, like Banquo's ghost, simply refuses to go away defying all political attempts to keep a lid on it. And now, it's back with a vengeance. With Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) leader K. Chandrasekhar Rao in a critical condition and violent agitations on the streets, it will take all the skill of the top Congress leadership to pull the crisis back from the brink. While many may dismiss Mr Rao as a one-trick pony, there is merit in the argument for a separate Telangana, especially given that other big states have been carved up into smaller ones for issues ranging from better governance to correcting a perception of neglect. The issue has already taken on ugly caste connotations in Andhra Pradesh, reinforcing the fact that the region has been getting stepmotherly treatment from the state capital. Successive regimes in Hyderabad have given Telangana short shrift resulting in a simmering cauldron of resentment on socio-economic lines that is now being seen through the filter of caste differentiations. The agitation has rapidly transformed into a platform for the region's predominantly backward castes seeking their share of the pie.


Promises of looking into the genuine grievances of the region have routinely been forgotten by central emissaries, obviously in the hope that the issue would die down by itself. Well, it has not. This time around, given the extent of the unrest, it will be difficult to sweep it under the carpet. The Congress will, of course, factor in the political cost of any concession, since its government is in power in Andhra. The sticking point in any formulation will be the status of Hyderabad that falls in the Telangana region. One suggestion is to give Hyderabad Union Territory status. The other is that, given how interlinked the region is with the rest of the state and how underdeveloped it is, a separate state may not be economically viable.


These factors do not seem to have been taken into account by Mr Rao who has been seeking to make himself politically relevant again following his party's poor showing in the Lok Sabha elections. The Congress has to make up its mind where it stands since the Telugu Desam Party has plumped for a separate Telangana, clearly to pander to populist sentiment. With the unrest resulting in the closure of colleges, the Congress leadership has to come to a decision. The TRS is hoping for some sort of assurance following which Mr Rao can break his fast and get a dialogue moving. It is a tough call for the Congress but one that can no longer be put off as the agitation spirals out of control.








The Congress's biggest impediment has always been Congressmen. Their ability to fawn over their top leaders, especially those from one particular gene pool, is something to behold. This was on tremulous display on Wednesday when Uttar Pradesh Congress chief Rita Bahuguna Joshi, not being able to control herself, gushed about how the Scion-King "risked his life" to "fulfill a public commitment" by making his helicopter land in Sitapur in UP despite "poor visibility". Rahul Gandhi, who was at pains to explain that he did not force his chopper to land and that it wasn't as dark and dangerous as Ms Joshi made it out to be, must have been groaning at the utterances from the schmooze-pit. With fans like Ms Joshi, who needs detractors? Poor Mr Gandhi.


But it now turns out that the poorer chap is the chopper's pilot. He has been summoned by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to be questioned after being suspended. This is what happens when you fly into a Congress turbulence: you become the fall guy. Like a schoolboy accused of sticking gum on the teacher's seat — and being cheered by the boys in the back row who thinks he's done the 'brave job' — Mr Gandhi has now been forced to clear the air.


There are three possibilities: the pilot, who may or may not have flouted regulations, was wrong; Mr Gandhi, who may or may not have flexed his muscles, was wrong; or neither of them flouted any rules at all and Mr Gandhi's well-meaning but Pavlovian cheerleaders were wrong. The moral of the story: too fervent a display of loyalty can get the one being cheered in an unnecessary flap.








Earlier this week, a clear-thinking young woman said something that got me thinking. "When I was in school, we were told to think global, act local," said Reena Sachdeva. "Now the time has come to think global and act global."


Sachdeva is an administrator with West Delhi's Manav Sthali school. She was a student here once, before going on to a university gold medal, a Phd in English literature, and a job as lecturer at Delhi's elite Lady Shri Ram College. One day, she turned her back on it all to return to her alma mater. School Principal Mamta Bhatnagar smiled as she narrated Sachdeva's journey. "I asked her," said Bhatnagar, "'are you mad?'"


The world, and India, needs this madness.


We need people who will push the boundaries of reason, tradition and established thought and action. We need them to stand up and speak. We need to listen to them.


This is especially important because long-held positions will do India and the world — which, it appears, is in worse shape than we thought — no good. Wade through the deluge of information and opinion from the great conference of Copenhagen, and it seems apparent that major policy shifts are imminent over the next 10 days, much to the alarm of those who created them.


Despite Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh's protestations in Parliament — he could not, obviously, admit to an almost overnight change of stance — India this week smoothly moved from an inward-looking, rigid, no-unilateral-action position to a new, flexible approach. This startled its own negotiators, some of whom are still sulking in Copenhagen.


In the US, faced with a rebellious Congress, a struggling economy and a resentful world, President Barack Obama's administration indicated on Monday that action against domestic emissions from American cars, power plants and factories is imminent, even if the world's superpower isn't yet ready to commit anything on paper.


For the Earth these are still too slow. On Tuesday, a day after India's negotiators glowered and US industry appeared to be in shock, a slew of studies revealed why:


The current decade, the first of the 21st century, is likely to be the hottest since record-keeping began in 1850, the World Meteorological Organisation announced.


As many as a billion people stand to lose their homes over the next 40 years because of climate change, the International Organisation for Migration said.


India is now the seventh most-at-risk country from climate change, up three places since 2008, revealed the annual Global Climate Risk Index, released by an NGO, Germanwatch.


What is at stake? No less than the future of humans to live, work, dream and achieve.


That's why it is time for some madness.

This madness must upend all we do, the way we live, work and develop. Like the Ford Model T, penicillin, the personal computer, the cellphone, the Green Revolution, micro-credit, this madness must be disruptive; it must make us question our dreams and values. But it must be greater than the previous revolutions because climate change forces us to join all the dots.


The method behind this madness is to think global, act global. This does not negate the "Think global, act local" slogan, first used by the environmental movement in the 1970s, before spreading to global companies trying to spread local roots (thus the term "glocal") in the roaring 1980s and '90s.


Acting globally is an acknowledgement that a warming world is really a very small place,  and every sector must be connected in the coming low-carbon economy.


One example comes from the dirt-poor district of my birth, Kolar, in southern Karnataka (I was born in Kolar Gold Fields, now shut but once host to Champion Reef, Earth's deepest gold mine). The people of 356 villages over the last year had their lives transformed after biogas units replaced their inefficient, cow-dung-fired stoves. Cow dung releases methane, a gas some 20 times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The biogas digester lets the methane be burned as cooking gas, and it allows a French energy company to buy carbon credits that let both company and country meet emission targets. This is sound business, environmentalism, globalisation, rural development all rolled into one.


Even if you argue that the Clean Development Mechanism, under which the United Nations issues carbon credits, will fall apart if it is not ratified in Copenhagen or beyond, there is no question that new mechanisms will create global linkages among countries, communities and companies.


What will it cost to recreate the global economy in line with the proposals that may flow from Copenhagen? More than $10 trillion (Rs 467 lakh crore) over 20 years starting 2010, says a new estimate from the International Energy Agency. That is not as daunting as it appears, the agency argues, because (a) private investment will largely pay for it and (b) the costs will be compensated by new technology, jobs, better energy and a safer planet.


The truly enlightened in India Inc see this as an opportunity that could, like the software revolution, jump India to a new low-carbon era of cleaner energy, cutting-edge technology, involved communities, responsible business and enlightened government.


This will not be easy, especially the last part.


Only yesterday, Delhi schoolchildren out to quiz MPs on global-warming challenges asked Rashtriya Janata Dal MP Subhash Yadav what he expected from Copenhagen. It would, he said in all seriousness, be a "good tourist opportunity".








India is beginning to be given a seat at the global high table, such as the G-20. There is a growing acceptance of India's size and its enormous potential, and though it is consulted on regional issues, its role in global decision-making, while growing, remains small. So does India's share of votes in major international financial institutions, where competent Indians are denied top decision-making positions. US President Barack Obama has acknowledged that India's role in global cooperation is indispensable, signaling that it will play a more important role in the future.


Part of India's problem is that its own backyard is in turmoil, making it difficult to project itself globally. But the new free trade agreement with the Association for South East Asian Nations is a huge step forward and reviving the Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (Bimstec) must be given top priority. Intra-regional trade between the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) countries remains the smallest as a share of total trade compared to any other regional grouping. Cooperation on many regional issues — energy, the Himalayan ice-melt — remains small. As the only power in the region with a global reach, India must play a binding role in presenting the interests of smaller countries in global forums and find a way to build greater regional cooperation.


India does not have a history of being an aggressive power and has no territorial claims on any of its neighbours. As the Chinese Ambassador Qu Shih stated, "India conquered and dominated China culturally for 20 centuries without ever having to send a single soldier across her border." Nobel Prize winning economist Amartya Sen, in his book The Argumentative Indian, ascribes the foundation of India's remarkable democracy to its underlying argumentativeness. As a result India can sometimes appear to be a spoiler in global cooperation. It has incorrectly been blamed for torpedoing the Doha trade deal, but it could not have agreed to a deal that would've ruined the lives of millions of its small farmers living on the edge of poverty.


It is considered recalcitrant in climate change discussions despite having the world's lowest per capita emissions while not having been a major global emitter in the past. India's own record on global cooperation, when given a fair opportunity, is very positive. It is moving quickly to a low carbon energy strategy and has committed never to exceed the average per capita global emissions. India's rise to the high table will bring a much-needed change in global cooperation. It will no doubt be argumentative, but its arguments will reflect the voice of millions of poor, globally.


As the famous British historian Arnold Toynbee rightly observed, "It is already becoming clear that a chapter which had a Western beginning will have to have an Indian ending if it is not to end in the self-destruction of the human race. At this supremely dangerous moment in history, the only way of salvation for mankind is the Indian way."


Ajay Chibber is UN Assistant Secretary General and Head of the Asia Pacific Bureau at UNDP

The views expressed by the author are personal








The other day, I got superstitious in a superstitious case. And that led me into doing a little bit of research into the history of superstition and its fascinating and innumerable kinds.


I developed a keen interest in some of the superstitions that had never been heard of before. One such was, " Crossing your fingers helps avoid bad luck." I tried to reason out how and why this act could help one keep away from bad luck. My efforts went futile as not even a hint was available.


I thought of various possibilities, some of them quite weird.


But one possible reason that I thought quite possible and reasonable was that crossing one's fingers tight could mean concentration of body force, energy, attention and working of the mind and soul together.


And, this makes one a formidable force which kills negative forces and eliminates fear for the unknown and the supernatural. Bad luck 'visits' those who are weak of mind and soul.


Among the many other superstitions that one could learn about, the good and the bad ones were almost in equal number.


Some of the bad ones that I found good were: To open an umbrella in the house is to bring  bad lick. To break a mirror gets one seven years of bad luck. And it's a black cat, not any cat, that brings bad luck if it crosses your path.


Among the ones that bring good luck, I found these interesting: Clothes worn inside out;  and finding a penny heads up. You must get out of your bed from the same side as you got in.


And then look at these: Warm hand, cold heart. Cold hand, warm heart.


Now I know how to understand the person/s I shake hands with!


If one tries to look for logic behind superstitions, one gets into an interesting world of discovery that one does not like to quit so easily. The world of superstition may be for the ignorant and the fool, but let's agree life would be less interesting without them.







I'm thinking of buying a work of Jens Galschiøt for my office.


Who's Jens Galschiøt?


He's the Danish sculptor whose work 'The Survival of the Fattest' can now be seen next to that of the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen harbour.


You mean the one depicting a very fat woman perched on the shoulders of a very thin man?


Yes, that's it.


So why do you want his works when you can afford a Rubens or a Lucian Freud, whose rotund ladies are far more fetching?


Moron! The overweight lady represents the rich West while the skinny dude carrying her is worn-out Africa.


Human rights kitsch?!

Galschiøt's art works are popular among rich, western buyers. It helps them deal with their guilt of being rich and Western. I like them.


Can you commission him to do a statue on child labour? Hindu-Muslim disharmony?


Do say: The African guy sure is fit!


Don't say: What's with these naked statues of women in Copenhagen?








Till recently, we were told that the number of poor people in India in the financial year 2004-05 was 30.17 crore, or 27.5 per cent of the population. Now we are told that the number was actually 37.2 per cent, a jump of 10 per cent of the population. And, incredibly, that is actually good news.


Why? Because the jump comes not from a revision of the previous figure, not from news that 10 per cent more of the population suffered from unspeakable levels of poverty than we had known till now, but from a redefinition of what it means to be poor. And the nature of that redefinition of the poverty line demarcates also an old conception of India from the new. A committee headed by economist Suresh Tendulkar critically examined the old "Dandekar-Rath" poverty-line formula, drawn up in 1971. That formula looked exclusively at the calorie content of an Indian's diet; and, if it was lower than 2250 calories per person per day (an arbitrary figure), placed that person below the poverty line. Remember: this was before the green revolution, well before liberalisation. The committee recommended scrapping the focus on calorie intake alone; it should be replaced, according to the report, by a cost-of-living index that took into account other expenditure.


This is a long-overdue recognition that India's poor are no longer seen as just more mouths to feed. As in any growing economy, the aspirations and demands of India's poor are increasing, as are the opportunities open to them. It reflects, too, India's growing aspirations: throughout history, as any society prospers, the standards it has set for an "acceptable" level of poverty in its midst have altered. And, finally, it drives home an important point about India's rural areas. For too long left-leaning economists have relied on an anomalous fact: as liberalisation's gains have filtered through to India's villages, calorie intake there has fallen. From this they have made the fallacious argument that India's development hurts its rural poor. In actual fact, of course, the rural-urban divide is blurring, and people who once worked for hours in the fields now do more sedentary work — and consequently eat less. Updating the definition helps skewer that malicious fallacy. For all these reasons, this is an idea we should welcome.







The Liberhan report discussion, years too late, was an occasion for Indian politics to confront and come to terms with its own past. But instead of a full accounting for Ayodhya, what our Parliament gave the public was an incoherent melee. Through Home Minister P. Chidambaram's speech, BJP members crowded the well of the House and yelled slogans, while others chucked paper balls at him, effectively drowning out the home minister's voice. The din was ostensibly sparked by a derogatory reference to Atal Bihari Vajpayee — but Chidambaram's offer to apologise on behalf of the MP who made that remark, and the speaker's assurance that it had been deleted from House records, were ignored by the furious BJP. The House was adjourned twice.

The Babri Masjid demolition and its political afterlife have crucially shaped India. So this revisiting of the incident was bound to be a charged and disputatious affair.


Deliberative democracy is built on deep and important disagreements, and it is only natural that the Liberhan report would inflame every actor in the Ayodhya drama. Early on, the BJP decided to finesse its response, denying individual culpability while at the same time, seeking to rally the Hindu base by trumpeting its pride in the cause. The Congress, throwing Narasimha Rao under the bus and declaring that it had paid the political price for complicity (without actually apologising), held the Sangh Parivar responsible for the "pre-planned, conspiratorial and cold-blooded" destruction of the masjid.


While these responses are unsurprising, the Liberhan debate could have been an opportunity for our parties to test each other's combative claims, investigate chinks and evasions, and seek some measure of common understanding. Instead, what we got was a contagion of boorish behaviour. The BJP's too-clever-by-half strategy also failed, as instead of crafty orchestration of this moment, it just ended up speaking in several voices all at once, signifying nothing. The debate collapsed into accusation and counter-accusation. Each party seemed locked into its own echo-chamber, and ultimately, instead of coming away with some attempt at closure, we are left with the same old colliding narratives.







The current form of our members of Parliament may not betray this, but they actually struggle to have their questions listed as starred, that is answerable by the concerned minister during Question Hour and open to supplementary queries by the MPs present in the House. Days after the Lok Sabha had to be adjourned because MPs against whose names as many as 17 questions had been listed were absent, the Rajya Sabha too has kept a tryst with a similar incident. On Tuesday, the first six questions listed could not be taken up because the appointed questioners were not present.


Political parties, of course, continue to make a statement about how seriously they take these parliamentary courtesies by allowing their MPs such lapses. But a certain discourse has gained strength that bears refutation. A justification for absence that is inevitably proffered is that, given the fact that the House manages just a few questions in the scheduled hour, MPs whose questions are listed way down (amongst the quota of 20 each day) have reason to believe that their turn will not come. So, the constant refrain that the two Houses should find ways to speed up Question Hour, so that more questions are covered every day. Moves are also afoot to amend the rules so that questions do not lapse on account of an MP's absence.


Hastening the procedure would be all to the good. But hearing out the debates on others' questions is surely a courtesy that should be commonly extended. A great deal of homework goes into preparing answers for the ministers and anticipating supplementary questions. The process is presumably enriching all around, which is why Question Hour usually starts a House's daily schedule. This spate of controversies over Question Hour, therefore, asks larger questions about attendance and how an MP's parliamentary record should be tabulated.








Afghanistan is a complicated military and political challenge. Even those who agree on political objectives in Afghanistan will make different judgment calls on strategy. India should be a lot more cautious in welcoming the Obama administration's strategy. While assisting in Afghanistan's economic development, it should be wary of succumbing to calls to shoulder any military burden in Afghanistan. If anything, American strategy will leave us more vulnerable. The blunt truth is that our only option, unpalatable as it may be, is to engage with Pakistan directly.


Afghanistan's stability has security repercussions for India. But it does not follow that joining the American project will bring us more security. Even American allies do not have confidence in its position. The so-called coalition of more than 40 countries is something of an illusion. Only one country, Britain, is contributing more than 5000 troops; even it could muster only 500 extra for the surge. Others have minimal presence and rules of combat are more about keeping the war at bay, not fighting it. America is looking to us to pick up the pieces its allies will not. As Ashley Tellis brilliantly diagnosed, America's presence in Afghanistan could work only if its commitment was indisputably credible. If the numbers of troops committed were not enough, or the timeline for withdrawal premature, it would give every political force in the region reasons to hedge their options. It is not clear that we should put all our eggs in one basket.


Partnership with the Americans also has a peculiar political dynamic. They want your assistance, but you have virtually no say in shaping the political context of that assistance. The United States has not made any ally a serious partner in shaping the political strategies for its interventions. Let us suppose that we have different ideas on which groups to possibly negotiate with in Afghanistan. Will our positions carry any political weight? Any entanglement with the American project will be an asymmetric political relationship; we will be defined by the context the Americans impose.


Just at the moment of the troop surge, there is also news of the expansion of drone operations inside Pakistan. Almost nothing has created as much resentment against the Americans. If the Taliban are squeezed more towards Pakistani areas, the Americans will continue to rely on air operations, rather than boots on the ground, to secure Pakistan. There is truth in Pakistan's anxiety that all that the troop surge will do is shift the centre of battle, putting enormous pressure on Pakistan. We also have to recognise that no military, especially an ethnically heterogeneous one, finds it easy to wage war on its own territory, against its own people. Pakistan is right to not relish the prospect of having to pick up even more of the pieces of the collateral damage the American strategy in Afghanistan will impose upon it.


From our security standpoint Pakistan is more important than Afghanistan. Even Afghan groups that act against us operate via Pakistan. If the net effect of the American intervention in Afghanistan and the drone strikes in Pakistan is to make Pakistan potentially more unstable, we will be more vulnerable. Pakistan's elites have engaged in unconscionably self-serving behaviour, and their strategy on India has been culpably violent. But one aspect of Pakistan's narrative has a grain of truth. One source of Pakistan's problems is that it has been consistently doing the West's bidding in Afghanistan. It had to take in more than three million refugees as a result, with all the attendant destabilising consequences. It looks like the Afghan war is going to destabilise Pakistan even further.


We have to be measured in our choice of commitments in Afghanistan. What we should hope for, and aid as much as we can, is a real awakening in Pakistan's elites. If they do not fight their own battles and let American power use them, more disaster is going to follow. The pattern of American aid and largesse has been in a form that has strengthened the militarisation of their society. Pakistan's political selfhood has been scarred by two humiliations: first, the Bangladesh war, for which it has engaged in slow long reprisal. And second, its peculiar relationship with America. Having allowed them in, Pakistan has felt caged. This is a relationship it cannot live with or throw off. The fusing of the Indian and American narratives of the region, rather than serving as a wake-up call, puts Pakistan under a greater sense of siege.


Nations under siege are even less likely to work through their domestic politics constructively. This is not a normative judgment, simply an analytical fact. The truth is that America is deeply unpopular and rightly seen as acting on pretexts more than real objectives. We should worry about what political options aligning with it will foreclose.


History has turned full circle. Pakistan has to recognise that the only reasonable way out for it is to do its best to reduce tensions with India. The odds of this happening may not be high. But they are no lower than the odds that American strategy will fix the region. India's security concerns can also be only met by Pakistan, not American-led adventures in Afghanistan. But it will have to find a way of calling Pakistan to account on terrorism without humiliating it.


Manmohan Singh, following Vajpayee, has been right about one thing. With Pakistan we have no option but to keep trying. Our major security concerns are linked to it. Admittedly given the stakes that parts of the Pakistani establishment have in keeping the conflict going this may not be easy. But we have also been blindsided by the allure of a strategic partnership with the United States, risking more political and military entanglement than is wise. Instead of risking so much on an uncertain American venture in Afghanistan, we would be better risking more on Pakistan, if we knew how to engage with its public opinion without sounding patronising. It is a fantasy, but not one entirely out of bounds. What would be the effect on Pakistan public opinion, if instead of being forced to accept a billion and a half of development assistance with humiliating conditions from the United States, they had recourse to five billion or so of India's forex reserves, with only one string attached?


The subcontinent has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. This crisis can still be converted into one, if both India and Pakistan realise one truth: outside powers will complicate the politics of this region, not help solve it.


The writer is president, Centre for Policy Research, Delhi






Ahead of the Copenhagen summit, there has been a flurry of announcements about cuts in emission intensity. China has announced a cut of 40 to 45 per cent by 2020.


Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh conveyed to Parliament India's likely reductions of 20 to 24 per cent by 2020. The critical question: what are the initial levels?


CO2 intensity of GDP, CIG, measures how much CO2 is emitted per unit of GDP. India's CIG is already half China's: the International Energy Agency (IEA) reports CIG values of 0.61 for China and 0.33 for India for 2005 measured in kilogram per dollar of GDP (at constant, purchasing power parity terms).


So why is CIG important? Since every country, whether rich or poor, wants GDP growth, if total emissions of CO2 have to decrease then CIG has to go down.


How can CIG be reduced, and what determines a country's CIG value?


First, the carbon intensity of the energy system: the more the use of coal, oil and gas in energy generation, the higher is the carbon intensity of the energy sector (and in that order). CIG is lower if renewable, nuclear- and hydro-power contribute significantly. India is a coal dependent country. So is China.


Then, there's the energy intensity of the rest of the economy. Countries that produce steel, cement, fertilisers or petroleum have a higher CIG than those with a subsistence economy or personal services-based GDP.


India has a complex manufacturing base that includes all of the above. So does China.


Then, size: countries with a large area and population such as Canada, China, the US and Australia stand out with high CIG — but not India, an exception.


According to GDP per capita, too; at different stages of development, countries' CIGs vary. Subsistence economies have a lower CIG and advanced economies higher — falling again with more development and high income. (Excepting the US and Canada, with CIGs higher than India's.)


What does this mean in terms of climate negotiations for India? First of all, we have not stressed enough the many adverse conditions India faces. Despite being a large country in population and in area, with a coal-based energy system and a complex economy, India's CIG is low, and has declined even compared to its own past. In 1991, CIG was already low; and yet it went down by 24 per cent by 2005.


Could this dream run continue? Our new infrastructure and manufacturing processes are likely to be more energy-efficient, helping CIG decline. But bridging the enormous gaps in power, roadways, airports and so on may result in a higher CIG.


Our emissions are currently 1.2 tonnes per person on the average, compared to a global figure of 4.2. But if our 600 million poor, who emit less than 300 kg per year, increase their emissions by 500 kg per person, CIG could increase as it may not be accompanied with an increase in GDP in the denominator — because it would be a consumption-based increase, unlike the production technology-based decrease discussed above.


India could reduce its CIG by more efficient power plants, buildings, lighting systems, more railway corridors and public transport, nuclear and solar energy, etc, all of which will have cost implications.


In any case, India should point out in any discussion that even if China reduces its intensity by 45 per cent in 2020, it will not reach India's level today — because its CIG is twice that of India. Despite low per capita emissions and low carbon intensity at par with the developed countries in the EU, a coal-based energy system, a complex manufacturing and mining base, large area, large population and 600 million poor who will demand clean modern energy in future, if India is still promising cuts in carbon intensity, it is a gesture that very few developed countries or China or any other country has offered. (There are some who believe India is promising less than China, not knowing their CIG levels in 2005!)


These points need to be hammered home by the government. In negotiations, no sacrifices by others are enough and more is always demanded by all. Event-ually, the poor or our industries could lose out. While the announced intensity cuts may be within a feasible range, there are always unforeseen risks and costs. Another issue for political decision is ensuring what we get in return from others or playing our cards well at the right time. In any case, we need to do as much to highlight our performance and problems as to improve our record.


The writer is executive director of Integrated Research and Action for Development (IRADe) and a member of the Prime Minister's Advisory Council for Climate Change







In 2006, Ron Suskind published The One Percent Doctrine, a book about the US war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then-Vice President Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: "If there's a 1 per cent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response." Cheney contended that the US had to confront a very new type of threat: a "low-probability, high-impact event."


Soon after Suskind's book came out, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same "precautionary principle" that also animated environmentalists. Sunstein wrote in his blog: "According to the Precautionary Principle, it is appropriate to respond aggressively to low-probability, high-impact events — such as climate change. Indeed, another vice president — Al Gore — can be understood to be arguing for a precautionary principle for climate change (though he believes that the chance of disaster is well over 1 per cent)."


Of course, Cheney would never accept that analogy. Indeed, many of the same people who defend Cheney's One Per cent Doctrine on nukes tell us not to worry at all about catastrophic global warming, where the odds are, in fact, a lot higher than 1 per cent, if we stick to business as usual. That is unfortunate, because Cheney's instinct is precisely the right framework with which to think about the climate issue — and this whole "climategate" controversy as well.


"Climategate" was triggered on November 17 when an unidentified person hacked into the e-mails and data files of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, one of the leading climate science centres in the world — and then posted them on the Internet. In a few instances, they revealed some leading climatologists seemingly massaging data to show more global warming and excluding contradictory research.


Frankly, I found it very disappointing to read a leading climate scientist writing that he used a "trick" to "hide" a putative decline in temperatures or was keeping contradictory research from getting a proper hearing. Yes, the climate-denier community, funded by big oil, has published all sorts of bogus science for years — and the world never made a fuss. That, though, is no excuse for serious climatologists not adhering to the highest scientific standards at all times.


That said, be serious: The evidence that our planet, since the Industrial Revolution, has been on a broad warming trend outside the normal variation patterns — with periodic micro-cooling phases — has been documented by a variety of independent research centres. As The New York Times just reported: "Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fueled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organisation made public on Tuesday. The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record."


This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the Earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon-dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.


What we don't know, because the climate system is so complex, is what other factors might over time compensate for that man-driven warming, or how rapidly temperatures might rise, melt more ice and raise sea levels. It's all a game of odds. We've never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is "irreversible" in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 buildup has the potential to unleash "catastrophic" warming.


When I see a problem that has even a one percent probability of occurring and is "irreversible" and potentially "catastrophic," I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about.


If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax,

what would be the result? Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels. We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull's-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, we would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.


But if we don't prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell. And that's why I'm for doing the Cheney-thing on climate — preparing for 1 per cent.









The editorial titled "Time to move on, nurture unity," in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser says: "What is the significance of the dome structure to the Muslims in India or elsewhere? Ayodhya is not a holy city for them, nor is the birthplace of Ram sacred for most of them. It is for us, the Hindus. And it is natural that we want a grand temple on the site. We have not been able to do it all these centuries because the rulers were all inimical to Hindu sentiments. But in independent secular India, where the governments are committed to respecting all religions and their sentiments equally, the task of rebuilding a temple in Ayodhya should have been done by the government. But here is the queer situation where the political parties support the case of one against another. Or at best send it into a legal tangle. How can the demolition of the structure in Ayodhya be considered an act of violation against the Muslim community? It was not even a mosque where worship was going on".


The RSS mouthpiece further writes: "There are several serious issues facing the Muslim community that are crying for attention from its leaders. The Sachar Committee (we are not in agreement with its inference) has pointed out the problems faced by this community. While most of these are problems they share with Hindus, their resolution is in the hands of the religious and political leaders of the community. And they are the real culprits, filling minds with fake fear so that the people will not slip out of their stranglehold. These leaders decide for the entire population whether they should sing 'Vande Mataram', do yoga, get modern education, open doors to social reforms, etc. They do not let their people decide for themselves what is good for them. From their pulpits they never give a call to the faithful to love the motherland, join the forces to defend the country, send their girls to schools or stop living in ghettos. It is high time the community threw a way the current leadership and emerged on its own. Decide their path themselves and the road ahead".



In an opinion piece titled "Globalisation of bad practices", Bharat Jhunjhunwala writes: "The country that produces goods cheapest wins in the global markets. But the market looks only at short term costs incurred by the businesses. It ignores the long term consequences of cheap production. For example, the market goes crazy if a company sells its goods cheap. The market is not concerned whether the company may fold up in a few months from the losses so incurred. The same logic applies to countries. Junk food costs less. Therefore, that country will win in the global market that promotes junk food".


The writer adds: "The logical result of globalisation is that every country will have to adopt the policies of the country that produces cheapest goods irrespective of whether they are good or bad. If America produced cheap cars by encouraging the consumption of junk foods, then other countries will have to adopt the same. Their cost of production will be high and they will be priced out of the global markets if they do not adopt junk foods. Consequently, they will have to face the same consequences of bad health that America is facing today. Globalisation entails import of bad practices along with cheap goods. We are today importing many such bad practices. These include movies that encourage violence, divorce and drinking; synthetic cloth; junk foods and many other items".


He further adds: "We have to attain two mutually contradictory objectives. We have to make cheap goods to conquer the global markets. We will have to accept bad practices such as those of junk foods, carbon emissions and low wages because other countries are following these practices. The second objective is to keep alive our civilisation. We will have to reject the same bad practices here. The solution to this dilemma is to impose an additional 'environment tax' on all imports".








As we observe Human Rights day today, we are reminded of Mahatma Gandhi's historic struggle.  He stood for the right to freedom, right to dignity and equality, and the right to freedom from bondage, poverty, untouchability and discrimination — the essence of human rights.


Two transformative incidents — both of which took place in South Africa in 1893 — moulded Gandhi's life and marked the  beginning of his struggle against racial divisiveness, foreign rule, slavery and indentured labour. The first was his eviction from the first class railway compartment at Pietermaritzburg station by a white railway official who had nothing but deep hatred for "coolies" and "Samis" —- pejoratives used for Indian settlers.  The second incident was a news item, in The Natal Mercury about a proposed bill to deprive Indians of their right to elect representatives to the Legislative Assembly.  He firmly believed that all human beings are equal and he would wonder "how men can feel themselves honoured by the humiliation of their fellow beings".


He was just 24 when he decided to stay on and fight.  He thought, to use Louis Fischer's words, "To flee leaving his countrymen in their predicament would be cowardice. The frail lawyer began to see himself in the role of David assailing Goliath of social discrimination."  His struggle — or the satyagraha — lasted 20 years.  His victory came  when the discriminatory bill which had become an Act had to be repealed.


On his return to India in 1901, young Gandhi proceeded to Calcutta to attend the annual session of the Indian National Congress.  There he did something which nobody would have even thought of before.  Some delegates had soiled the place.  He picked up a broom, cleared the night soil from the venue of the session — a task which the high-born loathed as they believed it was reserved only for the untouchables.  It was his first step towards social regeneration and ridding the untouchables of indignities they had suffered for ages.  Their pain pierced his soul.


At the next session of Congress, Rajkumar Shukla — an emaciated peasant from Champaran approached Gandhiji and requested him to visit Champaran to see the how the Indigo growers were being reduced to serfdom by exploitative agrarian system.


Dandi March was Gandhi's first act of civil disobedience, a novel method — not known up to then to history — to fight injustice. Salt —the "condiment of the poor" — was so taxed to make it "burdensome" for them to buy it. At the end of the 24 days marathon marching on foot, he broke the salt laws by lifting a handful of salt from a beach in Gujarat. Expectedly, he was arrested and imprisoned but was saluted by the people. Sarojini Naidu, standing beside him, hailed him as a "deliverer". It was a historic triumph of the "battle for the right over might".


His ashram represented both the diversity and harmony of India — for its inmates were from all classes, castes, religion and provinces of India and even from overseas. There he served them with compassion and nursed the sick without hesitation. Even leprosy — a disease dreaded as a curse — did not deter him from nursing a patient and friend, Parchure Shastri. He was admitted to Sevagram on the condition that Gandhi would personally nurse his wounds and he will not be permitted to die!


Gandhi perceived that freedom could not be sustained without fighting against poverty — the biggest violator of human rights. He raised his voice against poverty and untouchability yet again in the Congress session at Nagpur and led the passage of a resolution for its complete abolition. In the 20th century annals of human rights, Gandhi was among the first — later, of course,  followed by Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and others — who ushered in an era of human dignity and fundamental rights. Human rights became divine rights in reverse; no longer the rights of kings and emperors but of the faceless masses, and of the voiceless people. 


An important question before us is:  Are human rights safe today? There are dangerous portents to remind us that the rights that Gandhi fought for all his life are falling into jeopardy.  The cult of violence he abhorred is raising its head.  Poverty and its concomitant inequalities continue to persist.  The divisive forces have become active again. The guardians of law have lowered their guard. A steep fall in the standards of governance is leading to erosion of faith in the rule of law. Gandhi did not fail to caution against all this.  He had said that the quest for the protection of rights of every human being has to be pursued with full awareness of human duties.  In his letter to Julian Huxley he wrote some of his most memorable lines: "I learned from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights (duties) to deserve and preserve come from duty well done.  Thus, the very right to live accrues to us when we perform duty of citizenship of the world. From this fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of man and woman and co-relate every right  to some corresponding duty to be first performed".


The human race is obliged to be worthy of the legacy of this unparalleled apostle of human rights.


The writer is member, National Human Rights Commission and former director, CBI







There is a question that has crossed the mind recently of anyone who has sent a cellphone text message while cheating on a spouse: What was I thinking? Text messages are the new lipstick on the collar, the mislaid credit card bill. Instantaneous and seemingly casual, they can be confirmation of a clandestine affair, a record of the not-so-discreet who sometimes forget that everything digital leaves a footprint.


This became painfully obvious a week ago when a woman who claims to have had an affair with Tiger Woods told a celebrity publication that he had sent her flirty text messages, some of which were published. Unlike earlier eras when a dalliance might be suspected but not confirmed, nowadays text messages provide proof. Divorce lawyers say they have seen an increase in cases in the past year where a wronged spouse has offered text messages to show that a partner has strayed. The American Bar Association began offering seminars this fall for marital attorneys on how to use electronic evidence — text messages, browsing history and social networks — in proving a case. Lawyers expect the number of cases to grow as younger cellphone users, who are more likely to text than talk, marry. Text messages now outnumber mobile voice calls three to one, according to the Nielsen Company. Monthly messages sent or received jumped to 584 a person in the quarter ending in September, a 60 per cent increase from a year earlier.


At the root of the issue is privacy — or rather the increasing lack of it in our show-and-tell digital culture. Text messages are considered private, much as telephone calls are, legal experts say. But if a cheating spouse's cellphone is part of a family calling plan or regularly left unlocked and unattended on the dinner table or night stand, it is conceivable that a partner who suspects infidelity could make a case for sifting through the in-box. "People who have something really private to say probably shouldn't do it in a text on their cellphone," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest research group based in Washington.


In Woods's case, Jaimee Grubbs, who has worked as a cocktail waitress, came forward with text messages that she said were from Woods once he was rumored to be having marital problems after he slammed his car into a fire hydrant and a tree on Thanksgiving. Since then, several other women have said they, too, slept with Woods. He has said in a statement only that he was sorry for his "transgressions" and asked that his family be left alone. "Personal sins should not require press releases, and problems within a family shouldn't have to mean public confessions," Woods said.


In a recent survey of 2,300 adults about social networking, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 12 per cent said they had shared information online that they later regretted posting. Posting on a social network is not the same as sending a text message. But Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project, contends it is evidence of an overall cultural shift in which people have become increasingly careless about revealing personal information they cannot take back.


"It is one thing to write a personal note to someone who shares it with her two best friends," said Rainie. "It is another thing to text your undying affection and become a laughingstock. What feels intimate and anonymous at the time, perhaps, really isn't. It can be shared widely."


Sherry Turkle, a professor and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has studied interaction with technology for more than two decades. Unlike with computers, Professor Turkle said, consumers have a deeply personal connection to their cellphones, where they keep contact lists and family photos. "They carry them in their pockets," she said, "next to their skin."

One woman Professor Turkle spoke to for a study was so grief-stricken after she had misplaced her cellphone that she described the loss as a death. "People feel it is an extension of their body and mind," the professor said, but, she added: "Like Peter Pan, we do not see our electronic shadow until it is pointed out to us. We assume it is not there."


Proving adultery is not the only value of a text message to a divorce lawyer. Last year Mr Karpf, the lawyer from Miami, represented a husband whose wife was seeking sole custody of their child. The wife claimed the husband had left her and the child. He countered, saying he left because she was physically abusive. She denied it until Karpf produced several text messages the wife sent her husband apologising for her inappropriate behaviour. "She set up the whole case for me," Karpf said.


Robert Stephan Cohen, the lawyer who represented Christie Brinkley in her divorce from Peter Cook, said a spouse's finding out about a cheating partner by reading their personal text messages would have a profound effect on how such cases were played out, both in court and among friends and family. Cohen predicted that the battles in even the most routine divorces would become uglier with more text messages as evidence.


"It's much different than rumour running around about a husband at dinner with a babe in the back booth," he said. "It's in the spouse's face. They read it over and over again. It's harsh and hurtful."







The finance ministry's disclosure in Parliament that 16 companies (in addition to ADAG's three) have been found in violation of overseas borrowing rules raises questions not just about the practices of these companies but also about the role of regulators and the rules themselves. In the absence of full convertibility, the government has certain rules on foreign borrowings that companies must comply with. Essentially, the rules concern the end use of the foreign borrowings. Under the current regime, certain uses are not permitted—channelling funds into the stock market and into real estate activity is generally not allowed. Of course, regulators need to monitor the end use, so before borrowing abroad, firms need to obtain a loan registration number (LRN) from RBI—that enables RBI to track the end use. Of the firms found in violation of the rules, a significant number had not obtained a LRN from RBI at all. In such a case one has to question the intent of the firms—if they did not register, it is likely they knowingly wished to violate end use rules without being monitored. Such subversion of the laws of the land must be penalised and one wonders why the regulators (RBI or Sebi) haven't already initiated action.


Then there is the other question of whether end use restrictions are at all necessary. From the government's and regulator's point of view, there may be sense in preventing borrowed money from abroad being used in 'speculative' activities like stock markets and real estate. This is precisely the sort of activity that ended up bankrupting Dubai World and it was unable to repay its foreign debts. Of course, in Dubai the problem is more serious because the debt turned out to be sovereign debt backed by the Dubai government. On the other hand, if a single Indian company defaults on its foreign loans because of reckless speculative investing, the consequences are likely to be particularly severe for that company, and not necessarily on the entire economy. So, the market is likely to discipline adventurous companies without the government having to intervene. A case for lighter regulation with no restrictions on end use for foreign borrowing would be based on this line of argument. However, if the government is serious about the rules, then it cannot allow a situation where so many listed companies are flouting norms and no action is being taken by any regulator. If the regulators and government really believe that nothing needs to be done, why have the restrictions in the first place?







India can now boast yet another set of poverty estimates. As The Indian Express reported on Wednesday, the Suresh Tendulkar committee has submitted a report to the Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia stating that 37.2% of the country's population for 2004-05 is poor. In a move that imitates international best practices, the committee has moved away from the nutritional intake criterion to considering the per capita consumption expenditure on commodities and services. In contrast to the Planning Commission estimates released in March 2007, which estimated that 27.5% of the Indian population was poor, the Tendulkar committee has increased the poverty threshold to Rs 446 instead of Rs 368 per month for rural populations and Rs 580 instead of Rs 560 per month for the urban ones. Additionally, the Tendulkar committee has compared the bundle of goods & services consumed by urban populations with those in rural areas, where the poverty ratio has accordingly been pushed up from 28.3% to 41%.


We must consider these numbers alongside the states' demands for expanding the BPL lists. International comparisons cannot be neglected either. On the latter front, the latest assessment by Martin Ravallion and company of the World Bank finds that India has really lagged China and Brazil in poverty reduction in the last three decades. Percentage stories aside, our absolute numbers have gone up while theirs have declined. This is where the climate issue also intersects poverty. In pushing forward India's emissions intensity cuts in the Lok Sabha last week, environment minister Jairam Ramesh said India must move beyond the per capita argument because that was just an accident of history. He expanded, India's biggest failure over the last few decades has been its failure to control its population growth. That's not the case with either China or Brazil. But accepting that we are where we are in history, how do we go forward? First, let's face up to the costs of raising the bar on poverty—investment expenditure will take a necessary hit if the government starts delivering to heightened expectations, on food, health, education etc. Here the ongoing inefficiency of pro-poor schemes like PDS must be underlined to question any expansion along similar lines. Second, it's probable that once the big-ticket expenditures on schemes already under way such as NREG, NRHM and SSA are factored in, the poverty numbers will be pushed down again. Last but not the least, as various issues await resolution, the only certainty is that growth is the biggest remedy for poverty.







A question that the extraordinary growth of 7.9% in the second quarter raises is whether this will lead to a surge in capital inflows that will bring with it its own set of policy problems. Will the capital flows lead to the rupee appreciating, money supply surging and expectations of inflation rising? Will it fuel inflation in asset prices? Will we have to sterilise this inflow or do we have the capacity to absorb these into the real economy? Should we introduce the Tobin tax like Brazil has done or more generally, should we discourage such inflows?


Policymakers have been posed these questions and the responses seemed to suggest in late November that imposition of such a tax is not in the cards. However, more recently, the responses seem a little more iffy, implying that it depends upon how much capital will actually come and what it will do to the economy. But, there is not much reason to be cautious on being categorical that there is no case for discouraging capital flows at this point in time.


According to estimates made by analysts at CMIE, India should be seeing net capital flows of the order of $36.5 billion in 2009-10. This would be four times the flows in 2008-09. But 2008-09 should be seen in two parts—before the crisis that emerged in the middle of the year and after the crisis. In the first half net capital inflows were of the order of $18.7 billion and then in the second half there was a net outflow of nearly $10 billion. Thus, the $36.5 billion expected in 2009-10 (of which less than $7 billion came in till June) are not extraordinarily high if you compare them to the pre-crisis level of flows. In fact, they are low when compared to the flows the year before. In 2007-08, net capital flows were of the order of $108 billion.


Of the $36.5 billion of capital flows expected in 2009-10, about $17 billion is expected to be used to finance the current account deficit. That leaves an 'excess' of about $30 billion. This capital inflow of $30 billion is unlikely to shake the rupee too much from its current level. The rupee has been remarkably stable at around Rs 47 to a dollar in recent months. It is also likely to remain around this level in the remaining months of the year.


Such a level of capital flow is unlikely to cause an inflation in asset prices as well.


Most of $36.5 billion of capital inflows come in the form of FDI and portfolio investments of FIIs. CMIE expects both these inflows to be of the order of $23 billion in 2009-10. The expectation is that foreign direct investments will maintain a steady flow with about $10 billion flowing in during the second half of the year. These are unlikely to rise too dramatically.


FDI inflows are mostly for investments in new capacities. Projects that attract large FDI progress slowly because most of these face problems in land acquisition and need regulatory clearances. It is unlikely that these problems will be resolved soon enough to cause a deluge in FDI. The other (smaller) component of FDI is acquisition of shares. In this case, the global companies are not in a position to accelerate their acquisitions compared to the pace before the crisis. In 2007-08 and 2008-09, FDI on account of acquisition of shares amounted to a mere $5.1 billion and $4.6 billion.


But what about the fluid and fickle FII investments? I would wager here that the current valuations of listed Indian companies do not leave much room for a significant increase in investments during the remaining months of the current fiscal. While a rapid recovery is clearly under way and the long-term India story looks brighter by the day, these bright spots have already been built into the price. FII investments will thus grow at a slower pace than it did in the first half of the year.

The price-earnings multiple of the 30 Sensex companies is at 22 times, that of Nifty50 companies is at 22.5 times and the over-2,000 companies of COSPI is at 22. We are not in euphoric times yet for valuations to go too far from such highs. Net FII investments in the Indian equity and debt markets have already shown signs of slowing down. Investments during November 2009 at Rs 6,011 crore were nearly half the average investments of Rs 11,978 crore per month in the first half of the year.


External commercial borrowings have been weak and are expected to remain so in the current year. While companies are seeking approvals from RBI, they are not actually raising the capital. If capital flows are unlikely to be too high, it does not make sense to even hint at the possibility of discouraging them. The current level of capital flows is incapable of causing hikes in the prices of commodities or assets. It makes more sense to let speculation on the policy stance rest and let capital flows come in.


The author heads Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy







The 15th UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP15) is being followed closely by the entire world. The decisions taken at the COP15 will be known only on December 18. But the run-up to the COP15 has revealed some striking similarities between the climate change deliberations and multilateral trade talks at the WTO.


The first and most obvious similarity is the sharp polarisation between the developed and developing world. Both the climate change debate and the multilateral trade talks have seen the developed and developing countries blaming each other for lack of progress. Passage of time has seen the chasm widening between the two blocs on both issues. The differences have been conspicuous to the extent that trade talks have collapsed on various occasions with neither bloc agreeing to concede positions. The climate change talks have also seen the developed and developing world talking in two different voices. Till now there is little indication of the two blocs agreeing on a common agenda.


The second similarity pertains to both trade and climate talks reflecting the divergent trends in world development and contrasts in capacities and endowments between developed and developing blocs. Trade negotiations in the last 10-12 years have firmly underlined the growing importance of developing countries in world trade. The negotiations have also highlighted the absence of a level playing field between the developed and developing blocs. Developed countries possess advanced standards, regulations and trade infrastructures. Developing countries' exports find it difficult to get greater access in developed markets due to their inability to fulfill standard and certification requirements. Many developed countries can afford to subsidise their exports because of greater financial resources while developing countries can't. In climate talks as well, the resource gap between the developed and developing world is clearly visible, particularly in the difference that such a gap creates in capacities for adopting growth-oriented environment-friendly measures.


The third resemblance pertains to how both climate and trade negotiations find the developed and developing groups bargaining on quid pro quos with respect to the future course of action. Grant of greater market access by the developing world to non-agricultural products from advanced countries is contingent upon the latter lowering its subsidies on primary product exports. Similar trade-offs are visible in trade-in-services as well as with grant of greater commercial presence getting tied up with better movement of professionals. In climate talks, developed countries' demands for fixing lower carbon emission levels are countered by developing countries' responses to do so only if aid and resource support are forthcoming from high-income countries. This is the bone of contention at COP15.


The fourth similarity relates to the inability of both trade and climate talks to arrive at action-oriented formulae acceptable to all. Working out a formula for tariff cuts that takes into account differentiated tariff profiles of developed and developing countries and yet grants equivalent market access has proved nearly impossible. On the other hand, the climate talks have also been desperately searching for a mutually acceptable formula with opinion sharply divided on whether to announce lower emission targets or fix carbon-intensity goals or other options.


Finally, both trade and climate talks point to a global economic order that is increasingly dominated by emerging market economies such as China, India, Brazil and South Africa. These economies have been collaborating collectively as well as bilaterally for forging alternate opinions in both fora. Such collaborations are encouraged by shared concerns. Trade in agricultural commodities has been a common rallying point for these economies at the WTO, given their large domestic constituencies of farming populations. Difficulties in switching to low-carbon technologies have again bound them together in efforts to provide an alternate action agenda at the COP15. Whether they eventually succeed in doing so is a different issue. But they have succeeded in articulating concerns of the developing world.


Trade and climate talks have other similarities as well: both involve almost the entire club of world nations and elicit considerable provocation from civil society organisations. One wonders whether these similarities will be further augmented by the addition of one more commonality at the end of COP15. During the last decade, world trade talks hardly produced visible gains. The Doha Development Agenda has remained a non-starter despite numerous meetings of trade ministers. Does the COP15 await a similar fate? The sharp differences on issues and methods in the run-up to Copenhagen have already struck a disturbing note. Hopefully COP15 will end up showing that the world thinks and acts differently on trade and climate!


The author is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views








Tata Chemicals launched its snazzy water purifier—Swach—on Monday. It is capable of purifying about 3,000 litres, complies with US EPA standards, and does not require running water, boiling or electricity—a key feature for India where millions are still not connected to the national grid. Priced below Rs 1,000 per unit, it comes at half the price of the lowest-cost branded purifier in the Indian market.


The water purification industry in India is worth over Rs 1,000 crore. However, the penetration level of purifiers is still abysmally low, with the highest recorded in Delhi at 25%. Compared to this, in Bihar it is 0.42%, and it is less than 5% in Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Punjab and Karnataka. Unsurprisingly, unsafe water is a major source of sickness and disease. According to a 2009 Unesco report, almost 80% of diseases in developing countries are associated with water. In India, such diseases cause more than 1.5 times the number of deaths caused by AIDS and double the number of deaths caused by road accidents. As many as 3.5 million people (mainly children) die every year on account of waterborne diseases.


One of the key goals in the MDGs is to "halve by 2015 the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water". The JMP report by WHO/Unicef on the progress of drinking water indicates that the world is on track to meet this target. More than half of the world's households now have access to piped water sources and the number of people without improved drinking water sources has fallen below 1 billion. In India also, we are on track. Creative private sector solutions, like Swach, will help provide access to clean drinking water faster than just by government efforts alone. There is also a large enough market at the 'bottom of the pyramid' market segment to make such ventures worthwhile. As the penetration level is still minuscule, there is enough room for new players to explore the tremendous potential of this market.








The Bharatiya Janata Party's raucous slogan-shouting in the Lok Sabha could not drown out the clear message from Home Minister P. Chidambaram's reply to the debate on the Liberhan Commission's report on the December 6, 1992 demolition of the Babri Masjid. His oration was in the best traditions of truth-telling — a cool lawyerly marshalling of facts punctuated by sharp punches but also by honest self-criticism that is rare in Indian political discourse. True to form, the BJP leaders defended the indefensible — defiant in their insistence that the "disputed structure" met its brutal end because kar sevaks were at the end of their patience. Mr. Chidambaram, on the other hand, must be commended for showing the mirror to the BJP and also turning it inward, admitting on the floor of the House that the P.V. Narasimha Rao government — which made a "wrong political judgment" — was partly to blame for the demolition. Assembling his facts with care and targeting the protagonists with precision, the Home Minister made out an unassailable case against the sangh parivar and the BJP, accusing the latter of breaking "every single promise" made to the Supreme Court, the Central government, and the National Integration Council. The assault on the disputed structure was "pre-planned, calculated, and cold-blooded." The evidence lay in the variety of tools and ropes ready at hand for destroying the structure, the inflammatory slogans that encouraged the rampaging kar sevaks, and the passivity of the BJP leaders as well as the police and district administration, which "remained a mute spectator to the demolition."


Even as Mr. Chidambaram laid bare the details of the Babri conspiracy, which could not have possibly succeeded had the Congress central government done its job, the party's rising star, Rahul Gandhi, was away in Lucknow, refusing even to acknowledge that he had read the Liberhan report. Had he gone through the 1,000-plus pages, he might have learnt that there were other omissions in the report, besides Prime Minister Rao's tragic culpability. History will record that the Congress in power made two earlier key contributions to the process that led to demolition. It was Rajiv Gandhi's government that, under pressure from a VHP-led mobilisation, facilitated the opening of the locks of the makeshift temple in February 1986, and enabled the performance of shilanyas in November 1989. One provided fresh impetus to the Ayodhya movement, the other legitimised the Ram mandir project. It was not part of Mr. Chidambaram's remit to go into this pre-history of the demolition. But the Congress would do well to follow his lead and complete the much-delayed exercise in truth-telling on Ayodhya — so that full closure can be applied to a benighted chapter in independent India's socio-political history.







The Cabinet has once again decided that the Petroleum Ministry must ensure mandatory blending of 5 per cent ethanol with petrol. Deadline after deadline has passed since 2006 and the ambitious programme is yet to take off. A complex set of factors involving the sugar industry and the ethanol market is at play. In recent months, the oil marketing companies have been unable to contract for even half the quantity of ethanol needed for 5 per cent doping. And the quantities offered are at rates as high as Rs.41 a litre. The oil companies have until now offered Rs.21.50, although they are open to paying a little more. One of them has meanwhile planned to invest in sugar mills to ensure a captive source of ethanol. The cost of petrol is Rs.23 a litre and the blending of ethanol obtained at a price that is any higher will be uneconomical. But the sugar industry evidently finds better price yields and guaranteed demand in the beverage, industrial, and fuel sectors. There just may not be enough ethanol available in India to meet the blending requirement unless the acreage under sugarcane goes up significantly, and sugar mills are given the option to process sugarcane juice directly into ethanol instead of sugar. Both these moves will have an impact on sugar production and sugar prices. Given the rising price of sugar and the insistence by the State governments that the sugar mills meet first the demands of the beverage industry, finding enough ethanol is going to be difficult.


Sugarcane-based ethanol is indeed "the most successful alternative fuel to date." As an excellent oxygenate and octane booster, it clearly has technical advantages. But in India, the world's second largest producer of sugar, almost 90 per cent of ethanol comes from cane molasses, spelling dependence on a single feedstock. Sugarcane production has historically been marked by a certain cyclical volatility, with bumper years followed by years of low production. In order to reduce its dependence on oil imports, rather than setting much store by ethanol, India should look more aggressively at other options including hybrid fuels and CNG. Several countries of the world, notably Brazil — which introduced ethanol-blended petrol as early as in 1931 — have come a long way here. But India has several limitations including land availability constraints and food security concerns that may leave a limited role for the biofuel option for now. It is time the realities of the situation were factored into ethanol policy.










The Palestinian issue seems to have disappeared from television screens around the world and receded from the consciousness of the international community, lending substance to the view that the only way to ensure attention to a cause is to cause mayhem and violence. Afghanistan hogs all the publicity and concentrated focus of governments, and for very good reason. But it ought to be kept in mind that a key argument of terrorists is the denial of justice to the Palestinian people. If the world is serious about peace, about tackling terrorism, it must get serious about solving the Palestinian problem. This is not to suggest that a resolution of the Palestinian issue will eliminate terrorism, but without such resolution, terrorism will not be effectively tackled.


Any solution will have to be based on the following principles:


— The right of the Palestinian people to national self-determination must be recognised. Amelioration of living conditions in occupied territories is important, but it cannot be a substitute for the political rights of the Palestinian people. What is needed is an end to Israeli occupation of the Palestinian lands.


— A future Palestinian state must have territory equal in size to 22 per cent of the total area of what used to be Palestine under the British mandate until May 1948. At the end of the 1967 war, Israel came to occupy 78 per cent of historic Palestine, which is more than what it was supposed to get under the original United Nations partition plan. At the same time, the Palestinians must resign themselves to the fact that Israel will simply not agree to vacate the huge settlement blocs it has established, however illegally, along the 'green line'; they can, however, insist on compensation in the form of an equal amount and quality of land elsewhere in Israel proper.


— No Israeli government will ever agree to the 'right of return' of the refugees, whatever its legitimacy in terms of U.N. resolutions and international law. An eventual solution of the refugee problem will have to provide for a token return of some refugees on the ground of family reunification; the bulk will have to go to the future Palestinian state or be absorbed in the 'host' countries which will have to be given the necessary financial and other incentives.


— The capital of the future Palestinian state will have to be accommodated in some area of Jerusalem. It cannot be in the old city, but it will have to be somewhere which the Palestinians can refer to as Al Quds.


— Equitable solution will have to be found to the problem of sharing common and scarce water resources. This is one area in which a regional approach, involving Jordan, Syria and perhaps Turkey, will have to be sought.


— The security of both states and peoples will have to be ensured, with the help of the international community if necessary. If the parties accept and abide by the previous five principles, it would automatically ensure the safety of both sides, since neither side will have any reason to threaten the other.


If the Palestinian problem was difficult to resolve a decade ago, it is infinitely more so today, thanks to the growing radicalisation on both sides and the involvement of new and influential players in the region. The demonisation of Yasser Arafat, and his eventual disappearance from the scene meant that the one Palestinian leader who could carry his people with him in a less than satisfactory package deal is no longer available. Mahmoud Abbas is a pragmatic leader, not afraid to take tough decisions, but Israel has done nothing to strengthen his position vis-À-vis his own people. Leaving aside Israel, if at all Barack Obama is serious about solving the Palestinian problem, the window of opportunity will disappear as and when Mr. Abbas is succeeded by another leader who, most certainly, will be more hard line.


Numerous and detailed formulae have been worked out jointly by the two sides over the years to find answers to the complex issues involved. There is the Abu Mazen-Yossi Beilin plan prepared about 15 years ago. There is also the Geneva Initiative, again drafted by the two sides, a few years ago. As Saeb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator, has repeatedly said, enough progress has been made to thrash out the issues so that an agreement can be reached in less than six months, provided the political will to make necessary and unpopular decisions exists on both sides.


The present situation of 'no terrorism, no peace process' perhaps suits Israel and is not unwelcome to the 'international community'. Israel claims that since the construction of the 'barrier' or 'wall' roughly along the green line, it has been spared acts of terrorism or suicide bombing. As for the rocket attacks from Gaza, Israel feels that after the Cast Lead operation of December-January last winter, the ability of the Hamas rulers of Gaza to launch such attacks has been largely diminished.


All in all, though Israel suffered some loss of its 'fair name' because of the indictment of the Goldstone report, it feels quite smug; it certainly feels no pressure from anyone to do something to restart the peace process. Even the 'Quartet', which cannot by any stretch of imagination claim to represent the international community, has not met for a long time.


Israel's approach seems to be to keep the Palestinians divided, both ideologically and territorially.


Mr. Abbas is under pressure from his people as well as from the Arabs to reconcile with the Hamas. Egypt has worked hard to bring about such reconciliation. Mr. Abbas supports the Egyptian efforts but faces a dilemma. Israel has made it clear that it will break off all talks with him if he makes up with the Hamas and forms a coalition with it. On the other hand, the Arab street wants him to make up with the Hamas. Saudi Arabia, which has given up its traditional reluctance and shown a willingness to play an active role, tried its hand at bringing the Hamas and the Fatah together in Mecca over two years ago, but the agreement, though good on paper, broke down when the Hamas staged its coup in June 2007. The net result is that there are in effect two Palestinian entities today. The one in Gaza is facing enormous difficulties and has been under siege for the past two-and-half years.


The entity in the West Bank, on the other hand, is relatively well-off. Significant sums of foreign aid have poured into it to strengthen its terrorism-fighting capability. The people in West Bank have benefited from the infusion of foreign money. The calculation of Israel, and of others perhaps, could be that if the West Bank Palestinians were somehow kept materially happy, with their children even being offered scholarships to pursue studies in western universities, they would over time dilute their urge to fight for an independent, unified Palestinian state. But the Israelis, an intelligent, history-minded people, will know that their 'cousins,' the Palestinians, will never give up their dream, just as the Jews did not give up theirs for over two millennia.


The irony is that Israelis should want a two-state solution as much as the Palestinians do. Time is not on their side, demography is against them. The Palestinians multiply themselves twice as fast as the Jews. Gaza has perhaps the highest birth rate anywhere in the world; its population will explode and turn violent sooner rather than later. The people in the West Bank, nearly all of whom have close relatives in Gaza, will not permit their government to forget the fate of fellow Palestinians. Even more serious perhaps, the Palestinian population of Israel, which Israel calls Arab, and which constitutes 20 per cent of Israel's population, is getting increasingly bold in expressing solidarity with the mainstream Palestinian nationalist movement. In January 2009, a record 1,00,000 'Arabs' demonstrated in Haifa against the government for the excesses committed against the Gaza population.


President Abbas suffered a loss of credibility when he agreed, under Israeli and American pressure, not to raise the Goldstone report in the U.N. Human Rights Council. He will, if he has not already, come to the conclusion that 'talks' have not led to anything, not even the release of a significant number of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. The Oslo process has long been dead, the road map of President George Bush led nowhere and the Annapolis process came to a dead-end even before it got going. Once bitten, twice shy Mr. Obama is likely to be more cautious and less ambitious in his future Middle East policy.


Under the circumstances, the possibility of another intifada cannot be ruled out. Violence might not always pay, but it does pay sometimes. It was the first intifada that paved the way for the Oslo accord. (There are other instances elsewhere in the world.) The Palestinians will know that the next time round they will face heavy odds and a more ruthless Israeli reaction, but a desperate people will do anything for a cause they believe in.







"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights." So begins the Universal Declaration of Human Rights established 60 years ago and celebrated today around the globe. This year's theme is non-discrimination. When it comes to nutrition, all of India's children are not equal. According to India's third National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3) of 2005-06, 20 per cent of Indian children under five-years-old are wasted due to acute undernutrition and 48 per cent are stunted due to chronic undernutrition. Seventy per cent of children between six months and 59 months are anaemic. Despite a booming economy, nutrition deprivation among India's children remains widespread.


In absolute numbers, an average 25 million children are wasted and 61 million are stunted. The state of child undernutrition in India is — first and foremost — a major threat to the survival, growth, and development and of great importance for India as a global player. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has referred to undernutrition as 'a matter of national shame.'


Children who are undernourished have substantially lower chances of survival than children who are well-nourished. Undernourished children are much more likely to suffer from serious infections and to die from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea, pneumonia, and measles. More than a third of all deaths in children aged five years or younger can be attributable to undernutrition. Children who survive undernutrition do not perform as well in school as their well-nourished peers and as adults they are less productive.


Good nutrition early in life is a key input for human capital formation, a fundamental factor for sustainable and equitable economic growth. Widespread undernutrition impedes socio-economic development and poverty reduction. With persistently high levels of child undernutrition, vital opportunities to save millions of lives are being lost, and many more children are not growing to their full potential.


There is a critical window of opportunity to intervene when mothers are pregnant and during children's first two years of life. After that age, the window closes and the opportunity for the child is lost forever. We know what works — ten proven, high-impact interventions can dramatically reduce undernutrition in young children if delivered nationally:


Timely initiation of breastfeeding within one hour of birth


Exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life


Timely introduction of complementary foods at six months


Age-appropriate foods for children six months to two years


Hygienic complementary feeding practices


Immunisation and bi-annual Vitamin A supplementation with deworming


Appropriate feeding for children during and after illness


Therapeutic feeding for children with severe acute malnutrition


Adequate nutrition and support for adolescent girls to prevent anemia


Adequate nutrition and support for pregnant and breastfeeding mothers


These 10 essential interventions could halve the proportion of undernourished children over the next 10 years.


A number of emerging economies have encountered nutrition challenges similar to those currently facing India. For example, China reduced child undernutrition by more than half (from 25 per cent to 8 per cent) between 1990 and 2002; Brazil reduced child undernutrition by 60 per cent (from 18 per cent to 7 per cent) from 1975 to 1989; Thailand reduced child undernutrition by half (from 50 per cent to 25 per cent) in less than a decade (1982-1986); and Viet Nam reduced child undernutrition by 40 per cent (from 45 per cent to 27 per cent) between 1990 and 2006.


Four lessons can be learned from these countries' experiences: 1) Leadership at the highest level to ensure that priority is given to child nutrition outcomes across sectors and states, with large investments in nutrition interventions and successful poverty alleviation strategies. 2) Targeted nutrition interventions to prevent mild and moderate undernutrition and treat severe undernutrition as part of a continuum of care for children, particularly among the most vulnerable children: the youngest, the poorest, and the socially-excluded; 3) Reliance on community-based primary health care to ensure high coverage through community-based frontline workers; 4) Strong supervision, monitoring, evaluation, and knowledge management to provide the evidence base for timely and effective policy, programme and budgetary action.


The universal delivery of this package of ten evidence-based, high impact essential nutrition interventions will lead to an unprecedented reduction in child undernutrition. India has the resources — financial and human — to address, once and for all, the challenge of child undernutrition. The prevention and treatment of child undernutrition in the first two years of life needs to be a national development priority.


India's leadership is recognised globally and its economy is growing at an enviable rate. That strength and leadership can be channelled to ensure survival of India's most precious asset — its children — to thrive and survive. The nutrition targets set forth by the government in its Eleventh Five-Year Plan are ambitious, more ambitious than the international commitments set forth in the Millennium Development Goals. In the government's own words, "it is better to aim high, than to fail low."


Now is the time to combine the existing technical knowledge with the political will to change the lives of millions to guarantee the human rights, dignity and rights of all of India's children. Now is the time to combine the existing technical knowledge with the political will to change the lives of millions to guarantee the human rights and dignity of all of India's children.


This is a 'make or break' time to emerge as global leader in the fight against undernutrition… 61 million children are waiting.


(Dr. Karin Hulshof is UNICEF India Representative.)


— Courtesy: U.N. Information Centre for India and Bhutan.








If negotiators reach an accord at the climate talks in Copenhagen it will entail profound shifts in energy production, dislocations in how and where people live, sweeping changes in agriculture and forestry and the creation of complex new markets in global warming pollution credits.


So what is all this going to cost?


The short answer is trillions of dollars over the next few decades. It is a significant sum but a relatively small fraction of the world's total economic output. In energy infrastructure alone, the transformational ambitions that delegates to the U.N. climate change conference are expected to set in the coming days will cost more than $10 trillion in additional investment from 2010 to 2030, according to a new estimate from the International Energy Agency.


As scary as that number sounds, the agency said that the costs would ramp up relatively slowly and be largely offset by economic benefits in new jobs, improved lives, more secure energy supplies and a reduced danger of climate catastrophe. Most of the investment will come from private rather than public funds, the agency contends.


"People often ask about the costs," said Kevin Parker, the global head of Deutsche Bank Asset Management, who tracks climate policy for the bank. "But the figures people tend to cite don't take into account conservation and efficiency measures that are easily available. And they don't look at the cost of inaction, which is the extinction of the human race. Period."


Whatever global warming's effects — and most scientific projections are less dire — there are also varying estimates of the economic costs of failing to act to address the problem soon, some of them very high.


In Copenhagen, some of the most intense and difficult discussions for negotiators centre on any potential agreement's near-term financial arrangements. Some of the poorest and most vulnerable nations are calling for a gigantic transfer of wealth from the industrialised world to island nations and countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America that are most likely to feel the ravages of a changing climate.


Many poor nations are insisting that wealthier nations make deeper cuts in their emissions and contribute more money to help the poorer countries, a split that widened in Copenhagen on Tuesday as competing documents of a potential agreement circulated.


Over time, some of the hundreds of billions of dollars the poorer countries are demanding will begin to flow, as global carbon markets become established and governments in rich countries begin to open the spigot of public spending.


But in the meantime, the industrialised countries have proposed a relatively modest fund of about $10 billion a year for each of the next three or four years to help poorer countries adapt. Even that effort remains the subject of conflict over which countries should contribute how much, what body should oversee the spending and how to determine which projects qualify for finance.



President Barack Obama's spokesman said last week that the President supported a short-term fund to aid developing nations and that the United States would pay "its fair share." In many multilateral efforts, the United States picks up a quarter to a third of the tab.


"Providing this assistance," the White House statement said, "is not only a humanitarian imperative — it's an investment in our common security, as no climate change accord can succeed if it does not help all countries reduce their emissions."


The money would be used to help developing nations reduce emissions by switching to renewable energy sources like wind and solar and by compensating landowners for not cutting down or burning forests, a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. Other funds might be used be used to adjust to effects of a changing climate like rising sea levels, by building flood walls or relocating settlements to higher ground.


Mr. Obama will travel to Copenhagen on December 18 to attend the final day of the meeting, a sign that the White House believes that a far-reaching accord, including deals on some of the sticky financial issues, is possible.


"This is the question that is being posed in Copenhagen," said Robert N. Stavins, director of the environmental economics program at Harvard University. "How much money do the developed countries have to put on the table to bring developing countries into the conversation?"


Stavins said that the bulk of the money would have to come from private investment because, he said, it was "inconceivable" that the governments of the wealthy countries would come up with adequate financing and also because private entities spent money much more efficiently.


The climate and energy legislation passed by the House in June sets aside roughly $8 billion a year for assistance to developing countries by 2030, Stavins said. That figure, he suggested, represents the upper limit of public financial support from the United States.


The perspective from the developing world is, not surprisingly, somewhat different. Alvaro Umana Quesada, the leader of Costa Rica's climate delegation, said that it was important to the developing world to have early resources and a predictable flow of long-term financing. He said that the $10 billion in so-called quick start financing that was now on the table was adequate but that such spending had to rise to roughly $80 billion to as much as $150 billion a year by 2020.


"That is not very much compared to the size of the world economy or the financial crisis bailouts," he said. "There are great needs for adaptation, where the small island nations are really at risk. Some of them are one severe weather event away from disappearing."


The European Union has endorsed a fund of that size; the United States remains noncommittal. The Obama administration has asked for $1.2 billion in climate-related financing in the 2010 budget, far below the needs being discussed at Copenhagen. But administration officials said they would seek more money for international climate programs in future years.



Perhaps the most detailed analysis of the financing needs of any climate change agreement comes from Project Catalyst, an initiative of the European Union and ClimateWorks, a foundation-supported policy group based in San Francisco. The group's work has helped shape the negotiations in Copenhagen.

The group estimates that roughly $100 billion will be needed by 2020 to finance climate change programs in the developing world. About half could come from the growing global market in carbon emissions credits under a cap-and-trade system, which will be worth an estimated $2 trillion a year by 2020.


A cap-and-trade system is already operating in Europe and is under consideration by Congress. Such a system sets a ceiling on the carbon emissions of a given country or industry and allows trading of pollution permits within the cap. As the overall limit on emissions grows tighter, the price of pollution permits rises, creating a sizable market in carbon credits.


Countries would grant some of the carbon market allowances directly to energy and environmental programs in the developing world, with other funds coming from a relatively small fee on each transaction. An additional $10 billion to $20 billion would come from taxes on fuels used in aviation and shipping. The rest, perhaps $25 billion to $35 billion, would be loans and grants from industrialised nations to poorer countries, split roughly three ways among the United States, the European Union and Canada, Japan and Australia. "The good news is that everybody now is supporting our proposal for financing," said Umana, the Costa Rican delegate. "The bad news is that it's happening 15 years too late. Without real money on the table, this will be a disaster."


— © 2009 The New York Times News Service








He has read the Nobel speeches of Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Elie Wiesel. He has studied the award's rich history and its extraordinary roster of winners.


Yet President Barack Obama accepts his prize on Thursday at Oslo City Hall, he faces a far different challenge than those who have gone before him: He is a wartime leader, accepting a medal that is a commendation to peace, which even he insists he does not yet deserve.


There is, of course, no escaping the paradox of this moment for Mr. Obama as he delivers an acceptance speech for his Nobel Peace Prize only nine days after announcing that he would escalate the war by sending 30,000 more American troops to Afghanistan.


"There is one very pregnant question," said David Axelrod, a senior adviser to Mr. Obama. "How do you reconcile your role as a commander in chief with your aspirations to promote a more peaceful world at a time of war? That's a question that he's going to explore in some detail."


If the trajectory of the President's political career can be measured, at least in part, through his speeches, the remarks he will give about the United States' place in the world provides one of the most pronounced tests of his rhetoric. And surely the most unusual, given that the applause in Norway comes at a particularly trying period of his presidency.


It is, after all, merely a speech. (Actually in the parlance of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, it is called a Nobel Lecture, which is supposed to last 20 to 25 minutes.)



But suddenly, the burden seems even greater than it did two months ago when the Nobel committee startled the world — and Mr. Obama — with its decision to honour the President well before a full picture of his achievements is known.


At the time, the committee made no mention of Afghanistan, but wrote, "Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts."


So there was little question inside the White House that the central themes of the President's speech had to include war and peace.


Two days after he delivered his Afghanistan address last week at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, Mr. Obama sat down in the Oval Office with two speech writers, Ben Rhodes and Jon Favreau, and began to offer an outline for what he would like to say in Oslo.


Mr. Obama is the third sitting American president to be awarded the peace prize. A student of history, he read the lecture of Theodore Roosevelt, who won the award in 1906 for his role in bringing an end to the war between Russia and Japan. He also studied the words of Woodrow Wilson, who sent a telegram to the committee — he was ill and could not attend — for his 1919 award in recognition of his 14-point peace programme for ending World War I.


With so few former Presidents to seek guidance from, aides said, Mr. Obama also spent time looking back at the speech of George C. Marshall, who was awarded the prize in 1953 for helping to rebuild the post-World War II world through the plan of economic aid that bears his name. Mr. Obama also was intrigued by the lectures of more recent honorees, aides said, including Mandela in 1993 and King in 1964.


The lessons of history, though, provided only a limited amount of instruction, considering that Mr. Obama's circumstances are starkly different than those of previous winners. So in addition to explaining his strategy for Afghanistan — outlining why war is necessary to bring peace — the President's advisers said they will reprise the words of humility that Mr. Obama delivered on Oct. 9, hours after learning he had won the award.



"It's not necessarily an award he would have given himself," Axelrod said. "In that sense, it poses a challenge, but thinking through these issues is not burdensome. He spends a lot of time thinking about how you promote a more peaceful and secure world, about the appropriate use of power and about the value and importance of diplomacy."


Mr. Obama will formally enter the history of the 108-year-old Nobel prize when he delivers his lecture in a ceremonial room of Oslo City Hall, which offers a view of the picturesque bay of Oslofjorden.


When presidents deliver their most important speeches, like Mr. Obama's April address on nuclear threats from the central square of Prague or his June speech to the Muslim world from Cairo University, the White House choreographs the backgrounds, camera angles and crowds. But in this case the venue, like the award itself, is something that this president cannot control.


— © 2009 The New York Times News Service









The storm unleashed by the fast-unto-death of Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) K Chandrasekhara Rao and the consequent trouble at the Osmania University campus in Hyderabad is as much about the real problems concerning the demand for a separate state as it is about the ineptitude of the Congress governments in the state and at the Centre to deal with it. Even as doctors have expressed concern over the condition of Rao, the UPA government had fielded Union urban affairs minister S Jaipal Reddy, who is from the Telangana part of the state, and minister for state for home M Ramachandran in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday morning to appeal to Rao to end his fast. It is a somewhat late reaction on the part of the Congress to a problem that is spinning out of control.


The Congress had an alliance with the TRS in 2004 and the word given then was that the demand will be considered and a second states reorganisation commission will be set up to look into all the aspects of the matter. But the commission was never set up. Even now, it is a core Congress team headed by finance minister and senior party leader Pranab Mukherjee that is looking at the advantages and disadvantages for the Congress if a separate state is to be formed. At the moment, the prevailing opinion in the party is that a separate Telangana offers no great advantage to the party.


If for the last five years the Congress chose to put the Telangana question on the backburner, the Rosiah government has resorted to deployment of security forces in a big way, especially in the OU campus and against the students, as though that would help.


The situation has only worsened and the agitation is spreading like wild fire.


The issue itself is not an easy one to resolve. The TRS has not always got political dividend out of the demand, even in the region itself. Besides, the people of Hyderabad, which would be part of the putative Telangana state are strongly against the notion. A larger issue is the very question of the viability and need for smaller states across the country -- while some have been successful, others, like Jharkhand have not worked. It is a vexed issue which will call for sensitivity and foresight from the political establishment, something that has been sorely missing so far.







The recently commissioned Bandra-Worli Sea Link in Mumbai saw its first major accident on Tuesday. A 14-year-old boy and a 40-year-old man were killed. The culprit appears to have been the boy's car which was speeding, trying to get him to school on time for an exam. The driver hit the barrier, lost control of the car and found itself facing oncoming traffic where it hit a taxi before it crashed into the barrier. The driver is battling for life, the passenger in the taxi died and the taxi driver was injured.


Undoubtedly, this is a human tragedy. But it is also an issue which needs immediate solution -- our lack of attention to road safety procedures. The sea link provides drivers in Mumbai a rare opportunity to travel at 50 km an hour or over. Our roads are neither built for speed nor are we accustomed to it. The temptations on a clear stretch like the 5.6 km bridge -- where you ought not to go slower than the suggested speed -- are
enormous. Speeding is common.


However, while the authorities have put random checks in place, they did not anticipate and therefore make allowance for, frequent transgressions. What the sea link needs is more stringent checks to ensure that there is no reckless speeding. You need speed guns connected to cameras to catch those who break the law and you need regular police patrols -- perhaps on motorcycles -- to apprehend speedsters. The punishment for speeding also needs to be enough to form some kind of a deterrent. Together, these measures will at least ensure that wrongdoers may get deterred and if they are not, they will be caught.


As our lifestyles change and our infrastructure grows, we need to examine all the options offered in societies where such facilities are taken for granted. Together with flyovers, expressways and high speed zones, we must also import the safety protocols. As it is, we are pretty lax about safety in most areas of our lives -- most often seen in the construction industry -- and the price for that callousness was paid by two people on Tuesday.


It is likely that no power on earth can, as of now, prevent an accident from taking place. But it is possible to cut down on chances and to ensure that transgressions will be punished. Our march towards beckoning a first world country cannot be limited to first world infrastructure. We also need first world procedures.







India's unilateral decision to undertake a reduction in the carbon intensity of its growth is, on the face of it, a farsighted decision. Despite the brouhaha about how it will affect industry and future growth, it is the right thing to do because no country -- howsoever poor -- can deny responsibility for the environmental damage it inflicts through careless growth.


However, we have no blueprint for action. Neither Manmohan Singh nor Jairam Ramesh seems to have a gameplan on how we are going to achieve what is promised. On the contrary, in the last five years, Singh's government has done everything possible to promote the use of carbon fuels -- by subsidising them. It is difficult to see how the prime minister is going to get his politically-tough policy choices implemented when he has been fighting shy of raising fuel prices for much of his first term. He paid for the fuel subsidies by looting our own public sector oil companies.


Bringing down carbon intensity calls for a systemic response which will have many, many consequences --all of them political. The easy part is to direct investment towards energy-saving and green technology. For a government which can gift away several hundred thousand crores of rupees in needless subsidies to the non-poor, spend over Rs1,86,000 crore to revive growth, and write off over Rs71,000 crore to farmers, it should not at all be difficult to redirect resources towards research on solar and wind energy, energy-saving devices, and the works.


Spending brings political dividends, but the shift in energy intensity goalposts will bring more losers than winners. Many energy-intensive industries will decline. Prices will rise in the short run, as the cost of turning green is passed on to consumers. And the short run can stretch for years. We should be prepared to see a deceleration in growth -- for higher prices and costs will have to be combined with deflationary policies.


The big question: are we prepared for the "butterfly effect" of policy on polity? The term butterfly effect comes from chaos theory, where final outcomes can be completely unexpected given a very small initial impetus. Metaphorically, it is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Gulf of Mexico can cause a typhoon in Texas.


The 20-25 per cent cut in carbon intensity promised by 2020 will create a butterfly effect that will hugely impact Indian politics. Several populist programmes will have to be rethought. The crown jewel in the UPA's pot of populist programmes is NREGA -- the national rural employment guarantee scheme. But it has a direct impact on carbon intensity and green policies.


When money is handed over to the poor, they spend more on food. This is the prime reason why food prices are zooming. As the poor earn more, small and marginal farmers suddenly find that labour costs also rise -- and this becomes a spur for further food price increases. In cities, food prices are becoming a big political issue. When this boils over, there will be pressures to invest more in agricultural productivity, which means more fertilisers and pesticides. The green way out would be to emphasise organic farming, but this means reducing food output in the short run (unthinkable), raising fertiliser prices, and removing subsidies. Which government will volunteer to do this? Fertilisers come largely from carbon-based feedstocks.


Now think energy. If green power has to be given greater play, power costs will rise. Feeding solar power into the grid will cost at least four times as much, which means higher power subsidies, unless we raise power prices for homes and industry. If this is somehow pushed through, the sticker prices of industrial and consumer goods will go up. Which government will have the gumption to weather the urban storm as a result of this? And we haven't even talked about fossil fuels. The only way to go green on energy is to raise the prices of petrol and diesel, and restrict the subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene. Which politician will handle this hot potato?


Scores of industries -- from automobiles to engineering, steel and cement to chemicals --will see costs rise as they adjust to the new norms on carbon intensity. The pressure to trim costs elsewhere may result in downsizing labour, and urban consumers will be a disgruntled lot. Thousands of old automobiles will have to be junked -- and we know how everyone resists the idea of scrapping any vehicles.


These are only a few of the consequences of reducing carbon intensity. One does not know what caused Manmohan Singh and Jairam Ramesh to make a bold dash to climate heroism. But the nation will pay a heavy price for something they haven't yet been told anything about. We are on a whim and a prayer -- Manmohan and Jairam Ramesh's whims and everybody else's prayers.






Ignorance is a terminology that is commonly used amongst elite circles to indicate lack of knowledge or lack of understanding in people. However this word has a larger bearing and can question the understanding of the most learned and erudite entities. The larger chunk of the human race revolves around four components of existence which forms the backbone of life on this planet.


These are eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Ignorance is a word used within the context of these four dimensions of life. However most of four is oblivious of a fifth activity which factually confirms the ignorance of an individual. If a person is aware of this fifth factor in spite of not being so adept in the other four categories, such a person can still be considered highly intelligent or sensible. What is this fifth component to which only a lucky few have access?


It is the knowledge of our true constitutional position. Two forms of energy exist in nature and the existential destiny of man is decided based on his or her association with either types of energy. The two forms of energy are spiritual and material. Material energy defines most of man's destiny since man is in contact with this energy almost all the time.


This keeps man on the animal platform.


Man eats like animals do, perhaps in a more sophisticated way. He sleeps like animals do; perhaps using the

most refined bedding accessories. He mates and procreates like animals maybe in the privacy of closed chambers. Survival of the fittest is more applicable to the humans than animals. Cut-throat competition and a "Winning at any cost" attitude has left little differences between Man and animal. Material energy ignites man's instinctive nature which keeps one subservient to inferior nature. The actual goal of human birth is to circumnavigate through all the frailties induced by material energy and arrive on a superior platform.


Rajesh Parameswaran






India's unilateral decision to undertake a reduction in the carbon intensity of its growth is, on the face of it, a

farsighted decision. Despite the brouhaha about how it will affect industry and future growth, it's the right thing to do because no country -- howsoever poor -- can deny responsibility for the environmental damage it inflicts through careless growth.


However, we have no blueprint for action. Neither Manmohan Singh nor Jairam Ramesh seem to have a gameplan on how we're going to achieve what is promised. On the contrary, in the last five years, Singh's government has done everything possible to promote the use of carbon fuels -- by subsidising them. It's difficult to see how the prime minister is going to get his politically-tough policy choices implemented when he has been fighting shy of raising fuel prices for much of his first term. He paid for the fuel subsidies by looting our own public sector oil companies.


Bringing down carbon intensity calls for a systemic response which will have many, many consequences -- all of them political. The easy part is to direct investment towards energy-saving and green technology. For a government which can gift away several hundred thousand crores of rupees in needless subsidies to the non-poor, spend over Rs1,86,000 crore to revive growth, and write off over Rs71,000 crore to farmers, it should not at all be difficult to redirect resources towards research on solar and wind energy, energy-saving devices, and the works.


Spending brings political dividends, but the shift in energy intensity goalposts will bring more losers than winners. Many energy-intensive industries will decline. Prices will rise in the short run, as the cost of turning green is passed on to consumers. And the short run can stretch for years. We should be prepared to see a deceleration in growth -- for higher prices and costs will have to be combined with deflationary policies.


The big question: are we prepared for the 'butterfly effect' of policy on polity? The term butterfly effect comes from chaos theory, where final outcomes can be completely unexpected given a very small initial impetus. Metaphorically, it is said that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Gulf of Mexico can cause a typhoon in Texas.


The 20-25% cut in carbon intensity promised by 2020 will create a butterfly effect that will hugely impact Indian politics. Several populist programmes will have to be rethought. The crown jewel in the UPA's pot of populist programmes is Nrega -- the national rural employment guarantee scheme. But it has a direct impact on carbon intensity and green policies.


When money is handed over to the poor, they spend more on food. This is the prime reason why food prices are zooming. As the poor earn more, small and marginal farmers suddenly find that labour costs also rise -- and this becomes a spur for further food price increases. In cities, food prices are becoming a big political issue. When this boils over, there will be pressures to invest more in agricultural productivity, which means more fertilisers and pesticides. The green way out would be to emphasise organic farming, but this means reducing food output in the short run (unthinkable), raising fertiliser prices, and removing subsidies. Which government will volunteer to do this? Fertilisers come largely from carbon-based feedstocks.


Now think energy. If green power has to be given greater play, power costs will rise. Feeding solar power into the grid will cost at least four times as much, which means higher power subsidies, unless we raise power prices for homes and industry. If this is somehow pushed through, the sticker prices of industrial and consumer goods will go up. Which government will have the gumption to weather the urban storm as a result of this? And we haven't even talked about fossil fuels. The only way to go green on energy is to raise the prices of petrol and diesel, and restrict the subsidies on cooking gas and kerosene. Which politician will handle this hot potato?


Scores of industries -- from automobiles to engineering, steel and cement to chemicals -- will see costs rise as they adjust to the new norms on carbon intensity. The pressure to trim costs elsewhere may result in downsizing labour, and urban consumers will be a disgruntled lot. Thousands of old automobiles will have to be junked -- and we know how everyone resists the idea of scrapping any vehicles.


These are only a few of the consequences of reducing carbon intensity. One does not know what caused Manmohan Singh and Jairam Ramesh to make a bold dash to climate heroism. But the nation will pay a heavy price for something they haven't yet been told anything about. We are on a whim and a prayer -- Manmohan and Jairam Ramesh's whims and everybody else's prayers.










The bedlam in the Punjab Assembly on Tuesday in which three members of the House had their turbans tossed around while another ended with a bleeding nose, is a matter of shame and deep regret. Ironically, the legislators were to address the issue of law and order in Ludhiana, where three days of violence had taken a heavy toll on lives and property. Far from setting a benchmark in civilised behaviour, they set a poor example by their indecorous antics which could only expose the hollowness of their counsel to people not to take the law into their own hands. Had the MLAs not reduced Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal's statement on the Ludhiana incidents to a farce by their unruly behaviour, the Prakash Singh Badal government could have been taken to task through a healthy debate on why and how it failed to prevent and effectively deal with the violence.


Ever so often, in our legislatures, misgovernance gets an escape route through the ill-tempered behaviour of the Opposition. When governments of the day should be answering for their follies and for the collapse of administration, they are let off the hook by walkouts, disruptions and unruly scenes which divert attention from the real issues. In the case in question, the Business Advisory Committee meeting from which the Congress members staged a walkout had circulated the agenda the previous evening which mentioned the Deputy Chief Minister's statement after question hour. Even after Congress legislators sprung out of their seats, the Speaker had assured them that enough time would be given to discuss law and order. However, it is not one party or another that can be blamed for the rot that has set in. Whichever party is in the opposition tends to take the unreasonable path.


As it is, the current winter session of the Punjab Assembly was to be a four-day affair of which one day was declared a closed day. The first day was taken up by obituary references as is the normal practice. The second day was virtually lost in the free-for-all. Even if the proceedings on the final day – Thursday – go through smoothly it is a moot point how much legislative business would be transacted. The loss of time through pandemonium on Tuesday must be seen in that context.








Even as Telangana Rashtra Samiti (TRS) president K. Chandrasekhara Rao's fast-unto-death entered the 11th day on Wednesday, the movement for a separate Telangana state has intensified in Andhra Pradesh. The state is on high security alert and if students and pro-Telangana activists go ahead with their programme to storm the State Assembly in Hyderabad on Thursday, the situation could go out of control. It would, therefore, be prudent for Mr Rao to heed the appeal of Parliament and the state government and call off his fast immediately. Violence has been reported from many parts of Telangana. Hyderabad itself witnessed clashes after the police arrested several students and teachers of Osmania University to quell protests. The state government received a jolt on Wednesday after the Andhra Pradesh High Court directed it to re-open all schools, colleges and hostels in the state which were closed for a fortnight by the government as a precautionary measure.


Unfortunately, the issue of a separate Telangana state has been hanging fire for years as successive governments at the Centre and in the state have been dithering over it. The region, with 119 out of 294 seats in the State Assembly, has long been neglected. Indeed, lack of development of this region is the root cause of the problem. The Congress fought the 2004 elections jointly with the TRS, promising separate statehood. However, as the Congress backtracked, the TRS parted ways with it. Late chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy was strongly opposed to Telangana. For, he felt that it would further trigger the demand for a separate Rayalaseema state, leading to the trifurcation of Andhra Pradesh.


Moreover, opinion is sharply divided over Hyderabad that falls in Telangana. As many people from the state's other two regions — coastal and Rayalaseema — are settled here, they are opposed to the state's bifurcation. Some are even demanding Union Territory status for Hyderabad for safeguarding their interests. The Centre has a tricky issue on hand. While taking a final call on Telangana, it would do well to take the TRS and all other parties into confidence and expeditiously resolve the issue one way or the other.








The human genetic map is a veritable "book of life" whose 3.1 billion base pairs together describe virtually every function in the human body. For instance, it can predict how a certain person may get a certain disease. It will tell who will get a common bipolar disease and who will get a single nuclear polymorphism. It can also throw light on why certain drugs don't affect certain people and what are the chances of a particular disease affecting a population. In sum, this information can lead to low-cost health care and predictive medicine for the masses. As such, the success of a team of Indian scientists of the CSIR in decoding the genome sequence of a 52-year-old Indian is a signal achievement.


What is all the more laudable is that while the first human genome sequence was mapped in 2003 in the project undertaken by several countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Korea and China in 13 years, the Indian scientists have done so in only 45 days using newer technologies – with two years of background work. More important, while the first effort cost billions of dollars, the achievement of the young scientists of Delhi-based Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB), led by Dr S Sridhar and IGIB PhD student Vinod Scaria, both in their mid-thirties, has cost only $30,000 (Rs 1.4 lakh approximately).


Even this much amount may be prohibitive for sequencing one man's genes, but the cost is likely to come down substantially in say five years from now. Then genome sequencing can become a fairly common diagnostic tool, with the help of which doctors will be able to predict what drug will be useful for a particular patient. As time progresses, the "book of life" may reveal many more secrets. The Indian scientists have thus opened new doors of biomedical research, gene technology and health care.









The visit of Dr Manmohan Singh to Washington signalled a new and more realistic approach to India's relations with China. For decades, our leaders and diplomats have been defensive, apologetic and even obsequious when speaking about China and our relations with our northern neighbour. China, in turn, has never hesitated to speak disparagingly about India in the capitals its leaders visit.


Moreover, apart from transferring nuclear weapons technology and arming Pakistan to the teeth, China has continuously encouraged anti-Indian sentiments in South Asia and spared no effort to undermine our "Look East" policy by seeking to exclude India from the emerging economic and security architecture of East and South-East Asia. New Delhi has remained tongue-tied even on the Chinese behaviour of violating its international commitments by its nuclear weapons and missile proliferation to its "all-weather" friend, Pakistan.


Starting with the visit of the Dalai Lama to Tawang, India has signalled that it will not countenance China's outrageous territorial claims on Arunachal Pradesh, its absurd practice of issuing a separate category of visas for residents of Jammu and Kashmir and its attempts to block multilateral development assistance for projects in Arunachal. India has, for the first time, objected to China's aid projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir even as it sits in illegal occupation of Indian territory in the state. India has also rejected the notion that China can send thousands of unskilled workers to implement the projects for which it has been awarded contracts in India, misusing the provision of "business visas," which India liberally issues. Most significantly, for the first time, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony has publicly expressed concern about the growing security ties between China and Pakistan.


Dr Manmohan Singh has a reputation of being restrained and understated in his comments on all issues. But one did see a new resolve and a new facet to his diplomacy during his visit to Washington. New Delhi has realised that in Mr Barack Obama the United States has a President who appears unsure of the intrinsic strengths and resilience of the country he leads. He is also unsure about whether the US can surmount its current economic difficulties.


The Obama Administration has tended to be deferential in its approach to China, leading the Middle Kingdom to assume a new assertiveness in its relations with the outside world. This was apparent after President Obama sent an emissary to tell the Dalai Lama that he would be unable to receive the Tibetan spiritual leader prior to his visit to Beijing. Evidently, emboldened by the Obama Administration's approach, China's has manifested increasing assertiveness on issues of its maritime and land boundaries with countries like Japan, Vietnam, India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. China has become aggressive in excluding India and the US from the emerging architecture of cooperation in East and South-East Asia. It has even sought to undermine international confidence in the US dollar by instigating oil-producing countries to delink oil prices from the dollar.


In his very first interaction in Washington, Dr Manmohan Singh made it clear that he did not share the prevailing pessimism about the future of the US economy. And affirming his confidence in the US resilience of the economy, he added: "As far as I can see right now, there is no substitute for the dollar" while describing the US economic downturn as a "temporary setback". But it was at the Centre for Foreign Relations in Washington that the Prime Minister really gave vent to his feelings. Responding to questions about China's "superior" economic performance compared to that of India, Dr Manmohan Singh retorted: "I have no doubt that China's growth performance is superior to India's performance. But I have always believed that there are other values which are more important than the growth of the GDP. I think respect for the rule of law, respect for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religious rights are important values also".


In effect, the American audience was told that the absence of democratic freedoms and the inability to respect the sentiments of non-Han minorities like the Buddhist Tibetans and Muslim Uyghur's in Xingjiang were not worthy of a country with pretensions of being an emerging super power. The apparent modesty about India's economic performance was subtly combined with references to India's high rates of savings and investment and the reminder that, despite the bleak global scenario, India had grown by 6.7 per cent last year.


In a perceptive analysis about the growing misgivings on the Obama Administration's policies in India, the Heritage Foundation's leading scholar on South Asia Lisa Curtis noted: "Backsliding on India-US relations are fed by a perception that the Obama Administration seeks a conciliatory policy towards China that facilitates its growing influence throughout the Asia-Pacific, including India's traditional sphere of influence in South Asia." Curtis speaks about justifiable concerns in India that Obama is "more interested in placating China than managing the balance of power in Asia".


That Dr Manmohan Singh had concerns about the US conceding the role of a regional hegemon in Asia to China was evident from his account of his discussions in the White House, when he confirmed that his talks with President Obama not only covered traditional issues like high technology transfers, cooperation in space and nuclear power, terrorism and the "Af-Pak" region but also "covered the need to have an open and inclusive architecture in the Asia-Pacific region".


It remains to be seen what impact Dr Manmohan Singh's candid observations will have on the emerging American policies in India's extended neighbourhood. While US security experts like Bruce Reidel have been cautioning of the disastrous consequences for the US and the civilised world if the Taliban triumphs in Afghanistan, much will depend on how firmly and dextrously President Obama handles the Af-Pak challenge.


Ill-advised American efforts to talk to the Taliban using Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (long-standing supporters of the Taliban) as intermediaries have been contemptuously spurned by Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Similarly, having encouraged Chinese ambitions and bloated Chinese egos, will the Obama Administration be able to fashion policies that promote a stable, equitable and viable balance of power in Asia and the Asia-Pacific?


New Delhi, in turn, has to carry forward its more assertive and long-overdue policies on China. While it is imperative for India to avoid jingoistic or provocative rhetoric, there should be no hesitation in exposing China's continuing nuclear and missile proliferation activities in relation to Pakistan and its efforts to contain India across the Asia-Pacific and the Indian Ocean Region while making it clear that Indian territory is not negotiable.








Almost a lifetime ago, I studied Shaw's "The Doctors Dilemma."  For those not familiar with the play the story is about a doctor who discovers a cure for tuberculoses.


The medicine he has, can stretch to include just one more person. He has to choose between a mediocre doctor, who has spent a lifetime bringing comfort and hope to countless patients and a brilliant artist who, though he paints masterpieces that uplift the spirit, is an obnoxious human being.  The doctor finally chooses sheer goodness over sheer brilliance.  


All through the years I had felt that the doctor had made a terrible mistake in choosing mediocrity. Then two incidents happened which made me reconsider.


A very highly decorated, retired, legendary General came to visit me.  He was spending a holiday in Kasauli and had expressed a wish to visit the school.  I told the Liaison Officer I would be very happy to host him  from 6 p.m. onwards because our house matches finished at 5.30 p.m.  Imagine my shock and dismay when I reached home at 5.45 p.m.  and found that the General had been there since 5 p.m.  I introduced myself but there was no response from him.  I had invited the senior staff to meet him but he went through the introductions with a resolute indifference.  He refused to eat or drink anything.  At exactly 6.00 p.m.  he announced:"Since the Headmaster has no time for me, I'll make a move."


When I pointed out that I was the Headmaster, he admonished me:  "Well, Headmaster, if you want to get on in life you must be sure to be at home when a person of my calibre comes to meet you."


In vain I attempted to point out that I had in fact been 15 minutes early for our appointment.  He just ignored me and stomped out of the house.


The second was a famous TV and radio journalist, who too had become a legend in her lifetime.  The teacher in charge of debates'  had succeeded in persuading her to come and judge one of our debates.  She  was put up in the school guest house which was in the same building as the Headmasters' House. 


The two  senior staff members who were in charge of the guest house  had taken the trouble to find out that she liked non-vegetarian snacks with her tea and chicken samosas had been special procured from Chandigarh.  She took one bite and spat it out into her quarter plate.  "Don't you know that I eat only mutton!"  she said angrily and while I apologised she stormed off to her room. 


But my relief at her departure  was short-lived because, she reappeared shortly afterwards holding a lilac coloured towel in her hand. "Didn't anyone tell you that I only use royal blue towels?"


I have now come around to endorsing the doctor's choice – give me the mediocre, good, general practitioner any day.  I'd rather have his goodness and kindness than all the brilliance in the world.








As a child, one remembers seeing a comic act by two circus jokers. One would tell the other: "Now let's settle this through a fight. When I say 'start', we start; when I say 'stop', we stop". The gullible one agrees. The first one starts beating him with his slapstick and when the second is about to hit back, the first says: "Stop".


Something similar is done by the West to the developing world almost every day. Take the latest controversy over the carbon emissions and global warming. The West had been spewing carbon like nobody's business for over two centuries. When India, China and other developing countries reached the stage where they needed to fire their industry and to feed their billions, it has become a sin.


Such scare stories are put out as if the very future of mankind is at stake. The media bombardment is so saturated that voices which say that the fear is greatly exaggerated – as by V K Raina, a former Director-General of the Geological Survey of India, who insists that there was no retreat in 2009 of Himalayan glaciers and no " alarming" decline even otherwise – are drowned out in the din.


And now that graphic details of how British and US scientists tried to fudge data to hype the threat ahead of the Copenhagen climate conference have hit the fan in what has come to be known as "Climategate", the tainted scientists, instead of being embarrassed, are trying to blame those who leaked out those scandalous e-mails.


The act of illegally hacking into the University of East Anglia's Climate Research Unit (CRU) in the UK, and subsequently publishing 1079 emails and 72 documents on the Internet may be reprehensible but the fact remains that the scientists did manipulate the data evidence.


The scandal is indeed the "greatest in modern science". In one email the CRU's director, Phil Jones, writing to Michael Mann, discussed two scientific papers that deny the link between human activity and global warming.  He promptly blacked them out. Research which talked of a similar warming in medieval times was also hidden under the carpet.


That is why Britain's Viscount Monckton, a leading climate sceptic, has denounced the CRU and its partners as "not merely bad scientists – they are crooks. And crooks who have perpetrated their crimes at the expense of British and US taxpayers".  


More than the concern for the environment, the whole hullabaloo is aimed at maintaining their own supremacy. Senior US Senator Dick Durbin (Illinois) gave the game away when he said: "If we put our head in the sand, we are going to find countries like China leapfrogging us, moving forward. That's going to create jobs for China, but not for us".


Anything which can see the developing countries zoom ahead has to be squashed by hook or crook.


All this is one of a piece with numerous other incidents in the past. Take atomic tests for example. They are kosher as long as they are undertaken by the West. The moment they are used by anybody outside the charmed circle, like India for example, even if the purpose is peaceful, they become a threat to humanity. India has an impeccable record of non-proliferation, but it still remains a pariah while Pakistan, despite all its shenanigans, continues to be the blue-eyed boy.


And pray which is the only country to have actually used atomic bombs? Yet, the US pot has the right to call the Indian kettle black!


The message is simple: a crime is a crime only when it is committed by an "outsider".


This fetish at times goes to ridiculous lengths. The then US President George W. Bush had said last year that increased prosperity in India was pushing demand that was leading to higher prices globally. Participating in an interactive session in Missouri in May 2008, he held forth: "It (prosperity) also, however, increases demand. So, for example, just as an interesting thought for you, there are 350 million people in India …classified as middle class. That's bigger than America. Their middle class is larger than our entire population. And when you start getting wealth, you start demanding better nutrition and better food, and so demand is high, and that causes the prices to go up".


So, the poor Indians were demonized even for getting proper nutrition!


Bush being what he was, could be excused for his "Bushisms". But even his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also on the same wavelength: "Apparent improvement in the diets of Indians and Chinese, and consequent food caps, had contributed to the current global food crisis".


Such being the mindset, cut and dried wisdom handed out by the West to us has to be taken with more than a pinch of salt.


Even the avowed concern for the exploitation of child labour in the developing countries has an economic angle to it. Many of these countries are in such dire financial straits that the choice before many boys and girls is to either work for a pittance or to go hungry. While it sounds very noble to ensure that they should not be working at all below a certain age, nobody explains how they will fill their bellies.


And who left developing countries in such a mess? In the case of India and many other Asian countries it was the wanton exploitation by western masters which pauperized them.


During the World War, thousands of boys eight to 10 year olds were employed in Britain and the US to carry telegrams and do other menial jobs. That was not exploitation. But those were exceptional times, they say. What they totally ignore is that children in Asian countries work only because of a similar emergency. If they don't, they will die of hunger. The choice is that stark.


Yet, it is the West's birthright to give us sermons on human values and exploitation!








Be careful what you wish for. Barack Obama wanted the American presidency, and with a brilliant campaign he won it. As late as early this summer, disbelief could still be suspended. Cartoonists were still depicting him as Superman, leaping over every problem mere mortals might put in his way. But he too has now been exposed as a mere mortal. He's not soaring over problems. Rather, he may be crushed by them.


"America – we are passing through a time of great trial," he told the assembled cadets at West Point as he presented his new strategy for Afghanistan, and never was a truer word spoken. His country is struggling to cope with unprecedented deficits and debt, stretching as far as the eye can see.


Iran grows more truculent by the day. His signature issue of healthcare could well die a slow death in the Senate. We knew the chalice he inherited was poisoned. We just didn't realise quite how venomous was the brew inside. And then there's Afghanistan.


Watching Obama make the most important speech of his presidency on Tuesday was a profoundly depressing experience – and not just because the man who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize this week is plunging deeper into war.


Yes, the address was deftly calibrated. The generals have got most of what they want; if Nato chips in as promised, General Stanley McChrystal's request for 40,000 men will roughly be met. Liberals, and not only liberals, in his own party can be consoled at the prospect of a withdrawal starting in mid-2011, just when Obama's re-election campaign will get going in earnest.


But it's virtually impossible to believe this timetable. The goal is to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat" al-Q'aida, and to break the momentum of the Taliban. That however is a huge gamble, however intense the pressure on the Karzai government and however skilful the suborning of tribal leaders. Can either the central or local Afghan authorities really start taking over from the US within 18 months, even if the extra troops put the Taliban on the back foot?


And then there's the even huger gamble of Pakistan, without which a durable success in Afghanistan is impossible – but whose size, nuclear weaponry and instability make it even less susceptible to American influence.


Yet he failed to convince that this rolling of the dice was worth it. Watching and listening to Obama, you felt this was a commander-in-chief whose heart (and stomach) were not in this war, but whose head, guided by political realities, had convinced him he must continue. You can't blame him for that: politicians who ignore political realities have a very short shelf-life. But in a deeper sense, that's why the spectacle was so sad.


Right-wing commentators in Washington have been praising Obama for his "courage" in deciding to escalate an unpopular war. They point out how in late 2006, when his presidency was at a far lower ebb than Obama's is now, President George W Bush ordered his surge in Iraq, in the teeth of fierce opposition, including from within his own party. And it is true that the surge has at minimum allowed the US to start the withdrawal now under way (though whether it has brought real stability to Iraq is quite another matter).


That is the most Obama can hope for in Afghanistan. But real courage this time would have been to declare, if not a withdrawal, at least that no more troops would be sent. Despite his despatch of more soldiers earlier this year, a window was still open to reverse course. Afghanistan until Tuesday night was still Bush's war. No longer.


A direct no to the generals, or a massive boost in troops, would both have made more sense in military terms. Instead, Obama presented a plan that split the difference. The immediate reaction has been relatively favourable. Remarkably, according to a new Gallup poll, 51 per cent of Americans support the new strategy.


But that surely reflects the lingering popularity of Obama the man, rather than any new embrace of a war of which the country is heartily fed up, and about whose outcome it remains pessimistic.


And this fragile approval may well evaporate when the Afghan war season returns in the spring, when a larger American force starts to sustain larger casualties. What then? What happens if this surge produces no measurable results? Come 2011, it is far more likely he'll be announcing a delay in withdrawal's start, or even be facing demands from his generals for even more men "to finish the job."


George Orwell once observed that the quickest way to end a war is to lose it – but losing a war is also the quickest way to lose a presidency, too. That reasoning prevailed with LBJ, though Vietnam forced him out of the White House regardless. For Obama, the stakes are as high now.


An open-ended commitment to nation-building in Afghanistan was out, he said at West Point, "because the nation that I am most interested in building is our own." Obama's quest is for a fairer society, offering health care for all and an end to financial excesses,, and an America whose future has not been hopelessly mortgaged to pay for the feckless present.


The great promise of this presidency was that it would usher in a new way of doing politics. It would, as they say, break the mould. But the Afghan speech, so full of politics as usual, gave the lie to that. We all should be careful what we wish for.n


 By arrangement with The Independent








Scientists have made a major advance in understanding the treatment of HIV which could see life-saving drugs extended to more than one million extra people at no additional cost. Researchers have discovered that routine laboratory testing of blood for signs of side-effects – long regarded as essential for HIV treatment – is unnecessary and a waste of time and money.


By abandoning routine laboratory testing, which is costly and requires sophisticated equipment only available in hospitals, the money saved could be used to buy and distribute extra anti-retroviral drugs.


In addition, removing the need for laboratory testing means treatment can be delivered in rural areas of Africa where two thirds of the continent's population live. At present one of the major bars to receiving treatment for many of those infected is that they live too far from the nearest hospital to be able to attend for testing.


Professor Diana Gibb, joint leader of the study, the largest ever conducted of anti-retroviral therapy in Africa, said: "At present there are 4 million people worldwide on treatment and 5 million who need treatment but aren't getting it. Our results show you could treat a third more than are currently being treated for the same cost. That is at least a million extra people." Professor Gibb, of the UK Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit in London which funded the study, said: "These are very safe drugs. You don't need regular monitoring for side-effects. You don't need medically qualified people to deliver the pills. This is not just about money – it is about getting the treatment to where it is needed. Many people have to trek long distances to get their drugs instead of the drugs coming to them. But you can train healthcare workers to deliver the anti-retroviral pills to where people live."


The six-year trial involved 3,300 patients in Uganda and Zimbabwe given the standard HIV cocktail of three drugs contained in a single pill taken twice a day. One group had blood tests every three months and the results given to their doctor to check for drug side-effects and their CD4 cell count (to tell how well the drugs were working against the HIV). The other group had the same tests but the results were not given to their doctor unless they were seriously abnormal.


After five years 90 per cent were still alive in the first group compared to 87 per cent in the second group. The regular blood testing and medical checks made only 3 percentage points difference to the survival rate. The results are published today in The Lancet. World Health Organisation guidelines say that treatment with anti-retroviral drugs should ideally be monitored with regular blood tests because that is what happens in the developed world. But they also say that where laboratory monitoring is not possible, giving treatment should be the priority.


In practice, countries have varied in their approach. In Malawi, treatment has been rolled out largely in the absence of laboratory testing while in South Africa leading scientists have refused to countenance it without testing.


Professor Gibb said, "In a time of economic crisis we need to get our priorities right. There are 5 million people who still need treatment."

By arrangement with The Independent








Though differences between Ambani brothers started even before the death of their father, Dhirubhai Ambani in July, 2004 on the ground that the elder Mukesh used to enjoy larger slice of parental confidence in management of their business the feud did not much surface due to parental guard, the cold war came out in the open after Dhirubhai's death with claims and counter-claims over their father's disputed will bestowing bigger share of property in favour of his elder son, Mukesh and lesser to Anil Ambani. Though a patchwork under the mediation of their mother Kokilaben did subside the dispute, the cold war did never cease to exist and the two brothers have now landed on a legal battle over the family agreement for supply of a definite quantity of gas by RIL group to RNRL for 17 years at $2.34 per unit. The main reason behind the current dispute is that Mukesh Ambani's RIL was unwilling to sign any gas supply agreement with Anil Ambani's RNRL without the government having a significant role in it. It may be recalled that the scheme of demerger of Reliance group, which followed the 2005 family agreement signed by both the brothers and their mother provided for an arrangement of supply of the gas in question to RNRL's power plants at Dadri and Patalganga at the rate maintained by National Thermal Power Corporation. The contention of Rilance group is that since RNRL wanted the government to frame a gas utilisation policy (GUP) as well as a production sharing contract (PSC) indicating that the Centre would fix the gas prices, it cannot sign a gas supply agreement with RNRL without a specific role of government in it, since RIL is only a contractor and an agent of government to extract gas from the KG basin.

What has made the dispute further complicated is that the family agreement does not have a legal force behind it since the Board of Director of RIL and RNRL (which were yet to be in existence then) were not a party to it. This apart, the land for 7800 MW project which was acquired by Mulayam Singh Yadav government at Dadri and which has been a bone of contention between Ambani brothers involved in a bitter legal battle over supply of natural gas has also been cancelled in response to the farmers of Dadri village challenging the allotment of land. It appears now that the dispute has become open-ended. However, in view of the fact that it is not merely a family dispute but has disturbed the country's capital market and interest of lakhs of stock holders, foreign investment decisions, India's tax revenue collection of around 12.5 per cent and more than one per cent of gross domestic product, it is necessary that the dispute should end soon in the country's interest. Hence the Centre should perhaps take initiative to accomplish an out-of-court settlement taking into confidence both the brothers and their legal counsellors as well as the mediation of Kokilaben on the basis of a give-and-take formula.






The recent Gauhati High Court directive quashing a State Government order which had placed under suspension an officer of the Social Welfare Department for not toeing the lines of her political boss brings to the fore how politicians exert pressure on officers to have their way in departmental affairs even if it means flouting the law. What is, however, reassuring is that there are still officers who would not mortgage their own conscience and decision-making authority to please their political masters when the latters' directions are not in consonance with the established procedures of law. A government officer is duty-bound to act as per law and should have no qualms about rejecting commands of politicians having no sanctity in law. Unfortunately, such upright officers are a rare breed these days which has enabled the political class to perpetuate their illegal interventions in the functioning of government departments. In the above instance, the official did not comply with undue political interference in preparing a list of candidates for posts of Anganwadi workers, incurring the wrath of the minister in the process and ultimately resulting in her suspension. While quashing the suspension order, the High Court pulled up the minister, saying that his undue intervention in having a list of candidates of his or his party's choice amounted to "irregularities and illegalities." The court order should be a lesson for all politicians who are in the habit of making unlawful interventions in official affairs. Government officers, too, should draw inspiration from it and learn to show defiance to their political masters if their actions flout legal provisions.

The incident also exposes how the Anganwadi recruitment process is mired in corruption. Ironically, the incident occurred after the Social Welfare Minister himself had made a public appeal to bring to his notice any irregularities found in the matter of selection following widespread media reports on the issue. That he himself tried to have a list of his or his party's favoured candidates leaves no one in any doubt where the root of corruption lies. The Chief Minister who often speaks about the need to have 'specific' instances of corruption would do well to take a leaf out of the court judgement. Here we have a minister who went to the extent of sacking an upright official who had not mortgaged her conscience and refused to carry out an illegal order from her political boss. The political class is largely responsible for the all-pervasive corruption and favouritism in many well-intentioned government projects that could have brought about lasting changes to the lives of millions of underprivileged.







The recent furore over the public support shown to ULFA Chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa and his comrades when they were produced at a court in Guwahati deserves careful scrutiny. Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi is rightly embarrassed. But ULFA Commander in Chief, Paresh Barua who is probably monitoring the events from wherever he is located immediately jumped to the conclusion that the ULFA still enjoys considerable public support. Is this a correct assessment of the situation or a foolhardy rhetoric aimed at pepping up the comrades who have come over-ground?

We don't need to be psychologists to understand herd mentality. This is a high profile case and such cases always draw crowds. Many who gathered at the Court might have been curious spectators, prompted by a keen desire to see Arabinda Rajkhowa in person. Impressionable adolescents who were born after the genesis of the ULFA and have only heard and read of Arabinda Rajkhowa are another group of spectators. And there could possibly be a third group comprising family members, close relative and friends of the ULFA supremo. This third category, would, I believe, be most inclined to be the slogan shouting lot. Any leader of a mass movement will tell us that once an impassioned slogan is launched it becomes an emotional roller coaster. People could have joined in the chorus for reasons that cannot be easily construed. Mob mentality, in any case, is fickle and driven by momentary emotional upsurge.

However, another very plausible reason why Rajkhowa and his co-workers are still seen as leaders is because of the sheer vacuum of leadership in Assam and the North East. Today the only people many of us readily consider as leaders are politicians. No matter how shallow and inconsequential their views, we tend to look up to them because they have the resources to make our lives better. That they finally do not deliver and leave us high and dry is of course a different story. Politicians have lost their credibility because they promise the moon and deliver peanuts. Most are busy regulating their own businesses and attending corporate boardroom meets. Politics has entitled them to appropriate public resources for personal gains.

The problem today is that there are only two types of 'leaders'. One is the politician and the other is the rebel. There is nothing in between. We talk of business leaders like Narayanamoorthy of Infosys fame but do not have one such in this region. There are leaders in the academia and social fields but they do not make news because they are not custodians of public resources as politicians are. Rebel leaders make news and claim leadership on the basis of successful bomb blasts and the human toll of such blasts. Politicians claim to be leaders but have to spend huge amounts to buy votes. Do leaders need to spend money to win an election if they are really committed to serving the people? These are the dichotomies that confound us. People are today virtually leaderless and are willing to invest even in those that Arun Shourie calls the 'false gods.'

John Haggai in his book Lead On says 'Leadership is the discipline of deliberately exerting special influence within a group to move it towards goals of beneficial permanence that fulfil the groups' real needs.' Haggai amplifies the definition saying that the word 'discipline' was chosen to indicate that leaders are made, not born. He says that the words 'exerting special influence' means that that influence is not forced on others. Today many who call themselves leaders are actually power holders- exerting their will on others. People follow them or listen to their dictates out of fear. Is this not what the ULFA has done since it started its venture for sovereignty? Assam has lived in the shadow of fear for over two decades. Others in the region have similarly had to kowtow to the diktat of sundry rebel groups whose ideologies are amorphous and self-serving. The political scenario is no different. With each passing year politics has degenerated into a sort of dirty business.

I have always been baffled by the fact that MK Subba, the lottery baron who is allegedly a Nepali citizen and whose antecedents are as colourful as that of a mafia don, could win the Lok Sabha election repeatedly. He lost this time, perhaps because he did not perform. But it is a terrible insult to our democratic system that such perfidious characters can cosily slip in and by sheer weight of money power become our law maker. Did the founding fathers of our Constitution ever envisage that scoundrels and scalawags like Madhu Koda, who in the guise of being a tribal leader, has pounced on their resources to enrich himself, thus leaving the tribes poorer than ever today? Is this leadership? Despite all these gross anomalies those in charge of the electoral system feign helplessness to check the pernicious effects of money power during elections.

A leader has some basic qualities which separate him from the self-proclaimed ones. Leaders touch base with their followers all the time. A leader leads but not before consulting his followers and getting their informed opinion. After all the leader is only the first among equals and as accountable as anyone is to the people. A leader cannot be living in luxury while his followers are in penury. They do not enrich themselves at the expense of the followers. Above all leaders do not conspire to blow their own people to pieces, innocent children included (remember the Dhemaji blasts). Leaders do not put their people on the firing line while they are themselves are safely ensconced in alien sanctuaries. Above all, a leader walks the talk. Our politicians have made a mockery of this adage. So have those who claim to lead revolutionary movements.

Leadership is neither easy nor comfortable. One who calls himself/herself a leader should engage in some serious introspection. Until such time politicians and people like Arabinda Rajkhowa, Paresh Barua and the like will continue to preen their feathers and call themselves leaders even though they have long lost since lost the legitimacy to do so. Leaders are not meant to mislead but to lead. A rebel outfit to my mind is an aberration of democracy. That such groups surface from time to time shows up the defects in our democracy or in the way governments as delivery agents are being run. If governments did their jobs as they are supposed to do would there be as much discontent across the nation as is palpable today?

We have bad governments because we have bad leaders. The only way out is to look for alternative leadership. We need in this region a number of institutions that will help build young political leaders. Above all we need to rise above cynicism because that kills all initiatives to a better future. Look at Akhil Gogoi. He is a ray of hope for all of us. This young man has turned the RTI into an empowering tool and we should be imbibing lessons from this courageous social leader. If we have many more Akhil Gogois we can yet hope to cleanse up the Augean stables of politics. However, as electors, let us ask ourselves why we choose the corrupt over the principled? If we are vigilant citizens we can stop the flow of public money to the private coffers of politicians. The RTI is an enabling factor. Once that happens others who are not flushed with funds can also hope to contest elections. Then, no candidate will have unfair advantage over others.

Does this sound like utopia? Well, at least it is better than the distant dream of sovereignty.








Since the very beginning of human history man struggled for his existence against nature and his fellowmen. The concept of "Survival of the fittest" caused conflicts among human beings that paved the way for framing of rules and regulation for the safeguard of the weaker sections. When the rights of one state were violated by another, solution was forcibly arrived at through war and treaties during the ancient and medieval period. Thus human rights during the medieval period were marred by the outbreak of a series of wars for upholding traditional religious principles.

Louis Henkin in his "The Age of Rights" defines, "Human Rights are rights of individuals in society. Every human being has legitimate valid, justified claims upon his or her society ..... to various "goods" and "benefits" ... they are defined, particular claims listed in international instruments .... deemed essential for individual well being, dignity and fulfilment and that reflect a common sense of justice, fairness and decency," Again, in the Greek play Antigone, human rights were recognised as natural rights of man. In this play Sophocles describes how Antigone's brother, while he was revolting against the King, was killed and burial was prohibited by King Creon. In defiance of the order Antigone buried her brother. When she was arrested for violating the order she pleaded that she had acted in accordance with the "immutable, unwritten laws of heaven" which even the king could not override.

The idea of human rights developed in the process of revolution.Humanitarian ideas became popular from the beginning of 19th century in India. The abolition of Sati (1829), slavery (1843), female infanticide (1870), the formation of the Torture Commission in the Madras Presidency in 1855, introduction of widow remarriage by legislation (1856) and prohibition of child marriage (1929) were restraints imposed on tradition and beginning of humanitarian legislation.


The Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of India as the authority in all things that matter. The basic unit on which the Constitution was based was the individual and it therefore declared certain fundamental rights to individual citizens of India; which was equally applicable to non-citizens. The Preamble is considered a part of the basic structure of the Indian Constitution, particularly its identification of democracy, secularism, liberty, equality and dignity of individual. The goal of human rights can be read from this Preamble as a political, social, economic and cultural revolution.

The first universal and elaborative recognition of human rights and fundamental freedom was recognised in the Charter of United Nations on June 26, 1945 and its preamble expresses an international commitment of people of United Nations to reaffirm and confirm faith in human rights. On December 10, 1948 an attempt was made to describe the individual rights under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly through Resolution 217(III).

For centuries past the weaker sections of people all over the world have been denied justice-social, economic and political. Mankind is facing a great challenge in the present scenario, for the violation of Human Rights – not at the hands of authorities but at the hands of the terrorists who violate human rights and block the process of social development. Human rights and fundamental freedom allow us to develop and use our intrinsic qualities, intelligence, talent and conscience to satisfy our spiritual and material needs. The realisation of the right to development of every human being and nation is not possible without recognition of the rights to education. World leaders have agreed to employ the international machinery for the promotion of economic and social advance of people and resolve to combine their efforts to accomplish their aims in respect of human rights. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states everyone has the right to education and education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to strengthening of respect of human rights and fundamental freedom.

The basic human rights to live with peace and security, liberty and equality and prosperity cannot be rejuvenated by any government faced with the threat of terrorism. Each and every person is selfish and self seeking. For the satisfaction of self interest men forget their duty, feelings, emotions and respect. Human beings run after materialistic society, not after "humanism and peace". These words are only ornaments in dictionary. So this is high time to make the people of India aware of their rights.

It is the responsibility of the educational institutions to bring about adequate awareness regarding human rights among the teachers and students. The important aim of human rights education for children at the elementary school level should be to develop in their impressionable minds, positive attitude and values. It is possible only by providing a democratic environment, enabling children to enjoy their rights and simultaneously learn to respect the rights of others. Proper attitudes and interests in human rights are to be developed through actual participation in various programmes. By introducing peace education teachers can lay the foundation of a good and strong character and further habituate the child to a better mode of living and thoughts because legislation by itself cannot make man good.

Children literature based on human rights, evil of violation of human rights and protection of human rights can carefully mould the minds of the children and awaken the feeling of humanism and they can also simultaneously learn their own rights. The purpose of education is to give people enhanced awareness, greater openness, the courage to question and perseverance in searching for solutions. Mere formal and theoretical instruction will not help in the sensitisation of the students. Co-curricular and extra curricular programmes which reflect human right problems have to be promoted.

The goal of elementary education is to equip one with basic minimum level of knowledge, attitudes, values and skills to start one's life journey. Another problem is that in India, education becomes inaccessible to individuals belonging to certain disadvantaged sections of society. In some remote areas women are not allowed to go to school till today. But the elite section of society or NGO or any other organisation should create such an environment in these areas, so that women or female child are able to learn about human rights education and humanism.

(Published on the occasion of World Human Rights Day). 







More than obfuscation, double-speak and gross violation of parliamentary propriety by the BJP, what marked the party's discussion of the Liberhan report was the premature death of a move by a section of the party to move away from the majoritarian mould of the Sangh Parivar and become a centre-right party working within the framework of the Constitution.

Party president Rajnath Singh and deputy leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj vied to toe the line set by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat: there is nothing to regret in the demolition of the Babri mosque at Ayodhya. Leader of the Opposition L K Advani had termed the mosque's demolition a 'national shame'.

Former prime minister A B Vajpayee had said in Parliament, soon after the demolition, that he was sorry and unhappy about what had happened. These lines of moderation reflected and acknowledged the tension between the majoritarian ideology that drove the Sangh Parivar to demolish the 16th century mosque and the imperatives of parliamentary democracy.

The ambiguity cultivated through such concessions to the democratic mainstream enabled the BJP to lead a coalition that comprised several secular parties as well.

That BJP leaders no longer feel constrained to regret the act of demolition of the mosque could have a lot to do with the fact that the incident took place 17 years ago and the polity has acquired other preoccupations. But it also has a lot to do with the crisis within the BJP, after its failure to win popular support for the Sangh Parivar's idea of India, and the manner in which the crisis is being resolved.

What looks on the surface as a crisis of leadership within the party is actually a consequence of the contradiction between Indian democracy, imperfect as it is, and the Sangh's view of the world. One possible way out of the crisis is for the party to cut its moorings from the Sangh and reorganise itself as a modern political party, with a centre-right policy orientation.

What the Liberhan debate brings out clearly is that the party has no stomach for this path whatsoever. The resolution to the crisis is being arbitered by the RSS, with BJP leaders flinging themselves prostrate before the Sangh.







The RBI has reason to be concerned. Banks' exposure to mutual funds (MFs) has more than trebled, from Rs 45,000 crore to Rs 1,64,000 crore, during March-November 2009.

The RBI is worried that stock market volatility could impact banks and, hence, endanger financial stability. Hence, the overall cap on stock market exposure as part of macro-prudential regulation. Currently, the aggregate exposure of a bank to the capital markets in all forms (both fund-based and non-fund-based) is capped at 40% of its net worth at the end of the previous year, with direct exposure capped at 20%. However, the problem is that while investment in equity-oriented MFs is included within the direct exposure limit, investment in exclusively debt-oriented MFs is not.

Hence, faced with the prospect of ever-larger sums of bank funds being invested in MFs, the RBI is reportedly toying with the idea of doing what it does best: laying down some more rules! It is contemplating bringing investment debt MFs within a separate overall cap for MFs.


On paper, this might seem a good way of saving banks from their own folly. Except that there is a limit to how far the RBI can do this. For one, funds are fungible and if banks wish, they can always find ways to circumvent the tightest of regulations.

For instance, there is nothing to prevent a corporate from borrowing from a bank and using the funds to invest in the stock market. In practice, it is next to impossible to monitor the end-use of funds. It would, therefore, be far better for the RBI to caution banks of the dangers of excess stock market exposure, monitor their position through periodic inspection/feedback, and pull up those banks that it feels are excessively exposed rather than lay down even more strictures in a system that is already enormously rule-bound.

As long as the RBI continues to micro-manage banks, it is unlikely bank boards will ever play the role expected of them. Beyond that, the RBI would do well to examine whether banks' growing investment in MFs is symptomatic of a graver macro-economic disequilibrium: excess liquidity in the system.






Not all sports icons are born equal. Tiger Woods is one of them. Only, the scandals around this iconic golfer may tee him into a hole he has dug for himself, faster than the speed at which he moved into the hearts of millions of fans. After all, it was unusual for a black man to attain number one status in the elite world of golf.

Woods is the latest in the list of American sporting icons to fall to ignominy from the high pedestal of values. It all began with the OJ episodes some 15 years ago. Simpson, popularly known as The Juice, was the American football star now serving a 33-year jail sentence for the murder of his wife and other crimes. That was the first ime that scores of American sports fans sensed a sinking feeling outside the sporting arena.

But Simpson was the beginning, though he did not mean much to the rest of the world. The other tragic episodes involve characters more close to the home. Marion Jones, Lance Armstrong and Andre Agassi. These were people who had won global respect through their display of skills, poise and strength of impeccable character both in their respective sports and off them.


Marion Lois Jones, the track and field athlete, sprinted into the hearts of several sports enthusiasts with her five-medal haul at the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. Her tryst with destiny ended in agreeing to forfeit all her medals and prizes after admitting that she took performance-enhancing drugs.

Lance Armstrong, the legendary cyclist who fought cancer to return to glory was suspended from his own kingdom, the Tour De France, after he was caught doping. And Agassi, who had been the symbol of grit and grace, had a disgraceful exit from the hearts of many when he admitted in his autobiography, Open, that he used methamphetamine in 1997, and that his flowing mane was only a wig.

Today, Tiger drives one more nail in the coffin of American sports icons' history. Will he claw back? Perhaps. He is, after all, courage on course. If that valour surfaces from behind all the media glare, it will be a 'sting' in the tale.







Maoist China believed power flowed from the barrel of the gun; today it believes power comes from farms and factories sustained by assured supply lines of energy, minerals and materials, supported, in turn, by adequate logistics and connectivity. It seems to demonstrate that industrial power is at the heart of economic power, and economic power at the heart of strategic power.

China has imparted to railways a unique dimension of diplomacy and statecraft. Since 1985, China has channelled large investments into the expansion and revitalisation of its railways to also serve as the new Euro-Asian continental bridge akin to the fabled silk road as much as a lifeline of its economic and military might. Asia to Africa to Latin America.

All around India, China shares land borders with five Saarc countries, looks over the Chicken's Neck at a sixth, and has a long border with Myanmar. From Kunming in its Yunnan province, a network of road, rail and river links fork out to Sittwe in western Myanmar and Thilawa near Yangon on the Bay of Bengal.

China would have completed extensive rail links to Myanmar after it builds 232-km Lashio-Muse/Ruili rail line in that country. A Myanmar-Bangladesh rail link will help connect Kunming to Chittagong as well. China is contemplating, among various rail-related projects in Bangladesh, construction of the second Padma bridge and a 130-km rail line from Chittagong to Gundum on Myanmar-Bangladesh border.

China's formidable presence in terms of rail and road projects in India's north is uniquely typified by world's highest 1,142-km Golmud-Lhasa rail line. There seems no stopping it to extend it first to Nyalam on the China-Nepal border, and finally to Kathmandu.

A feasibility study is already completed for a new 252-km line from Lhasa to Xigaze. A further 400-km rail link from Xigaze to Nyalam is listed in its rail network programme. Nyalam to Kathmandu will then involve just about 120 km of additional link to be built. The prospect of going by train from Rameshwaram to Beijing via Kathmandu and Lhasa does not appear all that far-fetched any more!

Likewise, on India's eastern flank, Chinese rail and road connectivity speedily knits the south-east Asian land mass. The 5,380-km Singapore-Kunming rail line project pursued by Asean covers the route from Kunming through Laos to Cambodian port of Sihanoukville on the Gulf of Thailand that is being actively supported by China.

It is already connected by rail to Vietnam through the 195-km dual-gauge (1,435 mm/1,000 mm) line between Hanoi and Dong Dang. China's comprehensive renovation of the Kunming-Hekou link and construction of 141-km Yuxi-Mengzi line support an early connection of the pan-Asian rail network.

It is busy not only speeding up construction of its own network between Kunming and Singapore but also helping close the gaps across the Asean railways, viz, between Thailand and Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, Laos and China, etc.

With the remaining gaps in the network, when bridged, traffic originating in Singapore or Indonesia would be able to join the main Chinese south-north trunk line that runs from Shenzhen to Erenhot on the border with Mongolia, or its east-west trunk line that runs from the port of Lianyungang on the coast of China to Druzba on the border with Kazakhstan.

Similar developments on India's western flank have for long been ominous. China-built Gwadar port in Balochistan on Pakistan's southwest coast close to the Straits of Hormuz will be the entry point for energy supplies to China, bypassing the Malacca Straits.

Gwadar is proposed to be linked through Khunjerab Pass in the Karakoram to Kashgar (Kashi) which is connected to Xigaze, due to be rail-linked to Lhasa. There are reports of Gwadar being linked by an 800-km standard-gauge (1,435 mm) rail line in Pakistan via Dalbandin along Koh-I-Taftan (on Iranian border)-Spezand-Quetta-Chaman (on Afghan border) and extended to Kashi in China. When completed, it will isolate the broad gauge (1,676 mm) rail network in India while providing a through 1,435-mm network all across China.

China's frenetic development of infrastructure in central Asian republics (CARs) signifies its long-term strategic and economic stakes in the region. Constituting a virtual bridge between China and Europe, Kazakhstan is keen on developing both a trans-Asian rail route via Iran as well as the Euro-Asian rail route, both enabling Beijing to provide connectivity between Asia-Pacific and Europe.

The former comprises a 10,500-km through rail link along Beijing-Almaty-Tashkent-Ashkabad-Tehran-Istanbul, and the latter between Hong Kong-Beijing-Almaty-Saratov-Kiev-Warsaw-Berlin-Brussels-London (13,000 km). The different rail gauges in China (1,435 mm) and CARs (1,520 mm) compel swapping of wagons and coach bodies at a trans-shipment yard China has built at Alataw.

The Maersk railway subsidiary, European Rail Shuttle, in conjunction with Trans Siberian Express Service and Tie Yang Transportation in China, offers regular block train services from China to the Czech Republic via Mongolia, Russia and Poland.

Another instance of China's engagement in building rail lines in resource-rich CARs is its links to Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. Following the rail track between Tedzen (Turkmenistan) and Mashhad (Iran) at Sarakhs, a through rail link would be available from China through CARs to Europe via Turkey. Yet another transit route being considered is through Afghanistan and Pakistan along Ashkabad-Torghundi-Herat-Kandahar-Chaman-Quetta.

It is difficult not to infer that these mighty overtures from India's northerly neighbour also aim at strategic encirclement and containment of India, creating a ring of anti-Indian influences. Asserting its ascent through 'hard power', for example, China has indulged in ongoing Yunnanisation of northern Myanmar.

Be it the road and rail links along and inside Pakistan, Myanmar or Vietnam, again, China is busy developing extensive multimodal connectivity all along the borders and inside the neighbouring countries for facilitating trade flows, energy supplies as well as large-scale movement of arms and armada, subserving its strategic global ambitions. This is real politik.

Against this, a complacent, smug and 'argumentative' India remains wrapped in its own bliss of ignorance and masterly inactivity, unable to take forward with good grace even fractional connectivity projects in Myanmar, Nepal and Bhutan. There is tide in the affairs of nations as well as men and India is in danger of having missed it. Small openings of opportunity seized in time can help mend fences and build confidence in our smaller neighbours.








History often hinges on that seemingly stray, isolated incident. One, that for all its apparent momentousness, gets somewhat lost in the din of the everyday. But which future generations might well see as clearly encapsulating a period, an era. Or an incident that later comes to symbolise the apogee of a certain system of thought.

And a referendum in Switzerland, of all places, on November 29, could prove to be one of those decisive curves in the course and flow of history. On that date, Swiss voters approved a ban on the construction of new minarets on mosques.

Given the debate this has caused, interestingly much more in the western world rather than in Muslim nations, many commentators have come up with the formulation that the sole surprise in all this was that western liberals were surprised. But then again, just why does a nation more associated with chocolates and pastures, with precisely four mosques with minarets in the whole length and breadth of the country feel the need to put such a ban in place?

More exasperated critics have tried to posit a certain traditional lack of equality and tolerance in Switzerland. Which might be a genuine surprise to most. Then again, so would the fact that Swiss women were only given the right to vote only in 1971!

But what really prompted this patently xenophobic campaign, given that Islam has never quite been prominent in Switzerland, and where severe noise pollution rules mean the call to prayer isn't ever heard anyway? One way to look at it would be as a case of the concept of democracy gone wonky (perhaps the same way as those same noise pollution rules dictate that it is illegal to flush your toilet in an apartment after 10 pm in Switzerland).

Or an instance of the 'illiberal democracy' thesis (i.e. a political system where democratic elections might exist, but that doesn't preclude encroachments on the liberties of individuals and minorities) being turned on its head, since it is applied usually for developing nations.

But clearly, darker forces are at work. And they dredge up all those old ghosts of Europe. Political posters, for instance, during the referendum campaign depicted mosque minarets as missiles. The message was clear: Muslims were suspect and definitely not welcome.

That then, is the most deep-rooted aspect of the sorry affair. The confluence of a rise in right-wing politics in Europe; xenophobic feelings on immigrants and plain Islamophobia. It was the patently anti-immigrant, right-wing Union Démocratique du Centre (UDC) that launched the drive for the referendum.

But the 57% vote in favour also posits the wider rise in religious intolerance which can't just simply be blamed on the workings of a fringe right-wing group. Indeed, that fringe is increasingly moving in from the margins across Europe. In the Netherlands, Italy and France, right-wing parties have scored big recently, with anti-minority groups and parties making a mark in nations across continental and eastern Europe. And buoyed by the Swiss ban, similar calls have been issued in Italy, Denmark and the Netherlands.

There is then, a clear and present crisis in the workings of the European model of liberal democracy. Which, simply, is still grappling with the problem of how to 'integrate' minorities. Surely, the rise of global Islamic extremism has played its role as well. But as Switzerland shows, it doesn't need to be actually, physically present to ignite deep-rooted xenophobia.

At the very least, the referendum displays that those antagonistic feelings run deep in Europe. And a large part of the blame to fail to counter that must rest with liberal civil society and mainstream political formations. Sure, voices of protest have been raised, concerns on the implications of the minaret ban expressed across Europe.

Even in Switzerland, the very legality of the ban is being questioned, and groups formed to call for a counter referendum. But surely, the problem can only worsen before it gets any better, if at all.

In Desperately Seeking Paradise Ziauddin Sardar writes of how, in the aftermath of the Satanic Verses row in the UK, a noted writer spewed venom against Muslims and Islam on TV. After he showed the text of her rant to a legal expert, he was told that had the word 'Muslim' been replaced by 'Black' or 'Jew' the writer would almost certainly have had to face criminal charges.

And one can imagine the outrage, years later, if any nation had held such a referendum as the Swiss did, with synagogues as the target instead of mosques. And that, a tad simply, is what it is: Europe has a new bogeyman. The Muslim has replaced the Jew.








Guilt is nothing but your past decisions and actions being reviewed with your updated intelligence. For example, if you had a fight with a friend in school. And many years later, is it right to review that incident and feel guilty? No! At that time you had only that much intelligence, so you behaved in that fashion. Now, you have updated intelligence. It doesn't make sense to review the past with your present intelligence.

You are designed to move like a freely flowing river. Guilt is like rocks in the path of the water. The main problem is that society has subtly branded happiness as a sin. That is why you will notice, when everything is going smoothly and happily, there will be a lurking feeling of guilt in you. You are taught by society that being happy and enjoying life is being irresponsible in a way. So you feel guilty. But when you feel sad and depressed, do you ever feel guilty? No!

You are taught that life is a chain of suffering and endurance, with happiness stepping in once in a while. When you are enjoying, dancing or relaxing at the beach for example, suddenly you will observe guilt starts rising in you about all the work that is pending, about all the responsibilities that need to be fulfilled.

Your being is a crowd of voices that doesn't belong to you. It is a totality of your mother's voice, your father's voice, your teacher's voice, your neighbour's voice etc. All these voices are in there. If there is only one voice, you will never have any problem. Your mind will move like a river. But there are so many voices telling you so many things and creating the rocks of guilt in your path.

As long as you flow like a river, you will express extraordinary intelligence in your life. You will breathe with an energy that is overflowing every minute. The moment you allow guilt in you, the moment you are stopped in your free flow, you create energy clots inside your being.

Guilt has no basis but it can destroy your whole life. Living and existing without guilt, will make you enjoy every moment without feeling any regret and still fulfilling all your responsibilities. When you commit a mistake, instead of feeling guilty, perceive objectively reasons for committing it, how you committed it.

Watch as an observer how and why it is getting repeated. Introspect scientifically into the mechanism of guilt. Just this awareness will open a new door and you will never commit the same mistake again because once you look into it, and discover the reasons, they will disappear. Be Blissful!







Imports by government agencies will be more helpful

Along with the forces of demand and supply, food prices are affected by complex factors such as government intervention, trade policies, short-term market fragmentation, manipulation through collective but tacit action of market intermediaries, and high sensitivity of consumers to various types of shocks.

So, it is important to understand the role of all these factors in the food inflation that India is experiencing to know the role of monetary policy to curb food inflation.

Food articles have shown more than 10% annual rate of inflation since mid-June 2009. The rate of year-on-year food inflation has been rising and has crossed 15% level in recent weeks, causing concern across the country. India is facing high food inflation despite fall in global prices and the global prices of many food commodities turning lower than the domestic prices.

The main reason for high food inflation in the country is the imbalance in the growth in domestic production and consumption. Domestic food production during 2008-09, a part of which becomes available for consumption in the same year and the other in the next year, rose by less than 1.6% while output of food crops did not rise at all.

Against this, domestic demand is estimated to be rising by nearly 3% each year. Failure of south-west monsoon and resulting drought in many parts of the country has added to the demand-availability gap of most food commodities.

The country has a limited capacity for price stabilisation through food storage, except for rice and wheat, and, therefore, the option left for domestic price stabilisation was trade, i.e., increase in import. Experience shows that a check on imports has been helpful in moderating fall in domestic prices, resulting either from changes in global market or due to domestic factors, but liberalised import had met only small success in checking price rise.

The main reason for this asymmetric response of domestic prices to changes in trade policy is that most exporters and importers of food are also operating in the domestic market and it pays them to maintain high food inflation here. They would be reluctant to go for import that reduces domestic prices and their margin in the country's market.

Under this kind of market situation, import by state agencies is much more helpful than monetary policy to calm food inflation. Poor competitiveness in food markets is also contributing to high food inflation. Attempts to implement reforms in agricultural markets have been almost thwarted at state level under the pressure of trading community.

Therefore, entry of big and new players, which was expected to improve competition and market integration across supply chain and reduce price gap between farm and fork through scale factor and by cutting number of intermediaries, has received a serious setback.

The present food price inflation in the country is the consequence of food scarcity caused by low growth during 2008-09 and supply shock caused by the drought during 2009. It has been aggravated by low competition and poor integration of supply over time and space. Thus, it can be effectively addressed only by increasing domestic production and imports, along with promoting competition in food markets.


(Views are personal)




No, it can only address 2nd-round effects of food price shock

The spike in food inflation has once again set off alarm bells. CPI inflation, which accords high weightage to food products, is already over 11%.

In contrast, manufacturing inflation is subdued and fuel inflation continues to be negative, which have together restrained the WPI inflation at below 2%. A weak base and a sharp rise in food prices will push the WPI inflation above the RBI's tolerance limit of 5% before the end of 2009 and to around 7% by March 2010.

These developments have triggered a debate on whether the RBI should start raising interest rates to control inflationary pressures. The pressure on domestic inflation from a supply shock cannot be addressed directly by monetary tightening.

But the supply-side shock, if strong, persistent and supported by easy monetary conditions, can translate into second round effects on general inflation. This has been particularly observed in the case of supply shock from oil and commodities.


In the case of food items, the price pressure has been strong and persistent. Food prices, which have been over their long-term trend since 2007, have risen sharply in the last few months. This has generated expectations that they can pressurise wages and feed into general inflation, particularly in today's scenario when demand is picking up and monetary conditions are easy.

But the link between food inflation and general inflation would be quite weak in India as wages are not indexed to inflation for a large part of the population. So, high food inflation alone cannot be a major threat to overall inflation and, thus, trigger a reversal in monetary policy.

However, I would like to reiterate that monetary tightening cannot bring down food prices but can, at best, be effective in addressing the second-round effects of food price shock. The problem of food prices is related to the persistent failure of agriculture, which has been aggravated this year due to failure of the monsoons.

The long-term solution to curbing inflation in agricultural commodities lies in raising agricultural productivity. In the short run, the focus should be on shoring up supply through imports, curbing speculation and providing safety net to the poor.

While food inflation may not be a strong enough reason for the RBI to raise interest rates, the emerging macro-economic scenario will soon necessitate a withdrawal from the easy monetary stance. The second quarter GDP growth of 7.9% surpassed all expectations. Till the first quarter of this year, the government was the key generator of demand in the economy. It still continues to be so, but now private consumption demand is also complementing it.

Additionally, the growth in investment demand has started picking up. Raw material prices too have rallied from the lows reached during the worst phase of the global financial crisis. These factors indicate that general inflationary pressures are likely to emerge going ahead. The balance is beginning to tilt from growth concerns towards inflation worries.

A rate hike will definitely curb overall demand but will help in anchoring inflationary expectations. I expect a gradual withdrawal of liquidity accompanied by a mild rate hike in the coming policy. But food price inflation would be a minor contributor to this decision.






Yes: The expanse of the Indian retail trade is vast. Spanning 75 lakh outlets and 47 lakh shops in rural areas makes it even more daunting from a retail audit perspective. AC Nielsen has the experience of handling this, yet from time to time serious questions have been raised over credibility of Nielsen data. There are some fundamental issues that need robust solutions.

The first one is samples, the panel is now 16,700 stores. Nielsen would have us believe that increasing the sample would resolve issues. But past records tell a different story.

Samples were increased in 2006, and yet, reliability of data is no better, and in some cases, even worse. For our Godrej No1 brand, the pick up factors have dropped during this period. In Punjab, where No1 is market leader, the pick up is a dismal 54%! This, for a brand which is the No. 3 national brand in soaps by volumes.

Second, quality of field work indicates that a lot more needs to be done. The pick up of new variants, SKUs and even new prices can take three-six months to get fully reported. Why? If the field is well trained, this should never be an issue.

Then, reporting of modern trade data is still not satisfactory, and as this component of trade grows, it will add to the problem. The panel also doesn't cover canteen stores, the country's largest retailer. There are many similar examples of uncovered channels.

Finally, while Nielsen makes a regular attempt at providing a fix on the universe of stores, it is not computing the increase adequately. The only way forward is for industry and AC Nielsen to agree to a time-bound plan to correct these issues. The dialogue has carried on for too long, it's time for some concrete action now.


No: The authenticity of retail audit data is being questioned by companies these days as they do not match their shipment figures. But before we question the credibility of the data, let us put some facts into place. Retail offtake data is normally lower than client shipment data because an audit does not cover all distribution channels, and clients subscribing to the audit data are aware of these limitations.

Currently, The Nielsen Company is the only research agency that conducts retail audits in India. The discrepancies occur when monthly shipments of clients are compared with monthly offtake data obtained by Nielsen as there is a fairly large pipeline in between, which can expand or contract depending on manufacturers' schemes, promotions and consumers pull. The best way to look at such data is to compare 12 months moving averages of companies' shipments with offtake data. In most cases, these trend lines show a very good fit.

The retail store universe in India consists of approx 7.5 million stores. Nielsen retail audit obtains data from approx 16, 700 stores, covering over 80 categories of consumer packaged goods (CPG) in 605 cities and more than 6,000 villages. Considering the large proportion of traditional trade in India, coverage of 88% of the industry is considered pretty good by global standards.

The data obtained from this vast sample of outlets is then projected to a universe of outlets to obtain national estimates. The universe data is updated periodically to incorporate for any market changes. Global quality standards in terms of data accuracy and the standard error margin are strictly adhered to by Nielsen India.

In most of the key states, the relative standard error for Nielsen data is less than half of the prescribed norms of <10 % and at the country level, the standard error margin in India is less than 1.5% against the norm of <4%. So, there's no room for any doubts about credibility of such studies.








Peter Drucker, the acclaimed management thinker, was widely remembered on his centennial last month. Harvard Business Review ran a feature titled, What would Peter do? The reference was to the present economic crisis in which managers and businesses have come under a cloud.

Well, first Drucker would have rubbished any characterisation of him as a 'guru', he famously said that newspapers used the word only because the word 'charlatan' was too big to fit the headline. Drucker did write some books of the 'how to' variety. But he was not the sort to prescribe 'six easy steps to brand-building' or 'eight rules for go-getting CEOs'.

Drucker was a business philosopher who sought to establish broad principles for successfully managing businesses over the long run. His focus would have been on what managers might do to prevent situations that give business a bad name. One of the articles in HBR mentions some of the things he would have done in today's situation.

He would have exhorted top managers to work together to rein in excesses in executive pay. He would have reminded businesses that in order to retain the loyalty of knowledge workers, businesses must create a larger purpose that such workers could relate to. He would have re-emphasised the need for businesses to work closely with civil society and non-profit organisations.

Some of Drucker's ideas have been so widely embraced that they have become commonplace. The purpose of a company is to create a customer. Every company must define clearly the nature of its business. Discarding the old is as important as focusing on the new. Knowledge-based organisations need fewer levels than the traditional industrial firm. Managers routinely practise these tenets without even knowing where they came from.

Is there anything in Drucker's work that remains relevant and is not fully reflected in managerial practice? I combed through Drucker's writings and found at least three areas where his ideas could make a difference: the role of a CEO; the functioning of corporate boards; and the larger responsibilities of management.

Most people think the CEO is one man's job. No doubt, many CEOs find it convenient to have it that way, the imperial CEO lording it over all he or she surveys. Yet, as Drucker correctly points out (and this was in 1955!), the CEO's job involves three distinctive functions: planning for the future, responding to every day problems, being the organisation's face to the outside world.

It is impossible, Drucker asserts, for any individual to successfully handle more than any two of these three functions. Hxence, the CEO's role cannot be discharged by one person, it can be done only by a team. And the team should comprise at least three members. How many businesses can claim to do this?

Drucker is emphatic as to the need for effective boards. "It is an organ of review, of appraisal, of appeal". The last function, appeal, that Drucker mentions is striking if only because it is defunct today. Drucker says of this particular function of the board, "Somebody has to discharge the final judicial function in respect to organisation problems, has to be the 'Supreme Court'". We all know the drab reality that obtains today. Most boards do not even want to take cognisance of appeals from managers, that would be 'interfering in operational matters'.

Drucker argues that it is in the interest of the top management team to attract outstanding individuals to the board and to make the board effective. An effective board is crucial to the success of top management. Yet, most CEOs tend to regard boards as decorative as best and a nuisance at worst.

Lastly, the responsibilities of management. One is self-evident and has been placed on the altar, making profits. Drucker is not dismissive of profits. Indeed, he sees it as the first responsibility of business. But, management has other responsibilities towards the enterprise as well: making sure of tomorrow's management; not claiming special allegiance from its employees over and above the contractual obligations; allowing the freest mobility from the bottom to the top; developing a capital expenditure policy that counteracts the business cycle.

Beyond these, management has a larger responsibility towards society. This is not what passes these days for 'corporate social responsibility'. It is much loftier than that. Drucker inverts the free market slogan, "What is good for the enterprise is good for the country". He contends that management must strive to make whatever is good for the country become good for the enterprise. Business must make this rule "the lodestar of its conduct".

There is so much wisdom in Drucker's writings. Yet, it is possible to go through an MBA programme without even heard of Drucker. It is possible to be a professor in a business school without having read Drucker. That is, perhaps, why so many managers are like the blind men in the parable who feel out an elephant's parts without knowing the elephant.








The world's largest seed and farm input company, Monsanto, is scouting for a new business model. While BT cotton seeds have to be bought every year, farmers can save soya, rice and wheat seeds. This poses a tricky problem.

Executive vice-president (strategy) and chief financial officer Carl Casale tells ET why collaboration may be the best way to make sure the $12-billion giant gets paid for its new products in India. Excerpts:

How big is India in your global strategy?

Cotton has become our first Asia-centric crop, because of India. USA and India are the only two significant cotton markets. The challenges of the Indian producer are the same for producers across the world—water depletion, nitrogen utilisation and climate change—to which we can bring solutions. India wants to be self-sufficient in food and fibre. If we succeed, it will attract more investment into agriculture.

Any new cotton seed for India?

Yes, we are bringing Roundup Ready Flex cotton, a second-generation technology, which is economical and safe for producers.


What about other tropical crops?

Drought-tolerant corn is suited for India and we are already in the regulatory process for BT Roundup Ready corn here. We would like to bring soya and wheat too if we can figure out how we will be compensated. We need clarity on the business model which needs to be based on a fair, competitive basis. The seeds need to be priced in a way that farmers are able to afford them every year.

Isn't that really your next biggest challenge? How will you make sure you get paid for seeds which farmers currently don't replace each year?

We will look for public-private partnerships in these crops. We have a model for selling soya in Brazil, where we have tied up with aggregators and crushers. The opportunity and the challenge is that this has never been done before. It is incredibly liberating because there is no blueprint to follow.

Can a similar business model be introduced in India?

Our objective is to help farmers increase yield and overcome constraints. Right now the seed replacement rates are low, so there is no incentive for companies to invest in them. But in the USA, farmers replace seed every year and we find even public research institutions are beginning to think like a private entity and want to be paid royalty. It is a new model for farmers. I don't know about India. Perhaps, the government can act as master licensee. However, if it does, it would sub-optimise the investment and reduce the incentive to reinvest in R&D for better products, more competitive choices.

What is the market potential here?

You have a 20-million-acre soya market, the same as China. You have a 15-million-acre corn market, half the size of Brazil's. Your 80-million-acre wheat market is bigger than USA's. We like the market. We have a technology fit. We like the regulatory system. We see good rule of law and preservation of sound science.

You have a wholly-owned company in India for cotton and vegetables, a listed company Monsanto India, for corn and agrochemicals, and a joint venture Mahyco-Monsanto. Can MIL shareholders expect gains from BT corn?

BT Roundup Ready corn will come through MIL. Indian investors can get exposure locally through MIL and to our entire portfolio through Monsanto Co. on the NYSE.

Does the hyper competition in Indian seed market pressure margins?

We believe competition increases the value everyone brings to farmers. Our revenue will come from new products (50%), sales volume (40%), and price increases (10%). Monsanto is criticised as a monopoly over industrial mono-crop agriculture across the planet. The basis of our business model is that we believe increasing competition increases farmer choice and the BT cotton model is an excellent example of how dozens of companies are competing together using our technology.

Moreover, BT cotton competes against free seeds available from the government. If the farmer still chooses us, we must be delivering significant value. Our motto is appropriately-priced technology that is broadly available.

Any concerns regarding India's seed regulatory policy?

Our only concern is state government regulation of cotton seed pricing. We fear this may spill to other crops and I don't feel very good about that. Creating a new seed technology is an 8-10 year, $100-200 million process.

During this time, there is certainty of investment but uncertainty of technological risk. If we are also made to bear uncertainty of pricing it gives me pause. If we generate value, we need reasonable assurance we will be able to charge a fair value at the end of this period.

Given that agriculture is a state subject, what is the road ahead?

The real conversation has to be about collaboration. Government's interest in food sovereignty and Monsanto's interests are aligned. The only question is how we can get this done.

So government at different levels is Monsanto's future partner of choice in India?

I think both government and the private sector. It is not an exclusive relationship and we have had a good experience with both here. Basically we will be flexible and do what respects the interests of everyone.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




The last time largescale violence erupted in the Telangana districts of Andhra Pradesh for the formation of a separate state, it had been somewhat easier to tackle the situation. The principal reason was that the Congress, which was in power at the Centre as well as in the state, was in the forefront of the demand. A solution was facilitated both in 1969 and 1973 when it became clear that Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi was not in favour of either a separate Telangana or Andhra. This time round, the agitation is led by the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, although Congressmen of the region also appear to be supportive. But more significantly, the Opposition parties, notably the Telugu Desam and the BJP, have jumped into the fray. It is not yet clear if this complicating factor will lend the demand a decisive edge, especially since the condition of the fasting TRS leader, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao, appears to be delicate. The Congress leadership appears to be in a fix. It would certainly like to call the shots in the Assembly of the new state, should its formation become inevitable. It has the strength from the Telangana districts in the AP Assembly. But since the lead has come from TRS, the latter could possibly call for fresh elections. Presumably this is among the issues the Congress would like to discuss with Mr Rao if he is persuaded to end his fast. There are two separate ironies in the situation. The first pertains to the idea of a hungerstrike culminating in the formation of a state. When the Andhra Gandhian Potti Sriramulu undertook a fast unto death in 1952 and made the supreme sacrifice doing so, the then Jawaharlal Nehru government was obliged to concede the demand of a linguistic state comprising the 11 Telugu-speaking districts of the erstwhile Madras state. Not doing so is likely to have produced an impossible situation. It is not wholly clear if the circumstances surrounding the Telangana demand now admit of a similar possibility, but the context has become troubled. It is perhaps necessary that the Centre steps in to ward off an untoward situation. At the political level, it might be beyond the ability of the three-month-old Rosiah government in Andhra Pradesh to tackle the demand. An intervention by the Congress leadership could make it easier to address the demands of the regional development of the backward Telangana districts if the formation of a new state is to be headed off. The alternative is to accept the demand on terms that are acceptable on all sides. In that case too, the Centre might be better placed to play honest broker. The second irony lies in the twist of history. The state of Telangana (comprising Telugu-speaking districts of the old Hyderabad state),which had been established after the dissolution of the Nizam's domain in the aftermath of Independence, had merged into the state of Andhra Pradesh to form a Visalandhra — the land of all Telugu-speaking people — in 1956. But the Telangana Telugus have clearly not been entirely satisfied. This is the second time that the divorce suit has been filed. Perhaps uneven development is the proximate cause. Historical poverty from the Nizamshahi period has persisted in the Telangana area whereas the wealth of the delta districts has grown, and many from coastal Andhra, the wealthy and the middle classes, have homed in on Hyderabad, offering competition to the people of Telangana.








The European Union (EU) is about to preen itself in new feathers. Although the choice for the new longer-term president and a foreign policy Czarina were an understatement of their new responsibilities, the coming in force of the Lisbon Treaty is an earnest of the group's ambition to be something more than a successful economic union and a camp follower of Washington.

As it happens, the new EU has a unique opportunity to make a mark on the international political stage by taking the lead in pursuing a bold course in grappling with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, the central West Asia problem has not merely stalled but it has regressed, with an Israeli government exploiting Palestinian vulnerabilities and American pusillanimity to shut out the formation of a viable Palestinian state.
One of the great disappointments of the US President, Mr Barack Obama's promise of bringing about winds of change in the Arab world was his surrender to Israel on as simple and basic issue as of stopping the further building of Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Savouring his triumph in snubbing President Obama, Israel's Prime Minister Mr Benjamin Netanyahu has offered a ridiculous plan that would not end present and approved building activity and excludes occupied East Jerusalem altogether.
The EU, on the other hand, has been making the right noises, particularly on the landmark Goldstone Report on Israel's Gaza offensive, and has been criticising Israel in more forceful terms, but a coherent plan to push through a new initiative has been lacking. Here is a great opportunity for the new empowered president of the EU, Belgian Prime Minister Mr Herman van Rampuy, and his foreign policy chief, Ms Catherine Ashton, to make their mark to give flesh to a just solution without the immense baggage the US carries in the form of the dominant pro-right-wing Likud American Jewish lobby.

Ms Ashton does not have the experience and sophistication of her predecessor, Mr Javier Solana, in international affairs but she can, by the same token, take a bolder approach to the conflict, with the centralisation of foreign policy and aid-giving powers in her new portfolio and the assistance of a growing European diplomatic service. And unlike during previous US administrations, the Obama administration and elements outside it, including sections of American Jewry, would welcome a new proposal that goes to the heart of the problem, the continuing occupation and colonisation of occupied land since 1967.

Indeed, it is difficult to see how Europe and the West can tolerate a continuing violation of human rights as flagrantly as it is happening in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip while holding the world to account to meeting international norms. The EU certainly has the clout to make Israel pay for disregarding international law, including the World Court's opinion. What have been lacking is the will, the American equation and differences among members of the EU on Israel. While US administrations have been traditionally encumbered by vested interests, apart from the country's own geopolitical interests, Germany is weighed down by its Nazi past and Israel's capacity to blackmail Berlin.

However, the pressures in Europe are considerably less that a US President has to cope with and the Goldstone report has done great service by telling the world that Israel, and Hamas to a lesser extent, should be investigated for war crimes in Gaza. Although the US expectedly criticised the report as being less than fair, despite Justice Goldstone's impeccable credentials and himself being a Jew, it was incomprehensible why India sought to find faults with it.

The Israeli right-wing agenda is becoming clearer each day. It wants to build a Greater Israel, confining Palestinians to Bantustans with limited municipal functions and completing the task of ethnic cleansing in occupied East Jerusalem. It suits Israel to continue the fiction of a peace process, which has not existed in real terms for years. while it completes its not so secret agenda.

The much trumpeted and once hopeful Oslo process failed because Israel was dishonest in fulfilling its part of the bargain. Talks and limited progress coexisted with expansion of Jewish settlements on occupied land and the building of new apartheid roads barred to Palestinians. Even while unilaterally withdrawing from the Gaza Strip, Ariel Sharon started building a separation wall, which took in further Palestinian land to seal a new border.
The wisdom after Mr Sharon sabotaged Oslo was that the accent should be on the parameters of a final solution. Road maps were unveiled only to be observed more in the breach and the Palestinians' internal divisions played into Israeli hands, with the new refrain that there was no partner to talk to. The accession of the right-wing Netanyahu government and the consequences of the Goldstone report combined to lead to the present stalemate, which has the virtue of exposing the situation for what it is.

Nothing would enhance the EU's standing as an international player in diplomacy as much as a European thrust to cut the Gordian knot. Time is of the essence because there would soon be no space for a Palestinian state, with the baleful result that West Asia would be plunged into a new Hundred Years' War.

At the very least, a well-considered European initiative would tip the scales in America in favour of those who want justice above partisanship. But Ms Ashton must be quick off the block and come to grips with the central issue of West Asia politics in the first hundred days of her term, with the advantages of the proverbial new broom. An essential prerequisite would be not to arm one Palestinian side against the other. The wiser policy would be to help Arabs' fitful efforts to seek reconciliation. It would be up to Palestinians to decide who the leader of the Fatah faction should be, but Mahmoud Abbas has outlived his usefulness except to Israelis who believe in playing games of peace making.

Tony Blair, who aspired to the new EU presidency, in effect became an accomplice of Netanyahu as the so-called Quartet's representative by stressing the West Bank's economic development even as Israel was making the formation of a Palestinian state next to impossible. Ms Ashton can now show the world that Britain, which was initially responsible for the formation of Israel, can take the lead in doing justice to Palestinians.








In 2006, Ron Suskind published The One Percent Doctrine, a book about the US war on terrorists after 9/11. The title was drawn from an assessment by then vice-president Dick Cheney, who, in the face of concerns that a Pakistani scientist was offering nuclear-weapons expertise to Al Qaeda, reportedly declared: "If there's a one per cent chance that Pakistani scientists are helping Al Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response". Mr Cheney contended that the US had to confront a very new type of threat: a "low-probability, high-impact event".

Soon after Suskind's book came out, the legal scholar Cass Sunstein, who then was at the University of Chicago, pointed out that Mr Cheney seemed to be endorsing the same "precautionary principle" that also animated environmentalists. Sunstein wrote in his blog: "According to the Precautionary Principle, it is appropriate to respond aggressively to low-probability, high-impact events — such as climate change. Indeed, another vice-president — Al Gore — can be understood to be arguing for a precautionary principle for climate change (though he believes that the chance of disaster is well over one per cent)".

Of course, Mr Cheney would never accept that analogy. Indeed, many of the same people who defend Mr Cheney's "One Percent Doctrine" on nukes tell us not to worry at all about catastrophic global warming, where the odds are, in fact, a lot higher than one per cent, if we stick to business as usual. That is unfortunate, because Mr Cheney's instinct is precisely the right framework with which to think about the climate issue — and this whole "climategate" controversy as well.

"Climategate" was triggered on November 17 when an unidentified person hacked into the emails and data files of the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit, one of the leading climate science centres in the world — and then posted them on the Internet. In a few instances, they revealed some leading climatologists seemingly massaging data to show more global warming and excluding contradictory research.
Frankly, I found it very disappointing to read a leading climate scientist writing that he used a "trick" to "hide" a putative decline in temperatures or was keeping contradictory research from getting a proper hearing. Yes, the climate-denier community, funded by big oil, has published all sorts of bogus science for years — and the world never made a fuss.

That, though, is no excuse for serious climatologists not adhering to the highest scientific standards at all times.
That said, be serious: The evidence that our planet, since the Industrial Revolution, has been on a broad warming trend outside the normal variation patterns — with periodic micro-cooling phases — has been documented by a variety of independent research centres.

As the New York Times just reported: "Despite recent fluctuations in global temperature year to year, which fuelled claims of global cooling, a sustained global warming trend shows no signs of ending, according to new analysis by the World Meteorological Organisation made public on Tuesday. The decade of the 2000s is very likely the warmest decade in the modern record".

This is not complicated. We know that our planet is enveloped in a blanket of greenhouse gases that keep the earth at a comfortable temperature. As we pump more carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into that blanket from cars, buildings, agriculture, forests and industry, more heat gets trapped.

What we don't know, because the climate system is so complex, is what other factors might over time compensate for that man-driven warming, or how rapidly temperatures might rise, melt more ice and raise sea levels. It's all a game of odds. We've never been here before. We just know two things: one, the CO2 we put into the atmosphere stays there for many years, so it is "irreversible" in real-time (barring some feat of geo-engineering); and two, that CO2 build-up has the potential to unleash "catastrophic" warming.
When I see a problem that has even a one per cent probability of occurring and is "irreversible" and potentially "catastrophic", I buy insurance. That is what taking climate change seriously is all about.

If we prepare for climate change by building a clean-power economy, but climate change turns out to be a hoax, what would be the result?

Well, during a transition period, we would have higher energy prices. But gradually we would be driving battery-powered electric cars and powering more and more of our homes and factories with wind, solar, nuclear and second-generation biofuels.

We would be much less dependent on oil dictators who have drawn a bull's-eye on our backs; our trade deficit would improve; the dollar would strengthen; and the air we breathe would be cleaner. In short, as a country, the US would be stronger, more innovative and more energy independent.

But if we don't prepare, and climate change turns out to be real, life on this planet could become a living hell.

And that's why I'm for doing the Cheney-thing on climate — preparing for one per cent.








Government must tackle locals first

By Harekrishna Deka


There are no two opinions that United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) rebels use violence and commit serious crimes. Yet, there is no simple legalistic solution to control their insurgency. Like other insurgencies, Ulfa is the manifestation of some deep social discontent. Unless these causes are addressed, the seedbed remains fertile for discontent to germinate.

Two of the principal duties of the state are to provide an atmosphere of peace and security to the people it governs, and to ensure development and growth of its citizens for their economic well-being and social satisfaction. The failure of governance leads to socio-economic discontent and loss of peace and security in a society.

In fighting an established order, Ulfa is not just committing certain crimes, but has also been trying to fight the government on a psychological battlefield.
By means of violence it tried to prove that the government is incompetent not only to provide economic security, but also security to the lives and properties of citizens.
In Assam, laws like Disturbed Areas Act, The Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act are already in operation for long. While operations under these laws have met with partial success, insurgency is still alive. When Ulfa chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa was produced in court, a large number of supporters shouted slogans openly hailing Ulfa. In the countryside, despite abhorrence of Ulfa violence, villagers feel suffocated when anti-insurgency operations are carried out on a continuous basis. This affects their daily life. The insurgents are no doubt vitiating the social atmosphere by letting loose violence, but counter-insurgency measures undertaken under special laws have enhanced the people's sense of insecurity.

In the Northeast, there is already a special law for the armed forces. Under the provision of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, the security forces have got sweeping powers to use force against insurgents to the extent of causing death during operations. But there have been many examples of these powers being misused in the enthusiasm for getting quick results.

Insurgents always try to adopt people as a constituency and try to nurse this constituency through the gap of government's failures. Therefore, the government needs to address these failures with a visible outcome even if it needs to adopt legal means to maintain the rule of law. While there should be a dialogue with the rebels at least to know their mind, civil society, close to the pulse of the people, should be widely consulted. Being between the state and the people, civil society may provide a balanced view.

Harekrishna Deka is a former DGP Assam and noted litterateur

* * *




If elements of the Assam middle class that still raise a cheer to United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) step back from nostalgia, they will concede that this outfit is vastly different in character from the one that commanded their affection in April 1979 when the Ulfa established itself as the militant offshoot of All-Assam Students Union (AASU) which had played such a key role in asserting Assam's socio-cultural spirit.
In fact, Ulfa's personality makeover happened a long time ago, and the leaders of the outfit have grown comfortable in their new skin. Their new avatar has been in existence for the better part of Ulfa's 30-year-old history.

There can be little question now that the transformed Ulfa is the cat's paw of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence in the region, and an instrument of the jihadists that work out of Bangladesh.
In that capacity it has killed and maimed thousands of people in Assam, the land of its birth. These are serious crimes. Victims' families are sometimes scared to speak up. But in their hearts they look for justice to be done.
The issue here is not the socio-cultural identity of Assam. In fact, that sentiment is falsely invoked to throw ordinary people off the scent.

On April 6, 2000, in the state Assembly, Assam chief minister Prafulla Mohanta had cited from the confession statement of Ulfa vice-chairman Pradeep Gogoi to say that officials of the Pakistan embassy in Dhaka supply Ulfa leaders false passports as cover. Is there any surprise that for Ulfa now "illegal migrants" is the term for migrants from other parts of India, not Bangladesh? Who could have imagined such a volte face possible?
Ulfa speaks of seeking sovereignty for Assam. Surely this is a very different freedom from the one sought by a great son of Assam — Gopinath Bordoloi, whose role in 1946-47 was crucial in preventing the clubbing of Assam with Bengal under the Cabinet Mission Plan. If that had happened, Guwahati today might be the second city of Bangladesh after Dhaka (erstwhile Dacca).

After everything that has happened, it passes comprehension that anyone can espouse the cause of "talks" with the arrested Ulfa leaders. Those who commit heinous crimes or direct these to be committed must be ready to face the judicial process. Talks were attempted by the government in January 1992 and the results were only too well. Don't let Ulfa's crimes be obfuscated by the idea of state terror. That's another discussion.

Anand K. Sahay is Coordinating Editor, The Asian Age








It's that day of the year when we doff our caps to human rights and ceremoniously pretend to be civilised. It's International Human Rights Day. We nod and speechify, wrapped snugly in the cosy comfort of tokenism that protects so well from cold logic and chilling facts. Meanwhile, all kinds of human rights violations continue — both dramatic and endemic. We don't even notice.

Much has been written about the violation of human rights by the Army and the police, about extra-judicial killings, custodial deaths, torture as a tool of investigation. We have risen in fierce protest against the lumpenisation of society and politics, the hooliganism that kills human rights. Valiant activism has certainly improved our human rights situation, but mainly for well-identified, ruthless crimes. Violations with an impressive nametag. Like: "Name: Sohrabuddin's Encounter Killing; Designation: Top Crime (State-sponsored Murder)". But there are countless violations of human and civil rights that we don't recognise.

It's just the way we are. We beat the wife; we neglect the daughter's health and education (but we give equally to the son and daughter — what goes into his education we save for her marriage!); we magnanimously give Dalits jobs, but as janitors and cleaners. We encounter and shrug off such hidden violations of human and civil rights every day. What is normal to us can be very abnormal to the society.

Take for example the ruckus in Parliament this week during the debate over the Liberhan Report. Congress MP Beni Prasad Varma referred to former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee as "neech" — or "lowly". This was silly, offensive and unnecessary. The BJP was up in a flash, screaming their guts out for an apology. Mr Varma expressed regret. But the BJP would not let the debate continue. They howled and hollered through the one-hour-long statement of the Union home minister P. Chidamabaram, drowning out the government's reply to the Liberhan Commission's Report on the Babri Masjid demolition with shrill screams and even slogans of "Jai Shri Ram!" Apparently, paper balls were thrown at the home minister. Senior BJP MPs like Arun Jaitley and Sushma Swaraj proudly declared that their leader had been insulted so they would not allow Parliament to function. The home minister apologised, the offensive remark was expunged from the records, but the BJP was insatiable. The apologies were not good enough. Now the Prime Minister, just back from Russia, has apologised elaborately. Let's see if that satisfies the rowdies.

We don't find anything gravely wrong with this. At best, we cluck and smirk and say we are like this only. MPs cast decency to the winds, continuously interrupt speeches in the highest debating space in the country and disrupt proceedings that cost crores in taxpayers' money.

The BJP seems to specialise in this rowdy conduct in Parliament. We remember the pathetic scene on live national television last year when the BJP marched to the well of the House and refused to let Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reply to the no confidence motion against him. We remember the Prime Minister's gentle attempts to deliver the speech, Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's exasperation and the indecent screaming of the BJP members. The nation was not allowed to hear what the Prime Minister had to say even on such a historic day, when the government seemed likely to fall.

In actual terms, this violates free speech, which is the freedom to speak without censorship or limitation. When our parliamentarians don't allow their colleagues to speak, they violate this fundamental human right. They also break several other rules of parliamentary behaviour, because of which they can — and should — be punished. But nothing happens.

"You are working overtime to finish democracy!" said Somnath Chatterjee, then Lok Sabha Speaker, demanding decorum in Parliament. Later, he referred some MPs to the privileges committee for disrupting proceedings. It set a precedent but didn't work. The petulant MPs, members of the BJP and its allies, complained loudly, then coyly sat with finger on their lips in the House. After a week of suspense, our elected representatives promised to behave and Mr Chatterjee let them off.

The wildly gesticulating lunatics screaming and rushing about in the Lok Sabha and periodically clustering around a helpless Speaker that you see on live television are supposed to represent you and me. Seeing our chosen representatives perform in Parliament doesn't inspire confidence. And their complete disinterest in debate and disrespect for rules and basic decency makes you seriously wonder about our democracy.
Intimidation, with its country cousin social censorship, destroys democratic freedoms. We see it in the vandalism and goondagiri against artists, authors, libraries, film theatres, even media houses. Take offence at anything at all, and destroy whatever you can. It is appalling that this attack on our freedom of speech continues not just on the streets but also in Parliament. And no one is held accountable.

Surely the rulebook gives the Speaker some power to control disruptive MPs who are a blot on democracy? Frogmarching them out of the House would be a start. By not making MPs accountable, even when we can see who these rowdies are and have them all on camera, by allowing the whole nation to see that such lowly conduct is acceptable in the highest assembly of lawmakers, we are encouraging everyone to disregard the rule of law.

Like charity, democratic freedoms also begin at home. We need to learn to respect human and civil rights in the House first before we can even pretend to stand up for them elsewhere.


Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at [1]








While facts surrounding the capture of United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa are shrouded in mystery and might not be known for some time, the situation remains murky. This has not been helped by varying government statements: one that he was arrested and another that he had surrendered. This was countered by Rajkhowa's emphatic declaration that he had not given up and would not.

Rajkhowa's seizure and whisking out of Bangladesh has all the makings of a spy thriller. What is clear is that he did not come willingly; he was intercepted, apparently by the Bangladeshis, near Cox's Bazar and then handed over to the Indians. During this period his family members were also united with him.

It was a stunning setback to Ulfa, its most serious since it was formed 30 years back, but also served notice of Bangladesh's determination, and that of its confident Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, not to be hobbled by earlier allegations of permitting and even supporting insurgent groups to use its territory for their goals. Bangladesh, it is said, is deeply worried by the spectre of the disaster in Pakistan which nurtured "friendly" terrorists for decades and is determined to ensure nothing like that is repeated in their country. This is also a pointer of how, in foreign policy, nothing works as well as enlightened self-interest!

The middle-aged Ulfa chairman, away from Assam since 1985, also declared, raising his handcuffs, when taken to the district courts — a gesture that drew support even from detractors — that there could be no negotiations with handcuffs! Without a doubt, putting him on display in handcuffs was inappropriate, if not downright foolish, although he has been wanted for long for waging war against the State, a charge that carries very stiff penalties.
Matters were not helped by offhand remarks by Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi that since Rajkhowa, whose real name is Rajiv Rajkonwar, had come back after a long time, "let him have home food"! This was trivialising what was a stunning setback to Ulfa and a tremendous opportunity for peace in the region. Such remarks have drawn the ire of a cross-section of society and interviews by the Assamese press have highlighted the tremendous hunger for peace and dialogue as well as growing confusion and suspicion about the Centre's role in the whole matter.

The government appears determined not to let him out of its sight, possibly recalling the 1992 fiasco when he met then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, agreed to a ceasefire and to abide by the Constitution, and then backed down after opposition by the cadre and pressure from the elusive Paresh Baruah, who remains at large in the Kachin lands near China where Ulfa has for long had camps and collaborates with the National Socialist Council of Nagaland's (NSCN) Khaplang faction, which too has a ceasefire with the Centre though it is not negotiating with New Delhi unlike its more powerful rival, NSCN (I-M) — which had over 50 rounds of talks, which don't appear to have gone anywhere.

In light of its experience with "unconditional talks" with the Nagas, it is imperative that the Centre clarifies its position on the future of discussions with Ulfa, which is still a banned organisation. People in Assam do not want sovereignty that is a chimera, a pipedream; they are only interested in peace through a political dialogue that will enable delivery of basic services, disrupted by years of conflict. But the Naga example is often held up — although their leaders too wanted sovereignty, New Delhi continues to negotiate with them without conditions. Here too everyone knows there is not going to be any concession on Naga "sovereignty".
Indeed, the years between the 1980s — when Ulfa began its rise — and now cannot be described as anything but the lost decades, when thousands of people died in the state at the hands of government forces as well as those who battled the government, all in the name of fighting for "the people", without ascertaining what the "people" actually wanted.

While those in prison may not be in a position to demand and dictate political concessions, it behoves New Delhi to remember Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's beautiful words a few years ago at the first interaction with Ulfa's representatives, the People's Consultative Group: "I am a servant of the Constitution" responsible to Parliament, the Cabinet and the people of India, he had said, adding he would strive his utmost to give as much as possible within those restrictions which he needed to abide by as the country's elected head.

Rhetoric's romance is over, although it retains some appeal. The time for realism is now: if both sides truly seek the welfare of the people of Assam, then they have no option but to engage, converse, dialogue and develop a process that could forge an agreement which would in turn address some of the long-standing demands and angst of the people of the state and the Northeast. There would need to be give and take; the world has changed in 30 years and both sides need to be acutely cognisant of that.

For while Ulfa's principal political plank does not carry much weight in Assam, some of its other demands on social and economic issues, as many of us have maintained, have a resonance. These have been refined and further articulated by scholars and students, politicians and non-officials, activists and ordinary people and are part of the political and social discourse of the state and the region.

The question of whether Paresh Baruah, the commander-in-chief of the Ulfa's army — much depleted but still capable of striking at vulnerable targets — will take part in any future negotiations is not the issue any longer. Most of his colleagues are in India and in custody — including a majority of the influential Central committee members as well as his own deputy Raju Barua — and these constitute the severest setback to Ulfa in its existence. There is a persistent lack of clarity on where Paresh Baruah is located. But while he may continue to have a contingent of armed men loyal to him in the Kachin province of Burma, not far from the Northeast's borders with Burma, and could theoretically strike back, the question is how long can such a campaign be sustained. This is so especially as across Assam and the entire Northeast there is a fatigue with violence and lost causes and a strong desire for peace. Those who do not recognise this do not understand the state or its people.
Indeed, another question arises: if talks begin, can Paresh Baruah afford to stay out of the loop since he will be unable to communicate directly with his former colleagues, now in jail, and also lacks the numbers he commanded a decade back.

If they truly wish for Assam's welfare — and the state and its people have suffered enough for many years — then both sides need to show more wisdom, realism and restraint than has been visible in the past.


Sanjoy Hazarika is an author, journalistand filmmaker








IT is unfortunate that the disaster of a botched car project in Singur has been converted into a political battle with no winners in sight. So far there have been only losers. The Left government is frantically trying to shake off the stigma that its much hyped industrialisation programme was at the cost of evicted farmers. Trinamul has to prove that its campaign has not spelt doom, not just for a village that may have become an industrial hub but for the state as a whole after the Tatas walked out in despair. The people of Singur have voted for change but continue to suffer the trauma of a broken dream. It is in this context that the latest twist in the political drama must be viewed. A government that should be acting only on the basis of the rule book has been drawn into a battle of wits in which each of the rival parties is waiting for the other to make a false move. To begin with, it was surprising that Mamata Banerjee held out the prospect of a coach factory in Singur through the media. It is equally surprising that the government has chosen to respond officially to the Railway Board on the basis of these reports. What prospect can there be of a joint venture between the state government and the railways if the two parties are not sure about how to begin negotiations without transgressing Miss Banerjee's firm orders not to sit at the same table with the chief minister?

There are umpteen pieces in the Singur puzzle. By offering to hand over the entire plot of around 1,000 acres to the railways, the state is trying to wriggle out of the embarrassment of handing over 400 acres to "unwilling'' farmers as Trinamul has demanded since it began its campaign. In other words, it wants the Railways (read the Trinamul) to deal with the legal issues. Secondly, there is no indication in the chief secretary's letter to the Railway Board chairman about who will compensate the Tatas as the company's chief has demanded. The deal between the state and the company is shrouded in secrecy and in any event it was the Tatas who walked out ~ is there any legal basis for a claim for compensation? The CPI-M might like to believe it has emphasised its honest intentions and forced its rival to live up to a seemingly impossible pledge. But is it being too clever by half? The question now is, who has outmanoeuvred whom? The answer will not matter to those who have suffered the shocks ~ and to many others who find political rivals scrambling to score a point when a real solution in nowhere in sight.







There is a disturbing, almost chilling similarity between the call by Nepal's Maoists to force a closure of the country's media houses during a 24-hour trade and transport strike, and the efforts ~ mostly successful ~ by Leftists, especially in West Bengal to club media organisations with other elements of the trades union movement. Those in the sub-continent who draw their ideological inspiration from Marx and Mao see the media generally as a bourgeois tool, and never give up efforts to exercise control sometimes even forsaking ideology to make a point. Nepal's Maoists have called a strike to force government into censuring President Ram Baran Yadav. Common sense would dictate that details of the strike and its possible impact would make news, and that restricting media houses would be counter-productive. But that is not how the Maoist's mind works. This is an opportunity, pure and simple, to tell media who calls the shots, and to affirm that the only version of news Maoists consider acceptable is the one that wears the colours, as it were. Thus the Maoists emphasise that media organisations are worker-based industries and hence not exempt from the strike.

Such tactics are in line with those media houses in West Bengal have faced over the years. Almost alone amongst the two dozen-plus states of the union, newspapers in Bengal aren't exempt from the May Day holiday. Why? Because, according to the Left, newspapermen are workers first. Those who sell newspapers would in pure Marxist terms be considered traders, or a class that ought to be shunned by the committed revolutionary. But over the years, there has been a concerted effort to bring them into the Leftist fold. The reason quite clearly is to create another layer of control over the "reactionary" media. West Bengal's media, sadly, succumbed to the pressure exerted by the Left and it is only now, with signs of an Opposition grouping coming to power, that former apologists (and frequent beneficiaries) in the media are discovering the presence of life in the spinal region. Nepal's media must learn from this. They must be resolute in dealing with such restraints as the Maoists have put, and will continue to put. There are many ways to do this, and every editor worth his salt ought to know how to deal with bullies. And then find the will to do so.







RESPONSIBILITY requires a little more than mere observance of the technicalities of regulations. And it does not require either a pilot or a meteorologist ~ as Rahul Gandhi would have us believe ~ to discern what is less than responsible. While the Congress could well deem highly irresponsible, from a political perspective, the observations of its UP chief who in the past too has displayed symptoms of foot-in-mouth disease, there will be many who will laud Rita Bahuguna Joshi for portraying the conflicting interests that have brought more than one VIP helicopter crashing down. Especially because she was extolling the "commitment" of the rising son in keeping his much-behind-schedule date with the people of Sitapur, despite the reported objections of the chopper pilot to land in fading light. Obviously both politician and pilot will deny risk-taking, but the report of the District Magistrate is indicting. Will Rahul want us to also believe that the official was acting in accordance with the state government's anti-Congress policies? This projection of the "injured innocent" image does not stick. That immediately after the controversial landing Rahul rejected the use of a bullet-proof car only sustains his reputation for childish defiance of "security": for as Rita Bahuguna Joshi has confirmed, that "sells". Who will pick up the tab should anything go wrong is another issue. While there is precious little to appreciate in the functioning of the Mayawati administration (maladministration?), its complaint against Rahul's not infrequent indiscretions does have validity.

But who will bell the cat? And for that reason little should be expected from the inquiry into the dusk-landing at a makeshift helipad that the Directorate General of Civil Aviation is conducting: a clean chit, or a scapegoat at best. The track-record of the country's "air traffic controller" is unimpressive. There have been so many mishaps and close-calls involving VIP chartered flights that a mockery has clearly been made of whatever regulations have been prescribed. Such is the clout our netas wield that neither pilots nor those who rent out their planes/choppers dare refuse to pamper their whims. Is it time for judicial intervention? Or for a pilot's guild to collectively insist that all safety-related issues would be their "call", and unite to resist pressures from those who have chartered the aircraft? Memorials have been raised to netas who thus attained "martyrdom": what about kin of those they took down with them?







London, 9 DEC: The number of foreigners living in the UK reached a record high of 6.7 million last year, the Office for National Statistics said in its annual review.

The figure amounts to one in every 11 people in the UK had been born abroad. It was also revealed that nearly 25 per cent of all births in England and Wales in 2008 were to foreign-born women. Immigration minister Mr Phil Woolas said the figures did not account for those immigrants who were returning home. Many nationals of new European Union countries such as Poland had moved to the UK, but had returned to their home countries in large numbers due to recession and job cuts in the UK. The ONS also projected that the UK's population would increase by nearly 10 million in the next 25 years, a rate which is almost double that recorded in the last quarter of a century. The ONS estimated there would be 71.6 million people living here by 2033, up from 61.4 million now.

However, Mr Woolas cautioned that previous attempts to estimate future populations had been wildly inaccurate. "These population projections do not take into account the impact of future government policies or those Eastern Europeans who came here, contributed, and are now going home," he said. "Projections are uncertain. For instance in the 1960s they said our population would reach 76 million by the year 2000. This was off target by 16 million". Mr Phil Woolas, the immigration minister, said: "These population projections do not take into account the impact of future government policies or those Eastern Europeans who came here, contributed, and are now going home". PTI 








After three months of deliberation, President Obama's decision has finally been announced. The long gestation has been a time of much speculation and many leaks, suggesting intense internal debate amid conflicting views. The senior military officer in charge had asked for substantial reinforcement in Afghanistan but other senior figures seemed to want rapid reduction of the US commitment. The public was showing increasing restlessness and seemed to be in no mood for a deeper engagement. Alternative strategies to that of going after the Taliban in their strongholds were discussed and weighed. But in the end, the US President came out substantially behind his military commander and the demand for additional troops is very largely to be met. The decision having been taken, and a major enlargement of the US military presence in Afghanistan having been announced, there is presently no great dissent to be heard domestically. For now, at least, it is less a matter of trying to question the new course as to understand more fully what it implies.

Afghanistan must now brace itself for the arrival of another 30,000 US troops, as against the 40,000 initially requested by Gen. McChrystal. This new contingent is to move in fast and rapidly build up to full strength. The enhanced military capacity is to be used to batter the Taliban and weaken them so that they are no longer capable of taking control of Afghanistan. At that point, which is expected to be reached by mid-2011, US forces will be progressively and rapidly reduced, with only small numbers remaining to support the security effort of the Afghan government.

Similar to Iraq 'surge'

This strategy is very reminiscent of the "surge" in Iraq, and is similarly intended to permit an early exit by the USA without fatally weakening the local government. There are many who question the applicability of an Iraq-bred strategy in the very different conditions of Afghanistan. Nevertheless, something very much like the Iraq strategy is now to be tried. According to reports, the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan is where the initial thrust will be made. This is a province with rich and well developed agriculture, where the Taliban have become strongly entrenched.

Ironically, the present prosperity of Helmand owes much to an earlier phase of US involvement in Afghanistan. At that time, in Cold War rivalry, while the USSR was helping develop parts of Afghanistan along the frontiers of its southern republics of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, now independent countries, the USA was helping build up other parts like Helmand which adjoined its allies Pakistan and Iran. The Helmand river, which flows from the Hindu Kush into Iran, was dammed in its upper reaches with US assistance and its waters brought through canals to transform the semi-desert of Helmand into lush farmland. Lashkargah, the provincial capital, looked like a bit of exported American suburbia, neat houses with tidy gardens and car ports. The US experts and their families left long ago but it is still a very productive province for agriculture ~ and now also for the growth of the Taliban. 

Some of the evident difficulties faced by the USA in Afghanistan are highlighted by Mr Obama's policy statement. The Karzai regime in Kabul, which will have to take the burden of containing the Taliban as foreign troops depart, is very unpopular with its early patrons in the USA. The regime is seen as corrupt, rapacious, and almost impossible to reform. Mr Karzai was long regarded as weak and shaky, kept in position only by external protection and support. But he has proved to be an astute politician who has worked the system well enough to gain re-election even when a crowd of external observers have cried foul and called for his head. Questions remain about his commitment and ability to build up the military and police to the level required. Yet, despite mutual disenchantment which affects the working relations between the USA and Afghanistan, they can hardly do without each other, though it is not clear how far they will be able to repair relations and cooperate effectively.

Pakistan's part in the strategy is another complication. Mr Obama recognises that without full Pakistani backup, the efforts in Afghanistan cannot possibly succeed: the hunted terrorists will continue to simply melt away across the border and bide their time till a fresh opportunity presents itself. Thus the US President has been forthright in his public remarks on the subject, making it clear that there can be no tolerance of sanctuaries for the Taliban across the Pakistan border. Leaked reports suggest that senior US representatives, including the National Security Adviser, have been blunt in private meetings, demanding action against Taliban holed up in Pakistan, and seemingly ready to proceed on their own if needed, even if Pakistan demurs. It is puzzling why the Pakistan government appears less than wholehearted in its actions, for it, too, is threatened by the Taliban, and it cannot do without US financial and military support when it is engaged in a dangerous struggle for supremacy on its own territory.

Implications of exit strategy

Some observers fear that elements within the Pakistani establishment may be sympathetic to the Taliban, though this has been strongly denied. What is evident is that Pakistan cannot ignore the implications of the exit strategy outlined by Mr Obama: drawing down of US forces from mid-2011 will still require coming to terms with hostile elements that are likely to remain within their strongholds along the border. Even today, constant attacks on civilian and military targets emphasize Pakistan's vulnerability, and its complicated relations with Afghanistan do not suggest that the two will easily cooperate on sensitive security matters. Thus Pakistan may be a key element in the Obama strategy but it is an uncertain one.

Since President Obama's decision was announced, some international support has been garnered for the new policy. For all the snapping at its heels by rivals, the USA is still dominant enough to have been able to persuade several of its allies to pledge some 7,000 additional personnel for the international force in Afghanistan. The force itself is a patchwork of numerous national contingents with different priorities and rules of engagement, and has not been an outstanding success in meeting the Taliban head-on. But the fresh troops represent an accretion of strength, even if their ability to engage in battle may not be entirely clear.
Some Indian observers have felt that India's problems have not received adequate recognition in this latest phase of the long battle against terror. In fact, India hardly figures in the policy pronouncement and seems tangential to the exercise. But there is no doubt that a successful campaign against the Taliban will reduce the threat to India, which has therefore extended a welcome to the US President's announcement and will no doubt be glad to see his initiative succeed.

(The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary)








The sole purpose of establishing an educational institution is the imparting of education. In fact, that is its only raison d'être. This sounds simple enough except to some people in West Bengal. To wit, the various college teachers' unions which have embarked upon a campaign to stop Presidency College from becoming a university. These bodies do not have any rational argument against the move to make Presidency College a university. But they do have some vested interests. When Presidency College ceases to be a mere college, a number of things will happen automatically. One of these is that those who now work in Presidency College, and are thereby government servants, will cease to be part of the new university since the latter will no longer be a government institution. The existing staff of the college will be deployed by the government wherever it deems fit. This cannot be a welcome prospect for those who are now working in the college, especially for those who have spent more time in the union room than in the classroom. It will also make life difficult for those working in the other government colleges in West Bengal since the number of people seeking transfers to these colleges will go up. Hence, the clamour to stop Presidency College from becoming a university.


The government of West Bengal, if it is at all serious about making a last-ditch effort to raise the standard of higher education in the state and about saving West Bengal's best college from descending further into decline, cannot afford to listen to the teachers' unions, no matter what their political affiliations. Educational institutions do not exist to provide employment to people. They exist — and this is particularly true of a college like Presidency with its history and its library and laboratory resources — to provide access to learning and research at the highest possible level. Presidency College, in its present state, is not in a position to provide this, and therefore its character needs to be changed radically. It has to be freed from the University of Calcutta and from the government of West Bengal. This freedom should be the enabling condition for the new institution to appoint its faculty and staff so that it can perform its only function. Turning Presidency College into a university creates this enabling condition. Teachers' unions and other vested interests should not be permitted to scotch the move.







The agitation for separate statehood for Telengana has received a new stimulus with the fast-unto-death mission of the Telengana Rashtra Samiti chief, K. Chandrasekhar Rao. Some thought must have gone into its timing. No leader worth his salt would have let go of such an opportunity to raise the stakes, especially after being in a political wilderness. The ruling party in Andhra Pradesh is functioning without any sense of direction, its chief minister too weak to act and the Central command too confused to impose its will on the state. The calculations to derive maximum possible advantage from the situation were not entirely wrong, and this is evident from the way the administration in Andhra Pradesh has tried to meet Mr Rao's challenge. The chief minister, K. Rosaiah, initially tried to buy out Mr Rao by promising to drop all charges against him and making constitutional changes that would lessen Hyderabad's advantage over Telengana in employment opportunities. Since then, however, he has passed on all responsibilities to the party leader, who alone is supposed to decide whether there is a case for Telengana.


Telengana has a case, which may not be very different from those of the many other neglected regions on the map of India. Its backwardness, compared to prosperous coastal Andhra Pradesh and Rayalseema, is as much a result of its feudal history as one of neglect and callousness after Independence. Instead of addressing Telengana's problems, politicians have sought to use them as pawns. The Congress stands condemned for this sin as much as the other major political players in the scene, particularly the Telugu Desam Party, which has selectively associated itself with the cause. The Congress, however, has to shoulder a larger part of the blame. Telengana had been a major reason behind its victory in 2004. Yet, its critical dependence on Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, once a staunch opponent of the Telengana movement, had somehow inured it to the concerns of the region. The ongoing agitation, with its mass participation, suggests that these cannot be swept under the carpet. There are fears that the issue of separate statehood for Telengana may give a fillip to agitations for a separate Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh, Vidarbha and Gorkhaland. But unless issues of discordant growth, discrimination and neglect are confronted, there is little hope of keeping the state in one piece.









The Copenhagen summit on global warming and climate change has commenced. Instead of a leadership role, we will now be playing a followers' role. We fell behind the emerging consensus curve. We held on for too long to outmoded positions of merely harping on per capita emission and common-differentiated obligation while disregarding many other significant factors. The recent decision of China, announcing a 40 per cent cut in its energy intensity, and similar action by other emerging economies cajoled us into announcing a 20-25 per cent reduction in emission based on 2005 data. The debate in the Lok Sabha, and earlier in the Rajya Sabha, in which I had participated, did represent a national recognition that flexibility was important and mere adherence to the per capita paradigm was inadequate. Further, that some pre-announcements were necessary as a baseline and as a signal that the Parliament in India was cognizant of the need to take advancing steps. Perhaps based on obligations which other nations acknowledge, we may have to make further accommodation, not to please any other country but in recognition of what is in our own national interest. Saying that business as usual has also resulted in emission intensity is to reassure ourselves that the obligations now under consideration are neither unduly onerous nor do they compromise our growth targets.


The science and economics of global warming and climate change have been extensively debated. Doubts on whether the Himalayan glaciers are receding are clearly misplaced. The consequences are disastrous in terms of initially rising water levels in our rivers and the subsequent shortage of water for agriculture and for drinking, volatility in rainfall patterns and the untimeliness and intensity of floods, cyclones and storms. Rising sea levels will need substantial relocation of coastal populations while falling agricultural productivity will alter the pattern of pastoral livelihood. The destruction of ozone because of soot and black carbon threatens to alter the process of photosynthesis which is fundamental for the survival of living species.


According to scientists, the per capita emission by 2030 needs to be around two tons of carbon dioxide as a global average. This implies that the developed countries must cut their emission by 90 per cent by 2050, with intermediate targets to be reached by 2020 and 2030. Developing countries would also need basic adjustments in economic activity patterns to limit their carbon emissions around two tons per capita of carbon dioxide. As economic activity in emerging markets gather momentum, keeping energy intensity at this desired level would be daunting. For a country like India, the current emission level may be well under two tons but sustained growth rates of eight to nine per cent will see a dramatic rise in per capita emission.


There are at least five key issues on which international consensus remains elusive.


(a) Mitigation — which implies reduction in carbon dioxide emission by different groups of actors in developed, developing and rapidly growing emerging markets, with late-comers and acceptance of emission caps in the agreed band with intermediate targets to reach an average of two-ton carbon dioxide emission by 2050.


So, who takes what responsibility by which date? And what is rational, appropriate and ethical given varied development compulsions?


(b) Adaptation — namely, a recognition that no matter what we do from now on the damage already done has irreversible consequences and the need to adopt country strategies for a transition which is socially least destructive.


(c) Issues of financing — namely, who pays and how much? Both for adaptation and mitigation, considering that the developed countries are the worst polluters, persuading them to bear the cost being incurred by the developing world presents complex challenges.


(d) Technology — namely, methods for advancing and distributing low carbon technologies to advance technological frontiers, and making them easily accessible for emerging markets at costs which are affordable.


(e) The issue of measurement, reporting and verification. Setting benchmarks and standards for measuring the success of mitigation and adaptation efforts and for subjecting them to internationally acceptable verifications is a sensitive issue both in terms of the science involved and the complexity of the process. It is also evident that the taxpayers in the developed world would be unwilling to finance mitigation and adaptation costs without reasonable assurance that the promised emission reductions have actually been achieved. Since a good bit of effort will come from the emerging markets themselves, naturally there would be a disinclination to subject domestic outcomes to international scrutiny.


The Indian position needs some fundamental rethinking:


First, historically, obligations have been defined in terms of per capita emission differentials. There is a moral sanctity behind this approach and it must remain an overarching pillar emanating from the simple principle that the polluters must pay. Nonetheless, we must realize that while we may not have contributed to the existing mass of polluting matter in the atmosphere, our surging pace of growth would result in rapidly adding to the flow of polluting matter. Existing technology paradigms suggest a relationship between growth and energy intensity; seeking alternatives is expensive and uncertain.


Second, voluntary action to reduce energy intensity is now becoming an acceptable norm. The Chinese have

announced voluntary action and so have many other emerging markets, like Brazil, Indonesia and Malaysia. Whether the Chinese action is adequate or not is debatable, but we cannot be left out in the cold, even as other important developing countries take a lead over us.


Third, the old mantra of common but differentiated responsibility may need a nuanced interpretation. Some emerging markets, particularly our neighbouring country, is now already the second-largest polluter and adding to its flow at a scorching pace. India and many other countries have a long way to go to come anywhere near this level. Defining obligation rigidly on the basis of a common differentiated principle as well as the distinction between Annex I Countries and Non Annex I Countries oversimplifies some inherent distortions.


Fourth, the "investment approach" to mitigation recognizes that there is a unique historical opportunity here to

invest in infrastructure for low-carbon growth. There is nothing deterministic about the relationship between emissions and growth, or emissions and poverty reduction. So why not take steps to extract the most growth (and the most poverty reduction) from the emissions that India should be allowed to retain? Even if we claim a piece of the remaining emissions space, now that we know the consequences, it is our ethical duty and leadership responsibility to use it wisely and judiciously, like thinking about efficiency and emissions when building power plants or when investing in roads and public transport. These choices will have lasting consequences. India is at the point of locking into a particular growth trajectory. No reason not to make it lower-carbon.


Fifth, we must distinguish between who adjusts and who pays for this. The two need not be linked. Some things are easier to achieve in developing countries — like the investment approach to mitigation since there is room to leapfrog rather than having to retrofit existing infrastructure. These might be expensive, but India doing it does not necessarily mean that India has to pay for it. India could show leadership in imagination and innovation, and then bargain to have the rest of the world pay for it. This is an approach that will bring jobs, innovation, science, and funding. For India it could be a win-win situation.


International negotiations can- not be meaningfully conducted if everyone is wedded to fixed paradigms. Malleability of approach, without sacrificing paramount national interest, is the hallmark of any successful negotiation.


The heat is on the Copenhagen deal. The next few weeks will reveal if we have indeed played a leadership role.


The author is a member of the Rajya Sabha








A woman immolated herself last month on the top of her two-storeyed home in Chengdu while it was being demolished. This was not a sudden act, taking everyone unawares. As the woman stood on the roof-top, people gathered outside her building and beseeched her to come down, but she went ahead. The entire incident was telecast three weeks later, after the woman had died, by CCTV — the State-owned television channel — which was given the video by an onlooker who had captured it on his mobile.


The video showed the woman standing on her terrace for some time, then pouring a bucket of gasoline on herself. People were shouting themselves hoarse below. After 10 minutes, huge flames rose up from the spot; the woman's form could be seen through them. Water hoses started dousing her, but not before she'd collapsed. It was a shocking scene.


A few days later, the police arrested two groups of people in another city, Guiyang. One group comprised goons sent by a builder to demolish a building complex, the other included residents who had resisted the goons. Both these incidents were not only shown on CCTV, but they were also followed by discussions with Wang Xixin, a Peking University law professor. The discussions ended with the professor and the anchor agreeing that a citizen's right to life and property must hold sway over the government's and builders' right to demolish illegal structures.


Self-immolations over demolitions and relocations are not new. In fact, after the Chengdu self-immolation, the State-owned news agency, Xinhua, listed a few of these incidents that have taken place since 2003. The run-up to the Olympics witnessed tons of demolitions in Beijing; but across the country, as part of 'development', villagers and urban residents of old structures are continuously being dislocated. As in India, they have not been made part of the development process. Ironically, it was only in 2007 that the country adopted a property rights law. Last year, a Shanghai home-owner waved a copy of this law as she threw burning missiles from her rooftop at a demolition crew.


Terror tactic


As in India, citizens are helpless when it comes to demolitions, be they by the government or builders. So they resort to violence to defend their homes. Builders often send goons to evict unwilling residents. These goons switch off electricity and water connections, and physically drag out the residents. In the Guiyang incident, they even packed off the residents into waiting vans and left them in some far-off place. The younger ones, however, stayed back to confront the goons with knives. When the latter fled, the residents blocked the road.


In the Chengdu self-immolation incident, the house owners had paid almost 50,000 yuan in 1996 as crop compensation and rent to the authorities to acquire the plot of land. However, they never did get the necessary papers to make their house legal. In 2007, the authorities decided that the house had to be demolished to make way for a waste water works project. But the excuse they gave for demolishing it was that it was illegal. Earlier this year, a demolition attempt was resisted by the owners, violently. Even before her extreme step, for full three hours, the woman had thrown bricks and gasoline bombs on the team.


In the CCTV discussion, the authorities were attacked for calling her death an "accident", and for not stopping the demolition to negotiate with her. The demolition could have been postponed, what mattered most was a human life. Why didn't the fire brigade douse her with water after she poured gasoline on herself? Wouldn't they have done so under normal circumstances? Why did the authorities wake up to the house's illegal status after so many years? All this on State-owned TV. Obama and the US media, are you listening?








Barack Obama's exit plan from Afghanistan, like almost everything else he has said since he became the president of the United States of America, is peppered with mixed messages. Unlike his predecessor, George W. Bush, whose world view was strictly black and white ("Either you are with us or against us"), Obama loves to play to the full gallery. So, to please those who support the war, he has promised to send an additional 33,000 troops to Afghanistan (30,000 in his initial address to the US marines at West Point on December 2, and 3,000 more a few days later). For those who are opposed to military action, Obama has pledged a swift departure from Afghanistan over the next 18 months by gradually phasing out US presence. Obama seems to believe that escalating war efforts would yield the desired results, although Lyndon Johnson's catastrophic experiments in Vietnam in the Sixties or Gorbachev's surge in Soviet deployment in Afghanistan in the Eighties do not exactly make for success stories.


Ironically, the key element in Obama's speech was success. He emphasized that his administration wishes to bring the war in Afghanistan to "a successful conclusion". Although he made an oblique reference to the "wrenching debate over the [legitimacy of the] Iraq War" (Obama had earlier said it was not his war), his final verdict on Iraq should warm the hearts of die-hard Republicans: "Today, after extraordinary costs, we are bringing the Iraq war to a responsible end… we have given Iraqis a chance to shape their future, and we are successfully leaving Iraq to its people."


Even if US troops are to withdraw from Iraq by 2011, as Obama says, it does not mean that they would be leaving a better nation to the Iraqis. Recent reports in The New York Times reveal how pitifully unprepared the Iraqi militia still is to handle security in their homeland. As Iraqi police forces struggle to get a grip on the equipment and crisis-management strategies devised by the US troops, American soldiers have been instructed to stand by and watch quietly. According to a mutual agreement between the US and Iraq on July 1 this year, the marines are allowed to intervene only if Iraqis solicit their help. In other words, Iraqis are being weaned of the protective embrace of their invaders, who are now engaged in the task of rebuilding a nation they have singlehandedly ruined. The result is mutual incomprehension and exasperation on the part of the US and Iraqi troops.


An NYT report illustrates the situation tellingly: a suicide attack on a full market in Kirkuk, one of the most unsafe cities in Iraq, is followed by even bigger mayhem as clueless Iraqi policemen stand around, without having cordoned off the affected area or even taken the minimum precautions against a second blast (which routinely follows an initial suicide attack) or sniper attacks. Everything that the Americans taught them to do under such circumstances appears to have escaped their minds.


The reason why Obama wants to prolong US presence in Afghanistan is to train an independent Afghan security force, which will be able to protect the country on its own after the foreign protectors go away. If such an idea in Iraq is flawed, then applied to Afghanistan it sounds like wishful thinking. Compared to Iraq, the rate of literacy in Afghanistan is staggeringly low, and corruption astonishingly high. At present, 90,000 Afghan soldiers, along with 93,000 police officers, are struggling to maintain something as basic as attendance rosters. Many commanders are collecting bogus wages by proxy. New recruits don't have to pass tests to qualify for the job; mere participation in the drills is good enough for graduation. It would be a miracle if the US troops are able to push the number of trained Afghan soldiers and police officers anywhere close to the target that the Obama administration has set before itself: 240,000 soldiers and 160,000 officers by 2011, when America intends to pull out of Afghanistan.


It is true that the training of Iraqi forces by US marines has had some, if limited, success so far. That's because the insurgency in Iraq is mostly concentrated around cities and towns. However, in Afghanistan, the troublemakers are spread across treacherous mountains and rural settlements in remote corners. It is difficult to make any foray into these regions not only because of inclement weather and inaccessible roads but also because of the soaring distrust of foreign occupiers among the tribal population. The incorporation of a significant number of Tajiks into the Afghan militia by the US has alienated the Pashtuns even further. The Pashtuns may not be on the best of terms with the Taliban, but still prefer them to the Americans. However, America's key to a decent exit from Afghanistan, as Obama himself has admitted, lies not in escalating the war to ensure an unequivocal victory, but rather in leaving as friends who helped transform the life of the Afghan people, oppressed by the regressive Taliban regime for years. To forge this special relationship, the US must try "winning hearts and minds", as General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander-in-chief in Afghanistan, said: "New resources are not the crux."


A similar idea has been reiterated by Andrey Avetisyan, the Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, who pointed

out recently that the US has been making the same mistake that the Soviets had made in the Eighties — of holding towns and bases without consolidating influence. Influence, in this case, can be exerted in many ways, perhaps most palpably by improving economy and education, and by establishing a credible democracy to oversee governance. America's track record, in all three respects, has been more than dismal.


It is unlikely that Obama would suggest a quick-fix measure to deal with the crumbling Afghan economy, given that his own nation is yet to recover from a severe financial crisis. And while the government and non-governmental organizations have established many schools across Afghanistan, the spread of education has surely not been a priority with either the present or the previous US administrations. The fact that the cost of deploying a US soldier in Afghanistan for a year equals the budget for building about 20 schools puts America's claims of improving literacy in Afghanistan in a sinister context.


Finally, the less said about America's man in Kabul, Hamid Karzai, the better. Although riddled with corruption, Karzai's government returned to power this year, with warm US support, after a massively rigged general election in August. Obama's eyewash on Karzai's comeback is unlikely to have any leverage with even his most ardent admirers: "We and our allies prevented the Taliban from stopping a presidential election," the US president said, "and — although it was marred by fraud — that election produced a government that is consistent with Afghanistan's laws and Constitution." In reality, the run-off to the first round never took place because Abdullah Abdullah, the main opposition candidate, pulled out of the race, and Karzai was returned to power on the basis of his earlier performance, which had fallen short of the 50 per cent majority stipulated by the Afghan constitution to allow him to continue in office.


Building up American influence in Afghanistan merely begins with engaging in the domestic politics of a nation that has traditionally been governed by a social covenant among various ethnic groups under a sovereign king. To look beyond Afghan politics is to confront that more sinister creature, Pakistan, which has been openly abetting militant Islamic activity along its border with Afghanistan for years. Generations of US leaders since Harry S. Truman have recognized the primacy of stabilizing Pakistan so that the US can have a solid foothold in South and Central Asia. And in exchange for huge financial aid from the US — Pakistan became a virtually bankrupt economy as its banking system was damaged by ill-considered Islamist policies — especially since 9/11 and President Bush's War on Terror, Pakistan has at least kept up appearances of cooperation with the US. It is only now that the Obama administration has come up with an ambitious plan in order to kill two birds with one stone — the Afpak policy.


Obama's exit plan from Afghanistan, with a new deadline of 18 months, has suddenly endangered the feasibility of a fruitful Afpak policy. Pakistan is already fearful of a Taliban backlash after the US leaves Afghanistan. So, in the interest of having better ties with its volatile neighbour, it is unwilling to be swayed by Obama's offer of a long-term security guarantee, trade benefits, upgraded military supplies or even a greater regional collaboration with India. It is in the light of this reaction from Pakistan that the Obama administration should rethink its strategies.


Apart from its just apprehensions of a malevolent Taliban, Pakistan's reluctance to work with Obama's deadline is explained by what a stable Afghanistan augurs for Indo-Pak relations. For Pakistan, clearing up the Afghan problem, even provisionally, to America's (and perhaps to India's) satisfaction, is to relinquish control over a key member of the Islamic bloc — and that means seriously weakening Pakistan's stakes in Kashmir. The jihad corridor, as India has learnt to its detriment, runs from the Kashmir valley through Pakistan and straight into the heart of Afghanistan. After the Soviet occupation ended in 1989, scores of mujahideen from Afghanistan, generously sponsored by Wahabbi money, had migrated into Kashmir to fight for azadi and stoke the sentiments of Indian Muslims. That trend has become entrenched over the years.


Unless the Obama administration decides to put in place a comprehensive Indo-Afpak policy, America's role in Afghanistan is not going to be curtailed in any appreciable way. As in Iraq, a process of military disengagement may begin, as diplomatic instead of armed intervention becomes the rule rather than the exception. But ultimately a 'stable' Afghanistan, if created without full checks and balances, has the potential of destabilizing Pakistan further and threatening India's national security. One of the major ways in which the US can avoid these blunders is by reviving the Indo-Pak dialogue on Kashmir, something that has been put on hold since the 26/11 attacks by Pakistani terrorists last year.


Since Partition, both India and Pakistan have been intractable about their demands regarding Kashmir. During the peak of the Cold War, Pakistan was led to behave intransigently, fuelled by military support from China. But the Cold War is over, and even Indo-Chinese ties, though not warm, are amiable enough to have workable trading relations in spite of a lingering border dispute that keeps flaring up every once in a while. Like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, China, too, has learnt to accord at least a token respect to India as an emerging regional power. The result has been beneficial for all. In the same way, until Pakistan is able to come to terms with its own place in the regional power order, the possibility of a lasting peace in South and Central Asia remains highly tenuous.








The situation in Andhra Pradesh has assumed worrying proportions with the agitation for a separate Telangana state turning extremely violent. Protesting activists have been on a rampage in the Telangana region, forcing authorities to impose prohibitory orders and shut down universities to quell the violence.

 Activists are burning buses, looting shops and malls and damaging property. Adding fuel to the fire is Telangana Rashtra Samiti leader K Chandrashekar Rao's fast-unto-death, which is into its 12th day now. Emotions are running high in the state and Rao's deteriorating health could trigger an explosive situation. It is unfortunate that the TRS has chosen to turn to violence and intimidation to press its demands for a Telangana state. There are political and constitutional ways to push these demands. The TRS has sought to justify its resort to violence on the grounds that its political efforts failed to bear fruit and that political allies and successive governments have gone back on promises to create a Telangana state. Indeed, parties across the board have made promises during elections to carve out a Telangana state with a view to getting TRS as an electoral ally and/or winning votes in the Telangana region, and have then gone on to forgetting these promises. Yet this does not justify the TRS' violent strategy.

The TRS has sought to project its leader's fast-unto-death as a non-violent, Gandhian tactic. But there is little non-violence about the way the TRS leader is going about his fast. There is a clear intimidatory element to his fast. For him and his party, fasting is a tool to threaten and issue ultimatums. His politics of blackmail is violent politics. He would do well to bear in mind that Mahatma Gandhi did not look the other way while his supporters unleashed violence. Rather he firmly opposed violence in all its forms.

There is an urgent need for tension to be defused. The TRS leader must call off his hunger strike and urge his party members to halt their violence. As for the government, it needs to debate and discuss seriously the issue of statehood for Telangana. Succumbing to the TRS' intimidatory politics and violence will set off a dangerous trend as it will encourage similar demands in other regions. It is therefore important that the government makes its decision based on clearly thought out principles and not be guided by the politics of expediency.









Israel's announcements of a moratorium on settlements in the West Bank is a half measure which does not have more than symbolic value. Israeli forces have started enforcing the 10-month restriction on construction of new housing projects, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it may not help to restart the peace process. The Israeli cabinet had unilaterally taken the decision last week claiming that it would lead the way to resume the peace talks which were discontinued last year. The Israeli policy on settlements has been the biggest stumbling block in the peace process. The government's  announcement said it is the furthest any government has gone to restrict settlements but is still far short of the demands of the Palestinians and the expectations of the world community, expressed in various UN resolutions and by the world court.

Therefore, it is no surprise that the Palestinians have outrightly rejected the move. The moratorium plan suffers from serious shortcomings. It is a temporary move and does not cover areas which were annexed by Israel in the 1967 war. Leaving out East Jerusalem takes away from the credibility of the move. Palestinians consider East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, which will not be viable if all settlements are not removed. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made this clear but Israel is not ready to make any concessions on this. Even the success of the moratorium is in doubt because there is strong opposition from the hawks in the country and the settlers' lobby. Even the Netanyahu government is hawkish and there are pro-settler parties in the coalition government. The lakhs of settlers have resisted the move to stop fresh constructions. They have accused the Netanyahu government of succumbing to US pressure and sacrificing the interests of Israel.

A total freeze on constructions will send out a positive signal of Israel's intentions to resume  negotiations. An international plan drawn up six years ago had proposed a total freeze and covered East Jerusalem. Since Israel is not ready to comply with the legitimate demand, it is doubtful if the government's move will end the deadlock. The move is seen only as a publicity measure lacking in sincerity and intended to ward off US pressure. The US has welcomed the move but must put more pressure on Israel to make a more substantial gesture which can serve as a basis for talks.









The run up to Copenhagen is turning out to be real bizarre in New Delhi. While the discourse on climate change has not only gone far beyond the scientific community, the momentum for substantial collective action by the comity of nations has reached a crescendo.

It has drawn governments, policy makers and of course politics into the vortex of action which needs to be initiated to change the very way we live. This is only to be expected. Because what is at stake is life on this planet. What is at stake will call for international cooperation of a magnitude and dimension which has no parallel in contemporary history. It is truly a 'united we win, divided we fall' scenario for the whole of humanity.

The context is captured by an editorial released simultaneously across several countries: "The dangers have been becoming apparent for a generation. Now the facts have started to speak: 11 of the past 14 years have been the warmest on record, the Arctic ice-cap is melting, and last year's inflamed oil and food prices provide a foretaste of future havoc. In scientific journals the question is no longer whether humans are to blame, but how little time we have got left to limit the damage."

It further observed, "The politicians in Copenhagen have the power to shape history's judgment on this generation: one that saw a challenge and rose to it, or one so stupid that saw calamity coming but did nothing to avert it. We implore them to make the right choice."

Given the history of its genesis, global warming would require differential levels of responses. The United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change itself talks of "common but differentiated responsibility" of developed and developing countries wherein the former are required to undertake binding emission cuts while the latter would be assisted through funds and technology transfer to adapt to climate change and adopt low-carbon development strategies.

But unfortunately, the advanced countries led by the US in fact seek to shift the burden of the crisis on to the developing countries, especially India, China and other so-called 'emerging economies'. This comes in the background of the Kyoto protocol and the sinister US response. The Kyoto Protocol, in trying to redress the inequities, had set binding emission reduction targets for the developed countries while exempting developing countries from such obligations, instead calling upon them to take appropriate measures commensurate with their national capabilities. Developed countries had blatantly violated their treaty obligations to reduce emissions by 5 per cent compared to 1990 baseline levels by now. On the contrary, their cumulative emissions went up by 10 per cent, while that of the US which refused to join the treaty went up by a massive 17 per cent.

India's role

The UNFCCC was adopted in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Kyoto came in 1997. From Rio to Copenhagen, India has remained in the forefront of this battle for the legitimate concerns of the developing countries — demanding greater burden of global warming and climate change by the developed countries. But now for the first time doubts have been raised about the Indian position. Denmark, the host country, has placed a draft on behalf of the developed countries which denies that 'differentiated responsibility' removes the distinction between the developed and the developing countries and will be disastrous for India and other developing countries.
That the Danish proposal has the full backing of the Obama administration is amply clear from the statement issued by White House on Dec 4: "After months of diplomatic activity, there is progress being made towards a meaningful Copenhagen accord in which all countries pledge to take action against the global threat of climate change. Following bilateral meetings with the President and since the US announced an emissions reduction target that reflects the progress being made in Congress towards comprehensive energy legislation, China and India have for the first time set targets to reduce their carbon intensity. There has also been progress in advancing the Danish proposal for an immediate, operational accord that covers all of the issues under negotiation, including the endorsement of key elements of this approach."

Doubts arise with the flip-flop that Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has been putting up. To start with, he claimed that India will not be the 'deal breaker'. Does a 'deal' depend on India's keenness? The prospect of the 'deal' depends on the developed countries to accept "common but differentiated responsibility"- based binding cut on emissions, the recognition of per capita emission principle, funding responsibility for adaptation technologies to be pursued by the poor and LDCs and waiving restrictions for technology transfers invoking IPR. The Danish draft and the White House statement do pose a serious question. This is particularly more so, in the light of Jairam's observations in the Lok Sabha debate.

Jairam introduced modifications and caveats to India's fundamental negotiating position on climate change. These are per capita emissions as the basis of negotiations, differentiating between Annex 1 and non-Annex countries and the actions of the developing countries being predicated on the financial and technology transfers position from the rich countries. On each of these points, the minister deviated from India's position and even from the PM has taken on these issues. He was dismissive of India's stand on per capita emissions as the basis for equitable burden-sharing at Copenhagen, calling India's low per capita emissions an 'accident of history''.

India can neither fail its own poor, nor the whole humanity. A binding commitment from those who have landed the planet on a precipice will have to be forced in Copenhagen.








A feeling of restful calm wraps itself around me whenever I enter my sister Amoo's home. It emanates from the lush greenery that flourishes wherever she is. Her green fingers can coax plants from stony ground and turn dun-coloured earth into a carpet of colours.

It was not always so. During our childhood, Amoo showed no inclination towards gardening. Marriage to an army officer changed this. Field work separated them often and, during the long and lonely hours, she turned to plants to instill colour into her life. The 'khalasi' was there to give her a helping hand. Not an ace-gardener, he however knew a thing or two about growing things. He cleared a bramble-covered patch of land and planted tomatoes and groundnut. The virgin soil responded magnificently and the yield was handsome. Amoo found herself distributing the crop, even sending some of it home. All this enthused her so much that she ventured into growing flowering plants. Not one of them was exotic; they were all native to the soil and hardy in character. With just a little care, they flourished and bloomed in all hues and sizes. Flamboyant zinnia, sunny marigold and multi-coloured, cream-eyed verbena blossomed side by side and drew admiring looks.

Moving to Bangalore added an edge to her passion. The area adjoining the entrance to the house is covered in a conglomerate of bright and showy flowers. Amoo does not believe in separation and segregation. Mixed together are marigold, chrysanthemum and impatiens. Enclosing this is a border of St Joseph lilies in pink and white. Together they make a stunning spectacle. The manure she uses is home-grown — compost made of egg-shells, vegetable peels, tea and coffee dregs and a rather secret ingredient, horse-dung collected from Cubbon Park during early morning walks!

Nothing exotic, nothing expensive, she explains, adding that plants respond to love, touch and, yes, even to music. Going by the results, it is nothing but the truth.

The other day, her granddaughter brought home a return gift from a birthday party. It was a pot of African lilies. Amoo was thrilled. "What a thoughtful gift," she exclaimed, "a piece of green!" "And the peace of green too," I added, but she was out of ear-shot, having hurried off to find her newest prize a safe and sheltered niche in her beautiful garden.








The 20th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall reminded Americans of just how heady it felt when a triumphant America stood astride a collapsing Soviet empire. Two decades later, Americans find themselves bewildered and resentful. Many are now asking, Where did it all go?

In truth the decline of American supremacy was a long time coming. Even at the height of US power, crucial trends were undermining the long-term health of American society. A humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an exhausting war of choice in Iraq, a political class ever more beholden to corporate coffers, crumbling educational, medical and public infrastructures, an debt-driven economy dominated by risky financial speculation at the expense of productive activity: All these and more sapped the essential sources of national


Now, as Americans survey the wreckage of their dreams, their responses to this diminished destiny are sharply divided. The financial collapse of 2008 left most Americans breathless and bereft.


The financial collapse occurred just in time to hand Barack Obama a ticking time bomb. Recently released documents reveal that the fix was already in during the last days of the Bush administration to hand US banks and investment firms a free pass to cover their misdeeds and emerge not just unscathed but with a still more dominant role in the American economy. The Obama administration was handed a poisoned chalice and forced to drink it.

But Obama then compounded the crime with egregious errors of his own that have left his supporters deeply dispirited. Instead of defending ordinary Americans from the depredations of an unconscionable financial sector, he handed the tiller to the bankers.

The result is that 10 months after a tidal wave of progressive populist hope, the 'liberal moment' is already waning. In its place, a much more menacing populism is emerging. It deftly exploits the fears of those left behind by the new economy and stokes fear and loathing in venom spewed by incendiary talk show hosts, Rupert Murdoch's fact-free Fox News, a virulent blogosphere, orchestrated 'tea parties' and bizarre 'birther' movements.

This retro populism glories in its own ignorance. For the past few decades Republicans have found a winning formula in putting forth presidential candidates manifestly unqualified for the job yet hugely appealing to a significant segment of the population that isn't comfortable with anyone leading them who knows more than they do.

Far right populism is fuelled by conspiratorial fantasies and a surly contempt for facts and reasoned debate. Historian Richard Hofstadter once called this "the paranoid style in American politics". Like a lethal political virus, it routinely erupts during periods of economic distress and social dislocation.

It all sounds eerily familiar, with haunting echoes of the rise of fascism in Europe two generations ago. The accelerating decline of US power and influence after decades of malfeasance and mis-governance raises the question of how Americans will take no longer being Number One. The contrasting populisms of right and left reflect radically different responses. On the left a new localism is emerging in post-political movements for self-reliance, simplicity, and a renewed spirit of interdependent community. Many long for their country to be liberated from the burdens of empire so as to focus on rebuilding a more equitable and sustainable American dream.

Confronting the same disturbing trends, retro populism shares the impulse to return to family, friends and community. But it expresses itself in anger at the immigrants, minorities, and cultural elites its adherents see as undermining traditional American values. And it forcefully rejects any future where the United States is perceived as anything less than "the greatest nation on earth".

Progressives have long warned of a homegrown American fascism. Yet the self-balancing nature of its government and the ballast of its middle-class society have always prevented the country from succumbing to its worst excesses. But now, the decline of its superpower status, massive economic insecurity, orchestrated rage, and a poorly informed and educated public could combine with the amplifying effects of partisan media to unhinge American history.








Less than a month ago, some 150 Jewish Agency shlichim (emissaries) from around the world gathered outside Baltimore to be updated on the professional issues they face in their day-to-day work.


Among the matters discussed was how these representatives of Israel can most effectively present their country to the world and specifically to international Jewry. The issue is serious, indeed, at a time of decreasing international support for Israel, and a sense in Israel that the country is often misrepresented in the media, on university campuses and beyond.


But what also needs to be addressed is whether these emissary-ambassadors, chosen by the increasingly weakened Jewish Agency, are the ones who should be doing much of this crucial job.


After more than 40 years of embedding Israelis into Jewish communities around the world, apathy towards this country is at an all time high, with a larger proportion of funds raised abroad going back into local projects rather than being directed towards Israel. In addition, assimilation continues to grow as Jewish identity weakens.


Information posted on the Jewish Agency's Web site explains that the goal of shlichut is to "strengthen the unique and multifaceted significance of Israel in the community and connect the next generation of the Jewish people to its people and homeland."


The shaliach, the text continues, "works with the various community bodies and organizations, namely: synagogue, day schools, Sunday schools, community centers and youth and student organizations" to present a positive image of Israel.


The emissaries are carefully chosen by a special team at the Jewish Agency's offices in Jerusalem. Those who run the selection process claim they appoint only those with experience in informal education and Zionists with a clear knowledge and understanding of the global Jewish community and Israeli life and culture.


Many emissaries are truly suited to the complex task. Others, all too plainly, are not.


What is sometimes overlooked in the selection process is whether appointees have all the correct tools to fully understand the diverse communities in which they are placed. Obviously, language is a barrier, but it is not the only barrier; there are also many cultural and religious concerns too. In fact, it has long been a standing joke in international Jewish circles that these emissaries are sometimes "too Israeli" to bridge the wide Israel-Diaspora divide.


Now that divide is bigger than ever, and the diversity of opinions and beliefs in Israel can hardly even be summed up by one single person. At the same time, in this age of instant communication, access to the kind of basic information that shlichim have traditionally provided about Israel is far more easily available, and negotiating the bureaucracies necessary to plan for a home in Israel is much more straightforward. All this intensifies the question of whether it makes strategic and financial sense for communities and/or organizations to continue supporting these shlichim. Can the $40,000-$130,000 needed by a community to bankroll a shaliach be better directed?


Already communities such as Boston, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, West Palm Beach and Denver have opted not to hire an Israeli emissary in their community. But what is the alternative?


IN OCTOBER, birthright israel, the program that brings thousands of young Jews from around the world to Israel for a free 10-day trip, published a first-of-a-kind study highlighting that its alumni are 57 percent more likely to marry a fellow Jew than those who have not participated in the program. The report also found that even this short stay in the holy land has a "profound long-term impact on Jewish identity and connectedness to Israel."


Here then, surely, is the beginning of an answer to the dilemma over the continued focus and spending on shlichim: Reallocate efforts, and funding, to bring more Diaspora Jews to Israel, even if it is only for a short stay, so they can see and understand for themselves the beauty and importance of a Jewish state - so they themselves can hear the range of voices and feel the magic of Israel.


While birthright focuses on the Jewish student population, its achievements can easily be translated to both younger and older Jews, to professionals directly connected to the organized Jewish world, and to those who are less involved.


Birthright's successes are quantifiably impressive. Rather than individual Israeli shlichim struggling from their overseas postings to convey a sense of Israel, those successes highlight the imperative for a shift to encouraging and enabling more Jews of all ages to enjoy an Israel experience first-hand.








It was ironic but no surprise to learn that immediately after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's settlement freeze, the response of the Swedish head of the European Union was to preempt negotiations with the Palestinians and make further harsh demands upon the Israelis.


This brought to mind a dramatic verbal exchange I encountered as a participant in the Europe Israel Dialogue which took place recently in Jerusalem under the auspices of Lord Weidenfeld.


I had disagreed with those who were arguing that we should seek support from the Europeans and rely less on the US. I said that notwithstanding the problems Israel faces with the Obama administration, our dependency on support from a superpower rested with the US and that the Europeans had proven to be untrustworthy allies and repeatedly betrayed us.


I also noted that in contrast to the American people who overwhelmingly support Israel, opinion polls taken in Europe confirm that the prevailing consensus perceives Israel as a rogue state posing a greater threat to world peace and stability than even Iran or North Korea. I also related to the craven European appeasement of the Arabs and their willingness to sacrifice Israel on the altar of expediency.


My views were not well received by the predominantly liberal gathering, many of whom shared the illusion that if only Israel were to employ better PR, the enlightened Western traditions which we purportedly share with Europe would somehow enable us to overcome all differences.


TO MY astonishment, one of the leading participants, Dr. Mathias Dopfner, the highly charismatic chief executive of the powerful German Axel Springer Company, entered the discussion and not only endorsed my views, but passionately stated that I had in fact understated the depth of hostility against Israel radiating from Europe. He provided a chilling evaluation of the situation and warned that even Germany, now still bound to Israel because of its special relationship, would in all likelihood also distance itself from us in the future. It was extraordinary hearing a prominent German speaking in such frank terms and warning Israel not to rely on Europe.


Subsequently, I read Robin Shepherd's fascinating new book A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel, an in-depth analysis of Europe's relationship with Israel. The book makes painful reading.


Shepherd, who is not Jewish, was formerly a senior executive of Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, heading its European desk. He was unceremoniously dumped when he wrote an article in The Times favorable to Israel. Today he is the director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society and among other pursuits, publishes a daily blog dealing with the double standards employed against Israel in the United Kingdom.


The basic thesis of Shepherd's book is that without discounting the appalling inroads of the new anti-Semitism and the impact of Islamic extremism, the real source of the problem in Europe rests with the indigenous opinion makers who have become profoundly tired and discontented. He observes that many of the elites had absorbed ideological strains from the far left, including nihilism, pacifism, colonial guilt, moral relativism and an antipathy to nationalism. This eroded their will to defend their values and fight for the maintenance of their civilization and culminated with an unholy alliance between the radical left and Islamism.


People who had spent their lives campaigning for the rights of women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities and pacifism are now making common cause with some of the most violent religious bigots on the planet. This has also encouraged European elites to labor under the false illusion that they can coexist with radical jihadist elements by appeasing them.


Shepherd also describes how the Jews, who in the immediate post-war era still enjoyed warm relations with liberals and the left, have now been rejected by them. He shows in brutal terms, how these groups continue expressing concern and commemorate dead Jews, but are less inclined to support the living, especially when it comes to those residing in their Jewish homeland where, to use the lexicon of Engels, they became transformed into a "reactionary people."


Shepherd says that "something has clearly gone wrong when it has becomes increasingly difficult to tell the difference between some of the language, tone and content of mainstream commentary on Israel in Europe from the daily polemic against the Jewish state in the Arab and Muslim world."


He observes that the vilest depictions of Israel such as "shitty," "Nazi," "apartheid" and "war criminal" have been absorbed into the everyday chatter of elite groups.


He concludes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is effectively a litmus test of Europe's failure to survive in the face of Islamic extremism. He says that "the anti-Israeli agenda in Europe is a stain on its integrity... There are hundreds of reasons for Europe to clean up its act on Israel. Self-preservation and self-respect are just two of them".


This superbly written and meticulously documented book is possibly the best study published analyzing the obsessive and virulent bias which Europe radiates toward Israel. It should be read by scholars and laymen alike, especially those engaged in Middle East affairs.


ANOTHER RECENT book release which complements that of Shepherd is Christopher Caldwell"s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. Caldwell, a highly regarded London Financial Times journalist, deals with Islam in Europe and depicts how uncontrolled Muslim immigration has resulted in catastrophic unintended consequences. He highlights the abject failure of multiculturalism, noting that second-generation Muslim immigrants have become less integrated than the first and that the third generation is even worse.


The demographic future he projects is very gloomy. Native Europeans have insufficient children to maintain replacement, while Muslim immigrants continue having large families. He demonstrates how, unless current trends are reversed, within half a century Islam will be the majority religion of young people in many European countries.


He describes how a combination of complacency and a refusal to face up to reality, combined with moral relativism, has encouraged European governments to stand by while agents of radical Islam made headway in many communities and are now in the process of displacing Western civilization and transforming Europe.


Caldwell is emphatic that as a determined adversary culture, Islam has the potential of conquering Europe unless European governments display the courage to demand that migrants accept the secularism, tolerance and equality of Western culture.


In this context, one would expect Europeans to be concentrating their energies on devising strategies to retain their heritage and way of life, rather than appeasing the extremist Islamic groups which are undermining their Judeo-Christian civilization.


Were they to move in this direction there is every probability that the European penchant to demonize and try to delegitimize Israel might also be directed toward more constructive objectives.







A man on the Israeli side of the Erez border crossing tries to climb the fence into Gaza, ignoring the shouts and warning shots of Israeli guards, calling out in Hebrew that he's "going in to free Gilad Schalit," and one of the soldiers shoots him in the leg.


The man lies bleeding on the ground - the bullet hit a major artery - but the soldiers are afraid to get too close for fear he's wearing a suicide belt under his coat. After "many long minutes," first aid arrives and the man, who's unarmed, is taken to the hospital, where he dies of blood loss.


The IDF, Defense Ministry and Israel Police announce that, under the circumstances, the guards did the right thing. They followed the army's "procedure for apprehending a suspect."


This happened around 2 a.m. Sunday night. The dead man, Yakir Ben-Melech, 34, of Bat Yam, was mentally disturbed, had been obsessed with Gilad Schalit, and after watching a program on the Schalit family that night, decided to take matters into his own hands. His family told the media he was killed for nothing. "He was running from the direction of Israel to the border fence, so why did they shoot him?" his sister-in-law asked.


Based on what security officials are saying, I think the guards shot Ben-Melech because this is how the military mind works - anything strange is suspicious, anything suspicious is dangerous and anything dangerous has to be neutralized one way or another.


THIS ABSURD tragedy could have happened anywhere in the world, but it was more likely to happen at a place like the Erez border crossing, where circumstances lead military minds to be unusually suspicious, unusually alert to danger and, therefore, unusually rigid and aggressive.


Such a killing could have happened in any country, but it was more likely to happen in a country that lives by the principle that there's no such thing as too much fear.


You read some of these security officials' statements about the shooting, and you see they're working really hard to justify it, even to themselves.


"The guards had no way of knowing who he was and feared that his attempted infiltration was part of a larger-scale terror attack," one official explained."


A terror attack against whom? Against Israel? Why would an Arab terrorist who's already in Israel try to infiltrate Gaza so he can then commit a terrorist act against Israel?


The most incisive bit of official reasoning was this one: "Ben-Melech was wearing a heavy coat, raising suspicions that he was carrying weapons or explosives..." I would think that on a December night at the edge of the desert, anybody who wasn't wearing a heavy coat would be suspicious. But then I'm just a civilian.


Actually, I was an IDF soldier once, and as a new immigrant draftee in a company of alte cockers in basic training, I spent many, many hours learning how to guard, which mainly meant drilling the "procedure for apprehending a suspect." Based on that experience, I'm willing to bet that the soldiers at Erez had been trained endlessly on what to do if somebody tried to climb the fence from Gaza into Israel - but not at all on what to do if somebody was going the other way. It's such an unlikely possibility, it probably never occurred to the instructors or soldiers - and why should it have? If it did occur to them, they no doubt laughed it off.


I can't imagine IDF instructors drilling soldiers seriously on how to react if somebody tries to climb the fence from Israel into Gaza. When it actually happened, I'm sure those soldiers didn't know what in the hell to do - and why should they have?


But, I speculate, they figured they had to do something. They were responsible for security at Erez, and no one's allowed to climb the fence into Gaza, obviously. So they followed the procedure for apprehending a suspect - they shouted for him to stop, and when he didn't, they fired in the air, and when he still didn't stop, "the guards opened fire at Ben-Melech's legs, in accordance with military regulations."


They shot to subdue, not to kill, but this is a very dicey proposition: Bullets aimed at the legs often end up in the midsection, the torso or the head. This one hit the suspect's legs as intended, but it killed him anyway.


There's no doubt Ben-Melech was suspect. He was violating security at Israel's border with Gaza. He was a danger.


But a danger to whom? To Israel? How was he a danger to Israel? True, if he'd made it across to Gaza, he would have gotten arrested if not killed by Hamas or other Islamic militants, and they might have tried to trade him or his remains to Israel in return for imprisoned terrorists. But would that possibility have been a justification for shooting him? To protect Israel from a prisoner trade the government might have made to get him back? To protect Israel from being driven crazy again by the media having another Gilad Schalit to play up?


"I'm going in to free Gilad Schalit," he called out before being shot. What an absurd, bitter Israeli tragedy this was.


Yakir Ben-Melech was a danger, of course, but not to Israel. He was a danger to himself. If the soldiers couldn't pull him off the fence or were too afraid to get close enough to try, they should have let him go to Gaza, not shot him. They might have figured he was mentally disturbed. At worst they might have figured he was an Israeli Arab trying to "defect."


The only way they could have figured he was a terrorist threat to this country is if they were brainwashed with fear, which, unfortunately, is likely to happen to Israeli soldiers guarding the Erez border crossing.


And not just to them.


Postscript: In my column of November 26 I wrote: "After 9/11, the Americans should have retaliated by carpet bombing select areas of [Afghanistan], killing tens of thousands of people, terrorists and civilians both..." Since then, several readers have written to say that in light of that statement, it's hypocritical of me to denounce Israel's deliberate punishment of civilians in Gaza. Because my column was about Afghanistan, I didn't want to go off on a tangent and explain the difference between the US war in that country and Israel's war in Gaza, but I will now.


The difference is that after 9/11, America was fighting in Afghanistan in self-defense, and in my view, when you're fighting in self-defense, you have the right to punish the enemy's civilians for the purpose of deterring the enemy from attacking you again. I felt Israel had the same right in the Second Lebanon War, also a war of self-defense (at least at the outset), as I wrote on March 12, 2008: "I supported Israel's unstated policy of punishing the civilian population in Lebanon... because I saw no other way to rein in Hizbullah, no other means of bringing pressure on those fanatics to leave us alone."


But Operation Cast Lead was not a war of self-defense. Israel might well have achieved peace and quiet for Sderot had it not imposed a devastating blockade on Gaza immediately after the disengagement. From the beginning, Israel answered the Kassams with weapons of incomparably greater deadliness and destructiveness.


On the eve of the war, Israel rejected Hamas's offer to end the rocketing in return for a lifting of the blockade. After all that, Israel did not have the right to attack any Gazan targets, military or civilian, because this was not a war of self-defense, of last resort, at all. The dead civilians, flattened neighborhoods and blasted infrastructure were the war's worst effects, which is why I single them out, but they're not what made the war unjust; Operation Cast Lead was unjust from its inception.








It was ironic but no surprise to learn that immediately after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's settlement freeze, the response of the Swedish head of the European Union was to preempt negotiations with the Palestinians and make further harsh demands upon the Israelis.


This brought to mind a dramatic verbal exchange I encountered as a participant in the Europe Israel Dialogue which took place recently in Jerusalem under the auspices of Lord Weidenfeld.


I had disagreed with those who were arguing that we should seek support from the Europeans and rely less on the US. I said that notwithstanding the problems Israel faces with the Obama administration, our dependency on support from a superpower rested with the US and that the Europeans had proven to be untrustworthy allies and repeatedly betrayed us.


I also noted that in contrast to the American people who overwhelmingly support Israel, opinion polls taken in Europe confirm that the prevailing consensus perceives Israel as a rogue state posing a greater threat to world peace and stability than even Iran or North Korea. I also related to the craven European appeasement of the Arabs and their willingness to sacrifice Israel on the altar of expediency.


My views were not well received by the predominantly liberal gathering, many of whom shared the illusion that if only Israel were to employ better PR, the enlightened Western traditions which we purportedly share with Europe would somehow enable us to overcome all differences.


TO MY astonishment, one of the leading participants, Dr. Mathias Dopfner, the highly charismatic chief executive of the powerful German Axel Springer Company, entered the discussion and not only endorsed my views, but passionately stated that I had in fact understated the depth of hostility against Israel radiating from Europe. He provided a chilling evaluation of the situation and warned that even Germany, now still bound to Israel because of its special relationship, would in all likelihood also distance itself from us in the future. It was extraordinary hearing a prominent German speaking in such frank terms and warning Israel not to rely on Europe.


Subsequently, I read Robin Shepherd's fascinating new book A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem with Israel, an in-depth analysis of Europe's relationship with Israel. The book makes painful reading.


Shepherd, who is not Jewish, was formerly a senior executive of Chatham House, the Royal Institute for International Affairs, heading its European desk. He was unceremoniously dumped when he wrote an article in The Times favorable to Israel. Today he is the director of international affairs at the Henry Jackson Society and among other pursuits, publishes a daily blog dealing with the double standards employed against Israel in the United Kingdom.


The basic thesis of Shepherd's book is that without discounting the appalling inroads of the new anti-Semitism and the impact of Islamic extremism, the real source of the problem in Europe rests with the indigenous opinion makers who have become profoundly tired and discontented. He observes that many of the elites had absorbed ideological strains from the far left, including nihilism, pacifism, colonial guilt, moral relativism and an antipathy to nationalism. This eroded their will to defend their values and fight for the maintenance of their civilization and culminated with an unholy alliance between the radical left and Islamism.


People who had spent their lives campaigning for the rights of women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities and pacifism are now making common cause with some of the most violent religious bigots on the planet. This has also encouraged European elites to labor under the false illusion that they can coexist with radical jihadist elements by appeasing them.


Shepherd also describes how the Jews, who in the immediate post-war era still enjoyed warm relations with liberals and the left, have now been rejected by them. He shows in brutal terms, how these groups continue expressing concern and commemorate dead Jews, but are less inclined to support the living, especially when it comes to those residing in their Jewish homeland where, to use the lexicon of Engels, they became transformed into a "reactionary people."


Shepherd says that "something has clearly gone wrong when it has becomes increasingly difficult to tell the difference between some of the language, tone and content of mainstream commentary on Israel in Europe from the daily polemic against the Jewish state in the Arab and Muslim world."


He observes that the vilest depictions of Israel such as "shitty," "Nazi," "apartheid" and "war criminal" have been absorbed into the everyday chatter of elite groups.


He concludes that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is effectively a litmus test of Europe's failure to survive in the face of Islamic extremism. He says that "the anti-Israeli agenda in Europe is a stain on its integrity... There are hundreds of reasons for Europe to clean up its act on Israel. Self-preservation and self-respect are just two of them".


This superbly written and meticulously documented book is possibly the best study published analyzing the obsessive and virulent bias which Europe radiates toward Israel. It should be read by scholars and laymen alike, especially those engaged in Middle East affairs.


ANOTHER RECENT book release which complements that of Shepherd is Christopher Caldwell"s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West. Caldwell, a highly regarded London Financial Times journalist, deals with Islam in Europe and depicts how uncontrolled Muslim immigration has resulted in catastrophic unintended consequences. He highlights the abject failure of multiculturalism, noting that second-generation Muslim immigrants have become less integrated than the first and that the third generation is even worse.


The demographic future he projects is very gloomy. Native Europeans have insufficient children to maintain replacement, while Muslim immigrants continue having large families. He demonstrates how, unless current trends are reversed, within half a century Islam will be the majority religion of young people in many European countries.


He describes how a combination of complacency and a refusal to face up to reality, combined with moral relativism, has encouraged European governments to stand by while agents of radical Islam made headway in many communities and are now in the process of displacing Western civilization and transforming Europe.


Caldwell is emphatic that as a determined adversary culture, Islam has the potential of conquering Europe unless European governments display the courage to demand that migrants accept the secularism, tolerance and equality of Western culture.


In this context, one would expect Europeans to be concentrating their energies on devising strategies to retain their heritage and way of life, rather than appeasing the extremist Islamic groups which are undermining their Judeo-Christian civilization.


Were they to move in this direction there is every probability that the European penchant to demonize and try to delegitimize Israel might also be directed toward more constructive objectives.








Fill in the blank: In the year 2009, Israel celebrated the 100th anniversary of the founding of _____. Chances are that if you spent any time in the country over the past 12 months and were semiconscious, your answer would be "Tel Aviv." Unless you are still celebrating May 1 as International Workers' Day and are a trivia freak, in which case you may have responded: "Deganya," the very first kibbutz, which happened to come into being at the very same time as the first Jewish city in modern times.


Interesting. When the Zionist idea first entered my consciousness in the late '60s, I'm fairly sure that had I been asked then what we would more likely be celebrating 40 years hence, the metropolis or the farm, I'd have bet on the latter. For Jewish youth in the Diaspora living in an age of isms, Tel Aviv represented so much that the revolutionary movement of Jewish self-determination seemed to be revolting against: individualism, capitalism, materialism and hedonism.


Israel's communal settlements, on the other hand, were perceived as the embodiment of the very opposite: collectivism, socialism, asceticism and altruism and were fêted as a harbinger of a new social order, proof that human nature could indeed be reoriented. Hi-tech was not yet part of our vocabulary, and it was social, not computer engineering that was then touted as being Zionism's great gift to humanity. Our movement, after all, wasn't only about making the world a better place for the Jews, but a better place for everyone.


SO WHAT happened? Why is the party takingplace along the shores of the Mediterranean
rather than the Kinneret? Perhaps it's a matter ofnumbers. There are some 390,000 residents ofTel Aviv-Jaffa, and more than 3.1 million in theurban sprawl of Gush Dan of which it is the hub. Deganya Aleph claims only some 550 inhabitants, and all the communes it mothered fewer than 130,000.


But the answer cannot be attributed entirely tostatistics. The kibbutzim were never home to
more than 2 percent-3% of Israel's population, even in the years preceding statehood, yet they once dominated the Zionist self-image and provided the entire enterprise with one of its most popular myths - not without foundation - that the top echelon of the country's leadership was nurtured on the ethos of communal children's homes.


No one argues that anymore, not in an age when"from each according to his ability, to each according to his need" is no longer the ideal, not even in the abstract, and when there is nothing pejorative in characterizing an individual as someone who knows how to look out for himself.


This shift in values has not spared the kibbutzim, which have gone through a process of privatization that has made them something of anathema to their founders. (That process overtook even Deganya just a few months ago.) Meanwhile, there has been a concurrent retrospective reevaluation of Tel Aviv and a popularization of all that it meant for the nascent movement of Jewish national liberation.


Perhaps it is fitting, then, that the year offestivities in the city that never sleeps will officially wind up on December 15 with the opening of a new historical museum, located just across the street from the historical home of Chaim Nahman Bialik. It is this history, and the contribution of Israel's national poet and his contemporaries to the Jewish renaissance, which infuses the merriment with substance.


Despite the remark popularly attributed to Meir Dizengoff, Tel Aviv's first mayor, welcoming the first reports of prostitution in the city as a reassuring sign of the normalization of the Jewish people, one somehow doubts that Mayor Ron Huldai today finds similar comfort in the latest reports on human trafficking in his city, or on the poverty in its slums, the exploitation of its foreign workers and the rise in crime on its streets and beaches.


Bialik, in any case, would most definitely not.

Witness to the wretched suffering wrought uponthe Jews in the Kishinev pogroms, eloquently documented in his epic poem "In the City of Slaughter," he beseeched his people to create a city of hope in their Old New Land: "On a summer's day, a scorching day at high noon / with the sky a blazing furnace / the heart seeks a quiet corner to dream - / Come to me, come to me my weary friend."


But if Tel Aviv in its revelry can boast Bialik as its native son, the kibbutzim around the Sea of Galilee can claim Rahel as their native daughter. And 2009, it turns out, is the perfect year in which to do just that. By stunning coincidence, 1909 was the year in which both poets first came to the Land of Israel, which means that this is a centennial celebrating not only the first Jewish city and the first kibbutz, but also the people who built them.


The poetess of the Second Aliya laborers spoke on behalf of them all: "I have not sung to you, my country / nor have I glorified your name / with heroic deeds / or the spoils of war / Only a tree have I planted with my own hands / on the bank of the gentle Jordan / Only a path have my feet trodden / upon the open fields." Bialik and Rachel died long ago, but what of the idealism, romanticism and passion they personified? By chance, I recently had the opportunity to visit the two cemeteries in which they are buried, along with so many other pioneers of their generation, sung and unsung alike.


IN THE center of the country, it was at the endof a workday, against the bustling backdrop of busy coffeehouses and traffic-filled streets, framed by tall buildings whose lighted windows at dusk revealed a vitality that those who had witnessed the city's dawn, and whose graves I was wandering among, would have found impossible to prophesy. Ahad Ha'am, Shaul Tchernichovsky, Haim Arlozorov, Yosef Haim Brenner and Menahem Sheinkin all lie within earshot of Bialik.


In the North, it was at night, with the moonlit Kinneret - visible through a grove of lofty palm trees - shimmering silently in the background, a resplendent reflection of the nature and harmony cherished by those whose final resting place I was trespassing. Rahel's eternal neighbors include Moshe Hess, Dov Ber Borochov, Nahman Sirkin and Berl Katznelson, to name only a few. Well, perhaps one more. When Rahel was buried in 1931, one of the mourners at her graveside was Rivka Sapir, a founder of Kvutzat Kinneret, the communal settlement that Rahel had made her home. She held her one-year old infant in her arms. She would grow up to be none other than Naomi Shemer, first lady of Israeli song, now interred just a stanza away from her lifelong inspiration.


One visit was every bit as inspiring as the other.


While the headstones above ground reveal only the briefest hint of the biographies they eternalize beneath, they constitute a stirring testimony to the countless lives lived in pursuit of a common dream, multifaceted though it may be. Which aspects of that dream reflect our ideals today? Which remind us of our successes - which of our failures? Which represent our aspirations?


Whatever answers we may have individually, collectively we owe our presence here today to these men and women and to the infrastructure they fashioned, to the ambitions they nurtured, to the ideals they cherished and to the dreams they wouldn't relinquish. They are our buried treasures, of inestimable value. The more we dig into their past, the more we familiarize ourselves with their stories, the wealthier shall we become.


Try it, you'll see. The next time someone asks you what centennial Israel celebrated this year, tell them: the arrival of Chaim Nahman Bialik and Rahel Bluwstein in the Land of Israel. You'll feel richer already. May we be deserving of their sacrifices. May we be worthy of their legacy.


The writer represents worldwide Masorti/Conservative Judaism on the executives of the Jewish Agency and World Zionist Organization, where he also serves as head of the Department for Zionist Activities.








December 10 is known as International Human Rights Day, marking the anniversary of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Genocide Conventions. But in 2009, as in past years, there is little to celebrate - this has been another bad year for human rights. In Darfur, the Congo and elsewhere in Africa, mass killings continue, with only minor and sporadic attention from the media or the United Nations.


In Iran, a rigged election brought thousands of democracy protestors into the streets, where they were beaten and arrested (70 demonstrators, including Neda Agha-Soltan, were reportedly killed), followed by Stalinist show-trials designed to intimidate these advocates. And in Asia, the tyrannical regimes in North Korea and Myanmar terrorize their citizens daily, with no end in sight.


This bleak record highlights the abject failure of the international community to live up to its moral commitments. The United Nations Human Rights Council pursues a cynical agenda that uses the rhetoric of international law as a weapon in the political war targeting Israel.


The Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), China, Russia and other chronic human rights abusers, constitute a majority on the UNHRC and appoint its officials. They have no interest in opening a discussion of Tibet, Chechnya, or the systematic oppression of women or minorities in Saudi Arabia.


Israel is a convenient diversion, which explains the obsessive focus on claims of "war crimes" and "collective punishment," as well as the biased composition and activities of the Goldstone inquiry on the Gaza conflict.


THE NON-GOVERNMENTAL human rights watchdogs that were created to offset the unethical behavior and biases of anti-democratic governments, have become accomplices. Superpowers like Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Paris-based International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH), and similar groups work closely with and support the agendas of the UNHRC and other international frameworks.


They joined officials from Arab countries in campaigning on behalf of the Goldstone Report. Instead of speaking truth to this blatant abuse of power, officials of these self-proclaimed human rights groups are part of the problem, and most journalists blindly follow their lead. The past year has seen even greater cooperation between the UN and NGOs in distorting human rights values beyond recognition. Human Rights Watch was caught raising funds from wealthy members of Saudi Arabia's elite. Instead of leading the campaign against the abuses imposed by the Wahhabi religious police, this "watchdog" hosted a member of the Shura council at a dinner which featured more Israel-bashing and sinister warnings of the power of the "pro-Israel lobby." And HRW's "senior military analyst" and author of numerous attacks on Israel was suspended, while questions were raised regarding his professional qualifications and credibility.


In parallel, Amnesty International and other groups continue to warp human rights and international law into ideological platforms for fighting Western democracy and open societies. Like HRW, a highly disproportionate percentage of Amnesty's reports and campaigns focus on criticizing the United States and NATO countries for alleged infractions in Iraq and Afghanistan, while terrorists and their state supporters get relatively little attention.


BUT IN 2009, there were also some signs that the "halo effect," which protects human rights frameworks from scrutiny and criticism, has begun to deteriorate. Robert Bernstein, the founder of HRW, published an op-ed in the New York Times in which he denounced his own organization for betraying its moral principles. Although HRW officials launched a campaign to discredit Bernstein and other critics, the charges are too serious to be ignored, and HRW will ne


ed an entirely new and unbiased leadership to restore its credibility.


In addition, the April 2009 attempt to reproduce the catastrophic 2001 Durban NGO Forum - in which 1500 radical NGOs used a UN anti-racism conference to promote anti-Semitism - was defeated. Canada led the way, and this process highlighted the need to redesign the entire UN human rights structure.


These are small but important steps in the right direction. The absurdity of human rights groups raising funds from wealthy Saudi leaders, and of a Libyan official chairing UN human rights sessions in which Iran, Darfur and China are erased, may finally be too great to ignore.


The writer heads NGO Monitor and is a professor of political science at Bar Ilan University.







The appointment of Yaakov Neeman as justice minister has turned out to be Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's worst error in assembling the government. This non-politician and expert jurist is misusing his position in the cabinet, and behaving like the ultimate intriguer and populist. Instead of trying to ease social tensions, Neeman starts fires and provokes disputes. Instead of strengthening democracy and promoting human and civil rights, Neeman behaves like a minister who represents only one narrow sector.

After failing to split the functions of the attorney general, Neeman has now chosen to challenge democratic governance. His declaration at a conference of rabbis and rabbinic court judges - "Step by step, we shall confer the laws of the Torah on the citizens of Israel and make halakha the binding law of the state" - attests to his estrangement from the fundamental values of Israeli nationhood. It is the right of Citizen Neeman to dream about the establishment of a theocratic state. But Justice Minister Neeman must preserve the basic principles of the government and the law of the state, and these are founded upon civil, secular principles and not on the halakha of the Shulhan Arukh. There is no room in a modern state for the discrimination against women and minorities that is mandated by Jewish religious law.

As there are no grounds to suspect that an expert jurist like Neeman is not familiar with Israeli law and its sources, his statement is particularly worrying. As chairman of the Cabinet committee on legislation, and by virtue of his status and his closeness to the prime minister and the foreign minister, Neeman has great influence over Israeli law. His speech has aroused the suspicion that he wants to gradually, stealthfully introduce religious law and to shove aside the universal values of equality and civil liberties. His backing for the "Nakba Law" early in this government's term is evidence of his inappropriate attitude.



Neeman's explanations in the wake of the backlash against his remarks have not dissipated the apprehension. Neeman said that the state's laws should not be altered "at this time," but rather gradually, starting with the transfer of civil property suits from the "overloaded" civil courts to rabbinic courts. Instead of acting to reduce the load on the court system, as his position obligates him to do, he is proposing handing judgment over to the rabbis. This would be a bad way to go about the task.

Netanyahu must clarify that his government is committed to the fundamental values upon which the state is founded, and not to the establishment of a theocratic state, against the wishes and interests of the majority of the population.







Today a grotesque ceremony will be held in Oslo. An American president who has not yet managed to make peace anywhere in the world will be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. He will be awarded the prize even though he is personally responsible for scores of targeted killings and much slaughter of civilians in aerial bombardments. He will be awarded the prize even though he has just decided to escalate one of the two ineffectual wars he is conducting. He will be awarded the prize only because he is a Democrat, a liberal and a black man who defeated the Republicans and cast George W. Bush out of the White House.

Oslo has provided us with many amusing jokes in recent decades. However, the joke of Obama as peace prize laureate is the funniest of all. It proves the absurdity of the lengths to which the self-righteous European culture of political correctness can go. Obama is not to blame for the Norwegians having decided to act foolishly. However, if he had any courage he would have refused to accept a Nobel prematurely. He would have asked the prize committee to judge him at the end of his term in office and not at its start.

Obama hasn't done so, and this isn't surprising. Thus far the glamorous president has not shown courage on any issue or in any area. True, Obama is intelligent, articulate and charismatic. However, he hasn't really done anything yet in the international arena. He has orchestrated neither confrontations nor reconciliations. He has neither won a victory nor made peace. He has not evinced willingness to pay any sort of price for any sort of achievement. In his first year as president of the world, Obama has not proved he has a backbone. He has not yet manifested himself as a leader.

In 2010 the world will need a leader. From day to day, Iran is increasingly becoming a nuclear nightmare; Pakistan is a barrel of nuclear explosives and North Korea is a nuclear rogue. The Iranian-Pakistani-North Korean triangle makes clear what the challenge of the 21st century is: how to prevent turning the world into a nuclear jungle. How to maintain nuclear order and prevent nuclear chaos. How to get through the next half-century without a Hiroshima or Nagasaki.

Obama's Washington understands the challenge very well. So do Nicolas Sarkozy's Paris, Angela Merkel's Berlin and Gordon Brown's London. Even Dmitry Medvedev's Moscow is beginning to understand. But the general public in North America and Europe has not yet internalized what its leaders know. The media are indeed reporting on centrifuges, enrichment programs and warheads. Politicians and pundits are indeed paying lip service to the Iranian-Pakistani-North Korean nuclear triangle. But there is no fervor in the talk. There is no real sense of urgency. There is no committed discourse. International public opinion is still focused on global warming, not global nuclearization, as the most urgent issue on the agenda. The political libido of the West has homed in on Copenhagen, not Natanz.

This is Obama's mission. There is no other president who is capable of leading the international community in the face of this new threat. There is no other statesman who can form a broad diplomatic coalition against the nuclearization of fundamentalist regimes. There is no other rhetorician capable of demanding that the citizens of the free world wake up, unite, enlist and sacrifice. All that's needed is courage, backbone and Obama's maturation as a leader.

In April, Obama delivered a speech in Prague describing his vision that our children will live in a world without nuclear weapons. However, everything that has happened since the Prague speech indicates that Obama is liable to leave our children a world in a state of nuclear vertigo. If the Nobel laureate does not want to be remembered as the leader in whose term of office the nuclear genie escaped from the bottle, he must gain his composure immediately. He must use the little time remaining to lead a resolute campaign against the extremist forces acquiring nuclear capability.

It is possible that such a campaign will fail. It is possible that it will cause serious complications. However, what lies in the balance now is no less than the world order. If Obama does not rise above himself and fulfill his mission, the event at which he will star this evening won't be remembered only as a grotesque occasion. It will be remembered as a tragic one, too.









The storm over remarks made by Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is in many respects a tempest in a teapot, which has for a long time taken on holier aspects than it seems. Neeman wants Torah law, or in other words, he wants Israel to be a country governed by Jewish religious law, halakha. In any event, Israel is already a semi-theocracy. The Israelis who were frightened by the minister's remarks and who love viewing their country as liberal, Western and secular are forgetting that our life here is more religious, traditional and halakhic than we are prepared to admit.

Between Stockholm and Tehran, Israel of 2009 is much closer to Tehran. From birth to death, from circumcision to funeral, from the establishment of the state to the establishment of the last of the illegal outposts in the West Bank - we are operating in the shadow of the commandments of religion. We should be honest with ourselves and admit it already: The country is too religious. Neeman just wanted to take this one step further, something one can and must come out against; but the religious-nationalist campaign began a long time ago, and it is still going strong.

It begins, of course, with the fact of our presence here. Among other things, it is based on theological reasoning. Abraham the Patriarch was here, so we are, too. He bought the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, so we, too, are in Palestinian Hebron. People who are entirely secular also cite religious and biblical explanations for the connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel. We can't even say whether Judaism is a religion or a nationality - and in any event, there is no other country in the Western world where religion has its holy iron grip on the state as it does in Israel.

We don't need Neeman. There are no civil marriages or divorces, and there are almost no secular funerals. The Law of Return and the definition of who is a Jew - the most fundamental and significant of Israeli precepts - are based on halakha, even without our religious justice minister.

Only 44 percent of Israelis define themselves as secular, as opposed to 64 percent of Swedes who define themselves as atheists; and this is reflected in all aspects of our daily life. A mezuzah on the doorpost of almost every home, and the pagan custom at almost every one of those houses of kissing it. Eighty-five percent of Israelis hold a Passover seder, fervently recalling the plagues - pestilence, boils, death of the first-born. Sixty-seven percent fast on Yom Kippur, which in Western eyes is the strangest of days. The absence of bus or train service on Shabbat, the observance of kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) in every public institution, and Sabbath elevators in every hotel and hospital - these too are not exactly the vision of a secular state. A bar-mitzvah for almost every boy, matza in nearly every home on Passover, and the kiddush blessings.

Torah sages of various kinds make decisions on fateful political issues - at the homes of miracle workers, magicians and those passing out amulets - and the lines outside their doors are growing, made up mostly of those who argue they are fervently secular. They are lying to themselves and to others. Expressions of racism and arrogance, too, based on the concept of the "chosen people," are uttered. And between you and me, who doesn't believe this (a little)? You don't need the newly religious and the newly secular. A large portion of secular people are "traditional," which means religious, but just a little.


In the Bible study of our youth, we put on skullcaps. When, God forbid, the Bible fell on the floor, we would kiss it, with great reverence - secular people like us, as it were. And what happened during morning roll call? The quotation of the day from the Bible. None of us had ever heard of the New Testament, and no one would have dared teach it as part of the education we are trying to glorify. We were also afraid to even enter a church.

The Western Wall is holy to everyone - who has not placed a note with a wish in its crevices? Most Israelis' reasoning for the continued occupation of "holy" East Jerusalem is also based on religious faith. It is not only the "hilltop youth" of the West Bank settlements who revere every stone. Not only Gush Emunim, the bloc of the faithful, believes in the baseless connection between sanctity and sovereignty. Most of us believe it. Admit it.

Let's admit that we live in a country with many religious and halakhic attributes. Let's remove the concocted secularist guise with which we have wrapped ourselves. Shocked by Neeman's remarks? They are not so far removed from the reality of our lives. Israel is not what you thought. It's definitely not what we try to present to ourselves and the rest of the world.






They've gone totally crazy," said a man who knows Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman well. "He grew up in [the religious youth movement] Bnei Akiva. He goes on a ski trip every year - this very day, he's heading off on another - though according to halakha [Jewish law], it's forbidden to leave the Land of Israel except for the sake of a mitzvah. To say of someone who's in a serious dispute with the ultra-Orthodox over conversions that he prefers a halakhic state to a state of law - that's slander, as well as ignorance."

Slander, certainly. And it's not the first slander to which Neeman has been subjected. But ignorance it definitely isn't - not when those attacking him are former justice minister Haim Ramon, MK Ophir Pines-Paz and their ilk. They know full well that when it comes to the democratic character of the state, Neeman's positions are much closer to theirs than to those of the ultra-Orthodox. And the same is true for the vast majority of the community to which he belongs.

But those attacking Neeman haven't gone crazy. Far from it. They see him - and apparently, rightly so - as someone who is trying to reduce their control over the legal system, which is the elected government's main rival for control and hegemony over the state.


That is also the reason for the excessive, tendentious and even obsessive preoccupation with the settlement freeze. When settlers do it, blocking roads is a rebellion against the rule of law. But it is perfectly okay - according to the value system of those who sanctify the law and democracy - for employees of Israel Aerospace Industries to block a major highway leading to Ben-Gurion International Airport because they are fighting, poor things, against a plan to abolish car expenses for those who get rides to and from work in vehicles provided by their employer.

Israel Electric Corporation employees are also entitled to grab the state by the throat in order to protect their excessive rights. But when members of the Zo Artzeinu organization tried to block the turnoff to the airport in an effort to protest the implementation of the Oslo Accords, they were brutally beaten, and their leaders were arrested, charged with sedition and thrown in jail. Moshe Feiglin was even barred from running for the previous Knesset due to the "disgrace" he incurred from this incident.

When teenagers blocked the Ayalon Highway to try to halt the uprooting of the Gush Katif settlements, they were also beaten and arrested. Some were even sentenced to lengthy jail terms of several years on charges of endangering human life. Those who today are blocking minor, little-used roads - including mayors - are being mercilessly beaten by the police as well. Yet motorcyclists, who have repeatedly brought traffic to a halt in their battle against a hike in their insurance rates, became the darlings of the media, and of the police.

One generation after another of young Israelis has been taught that the state has one policy - actually, no policy - for those who break the law in pursuit of material interests, but another policy, which is brutally enforced by the police and the courts, for those who fight in defense of national and Zionist ideals.

The fact that more and more hesder yeshiva students - and others as well - are following rabbis who urge soldiers to disobey orders is a negative, and even dangerous, development. But the problem begins with those who cause these young people to despair of the state and its agencies: the political leadership, which promises one thing and does the opposite; the legal system, which preaches the rule of law but, faced with identical crimes, indicts only the perpetrators it views as its ideological rivals; and the media establishment, which lauds elected officials who break their promises and sanctifies attorneys general and judges who turn the law into an instrument of injustice.

No jail, whether military or civil, and no "hearing" for one rabbi or another, will halt the spreading revolt. As long as these double standards continue to rule our lives, that revolt will only continue to gather force.








I have recently discovered that I am one of the few people who bother to watch "Big Brother." This, of course, contradicts the ratings and is in complete contrast to last season, when Nobel Prize laureate Ada Yonath watched the show and said she even sent text messages to ensure Shifra Kornfeld would win and Einav Boublil would lose.

Many saw Kornfeld's triumph as an allegory for Israeli society - the triumph of progressiveness, education and good manners over the racism, traditionalism and obstreperousness passed off as sincerity. Many who once watched devoutly are now ignoring the show, because there's no Kornfeld to vote for, and after Ma'ayan Hudeda's expulsion, there's no longer anyone to hate.

Among my friends, I am also one of the few who still watches the news on TV. Almost a year ago everyone did. There was someone to hate and someone to love, there was someone everyone wanted to win the elections. Today most people have difficulty remembering the ministers' names, not to mention the Knesset members.


As in the "Big Brother" house, there is too much sincerity in the Knesset. In both the TV house and the House, much importance is accorded to "genuineness." In both places telling the truth has become a sort of lie, because people use it to advance causes. And also because the public sees what's happening on TV, a medium in which genuineness has no meaning because all those who appear are at most an image. It used to be said in Geula Cohen's defense that at least she spoke from the heart. This was also said about Tommy Lapid's rude outbursts, as though spontaneity were sufficient to justify racism or fanaticism. Someone else who means what he says, to our great horror, is Avigdor Lieberman. That Uri Ariel cursed Ahmed Tibi in Arabic during a Knesset committee meeting proves Lieberman is not alone. And Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and the Shas MKs demonstrate in no uncertain terms that man is racist and homophobic by nature. The signs of genuineness and sincerity in both houses are swearing, racist statements, shouts and even hints of physical violence. Genuineness is presented as a virtue, so one must be as genuine as possible.

Another way to survive in both houses is with the "honest person" label - one who says nothing, and so doesn't lie, like Goel Pinto or his political counterpart, Tzipi Livni. Both agree with everyone but reveal nothing of themselves, perhaps because there's nothing there. Some of the contestants could serve as Yisrael Beiteinu's pretty MKs. Saar, who is in love with himself, is the show's Benjamin Netanyahu; Futana the wise Arab could appear low down on Labor or Kadima's Knesset list. But there is no one to take the place of politicians Shelly Yachimovich, Yuli Tamir or Zahava Gal-On, as Shifra Kornfeld did so well. The reality show's sleeping beauty, Ayala, is what remains of Meretz. Deaf Erez? He is Ehud Barak, of course. Talks incessantly but hears no one.

"I was genuine," "the main thing is that I was myself," "I stuck to my principles" - these things are said in self-praise by those who were disappointed by the television program and by politicians. And the compliment "they didn't get their hands dirty" is given to quitters of the second kind. This is exactly why it is so hard to identify with them.

We need people of a third kind - more Shifras and fewer Pintos. Although there's no chance of their coming to power, at least we can fantasize about them. We also need Boublils instead of Hudedas, so we can have someone to hate.






Ten Democratic senators are calling for abandoning the much-maligned "public option" — a government-run health insurance plan to compete with private insurers — and replacing it with two programs that might achieve the same goal of expanding Americans' choices and providing some competition.


We won't know if this compromise does that until the Congressional Budget Office has evaluated it. But we admire the senators' desire to try to move reform legislation forward.


We have long championed the idea of a public plan. With no need to turn a profit and backed by government

muscle, it could charge lower premiums and probably induce its private competitors to lower their premiums. But the insurance industry and Republican critics were determined to kill or severely weaken a public plan.


As currently embodied in the Senate bill, the public plan would be sold only on new insurance exchanges that would be open just to people who buy their own insurance policies and to certain small businesses. And instead of imposing rates based on Medicare's relative low reimbursements, it would have to negotiate how much to pay health care providers (just as private plans do). The C.B.O. believes the public plan's premiums would be higher than the average private plan's.


We still believe that a weak public option is better than none. Here are the details, as of now, of the possible alternative:


MEDICARE BUY-IN People ages 55 to 64 who are eligible to use the exchanges would be permitted to buy coverage from Medicare. Unlike older Americans, this younger group would have to pay the full premium themselves unless their incomes are low enough to qualify for subsidies. The premium could be in the neighborhood of $7,600 a year for single coverage.


Whether people would find Medicare attractive at this price is not clear. Expanding Medicare to cover even a few million people strikes us as promising. Medicare, which pays low rates to providers, might actually offer stiffer competition to private plans than the current weak version of the public option in the Senate bill.


REGULATED NONPROFIT INSURANCE For people below age 55 who are not enrolled in group coverage, the insurance industry would have to create an array of nonprofit insurance plans to compete with for-profit plans on the exchanges in every state. (If industry fails to do this, the government would create them.) The plans would be approved and supervised by the government's Office of Personnel Management, which administers the health insurance plans offered to members of Congress and federal employees.


These plans could have great difficulty competing in states where they lack networks of doctors and hospitals and where entrenched insurers and hospital combines dominate the market. But that is also true of the weak public option. And in at least some places they would provide more choice for consumers.


At this point, even the 10 Senate negotiators have not fully agreed to all elements of the deal. They have simply agreed to have the budget office evaluate it. Until that is in, it is impossible to know whether this nonpublic option is an acceptable alternative.







President Obama's proposals for pump-priming the job market are a welcome, if belated, reminder that the goal of government efforts to stabilize the economy must be to put more Americans back to work.


In a speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama outlined a sensible list of programs that could be rolled out in coming months. But we fear his refusal to attach a price tag means that he is still not ready to do full battle with Congressional Republicans (and some Democrats) who have vowed to block any additional stimulus spending. To work, this effort needs real money behind it.


More than seven million jobs have been eliminated since the recession started, and today more than 15 million Americans are out of work. Most economists still expect joblessness to get worse before it gets better.


The president's package could provide a substantial boost to jobs, but only if it gets sufficient money. Proposals by Democrats in the House that could provide $150 billion for jobs plus $100 billion to extend unemployment insurance amount to a bare minimum of what is needed.


Mr. Obama proposed asking Congress for $50 billion next year (the only program with a price attached) for additional investments in public works, which would put large numbers of people to work. He called for more incentives for investment in energy efficiency, including rebates for consumers who retrofit their homes. And he proposed giving small businesses cheap loans and an array of tax breaks to encourage investment and hiring.


Unfortunately, he made only a passing reference to the idea of giving more assistance to cash-strapped state and local governments, and extending unemployment insurance. Administration officials suggest that money could be provided through other initiatives, but Congressional Republicans are especially opposed. We hope this does not mean that the White House is pulling its punches on what could be the best big ideas to encourage job creation, assist the jobless and stimulate the economy.


We, too, are concerned about the size of the deficit. But creating jobs and ensuring that the incipient economic recovery does not stall, are more important right now. And, as Mr. Obama pointed out, the bank bailout is expected to cost $200 billion less than earlier estimates, which opens space in the budget.


Mr. Obama rightly called the apparent conflict between stimulating job creation and reducing the fiscal deficit "a false choice." The budget gap cannot be closed in a sustainable fashion without first achieving robust job growth. He also criticized Republicans who eagerly championed budget-busting tax cuts under President George W. Bush, only to pose as deficit hawks now.


There is other hypocrisy to be highlighted. A Congress that agreed to spend hundreds of billions to rescue enormous financial institutions should be willing to spend far less to put Americans back to work. The president can win this argument on the merits of economic soundness and fairness. But he must be willing to fight.






The fight in New Jersey to legalize same-sex marriage cleared a crucial hurdle on Monday night, and it is now time for the rest of the state's lawmakers to end a grievous violation of this nation's promise of equal rights. The same-sex marriage bill was approved by the Judiciary Committee of the State Senate on Monday night following a day of emotionally charged testimony.


The fate of the bill was in doubt late Wednesday when the Senate postponed a vote set for Thursday and sent it back to the General Assembly for more hearings. We're not sure why they are necessary at this point and hope the delay does not rule out a vote before the next governor takes office on Jan. 19.


It was disappointing that only a single Republican on the committee, William Baroni of Mercer, was willing to stand up for the measure. And the two ranking Democrats on the panel — Chairman Paul Sarlo of Bergen and Vice Chairman John Girgenti of Passaic — also voted against extending a fundamental right to gay men and lesbians. But the narrowness of the 7-to-6 vote should not obscure the fact that it was the first time any legislative body in New Jersey had voted for same-sex marriage.


Supporters of the measure are still hunting for the votes needed for final approval. Much now depends on whether Democrats — including the majority leader, Stephen Sweeney, who will become the Senate president in January — can rise above overblown fears about the next election if they join in discarding inadequate civil unions in favor of full marriage equality.


A negative vote could delay justice for four or even eight years. Christopher Christie, the Republican who defeated Gov. Jon Corzine, has said he would veto any legalization bill, making passage in the current lame-duck session an urgent matter.


For Democrats truly committed to treating all of New Jersey's families fairly, this should not be a hard vote. A recent Rutgers-Eagleton poll showed that New Jersey voters would accept the change.


As Monday's hearing showed, there is agreement on both sides that the state's civil union law is not working. Wavering Democrats should worry less about political tactics and more about addressing that problem.








It's time for political sex scandals to reclaim their rightful place in our national discourse. The way things have been going lately, you'd think extramarital sex only happened to professional athletes.


Consider the case of Senator Max Baucus of Montana. We learned last week that the recently divorced Baucus had nominated his girlfriend, Melodee Hanes, to be a U.S. attorney without warning the White House that they were an item. You would expect this to create quite a buzz. Particularly since Baucus is a major player in the health care debate, which makes it possible to talk about his sex life while pretending to be discussing the prospects for a public option.


But, no, it's been Tiger Woods, Tiger Woods. How much can you say about a guy who golfs? A politician with a compulsively wandering eye is not just a hound dog with a famous name. He's a commentary about our judgment as voters, and the viability of our social standards. Plus, gossiping about him almost brings some useful information about the political process into the conversation. What would any of us know about how impeachment works if it hadn't been for Monica Lewinsky?


I just cannot get excited about sexual misbehavior that is never going to be investigated by a legislative committee.


To be fair, although the Republicans instantly called on the Senate ethics committee to look into the Baucus affair, Max and Melodee are not likely to actually get investigated. Hanes, who was one of three nominees being considered for the U.S. attorney post, withdrew when she and Baucus moved in together. If the story lives on in memory, it may be for a statement issued by the senator's office, which began: "Senator Baucus is currently in a mature and happy relationship with Melodee Hanes."


This is a turn of phrase that could be put to good use on so many sensitive occasions, the Baucus press office should really go for a copyright.


Joe Bruno, the former majority leader of the New York State Senate who was convicted of corruption this week, is in a mature and happy relationship with Kay Stafford, the chairwoman and president of CMA Consulting Services. (Actually, the relationship is really, really mature, since Bruno is 80.) When Bruno resigned from the Senate last year, he quickly got a great job as C.E.O. of CMA.


A guy who was being investigated by federal prosecutors for his consulting activities would not normally be regarded as a perfect hire for an information technology consulting business, particularly when he seems to know as much about information technology as he does about quantum physics. Still, it was nice to finally see a woman on the powerful, job-dispensing side of these stories.


One of the positive aspects of recent political gossip is that the women seem to be getting tougher. Jenny Sanford, who won public acclaim for refusing to stand by her husband, South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford, during the Appalachian Trail debacle, was just named one of the "10 Most Fascinating People in 2009" on a Barbara Walters special. (Her fellow honorees included Kate Gosselin, the betrayed-wife-and-mother-of-sextuplets, Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert. The clear message here is that the best routes to being fascinating are an adulterous husband or lots of eye makeup.)


On the show, she repeated her contention that even if her husband had asked her to stand next to him during his confessional press conference, she wouldn't have complied. We can probably look back on 2009 as the year that finished off the loyal-wife-photo-op, even though in the Sanfords' case, having Jenny in the room would have helped. She might not have looked all that supportive, but when the governor promised to give the assembled press corps "way more detail than you'll ever want," she probably would have slapped her hand over his mouth.


A subcommittee in the State Legislature voted on Wednesday not to impeach Sanford and merely voted unanimously to censure him for bringing "ridicule, dishonor, disgrace and shame" to his state. A great victory! Sanford will be able to finish his term and perhaps go on to a rewarding career as an adventure vacation guide, or professional wrestling referee.


That leaves Senator John Ensign of Nevada as the current holder of the Most Likely to Be Turned Out of Office title. The ethics committee is investigating efforts Ensign made to help his ex-aide, Doug Hampton, get a lobbying job after Hampton found out that his boss was sleeping with Mrs. Hampton.


Hampton, you may remember, first told his story with the remark: "All of those tentacles were birthed because John needed things to go down like this." Obviously not the easiest guy to place.


This could be a new rule of political sex: Never have an affair with the wife of an employee. But if you do, make sure you are not the only person in the world who would hire the cuckolded husband.


Of course, that comes after the prime directive: Never have an affair with anyone who would enjoy seeing themselves on the cover of "In Touch" magazine.


That was the point where Tiger should have been paying attention.


Nicholas D. Kristof is off today.








Islamabad, Pakistan

NOW that President Obama has recommitted the United States to stand with Pakistan and Afghanistan in our common fight against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism, it would be useful for Americans and Pakistanis to consider what has brought us to this point — and what the conflict's true endgame must be.


Despite the noise created by an often hyperactive press in Pakistan (an essential and preferable alternative to the censorship that prevailed during my country's military dictatorships), and the doubts expressed in America, Pakistan's democratically elected government is unambiguously on the right path toward establishing a moderate and modern nation.


Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and I are working closely with our national assembly and our military and intelligence agencies to defeat the Taliban insurgency and the Qaeda-backed campaign of terrorism. Simultaneously, we are pursuing policies that will re-establish Pakistan as a vibrant economic market and finally address the long-neglected weaknesses in our education, health, agriculture and energy sectors. This isn't just rhetoric — it is an active policy with new budget priorities and a reoriented national mindset.


Over the last weeks I have moved forcefully to re-establish the traditional powers of the presidency as defined in the parliamentary model on which our Constitution is based. Our Constitution was distorted and perverted by military dictators who usurped the legal powers of Parliament. In accordance with the manifesto of the Pakistan Peoples Party, I am working toward strengthening the separation of powers of the presidency from those of the prime minister. Recently, I voluntarily handed back the chairmanship of the National Command Authority that exercises control over Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. Contrary to some of the commentary on the subject, this is not a sign of weakness, but rather a demonstration of the vitality of Pakistani democracy.


As President Obama has noted, Pakistan's military has courageously executed important actions in the Swat Valley and South Waziristan against terrorists who threaten all of us. Pakistan has paid an enormous price in blood and treasure. But this is a price we are willing to pay. Every day across our land, cowards distort our religion of peace, Islam, by slaughtering innocent people. Three thousand civilians, including my wife, Benazir Bhutto, and 2,000 soldiers and police officers have been killed in the last eight years. Just last week 40 people died in a mosque while at Friday prayers, including 10 children. This is our war as well as America's.


Yet in both countries there is deep suspicion toward the other. Many Americans still wonder, despite our sacrifices, if Pakistan is doing all it can to fight terrorism. Some resent what they believe is an absence of gratitude in Pakistan for American aid. But consider the history as seen by Pakistanis.


Twice in recent history America abandoned its democratic values to support dictators and manipulate and exploit us. In the 1980s, the United States supported Gen. Muhammad Zia ul-Haq's iron rule against the Pakistani people while using Pakistan as a surrogate in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan. That decade turned our peaceful nation into a "Kalashnikov and heroin" society — a nation defined by guns and drugs. In its fight against the Soviets, the United States, as a matter of policy, supported the most radical elements within the mujahedeen, who would later become the Taliban and Al Qaeda. When the Soviets were defeated and left in 1989, the United States abandoned Pakistan and created a vacuum in Afghanistan, resulting in the current horror.


And then after 9/11, the United States closed its eyes to the abuses of the dictatorship of President Pervez Musharraf, providing support to the regime while doing little to help with social needs or encourage the restoration of democracy. For Pakistanis, it is a bitter memory.


Public mistrust of the United States also stems from regional issues, specifically policies concerning India. I know it is the conventional wisdom in Washington that my nation is obsessed with India. But even to those of us who are striving toward accommodation and peace, the long history and the unresolved situation in Kashmir give Pakistanis reason to be concerned about our neighbor to the east. Just as the Israeli-Palestinian dispute cannot be resolved without accommodating the Palestinian people, there cannot be permanent regional peace in South Asia without addressing Kashmir.


The recent upset in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar legislation, which President Obama signed into law and which requires the secretary of state to report to Congress on military and civil progress in Pakistan, shows how sensitive many here are to what they see as unfair treatment by the United States. It would be helpful if the United States, at some point, would scrutinize India in a similar fashion and acknowledge that it has from time to time played a destabilizing role in the region.


The perceived rhetorical one-sidedness of American policy often fuels the conspiracy theories that abound here — theories that blame the West for all of our ills. Pakistan's elected democratic leadership is itself a victim of some of these conspiracy theories, but our American partners must understand their origins and work with us to turn public opinion around.


Although we certainly appreciate America's $7.5 billion pledge over the next five years for nonmilitary projects in Pakistan, this long-term commitment must be complemented by short-term policies that demonstrate American neutrality and willingness to help India and Pakistan overcome their mutual distrust. It could start by stepping up its efforts to mediate the Kashmir dispute.


In recent days, I have thought often of something my wife, Benazir, wrote in the days before her death: "It is so much easier to blame others for our problems than to accept responsibility ourselves." Benazir added that conspiracy theories and "toxic rhetoric" were "an opiate that keeps Muslims angry against external enemies and allows them to pay little attention to the internal causes of intellectual and economic decline."


The free world stands with President Obama in the effort to defeat the extremism that threatens us all. Pakistanis are on the frontlines in this battle.


But we need help. We need the support of our allies in war but also to help build a new Pakistan that promises a meaningful future to our children. We are not looking for — and indeed reject — dependency. We don't need or want (nor would we accept) foreign troops to defeat the insurgency, and we seek trade more than aid from you in the future. It is an economically viable and socially robust democratic Pakistan that will be the most effective long-term weapon against terrorism, extremism and fanaticism. This is the necessary endgame. And this is how history will judge victory.


Asif Ali Zardari is the president of Pakistan.








The most recent wave of terror to hit our country continues. There is no way of saying how it will end, or indeed if it will end at all. In Lahore – a city still shaken by the explosions at Moon Market – traders observed a strike to protest against terrorism. But even when there has been no strike, markets have looked far emptier than before and people confess that the act of going out to buy a pair of shoes or browse through clothes shops has become a matter that merits a full family conference. On the day after the latest attack, women and children were in particular conspicuous by their absence. Shopkeepers everywhere say that the reluctance of people to visit markets and other public places has affected them immensely. In some of Lahore's busiest markets traders say profits have halved. The recession, inflation in the price of utilities and the fear placed in minds by the acts of terrorism, all play a part in this. While a scientific survey would be telling, the anecdotal accounts coming in suggest that the economic fall-out of terrorism has been immense. Street-vendors, café-owners and even beggars suffer when markets fall vacant. So too do those manufacturing items sold at shops – whether their origin lies in giant factories or in small, backstreet workshops.

The desperate men at Moon Market who gathered to try and salvage what they could from their ravaged shops feel that the terrorism that has become so much a part of daily life threatens their very survival. Their counterparts in Peshawar, in Islamabad and in other places would agree. The exit of foreigners has added to their woes with those selling traditional handicrafts and other similar items losing out. It seems unlikely that life will, for them, go back to anything resembling normalcy in the near future. It is hard to understand the mindset of killers who target those struggling to survive, people who do not walk among the powerful but are simply ordinary citizens. It is these people who have died in the largest number and who suffer most due to the acts of terrorism. The sight of shops that stand empty hour after hour, of stalls laden with carefully prepared edibles that nobody buys, is a sad one. The traders who protest today are desperate, not least because they feel that no one knows how to stop the killers who have wreaked so much havoc and who leave behind a trail of despair that grows longer each day.







Last Tuesday saw Baghdad once again targeted by a mixture of suicide attacks and remot-controlled devices, with 127 dead and 425 injured. The targets were a mosque, a market, a government ministry, educational college and a court – displaying a grisly parallel with the types of targets hit by our own terrorists. Previous targets have included the justice, trade and foreign ministries. Although there has yet to be a claim of responsibility, there is informed speculation that the blasts are the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq which has adopted the tactic of a cycle of particularly devastating attacks about every six weeks in order to maximise the political and psychological impact. The overall aim appears to be to discredit and undermine the government by demonstrating that it has been unable to improve security in the past two years.

The bombings come on the heels of Iraq fixing the date for its next election – March 6, 2010 – and have to be understood in the context of the sectarian war that continues to be fought there. They are a demonstration that Al Qaeda still has the ability to mount large-scale operations. This may be taken as an indicator that elements in the Sunni community are not going to be willingly sidelined by those in the Shia-Kurdish majority that have dominated Iraqi politics since the fall of Saddam Hussein. The Sunni minority is unlikely to have the will or the capacity to fight another all-out war but neither is it going to give up its place at the power-table – and elements among it will bomb their way to that place as they see fit. The complex weave of faith, sect, politics and violence that has blighted Iraq since the 2003 invasion is far greater in scale than that which blights our own lives, but the causal factors underlying it are very similar. We do not have to cope with a force of foreign invaders in the same way as the Iraqis, but we have foreign terrorists in our midst and both nations are at the mercy of American foreign policy. Baghdad, Lahore, Peshawar, Multan – cities which share a common faith and also a common grief.







The Home Department in Balochistan has released a list of 992 persons who had gone missing in the province over the past several years. Twenty-five of these persons are reported to have returned home since the statement by the prime minister stating they would be freed. The release of 'missing' persons forms a part of the government's Balochistan package. The compiling of the list is a step towards meeting the demands of Baloch nationalist groups and other political forces in the province that all 'missing' people be freed. However, the stride taken, on its own, is not long enough. According to lists compiled by nationalist groups, several thousand people are missing in the province. These groups have sought their immediate release. They have also demanded that the 'kidnappings' of other political activists, which they allege are continuing, be stopped.

The move to return the 'disappeared' people of Balochistan is an important one. The largest number of those missing since 2002 comes from the province. Their affiliation with nationalist forces puts into question the past insistence by authorities that all those 'picked up' were religious extremists involved in acts of terrorism. The release of these persons meets a long-standing demand. We must hope that all those who have been illegally detained will be included on the list. Even more important is the need to ensure that such arrests, in which the due process of law is ignored, do not take place again and that those responsible for them are made to explain their actions. Hundreds of families in Balochistan have suffered terrible misery due to the disappearance of relatives. Many still have no idea if they will ever see them again. Their agony must end.






The "Af-Pak" policy announced by Obama on Dec 1 can be summed up in two words: escalate and expand. Firstly, it signals an escalation of the war in Afghanistan and of pressure on Islamabad to take tougher action against terrorist groups allegedly enjoying safe havens in Pakistan. Secondly, it forebodes the expansion of drone attacks and other US covert operations in Pakistan.

That is the bottom line of the new Afghanistan strategy. The rest is mostly either salesmanship to make it palatable to an increasingly skeptical home constituency or a combination of sticks and carrots to win the cooperation of Pakistan. The threat of sticks is immediate, while the carrots – the offer of a long-term bilateral "partnership" and the possibility of a more active role in promoting a resolution of Kashmir – are for the future. US involvement in Kashmir, moreover, would be unhelpful to the cause of azadi, because Washington favours a settlement which legitimises the Indian occupation of Kashmir in return for some cosmetic concessions.

As The New York Times wrote, the policy announced by Obama is "not so much a new strategy as a doubling down on the one he embraced earlier this year." In January, when Obama became president, there were 34,000 US troops in Afghanistan. Presently, there are 71,000. The additional 30,000 pairs of boots that will be sent now will take troop level to more than 100,000. More than half of them will have been sent there by Obama. The war in Afghanistan has clearly become Obama's war, just as that in Iraq was Bush's war.

Obama is also conscious it could become his Vietnam, though in his speech he rejected this notion as a "false reading of history." But the parallels are undeniable. Even more striking is the resemblance with the "surge" and the failed attempt at "Afghanisation" that preceded the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan two decades ago.

The number of American casualties – about 930 killed – is a fraction of that suffered by the Soviets, but the pressure it generates in a democracy like America is by no means negligible. The financial costs of the war are also rising. According to one estimate, a long-term commitment could cost anywhere from $500 billion to $900 billion over the next decade. The domestic pressure to end the war has been rising as the prospects of victory recede and costs multiply.

The Americans accept now that the Taliban cannot be wiped out. The present goal is not to defeat the Taliban but simply to "degrade" their power and secure major population centres, and to expand and train the Afghan army and police to enable them to take over the fighting themselves.

Obama's dilemma is that while his domestic constituency expects him to bring the troops home as early as possible, his international credibility requires that they should remain in Afghanistan as long as al Qaeda has not been eliminated from the region and the Taliban remain a threat to the survival of the government in Kabul. US officials have therefore been emphasising that Obama has only given a date for the beginning of the withdrawal, not for its end. Even this timeline would be flexible, the initial withdrawal could be very limited and the pace of further withdrawals would be determined by "conditions on the ground."

An immediate US pullout is not on the cards, but even its prospect could intensify the competition for influence and strategic gain among the regional players. India, in particular, has invested a lot in Afghanistan because it treats the country as its backyard which is crucial to the policy of encircling Pakistan and gaining strategic access to Central Asia. Although Washington is aware of operations by Indian intelligence agencies in Afghanistan, it has done little to restrain Delhi. In her testimony on Afghanistan before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Dec 2, Hillary Clinton appeared to concede an even bigger regional role to India when she named it among countries that shared the US objective of expanding support to Pakistan.

Since the additional forces being sent to Afghanistan will be deployed largely in the southern Pakhtun belt where the Taliban are strongest, the fear is that fighting there could push these fighters, as well as refugees, into Pakistan, especially Balochistan, and destabilise Pakistan's border areas. The government has conveyed these apprehensions to the Americans. But it is unlikely that considerations of Pakistan's stability will restrain the US from conducting operations it considers necessary from the military point of view. Pakistan must therefore continue to urge the US at least to do more to prevent cross-border movements on the border, now that it is building up its forces in the country.

The more direct and far more serious threat facing Pakistan comes from the planned expansion of covert and not-so-covert operations by the US on Pakistani soil, because they would destabilise not just the border areas but the entire country, with far-reaching consequences for the region. Washington has conveyed to Pakistan, in no uncertain terms, that if Pakistan does not act more aggressively against the Quetta Shura and against terrorist groups said to be in the country, the US will. American action would then be in the form of more strikes by drone aircraft, including in Balochistan, and covert ground raids by special operations forces, like that carried out in Jalal Khel in September 2008. As the saying goes, to a man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Evidently, Pakistan has to do a better job of making the Americans grasp the disastrous consequences of such a military escalation in Pakistan. For good measure, Obama also raised the nuclear spectre in his speech and alluded to the possibility that Al Qaeda and other extremists could get access to Pakistan's nuclear weapons. According to press leaks, Washington has also commissioned new intelligence studies on the vulnerability of Pakistani warheads and laboratories to seizure by extremists.

US warnings to Pakistan have been accompanied by some carrots. In a letter to Zardari last month, Obama offered an expanded strategic partnership, including enhanced military and economic cooperation, trade benefits and support for greater regional cooperation. US officials have reportedly spoken of the "unlimited potential" of this partnership and hinted that Washington would consider any proposal Islamabad puts on the table. Obama has also told a group of journalists that the reduction of tensions between Pakistan and India, though enormously difficult, was "as important as anything to the long-term stability of the region." This suggests a willingness to play a discreet behind-the-scenes role on Kashmir.

Strategic partnership is a term which has become quite devalued through excessive use and, as with all packages, the important thing is not the label but the contents. In June 2004, Bush designated Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally, supposedly to signal a special security relationship. Many Pakistanis wondered what it meant. One year later, they received the answer, as Washington told Islamabad quite categorically that the ban on civilian nuclear cooperation that was being lifted for India would continue to apply to Pakistan.

Pakistan should now make it clear that it would take the offer of strategic partnership seriously only if it includes access to civilian nuclear cooperation on the same terms as those given to India. This should have been spelled out in the reply sent by Zardari to Obama's letter. The issue should now be taken up by the prime minister in a letter to Obama and brought to the forefront of the bilateral agenda with Washington.

But we should stop requesting US involvement in a resolution of Kashmir, because any such intervention at the present time would be for a settlement on the lines of the deal that Musharraf was negotiating with Manmohan Singh and which would have legalised India's occupation of the state.

The writer is a former member of the Foreign Service. Email: asif