media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 18, edition 000379, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- THE CONSPIRACY DEEPENS
- CALL THE MAOIST BLUFF
- PANIC-STRICKEN SURRENDER - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- LANGUAGE IS NO ISSUE - TRINA JOSHI
- PARTY TIME FOR CONGRESS - KALYANI SHANKAR
- GJM MOVE BACKFIRES - SHIKHA MUKERJEE
- INTENSE RIVALRY OVER TURKMENISTAN GAS
- TAKEAWAYS FROM FINANCIAL MELTDOWN - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM
- POLITICIANS NEED TO RESPECT DEMOCRACY
- HEADLESS CHICKEN
- GROSS INJUSTICE THRIVES IN THIS COUNTRY AS WELL - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
- BILLBOARD CHALLENGES IDEA OF A VIRGIN BIRTH
- POLICE NAB CALL CENTRE GIRL FOR BLACKMAILING TRADER
- SPEAKER WRITES TO CONG OVER ASSEMBLY FURORE - RAISINA TATTLE
TIMES OF INDIA
- TRUTH AND LIES
- WHAT NOT TO SAY
- CALL PAKISTAN'S BLUFF - G D BAKSHI
- 'A GOOD FILM NEGATIVE CAN LAST THREE CENTURIES'
- THOO BE IT - JUG SURAIYA
- NO MONEY, MO' PROBLEMS - ANEESH A
- ISLAM ENCOURAGES US TO CONSERVE AND PROTECT - SADIA DEHLVI
- DIGRESSION TO OPPOSITION
- THE VISIBLE HAND - DIFFERENTIAL CALCULUS - KAUSHIK BASU
- SPEAKEASY - NOT JUST A FAST TRACK TO FAME - PRATIK KANJILAL
- BOUND BY CONSENT
- BOARDROOM RULES
- A YEAR IN KATHMANDU
- THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS - ILA PATNAIK
- FROM THE BENCH - MURTAZA RAZVI
- FURORE OVER TELANGANA - SEEMA CHISHTI
- DISGRACE, ITALIAN STYLE
- SHOELESS WITH THE SENA- MASEEH RAHMAN
- THE LONELINESS OF BEING HASAN GAFOOR - MASEEH RAHMAN
- NINE TO NINE
- DRAWING BOARD
- JUDGING THE ODDS CORRECTLY - KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
- STREET LESSONS IN CLIMATE GOVERNANCE - ARUNABHA GHOSH
- THE EARLY CALL OPTION - CHIRAG MADIA
- A WEAKER ZARDARI
- THE TWILIGHT WORLD OF ETHNIC MINORITIES
- A FOREIGN POLICY FOR OUR TIMES - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
- APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES BY COLLEGIUM OF JUDGES - T.R. ANDHYARUJINA
- IN A DIVIDED COUNTRY, A HOLIDAY OF WHITE CONQUEST PERSISTS - BARRY BEARAK
- CUTTING RISK OF MURDER AND RAPE WITH BETTER STOVES
- BHOPAL DISASTER 'A CIVILISATIONAL MISMATCH' - MAHIM PRATAP SINGH
- MAOIST ACTION IN NEPAL
- MUSHARRAF'S NRO GOES
- PRICES SHOOT UP
- SEA POWER HAS ITS SIGNIFICANCE - BY ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
- BOYS WILL BE BOYS - BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
- PANGS OF SEPARATION - BY SURESH DHARUR
- ZARDARI'S SHAKY HOLD ON POWER WEAKENS - BY GRIFF WITTE
- FRAUDULENT MARRIAGES BY NRIS - BY AVINASH RAI KHANNA
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- BLOW HOT, BLOW COLD
- DINAKARAN SAGA
- STRIVING FOR A SUSTAINABLE LIFE - DR FATIMA TOHSIN SAHIDULLAH
- THE NEED FOR QUALITY MILK - DR KAMALA KANTA SAHARIA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- 'HA(A)GEN DOESN'T
- BANKS DON'T LEND; THEY INVEST IN MUTUAL FUNDS
- EXCHANGES NEED COMPETITION
- REFORM MARKETS TO TAME FOOD PRICES - ASHOK GULATI & KAVERY GANGULY
- THE FOUNT OF CONSISTENCY - JANKI SANTOKE
- THE INDIAN PARTY SYSTEM IS FACING A CRISIS - C P BHAMBHRI
- 'WE ARE WELL-POSITIONED COMPARED TO RIVALS' - R SRIDHARAN
- 'IN INDIA, MOBILE WILL LEAPFROG DIGITAL' - PREETHI CHAMIKUTTY
- ISOLATED ZARDARI TO FIND IT HARD TO STAY
- KERALA'S TERROR TRAIL - BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
- A CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT CHANGED MANY LIVES - BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- PAK RULERS DON'T FEAR MILITANTS - BY INDRANIL BANERJIE
- TIBET AT COPENHAGEN - BY MAURA MOYNIHAN
- A SPURIOUS PRESIDENT
- UNHEALTHY STEP
- HEROIC TIPPLER
- ROLE OF TEACHERS - MOHIT CHAKRABARTI
- EARTH-LIKE PLANET WITH ABUNDANT WATER DISCOVERED
- PAINLESS DELIVERY
- WHERE'S THE TRUTH?
- OBAMA'S WAR PRIZE - BY JOHAN GALTUNG IPS
- THE IDEAL MAN - BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
- SOME EMBARRASSING MOMENTS - BY A N SURYANARAYANAN
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- IRAQ, THE KURDS AND THE AMERICANS
- GUANTÁNAMO MUST BE CLOSED
- PASS THE BILL - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- THE HARDEST CALL - BY DAVID BROOKS
- WHOSE CHRISTMAS IS IT? - BY MICHAEL FEINSTEIN
- THE POST-NRO REALITY
- THE TEMPEST STRIKES -- AND LEAVES THE PRESIDENCY BARE - BY AYAZ AMIR
- THE NRO REVERSED - BY DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- PEDESTRIAN BRIDGES? - BY AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- A GLIMMER OF HOPE - BY SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- A JUST DECISION - BY DR MASOODA BANO
- SIDE-EFFECT - BY HARRIS KHALIQUE
- PAKISTAN TAKES A NEW TURN
- FALL OF DHAKA: A DAY TO REMEMBER, ALWAYS
- CHINA & INDIA TEAM UP AT COPENHAGEN - M D NALAPAT
- RUNNING WITH HARE & HUNTING WITH HOUNDS - SULTAN M HALI
- SANCTIFIED MONTH OF MUHARRAM - MUFTI TAQI USMANI
- SHADOWS OF INDIAN IMPERIALISM - I A PANSOHTA
- SIR! DID YOU? - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- FUNDING POLITICS
- POSTAL SERVICE
- THE NOSE JOB..!
- NEED OF A DNA LAB FOR BANGLADESH POLICE - RAZZAK RAZA
- ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION AND IMPORT OF RECONDITIONED CARS - S A MANSOOR
- AMIDST PROTESTS AND UNCERTAINTIES, CLIMATE SUMMIT ROLLS ON - NAVA THAKURIA
- THE CASE FOR ETERNAL VIGILANCE
- THE DAMAGE DONE BY NGOS
- THE FAIR WORK FOLLIES TAKE US BACK TO THE 70S
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- TIME TO GET TOUGH WITH IRAN
- LIBERATION AND THE NANNY
- RADIO STATION GOT AWAY WITH THE UNACCEPTABLE
- QUICK FIXES WON'T END TRAFFIC WOES
- PAKISTAN: SUPREME COURT CHAOS
- COPENHAGEN SUMMIT: FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL
- IN PRAISE OF ... THE COEN BROTHERS
THE KOREA HERALD
- LEAST PRODUCTIVE
- PRINCIPAL EVALUATION
- BENEFITS OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH - M.K. THOMPSON
- RENDEZVOUS WITH AFRICA ON CLIMATE - JEAN-MICHEL SEVERINO
THE JAPAN TIMES
- DEVOLUTION VIA MR. HATOYAMA
- PETITIONING THE GOVERNMENT
- REALITIES OF DISARMAMENT - BY RAMESH THAKUR
- ILLEGAL WALL EXACERBATES DISASTER FOR GAZANS - BY CESAR CHELALA
THE CONSPIRACY DEEPENS
AS ALWAYS, CONFUSION REIGNS SUPREME
The Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's Chicago conspiracy is becoming increasingly intriguing by the day. What is known for sure, at least according to the FBI, is that American citizen of Pakistani origin David Coleman Headley, earlier known as Daood Gilani, and Canadian citizen of Pakistani origin Tahawwur Rana had conspired, along with their LeT and ISI handlers based in Pakistan, to organise attacks on multiple high-profile targets in India apart from the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten which had kicked up a storm by allegedly lampooning Prophet Mohammed. We also know for a fact that both Headley and Rana had travelled to India and visited several cities, slipping out of the country before the 26/11 fidayeen attacks in Mumbai. Indian investigators who have been looking into the Chicago conspiracy believe that at least Headley was in Pakistan at the time of the 26/11 outrage, guiding the handlers of Kasab and his nine fellow jihadis. Obviously we need to know more, not least because the horrendous crime was committed on Indian soil and the sole surviving terrorist, Kasab, is being tried in an Indian court it is logical that his co-conspirators should also be tried in India. While it makes little or no sense to expect that the Government of Pakistan, the chief patron of LeT and the sponsor of cross-border jihadi terror, will hand over those who plotted the Mumbai carnage, it is perfectly legitimate to expect the US Administration to be more forthcoming and cooperative since it claims to lead the global war on terror. Unfortunately, the US has been reluctant to allow our intelligence agencies access to either Headley or Rana; the FBI's charges against the two terrorists have been curiously, if not ambiguously, framed; and the US Administration has been somewhat indifferent to the expectations of the Government of India. Seen against this backdrop, it is perfectly understandable that counter-terrorism experts should begin to wonder whether there's more to the story than is being told. For instance, was Headley working as an American agent who somewhere along the line began working for the Pakistanis too? Did the FBI misread the information it had gathered prior to the 26/11 attacks or did it excise specifics while informing Indian agencies? These and other questions need to be answered by the US Administration and its agencies. Fudging the issues will only dent America's credibility.
Meanwhile, the Government of India has not exactly covered itself with glory. There are no answers as yet to the question being asked by every Indian: How did Headley and Rana effortlessly secure multiple entry, long-term visas with exemption from registering with the Foreigners' Registration Office? India's Consul-General in Chicago, a career diplomat, issued the visas bypassing the rule about seeking the Home Ministry's clearance for people of Pakistani origin and using his 'discretionary quota'. Worse, till date the files pertaining to Headley and Rana have not been sought and secured by either South Block or North Block. And now it seems the files could be missing. The shameful confusion over the Headley-Rana visa files is exemplified by the contradictory statements that are being made by junior Ministers, senior Ministers and bureaucrats. The Government owes an explanation as to why the files were not sought immediately, why a Consul-General who thinks nothing of using his 'discretionary quota' to give multiple entry, long-term visas to people of Pakistani origin, continues to remain in his post, and why our intelligence agencies have been so slothful.
CALL THE MAOIST BLUFF
PRACHANDA CAN'T HOLD NEPAL TO RANSOM
The move by the Maoists in Nepal to declare Kathmandu Valley and other parts of that country as autonomous regions not only runs contrary to the political peace process but also threatens the unity of Nepal. On Wednesday, Maoist cadre stormed the heavily guarded Darbar Square in the country's capital after which Maoist chief Pushpa Kamal Dahal better known as Prachanda declared that Kathmandu Valley shall henceforth be known as the 'Newa Autonomous State' after the Newar community. The Maoist leader asserted that the Newar people would enjoy 'special powers' and raised the 'Newa Rajya Zindabad' slogan. The Maoists have promised to declare 13 autonomous States in Nepal by December 18. It is clear that by doing so, the Left-wing extremists want to show the other political parties in Nepal the extent of their clout. Losing control of Nepal's Constituent Assembly earlier this year, the Maoists have since been carrying out a disruptive campaign to usurp political power by any means possible. Through their strong-arm tactics, which includes bandhs, protests and rallies, the extremists have virtually paralysed the working of the Constituent Assembly and significantly contributed to the delay in the drafting of a new Constitution for Nepal.
It will be recalled that in the 18th century what we today know as Nepal was actually three independent kingdoms Kathmandu, Patan, Bhaktapur. It was in 1768 that Prithvi Narayan Shah conquered Kathmandu Valley and united the three kingdoms under one banner. For the Maoists to now declare autonomous provinces amounts to challenging that very unification of Nepal into one sovereign state. It also exposes the depths to which the Maoists are willing to sink to destabilise the country. Needless to say such destructive politics bodes ill for the future of Nepal. For a country that is yet to recover from the ravages of the decade-long Maoist insurgency, it can certainly do without the destructive agenda of Mr Dahal and his comrades. It is clear that the last thing that the Maoists want is peace and stability neither are they willing to give up their brutish ways nor are they trying to integrate themselves with the democratic mainstream. Though they claim to have given up the gun, the Maoists have done their utmost to ensure that a smooth integration of their guerrilla fighters with the Nepali Army remains a distant dream. On the contrary, they have tried to take over the country's Army through disingenuous means. The Maoists want to have it both ways; they want to dominate the democratic process in Nepal without having to earn legitimacy in the eyes of the people. It is high time that the people of Nepal call their bluff and reject the Maoists once and for all.
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Agreeing to create Telangana was a panic decision by a Minister who is not accustomed to handling political crises, but a 29th State should not in itself cause panic. The prospect of more States causes alarm only because Jawaharlal Nehru's concern about 'Balkanisation' has left a deep-seated fear of parts of India breaking away.
It's like the fierce emotion that Sir John Simon's proposal for a two-stream system of Government aroused in the 1930s. Dyarchy, as it was dubbed, became a dirty word, a term of abuse. An observer noted that in Burma, as it then was, "You are a dyarchy!" was a deadly insult.
Nehru similarly used the term Balkanisation out of context. For, when south-eastern Europe, the real Balkans, did splinter into several independent countries, it was hailed as liberation. The region's previous monolithic unity had been imposed by the Ottoman Turkish sultanate which was reviled as unnatural and repressive. Those parts of the Balkans that were not Turkish were provinces of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and that was not regarded as much better. While Greece chafed under Turkish rule, Serbia fought the Austrians.
The third era of Balkanisation though the phrase was no longer used because the process primarily covered other regions occurred in the early-1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed. The disintegration of the old Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia, countries that had been put together when the two earlier empires crumbled, was also regarded as an expected manifestation of linguistic or religious nationalism. Kosovo is today an untied loose end left over from that process.
Journalists and writers with greater patriotism than historical understanding have been screaming ever since about Britain's departing kick being to try and Balkanise India. But if we do talk of the Balkanisation of India as Nehru did of various constitutional proposals for federation then we are bracketing the Indian Union with the Ottoman and Austrian empires, not to mention the Soviet Union.
There might have been a parallel with Telangana if the revolt the CPI fomented in Nalgonda district shortly after independence had succeeded. Revolutionary politics being an early manifestation of globalisation, scholars trace this event (as well as uprisings in Burma, Indochina, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most important, the protracted Communist insurrection in Malaya) to the Conference of Youth and Students of South-East Asia Fighting for Freedom and Independence held in Kolkata under the auspices of the World Federation of Democratic Youth and the International Union of Students. The fraternal delegates from all over the world thought of themselves as the torch-bearers of revolution, destined to light the flames of freedom throughout the east. Behind the façade of the slogans, banners and processions at which Bengali comrades excel, the conference's real purpose was to convey Moscow's secret recommendation of armed struggle to Asians.
But the demand to hive off the 10 Telangana districts from Andhra Pradesh (itself a result in 1956 of Pottu Sriramulu's suicide) had a different origin. It was rooted in regional identity, economic grievances and a sense of estrangement from the Andhra mainstream even though six of the State's 15 Chief Ministers have been from Telangana and outsiders are hard put to detect any difference between people from central Andhra Pradesh, Rayalaseema or Telangana. The 1969 statehood movement had none of the ideological content of the earlier insurrection but was no less violent, and more than 400 people were killed. Successive Union Governments have adopted stalling tactics ever since, unwilling to concede yet not daring to refuse, projecting the worst possible impression of vacillation.
It can be argued that more States means greater expenditure on administrative overheads, more scope for corruption and increased politicking. But the main reason is mistrust. New Delhi does not trust the people it rules. Take the case of Kerala whose Industries Minister at the time, Mr PK Kunhalikutty, visited Singapore in 1993 and after talks with trade and development officials there, announced that Kerala would be the first Indian State to station an official in Singapore "to woo investors throughout the ASEAN region." New Delhi scotched the idea, feeling Thiruvananthapuram was getting above itself. Commercial representation abroad could nurture ambitions of a political nature.
Yet, international interaction is not always a prerogative of sovereignty. Several Australian and Canadian States have long pursued their individual commercial interests in foreign capitals. Western Australia opened an office in Bombay some years ago. At the end of 2008 Governor Qin Guangrong of China's Yunnan province visited Kolkata on an aggressive trade and tourism mission directed at West Bengal. He proposed Kunming-Kolkata links.
What India lacks is a philosophy of its structure and a long-term vision of its administrative and political geography. Internal boundaries have been redrawn many times to be sure, but never willingly. No new State has been the result of Central recognition of the right of a particular region or people to an administrative entity. Even the States Reorganisation Commission's recognition of linguistic States did not mean automatic cartographic reforms. That was the opportunity for taking a realistic and imaginative look at India's demographic diversity and creating a new and willing union in consultation with the people concerned.
Instead, every effort was made to cling to the boundaries and institutions the colonial regime had left behind. Any departure was treated as treason. Innovations have taken place only under pressure. That merely encourages the proponents of Vidarbha, Gorkhaland, Bundelkhand, Harit Pradesh or Bodoland to believe they, too, can gain their ends through blackmail. If Mr K Chandrasekhara Rao can succeed by refusing to eat, why should Mr Bimal Gurung not try the same tactics?
The reaction is also predictable. Bengalis will naturally resent the hills being lopped off from their State, Marathis will resist Vidarbha being sliced out of Maharashtra, and Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh understandably object to further amputations. But statesmanship means reconciling differences. Instead of trying to perpetuate an unacceptable status quo, a wise leadership should assess group aspirations in the light of overall needs and draw up a map that strengthens national cooperation. If Bangladesh can turn each sub-division into a district, and tiny Britain devolve autonomy on Scotland and Wales, India should not baulk at a redistribution of authority.
What India cannot afford is a panic-stricken surrender followed by unworthy efforts to wriggle out of the commitment.
LANGUAGE IS NO ISSUE
By raising the issue of Hindi chauvinism, it is clear that a certain section of the population is out of sync with the pulse of young India. Generation Y has risen above such provincial concerns. Since time immemorial, communication has been one of man's basic needs. Early man predominantly communicated through sign language. This ancient mode of expression developed into formal languages over the period of human evolution. Thus, languages were born out of the need to socialise and bond with fellow human beings, since man has always been driven by the desire to express. It is in this framework that we need to understand the role of language.
Consider this: A Hindi-speaking professional joins an IT company in Bangalore. On the day she arrives in the city, neither will she expect the locals to respond to her questions in English or Hindi nor will the latter expect her to speak in Kannad. It is but obvious that she will overcome her linguistic handicap during her stay in Bangalore. Will it then be justified to accuse this Hindi speaker of being arrogant?
Considering the cosmopolitan environment of corporate houses, language is barely a consideration. For the youth the language that links them is English and the attitude they carry is 'Just chill'! The willingness to share idli and aloo ka parantha on the same table is probably what bonds employees from disparate backgrounds. Who has the time to argue why one language should take predominance over another as claimed by the exponents of the so-called linguistic imperialism theory when the personal experiences of today's generation speak a reality contrary to the baseless claims of a few?
In order to dispel the fear of Hindi among the people of the non-Hindi-speaking belt, the 'language issue' was settled way back in 1968 when the Union Government implemented the three-language formula that mandated schools teach Hindi, English and one Modern Indian Language. By virtue of this formula, all regional languages were accorded an equal status and States were given a freehand in using their mother tongue. Never was Hindi made a 'national' language.
It is a matter of shame that despite these facts some fanatics want to drag on a debate that does not contribute to nation building at all. India's youth acknowledge the fact that Hindi is one among equals, and they envision a country free of shallow concerns.
PARTY TIME FOR CONGRESS
WITH THE CONGRESS TURNING 125 NEXT YEAR, IT HAS REASONS TO CELEBRATE. BUT THE PARTY LEADERSHIP CANNOT AFFORD TO OVERLOOK THE MANY PROBLEMS THAT LIE AHEAD. THE BIGGEST PROBLEM THAT STARES THE CONGRESS IN THE FACE IS THE DEMAND FOR AND OPPOSITION TO THE CREATION OF TELANGANA
Completing 125 years on December 28, 2010, the Congress is planning to celebrate it over the next one year. The celebrations will be on a grand scale. This is perhaps the time for the party to showcase its past and dream about its future.
A week is said to be a long time in politics and the Congress story clearly proves it. The mood has changed this last week from one of jubilation to one of concern. The Congress-led UPA, after returning to power in 2009, was stable with a weak Opposition biding its time. Things were going well for the Congress and the Government. The Congress retained three States Maharashtra, Haryana and Arunachal Pradesh. The Opposition is in total disarray. The BJP is embroiled in its leadership crisis. The Left parties are licking their wounds after their defeat. The Samajwadi Party is fighting for survival while the BSP is facing the onslaught of the Congress scion Rahul Gandhi. The AIADMK is biding its time while DMK chief M Karunanidhi is sorting out the succession plan. The TDP is still recovering from its defeat. In such a scenario the Congress had reasons to be jubilant about its position.
However, last week, the midnight announcement about the creation of a separate Telangana State has opened up a Pandora's box. After retaining the State in 2009, the Congress was stable in Andhra Pradesh. YS Rajasekhara Reddy, until the helicopter crash three months ago, was trying to finish the Opposition and break other parties. The vacuum created by his death has resulted in a weak position for the party as well as Government. His successor K Rosaiah is unable to control the dissidence within the party as well as the onslaught particularly by TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao who had gone on a fast unto death. The Telangana announcement was claimed to save the situation but it has left the Congress red faced. There is a vertical divide in the party and even in Opposition parties. Second, the demand for smaller States from elsewhere is getting orchestrated. Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati has written a letter for trifurcation of the State. Third, UPA allies like NCP, DMK and Trinamool Congress are against the formation of Telangana State.
All these have left a shadow on the celebrations. The Congress has all the reasons to be proud of its history as it dominated the country's politics from the days of freedom struggle to 1967. Rajani Kothari had called 1967 as the end of Congress system. As long as Jawaharlal Nehru was alive, the Congress did not lose its relevance despite the 1962 Sino-Indian war. This creditable achievement was because the Congress had accumulated goodwill and leadership from the freedom struggle. Further, the Congress was the only party established down to the village level even today.
After 1967, the Congress had not been able to get back its primacy because it was unable to meet the aspirations of the people. Moreover, profound changes in India's polity over the decades also contributed to the decline of the grand old party. There was this rapid growth of electorate with new voters who were less appreciative of the role of the Congress. New groups and new interests emerged to challenge the Congress. Personality-oriented politics was another reason. The party has split several times. The tremendous goodwill Rajiv Gandhi acquired after the assassination of Indira Gandhi did not last long. It had to be content with running a minority Government during the PV Narasimha Rao regime and a coalition Government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. However, the Congress and the country's politics continue to be dominated by the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty and the fourth generation Rahul Gandhi is getting ready to take over the reins.
The Congress should introspect its own relevance in today's globalised world. The Congress should have gone in for a brain-storming session as it did in Pachmarhi and Shimla. Is the party as committed as it was to the cause of serving public? This should be the first question the Congressmen should ask themselves. Should the party weed out undesirable elements? Again this needs some introspection.
Third, Rajiv Gandhi had talked about the "power brokers" in his 1985 Congress centenary celebrations speech. Though he started with all the good intentions, the system did not allow him to go for any reforms. Today, the Congressmen themselves complain about the power brokers and some of them have even got into the legislatures and Parliament. Fourth, although the Gandhi family has remained the unifying factor the party needs to build up strong second-rung leaders to back them up. No doubt, Mr Rahul Gandhi is going the right way of getting to know the country before he takes over the reins but he needs to build a committed team. Leaders from different communities was a salient feature of the earlier Congress but the party is in search of caste-based parties for tie up rather than promoting its own leaders.
Fifth, despite talking against money and muscle power, the elections to the 15th Lok Sabha proved how it played a crucial role in cornering tickets. Until meritorious people are chosen the character of politics will not change. The party should get rid of sycophants and courtiers and make the ordinary worker feel involved. No doubt, the Congress chose the right slogan 'aam admi' but it is still a question mark how much the aam admi has a role in the Congress politics.
If one looks at the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the Congress is certainly at an advantage with Mr Rahul Gandhi going on the right track. The Opposition does not seem to have a leader to match him. If the Congress moves forward cautiously, it will be on the winning wicket notwithstanding its problems.
GJM MOVE BACKFIRES
THE GORKHAS LEFT DARJEELING RATHER THAN JOIN THE BANDH
The demand for a separate State for Darjeeling has turned into a problem stuck for a solution. The Centre's mischief in declaring that it would initiate the process for a separate State of Telangana and then adding conditionalities to what would be a convincing demand, has on the one hand fuelled the flames in Darjeeling and on the other drawn up an impossible list that the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha can never hope to fulfil.
To add to GJM's rising unease is the brutally direct message that the people in Darjeeling delivered on the eve of the 'last battle' four-day bandh that started on schedule on December 14 but ended an unscheduled 12 hours later. In droves, paying double and more than the usual fare for a ride out of town, people escaped from the bandh. These were not tourists; they were locals. They packed their bags and bedrolls and left.
The exodus of locals and not panic-stricken tourists means that GJM chief Bimal Gurung needs to deliver on what he promised and quickly. Bluster will not work, because the bandh call off announcement came 24 hours after GJM's 'central committee' had scotched rumours that the bandh would be called off, warning instead that the bandh may be extended and that there would be no compromises on anything short of a separate State emerging from the fourth round of tripartite negotiations between the Centre, West Bengal and the agitators. That he could not sustain the bandh for even its declared duration means that his support has sprung leaks.
This could make him dangerously volatile because failure would mean being thrown off the pedestal on which he was installed by a popular wave in 2007. His promise then was the creation of the separate State of Gorkhaland by March 2010 or else his suicide. With months to go for the self-proclaimed deadline to come into effect, Mr Gurung needs a solution more than the other two parties to the negotiation. He certainly does not want to write himself out of the history of Darjeeling.
His problem is that he has given himself very little negotiating room. The Telangana declaration by the Centre has complicated matters for Mr Gurung, who by all accounts was quietly moving forward to negotiating an alternative autonomous arrangement that would repeal the existing Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council Act and install in its place a bigger and bossier body.
Time is running out for Mr Gurung; his credibility as a leader is at stake. If he had time he could have meandered towards a solution that fell short of Gorkhaland, the State. But now, with Telangana having upped the stakes, his chance of foisting the old Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Council in a new format on the people seems to be rapidly evaporating.
In order to negotiate from a position of strength, Mr Gurung needs more than teams of hunger strikers or road blockers. If the exodus was unequivocal in its message, then Mr Gurung probably knows that a dangerously ill hunger striker will not boost his popularity. While Darjeeling's locals have no appetite for being targets of attacks by GJM supporters, it is Mr Gurung's wishful thinking that there are no doubters or critics.
That he cannot take his popularity for granted is evident. A recent diktat that students in uniform would be punished for using mobile phones was openly flouted. Packs of youngsters with mobiles glued to their ears weaved through the crowds gathered to hear Mr Gurung on December 14, not as a gesture of defiance but because nobody took it seriously. In other words, if Mr Gurung has to enforce a rule, he will soon need to beat the people into submission.
Having declared himself a fervent Gandhian, Mr Gurung cannot afford to turn the movement violent, because that would make him a caricature of the wilier Subhas Ghising and his deadly Gorkha National Liberation Front. He needs a bail-out and if the Centre does not provide it, the problem in Darjeeling will inevitably deteriorate out of desperation.
By accident rather than design, the West Bengal Government's inaction or rather yielding to the encroachments by the GJM has wound a long rope around Mr Gurung. He banished the DGHC, he turned Mr Ghising into an exile, he rewrote the name of West Bengal on signboards, his supporters beat up and then took over chunks of the GNLF. The lack of resistance by the State Government has put him in check; he has to find a way to legitimise himself and the GJM soon or self-destruct as promised.
Between a mass movement and a democratic process there is a difference. The democratic process requires more than one political group; it creates the space for competition and differences. It allows the participants to identify adversaries and then fight them through elections and political programmes.
In Darjeeling, in two waves, GNLF and its successor GJM, failed to convert their respective mass movements into political parties. They both virtually pushed out all other political groups, resulting in a one party situation. The GJM cannot lash out at the CPI(M) as a proxy for the West Bengal Government, it cannot attack Congress supporters because there are few as a proxy for the Centre, the West Bengal Government has retreated and the Centre is too far away.
Mr Gurung now has nobody to fight with except the Centre and West Bengal. Having declared himself a fervent Gandhian, Mr Gurung may not find takers for a violent armed insurgency operation willing to die for his cause. A solution is needed; Mr Gurung does not have one. As of now he has the power to veto any solution offered by the Centre and West Bengal; but for how long before he faces a challenger?
INTENSE RIVALRY OVER TURKMENISTAN GAS
While Moscow has been eyeing Turkmenistan's gas fields, Beijing has forged ahead by inaugurating a natural gas pipeline. As usual, China has not spared any expenses, writes Dmitry Babich
The inauguration of a natural gas pipeline from Turkmenistan to China was held on Monday.
The leaders of China and most of the influential Central Asian countries attended the ceremony, except Iran; Russia, which is not a Central Asian nation, was not invited.
A contentious atmosphere for the resources of the former Soviet republics, especially Turkmenistan, is brewing, with China seemingly on the inside track. Russia and Iran given that they still wish to consolidate or at least preserve their positions will have to pursue more flexible policies with regard to these newly independent states and by no means look down their noses at them.
The new 7,000-km gas pipeline will carry mainly Turkmen gas to China across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. Its planned capacity is 40 billion cubic metres a year. Until recently, Gazprom accounted for a similar amount of Turkmen gas supplies (44 bcm), nearly monopolising the purchase of Turkmen gas exports.
Iran was the second largest customer for Turkmen gas, annually consuming a mere 5 billion cubic metres. It is easy to calculate that, in a worst-case scenario, China could take Russia's place as the largest exporter of Turkmenistan's gas. Yet, Russia still has time to try to reverse this possibility: The pipeline to China will not reach its target capacity of 40 bcm until 2012, while Iran's inflexible legislation and strained relations between Iran and the West (the United States and the EU) make Turkmen gas exports to Iran unattractive for Western companies. Therefore, this business is unlikely to grow fast.
Turkmenistan began focussing on China as a trade partner in April, after an accident at the Central Asia-Center pipeline. Gas supplies to Russia were cut off by an explosion in a Turkmen section of the pipeline and never resumed.
Turkmen authorities blamed Russia for what Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described as a "purely technological" incident, saying that Gazprom unilaterally cut the amount of gas withdrawn from the pipeline, which led to the accident. The Turkmen Foreign Ministry said Gazprom broke its contract obligations. Even though Turkmenistan admitted that Gazprom had notified it before cutting imports, they claimed the notification was not in accordance with the contractually-established procedure.
At this point, what really caused the explosion in the Dovletobad-Deryalyk gas link, is only of secondary importance. What is important is that the incident caused an outburst of popular Turkmen rhetoric calling for a "reduction of dependence on the Russian monopoly."
Plans to divert exports to China instead of Russia, which were not forgotten during the Turkmenbashi (President Saparmurat Niyazov, 1991-2006) regime, or later as a more concerted effort was pursued in the spring and summer of 2009. China saw an opportunity and responded by issuing Turkmenistan a $ 4 billion loan with perfect timing in June 2009, when Turkmenistan was in the direst straits due to tensions with Gazprom.
Chinese President Hu Jintao, who arrived to inaugurate the pipeline, emphasised that the loan had to be primarily channelled into the development of the country's largest gas field, South Eleten.
It should be noted that at the beginning of this year Gazprom bought Turkmen gas at the exorbitant price of $ 375 per 1,000 cubic metres. Russia was selling gas to Europe at $ 280 at the time, which meant that Gazprom was operating at a loss.
Mr Mikhail Krutikhin, a partner in Moscow's RusEnergy Consulting, said the reason for the friction was rivalry between South Stream and Nabucco, which Turkmenistan's Western partners actively promoted and proposed to Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Turkey as an alternative to the Russia-backed project.
"Gazprom offered Turkmenistan a high price in a desperate attempt to divert its gas from Nabucco. Later, however, Gazprom was compelled to stop the unprofitable acquisitions," Mr Krutikhin said in an interview with the RIA Novosti commentator. "Turkmenistan interpreted that as a breach of a business contract and justifiably took offence. China immediately grasped at the opportunity, as that country had been long pursuing a very measured and determined policy in the region. China is taking its time, waiting for Central Asian gas suppliers to come of their own accord."
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev must certainly have something to offer Turkmenistan, as he is now dealing with the problem directly. He has recently received Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov in his Zavidovo residence and will visit Turkmenistan later this month.
TAKEAWAYS FROM FINANCIAL MELTDOWN
UNLESS THERE IS SOUND COST ANALYSIS, MANY OF THE FINANCIAL THEORIES WILL BE OF NO HELP
It is obvious that unless there is a sound financial cost analysis, many of the financial theories cannot help a firm. The cascading effects of the meltdown were largely because of deviations from financial fundamentals. The optimum debt-equity ratio remains a central construct to financial health. In the early-1970's there was a talk of 3:1 as a satisfactory debt-equity ratio. This used to be relaxed to 4:1, or at times even 5:1. Raising funds to the tune of 15 per cent was considered significant. However, things got significantly changed and now even 1:1 is considered to be fine. The concept of adequate debt service coverage ratio, high interest coverage ratio, low debt-equity ratio, high and net asset worth per share are all important concepts. The institutions while making investment have to be careful on all these dimensions.
Indeed the concepts of regulation, risk management are all comparatively new.
The flipside of course is that one has exposure norms, prudential norms, statutory liquidity ratio and then of course, there are regulations. One has to make the buyer aware that there cannot be a system of cosmetic securitisation where the eventual lender does not have anything.
It again reverts to the classical question of the congruence of regulators. It is not a significant question whether there should be one regulator regulating everything or whether there should be a super regulator or whether there should be multiple regulators. All of them could work if there were proper congruence and each one of them could cause hiccups if badly managed.
In a world which is progressively heading towards a crisis of procurement and climate change, those who control or impact either will be important. Already, nations with collective foresight are using the market dynamics to control if not outright purchase raw material resources. The arena of action will be uncharted territories not fully integrated into global market dynamics. Say typically, parts of Africa or some of the island states. It is significant to recognise that a lot of the nations of the world have weak if not non-existent regulatory mechanisms and globally they have yet to become a part of an organised system.
As free enterprise flourishes, the votaries of free enterprise seem to lose sight of a very simple law of business. And the law is that there can be no free enterprise till there is a coherent and credible governance system. Indeed, the governance system will itself have to understand what the regulators are doing or indeed not doing. The assessment of the regulatory impact has to be continuous.
Till this happens the focus has to be on the corporates and financial companies. Insistence on a very wide disclosure may be one temporary palliative. Illustratively, one would need to know how much the group money that is coming into a particular finance company is. That is something nobody usually knows. That can be used for getting high valuation of a company, selling it out and exiting. Apparently, several financial companies and even private companies seem to be doing it yet it seems to be nobody's business.
Further, as is well recognised, now there is a clear case of moving beyond the Bassel norms and the concept of capital adequacy ratio. Perhaps the answer lies in the concept of maximum leverage ratio.
In any balance sheet, there may be a lot of below the line exposures. If there are a lot of off-balance sheet items and exposures, somebody must look at how much is the off-balance sheet exposure and then at maximum leverage for that particular company should be thought of.
It may be a worthwhile takeaway of the meltdown to remind ourselves that much of the crisis which happened in the US companies was because the items were below the line. The balance sheets appeared strong and the off-balance sheets caused havoc. Regulator must learn to look at whether any company is doing its primary business and hedging against its normal business activities or indeed is primarily going into speculation which is not its line of activity. Even a finance company can go into speculation only under regulatory environment and finally of disclosure. Hence the recommendation seems to be that one should go in for security derivatives meaning index futures, single stock futures, index options and single stock options. What is required is a strong exchange traded bond market and a very strong exchange traded currency market. Not to forget the exchange traded commodity futures.
POLITICIANS NEED TO RESPECT DEMOCRACY
ONE of the sad ironies of India's democratic institutions is that those with the privilege of manning them are possibly the ones who disrespect these institutions the most. This was more than evident at the scheduled debate in Parliament over prices in the last week of November when no more than 26 MPs turned up in the 544- member Lok Sabha.
However, to divert public and media attention from the debate over small states, our MPs raised the price rise issue this week when it was not scheduled to be debated. House rules state that a matter once debated cannot be raised again in the same session.
Our MPs are so disconnected with reality that when asked about the " burning issue" of prices which they were agitating about, almost no one had any clue of the real prices of vegetables in the market.
The least that the voters and constituents can expect from their MPs is that they be aware of the issues they want to debate in Parliament.
Instead what they end up seeing on television is a theatre of the absurd where either there is no attendance ( and thus a complete waste of the taxpayers' money) or if there is, then the level of debate is so abysmal that people often wonder why they ever voted for their MP. In short, the melodrama that was staged in Parliament on Wednesday was a case of politicians shedding crocodile tears over an issue that has put an enormous burden on the common man over the last year or so when prices of essentials such as vegetables, pulses, grains, sugar and fruits have more than trebled.
While this dismal performance of our MPs was on in Parliament, Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit was holding forth her own queen's court in the Delhi assembly where, in surely what must be one of low points in Indian democracy. She gave a reply to a no- confidence motion to empty Opposition benches after having recommended the eviction of some of their legislators to the Speaker who then ordered the marshals to lead the errant legislators out of the hall. The sheer arrogance of power was there for all to see.
If Indian democratic institutions have to be strengthened, the respect for them should come first from the legislators who have received the privilege of being in one. We could also try switching off the television cameras. Perhaps the absence of live coverage will goad the MPs to stop acting and start working.
THE government seems to be moving around like headless chickens on the David Coleman Headley issue. On Wednesday reports said that papers relating to his visa had gone missing in the Indian Consulate at Chicago from where he allegedly got his visa.
This prompted Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao to declare that she would act against any delinquent officers after getting a factual report. Now on Thursday, the Chicago Consulate has come on record to say that they had not reported any loss of papers on the Mr Headley case, in other words, they had the papers relating to Mr Headley's visa application.
But, on the same day in New Delhi, Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor declared that while documents relating to Tahawwur Rana, the Canadian- Pakistani associate of Headley, were available, the government was looking for the Headley papers.
Finally, later in the day, the External Affairs Minister had what is hopefully the last word, for the present, on the issue: He had sought a report on the issue from the Consul General Ashok Attri in Chicago and that the media should therefore not prejudge the issue.
The failure of Indian official agencies have been manifest from the outset. The intelligence agencies and the police failed to find Headley and Rana's footprints in Mumbai and elsewhere till the US Federal Bureau of Investigation handed them the information.
To hide their shortcomings, the Ministry of Home Affairs began leaking information suggesting that Headley was linked to the US intelligence agencies. And now we have the MEA doing its bit to serve the nation.
GROSS INJUSTICE THRIVES IN THIS COUNTRY AS WELL
BY MANOJ JOSHI
THE NEWSPAPERS and TV channels have been full of the story of Vikram Buddhi, an Indian student in the US who has been sentenced to five years in jail for posting hate messages for George W. Bush.
The sentence does appear somewhat harsh, but even his parents do not deny the basic charge. His father B. K. Subbarao, who spent four years in jail on trumped up charges of spying in India, says that the behaviour of the jury and the judge made it a fit case for a mistrial.
Yet none in the media, especially our hyperactive TV channels, have bothered about a case of gross injustice, closer home, here in New Delhi.
Three persons two associated with the National Security Council Secretariat and one with the Research & Analysis Wing have been in rotting in New Delhi's Tihar jail for the past three and a half years on the charge of spying for the US. As of now they have been denied bail, and even copies of documents that they are alleged to have given to a US diplomat have not been given to their lawyers.
A year after their arrest, I had occasion to report on their plight. In the process, I looked at the case documents, talked to some of their lawyers, NSCS and US officials, as well as friends and colleagues, and came to the conclusion that the charges against them are bogus and that they are victims of monstrous injustice. Two years later, that wrong has not been righted.
Unfortunately, since the tag " national security" has been cited by the prosecution, the justice system of the country has entirely failed the three. On Monday, the Supreme Court adjourned a bail petition of Commander ( retd) Mukesh Saini ( 58), formerly of the NSCS, one of those in detention. That of another accused, Brigadier ( retd) Ujjal Dasgupta( 64) director ( computers) at R& AW will come up only next month. The third, Shib Shankar Paul( 38), a computer systems official at the NSCS, too has been denied bail.
All three Paul, Dasgupta and Saini had been arrested in June- July 2006, for being associated with, Rosanna Minchew, a US intelligence officer working under diplomatic cover. There was nothing unusual or illegal about this because they were all members of the Indo- US Cyber Security Forum, an offshoot of the Joint Working Group on Counter- Terrorism, which had been formed to deal with cyberterrorism and information security. In fact Saini and Minchew were joint coordinators of the group.
Of the three, Paul had no intelligence background.
He was principally a computer technician. The charges against him, too, are vague. But his crime seems to be is that he allegedly developed an " intimate" and " close relationship" with Minchew testified to probably by IB surveillance tapes of their allegedly mooning about in Lodhi Gardens and some South Delhi restaurants.
Paul had access to no secrets and probably would not have recognised one if he saw it. He was a systems person you find in every office to service the system and take care of the glitches. However, he did have some old documents which he had got as samples from the NSCS to create an office intranet.
The charges against Saini are vague, one newspaper claimed that he passed information on the Indo- US nuclear deal and that the Delhi Police's Special Cell had seized several documents " including the draft report of the Indian nuclear doctrine from his computer pen drive". Even a university research scholar knows that the draft nuclear doctrine has been a public document from the very outset.
Incidentally, the other " sensitive document" that Saini had was on the implications for India of the Kra Canal linking the Bay of Bengal and the Gulf of Siam. This was actually Saini's hobby horse and he was the author of the document which he passed on to friends and colleagues.
And now he is being charged for possessing it.
Dasgupta is alleged to have copied documents from his office computer hard drive into a lap top and thereafter onto a pen drive. One of the documents relates to something called project Aveneshak which the R& AW itself accepts has nothing to do with the security of the country. From what I have learnt, the project was basically relating to data storage and transfer which was Dasgupta's job.
What have these " spies" alleged to have gained? In Saini's case, the police claim that he had prevailed on Minchew to get him a job in Microsoft, India, after taking voluntary retirement from his job at the NSCS. Now, it is well known that Saini was a first rate professional and was more than qualified for the job that he had arranged for himself before seeking voluntary retirement, a path that many other defence officers walk on regularly.
There seems to be no specific allegation of gain in Dasgupta's case.
As for Paul, according to the senior NSCS source, the police first spoke of him getting Rs 25 lakh, then scaled it down to Rs 16 lakh and then to Rs 8 lakh, the identical sum he had used to buy a flat, only that it was taken against a loan notified, as per rules, to his office.
Currently, both Saini and Dasgupta are awaiting the court's ruling on obtaining copies of the documents that they are supposed to have given to Minchew. The government's case is that these documents are so sensitive that they cannot be revealed.
But if they have already allegedly been given to the Americans and shared with the prosecution, why can't they be made available to the defending counsels? " We need to know what is being used against my client," says P. K. Dubey, Dasgupta's lawyer.
Three and a half years in jail have broken Das gupta's health. Here is a man who served the country for almost 40 years and now he is in a prison for no fault of his. I have lost track of Shib Shankar Paul's lawyers. He is reportedly being assisted by the legal aid cell.
The prosecution will find it hard to convict the three of them of transmitting information because it did not take place. But the colonial- era Official Secrets Act's Section 4 is unyielding. Even associating with a foreigner can be a crime. The principal charge they face is therefore possession of documents, which, of course, the prosecution is not willing to share with the defence.
If the documents against Saini are any guide, even this is not likely to work.
Anyway, according to Dubey, even if convicted, the maximum sentence for this would be three years.
And the three have already done three- and- a- half, without bail.
The case has already cost the country a great deal because all cooperation in the vital area of cyber security with the US has come to a stop. No Indian official is any longer willing to participate in the exercise for fear of similar persecution.
But the price paid by the three and their families is infinitely greater. Paul, Saini and Dasgupta have already gone through hell in the jail for no fault of theirs. Their families have been ruined and disgraced.
It is high time that the government stepped in and stopped this farcical persecution. Far from being a threat to national security, the case of the three has highlighted the extent to which the national security establishment has hijacked the democratic system of the country and undermined its judiciary.
THE LAHORE LOG
BY NAJAM SETHI
IS THIS ASIF ZARDARI'S ENDGAME ?
THE SUPREME Court ( SC) has ousted the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO) and restored the criminal and corruption cases against 8,041 accused of various crimes. The list includes a galaxy of the rich and notorious in Pakistan, starting from President Asif Zardari, defence minister Ahmed Mukhtar, interior minister Rehman Malik and other PPP luminaries as well as MQM chief Altaf Hussain, Rabita Committee chief Farooq Sattar and other party bigwigs. A clutch of senior bureaucrats, serving and retired, like Salman Faruki, Saeed Mehdi, Brig ( retd) Imtiaz Billa, et al are also in the dock. The twists and turns in the drama are worth noting for the unique mix of law and politics in play.
President Pervez Musharraf sacked Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry in 2007 because he thought Chaudhry would oust the NRO ( a power- sharing scheme between President Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto underwritten by the US) and stop President Musharraf from reelection.
But Zardari restored Chaudhry despite the same sort of judicial conviction against him. Who was the bigger fool among the two Presidents only history will tell.
FORGET about the law.
Chaudhry's politics certainly proved better than that of his adversaries. He rallied the media and Opposition and roped in the army to scale the Supreme Court again.
Then he set about cleansing the stables, with charity beginning at home when he sacked all the pro- government ancien regime judges of the high courts and Supreme Court and packed them with handpicked supplicants. As the Zardari regime buckled, he went for the jugular, ordering Parliament to enact the NRO in one month, or else. With the media and opposition baying for blood, the PPP- led Parliament backed off when the MQM left it in the lurch, yet another sign the PPP leadership hadn't done its homework.
Worse, Zardari decided not to contest the NRO case in the misplaced hope that this might chasten the SC. If he had resisted, at the very least the government could have reasonably argued that by asking Parliament to enact the NRO ordinance by a simple majority vote, the SC had implied that such a course of action by Parliament would not be construed as unconstitutional. That would have entangled the various constitutional writ petitions before the court and enabled the government and President
to evolve an exit strategy in the swamp of " past and closed transactions" during the 120 days validity of the NRO from October 5, 2007. In the event, however, the spirit of law was overtaken by the momentum of populism, and a fatal blow was delivered to the cowering President and government.
The SC's NRO judgment is a decisive sign of confrontation with the Zardari government. It has ordered it to prosecute Malik Qayyum, the former Lahore High Court judge who, as attorney general, got Zardari off the hook in Switzerland in the money laundering case. The SC argues that Qayyum failed to produce a written order from any concerned authority authorising him to withdraw the money laundering charges in a Swiss Court against Zardari and unfreeze his assets. This is an unprecedented argument.
If it were to be applied to the statements and actions of past attorneys generals in courts of law, none would stand up to the SC's latest yardstick because all such positions and directions are invariably based on verbal discussions between government and state functionaries.
No government has ever disowned any statement or position of its attorney general in the past. So it is inconceivable that the government will respond with the seriousness of purpose demanded by the SC in this case. Similarly, the SC has directed the government to sack all the top dogs of National Accountability Bureau ( NAB) and replace them with independent and aggressive officials so that the government and its luminaries can be " sorted out", a contradiction in terms. Special " monitoring cells" headed by senior judges have been ordered in the SC and high courts to ensure fast track proceedings against the 8,041 accused. What will these do in the face of
non- cooperation by the various provincial governments? The SC's next step can therefore be predicted: it will handpick and appoint public prosecutors everywhere by virtue of the same power that it exercises when it selects " amicus curae" to assist it in court when faced with complex questions off law and politics.
Thus the SC and the HCs will become prosecutors and judges at the same time!
THE SC has also indicated what it intends to do next. It has argued that the NRO is also unconstitutional because it violates articles 62 and 63 of the Constitution which hold, among other things, that only those who are " sagacious, righteous and non- profligate and honest and ameen and not of unsound mind" can be members of Parliament ( the President is part of Parliament in the Constitution's scheme of things). Since it is up to a " competent court to determine this" as per the constitution, and there is no court more competent than the SC in these populist times, it is obvious which way the SC will bend when petitions are filed in a day or two challenging Zardari's presidentship on this basis.
Indeed, insider sources claim that the reason for the six- hour delay in issuing the short order on Wednesday was the objection of some judges of the SC to the insistence of some overzealous colleagues to disqualify Zardari as President along with the NRO in one fell swoop in the same short order. Certainly, if, following the SC judgment, the Swiss government is persuaded to reopen the case against Zardari in which he stands convicted of money laundering, there should be no difficulty at all in relying on Articles 62 and 63 to knock Zardari out, notwithstanding the presidential immunity from court proceedings that he may ( or may not) enjoy under Article 248 of the Constitution.
The stage is therefore set for political instability, further erosion of the economy and diminishing focus on the war on terror. Unless there is some quick " backroom deal" between President Zardari and the army and judiciary that meets with their wide ranging demands in exchange for letting him remain as a toothless president for a while longer, Zardari has as much hope of surviving as a snowball in hell. Therefore he can either throw in the towel ( flee to Dubai or the USA?) and let Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani run the government as a stooge of the army and judiciary; or Zardari can join hands with Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif, undo the 17th amendment bone of contention, implement the Charter Of Democracy which calls for a rather different sort of independent judiciary ( in which none of the current crop of judges could hope to survive), call fresh elections, set up an interim caretaker government, and play the Sindh card to maximum effect.
Should the army and judiciary then wish to postpone elections and establish any alternative method of running a " technocratic government" a la Bangladesh when the two Begums were sidelined and hounded in the recent past, Zardari can have the satisfaction of teaming up with the popular Nawaz Sharif to thwart any such anti- politician conspiracies.
The writer is Editor, The Friday Times
A FICTITIOUS DIARY OF NAWAZ SHARIF
TODAY, I cannot write frank diary, like Diary of An Frank.
It is not nice. Thoughts may be coming to you that after departure of Asif, I will be main beneficiary. You should thought again. Can any gormint work under these conditions? Which conditions? It is batter you don't ask, hain ji. Naw, whatsoever I am going to say it will be in the script of the crypt, which is also known as CRYPTIC. Faujis and judges have once again become maternal uncles of Pakistan. It is the ironing of history. How many pushes politicians have eaten for restoration of democracy? How many pushes we have eaten for free and fair elections? How many jails we have cut? When the Almighty will hear ours? And what about the fauji who went to car factory and was shown around by manager and at end of the toor manager offered him a free 2000 cc car. " Oh no", said fauji, " that is cruption. I cannot possibly accept the car". Manager said, " in that case, sir, I'll sell it to you for Rs 500/". Very pleased, fauji preduced Rs 1000/ note and said, " in that case, I'll take two". Also, Asif wanted to sing song of peace with Manmohan.
" Sab ton sohniya, hai way manmohniya". But Indians, they have forgotten their mother tongues.
Now all are speaking English. " Asif and Manmohan, sitting in a tree. Kay ayee ess ess, aye eng gee. But it was not to bee". Here is more Cryptic, ancient language of Cryptistani people predating Indus Valley. It is matter of robe. Either you have it or you don't. Asif has no robe.
By robe is not meaning article of clothing but particle of respact. At least shaheed Mohtarma did not live to see this day, whom Allah lifted two years ago.
These days I am in London with your bhabi. Last night we went to Lahore Kebab House, Dulwich wich, and I ordered chicken tikka. It was terrible. " Where you have cooked this?" I asked bera. He said, " in electric oven". No wonder, every time I took a bite I got a jhatka. Talking of London, Altaf bhai is here also. Perhaps I will go and eat haleem and hanky ( rumali) roti with him. But batter stop talking about food. I am ladder of the opposition, not cooker. Yeh Kwan Hai of Singapur is a great leader. So is Mein Hoon Na and Hum Ap Kay Hain Kwan.
They have performed economic miracles for their countries. Haw? Because there is peace. Buddha beliefed in peace. But I don't belief he was prince.
Because if he was prince, haw come he was always starving, hain ji? Finally, I will leaf you with another cryptistani thought: how long loin and sheep can be at same ghat?
BILLBOARD CHALLENGES IDEA OF A VIRGIN BIRTH
FOR SOME people Christmas remains a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. But the virgin birth is one part of the Christmas story that can cause controversy, even within the church.
A billboard at a New Zealand church has become the talk of the town for depicting a downcast Joseph lying beside Mary in bed with the heading ' Poor Joseph. God was a hard act to follow'. Church vicar archdeacon Glynn Cardy said the sign was intended to challenge stereotypes about the way Jesus was conceived and get people talking about the Christmas story, but not everyone has taken it that way.
One paint- wielding vandal defaced the billboard just hours after it was erected on Thursday outside the Saint Matthew- inthe- City Anglican church in Auckland.
The controversial sign has also triggered passionate and sometimes angry debates on talk radio and the Internet.
" This billboard is trying to lampoon and ridicule the very literal idea that God is a male and somehow this male god impregnated Mary," said Cardy, who
described his church as having very liberal ideas about Christianity.
" We would question the virgin birth in any literal sense.
We would question the maleness of god in any literal sense," he said.
On the billboard painted to mimic the fresco style commonly used in church murals Mary and Joseph are in bed side- by- side. Joseph is looking down. Mary, looking heavenward, appears sad.
Auckland Catholic Diocese spokeswoman Lyndsay Freer said the billboard implied Virgin Mary and Joseph had just had sex and was inappropriate, disrespectful and offensive to Christians.
" We would see a billboard like that being used by an anti- Christian group to actually poke fun at the divinity of Christ," Freer told National Radio.
Christ's conception was a profound theological question and the billboard would not " give rise to any intelligent discussion on the birth of Jesus", she said.
Many messages on the church website attacked the image, while others defended it.
" This billboard and your ' sermon' is a sacrilege," one visitor, identified as Karen, posted.
Another, identified as Andrew M. wrote: " I for one think this is an excellent billboard. Challenging and thought- provoking. Just what it was intended to be." Cardy said he understood that some people were upset by the image, but said he was disappointed the billboard had been defaced. He said he did not intend to take it down.
POLICE NAB CALL CENTRE GIRL FOR BLACKMAILING TRADER
THE Delhi Police have nabbed a woman for trying to extort money from a south Delhi- based businessman.
The police said 25- year- old Seema, a call centre worker, was blackmailing Manoj Sood, threatening to implicate him in a false rape case if he did not cough up the cash.
An officer said Sood, who works in Malviya Nagar, approached the police with a complaint against Seema. Later, a police team raided the place where the woman was supposed to be working and nabbed her.
" The woman, who works at a call centre, had called up the businessman many times. Later, she started demanding money. When Sood refused, she threatened to implicate him in a false rape case," the officer said. The woman is being questioned and would be booked soon, he added.
SPEAKER WRITES TO CONG OVER ASSEMBLY FURORE
DELHI assembly Speaker Yoganand Shastri on Thursday wrote to the ruling Congress over the bitterness it created by turning out protesting Opposition legislators out of the House.
Shastri said he has asked the Congress to ensure such a situation doesn't arise again.
" What happened on Wednesday was very unfortunate. We had to adjourn the House during a discussion regarding the noconfidence motion and things got uglier when we had to order marshals to forcibly escort some MLAs out of the assembly hall," Shastri said.
The government on Wednesday had used a special parliamentary provision to turn BJP legislators out of the House when they protested against chief minister Sheila Dikshit's comments regarding the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya while replying to a no- confidence motion.
PARLIAMENTARY panels are taking the austerity drive a bit further.
During Speaker Somnath Chatterjee's tenure, five- star hotels became out of bounds for panel meetings.
Now, the move is to confine such meetings in Delhi instead of far- flung and exotic places. But MPs are not pleased.
They question the government's move to host an international parliamentary meet in Delhi from January 4, for which a number of foreign delegates are being offered free air passage and accommodation.
THE BUDHHADEB Bhattacharjee government in West Bengal was not keen on having Shivraj Patil as the successor to Gopal Krishna Gandhi.
The chief minister has reportedly conveyed his disapproval at the prospect of Patil occupying the Raj Bhawan in Kolkata. The Left leadership has pointed out that it had shot down Patil's name for the President's post. Therefore, he cannot be made a governor either. Sounds warped, but then the communists have their logic.
The latest buzz is that Ronen Sen, Arjun Singh, Santosh Mohan Deb and Mohsina Kidwai are tipped to occupy the Raj Bhawans in Jaipur, Gandhinagar, Chandigarh ( Punjab) and Kolkata respectively.
A long wait
THE BAHUJAN Samaj Party ( BSP) still has over twoand- half- years to go before elections in Uttar Pradesh. That is largely known to be the reason for disenchanted souls to continue claiming loyalty to Mayawati and postpone plans to migrate to greener pastures. But for some, like former Rajya Sabha MP and deserter from SP Shahid Siddiqui, the period was apparently too long.
After he failed to secure an MLC ticket for a relative and his own renomination to the Rajya Sabha, he threw in the hat clearly in the Congress's direction by openly attacking Behenji , a sure way to get booted out of the BSP. It is believed to be only a matter of time before he joins the Congress fold.
SPEAKER Meira Kumar's quiet ways have proven more effective in reining in errant MPs in the Lok Sabha than her predecessor's persistent pedantic spiel.
But MPs from Madhya Pradesh are a shade unsettled by her frequent advice to be " shant ( quiet)". " Please be ' shant '. Learn from your friend. See how he has become quiet." Apparently, ' shant ' is more commonly used to signify death in some parts of the state. Politicians being naturally superstitious, the frequent use of the term in the House has been most disturbing for members from Madhya Pradesh.
TIMES OF INDIA
TRUTH AND LIES
The furore over the CBI's Shopian report in the Valley indicates the level of distrust against the Indian state among many Kashmiris. The CBI has concluded that the two women who were allegedly raped and murdered by security personnel had died of drowning. The central agency has booked 13 people, including six doctors, for fabricating evidence and misleading people. Four local police officers arrested on charges of destruction of evidence have also been cleared by the agency. Large sections of the Valley population, including political parties like the PDP, have refused to accept the CBI's findings.
Clearly, there has been bungling in the investigation at various stages and the blame must be shared by all those involved including the state government. So many procedural lapses should not have happened in such a sensitive case. It also seems that immense public pressure was mounted on the investigation team, including the doctors, to produce a report that reflected the conclusions reached by the local populace. People in Shopian had, even before the investigations, concluded that security forces were responsible for the deaths. Besides the circumstances in which the women died, previous instances of rape and murder involving security personnel influenced many people to believe the plausibility of such a thesis even before a detailed investigation was ordered. That state agencies including the CBI don't have an exemplary record of conducting impartial investigations only help to bolster the suspicion that security personnel are being protected.
Incidents of terrorism have come down in the Valley and people have voted in large numbers in assembly and general elections. But the sense of alienation that exists between the local population and the government is far from bridged. Periodic elections and a qualitative improvement in governance may help to improve the situation, but a process of constant engagement and dialogue will be necessary to win over influential sections of Kashmiri opinion.
Quick-fix solutions to Kashmir are also inhibited by the fact that a crucial player in Kashmir's narrative of discontent is Islamabad. Pakistani politicians see Kashmir as a useful stick to lean on in difficult times, and these are difficult times in Pakistan. It's not surprising that President Asif Zardari referred to Pakistan's core interests, which is an euphemism for India and particularly Kashmir, in his letter to US president Barack Obama ahead of the Supreme Court of Pakistan seeking to restore criminal cases pending against him. The chaotic state of affairs in Pakistan makes it difficult for New Delhi to explore out-of-the-box solutions to resolve the Kashmir issue now.
TIMES OF INDIA
WHAT NOT TO SAY
Goa appears extremely ill served by its politicians. First, there is the tardiness of police in investigating the alleged rape of a Russian tourist by a local politician. Then there are the follow-up comments of Shantaram Naik, Rajya Sabha MP from the state, which not only hit a new low in their sheer insensitivity and callousness towards women but may also have triggered a diplomatic contretemps between India and Russia. Naik audaciously and irresponsibly suggested that the "rape of a lady who moves with strangers for days together and even beyond middle of the night is to be treated on a different footing". If we go by what Naik says, we now need to have different categories of rape, depending on what time of day it is committed.
Even that isn't all. Goa chief minister Digamber Kamat has chosen to step into the fray by announcing, portentously, that it is up to tourists to follow "certain code and responsibilities'', without specifying what these are. The Russian consulate in Mumbai has issued a stinging riposte, expressing unhappiness at the slow rate of police investigations into crimes against tourists, and stating sarcastically that it is willing to impose a 10 p.m. curfew on its citizens in Goa if that is what the state's lawmakers want.
Though Naik's despicable comments were condemned across the political spectrum and the deputy chairperson admonished him for speaking in a manner derogatory to women, this isn't the first time that a political leader has attempted to justify crimes against women by suggesting that they asked for it. The Scarlett Keeling murder, also in Goa, evoked similar reactions from the political class, who maligned the girl's character and her mother's lifestyle rather than addressing the law and order problem that led to her death. Naik's remarks might have been expunged from Rajya Sabha records, but the sexist attitudes implicit in his statement appear widespread among politicians.
Xenophobia also plays its part in cases like Keeling's and the Russian tourist's, as sexist innuendoes are combined with claims that Goa is being culturally overrun by tourists. If Goa's representatives are convinced this is the case, they should be explicit about it and declare that the state's economy will rely on resources other than tourism. If, however, tourists are seen as good for the economy, beefing up their security is a must. Let's not give the country a bad name by invoking medieval values.
TIMES OF INDIA
CALL PAKISTAN'S BLUFF
G D BAKSHI
There are renewed intelligence inputs about the possibility of India being the target of further terrorist attacks. The fencing of India's land borders has had a major and palpable impact on the Pakistani ISI's methodology for exporting terror and destabilising this country. Fencing had helped curtail terrorism in Punjab and the same access denial solution has worked well in J&K. With the extension of the fence to Rajasthan, the degree of difficulty in infiltrating personnel, arms and ammunition into India has increased exponentially.
This clearly has prompted the ISI to revamp its terror offensive strategy against India. This tactical shift was effected in 2007 and its consequences became painfully visible in 2008, through a series of high profile and mass casualty strikes in Jaipur, Ahmedabad, New Delhi, Guwahati and Mumbai. The Mumbai mayhem unleashed an unprecedented wave of public anger and indignation at the embarrassing failure of the Indian state to protect the lives of its citizens.
The ISI's strategy is fairly explicit in hindsight. It has two clear strands. The reduced porosity of land borders impelled the ISI to place heavy reliance on the local Tanzeems with localised narratives. These were trained not in PoK or Pakistan but in various jungle locations within India. The emphasis was on greater deniability, which would enable the Pakistani establishment to distance itself from these actions. Salient characteristics of these Indian Mujahideen-initiated strikes were using locally available explosive materials like ammonium nitrate, hydrogen peroxide and slurry etc. The deliberate design was to spread the terror war from J&K to the rest of India.
Local Tanzeems, however, could be easily penetrated and tracked down by the Indian police and intelligence agencies. Most of the IM operatives were swiftly rounded up after the terror strikes. This seems to have compelled the ISI to exploit the sea flank to launch meticulously planned sea-borne assaults using highly motivated and well-trained west Punjabi operatives of the Lashkar-e-Taiba.
One year down the line we are again deluged with intelligence warnings of another strike. What then are our response options? One would have thought that with so much on its plate, the Pakistani establishment would not be keen to open other fronts. India would be equally happy to let Pakistan focus its energies on draining the terrorist swamp it has created. What then could be the Pakistani motivations for a resumption of its terrorist assault on India?
The military-ISI duo that calls the shots in Pakistan appears to be under severe pressure due to the ongoing global offensive against terrorism. Twenty-eight per cent of its rank and file are ethnic Pathans who are seriously affected by the ongoing operations in Swat and Federally Administered Tribal Areas. Is Pakistan seeking an eastern diversion that can repair the fast deepening Punjabi-Pashtun faultline and enable it to call off the global offensive? Whatever be the motivations, a renewed Pakistani terrorist assault in India translates into mass casualties.
ISI's asymmetric assault against India started in 1983. For almost three decades India has surrendered the strategic and tactical initiative to Pakistan. We have waged a purely defensive battle on our own territory. Such a reactive and passive stance was understandable in the era of the 1990s when we were trying to revive and liberalise our failing economy. But that stance is unsustainable beyond a point. It calls into question the Indian state's will to safeguard its vital national interests and the life of its citizens.
How do we transit to a proactive phase to deter further Indian casualties? First, the state needs to send out a clear communication that such terrorist attacks and resulting Indian casualties are no longer acceptable. Second, we must rapidly deploy dominant war fighting capabilities that can deter Pakistan's asymmetric adventurism. India must also hasten its defence acquisition process. Finally, we must remember that the primary flaw of Operation Parakram was it's all-or-nothing mission. India needs to evolve and enunciate a declaratory doctrine for limited wars against a nuclear backdrop. This must aim at raising costs for Pakistan's sponsorship of terrorism.
The initial response to Pakistan-sponsored terror attacks could be air power and naval power or special forces centric. These should be just, focused, precise and proportionate responses that serve as warning shots and place the onus of further escalation squarely on Pakistan.
It is time India called Pakistan's nuclear bluff. Kargil clearly highlighted that there is no one-step nuclear escalation ladder in South Asia. The weight of deterrence in Pakistani military thinking is premised on its perceived parity in conventional military force with that of India's. This must be addressed on an urgent basis. Frankly it would be far better for India to deter such an attack than deal with its consequences. Deterrence, however, mandates a clear communication of resolve to respond. It is here that well-intentioned declarations of peaceful intent and abhorrence for war from our leadership could unfortunately have the opposite effect of inviting more such attacks.
The writer is a retired major general of the Indian army.
TIMES OF INDIA
'A GOOD FILM NEGATIVE CAN LAST THREE CENTURIES'
As director general of Cinematheque Francaise, Paris, the biggest archive in the world, Serge Toubiana is at the forefront of efforts to preserve and restore the world's cinematic treasures. Toubiana, who was in India to show the recently restored Jean-Luc Godard film Pierrot le fou, spoke to Faizal Khan :
What are the new areas of film restoration in the world today?
The new way to restore films is to use the digital technology. First, we transfer the original negative of the we want to restore into a negative master. Then we work on the digital negative, frame by frame, to get back the original colour, sound and images. We can then make prints out of the digitally restored negative for showing in . The digital restoration is sophisticated. It can remove all the stains from the frames.
What are the challenges in using the new technology?
In five years, we will have to put digital projectors in most of the theatres. Large parts of the US and France have already changed to digital projection. In these theatres, the will not be the classical prints, but a disc, operated via a satellite, to show the movie. The result is that the traditional laboratories making film prints are facing a big crisis. It may be the end of the film. The 21st century will be the digital century for .
We are not sure of the capacity of the digital technology to keep the films safe. Because it is digital, a film becomes a programme. And if you are not able to read a programme, everything is lost. My bet is to keep the digital as well as the restored classical negative. The classical film negative is safe. If we have a good negative, which is kept in a good condition, it can last for three centuries. For example, the negative of the Lumiere brothers' film, Arrival of a Train at a Station, was in a good condition. Cinematheque Francaise restored the film this year. We showed the restored version in Grand Palais, Paris, and the audience loved it.
Will the Cinematheque Francaise be assisting India in preserving its cinema heritage?
We would like to participate in restoring the Ritwik Ghatak films. We want to organise a retrospective of Ghatak films at the Cinematheque Francaise. Someone told me the prints of Ghatak films are in a very bad condition. May be we can help in restoring them. We don't have an action plan at a global level. It needs a lot of money to restore films and we need to find sponsors to help the process. We need to convince governments to help in restoring films. The best laboratories are in Los Angeles, Bologna and Paris. It is possible to work with these laboratories, but you have to find state money and private money for this purpose. There are too many films across the world facing destruction.
TIMES OF INDIA
THOO BE IT
Yaark-thoo! Hey, watch it! Bloody hell. You almost got me. Sorry, where was i? Ah, yes. The decoding of the Indian genome. A team of CSIR scientists has, for the first time, unravelled the secrets that lie with the desi genome, using a sample taken from a 52-year-old DNA donor. A genome is like a map that helps us to chart our genetic karma - who and what we are, and what makes us tick and why. By studying the genetic sequences in the genome, scientists will be able to figure out why Indians are predisposed to diabetes, for instance, or coronary disease. Important as these revelations about blood sugar and dicky hearts undoubtedly will be, i'm hoping that the decoded genome will explain something seemingly far more fundamental to our inner being than a propensity to insulin deficiency and cardiac problems, something that identifies us Indians as Indians, whether we are in India or anywhere else on the face of the planet, North and South Poles, the Amazon basin, and the top of Mt Everest not excluded. What's that something? Spitting.
Indians spit. Caste, creed and sex no bar. The frequent and energetic ejection of saliva - despite the cautionary notices put up in our post offices, 'Do not affix stamp with sputum' - spitting is not just a national pastime; it is a national passion. More than kabaddi, or kho-kho, or IPL, spitting is our true desi sport. And we practise it assiduously wherever we happen to be: on the streets, in bazaars, on railway platforms and bus addas and airports, in offices and schools and factories and restaurants and shops and... Yaark-thoo! Godalmighty! That's the second time someone's almost got me in the space of a single column.
How do we do it? Where does it all come from? The spit. The saliva. The sputum. The product of the salivary glands. What is it about our biological make-up that enables us to produce so much of the stuff that we seem to be forever having to get rid of it, expel it from our systems, lest through excess of it, surfeiting, our appetite for it would sicken and die.
Gutka helps. So do paans and paan masala. The scarlet and red and crimson splotches and splashes and streaks that our public buildings and streets are decorated with - as though they were a form of folk art, like the ancient cave paintings in Bhimbhetka and other places - bear witness to their efficacy as salivary stimulants, the Viagras of sputum. But though gutka and paans contribute to the phenomenon, they cannot explain it in its enigmatic entirety.
By and large - or rather, by and small - we Indians are not big people. True, the richer among us tend to be overweight. But for every XL Indian there are thousands, hundreds of thousands, of scrawny Indians. So, being small and skinny for the most part, how is it that we generate so much spit, the only natural resource which we seem to be in no danger of running out of? Where do we get it from, and where's it stored? Do we possess a natural receptacle, like a kangaroo's pouch, except inside rather than outside, where the stuff is tucked away till we thook! it out?
The decoded genome should tell us all this, and more. Or maybe not. Maybe our desi habit of spitting has got nothing to do with our genes. Maybe our spitting is not so much a genetic consequence as a social and political comment. Read a newspaper. Or watch the news on TV. Or just look around you.Scams. Swindles. Satyam. Koda. Hawala. Telangana riots. Anti-Telangana riots. Anti-anti-Telangana riots. Political corruption. Bureaucratic corruption. Judicial corruption. Corruption corruption, where you have to bribe someone to accept a bribe.
Leave a bad taste in the mouth? So how do you get rid of it? That's right, Yaark-thoo! Can't beat 'em, join 'em.
TIMES OF INDIA
NO MONEY, MO' PROBLEMS
I was heading towards my apartment about a week ago, and got the strange feeling that someone was following me. I kept going, blaming my paranoia on last night's X-files rerun. Suddenly, a strong "Sir" from behind stopped me in my tracks. It took me a few moments to recognise the speaker as the obsequious waiter who works at a restaurant one frequents. Without a preamble, he made a semi-demand, "Please give me 100 rupees." I eloquently responded, after a three-second shocked pause, "What?" He identified himself as the waiter from the particular restaurant as he thought that was the cause for my surprise. I decided to go with "Why?" the next time. He responded that he was going on vacation. The more disturbing element wasn't the fact that he was treating me like his holiday fund but the creepy smile on his face that refused to fade. I attempted to extricate myself from this awkward situation by promising to pay him the next time i visited the restaurant. But, he proved to be someone who staunchly believed in the adage 'try, try until you succeed'. With that smile on his face getting wider, he said, in the same polite tone, "I want the , sir." I wondered for an instant if this was actually the world's mildest daylight robbery in progress. I reiterated my previous statement, finding no other way out, turned around and sped forward to my destination without waiting for a response.
That incident called to mind another experience when a professional mendicant approached me and demanded 50 bucks. The episode had left me nonplussed. I had always assumed that there was a 10-rupee cut-off limit when it came to alms. This man, however, had no intention of adhering to the unwritten laws of begging; he was a revolutionary of sorts. I refused to part with my money both times. It wasn't the traditional 'he's healthy, let him earn his money' justification for me; it was more the 'I'm so broke i can't spare a penny' truth that prevented me from helping them out monetarily. Every one of us have, at one point or the other, swallowed our pride and asked for money from our friends or family. It's an agonising feeling refusing to give money to someone in need. Money is, indeed, the root cause of terrible social awkwardness.
TIMES OF INDIA
ISLAM ENCOURAGES US TO CONSERVE AND PROTECT
The consequences of unprecedented climate change are expected to adversely impact the lives of millions; conflicts are expected, particularly over sharing of natural resources like water and fuel. Could spirituality help resolve these issues so that peace is given a chance?
Islamic, Christian and Jewish traditions say that God made Adam in His own image. tells us that God, the Divine Potter, ordered the angels to collect handfuls of earth from the four different corners of the earth. He mixed it with water and moulded the image of Adam, then blew His own Spirit in him. Adam, the first human being becomes the prototype for all humanity. God created man as His vice-regent; he entrusted the care of earth to him. At Islam's most universal level, plants, , angels and planets all glorify God and follow His instructions; but only human beings are privileged with the capability to make choices.
Allah refers to humanity as the best of creation; He endowed it with the gifts of nature. He taught Adam all the names, giving humanity the power of knowledge and free will, so He may see how we behave. In the verse on Trust, the Divine Message says that the Heavens, the earth and the mountains refused to carry Trust for they were afraid and so God handed over the responsibility to humans.
Over 500 verses in the Quran deal with nature. We are repeatedly called upon to reflect on the trees, mountains, seas, animals, birds, stars, the sun and the moon and our own hearts. " has subjected to you whatever is in the skies and the earth; Behold! Therein are sure signs for those who reflect.'' In another verse the behaviour of those who destroy crops and is condemned. The Quran calls on us to recognise our own contribution to the environmental crisis: "Corruption doth appear on land and sea because of (the evil) which men's hands have done, that He may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return."
The Quran reminds us that the natural disposition of all creation is in balance and forbids us to upset the balance. It explicitly commands us not to waste resources. Prophet advised that even if the Day of Judgement should arrive and if someone has a sapling in his hands, he should plant it first. The tradition suggests that even though it is the end of the world, we don't have to lose faith and hope.
Planting a tree is considered a sadqa-e-jariyah, act of continuous charity, a desirable deed for which the planter is rewarded for as long as the tree benefits any form of creation.
It is not by coincidence, but by Divine Design that all the prophets of Islam have been shepherds at some point in their lives. As shepherds, they tended to the plant, animal and human world, both nurturing and multiplying physical and spiritual resources.
Muslims are losing the old theological traditions where shariah scholars had designated zones of , often performing the role of eco-inspectors. They ensured that settlements did not come up on flood plains, trees were not felled, mangroves not destroyed and ceilings were placed on hunting.
Religions are concerned with activity and not just faith. The climate dialogue presents a wonderful opportunity for people of different religions to work together. Faith leaders could play positive roles in facilitating change by looking at their traditions, help people re-evaluate their actions and engage in correcting the environment malaise. Irrespective of creed, we are all created and sustained by the same source.
The writer is the author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.
DIGRESSION TO OPPOSITION
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had been talking about unveiling BJP Version 2.1 for a while. But like all re-branding exercises that come only after an existential crisis, this, too, took much prodding from shareholders to make the transition happen. The appointment of Sushma Swaraj as the Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha was a logical decision.
Two things in the BJP's internal politics made this obvious transition seem radical: procrastination and the jousting of egos. The 'elevation' of L.K. Advani to the role of a mentor as Parliamentary Party Chairman hopefully will take care of the earlier rumblings between the RSS and the BJP as well as those within the party. Success in the BJP's post-90s political yatra threw up a visible leadership; but failure since the Lok Sabha elections in May made the 'party with a difference' a cacophony of differences.
Less obvious has been the change of guard in the BJP's presidency. Rajnath Singh's tenure was marked, at best, by irrelevancy, and at worst, by self-destruction. The relatively unknown figure of Nitin Gadkari taking over should be seen as an act of fumigation. For the nation's main Opposition party to have turned itself into the source of a minor soap opera must have required dollops of political bankruptcy. And in the past one year, there was plenty of this that the BJP showcased. It is to the credit of Ms Swaraj that she has been able to perform her function as a senior Opposition leader, especially inside Parliament, even while the BJP ship seemed to ram the proverbial iceberg. The party now has to make use of the rapprochement made with the RSS, which under Mohan Bhagwat realised that a prod and a push were necessary for the BJP to stand up and be counted again.
In a political atmosphere veering towards piecemeal regionalism, the BJP is still the antipode to the ruling coalition. The new dispensation will not automatically get the BJP back on track. Which is why the daisy chain between Mr Advani playing Dronacharya and Ms Swaraj holding the reins of the chariot and the more bureaucratic Mr Gadkari needs to hold. The return of the BJP is eagerly awaited not only by its still-unsettled supporters but also by the nation at large. All it has to do to start off things on a positive note is to get back to business as usual as the main Opposition party of India and stop being the digression it has become.
THE VISIBLE HAND - DIFFERENTIAL CALCULUS
TAKING OVER AS CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER TO THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA HAS MEANT ADAPTING TO CHANGES -SOME OBVIOUS AND SOME MORE SUBTLE THE HARDEST LEARNING THAT I AM EXPECTED TO DO CONCERNS SPEECH. THE ART OF POLITICAL SPEECH IS TO SAY THINGS THAT SOUND MEANINGFUL BUT ARE IMPOSSIBLE TO PIN DOWN. NO ONE CAN SAY WHAT YOU SAID IS WRONG BECAUSE NO ONE CAN SAY WHAT YOU SAID
This was my first week in office as Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India and this will be my last column. As I enter my new life, there will clearly have to be many adjustments; and the loss of my column and the accompanying sense of wistfulness is just one.
The changes were apparent the very first day I arrived at my office in the North Block within the imposing ramparts of Lutyens' New Delhi. As I got out of my Ambassador car with my weather-beaten briefcase and cheap laptop, two persons emerged from nowhere and whisked these out of my hand.
My first instinct was to run after them and recover my belongings. My usual experience, for instance, when going somewhere with my wife, is to have heavy things given to me, not taken from me. The only times I have had things taken from me has been in mugging incidents, such as the one in Venice.
Relieved of my bags, I walked jauntily into the high-ceilinged building. As I approached my office and reached out to push open the huge wooden door, my men Friday did it for me. In these five days, I have not once touched the office door when getting in. It is like those airport doors with sensors that open up automatically when people approach them.
The hardest learning that I am expected to do is not about these mechanical and, in some ways, trivial matters, but concerns speech. The problem stems from the fact that I speak clearly. The art of political speech is apparently to say things that sound meaningful but are impossible to pin down.
No one can say what you said is wrong because no one can say what you said.
I now realise that I had, prophetically, created a character like this in my sole literary venture -- the play Crossings at Benaras Junction, which appeared in The Little Magazine in 2005. There is a sham travel agency that organises tours for foreigners. The travel guide, Lachhu, is a street-smart ignoramus.
No one can ever accuse Lachhu of giving wrong information because he has mastered the art of indecipherable speech. When a group of travellers from Europe ask Lachhu about the history of Benaras, Lachhu is on the mat, but recovers quickly: "Benaras is valdest city... Wayne the tame cum the river Ganga the people catlest the centium dreem...." The foreigners nod unsurely and Lachhu's confidence picks up: "Gem kalidusten gest come. Ve de mandareen kartejenna ven ten lethen is Agra, Jaipur, ... and the Benaras city."
Since I mentioned the Venice mugging incident, let me complete the story because it is one achievement I am proud of. Also, it illustrates the art of translating theory (in this case, game theory) to practice, something that I will have to do in my new job.
My wife and I had bought ice-cream from a roadside stall just outside St. Marks Square. The best time for a mugger to strike (I realised later) is when both hands are occupied juggling cones. And indeed, within minutes of buying ice-cream, I realised my wallet was gone. It had money, credit cards and travel documents. Alaka wanted to rush to the nearest police station. I felt that would be useful service to Venice but of no use to us, and I was not feeling charitable. I told her that there were two possibilities. Either the thief had run into the milling crowds in the main square or was still in the small cluster of people buying ice-cream. If it was the former, the wallet was lost; if the latter, there was some hope. Just then a young couple walked away from the group licking ice-cream. There was some probability -- they fitted the age-profile of pick-pockets -- that they could be the culprits; so we began tailing them. If they were guilty, they would soon check if we were still behind them, I reasoned to myself. Soon they paused to look into a shop window and casually turned back. So we also turned back. I told Alaka I was now almost certain that they had taken it. Alaka did not believe me but, being intrepid in these matters, promptly walked up to them and asked if they had seen anybody fishy near the ice-cream vendor since we had lost our wallet there. To this the man turned his pocket inside out and said, "Check my pocket if you think I have taken it." I told Alaka, in Bengali, that that response clearly confirmed his guilt. And I got aggressive and insisted that he allow me to check his back-pack. He agreed and said that, since we were in the middle of the street, we should move to a side. As we did so, his girlfriend moved away.
The readiness with which he opened his bag made me signal to Alaka not to let the girlfriend out of sight. Alaka was clearly now persuaded for she literally held the girl physically.
As the man rummaged around in his bag, I threatened to call the police. The game, he realised, was up. He asked me to speak softly and called his girlfriend. The wallet emerged from her back-pack.
Late that night my wife and I walked to the same vendor to have another round of ice-cream to make sure that we did not get scarred for life with a phobia of street-corner ice-cream.
The views expressed by the author are personal
SPEAKEASY - NOT JUST A FAST TRACK TO FAME
STARVATION IS BEING MISUSED AS A TOOL FOR POLITICAL BLACKMAIL. THIS TRIVIALISES ITS USEFULNESS
Irom Sharmila fasts for nine years on a patently legitimate demand backed by popular opinion and nothing happens. K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) fasts for eleven days on a demand whose legitimacy is not established, and the government buckles. KCR hits the fast track and becomes the hottest brand in national politics on a purely local issue. Sharmila is put away on a suicide charge for making a demand with national implications -- repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which suspends civil rights and legalises murder and torture. One has to ask: are some Indians more valuable than others?
It appears so. Andhra Pradesh is crucially important to national parties.
Manipur is not. This perception has actuated a differential response from the State: Sharmila was slapped with a criminal charge and force-fed, while KCR was not. The political crisis he was trying to precipitate dominated the news. The larger crisis of State violence that Sharmila wishes to draw attention to was indefinitely postponed by forcefeeding her, and hiding her away from public view in a jail cell. The State's differential response has devalued the political and moral status of fasting. It is a form of protest that was instrumental in securing our freedom. And it is suspected to be of ancient, proto-Aryan origin.
Take Ireland, which apparently shares more with India than the colours of its national flag. Speculative theories pro- pose that the Celtic races could mark the western limit of the Aryan migration. Apart from linguistic features, Ireland shares two cultural mark ers with India: the hors sacrifice, and fasting as a political rather than religious act. We associate fasting with Gandhi, Gautama, Mahavira and Bharata, but some readers may also remember Bobby Sands of the Provisional Wing of the Irish Republican Army, who led the 1981 hunger strike at the Long Kesh prison and was elected to British Parliament before he died of starvation. Thousands of Irish nationalist protesters had gone on hunger strike before him. It's a tradition stretching back almost a century to 1917, to Thomas Ashe, who died in Mountjoy Prison due to force-feeding. The very tactic which is being used on Sharmila by the post-colonial Indian State.Fasting as a form of protest was written into the legal code of pre-Christian Ireland. It was legitimate for the wronged to fast on the doorstep of their oppressors -- or of the State -- to shame them and to secure justice. At the eastern rim of the presumed domain of Aryan culture, this is precisely what the people of Manipur are trying to do. And in rejecting their claim while accommodating KCR, the State has cheapened the great tradition of fasting as legitimate protest.
After the drama in Hyderabad and Delhi, while Gorkha activists were on hunger strike in Darjeeling, commentators and talking heads were offering to fast to secure trivial political aims. They were ridiculing fasting as blackmail. They could afford to. They would never need to fast, except while on a diet or for Karva Chauth. But what would we have the powerless do? They can use peaceful protest as a calling attention motion, or they can take to insurgency. With its differential reaction to KCR and Sharmila, the home ministry has effectively devalued peace and promoted violence.
Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine email@example.com The views expressed by the author are personal
BOUND BY CONSENT
India's personal laws may famously lack "uniformity", but on one thing, they all agree. "No fault divorce" is not permitted (except under Shariah). Both spouses have to consent to divorce unless grounds such as infidelity or cruelty can be proved evidence that can be traumatic and difficult to establish. For a divorce under the Hindu Marriage Act, for instance, unless spouses can prove any of these grounds, three long-winded steps have to be taken. First, the couple have to live separately for a year. Second, both have to file for a consensual divorce. And third, the court will grant another 6-18 months for a possible reconciliation. It was these provisions that Smriti Shinde, daughter of Union Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, questioned before the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
Shinde said the requirement of consent goes against gender justice and is unconstitutional. If the court were to agree with her, they would, in effect be permitting "no fault divorce" in India. The issue is a sensitive one and Shinde's grievance may not be generalisable. Some gender activists hold that permitting "no fault divorce" would encourage men to abandon their wives at the slightest ruse.
This divergence apart, there are other problem areas on which reformists can converge. The first is the length of time required for a consensual divorce. Under the Hindu Marriage Act, it can take up to three years; under other laws, even longer a pointless proposition for a couple who don't wish to live with each other. The court must also distinguish cases such as Smriti Shinde's, who is obviously not being coerced, from instances where unilateral divorce is cruelty dressed up as freedom. For so sensitive a social issue, the law must respond in kind.
One year on from the aborted Satyam-Maytas deal that eventually paved the way for Ramalinga Raju's sensational confession of fraud some weeks later, the government finally seems to be getting serious about corporate governance reform. The revelation of accounting fraud at Satyam unfortunately distracted attention from more fundamental issues relating to good corporate governance, particularly the role of company boards. But now, the government is set to release a new corporate governance code which focuses its attention on the functioning of independent directors.
In the aftermath of Satyam, serious questions were raised about the role that the independent directors might have played in assisting Satyam's crooked management. The new code is a move in the right policy direction, but by itself it may not be enough to reform corporate governance. The new code seeks to limit the number of boards a single independent director can sit on seven will be the new maximum. The pay of independent directors will also be more tightly regulated. It will come in two components, fixed and variable; the former cannot be more than one-third the total, and the latter will depend on attendance. Independent directors will be allowed stock options but they will not be allowed to redeem them until three years after they have left a company board.
But perhaps more important than the specifics are the principles on which good corporate governance is based. The first principle is the supremacy of the shareholders, including the appointment and monitoring of independent directors. In India, this isn't as simple as it sounds because a majority of listed companies are both closely held and tightly managed by promoters there is no obvious separation of shareholders, board and management. Sebi has stated its intention to require companies to reduce promoter shareholding. That will help. But minority shareholders too need to get better organised to exercise their rights financial institutions and FIIs, the best organised minority shareholders, can make a start by taking a keener interest in the appointment of independent directors. But what eventually matters is whether an independent director or two or more actually stands up to confront and check a management leaning in the wrong direction.
A YEAR IN KATHMANDU
There is a savage irony in an armed, self-proclaimed proletarian outfit declaring that some are more equal than others. And also in that once brutally violent outfit resorting to symbol and melodrama to thrust itself in the face of a government, state and polity it is unhappy with. Such would be the judgment on Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) chief Prachanda lighting a candle outside the erstwhile royal palace to declare the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, the autonomous "Newa republic province", in which the dominant Newar community would, at least for the moment, enjoy more rights than others. Except that behind this ludicrous self-dramatisation trembles a country which has enjoyed just about a year of relative calm in many years. Nepal's dawn of hope when it became a republic has been brief. Its new constitution is not yet ready and is unlikely to be before next May. The visible relief on all sides when the armed Maoists were incorporated into the democratic system, when they contested elections and emerged as the single largest party with the post of PM, disappeared soon over a standoff between the army and the Maoists, and then between the Maoists and their coalition partners.
Nobody is without blame for the current, and deepening, crisis, but the Maoists are accountable for their persistent, and myriad, threats and actions. In government, Prachanda had seemed to forget that republican Nepal only had a Maoist government and was not a Maoist state. Out of government, and without being able to figure out a democratic, political means of getting back in there, the UCPN-M has been setting deadlines for the restoration of "civilian supremacy", laying siege to streets and government buildings, backing land grabs, threatening to set up a "parallel" or Maoist-led "consensus" government. Meanwhile, the party has been unilaterally declaring "autonomous republic provinces" even as its commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is coming into question. And reports of Maoist ideologues like Baburam Bhattarai calling the party's participation in the peace process a mere "tactic" first aligning with the "bourgeois" parties to abolish the monarchy and then launching a fresh round of armed clash to capture state power for ultimately establishing a communist utopia only add to the tension.
India must monitor the situation closely and assist in a stable and united Nepal. Efforts must be made to ensure that the Maoists, as well as Nepal's other politicians (with a terrible record of abiding by democratic consensus), stay within the demo-cratic framework. There must be closure on the current crisis to bring the country back from the brink.
THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS
Higher inflation figures have once again turned the spotlight on interest rates. Should the RBI tighten monetary policy? While inflation is a concern, there are other issues that could influence the RBI's decision. The increase in the dependence of the commercial sector on non-bank finance and the probability of higher capital inflows in a world where in most countries monetary tightening has not yet started are likely to be among the RBI's major concerns. Moreover, the economy continues to operate with considerable slack and it is not clear that now is the optimal time for pushing down aggregate demand through tighter monetary policy. While small signalling changes can be made, it would be risky to take steps towards seriously tightening monetary policy.
A much discussed but inconclusive debate is the question of whether monetary policy can be effective in curbing food inflation. Some argue that the task of the government is to manage supply of food, whose prices are rising rapidly and there is little that raising the banking reserve ratios or interest rates can do. Others fear that unchecked growth in food prices can lead to higher wages and cost push inflation. They argue that the RBI should step in to contain inflationary expectations by raising interest rates, and indicating its commitment to low inflation. This debate is not settled, and neither the theory nor the evidence from India or from other countries is adequate to give conclusive answers. At the end of the day the RBI would need to make a call based on its judgment of the impact of tightening monetary policy on food prices and inflationary expectations. Let us assume, for purposes of argument, that the RBI is persuaded by the view that monetary tightening is necessary for curbing higher inflation. What would be its concerns before it tightens?
Tightening of monetary policy, whether achieved through an increase in the cash reserve ratio (CRR) or by raising the reverse repo rate, would be transmitted to the economy through raising the cost of bank credit. The commercial sector is today accessing two-thirds of its financing needs from non-banks. This was observed in the RBI's review of macro economic developments released with the October 2009 credit policy announcement. In the past, the share of the banking and non-banking sectors in the flow of resources to the commercial sector was nearly equal. In 2009-10 however, until early October, the banking sector accounted for less than a third of the funding requirements of the financial sector. Since the RBI does not regulate the non-banking sector it appeared to be concerned about this development. The growth of bank credit to the commercial sector will decrease further if bank credit becomes more expensive. To the extent that this does not translate into higher cost of capital in the non-banking sector, and to the extent that there are lags involved in that process when it does happen, this could mean an increase in the share of financial flows routed outside the banking sector, something that is likely to be a matter of concern for the RBI and which would influence its decision on raising the cash reserve ratio.
The second concern of the RBI following higher interest rates is likely to be value of the rupee. I have argued in these columns in the past that an appreciating rupee is perhaps the easiest instrument in the hands of the RBI to contain inflation, especially prices of traded goods, such as edible oils and petroleum. However, the RBI's concern for exporters in the past is well known. In the past this concern has, despite inflationary pressures, resulted in the RBI preventing rupee appreciation. When the US Fed is still likely to keep interest rates near zero as it remains concerned about credit growth, an increase in the interest differential with the US would make the Indian rupee an even more attractive asset.
Capital inflows appear to have already started worrying the RBI which has reintroduced a ceiling on external commercial borrowing (ECB) by Indian companies at the level of LIBOR (the rate at which international banks borrow from each other in the London inter-bank market) plus 3 per cent for a three year loan. At this rate even some of the best Indian companies would find it hard to borrow. If the interest differential widens, which will happen if the RBI raises interest rates while the US Federal Reserve leaves its interest rates unchanged, then the flow of capital into India will increase further. Such a move on the part of the RBI will be inconsistent with what it tried to achieve just a few days ago with the ECB ceiling.
For many months now, the call money rate, the rate at which banks borrow overnight from each other, has been hugging the lower bound of the policy interest rate corridor. Banks have been putting in excess cash with the RBI. Some people describe this situation as one of excess liquidity which should be tackled by reducing supply of credit. Others argue that we need to allow liquidity to remain "excess" since "excess" is relative to demand which is very low due to the recession. Bankers are reported to be saying that excess cash is largely being held because of the low demand for credit.
Non-food credit growth has fallen to nearly 11 per cent compared to last October, a period when credit conditions were already difficult due to the global financial meltdown. In other words, there is no high base effect in the low demand being seen for credit growth. Such low credit growth demand conditions are, in general, not a candidate for contractionary monetary policy.
This poses the difficult question of whether a further reduction in the demand for credit would be desirable for an economy recovering from a recession and in the midst of the uncertainly in global markets, it poses an additional risk to the economy. Higher interest rates and an appreciating rupee would reduce demand for Indian products while the growth in industrial production is still weak and yet to stabilise.
The writer is professor, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, New Delhi
FROM THE BENCH
Wednesday's Supreme Court verdict annulling the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), of which the former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari were the prime beneficiaries, is more than a moral indictment to hit the beleaguered presidency. Others, whose names have now been put on the Exit Control List (ECL) following the revival of corruption and criminal cases pending against them, include Interior Minister
Rahman Malik, Senator Jahangir Badar of the People's Party, MQM minister Wasim Akhtar and President Zardari's erstwhile righthand men, Salman and Usman Faruqi. Zardari's name still eludes the ECL but the president is "supposedly" granted immunity under the constitution from the filing or revival of criminal cases against him.
One says "supposedly" at this time because the interpretation of the pertinent constitutional clauses protecting the presidency against litigation has become a mooting point between lawyers belonging to pro- and anti-Zardari camps. Never before this political drama unfolding has Pakistan seen such a vigorous legal debate on TV and generated such great public interest. This, while ethnic nationalist, including Sindhi nationalist, opposition, rightist parties as well as the public at large have all welcomed the SC judgment. This makes it a popular verdict to be handed down by an apex court which, in the past, has been known to act as a sitting government's or a dictator's surrogate.
The verdict also derives its strength from its unanimity by a 17-member full court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, whose restoration to the coveted office came only on the back of the lawyers' movement and popular support last March after Zardari had refused to reinstate him. By contrast, Zardari's and his top aides' popularity has seen a steady decline since their inception in government after General Musharraf was forced to step down in August 2008. Speculation is now rife across the board on what will become of the president and his close associates, sullied once again as they stand under the burden of corruption and criminal cases.
The court has directed the government to approach the Swiss authorities for the revival of money laundering cases filed in Swiss courts by the Musharraf regime against the former first couple; Bhutto was convicted in one such case by a Swiss court and had gone into appeal at the time when Musharraf withdrew the cases in October 2007 after promulgation of the NRO under a power-sharing deal with the late PPP leader. The court has also ordered the government to proceed against the former attorney general, Malik Qayyum, for illegally withdrawing the Swiss cases.
The fact remains that post-Bhutto's assassination, Zardari's has been a somewhat dubious entry into politics. Here is the man Bhutto had struggled all her married life to keep out of politics, for he had been a key factor in muddying her own reputation whilst she was in power. His
sudden ascent to the most powerful office in the land, thanks to Musharraf's tinkering with the constitution making the president the pivot of all authority, has ruffled many feathers within the PPP old guard. It was the two PPP stalwarts, Mubashir Hasan and Abdul Hafiz Peerzada, both former ministers in Z.A. Bhutto's '70s cabinet, who had petitioned the SC against the legality of the NRO.
Following the SC verdict, even though the presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar was quick to assert that Zardari would continue in office despite the NRO verdict, his holding on to office has at least morally become untenable. Moreover, what's now to stop another petitioner from going to the court for the kill? This can start by simply calling into question Zardari's credentials as on October 5, 2007 when the NRO was proclaimed, illegally, as the court has now determined. At that point in time Zardari was a proclaimed offender evading court cases and living in self-imposed exile. Could such a
person be held eligible to contest for a public office, let aside the highest office in the land?
It is such and other disturbing questions that have now come back to hound the erstwhile beneficiaries of the NRO, a bad law that stands abolished ab initio for its being in contradiction with the constitution of Pakistan. The cases against such beneficiaries not only stand revived now but the government has been directed by the court to pursue them vigorously under the higher judiciary's direct supervision.
Wednesday's judgment against them aside, what Zardari and Co lack in their defence is public support, given the bad governance they have given the country since coming to power. This puts them at the mercy of a dispassionate court which, in turn, is under public pressure to show that justice is being done.
The writer is an editor with 'Dawn', Karachi
FURORE OVER TELANGANA
Describing the UPA government's announcement on the formation of a separate state of Telangana as a foolhardy act of the Congress, Kolkata and Delhi-based daily Akhbar-e-Mashriq (December 12) writes: "Firstly, the Central government should have evolved a unanimous formula about a sensitive issue like Telangana by taking all political parties into confidence. Secondly, it should have created a consensus within the Congress. But the high command did not take either of these steps and fired the salvo of a separate Telangana in extreme haste ... The only remedy now lies in the political parties rising above limited and momentary gains and taking decisions keeping in view the nation's interest."
Hyderabad-based daily, Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in an editorial on December 12, likened the Centre's announcement on Telangana to "smashing a beehive". The paper writes: "The Central government and the central leadership of the Congress, may perhaps be realising now that they have made a serious mistake by following a policy of convenience and lack of farsightedness. This was neither the most appropriate time for the solution of this problem nor was it based on any hidden agenda. Earlier, former governments and central leaderships had demonstrated patience and a strong will in the face of far more serious, extremely disturbing and unfavourable conditions."
Hyderabad's leading daily Siasat in its editorial on December 11 writes: "Effort has been made to give a communal colour to the issue (of Telangana) and it has been said that the Muslims do not want a state of Telangana. This is an attempt to distort facts. Muslims also realise the injustices done to Telangana and are active supporters of Telangana. Many Muslims are part of the agitation for a separate state."
In another point of view, an editorial entitled, "Telangana's Headache", Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express (December 12) writes: "On an overview of the process of governance, one does not feel even remotely that the smaller states can be described as prosperous, stable, and an abode of contentment. We have before us the instability of Jharkhand, the extremism in Chhattisgarh and the example of Uttarakhand. So, there is no correlation between smallness of a state and good governance."
A CLIMATE FOR CHANGE
Taking a rather religious view of the dangers of climate change, Jamaat-e-Islami's official organ, biweekly Daawat, in an editorial on December 10, writes: "Ever since the venerable (sic) human being (Hazrat-e-insaan) has started interfering with nature, this chaos has been created." Without naming any country, it says: "the share of responsibility should be identified. But certain powers or nations do not want an unbiased verdict in this regard. They want to prove their strength and dominance in this matter as well, and want to be content, putting the blame on others".
Noted litterateur and journalist Hasan Kamal, in his column "Khari Khari" (bare facts) in the daily Hamara Samaj (December 8) explains the complexities of this conclave for his readers. He also dwells on the politics of the summit: "One had thought that US President Obama's recent telephone call to Manmohan Singh was regarding Afghanistan. But it now transpires that Obama's call was to know the stand India would take at Copenhagen and if India agrees with the US proposal. Following the call, the Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh announced that India can make cuts in carbon intensity by 2025. Montek Singh Ahluwalia's saying that India could cut emission upto 53 per cent too was the result of Obama's call to the PM."
Ministering to Muslims
Reacting to Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi's statement at Aligarh Muslim University that a Muslim too can become the country's prime minister if he has the capability required for this post, Hamara Samaj, in an editorial entitled 'Woh din kab aayega?' (when will that day come?) writes: "Certainly, there are many Muslims who can adorn the office of prime minister. But the question is not of becoming the prime minister or the president. There is a need for putting an end to the conspiracy that was hatched after Independence for isolating Muslims... The prospect of a Muslim becoming the prime minister is quite far-fetched. There are many posts which, following Independence, have neither been given to a Muslim, nor is there any possibility of it being given even in the distance future. For instance, a Muslim was never made the minister of defence of the country".
Recounting instances when people like I.K. Gujral, Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar were made PM according to compromise formulae, Hyderabad-based daily Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in an editorial on December 10, writes: "A Muslim can be made chief minister under a compromise formula but not the PM."
Sahafat, published daily from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, has in its lead story on December 10, severely criticised Shiv Sena leader Bal Thackeray's statement outlining "conditions" (connected with the Ayodhya issue, uniform civil code, Vande Mataram, etc.) to be fulfilled by a Muslim to be acceptable to him as the prime minister. "In what capacity is he talking of bargaining with Muslims?" the paper asks.
DISGRACE, ITALIAN STYLE
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is recovering in hospital after an alleged psycho clobbered him with a weighty souvenir replica of Milan's cathedral on Sunday. The embattled Berlusconi probably can use a moment of repose. He is under siege from the courts on various corruption-related charges. His anti-immigrant posturing and combative quasi-fascistic grandstanding have brought on charges from the left that he's created a climate of violence in the country. (Every judge and every critic that takes him to task is liable to be labelled communist.) And Berlusconi's very public private life, meanwhile, is worthy of Italian legends like the Borgias. But Il Cavaliere, as he likes to be called, remains very popular with his compatriots and rarely misses a chance for self-promotion. So don't be surprised if he writes a letter to the besmirched and besieged American golfer Tiger Woods. It could point up the differences between American celebrity and Italian politics, to the extent that they exist, and in rough translation it might read something like this:
First of all, let me compliment you on your tan. (When I said the same thing about American President Barack Obama, my opponents claimed to be horrified, but they're communists anyway, so who cares? I work like hell on my tan. Why shouldn't I compliment yours, even if it comes naturally?)
As you know, we've had similar problems lately, you and I. Our wives are furious and vengeful; our lovers are venal and talking to the press. (Have any of yours tape-recorded you?). And people are throwing things at our faces. I'm not sure exactly what happened to you. Was it a cell phone? But some lunatic creamed me with a replica of the Duomo in Milan, and those spires hurt! Cracked a couple of teeth, broke my nose, split my lip, opened up a cut under my eye. You know, I've had a little plastic surgery now and then, but I am going to wear these scars like a badge of honour. I only wish one of my ostensible lovers had done it instead.
Which brings me to my point, Tigre. It's time to move to Italy. This is a country that will understand you, appreciate you, love you! And not in spite of your womanising, but because of it! Maybe in the USA your image as a bland family guy, like somebody out of 1950s American television, makes sense. But here in Italy, it's not just golf balls that make a man. Does anybody (but the communists) talk about the corruption charges against me? No. They talk about the women talking about me and they say, hey, he's 73 years old. Not bad!
So, just to be clear, here are five good reasons for you to become my paesano. First, it's a great privilege to be Italian. We don't really welcome that many people with natural tans. In fact, we are constantly looking for ways to throw them out. But you? Sure.
Second, Italy doesn't have so many famous golfers. Actually, we don't have any famous golfers. Think how special that would make you.
Third, Italians would understand the way you drive. Remember that Lamborghini police car that got totaled
by the cops a few weeks ago? What's a fire hydrant here or there?
Fourth, Italian women may kiss, or whatever, and tell, but afterward they call you a toro, a bull, like they did me. What do American women say about you? Generous, or something? Mamma mia!
Fifth, Italians may be many things, but they are not puritans and they are not hypocrites. None would claim to be puritans. In Latin societies, piousness is a mask that everybody understands, and behind which everyone leads his or her own real life. So Italians watch spectacles liked the ones that you and I have put on and they don't apologise for loving the drama of it. They envy us, and they say so. They feel sorry for our spouses but they know they're taken care of. They won't pretend they are holier than thou, or even holier than me, except, of course, if they're communists.
Un forte abbraccio (a big hug), Silvio
SHOELESS WITH THE SENA
Shiv Sena leader Ramdas Kadam grabbed headlines by accusing Hasan Gafoor of sleeping in his car on 26/11 while "Kasab's saathi were taking people's lives".
"I myself woke him up," Kadam claimed.
So what's the untold story behind this now oft-repeated charge that Gafoor was caught napping?
Kadam mentions only one encounter with the then police chief. But the fact is that after the Lashkar attack began, the Shiv Sainik came to see Gafoor thrice outside the Trident, each time accompanied by dismissed and suspended police officers.
On the first two occasions during the night, Gafoor gave him a quick review of the situation, and advised him to leave the area for his own safety.
Kadam's third and final visit was around 11 am on Nov 27, 2008. The NSG had taken over, and a junior had brought tea and biscuits for Gafoor, who had been on his feet throughout the night.
The police chief got into his squad car, took off his shoes, and was holding a tea cup in one hand and a plate of biscuits in another when Kadam reappeared for the third time.
The Shiv Sainik, who lost in the recent state assembly polls, was at that time the Leader of the Opposition in the Vidhan Sabha, a position of ministerial rank. Protocol required Gafoor to get out of the car and maybe even click his heels before speaking to such a dignitary. But the police officer was shoeless, and encumbered. So he spoke to Kadam sitting in his car.
Kadam clearly felt slighted, and responded as politicians tend to do when hurt by levelling a baseless accusation. It still makes good copy for the media.
THE LONELINESS OF BEING HASAN GAFOOR
After 26/11, Hasan Gafoor became the target of a sustained media campaign inspired and managed by an influential group of police officers. Now a year later, after the former Mumbai Police chief got provoked by a journalist into commenting on four juniors, the Maharashtra Home Minister R.R.Patil has promised "strict disciplinary action" against Gafoor to send out the message that "no one will be spared for misconduct".
Patil maintained that he went through the 26/11 police wireless records after Gafoor reportedly said four officers had under-performed, and "didn't find anything that shows them to be at fault."
But Vinita Kamte, the wife of a slain officer, used the RTI Act to access just a small part of the same records for her book To The Last Bullet. And what did she find?
That the Additional Commissioner (Crime Branch) was sent to Cama Hospital with half a dozen armed constables to rescue the injured IPS officer Sadananad Date from the Lashkar duo Ajmal Kasab and Ismail Khan; that instead of going there he 'stayed put on the terrace of the Anjuman School (opposite the rear gate of Cama) for over an hour until 00.30 a.m.'; and that much after the terrorists had shot Vinita's husband Ashok Kamte, the ATS chief Hemant Karkare, Crime Branch
Inspector Vijay Salaskar, and four constables, this officer 'chose to leave the Anjuman School... and took the opposite direction (from Cama) to exit from the Times of India (building) side, even as the three officers were lying in a pool of blood'.
Vinita Kamte doesn't name this 'Addl CP' in the book, though she did in a later media interview. But surely Patil knows that the Crime Branch no. 2 is none other than Deven Bharti, one of the famous foursome for whose sake he has decided to punish Gafoor. Does Patil believe then that just as the Lashkar onslaught was "a little incident...in a big city", Bharti's terrace caper was a normal midnight outing?
But why marvel only at Patil's Alice in Wonderland logic? Bharti and the three others were also defended by 'supercop' Julio Ribeiro as "outstanding officers...some of the best in the department". It doesn't stop there. Even while the Ram Pradhan Committee damned Gafoor by constantly thumping the laughably incongruous Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) police manual (never mind that it was scrapped immediately after 26/11), it relied on these same four officers to brand him as a 'poor leader'. So maybe now we will be told that Bharti's strange behaviour that night (there was more, but enough!) was SOP.
What was not SOP was the dedication and courage displayed by Karkare and Kamte in response to the call that another IPS officer was injured and under fire from terrorists, and needed support. They died fighting. But in the topsy-turvy world of the Maharashtra government, they died because "they didn't understand the gravity of the situation" (what a top minister told Vinita Kamte during a condolence visit). And in the malevolent view of a few policemen, "they got Ashoka Chakras for nothing....just for taking bullets" (this was what provoked Gafoor during his ill-fated encounter with the journalist).
Altogether nine policemen died that night before Kasab was captured. A few policemen may have stayed indoors until the army came, or wandered aimlessly, but many confronted the terrorists despite being shockingly ill-equipped and untrained for the challenge. As a result, for the first time a Pakistani jihadi was caught during an urban terror attack, a tremendous boost for New Delhi in its campaign to expose the India-hating terror network across the border.
And where was Gafoor throughout the night of 26/11? Soon after the terrorists struck, he set up his command post in the field, outside the Hotel Trident. This helped him to quickly and correctly gauge that the scale and ferocity of the onslaught was such that only specially trained commandos could combat it. Otherwise, it could result in a bigger tragedy.
The Lashkar fighters were displaying considerable tactical agility and acumen, and were using not just pistols and AK-47s but also hand grenades and RDX bombs. Gafoor himself narrowly escaped being felled first by a bomb in the hotel driveway and then by a grenade hurled at his car.
Until the commandos arrived, the best his men could hope to achieve was to contain the terrorists, rescue hotel guests, and assist the injured.
Like many others, I sat all night watching the horrific drama unfold on TV. Occasionally, I would catch sight of Gafoor at the Trident. I was startled to see that Mumbai's police chief was without a bullet-proof jacket. When I met him later, I remonstrated. His reply, I thought, was typical of an officer who is down-to-earth yet innovative, and always ready to lead from the front.
"I had put on my bulletproof vest when I reached the Trident," Gafoor said matter-of-factly. "But then I saw that my men were falling back, they didn't have any such vests. As the police chief, I felt I had to set an example. So I took it off."
This was probably another violation of the SOP. But is it at all possible that during his amazing, lathi-swinging surge toward the silver Skoda, Asst Inspector Tukaram Ombale, the policeman who finally pinned down Kasab, may have felt a little extra motivation knowing, as he would through the police wireless, that further up the road his own chief was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with his men confronting the terrorists? (In fact, Kasab's car narrowly skirted Gafoor's command post, from where orders first went out to stop the Skoda.)
No police chief anywhere in India has been indicted or removed after a terror strike. Gafoor is the first. Now he faces severe punishment that, according to reports, could include demotion or dismissal. Will the Queen of Hearts shout, "Off with his head!"?
Misguided media critics of the Mumbai police's performance on 26/11 should get out of wonderland and examine a simple fact what the Indian Army and the Navy commandos did that night. The Army, perhaps sensibly, did not take on the Pakistani jihadis inside either the Taj or the Trident-Oberoi hotels, but maintained 'perimeter security'. The Navy's fearsome Marcos commandos refused to fight at the Oberoi, but did go inside the old Taj. A few hours later they announced they had killed two terrorists. But all four Lashkar gunmen were still active when the NSG arrived. So who had the Marcos killed?
Heavily-armed soldiers without the instincts and skills of a force like the NSG which is specially trained and equipped to combat fanatical gunmen inside large, civilian-occupied buildings (the toughest of all commando operations) can do more harm than good. But in the inspired media campaign coming from within the force, only the lathi-wielding Mumbai cop, a shadow of his former self due to years of neglect and political interference, is portrayed as the villain, and the police chief vilified.
Even with the NSG, a significant detail always goes unmentioned. The fighting arm of this special counter-terrorism force consists of commandos drawn from the Army. The inductees from the police are used for security duties, such as guarding politicians. Though the NSG is always headed by a police officer, it discovered early on that its police recruits are neither physically nor mentally capable of lasting the full stretch in its commando training programme. In Mumbai too it was the slain Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, Havaldar Gajendra Singh and their Army comrades who fought and killed the Lashkar terrorists.
After taking over as commissioner in February 2008, Gafoor was worried about his ragtag force's ability to counter a terrorist strike. But he was starved of funds. So he improvised. Former British commandos whom he had befriended as Air India's security chief were invited to train a select group. Kamte was given charge of this programme. The famous Israeli-run ICTS aviation security company trained Mumbai airport police on essentials such as how to profile passengers or identify a suicide bomber. The training was free of cost, since ICTS was looking for an entry into the Indian market. His most ambitious project was to modernise the antiquated police control room through a citywide electronic surveillance system. (After its mysterious metamorphosis into a privately-sponsored proposal, the CCTV project languishes.) But in a police force bedeviled by corruption and crass careerism, men like Gafoor, Karkare and Kamte (two officers he was professionally close to he called Kamte "my right arm") remained 'outsiders'.
When the so-called 'Deccan Mujahideen' claimed credit for 26/11 in a spurious email, the media, ever hungry for dramatic contrasts, missed an act. Leading the brave policemen confronting the fake Hyderabadi Muslims was a genuine one, Hasan Gafoor. This was one more message from Mumbai to the Lashkar's sponsors in Pakistan. Now he too will be a victim. I can only hang my head in shame.
Now based in Delhi, Maseeh Rahman worked in Mumbai for 25 years as a reporter, editor and India Today bureau chief.
NINE TO NINE
Traditionally, India's financial market has seen regulators specifying the time of day at which trading starts and the time of day when it stops. As an example, the RBI/Sebi committee process on currency futures and interest rate futures has specified that trading must start at 9 am and stop at 5 pm. In most areas of the Indian economy, such detailed control is not given to the government or official regulators. Internationally, many grocery stores choose to stay open for 24 hours a day. A few weeks ago, Sebi came out with a liberalised policy: exchanges could trade for any hours that they liked, as long as it was between 9 in the morning and 5 in the evening. This has set off a flurry of activity where NSE and BSE have been thinking about the costs and benefits of various choices in a competitive setting. If NSE or BSE opts for longer hours, securities firms will face the decision about the time at which the shop opens for business and the time at which it closes.
These activities seem messy and confusing in the public eye. Such confusion is an inherent part of the market economy. Capitalism does not work through a Great Leader who knows what to do and seamlessly executes it. Capitalism works through a stumbling process where firms constantly look for small advantages in a competitive process. When government control is withdrawn, and the licence-permit raj is scaled down, there will always be an initial period of transition where firms learn about how to operate in the liberalised environment. There is a good case for Indian markets to be open from 9 am to 9 pm, for two reasons. First, consumers should have maximal choice on when they can achieve their trading needs. Second, in the late evening in India, the ADR market opens in the US, and it is important to link up the closing Indian prices to the opening US prices. If securities firms have to stay open for 12 hours a day, this will require process modification, including multiple shifts for certain employees. These changes might seem burdensome. But it should be remembered that in the good old days of floor trading at the BSE, trading only lasted for two hours a day, and shifting from that to 5.5 hours a day was seen as a big change. Sebi needs to move forward on many fronts in terms of getting away from government control of product features. There is no reason to restrict exchanges to the zone from 9 to 5. Similarly, many other product features on the derivatives market need to be decontrolled: what underlyings to use, whether cash settlement or physical settlement, the expiry dates, the contract sizes etc. Government involvement in these product features is as strange as, say, government control over the design of a bicycle.
Desperately little had happened, as these columns noted, to reform structures of corporate governance a year after the Satyam-Maytas fiasco. So, the news that the government plans to unveil a new corporate governance code next week must be welcomed. As reported in The Indian Express on Thursday, the new code seeks to directly address the corporate governance challenge at the level of the company board. The new code reportedly seeks to separate the offices of chairman and CEO. It also limits the number of firms an individual can serve as independent director to 7, down from 15. It also has something specific to say on the issue of pay for independent directors. All pay for such directors will now have to be divided into a fixed and variable componentthe fixed component can be no more than one-third of the total, and the variable component will depend on attendance at meetings. Somewhat more controversially, the new code will allow independent directors to be given stock optionsthey will, however, not be allowed to redeem them until three years after they have left the board. Obviously, some of the detail can be debatedfor example, what is the rationale for the precise seven board limit? But what are more important than the details at this stage are the principles. And the new code is at the least a move in the right direction.
The broader principle at stake is who should appoint and monitor independent directors. The most sensible answer is shareholders. But in India the issue is not so simple for two reasons. For one, promoters in a big majority of listed companies hold very large stakes (usually more than 50%), which effectively grants them complete control over the board. That could enable promoters who wish to commit malfeasance every chance to do so with endorsement from a pliant board. Second, shareholder activism (particularly of minority shareholders) is still nascent in India. All shareholders must exercise their rights if a company is to be held accountable. For starters, it would be useful if financial institutions and FIIs, who are often the most organised minority shareholders, started playing a more active part in the appointment of independent directors to the board. It is in their interest to do so. Over the medium term, it is in the interest of Indian capitalism to see promoter shareholding decrease from the levels we have now. This change can be partly induced by the market regulator but some of the change will be a process of natural evolution. Still, it's important to remember that even the best of reform cannot always ensure perfect governanceSatyam's promoters held less than 10% of the company's shares and the independent directors were credible professionals on paper. The object of reform should be to disincentivise bad behaviour. But without board directors, who have the guts and smarts to stand up to crooked management, no set of rules will be enough.
JUDGING THE ODDS CORRECTLY
KRISHNAMURTHY V SUBRAMANIAN
If introducing a new product line creates a small probability of losing a few million dollars and a large probability of earning many billions of dollars, it seems clear that the new product line should be introduced. But does what we know about managerial decision making suggest that the new product line will be introduced? Unfortunately, a great deal of research suggests that many decisions involving uncertainty go awry. It appears that people make systematic errors in reacting to the probability of events. In particular, decision makers may exaggerate the importance of small probabilities, understate the importance of large probabilities, and are generally insensitive to changes in probability that fall between those two extremes.
In recent research, Money, Kisses and Electric Shocks: On the Affective Psychology of Risk, Christopher Hsee and Yuval Rottenstreich at the University of Chicago's Booth School of Business find that this pattern of exaggeration, understatement and intermediate insensitivity is especially pronounced when the outcomes of a decision are emotionally chargedas they so often are in crucial business decisions. An exaggeration of the small probability of a loss and an understatement of the large probability of a gain may inappropriately discourage a manager from making an important decision, such as launching a new product line. Similarly, understating the large probability of overestimating synergies in a merger may lead managers to pursue them despite the odds being stacked against them.
What's to be done? As a first step, organisations need to recognise when emotions influence decisions. There are two key steps in the managerial decision making process. First, managers must thoroughly research and accurately assess the likelihood of various possibilities. Second, managers must properly and expertly apply their knowledge. Then, the key is to separate the two steps of decision making. Mid-level managers in a firm should be charged with the task of assessing the likelihood of success and failure. Senior management and the board of directors should be responsible for making decisions based on the given assessments.
This sort of separation makes it more likely that the person who makes the final decision will be emotionally detached from the outcome and will react rationally to the relevant probabilities. Only then can a firm ensure that decisions are made in a more rational and calculated way.
Human errors in reacting to the probability of an event can be explained thus: one famous study found that the typical person was indifferent between receiving a 1% chance of winning $200 and receiving $10 without doubt, and was also indifferent between receiving a 99% chance of winning $200 and receiving $188 for certain. That is, people reacted to probabilities in a way that made the first hundredth of probability worth $10, the last hundredth worth $12, but the ninety-eight intermediate hundredths worth only $178, or about $1.80 per hundredth.
The impact of the small 1% probability is even more exaggerated when emotions come into play. In an experiment conducted by the authors, a group of students imagined that they could receive either the opportunity to meet and kiss their favourite movie star or $50 in cash. Most preferred cash to a kiss. But when another group of students was asked to imagine that they could take part in either a lottery offering a 1% chance of winning the opportunity to meet and kiss their favourite movie star or a lottery offering a 1% chance of winning $50 in cash, most bet on the movie star. When making decisions, people are likely to react to the image and the effect conjured up by the relatively exciting and emotion-laden kiss when compared to the relatively pallid and emotion-free cash. When emotions are involved in decision making, people ignore the assessed likelihood of these possibilities.
Managers might grossly exaggerate the impact of small probabilities, grossly understate the impact of large probabilities, and be entirely insensitive to any probability variations. So when an executive is emotionally attached to the possible outcomes, the person who makes the final decision concerning the product line introduction may inappropriately 'ignore' the odds of success and the odds of failure. Instead of making a decision that is based solely on the judged likelihood of success, the manager may be swayed by emotional thoughts and affective images concerning how hard the company's team has worked, or how thrilling it would be to read news detailing the success of the project.
A manager who erroneously reacts to these emotions rather than to the judged probability of success will treat every probability in the same way. As a result, the manager may be severely over-aggressive or severely under-aggressive when the probability of success is low. Organisational design that facilitates the tasks of assessing the probability of success and that of decision making can lead to less emotionally charged, more rational decision making.
The author is an assistant professor of finance at Emory University, Atlanta, and a visiting scholar at ISB, Hyderabad
STREET LESSONS IN CLIMATE GOVERNANCE
There's a lot of anger and frustration around Copenhagen these daysand the snow isn't helping. On Monday it took me 8.5 hours of standing in sub-zero temperatures to get registered. This was after I was only about fiftieth in line and had shown up at 6.45 am (thousands more were standing behind me). No official came out to explain what was happening, there was no food, no drink and no rest. By Tuesday, rationing had been introduced. The UN was distributing 'secondary passes' to each observer institution (from universities to NGOs to business groups), which would, in turn, ration the passes to their registered members. By Wednesday, all additional registration was barred, pass or no. By Thursday, an alternative venue was found where non-official delegates could congregate and, hopefully, ease pressure. As I write this well past midnight, I have received a message that a grand total of 100 non-governmental participants will be bussed in from a 'secret location' on Thursday and Friday; everyone else can enjoy the snowstorm outside! Meanwhile, major hotels around the city stand barricaded. Patrol boats with police divers in wetsuits zip around the waterways (though that didn't prevent a Greenpeace boat from making an appearance). And police and protesters will likely continue to confront each other. Any international regime goes through several stages, from agenda-setting and negotiations to implementation, monitoring and enforcement. What lessons do the events in Copenhagen have for climate change governance?
Let's take participation and agenda-setting. Who sits at the table matters for the legitimacy of an institution. It also affects the efficiency of discussions. Climate talks face the same dilemma both inside and outside the Bella Centre. The so-called walkout by developing countries on Monday was partly because some of them felt they were not privy to draft texts that the major players were discussing. Outside in the cold, thousands wanted to be in, not only to observe what was going on but also to set whatever agenda each organisation fervently believed in. Some seemed legitimateresearch institutions with credible records, experts helping governments draft laws and investors seeking to increase local capacity for renewable energy. Others seemed a bit out of place like the 17-year-old school kid ahead of me, who said she was there because her teacher knew someone who knew someone who could register her. She confessed, "I don't really know what the UNFCCC is all aboutit'd be nice to find out!" I wondered why she didn't just read up on Wikipedia; it would have meant one less person in a crowd of thousands. And once I made my way inside, there was a circus: anti-nuclear protesters, pro-vegan diehards, an angry mermaid, daily 'fossil prizes' for the most obstructionist governments, even Christmas carol singers! International regimes face a similar cacophony of messagesheads of states making their statements this week have come with different agendas. But when there are so many messages, there is perhaps no clear message.
Then there are negotiations and rule-making. The UN seems as unclear about limiting participants as it is about limiting emissions. The caps on delegates to the biggest climate conference came after days of confusion. Was this not anticipated? For months we have known that thousands of people might show up. For weeks we have known more exact numbers. And still the Danish hosts and the UN have been caught unawares. Will negotiators turn similar blind eyes to the growing scientific evidence on climate change and the dangers it poses? What kind of crisis will it take for the world's leaders to act? Unlike Hollywood films, the seas will not rise overnight, glaciers will not melt in a week and rainfall patterns will not change in a season. The climate crisis will unfold incrementally and hit the poor disproportionately. When the risks become impossible to ignore, what measures will they take? Will there be a cap on emissions like the UN has capped participants? What will be the basis of such a cap? How will the burden be distributed?
That brings us to implementation, monitoring and enforcement. If this level of mismanagement had occurred in a developing country, we would have heard complaints about 'poor governance' and calls for 'capacity building'. Climate negotiations expose similar concerns. On one hand, rich countries want poorer ones to commit to national plans that would be internationally monitored and verified. In turn, developing countries argue that: (1) they need financial support to implement their plans and (2) rich countries should implement their commitments and non-compliance should be punished. The challenge for international regimes, particularly on climate change, is how to build the institutions that would effectively monitor all parties and establish processes that would fix responsibility. No responsibility has been fixed yet for the chaos in the streets of Copenhagen. Similar lessons and concerns continue to haunt negotiators working on a deal to confront the world's biggest collective action problem.
The author is Oxford-Princeton Global Leaders Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton University
THE EARLY CALL OPTION
When the market regulator Sebi allowed stock exchanges to extend their trading hours, there was widespread opposition from the trading community. The fact that Sebi had allowed the market hours to extend is seen as a logistical nightmare for the broking community. Trading starting at 9.00 am would mean that employees would have to start work earlier and work till late. Many in the trade thought that this would impact profitability and efficiency. Most traders reckon that the timing would not have a positive impact on the volumes as the number of traders and the funds available would remain the same. And most of the trading volumes are anyway loaded onto the beginning or the end of the trading daythe mid-day hours tend to be lax. But then this has been the typical response from the small- and medium-sized broker.
The larger corporatised brokerages are more than willing to participate in the new opportunity and expect trading to increase. Yes, there are other concerns like the extension of the real time settlement process and the clearing corporations backing up the support mechanism. When this falls in place, which it will by January 4 , 2010, then this concern will also be taken care of.
Internationally, larger exchanges like the NYSE are open for a longer time, especially the derivatives segment. Globally, this is the practice that is followed. The Tokyo Stock Exchange has only five hours for the cash segment but the derivative segment is open for 10 hours in a manner that captures the movements of major global markets. The London Stock Exchange operates similarlythe derivatives segment opens for a longer duration than the cash segment. In fact, the derivatives segment in the NYSE is open for 23 hours a day and enables the exchange to offer traders the ability to capture developments that could impact price discovery from all over the world. Though India has a long way to go on this, at least we have made a start by extending opening hours.
A WEAKER ZARDARI
The Pakistan Supreme Court verdict striking down the National Reconciliation Ordinance as unconstitutional and void ab initio did not come as a surprise. The NRO that was promulgated on October 2007 by former President Pervez Musharraf, a day before the presidential election, had been widely perceived as a "deal" struck by him with the former Pakistan People's Party leader, Benazir Bhutto, to provide her relief from the corruption charg es she faced. The "deal" was that the NRO would enable Bhutto to get back to Pakistan and actively participate in its politics and that, in return, her party would not oppose the General's election. The NRO benefited, in all, over 8,000 people, most of them low-ranking officials. The list of politicians who benefited is short, but President Asif Ali Zardari is among them. Earlier this year, while declaring Gen. Musharraf's November 3, 2007 emergency unconstitutional and illegal, the Supreme Court had asked parliament to take a decision on the NRO and a clutch of other ordinances that he had promulgated. But in the National Assembly, where the PPP does not have a majority of its own, even its allies baulked at legislating an ordinance seen as "legitimising corruption." The ordinance lapsed and the ball was back in the Supreme Court where petitions against the NRO were pending. Mindful of the inherent indefensibility of the NRO, the government decided not to defend it in the court. The only remaining issue was how far the court would go in confronting the beneficiaries, especially Mr. Zardari.
The full court comprising 17 judges that heard the case made no person-specific ruling. But its directive, contained in a short judgment, that all cases and investigations cancelled under the NRO would stand revived, as the steps taken under the scrapped law are deemed never to have occurred, is trouble enough for Mr. Zardari. Although as President he is protected from prosecution in criminal cases, the judgment now opens the way for petitions both challenging his eligibility as a candidate in the election to the office, and his constitutional immunity. Also, the Supreme Court has made it clear that the government must revive the cases against Mr. Zardari in Swiss courts, where he and his late wife were accused of laundering and stashing millions of dollars. In the coming days, as a result of the Supreme Court verdict, Mr. Zardari will come under tremendous pressure to resign. He is the least popular of the country's political leaders, already weakened by several controversies. It is unfortunate that Mr. Zardari is also the only Pakistani leader today who has articulated a bold new vision for ties with India and has had the courage to stand up to jihadist militancy.
THE TWILIGHT WORLD OF ETHNIC MINORITIES
The institutions of the European Union are belatedly accepting that official statistics on racial discrimination and racist crime in the EU are only the "tip of the iceberg." Its Agency for Fundamental Rights has recently published the first detailed survey of the ethnic minorities, covering 23,500 respondents in all 27 member states and examining their experience of employment and recruitment, accommodation, health and social services, education, financial ser vices, and even shopping. The findings are bleak. For example, 82 per cent of respondents do not report racial discrimination to the police, mainly because they feel nothing would be done. Even the police account for much racial oppression in the form of disproportionate questioning of ethnic minorities. Under-reporting of racism is found in most public bodies, including those created to investigate racism. The groups that encounter racism least are of Russian or Eastern European origin; as an earlier EU study on illegal employment notes, they are primarily white. In contrast, Somalis, of whom 40 per cent experienced at least one racist episode in the previous 12 months, and various North African groups are the most common victims, as are Brazilians in Portugal.
The findings reveal several cruel ironies. In the last two centuries, millions of Europeans have fled famine, poverty, and oppression to make new lives in the United States, Australasia, Southern Africa, and elsewhere. Yet the recent study finds that those now treated worst are Roma, who are European-born. The worst countries in this regard are the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Greece. In Greece, respondents revealed 174 incidents for every 100 Roma in the population. Furthermore, the EU's ethnic minorities are more likely to be victims of certain kinds of crime than the white majority, contrary to the widespread racist stereotyping of ethnic minorities as criminals. The report recommends improvements in rights-awareness and notes the weaknesses in official attitudes and resources. It is, however, clear that EU ethnic minorities live, or rather exist, in some kind of a twilight zone largely unknown to the white majority. They form 20 per cent of the Union's 500-million population, and for them everyday life carries a constant risk of racism, from violence and public abuse through official hostility and neglect to the subtle ways white employers evade anti-discrimination law in every walk of life. Sensitive people on the continent wonder how European society can confront others with principles it does not even uphold.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
A FOREIGN POLICY FOR OUR TIMES
THE CAPACITY TO MOVE FORWARD BY RECAPTURING AN UNDERSTANDING OF AND PRIDE IN THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF THE PAST LIES AT THE CORE OF THE TURKISH EXPERIENCE.
Analogies are never one hundred per cent applicable to politics, but Turkey offers an example for policymakers, especially India, caught up in the imperative of adjusting to the phenomenal volatility in the international system.
All the uncertainties and imponderables of our times are gnawing at Turkey's consciousness. Like India or Pakistan, Turkey has a strategic location that offers commanding heights over surrounding regions. Its policies leave footprints on a broad regional landscape. In social formation, Turkey outstripped India but developmental issues are not dissimilar. It has long been where Indian elites aspire to reach a close partnership with the United States. What Turkey is doing about the U.S. decline is of special interest.
Nurtured in the cradle of the Cold War, Turkey was of pivotal importance to the U.S. regional policies. Suffice to say that the backchannel deal struck between Anatoly Dobrynin, redoubtable Soviet ambassador in Washington in 1962, and the U.S. President's brother and trusted aide Robert Kennedy, which defused the Cuban Missile Crisis, devolved upon the U.S removing its Jupiter missiles from Turkey "within a short time after this crisis was over" as a quid pro quo for the Soviets dismantling their missiles in Cuba. The U.S. took down its last missiles by April 1963 and flew them out of Turkey.
Few Cold War alliances of the U.S. could be suffused with so much memory mixing with desire. That is why Turkish Prime Minister Recip Erdogan's recent visit to Washington at the invitation of President Barack Obama aroused great curiosity among students of contemporary world politics. This was Mr. Obama's second "bilateral" with Mr. Erdogan. The American angst was palpable. On a host of issues, Washington is anxious to know where Ankara stands. The situation around Iran, the Afghan war, the Middle East and the Palestinian problem, the developments in Iraq, Russia and the Caucasus, the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and, of course, the geopolitics of oil and pipelines the list seems never-ending.
In October, Turkey barred Israel from a NATO exercise and the U.S. called it off in a huff. Ankara ignored the U.S. slight and Mr. Erdogan proceeded on a high-profile visit to Iran to seal the growing Turkish-Iranian understanding on regional security. Iran, unsurprisingly, came uppermost on Mr. Obama's agenda. Washington needs Ankara's cooperation on Iran, especially since Turkey happens to be a member of the United Nations Security Council. Coming out of the meeting with Mr. Obama, Mr. Erdogan said Ankara disagreed with the recent Washington move in the International Atomic Energy Agency. "I believe that was a very rushed process, because certain steps could be taken in a more consultative fashion," Mr. Erdogan observed. He underscored that Turkey would not support any sanctions against Iran and would insist on a diplomatic solution. In good measure, he offered to mediate between Washington and Tehran.
Mr. Erdogan showed that to be a good ally or model partner of the U.S, Turkey did not have to behave like a vassal state. Arguably, Ankara knows that the Americans show latitude towards allies who are entitled to a mind of their own. Thus he never hesitates from condemning Israel's atrocities against Palestinians although there could be a powerful Israeli lobby operating in Washington or because Turkey buys weapons from Israel. Turkey, which is the second biggest military power within NATO, turned down the U.S. request to send more troops to Afghanistan. Ankara invited Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, Iraqi Shi'ite leader Muqtada al-Sadr and the Sudanese leader Omar Hasan al-Bashir all of whom the U.S. boycotts to visit Turkey.
Is Turkey under Mr. Erdogan moving away from the West? He recently quoted the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi: "In my religion one end of the compass needle is fixed, but with the other end of the needle, I roam the 72 nations." He elaborated: "Turkey is exactly in this position. Our doors are wide open. Turkey cannot lose the West while looking towards the East; cannot lose the East while looking towards the West; cannot lose the South while looking towards the North; cannot lose the North while looking towards the South. Turkey has the power to take a 360-degree look at the entire world." Mr. Erodgan's "Nehruvism" comes alive with startling freshness.
It is difficult to tell today whether Turkey is closer to NATO or Russia. Moscow and Ankara have a shared interest in keeping NATO out of the Black Sea, in ensuring the stability of the Caucasus, and in the routing of the Caspian pipelines. Turkey was an old rival of Russia. They fought three wars. But Ankara knew it was a matter of time before the Russian genius would rise from the ashes of the Soviet Union. And it began tenaciously building content into a multidimensional relationship with Moscow. Whereas India's trade with Russia stagnates at around $4 billion, Turkey's is nearing $40 billion and may jump to $100 billion in a four-year period. Three million Russian tourists visit Turkey annually. Russia provides 68 per cent of Turkey's gas. Turkey has allowed the new Russian energy pipelines (rivalling the U.S-sponsored Nabucco project) to southern Europe to be routed through its territory. Now Russia is looking for a lead role in Turkey's lucrative downstream sector, business in building nuclear power plants and a breakthrough as arms supplier in a market traditionally dominated by the U.S.
Moscow increasingly tends to view Ankara as an independent player in Eurasia, with which it can team up in a multipolar system. Turkey has redefined "non-alignment" without fuss, which in turn has a multiplier effect on its foreign policy options. Thus, Turkey makes optimal use of its geography, acting as a "bridge" between the West and the East and between the Christian and Muslim worlds and as the "world's largest energy hub" of the great transportation routes leading to Europe from Russia, the Caspian, Iran, Iraq and Egypt. (An analogy will be a pipeline from Iran heading toward China and the South-East Asian countries via an Indian "hub.") The expectation in Ankara is that the Europe-Turkey narrative will transform once Ankara has developed the matrix.
Turkey heavily invested its diplomatic energies in strengthening ties with "troublesome" neighbours (Syria, Iraq, Iran, Armenia, etc.) to recapture its Middle Eastern identity, and to explore its Islamic heritage. It shows how a good foreign policy needs to be an extension of national policies. Turkey's "zero-problem policies" towards the neighbours constitute an extraordinary success story worth emulation by India. The vexed issue of Cyprus, like the Kashmir problem, continues to elude solution. Yet Turkey pushed ahead with the normalisation process with Greece. The Kurdish insurgency has been a festering wound. Yet Mr. Erdogan showed extraordinary statesmanship to break stereotyped thinking and embark on a political solution. Meanwhile, Turkey built up strong economic and political ties with northern Iraq, which used to provide sanctuaries to the Kurdish guerrillas. In effect, the policymakers in Ankara were determined to make friends of Turkey's troublesome neighbours through an admixture of political and economic initiatives aimed at making them "stakeholders" in regional stability.
Clearly, where there is a political will, there is always a way. In comparison, India lost its way in regenerating Soviet ties. India's neighbourhood policy cries for greater attention. Unlike New Delhi, Ankara saw through the New American Century project as a pipe dream. Like India, Turkey also has its share of Western-philes. Yet Mr. Erdogan insisted that Turkey rapidly diversify its external relations. To quote him, "There is nothing such as a shift of orientation, etc. It's a process of normalisation."
Turkey faces no "uniploar predicament" and does not aspire to be a "balancer." Without hubris, it addressed the regional system (Iran's rise, Iraq's anarchy, non-state actors, Islamism, Israel's diminished standing, etc). Given the complicated Ottoman legacy, this was a formidable challenge. Turkey faces a volatile external environment. But it factored in the fact that the best protection from the "collateral damage" of the U.S. policies in the Greater Middle East (or Eurasia) would be by forging regional partnerships. Mr. Erdogan has an advantage in being an astute "grass-root" politician who knows that the "new regionalism" enjoys what we Indians demand as "national consensus."
Richard Falk, the well-known commentator on the Middle East, wrote recently: "In this illuminating spirit of inquiry, the role of Turkey was interpreted within a wider cultural and historical context of past, present and future. Such an approach acted as a corrective to a narrowly conceived nationalism that never looked back further than the ideas and guidance of the founder of the modern Turkish state, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk."
The capacity to move creatively forward into the future by recapturing an understanding of and pride in the achievements of the past, lies at the core of the Turkish experience. But then, Turkey was a "great power" already in 1529 when Suleiman the Magnificent knocked at the gates of Vienna.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)
APPOINTMENT OF JUDGES BY COLLEGIUM OF JUDGES
FOCUS ON THE PRESENT METHOD OF SELECTION OF JUDGES OF THE SUPREME COURT AND THE HIGH COURTS BY THE SUPREME COURT COLLEGIUM.
The controversy over the proposed elevation of Justice P.D. Dinakaran of the Karnataka High Court to the Supreme Court by the collegium of the Chief Justice and four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court and the criticism of overlooking of apparently suitable judges by the collegium has brought into focus the present method of selection of judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts by the Supreme Court collegium.
The method of selection of judges by a collegium of Supreme Court judges finds no place in the Constitution. The Constitution confers the power of appointment of judges on the President of India i.e. the Government of India to be made in consultation with the Chief Justice of India and other judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts. How then did a collegium of judges of the Supreme Court come to exist and come to possess this power?
The collegium method was created as a result of two judgments of the Supreme Court, first in 1993 (Supreme Court Advocate-on-Record Association case) and by a follow-up President's Reference to the Court in 1998. With the best of intentions of securing the independence of the judiciary, the Supreme Court rewrote the provisions of the Constitution for appointment of judges and appropriated the power to appoint judges by the judges. By the first case the power was vested in the Chief Justice of India in whom it was held the primacy lay in appointments assisted by two judges of the Supreme Court. In the second case the court took away the primacy of the Chief Justice of India and vested the power in a collegium of the Chief Justice of India and four senior-most judges of the Supreme Court.
The clear intention of the Constitution makers in the Constituent Assembly debates of not making the Chief Justice of India the final authority was disregarded. Inversing the constitutional provisions, the Chief Justice of India and the collegium became the initiator and appointer of judges, and the President of India was made only a formal approver in the process. These judgments are prime examples of overreaching by the Supreme Court. Indeed, in the second judgment of 1998 the Court went to the extent of extracting a statement from the government that it was not seeking a reconsideration of its earlier judgment of 1993, and government would also accept and binding the judgment it was delivering.
The essential features of this judicially created system of appointments is that the collegium selects judges on their own assessment of the merits of a person and the government is bound to appoint the selected person except in a rare case of the collegium having overlooked some aspect of the incumbent not being a suitable judge. Even here, government's view can be disregarded by the collegium by reasserting its choice. The executive has little or no role in the appointment of judges as a result.
Prior to the first judgment in 1993, as a matter of convention the government always consulted the Chief Justice of India in the appointment of judges and there were only a few appointments without the concurrence of the Chief Justice of India. The period of the Emergency was an exception. The ablest judges appointed to the Supreme Court were by appointments made prior to the collegium system. It is hard to understand the necessity to overturn the Constitution's prescription by the Supreme Court in this manner.
In prescribing the appointment to judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts by the collegium, the Supreme Court did not realise the burden it was imposing on the collegium of selecting judges for the Supreme Court and High Courts and transferring them from one High Court to another. At any given time there are two to three vacancies in the Supreme Court, and 200 in the 22 High Courts and the transfer of a number of judges to be made. An administrative task of this magnitude must necessarily detract the judges of the collegium from their principal judicial work of hearing and deciding cases. The collegium neither has a secretariat to shoulder this burden nor an intelligence bureau to make appropriate inquiries of the competence, character and integrity of a proposed appointee.
Lacking this infrastructural backup the collegium resorts to ad hoc informal consultations with other judges in the Supreme Court who are expected to know the merits of a proposed appointee from a High Court or occasionally by sounding a member of the Bar. These methods are poor substitutes for a full time intensive collection of data about an incumbent, his work, standing, merit, integrity and potential which requires to be made considerably in advance for filing in the vacancy. Besides, the collegium's deliberations are secret, the system is opaque and the choice of a judge is only known when his name is forwarded to the Government for formal appointment. The collegium has necessarily limited its field of choice to the senior-most judges from the High Court for the appointments to the Supreme Court, overlooking the several talented junior judges in the High Courts or members of the bar. Limiting the zone of selection to senior-most judges of the High Court has induced legitimate expectations in them to be promoted to the Supreme Court and consequent disappointment when they are overlooked.
To be fair to the present collegium of the Supreme Court it has inherited a system with these limitations given to them by the two judgments of the Supreme Court. With the best effort and good faith the collegium suffers from institutional handicaps in its selection. For that it is today easily pilloried by critics for making wrong choices or overlooking the right persons. Conscious of the criticism of the collegium system the CJI, K.G. Balakrishnan has said that until the system is changed he is bound by the two judgments. It is ironical that those who created the collegium and argued in favour of vesting the power of appointment in judges today find faults in the working of the system.
What then should be done to remedy the situation? There is a consensus that in today's political conditions the power of appointment of judges cannot be restored back to government. In several countries of the Commonwealth, National Judicial Appointment Commissions have been established to select judges. Such judicial commissions have worked with success in the U.K., South Africa and Canada. The advantage of judicial commissions are that they are independent, broad based and they represent not only the views of the judiciary but also of the executive and other sections of society. They are transparent in their working even to the extent that applications are invited by public advertisement, as was the case when judges were appointed to the new Supreme Court of the U.K. recently.In India proposals for the establishment of a National Commission for Judicial Appointments have been made at various times. The Law Commission in 1987 recommended a broad based body of judges and other person to make recommendations for the appointments of judges. A Constitutional Amendment Bill was tabled in Parliament for the establishment of such a Commissions in 1990 but it lapsed. The National Commission to Review the Constitution 2002 set up by the Government of India favoured a National Judicial Commission with a predominance of judicial members as an alternative to the collegium system. With the size of the Indian superior judiciary, it may be necessary to have two judicial commissions in India, one for the Supreme Court and another for the High Courts.
Would such Commissions be successful in India? There are justifiable doubts about finding independent and competent members who would not be influenced in their decisions. This raises the vexed question whether the present system with suitable modifications should be continued or judicial commissions should be introduced in India.
(The writer is a Senior Advocate of the Supreme Court & former Solicitor-General of India.)
IN A DIVIDED COUNTRY, A HOLIDAY OF WHITE CONQUEST PERSISTS
RACE RELATIONS HAVE NOT IMPROVED SINCE THE END OF APARTHEID.
The 16th of December was once a day of rival holidays in Pretoria, two opposing flows of memory colliding at a junction. Afrikaners, the descendants of white settlers, celebrated the Day of the Vow, a covenant said to be made between their ancestors and God in 1838 that led to the slaughter of 3,000 Zulus. Blacks commemorated the same day on the calendar, marking the st art of armed struggle against the apartheid regime by the African National Congress in 1961.
With the arrival of multiracial democracy in 1994, lawmakers considered it wise to maintain Dec. 16 as a holiday, proclaiming it a Day of Reconciliation, a time for all races to come together in the spirit of national unity.
But 15 years later, that happily-ever-after ending is a long way off, and the ideal of a rainbow nation now seems little more than a deft turn of phrase. According to a poll released last week by the highly regarded Institute for Justice and Reconciliation, 31 per cent of South Africans believe that race relations have not improved since the end of apartheid, and 16 per cent actually think they have gotten worse. (About 50 per cent said relations had improved.)
As for the holiday itself, most Afrikaners have found it hard to set aside one of their most sacred occasions, and on Wednesday, thousands of them gathered, as they do every year, inside the marble chamber of a mammoth granite monument near Pretoria. The structure is a shrine to the Great Trek, when white pioneers migrated north with their ox-drawn wagons and ramrod-loading muskets, completing a conquest they saw as the fulfilment of a divine mission.
"The Day of Reconciliation may be a good idea, but for Afrikaners, the Day of the Vow is still what's in our hearts," said Johan de Beer, 46, a teacher waiting on the steps for the gates of the monument to open in the early morning. "This is a religious holiday that is based on our people's history."
In his inauguration address, Nelson Mandela spoke of a covenant of his own, longing for "a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world." Viewers of the new American movie Invictus might be tempted to conclude that such racial harmony prevailed in the aftermath of a long-shot upset in a rugby game.
The recent survey results would probably stun someone who went to sleep during apartheid and awakened in the present. After all, blacks not only control the government, they also mingle in the finest restaurants and swankiest malls. The so-called black diamonds include liberation struggle heroes who have been welcomed into the boardrooms of the nation's largest corporations.
But while South Africa is the continent's wealthiest country, income inequality here remains among the worst in the world. About 29 per cent of blacks are unemployed, compared with 5 per cent of whites, according to recent figures. When statistics include discouraged workers dropouts from the labour force the jobless rate climbs to nearly 50 per cent. Most of the unemployed have never held a single job, according to a study by a panel of international economists.
The recent poll results also showed that nearly one in four South Africans never speaks to people of other races in a typical day. "In the upper income groups there is a lot of integration, but very little among the poor," said Fanie du Toit, the executive director of the institute that released the poll. "About 40 to 50 per cent of blacks are slum dwellers or rural people who never come in contact with whites."
At the Voortrekker Monument, among those celebrating the Day of the Vow, barely a black person was in sight but for the men in blue uniforms picking up the trash. "I don't know anything about their holiday," said one of those workers, Elias Selema.
The earliest attendees took seats beneath the monument's dome in the main hall, a huge room encircled by friezes made from Italian marble that depict the epic migration. Others sat a level below, surrounding the cenotaph, the empty tomb that is the symbolic resting place of those who died during the trek. Still more took seats on the surrounding lawns and in the gardens.
"This is my day of thanksgiving," said Callie van Merwe, an 89-year-old woman dressed in the loose frock and white cotton bonnet of a settler. She added: "Today is a happy time, but I feel bad about the future. This country is changing, changing too much."
There are several versions of the Day of the Vow and the Battle of Blood River that followed. The historical record is one-sided, and no doubt the retellings lend themselves to myth. One historian, Leonard Thompson, has said the mythology came to serve a political purpose, used to justify the racial oppression of apartheid as God's will.
In the story's most common rendition, a brigade of 468 Voortrekkers, or pioneers, and about 60 of their slaves set out to avenge hundreds of deaths at the hands of the Zulus. Their leader, Andries Pretorius, cleverly selected a place to camp that was protected by a steep ravine and the Ncome River, which broadened at that spot into a deep hippopotamus pool.
Preceding the Zulu attack that was sure to come, the trekkers came together to recite a vow. In part it read, "If he will protect us and give our enemy into our hand, we shall keep this day and date every year as a day of thanksgiving like a Sabbath, and that we shall erect a church in his honour."
The Afrikaners chained their covered wagons together, placing barbed shrubs beneath them. Wave after wave of Zulus charged, trying to use their short spears in close combat, but instead dying in heaps as smoke rose from muskets and cannons. As the story goes, 3,000 Zulus died while the trekkers suffered only three injuries. So many warriors fell dead in the Ncome it then became known as Blood River.
"We believe it was God's will to have Christians lead the way in this land," said Lukas de Kock, one of the leaders of Wednesday's worship. "On that day, the Day of the Vow, God made a clear statement that this was his will for South Africa."
The reading of the vow is one of the two most solemn moments of the prayer service. The other comes precisely at midday as families lean over the parapets that overlook the cenotaph.
Careful calculations were made by the monument's designers, and exactly at noon on each Dec. 16, the sun shines through a small opening in the dome, alighting on the empty tomb 138 feet below and yet again signalling for many that it was the Lord's will that the land be theirs. © 2009 The New York Times News Service
CUTTING RISK OF MURDER AND RAPE WITH BETTER STOVES
The United Nations on Wednesday launched a pilot project to provide fuel-efficient stoves to some 150,000 women in Sudan and Uganda to cut the risks of murder, rape and other violence they face in gathering firewood, while at the same time protecting the environment.
The Safe Access to Firewood and Alternative Energy in Humanitarian Settings (SAFE) stoves initiative, organised by the World Food Programme (WFP) and other U.N. agencies, will be rolled out next year to reach eventually up to 6 million refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs), and returnees in 36 nations, where they are forced to walk further and further into the bush into unsafe areas to collect firewood, U.N. officials said here.
"Women and girls should not have to risk their lives and dignity, and precious trees should not be lost, in the simple act of trying to cook food for their families," WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said. "The SAFE stoves launch will help protect them and the environment with practical and urgently needed solutions." U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon also welcomed the project at an event in Copenhagen held on the sidelines of the U.N. climate change talks, the officials said.
He described the initiative as showing "a virtuous circle in action, thanks to technology environmental protection ... improved safety for women ... access to clean energy for the poor . .. enhanced climate security." The project "is a simple, inexpensive and win-win solution ... [that will] provide immediate, tangible benefits to their users," he said.
WFP researchers have found that some women spend a full day's wages on firewood alone. Others sell off food rations to purchase fuel. The SAFE project will scale up distribution of fuel-efficient and "improved mud" stoves to assist almost 100,000 women in North Darfur, Sudan. These stoves consume less firewood and lower health risks associated with smoke.
In Uganda, WFP will focus on refugees and pastoralists in the drought-hit Karamoja region. It will provide more than 35,000 households and 50 schools with fuel-efficient stoves. Xinhua
BHOPAL DISASTER 'A CIVILISATIONAL MISMATCH'
PEOPLE WHO NEED JUSTICE AND GOVERNMENT SUPPORT DO NOT GET IT. THEY ARE FORCED TO FALL PREY TO DEVIANT IDEOLOGIES, SAYS SHIVRAJ SINGH CHAUHAN.
MAHIM PRATAP SINGH
While the Centre intends to uproot naxalism through the controversial Operation Green Hunt, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan has a different view on the problem. He also speaks on other issues plaguing the State, including malnutrition, migration from Bundelkhand, faulty implementation of the Forest Rights Act and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme.
This is the 25th year of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. What has been the State government's contribution in addressing the grievances of the victims?
Madhya Pradesh has always been a region practising organic agriculture, so it is ironic that when the world's biggest industrial disaster in the Union Carbide's pesticide plant happened in India, it had to be in Bhopal. India has been a vedic-agricultural nation and this kind of an industrial disaster should be looked at as a civilisational mismatch. Since 1999, when the Central government withdrew from relief works, it is the State government that is taking care of the victims and their families. We have spent Rs.254 crore in relief works since 1999.
How serious is the problem of naxalism in Madhya Pradesh, with the Centre recognising only Balaghat as a naxal-affected region?
I do not want to get into a Centre-State debate on the issue. But there certainly is a naxal presence in Madhya Pradesh. But naxalism, as a problem, needs to be dealt with sensitively. Instead of the all-out, military offensive that is being planned, I feel we should concentrate on the roots of the problem. The system often becomes such that ordinary people do not get justice. This has to be addressed.
What are the reasons for this injustice?
A section of people keeps getting richer and we are made to believe that India is shining. Justice is easy for this section. But people who actually need justice and government support do not get it. They are forced to fall prey to deviant ideologies. Violation of tribal rights, land grab, and displacement are just some of the problems. In our quest for rapid industrialisation, we forget that investments which are supposed to provide employment end up displacing people.
But isn't your government doing exactly this?
Displacement is caused by various development projects like Sardar Sarovar, Maheshwar, Omkareshwar, etc. Further, the massive tribal population in the State is dissatisfied with the implementation of the Scheduled Tribes & Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act. This was reiterated by Union Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh during his visit to the State. That is not correct. In fact, M.P. has been quite successful in implementing the Act. One lakh claims have been approved. I am going to start a Vanadhikaar Yatra (Forest Rights march) soon and will personally hand out land pattas.
Displacement is to be prevented. We prevented the area around Indira Sagarto be declared a reserve forest. We have already told investors to acquire land on their own. We will just be mediators.
Massive displacement has taken place in the Kuno Wildlife Sanctuary in the name of bringing in Gir Lions from Gujarat. Twenty five villages have been uprooted with no signs of the lions yet.
This situation has a lot of contradictions. Some Union Ministers come here and say forests need to be protected. Others say people need to be given their rights. The forest officials are not acting out of mal intent. They are just discharging their duties.
M.P. ranks the highest in the number of malnourished children. Infant mortality rate (IMR) and maternal mortality rate (MMR) are extremely high. A recent news article reported 22 malnutrition deaths in 48 days in Sidhi. The administration has failed to deliver in the remote areas. The public distribution system is facing shortfalls. Don't these contribute to the growth of naxal influence?
Every disgruntled villager should not be called a naxalite. These indicators are worrying and the government is working towards addressing them. We have been fighting with the Centre for more wheat for the PDS. But they recognise only 41 lakh BPL households in the State as against the actual figure of 62 lakhs. But violence is not the solution, from either side. We need to stress more on development.
What about poor educational access in tribal areas? Will teaching in local dialects and languages like Bhili and Gondi help spread education in tribal regions?
Access to education is very poor for tribals but it is improving now. Local dialects are almost similar to Hindi. Teaching in several dialects will lead to an unmanageable multiplication of diversities. Hindi is not a single exclusive language. It has adapted to local dialects and people are comfortable with it.
Why haven't village level governing institutions been able to address the problem areas?
Elections have ruined the Panchayati Raj. I am not suggesting any alternative to the democratic system. But we have to accept that it's ridden with problems. It keeps dividing people.
Gram Sabhas have not been convened for years in most villages. Gram Sabhas under the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act are virtually non-existent in tribal areas. How do you expect people to participate?
Convening Gram Sabhas for every issue, although desirable, is practically not possible. They are convened from time to time for certain special issues. But I agree it is a problem.
Bundelkhand has been seeing extremely high levels of out-migration. NREGS has virtually failed to prevent that. What is your reaction to the region's problems and the newly announced Central package?
The NREGS has seen irregularities in wage payment and corruption at lower levels. We are learning from our experience and trying to address the problems. As for migration, people will migrate if they have better opportunities elsewhere. The new package is too little too late. We had asked for Rs.24,000 crore. And it is not clear whether there will be a fresh package or funds will be adjusted under existing Central government schemes in the region.
MAOIST ACTION IN NEPAL
THE CHINESE HAND MUST BE GUARDED AGAINST
The Maoists in Nepal have been running amuck after their leader Pushpa Kumar Dahal alias Prachanda was forced to quit as prime minister in the wake of a row over his move to sack the army chief in May last. Their recent action in declaring Kathmandu Valley as the Newa Autonomous State after storming the heavily-guarded Durbar Square, though only symbolic, poses a grave challenge to the 22-party ruling coalition that it can ill afford to take lightly. That it has come close on the heels of the Maoists announcing the formation of parallel governments in nine districts is proof that they will not stop at anything. Prachanda's claim that his move was "not intended to disrupt the peace process or block the constitution making task," sounds hollow and must not be taken at its face value. Clearly, the Maoists are seeking to replace the republican system of government and to impose Maoist rule in the country by force.
India cannot remain a silent spectator to events in Nepal because of the repercussions that Maoist action can have for this country. The Maoists have demonstrated time and again that they draw their inspiration and material support from the Chinese government. Earlier this week as the Nepalese army chief, General Chhatra Man Singh Gurung, was being decorated as an honorary general of the Indian Army by President Pratibha Patil, a visiting Chinese delegation led by Maj-General Jia Jialing was signing an MoU with the acting chief of the Nepal Army under which China undertook to provide military aid worth 20.8 million Yuan (approximately Rs 220 million) to Nepal for the supply of "non-lethal" military hardware, including logistics and training the Nepal Army. This followed India's announcement that it would resume the supply of weapons and lethal military hardware to Nepal which it had stopped following the royal takeover in 2005.
The coalition in Nepal can delay no further action against these lawless elements. It is time it cracked down on them and restored the rule of law in the districts where the Maoists are running a parallel administration. The Maoists must be forced to realise that they cannot subvert the democratic system and flex their muscles against the lawfully-established government.
MUSHARRAF'S NRO GOES
ZARDARI COULD BE IN SERIOUS TROUBLE
The striking down of the controversial National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) by the Pakistan Supreme Court is not surprising. The NRO was bound to meet the fate it did on Wednesday after the PPP-led government failed to get it adopted by the Pakistan National Assembly (parliament) recently. The decree was promulgated by then President Gen Pervez Musharraf in October 2007 mainly to free the slain PPP leader Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Zardari, now President of Pakistan, from the corruption cases instituted against them during the prime ministership of Nawaz Sharif. As a result of the 17-member apex court Bench, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, declaring the NRO as "an instrument void ab initio, being ultra vires ... of various constitutional provisions", all the cases withdrawn stand revived. The NRO had benefited nearly 2000 persons, though a document made public by the National Accountability Bureau listed only 248 NRO beneficiaries.
The judgement may bring about considerable pressure on Mr Zardari to resign on moral grounds. He may not do so immediately since he as President enjoys immunity under Article 248 of the Pakistan Constitution. But ultimately he may have to bow out. Even before the verdict was pronounced he was getting hints from the Pakistan Establishment, including the Army, to call it a day in view of his name being associated with widespread corruption in the country. Mr Zardari's assets are worth $1.5 billion, including millions of dollars in overseas bank accounts. He and his late wife are alleged to have been paid $60 million as kickbacks by a Switzerland company for giving it undue favours when Benazir Bhutto was Pakistan's Prime Minister.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik and a few other bigwigs are also likely to be in trouble as a result of the apex court verdict. Mr Malik, facing two cases in accountability courts, offered to resign on Wednesday, but Mr Zardari persuaded him not to do so till the cases against him were decided by the court. Under the circumstances, the major gainer appears to be Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He has been playing his cards dexterously, pandering to the wishes of the all-powerful Pakistan Army. There is the possibility of his getting elevated as President after Mr Zardari finally departs.
PRICES SHOOT UP
LOOKING BEYOND INFLATION
The issue of price rise rocked Parliament on Wednesday as members expressed concern at government inaction. That inflation has climbed up three-and-a-half times in just one month has not come as a surprise. Given the steep rise in the food prices, it was expected. From 1.34 per cent in October it has shot up to 4.78 per cent in November. For the housewife this may be a cold statistic that does not add to her knowledge. She already knows how much she has to pay every time she goes out to buy potatoes or sugar. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee was only stating the obvious when he attributed the high rate of inflation to the rising food prices. What people want to hear about is government action to arrest the skyrocketing prices.
To be more transparent and reflect the price reality correctly, the government has reworked the basket of products that constitute the inflation data. There is a separate index of food and fuel items, which affect the common man, and its data is released weekly so that the price situation is regularly monitored. Then there is the wholesale price index, which includes food items as well as manufactured goods, power, light and lubricants. The data of the wholesale price index is released now on a monthly basis. The inflation figure of 4.78 per cent released for November is based on the WPI.
Prices can be brought down if the states and the Centre act firmly. First, hoarding can be checked through raids and open sale of commodities in short supplies. Adequate quantities of scarce commodities like sugar, pulses and edible oils should be imported. Secondly, the poor can be provided essential commodities at subsidised rates through the public distribution system after plugging its loopholes. In the long term, agriculture needs to be rejuvenated by higher government spending and correcting policy imbalances. Farm productivity has to be raised through latest agricultural inputs and practices.
SEA POWER HAS ITS SIGNIFICANCE
INDIA NEEDS SELF-SUFFICIENCY IN SHIP BUILDING
BY ABHIJIT BHATTACHARYYA
One does not have to be an Admiral Gorshkov (the longest serving Soviet naval chief) or Alfred Thayer Mahan (the guru of the maritime doctrine) or a Sir Julian Corbett, the Royal Navy Admiral, to state the obvious. That a navy is not built in a day and no nation can aspire to be a naval power by being at the eternal mercy of foreign suppliers and manufacturers, which can arm twist the ship users' lack of knowledge and technology at will by taking advantage of its expertise and experience in ship building thereby resulting in the importer's weakness and helplessness. In fact, naval history of the world is replete with instances of nations which prospered and developed during last 500 years inevitably had the advantage to traverse the entire two-thirds of the global lake in ships built in their own shipyards.
Traditionally, there have never been very many fighting ship-builders either in the 20th or the 21st century. Thus, during World War II Japan was virtually the sole Asian naval power by virtue of its ship building capacity and capability, restrictions imposed by the Washington naval disarmament conference of 1922 notwithstanding. In the west of Suez, Anglo-American supremacy was over, and superiority to the perceived "land-powers" like Germany and its European allies could never match the marine powers' strength, stamina, endurance and industrial productivity. Hence the war ended in victory for the superior, combined naval strength of the West and defeat for the sole maritime Japanese foe.
Post-World War II, however, the rise of the Soviet Navy was the sole non-Western, non-capitalist state to pose a threat to the virtual monopoly of the Anglo-Saxon naval axis. And it happened, thanks to the Soviet Deputy Minister of Defence-cum-Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy, Admiral Sergei Georgiyevich Gorshkov, who initiated an unprecedented construction plan and timely execution of all ships required by the state. The Soviets challenged the West in the sea because the Soviets made the ships in their own shipyard. Hence they did not have to bank on the charity and worry about the whims of foreigners resulting in time and cost overrun.
In the post-Soviet era, it is the turn of China to pick up the thread which already has built a formidable navy with an apparent single-point agenda of an indigenous ship construction programme. True, the Chinese Navy still has a few ex-Soviet/Russian inventories in its fleet, but the variety and range of Beijing's vessels today is simply awesome. And there lies the strength of its fleet. Thus China today, according to Jane's Fighting Ships, 2009-2010, has a total of 54 submarines (of various class), 27 destroyers, 49 frigates and 275 fast attack and patrol craft. Of these, only 16 ships are of non-Chinese (i.e. Russian) make; 12 kilo class submarines and 4 Sovremeny destroyers.
Little wonder, the Chinese feel much more free and confident to flex their muscles and show their ships in out-of-area operations. Jane's refers to Chinese enterprise thus, "Future historians may come to regard 2009 as the year that the Chinese Navy finally came of age."
In the midst of the Soviet challenge to the West till the 1990s and the Chinese Navy's "coming of age in 2009", where does the Indian fleet stand today? How strong and self-sufficient is the navy of New Delhi? To this writer, the scenario appears to be a mixed bag of success and shortfall. The positive sides of India's defence is the technical competency and mastery over the English language, expertise in aircraft carrier operations and combat capability in both surface and sub-surface warfare.
However, the not-so-positive factor lies in Indian inability (should one say traditional inertia!) to be self-sufficient in ship building expertise for long. The deficiency on this front is so conspicuous that one still finds all 16 submarines of the Indian Navy to be of foreign make (10 Russian 'Kilo','2Foxtrot' and 4 German HDW class). Its sole aircraft carrier Viraat (ex-Hermes) is of British origin, 5 Rajput (Kashin class) destroyers are made in Nikolayev North shipyard (Russia), the 3 Talwar class frigates also are of Moscow origin (with three more likely to follow suit). At least five out of 12 Veer (Tarantul class) corvettes are of Russian make and so are the 4 Abhay class anti-submarine warfare patrol boats.
On the positive side, however, the Indians have made tremendous improvement in ship design, construction time reduction and planned delivery thereof. The pride of Indian ship building has been reflected in the Delhi and Kolkata class destroyers, Shivalik, Brahmaputra and Nilgiri class frigates; Kora, Khukri, Veer, Abhay and project 28 corvettes and the top of the line project of indigenous aircraft carrier Vikrant which has been going on at Kochi shipyard.
Despite the mixed bag of success and shortcoming, a horrible mess appears to have been created by the failure of the Russians to stick to the delivery time schedule of the proposed refurbished and refitted Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier to India. This inordinate delay only results in an avoidable spiralling cost, which in turn affects a balanced fleet development. Indeed, one suspects that perhaps the Russians are no longer capable of producing the same quality vessels for which they made a name for themselves during the Soviet era. The period after the demise of the Soviet Union could have resulted in an acute shortage of naval technical experts thereby creating an all-round vacuum in ship-building capability of Russian shipyards.
Else, how does one justify the report that "the French government has given the go-ahead to the possible sale of a helicopter-and-troop carrying ship to Russia"? Is Russia now incapable of building even its own 15000-18000 tonne helicopter-and-troop-carrying carrier? If so, then how would the Russians be able to re-manufacture a sophisticated 45000 tonne aircraft carrier for India? Indeed, the scenario appears rather intriguing. Gorshkov has been badly delayed already. Diplomatic talks have been upgraded from the Joint Secretary to the head of government level. In between, the Captains, Admirals and Defence Ministers are failing to achieve any breakthrough. And yet the "price rise" haggling is going on.
Amidst all this, the Russians are reportedly negotiating with French civil shipbuilders STX and combat ship company DCNS for potential purchase of a Mistral class warship. Although referred to as the amphibious assault ship by Jane's Fighting Ships 2009-2010, this 21600 tonne vessel has a range of 11000 nautical miles at 15 knots an hour and is capable of up to 16 attack helicopters in its deck thereby giving it enough teeth for offensive operations. If indeed Russia manages to clinch the deal for this ship (two of which are in the French fleet), then its navy would be able to play a role of "forward pressure, force projection, logistic support for the deployed force (ashore or at sea) . . . and command ship for combined operations."
All indications suggest that the Russian Navy is keen on an early acquisition for a force multiplier mission in the ocean. As an Indian, one certainly cannot possibly have any grudge if a long-standing friend like Moscow acquires a floating airstrip from Europe. But why does Moscow not look into the need of its friendly South Asian navy with the same sense of urgency and sensitivity? Is the "price rise" really that grave as to delay the delivery of India's maritime defence? One wonders!n
The writer is an alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a Member of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, London.
BOYS WILL BE BOYS
BY RAJ CHATTERJEE
It is possible that people of my generation who attended places of "higher learning" some 50 or 60 years age were more timid, more easily intimidated, and less "combustible" in regard to the burning problems of the day than those who now so readily transmit some of their fire to passenger buses, post offices, milk booths and the like.
Perhaps, also, there weren't quite so many "burning" problems to bother us, hunger, over-population, over-crowded classrooms, the wide gulf that separated the very rich from the very poor and, above all, the uncertainties and frustrations that face a young fellow with a B.A or B.Sc to his name all these are comparatively modern phenomena.
In our times there was, of course, the fight for Swaraj, but this was left to our political leaders and those few of our classmates who gave up their studies in order to follow them in and out of jail.
For most of us a token gesture seemed to suffice. In my case, a sudden patriotic zeal drove me to discard my coat, trousers and solar topi in favour of an achkan and churidar pyjamas, both made of khaddar.
This sartorial transformation, I must confess, was of short duration mainly because of finding a suitable headgear. I had decided that a white cap did not suit my physiognomy. A fur cap was uncomfortable in the hot weather but a solar topi apart from defeating the purpose of the change to 'desi kapra' would have looked rather odd on top of a long coat and pyjamas.
Another 'sacrifice' I made was to give up pinching the odd fag from my father's tin of Craven 'A' and buying myself a bundle of bidis. Unfortunately, bidis have a pungent smell and this experiment did not last long. Oddly enough, it put me off smoking altogether.
Now that I am generally regarded as a respectable and law-abiding citizen, I often wish that our young zealots would take to more peaceful and less destructive methods of expressing their feelings.
They could, for example, content themselves with passing resolutions like the one adopted by the Oxford Union in 1933 not to fight for King and country. No one took it seriously and a few years later, both King and country were extremely grateful to the young fellows, some of whom had supported the resolution, for laying down their lives fighting for them.
And there was the case of the nine Cambridge under-graduates who tried to kidnap "Miss South Africa", a 22-year-old beauty queen, Johanna Carter, who with 52 other contestants, had come to Britain to compete for the "Miss World" title.
The intention of the would-be kidnappers was to hold Johanna in captivity until such time as the newspapers that had sponsored her visit had coughed up a fair amount of money for the varsity "rag week fund". Unfortunately, the lady's male escort biffed them with his brolly and that was the end of the escapade.
PANGS OF SEPARATION
A VIOLENT BACKLASH OVER TELANGANA
BY SURESH DHARUR
It was a cure that turned out to be worse than the disease. The UPA government's midnight prescription for the festering Telangana wound was anything but a soothing balm. The treatment became too complicated to handle for the Congress leadership as it was hit by an open revolt in South India's largest state.
Even the incorrigible optimists among Telangana statehood supporters were shocked over the hasty manner in which Union Home Minister P Chidambaram announced the initiation of the process for the formation of the new state without any consultations and consensus-building. Evidently, the decision was prompted by the deteriorating health of the fasting Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K Chandrasekhar Rao and fears over the Maoists taking control of the violent Telangana agitation.
Home Secretary GK Pillai added fuel to the fire by stating that the process for Telangana formation had started and that Hyderabad would be its capital. With the future of Hyderabad, the bustling cosmopolitan city, becoming a major bone of contention between supporters and opponents of Telangana, the bureaucrat's casual remarks further compounded the confusion.
AP went into a tailspin following the midnight announcement. A constitutional crisis stared at the Congress government with nearly 140 legislators from the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions, cutting across party lines, submitting their resignations to protest against the proposed bifurcation of the state. The 294-member Assembly has 123 MLAs from the coastal Andhra, 119 from Telangana and 52 from Rayalaseema.
The violent backlash, marked by protests, rallies, hunger strikes and attacks, showed that the Congress high command miscalculated the impact of its decision on the other two regions. It completely missed out on the strong undercurrent of public sentiment in favour of the integrated state.
As the political crisis deepened with regional passions threatening to tear apart all parties, the Centre sought to assuage the ruffled feelings by declaring that Telangana statehood could be considered by the Parliament only after the state Assembly passed a resolution.
Given the sharp divisions on regional lines, such a resolution can never be passed by the Assembly. While this may provide an escape route for the UPA government from the present crisis, the TRS, which has been in the forefront of the Telangana movement, argues that the Assembly resolution is not required for the creation of new states. It can be done by the Parliament through a constitutional amendment.
Clearly, the Congress leadership is caught in a catch-22 situation. It cannot go back on its commitment on Telangana nor can it expect to redeem its image in the rest of the state unless it drops the statehood plans.
The party's strategy behind the sudden grant of statehood appears to be two-fold: First, to garner the entire credit for carving out Telangana and to be seen as fulfilling the dream of a large section of the people in the backward region.
This can help the party reap rich electoral harvest in the 2014 general election in the new state. Second, to marginalise the main opposition Telugu Desam Party, whose flip-flop on the Telangana issue could be politically exploited.
Unfortunately for the ruling party, the backlash from within triggered turmoil in the coastal Andhra and Rayalaseema regions. Contrary to the promise of "consultations and consensus" made in the Common Minimum Programme on the Telangana issue, the announcement was preceded by none of them.
The integrationists argue that all-round development was possible only if the state remains united. They have invoked "Telugu pride" to drive home their point that all Telugu-speaking people should remain united and splitting the state would weaken its position and adversely affect the investment flow.
However, Telangana protagonists contend that only statehood can solve the problems of the region which has been neglected in all spheres of life ever since its integration with the rest of the Telugu-speaking regions in 1956 to form Andhra Pradesh, the first linguistic state in the country.
In the event of formation of Telangana state, Hyderabad would become a bone of contention. Being the state capital, the IT-savvy city of 70 lakh population has, over decades, attracted a large number of people from the other two regions.
Dubbed "settlers" by Telangana protagonists, they constitute nearly one-fourth of the city population and are strongly opposed to the division of the state.
Cutting across party lines, several city leaders and intellectuals from various walks of life have advocated Union Territory status for the city.
What sets Telangana apart from the other regions demanding statehood is that it was a separate state in the past but was merged with Andhra on the linguistic basis. Since then, the yearning for a separate identity and perceived sense of alienation have repeatedly found public expression in the region, spread over nine districts and Hyderabad.
The regional disparity in socio-economic development and employment opportunities and the failure of the successive governments in addressing these concerns have only accentuated the problem. The region witnessed a violent statehood agitation in 1969, claiming over 300 lives.
Lack of irrigation facilities, industries, educational and employment opportunities has been the bane of the region.
Telangana was part of the Hyderabad State ruled by the Nizams before its merger with the rest of the Telugu-speaking regions.
Despite gaining popular support, the first bout of the Telangana agitation in 1969 fizzled out after a few years. Its chief architect, Dr M Channa Reddy, had merged his Telangana Praja Samithi with the Congress and then went on to become the Chief Minister of AP.
After nearly three decades, a rabble-rousing politician Chandrasekhar Rao, known as KCR in political circles, revived an otherwise dormant movement and launched TRS in 2001.
He had quit the then ruling Telugu Desam Party and the Deputy Speaker's post to lead the statehood agitation, harping on under-development and exploitation of Telangana.
Known for his sharp tongue and aggressive approach, KCR reaped a rich electoral harvest in the 2004 polls when he aligned with the Congress, which was then in opposition.
After being a partner in the Congress-led governments at the Centre and in AP, his party walked out of the UPA in 2006 protesting against the delay in carving out a separate state.
Despite setting repeated deadlines for the UPA regime for the formation of Telangana, KCR, who had served as the Union Labour Minister, could not extract any assurance from the government.
A sub-committee, headed by Pranab Mukherjee, was formed to elicit views of various parties on the ticklish issue. However, nothing much emerged out of it.
Accusing the Congress leadership of betraying the people of Telangana, the TRS ended the alliance with the ruling party and gravitated towards the Third Front. It contested the recent Assembly elections in alliance with the TDP and left parties but received a severe drubbing.
By handing out a crushing defeat to the TRS, the voters comprehensively rejected the separate state slogan. The sub-regional party managed to win just two Lok Sabha and 10 Assembly seats and was soon hit by rebellion.
However, the political vacuum, created by the sudden demise of Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy, a staunch opponent of the bifurcation, provided an opportunity for KCR to redeem his image. He embarked on a fast-unto-death on Nov 29, demanding Telangana state, and forced the Centre to blink first.
While KCR succeeded in resurrecting a dying movement, the Congress has let the genie out of the bottle and will find it increasingly difficult to douse the regional flames.
ZARDARI'S SHAKY HOLD ON POWER WEAKENS
BY GRIFF WITTE
Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday nullified a controversial deal that had given President Asif Ali Zardari and thousands of other government officials amnesty from past crimes, a decision likely to further weaken Zardari's already shaky hold on power.
Zardari still has immunity from prosecution under the constitution. But opponents plan to challenge that immunity by arguing that the president is technically ineligible for his office.
The decision comes as the United States pushes for an expanded strategic partnership with Pakistan to help combat the growing threat in the region from Islamic extremist groups, including the Taliban and al-Qaida. The United States is sending 30,000 additional troops to neighboring Afghanistan, and wants Pakistan to step up efforts on its side of the border to keep militants from finding refuge there.
The repeal of the amnesty comes amid a struggle in Pakistan between the civilian government, which is weak, and the military that has run the country for about half its history. Zardari's ability to govern has been compromised by his struggle to simply hold onto his job a task likely to be made harder by Wednesday's ruling.
The decision to overturn the amnesty deal had been expected, but the 17-member Supreme Court panel went further, requesting that Swiss authorities open years-old corruption cases against Zardari that had been set aside.
Zardari allegedly received millions in illegal commissions from two Swiss companies, and was convicted in 2003 on money-laundering charges by a Swiss magistrate. The conviction was later suspended. Zardari has denied allegations of corruption, and has said the accusations are politically motivated. It was unclear whether the Pakistani court's ruling would have any bearing on the decisions of the Swiss courts.
The court's ruling, issued just after 10 p.m. following hours of deliberation, had the immediate effect of reopening cases against thousands of politicians and bureaucrats that had been frozen under the amnesty deal. Four government ministers had been protected under the amnesty. One, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, had been convicted and may now be forced to fight the charges on appeal.
The amnesty deal, known as the National Reconciliation Ordinance, was created in 2007 as an agreement between former prime minister Benazir Bhutto and then-President Pervez Musharraf. The deal allowed Bhutto and her husband, Zardari, to return to Pakistan without facing the threat of prosecution over long-standing corruption allegations.
Bhutto was assassinated months later, and Zardari succeeded her as leader of the Pakistan People's Party. After the PPP swept elections last year and Musharraf stepped down, Zardari became president.
In the hearings leading up to the court's decision, the government had not defended the unpopular amnesty deal.
Zardari spokesman Farhatullah Babar said the government would respect the court's decision, but he reiterated that the president remained immune from prosecution under the constitution. "We believe this does not affect the president of Pakistan," Babar said.
Others had different ideas. Roedad Khan, a retired civil servant who was one of the petitioners who challenged the amnesty, said the decision would "destroy" Zardari.
Khan called Zardari "a man who has looted and plundered this poor country. ... Is there one law for Zardari and one law for the 160 million people of Pakistan? No, there is one law for everyone. He can't get away with it."
Abdul Hafeez Pirzada, a veteran lawyer who argued that the deal should be nullified, called the decision "a victory for truth. It is a victory for the judicial system. It's a victory for the country."
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
FRAUDULENT MARRIAGES BY NRIS
BY AVINASH RAI KHANNA
The matter of brides married to NRIs has been studied by a high-level committee on Indian diaspora constituted by the government. The committee members visited countries with a substantial population of Indians and people of Indian origin and noted in their report difficulties arising as a result of failed and fraudulent marriages between NRIs and Indian brides.
The observations of the committee were taken up for remedial action with state governments since the matter at the Indian end is dealt by the states. A number of states have responded.
For instance, the Government of Uttar Pradesh has conveyed that it has prepared a detailed action plan to tackle the problem, while the Government of Andhra Pradesh has stated that a Bill relating to the compulsory registration of marriages with the local authorities has been passed by the assembly.
The Superintendents of Police have been directed to take the necessary action. All this action is in the nature of preventive steps.
To study the legal aspects a special seminar on private international law dealing with issues like marriage, divorce, custody of children, alimony and property was held by the Ministry of External Affairs in collaboration with the Indian Society for International Law as part of the second Pravasi Bhartiya Divas in New Delhi in January, 2004.
The inputs from the seminar have been useful in evolving a legal framework to take preventive as well as corrective steps, but the problem cannot be solved in this manner. The Punjab Government has not made any law to deal with the problem.
It is a well-known fact that thousands of girls married to NRIs have been deserted by them. The marriage is performed with pomp and show with the intention to send the girl to a foreign country. The bridegroom assures the bride and her family that after reaching the country where he is settled, he would call the bride and send the necessary documents.
In so many cases, after enjoying a married life in Punjab, NRIs did not care to call the bride. The apparent reason is that either the NRI was already married in the country where he is settled or his intention was to cheat the bride and collect the money on the pretext of settling the bride in a foreign country.
The best solution is to get a certificate of being unmarried from an NRI bridegroom issued by the government where he is settled and verified by the Indian embassy. It should be produced at the time of registration of the marriage of an NRI bridegroom in India.This should be made compulsory otherwise no marriage should be performed and registered. If an NRI produces any divorce certificate, he should also produce a certificate attested by the embassy and issued by the government where he resides stating that after divorce, he has not married again.
There should not be any exception to this rule. The problem can be solved to some extent. Otherwise the girls who are married to NRIs even having children, would continue running from pillar to post to get justice.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
BLOW HOT, BLOW COLD
The ubiquitous protesters in global summits are not always well behaved. Those present at the climate meet at Copenhagen are no exception. A section of these have torched cars, smashed windows and even tried to block a part of the Copenhagen port to voice its anger. Yet one cannot but appreciate the frustration building up among the more serious among the protesters at the inability of the major players at the meet to break new grounds on an issue which threatens planet earth. Today only people who display a marked preference to bury their heads in the sand will subscribe to the deliberately circulated canard by vested interests that global warming is a myth. Disappearing coastlines, receding glaciers and arctic ice-cover, as well as palpable changes in climatic patterns are not evidence enough for such sceptics, who would rather wait to close the stable door after the horses have bolted. But the ordinary individual on the street, despite ignorance of the finer scientific nuances, is rightly concerned and wants action on this crisis. Unfortunately, it is neither the common man nor the scientist who has the capacity to take meaningful action, which explains the preponderance of diplomats and political leaders at what after all is a summit on a scientific issue. So far, they have been blowing hot and cold in Copenhagen without being able to break out of a deadlock.
It has become obvious that a miracle would be needed for a positive action-plan to emerge in the final days, of greater effectiveness to the path-breaking one hammered out at Kyoto. Whether the arrival of top world leaders in the final stage, including American President Barack Obama, will be of any help in breaking the stalemate is doubtful. Clearly, national self-interest is of over-riding concern to a majority of the participants, not many of whose leaders are willing to make concessions due to fear of political fallouts back home. For instance, it is doubtful whether Obama would be able to carry the Senate with him on the 17 per cent emission cut being mooted by the US at the summit. Thus the Copenhagen meet is not one of "mankind" coming together to grapple with a looming threat, but of a gathering of cliques of like-minded nations trying to wrest concessions for themselves rather than trying to find a solution to a grave problem. While the developed countries want the developing countries to make greater commitments than those contained in the Kyoto Protocol, the latter desire that their more opulent counterparts make mitigating pledges on monetary compensation, technologies transfer etc. The most likely outcome of the summit would be the production of a watered down text, stark testimony to the reality that even today national self-interest rather than the survival of mankind is of greater concern to our leaders.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
With seventy-five Rajya Sabha MPs submitting a signed motion for impeachment of PD Dinakaran, the disgraced Chief Justice of the Karnataka High Court embroiled in a land encroachment controversy, the focus now shifts to the sheer complexity of the process which makes it extremely difficult for Parliament to remove a tainted judge. Justice Dinakaran is accused on 12 counts, the most prominent of them being the alleged encroachment on government land and amassing of assets much beyond his known sources of income, which has allegedly caused heavy losses to the exchequer. If impeached, Dinakaran will become the first in independent India to suffer the ignominy, but it is also worthwhile to recall the past abortive experiences with this complicated procedure, which raises the possibility that unless the present relevant law is replaced by a new one, it would be nearly impossible to remove him. The Centre, which refused to elevate Dinakaran to the Supreme Court in the wake of the allegations, has been talking about bringing in the 'Judges Standard and Accountability Bill' in place of the current 'Judges Inquiry Act, 1968'. The proposed law, once made functional, should go a long way in keeping shady characters away from the sacrosanct domain of the judiciary. Such characters have no place in judiciary but unfortunately they enjoy certain immunity in the absence of a feasible and quick process of impeachment. If the Centre manages to move the proposed Bill in the ongoing session of Parliament itself, the road to Dinakaran's impeachment would become clearer.
However, for that to happen, all the areas of conflict between the legislature and the judiciary have to be ironed out as well. Over the years we have seen both the pillars of democracy locking horns, particularly over some significant observations made by the judiciary which made the legislature interpret the trend as 'judicial activism'. However, the Bill compelling members of the judiciary to declare their assets has had its desired effect, with the judges responding favourably to the wishes of Parliament. The area of judges' appointment is, however, remains a tricky one because in India judges appoint themselves and this makes it easy for dubious characters in the judiciary to abuse their positions. The government should therefore take everyone into confidence to consider removing all the grey areas from the present system. Be it appointment or impeachment, the processes involved have to be simpler, quicker and credible enough. Evolving a new mechanism may take some time and intense brainstorming, but it has become imperative for protecting the sanctity of the judiciary.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
STRIVING FOR A SUSTAINABLE LIFE
DR FATIMA TOHSIN SAHIDULLAH
Environment not only sustains life but it also enriches life, harmonising the work of man and nature for the larger good of all. But excessive use of resources due to increasing human population has depleted and degraded the planet's natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable and has adversely affected the environment. Our natural environment is getting polluted in an alarming manner. The air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we grow our food have been poisoned. Deforestation is increasing day by day. The problems like ozone layer deptetion, green-house effect, global climatic change, desertification, droughts and floods are posing serious threats to the survival of the human race on the earth. Thus man's unplanned and unwise activities have already caused major climatic changes, pushing some of the species to the brink of extinction.
If mankind continues to abuse nature without being concerned about the consequences, it will endanger the life of not only mankind but also of all innocent creatures of the earth. His suicidal actions will soon turn this wonderful planet into a lifeless and hostile planet. Therefore the need of the hour is to take measures to conserve and protect our environment. While conservation efforts are going on at national as well as international levels, the individual efforts for conservation of our environment can go a long way. "Small droplets of water together form a big ocean." Similarly, with our small individual efforts we can together save our environment. It is very essential to remember that environment belongs to each one of us and all of us have a responsibility to contribute towards its conservation and protection. We can do quite a bit for the environment and its conservation just by changing the little things we do on a daily basis. We simply need to make a few changes and teach these changes to those around us and we will help the environment in a big way. These changes are small individually but, collectively will have a major impact and make a big difference. In short, each and every one of us must make a firm resolve to develop a sustainable lifestyle.
We must take responsible action to protect the environment by reducing pollution and making judicious use of natural resources, pledging to respect and protect animals and plants, then alone we can sustain the beautiful life that we have on earth. It is very important to plant more trees around our home and work place and also encourage our friends to do the same. Whenever and wherever possible we must prevent trees from being cut. If we are unable to prevent this, we must immediately report the matter to the concerned authorities. The degradation of hillslopes leads to severe environmental problems, hence we must insist on keeping our hills free of encroachment. While shopping we must choose products in limited packaging. This will help reduce our need to cut trees for paper and packaging. We must recycle some things or we can replace them with reusable items. Newspapers and waste papers may be recycled instead of throwing it away as garbage. Instead of using plastic bags, use paper bags and bags made of durable materials that can be used over and over again. Used books and magazines can be donated to schools, hospitals or libraries which will not only help these organisations but also reduce the exploitation of natural resources used to produce paper. While we all need to think globally, we need to act locally.
Plants and animals need to be saved, because they are beautiful and useful to us. So everyone of us living on this earth must try to save animal and plant life. We must ensure that we do not disturb or destroy the natural habitats of birds and animals. Another way of conserving biodiversity is to avoid products that are made from a wild species like bags, boots made from reptile skins or ivory products. Protecting wildlife must be the duty of every good citizen.
The most precious natural resource is water and hence it is very important to conserve it. All of us must reduce the amount of water used for daily activities like turning off the tap while brushing teeth to save water. Reusing the rinsing water for house plants also helps to save water. Plants must be watered early in the morning to minimize evaporation. In washing machines filling the machine only to the level required for the cloths saves water. To save water we can install water-saving toilets that use not more then 6 litres per flush. Checking for water leaks in pipes and toilets and repairing them promptly will prevent wastage of water. We can also reuse the soapy water of washings from cloths for washing of the courtyards, driveways, etc. Many people in India do not have access to clear drinking water, so while drinking water we must take water only as much as we need. Moreover, we must also monitor and control wastes going into drains for preventing water pollution. Thus for water conservation appropriate technology should be developed and knowledge should be disseminated among the users.
At individual level, everyone of us should try to conserve energy. Energy can be conserved by turning off lights, fans and other appliances when not in use. Radio and television should be switched off when not required. Using tube lights and energy efficient bulbs that save energy rather than bulbs also saves energy. Another way of conserving energy is to grow deciduous trees and climbers at proper places outside our home to cut off intense heat of summer and get a cool breeze and shade. This will cut off electricity charges on coolers and air conditioners.
We can save energy while cooking by adopting certain measures. Soaking rice, pulses etc. before cooking helps to reduce cooking time and saves fuel. We should not buy disposable items that can be replaced with re-usable materials. We must try to eat organically grown fruits and vegetables. While cooking it is better to use a pressure cooker as it can save upto 75 per cent of the energy required for cooking and it is also faster. Keeping the vessel covered with a lid during cooking helps to cook faster, thus saving energy. We should also turn off the gas stove immediately after use. Whenever possible, we should drive less, make few trips and use public transportation. We can also save energy by riding bicycle or walking down small distances instead of using our car or scooter. Individuals may form small groups and initiate 'car pool' methods of transportation. Further, we should also get our vehicles serviced regularly to reduce fuel consumption and reduce pollution levels.
Thus, 'every individual matters' when it comes to conservation and protection of the environment. It is ultimately the people who will have to do the real job in all environmental matters because environment controls the destiny of entire mankind. The earth itself is a heritage left to us by our ancestors, not only for our own use but also for the generations to come. We must ensure that our children have the same chance to enjoy themselves as we have had. Conserving and protecting the environment is not only the job of the government and voluntary organization but it is our joint responsibility. We must act collectively to save our environment and only them we can hand over a safe, healthy and resourceful earth to our posterity.
(The writer teaches Education in Handique Girls College, Guwahati)
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
THE NEED FOR QUALITY MILK
DR KAMALA KANTA SAHARIA
While speaking about adulteration, the immediate item comes to the mind is milk. Think about poisoning, allergy or indigestion the immediate reference would be milk. Talk about unhygienic condition of processing and transport the immediate subject would be the dairy sector. Even the questions of lack of timeliness in supply, poor quality in supply or getting spoiled after receiving etc. are strongly linked with milk and its trade. Cheating, short supply, lack of commitment and absence of consumerism are also referred to milk, most often than not. But are they always true? Milk quality becomes bad every time the price shoots up or only at the time of making payments. Spoilage, although blamed on the vendor, it may also be at the customer's own place.
Milk has many myths, misconceptions and misfortunes in Assam. We are neither milk-minded nor our civilized life is dependent on milk as a compulsory commodity. It is hardly considered as the marvel of motherhood anymore. The sense of holiness, divinity and spirituality, which are present in milk, are far from any recognition. It is the best food item with worst publicity. As commodity it has the shortest life.
The milk producers take their own time in dispatch, the vendors take time in transportation and the customers also take their own time while collecting milk from any source. No one knows how much time others have taken in storage and transport of the milk. All believe that milk, if can be purchased from the source of production, is the best. But the effort to get it from such places is negligible. There is supposedly addition of one or the other think in milk that has been traded. The fact is that longer the chain of middlemen more is the deterioration in milk. No one is in mental readiness to get milk fresh and complete. According to the definition as well as the provisions of law in India, milk does not provide allowance for addition of any complementary, supplementary, additive, diluents or preservatives not even for research and development.
Further making a strong modification in the concept in India, only secretions from the healthy udders of cows and she buffaloes after seven days of calving are considered as milk. But nothing seems to have worked for the betterment of atmosphere and trustfulness in milk trade. The vendor is always looked down and still to be dependent on him. The source of production is so important for all of us to keep a good health of the family members who consume the traded milk, but we hardly know about it. We know so many things can be added to milk and milk can also be dangerous at times, but we never come forward to get a single sample of milk tested in any standard laboratory. We have sufficient knowledge that there are provisions for testing of milk and adulteration can be detected, but we hardly know where to go, whom to contact and who would be able to help us out. Even if we know, we hardly have the interest to do it. The questions of trade license, quality control, trade name or certification are far from reality.
Against all these odds, milk is at the centre of culture. It is integrally related to all the events and happenings in our religions, social actions, and maintenance of tradition either in the form of rituals or additive parts in them including in entertaining people. We all want the best possible milk, talk high about the availability of the same during yesteryears and also lament about the non-availability of the same these days. But the actual situation is such that milk production has increased tremendously. Right under our nose everything is happening and we have ignored it. Look at the availability of milk product. They are everywhere in all nook and corner of the township. They are parts of our everyday food habits, social get together, meetings and feasts in majority of the cases. A sweet dish, ice cream or curd with some sweet dipped in it is the finishing quota of any formal lunch or dinner. If milk production has not increased then wherefrom such items have come in abundance? The fact remains that milk is the second agricultural crop in India after rice producing 101 million tonnes every year. Is Assam not a part of such a big movement? It is, but there remain many ifs and buts. However, unfortunately we have not been able to make out the kind of progress made in this direction.
The global organization International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) with its headquarters in Nairobi (Kenya) has already made a study on dairy atmosphere in Assam and came out with some interesting, shocking and scintillating results. If one is convinced with the results of the study, which was conducted incurring an expenditure of nearly a crore of rupees, then the State's unorganized sector is the true picture of dairy in Assam, where many spurious practices are in vogue. To make milk quality deteriorate only one or two of such practices are enough, but we have many and all of them are not mutually exclusive. Under such circumstances the regulatory authorities should have actually come forward to curb the misdeeds. But that is far from reality.
Milk is integrally linked with physical, mental and spiritual development. Milk is treated as complete food or most near to complete food all over the world. How and why such a status is attributed to milk has many explanations based on empirically tested facts. All the developed countries and also the developed States of our country are consumers of quality milk. It means pure, fresh and complete milk. No one dares to mix anything in milk. Fresh and complete milk consumption provides opportunity for growth, perfect decision-making, community's unity and of course peace and prosperity.
(The writer is Head, Extension Education, College of Veterinary Science, Khanapara).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
With the climate change talks in Copenhagen deadlocked, the last thing any ice cream company from the developed world should want to do is raise temper(ature)s in one of the bellwether nations, India.
Yet thanks to some ill-chosen words in an otherwise insignificant promotional campaign in a south Delhi mall, the US ice cream major Haagen Dazs has managed to become the centre of a heated controversy over denying entry to all but "international passport holders" at a preview of their very first store in India.
Their objective in opening an outlet here the first of dozens more around the country presumably is to tap into India's middle class spending, but the brand's marketing communication clearly overlooked a major fact about the today's consumers' changing attitudes.
The average Indian is no longer overawed by things foreign, or indeed foreigners, a trait that climate negotiators have also discovered to their chagrin. Nor is there any inferiority complex about holding an Indian passport.
So, if the idea was to generate an envy factor by averring that there is some qualitative difference between Indian and "international" passports (whatever these are) they got it absolutely wrong.
If, as it seems more logical, they were simply careless about the campaign and did not assess the possible impact of those words, thinking that it would be restricted to one corner of Delhi, they stand guilty of an even bigger blunder: misjudging the power of social networking.
One photograph by an irate consumer emailed to a blogger at The Times of India was all it took for their boo-boo to be flashed around the world within minutes.
The authors of Copenhagen's 'secret' drafts were as flummoxed by the swelling band of protesters as Haagen Dazs' India brass. Both were caught unawares by the tremendous centripetal force that social networking generates. The result is what climate warriors and icecream vendors both dread: chill factors and heatwaves in wrong places and times.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANKS DON'T LEND; THEY INVEST IN MUTUAL FUNDS
The RBI governor wants moral suasion to stop banks from putting their money in mutual funds. We need something tougher. The rise in non-food credit since April 1 is lower than the Rs 127,875 crore rise in banks' investment in mutual funds.
Banks investment in commercial paper (CP) shows a decline, although the total outstanding of CP issued by companies has gone up by over Rs 52,000 crore from mid-April to end October. If not banks, then, it must primarily be the mutual funds that are investing in CP. The conclusion is inescapable that banks prefer to lend to one another and to companies through mutual funds, the so-called liquid plus variety.
The banks' motivation might be to reap tax arbitrage and dodge restrictions on lending to sectors like real estate but the end result is to obfuscate the real extent of credit growth. Does this matter? After all, companies get funds, banks, their returns and depositors, their interest, so why should anyone crib? There are good reasons, which go beyond the cause of transparency.
An obvious one is bank funds finding their way to the stock market. Even if the mutual funds don't invest in stocks directly, companies can raise short term funds and invest in the market.
So, the possibility of bank funds financing some easy promoter exit is one valid reason for taking a critical look at the banks' sudden love for mutual funds. Another is the preferential access to credit this would give to relatively large companies, and the discrimination faced by small and medium enterprises whose CP would find no takers.
A third reason is the mediation of funds without application of mind as to the viability of their end-use. Loans are sanctioned on the basis of a banker's judgment on the viability of the project which seeks the loan. CP is bought on the creditworthiness of the issuer, nothing else.
Banks also use the mutual fund route to lend to other banks, to reap the tax arbitrage on offer: banks pay the full corporate tax rate on their income from lending to other banks or deposits with the RBI, but there's only a 20% dividend distribution tax on returns from mutual funds. This tax arbitrage is wholly irrational and should go.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
EXCHANGES NEED COMPETITION
The announcement and subsequent postponement of extended trading hours by the National Stock Exchange and the Bombay Stock Exchange show that the business of running exchanges needs more competition. And, with it, we need a new class of brokers willing to put in longer hours and banks that will support them. We wholly support extended trading hours.
The whole point of having an exchange is to let people convert information into money. The longer the trading hours, the less the pile-up of information that cannot be acted on. India's domestic commodity exchanges already operate far longer hours (10:00 am to 11:30 pm). Many global equities markets trade for 6.5-7 hours, compared to about 5.5 hours in India. Euronext is open 24 hours a day.
What holds our markets back from trading longer hours is only the lethargy that comes from lack of competition. Infrastructure hurdles can be overcome if everyone the regulators, the exchanges, the banking system and the intermediaries such as brokerages and traders decide to scale up with better technology and processes.
Information on trades needs to flow from exchanges to brokers, the individual investor's ledger as well as trader accounts faster, perhaps on a real-time basis, rather than at the end of the trading day. More importantly, the banking system needs to gear up to make available margin money to traders and customers early to allow trading to begin at 9 am.
Some of it already happens for currency trading, which begins at 9 am. Also, online banking, complete with real time gross settlement and national electronic funds transfer, extended across the length and breadth of the country. What will really trigger the needed change in the way the exchanges and the brokerages work, and alacrity with which banks provide support, is real competition among exchanges, brokerages and banks.
BSE has proved a poor competitor to NSE so far.
It is not just the investor who stands to gain from longer hours; the exchanges, the banking system and intermediaries, too, will earn more. BSE and NSE have now jointly declared that they would start early trading on January 4. Whether that happens remains to be seen.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REFORM MARKETS TO TAME FOOD PRICES
ASHOK GULATI & KAVERY GANGULY
The food price inflation in India, measured by the wholesale price index of food items, touched a 10-year high for the week ended November 28, 2009 when it crossed 19% on point-to-point basis over the corresponding week a year ago.
The cereal prices were up by about 13%, but pulses are up by 42%, and vegetables by 31%, although potato prices shot up by 102%. This is getting way beyond the tolerance limit of Indians, especially the poor. If it is not contained and brought down quickly, it has the potential of creating a major political problem, spoiling the otherwise spectacular recovery of the economy which just registered an overall GDP growth of 7.9% for July-September quarter, 2009.
Why the food prices across the board have suddenly flared up? Policymakers often cite drought as the main culprit. But smart policy making requires early action to minimise any such adverse impacts.
While in the long run, India has to invest more in agriculture to feed its growing population, what could be the actions in the short and medium run that can help contain food inflation below 5% mark or so? First, the government needs to unload the large wheat stocks that it has in its godowns to immediately bring down the atta prices by about 20-25 %.
Simultaneously, allow the private sector to freely import and store wheat at zero import duty. Second, lower import tariffs on a host of commodities ranging from grains to vegetables and fruits, and remove all hurdles on private trade to import and stock those commodities. This is critical to augment the overall supply of agri-commodities in the country.
There are ample foreign exchange reserves to do this. Farmers' incentives can be maintained by giving them direct income support, especially where they have lost their crops due to droughts or floods. Third, taxes and various cesses that are often imposed on primary commodities need to be urgently abolished, and replaced only by value-added taxes beyond the primary commodity stage.
In a state like Punjab, even on primary commodity such as wheat, these taxes and cesses add up to more than 10% of the price that farmer receives. States will not give up their mandi taxes (or purchase taxes, etc) for obvious reasons of losing revenue. The Centre needs to devise a system of direct transfer of resources to the states equivalent of their potential revenue loss.
Fourth, and this is the most important of all, is to usher in market reforms by compressing the value chain of agri-commodities. Linking farmer groups directly to processors and organised retailers needs to be taken up on high priority.
This is crucial in high value agriculture such as fruits and vegetables, etc, which are perishable in nature, but it can also go a long way in basic staples too. This will, however, require a real reform of APMC and its widely publicised notification (so far it has been more cosmetic, barring a very few states), removing all controls on processors and organised retailers (both domestic and foreign).
This would make the agri-system much more efficient and the efficiency gains can be shared between the farmers, consumers, processors and organised retailers.
It is time to learn a few lessons from China in this regard, where big organised retailers are increasingly getting connected to farmer groups for direct sourcing , and also upgrading their mandis. For example, Wal-Mart together with the ministry of commerce in China is all set to take forward the Direct Farm Program by linking up with as many as one million farmers.
With this, by 2011 Wal-Mart China is likely to offer its customers, better quality, sustainably-harvested produce, and better returns to farmers. Wal-Mart entered China in 1996 with a Supercenter and Sam's Club in Shenzhen, opened its global procurement office in 2002, and by 2009, it has 146 stores in China, covering 89 cities, and creating direct employment for 70,000 people in its retail operations in China.
Wal-Mart is not the only big retailer in China. There are several other foreign players fiercely competing amongst themselves as well as with the local organised and traditional retailers. Carrefour has been operating in China since 1995, now with nearly 135 stores and 40,000 employees. Tesco having entered in 2004 through a joint venture has grown up to 58 hypermarkets with a staff of more than 17,000.
What more, these retailers have been lining up with local suppliers; as many as 20,000 by Wal-Mart , and 22,300 by Carrefour, supporting and strengthening the local economy.
The benefit of this competition goes directly to Chinese people. Less wastages in the value chain, stable and expanding markets to Chinese farmers, and wider range of good quality products at reasonable prices to its consumers.
But in India, we are a debating society, and keep debating for years without any tangible reforms in agriculture marketing . So far, in India, while Wal-Mart has succeeded in opening one cash-and-carry outlet since its alliance with Bharti, Tesco has entered into a franchise agreement with Tata Trent, and Carrefour is still scouting for a suitable partner.
In the meantime, farmers are robbed in the mandis, while consumers pay through their nose to retail vendors, who operate on high margins and low volumes.
In the Azadpur mandi in Delhi, for example , officially, the commission is 6% while in practice it goes up to 10%. Situation is even worse in Vashi market in Mumbai, where the commissions go even up to 15% while the official notified rate is 8%. But even these official rates are ridiculously exorbitant for an auction that takes just five minutes in a chaotic environment of Indian agrimandis .
At the retail end, the push-cart vendors often operate with 20% to 30% margins due to their low volumes. No wonder then, farmers and consumers both are losing. This needs to be replaced with 'low margins-high volumes' strategy , and for that major reforms in agrimarketing are a must.
(Ashok Gulati is director in Asia and Kavery Ganguly, a senior research analyst at International Food Policy Research Institute, New Delhi)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE FOUNT OF CONSISTENCY
The sustainability of action is crucial to success. An individual action, even if well executed, does not achieve goals. The ability to consistently perform is vital to success. Consistency in action derives from a person's internal attitude. Three kinds of attitudes govern human action: selfish , unselfish and selfless.
Selfish persons act merely to fulfil their personal desires.
Their interests , and may be that of their families, are all their mental horizon can encompass . At its most unsophisticated level, selfishness is merely following one's whims and fancies. To do, at the spur of the moment, what would give one immediate gratification .
There is no thinking involved. The capers of such people fill the more popular sections of the society papers. Such people are not achievers. They do not fix goals and discipline themselves into achieving them.
Further down the continuum are the selfish persons who do set goals and achieve them. However their goals pertain only to their personal well-being .
Such goals cannot span decades. The pressure of desires necessitates fast results. The intellect being fuzzy, cannot project beyond a point. So consistency over long periods is not possible .
The common burn-out syndrome is a manifestation of this attitude . People push themselves to achieve their self-centred goals to the point of collapse. Not only that, they get discouraged if their goals are not achieved quickly.
The unselfish people fix goals ranging a wider spectrum, both in terms of time and persons it will benefit. They can conceive a goal that may take decades to show results . Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, J R D Tata and the like demonstrated similar long-term perspectives.
Today, even after many years, we are still benefiting from their vision . Also, their failures never seemed to bog them down. However , unselfish people also have a boundary. They can conceive up to a point. The identification , though great, ends somewhere, may be at my community / country / species. Though far superior than the selfish, they too are restricted in conception.
Those rare individuals who are totally selfless, who want nothing for either themselves or for the world, can transcend all barriers. They conceive, pursue and achieve the goal of self-realisation which may cut across many lifetimes . Their capacity for consistency is awe-inspiring .
Thus a person's consistency of action is dependant on how high an ideal he is able to conceive. The higher the ideal motivating him, the greater will be the capacity for consistency.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE INDIAN PARTY SYSTEM IS FACING A CRISIS
C P BHAMBHRI
The larger issue here is where the Indian party system is headed. A few recent important political happenings have revealed that the party system, which is the mainstay of any parliamentary competitive electoral democracy, is facing a serious internal crisis and that the style of management of inner party challenges has given the impression of either adhocism or crude party bossism.
There is merit in the argument that Indians should be concerned about the deterioration of the health of political parties.
Look at the way parties often discard dissenting members. A party system in a democracy based on a written constitution should have a constitutional and institutional mechanism of admitting and kicking out its dissenting members.
Every 'regional party' whether religion-based or culture-based or caste-based are all based on the principle of a leadership which is authoritarian because all regional parties are personality-based outfits. It is the writ of the leader which runs in the party.
What is the need for a party constitution or inner institutional arrangement for managing a party when it is a private affair of a leader?
Supreme leader-based party system has shown its utter incapacity to take important public decisions and the result is that party pronouncements and announcements have lost any public credibility.
The Congress party and the TDP have completely split in Andhra Pradesh on the Telangana issue. The vertical split within the major political players in Andhra Pradesh makes people believe that these parties are floating many balloons and party leaders are themselves encouraging their own MPs and MLAs to speak in multiple ways on the Telangana issue.
Parties do not seem to have any institutional mechanism of creating a consensus through debate and discussion. Then who decides? Second, every political party is led by a leader who is surrounded by a coterie of favourites.
India is ruled by authoritarian party bosses and coteries of political favourites. Indian democracy is threatened because the completely undemocratic party system cannot be expected to practice democracy in governance.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'WE ARE WELL-POSITIONED COMPARED TO RIVALS'
Finally, things seem to be looking up for Tulsi Tanti's Suzlon. A month ago, the company sold a 35% stake in gearbox maker Hansen Transmissions for Rs 1,735 crore to pare down its mountainous debt of Rs 12,000 crore. It also opened one of Australia's largest wind farms near Canberra for Infigen Energy and won a 748-mw order via subsidiary REpower, from EDF Energies Nouvelles and RES Canada to set up a wind farm in Quebec.
And on December 17, the Indian government said it would offer 50 paise as incentive for every unit of wind energy fed into the grid. Mr Tanti's fortunes are nowhere near where they used to be at the peak of the bull run in 2007, Suzlon's market cap was in excess of Rs 72,000 crore compared to less than Rs 13,000 crore currently but, in an interview to ET Now, the man says he is down but not out. Excerpts:
How do you plan to use the proceeds from Hansen stake sale?
As you know, our debt position is pretty high. So, the top-most priority is to reduce that. This money will help lower our debt by 15%.
Will any of this money be used for working capital or increasing your stake in REpower?
No, all of this money will be used for debt reduction.
For the next six months, you cannot sell anymore stake in Hansen. But what's your long-term plan? Will you sell the remaining stake as well?
In the past, we've sold stake in Hansen in parts. So, going forward, we may do something similar as we create value in the company.
Will gearbox supply be impacted by the Hansen stake sale?
No, we are both shareholders and customers of Hansen. So the latter relationship is not affected by the stake sale. Besides, we've built a large capacity in China. So, as a supply-chain strategy, we are leveraging both China and India, and Hansen has capacities in both these countries.
Suzlon promoters have pledged shares, although I didn't see your name on the list I saw. But is this money coming back into Suzlon in some fashion?
As you know, the company needs liquidity, and based on the current market conditions, we have provided additional comfort to financial institutions by way of promoter shares. There are 16 members of the family who are shareholders of Suzlon, so it doesn't matter whose shares are pledged. What's important is that we provide more cash to the company so that it can maintain its growth momentum.
Do you have a target for reducing debt to a more comfortable level?
We have a target set by the board. We would like to bring our net debt-equity ratio to 1:1 or below one. We are pursuing a three-pronged strategy for this: one, asset sale. Two, we are optimising our value chain to reduce working capital from 40% to 25% in six months so that we can free up cash for operations. Three, we are reducing costs by improving efficiencies. So, these measures should generate some Rs 2,000 crore in the system.
When do you expect your sales to pick up?
The major markets are in developed countries, which are now reviving. So I am expecting that in the next 3 to 6 months, the industry will be back in full flourish. The reason is simple: It's a financial crisis and project financing is constrained. But there's no dearth of demand.
Which are the markets you expect to pick up first?
I think India has already picked up. The government is taking strong initiatives for wind energy and that's helping too. (The interview took place before the government on December 17 announced 50 paise per unit incentive to wind energy producers.)
China is already in a high-growth phase. The US hasn't yet regained momentum, but Europe is picking up. And Australia is doing extremely well. In two to three months I expect Europe to revive and within six months the US should also revive.
Suzlon had problems with its turbine blades. Is that behind you now, and are the same customers placing more orders with you?
That episode is closed, and now we are focusing on the next generation of technology and growth. After we announced the retrofit programme, the same customers gave us additional orders. The beauty of our business is that our relationship with our customers is not transactional. We have to maintain these machines for the next 20 years. So, in a sense, we are the custodian of their investment. So, I would say the retrofit programme has actually increased customer confidence in Suzlon.
Have competitors like Vestas gained at your cost? Their shipments are up compared to yours.
Well, the blade incident did affect us and we lost the opportunity to build our order book. But now that the issue is resolved, I'll build my order book again. The beauty is, compared to competition, Suzlon is extremely well positioned. I am coming from Asian markets, which haven't been affected. My cost levels are low, which means my gross profit margins are the highest in the industry. Besides, Suzlon is present in 21 countries, which means we are not dependent on just one market. Finally, REpower is very strong in the offshore installation segment
You are expected to increase your stake in REpower. When do you see that happening?
Currently, we own 91% of REpower. We'll buy the remaining 9% once our capital structure is in a comfortable position. So, the stake purchase should happen soon.
Looking back, do you think Suzlon tried to grow too fast too quickly?
No, not given the urgency on the climate change front. We are killing our world rapidly. So, that's why Suzlon has grown 60-70% year-on-year for the past 10 years. Now, the design of the organisation is built on such growth momentum. Things have slowed down a bit because of recession, but the next 10 years will be like what we experienced.
Would you be willing to sell Suzlon if you got a good offer?
First of all, I am not expecting one and, secondly, I am not interested because I want to continue and fulfill my dream (of cleaner energy).
But what if the offer is good for your shareholders?
I can create great value for my shareholders, and I don't have to sell Suzlon to do that.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
'IN INDIA, MOBILE WILL LEAPFROG DIGITAL'
Digitas, the digital arm of the world's fourth largest communication company The Publicis Groupe, believes that India can play a bigger role in the digital world as the digital advertising scenario in the country is looking up. On their second visit to India recently, Digitas top brass, global chief creative office Mark Beeching and chief marketing officer Seth Solomons, had a lot on their mind. ET catches up with Beeching and Solomons. Excerpts:
In the world of advertising, what makes a brand win great creative or a shrewd strategy?
Creative now has to be much more strategic, and marketing has to be more of a service to customers rather than just a messaging app. Gone are the days when strategists would come up with a solution and tell creatives to make it look pretty. Now, it's all together. It's about creative strategy and strategic creative. Listen harder to customers, understand them better and the ideas that emerge show us what to do, how to do... Everybody is basically involved in the process of listening to the customer, creating value for them and engaging them better.
Marketing today is like new product development, more than old fashioned marcomm, because you got to think what is the value in it for the customer. The coming together of creativity and strategy is really what the industry needs. This partnership allows us access to assets we would never had, audiences we would never have been able to reach. There are some traditional agencies that still believe that media guys don't bring in strategy, which is dead wrong because the way we do content syndication or distribution of content is as important, if not more than, some of the brand strategy.
Is digital a push or a pull medium?
There has been an evolution of the digital space and as a result we have thought deeply about Digitas' core preposition and what the future should be. It's important to get inside people's lives, understand people, know them. If the customer is not at the centre of the idea, then there is the danger of not being relevant. Even if everything is online, it still has to be relevant.
Is it easier to engage the consumer and get into a dialogue through digital? How can it be effectively
In our industry everybody is shouting louder to get attention. But is important to listen to what customer has to say, and digital helps in this process. Be it through communities, mobiles, social media... Consumers in India are today switching off faster than ever and as a result, most brands are not getting enough salience. They switch off when ads come on air and it is, therefore, getting increasingly difficult to engage with them.
Marketing since long has been about creating a conversation; in between we lost the plot. It was like the sub-prime media crisis, but now we are getting out of it. Let's say today if the digital revolution was not going, then marketers and advertisers would be both forced to look at other innovative options of connecting and engaging customers.
What are the advantages/disadvantages that digital as a medium poses?
People are too focused on digital, but for digital to achieve the scale required, it will always have to be integrated with mobile, social media, direct response mail and others. India would have to leap frog some of the bad marketing that the West has done and go directly to the ones that give results to the brand. For example, in the West financial institutions were attracting customer by giving them low rates of interest, which put them in a soup in the long run.
So, today Indian companies should help the customer in the decision-making process and give them offers that will value. A 30-second spot cannot alone connect with customer, there has to activities done before and after the TVC to connect with the customers. Digital and traditional media are like Siamese twins, you cannot separate the two.
Although everyone in India is excited about the digital space, how realistic is the excitement?
In India, the biggest space for growth of digital, mobile or social media is in the B2B space. Most corporates got some sort of system in place for their companies in early 2000. While earlier they used to manage these systems internally, now it is being outsourced. Be it intranet, extranet facilities, communication with external parties like suppliers, FMCG and grocery shopsall these areas need to constantly talk to each other and be in touch. Therefore, businesses today are adopting digital much faster than customers.
What has been some of the best work done by Digitas for its brands? And why is that work the best?
We did The Smart Show for Holiday Inn Express. We wanted to make the brand synonymous with being a smart. So, we encouraged people to upload their travel videos, get their friends to vote for it, distributed the video to other portals, through TiVo, Blip.tv; did campaigns for the Holiday Inn by putting up video banners on third-party sites. The response was tremendous and we have already started Season 2 for the show.
We extended this idea to the American election, where as part of the election campaign it was necessary for every candidate to declare how much their travel spends was. We created a website, took information about spends of candidates and recreated the stay for them with Holiday Inn Express and demonstrated how much cheaper they could have done it. This was picked up by mainline media, telecast on prime time, news channels discussed it and was much talked about.
The other example is the work we did for Chantix, a pharma company that makes drugs which helps stop smoking. We took two adjacent billboards on Times Square and then asked customers to announce their decision to stop smoking to the world. Customers could go online on Chantix website, upload their picture and message and declare to the world, which in turn would be telecast on Times Square. Or they could send in their messages and pictures through the mobile phone. We also had our people around Times Square talking to willing participants, taking their pictures and messages and posting it on Times Square. We did the activity for two weeks and got a great response.
How much of a consumer engagement does the digital medium create by itself? Or does it need to be backed by one-to-one marketing, CRM etc?
There is still time before digital can get real scale. Promotions, if done by a brand in a literate and customer friendly way, can bring in the best for the brands. Digital is like nirvana, where we can talk to people about the brand and join conversations, understand what people are discussing and also feed information. Marketing should be timeless, live, on demand and timely. Everything you do for the product should fall within the purview of these four elements. I think in India mobile will leapfrog digital. 450 million Indians use mobile and if you integrate that with digital, you can definitely create scale.
How has the merger with Solutions helped Digitas in its India plans? And how has Solutions benefitted from this merger?
The merger has allowed Digitas to enter a market that has a tremendous amount of growth prospects beyond just digital. We got access to top-tier talent creative and marketing talent and not just for the marketplace but tactical talent. The leadership team of SolutionsKanika and Srikanth have been rewarding for us worldwide and not just for clients in India. Apart from the fact that Digitas made us extremely comfortable, it opened up new possibilities for us in the digital space, enabled us to meet leaders worldwide in the digital space.
ISOLATED ZARDARI TO FIND IT HARD TO STAY
Wednesday night's ruling by a 17-member bench of Pakistan's Supreme Court led by the Chief Justice, Mr Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is clearly a blow to the President, Mr Asif Ali Zardari's prestige as well as his political position, from which it may be hard to recover given the parallelogram of forces in that country. It is yet to be seen if he can hold on to his office. The striking down of the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) of October 2007 by the court essentially takes away Mr Zardari's (and that of thousands of others, including the interior minister, Mr Rehman Malik) immunity from prosecution for offences for which he had been charged before the NRO was promulgated. Essentially, this means the reopening of a money-laundering case pending under Swiss jurisdiction. Even before the damning judgment, the President was increasingly getting isolated within his Pakistan People's Party over his controversial positions on a range of domestic issues, and in relation to the Pakistan military, which is the country's main power centre. Were this not the case, Mr Zardari could have met the judgment with greater political élan. The way it has turned out, however, there have been no popular demonstrations in support of the President after the Supreme Court expressed itself on the NRO. Mr Zardari has sought to strike a lofty pose, telling a group of journalists that, like Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto before him, he was ready to face all challenges, and that his object was to save Pakistan from turning into another Afghanistan. Such a posture could be maintained if there had been protests in the country against the Supreme Court order. Since Mr Zardari has already served a jail term for 11 years in various cases during the previous military regime and earlier on charges that he, his late wife Benazir, and the PPP insisted were politically motivated he may even have emerged as a martyr if the national mood had been with him. But apart from a succession of serious political mistakes (including the alienating of the community of lawyers, by now an important social and political constituency, the judiciary, the Chief Justice, the Army, the Opposition, not to mention his own Prime Minister who has moved close to the military) committed by the President, his government has also presided over a frightening internal security situation and an economic calamity that has left people without daily necessities, including bread. This is an unenviable situation to be in. If the going had been good for Mr Zardari, the country might have taken a more large-hearted view of the NRO. After all, the measure had been promulgated by Gen. Pervez Musharraf under American pressure to enable Benazir Bhutto to return home and take part in the election process, and in order to free her husband and others from prison. In the event, the former Prime Minister returned home to a rousing welcome from her people. This suggested that the NRO had its uses. Without it, a credible election could not have been imagined at that stage. And yet, all those who had hailed that election and the restitution of the PPP leadership are cheering the striking down of the NRO.
KERALA'S TERROR TRAIL
BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
With the exposure of the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) in north Kerala and finger of suspicion pointing to People's Democratic Party (PDP) leader and Islamist extremist Abdul Nasser Madani's wife Sufiya, the politicians of Kerala are in a rush to prove their innocence. Nasir Tadiyandavede and his brother-in-law Shafaz Shamsuddin are both from Kannur in Kerala and are accused of carrying out the July 25, 2008 Bengaluru serial blasts with funding and instructions from the LeT.
Remember how the same politicians, in almost one voice, had moved the Kerala Assembly to ask the Tamil Nadu government to release the same Madani from Coimbatore prison where he was facing trial in the serial bombing case of 1998, set up to assassinate the BJP leader, Mr L.K. Advani. When finally Madani was able to win acquittal in the case, the same leaders from both the Left Front and the Congress made a beeline to the airport to receive him and even gave him a public reception.
After cosying up to the PDP leader in the May general elections, Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader and Kerala home minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan staged a protest and declared that his department would not interfere with the ongoing police investigations into Sufia Madani's alleged role in various terrorist activities.
The lady has sought anticipatory bail as the Kerala police was closing in upon her for allegedly directing the Tamil Nadu bus burning in Kalamassery, Kerala.
T. Nasir, yet another alleged kingpin in the terror machine, now held between the Karnataka and Kerala police on suspicion of multiple roles in the serial bombing incidents in Bengaluru and the detailed plans to blow up several places in Kerala and elsewhere, has turned out to be a major LeT operative in the state.
He has confessed to receiving funds from Pakistani agencies. Nasir had been the key LeT operative recruiting Muslim youngsters from Kerala to join the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.
The Indian security forces, after gunning down five infiltrators in Jammu and Kashmir, busted the LeT activity that had been on for years, especially in Kannur in north Malabar hotbed of the Communists where CPI(M) cadres have killed several RSS, Congress and other political workers.
In Kerala politics, the CPI(M) had long been suspected of supporting Islamic radicals. The revelations of Nasir only strengthen those suspicions.
Nasir's activities for the LeT were widespread. He recruited young people for militancy in Kashmir. He conducted camps at many places where young people from his community were brainwashed and even trained in arms and bomb-handling.
For some years this went on and the Kerala police had little hint about them. When the police managed to locate Nasir after he conducted a camp at Vakathanam, near Kottayam in central Kerala, political interference prevented the police from following the trail.
The busting came only after four of the five militants killed in Kashmir were found to be from Kerala. The security forces there suspected that the fifth man had escaped. He was Jabbar, ultimately traced to Hyderabad.
The Central government's instructions to the Kerala police to track this recruitment forced the Left Democratic Front state government to track down Nasir. He escaped while being led away by the police. Surely there was complicity at some level from powerful politicians that enabled him to escape from a posse of 100 policemen.
State home minister Balakrishnan now claims that he had informed the Research and Analysis Wing last April itself that Nasir had escaped to Bangladesh. The state home minister blames political rivals for drumming up a controversy over handling of terrorists.
In Kerala, the UDF and LDF are winning power and losing it by turn with clockwork regularity. It was during the UDF rule that Nasir-led terrorists burnt the Tamil Nadu bus to protest the Chennai government's refusal to release Madani on parole from Coimbatore.
Many other terrorist acts took place during UDF rule. So, there is perhaps little to choose between the UDF and the LDF. Both are more concerned with their vote banks among Muslims rather than public safety against terror attacks.
Nasir was finally located in Bangladesh. The charges against this LeT operative are many. He is accused of not only recruiting for the militant cause but also actively helping militant activity in India. His most daring act was to steal 200 kg of ammonium nitrate, a potent bomb-making material, from an Alwa-based explosives shop. This material was used to fuel several bomb attacks in Kerala, Bengaluru, as well as in other cities.
Another mystery behind the whole series of events is that the explosives shop owner who had reported the theft of ammonium nitrate etc from his shop soon withdrew his complaint. The Kerala police also did not pursue the case effectively. Who was behind this complete lack of responsible behaviour on the part of the security forces is a matter to be found out. Sources say if this is investigated, further linkages of Pakistan-based terror organisations with some key Kerala politicians would be exposed.
Where does this cascade of revelations and finding of large quantities of explosive material lead to? Kerala, especially the Muslim-concentrated northern part of it, was yet another breeding ground of terror with organic linkages to LeT in Pakistan and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) in Bangladesh. The same part of Kerala is also a pocket borough of the CPI(M).
The CPI(M) might now declare itself untainted by terror and communal extremism. But the finger of accusation and mound of evidence point as much to it as they do to Madani and Nasir and a host of others. The prevalence of this politician-extremist-linked fifth column within Kannur, Hyderabad, Azamgarh, the trail goes to Kashmir forms a huge question mark before the country.
* Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org 
A CHRISTMAS GIFT THAT CHANGED MANY LIVES
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
Here's a story for the holiday season. A 30-year-old former refugee is putting together a most extraordinary Christmas present the first high school his community has ever had.
Valentino Deng, 30, is the central figure in the masterful 2006 best seller, What Is the What, by Dave Eggers. The book records Valentino's life after the Sudanese civil war strikes his remote town in South Sudan. His friends were shot around him. He lost contact with his family, and he became one of the "lost boys" of Sudan. Fleeing government soldiers, dodging land mines, eating leaves and animal carcasses, Valentino saw boys around him carried off and devoured by lions.
At one point, Valentino and other refugees were attacked by soldiers beside a crocodile-infested river. He swam to safety through water bloodied as some swimmers were shot and others were snatched by crocodiles.
Valentino learned to read and write at makeshift schools in refugee camps by writing letters in the dust with his finger. Improbably, he turned out to be a brilliant student with a cheerful, upbeat personality. And in 2001, the United States accepted him as a refugee.
Valentino had earned the right to take it easy for the next 600 years; instead, he sets an astonishing example of resilience, compassion and charity. He and Eggers channel every penny made from What Is the What to a new foundation dedicated to building a high school in his hometown in Sudan.
That's what I find so inspiring about Valentino. For a quarter-century, world leaders have averted their eyes from horrors in Sudan first the north-south civil war that killed two million people (more than died in all the wars in America's history), then the genocide in Darfur and now the growing risk of another civil war. In that vacuum, moral leadership has come instead from university students and refugees like Valentino.
Now Valentino's school is beginning to operate in the town of Marial Bai a modern high school serving students from thousands of square miles. It had a soft opening earlier this year with 100 students, and he is hoping to increase to 450 students in the coming months but that means dizzying challenges.
"I want to enrol more than 50 per cent girls", Valentino said. "But to do that, I have to house them, because families will not allow a girl to go far away to school without a place to stay. For now, I've enrolled 14 girls", he added. "But they go home, and then they have to take care of siblings, collect firewood, fetch water. So I'm worried about how much they can learn". In addition, a high school girl can fetch a huge bride price about 100 cows and Valentino thinks the best way to avoid early marriage and give the girls a chance to study is for them to live in a dormitory on the school grounds.
Decades of civil war have left South Sudan one of the poorest places on earth, where a woman is more likely to die in childbirth than to be literate. In recent years, only about 500 girls have graduated annually from elementary school in South Sudan out of a total population of eight million.
Valentino's every step has been Herculean. Building supplies had to be trucked in from Uganda through a jungle where a brutal militia called the Lord's Resistance Army murders, rapes and loots. There is no electricity or running water in Marial Bai, so the high school's computers will have to run on solar power. When a microscope arrived the other day, a science teacher was overcome. He had never actually touched one.
The school has a certain American ethos. Valentino is requiring students to engage in service activities, such as building huts for displaced people. "We focus on leadership", he explained.
Eight high school teachers from the United States, Canada and New Zealand travelled at their own expense to Valentino's school last summer to train teachers and work with students. They raved to me about how eager the students are to learn; some students burst into tears when the volunteers had to leave.
"What he's accomplished in his hometown is astounding", Eggers said. "A 14-structure educational complex built from scratch in one year. It boggles the mind. He's succeeded where countless NGOs stumble, mainly because he knows the local business climate and can negotiate reasonable local prices for materials", he added, referring to non-governmental organisations.
Valentino is still fundraising and looking for volunteer teachers. He needs $15,000 to finish a dormitory for girls, and much more to dig wells and operate the school for the first three years. (More information about the school is at www.valentinoachakdeng.org .) But he's relentless.
"I'm the lucky one", Valentino told me. "I must be the one who will make a difference".
What a perfect sentiment for these holidays.
PAK RULERS DON'T FEAR MILITANTS
BY INDRANIL BANERJIE
Senior officials of the American government have argued that the Pakistani military establishment needs to take on the militants in their country because it threatens their very existence. This view of a shared threat that needs to be tackled together by Islamabad and Washington, however, is a bit of a mirage.
If Islamist militancy was indeed a common threat, then the US government would not have to expend so much time and effort to coerce the Pakistani establishment to act more forcefully against the threat. That is not happening, and a recent report in the New York Times confirmed that the Pakistani military had in fact rebuffed the US demand to crack down on the Taliban.
The report spelt out how the US demand that Pakistan act against prominent Taliban groups had been met with "public silence and private anger, according to Pakistani officials and diplomats familiar with the conversations, illustrating the widening gulf between the allies over the Afghan war."
While it is true that some sections of Islamists fostered by the Pakistani military have turned against their mentors, it is because the Pakistani military establishment and elements of the civilian polity are seen as acting in subservience to American regional goals, which are perceived to be entirely anti-Muslim and against the long-term interests of Pakistan. Everything suggests that the Pakistani establishment does not view Islamist militants as being anti-Pakistan per se.
This is why the Pakistani military and its covert operations directorate continue to use Islamist militants or terrorists to further their aims.
Gen. Mirza Aslam Beg, a former Pakistan Army chief and a well-known Islamist supporter, recently wrote in a newspaper article: "America and their allies are fighting Afghan freedom-fighters, who are not our enemies, whereas the Pakistan Army is fighting our own angry tribals, who are not our enemies and have fallen out with us because of the wrong policies of our previous government. We will be able to settle the issue with them, through dialogue and discussion."
Writing a few days earlier in another newspaper, Gen. Beg maintained: "The USA is following a similar policy as in the 1990s: '[Their] goal is to prevent the return of Taliban,' because they think that 'if Taliban come to power, they will overrun Pakistan and destabilise the region.' It's totally fallacious because the Taliban ruled over most of Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001. Did they create any problem for anyone beyond their borders? In fact, they are the only ones who can bring peace in Afghanistan."
Well-known US-based strategic analyst Sumit Ganguly and S. Paul Kapur, writing in the Washington Quarterly [January 2010], have rightly pointed out that Pakistan's strategy of using militants has not been disastrous as many in America assume: "Pakistan's asymmetric warfare strategy has in fact achieved notable successes. Its support of mujahideen forces in Afghanistan played a crucial role in the Soviets' defeat. In Kashmir, the Pakistanis have inflicted serious economic, military, and diplomatic costs on India. They have also led New Delhi to adopt draconian anti-terrorism policies that have badly tarnished its international image.
In neither case was Pakistan forced to engage in direct combat against a stronger adversary. Rather, the use of non-state actors enabled the Pakistanis to damage the Soviets and the Indians while avoiding direct conflict and the concomitant risk of catastrophic defeat."
Many Western analysts seem to believe that the Pakistani establishment's mindset will change once the Kashmir issue is resolved according to Pakistan's wishes.
Such a resolution would ostensibly leave the Pakistani establishment without any reason to damage India or maintain a high level of military forces along its eastern border with India.
The United States, in particular, is championing this approach because it seems the only way to get the Pakistani military to focus on fighting the Taliban in its western frontiers.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton had recently warned that terrorists would try to provoke a conflict between the two countries if issues like Kashmir were not resolved.
"We've encouraged both Pakistan and India to resume dialogue and to talk about everything, including Kashmir, because now the security of both countries is threatened by the forces of extremism," she is reported to have told a TV channel.
Dozens of columnists and analysts in the United States and Britain wrote that Kashmir was the key to solving the Afghan problem.
This view betrays a flawed understanding of the dynamics of the subcontinent. The conflict between India and Pakistan is larger than the Kashmir issue. The conflict is at a fundamental ideological level.
Indian nationhood is defined by secularism and democracy; its founders adopted these principles to create an overarching framework to hold together the country's immensely diverse ethnic, religious and social entities as one uniquely defined republic. Pakistan, on the other hand, was created on the basis of the two-nation theory, which holds that Hindus and Muslims constitute two different polities that cannot coexist.
Kashmir, which has a Muslim majority, must therefore belong to Pakistan, according to this theory.
It is this imperative that pitches the two countries against each other not Kashmir alone or terrorism per se.
A prosperous, progressive and secular India will always be seen as a threat by the Pakistani establishment.
Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst basedin New Delhi
TIBET AT COPENHAGEN
BY MAURA MOYNIHAN
There was some progress made at the Copenhagen climate change summit: Tibet Third Pole, a team of environmental advocates, penetrated Communist China's Great Wall of Silence on Tibet and got registered at the NGO forum. Led by Tenzing Norbu Norkhang and Chokyi from Dharamsala and American attorney John Ishom, the group presented data on global warming across the Tibetan plateau, where over 40,000 glaciers could disappear by 2035. The universal response was: "We had no idea the situation in Tibet was so serious".
Called the Earth's "Third Pole" by scientists, as only the North and South Poles hold more glacially stored freshwater, Tibet is a vital component of the planet's ecosystem. Tibet is the fount of Asia's great rivers Yangtze, Yellow, Indus, Ganga, Brahmaputra, Chenab, Sutlej, Salween and Mekong. Today Tibet's glaciers are melting three times faster than others around the globe.
China's position is unique every great river except the Ganga now originates within Tibet, and thus controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, which now has the technical capacities and supporting infrastructure needed for capital-intensive projects on the distant plateau.
China's hydro-development schemes are extraordinarily complex and carry enormous risks, but the Chinese government has prevented any rational discussion of the management of Tibet's resources by continuously vilifying the Dalai Lama. This strategy of conflating Tibet with the Dalai Lama has proved a great success China has so politicised the mere presence of the exiled Tibetan leader that many institutions are fearful of holding a public discussion of anything to do with Tibet, even climate change, a matter that affects millions of people.
Some China watchers interpret China's new Tibet offensive as a prelude to the coming "water wars". In Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, environmentalists are alarmed by China's plans for more hydroelectric dams along the Mekong River, China just completed the highest dam in the world where the Mekong descends from Tibet. Pakistan, China's longtime ally in South Asia, recently issued a rebuke to China for constructing dams along the Sutlej and Chenab without considering the environmental and economic impacts on downstream communities.
China is now claiming that nomads, ancient stewards of Tibet's grasslands, are the principle cause of environmental degradation and should therefore be removed from the lands they have cultivated since time immemorial. China is pressuring Western nations for money and support for resettlement of the nomads, so Beijing can develop and urbanise a culture and ecosystem that is one of the last pristine lands left in Asia.
But in the age of climate change, what happens in Tibet is no more an "internal affair" of the Chinese government. The preservation and management of Tibet's highlands and the rivers they sustain affects every nation in South and Southeast Asia. To quote former ambassador Ranjit Gupta, a well-known Tibet expert: "There needs to be a concerted effort to protect and save Tibet's fragile ecosystem to ensure human survival in Asia".
The Dalai Lama has for years advanced a Gandhian approach to development, which may be the only plausible option as environmental chaos unfolds. In an address to the 2006 Earth Summit, he had said: "We can no longer invoke the national, racial or ideological barriers that separate us without destructive repercussions; we need to renew our commitment to human values. I have always envisioned the future of my own country, Tibet, to be founded on this basis."
As Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Copenhagen this week, China's ambassador to India Zhang Yan held a press conference in New Delhi where he criticised the developed nations for "empty talk about international cooperation or only talking about so-called shared responsibility". Mr Zhang and his colleagues in Beijing could demonstrate their commitment to containing the climate crisis by sharing their development agenda in Tibet with their neighbours, whose very survival is linked to Tibet's great rivers, instead of attacking the Dalai Lama at every turn.
* Maura Moynihan is an author and Tibet expert who has worked with Tibetan refugees in India for many years
A SPURIOUS PRESIDENT
PAKISTAN'S IRRETRIEVABLY TARNISHED IMAGE
Pakistan's "Mr Ten Per Cent" has been hobbled by Wednesday's ruling of the Supreme Court, stripping him of his amnesty from charges of corruption. There is an element of poetic justice too that the verdict against President Asif Ali Zardari was handed down by Iftikhar Chaudhry, the Chief Justice who was removed by Pervez Musharraf to serve his enlightened self-interest. Ironically, Zardari had resisted Chaudhry's reinstatement ~ a demand orchestrated by Nawaz Sharif and the PML(N) ~ for as long as he could.
In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court has rejected Musharraf's 2007 National Reconciliation Ordinance that allowed Zardari to return to Pakistan and eventually to take over as the Head of State. It was part of a power-sharing arrangement brokered between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, designed to protect Zardari and a host of bureaucrats and ministers, and supported by the United States and Britain ~ countries with a stake in Pakistan's internal affairs. He may cling on unabashedly to the presidential pedestal for some time yet, taking advantage of the absence of any directive to resign. Presidential immunity may even protect him from prosecution. Despite that seeming loophole, Pakistan, tormented since its creation, stands to be governed by a severely indicted, even a thoroughly spurious, President. There is little or no risk of the PPP losing power just yet; it may well prop up another candidate for President should Zardari be in difficulty. The overwhelming instability may just enable Nawaz Sharif to bolster his constituency for the contest in 2013. All corruption cases, covered by the amnesty, are to be revived. Wednesday's jolt is fundamental as both the country's interior and defence ministers were among those granted amnesty. Whatever the political contours that might emerge, there is little doubt that Pakistan's standing in the comity of nations has been tarnished.
Beyond Zardari's political prospects, the impact on America's Af-Pak policy is bound to be critical not least because a stable Pakistan is a prerequisite to fructify Barack Obama's agenda vis-a-vis Afghanistan. Arguably, the denouement of the establishment could be a morale booster for the Taliban which in recent weeks has been intrepid enough to strike at the Rawalpindi GHQ. It must remain an open question whether the White House will now consider General Kayani as a dependable ally. The establishment stands in sackcloth and ashes.
MAKING WAY FOR MORE CHAOS
West Bengal's chief minister often announces inspiring numbers to emphasise the achievements of government hospitals forgetting, first, that numbers may not tell the whole story and, second, that they do not indicate either quality of treatment or the callousness that greets those in an emergency. Now the health minister proposes to extend the deception to rural areas by giving diploma holders the licence to function as practising doctors under certain conditions. The proposal had been resisted at the political level and, predictably, by doctors themselves. But at a time when the government has the clear intention of demonstrating its concern for the rural sector that has disowned the Left Front in recent elections, there is the need to create an army of unregistered doctors to fill the vacuum caused by the neglect of health services over the past three decades. Something needs to be done to make amends, so the government has picked up a resolution passed at the ninth conference of the Central Health Council to prove that, while it denounces the UPA's policies on the economic and political fronts, the Centre can help the state hold out hopes in this vital sector.
While regular doctors are disinclined to take up rural postings on account of the lack of basic amenities, the question is whether the answer lies in creating an army of near-quacks whose "training'' in a three-year diploma course is being made an alternative to five years in a medical college. The stipulation of "standard treatment'' for diploma holders is hardly a safeguard. It is anyone's guess who will monitor the work of those running health centres where regular doctors are not available. The removal of words like "medicine'' and "medical'' from the Bill that has been passed cannot guarantee that they will not exceed their brief often under pressure, putting lives to grave risk. The real objection to the licence granted to them to issue death certificates without the essentials of medical education has not been addressed. The state is in a turmoil caused by thousands who hope to get jobs as primary teachers without the required qualifications. Before the mess extends to rural health, someone should prevail on the state government to draw the line. The consequences are too serious for this to be exploited as another area of populism. As of now, more than any assurance of better health care, there is only the prospect of some political mileage to be derived at considerable cost. A final word: the Chief Minister seems to think rural folk are fools.
OF MARTYRDOM AND MERITORIOUS SERVICE
A lost love. Failure in war. Frustrations with one's career or life. Saratchandra's Devdas did it in a novel and on celluloid. There were persistent rumours that a famous American senator did it to escape the ghosts of Camelot. History is replete with examples of men ~ and some women, too ~ who drank themselves to death. But there must be few, if any, who did so in the line of duty. Therefore and in an utterly perverse way, it is fitting that a Chinese police sergeant was officially declared a "martyr" after he died due to heavy drinking at an official banquet the other day in Shenzhen. Chen Lusheng was off duty and was asked to attend the official banquet by his seniors because of an ability to hold his drink. Thus on show, he was asked repeatedly by his hosts to "genbei" (bottoms up) and the poor man did just that as his bosses beamed proudly until finally he passed out and suffocated on the couch. Panicked seniors rushed him to hospital where he died. His distraught family was furious and demanded more compensation than was offered; hence it was decided to declare him a "martyr", which in the Chinese scheme of things entitles the family to more money.
Police get-togethers in India, too, are notorious for the gargantuan quantities of alcohol that are consumed. Perhaps it is the stress and ugliness of the job that compels a craving for intoxicants; perhaps it is the willingness of people to press alcohol on the man who wears a uniform. Be that as it may, Indian police forces have many heroes in the Chen Lusheng mould; most are unsung but there certainly have been a few who claimed a medal for meritorious service, which while several rungs below martyrdom is only appropriate because such decorations aren't given posthumously!
ROLE OF TEACHERS
WHEN WILL THEY RESPOND TO THE NEEDS OF LEARNERS?
IS knowledge an exclusive area of the teacher? Is the student equally or more important than the teacher for exercising knowledge? Is knowledge a serious issue in teaching? These and related questions come under the purview of teacher education. The traditional system of teaching highlights the role of the teacher as the sole disseminator of knowledge. The teacher does not always pay sufficient attention to partnership between teacher and taught. Consequently, the teacher enjoys absolute authority.
Teacher education is really concerned about owneship of knowledge. Students in classrooms become victims where the teacher forces them to bank upon whatever he teaches, suggests or directs. There is no opportunity for the learners to exercise their knowledge. They act as passive customers in the banking business as it were. One may recall Freire's significant remark: "Education becomes an act of depositing, in which the students are the depositories and the teacher is the depositor. Instead of communicating, the teacher issues communiques and 'makes deposits' which the students patiently receive, memorise, and report."
THE unavoidable imbalance thus emerging from teacher-owned and student-owned knowledge with no scope for effective exercise in the classroom makes teaching and learning a one-sided, parochial, stereotyped, mechanical and dull exercise. Other significant limitations in teacher-owned knowledge are exposed in schools. First, it does not allow out-of-school or non-school knowledge, however excellent and probing, to have any entry in the expansion and enrichment of knowledge. Second, the teacher simply wants to remain stagnant. Third, the teacher fails to welcome commonsense in an otherwise unilateral transaction of knowledge. Learners suffer from an inferiority complex that allows inhibitions to grow in different forms.
There is of late a proneness to shorten school knowledge in particular. In this connection, what is really alarming is the teacher's role in introducing the super highway of information. In most cases this leads learners to disbelieve self-learning and self-activity through self-assertion. "Given that technological competence is a new basic in education", as Professor Kenway observes, "equal access and equal competence must be a basic concern for educators. Such competence will have an impact on students' quality of education and their access to jobs and retraining, to government information and to learning about critical issues which affect their lives. A consideration of the manner in which all basic needs can be met is crucial." (Jane Kenway: The Information Superhighway and Postmodernity: the Social Promise and the Social Price).
The curriculum framework for teacher education calls for a thorough overhaul in the light of ownership of knowledge by the learners. It is time to rethink the differences between the child and curricula in terms of fundamental divergences in teaching strategies. Moreover, the curriculum framework for teacher education ought to pay serious attention to emotional intelligence with which every learner is gifted and the teacher 's role in enabling the learner to make the best use of that gift. Let us devise newer strategies for teachers where self-assertion on the part of the learner becomes more important.
The teacher's role is to ignite or enkindle the learner and the rest would follow spontaneously. The curriculum should be framed in tune with the learner's freedom and joy of learning. Learning outcomes should also be carefully assessed. The role of the teacher is to act as a transformative intellectual for consolidation of pupils' knowledge. "To empower teachers as transformative intellectuals", as Armaline and Hoover observe, "means to educate for critical reflection''. The teacher as a transformative intellectual "unites the language of critique with the language of possibility" and is keenly aware that student learning means being able to use knowledge for the liberation of both the individual and society''. (William D Armaline & Randy L Hoover: "Field Experience as a Vehicle for Transformation: Ideology, Education, and Reflective practice", Journal of Teacher Education).
The promises of a new world of teacher education for pupil ownership of knowledge need to be reshuffled in the context of excellence and quality, freedom and creativity, quest for new knowledge and vibrant experiments. As the Delors Report suggests, "In an ever-changing world in which social and economic innovation seems to be one of the main driving forces, a special place should doubtless be given to the qualities of imagination and creativity, the clearest manifestations of human freedom, which may be at risk from a certain standardisation of individual behaviour. The 21st century needs this variety of talents and personalities, it also needs the exceptional individuals who are also essential in any civilisation. It is, therefore, important to provide children and young people with every possible opportunity for discovery and experiment ~ aesthetic, artistic, sporting, scientific, cultural and social..." (Learning: The Treasure Within, Report to UNESCO of the International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century, UNESCO 1996).
A new paradigm for teacher behaviour necessitates incorporation of child study. Let the child become the teacher's primary resource of teaching. Let the child's world of fantasy be a feedback for the teacher reviving his or her own world of childhood. The challenges before the teacher in dealing with pupil ownership of knowledge can be negotiated in many ways. It is time to orient teachers in the five-fold area of pupil advancement. First, knowledge content should be integrated with interest, attitude, aptitude and appreciation. Second, a favourable climate for teaching should be ensured. Third, the system of exchange of teachers should be introduced. The idea of teacher education needs rethinking in right earnest. As the recent draft for discussion on a National Curriculum Framework for Teacher Education suggests: "As we engage in the act of envisioning the role of the teacher and the shape of teacher education unfolding in the coming years, it would do us well to take note of the movement of ideas, globally, that have led to the current thinking on teacher education. While the search for a philosophy of teacher education that satisfies the needs of our time continues, we seem to be converging on certain broad principles that should inform the enterprise.
First, our thinking on teacher education is integrative and eclectic. It is free from the hold of schools of philosophy and psychology. We also do not think of teacher education as a prescriptive endeavour, we want it to be open and flexible....''. When will teachers sincerely respond to the needs of learners?
The writer is a former Professor of Education, Visva-Bharati
EARTH-LIKE PLANET WITH ABUNDANT WATER DISCOVERED
LONDON, 17 DEC: Astronomers have discovered a new steamy planet which is six times bigger than Earth and contains 75 per cent water.
The planet is believed to be too hot to sustain Earth-type life has been discovered just 40 light years away by scientists at Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. According to them, the "waterworld", which orbits a faint star in 38 hours at a distance of just 1.3 million miles, has also an atmosphere and it is more Earth-like than any "exoplanet" previously found outside the Solar System. ;PTI
"DELAYS, CORRUPTION IN SERVICES SHOULD GO."
Some light seems visible at the end of the tunnel for the harried Indian. For decades, the public has had to endure endless delays in securing services from government departments. Consequently, getting a ration card, a driving license, a birth or death certificate or a voter's ID card has been a nightmarish experience for many of us as it has involved innumerable trips, endless running from pillar to post and finally a bribe perhaps for getting a simple job done. Now that could become history if a system the Centre proposes to put in place soon becomes a reality and is implemented efficiently. The proposed system envisages implementation of the concept of 'service level agreements' (SLA). This will mean that when an individual seeks a service such as the issue of a driver's license or a birth certificate, he will have to be provided clear information by the attending official on when the task will be completed. Failure to provide the service on time will make the official liable to a fine. The system is expected to put pressure on officials to attend to their work efficiently and deliver work on time.
The system will be initiated in Delhi by April 2010 after which it will be extended to Union Territories. It is up to state governments to adopt it thereafter. Hopefully, Karnataka will not drag its feet in adopting the system. It holds out the promise of a more responsive, people-friendly and efficient administration. Steps to implement it in the state should be taken immediately.
Delay, inefficiency, red tape, harassment these are words that have become synonymous with government departments providing public services. Delays in service delivery are not only annoying but also, this has undermined our democracy. If people do not show up to vote in large numbers, it is because getting a voter's ID requires a person to make a dozen trips to countless offices. If India figures routinely among the most corrupt societies, it is because officials hide files, forcing people to grease their palms to get the work done. That could now change with officials having to deliver services quickly or else pay up. Much will of course depend on how steep the fines are. Our procrastinating babus, long inured in a culture of dragging their feet and sleeping on files might not deliver on deadlines if the punishment is only a light rap on the knuckles.
WHERE'S THE TRUTH?
"THE GOVT SHOULD WIN THE TRUST OF KASHMIRIS."
The CBI report on the alleged rape and killing of two young women in Shopian in May this year has triggered fresh protests in Jammu and Kashmir. The report says that the two were not raped or murdered but had drowned. It has given a clean chit to the policemen who were accused of raping and killing them and instead, has filed chargesheets against doctors for fabricating evidence. The report has been rejected in the Valley; Shopian and other towns are in a state of ferment once again. Even if the CBI version is true, the credibility of the Indian state in the Valley is so low that the people tend to believe that the probe was aimed more at covering up the crimes of the police and getting the state off the hook rather than unearthing the truth. A probe conducted by the Delhi-based Independent Women's Initiative for Justice (IWIJ) indicates the many flaws in the CBI report. It has pointed out that the two women could not have drowned in the river, as claimed by the CBI, as the river had ankle-deep water only. Furthermore, on what basis is the CBI claiming that the women's hymens were intact when the bodies it exhumed four months after burial would have decomposed? Can the CBI answer these questions?
Every time, governments in Delhi and Srinagar engage in fudging the truth about custodial killings, rapes and the like, the anger and alienation of Kashmiris from the Indian state deepens. Why would Kashmiris feel they can get justice when the state repeatedly denies it to them? It reflects the extent of suspicion and mistrust the state evokes in the people of Kashmir.
Of course, it is possible that the CBI may well say that protest has become a habit with the Kashmiris and that what they want is not a fair probe or justice but an outcome that goes against the state. If the findings of the CBI report are indeed true, the government should invite independent agencies to verify the facts and convince the people that it has no agenda of shielding anyone. It is true that Kashmir's separatist stooges have filled the people's ears with propaganda. But why has the Indian state done so little to counter that? We need to restore their faith in India's democratic and judicial institutions.
OBAMA'S WAR PRIZE
OBAMA LAID OUT THE OLD WAY OF THINKING, SEEKING SECURITY THROUGH WAR. WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS IS A NEW APPRO-ACH THAT SOLVES CONFLICTS.
BY JOHAN GALTUNG IPS
In George Orwell's 1984, Big Brother issues the infamous slogan, "War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength." Is that where we have now arrived?
President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance lecture in Oslo on Dec 10 Human Rights Day was a speech better suited for a war college graduation in a militaristic country like the US. An attempt to legitimise war, it was a mockery of the purpose of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was intended to nudge humanity beyond that kind of mentality.
Yet most of the shame belongs to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is chaired by the former prime minister of a Nato member country, Norway. It sought to justify the three wars in which the US, and the West in general, have become embroiled, and in which Norway is deeply involved with its arms and oil industry.
Obama argued that the nonviolence of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr would not have worked against Hitler or al-Qaeda. Yet the end of the Cold War was brought about by nonviolent demonstrations, notably in Leipzig. The East German police had been given orders to shoot at demonstrators. They waited for a pretext, like someone throwing a stone or a molotov cocktail, but the demonstrators remained totally nonviolent, and the police never found an excuse to shoot. Shortly after, the Berlin wall fell, followed by the Soviet Empire. Nonviolence was also a key factor in bringing an end to the totalitarian regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria.
Gandhi and King used nonviolence as their tactic. They were realistic enough to know the human capacity for violence, and idealistic enough to know the human capacity for love, compassion, and finding solutions. Their strategic goal was conflict resolution, presented clearly and persuasively as freedom from colonialism for one, and a dream of integration of races for the other the dream of which Obama admitted to being a part of.
These conflicts were deeply entrenched, but solutions nevertheless emerged that accommodated all parties relatively well, without great trauma. Their relations changed, and so did the parties themselves, the typical result of a nonviolent struggle.
Even Hitler was persuaded to release Jewish husbands from the Gestapo when their non-Jewish wives and relatives held nonviolent protests at the Rosenstrasse in Berlin in February and March of 1943.
But to stop Hitler, the underlying conflict would have had to be solved. Hitler won popularity with his promise to abrogate the ill-conceived 1919 Versailles Treaty, which had declared Germany solely responsible for World War I and imposed huge reparations payments for the next 50 years. If the treaty had been modified or repealed, for example at a review conference, this would have deprived Hitler of most of his support.
Absence of understanding
A fundamental flaw in Obama's speech was the absence of any effort to understand 9/11, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He only mentioned people unwilling to lay down their arms. Spanish premier Zapatero responded more wisely to the terrorist attack of March 11, 2004, in Madrid by addressing the underlying issues, withdrawing Spanish troops from Iraq, and dealing with the complex conflict with Morocco.
Obama lacked any conflict analysis. Why were there so many Saudis in the planes used as bombs on 9/11? Could it be because the US protects a repressive regime in return for access to oil and stationing troops in Islam's holiest land? What would Christians think about a Saudi army in the Vatican? How would Afghans react to five European invasions in 150 years? Like Obama: 'The US is evil, war is necessary.' His lecture confirms that way of 'thinking.' They have grievances and could have used nonviolence; but the US teaches the opposite by example.
There are two fundamental approaches to conflict, the security approach and the peace approach. The security approach says, "We have a problem, our enemies. If we are militarily superior, we can deter or defeat them, and through this achieve security, and subsequently peace". The peace approach says, "We have a problem, an unresolved conflict. By solving it we can achieve peace, and through this mutual security". The security approach is based on dualistic thinking, "We are totally right, they are totally wrong."
The peace approach admits that all parties may be partially right, and seeks to fulfil the legitimate goals of all.
At one point Obama spoke the truth, when he said that he does not have the final solution to the problem of war. Nobody does, but many of his Nobel colleagues are at least searching, whereas he falls back on the tired old formula of 'just wars.' How about just disease? Just slavery? Just colonialism? Fortunately, some of them escaped the thought prison of medieval ideas of inherent evil and possession by Satan and worked for the abolition of social evils.
Obama failed to mention the soon-to-be 250 US military interventions that have occurred around the world. Interventions for freedom? A few maybe, but generally they were conducted to protect exploitative US businesses abroad. In his campaign, Obama promised change we can believe in, but then betrayed his voters by breaking one promise after the other.
Rather than bleeding the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, with more civilian and US losses than ever, a way out could have been a conference on security and cooperation in Central Asia, modelled on the Helsinki Conference 1972-75, which prepared the way for the end of the Cold War.
Obama laid out the old way of thinking, seeking security through war. What the world needs, what people are longing for, is a new approach that solves conflicts and thus eliminates the underlying causes of violence instead of only addressing the symptoms.
THE IDEAL MAN
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
There are events in the histories of different people which at the time they occurred may not have appeared to be of great significance but with the passage of time became turning points in their history. There are two such incidents in the history of the Sikhs, which made them change from pacific followers of their founder Guru Nanak to the militant Khalsa of the last Guru Gobind Singh.
First was the persecution of the fifth Guru Arjun. His only 'crime' in the eyes of the rulers was that he had acquired a large following and threatened to become a rival power base in the north. He was taken to Lahore, cruelly tortured and he died as a martyr. His son Guru Hargobind decided to take up arms.
Guru Tegh Bahadur, who composed some of the most soulful hymns later incorporated into the Adi Granth was arrested on fabricated charges and executed in Delhi on Nov 24, 1675. His body was stolen by one of his Dalit disciple who burnt down his own thatched hut to cremate it. Gurdwara Sis Gunj marks the site of his execution, Gurdwara Rakab Ganj the site of his cremation. It was this wholly gratuitous act of criminality that made his son come to the conclusion that when all other methods have failed it is righteous to draw the sword.
To mark the martyrdom anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur I reproduce my translation of one of his hymns, entitled 'Jo nar dukh mein dukh nehi manai' devoted to describing an ideal human being:
He who in adversity grieves not
He who is without fear,
He who falls not in the snare of sensuality,
Who has no greed for gold, knowing it is like dust;
He who does not slander people when their backs are turned
Nor flatters them to their faces.
He who has neither gluttony in his heart
Nor vanity, nor attachment to worldly things,
He whom nothing moves
Neither good fortune nor ill,
Who cares not for worldly applause:
Nor its censure.
Who ignores every wishful fantasy
And accept what comes his way as it comes.
He whom lust cannot lure,
Nor anger command
In such a one lives God himself
On such a one God's grace descend,For he knows the righteous path
O Nank, his soul mingles with the Lord,
As water mingles with water.
The first thing I do when I receive my copy of 'Private Eye' is to read the column 'Funny Old World'. India often appears in the columns because we do have more than our fair share of nutty people. However, this one comes from Malaysia. It is no laughing matter but I had a hearty laugh. (The Star: July 27, 2009 reprint as follows):
"It is perfectly possible for the Devil to have carnal intercourse with a man's wife," religious leader Datuk Abu Hasan told a Syariah Court in Malaysia, "because the Devil can make himself appear to look just like the husband. In this case, the husband has been regularly asking his wife for sex more than 10 times a day, which suggests to me that he must be friendly with evil forces, and practising black magic. It is considered normal for a man to want sex two or three times a day, but when the wife is asked more frequently than that, then it is probably not the husband who is asking, but the Devil."
"Hasan was speaking during a hearing in the Syariah court (a Malaysian court that operates under Shariah law), in which a wife was seeking 'fasakh' (divorce) due to her husband's unusual sex drive. "It all started when he had sex with her 17 times on their wedding night," the wife's representative Nazri Mohammed Isa told the court.
"The wife did not suspect anything at the time, because she thought he was merely performing his duty as a husband, but when the situation persisted, day after day, she told her mother, who also thought it was strange. When the wife's family came to her house to investigate one morning, they found two men hiding in the bathroom, both of who looked exactly like the husband. Which struck them as odd, because the family had seen the husband leaving for work earlier that morning."
Not for Valentine's Day
Entries to a Washington Post Competition asking for a two-line rhyme with the most romantic first line, and the least romantic second line:
My darling, my lover, my beautiful wife:
Marrying you has screwed up my life.
I see your face when I am dreaming
That's why I always wake up screaming.
Kind, intelligent, loving and hot;
This describes everything you are not.
Love may be beautiful, love may be bliss,
But I only slept with you because I was pissed.
I thought that I could love no other
that is until I met your brother.
(Courtesy: Amir C Tuteja, Washington)
SOME EMBARRASSING MOMENTS
WE INTEND TO DO SOMETHING AND END UP DOING SOMETHING ELSE.
BY A N SURYANARAYANAN
At a wedding at Loyola Chapel in Madras, while merrily chatting with a long-lost friend, I stood up when the groom and bride entered; but felt something odd. My fly was open. Knowing: "Flies spread disease; keep yours zipped!', I went out and tried; it wouldn't close! I slid beside my still-standing-daughter to whisper, with my hand you-know-where! She looked at me quizzically. The nuptials were about to begin; thereafter reception was 8 km away. I could either change after Church; or change now and get back. A quick appreciation showed an auto trip would be economical in time and money; I was back in 38 minutes! Later when queried by people how my trousers had changed, I blamed an 'unnoticed stain'!
At a party for a couple returning from US, the wife saluted me in a playful manner on entering and I saluted back! She probably didn't notice it; so, 'ticked me' off saying I had not returned her compliments! Instead of just saying that I indeed had, I opened my big mouth and told her that in my childhood, dad had taught me that even if a mad person saluted/wished you, you must return the compliment properly! Everyone had a hearty laugh; but the lady said, "Surya, you think I am mad?" I didn't know where to hide, though I tried to explain myself!
Once rushing urgently from a field-manoeuvre in Rajasthan 350 km away to my Nasirabad-home, I reached late evening. Driver went towards the trailer to bring my bedding, camp-cot etc to my flat; but took a little time. Admonishing him, I told him to hurry! Nothing was found inside: bedding, camp-cot, jerrican, gifts, etc! The driver said sheepishly that he probably forgot to tighten the rope! Two friends happened to be home just then to enquire about welfare of my family. When I entered, they were all surprised. After a few minutes, my wife asked about the items. I told her. She didn't follow but to my bad luck, my friends started teasing her saying, I had probably left everything behind with some other woman! My wife kept quiet till they left and then started questioning me, if it was seven-year-itch! I explained again. Thank goodness she didn't decide like the song: "Ram Dulaari maike chali... khatiya khadi kar gayee!"
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IRAQ, THE KURDS AND THE AMERICANS
Four months ago, with little fanfare, the State Department sent a full-time senior diplomat, Alan Misenheimer, to live in Iraq's disputed oil-rich city Kirkuk. For the Obama administration, which had been hoping to back out of its day-to-day involvement in Iraq's fractious politics, it was a smart, if belated, call.
It was a recognition that the bitter discord between Iraq's Kurdish regional government and the Shiite-Arab- dominated central government over land, oil and the power of the central government is the most dangerous fault line in Iraq today. It was also an acknowledgment that if these conflicts are to be settled, or at least kept from igniting a new civil war, there must be deft and sustained American involvement.
Kurds and Arabs both lay claim to Kirkuk. This complicates, at times paralyzes, federal decision-making, including issues regarding the recently adopted election law. A referendum on Kirkuk's future, required by the Iraqi Constitution, has been postponed repeatedly because of Baghdad's fear that it would formalize Kurdish control.
In July, the Kurds came perilously close to holding a referendum on a regional constitution that would have unilaterally asserted control over Kirkuk. (Iraq's election commission conveniently decided there wasn't time to include the issue on the Kurdish ballots and Vice President Joe Biden, who has longstanding ties to the Kurds, urged the Kurds to postpone the referendum.)
There have been military face-offs but luckily no actual conflict between Kurdish and Arab troops. Sunni Arab extremists linked to Al Qaeda are eager to exploit these tensions.
The situation cannot be left to drift. Washington must make clear it will not accept a Kurdish secession or a Kurdish grab for Kirkuk, and that either would mean the end of American support. Baghdad must engage in good-faith negotiations over disputed territory and ensure that the Kurds receive an equitable share of oil revenue. But the Kurds must abandon any dream of controlling all of the region's oil revenue. The United States estimates Kurdistan has 10-15 percent of Iraq's reserves while the Kirkuk area holds as much as 25 percent.
Since the end of the gulf war, Washington has been the Kurds' chief patron, defender and, at times, enabler.
To protect the Kurds from Saddam Hussein, NATO imposed a no-flight zone over northern Iraq and helped the Kurds build their autonomous region there a virtual state within a state, commonly known as Kurdistan.
During the 2003 American invasion, the Bush administration enlisted the Kurdish militia, the peshmerga, as a proxy force and gave it free rein to expand beyond the 1991 regional border.
The Kurdish government, which officially controls three provinces, also claims cities and towns in three more just over the regional border. Those claims have become more insistent as President Obama's August 2010 deadline for withdrawing combat troops nears.
With just eight months until then, American officials in Iraq and in Washington have a lot of work to do to lower tensions between the Kurds and the rest of Iraq. Here are some of the most pressing issues:
2010 ELECTION It took considerable American arm-twisting to get the Iraqis to drop their disputes (including ones over who could vote in Kirkuk) and adopt a law for parliamentary elections, now scheduled for March. The election is a key test of Iraq's nascent democracy and a prerequisite for American troops to depart on schedule. American officials must press Iraqi politicians to avoid the kind of absolutist ethnically based campaign rhetoric that will make post-election deals harder.
After the 2005 elections it took the Iraqis months to agree on a government. Experts expect Kurdish leaders to demand Kirkuk-related concessions as part of a deal to choose a prime minister and deputies. Iraq's political system is stronger, but in this critical phase, American officials still must be ready to cajole, and, if necessary, push Iraqis to form a government and move ahead.
KIRKUK Decades of horrific abuse by Saddam Hussein including the 1988 gassing of thousands of Kurds in Halabja have driven Kurdish mistrust and resentment. Saddam forced thousands of Kurds and other minorities from the region and repopulated it with Arabs. That does not inevitably entitle the Kurds to more than a dozen disputed towns and villages in three border provinces: Kirkuk, Nineveh and Diyala.
The most fiercely contested is the multi-ethnic city of Kirkuk and its surrounding province. (The Kurdish government is trying to bolster its claims by encouraging more Kurds to move there.) In April, the United Nations briefed Iraqi officials on a report outlining possible solutions, including a proposal that Kirkuk become an autonomous region run by Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen.
Given the heated environment, the report has never been made public and American officials decided there was no chance for serious negotiations before the election. After that, they must quickly press all sides to establish a credible process for resolving the dispute.
If an early deal on Kirkuk is impossible, all three governments Baghdad, the Kurds and Washington should consider a period of outside administration, maybe United Nations-led. A referendum should only ratify a negotiated solution.
MOSUL The other hot spot is Nineveh Province and its capital, Mosul. Kurds are a strong minority, but after the Sunnis boycotted the 2005 provincial election, Kurds won control of the government. Even before that, the Kurdish regional government sought to create "facts on the ground," establishing security offices and checkpoints run by the peshmerga in many villages.
Fortunes in Nineveh shifted this year, when the Sunnis participated in provincial elections, and won the
majority of council seats. They then stripped the Kurdish bloc, which came in second, of all positions and
patronage. Since then tensions have continued to rise.
The United States and the United Nations must intensify mediation efforts. Arab-controlled regional governments must give Kurds and other minorities a legitimate share of power. Kurdish militia forces must be integrated into the federal army and regional police units. Last month, Human Rights Watch accused Kurdish authorities in the disputed provinces of using intimidation, threats, arrests and detention against minorities who resist Kurdish expansion plans.
OIL There is a lot of history behind the territorial disputes, but there is also a lot of money at stake. For two years, the central government has failed to adopt two crucial laws one, setting rules for managing oil resources and the other, fixing a formula for sharing oil revenues between Baghdad and the regions.
Iraq continues to export oil, but without a legal framework for oil contracts, it cannot reliably attract the foreign investors needed to expand production. The regions, including Kurdistan, already receive a share of oil revenues. But mistrust on all sides is fierce.
The Kurds have challenged Baghdad's control by negotiating more than 30 oil contracts, and they pushed the dispute even further in October by halting oil exports from Kurdistan until Baghdad pays the international companies pumping from that region. The central government, which collects oil revenues, has refused to pay for the oil because it considers the contracts signed with Kurdistan to be illegal. The Bush administration never pressed Iraqis hard enough to settle the oil issue, and the Obama administration has not done any better. A negotiated solution, perhaps linked to Kirkuk, must be a priority to give Iraq's ethnic groups more certainty about their share of the resources and to mitigate furies that could still tear the country apart.
WEAPONS Before the United States can leave Iraq, it has to continue building up Iraq's Army. For that it will have to sell or give it better equipment including tanks and perhaps high-performance jets. Iraq needs to be able to defend itself in a dangerous region. But any buildup is inevitably going to feed Kurdish fears that they could become a target. Washington will have to pace its deliveries carefully and insist on guarantees that this equipment will never be turned against any Iraqis.
Iraq's political leaders need to find solutions to these issues as quickly as possible. The Obama administration must work assiduously to pave the way for agreements now when its diplomatic muscle is still reinforced by troops on the ground.
America's primary goal should be an orderly withdrawal that leaves Iraq with a chance at staying unified, sovereign and democratic. Washington has a strong claim on the Kurdish cooperation needed to achieve that
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GUANTÁNAMO MUST BE CLOSED
The White House defied all the chest pounding and announced this week that the federal government would acquire a maximum-security prison in Illinois and use part of it to house inmates from the Guantánamo Bay detention camp. Moving the prisoners is an indispensable step toward closing an extra-legal offshore lockup that has stained this nation's reputation and become a recruitment tool for terrorists.
There are about 210 inmates in Guantánamo. The administration has said it plans to prosecute 40 in civilian or military courts, including 5 who will be tried in federal court in New York. Some of the others should be tried. Some, perhaps, once posed a threat but no longer do so and should go to other countries under supervision. Some should go free.
Sorting them out is a difficult process, and we are not happy with the way the administration has been deciding which prisoners should be tried in federal criminal courts and which should be tried in military courts. President Obama has yet to forswear the idea of indefinite detention without charges, as he vowed to do while running for president. And there are signs that he, like George W. Bush, will decree that the entire planet is a battlefield and anyone arrested anywhere on terrorism charges may be tried in military tribunals.
Liberal human rights groups belittled the announcement about the Illinois prison because it did not resolve those issues. Amnesty International called it nothing more than "changing the ZIP code of Guantánamo."
We disagree strongly. Moving the prisoners does not negate the Geneva Convention's requirements about the conditions in which they are held, and Mr. Obama must not simply institutionalize indefinite detention in Illinois. But it is impossible to credibly repair this nation's justice system while it operates a shameful symbol of illegality and inhumanity.
Republicans offered the usual charge that Mr. Obama is soft on terrorism. Senator John Cornyn of Texas said housing detainees in American cells "will put our citizens in unnecessary danger." We wondered if he didn't know that there are more than 350 people currently serving sentences for terrorism in American prisons including the plotters of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and a former aide of Osama bin Laden.
Democrats in Congress voted this week against providing money to close Guantánamo. The Democrats and some Republicans, like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who demanded the closing of Guantánamo for years need to step up. They can start by approving money to acquire and refit the Illinois prison. Mr. Obama needs to make much more of a personal effort to keep this important pledge. Guantánamo needs to be closed.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
PASS THE BILL
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
A message to progressives: By all means, hang Senator Joe Lieberman in effigy. Declare that you're disappointed in and/or disgusted with President Obama. Demand a change in Senate rules that, combined with the Republican strategy of total obstructionism, are in the process of making America ungovernable.
But meanwhile, pass the health care bill.
Yes, the filibuster-imposed need to get votes from "centrist" senators has led to a bill that falls a long way short of ideal. Worse, some of those senators seem motivated largely by a desire to protect the interests of insurance companies with the possible exception of Mr. Lieberman, who seems motivated by sheer spite.
But let's all take a deep breath, and consider just how much good this bill would do, if passed and how much better it would be than anything that seemed possible just a few years ago. With all its flaws, the Senate health bill would be the biggest expansion of the social safety net since Medicare, greatly improving the lives of millions. Getting this bill would be much, much better than watching health care reform fail.
At its core, the bill would do two things. First, it would prohibit discrimination by insurance companies on the basis of medical condition or history: Americans could no longer be denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition, or have their insurance canceled when they get sick. Second, the bill would provide substantial financial aid to those who don't get insurance through their employers, as well as tax breaks for small employers that do provide insurance.
All of this would be paid for in large part with the first serious effort ever to rein in rising health care costs.
The result would be a huge increase in the availability and affordability of health insurance, with more than 30 million Americans gaining coverage, and premiums for lower-income and lower-middle-income Americans falling dramatically. That's an immense change from where we were just a few years ago: remember, not long ago the Bush administration and its allies in Congress successfully blocked even a modest expansion of health care for children.
Bear in mind also the lessons of history: social insurance programs tend to start out highly imperfect and incomplete, but get better and more comprehensive as the years go by. Thus Social Security originally had huge gaps in coverage and a majority of African-Americans, in particular, fell through those gaps. But it was improved over time, and it's now the bedrock of retirement stability for the vast majority of Americans.
Look, I understand the anger here: supporting this weakened bill feels like giving in to blackmail because it is. Or to use an even more accurate metaphor suggested by Ezra Klein of The Washington Post, we're paying a ransom to hostage-takers. Some of us, including a majority of senators, really, really want to cover the uninsured; but to make that happen we need the votes of a handful of senators who see failure of reform as an acceptable outcome, and demand a steep price for their support.
The question, then, is whether to pay the ransom by giving in to the demands of those senators, accepting a flawed bill, or hang tough and let the hostage that is, health reform die.
Again, history suggests the answer. Whereas flawed social insurance programs have tended to get better over time, the story of health reform suggests that rejecting an imperfect deal in the hope of eventually getting something better is a recipe for getting nothing at all. Not to put too fine a point on it, America would be in much better shape today if Democrats had cut a deal on health care with Richard Nixon, or if Bill Clinton had cut a deal with moderate Republicans back when they still existed.
But won't paying the ransom now encourage more hostage-taking in the future? Maybe. But the next big fight, over the future of the financial system, will be very different. If the usual suspects try to water down financial reform, I say call their bluff: there's not much to lose, since a merely cosmetic reform, by creating a false sense of security, could well end up being worse than nothing.
Beyond that, we need to take on the way the Senate works. The filibuster, and the need for 60 votes to end debate, aren't in the Constitution. They're a Senate tradition, and that same tradition said that the threat of filibusters should be used sparingly. Well, Republicans have already trashed the second part of the tradition: look at a list of cloture motions over time, and you'll see that since the G.O.P. lost control of Congress it has pursued obstructionism on a literally unprecedented scale. So it's time to revise the rules.
But that's for later. Right now, let's pass the bill that's on the table.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE HARDEST CALL
BY DAVID BROOKS
The first reason to support the Senate health care bill is that it would provide insurance to 30 million more Americans.
The second reason to support the bill is that its authors took the deficit issue seriously. Compared with, say, the prescription drug benefit from a few years ago, this bill is a model of fiscal rectitude. It spends a lot of money to cover the uninsured, but to help pay for it, it also includes serious Medicare cuts and whopping tax increases the tax on high-cost insurance plans alone will raise $1.3 trillion in the second decade.
The bill is not really deficit-neutral. It's politically inconceivable that Congress will really make all the spending cuts that are there on paper. But the bill won't explode the deficit, and that's an accomplishment.
The third reason to support the bill is that the authors have thrown in a million little ideas in an effort to reduce health care inflation. The fact is, nobody knows how to reduce cost growth within the current system. The authors of this bill are willing to try anything. You might even call this a Burkean approach. They are not fundamentally disrupting the status quo, but they are experimenting with dozens of gradual programs that might bend the cost curve.
If you've ever heard about it, it's in there improved insurance exchanges, payment innovations, an independent commission to cap Medicare payment rates, an innovation center, comparative effectiveness research. There's at least a pilot program for every promising idea.
The fourth reason to support the bill is that if this fails, it will take a long time to get back to health reform. Clinton failed. Obama will have failed. No one will touch this. Meanwhile, health costs will continue their inexorable march upward, strangling the nation.
The first reason to oppose this bill is that it does not fundamentally reform health care. The current system is rotten to the bone with opaque pricing and insane incentives. Consumers are insulated from the costs of their decisions and providers are punished for efficiency. Burkean gradualism is fine if you've got a cold. But if you've got cancer, you want surgery, not nasal spray.
If this bill passes, you'll have 500 experts in Washington trying to hold down costs and 300 million Americans with the same old incentives to get more and more care. The Congressional Budget Office and most of the experts I talk to (including many who support the bill) do not believe it will seriously bend the cost curve.
The second reason to oppose this bill is that, according to the chief actuary for Medicare, it will cause national health care spending to increase faster. Health care spending is already zooming past 17 percent of G.D.P. to 22 percent and beyond. If these pressures mount even faster, health care will squeeze out everything else, especially on the state level. We'll shovel more money into insurance companies and you can kiss goodbye programs like expanded preschool that would have a bigger social impact.
Third, if passed, the bill sets up a politically unsustainable situation. Over its first several years, the demand for health care will rise sharply. The supply will not. Providers will have the same perverse incentives. As a result, prices will skyrocket while efficiencies will not. There will be a bipartisan rush to gut reform.
This country has reduced health inflation in short bursts, but it has not sustained cost control over the long term because the deep flaws in the system produce horrific political pressures that gut restraint.
Fourth, you can't centrally regulate 17 percent of the U.S. economy without a raft of unintended consequences.
Fifth, it will slow innovation. Government regulators don't do well with disruptive new technologies.
Sixth, if this passes, we will never get back to cost control. The basic political deal was, we get to have dessert (expanding coverage) but we have to eat our spinach (cost control), too. If we eat dessert now, we'll never come back to the spinach.
So what's my verdict? I have to confess, I flip-flop week to week and day to day. It's a guess. Does this put us on a path toward the real reform, or does it head us down a valley in which real reform will be less likely?
If I were a senator forced to vote today, I'd vote no. If you pass a health care bill without systemic incentives reform, you set up a political vortex in which the few good parts of the bill will get stripped out and the expensive and wasteful parts will be entrenched.
Defenders say we can't do real reform because the politics won't allow it. The truth is the reverse. Unless you get the fundamental incentives right, the politics will be terrible forever and ever.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHOSE CHRISTMAS IS IT?
BY MICHAEL FEINSTEIN
ABOUT 10 years ago, I was doing a weekend of Christmas concerts, accompanied by a fine regional symphony in California. The first night went well, I thought, with a program of holiday classics that seemed beyond reproach. The song choices were about as controversial as a Creamsicle.
But I was wrong. Minutes before I walked onstage the second night, a nervous representative of the orchestra board appeared in my dressing room to tell me that my program was "too Jewish." Wow, I thought, who knew that orchestra management played practical jokes on artists moments before their shows? My laughter turned to disbelief when the stuttering gentleman said that there had, in fact, been complaints.
Between numbers the night before, I had mentioned that almost all the most popular Christmas songs were written by Jews and then riffed on the idea that the Gentiles must have written mostly Hanukkah songs. The audience was enthusiastic, so I assumed it was somebody on the board who had been offended.
Just as I was informing the unlucky messenger that the second night's show would be "even more Jewish," places were called. I bounded onstage in time to belt out the opening lines of "We Need a Little Christmas," wearing a fake grin that barely concealed my rage. After a while, the music calmed me down, and I was able to merge with the holiday spirit encoded in the Jerry Herman classic. The Jewish Jerry Herman Christmas classic.
The evolution of Christmas is reflected to a degree in its music. As the holiday has become more secular, so have its songs, with religious and spiritual compositions largely supplanted by the banalities of Rudolph, sleigh bells and Santa. Many Christians feel that the true essence of Christmas has been lost, and I respect that opinion. It must be difficult to see religious tradition eroded in the name of commerce and further dissipated by others' embrace of a holiday without a sense of what it truly means to the faithful.
Yet I also hope that those who feel this encroachment will on some level understand that the spirit of the holiday is universal. We live in a multicultural time and the mixing, and mixing up, of traditions is an inevitable result. Hence we have the almost century-old custom of American Jews creating a lot more Christmas music than Hanukkah music.
If you look at a list of the most popular Christmas songs, you'll find that the writers are disproportionately Jewish: Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," "The Christmas Song" (yes, Mel Tormé was Jewish), "Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "Silver Bells," "Santa Baby," "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" and "Winter Wonderland" perennial, beloved and, mostly, written for the sheet music publishers of Tin Pan Alley, not for a show or film. (Two notable exceptions: "White Christmas," introduced in "Holiday Inn," and "Silver Bells," written for "The Lemon Drop Kid.")
You'll notice that certain famous Jewish songwriters are conspicuously absent from this list. Why? Unlike the Tin Pan Alley songwriters, who churned out songs to order on every conceivable subject for their publishers, writers like Jerome Kern, the Gershwins, Richard Rodgers and Harold Arlen mainly created songs for musical plays and films, and unless a story line required a holiday song they had no need to write one. When they did try one outside the framework of a show, it rarely had the same spark. Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Happy Christmas, Little Friend," recorded by Rosemary Clooney in the '50s, is sadly lethargic. Even Clooney couldn't recall it when asked to sing it 30 years later. Or so she claimed.
In my holiday shows, I'm always looking for novel expressions of the season, and when I introduce a new song I don't usually think about the religion of its creator. That said, I'm always pleased to discover a surprising juxtaposition. It doesn't take Freud to figure out that the sugarplums, holly and mistletoe all tap into a sense of comfort, longing, security and peace that so many fervently desire; that we all wish the clichés were true. As Jews, Christians, Muslims, Mormons, Buddhists and everything in between, we are all more alike than we are different. That's something to celebrate.
Michael Feinstein is a musician and the author of "My Life in Song."
I. THE NEWS
THE POST-NRO REALITY
There are smiles on many faces. The Karachi Stock Exchange has shown signs of bouncing back and there is some sense of excitement almost everywhere. The scrapping of the NRO by the Supreme Court has revived some hope that morality and justice do after all exist and from time to time assert themselves over all else. Today, and over the next few days, many people will be considering their future. The interior minister, convicted by accountability courts in 2004, must obtain bail if he is to retain office. Several former legislators, some members of political parties and many former bureaucrats find themselves facing legal action. For some, who had been convicted, jail doors possibly stand agape. Action has already been ordered against former attorney general Malik Muhammad Qayyum. Others will be hurriedly calling up their lawyers to see where they stand. The fact that a genuinely independent court now exists to monitor the cases of corruption means this time round the accountability process may be quite different to the exercises seen in the past.
The hardest thinking should be taking place at the presidency, though there is doubt if much capacity for this exists. The president now appears a cornered man. As the biggest beneficiary of the blackest ordinance imposed on this country, he faces a plethora of cases. The 11-year-old SGS corruption reference in the Swiss case involving defence deal kick-backs stands revived. So do others. Demands are already pouring in that the billions of dollars retained overseas by Zardari be brought home. Many believe he has few options but to resign and vanish, aboard a private plane, into the sunset. Most would wave a glad goodbye. The question of whether or not he will do so is likely to dominate discussion over the coming days. He is not legally bound to do so; morally he has no other path to opt for.
The exuberant response to the scrapping of the NRO has brought expectations that we could now be moving towards establishing a society which is somewhat less corrupt than the one we know today. The fact that corruption by the elite translates into poor governance and facilitates the existence of corruption at the middle and petty levels is well-documented. This corruption has an adverse impact on the life of almost everyone. But the abolition of the NRO will not, on its own, end corruption, for this monster exists in many places. Not all those believed to have indulged in wrongdoing were covered by the law. The next step then should be the setting up of an accountability mechanism that is effective and unbiased. The dramatic events of the past 24 hours may have acted to bring home to politicians, civil servants and others who walk the corridors of power that it is not always possible to get away with wrongdoing. The next step must be to establish systems that can help us take yet another stride towards creating an environment within which there is less space for corrupt practices of every kind.
I. THE NEWS
A picture is beginning to emerge of the planning that was behind the Mumbai attacks and of a projected attack on the offices of the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten, infamous for the publication of blasphemy against the Holy Prophet (PBUH). The reconnaissance for both of these was allegedly conducted by a man called David Coleman Headley, a US citizen, according to details that have emerged during court proceedings and from leaks by US, Indian and Pakistani government officials. Mr Headley has a colourful past. He reportedly became an informant for the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) after being arrested and charged with smuggling heroin into the United States from Pakistan in 1997. Following the 9/11 attacks, he allegedly worked for the FBI as a terrorism informant. Since his arrest in the US he is said to be cooperating with the authorities and he appears to be far from a low-level operative; instead he is a key figure used by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and Harkat-ul-Jihad e-Islami (HUJI) in their surveillance and operational planning.
Whilst what we are learning about Headley is interesting, perhaps more interesting is what we are learning about his masters. Firstly it is clear that LeT and HUJI have each developed a sophisticated central-planning apparatus. Secondly, it appears that as recently as October of this year LeT and HUJI enjoyed considerable operational freedom here. They were able to travel, raise funds, communicate, train and plan operations with apparently little interference in contrast to Al Qaeda which is said to be experiencing considerable difficulty in doing any of these things. Thirdly, it is a demonstration that both organisations have widened the vision of their targeting. They now have a trans-national target-set and a demonstrated capacity to carry out extremely complex operations across several continents. Fourthly, we have just had a warning as to our vulnerability. Headley carried out most of his surveillance alone. Were counter-surveillance operational in both India and Denmark (and it is interesting to note that the Americans warned the Indians before the Mumbai attacks of their possibility) we may have seen a different outcome. As the generally reliable Stratfor observes in its analysis of the Headley case thus far "The only rational explanation for why Headley was not noticed while conducting his surveillance is that nobody was looking." Quite so.
I. THE NEWS
THE TEMPEST STRIKES -- AND LEAVES THE PRESIDENCY BARE
BY AYAZ AMIR
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court could have taken care of the dead sparrow that was the NRO. But aware of the possible implications of this case, my lord the CJ constituted the largest bench in our history, all 17 of their lordships.
So the tempest was brewing and now it has struck, leaving the Presidency bare -- naked to laughter (a phrase out of Shelley) and the elements. The Presidency or its occupant are not mentioned at all in the short judgment. But in this Hamlet we all know who is the Prince.
When the Supreme Court directs the government to write to the Swiss authorities that the money-laundering cases (SGS Cotecna, etc) should be revived, we all know who is involved in those cases. Even today when a billion dollars is of little account, sixty million US dollars stashed away in Swiss vaults is not small change. To whom does this treasure belong? How was it amassed?
So if the money-laundering and bribery cases -- for that is what they are -- stand revived against one Asif Ali Zardari, what becomes of His Excellency Asif Ali Zardari, President of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, Supreme Commander of its Armed Forces?
This is a fine mess we are in. The dignity of the Republic! We shall have to redefine the term.
The NRO was the dry-cleaning laundry set up by Pervez Musharraf (of how many of humiliations must he be the source?). With it gone, cases stand revived against all of its beneficiaries. Their number runs into the thousands, the majority relating to criminal charges against workers and leaders of the MQM. That's a separate matter. There are important figures in the government who will now have to appear in court -- among them the Secretary General to the President, Salman Farooqi, and my friend Rehman Malik.
The president may enjoy immunity from criminal proceedings and from appearing in any court. But what becomes of the authority that he is supposed to command? His position was already diminished. It stands further eroded after this judgment.
He won't quit or step down. Of that we can be sure. He steps down and he will either become a fugitive from justice (decamping abroad) or he will be running from one court to another. If for nothing else, to secure himself from this fate he will stick to the Presidency, invoking Article 248 of the Constitution -- of which we are already hearing so much -- which grants him immunity. But this doesn't leave him with much of a shine, does it?
I almost said it doesn't leave him with much moral authority but any invocation of morality is almost calculated to stick in one's throat. Moral authority? When was the last time we saw such a thing in the Islamic Republic? A few days ago General Ashfaq Kayani, the army commander, was saying Pakistan was a bastion of Islam. Hmm. Isn't it time we left this fortress-of-Islam business to one side and got on with life? In our hands Islam could do with a little less of preaching and more of action.
Senior military commanders (let no names be taken) already look at Zardari with a certain look in their eyes. It is a distant look, or call it a look with the eyes slightly screwed up. This look is not going to improve after this devastation visited upon the NRO and its beneficiaries. For who is the biggest beneficiary of them all? The Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces. Not a pretty picture for the Republic or its armed forces.
In many respects, although certainly not all, Zardari has led a charmed life. So far he has stayed one step ahead of his past. Now finally it has caught up with him. If there was ever an Emperor without his clothes, we are witness to the spectacle now, part entertainment, part bitter tragedy. It takes guts to stick to the throne in such circumstances. But a certain kind of guts --we have to hand it to the man -- Zardari has always had.
It is our luck that down the years Pakistan has been led or ruled -- although, in all honesty, the proper word is screwed -- by a bizarre set of characters: Ghulam Muhammad, Iskander Mirza, Ayub Khan, Yahya, Zia, Musharraf. After Musharraf we deserved something better. What do we get? Zardari. There's a Shakespearean classic waiting to be written here.
We can cry ourselves hoarse that these are the workings of democracy. Zardari is elected president, which he is. But consider the malevolence of fate. The wheels of democracy turn and what do they throw up? The spectacle we are seeing. Why is our chalice half-laced with such deadly poison?
But life goes on. The president's companions hit by the NRO judgment will twist in the wind. Will they quit while this exquisite form of Chinese torture goes through its various progressions? My guess is, they won't. We are dealing with a tough breed of characters here. Salman Farooqi and my friend Rehman Malik didn't get to where they are by being over-scrupulous about things. Qualms of conscience? Leave that to the angels.
My friend Dr Babar Awan -- as a colleague in Parliament he is a friend -- holds a doctorate from Montecello University, a university whose existence even the keenest geographers have had a hard time discovering. Still the doctor insists his doctorate -- no doubt in higher jurisprudence -- is genuine.
It has now been revealed in a deposition before the Supreme Court by the principal defendant in the Haris Steel Mills case that Dr Babar Awan received four crore rupees, from any angle not a piddling sum, half in legal fees and half on the assurance that the Dogar Supreme Court -- alas, no more -- would deliver a favourable verdict. Instead of denying the allegation, or explaining it in some other way, as lesser morals might have done, Dr Babar Awan says this is all a Qadiani conspiracy against him because he is such a champion of the Khatam-e-Nabuwat movement.
This is a breathtaking defence but it just goes to show that it is not a squeamish lot we are dealing with. It takes a tough man to be a doctor from Montecello University. Dr Babar Awan is a confidant of the president's and is considered close to him. If this is the state of affairs with him, we get an idea of how it is going to be with the others. The art of the brazen con (ask my friend Ambassador Hussain Haqqani about it): there should be a doctorate for this too.
Who fills the breach opened up by the SC verdict? By rights it should be Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani. But does he have it in him? He's a nice guy but niceness alone has its limitations. It won't get us very far in these circumstances. For weeks, if not months, the word has been out that Gilani was resolved to reshuffle his oversized and under-performing cabinet. But if it was a Stalinist purge we needed what we have seen are a few ministers shifted here and there. If this is Gilani's idea of decisiveness we have a good deal of homework before us.
From now on, if the NRO beneficiaries are on trial, so is Gilani. Can he emerge from the shadows and be his own man? Somewhere in The Possessed Dostoyevsky says that the second half of a man's life is a repetition, or replaying, of the first half. The challenge Gilani faces is to prove this dictum wrong.
Tailpiece: Before the Defence Committee of the National Assembly is the Defence Housing Authority Ordinance 2005, issued by -- you've guessed it -- Gen Musharraf. The Defence Ministry wants this ordinance to be turned into an act of parliament. What on earth for? DHA Islamabad is a housing society which has entered into a partnership with Malik Riaz of Bahria Town. Most of the land is his. The DHA will only be lending its logo in return for a certain sum of money and an unspecified number of five-marla plots. Fine. But why should a private housing scheme, which Bahria Town is, get sovereign parliamentary status? National Security is not involved. The defence of the Republic is not at stake. So it scarcely makes any sense for the army's name to be dragged in the dust, and the collective intelligence of Parliament (if there is such a thing) insulted, for the sake of an individual.
I. THE NEWS
THE NRO -- REVERSED
BY DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
The short order passed by the 17-member bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, is nothing less than replacement of the NRO by a No-Return Order -- an order that has changed Pakistan fundamentally by reinstating the writ of law in a lawless land. It is an order that surpasses even the history of that very august house of justice itself from which it issues forth like a fresh wind blowing from a new sky over this unfortunate land which has remained mired in corruption for so long that everyone has forgotten how to live an honest life.
It is an order that changes the tradition of convenient validations of military coups and sends positive signals to the hopeful hearts that all is not lost in the Land of the Pure. That there are men in this land who can live up to the standards of courage demanded by their profession and prove their strength by affirming higher morals. Dec 16 which has for the last 38 years reminded Pakistanis of the dark night on which the Pakistani army surrendered the East Wing of the country to India, now has a silver lining.
By declaring the NRO null and void, the Supreme Court of Pakistan has simultaneously established a new "NRO," No-Return Order, which states that no court can henceforth be part of any unconstitutional game, and the credit for this goes not only to the men who passed this ordinance but also to the Black Coats, who braved the last dictator of the land to re-establish the very court that has now passed this historic order.
Even though it is an order based on principles and is not specific to any individual, certain individuals have now to decide their future course of action. An honourable thing for them is, of course, to admit what they have done, return the looted money and disappear from the public scene. Most of them have enough money to last them and their next generation, so they will not be out on the street begging.
This is, of course, an ideal solution, and the world being what it is, one does not expect ideals to prevail, especially in a land where corruption has become so prevalent that anything other than corruption seems abnormal. Thus, the thorny road ahead has many "ifs" and "thens": what if the heads which are supposed to roll strike back? What if no effective change takes place in the system and the repeal of the NRO merely becomes an academic exercise through some maverick trick, as has happened in previous situations? What if those who have stolen public money find ways to survive the storm? And what if loopholes are found in the ruling, resulting in non-implementation of the order at least in practical terms?
These are all justified concerns as the Supreme Court's ruling affects some of the most influential and powerful men and women of the land. Even if the cases are reopened, they can drag on for years, as we all know. In such a scenario, what are the possibilities of a just resolution of the situation? After all, justice delayed is justice denied.
One of the most urgent and immediate needs for an effective implementation of justice is total transparency and opening of detailed records to the public. After all, it is the right of every Pakistani to know who looted them and the access to information is considered one of the basic rights of citizens. The second step is to establish special court benches to effectively deal with the flood of reopened cases in a timeframe that is not years but months. The third step towards an effective and timely dispensation of justice is for the Supreme Court of Pakistan to remain vigilant regarding its own order of Dec 16, 2009, and, in the greater interest of the country, not let anything stop its full implementation within a stipulated time.
Once opened, the corruption cases will neither be simple nor easy; after all, we are dealing with a group of experienced looters who have plundered public money with finesse and tact. The legal cases being what they are, they will require evidence and evidence will not be easily forthcoming after all these years.
Yet, despite all these "ifs," "thens," and "buts," the decision of the Supreme Court of Pakistan is still a landmark in Pakistan's history and, if implemented with full force, it might help to recuperate some of the lost ground. The media will be a very important component of the implementation process. Each and every case will have to receive its due share of public attention and this cannot happen without a vigilant media, ready and willing to recreate history through its own active participation in the process which is about to begin.
This new opportunity also comes at a time when there is an increasing disillusionment with the friendly opposition that has so far remained paralysed despite repeated violations of public trust and hopes by the rulers--from the non-implementation of the Charter of Democracy to the lack of transparency in granting huge contracts. Just as the Supreme Court's activity has created a small hope, Pakistan's political scene needs to receive a similar dose of hope from some yet unknown quarter. The entrenched leadership neither has the intellectual calibre nor moral capacity to create that hope.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
BY AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
Of the many things that fail the urban fathers in Pakistan today, none is more curious than their inability to put up a pedestrian bridge that works. Every week, there is a story from Islamabad or Lahore or Karachi the only cities, by the way, where the urban fathers would consider providing pedestrian overpasses in the first place about how pedestrian bridges are either badly needed, unused or in need of repair.
So far, most discussion tends to revolve around how pedestrians refuse to use what is built for them, and responsibility for traffic accidents preventable by pedestrian bridges are conveniently passed on from the person driving to the person crossing the road. All sorts of interesting things are going on in this little dynamic, and it is instructive to take a moment and examine them.
In Islamabad, after the introduction of the diverse avenues that cut through the city, the number of traffic accidents has shot up. In Lahore, the commissioner of the Division, who is also responsible for the Lahore Ring Road Project, has the grim task of arranging the removal of the corpses of men, women and children who, almost daily, are killed jaywalking on this new development. And in Karachi, the much vaunted "signal-free corridors" being put into place have also cost innumerable lives.
All else being equal, I'm surprised no one has questioned the safety of the roads being constructed. Instead, questions are asked of the type of people foolish enough to cross roads or too stubborn to use the pedestrian bridges provided, at great cost, for them. It seems, with stars in our eyes, the spectre of "development" confuses our system of judgment.
After all, when a person is mowed down by the bullet of a gun, how often do we question their standing in its path? With the automobile, the dynamic is changed totally put on its head and it is interesting to note here how the automobile owner becomes the centre of the universe and how even right-thinking people sometimes come to the conclusion that the fellow on foot somehow got what he asked for.
Pedestrian bridges occur when the good, benevolent local authorities decide to do something about this "shooting fish in a barrel" phenomenon. However, they seldom consider how our sprawling cities are engulfing small villages and hamlets. Or how most of the people in our cities cannot afford to drive, let alone use a private automobile (any traffic survey will tell you most of the trips taken in our cities are in buses, wagons or rickshaws).
What they never consider is how putting a road through a neighbourhood or village, without proper consideration, is an act of severance to the social infrastructure of that community. That it becomes necessary to cross a road only if one's home, school or workplace are separated by one. I often wonder, when in Lahore's DHA behemoth, of what people of Charrar the little village totally engulfed by the suburb think when they gaze out onto the rows of new houses that stand on what was once their land and livelihood. One wonders if the people of Golra Sharif dream of pedestrian bridges.
In Lahore, one of the more tragic events of the past year was the death of a schoolgirl crossing the Ring Road. She was killed by a wagon as she crossed the street to get to school. The neighbourhood protested the accident and, which is telling, on their own built a speed-breaker on the Ring Road to make sure nothing like that ever happened again. Of course, since it would be preposterous to have speed-breakers dotting a "signal-free corridor," in a matter of weeks, the powers that be ensured that their monument was quietly removed.
But traffic accidents are not entirely about roads. Pedestrian bridges are necessary for the convenience and mobility of, well, pedestrians.
What city fathers often overlook is that the construction of an overhead bridge is very much a matter of design. Of determining what the people of an area need before giving it to them.
In Lahore, some years ago, a pedestrian bridge was constructed on Mall Road close to where the Masjid-e-Shahuda stands near Regal Chowk. I'm told that the purpose of the bridge was to accommodate the faithful from the Panorama Centre/Abbot Road side of The Mall on their way to prayers to the mosque on the other. Those involved in the construction of the bridge were weary of building it too close to Abbot Road, because that would be too far from Panorama Centre, and vice versa. I believe rows broke out in the trading of associations by those representing either interest.
A compromise was reached and the bridge was built equidistant of Abbot Road and the Panorama Centre. Despite these best of intentions, the bridge is unused and, like some of the pedestrian bridges in Islamabad, serves only the decorative function of wearing the political slogans of whosoever has possession of the Civil Secretariat for that period.
Of course, civil society grumbles, as they drive by in their cars, about how "our people" never use bridges, or they whisper rumours to one another of how much the bridge cost and pocketed the loot. What no one realises and of course, hindsight is 20/20 is that by building the pedestrian bridge equidistant from Abbot Road and Panorama Centre, planners were also placing it the furthest from both points. As a result, traders from both locations just walk across the road, as they have done for years.
Building pedestrian bridges is not, like Hollywood would have you believe, if-you-build-it-they-will-come. It is a matter of design. And design comes only from appreciating the needs of what the users of such structures are. Sadly, that is not being done anywhere. Our cities are temples to the private automobile. No wonder the people at the CDA and elsewhere can't seem to get it right.
This, most recent: The overhead bridges in Lahore are in the news. This time because of the security situation. It's a mark of the insecurity so widespread that something as innocuous as a pedestrian bridge gets accused of being a security threat. They are apparently causing the vice chancellor of the Lahore College for Women University "sleepless nights." Apparently, pedestrian bridges are the places where the terrorists can conduct surveillance ("take photos and plan an attack") and, in the worst case, carry out terror attacks. Dark days, indeed, for the poor pedestrian bridge and, by extension, the poor pedestrian.
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: ralam@nexlinx. net.pk
I. THE NEWS
A GLIMMER OF HOPE
BY SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
Amid the gloom of terrorism, corruption, awful governance, insecurity, crime, inflation, hypocrisy, intolerance and more, come two landmark events. The provinces and the federation agree on a formula to divide national resources. And, the highest court in the land says a firm no to corruption.
There is something extraordinary, indeed historic, about these happenings. Division of resources lies at the core of our problems of national integration. Corrupt practices make decent governance impossible. If we begin to move forward on these issues, there is a glimmer of hope for a better future.
The pain and suffering of terrorism and constant political uncertainty has pushed into the background our difficult problem of national assimilation. It has always been and will remain a challenge because building a nation out of different ethnicities and languages is never easy. This is further complicated if there is a persistent feeling that one provincial entity or the centre is taking a majority of the resources.
This is the reason we have had such a great difficulty in constructing an agreement on national finances. The federal government has always used its clout to undermine transfers to provinces and the population formula has meant that Punjab gets a major share of the resources. This has created a lot of bad blood.
The agreement on a division of national finances arrived at in Lahore is historic because it has resolved this issue. There have been discordant voices from the so-called nationalists in Sindh and Balochistan, but they do not matter. The elected leadership of all the four provinces and the federation have arrived at a consensus formula to share the resources of the state. And this is a big deal.
There are plenty of kudos to go around and all the chief ministers, plus the federal finance minister, deserve our appreciation. A consensus NFC Award takes one major plank away from those who seek to break this nation apart. It is also a vivid example of democracy at work and as sure an endorsement of the 'system' as any.
A particular praise has to be reserved for the Punjab chief minister, Shahbaz Sharif, and his team ably led by the former finance minister, Ishaq Dar. If Punjab had not agreed to give up the population criterion, no move forward would have been possible. It was their national approach, beyond narrow partisan interests, that made it all possible.
Mr Shaukat Tarin and the federal finance team headed by Salman Siddique are also worthy of appreciation because had the federation not given up some of its resources, the provinces would have remained unsatisfied. The flexibility shown by them allowed this award to materialise. In the end, it was a win-win for everybody and a milestone in our long journey of building a strong nation.
If the NFC Award bolstered national integration, the decision on the NRO by the Supreme Court has struck a deep blow to corruption and raised strongly the possibility of good governance. It is sometimes argued that people do not care about corruption as they keep voting for the same criminals. They do this because they have no choice, otherwise corruption directly affects them.
The simple fact is that with corruption becoming the norm good governance is just not possible. It has a massive impact on decision-making and instead of merit, other considerations become dominant. This erodes the ability of the state to maintain order, provide justice or deliver social services.
The Supreme Court decision promises to be the first step towards making merit the sole criterion of governance. This may sound idealistic and it is, but without a proper and determined intent how can anything be achieved? What this decision has done is to put on notice all those who have been indulging in corruption or dream of making easy money in the future.
The times gone are no longer another country and there is no such thing as past and closed transactions. All the old deeds and misdeeds have been opened by this decision and everyone is accountable. It reminds me of Faiz's wistful refrain 'Bahar aiye to khul gaiy hein naye sire se hisab saray' or that spring has arrived and with it have opened accounts of associations past and all the pains therein.
This Supreme Court decision is indeed like a breath of fresh air, a whiff of the good possible, a possible way out of the darkness. Where does it leave President Zardari, a man who never understood the moral underpinnings of leadership? He always saw power as an opportunity for private gain not for public good and that is so sad. So much was possible by the late Benazir Bhutto.
I have little doubt that within days applications would be put in court questioning his eligibility under Article 62 of the constitution and his disqualification under Article 63. Out of all the commentary by eminent lawyers after the decision, the one issue that stood out for me was that the court has held the NRO to be in violation of Article 62.
This prescribes qualifications for a person to be a candidate for office of the president. If this has become open, it allows for a challenge to Mr Zardari's eligibility to be a candidate. It is true that all the qualifications in this article such as being of good character, righteous and pious etc. are subjective but this very fact will allow the president's linen to be washed in public.
His opponents will bring out his alleged foreign accounts, his properties abroad and within the country, his tax returns, his travels and spending habits, indeed everything that relates to his finances will be dug up and paraded before the country. This will be done to prove that Mr Zardari indeed is not a pious and righteous man and thus unfit to be president.
Is Mr Zardari prepared to go through all this? It seems so because all indications are that he has no intention of resigning. The problem is that if he chooses to go through what amounts to a public trial, he may not only end up losing his office but get so sullied in the public eye that any future role for him in politics will finish.
Alternately, he could resign and claim that he would clear his name in the courts of law before seeking public office in the future. This will give a modicum of respectability to his departure and evoke a degree of sympathy for him. He would thus be able to metaphorically live and fight another day.
These are not easy choices and he has much to think about. For all others who have been beneficiaries of the NRO, the path is more clear-cut. They should be sacked if they hold a public office and they should be made available for accountability.
It is now clear why someone like Tariq Khosa was kicked upstairs. He was the long arm of the law and those anticipating this NRO decision did not want to face it.
The onus is now on the federal and provincial governments as they have been put on notice by the court. If they don't act on its direction or try to create obstacles on the street, a much bigger punishment awaits them.
I. THE NEWS
A JUST DECISION
BY DR MASOODA BANO
There can be little difference of opinion that the Supreme Court decision to declare the National Reconciliation Ordinance void ab initio is a positive development. It is true that political victimisation is standard practice in Pakistan and cases of corruption or improper behaviour can become a means for the establishment to put pressure on politicians. However, it is also true that giving blanket immunity to all political figures or senior bureaucrats involved in legal cases at the discretion of a military general is not an acceptable way to solve the problem of political victimisation or forge a national consensus as was alleged by Gen Musharraf at the time of the passage of the NRO. Neither can one man be given the right to decide at his own discretion whether or not to write off cases against political figures, nor can it be assumed that all cases that were closed under the NRO were actually a result of political victimisation.
Many of the prominent personalities that had benefited from the NRO have been involved in cases which cannot be easily labelled as politically motivated. The accumulation of assets by some of these personalities, which are no match with their lawful income, in itself provides enough justification for investigating the accusations. A blanket immunity given under the NRO was thus a purely political decision taken by Gen Musharraf in hopes of building an alliance that would prolong his rule. It is thus a moment of celebration for a number of reasons. One, it sets aside an unlawful action by a military leader. Two, it builds hope that justice will be done and people who have abused state power in the past will not be allowed to erase the past record. And, most importantly, it establishes the power of the judiciary.
In a country where the judiciary has for long played the role of upholding the constitutionally unlawful actions of the military on the basis of a doctrine of necessity, this unanimous decision of the Supreme Court reconfirms public confidence in an increasingly independent judiciary. It is now critical that the cases revived after this decision are subjected to proper course of law. It might be true that many of these cases have already been prolonged for many years, but this in itself does not mean that these cases can thus be closed or expedited, as is argued by some. The fact is that most of the Pakistani public which ends up having to take cases to courts faces such a prolonged period of engagement with the courts before the case is decided.
Of course, this is not to say that it is fair to have a judicial system where cases linger for years. The idea is to argue that if the ordinary public has to cope with years or decades of litigation before getting a verdict, the political and bureaucratic elite should be considered no different. The need is to invest more in the judicial system and have enough judges in place to ensure that the judicial system on the whole becomes capable of ensuring timely verdicts. At the same time, however, there is need to ensure that the prominent cases revived after this decision are prioritised. Due to their high-profile nature of the cases the decisions taken on them will be followed by the public closely.
Independent decisions by the judiciary in these cases will help build further confidence in the judicial system and help establish the much needed pressure on the senior officials and political leaders that no one is above the law. The biggest problem of Pakistan is the elite culture where the civilian, political, and military elites alike exploit the system to protect their unlawful actions and abuse of state power. The various measures introduced by the previous governments in the name of establishing accountability have actually provided incentives for further corruption rather than building fear of being caught. The National Accountability Bureau is the classic case of a state-led effort to provide perverse incentives.
It introduced a model where the culprit could return a small fraction of the embezzled amount and be cleared of all charges. Rather than awarding punishment for crime it actually introduced a model of providing a legal cover for the crime. The culprits were allowed to keep a major portion of the embezzled state resources and also retain their social status. It is critical that all such measures for protecting crimes of the elites that have been promoted by the previous government be removed from the system and justice be allowed to prevail. The Supreme Court decision to declare the NRO invalid is a positive step towards that. It is critical that all decisions on these cases be taken in the courts of law under legal and public scrutiny.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
BY HARRIS KHALIQUE
Pakistan is at a crossroads in a way it never has been. If it were only a military threat, there could have been a military solution. If it were a question of extending economic opportunities or sharing political power with an insurgent group, a somewhat simpler political solution could have been sought. But the nation is not only confused and fragmented about its foundations but also about the way forward from here when it comes to the role of religion in the functioning of the state. The crisis of identity withstanding, the crisis of ideology has never been sharper since 1971. Some of us including Wajahat Masood see it as a result of our inability as a country to resolve the fundamental issues of class, autonomy of federating units, and finally democratic dispensation in politics. In his latest book, "Taliban Ya Jamhuriyat: Pakistan Dorahay Par" (Taliban or Democracy: Pakistan at a Crossroads), he has discussed contemporary political developments within and outside Pakistan and their cascading effect on the society in which we live.
Wajahat Masood discusses the aftermath of Benazir Bhutto's brutal murder, the inability and limitations of mainstream political parties to deliver, the elite-capture of the state, the role of military in Pakistani politics for the last 50 years, dictatorships, threats to democracy and the current tussle between the state of Pakistan and the Taliban both at the physical and ideological levels. He has a recipe for coming out of this quagmire, rooted in a deep historic analysis and knowledge about the experience of other nations in similar (not the same) chaotic situations. The good thing about this collection of articles or columns by Masood is the expanse that he offers to his reader. From a small happening in Islamabad of 2008 to what happened in medieval Europe, Masood brings together Pakistan's contemporary political history in the backdrop of international political experiences over the ages.
Masood is a good friend and I feel like praising him not just because he is a friend. He deserves to be praised for his clarity of thought, lucidity of language and the courage to speak up and be counted. He is both a foot soldier and a commander in fighting this battle of ideas against oppression, bigotry and ignorance. His remarkable work for raising consciousness about human rights in rural Pakistan through his writing, training and lecturing reflects on his commitment to translate his ideas into practice. I particularly praise him for writing and compiling this collection in Urdu. This understanding comes when you work with the common people of Pakistan and genuinely relate to their issues and sufferings. All new information or credible analysis about Pakistan continues to appear in English these days. There is nothing wrong if some find it easier to write in English but these works need to be translated, which sometimes happens but mostly doesn't. In English, we find many interesting articles, analyses, comments and books on both history and contemporary politics, some journalistic and some academic. Masood has a style and while he writes in an understandable journalistic fashion in Urdu, his analysis is laced with evidence and his take is academic and historically informed. This is the kind of writing we need in Urdu and other national languages of Pakistan.
Coming to the recipe Masood offers, it is revisiting and revising the national narrative and totally detaching clergy from the affairs of the state, democracy in both political process and social order, and finally equity and justice for all. Nothing short of that will save us.
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: harris@spopk. org
PAKISTAN TAKES A NEW TURN
WHILE it will take the legal experts and analysts some time to explain the fuller implications of the all-pervasive judgement on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), one thing is quite certain that Pakistan has taken a new turn altogether and the verdict has served as a beacon of light in the otherwise dark and stormy environment. The historic verdict of the 17-member full court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary, who is rightly perceived as a hero by the nation, has helped transform the image of the country, which was badly disfigured by the stigma of corruption and unholy alliance among some elements to give it the legal protection.
Barring those who benefited from the damned NRO, there was almost universal consensus in the country that the black and shameful law needs to be struck down as there was no constitutional, legal or moral justification to patronize and legalize unbridled loot and plunder of the resources of this poor State of 170 million people. Therefore, the judgement of the apex court meets expectations of the masses and fulfils their aspirations for rule of law and across the board accountability. The fate of the controversial NRO was doomed in the backdrop of the failure of the Government to get it passed by Parliament as it had to withdraw the ordinance in question from the National Assembly following loud and clear messages by friends and foes that they would not lend their support in this apparent criminal act of legalizing the corruption. Similarly, it was because of the surging pressure of the public opinion that the Federal and Provincial Governments did not pick up courage to defend the NRO in the Supreme Court. But there was some confusion whether the court would acknowledge its legality for the first three months of its promulgation and give protection to the benefits derived during that period. However, the court has declared the NRO void ab initio, meaning thereby that it would be deemed to be invalid from the very outset. Similarly, the court has left no ambiguity by declaring that all cases settled under the deal stand revived to their pre-5th October 2007 position. This effectively means that cases against all the beneficiaries including President Asif Ali Zardari would be reopened and all of them will have to prove their innocence before the courts of law. Though the court has come to the conclusion that the NRO was violative of at least eight articles of the Constitution yet apart from that, we believe, there is moral aspect to the issue as well and now that the court has given its clear judgement, a mechanism should be evolved to ensure speedy disposal of these cases and there should be no further delay on any pretext in taking him to the logical conclusion. So far as President Asif Ali Zardari is concerned, he was obviously in the focus of the discussions on the NRO for the last few weeks but his spokesman has pointed out that the President enjoys constitutional immunity. However, one thing is certain that he has lost moral ground and it is perhaps because of this that former Amir of Jamaat-e-Islami Qazi Hussain Ahmad and PML(N) leader Khawaja Asif have demanded of them to quit. Leaving aside whether or not the beneficiaries would demonstrate the moral courage to resign, we are quite sure that the landmark verdict of the apex court would serve as a deterrent against loot and plunder frame of mind. Be they politicians, businessmen or bureaucrats, they will have to think hundred times before indulging in corruption and corrupt practices. It was because of such elements that Pakistan ranked high in the corruption index of the Transparency International, badly tarnishing the image of the country in the comity of nations. However, the nation is proud of the independent judiciary that has delivered the judgement without fear or favour and it would help straighten the direction of the country. That is why people of Pakistan struggled and fought for a truly independent judiciary.
FALL OF DHAKA: A DAY TO REMEMBER, ALWAYS
DECEMBER 16 was observed as the darkest day in the history of Pakistan, as on this day in 1971 the country created through the struggle of millions of Muslims of the Subcontinent under the leadership of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah was dismembered. While remembering the disintegration of the country, it is time that we should ponder over the circumstances that led to the alienation of our brothers in former East Pakistan and the conspiracies and machinations of our enemies who are still active to do more harm to our motherland.
It is satisfying that Bangladesh is moving towards progress and our brothers and sisters there are master of their destiny yet it is also a fact that saner elements in that country are still in a state of shock like us here as to how this tragedy befell on the biggest Islamic country. No doubt Pakistan was dismembered as a result of an international intrigue and of course India was the main player to disintegrate, yet one must admit that the flawed policies of the inept leadership led to the contradictions that became irreconcilable and the enemies benefited from the disunity amongst our ranks. People in the Eastern Wing despite having a majority were made like a colony of the Western Wing and those raising voice for giving them their due rights and shares were considered as traitors. The successive leadership failed to create national cohesion by addressing the anomalies and deprivations of the people. With discontentment rising among the people, Indira Gandhi gave RAW a green signal to mobilise all its resources and exploit political turmoil after the elections. The agency provided Bengalis with arms and ammunition and Mukti Bahini guerrillas were trained in Indian Army camps who later moved along with Indian army units for conducting guerrilla acts against the Pakistani defence forces. The surrender of Pakistan Army and the fall of Dhaka were shocking but historians admit that it was more due to failure of the political leadership of the country than the defeat of the Pakistan Army. So, it is time that we must always remember the sad episode of our history, learn lessons from the factors that led to the dismemberment of Pakistan, work for the unity of the country and remain always prepared to counter the conspiracies of our enemies who are still active to further bleed and destabilize Pakistan.
CHINA & INDIA TEAM UP AT COPENHAGEN
M D NALAPAT
Strategic analysts in India not committed to an "Always Obey the West" policy have long pointed to the advantages of joint action between India and China. This is why Delhi has tried since 1981 to establish cooperative relations with Beijing, the Foreign Service pioneer in this being the soft-spoken, thoughtful K R Narayanan, who was one of India's senior diplomats and a former envoy to China.
The life story of Narayanan is fascinating. Born into a "Dalit" family (or, in other words, from a community that had been downtrodden for millennia), by his brilliance he got scholarships to study in India and abroad, and was appointed to the Indian Foreign Service by Jawaharlal Nehru, ending his career as India's first (and thus far, only) Dalit President. Then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi encouraged Narayanan to explore the possibility of a thaw between China and India, so as to rescue relations from the Deep Freeze into which they had been consigned since the intensification of suspicions because of Nehru's 1959 decision to give a privileged VVIP asylum in India to the Dalai Lama, followed by China's launch of a brief but conclusive war against India in 1962. However, the response from China was cool, although Paramount Leader Den Xiaoping and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi put in place a few Confidence Building Measures in 1988.
The next Prime Minister to make good relations with China a priority was P V Narasimha Rao,who engineered the economic reforms of 1992-94. To an extent,he succeeded: when the 1998 nuclear tests took place,the Chinese response was at first muted,even while that of the US was harsh,and that of its allies Australia and Canada was abusive. Observers in India saw shades of racism in the threats flung at India by Bill Clinton and his friends that reminded them of ancient India, when the young low-caste boy Ekalavya learnt archery by observing the way the way the great teacher Drona taught archery to Prince Arjuna. The low-caste boy became so good that he challenged Arjuna to a competition,which the prince lost. Horrified at a low-caste learning skills that should,according to custom, be the monopoly of the upper castes,Drona forced Ekalavya to cut off his right thumb,thus destroying hios skill in archery for good.In 1995, Narasimha Rao abandoned a planner nuclear test by India,after his economic advisors warned him that the resulting sanctions may have a catastrophic effect on the accelerating economy. That time,this columnist compared the Clinton-led effort to de-nuclearize India as a modern version of the high-caste Drona seeking the thumb of the low-caste Ekalavya.
At that time,China had distanced itself from US moves to cap and roll back India's nuclear capacity,with its then envoy to India even defending India's right to test.It was only after Prime Minister Vajpayee explicitly invoked the "China Threat" in a letter to US President Bill Clinton got leaked (by the Clinton team) that Beijing turned sharply negative,and resisted India's de facto accession to the nuclear club till the final two hours of the IAEA and NSG votes that put in place an India-specific agreement in 2008, an agreement that was owed to the desire of President George W Bush to make India a strategic partner of the US. In contrast to Bush,whose close family includes several not of European ethnicity, the Clintons have always been Europeanist,seeing the rest of the world as different. Hence,they have always applied different standards to countries in Asia than what they use for Europe,and this was evident in the Clinton reaction to the 1998 nuclear tests by the world's fastest-growing democracy,India.The reaction of Canada and Australia was even more rabid at the time.
Although the deliberate leak of the Vajpayee letter by the Clinton team caused Beijing to go sour on the Indian tests (thus serving the purpose of Bill Clinton,which was to get China to join in a US-led coalition that would seek to cap and roll back the Indian nuclear deterrent), the unintended benefit was the immediate adoption of India as the favourite of the anti-PRC group in the US,a lot of whom were from the Republican Party. It was the desire to use India as a counterweight to China that propelled forward the process that culminated in the 2008 nuclear deal between India and the US. After this got operationalised,it became clear to the moderates in Beijing that India could not be kept indefinitely in a "South Asia" box. Since then,they have been seeking to free policy towards India from the hawkish (and negative) grip of the military. Any country where the military decides the policy towards India is unlikely to understand and leverage the immense economic and other benefits of friendly relations with the world's largest democracy. It is a welcome sign that the Chinese military's hold on India policy is weakening,and that pragmatists seem slowly to be taking a more decisive role under President Hu Jintao.
Thus far,the "India hawks" in China have prevented the moderates in Beijing from working out a border settlement in India that is based on the Zhou Enlai formula of 1961. Tensions remained high because of the frequent border incidents.Such hawks did not realize that the main beneficiary of hostile relations between China and India is the large (and growing) international anti-PRC coalition,that seeks to place India firmly within their own camp.Their negativism on India is in fact helping this anti-PRC lobby to ensure that Delhi and Beijing remain far apart. However, the Climate Summit has given a chance for those who seek a Sino-Indian alliance to try and get control of the direction of policy. It has been India's Envirnonment Minister Jairam Ramesh ( an admirer of Rahul Gandhi,the telegenic,articulate son of Rajiv Gandhi) who has been the architect of the China-India Copenhagen Coalition,that may herald a breakthrough in relations between Beijing and Delhi. Unlike his equally articulate and brilliant ministerial colleague, Sashi Tharoor, who favours a policy of going along with the West, the Nehruvian Environment Minister Ramesh is the author of "Chindia",a book that highlights the synergy between China and India. He is the individual most responsible for the fact that China,India,Brazil and South Africa have united at Copenhagen to face down attempts by rich countries to make the poor continue to pay for the pollution caused by the wealthy.
Like his predecessor A B Vajpayee, India's current Prime Minister Manmohan Singh prefers an alliance between the US and India to the more Nehruvian vision of Ramesh. However,Singh has been hobbled by the absence of substantive concessions by Obama, who seems to have returned to the Bill Clinton policy of seeing India as the "child of a lesser god" than favourites in Europe,and hence undeserving of such "high caste" attiributes as nuclear and missile capabilities.Singh has therefore allowed Ramesh to take centre-stage at Copenhagen, where the close advisor to Rahul Gandhi has immediately linked up with his Chinese counterpart.
Unless Prime Minister Manmohan Singh follows the advice of Barack Obama at Copenhagen and asks Ramesh to agree to concessions that would - once again - make the poor countries pay for the lifestyles of the richer economies, or unless PRC Prime Minister Wen Jiabao bends to pressure from the richer countries and moves away from the G-77 position into the waiting arms of Denmark, Copenhagen may see the dawn of an emerging India-China alliance,not just on climate but on other issues as well.
RUNNING WITH HARE & HUNTING WITH HOUNDS
SULTAN M HALI
Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh has just concluded a "successful" visit to Moscow, where he negotiated a multibillion-dollar arms deal, met the Russian President and Prime Minister and sealed a new civilian nuclear deal with Russia which the Indian press hailed as even more advantageous than India's similar technology-sharing agreement with the U.S. Manmohan Singh told a Russian news channel, "We have been able to get equipment and technologies from Russia which were not available to us from any other countries." This visit comes at the heels of Manmohan Singh's visit to Washington, where President Obama rolled out the proverbial red carpet and hosted his first state dinner. President Barack Obama declared the U.S. partnership with India to be one of the defining relationships of the 21st century.
The statement came on the occasion of the state dinner, where more than 330 guests attended the event, which was held in an elaborate tent on the White House lawn, instead of the usual location for such events, the much smaller State Dining Room. During the course of his visit, Dr. Manmohan Singh stressed on several key issues, including how Pakistan has not done enough to bring the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack to book; prospects of the finalization of the Indo-US civil-nuclear cooperation deal that has been on the negotiating table for more than four years; how he expected the Obama White House to view India; his assessment of what has caused the global financial meltdown and how India has coped with it; and his views on India and China emerging as the economic power players of the Asian region. India's founding Prime Minister Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru's vision was of a "non-aligned" India. But the 21st Century India is a "most-aligned" India, an India which sells its soul to all and sundry for advantages. It dumped its traditional friends the Arabs for commercial advantages with Israel. India joined the U.S. and 24 other countries in voting to censure Iran's nuclear program at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna on Nov. 27. This was the third time India had voted for a similar resolution, because India didn't want to jeopardize its own safeguards agreement with the IAEA, so it dumped its erstwhile friend Iran. The Indian Defense Ministry has announced a massive modernization program estimated to cost as much as $100 billion over the next decade. Russia has long been India's biggest defense supplier, but the civilian nuclear deals and safeguards agreement that India has signed with several countries opens the doors for U.S. and European companies to win some of that massive spending.
The most closely watched deal will be the Indian Air Force's planned purchase of 126 multi-role combat aircraft, a contract worth about $10 billion. The IAF has recently begun its field tests of the six finalists, who represent India's old and new allies. In the running are Russia's MiG35, Boeing's FA-18, Lockheed's F-16 and fighter jets from EADS, Dassault and Saab. This is the biggest single tender ever floated by the Indian military, and the decision will be influenced as much by geopolitics as by technical superiority.
During the U.S. visit to Washington, Dr. Manmohan Singh made the right noises about Pakistan and Kashmir. On the eve of his visit, he announced the withdrawal of a number of troops from Kashmir, assured his hosts that Pakistan had nothing to fear from India and his Minister of State for External Affairs, Shahshi Tharoor went to the extent of stating that India was not worried about the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Of course all these comments scored brownie points with Washington.
At the Kremlin, Manmohan Singh held talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedevon, as the two countries signed deals on nuclear energy and arms sales. India and Russia signed a raft of agreements, including one on cooperation in civilian atomic energy and another on the nuclear fuel import, which would guarantee unhindered supply of uranium for Indian reactors and the right to reprocess spent fuel. Russia is already building two nuclear power units in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu and has agreed to install four more nuclear reactors there as part of an agreement signed during Medvedev's visit to India last year. Russia's state-owned nuclear power firm Rosatom could build up to 20 nuclear power units in India in all, including four to six in the state of West Bengal. The visit also reportedly ended a spat over India's purchase of a retired Soviet aircraft carrier, the 44,570-tonne warship, the Admiral Gorshkov, which has yet to be delivered amid delays and cost overruns in its refurbishment. India's plans to acquire it have turned into a headache for New Delhi, with Moscow in 2007 demanding an additional 1.2 billion dollars to cover repairs of the 30-year-old ship.
On the return flight from Moscow to New Delhi, Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao said India and Russia were perturbed regarding the security of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. Both allies were concerned that Pakistan's nuclear weapons would fall in the hands of the terrorists and threaten the region and the world. This was a direct flip over from the statement made by India in Washington.
We notice that India is willing to change its stance at the drop of a hat, if it sees its own advantage, even if it necessitates backtracking on its previously stated position on regional issues. Its allies must see through its duplicity. Every country, with ethnocentric views, keeps its own priorities as the focus of its options. However, India is willing to change its options, even if sees a wee bit of advantage anywhere. Cognizance must be taken of India's flip-flop according to the circumstances. Every nation keeps its own priorities in mind while negotiating with others, but in its endeavour for brinkmanship, India appears to have perfected the art of running with the hare and hunting with the hounds.
SANCTIFIED MONTH OF MUHARRAM
MUFTI TAQI USMANI
Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar Hijrah Calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Holy Quran says, "The number of the months according to Allah is twelve (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day He created heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified." These four months, according to the authentic traditions, are Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. All the commentators of the Holy Quran are unanimous on this point, because the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, in his sermon on the occasion of his last Hajj, declared: "One year consists of twelve months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Dhul-Qa'dah, Dhul-Hijjah, Muharram, and the fourth is Rajab."
The specific mention of these four months does not mean that any other month has no sanctity, because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sanctified months for the simple reason that their sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah. In fact, every month, out of the twelve, is originally equal to the other, and there is no inherent sanctity that may be attributed to one of them in comparison to the other months. When Allah Almighty chooses a particular time for His special blessings, the same acquires sanctity out of His grace. Thus, the sanctity of these four months was recognized right from the days of Sayyidina Ibrahim, alayhi salam. Since the Pagans of Makkah attributed themselves to Sayyidina Ibrahim, alayhi salam, they observed the sanctity of these four months and despite their frequent tribal battles, they held it unlawful to fight in these months. In the Shariah of our Noble Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, the sanctity of these months was upheld and the Holy Quran referred to them as the "sanctified months". Muharram has certain other characteristics special to it, which are specified below.
The Noble Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, has said: 'The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram." Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet one who fasts in these days out of his own will is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Muharram are most rewardable ones among the Nafl or voluntary fasts. The Hadith does not mean that the award promised for fasts of Muharram can be achieved only by fasting for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit. Therefore, one should avail of this opportunity as much as he can.
Although Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, the 10th day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named 'Ashurah'. According to the Holy Companion Ibn 'Abbas, Radi-Allahu anhu. The Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, when migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Holy Prophet Musa (Moses), alayhis salam, and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its waters. On hearing this from the Jews, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said, "We are more closely rotated to Musa, alayhi salam, than you," and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of 'Ashura'. (Abu Dawood). It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of 'Ashura' was obligatory for the Muslims.
It was later that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory and the fast on the day of 'Ashura' was made optional. Sayyidina 'Aisha, Radi-Allahu anha, has said: "When the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of 'Ashura' and directed the people to fast. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of 'Ashura' was abandoned. Whoever so desires should fast on it and any other who so likes can avoid fasting on it." (Sunan Abu Dawud) However, the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, used to fast on the day of 'Ashura' even after the fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory. Abdullah ibn Musa, Radi-Allahu anhu, reports that the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, preferred the fast of 'Ashura' on the fasts of other days and preferred the fasts of Ramadhaan on the fast of 'Ashura'. (Bukhari and Muslim). In short, it is established through a number of authentic ahadith that fasting on the day of 'Ashura' is Sunnah of the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, and makes one entitled to a great reward.
According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of 'Ashura' should either be preceded or followed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, is that the Jews used to fast on the day of'Ashura alone, and the Holy Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, wanted to distinguish the Muslim way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of 'Ashura'.
Some traditions signify another feature of the day of 'Ashura. According to these traditions, one should be more generous to his family by providing more food to them on this day as compared to other days. These traditions are not very authentic according to the science of Hadith. Yet, some Scholars like Baihaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable. What is mentioned above is all that is supported through authentic sources about Ashura.
SHADOWS OF INDIAN IMPERIALISM
I A PANSOHTA
Dr B R Ambedkar, architect of the Indian constitution, defined Indian independence as the "transfer of British imperialism to Brahminic hegemony." The idea of partition of India comes to everybody's mind as a rude shock as more than 80% of its population still remains yoked into the serfdom under the label of Other Backward Casts (OBC) who is facing caste discrimination since time immemorial. It is reality that social, political and economic disparity, irrigated by injustice and repression still remains one of the major problems of India. In the wake of growing public awareness the Indian over-arching all-powerful attitude is facing a renewed threat of Independent Assam movement.
Mark Tully, a renowned BBC correspondent of BBC while talking to the writer of 'Exciting India a Visual Journey, while commenting on various aspects of the Indian life was heard saying that "Indians have delighted themselves in its natural beauty they have admired the great temples and Muslim monuments, But they have also sense that India's ancient civilization stands for beliefs and values which are quite different from their own. India has always taught that man is a part of nature, not nature's ruler, that God is revealed through myths not through historical events and all of us should seek to live balanced live not strive excessively for wealth, power or fame" According to a news report emanating from Dhaka, the United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Commander-in-Chief Paresh Barua, said in a statement e-mailed to bdnews24.com on line newspaper appealing to the Awami League government to stop its ongoing crackdown against the insurgent organizations of northeaster India saying "A Party like Awami League, which fought for Bangladesh's freedom should try and understand our passion for independence" We are fighting against Indian colonialism much the same way, they fought against colonialism" A number of other freedom fighters groups like Manipur People's Liberation Front (MPLF), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) All Tripura Tiger Force (ATTF) also echoed their resentment against Awami League's moves.
India is conglomerate of thousands of castes, religious minorities, ethic groups, religious entities and linguistic divisions. To cover whole India simply in one go, in an article means doing injustice with the subject, but suffice to say that there are almost a dozen active insurgencies going on in the country for that last three or four decades. The United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) Independent Nagaland, Khalistan Movement, Manipur independence are some of the most active insurgencies which has suffered massive genocide, at the hands of Indian security forces in the South East India.
It may be recalled that situation in Assam took an alarming change in 1979 when middle class Assamese started demonstrating against the immigrants from Bangladesh which bred anti-BD feelings. This was the outcome simmering since 1947 as massive migration from East Pakistan was going on into Assam. To control this tendency, Indian intelligence infiltrated large number of cadres into the rebel organization with the task to dig out information as they were also hitting the Indian interests and were becoming more and more popular. In 1980 when people observed Government of India providing Bodos with the funds and ammunition for taking revenge against all those who were ventilating their feelings against India, bickering of the deprived Assamese started building up. To eliminate both Bodos and the Assamese, Indian intelligence short-circuited both the groups, which resulted into heavy men and materializing.
The frequency and free flow of funds and logistic support to the Bodos, another rival minority of Assamese, vying for independence, resulted into the widespread discontent in Assam. United Liberation Front of Assam continues to be one of the most powerful organizations in the northereast India since its creation. The ULFA is being headed by Presh Baruah, with his associates like Rajiv Raj Konwar alias Arbindra Rajkhowa, Golap Baruah alias Anup Chetia, Samiran Gogoi alias Pradip Gogoi and Bhadreshwar Gohain. The sole objective of creating this front was to establish a sovereign Socialist Assam through an armed struggle. In early 1990s, the organization targeted Indian security forces and its political opponents. In 1992, the organisation saw miracle growth of its cadres in size and motivation. But it suffered a great set back when Indian government launched joint operation in Bhutan in December 2003.
In the latest round of developments, sources privy to the Home Ministry Affairs had said that Rajkhowa has been picked up from somewhere in Bangladesh and ahas been unofficially handed over to the BSF but Dhakka denies. On the other hand it has also been learnt that Awami League's leadership has betrayed and Rajkhowa has been produced in the Gowahati court on December 5, 2009. Keeping ULFA's popularity, her cadres hard hitting strategies, coupled with public sentiments, it is opined that situation may take an ugly turn, in terms of fragile peace as any such move in the past has proved a costly illusion to India.
SIR! DID YOU?
The cars were honking on the road this morning as I made my way to the park, drivers in trucks had their heads out yelling, and motorcyclists worried expressions behind their visors as they looked ahead to see only a jam.
I walked on ahead and soon found the culprit; a little auto-rickshaw that had got stuck in the middle of the road. There were beads of perspiration on the driver's face as he pulled the starter handle up, again and again and again; nothing happened, "No petrol," I thought to myself and then found myself getting furious, "Why doesn't the ass move his rickshaw to the side!" I thought, so did all the others who honked and yelled and cursed.
He got up wearily, and the passenger in the rickshaw got out, a young man, white shirt, tie and button down collar, who was on his cell as he stood by the stalled vehicle and watched the driver try to push it uphill and to the side. "Stupid guy!" I said aloud. "Who?" asked the man next to me."That youngster with the phone, can't he lend a helping hand?""And spoil his shirt?""Yeah!" I said, "They don't know to help, only to make money!" We watched as the poor driver heaved and pushed his stalled vehicle to the side, we watched as cars, buses and trucks went past cursing the poor man and as the passenger on the phone took another rickshaw and was off.
"Couldn't even help the poor driver!" I muttered as the rickshaw he had got into passed me."Spoilt young brat!" said the man next to me."Yeah!" I said shaking a fist at the passing young man. The rickshaw driver was trying to remove the spark plug, "Stupid passenger!" I said to him, "He couldn't help you!" The rickshaw driver slowly got up from his crouched position next to his broken down rickshaw, "Sir," he asked, "Did you?" I looked at him guiltily and looked away, and walked away fast, angrily and then slowed down as I entered the park, "Did I?" What had I been doing as the traffic jam took place? How had I helped ease the problem? Did I help the poor man push his rickshaw?
Oh yes, I'd done my bit, with my mouth hadn't I? Called him stupid, called his passenger a spoilt brat, even shook my fist at him! But narry a muscle had I moved to solve the problem. I walked slowly this morning, round and round the park, and asked myself what the rickshaw driver had asked, "Sir! Did you?"
PUBLIC FUND FOR ELECTIONEERING
The Election Commission (EC) has decided to send a proposal to the government for state funding of the upcoming Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) polls slated for March 2010. If the experiment is successful the EC will think of holding the general elections also on the same lines. The whole idea originated after the EC found that many MPs did not submit their election expenses in time, while others gave false statements. The EC is planning to hold four projection meetings and allocate time on the state-run television for the candidates. No rallies will be allowed. All this is aimed at containing expenses which the EC feels have unduly influenced electioneering in the past.
If this proposal is accepted by the government, this will be the first time that the state will fund any election campaign in Bangladesh. Hitherto the practice has been to raise funds for election campaigning through private donations. But over the last few decades this has come up for increased criticism as the difference between donation and extortion has blurred. To understand the gravity of the problem one just has to recall that the law stipulates that extortion is a grave criminal offence.
Financing of election campaigns or even political parties is an integral part of any mature democracy. In most of Western Europe and North America they have a clear-cut system. But in developing countries this is not the case. In India -- the biggest democracy in the world -- they do not have a formal political financing system in place, although such a possibility has also come up for discussion there.
Transparency is important
No doubt there is a need for a transparent political financing system but its specifics need to be fleshed out, as the practice varies from country to country. Besides, it will not be easy to shift from an informal and privately funded system to a formal, public one. Such a system needs to be evolved but that should be done after extensive public debates. Hopefully it will combine the elements of functionality and transparency adequately.
Reviving the moribund postal service is a daunting challenge. When communication is on the fast track in today's world, the postal department functioning in its traditional capacities can only go downhill. But its infrastructure network spread all across the country would always disfavour the department's dismantling. It is this consideration that has prompted massive investment in the department for its reorganisation. As many as eight projects are under implementation at a cost of Taka 1,780 million. But the most important decision concerns the automation of the department within three years.
No doubt, an automated postal service system can go a long way in digitalising Bangladesh, a goal set by the government. All one needs to do is to develop the existing infrastructure for introduction of the new technology, retraining of manpower and recruitment of IT experts where retraining will not do. This also means retrenchment of members of the staff who cannot adapt themselves to the new system. Because, the department is expected to undergo a radical transformation with the addition of fresh responsibilities like limited banking and money transfer within the shortest possible time, there will be need for more academically qualified and technologically sound hands to deal with the situation.
So the postal department will have to modify its slow and cumbersome manual system into a fast and efficient computerised one, complemented by e-banking to stay in competition. The outmoded technology will give way to a state-of-the-art communication-cum-banking system and thus revolutionise both communication and transfer of money. Already the government has started giving free connection of land phones at the upazila level. When the broadband connectivity is available on the doorsteps of villagers by virtue of the postal service, the country will find itself on the information superhighway. Indications are that the country will achieve its objective soon.
THE NOSE JOB..!
Something I enjoy, being married to a doctor, are the number of complimentary prescription pads, note pads, pens and pencils that are given to her at every medical conference and seminar by pharmaceutical companies.
Like little child, I grab these fancy jotters and scratch pads and install them everywhere, near bed and sofa, dashboard of car or anywhere else where profound thought can quickly be written down, before sinking into unreachable oblivion.
Today however the little box she placed on writing table had me puzzled. It was some gift from a medical firm but looked more like a little container of pills. I pulled out instead what looked like a six inch replica of an Egyptian mummy but on closer scrutiny found it was a wooden nose. Now I have seen such objects of human anatomy outside churches and other places of worship where people in search of healing buy wax leg or an arm or finger and burn them before their gods. I wondered why any company would want to give a doctor a wooden nose and the doctor her husband the same!
I placed the nose on my table. Very Roman; quite aristocratic; but by itself; hideous! There was something written on the box, I wondered whether it was ransom note, saying that next I would be sent other parts of kidnapped victims body.
The note, politely told me instead that the wooden nose was a spectacles holder. I took off my reading glasses and placed them on the nose and suddenly the wooden member was transformed into a rather pleasant aristocratic face. Here I must tell you that my glasses are the cheapest kind available in optician shop, and it is with some embarrassment I enter posh store and walk off with low priced plastic pair, sure that salesman and visiting eye doctor are sniggering at my miserly, tight fisted, niggardly spending.
It was this same pair I placed on wooden nose.
There was a slot at the back for the frame to rest, and as I already mentioned the nose took on an agreeable shape. The spectacles so ordinary otherwise, gave wooden nose a dashing look. I smiled. It was the most extraordinary transformation I had seen from something ugly and nasty to a face, stately, well formed and attractive. A pair of cheap, nearly discarded glasses had done the trick!
As I stared at good-looking face, a thought came to my mind.
So many of us with good-looking features, powerful personalities, attractive figures are still like wooden nose; something missing. The English suit, American tie, Italian shoes only add to the 'something missing' look.And then from some old folks home, a discarded mother or ailing father is brought back to a son's or daughter's home; a backward child is given extra love by formerly impatient dad; struggling husband gets a word of encouragement from otherwise ambitious wife; plain spouse sitting at window, waiting at home is taken out and made a queen for an evening, nay not just evening but for life: And suddenly wooden nose looks beautiful with these seemingly cheap, inconsequential, bits of plastic spectacle's. I don't know what nose job you need to do.
Just do it. It changes you..!
NEED OF A DNA LAB FOR BANGLADESH POLICE
On 10 May, 2009 some remnants of a human body were discovered by the local people of Batra village under Sonaimuri police station of Noakhali district. Police sub-inspector Mosharaf Hossain rushed to the place of occurrence (PO), took possession of the decomposed human body which included only the skull with some teeth, some ribs and bare bones of two hands. The other things found at the PO included an old lungi, an old white full sleeve shirt-both of which were stained with blood and also a plastic-coated-paper bag of cement. The sub-inspector tried to discover the identity of the human body. But nobody could supply him with any reliable clues. However, a murder case was lodged to the police station upon the complaint of the police sub inspector. The investigation officer, sub inspector Tofael Ahammed, tried all the cards in his sleeve to identify the dead body without any success. However, he sent the sample of the remnant of the dead body to the Mizedi 250-bed general hospital to determine whether the skeleton was of a human being or not. For, to prove a murder it should be proved first that the body was of a human being.
Five months before, on 23 January/2009, one Shahidullah, son of Mafiz Ullah of Sonimuri village of the same police station disappeared. Mr. Mafiz Ullah, father of the victim, reported the incident to the Sonimuri police station on 25 January, 2009 and the officer-in-charge noted this disappearance in an entry in the General Diary (GD no-993 dated 25/01/09). The skeleton of the unknown human being found in Batra village some five months after might have a relation with the disappeared person. The investigating officer showed the shirt, lungi found at the PO of the murder case to the relatives of Shahidullah. But, the relatives of disappeared Shahidullah confirmed that those garments did not belong to the victim. So, the disappearance of Shahidullah and the identity of the human skeleton remained a mystery to the police. Both the cases remained unsolved.
One day in August, 2009, Senior Assistant Superintended of Police in charge of Begumganj Circle to which Sonimuri police station belongs to had been a short visit to the police station. Knowing the visit of the ASP to Sonaimuri police station, one old man with tears came to see him. He stated the disappearance incident of his son Shahidullah and alleged that the police did not care much to rescue his son alive or dead. He appealed to the ASP to do something so that he could know at least that his son is not alive.
The ASP took pity on the old man and began investigating the case himself. He found that the investigating officers of both the disappearance and murder cases did a lot to find the whereabouts of Shahidullah as well as to discover the identity of the unknown human skeleton. The investigating officer of the murder case sent the remnant to the forensic laboratory only to determine whether those exhibits belong to a human body. For, the learning and present practice of the police investigator never allow to go the police sub inspectors further. But, the ASP had advance knowledge of science and technology. He remembered the worldwide utilisation of DNA technology to identify dead bodies and crime suspects. He guided the investigating officer to conduct a DNA test of the remnants and the father of the disappeared Shahidullah with the National Forensic DNA Profiling Laboratory (NFDPL) of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). With the approval of the learned Judicial Magistrate of Cognizable Court-3 of Noakhali the investigating officer brought Mr. Mafiz Ullah, the father of disappeared Shahidullah. The DNA experts took blood sample from Mafiz Ullah and compared it with the tooth sample of skeleton. The DNA experts after the detailed test concluded that:
The DNA profile originated from exhibit B (tooth said to be of deceased Shahidullah) is therefore biological offspring of Md. Mafiz Ullah and belongs to diseased Shahidullah. He cannot be excluded as being the biological son of Md. Mafiz Ullah as he possesses all the genetic makers that should be inherited to a child by a biological father.
Thus the Sonaimuri Thana police solved the mystery of the unknown skeleton and the disappearance of Shahidullah. The family of Shahidullah finally became confirmed that their son was abducted and was killed, and, the unknown human body discovered at Batra village was of Shahidullah. However, the Sonaimuri than police is yet to identify the criminals connected to the case of Shahidullah abduction and murder. The two criminal cases [case no- 07(05)/09 under section 302/201/34 and case no 03(08)/09 under section 364/34 both of Penal Code] are still under investigation.
The Shahidullah case was the first ever case where the Noakhali District police used the DNA technology. But this is not new in Bangladesh. The Jamal Uddin Abduction and Murder case of Chittagong got massive publicity. But it was a proved case at that time as the criminals themselves demanded the skeleton to be of Jamal Uddin. There were few other cases to determine the paternity of disputed children.
Although the DNA technology introduced in police investigation in 1986 in Britain, Bangladesh began to be familiar with it only very recently. The only DNA Lab, the National Forensic DNA Profiling Laboratory (NFDPL), was set up on 23 January, 2006 at Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH). It has five DNA screening laboratories across the country where samples are collected. But final opinion comes from the DMCH office. However, the intention of the DNA Lab was not to serve the whole police purpose. Danish aid agency Danida and Bangladesh government jointly set up the laboratory under the "Multisectoral Programme on Violence Against Women" project. Although it is serving the police demand, it is not sufficient to meet the growing demand of the police investigators.
However, newspapers published news items on the intention of the government to establish a separate DNA Lab for the police to facilitate the criminal investigation. It was known that the Ministry of Home Affairs is on the process to start a project to introduce a DNA Lab at the Detective Branch/Division of Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP). A grant of 25 crore taka is already sanctioned from the Japan government. But some inner information reveals that the project is facing bureaucratic obstacles in the ministry. It is likely that Bangladesh is not going to see the second DNA Lab in near future.
The need of a DNA laboratory for Bangladesh Police is paramount. The DNA Lab will help the police investigators to prove the guilt of a suspect or exclude him/her from the charge of a criminal case. Examination of samples taken from the crime scene by the DNA Lab will determine whether a suspect had been present in the place of occurrence or not. The DNA testing will help the investigators solving crime problems even if there is no visible clue. Therefore, it will minimise the scope of the crook police officers to execute random arrest in a clueless criminal case. So, the DNA Lab will work as a shield against the misuse of police power which will ultimately result in building positive image of the police as an investigating authority.
The DNA Lab will help increasing the conviction rate in criminal trials. In our judicial system burden of proof lies on the prosecution and any doubt of benefit favours the defendant. The DNA Lab will help the judges by providing with conclusive proof of the suspect's involvement in the offence which will minimise the doubt of the trying judges. It will minimize the error of judgment in a criminal case. Our criminal justice system largely depends on oral evidence. The DNA test will provide the judges with a conclusive proof of the suspect's involvement in the criminal occurrence. So, it will help to increase the capacity of the judiciary.
The DNA Lab will help identifying dead bodies and stolen properties. Our traditional methods of identifying the dead bodies includes taking photographs, finger prints and publish them in the news paper as well as in the CID gazettes. But these methods are faulty and superficial. If a dead body is decomposed or only a part of the body is found, traditional methods to identify it prove insufficient. The DNA testing can accurately and conclusively identify the dead bodies even though a microscopic part of the body is found or, no matter how many years ago the occurrence would take place. Stolen property identification is also a problem to the police. The DNA testing can help identifying stolen property, too. DNA can be used to make property and aid recovery from thieves.
The DNA Lab will be a depository of criminal information. The DNA profiles of known criminals will be stored here digitally. So, any future criminal activities of the known criminals will match with the stored profiling. This will help police to reveal conclusively and quickly whether a criminal was the perpetrator of the subsequent criminal incidents or not. Thus it will help disposing off criminal cases quickly saving time, working hours, money and other resources of the government.
In civil cases the DNA testing result will help determining of paternity, chastity, etc. Thus the proposed DNA Lab will help the civil courts to dispose off thousands of pending cases where inheritance, paternity, chastity, etc. are the issues to decide.
The DNA Lab will establish a link among the international criminal police (Interpol). Bangladesh Police have already arrested few notorious criminals active internationally. The extremists stay in disguise in different countries. The DNA Lab will help to identify them quickly. The samples/results of DNA profiling stored in the database of other countries may easily be matched with the arrested ones by another. So, a DNA Lab owned by Bangladesh Police is essential to expose the international standard of the same.
Before the invention of DNA technology, the use of finger print supposed to be the most dominant means to relate a criminal to the occurrences. The expert reports on fingerprint are still considered conclusive to the court. But, despite the great publicity they receive, fingerprints are rarely important factor in solving crimes. A major part of the problem is that it is difficult to obtain useful prints. For example, New York City police are able to obtain a usable print in only 10 percent of all burglaries. Even when prints were obtained, only 3 percent led to an arrest. On the other hand, the power of the DNA lies on the truth that with the exception of identical twins, no two people have the same DNA. Obtaining samples for DNA test is easier. DNA evidence can be collected from virtually anywhere. Only a few cells of blood, semen, skin, tissue, organs, muscle, brain, bone, teeth, hair, saliva, mucus, perspiration, fingernails, urine, feces, etc. are sufficient to obtain useful DNA information to prove a clueless long pending case. The other thing referable is that however old the samples may be, they are subject to analysis for yielding expected result.
ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION AND IMPORT OF RECONDITIONED CARS
S A MANSOOR
In Bangladesh, apart from power plants, the road transport sector is the largest environment polluter. Take the example of reconditioned motor vehicles, so popular in the country. We import between 5000 to 6000 reconditioned cars every year; based on documented data. It is also a fact, that reconditioned car engines are lesser fuel-efficient than new car engines.
These consume more fuel, petrol or natural gas, more lubricants as well as more spares and consumables; all of which is imported!
We have around 50,000 reconditioned vehicles running in Bangladesh. These consume at least 10 litres of petrol on an average, which comes to 500,000 litres of fuel daily! If there were no reconditioned cars; then these number of new cars would have consumed on an average at least 10 percent lesser fuel. This would have saved us the need to import at least 18 million litres annually!
Assuming the import cost being Tk. 50 per litre, we could easily have saved Tk 900 million annually, which comes to at least around US$12.8 million annually! With lower consumption of lubricants in new cars, a further US$1.2 million could be saved totalling US$14 million annually!
Given this rationale, we should take steps to cut down the import of reconditioned cars, and start importing electric cars, not hybrids.
Electric cars will be easily available by 2011; and we should take all measures to encourage its import to replace our fleet of fuel-powered vehicles; if needed exporting these! It will need no fuel for running the electric cars; and very little lubricant as it has no reciprocating parts! With no fuel being burnt, there will be no environment pollution!
Batteries of these electric vehicles need to be charged at night; between midnight and 4 a.m. or 5 a.m. At these times our power plants are very lightly loaded. Their fuel combustion is inefficient at low loads; so the charging load for say 50,000 electric vehicles will provide better load factor for power plants. This will also result in overall lesser carbon emission for nighttime power generation, and power plants will produce more salable power also!
All these advantages put together will bring sizeable economic benefits for the country, which cannot be easily ignored. Simultaneously our environment pollution will be substantially reduced. We should therefore go all out for encouraging electric vehicles. These are more cost effective than even hybrid cars; having no petrol powered engines; hence no liquid fuel, lesser lubricants and lesser spare and consumables needed!
All said and done; the electric car will be our salvation!
(The writer is Technical Adviser, Spectra Group)
AMIDST PROTESTS AND UNCERTAINTIES, CLIMATE SUMMIT ROLLS ON
Hectic negotiations among the climate negotiators from different countries, never ending protest and demonstrations carried out by various activists in the freezing cold winter and unbelievably busy activities of the environment NGO workers and also the media persons inside and outside the historic Bella Center at the Danish capital are now going on at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 2009 at Copenhagen.
With formal negotiation process starting from December 7, the climate summit is going to culminate on December 19 though the probable outcome is yet to get assured as the divide between the developed (western) and developing (eastern) countries continues to hunt the organisers. The diverse and arrogant opinions from America, Australia with some other European nations and the subsequent counter attacks by the representatives from China and India were in the media headlines worldwide for the last one week.
The rich countries who are responsible for the greenhouse gas emission and thereby global warming and climate change have expressed their readiness to reduce their carbon use. But at the same time, they want to force (or compel) the developing countries like India to reduce the use of carbon to a greater extent.
India, on the other hand, has made it clear that it will take its own actions to reduce the emission of greenhouse gas and increase forestation throughout the country. India will not agree to a legally binding emission cut theory as it has many miles to go for development in the coming days. While initial negotiations are being supervised by the Indian environment minister Jairam Ramesh, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was supposed to arrive here on 17 December for the final phase of the summit that faces immediate task to strike a long-awaited and bitterly debated deal on restricting greenhouse gas emission leading to global warming and climate change. At the same time, some developing countries like Bangladesh, which are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, are demanding some bail out packages from the developed countries. The Bangladesh prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, who has already arrived in Copenhagen, made a hint that she might raise voice for the space of climate refugees. The heads of respective governments of India's neighbours have already joined the crowd of delegates in the massive Bella Center. In fact, the final hours of the summit will witness the participation of the heads of states and governments from over 130 countries around the globe, including the US President Barack Obama.
Amidst all the debates, the high level segment of the conference was inaugurated on Tuesday evening where the UN Secretary General Ban-ki-Moon addressed the gathering and appealed all country heads and representatives to go for a comprehensive, ambitious and effective international climate change deal.
The UN chief, while urging the environment ministers from different countries to compromise in the final days of discussions as various factors already apprehended a failed summit in the Danish capital, concluded his remark with a positive note, "Our future begins today here in Copenhagen." The highly anticipated conference, which marks an historic turning point on the way the human population faces the impact of climate change that relates to the health, food production and prosperity of all the human beings, was also graced by the Prince Charles of Britain.
In his brief speech, the Prince of Wales advocated for a safer planet to our next generation and hence emphasised on an accepted and sustainable approach by all the concerned. The Prince termed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit as historic.
"I can only appeal to you to listen to the cries of those who are already suffering from the impact of climate change. The eyes of the world are upon you and it is no understatement to say that, with your signatures, you can write our future," Prince Charles added.
The distinguished gathering was also addressed by the Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, who pointed out that the affect of climate change knows no boundaries and it does not discriminate one from another. "The magnitude of the challenge before us is to translate this political will into a strong political approach," he concluded.
The Danish government expected around 15,000 delegates for the summit, but to their utter revelation, over 30,000 delegates, including a huge number of journalists from both the print and visual media gathered here. Though it was a difficult and painful task for the organisers to get them registered promptly, they have however provided thousands of laptops with high speed Internet connections.
(The writer is a contributor to The Independent)
THE CASE FOR ETERNAL VIGILANCE
AIR SAFETY IS ABOUT CAUTION AS WELL AS COMMON SENSE
MUSCULAR young men carrying knitting needles on to Qantas flights are still likely to attract attention from security staff. The rest of us will probably go unnoticed under regulations to be introduced next year. The federal government decision to relax the restrictions on sharp objects carried on flights comes eight years after the tsunami of measures provoked by the September 11, 2001, attacks and after a 2006 foiled plot to blow up transatlantic airlines.
It makes sense. As Transport Minister Anthony Albanese says, the change brings us more into line with our international counterparts. Worrying about innocuous objects such as crochet hooks, umbrellas, nail files and nail clippers being used to hijack planes was understandable in the period of hyper-vigilance after 9/11. Yet some bans proved inconvenient, and occasionally ridiculous, especially so given that metal forks are routinely handed out in business and first class. From July, that anomaly will be addressed with metal cutlery available throughout the plane and airport facilities. But the minister has been cautious: passengers will not be able to bring knives aboard, and pointed metal scissors, scalpels, darts and razor blades are among sharp objects still banned. As important is the move to extend passenger and baggage screening to big turboprops. Over the next five years, screening will be extended, based on the maximum takeoff weight of the aircraft, on the grounds that the likelihood of an aircraft attracting a terrorist attack is driven partly by its size and number of passengers. Welcome, too, is the proposal to expand the use of the Aviation Security Identification Card to ensure airport workers are adequately assessed. In 2005, a leaked report written by then Customs officer Allan Kessing revealed embarrassing breaches in security at Sydney airport. Mr Kessing, who was later convicted of leaking the report to The Australian - a charge he denies - wrote of security screeners with serious criminal convictions, including one who had served eight years in prison for smuggling drugs. Mr Albanese was then in opposition, but his office was apprised of the report before it was leaked. He took no action, but the publicity forced the Howard government to upgrade national airport security. In power, Mr Albanese must keep an eye on the issue.
THE DAMAGE DONE BY NGOS
SELF-APPOINTED GREEN ACTIVISTS GET IN THE WAY OF REAL REFORM
WHEN 450 UN officials and environmental activists travelled from Brussels to Copenhagen for the climate change conference, they went on their own specially hired train - presumably with a special freight car to carry the gravy. And when they got to Denmark, they will have boasted about the small size of the carbon footprint left by train travel - to the 22,000 other activists at the conference. The UN used to ban representatives of non-government organisations from attending its conferences. But 10,000 or so were allowed to stick their bibs in at the 1992 Rio climate conference, and ever since then self-accredited ambassadors for everything and everybody from polar bears to poor people have sought to bend sovereign states to their will at international meetings. The chaos at Copenhagen demonstrates what happens when they do, when international relations stop being about sovereign states and blocs of like-minded nations negotiating immensely complex issues and become an opportunity for slogan-chanting, empire-building activists, who adopt causes as careers in the way other people become teachers or accountants and assume that they alone can save the world.
At their most innocuous, the NGOs at Copenhagen are irritating eccentrics, celebrating their proletarian heroes and hissing the cruel capitalists. That Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez was cheered at the conference while Climate Change Minister Penny Wong, as earnest a defender of inner-city green values as Labor has ever produced, was booed, illuminates the NGO mindset. But there is a much more dangerous dimension to the movement. NGOs - in itself a misnomer given the way many of them are funded by the taxpayer- have a vested interest in presenting problems as intractable and solutions, other than ending capitalism, as unacceptable. This suits the millenarian mindset of the green extreme but it also ensures a career path for activists who can move up the employment hierarchy, from protecting threatened species to representing sovereign states. There is no denying the genuine commitment of the vast majority of NGO activists, but passion does not secure policy change, demonstrated by the failure of the ultimate NGO, the UN. On Wednesday, the activists were expelled from the Copenhagen conference - leaving the grown ups to get some work done.
THE FAIR WORK FOLLIES TAKE US BACK TO THE 70S
JULIA GILLARD'S PUBLIC SECTOR APPROACH THREATENS JOBS
JULIA Gillard has proclaimed January 4-9 Fair Work Week to celebrate the start of her new industrial relations system. For foundation members of her new industrial relations club there is certainly a great deal to be pleased about. Ms Gillard has breathed life into the moribund union movement, giving officials easy access to workplaces where the majority of staff have no interest in what they are selling. She has rejuvenated the arthritic idea that workers in an industry should be paid the same across the country, regardless of an individual business's capacity to pay. And in Fair Work Australia she has created a new version of the old industrial court that supervised generations of industrial mayhem. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics there were 1519 industrial disputes in 1987. In 2007 there were 135. The new agency will administer the industrial rules and arbitrate disputes, generating business for public sector union officials as well as the representatives of the 20 per cent or so of the private sector workforce that is unionised. And with its creation, Ms Gillard has given ambitious unionists a new source of employment. All of the six Fair Work commissioners appointed this week have union or public sector backgrounds.
But for everybody else the merriment will be muted. For all Ms Gillard's talk about ending the excesses of the Howard government's melodramatically demonised Work Choices policy, she has done much more, rebuilding the industrial relations edifice it took the Hawke, Keating and Howard governments a generation to demolish. And in creating employment for union apparatchiks she has put the jobs of millions of workers at risk. Perhaps the main reason why the Australian economy grew so strongly for the past 20 years and has defied the increase in unemployment that has engulfed the US and Europe is the flexibility of the labour market. This especially applies in retailing and hospitality, the two largest employers of low-skilled workers, where standard terms and conditions will now apply. And as The Australian recently reported, business fears unions using their newly privileged position to push for wage increases that are not funded by productivity improvements. At the other end of the employment market, unions are already trying to force themselves on the highly paid and largely independent workers who produce vast amounts of export income in the minerals and energy enterprises of Western Australia.
But the economic costs of industrial action will not occur to a union culture dominated by public sector officials unfamiliar with the idea that employers have to make a profit to pay wages and who assume taxpayers exist to serve their interests. This is certainly the situation in NSW, where public sector wages have increased by 4.3 per cent this year, nearly twice the budgeted figure. While none of this will bother members of the Fair Work club, it will terrify small businesspeople and everybody who remembers the destructive industrial relations culture that existed into the 1980s. In saying Tony Abbott wants to bring back Work Choices, Ms Gillard is reprising an issue from the last election but the next one will also be fought on a hated industrial relations policy - hers.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TIME TO GET TOUGH WITH IRAN
IRAN'S latest test of a solid fuel missile with sufficient range to reach Israel, regional US bases and even parts of Eastern Europe carried a clear message. It was a show of force and a barely veiled threat, delivered the day after the US House of Representatives approved what the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has called ''crippling sanctions'' on Tehran over its nuclear program. International brinkmanship is not always a subtle game.
Tehran remains bent on thwarting international efforts to negotiate a diplomatic or legal solution. Time for diplomacy is running out: Israeli military experts believe it may be just six months before Iran's nuclear program reaches the point of no return. In the Pentagon's view, Iran is approaching the point at which it will have to choose between acting as a force of regional destabilisation and pursuing more normalised relations with the international community.
The fear for Washington and other powers outside the region is that Iran may in the future be able to use a missile such as the one fired this week to deliver a nuclear warhead. Tel Aviv already lives with the daily threat from Tehran's conventional weapons. It considers Iran's nuclear program an existential threat.
In the next-to-worst-case scenario, Israel, fed up with Tehran's procrastination and provocation, makes a military strike on Iranian weapons sites to knock out or slow down nuclear development. That option might not succeed and would probably precipitate a complex conflagration in the region with costs likely to far outweigh its benefits. Yet the worst-case scenario is Iran achieving a deliverable nuclear weapon: a new, nightmarish dimension to the security picture very few countries - including Iran's Arab neighbours - want to contemplate. The stakes are very high.
Barack Obama's diplomatic approach to Iran was certainly worth pursuing. But Iran has proved a recalcitrant negotiator. Diplomatic efforts should continue with additional urgency, but tougher economic sanctions are now essential. Both the US Senate and the UN Security Council must move quickly to approve them. In the Security Council, Russia has lately proved surprisingly amenable to the US-led push against Iran, conceding hat sanctions may be inevitable. China has opposed sanctions but may be persuaded to abstain from vetoing a resolution backed by Russia.
It is worth reflecting on the hypocrisy in the situation. A major if usually unstated component of Israel's global heft is its undeclared nuclear capacity. From Tehran's viewpoint, a nuclear deterrent has proved indispensable to Israeli and to US security. Getting it to give up that goal for itself won't be easy.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
LIBERATION AND THE NANNY
THE Opposition's childcare spokeswoman, Sharman Stone, has raised the issue of nannies, calling on the Federal Government to end what she calls its ideological opposition to treating them as a normal part of the childcare industry. It is a contentious issue, but she has a point.
The case against doing so was expressed forcefully by four Labor MPs who wrote a dissenting report to a 2006 House of Representatives inquiry into childcare: "If high-paid parents want a nanny to be waiting in the afternoon when their 14- and 16-year-old children arrive home from school to cook dinner and supervise homework - should this be subsidised by other parents who can't even afford long day care for their three-year-old?" There was a good deal more besides in the same vein, illustrating both some possible shortcomings of the idea - and also the strength of the opposition Dr Stone mentions.
The case for is simpler: many women who might return to work earlier after having children are reluctant to do so because they do not like the idea of putting infants into institutional childcare. If a family member - a grandparent, say - is available and willing, he or she may look after the child, but if not, a nanny who is virtually a member of the family allows this transition to be made more easily. Why should the federal rules on childcare assistance not recognise this and allow families to make a choice?
There are, of course, reasonable fears that any such move will open a whole new field of middle-class welfare at a time when funds are scarce (though it might also bring nannies, many of whom are now part of the black economy, into the taxation system). There is no reason why rules surrounding any assistance for employing a nanny could not specify the age of the children cared for - perhaps confining eligibility to the preschool years. That would limit misuse, and also help ensure that the term nanny was accurate, and not a synonym for general hired help.
Families in which both parents work, and put children in childcare, are a given of modern life, a product of feminism's two-edged effectiveness in both liberating women from restrictions on the work they can do, and then making their work obligatory for families to maintain an average household income.
Childcare is a necessary part of that liberation, and better childcare is an obvious feminist position. Feminism is not means-tested: its benefits should apply to all women, regardless of income.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
RADIO STATION GOT AWAY WITH THE UNACCEPTABLE
SIX months ago, when 2Day FM broadcasters Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O presented a segment in which a 14-year-old girl was strapped to a lie detector and quizzed about her sex life by her mother, The Age commented that this was an inherently abusive and exploitative way to treat a child. That might have seemed obvious, yet the controversy surrounding the segment suggested that it was not so to everybody. 2Day FM management and many callers to the station argued that the broadcasters could not have foreseen that the interview would have ended as it did, with the revelation of a rape, and therefore should not be blamed. The argument was, as this newspaper noted, evasive sophistry. The girl was publicly humiliated simply by being asked about her sex life, regardless of her answers. And if Sandilands, Jackie O, the girl's mother, 2Day FM management and their sympathetic callers failed to grasp this, they were in sore need of some moral re-education.
This week the educator arrived, in the form of the Australian Communications and Media Authority. After a six-month investigation, ACMA found that 2Day FM had breached the radio code of practice and should be sanctioned by a change in its licence conditions. The station will now be required, when a broadcast involves someone under 18, to put the child's interest first, to avoid causing them unnecessary distress or anxiety, and to avoid exploiting and humiliating them.
It is a dismal conclusion to the story that such obligations should have to be spelt out. Ethically responsible media broadcast, print or online ought to understand them instinctively and act accordingly. The regulator apparently believes, however, that radio stations, unlike leopards, can change their spots and will do so with appropriate instruction. There will be no harsher penalty, such as a fine, because the code of practice is not part of broadcast regulations.
And Sandilands and Jackie O? They finished this year as Sydney's top-rated breakfast announcers. But their employer should make sure they read the new licence conditions, because if they repeat the offence the licence might be under threat. Given ACMA's tendency to talk tough before issuing the merest slap on the wrist, however, we doubt it.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
QUICK FIXES WON'T END TRAFFIC WOES
THE CITY'S ROADS NEED AN OVER-ARCHING VISION, NOT SIMPLY MORE UNDERPASSES.
THIS week the media spotlight fell on two of Melbourne's traffic hot-spots and in both instances the State Government proposed solutions that can be characterised as emergency surgery, albeit surgery that costs billions and takes years to plan. In both cases the proposed solution promises some relief, at least in the short-term, assuming everything goes according to the somewhat sketchy plan. But these cases also highlight the wider systemic problem that has plagued Melbourne for decades: the absence of an over-arching vision for the city's transport.
The first problem stems from the 24,000 trucks and light commercial vehicles that daily use the EastLink tollway. It appears that since EastLink opened in June, thousands of trucks travelling from Melbourne's manufacturing heartland in the south-east pour off the toll road in the city's north, to the fury of local residents. According to traffic data from Banyule Council 800 more trucks now use main roads in Heidelberg and Rosanna. VicRoads data, meanwhile, shows a rise in overall traffic in the area, but fewer numbers of trucks. In any event, the Government has conceded the problem and proposed as a solution a $6 billion, five-kilometre freeway tunnel from Lower Plenty Road in Rosanna to the Eastern Freeway in Bulleen.
Whether the freeway will come to fruition remains to be seen. For one thing, building is not scheduled to start for at least another seven years, during which circumstances and the government can change. And Banyule Council is resisting the project, despite being one of its potential beneficiaries. Mayor Wayne Phillips wants the freeway to run through Templestowe instead; the RACV agrees, arguing this would link the Metropolitan Ring Road to EastLink. But the Government last year rejected the Templestowe option. And a spokesman for Roads Minister Tim Pallas said minor increases in traffic through Heidelberg and Rosanna had been predicted when EastLink was planned, but that the tollway has made trips considerably shorter on Springvale, Mitcham and Stud roads.
This statement raises a number of questions. If the traffic increase on these suburban roads is only minor then why is a major $6 billion project necessary? And given EastLink itself was geared to diverting trucks from suburban roads, wouldn't another freeway encourage yet more trucks, creating another "minor" traffic problem further down the track. If the Government has good answers to these questions, then let's hear them.
There are similar concerns regarding the proposed series of underpasses to ease the gridlock on Hoddle Street. As The Age reported yesterday VicRoads has issued tender documents to engineers seeking advice on how to unclog up to four major intersections along the route, with "dropping" Hoddle Street between Johnston Street and Victoria Parade shaping as the most viable option.
The plan, costing at least $750 million, is partly an attempt to speed up public transport around and along Hoddle Street, which carries an average 82,000 cars a day between the Eastern Freeway and Victoria Parade. This is both a worthy and sensible goal. After all, 2011 is expected to see a massive influx of buses from the eastern suburbs to the inner-city with the introduction of the Doncaster Area Rapid Transit System. The bus system would be far more "rapid" if it could be spared the current Hoddle Street bottleneck. And ideally, trams crossing Hoddle Street would be able to do so faster.
Clearly, this plan raises the logistical issue of what happens to Hoddle Street traffic during construction of the tunnel. But again, the bigger risk is that of more roads encouraging more cars and causing more bottlenecks. This is not to say the Government should stop investing in roads that is simply not possible in a city as sprawling as Melbourne. But instead of coming up with piecemeal solutions to local problems, it ought to link every initiative to a wider transport plan. Let's see the aerial shot of Melbourne decades from now, with integrated freeways, railway lines, arterial roads and public transport systems.
Coming up with the vision is a difficult challenge, judging by last year's long-awaited $38 billion transport plan that offered a series of discrete projects, mostly long-term and generally unfunded. But until the Government joins the dots, it will be tackling a crisis at every corner.
PAKISTAN: SUPREME COURT CHAOS
POLITICS AND THE LAW ARE ENTWINED IN PAKISTAN, BUT THE JUBILANT LAWYERS SHOULD BE WARY OF GETTING WHAT THEY WISH FOR
There was jubilation among Pakistan's lawyers about the decision by the country's supreme court to strike down an amnesty which allowed the late Benazir Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari to return from exile. Lawyers called the decision a landmark judgment. One former president of the Lahore High Court Bar Association, Anwar Kamal, said that the supreme court had closed the door on corruption in the country for all time to come. We shall see, but on one thing we should be clear. This was not purely a judicial act. The judgment reeked of politics, designed to unseat an unpopular president halfway through his term.
Any independent court worth its name would have struck down the national reconciliation ordinance (NRO), the selective amnesty that the former president Pervez Musharraf concocted in 2007 as part of a power-sharing deal with Ms Bhutto brokered by the US and Britain. But the supreme court went far beyond this. By turning the clock back to the date when the ordinance was issued, the court ordered that all cases and investigations frozen by the amnesty be revived.
Knowing that Mr Zardari would be protected by the immunity he gets from his position as president, the court ordered the government to inform the Swiss authorities that a case against him there may be reopened. The thinking behind this is that if the president cannot be prosecuted in his own land, he should be prosecuted in another. This is designed to increase the pressure on him to resign. The court also ordered the government to sack prosecutors, and ordered the interior minister Rehman Malik to issue himself with an arrest warrant. A decision conducted in the name of good governance was aimed instead at crippling the government.
Who profits from this? Rightwing members of the senior judiciary; sections of the military and intelligence establishment who regard Mr Zardari as too pro-American and want to stop him cracking down on the Afghan Taliban; and the opposition leader Nawaz Sharif. His own previous conviction was not covered by the NRO, but he profited from Ms Bhutto's return to Pakistan by coming home from exile himself.
Mr Sharif has called for midterm elections. The unpopular Mr Zardari and his ruling Pakistan People's party are far from blameless. They could have seen this situation coming. Yesterday they were forced to say they respected the judgment, but also insist the president would not resign. Politics and the law are entwined in Pakistan, but the jubilant lawyers should be wary of getting what they wish for. They could be preparing not just the ousting of the PPP from power, but the re-entry of the army into it.
COPENHAGEN SUMMIT: FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL
IF THE DIGNITARIES ALL STRETCH THEMSELVES TO THE LIMIT OF WHAT THEY CAN ACCEPT, THEY COULD YET PULL OFF A MEANINGFUL AGREEMENT
Does the human race deserve to survive? It has been a tempting question to ask this week, as the talks designed to prevent the rise in the planet's temperature developing into a life-threatening fever ground to a standstill over what were on the face of it arcane procedural issues. The middle of the final week of the Copenhagen conference was characterised by blame games rather than dialogue, as negotiators engaged in a stale standoff about the rules for writing the first draft of the text to haggle over. By yesterday morning almost all hopes of a deal had been scuppered, but by the afternoon as ever more leaders arrived meaningful conversations were once again taking place.
Dire as things are with little achieved, with leaked documents revealing that current offers will put the world on track for catastrophe, and with only hours left to run they are not as grim as they might be. The lost time has diminished the level of detail in any prospective agreement. Hopes of a sealed treaty long since gave way to a rough but tough deal, involving all sorts of binding commitments. Ambition could now slip further again, so that all that is agreed is a page or two of warm words that do nothing to stop the world's warming. That, however, need not be the case. So long as negotiators are prepared to sprinkle sufficient numbers in with the verbiage, a short and snappy agreement could still pave the way for the dotting of Is and the crossing of Ts in fresh meetings next year.The chief grounds to be hopeful are that the rich countries have now recognised the need to work hard to keep the poor at the table. The root cause of this week's (for now resolved) procedural wrangling had been the west's failure to grasp this. Understandably preoccupied with the need to end America's far-from-splendid isolation outside Kyoto, the Danish hosts prepared a draft text that would have put every nation on the same footing by scrapping the protocol and starting over again. The developing countries feared that the Kyoto principle of first-world responsibility was in jeopardy. So the world's south stared the north in the eye, and the north blinked. The process will now continue on twin paths a Kyoto path which the US will not walk down, and another track on which all nations will tread. It will be messy and at least for a time will lock in US exceptionalism. But it embodies the determination to prevent the American tail from wagging the Copenhagen dog.
Determination, however, may not be enough. The chief grounds to be fearful are that no matter what the world expects, and no matter what the Obama administration might wish to promise, the American political system may prove unable to deliver. Despite the chair of the Foreign Relations Committee pledging to get the legislation through, arcane filibustering rules provide a few dozen senators with the facility to hold the world to ransom. The best way to seal a global deal would be for the US to promise far deeper emissions cuts than the 4% below 1990 levels it has pledged to so far; but the only way to seal a political deal within the US may involve not budging too far from that figure.The obstacles are formidable, and the odds remain long. But a late-breaking commitment from Washington on financial assistance shows the spirit in which things must be done. The small island states hankering to cap the temperature rises to 1.5C will, sadly, have to understand that 2C is the best they will get; Europe must unilaterally play the improved offer it is still keeping up its sleeve; Beijing must provide a credible yardstick by which its boldly proclaimed intentions can be assessed; and the Americans must respect Chinese anxieties about sovereignty, and understand that they are in no position to lecture. If the assembled dignitaries all stretch themselves to the limit of what they can accept, then they could yet pull off a meaningful agreement. By doing so, they would prove that the human race does deserve to survive and also improve their collective credentials to lead it.
IN PRAISE OF ... THE COEN BROTHERS
What unfolds for Larry Gopnik in A Serious Man is less a plot, and more a hard fall down a long flight of stairs
In almost every film by Ethan and Joel Coen is a shot that fixes on an actor's face then rushes forward into a jarring close-up. That little lurch should be funny, but the end shot those eyes inevitably bulging with panic, the maw open in a big, black hole is horrific. Here is the brothers' magic: using the rhythm of a joke, they provoke dark laughter. A Serious Man, their latest film, is full of such killing jokes. It features Larry Gopnik, a professor in Minneapolis in 1967. Life should be pleasantly anodyne, but chaos comes to punish this blameless Job. His wife wants to marry someone else; his brother is picked up by the police for gambling and sex acts, and a Korean student tries to bribe the professor for a pass grade. What unfolds for Gopnik is less a plot and more a hard fall down a long flight of stairs. All this is told with the Coens' usual technical expertise but this story is more Jewish, opening with a scene about a malevolent ghost, or dybbuk, and with a storyline woven around three rabbis. There is all the wooziness of The Big Lebowski, but less audience-pleasing. One black joke stands out: the Korean's dad threatens Gopnik that unless his son passes he will be sued for defamation for mentioning the bribery. But, Larry protests, he has not reported the bribe to the authorities. Then, says the father, he will be sued for corruption. But to do that, says Larry, the bribe has to be reported. Defamation! cries the dad. A gag is unwrapped to reveal a logic puzzle: precisely the sort of gift the Coen brothers lavish on their audience.
THE KOREA HERALD
At long last, rival political parties are moving toward a compromise on the administration's 2010 budget bill. But they have already wasted so much time and energy that they have no one else but themselves to blame if they are accused of rendering the National Assembly the least productive public institution in the nation.
While their parties were engaged in a worthless game of tit for tat, quite a few lawmakers were in pursuit of logrolling while some others were attempting to undo much of the past political reform.
As such, the National Assembly failed to meet the Dec. 2 constitutional deadline for the passage of the budget bill. Moreover, it had not completed all budgetary deliberations at the standing committee level when its 100-day regular session came to a close on Dec. 9.
Now the National Assembly, instead of going into a year-end recess, finds itself sitting in a 30-day extra session - a telling example of waste and incompetence.
The legislative proceedings were held hostage by a bipartisan conflict over one of President Lee Myung-bak's pet projects - the restoration of the country's four main rivers. Neither the ruling Grand National Party nor the main opposition Democratic Party took a bold initiative with regard to the 3.5 trillion won four-river project for next year.
At issue was, of course, how much to cut. The two sides were wide apart, with the ruling party refusing to offer anything but cosmetic cuts and the opposition seeking as large concessions as possible.
An alternative was to railroad the bill, which was not an appealing option for either party. The ruling party would be denounced for its lack of negotiating skills and its disrespect for the minority. On the other hand, the opposition party would become a target of public criticism should it use physical violence, as it has often done in the past, in its attempt to block the bill's passage.
Under mounting public pressure, though, the rival parties belatedly promised to be more resilient in their budget negotiations.
The ruling party said it would withdraw budget allocations from parts of the project that are deemed to be not so urgent. The first hint at a spending cut implied a change in attitude for the ruling party, which used to regard the four-river project as sacrosanct.
Similar flexibility was found in the attitude of the opposition party, which said it was not opposing the project for the sake of opposition and that it was willing to resolve the conflict over the project in negotiations with the ruling party.
Against this backdrop, the opposition accepted the ruling party's proposal to hold a meeting between party leaders and the president. Leading lawmakers from the rival parties were already talking about a substantial cut from the four-river project.
As the rival parties are sounding out the possibility of pulling off a compromise at the highest level, members of some standing committees are accused of helping one another in increasing spending on the projects of their concern, reportedly to the tune of 9 trillion won. Those lawmakers will surely lobby members of the Special Committee on Budget and Accounts to keep the increases from being axed and, by doing so, to endear themselves with the electorate back home for reelection.
Even more despicable than this kind of logrolling are attempts to roll back some political reforms. Among them is a proposal to waive prosecution for those who have received contributions in violation of the law if they return them within 30 days of receipt.
Lawmakers will do well to keep the political reforms intact. Should they render any of them impotent, they would be blamed for making the legislature not just unproductive but counterproductive.
THE KOREA HERALD
Beginning next year, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education is planning to start evaluating the performance of principals at primary and secondary schools. The office says it will deprive underperforming principals of a second four-year term in office.
It is only natural to evaluate the performance of principals, given that they are set to start evaluating the performance of teachers under their supervision next year. Under the education office's plan, feedback from teachers will constitute one of the items for principal evaluation.
Such a check-and-balance system will certainly allay the fear teachers have of an "imperial principal" exercising unrestricted power in evaluating their performance. Indeed, principals are set to be empowered to demand that underperforming teachers under their supervision be transferred.
Currently, principals are given a second term upon completing the first term, regardless of their performance, unless they make any serious mistake in management. But parents and activist groups have long demanded principal evaluation, noting that the quality of education students receive at a school depends on the leadership and management skills of the principal to a great extent.
Principal evaluation will certainly encourage competition among schools for the provision of high-quality education. Its beneficiaries are, of course, students. The evaluation is timed with permission being given to middle school students to apply for admission to the high school of their choice.
Those denied a second term will not be many. The education office says 3 percent to 5 percent will be demoted to the status of teacher or given some other post. But it is yet to be seen whether or not such a small percentage will produce the intended outcome.
The office, which is set to hold public hearings later this month, is well advised to attend to details of its evaluation plan before implementing it.
THE KOREA HERALD
BENEFITS OF UNDERGRADUATE RESEARCH
Historically, academic research was the domain of doctoral students and the professors who supervised them. But over time, the average age of research students has been decreasing. Today, it is more and more common for undergraduates to do some type of research. At schools like KAIST and MIT, students can begin to do research as early as the freshman year of college.
In many ways, undergraduate researchers have much more freedom and flexibility than graduate students. Graduate students work with the same faculty adviser for two to four years or more. Undergraduate students, on the other hand, can switch research labs every semester if they wish. They have four years to explore as many different areas as possible. They are only limited by the amount of time and energy that they have to devote to their research.
The time commitment and expectations for undergraduate researchers are (much) lower than for their graduate counterparts. In the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at KAIST, doctoral candidates cannot graduate without at least one paper accepted for publication in a Science Citation Index journal. The undergraduates are, of course, under no such obligation. For them, publications are an exciting bonus, not a requirement.
At the same time, undergraduate research students are at the very bottom of the academic research ladder. Sometimes undergraduate students have their own research projects and are supervised directly by a faculty member. But more often, they are supervised by graduate students and assist them with their work.
Undergraduate research students almost always work on research projects, but they do not always conduct research. My first undergraduate research position at MIT was in the ocean engineering towing tank. For the first few weeks of the summer, I attended a training course where I learned to operate mills, lathes, band saws, drill presses and other heavy machinery. Once I received machine shop certification, my graduate student supervisors would give me a handful of part drawings and send me off to build whatever they needed. I would faithfully return a few days later (streaked with dirt and shaking metal chips out of my hair) to deliver the finished parts and pick up the next set of drawings.
I spent most of that summer making a prototype of the second-generation "RoboTuna" to verify the design specifications. The final part drawings were sent out to a professional machine shop to be manufactured. The finished components were then assembled into a life-sized robotic tuna fish. The new RoboTuna, like the one before it, was used in a series of experiments to study fish-like propulsion. Ultimately, that work was expected to help improve the efficiency of ocean going vessels.
The second-generation RoboTuna has been the subject of numerous publications and doctoral theses. The work that I did supported the construction of the equipment needed for the experiments. But because I was not actively involved in planning or conducting the research, I was not named in any of these publications.
I didn't mind at all. By the end of the summer, I had a host of new friends and mentors. I possessed knowledge and skills that few of my classmates had. My experiences were a great help in many of my classes and improved my grades. They also made my next research position easier to obtain and came in very handy for my senior thesis. And I had a great deal of fun.
As a faculty member, I am still reaping the benefits of having done undergraduate research at MIT. As a freshman, I also worked on a research project that investigated the water quality in the Lower Charles River Basin. At KAIST, I have two undergraduate research students who are working on a series of design theory papers that are based on that work. In addition, my research laboratory at KAIST is working on the design of an innovative urban transportation system that has been strongly influenced by my senior thesis.
The relationships, knowledge, skills and experiences that students gain through undergraduate research programs help students become independent learners, answering their own questions and perpetually asking new ones. Perhaps more importantly, doing undergraduate research helps students to understand what research is. This can be a great advantage when applying for and starting a graduate research program where research is part of students' daily lives. Ultimately, these experiences can change the way that students see their role in the university and in the world and may prove to be a continued advantage later in life.
I would strongly encourage students who have the opportunity to do undergraduate research to take advantage of them. Undergraduate research helped to shape my life and my career. It can do the same for you.
Mary Kathryn Thompson, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org - Ed.
THE KOREA HERALD
RENDEZVOUS WITH AFRICA ON CLIMATE
PARIS - After a long series of preparatory meetings, the Copenhagen summit on climate change is finally upon us. With the Kyoto Protocol on carbon emissions expiring in 2012, the delegates who will gather in Copenhagen have been given the task of concluding a new international agreement. The world's countries are engaging in one of the most complex and consequential exercises in collective action that has ever had to be managed in the history of international relations.
Although the responsibility of industrialized countries and emerging economies in the battle against carbon emissions is now well known, Africa's place in the climate agenda has been largely neglected. Sub-Saharan emissions, estimated at only 3 percent to 4 percent of global man-made emissions, are deemed of little interest. Yet Africa is central to the global environmental crisis in two important ways.
First, Africa would be the first victim of major climate disturbance - with side-effects on the whole planet. Experts predict that the continent will experience some of the gravest changes, whereas the capacity of African societies to respond to them is among the weakest in the world.
Several African countries are already experiencing reduced rainfall, soil degradation, and the depletion of precious natural resources, which has a direct impact on the livelihoods of two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africans. The economic, social, migratory, and security consequences of such vulnerability on the rest of the world cannot be ignored, as Africa will be home to more than two billion inhabitants in 2050.
Second, Africa is one of the important actors in the global environmental crisis. Because of its vast natural heritage, the continent contains some of the most potent solutions to climate change. The Congo basin represents the second largest mass of tropical forest in the world, with 220 million hectares. At a time when carbon emissions are rapidly rising worldwide, this gigantic carbon-capture machine is, like agricultural land, one of the essential elements of global climate control. And yet Africa's forest coverage fell by 10 percent between 1990 and 2005 - more than half the recorded global shrinkage.
Moreover, Africa will experience by far the largest growth in energy requirements of any world region in the next 50 years. The fight against climate change will be waged in large part over whether Africa's energy needs are met with fossil fuels or renewable energies.
It is vital that the Copenhagen delegates recognize and promote Africa's contribution to the world's delicate climatic balance. Efforts to preserve Africa's natural resources and to exploit the vast potential of the sub-continent's renewable energies are not free. But if Africa's carbon-storage capacity is viewed as a global public good, as it should be, then everyone should contribute to its provision by developing mechanisms that enable preservation and spark the move toward sustainable energy models.
Three promising tracks will have to materialize rapidly. The first consists in increasing the use of existing tools, such as Clean Development Mechanisms, which enable actors from rich countries to promote projects that reduce emissions in developing countries. Up to now, Africa has missed out on the benefits of CDMs: to date, less than 2 percent of these projects take place in Africa, compared to 73 percent for Asia. Africa ought to be the global carbon market's new frontier.
The second track is official recognition of the carbon storage of African lands and forests, as well as rewards for "avoided deforestation." At a time when humanity is coming to measure the value of biodiversity and the importance of land and forests in climate control, Africa has much to gain by making itself the guardian of a heritage that is essential to humanity's survival. This is worth several billion dollars annually, which could constitute one of the essential stepping-stones to sustained economic growth in Africa in a post-petroleum era.
Finally, the 'climate justice" plan sponsored by France and others in Copenhagen, which aims to increase
Africans' access to clean energy, is crucial at a time when three of ten sub-Saharan Africans have no access to electricity. It is a question not only of justice, but also of climate regulation. Linking public and private efforts to provide two billion Africans with renewable energy will therefore be one of the major challenges of the coming decades.
In the past, African countries found it difficult to make their voices heard in major international negotiations. Their decision to act as a bloc in Copenhagen is an important step forward. But Africa and its partners will now have to unite to win the adoption of measures that ensure the sustainable exploitation of Africa's vast environmental potential in the interest of us all.
Jean-Michel Severino is CEO of the Agence Francaise de Developpement and a member of the blog www.id4d.org. - Ed.