media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month december 31, edition 000391, 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
- CATCH '09 TALES
- A LOT TO BE DESIRED
- PREPARING FOR THE NEXT WAVE - AJAI SAHNI
- SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION KILLED RUCHIKA - KUNAL SAHA
- TENTACLES OF TERROR - B RAMAN
- PROSPECTS FOR US POLICY NOT SO BRIGHT
- SRI LANKA'S PROBLEM LIES NOT IN PAST BUT IN FUTURE - GWYNNE DYER
- NEED TO SELECT BETTER GOVERNORS FOR STATES
- AIR INDIA MESS
- THE SORDID AND UGLY FACE OF INDIA REVEALED - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- QUANTUM LEAP - DINESH C. SHARMA
TIMES OF INDIA
- LOOKING EAST
- HEAL INDIA
- WE'VE COME A LONG WAY - SUDIPTO MUNDLE
- ACCEPTABLE IF IN PUBLIC INTEREST
- END DOESN'T JUSTIFY MEANS - RUPA SENGUPTA
- TO A PERFECT '10 - BACHI KARKARIA
- KEEP IT SHORT - LALIT MOHAN
- YEAR'S LOOKING AT YOU
- HELP OF THE RISING SUN
- THE YEAR OF THE YAWN - PRAMIT PAL CHAUDHURI
- COPENHAGEN COP OUT - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- FAITH IN SELF IS PATH TO GLORY - SATISH KUMAR SHARMA
- SIMBLY SPEARS
- EYES ON ADEN
- VISA WHEEZE
- CALL OFF THE MOB
- OUR GRAND STRATEGY - K.S. BAJPAI
- THE DECADE OF 'SMALL' - SEEMA CHISHTI
- THE NEXT DECADE OF RISK-AVERSE CINEMA - SHUBHRA GUPTA
- A QUESTION OF INTEGRITY - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
- LEAD ROLE
- TOO COOL TO COUNTER TERROR?
- YEAR OF RESILIENCE
- POLICY LETHARGY
- HOW THE NEXT DECADE CAN BE INDIA'S - WILLIAM H AVERY
- REGAINING GROUND LOST TO KOREA, CHINA - GEETHANJALI NATARAJ
- NOT ALL COMMODITIES GLITTERED LIKE GOLD - SANJEEB MUKHERJEE
- DEVELOPING THE WESTERN CORRIDOR
- A WORTHWHILE PROGRAMME
- INDIA AND THE CENTRAL ASIAN DAWN
- LOSS OF NUCLEAR REACTOR CONTRACT, A MAJOR BLOW TO FRANCE - VAIJU NARAVANE
- A DECADE OF GLOBAL CRIMES, CRUCIAL ADVANCES - SEUMAS MILNE
- TWITTER: A CULT AND NOT A CURE - JAMES HARKIN
- I DON'T NEED A WAR TO FIGHT MY CANCER - MIKE MARQUSEE
- AL QAEDA FACTOR
- FIRE HAZARD
- THE CYCLE OF LIFE
- INFLATION HITS POLITICS - JAI MRUG
- LAW CLOSES ON RATHORE
- BANNING N-TESTS
- ECONOMY LOOKS UP
- AFGHANISTAN: THE WAY OUT - BY MAHARAJAKRISHNA RASGOTRA
- DATE WITH AUDREY HEPBURN - BY LIEUT-GEN BALJIT SINGH (RETD.)
- INTEGRATE, DO NOT DIVIDE STATES - BY J L GUPTA
- THE MOST INSPIRING PEOPLE OF 2009 - BY JOHANN HARI
- US CONSUMERS, EMPLOYERS SEE A BRIGHTER FUTURE - BY TIFFANY HSU
- EVENTFUL YEAR
- SCHOOL EDUCATION
- ROLE OF CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NORTH EAST
- ALLEN BROOKS
- 2009: A WARNING-YEAR OF COMPLEX CLIMATE - DR MANASMANI DEV GOSWAMI
- SECURITY NIGHTMARES
- BE PRAGMATIC, SEBI
- INDIA INC NEEDS A LIBRARY MEMBERSHIP - VIKRAM DOCTOR
- HUMAN WANTS VERSUS NEEDS - PARAMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
- PACKAGE SHOULD GENERATE RURAL DEMAND, REMOVE FARM CONSTRAINTS - NARENDAR PANI
- JULY 2010 WOULD BE AN APPROPRIATE TIME FOR A PHASED EXIT - P K CHOUDHURY
- IS 13TH FINANCE PANEL LUCKY FOR STATES? - MYTHILI BHUSNURMATH
- FINANCIAL CRISIS HAS MADE US NIMBLER' - PANKAJ MISHRA
- JAPAN: TIES ARE GETTING STRONGER
- 2010 will test Rahul - By Arun Nehru
- ROGUES AND HEROES OF THE NOUGHTIES - BY MAHIR ALI
- THEY HAVE LIVED - BY S. NIHAL SINGH
- OBAMA CAN'T SEEM TO FIND HIS PULSE - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- LET'S MAKE LIFE WONDERFUL! - VIDYUN SINGH
- DEATH IN CHINA
- ACADEMIC WISDOM
- AVERT THE STRIKE
- POLITICS IN YOUR GENES?
- YEAR-END THOUGHTS - BY SALMAN HAIDAR
- YEAR OF GLOOM
- ASIAN DRAMA
- CHAIN OF REMEMBERING - IAN JACK
- WHEN A DREAM COMES TO AN END - SUMANTA SEN
- BLESSED ARE THEY WHO DO NOT EXPECT
- ANOTHER MINISTRY?
- A SUPERSTAR FADES
- QUANTITY SANS QUALITY - BY PROF NAGENDRA
- SILENCE FROM SPACE - BY H N ANANDA
- STILL A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
- NO MORE LAHIANIS
- WASHINGTON WATCH: WINNERS AND LOSERS FOR 2009 - DOUGLAS BLOOMFIELD
- FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: IRAN: THE LAST RESORT - MICHAEL FREUND
- RATTLING THE CAGE: A TABOO QUESTION FOR ISRAELIS - LARRY DERFNER
- ABOUT AVATARS: CAVEAT EMPTOR! - HAROLD BRACKMAN
- IN DEFIANCE OF DEMOGRAPHIC FATALISM - YORAM ETTINGER
- WHO'S BEEN NAUGHTY: THE ATTEMPTED CHRISTMAS DAY ATTACK - JONATHAN SCHACHTER
- THERE IS NO DELUXE OCCUPATION
- JOURNEY TO NOWHERE - BY GIDEON LEVY
- KADIMA'S FUTURE - BY ISRAEL HAREL
- WHY LOBBIES DON'T MATTER - BY YOSSI SHAIN AND NEIL ROGACHEVSKY
- IMAGINED DETERRENCE - BY GABI SHEFFER
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- FAILED STATE
- NOW YEMEN
- SENATOR DEMINT'S PRIORITIES
- THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS - BY GAIL COLLINS
- TIMES TO REMEMBER, PLACES TO FORGET - BY DANIEL GILBERT
- ALL ABOARD!
- A CITY MOURNS
- SLOW BURN
- A YEAR OF LIVING ON THE EDGE - DR MALEEHA LODHI
- BEYOND THE NFC AWARD - SANIA NISHTAR
- RESOLUTIONS FOR 2010 - IKRAM SEHGAL
- ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE - ZAFAR HILALY
- END OF ANOTHER YEAR - KAMILA HYAT
- NEW YEAR IN SWAT - ZUBAIR TORWALI
- CABINET MEETS IN SEA
- SOMEBODY IS BREAKING KARACHI'S BACKBONE
- WRIGGLE OUT OF AFGHAN WEB NET
- NEW YEAR FOREIGN POLICY WISH LIST - KHALID SALEEM
- US-LED WORLD COMMUNITY FAILS PALESTINIANS - NICOLA NASSER
- US SCHEME OF DEFENDING HOMELAND SECURITY IS CHILDISH - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- WHEN SKEWED HIGH-RISES DISCOLOUR CITY SKYLINE - QUDRAT ULLAH
- GRANDPA'S WORDS OF WISDOM..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- LOOKING EAST
- CLEANING RIVERBED - BY THE SOUND OF ITS ENGINE..!
- ANTI-WAR AGENDA FOR THE NEW YEAR - KAWSER AHMED
- TRIBUTE TO K M SOBHAN - REV. FR. R.W. TIMM
- INDO FIRMS GO FOR GULF DESPITE DUBAI DEBTS - DR. TERRY LACEY
- STUNTED TEETH
- SILLY SMILES
- TOPICS: FOUNTAINS OF PLEASURE - BRABIM KARKI
- BLOG SURFS: STUNNING - TRAVELBLOG.ORG
- THE BACKWARD CLASSES: RIGHTS MUST COME TO THE FOREFRONT - RAM DAYAL RAKESH
- PUNTER REWRITES TEST HISTORY
- IN EVERY ELECTION, IT IS ALWAYS THE ECONOMY
- AVOID A NEW WELFARE SYSTEM
- OUTSOURCING AIRPORT SECURITY
- THE GILDED HALLS OF NSW LEARNING
- GOVERNMENT TURNS ECONOMIC MINUSES INTO A POLITICAL PLUS
- IN PRAISE OF BRITISH CHEESES
- NORTHERN IRELAND: EERIE ECHOES OF THE PAST
- BROWN'S NEW YEAR: NOT HAPPY, BUT NOT HOPELESS
THE KOREA HERALD
- NOT UNBEARABLE
- HOW WILL THE WORLD CHANGE IN 2010S? - PARK SANG-SEEK
- EUROPE UNION'S RISING ROLE IN TIMES OF GLOBALIZATION - JOSE MANUEL BARROSO
THE JAPAN TIMES
- SOMETHING IN THE AIR
- 2009 COULD HAVE BEEN WORSE
- GO WITH GOD, GUS
- HOW TO RESPOND TO PUBLIC OPINION ON FACEBOOK? - DIAZ HENDROPRIYONO
- VIRTUE, LIBERTY AND CONTROL - JENNIE S. BEV
- A TRIUMPHANT DECADE
- JUSTICE SERVED RIGHT
- HARSH LESSONS WE MAY NEED TO LEARN AGAIN - BY JOSEPH E. STIGLITZ (CHINA DAILY)
- THEY DESERVE A CITY HOUSE AS THE NEW DECADE'S GIFT - BY HE BOLIN (CHINA DAILY)
- TIME TO THINK OF A BIGGER FTA - BY PAN GUOPING (CHINA DAILY)
- IT'S NOT FOR US TO REASON WHY, WE SHOULD BE TOLD - BY CHEN JIE (CHINA DAILY)
CATCH '09 TALES
T20 TO G20, INDIA COUNTS ITS GAINS
How does the world look back at 2009? At the end of 2008, predictions for the next 12 months were so grim and pessimistic that everybody started off on January 1 with zero expectations. Within that narrow framework, 2009 turned out better than expected, especially for India. While the economic problems have far from ended, capacities are not yet being expanded and the spectre of high food prices for the foreseeable future remains, it is equally clear that India will come out of the downturn far stronger, and far more quickly, than others. The proverbial green shoots were more than visible in 2009, helped to quite a degree by robust investor and market confidence following a decisive verdict in the May general election. By the second half of 2010, the green shoots could well grow into healthy plants. Indeed, India has much more to look ahead to in 2010 than it thought it did in 2009. People expect the UPA Government will be bold enough to deliver on its promises and, in the larger reckoning, on India's promise. Should it do so, the prospects are near limitless. Already, in 2009, there were indications of the shaping of a new world order, of the retreat of some of the older powers and of the international system readjusting itself to make room for India. From T20 to G20 from moving the Indian Premier League to South Africa at a few week's notice and giving Africa's biggest economy a massive and completely unexpected stimulus to getting invited to the expanded global high table that seats 20 India showed its heft in a variety of ways. The recent Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was also suggestive of this. While the agreement between the United States and the BASIC countries a group of four emerging economies that includes India may have been controversial and clumsily drafted, it did indicate the future of the climate change debate, of industrialisation and economic growth, involved serious conversation between Washington, DC, and new centres of power such as Beijing and New Delhi. The European Union and even Japan were viewed as relatively expendable.
The result of the Lok Sabha election and the fact that its financial and banking system was firewalled from the excesses of Wall Street left India relatively stable and anchored. Yet, the world itself spent 2009 in flux. The global order is drifting in the cusp between old verities and new realities. It is also being governed by a remarkable constellation of leaders who are inexperienced or incompetent or in decline. The US and Japan and even Australia have chief executives who spent 2009 on the learning curve and, in some cases, recovering from Chinese snubs. Britain's sinking status was not helped by a Labour Government at the end of a 15-year run and seemingly destined to lose the 2010 election. In China too, the power struggle between President Hu Jintao and the faction led by his predecessor, Mr Jiang Zemin, is beginning to send out conflicting signals. This phenomenon could become more pronounced in 2010. As such, for a mix of reasons, a number of big powers are either paralysed or simply not pulling their weight. India has no such complaints. Its Government has a clear mandate, its middle class is hungry and ambitious and its business indicators arouse hope. That is the legacy of 2009.
A LOT TO BE DESIRED
INDIA-JAPAN RELATIONS NEED A DOSE OF PRAGMATISM
It would be fair to say that Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's first official visit to India turned out to be a damp squib. It was hoped that the two countries would use the opportunity to usher in a new phase in India-Japan relations. Though Mr Hatoyama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh insist that the bilateral meet did have its positives, the reality is it boiled down to one dominant issue: India ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Mr Hatoyama made it known in no uncertain terms that he would like to see India become a full-fledged adherent of the treaty that bans testing of explosive nuclear devices a spunky move, some would suggest, by a Japanese Prime Minister on his maiden official visit to this country. Mr Singh, on his part, rightly responded by saying that it is the US and China that should lead the way in this regard. Underlining India's impeccable non-proliferation record, Mr Singh further cited the NSG waiver that India has received from the 45-member group of countries that conducts global nuclear commerce to drive home the point that India is a responsible nuclear power. He also clarified India's position on nuclear disarmament by stating that New Delhi was willing to support in principle any move aimed at achieving "universal, verifiable, non-discriminatory disarmament". But the damage was already done. Having failed to get a firm assurance on the CTBT, Mr Hatoyama was at best non-committal when it came to bilateral nuclear commerce and high-technology trade something New Delhi was eagerly looking forward to.
In hindsight, the Government should not be surprised with Mr Hatoyama's posturing. Much of the new Japanese Prime Minister's foreign policy outlook is bound to be conditioned by the context in which he received a huge popular mandate last August. Mr Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan came to power on the same sentiments that President Barack Obama did in the US. After 50 years of virtually unhindered rule by the Liberal Democratic Party, the Japanese people wanted change. They were sick to the bone of the 'iron triangle' that the LDP had put in place comprising the politicians, the big businessmen and senior civil servants. Plus, the global financial crisis hit Japanese economy hard, leading to huge unemployment. All these factors snowballed into a massive anti-US, anti-LDP wave before the August election. Hence, Mr Hatoyama is simply playing the part that the Japanese people back home want him to play. In a departure from the past, they want to see their new Prime Minister strike a different note, be assertive and stop being a flunky of the US. Nonetheless, the Government has done well to reiterate India's position on the nuclear issue. Hopefully, with time Mr Hatoyama will start tempering his present stance with pragmatism.
PREPARING FOR THE NEXT WAVE
There is of course a certain semantic opportunism in the claim that there has been "no terror attack" in India for more than a year after 26/11. The South Asia Terrorism Portal database tells us that there have been at least 2,197 terrorism-related fatalities across the country through year 2009 (till December 28) with the bulk of these coming from the Maoist conflict, accounting for 977; Manipur, 415; Assam, 389; and Jammu & Kashmir, 373. Obviously, "terror attack" in this interpretation refers narrowly to Pakistan-backed Islamist terrorist attacks in major urban centres outside Jammu & Kashmir an interpretation that provides a window into the minds of those who rule India, and their attitudes to what they regard as the country's 'periphery'. Nevertheless, there is cause to appreciate Home Minister P Chidambaram's candour in admitting that the absence of even such a 'terror attack' must be credited largely to "dame luck" rather than any extraordinary initiatives by India's security establishment.
Such sagacity of perspective, however, does not encumber leaderships elsewhere in the country. In Mumbai, crucially the location of the 26/11 attacks the administration boasted of new protocols to respond to "a nuclear, chemical or biological attack". The fact that this was considered a subject suitable for public mention indicates a degree of unfamiliarity with reality that is, indeed, astonishing. Protocols or no protocols, the truth is that no country in the world is actually or sufficiently 'prepared', in any meaningful sense, to thwart or to respond to a WMD (weapon of mass destruction) attack, and for Mumbai to see fit to brag about new and untested SOPs (standard operating procedures) in this context is certainly disingenuous. Worse, virtually every intelligence and security agency in the countries targeted by Islamist terrorists now concedes not only the possibility, but, indeed, the imminence of a future catastrophic attack, potentially involving WMD technologies. In some such countries certain systems for the containment of the impact of such an attack have been put in place. There is, however, at this juncture, a comprehensive vacuum in terms of any strategy of response to such an attack. The tremendous dispersal and decentralisation of Islamist terrorist forces across the world make the design of an effective, targeted, response nigh impossible, exponentially multiplying the uncertainties that would necessarily result from a catastrophic or WMD attack anywhere in the free world.
There is, in India, little comprehension of the magnitude and the evolving nature of the threat of terrorism, and this takes much of the discourse on the subject into the realm of make-believe. Administrations continue to quibble over institutional forms a bifurcated Home Ministry, a National Counter-terrorism Centre, National Intelligence Grids, and so forth or to focus on incremental augmentations in capacity, with little reference to the fact that contemporary terrorism has engineered a generational shift in the fundamental nature of warfare, and this has disempowered even the most powerful states in the world.
This, indeed, is the core lesson of the current campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Notwithstanding the overwhelming technical, technological and resource superiority of US and coalition forces in these theatres, victory remains elusive and most analysts would suggest that the US has, in fact, suffered significant reverses. It is useful to recall, crucially, that this pattern of irregular warfare, sometimes referred to as Fourth Generation Warfare (4GW), even without recourse to WMD technologies, "stands unique thus far as the only type of warfare that has defeated a superpower, and it has done so on two occasions" in Vietnam and in Afghanistan. Contemporary terrorists use asymmetric warfare strategy and tactics within a protracted war model, and systematically elaborated over time, which seek to evade decisive engagements with a more powerful enemy, to gradually erode the political will of the enemy, rather than to control or administer territory. The essence of this method is 'disruptive dominance', the capacity to ensure that the stronger side the state and its agencies is unable to exercise the minimal functions of governance and the protection of life and property over the jurisdictions it controls. The objective is not to defeat the enemy militarily, but "to convince the enemy's political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit." The increasingly importunate advocacy within the Indian policy establishment, of the necessity of a 'compromise' on Kashmir and a 'negotiated solution' with Pakistan, is an index of the degree to which this objective has already been consolidated.
With rare exception, India's strategic and policy establishment continues to prepare to counter nothing more than the last terrorist attack, substantially oblivious of the continuous process of reinvention that terrorists are engaged in. Islamist terrorist ideologues and leaders, for instance, have been evolving theories of war that rely on the use of "the most deadly weapons possible", and have created a new model aimed at drawing individuals and small groups into a 'leaderless' global jihad. One of the architects of this new way of warfare, Mustafa Sethmariam Nasar aka Abu Musab al-Suri, is known to have been involved in efforts in Afghanistan, during the Taliban regime, to train fighters in the use of "poisons and chemicals". A 1,600 page document on 'Global Islamic Resistance', authored by Nasar, was long in circulation on the Internet, and ideas such as these have been widely disseminated among Islamists and their handlers for years now.
While India continues to rely on 'luck' to come to terms with the fallout of a conventional attack by ten terrorists, equipped with small arms and grenades, it is useful to look at emerging projections of the potential of catastrophic terrorism, which we continue to refuse even to contemplate. Specifically, the greatest potential lies in the sphere of biological weapons which, commentators note, "have the capability to kill many more people than a nuclear attack." One study, Dark Winter conducted in 2001, for instance, simulated a smallpox attack on three US cities. In a period of 13 days, smallpox spread to 25 States and 15 countries in several epidemiological waves, after which one-third of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who contracted the disease died. It was estimated that a fourth generation of the disease would leave 3 million infected and 1 million dead. The exercise was terminated at that time.
Terrorism is undergoing radical, generational shifts, and when this transition manifests itself in a new wave of catastrophic attacks, the resultant shocks could destroy almost all capacities of response within the target systems. Our conceptualisation of counter-terrorism, however, remains trapped in the past, as we equivocate over the definition of terrorism and over 'developmental' and 'political solutions' to the global jihad. India's security apparatus must prepare, not for the possible recurrence of another 26/11 which currently exhausts our efforts and vision but with the challenge of neutralising the exponentially evolving threats of this new way of warfare.
SYSTEMIC CORRUPTION KILLED RUCHIKA
Since former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore was found guilty of molesting 14-year old Ruchika Girhotra who later committed suicide the media has erupted against the meagre punishment a six-month jail term plus a paltry Rs 1,000 fine that has been meted out and the obvious flaws in the delivery of justice. The Government has finally woken up. Two new FIRs have been filed against Rathore for the heinous crimes that this influential sexual predator has committed. The new charges against Rathore include harassment of the victim's brother and deliberate manipulation of the investigation process.
All this while Rathore was too powerful for Ruchika's family. The former top cop was able to exploit not only the police and the Central Bureau of Investigation to his advantage but also the entire justice system. And he had almost got away with it too. But because of the huge public outcry, it seems that Rathore's hour of reckoning has finally come.
While the media may claim victory, this entire episode has underscored the glaring flaws at every level of our society. Rathore was indeed a high-rank police officer. But in order to evade punishment for his crimes, he was able to influence not only the investigators, but also senior politicians in Haryana without whose active cooperation he would not have been able to subvert the process of justice for so long. It is truly amazing that a single high-ranking Government servant could have such influence over so many different institutions.
A simple analysis of this squalid episode would undoubtedly establish that gross abuse of power and pervasive corruption were responsible for the failure of the justice system. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has now directed that the police must file an FIR every time a complaint is lodged at a police station. Was the Home Minister unaware till now that this is hardly the practice in India? It is common knowledge that bribes and political influence are the main 'motivating' factors for our police force.
It is true that our country has made major strides in economy and technology in recent years. But pervasive corruption in almost every area of public service has impeded our progress significantly. In fact, India has been judged to be one of the most corrupt nations in the world by several studies. Unless we are able to successfully tackle corruption, cases like Ruchika's will continue to haunt us.
TENTACLES OF TERROR
The recent attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound airline, which was part of a wider conspiracy orchestrated from Yemen, clearly shows that the Obama Administration now faces a two-front war against Al Qaeda: One in the AfPak region and the other in the Yemen-Saudi axisAccording to the NEFA Foundation of the US, a non-Governmental organisation created following 9/11 to track Islamic terrorism, Al Qaeda's network in Yemen has issued an official communiqué claiming responsibility for the failed terrorist bomb plot targeting a Delta/Northwest airliner travelling from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas day. The communiqué included original photographs of would-be bomber Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab grinning in front of an Al Qaeda banner. The group acknowledged that the device had failed to properly detonate, but promised that it would "continue on this path until we achieve success." The statement also congratulated Fort Hood shooter Major Nidal Malik Hasan and urged fellow Muslims to follow his footsteps and kill American soldiers.
According to the same foundation, Al Qaeda's network in Yemen has issued an official response to the airstrike earlier this week on a suspected Al Qaeda gathering in the region of Shabwah that reportedly killed up to 30 people, including a number of senior Al Qaeda operatives. The group threatened that it would not allow "the slaughter of Muslim women and children to pass without taking vengeance for them, Allah willing. We call upon all Yemeni tribes... and the people of the Arabian Peninsula to confront the crusaders and their clients in the Arabian Peninsula by attacking military bases, embassies, intelligence agents, and naval fleets occupying the waters of the Arabian Peninsula."
There is so far no reason to doubt the authenticity of these claims which show that the attempt to blow up a plane of the North-West Airlines on December 25 as it was approaching to land at Detroit was part of a wider conspiracy of Al Qaeda orchestrated from Yemen and not the isolated act of an individual as sought to be made out by some officials of the Obama Administration. They also show that the massacre of 13 soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas by Maj Nidal Malik Hasan of the US Army on November 6 was an act of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism and not an act of irrational anger of a Muslim serving in the Army.
The Obama Administration now faces a two-front war against Al Qaeda: One in the AfPak region and the other in the Yemen-Saudi axis. Its success or failure in this 'war' will determine the security of Americans in their homeland in the months to come. These developments clearly show that US President Barack Obama's overtures to the Arabs through his Cairo address earlier this year and his marking his distance from the Israeli Government and the Jewish people since coming to office on January 20 have had no impact on Al Qaeda, which is as determined as ever to make the Americans bleed. It is to be hoped that these developments will mark the beginning of the end of Mr Obama's illusions relating to how to counter jihadi terrorism. There is no soft option in dealing with Al Qaeda and its associates whether in the AfPak region or in other areas.
Al Qaeda's jihad against the US started in 1992 in Yemen, from where Osama bin Laden's father had migrated to Saudi Arabia. That year, suspected members of Al Qaeda bombed a hotel in Aden used by US troops going to Somalia, killing two civilians. This was followed by the October 2000 suicide bombing of the USS Cole off Aden that killed 17 US sailors.
In 2007, remnants of the Saudi branch of Al Qaeda, who had survived an anti-Al Qaeda offensive by the Saudi security forces in the wake of the post-2004 incidents involving Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, fled into Yemen and took sanctuary there just as Osama bin Laden and other remnants of Al Qaeda had fled in 2002 from Afghanistan into North Waziristan of Pakistan and took sanctuary there. This was followed by a car bomb attack on Spanish tourists killing eight of them and the assassination of two Belgians. During 2008, there was a failed mortar attack on the US Embassy in Sana'a. Later, 17 Yemenis, including seven terrorists, died in a twin car-explosion near the US Embassy.
Like the Federally-Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, Yemen, with its mountainous terrain dotted with caves and other natural hide-outs, provides an ideal shelter and launching pad for Al Qaeda. The widespread poverty and the lack of facilities for modern education drive a large number of youth into the arms of Al Qaeda. It has nearly 4,000 madarsas, which are the breeding ground of fundamentalist ideological beliefs. Yemen had contributed a large number of volunteers for jihad against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Many of them returned to Yemen after the withdrawal of the Soviet troops. Some of them were rehabilitated by being recruited to the police and the security forces. Others took to a new jihad this time against the US and Israel. Those rehabilitated in the security forces and those, who had joined Al Qaeda, remained in contact with each other having fought shoulder to shoulder against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
In January Al Qaeda announced the merger of the Yemeni and Saudi branches of the organisation under the leadership of Yemeni Nasir al-Wahishi, with a Saudi Said Ali al-Shihri, as his No 2 al-Shihri used to be detained by the US in its detention centre at the Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. The group called itself Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.
In March a suicide bomber killed four South Korean tourists near the eastern town of Shibam. Another then targeted a convoy of South Korean security officials and the families of the victims while they were on their way to the airport of Sana'a. On March 28 our policemen died in clashes with persons believed to be from Al Qaeda in the south of the country.
Yemeni Deputy Prime Minister Rashad al-Alimi, who is in charge of security and defence, told his Parliament on March 23 that he suspected that Al Qaeda had managed to infiltrate the Yemeni security services. The suspicion that it had penetrated the security services was strengthened by the precision attack of Al Qaeda on the South Korean convoy to the airport. It was apparently aware of the proposed route of the convoy and the time at which it would be moving to the airport.
The merger of the Saudi and Yemeni branches of Al Qaeda and the activities of the AQAP rang the alarm bell in the US and Saudi Arabia.
The concerns for the US authorities would be the possibility that Major Hasan and Abdulmutallab could be the tips of an Al Qaeda iceberg and that unless they identify the rest of the iceberg and neutralise it, they cannot be certain of the security of their homeland.
The writer is a former top official of R&AW. His book, Mumbai 26/11, has just been published.
PROSPECTS FOR US POLICY NOT SO BRIGHT
Obama Admn's problem is that it has no way forward on what is over-optimistically called the Israel-Palestinian 'peace process' since it isn't going to put real pressure on the PA to negotiate
In contrast to my rather gloomy assessment of the Obama Administration's prospects in West Asia, Israel's prospects look rather good. This is granted, of course, that the chances for any formal peace (note the word 'formal') with the Arab states or the Palestinians are close to zero. In addition there are two longer-term threats in the form of Iranian nuclear weapons and Islamists one day taking over one or more Arab states.
But let's enjoy ourselves while we can. It's also important to remember in West Asia, optimism does not mean forecasting blue skies but merely ones only lightly overcast.
It's funny, though, how much better Israel's situation is then it's generally perceived. Consider the pluses:
· The potential of a clash with the US has been averted, most likely for the remainder of President Barack Obama's term. All the lessons received by the US in the region to whatever extent it learned them are favourable to Israel, showing how ready Israel is to help US efforts at the same time as demonstrating how hard it is to get peace and how limited is the other's side's cooperation or flexibility. The possibility of US rapprochement with Iran or Syria has been destroyed by the latter
· On the surface the situation with Israel looks dreadful but where it counts the support is sufficient. France, Germany, and Italy have friendly Governments while in Britain an acceptably positive regime is about to be replaced by a warmer one. (It helps to have low expectations.)
· Despite their rhetoric, Palestinian Authority leaders are basically satisfied with the status quo. Their strategies for forcing more concessions from Israel without giving anything leave them smug but without prospects for success. The danger of a Hamas takeover has been averted. The economic situation on the West Bank is about as good as it's ever been. And the PA rulers prefer to avoid renewed violence. That's not nirvana but it ain't bad either.
· Hizbullah doesn't want renewed war this year, seeking to carry out revenge attacks away from the Lebanon-Israel border. Hamas is probably cowed enough by the early 2009 fighting (outside observers still don't realise the extent to which its gunmen broke, ran away, and hid behind civilians, but the Hamas leadership knows), though this can't be taken for certain.
· While the international economic slump has hit Israel, the country has been more insulated than one might have dared hope from its negative effects. Its remarkable technical innovation on hi-tech, science, medical, and agricultural technology continues to make rapid progress.
· Israel has a Government with a high level of popular support which really seems-after so much ineptness and ingenious plans that didn't do much good-to be on track. There is, by Israeli standards, a high degree of national consensus.
· Iran still doesn't have nuclear weapons.
That's not at all a bad list. There are many who think that Israel cannot flourish, perhaps cannot even survive, without having formal peace with the Palestinians or perhaps also Syria and the Arabic-speaking world in general. This is simply untrue. The lack of a signed peace treaty with everyone (not to mention that such documents exist with Egypt and Jordan) is not the same as war. From the usual standards of no war, no peace this is a pretty good one.
Of course, there are negatives yet they really don't amount to anywhere near as much as it seems on a superficial glance. The virtual defection of Turkey's regime from the Western alliance (yes, it really is that bad) and the end of the special relationship between Jerusalem and Ankara is a bad thing. But the Turkish semi-Islamist rulers are restrained by their desire to play a role in regional peacemaking and not to make the Americans or Europeans too angry.
Most distressing of all is the noise. The virulent hatred of Europe in large sections of the American and especially European intelligentsia goes along with the endless outpouring of academic, media, and EU sniping can be dispiriting. Yet even here there is some silver lining. The more extreme and outright crackpot the attacks, the less credible they are. Public opinion polls, especially in the US where they are through the roof, are not so bad. In addition, the lies and screaming have little material effect on the region itself. Something to worry about but don't lose sleep.
What's most important of all is this: A willingness to assess your problems accurately, guided by reasonable expectations. Not being crippled with ideology, blinded by misconceptions, swayed by bad international advice and the desire to be popular. And with determination and courage to implement policies that do the best with the hand you've been dealt.
Unfortunately, prospects for US policy in the region are considerably less rosy.
The Obama Administration's first problem is that it has literally no way forward on what is over-optimistically called the Israel-Palestinian 'peace process' since it isn't going to put real pressure on the Palestinian Authority to negotiate. Nothing may happen before Israel ends its 10-month construction freeze next September.
So the US Government will pretend to work hard, send envoys zipping around, peering for some opening to leap into action. But this charade should be pretty transparent.
The writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal.
SRI LANKA'S PROBLEM LIES NOT IN PAST BUT IN FUTURE
PROSPECT OF PEACE DEPENDS ON RECONCILING THE TAMILS TO COEXISTENCE WITH THE SINHALESE, WRITES GWYNNE DYER
First, the good news. Sri Lanka's Government, whose 26-year war against the separatist Tamil Tigers ended in total victory last May, is keeping its promise to let all of the 300,000 Tamil civilians who were captured in the final battle go home again. Not only that, but it is going to hold a free election next month so free that the ruling party might even lose it.
The bad news is that it does not much matter who wins that election. Both the incumbent and the challenger are committed Sinhalese nationalists whose policies towards the Tamil minority militate against any reconciliation between the two groups. Tamils are less than a fifth of the population, so if tough treatment is enough to keep them quiet, then Sri Lanka faces a peaceful future but repression has not worked in the past.
It's easy to understand why the Government headed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brother, Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, insisted on a decisive victory over the Tamil Tigers, whose insurgency had caused 70,000 deaths over the years. There had been cease-fires and peace talks over the years, but the Tigers never really abandoned their goal of total independence for the Tamil majority areas in northern and eastern Sri Lanka.
That was utterly unacceptable to the Sinhala-speaking majority, so the war was bound to end in a last stand by the Tigers sooner or later. They could have carried on with suicide bombings and assassinations forever, but their territorial ambitions drove them to seize and hold ground with a more or less conventional military force. (They even had a navy and an air force of sorts.) That made them vulnerable to military defeat.
All it took to make that happen was a Government willing to devote all the resources of the state to building an army able to defeat the Tigers in stand-up battle, and tough enough to refuse all negotiations until the enemy was completely destroyed. The Rajapaksas provided that Government.
Nor was Colombo wrong to round up all 300,000 Tamil civilians who were caught up in the Tigers' last stand. Any surviving fighters were bound to try to hide themselves among the civilians, so a protracted sorting-out process was needed. But the Sri Lankan Government promised that everybody except suspected fighters would be released within six months and it has kept its word, more or less.
The problem lies not in the past, but in the future. The Tamils are always going to be there, and the prospect of a peaceful future for Sri Lanka depends on reconciling them to coexistence with the Sinhalese in a state that treats both communities fairly. They will probably never again create a semi-conventional army like the Tigers, but it would be all too easy for them to resort to terrorism again if they feel desperate enough. And it would be almost impossible to stop it.
The trouble is that it took an ultra-nationalist Sinhalese regime to create the Army that defeated the Tigers, and it is still in power. It does not want to welcome the Tamils back into equal citizenship, nor does it feel that it needs to. The Rajapaksa Government has called an early election for January 26 to exploit its victory and consolidate its hold on power and if it should happen lose the election, then things may just get worse.
The Rajapaksas' challenger is none other than General Sarath Fonseka, who commanded the Army that finally defeated the Tigers. The main Opposition group in the Sinhala community, the United National Party, has banded together with nine smaller parties and put Gen Fonseka up as their presidential candidate.
Gen Fonseka could actually win, for his role in the defeat of the Tigers was just as large as that of the Rajapaksas. But he is also just as uncompromising a Sinhalese nationalist: As the war was nearing a conclusion, he was heard to say that Sri Lanka "belongs to the Sinhalese... (Minorities) can live in this country with us, but they must not try to demand undue things." Like equality, perhaps?
That is the attitude that drove the Tamils into insurrection in the first place. The next time it wouldn't take the same form, but it could guarantee another generation of misery, insecurity (and perhaps also tyranny) for the long-suffering people of Sri Lanka.
The writer is a London-based independent journalist.
NEED TO SELECT BETTER GOVERNORS FOR STATES
IN some ways the office of the governor of a state of the union is more powerful than that of the president of the republic. The latter must always act on the advice of the Union council of ministers, but the former has slightly more room for discretion because he or she tends to operate under the national radar and gets away with some brazen actions, especially in relation to their power to pardon criminals or to invite a person to form the government in the state.
It is a pity, then, that governors are chosen with the casualness that they are.
Overwhelmingly, they tend to be geriatric party politicians, or loyal bureaucrats in need of a sinecure. Or they belong to one or the other of the security services which sends its own set of signals to the state concerned.
Even here there is little logic. While the government may argue that they need a former policeman like Gurbachan Jagat to be the governor of troubled Manipur, there is little logic in having retired generals to head peaceful Arunachal Pradesh ( J. J. Singh), Punjab ( S. F. Rodrigues) and Mizoram ( M. M. Lakhera), or another policeman ( R. S. Mooshahary) to look after Meghalaya.
And now, in the wake of the troubles in Andhra Pradesh and the sudden sacking of the Governor N. D. Tiwari, the government has decided to send former Intelligence Bureau chief E. S. L. Narasimhan as the acting chief executive of the state.
This defies reason and sends all the wrong signals. The tangle in Andhra is purely political. Just what would a former policeman and intelligence officer contribute in untangling it? Perhaps he can assist in cracking heads of agitators, but that is precisely why such people should not be appointed governors in the first place. The office and function of the governor is both political and administrative. It is best, therefore to draw personnel with a background in this area politicians, parliamentarians and the occasional bureaucrat.
The government is now set to appoint some new governors. The post is vacant in West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Rajasthan and the terms of the governors of Punjab and Tamil Nadu are over. This is a good time for the Union government to come up with a set of criteria that will make the selection for the post of governor a transparent exercise.
AIR INDIA MESS
THAT our national carrier Air India is in a mess is something that needs no repetition.
What is surprising is the level of indiscipline that its staff and management have touched with 28 flights being cancelled in eight days from just one airport in Kerala Kozhikode.
With this, Air India has managed to wreck the careers of thousands of Gulf- bound Kerala professionals who depend on their jobs in the Emirates and elsewhere to fend for their families. With no intimation and very few hotel rooms to go by, the plight of those coming from far off places in Kerala to take the flight from Kozhikode can only be imagined.
Air India stands guilty on several counts first, its management did not respond to the leave requests of its expatriate pilots who had wanted to be with their families for Christmas. Second, it allowed them to go on leave without intimation and now, does not even have the moral or legal sense to call them back or threaten them with action.
Instead, the national carrier along with its subsidiary Air India Express, has chosen to disrupt the lives of close to 5,000 people who have missed their deadlines at their respective places of work. As is well known, in many places abroad, a day's delay in returning from vacation can lead to the termination of employment.
But its bigger guilt is its negligence relating to the basic needs of its customers their right to be intimated of their respective flight's fate well in advance so they can plan their return.
Any world class airline would have had a backup plan in place so that if one crew does not turn up ( or is unable to make it for reasons such as illness or accidents), the backup staff can immediately take on the responsibility for the flight taking off on time. But then, Air India really lost its status as a world class airline a long time ago.
THE SORDID AND UGLY FACE OF INDIA REVEALED
BY MANOJ JOSHI
2009 is ending for the country with with a sad, gut-wrenching feeling. No, it's not the economy, the stability of the government, or the failure of the monsoon. It is an inner tumult brought on by the haunting image of Ruchika Girhotra, being played and replayed on TV and newspapers.
The 14- year old molested by a senior police officer and then pushed to suicide by the systematic and brutal persecution of her family. To add to the bitter taste of the rising bile is the other image being repeated the smirking face of the man who perpetrated the act, S.P.S. Rathore, formerly of the Indian Police Service.
There are other faces, too, some as yet not in focus, which reveal, to use Hannah Arendt's term, the banal collection of people policemen, school teachers and politicians who were accessory to the terrible act and its coverup.
The policemen participated in the false arrest and torture of her brother, the school expelled her for little cause, other policemen watered down the charges against Rathore, bureaucrats who passed the buck on the case, and, above all, the politicians, who protected him in the knowledge that he would be in their power and do their bidding.
The entire system was thus involved in the evil act of destroying the Girhotra family. This was the system created by Nehru, Patel, Ambedkar and Gandhi, our upright and just founding fathers. Their heirs have become anything but that. Some like Lalu Yadav, Mayawati, O.P. Chautala have at least been charged with wrong-doing, but there are others, like Narendra Modi and Bal Thackeray who have gotten away with incitement to murder, and many, many more in the top rung of our political system who are corrupt and violent, but manage to escape the rigour of the law in much the same manner that Rathore did for 19 yearsby suborning the system and through the assistance of friendly colleagues and babus.
The one thing that emerges from the case as it has unfolded, is the unstinted support that Rathore got from the political class. This was important since the political class is our master- class. Successive Chief Ministers in Haryana refused to take heed of reports of Rathore's wrongdoing and actually promoted him.
Their cynical logic was simple. A compromised cop like Rathore was ideal for their own purposes, which in many instances, too, went beyond the bounds of the legal. For a politician, a crooked and morally compromised policeman is worth his weight in gold. He is able to use him as currency to get a lot of things done intimidate enemies, fix elections and overawe rivals.
Is it any surprise that senior police officer R. K. Sharma, convicted for journalist Shivani Bhatnagar's murder, was dismissed from service seven years after his name came up in the case? That another police officer in Rajasthan is absconding, allegedly for the past 13 years after raping his orderly's wife, a simple village woman. And the son of another policeman, convicted of rape in the same state, has jumped parole and vanished. A senior Punjab police officer, Sumedh Singh Saini has been charged for the wrongful confinement and disappearance of two individuals and their driver. The list is extensive, and no doubt, just the tip of the iceberg.
If unchecked, it is this moral degeneration, where the custodians become the criminals, that will define the India of tomorrow, not our growing economy, scientific and technical prowess, and the like. There will be little point in attaining material success if we lose our soul not in a religious sense but as Plato and Aristotle saw it, the essence of our being, or that which makes us human. In almost every culture, this is defined by compassion, love and an unambiguous understanding of what is right and what is wrong. It has been marked through history by the ending of slavery, advances in gender justice, the outlawing of torture and an end to what used to be " cruel and unusual punishment." It is the inbuilt moral compass that has guided human civilisation to the present, that which persuades people to fight oppression and defy persecution.
Morality is not, or should not, be a peripheral issue. For Gandhi, of course, it was always central. But even for hard- headed realists like Ambedkar it was the key. It was not for nothing that Babasaheb pointed out that minus constitutional morality, the structure of governance created by the constitution would not work. This is the morality that was undermined systematically by Indira Gandhi, to begin with, and has since suffered all- round damage.
How does the system go about rectifying the current state of affairs? Certainly, the Union government that controls the all India services needs to be far more pro- active than it is.
As of now, the tendency of the government is to protect, rather than prosecute wayward officers. Taking the excuse that honest officers would be harassed, the Union government has a rule that requires central sanction for their prosecution. This rule needs to be drastically modified to exclude people accused of murder, rape and other such heinous crimes.
But the real onus for changing things rests on those who will have to undertake this task the political class. And here, the lead must be taken by the party that began the rot the Indian National Congress.
The Congress is the mother party of our political system. It took the country to great heights, but it also brought it to its nadir. In just about a decade after the death of the tallest Congressman, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi brought on the Emergency.
The Emergency's atrocities forced sterilisations, illegal arrests and harassment were relatively minor. What was more damaging was the lasting legacy that Indira left her party's democracy subverted, the judicial system undermined and the bureaucracy corrupted with power.
The Congress party thus has a historical responsibility to regenerate the system. Some recent signs do suggest that the party seems to have become aware of this. The raids on Madhu Koda and the exposure of his misdeeds have been attributed to this rethinking. Another sign is the refusal of the party to touch Shibu Soren after the recent Jharkhand elections, and more recently the quick decision to axe Narain Dutt Tiwari as Governor of Andhra Pradesh. But all this is too subtle and indirect. There is need for the party to frontally confront the issue of political immorality and its spillover into the administration and police machinery. There is really just one approach that will work zero tolerance of crime, especially on the part of those charged with upholding law and order.
But the people of the country cannot and must not depend on the goodwill of a political party alone.
Civil society and its key arm the media needs to play a systematic role in exposing injustice and unjust persecution.
India has great pretensions of being a moral nation, no doubt a hangover from the fact that Mahatma Gandhi led the freedom movement and that the Buddha, Mahavir and Nanak had walked the land. But in the last thirty years we have shredded whatever was left of that legacy. The system has become, to put it bluntly, immoral, unjust and corrupt. Those who comprise it, and especially those who lead it, need to do something about it, and fast.
manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in
DINESH C. SHARMA
CLONING, CLIMATE MARKED THEDECADE
IF one were to name the most significant scientific advancements of the 2000s, it would be human cloning and stem cell research. The science and policy debate around climate change was another science related development that dominated the decade. And these two cloning and climate change could possibly be the big stories of the next decade as well.
Both are closely related to the future of the human race. Stem cell research could help us find solutions to some of the most complex disorders that afflict humans, while steps that we take to tackle climate change could determine if we indeed avoid the catastrophic events that could result due to a rise in global temperatures.
The developments in stem cell research were the most tumultuous of the decade. In 2004, Korean scientist Hwang Woosuk claimed that he had created the world's first cloned human embryos and extracted stem cells from them. But subsequent investigations revealed that the claim was based on fudged data, forcing the journal Science which had published the paper to withdraw it. The Hwang story came to an end in 2009 with his conviction on charges of embezzlement of research funds.
While this episode brought embryonic stem cell research under a cloud, scientists found a way to circumvent the use of human embryos as a source of stem cells altogether. They have developed techniques to ' convert' or ' reprogramme' adult stem cells into pluripotent stem cells which can grow into any human organ cells just like embryonic stem cells. Such cells are called induced pluripotent stem cells ( iPS). For instance, fibroblasts cells that make up connective tissues have been reprogrammed to behave like stem cells that fix heart damage caused by infarction. Similarly, skin cells have been used to create iPS. Scientists hope to deliver new therapies based on iPS over the next few years.
On the climate change front, the most devastating news of the decade was the continued warming of the globe and the inability of political leaders to take decisive action. The 2000 2009 period was warmer than the previous decade ( 1990 1999). The year 2009 is likely to rank in the top 10 warmest on record since the beginning of instrumental climate records in 1850, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
Ignoring such mounting evidence and resulting extreme weather events such as heat waves and cyclonic storms, political leaders have failed to agree on steps they need to take to prevent more devastation.
Nearly a decade of negotiations was wasted in one stroke at Copenhagen and the world's biggest emitters have opted for another round of negotiations. If stem cell research offers hope to humanity, the road from Copenhagen certainly does not augur well for the future of the planet.
Heard of embedded carbon?
THE climate change negotiations are beginning to resemble trade negotiations. They are centred not just around greenhouse gas emissions and carbon credits. Some new concepts like " embedded carbon" too are engaging technical experts and negotiators.
Embedded carbon refers to carbon dioxide emitted at all stages of a good's manufacturing process mining of raw materials, manufacturing, distribution and availability of the final product to the consumer.
In the climate change regime, this can be used to calculate officially recognised GHG reduction " credits" or for meeting mandatory emission targets or even to calculate emission targets of individual companies. Countries can formulate carbon labelling policies that show consumers the carbon content of a product, allowing them to select lowcarbon products and pressure suppliers to opt for low- carbon options. In international trade, embedded carbon can become contentious as Western countries are increasingly outsourcing manufactured products from places like China. It can render products made in a country with emission reduction policies uncompetitive compared to those made in nations where such policies are not in place.
INDIA STILL LAGGING
WHILE Indian health authorities are struggling to impose tougher antitobacco laws including gory labeling on tobacco products some countries are pushing for more stringent regulations. The tobacco section in dutyfree shops at Istanbul airport was not only wellstocked but also gave a glimpse of Turkey's antitobacco regime.
All the packs had health warnings boldly printed on both sides. There were a variety of them: ' smoking kills', ' smoking clogs the arteries and causes heart attack and stroke', ' smokers die younger' and so on.
The Indian tobacco industry has been successful in limiting pictorial warnings to one side of the pack, which ensures that you don't see warnings like those in the picture.
COPENHAGEN AIRPORT WALKS THE TALK
" JUST one minute of wind is enough to run this escalator for 2.5 hours", proclaims a billboard next to the escalator in the arrival lounge of the Copenhagen airport. This is not just symbolism. The Copenhagen airport is really trying to be green going beyond the usual water harvesting and ' use of natural light' claims made by many new airports including the one in Bangalore.
The airport has been designed in such a way that most flights leave the Copenhagen area by climbing continuously and fly directly into their optimal operating level and route. This saves fuel and carbon emissions, compared to conventional departure procedures that involve a gradual climb. The ' green departure' saves 200 kilos of fuel per departure.
Annually, this translates into cutting down carbon emissions by 32,000 tonnes. Given that emissions from the sector are set to grow with the projected rise in traffic, we need more solutions like this in the future.
dineshc. sharma@ mailtoday. in
TIMES OF INDIA
The relationship between Japan and India is one that has always held much promise. But the potential for mutual gain the two countries could enjoy by collaborating more closely over a range of areas has never been fully realised. Japanese prime minister Yukio Hatoyama's visit to New Delhi this week provided an opportunity for the two countries to deepen bilateral ties, which hold import for the overall stability and balance of power in Asia.
The main headline emerging out of the Japanese premier's visit to India was on New Delhi's position on signing the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Thanks to its history, Japan is understandably a big champion of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the CTBT. It was no surprise, therefore, that the CTBT should have figured prominently on Hatoyama's agenda for his India trip. Manmohan Singh, meanwhile, signalled a nuanced shift in New Delhi's position on the CTBT from flatly rejecting it to suggesting that India could reconsider its position if and when the US and China ratify the CTBT.
Even though any possibility of civilian nuclear cooperation between the two countries might be a while away, the Japanese PM did reassure New Delhi that he would look into the strict export regime in his country that makes transfer and sale of high-end dual technology to India difficult at present. The two countries have agreed to step up security cooperation by setting up a consultative body and the focus will be on maritime security, which could bolster anti-piracy operations in the Asia-Pacific.
Japan's closest bilateral equation is with the US and its biggest trading partner in Asia is China. Where does India fit in? For starters, the two countries could scale up bilateral economic ties bilateral trade stood at roughly $13 billion for 2008-09. The proposed Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Pact is a welcome step in this direction. While Japan is a big aid and expertise provider to India, it still is not as big an investor as it could be. Many Japanese companies, especially in the manufacturing sector, have set up shop in India but they still find the Indian environment business-unfriendly. If India is to garner a greater share of Japanese private investment, it must set its own house in order and make it attractive for Japanese multinationals to operate from.
Japan and India share ancient cultural ties, thanks to Buddhism, and there is scope for updating relations to reflect modern realities. Investing substantially in Indo-Japan ties will be beneficial for both countries, not least in countering the rapidly growing economic and geopolitical influence of China a common rival to both in the region.
TIMES OF INDIA
The health ministry and the Medical Council of India have proposed a shorter, three and a half years' medical degree course for rural students. The 'graduates' are expected to minister exclusively to a rural populace. Most medical graduates, on completion of their course and training, are loath to opt for rural service. This has been one of the major reasons why successive governments have failed to institutionalise viable and comprehensive rural health coverage.
Various state governments have experimented in different ways to ensure that medical graduates at least from state-run medical colleges serve in rural areas. Among these are the one-year compulsory rural service (CRS), cash incentives and quotas in postgraduate courses. In some states, those who fail to do the CRS were faced with cancellation of their registration as medical practitioners. Another proposal was to give extra weightage to those candidates who had served in rural areas or even reserve seats for them in a postgraduate diploma or degree course.
The current proposal seeks to churn out general practitioners for rural India. Hence the move to reduce the duration of the degree course from five and a half to three and a half years. This, in a way, seems to be a revival of the Licentiate Medical Practitioners (LMP) scheme that prevailed before independence whereby students were trained as medical doctors for around three years, awarded a diploma and then fulfilled the needs of rural healthcare as a way to bridge the gap between demand and supply of licensed medical practitioners outside metropolitan India. LMPs, in fact, outnumbered MBBS graduates and they were largely serving in the rural areas.
The Bhore committee report of 1946, however, unified medical courses into the standard five-and-a-half years MBBS degree course, abolishing the LMP option. All attempts in the following decades to find an intermediate alternative whether of barefoot doctors, midwife service, auxiliary nursing services, CRS schemes or incentives have failed to address the crying need for an efficient primary healthcare system, particularly for the majority who do not live in urban India where hospitals and trained personnel are comparatively more easily accessible. The Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS) degree holders could enable primary healthcare centres across the country to get a fresh lease of life, as they would form the first contact point between the rural patient and authorised, trained doctors. If it works, the new scheme could well turn around India's rural public healthcare system that is in poor shape for want of qualified and willing medical personnel.
TIMES OF INDIA
WE'VE COME A LONG WAY
When the history of our times is written, the dip in growth last year or the spike in food prices this year will barely find a mention. The story that will dominate the history of the 21st century is undoubtedly the rise of China and India, and the gradual swing of the pendulum of economic power from the West back to the East. From this perspective, what are the highs and lows that dominate the landscape as we look back at India's economic performance during the first decade of the 21st century?
On the positive side, it has been a decade of great transformation. India has emerged as one of the fastest growing countries in the world. During the first half of this decade, from 1999-2000 to 2003-04, India grew at an average rate of less than 6 per cent. During the second half, growth accelerated to an average of close to 9 per cent about 50 per cent faster than during the first half. Much has been made of the dip in growth to 6.7 per cent last year, but this was still higher than the rate averaged during the first half of the decade.
These numbers reflect, admittedly very crudely, how rapidly the level of living is changing in India. The average Indian's per capita income has risen from around Rs 1,300 per month in 1999-2000 to over Rs 3,000 per month today. Adjusting for the rise in the level of prices, this means the average Indian's real purchasing power is more than 60 per cent higher today compared to 10 years ago. Much lies hidden behind this parable of the "average Indian", on which more below. Let us first note that this remarkable pace of transformation has rarely been preceded in history, certainly not in the western world.
What has been driving this remarkable growth acceleration? The immediate driver is investment. It has risen from about 26 per cent of GDP in 1999-2000 to almost 40 per cent today, supported by a corresponding rise in both domestic savings and capital inflows from abroad. Most of that increase occurred during the decade's latter half, thus accounting for the sharp growth acceleration during this period. Almost the entire increase in the investment rate is attributable to private investment. Compared to 1990-91, the year economic reforms were initiated, the private investment rate has doubled to over 28 per cent at present, most of that increase having occurred in the last five years. In contrast, the public investment rate is actually lower today at 9 per cent compared to 10 per cent in 1990-91.
Clearly, the opportunities arising from the freeing up of market forces and integration with the global economy that started in 1991 have given a big push to private investment. It took a good 15 years before these reforms finally generated a sustained acceleration in growth, but this is not unusual. In China too, growth accelerated only a decade after that country initiated its reforms.
Reforms alone are not the whole story. Though the public investment rate has not risen, its composition has changed from investment in a wide range of manufacturing and services to more focused investment in infrastructure and energy in recent years. The partial easing of these critical bottlenecks has also given a strong boost to private investment and growth. Another important factor is India's demographic dividend: a young population with a large and rising proportion in the working age group. The declining ratio of dependents, both the elderly and children, has helped raise the savings rate and enhanced supply of productive labour. Finally, there is what economists call the Solow Residual: increases in output attributable neither to capital nor labour but simply higher productivity, arising from better technology and more efficient organisation of production.
That's the upside. There is also a sad downside to this story of rising growth. The distribution of the fruits of growth has clearly become more unequal. There is an overwhelming persistence of poverty. A group headed by Suresh Tendulkar, until recently chairman of the prime minister's economic advisory council, has estimated that about 37 per cent of the population, more than one in every three Indians, was poor in 2004-05, the last year for which data is available. They used a new method of estimation. But even the conventional estimate puts the poverty headcount at over 27 per cent or around 300 million people. These numbers may have reduced somewhat during recent years of high growth, but that is small comfort. We still have hundreds of millions of hungry people; malnourished, underweight and stunted; unable to afford any real medical care or education. That too is a part of the story this past decade.
As we reach the end of India's first decade in the 21st century, this is the great challenge facing us. How can India use its high growth to deliver to these Indians at the margins of existence something akin to a decent human life as you and i know it? It is easy to pose the question, but the answer still escapes us.
TIMES OF INDIA
ACCEPTABLE IF IN PUBLIC INTEREST
The shaming of former Andhra Pradesh governor N D Tiwari has once again raised questions regarding the use of sting operations as a tool of investigative journalism. Its opponents argue that sting violates the right to privacy of the individual and is prone to misuse. There is some truth in this. But the potential for misuse is no justification to criticise and even demand a ban on sting operations.
A sting operation is acceptable if it has been carried out in the public interest. No doubt, the right to privacy is sacrosanct in a free society. We aspire to be one and must be on guard against the dilution of the right to privacy. However, this right must in no way become a pretext to abuse public office or resources. Tiwari's case, if the allegations are true, is an example of abuse of public office. Of course, the seasoned politician has claimed the tape that allegedly shows him in the company of prostitutes is fabricated. Now, that's for the courts to decide.
Many countries have given qualified sanction to the use of stings in journalism. If the sting is in public interest to prevent criminal acts or corruption media as well as law enforcement agencies are allowed to use it as a tool of investigation. The Indian Supreme Court too has ruled in favour of stings when they sought to serve a public cause. Most of the high-profile sting operations carried out by Indian media have targeted corruption and subversion of political institutions. No mala fide intent has been proven against these operations.
Sure, the accused in these investigations have sought to blame journalists of entrapment. But we do expect people holding high public office to resist bribes and other forms of entrapment. Also, charges of entrapment must be tested against the context in which the offer is made as part of a sting. Those trapped are most often people who are rumoured to be on the take or have escaped scrutiny due to lack of evidence for their indiscretions. In short, the targets are not random picks. The way forward is not to blame the media but for public figures to behave responsibly.
TIMES OF INDIA
END DOESN'T JUSTIFY MEANS
A change of guard at the Andhra Raj Bhavan is attributed to a sting-related controversy. Note that the sting conducted by a TV channel was essentially prompted by the reported desire of one private individual to hit back at the exiting governor. Why? The latter is accused of not delivering on a mining lease promised in return for certain favours. It isn't clear if this allegation was fully verified before the sleaze-seeking hidden cameras came on. This itself shows how hazardous stings can be. If public servants get favours in exchange for dispensing favours in clear, authenticated cases of abuse of power, they need to be named and shamed. But what's to ensure exposes are spurred by public interest, not personal bile? Stings can originate in many a dubious motive: revenge, attempted slander or blackmail, or the wish to gain from sensation. Ergo, they can end up doing the right thing, for the wrong reason.
There's also a thin line between a genuine sting and entrapment. Some past stings raised hackles by their crude modus operandi: for instance, getting their targets inebriated and/or promising inducements to get them to 'sing'. While a ban isn't recommended, stings should constitute last-resort investigative journalism, conducted for iron-clad reasons. Blowing the lid off misdemeanours doesn't excuse cavalier methods of digging for dirt. A sting requires huge exercise of judgement. Claiming to be driven by 'public interest' isn't enough if a sting operator isn't also technically above board. No, the ends do not justify the means.
The public figure-private individual distinction is quite treacherous for being amorphous. A public figure doesn't barter away privacy in all senses. Use of official premises for personal matters is a strict no-no, as is giving the go-by to security norms. The problem is that stings, be it in India or America, often expose private conduct and even milk society's scarcely-admitted voyeuristic tendencies. The question is, should norms of acceptable public behaviour extend all the way to someone's personal space? Let's judge public personalities by how they fulfil their official brief, not by what they do off-duty. Let their private morals be their private affair.
TIMES OF INDIA
TO A PERFECT '10
Today is the last day of the first decade of the second millennium. It started with a bug, remember? So I am quite happy to squash it, and move on to the new year which begins tomorrow. 'Twenty-ten' has a cool, well-rounded ring to it. It certainly trips off the tongue more neatly than the messy mouthful of 'two-oh-oh-eight' or, worse, 'two-thousand-and-nine'.
Content is more important than form, so we need to think about what 2010 will hold for us rather than drool over its sleek, semantic shape. Will the coming year raise our spirits anew, or will it be just a hangover of the past decade? Can we hope for a Perfect '10, or should we worry about it turning into the later Nadia Comaneci?
Will 2010 be tensile or barely tenable? Will it display a tendency towards tension, or hit the high notes like a tenor? Better still, let us spell out how we would like 2010 to unfold, or how we think it will.
Tenderly. Hopefully, this is how 2010 will treat us, or vice versa. The past 10 have seen too much of the rough stuff. Terrorism beat videogames, guns down. We savaged everything in our gory-greedy path, from innocent people to hapless peepuls. We dismembered states and corporate giants with equal alacrity; Andhra Pradesh may well have the distinction of doing both in a 12-month period. On TV screens, first, saas-bahu soaps turned kitchens into Kurukshetras plastered with pancake. Then, reality shows annihilated reality as we had known it.
It would be tempting to quote George Bush, 41,who called for a return to 'a kinder gentler America' in his inaugural address. But then we would have to bring in George Bush, 43, who took his nation into exactly the opposite direction, and sent two other countries (and his own economy) to the brink of oblivion. So let us pray for a more tender 2010, but be fully prepared for a brutal one. Tentatively. When a millennium turns, all kinds of topless expectations dance in the dazzling neon. In the harsh, unshuttered light of day, they reveal their true, embarrassing colours. So with our 10-year-long hindsight we should abandon the rashness of the early years of 2000, and consider a more tentative trajectory towards our aim -- whether it is becoming an economic superpower, attaining world peace or achieving universal education.
There's a caveat. In the matter of global warming, this recommended pace does not apply. If we don't go into overdrive on under-driving etc, we will have left our carbon footprints in the sands of desertification before this decade is done and dusted.
Tenaciously. This is how we will have to hang on to our planet, our jobs and our encroachments if we have any sense of self-preservation. Or sense, period. In the first years of this millennium we kept hearing about baby-faced dotcom boomers making their millions and dropping out of the rat-race to go and bask in some sybaritic paradise - or conscientiously dig wells in Ulan Bator. But as start-ups turned into wind-downs, and the fabled incomes dried up, the age-old gift-of-the-grab acquired a renewed cachet. So the mantra for 2010 is hold on with all your tentacles, and ignore the tendonitis. Tendentiously. The meek may still inherit the earth but only if they have incorrigibly argumentative lawyers. Or NGOs. Being permanently aggrieved has turned into a profession, a pathway to justice or a pain in the neck depending on which side of the demonstration you find yourself. Yes, the next decade will have to have to deal this way with serious or fictitious contentious issues.
Any which way, here's wishing 2010 a happy tenure.
TIMES OF INDIA
KEEP IT SHORT
THE BEAUTY OF BREVITY
A teacher in Kerala asked a student where he was born. The boy replied, "Thiruvananthapuram". He was asked to spell it. The student fumbled and then said, "I was actually born in Goa." The story may be apocryphal, but it highlights the need to keep names of cities and roads short. Long names are inevitably abbreviated. The full name of the city we know as Los Angeles is El Pueblo de Nuestra Senora la Reina de los Angeles de Porciuncula and is frequently shortened even further to merely LA. Soon after the last chief minister died, the Andhra Pradesh cabinet passed a resolution to rename his home district Y S Rajasekhara Reddy Cuddapah District. Mercifully, they did not suggest that the initials 'Y S' be also expanded. A village in Wales goes by the name Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. The name is Welsh for St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave. But what it is actually called is just Llanfair PG. The only use the full name has is that its eight-inch long rail station ticket sells well as a souvenir.
The same goes for naming roads. The British were sensible. They opted for brevity. They used only surnames and generally no titles. The avenue named after the viceroy Lord George Nathaniel Curzon in New Delhi was simply Curzon Road. Even the railway station in Mumbai that commemorates their 19th century queen, who probably had a string of titles, was called only Victoria Terminus. But we add honorifics liberally. In Delhi a street to remind us of Madhavrao Scindia has his full moniker and a 'Shrimant' preceding it on the road sign, when just Scindia Marg would have done. Delhi has another problem. For political reasons, road signs have to be in four languages. But once you start giving full names with titles, where do you stop? The ruler of Jammu and Kashmir in 1947, for example, went by the name and title of Shriman Inder Mahender Rajrajeswar Mahadhiraj Shri Harisinghji Jammu and Kashmir Naresh tatha Tibbetadi Deshadipati. Try putting that in four languages on a road sign in Delhi!
YEAR'S LOOKING AT YOU
If you were to ring out 2009 listening to Ella Fitzgerald breathing 'Blue Moon' in her whiskey-soaked voice, you would be on the right track. This year, things come to a close with a rare celestial phenomenon, a blue moon that is upon us after 19 years. If the mood is mellow, it is because this has been a year that best fits the adage: the more things change, the more they remain the same.
As always, politics dominated our thoughts with the grand old party sliding into office yet again, leaving the BJP a saffron shade of pale. But in the US, there were no shades of grey, black replaced white as Barack Obama realised Martin Luther King's 'I have a dream.' If a soft-spoken economist led the victory march for the Congress here once again, the stormy petrels of the Left were left whistling in the dark when nothing went right for them. So the man who would be king Prakash Karat found that 2009 was his annus horribilis. The benefits of being a lumbering elephant as thoroughbreds raced past came home when India weathered the global meltdown which saw the suits jumping off ledges and hallowed companies passing the hat around. Gordon Geeko's motto 'greed is good' became passé, though not for want of trying especially on Wall Street.
Change slowly creaked into the behemoth education system but many lessons still need to be learnt. And justice for all became a possibility as the powerful bit the dust at the hands of the small people, the latest being the Ruchika Girhotra case. By our volatile standards, a tame year really as the decade draws to a close. But we can live with that, can't we? So, 'we'll take a cup of kindness yet/ for auld lang syne.' Have a wonderful and safe New Year.
HELP OF THE RISING SUN
The Japanese have an understated way of going about things, which is why few in India have understood the magnitude of what New Delhi and Tokyo are attempting to accomplish in their bilateral relationship. While there has been an unsurprising interest in the visiting Japanese Prime Minister's equally unsurprising call for India to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, there should be greater public appreciation of such projects as the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor and the parallel hi-tech rail freight corridor. The industrial corridor, a $90 billion-infrastructure project, that would add a quarter to India's industrial infrastructure, would be as transformative as the Indo-US civil nuclear deal or the Green Revolution. Yukio Hatoyama's public endorsement of these industrial projects will come as a relief to New Delhi which had been uncertain whether the new left-of-centre coalition in Tokyo was as committed to them as its more conservative predecessors.
This uncertainty arises from an understanding of the initial motivations behind Japan's interest in these projects. The original policy was driven by strategic concerns that Japan had become economically dependent on China, a country that had indicated its desire to supplant Japan economically and politically in Asia. Japanese manufacturers, however, found India a hostile environment because of the country's poor infrastructure. The solution, therefore, was for Japan to build the infrastructure itself. Hence the two corridor projects. Mr Hatoyama's government has come in with a different geopolitical vision, one where Japan and China bury their differences in a larger Asian architecture. Yet his government has renewed Tokyo's commitment to the corridors. The evidence is that this is being driven by an acceptance that while strategic concerns may have been downgraded, the economic arguments for Japan to help develop India are now stronger than ever. India supplanted China last fiscal year as the number one destination for Japanese foreign direct investment.
Mr Hatoyama's visit was thin on substance, reflecting the fact his government has been in power for less than four months. What is important is that the visit, squeezed in before the New Year began, showed a continuity of policy regarding India that may well make Japan one of the key guarantors of the rise of this country in the coming century.
THE YEAR OF THE YAWN
PRAMIT PAL CHAUDHURI
Prediction: Some 400 days from now, anyone looking back will declare 2010 actually began with the preceding month of December. Because this past year has been a long, unremarkable yawn. It was supposed to be annus catastrophicus, and while a lot of things teetered on the edge, nothing fell into the abyss.
So much was supposed to happen in 2009 that didn't. It was a Year of Lull.
First, the global financial crisis proved neither global nor strictly financial or even all that much of a crisis. Economic indicators went into negative everywhere except for East and South Asia, Latin America, Australia, Canada, parts of Central Asia, swathes of the Persian Gulf. And did we mention Israel, Poland and Botswana? Japan is an Asian exception but it has been in recession for so long that, strictly speaking, no one could tell the difference between pre- and post-crisis. The End of the Market types have been reduced to saying, "Beware: Ireland will implode!" There is still no alternative to capitalism, unless rural employment guarantee schemes are an ideology. "History is still over," wrote Francis Fukuyama at the year's end.
Second, the new American era that Barack Obama was supposed to introduce has smelled and acted a lot like the previous one of George W. Bush. What the new administration ushered in was a sea-change in oratory, syntax and basketball skills. Obama proved there is no direct correlation between melanin and political radicalism. More disturbing for his supporters was that Obama spent much of the year accomplishing remarkably little. His troop policy for Afpak took so long to emerge that you didn't care when he said the US would send 30,000 more troops into the Hindu Kush.
Which takes us to number three: Afpak. No one doubts it is "the world's most dangerous region" and retained that spot despite the odd attempt by Wall Street to take the lead all of 2009. But ultimately, Afghans and Pakistanis proved most dangerous to themselves. Both slaughtered their own brethren with ever-increasing efficiency and brutality.
Fourth, this was supposed to be the year of G-2, the year when China was to prove itself the equal of the United States. Nothing of the sort happened. Beijing declined to be top dog. Hu Jintao responded to Obama's call for China to hold up half the sky by effectively saying: "We're still poor. You like to be superpower, you do the donkey work."
China was spoiler at Copenhagen, passive at the G-20 meetings, aggressive about Sudan sanctions and blocked everything else on the multilateral calendar. It refuses to devalue the yuan or, to quote analyst Minxin Pei, "confront what has become an enormous overcapacity for producing cheap goods." There was evidence of superpowerdom-in-the-making namely, that Beijing could be so brazen about self-interest and impress everyone by doing so. But ruling the lands beyond the Middle Kingdom? Beyond an oilfield or coal mine, Beijing ain't interested. China didn't even scoop up the West's corporate riches. Unless you think buying the only two Swedish car brands is of geopolitical significance.
No one else showed global leadership qualities. There is now a president of All Europe Minus Switzerland. The man who sits on the throne that Charlemagne, Attila, Napoleon and Hitler sought is a Belgian whose name was, uh, mm well, it was definitely not Hergé.
The second Manmohan Singh government began with a near blank legislative record. He did revive 'Balochistan' as a geographical expression with the present generation of Indian schoolkids. And it isn't clear the White House has yet forgiven him for gatecrashing the Salahi summit. Such was the vacuum that Brazil emerged among the emerging economies, a global contender for something other than football.
This year will go down in history as one where history was not made. Michael Jackson's HIStory underwent a revival. With his death, MJ reminded today's kids how insipid the past decade has been when it comes to pop music. Vista-afflicted Microsoft should have died, except that Google failed to deliver a Chrome killer punch. A climate change fest forged an international consensus that Danes must never be allowed to host major world events again. Twitter, admittedly, went from less than 500,000 users to over 7 million. But that was 2009: its greatest events could be described in the same number of characters as a footnote.
Having said that, let's face it: December was different.
Pakistani politics went from Level 1 Pac Man to Ultimate Mortal Kombat as pretty much everyone in Islamabad goes for Asif Ali Zardari's throat. Obama passed a revolutionary healthcare bill, indicating there's life in the young administration yet. The Manmohan Singh government showed a continuing ability to take uncalculated political risks by setting Telangana on fire.
Even al-Qaeda, the dreaded terrorist group that had metastasised into a home video network, attempted to attack the United States again. Airplane debris scattered on bombed-out Detroit wouldn't be 9/11. But it's a step above Zawahiri's Rant of the Week.
The past few weeks augur an exciting period, even in entertainment. The world's most boring sport generated the Tiger Woods sex scandal. The second most boring sport tossed up the Michael Schumacher comeback story.
Over 50 zombie films were released in 2009. This record tells us that people around the world shared a deep desire to see the soulless undead staggering around without purpose. Yes, it looks like this December was the first month of an exciting 2010.
COPENHAGEN COP OUT
It is apparent to everyone that the Copenhagen Accord is a travesty of what the world needs to avert climate change. Instead of an ambitious, effective, equitable and binding treaty with stringent emissions-cut targets for developed nations, we have a hollow Accord without legal status. The North has offered a 16 per cent emissions-cut when 40-45 per cent is needed. Years of talks have been set at nought by a dirty collusive deal between the United States and Basic (Brazil, South Africa, India and China), extended to cover only 26 of the 193 countries represented in Copenhagen.
The Accord mocks the efforts of a majority of nations to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. Climate science is unanimous that emissions must peak by 2020 and then fall by one-half by 2050 if catastrophic climate change is to be averted with a 50-percent probability. Many scientists now believe atmospheric greenhouse concentrations must be limited to 350 parts per million.
Under the Accord, concentrations will double to 600 ppm-plus, with warming rising to 4°C. This spells the near-extinction of 40-odd island states and consigns two billion people to growing hunger, dispossession and displacement through cyclones, floods and droughts, aggravated by glacier melting, deforestation and desertification. The worst victims will be vulnerable people, including half-a-billion-plus Indians.
The Accord couldn't have materialised without the collusion of BASIC, led by China, with the US-led North. China cynically refused quantitative targets even for the North. Disgracefully, India went along. China and India want to expand their carbon space to maintain rapid emissions-intensive GDP growth in the name of defending their poor. But India's poor will suffer grievously, next only to Africans, as the Accord accelerates climate change.
This reveals a gaping divide between India's underprivileged and elite. The poor have a huge stake in an equitable, effective global climate regime. The elite wants a weak, ineffective, non-binding regime to feed its appetite for luxury goods, which is driving up India's emissions at twice the global rate. As I argue in my just-released book An India That Can Say Yes: A Climate-Responsible Development Agenda for Copenhagen and Beyond, a powerful strand among Indian policy-makers wants an ineffective deal which allows India's elite to raise its emissions. Its influence is reflected in India's climate policy, its denial of glacier-melting, and the National Climate Action Plan, which defines its priority not as combating climate change, but as maintaining high GDP growth.
This follows the discredited trickle-down hypothesis. But a quarter-century of rapid growth hasn't reduced poverty or created food and water security. Forty years after the Rural Electrification Corporation's existence, half our rural homes remain in darkness.
India's climate policy is made in isolation from the people by a bureaucratic cabal, excluding independent experts and representatives of civil society, leave alone those most affected by climate change. So unbalanced is the 26-member Prime Minister's Council on Climate Change that it has only one civil society member; 25 members are from Delhi or its suburbs.
Yet, most opinion-shapers treat climate change not as a survival or development/equity issue, but as a diplomatic one, with sovereignty separated from the people. India's complicity in the Accord is a far greater global failure than the crossing of one avowed Red Line-not subjecting voluntary domestic actions to international verification/review-via "consultation and analysis". Our people need a strong, equitable climate deal. Their government has failed them. It must be brought to heel and made to demand that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process be resumed with a clear rich-poor differentiation of responsibility. This won't happen unless people's movements seize the climate agenda.
Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based political commentator and environmental activist
The views expressed by the author are personal.
FAITH IN SELF IS PATH TO GLORY
SATISH KUMAR SHARMA
The recently-released Hindi film, 3 Idiots, has a character an engineering student, who, overcome with personal difficulties and out of fear of failure, turns to worshipping all kinds of gods and goddesses and has rings on all fingers to bring him good luck in exams. But after he has fared poorly in exams repeatedly, his friend makes him realise how his over-reliance on faith had weakened him. This makes him pull up his socks. He does what he should have been doing all along studying hard with faith in his own capability. Gradually, he wins back his confidence and emerges a winner.
Faith is not a crutch of the weak. It is the attribute of the strong. True faith must emerge from self-belief. How can one believe in gods and goddesses when one does not believe in himself? Rather than having such superficial faith, it is better to have no faith at all. As for the problems of life, who doesn't have it? What to talk of man, even gods faced them whenever they took incarnation in the human form.
Take Rama. He was born as a prince of Ayodhya and was the darling of one and all. And yet, he had to suffer not only the banishment to forest for 14 years but also the humiliation of his dear wife having been abducted by Ravana. And how did he overcome his problems? He sought out allies like Hanuman, Sugreev and Ravana's brother Vibhishan, forged a formidable army against Ravan and defeated him in war. In other words, he did what any human being should do under the circumstances.
'Bina marey swarg nahin milta' (You have to court death to go to heaven). Thus goes a Hindi saying. In other words, in the battle of life, there is no alternative to struggle. Abiding faith should propel one to do one's best with greater vigour than looking for short cuts and easy options. Also, hard work never goes unrewarded. Maybe, it takes a little time. That calls for patience.
Did you hear? Britney Spears will be ringing in the New Year on a houseboat in the backwaters of Kerala!
Shhh...don't say that out loud. You might scare her away. After all, even troubled pop stars crave the odd private moment.
But isn't she always on the cover of some magazine or the other? .
Of course. After all, Forbes magazine listed her as the 13th most powerful celebrity and the second highest earning young musician of 2009.
Oh, I thought she was just a single mom trying to stay out of drug rehab long enough to spend some quality time with her poor kids.
Well, that's why she's bringing them along to the boonies with her. Nothing like a gently rocking boat to steady the family ship, you know.
So, do you think we might spot her?
No chance! After all Sir Paul Mc Cartney went unnoticed in Thiruvananthapuram a few years ago. And he's famous too.
Sigh! I guess we'll just have to wait for her to get in a pickle again.
Or you could just watch her cavorting in Kerala in her new video, to be shot here.
Do say: Baby, one more time.
Don't say: Oops! I did it again.
EYES ON ADEN
Chilly words from President Obama were expected: "A systemic failure has occurred, and I consider that totally unacceptable." That a young Nigerian boarded an airliner to Detroit loaded with explosives exposes lapses in US security and intelligence. That the suspect's father himself voiced concern over his son's extremism, makes this slip-up particularly careless. The suspect said the bomb supplies were from Yemen. Couple this with a self aggrandising, gloaty message from Al Qaeda on the Arabian peninsula, and US Senator Lieberman's recent remark that "Yemen will be tomorrow's war" takes on great weight.
That Yemen fosters and incubates Al Qaeda ideology is hardly surprising. It was just in 2002 that US drones buzzed over Yemen and assassinated Al Qaeda's regional head Abu al-Harithi. Fast forward and the picture looks grimmer. 2009 saw the merger of Al Qaeda in Yemen and Al Qaeda in Saudi Arabia now operational as a transnational organisation. Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh might be held accountable only his concerns are more immediate: survival. Yemen, largely reliant on hydrocarbons, faces depleting oil reserves and the back-up of natural gas is a long-term project. Amid the more immediate concern of depleting water resources (Sana'a may well be the first modern capital to run out of water), the economy has taken a backseat. And there is also the central government's two-front fight for survival a secessionist movement in the south and a civil war in the north.
In these under-governed areas Al Qaeda has formed its new hub. Earlier this month Obama assented to apparent drone attacks on Yemeni extremist cells. As those organisations evolve towards an international outlook, tangible threats will grow. However, with two wars already occupying the mindspace, concerns over the region have been brushed under the carpet. The Horn of Africa as a strategic "black spot" makes for poor security policy. This uncalculated strategy now needs a fresh appraisal.
To call for a review in six months of India's new, stricter visa regulations is to admit that the system in place since last month proscribing the re- entry within two months of foreign nationals with long-term, multiple-entry tourist visas unless they produce evidence of their travel plans in the region lacked logic. It has been argued in these columns earlier that increasing numbers of foreign visitors and national security are not mutually exclusive. Those of a destructive intent may yet find ways to dodge the system; nor was a sweeping prohibition fair on innocent travellers. What's more, the restrictions were designed to harm India's own interests. For instance, corporate- and policy-types who not only frequent these parts but are also essential to our growth ambitions would be, in particular, the most affected. Does an aspiring India want to inconvenience such individuals at its own expense? Such people who travel back and forth, as well as, say, academics engaged in research or delivering lectures, may not necessarily plan out their next trip in advance and thereby convince the immigration officer to not stamp their visas barring them from returning within a couple of months. In other words, what the government is staring at is a regulation that is potentially a multiplier of bad publicity for the country.
Stopping terrorists and tightening the security net is a different, and more complex, business. Meanwhile, the government's flip-flop on the new visa rules has precluded clarity on the matter. If the visa restrictions are myopic and misdirected, it is because they are the products of an automatic, unthinking statist reaction that was also downright lazy, seeking an easy, unidirectional way out. The result: the mixed messages and prevalent confusion. The moral of the episode: do not make knee-jerk responses to matters of public concern.
There were immediate diplomatic repercussions when the visa rules came into effect. Persisting with the restrictions will cause a different kind of damage, irrespective of the security threats the country faces. As it happens, India is not a very open country. Increasing the degree and frequency of statist harassment cannot paint a more welcoming picture of it.
CALL OFF THE MOB
The Ruchika Girhotra case has already shown us some of the worst of India. Leave aside, even, the sordid initial actions of disgraced cop S.P.S. Rathore; the complicity of society at every level from Ruchika's school, to the local cops, to the home ministry and the political class reveals how difficult it is, sometimes, to envision an India in which the powerful are held to account. Each of us, at some point, has kept silent, or accepted injustice, for fear that the awful machinery of an intrusive state should be turned against us by some insider. So it is that when a case like this is exposed, bottled-up frustrations explode in righteous anger.
But righteous anger is still anger. And the one thing that democratic institutions must fear more than the machinations of the influential is the anger of the mob. Which is what, sadly, this has become. Consider the most recent, unfortunate sight: of Law Minister Moily announcing that the case would likely be "re-opened" and be treated as a "model case". What he likely means is that Rathore will face charges for "abetment of suicide"; this charge was earlier, on the orders of the high court in 2002, dropped. Yet there was little to indicate the careful thought that should accompany a ministerial decision to counter that ruling. And to compound this, we are subject to the sight of precisely those people who had earlier abandoned Ruchika and her family now bending over backward taking legal norms with them.
Not only is this inappropriate for a liberal state, but it has very real effects. Consider this: we are faced, following Rathore's sentencing, with one fact, that the law covering sexual molestation of minors is horrifyingly weak reflecting the dubious Victorian morality that underpins our criminal code and that a maximum sentence of two years is unacceptable today. We must change that. But here's the great tragedy in forcing institutions politics, police, the legal system that bent to the powerful to now bend to public anger: we focus on a particular instance, on one man, rather than on ensuring that future Ruchikas are protected. Let it be clearly understood: citizen activism has its place. This newspaper prides itself on its history of laying bare the misuse of power before the public. But the courtroom, and judicial investigation, must be as insulated from the fury of the justifiably incensed as it should be from the whims of the well-connected. So let us curb our anger, if it gets in the way of setting things to rights. Anything else would be injustice for Ruchika.
OUR GRAND STRATEGY
India cannot do justice to its security interests, much less fulfil its global potential, unless we start handling issues with systematic seriousness. As the decade closed, three summits in three weeks Indo-US on November 24, Indo-Russian on December 7, and Sino-US of November 17, (with the Indo-Japanese of December 29 not far behind) carry major messages. We prefer the distractions of trivialities but may be sure Islamabad and Beijing are studying the implications carefully.
Though not as dramatic as 2008's nuclear deal, the outcomes of these summits sum up the opportunities and challenges the deal opened up. A.J.P. Taylor called diplomacy "a fancy word for doing business". These summits say: we can do business with you if you are ready to do business, but we have to do business with others too.
The business settled in Washington is not to be despised: agriculture, health, education, technology are significant underpinnings to a healthy relationship. Most importantly, Washington fully acknowledged India's rights in Afghanistan, and in eliminating terrorism there and in Pakistan. There are other Indian security interests America should take into account if an Indo-US "strategic partnership" is to mean much. There is no word about our larger Pakistan anxieties, and none on China.
With Russia, defence purchases remain a strong link, nuclear and other energy possibilities not far behind. The basic message: business will be business, the days of special interest and special concessions are past, although common strategic interests are there to develop.
The Sino-US statement which so upset many, requires most attention: it is confirmation of the reality we all know, but have yet to come to grips with. India has a potential waiting to materialise, China is way ahead in realising its own: others will watch what power we become, but will meanwhile deal with the power that exists. If we want to be dealt with differently, we must make ourselves count more.
We must start from our strategic needs. Regarding the two relationships which might conceivably erupt in military conflict, India stands alone. Pakistan has always been controlled by elements willing to use any means to do India down. Pakistan cannot be expected to openly acknowledge collaboration with terrorism, but if its rulers now genuinely see terrorism as threatening Pakistan, much could have been done quietly to further a common cause. Instead, there is the endless refrain that India must concede this or that, while evidence keeps mounting that terrorism remains a cherished instrument against us.
That need not make war inevitable, but leaves Pakistan as the most likely source of conflict. Both Russia and the US have carefully avoided the issue. Both have their own reasons for working with Pakistan, and India must take note.
The only other state that might consider military force as serving its national purpose is China. It serves no Indian interest to enter into confrontation; we rightly seek constructive engagement, but apart from all the worrying things China is doing that can actively harm us, prudent contingency planning as China itself practises must allow for adverse developments directed from Beijing. While Russia has its own apprehensions regarding China, it wants no part in our separate concern. And the US's acceptance of the rise of China is of course one of our era's great changes in the world's power equations.
So, on our primary security concerns we must look entirely to ourselves. Is there any national consciousness of what this calls for? The unbelievable ways in which we run ourselves are frightening enough; worse still is our indifference to the consequences for our security. Unless we organise ourselves to function as an efficient, purposeful state, we will get neither the influence nor the respect which can pre-empt conflict.
In spite of Partition and the assertion of China's control over Tibet, India remains a crossroads between West Asia, South East Asia, Central Asia and the Indian Ocean. As our first professional diplomat emphasised, our strategic frontiers are three concentric circles from the Hindu Kush to the Irrawady, Aden to Singapore and Suez to Shanghai. In this coming decade we must seek to contain, if not prevent, the growth of forces that could operate from those concentric areas to our detriment. Presently that means four vital interests: in the security of the Persian Gulf, the stability of Central Asia, the changing power equations in East Asia, and a range of Oceanic issues: tsunamis, piracy, helping small island states, keeping sea-lanes free. There are countless local or regional components of these issues India must deal with directly, but the one key power in each field is the US.
The implications of that reality are yet to be accepted. The intellectual climate in which it was seen as unpatriotic to contemplate cooperation with America has doubtless changed, but many still mistrust America as the source of capitalist assertiveness. Nor do commonalities of ends preclude differences, often deep or bitter, over how to reach them. Delhi and Washington could well be one on Gulf security, for instance, but are bound to differ on Iran. More immediately, countering terrorism in Pakistan is a common objective full of potential conflicts on methods.
But until we can organise ourselves to be key determinants, or at least far more influential than we are, in shaping the future of our primary strategic concerns, we do need to work with partners. No one will help if Pakistan or China precipitates war, but many powers would happily help us become so strong war would not be worth inflicting on us. Much can be simply bought: we can now afford to upgrade our defence capabilities to meet contingency assessments, even two fronts. But it is no less important to develop a web of interlocking interests with other powers which strengthens our international position in unquantifiable but effective terms. On the four primary strategic areas mentioned, others share our objectives. Washington cannot be the be-all or end-all of India's interests; but it is still the one power that can, if it will, influence the course of events where it chooses. While recognising our interest in Afghanistan, the Washington statement stopped short of our other security concerns.
Maybe that is all we are ready for ourselves. But we still need to work out ways of meeting these other concerns.
Cooperating with America is both complex and dangerous in a very particular sense: unless handled with sureness and skill, it could be hugely counter-productive. While the summer's hullabaloo regarding China is rightly attributable to media inflation, there is no doubt of Beijing's increased toughness on several Indian concerns. Whatever Beijing alleges, India has done nothing to provoke such attitudes with one exception: the N-deal was a striking show of Indo-American cooperation. That China turned tough soon after is no coincidence: we are being told Beijing does not like it, we better be careful, and the US should not count on a paper tiger. There will be Indians who would therefore urge distancing from America, but surrendering to pressure is no service to security. Like any major power, India must balance all kinds of interests, and learn to pursue commonalities alongside managing differences. The great pitfall to avoid is confusion; do not start what you cannot handle. And put your house in order.
The writer is former ambassador to Pakistan, China and the US and secretary, external affairs ministry
THE DECADE OF 'SMALL'
New Year Eves are usually about ringing in the new and firmly burying the old stuff. Care is taken to discuss the brand new things/ trends/ markers, but sometimes it might be fruitful to dig into the year/ decade just gone by and fish for what could be takeaways from the Noughties into the new decade the Tens.
The second half of 2009, starting from June '09, it seemed was an obsession with the "quarter". Discussion, in a country which usually marks 20 years, 30 years, and 60 years with aplomb, was all about a quarter of a century after major events 25 years since Operation Bluestar, Indira Gandhi's assassination, the gruesome anti-Sikh pogrom, the Bhopal gas disaster and even 25 years since India got its youngest prime minister. It was almost fitting that in a country obsessed with shashthipoortis, instead, on December 28, the ruling Congress party, sunning in seamless victories this past year, made much of not 100 years or of 150, but 125 years.
Those of us involved in painful price-related conversations with vegetable sellers have also noticed a preference for the price per pau, or quarter-kilogramme, being quoted carefully by sellers who daren't speak the unspeakable, like say the price for a whole kilo of precious greens. The Age of the Pau, it seems, is upon us. And will stay with us for the near future as well, it appears.
Divisibility seems to have percolated through every aspect of our lives, as large, big units are shunned. Consider the immensely competitive SIM card market. "Per second" is perhaps a unique Indianism akin to the costless "missed call" invention. One well-advertised brand has actually gone down to 1 paisa per second for STD and local calls venturing into a unit that many children born at the turn of the century can only hope to actually see in a museum. The Nano hit the road this last year and promises to be the one invention that changes the face of small big cities, so to speak.
Politics too was not untouched by the trend towards murmurs (and sometimes shouts) favouring small and small units: the Telangana issue, which has seen powerful political phraseology, is now turning on "smaller", "viable" and such-like. Others might argue that K.C. Rao discovered the power of even two Lok Sabha seats by the panicky response he got from the Centre to his hunger-strike as a tribute to thinking that favours the "small".
So, ultimately, even politics has not been untouched by the divisibility factor. The logic of an appeal to the aam aadmi, moving voters in Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and beyond, also suggests making a political appeal to notions much more focused than the earlier sense of kin, class and caste. Now, "what is in it for me" seems to be very much the guiding principle in a huge set of aspirant, and anxious to get ahead, voters.
It is not just the time and era of the decline of the family pack, but also a decade that's been all about soap and shampoo sachets (even fairness creams available in those), of the tabloid, of that one citizen who can make a difference by filing a revealing RTI query that challenges the system, Big and powerful certainly still rule the roost, but small things like most recently, an otherwise "small" thing, the publication of the smiling picture of a top police official accused of molesting a teenager, pushed to suicide, can cause tectonic shifts in public opinion. Big may not be Out, but sniper fire from the power of Small is showing a bit of potential to stir things up in the Tens.
THE NEXT DECADE OF RISK-AVERSE CINEMA
The tagline of a popular mid-80s advert used to sell a new brand of tomato ketchup was: 'it's different'. Both the line and the product were smash hits. The canny folks who put it out (the very same ones who gave us those two-minute noodles) knew exactly what We, The Indian Consumer, savouring our new colour TVs and jingly commercials, wanted. The very same deep red tomato pulp, packaged differently, tasting just a little different. Just enough to tingle, not to startle.
At the end of 2009, Bollywood hasn't travelled very far from that mantra. That's because we, The Indian Consumer, salivating over our new 3G phones and high-def TVs, (plasma's so last decade), want what we've always wanted. No change in the basic condiments; just a teeny-tiny switch in flavour which serves exactly the same purpose it always has to sauce up our dosai and our omelettes both, to sit in our thali with all our other relishes and pickles and chutneys.
Around the time the new ketchup became all the rage, Bombay cinema turned into Bollywood, using the same push-pull mantra. Only the naïve believed that zara hatke (a little different), that single-most overused phrase in the industry, denoted major changes. The smart new producers, scions of old film families, homing back to the mother country with their American marketing degrees, knew exactly where the emphasis lay: on the 'zara'. The thing to do was to play lip service to the growing audience indignation, by rearranging the pattern a little, and changing the upholstery, but keeping it same old same old.
That's because they heard the undertone under all the whinging and moaning. We were saying something, but it was more for the sake of saying it. We didn't really mean it. And that's exactly what we are still doing, at the end of this decade. We continue to complain bitterly and constantly about the films we get. And when someone does listen to what they think is the voice of the people, given the level of outrage and decibel, and actually gives us new, we jump on their film with both feet, and trample it into the ground. See, different is all well and good, but let's not get ahead of ourselves here. Not too different, okay?
So, surprise, Rocket Singh, Salesman Of The Year, one of the best films of the year, didn't sell. Industry watchers lost no time in calling it the worst film, box-office wise, from production house Yashraj Films. Its failure has led to furious head-scratching, because it had, ostensibly, everything a film needed to become a box office darling. Ranbir Kapoor, Bollywood's New White Hope, terrific as Rocket Singh. Jaideep Sahni's excellent script. Shimit Amin's intelligent direction. And a supporting cast which is every bit as good as the lead player.
Postmortems include dissing the low-key marketing initiatives from producer Aditya Chopra (from an excited chorus of 'the promos are mind-blowing ', in the run-up to the release, it became, 'tsk, terrible marketing, viewers didn't know what to expect') ; complaining about Ranbir playing a turbaned-bearded sardar ( he's got to be a 'chikna', yaar) ; and about the film not having a heroine ('yeh kya picture hai, koi gaana-waana nahin?').
No, there isn't. No 'naach', no 'gaana'. Glory, hallelujah. That's because Messrs Chopra and Sahni and Amin and Kapoor tried to be truly different. By pushing tired tropes not just to the side, but by dispensing with them altogether. No heroines (in the way we know them), no songs and dances, no separate comic tracks, no over-the-top lines. Just great life-like situations, bitter and sweet.
As opposed to the other two films of the Kapoor lad who couldn't do anything wrong this year until he grew facial hair. In Wake Up Sid, he plays a wealthy slacker, teaming up with his pals, careering through a carefree life. In Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, he plays a middle-class slacker, doing exactly the same thing. The first was from a first time director, the second from an experienced old hand, but they served up the story without forgetting the 'gaana-waana'. Both were hits, the second bigger than the first.
That's because the Ranbir of 'Ajab' is more basic, more outlined, more the all-purpose old-style Bollywood hero who sings and dances and romances. His girl is beautifully matched; she won't react till he's done something. He is the mover, she is the shaker. This, we love. This is what we want. New Bollywood in Old Nautanki ways. Nothing radical. No leaping through hoops. No, thank you.
Is Twenty Ten going to be any different? Fat chance. The first film of the new year is Pyar Impossible, a candy-coloured campus caper from a desperately-hoping-for-box-office-course-correction Yashraj Films. It's got everything that Rocket Singh didn't have: pretty locations, costumed boy and girl, faux glitz and glamour. And yes, lots of 'naach gaana'.
A QUESTION OF INTEGRITY
Regressive' is the most hated word in Nepal's politics in the past four years, a word that had become synonymous with the erstwhile monarchy. This was a way for other forces, clearly led by the Maoists, to be recognized as the 'progressive' forces. But now the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M) is facing an identity crisis.
"Are you communists or communalists?", a popular media columnist asked. The Nepali Congress and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML) the two former allies of the Maoists and a major component of the current government do not quite know how to preserve the 'progressive image' after their political divorce from the Maoists.
The Maoists are facing this difficult question as the party declared around a dozen 'autonomous republican provinces' their own model of Federal Nepal with caste and ethnicity as the determinant factor. Last week, they declared Newa republican province as the capital valley, seeking to convey that the capital should go back to the political ownership of the community that dominated pre-unification (1768 AD) Nepal. The 'progressive forces' apparently want to undo what they call a 'military victory' of King Prithvi Narayan Shah the architect of modern Nepal who conceptualised the new nation as a 'common garden of all the four varnas and 36 castes'.
In fact, the Maoists did not face any resistance when they symbolic delimitation as they called it declared the ethnic provinces. Prithvi Narayan Shah had ceased to be a national icon when the G.P. Koirala government that took over from King Gyanendra in April 2006 declared that his birth anniversary would no longer be observed as the national 'unity day'. Through a Home Ministry order, he was turned into a 'persona non grata' in Nepal's history. What the Maoists are doing today not recognizing the territorial unity that he achieved through a military victory and taking Nepal back to the pre-1768 stage is clearly a step backwards.
The Maoists have been telling the masses that the creation of the ethnicity-based provinces is actually aimed at empowering ethnic groups. Unilaterally declaring these provinces before the constituent assembly had decided on the modality of federalism and the number of provinces to be created, is putting the cart before the horse. For the first time, it has been challenged by almost all political parties, though they have not banded together on a single platform. The Nepali Congress has declared the action "the most retrograde step the Maoists have taken." The Terai Madhesh Loktantrik Party has announced that it will not recognise this Maoist model of federalism.
At the same time, there is a strong undercurrent of hostility from the public, who now see the Maoists as planning to split the country, and who blame the government for not doing enough to defend the nation's integrity. Major political party leaders, incuding those who were at the forefront of the April 2006 movement to restore democracy, are considering organising a big show on January 11 Prithvi Narayan Shah's birth anniversary as a challenge to the Maoist politics that wants to disintegrate the country.
The political equation formed four years ago on an anti-king platform, at India's behest, has almost collapsed now. Key Maoist ideologues and top leaders have said they are willing to take to arms to capture power anytime, and they have begun treating pro-democracy parties their allies in the anti-monarchy politics as enemies. This breaking up is already taking its toll on the peace process and is likely to jeopardise the constitution-making process. The May 28 deadline now looks difficult, if not altogether impossible. The only party that hopes to convert that failure into opportunity are the Maoists. "We will declare the Constitution from the street and capture power if the deadline is not met", said Maoist ideologue Baburam Bhattarai recently. Such an eventuality will render the entire exercise of the past four years futile.
The Maoists are confident of capturing power via the weakness of their rivals. They have asked other parties to accept their leadership of the National Unity Government or face indefinite nation-wide strike from January 24 also an exercise to seize power. They not only plan to unilaterally announce their provincial government, but are also likely to form their own security agencies and bureaucracy which will bring the 'legal state' into direct confrontation with the rebels. Bhattarai hinted as much in his article (in a journal that his daughter edits), asserting that the Maoists need to create a situation in which at least one of the two neighbours India or China recognises "our government". Maoist chief Prachanda has said his party is engaging India politically as well as diplomatically, and that it would review "our policy towards India" if it fails to concur with the Maoist stand.
But the Maoists do not seem to realise that that they are losing their clout and support at home, by associating themselves with caste and ethnicity, burying the revolutionary image they projected when they launched a decade-long insurgency that resulted in the loss of 14,000 lives. The Maoists are currently even more unpopular than King Gyanendra was after his 15 months of direct rule beginning February 2005. Democracy has been the major issue of concern, but Nepal's integrity has never before been a subject of speculation.
The lead news item in the latest issue of RSS mouthpiece Organiser titled "A change of guard in BJP Nitin Gadkari, an organisation man, committed to ideology, is the new BJP chief," says: "Ever since Nitin Gadkari's name was doing the rounds for Bharatiya Janata Party's national president's post, the question that was continuously raised was: Will he be able to bring the derailed BJP back on the rails? Nitin Jairam Gadkari, 52, becoming the national president of BJP is not a routine thing. The change took place at a time when the 'party with a difference' has found itself in disarray. The media, ready to find loopholes in the party, got ample chances to project a negative image of the BJP in the pubic. The morale of the party workers was low. That is when the RSS advised caution. RSS sarsanghachalak Mohan Bhagwat on a number of occasions voiced his concern over the infighting in the BJP and underlined the need for a change in the leadership. Although he did not project any name, the choice ultimately fell on the young leader from Nagpur ".
The news item adds: "The BJP has been harping on commitments like Ramjanmabhoomi, Article 370, Common Civil Code, and Swadeshi these years. But with the party taking lead in forming the National Democratic Alliance (NDA), they were put on the hold. This was in a way responsible for waning popularity of the party to a great extent. Many of its staunch supporters, who came from the RSS, felt disappointed and disillusioned and remained silent during the elections. Gadkari and his new team will have to take into consideration this reality and devise a strategy that could regain the faith of its followers, sympathizers and electorate who could feel assured about the party's ability to implement its agenda. Gadkari needs to put to use all his skills and abilities to give a new dimension, instill new energy and provide a new vision to the party to ensure success on all fronts".
SMALL IS BEAUTIFUL
In an opinion piece titled "Are linguistic states getting out of fashion," M.V. Kamath writes in the latest issue of the RSS journal: "A Pandora's Box has been opened and there are demands for the trifurcation of Uttar Pradesh, with the creation of Purvanchal, Harit Pradesh and Bundelkhand. The Bodos in Assam want Bodoland and there is talk of setting up Vidharbha (now part of Maharashtra), Bhojpur (comprising some areas of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar) and a Mithilanchal (comprising districts of Northern Bihar) and a Greater Cooch Behar out of parts of West Bengal and Assam . The Coorgis in South India want a state of their own. It is mind-boggling. Interestingly enough, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayavati swears that she fully supports trifurcation of her state on grounds that economic development of the new states would be easier and faster".
He adds: "One may argue that there are enough sound reasons for the creation of smaller states. Were that concept to be taken to its logical conclusion, there should be no protests in advocating a unitary form of government implying dissolution of the states as they now are and making districts the base units of administration. Would that be a sound proposition? The time has come to do some serious re-thinking in the matter of reorganising states all over again, but this issue has to be tackled not on a piecemeal basis but on a macro-level, dispassionately and in a civilised manner and not through organised rioting. It may take months if not longer to arrive at a meaningful and largely acceptable solution but that calls for disciplined patience and forbearance. We have time on our side. The blackmailing tactics of Chandrasekhar Rao and the weak-kneed reaction of Home Minister P Chidambaram have messed up the situation creating wholly unnecessary problems that need to be addressed. One suspects that the era of linguistic division of the land has become outdated. What the people yearn for is economic progress and at a faster rate, in tune with growing aspirations. And this has to be dealt with wisely, reflecting the needs of changing times".
Compiled by Suman K. Jha
TOO COOL TO COUNTER TERROR?
I was walking through a deserted downtown on Christmas Eve with a friend, past the lonely, grey Treasury Building, past the snowy White House with no president inside.
"I hope the terrorists don't think this is a good time to attack," I said, looking protectively at the White House, which always looks smaller and more vulnerable and beautiful than you expect, no matter how often you see it up close.
I thought our guard might be down because of the holiday; now I realise our guard is down every day.
One thrilling thing about moving from W. to Barack Obama was that Obama seemed like an avatar of modernity. W., Dick Cheney and Rummy kept ceaselessly dragging us back into the past. America seemed to have lost her ingenuity, her quickness, her man-on-the-moon bravura, her Bugs Bunny panache.
Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists? W.'s favorite word was "resolute," but despite gazillions spent and Cheney's bluster, our efforts to shield ourselves seemed flaccid.
President Obama's favorite word is "unprecedented," as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies' penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he's getting out; and failing to capitalise on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.
Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travelers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.
We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and 5-year-olds, confiscating snow globes and lip glosses.
Instead of modernity, we have airports where security is so retro that taking away pillows and blankies and bathroom breaks counts as a great leap forward.
If we can't catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the US Embassy in Nigeria, a traveler whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn't check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?
We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.
In a rare bipartisan success, House members tried to prevent the Transportation Security Administration from implementing full-body imaging as a screening tool at airports. Just because Republicans helped lead the ban on better technology and opposed airport security spending doesn't mean they'll stop Cheneying the Democrats for subverting national security. Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan was weaselly enough to whack the president and "weak-kneed liberals" in his gubernatorial fund-raising letter.
On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano had first tried to deny: that there had been "a systemic failure" and a "catastrophic breach of security." But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.
Given that every utterance of the president is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to "Total Recall." All that TV viewers heard, broadcast from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, was the president's disembodied voice, talking about "deficiencies."
Citing the attempt of the Nigerian's father to warn US authorities six months ago, the president intoned: "It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list."
In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.
Heck of a job, Barry.
YEAR OF RESILIENCE
By the time we stumbled upon January 1, 2009, the global financial crisis, which erupted in full force after the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September 2008, had translated itself into a full-blown economic crisis. Despite the early denial of our political leadership, the crisis took a serious toll on the economy in the October-December quarter of 2008. At the start of the new year, hardly anyone, including the government, was betting on a growth rate of 7% and above for 2009-10; 2008-09 was still salvaged by the buoyant first half. Things looked uncertain, to say the least, exacerbated by the prospect of a general election in April, which was not expected to deliver the clear verdict that it eventually did. When compared with the first few months of 2009, the transition to 2010 is much more optimistic and certain. At the very least we have a stable government, which received an impressive and enhanced mandate for the second successive time, and a resilient economy, which is expected to clock 7% growth for the financial year 2009-10the latest quarterly GDP growth figure was 7.9%. These are hardly crisis numbersthey fall just short of the 8-9% trend of 2003-08.
At the heart of the story of resilience is the strength displayed by domestic consumption demand. The severity of the crisis in the West resulted in a massive squeeze in exports, some 14% of India's GDP. While exports may have recovered a little at the fag end of 2009, there still isn't much to cheer about given the slow speed at which the West (our biggest export market) is recovering. Investment also took a hit in the liquidity crisis and in the crisis of confidence that followed the collapse of Lehman, and continued into early 2009. Still, the loss in investment was relatively small, and corporate investment plans have revived in the second half of 2009. The government did its best with a fiscal stimulus, but India's fiscal stimulus was small when compared even to China's. That leaves relative buoyancy in consumption demand to explain the better than expected GDP numbers in 2009. The role of rural demandpropelled by higher support prices to farmers, spending programmes like NREG and even loan waiversin keeping the economy growing was particularly noteworthy. That is why the rural consumer is FE's person of the year. Also, contrary to the doomsayers, there was no drought. There was admittedly a differentially distributed monsoon, but it did not hit agriculture as badly as a proper drought might have. In any case, a slight slowdown in agriculture now has limited impact on the broader macroeconomy.
Interestingly enough, much of the resilience in consumption and the recovery in investment happened despite RBI's relative conservatism on interest rates. Sure, RBI cut rates from the peak levels of 2008, but compared to the rate cuts enacted elsewhere, RBI's efforts were simply not enough. Couple the conservatism in monetary policy with excessive conservatism on financial reform, and we ended up with a situation where bank lending was still too expensive. Big firms used alternative sources of financing but there wasn't anywhere to go for the small business and the aam aadmi. RBI may claim some credit for keeping the Indian financial system safe, but unless the financial system also delivers cheap finance to a large number of stakeholders, safety has little meaning. In the last couple of months of 2009, RBI has been too distracted by the spectre of food inflationundoubtedly a supply-side problem, for which monetary policy has no solution. Still, RBI's distraction ensured that the debate on interest rates shifted to exit strategy mode much earlier than it ought to havesome more monetary accommodation may have led to better growth numbers. As we have argued repeatedly in these columns, there is no sign of conventional overheating in the economy, even now. One of the things to watch out for in the early months of 2010 will be how RBI tackles the twin issues of monetary policy and financial sector reform.
However, RBI was not the only institution responsible for a lukewarm policy response to an unprecedented crisis. The government, while doing its bit to promote fiscal stimulus, has clearly not done enough in terms of giving the economy a reforms stimulus. As we move into 2010, it is clear that both monetary and fiscal stimuli will be withdrawn sooner rather than later. After that, whether the economy can maintain its 7% momentum and ideally move back up to 9% trend depends on the kind of economic reform measures the UPA-2 enacts. The government was obviously not in a position to push key reforms before the general election. But after receiving a fresh mandate, and without the baggage of the Left parties, UPA-2 had the perfect opportunity to give new thrust to economic reform. The government has proceeded, even if slowly, on disinvestment. But it has made little progress in terms of enacting crucial reform legislation (pensions, insurance, companies Bill, land acquisition Bill, among others, are still pending) in the two sessions of Parliament after the general election. Perhaps the biggest policy challenge for the government in the coming year will be to sort out the tricky issue of land acquisition. If stalemate continues, the prospects for building infrastructure and manufacturing facilities will be dented. If 2010 is to be the year the economy recoversthat is, gets back to 8%-plus growththen policy stimulus has to play a much bigger role than it did in 2009.
HOW THE NEXT DECADE CAN BE INDIA'S
WILLIAM H AVERY
In the past decade India has proved its resilience. The nation survived two global recessions and multiple terrorist attacks with its secular democracy intact and its economy stronger than ever. Along the way it gained de facto admission to the club of nuclear weapon states and established itself as a future world power.
India's task in the coming decade is to make this future a reality. For the world to accept India as a major power, it has to start acting like one, not just talking like one. Here are 10 things that should be on India's to-do list for the next 10 years:
Quit NAM: The organisation's membership is a who's who of third rate powers. To be in NAM is a declaration of impotence. India has outgrown it, and should withdraw. The remaining members can then non-align themselves against India if they wish.
Forget the UN Security Council: Indians should be embarrassed at its government's repeated requests for a permanent seat on the UNSC. It is a legacy institution comprised of the victors of a war that ended 65 years ago. Three of its five members are declining powers. India should look towards the 21st century and prepare itself for the new conflicts that will confer great power status.
Build a world-class navy: India has the fourth largest navy in the worldin terms of manpower. But wars are won by tonnage, not by headcount. In tonnage, India's navy is currently seventh, behind France and at one half of China's strength. India needs to be among the top three in navy: at par with China and behind only the US.
Complete the NPT Two-Step: It's a nice dance move. Say the NPT is discriminatory and you will not sign it. Get an exemption to trade in nuclear technology anyway. Then, once you are a de facto nuclear weapon state, say you would like to be admitted to the NPT. It will be another triumph of nuclear cunning if India can pull it off.
Police the neighbourhood: India was traumatised by the IPKF experience but must get over it. Great powers do not let anyone mess with them in their neighbourhood. A young America declared in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 that it would not tolerate any further European colonies in the Western Hemisphere. Britain sees as an act of aggression occupation of the low country ports of Holland or Belgium by another power. Russia fought a war in 2008 to keep Georgia from getting too chummy with NATO. So, why is India letting the Chinese build a port in Sri Lanka? India has to defend its perimeter or it will find itself vulnerable to more strategic-thinking adversaries.
Lock up natural resources: Here India needs to take a page from China's playbook. From South America to Africa, China has been sealing deals for the minerals to feed its growing industrial base. India has to start to catch up, and quickly.
Start India's own H-1B programme: It is time for India to become a net importer of talent. Smart employees worldwide will flock to India's growth. If Mumbai is to become a global financial centre, it will have to have as many foreigners as Hong Kong or London.
Open up the higher education sector: Apart from infrastructure, education is India's greatest barrier to faster, more inclusive economic growth. For higher education, many students have no choice but to go abroad for studies, and their parents' money goes with them. Others can neither afford to go abroad nor get a place in India. This is an intolerable situation for a nation that values education and self-improvement. The only way to change it fast is with outside help. The government should pass the Foreign Education Providers Bill.
Sell Indian culture overseas: Global powers enhance their influence by exporting their popular culture to the world. The English and the French did it with literature; America has done it with film and television. India has a thriving English-language creative industry that is an untapped instrument of influence. The Indian government should devote more energy and taxpayer money to selling Indian culture overseas, from Bollywood to high literature. The Chinese are nowhere in this regard, having hardly encouraged artistic expression, much less in English. India has a real opportunity to step forward and define new global artistic motifs for Asia's Century.
Find India's own Teddy Roosevelt: A century ago, America had a thoroughly modern, young President unafraid to stake a claim to global power status. TR mediated an end to the Russo-Japanese War, dug the Panama Canal and showed off the US navy on a world tour. India needs its own TR for the 21st century. He or she will change the way the world sees India and the way India sees itself.
India's restraint in the face of provocations over the past decade has earned it the world's respect and paid economic dividends. To become a world power, India will have to continue to build its economic and military strength, flex its muscles andwhere necessaryshed its blood. Nations become great powers by winning wars. There is no other way.
The author is a former US diplomat
REGAINING GROUND LOST TO KOREA, CHINA
Japanese PM Yukio Hatoyama's visit to India marks a new high in the India-Japan bilateral relationship. In recent years, India and Japan have strengthened bilateral ties through new initiatives and programmes ranging from economic and cultural linkages to defence and security. The two countries came on to each other's radar screens on a concerted, regular basis only after their bilateral Strategic and Global Partnership was established in December 2006, mandating an annual summit between the PMs of both the countries.
Going back in time, the end of World War II set the stage for fraternity between the two countries. The year 1957 witnessed a momentous alliance between India and Japan. Japan extended its first yen loan to India in 1958. It marked greater strengthening of economic ties between the two countries. India-Japan trade talks on overall bilateral trade and investment began in 1978. Since 1986, Japan has been India's largest aid donor through several channels, including official development assistance. But relations between the two countries turned delicate in May 1998 when India conducted underground nuclear tests. However, relations improved gradually and in the year 2000, the two countries envisaged a 'global partnership' and attempts were made to build on engagement through creation of a strategic plan of action.
In 2007-08, Japan ranked third amongst India's trading partners. Bilateral trade between Japan and India has been rising steadily since 2003. From $4.37 billion in 2003-04, it rose to $6.5 billion in 2005-06, to $7.45 billion in 2006-07 and to $10.17 billion in 2007-08. The growth rate during this five-year period was 35.56%. The Confederation of Indian Industry estimates that the trade volume could touch $15 billion by 2010 if issues like trade facilitation and non-tariff barriers were addressed. Similarly, there is a conscious effort on the part of the Indian government to improve investment relations with Japan as well.
India's robust economic growth in recent years has not gone unnoticed in Japan. Japan is now the sixth-largest foreign investor in India. Further, Indo-Japanese trade relations have helped India to bring cumulative FDI inflows to the tune of $2.4 billion during 2000-08 into its domestic market. Japan's contribution to India's FDI inflow was only 4.29% of total FDI inflows between 1991 and 2007, and investment volumes have also fluctuated, though inflows have been increasing since 2007. Japanese investment is largely below potential because investors are troubled by India's complicated bureaucracy and poor physical infrastructure.
Second, Japanese companies are generally cautious about their investments in India after having had bad experiences in the 1980s with real estate in their own country. The Japanese economy was taken over by a huge and intoxicating speculative boom, which started to burst in 1990. In the 1990s some of their hi-tech companies that entered Indian markets early like Toshiba could not survive. These two factors have ensured that both Korea and China are ahead of Japan in market penetration in India. However, the inception of economic reforms in India in 1991 has brought about a sea change in the manner in which institutions function. There is an enabling environment for both trade and investment and tremendous scope for Japanese high value-added products in the Indian market, especially in consumer electronics and light engineering goods. Given the high quality of Japanese products, Japanese investors too can cater to the demands of the price-sensitive Indian consumer. Therefore, Japan must overcome its fears about the Indian economic climate to fully benefit from a partnership with India.
The main agenda of this year's annual summit between the two countries was to build on basic infrastructure and pave the way for an enhancement of the bilateral relationship.
Defence ties (particularly joint patrolling of key marine passages), counter-terrorism, energy security, nuclear issues, and measures against global warming, a free trade agreement and raising the economic profile of both countries were high on the agenda this year. At the end of the 4th Annual Summit, the PMs of the two countries issued a joint statement that is expected to act as a catalyst in enhancing the India-Japan strategic relationship.
NOT ALL COMMODITIES GLITTERED LIKE GOLD
The prices of most commodities are poised to end significantly lower in 2009 than their average prices in 2008. Even though signs of recovery in global markets, and the dollar's continued weakness, have pushed up prices of major farm and non-farm commodities in the last three months, price levels for most commodities are nowhere near 2008 peaks.
The average price of crude oil has moved up from $68.35 per barrel in September to $77.55 a barrel in November, but the average for the first 11 months of 2009 is significantly lower than the 2008 full-year average crude price of $96.99 per barrel. The same story repeats in other dollar-denominated commodities like copper, aluminium, zinc, lead, tin and steel.
Gold, however, is expected to be the brightest non-farm commodity in 2009. The metal has averaged $958 per troy ounce in the first 11 months of 2009, up almost 10% from the 2008 full year average price of $872 per ounce. Since September, the average monthly price of the metal has risen from $997 per ounce to $1,127 per ounce.
Dollar price movements will be the predominant guiding factor for gold in 2010, with some experts predicting that the metal will top $1,250 per troy ounce in the first quarter of 2010. How accurate these predictions are will be one of the most fascinating things to watch out for in the commodities space next year.
In farm commodities, sugar has stood out as the most vibrant in 2009. Sugar prices broke all records on the back of low output in India, the world's largest consumer, and falling yields in Brazil, the largest producer. In the first 11 months of 2009, sugar prices averaged 38.92 cents per kg in the international markets, almost 38% more than 2008. Though there has been some recent moderation in sugar prices because of the harvest in India, sugar prices will continue to remain high till a clear picture of the actual Brazilian crop emerges. Since September, sugar prices have dropped from around 50.84 cents per kg to 49.07 cents per kg. The average prices of all other major farm commodities like rice, wheat, palm oil, cotton and rubber will close 2009 at levels lower than those seen in 2008.
DEVELOPING THE WESTERN CORRIDOR
The project to build a Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC) got the much-needed push, with the signing of two Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) between the Japanese and Indian institutions. The DMIC Development Corporation and the Japanese JETRO are to promote 24 eco-cities or smart communities along the corridor, while the Japan Bank for International Cooperation has offered a $75 million loan facility to help establish a Project Development Fund to kick-start the project. The DMIC project comprises a host of sub-projects for infrastructure development for instance industrial estates, power plants, and logistics parks which are to come up on either side of the proposed 1,483 km Delhi-Mumbai railway freight corridor. The foundation stone for the rail corridor was laid by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh way back in October 2006. This Rs.22,000 crore project is expected to change the face of the western corridor, with the DMIC developing the entire hinterland. The Gujarat government has embarked on a vigorous drive to attract foreign investment for the project and it can be expected to gain momentum as a result of the recent visit of Japanese Prime Minister Yokio Hatoyama. In addition to harnessing Japanese investments and interests, the States along the western corridor will also be tapping foreign and domestic investments for the overall development of the region. The western rail freight corridor will link the Jawaharlal Nehru port and other ports in Gujarat to the industrial belts in the western, central, and northern regions extending up to New Delhi. A separate dedicated corridor to the east has also been planned by the Indian Railways, and the work on it was launched in February. The dedicated corridor is meant to focus exclusively on carrying freight, and the project, conceived in 2004-05, envisages 2,700 km of new freight lines and about 5,000 km of feeder lines.
The western corridor will connect Vadodara, Ahmedabad, Palanpur, Jaipur, Rewari, Tughlakabad, and Dadri. It is now for the Government of India, and all the agencies involved in the massive project including the Railways, the State governments, and even the Planning Commission to work in close coordination and ensure that it does not suffer undue delays and the consequent cost over-runs. Japan wants to showcase the DMIC as a model not just for India, but the whole world. To begin with, the Indian agencies need to expedite the basic work on the feasibility report, environmental clearances, land acquisition, and preparation of a blueprint for the whole project. The prospective investors will need a definite time frame and a detailed plan to finalise their investment plans.
A WORTHWHILE PROGRAMME
The National Biomass Cookstove Initiative launched recently will for the first time put the user at the centre of the efforts to develop improved chulhas. The programme that was started in 1986, and discontinued in 2002, aimed at providing improved chulhas to reduce indoor pollution and fuel consumption. It is a classic example of how developing a product for the rural masses without the involvement of actual users is destined to fail. The abject failure to understand the cooking habits and the lack of facilities to maintain the chulhas were the primary reasons for the improved chulhas not evoking widespread interest. While the programme helped in spreading awareness about the need to improve cooking practices to reduce smoke, it failed to achieve the primary objective of reducing indoor pollution. The government appears to have finally learnt from its mistakes; the latest initiative makes it abundantly clear that the cookstoves will be "easy to use and maintain" and will "conform to local cooking habits." It also does not see the cookstoves to be "free handouts" but as "economically sustainable business solutions."
If reducing indoor pollution was the main objective of the earlier programme, the latest initiative seeks to achieve the twin objectives of reducing indoor pollution and cutting the amount of soot emitted. Indoor pollution from stoves is a major public health issue. According to the World Health Organisation estimates for 2002, nearly 400,000 deaths were attributable to indoor pollution from chulhas. Soot arising from incomplete burning of fossil fuel and biomass used in chulhas is seen as a contributory factor to climate change, whose effects are manifesting themselves in the melting of the Himalayan glaciers and the erratic behaviour of the monsoons. The potential to slow down the pace of global warming by reducing the soot emitted from chulhas has caught the attention not only of India but of a few developed countries as well. Chulhas are used in many developing countries leading to the continual emission of soot. However, unlike carbon dioxide, the life span of soot in the atmosphere is only a few days or weeks. Hence any solution that would cut soot emission has the potential to quickly bring about discernible changes in atmospheric pollution. With climate change issues coming to the fore, it is small wonder that the quest for improved chulhas should get a fillip. Under the new programme, apart from testing the commercially available cookstoves and processed biomass fuels, work are to be taken up on developing the next-generation cookstoves and biomass-processing technologies.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
INDIA AND THE CENTRAL ASIAN DAWN
THE POLITICS OF THE VAST DESERTS AND STEPPES OF CENTRAL ASIA WILL SIGNIFICANTLY DETERMINE THE CONTOURS OF ANY DURABLE AFGHAN SETTLEMENT. THE IMPLICATIONS FOR SOUTH ASIA'S SECURITY WILL BE FAR-REACHING, TOO.
Ibn Battuta, the 14th-century traveller, described the Hindu Kush ranges as the "slayer of the Indians," as people from the "land of India" mostly perished in the snowy heights of extreme cold. The ranges that run through Afghanistan did indeed split the Indian historical consciousness about that country.
When policymakers in New Delhi grappled with the Mujahideen takeover in Afghanistan, it suddenly dawned on them how little they knew about the tribes that inhabited the northern side of the Hindu Kush. It was those tribes who won the tight race for Kabul against the Pashtun Mujahideen groups during the dramatic "transfer of power" in 1992 by the communist regime headed by Najibullah, and New Delhi had on its hands the unenviable "post-Soviet" task of establishing a narrative suitable for a new dawn in the region's ancient history.
The point is, the geopolitics of Afghanistan always had two halves. Which, of course, posed a major challenge to U.S. President Barack Obama when he crafted the new Afghan strategy. Equally, for regional powers like India or Uzbekistan, the dichotomy came in the way of creating a common space that would open the vistas of a regional initiative. Viewed from Delhi and Tashkent, the "great game" in the Hindu Kush mountains assumed different shades. Some things do not easily change in life even for an aspiring regional power. Even today, Indian discourses on Afghanistan run a predictable course. Has the U.S. administration finally woken up to the harsh reality of the Pakistani military's doublespeak in the fight against terrorism? If so, will it turn the screw on its single most crucial partner in the fight? Period.
From this point, the angst deepens somewhat. Will the U.S. finally abandon the willing suspension of disbelief about the Pakistani military's passion for its strategic asset, the Taliban, and realise instead that New Delhi is Washington's sole "natural ally" in the region in the fight against terrorism? And, therefore, will the U.S. allow itself the privilege of India's cooperation in "stabilising" Pakistan? This range of issues more or less hogs the quaint Indian approach toward the Afghan problem in the seminar circuits in Delhi where one hears the thesis being rolled out ad nauseam like a repeatedly-vulcanised rubber tyre not possessing its original tensile strength any more.
Meanwhile, the northern slopes of the Hindu Kush leading to the vast Central Asia are preparing for a new dawn in the region's history. To be sure, the politics of the vast deserts and steppes of Central Asia that span the space between the Caucasus in the west and Xinjiang in the east will significantly determine the contours of any durable Afghan settlement. The downstream implications for South Asian security will be far-reaching too.
Three aspects to the emergent Central Asian security are of interest to India. One, China is venturing out as a provider of regional security and stability supplementing Russia's traditional role. The opening of the 1,833-km gas pipeline on December 14 connecting the energy fields in Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan to Xinjiang with an annual capacity of 40 billion cubic metres resets not only China but also the world community's terms of engagement with the region. The pipeline becomes part of China's 7,000-km long East-West trunk route that feeds its booming centres of production on the eastern seaboard and will provide half of China's present gas consumption.
Such a vital economic lifeline requires security guarantee and China is going about that task in its usual way by creating "win-win" situations with its Central Asian partners. In sharp contrast to the predatory instincts of western companies that zero in on the region's huge untapped mineral resources and rare earths, China is stepping in with a comprehensive engagement plan based on equity and mutual trust and partnership that promises uplift of the Central Asian economies from their post-Soviet trough.
From Beijing's perspective, the security of Central Asia (and Afghanistan) becomes integral to Xinjiang's stability, apart from China's overall energy security, which heavily depends at present on the extended supply routes via the U.S-controlled Malacca Straits that can prove a choke point. Flush with surplus capital, China, therefore, is showing the will to invest in Central Asia's prosperity and stability and thereby create a matrix of mutual dependence. The West cannot cope with this audacity. The London-based Economist Intelligence Unit estimates an 8 per cent growth rate for China's economy, whereas overall contractions of 2 and 4 per cent are forecast for the U.S. and the eurozone economies.
Two, the West would have ideally liked a clash of interests between China and Russia in Central Asia. But the emerging paradigm is instead pointing in the direction of a convergence of mutual interests. With the global downturn and the deep economic recession plus the sharp fall in energy export revenues, Moscow is accepting China's investments as the only realistic way out for the development of the vast Russian Far East and Siberia as well as Central Asia. In May, President Dmitry Medvedev openly called for a tandem approach by Moscow and Beijing to the RFE and Siberia's development, on the one hand, and the resuscitation of China's dilapidated northeastern industrial base, on the other.
Russia is pleased that Central Asia has no pressing need for alternative U.S.-backed gas pipelines headed for Europe. Russia and China have a shared interest in keeping the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation and the U.S. out of Central Asia. Both harbour misgivings about a hidden U.S. agenda of keeping open-ended military presence in Pakistan and Afghanistan and of manipulating Islamist elements as instruments of geopolitics. Both search for ways to influence a swift "Afghanisation" of the war that paves the way for the vacation of foreign occupation.
Three, a U.S. attempt to draw the Central Asian states into the AfPak is indeed apparent. The day after the commissioning of China's Central Asia pipeline, the U.S. State department stated in a testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: "The [Central Asian] region is at the fulcrum of key U.S. security, economic, and political interests. It demands attention and respect and our most diligent efforts any examination of U.S. policy towards Central Asia must start with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Pakistan We [the Obama administration] have begun to establish high-level mechanisms with each country in Central Asia, featuring a structured annual dialogue to strengthen ties and build practical cooperation."
Never before has the U.S. Central Asia policy been framed in such priority terms. It doesn't need much ingenuity to estimate that the U.S. "surge" on Kandahar, which is projected in terms of the Taliban challenge, can be seen in a broader perspective. A recent study by the influential Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington says: "Kandahar is the key road connection between the new Pakistani port of Gwadar and Afghanistan and, beyond that, all Central Asia, Europe, and much of the Middle East. Pakistan began the development of Gwadar with aid from China and has now engaged Singapore for the second phase of work On Gwadar, the interests of the U.S, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are aligned With Kandahar now in its eye, the U.S. should plan to build on future success there by making the opening to Gwadar a high priority Pentagon officials estimate the cost of upgrading this connection at about $1 billion." Obviously, any U.S. contingency plan would need to overcome the regional powers' "more specific interests and competitive inclinations that obstruct" the U.S. grand design. The CSIS report names China, India, Iran and Russia and flags the "sustained insecurity in Afghanistan, Baluchistan, Kashmir, and other parts of Eurasia" as the challenge to the overall U.S. strategy.
Clearly, these new templates in regional security underscore that India's normalisation with China increasingly assumes a regional dimension. This needs to be seriously factored in as the two countries sit down for the next phase of relations. As the distinguished former Indian diplomat and respected China scholar, Ambassador C.V. Ranganathan, put it recently, "Our shared neighbourhood should come on the agenda of serious discussions extending to concentric circles of expanding the dialogue to include all the primary parties affected by the situation in the AfPak region."
China has remarkably transformed in the past quarter century. All indications are that it has no inclination to fish in the troubled India-Pakistan waters. On the contrary, as a Xinhua commentary pointed out last week, "For solving the dispute over the Mumbai attacks [of 26 November 2008], India and Pakistan should count on bilateral efforts to reduce tension rather than allow the situation being further complicated by other issues such as the U.S.-led Afghan War." Plainly put, the China discourses of our strategic community are caught in a time warp. Stereotyped thinking should not impede new pathways from being opened in strengthening regional security.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)
LOSS OF NUCLEAR REACTOR CONTRACT, A MAJOR BLOW TO FRANCE
THIS COULD DENT FRENCH BID TO BECOME THE BIGGEST PLAYER IN CIVILIAN NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY.
In a major blow to the French nuclear industry, France has just lost a 20.4 billion-Euro-bid to supply four 1,400 megawatt nuclear reactors to the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the winner being a South Korean consortium led by the public sector electricity giant Kepco. The contract, made public on December 27, calls for the "conception, construction and assistance in the running" of four nuclear reactors of 1,400 megawatts each.
South Korean President Lee Myung-Bak went home triumphant after an official visit to Abu Dhabi with a done deal and a contract in his pocket, much to the chagrin and consternation of the French who were certain they would be awarded the coveted prize. The Kepco-led Korean consortium also includes Hyundai, Samsung and more importantly, the Japanese Toshiba-Westinghouse combine, who are among Areva's most fierce competitors.
This development could seriously undermine France's attempts to become the biggest player in the lucrative field of civilian nuclear technology. The French bid, put together by a consortium that included EDF, the state-run electricity company, GDF Suez, Areva, petroleum colossus Total and Vinci, had proposed the construction of a 1,650-megawatts third generation French EPR or Evolutionary Power Reactor.
To say that the French are immensely disappointed would be an understatement. President Nicolas Sarkozy himself indulged in some very aggressive sales talk during his trips to Abu Dhabi and Claude Gueant, the General Secretary of the Elysee Presidential Palace, made repeated visits to the sheikhdom these past 18 months.
In a terse interview published on Monday, President Sarkozy's right hand man often described as his eminence grise indicated that "lessons will have to be learnt from this disappointment." Mr. Gueant suggested that the Korean consortium had won the contract because it had proposed very competitive electricity tariffs and dismissed suggestions that safety concerns, delays and cost overruns in the construction of EPR reactors in Finland and France could have affected French chances. He did admit however, that the French side had been slow to get its act together.
Safety concerns about the "command and control" chain of the EPR reactor had been made public by three national nuclear safety agencies in Britain, Finland and France (The Hindu, November 7, 2009). In an unusual joint statement, the three national nuclear safety agencies had pointed to severe design flaws in the reactor while underlining that Areva was cooperating with them to make the necessary changes. The EPR, which the French proudly describe the as "the best and safest reactor ever made," has yet to prove its technology. There are only four such reactors under construction in the world, one each in France and Finland and two in China. But all four sites have encountered construction delays and cost over-runs which have added to the already high cost of the reactors about four billion Euros each.
France has decided to take the blow on the chin and put up a brave face so as not to jeopardise other profitable contracts in the Emirates, especially the sale of 60 Dassault-made Rafale combat aircraft which are competing against American F-16s and the European fighter-bomber, the Eurofighter. Since it was first made some 30 years ago, France has failed to sell a single one of these aircraft outside its borders. Contracts with Brazil and Abu Dhabi are still to be finalised and despite intense French lobbying, India too has been chary of investing in what has been described as the world's most expensive fighter aircraft. Two Rafale crashes on the same day last September prompted the Brazilians to delay their decision and ask the French Defence Ministry for more information.
These developments do not augur well for President Nicolas Sarkozy either politically or economically. Regional elections to be held in March will be a test of the government's popularity. Mr. Sarkozy has seen his popularity ratings dip severely in recent months and has launched public debate on "French national identity" in an attempt to capture the growing extreme right vote. Unfortunately for him, the debate has turned nasty, giving free reign to the expression of extremely base, hate-filled sentiments, especially in regard to immigration and Islam. His strategy therefore could boomerang success with extreme right voters contrasting sharply with losses at the centre.
Economically too, France is facing difficulties with steadily rising unemployment figures despite a faltering return to growth. Areva is poised to cut another 5,000 jobs and the loss of the Abu Dhabi contract could be interpreted as a personal failure for the President.
The state plays a significant role in the energy sector in France. It has majority shareholding in EDF and Areva but also holds 36 per cent of GDF Suez. Mr. Sarkozy is aware of the state's responsibility in keeping and augmenting France's competitive edge in the nuclear sector. For the moment China, with its massive nuclear programme, appears to be the surest market from the French perspective.
India has the EPR in its sights as it scrutinises its nuclear options and Mr. Sarkozy, who is scheduled to visit the country on March 5, 2010, will no doubt to engage in some more nuclear hard sell while in New Delhi.
A DECADE OF GLOBAL CRIMES, CRUCIAL ADVANCES
U.S. STRATEGIC DEFEAT IN IRAQ, A DISCREDITED MARKET MODEL, CHINA'S RISE AND LATIN AMERICAN FREEDOM OFFER HOPE FOR THE WORLD.
Eight years on, we're still caught in the shadow of the twin towers. As a rule, terrorism in its proper sense isn't
just morally indefensible it also doesn't work. In contrast to mass national resistance campaigns or guerrilla movements, the record of socially disconnected terror groups, from the Russian anarchists onwards, has been one of unmitigated failure. But the wildly miscalculated response of the United States government succeeded in turning the 9/11 atrocities into what may rank as the most successful terror attack in history.
It also triggered the first of four decisive changes which have ensured that the 21st century's first decade has transformed the world in some significant ways for the better. Osama Bin Laden's initial demand was the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Saudi Arabia, which was carried out in short order. But it was George Bush's war on terror that paradoxically delivered the greatest blow to U.S. authority and the world's first truly global empire, in ways Al Qaeda could scarcely have dreamed of.
Not only did the lawless savagery of the U.S. campaign of killings, torture, kidnappings and incarceration without trial spawn terrorists across the Muslim world and beyond, while comprehensively disposing of western pretensions to be the global guardians of human rights. But the U.S.-British invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, in the latter case on a flagrantly false pretext, starkly exposed the limits of U.S. military power to impose its will on recalcitrant peoples prepared to fight back.
In Iraq, that had already amounted to a strategic defeat, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of lives, by the time the U.S. surge bought some time by splitting the resistance movement. Both on a regional and global scale, the demonstration of U.S. military overreach strengthened the hand of those prepared to defy America's will, and revealed 2003 as having been the high-water mark of U.S. imperial pomp.
The election of Barack Obama on a platform of withdrawal from Iraq, and Russia's crushing response to the attack on South Ossetia by the US client state of Georgia, confirmed that shift by signalling the end of unchecked US unilateralism. The unipolar moment had passed.
America's unexpected decline was further underlined by the economic meltdown of 2008-9, the greatest crash since the 1930s and the second epochal development which has defined this decade. Incubated in the U.S. and deepened by the vast cost of multiple wars, the crisis has played the greatest havoc with those economies that bought most enthusiastically into the catechism of deregulated markets and unchained corporate power.
A voracious model of capitalism forced down the throats of most of the world for the last 20 years as the only acceptable form of economic management, at a cost of ever-widening inequality and devastating environmental degradation, has now been discredited - and has been rescued from collapse only by the greatest global state intervention ever. In less than 10 years, the baleful global twins of neoconservatism and neoliberalism have been tried and tested to destruction.
Both failures have accelerated the rise of China, the third vital change of the past 10 years, which has not only taken hundreds of millions out of poverty as the economic gap with the U.S. has halved (China has in fact overtaken the U.S. in domestic capital generation), but also begun to create a new centre of power in a multipolar world that should expand the freedom of manoeuvre for smaller states. Its blithe disregard for free market orthodoxy has only added to its success in riding out the west's slump. So perhaps it's no surprise that western politicians are increasingly anxious to blame China for their own failures, in everything from trade imbalances to the fiasco of the Copenhagen climate change negotiations.
LAST GLOBALLY SIGNIFICANT SHIFT
The decade's last globally significant shift, less often remarked on than the others, has been the tide of progressive social change that has swept Latin America.
Driven by the region's dismal early experience of neoliberal economics, and assisted both by U.S. absorption in the war on terror and the emergence of China, a string of radical socialist and social-democratic governments have been swept to power, attacking social and racial injustice, challenging U.S. domination and taking back resources from corporate control. Twenty years after we were told that there would be no 21st century alternatives to neoliberal capitalism, Latin Americans are creating them here and now.
Of course, the positive dimensions of the events of this decade come with a heavy dose of qualifications. The US will remain the richest and overwhelmingly dominant global power, with a military presence in most countries in the world, for the foreseeable future. Its defeat in the Middle East, in any case partial, has been bought at huge human cost. It continues to wage the war on terror, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. And the emerging global multipolarity brings its own risks of conflict.
Free market capitalism may now be reviled, but governments have mortgaged their citizens' futures to keep it afloat, while the crisis has generated mass unemployment and attacks on the living standards of the already poor across the world. In Latin America, the elites show every sign of wanting to reverse the social gains of the past decade, as they have already succeeded in doing by violent coup in Honduras, with US acquiescence.
But at least there is now more space for progressive movements and states to manoeuvre. The Washington consensus is gone and the post-Soviet new world order is mercifully no more. Who predicted that at the millennium? Meanwhile, citizens of the U.S. and its allies have shown increasing reluctance to send their sons and daughters to die in neocolonial wars. With the re-emergence of other independent powers, American leaders might even see the advantage in a rules-based system of international relations.
Liberal commentators in the U.S. have branded the past 10 years as a "lost decade" and a "big zero." They have certainly seen catastrophes and crimes on a wanton scale. But for most of the rest of the world, there have also been crucial advances.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
TWITTER: A CULT AND NOT A CURE
SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES CREATE ONLY A DEAFENING BANALITY.
In 2003, in an elaborate joke on New York's media-savvy, empty-headed hipsters, a journalist called Bill Wasik sent around an anonymous email suggesting that they congregate at a department store at the same time and stare at a rug. The event was an enormous success, and became the world's first documented example of a "flash mob." By the end of the decade, however, the joke had turned sour, and was on all of us. Faced with any kind of group activity, our first response is: do any of them know how to use Twitter?
How did we get here? In the last decade, ideas about how society works have been treated to a glamorous new outing. It all began in the year 2000, with the publication of Malcolm Gladwell's beautifully crafted bestseller The Tipping Point. Gladwell argued that, given the right kind of push, ideas or products can suddenly gain traction and pass around from person to person like a virus. In its wake came a slew of new thinking about how information and ideas cascade around the place and gather momentum. Then there was the influential idea that we can raise ourselves to a kind of collective intelligence the so-called "wisdom of crowds" by arriving at our decisions independently and punching our best guesses into a computer.
Most of these new ideas took their cue from the time we've been spending online. At a time of rapid change in the way we're communicating, that's hardly surprising. It helped that many of these new ideas-entrepreneurs made excellent writers and talkers, capable of expressing their theories with more flair and less pomposity than the traditional homme serieux. It would be churlish not to admit that there was something in their ideas, too. Online is a fantastically efficient way of sending a message out, and taking a pop at established industry authorities.
But the hard part is to find a message worth sending it's not good enough, as the internet gurus do, just to blow hard about the joys of a new medium. One of the most embarrassing features of recent British political life is the unseemly haste with which our politicians and their wonks have chased after the latest modish ideas book. They have listened rapt as a succession of breathless internet evangelists told them weird and wonderful stories about young people who were using Facebook and Twitter to organise a whole new kind of politics.
It wasn't long before the same ideas were being used as a lens with which to understand problems in other countries. From Iran to Moldova, it was claimed, a new generation of activists had armed themselves with Twitter and were using it to fight political repression. "You cannot have Rwanda again," argued Gordon Brown in June, referring to the "Twitter revolution" in Iran. "This week's events in Iran are a reminder of the way that people are using new technology to come together in new ways to make their views known."
It all turned out to be wildly overcooked. Among activists and dissidents, Twitter and other social networking sites were useful in getting messages out of the country, but they turned out to be just as handy for the authorities who were trying to track them down. In any case, since only a tiny number of Iranians use Twitter a mere 0.027 per cent, according to a forthcoming report from the British Council it was never going to be much use in organising demos. In retrospect, our fascination with Twitter said much more about us than about them.
Now that the American neoconservative idea to export democracy and universal values to the Middle East at the barrel of a gun lies in ruins, all we have to offer the Iranians is Twitter. It might end up doing more harm than good, both abroad and at home. Societies come with their own delicate rhythms and inner workings, and can't be explained as a virus or a bit of information coursing through a network. As we approach a general election, middle-aged politicians who hang out with their chums on Twitter instead of knocking on doors are only going to reinforce the distance they have put between them and their public.
Thankfully, there are now the first stirrings of a backlash against the cult of social media. In his forthcoming book, You Are Not a Gadget, the American computer scientist and pioneer of virtual reality Jaron Lanier will defend authorship and individual creativity against the deafening banality of the online crowd. For some time now, the Belarussian blogger Evgeny Morozov has been hammering away at the myth that social media is necessarily a good thing for political activism.
The author of The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki, admitted in the London-based Guardian newspaper that the "decentralised collective intelligence" of bankers staring at computers was worse than useless when confronted with a real crisis in the markets. Even Gladwell, writing in the New Yorker, has poured eloquent scorn on the cybernetic clarion call that all information wants to be free.
A popular thirst for understanding how society works is one of the promising developments of the decade just gone. But in the absence of anything more solid to work with, we've been happy to stare at our own narcissistic reflection in a shiny new medium. Maybe in the coming decade we'll think up some ideas worth passing around.
(Note: James Harkin is the author ofCyburbia; www.cyburbia.tv.)
I DON'T NEED A WAR TO FIGHT MY CANCER
USING THE MARTIAL METAPHOR FOR SOMETHING AS COMPLEX AS THIS DISEASE MAKES IT RIPE FOR POLITICAL AND FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION.
- In the war on cancer, the search for the ultimate weapon, overshadows other tactics
- Like other wars, the "war on cancer" is a gift to opportunists of all stripes
Obituaries routinely inform us that so-and-so has died "after a brave battle against cancer." Of course, we will never read that so-and-so has died "after a pathetically feeble battle against cancer." But one thing that I have come to appreciate since being diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of the blood) two years ago is how unreal both notions are. It's just not like that.
The stress on cancer patients' "bravery" and "courage" implies that if you can't "conquer" your cancer, there's something wrong with you, some weakness or flaw. If your cancer progresses rapidly, is it your fault? Does it reflect some failure of willpower?
In blaming the victim, the ideology attached to cancer mirrors the bootstrap individualism of the neoliberal order, in which the poor are poor because of their own weaknesses and "failure" and "success" become the ultimate duality, dished out according to individual merit.
It also reinforces the demand on patients for uncomplaining stoicism, which in many cases is why they are in bad shape in the first place. Late diagnosis leads to tens of thousands of avoidable deaths each year. For those who have been diagnosed it remains a barrier to effective treatment. The free flow of information between patient and doctor is a scientific necessity, and a reluctance to complain inhibits it.
Earlier this year Barack Obama vowed to "launch a new effort to conquer a disease that has touched the life of nearly every American." In so doing, he was intensifying and expanding a "war on cancer" first declared by Richard Nixon in 1971. But this "war" is as mislabelled and misconceived as the "war on terror" or the "war on drugs."
For a start, why must every concerted effort be likened to warfare? Is this the only way we are able to describe human cooperation in pursuit of a common goal? And who are the enemies in this war? Cancer cells may be "malignant" but they are not malevolent. Like the wars on "drugs" and "terror," the war on cancer misapplies the martial metaphor to dangerous effect. It simplifies a complex and daunting phenomenon making it ripe for political and financial exploitation.
In the war on cancer, the search for the ultimate weapon, the magic bullet that will "cure" cancer, overshadows other tactics. Nixon promised "a cure for cancer" in 10 years; Mr. Obama promises one "in our times." But there is unlikely to be a single cure for cancer. There are more than 200 recognised types, and their causes are myriad. As a strategic objective, the search for the ultimate weapon distorts research and investment, drawing resources away from prevention and treatment, areas where progress has been and can be made.
Like other wars, real and imagined, the "war on cancer" is a gift to opportunists of all stripes. Among the circling vultures are travel insurers who charge people with cancer 10 times the rate charged to others; the publishers of self-help books; and the promoters of miracle cures, vitamin supplements and various "alternative therapies" of no efficacy whatsoever.
But most of all, there's the pharmaceutical industry, which manipulates research, prices and availability of drugs in pursuit of profit. And with considerable success. The industry enjoys a steady return on sales of some 17 per cent, three times the median return for other industries. Prices do not reflect the actual costs of developing or making the drug but are pushed up to whatever the market can bear.
Exorbitant drug prices are at the root of recent controversies in the U.K. over the approval by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) of "expensive" cancer drugs notably Revlimid, a therapy used in the later stages of a number of cancers, including mine and top-up or "copayments" (allowing those who can afford it to buy medicines deemed too expensive by the tax-funded National Health Service [NHS]). "We are told we are being mean all the time, but what nobody mentions is why the drugs are so expensive," said the Nice chairman, Professor Michael Rawlins. "Pharmaceutical companies have enjoyed double-digit growth year on year, and they are out to sustain that, not least because their senior management's earnings are related to the share price."
TREATMENT IS BRUTAL
Many cancer therapies are blunt instruments. They attack not only cancer cells but everything else in sight. This is one reason people fear cancer: the treatment can be brutal. Making it less brutal would be a huge stride forwards for people with cancer. And that requires not a top-down military strategy, with its win or lose approach, but greater access to information, wider participation in decision-making (across hierarchies and disciplines) and empowerment of the patient.
Because I live in the catchment area for Barts (St Bartholemew's, to give it its proper name) hospital in central London, I find myself a winner in the NHS post code lottery. The treatment is cutting-edge and the staff are efficient, caring and respectful. What's more, I live close enough so that I can undergo most of my treatment as an outpatient - a huge boon. Cancer treatment involves extensive interaction with institutions (hospitals, clinics, social services, the NHS itself). Even in the best hospitals, the loss of freedom and dependence on anonymous forces can be oppressive. Many cancer patients find themselves involved in a long and taxing struggle for autonomy - a rarely acknowledged reality of the war on cancer, in which the generals call the shots from afar.
As Susan Sontag noted, in the course of the 20th century cancer came to play the role that tuberculosis played in the 19th century as a totem of suffering and mortality, the dark shadow that can blight the sunniest day. But the ubiquitousness of cancer in our culture is of dubious value to those living with the disease. The media love cancer scares and cancer cures; they dwell on heroic survivors (Lance Armstrong) and celebrity martyrs. But they routinely misrepresent research findings, conjuring breakthroughs from nothing and leaving the public panicked, confused or complacent.
What we need is not a war on cancer but a recognition that cancer is a social and environmental issue, requiring profound social and environmental changes.
(Note:Mike Marqusee's book, If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew , is published in the new year.)
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2009
AL QAEDA FACTOR
It is not surprising that US president Barack Obama has accepted that there has been a failure in the intelligence network that foiled bomber Umar Farouk Abdul Mutallab had managed to get as far into the country as he did. Obama had also gone on to declare renewed resolve Islamic terrorists and singled out Al Qaeda.
Security sources in the US and in Britain are pointing out that Abdulmuattalab is a product of a Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda, and that he was radicalised as member and then president of the Islamic Society of the prestigious University College of London.
The blame game is on in the US, between the security agencies and others, between the Democrats and Republicans about the loopholes in the intelligence and security system, but they all seem agreed, including Obama, about Qaeda being the source of trouble.
If what the Western sources say is true, the pervasive and effective influence and ability of Qaeda to attract young Muslims living in the Western world and this is the case ever since the September 11, 2001 attacks, then success rate of the radical Islamist outfit turns out to be impressive. This is bad news for everyone, and not just for the Americans.
Eight years into the war on terror, the resurgence of Taliban in parts of Afghanistan and the strong imprint of Qaeda in other parts, including the West, should raise questions not just about Western strategy but also about Western presuppositions about the whole phenomenon.
What the US and its Nato allies need to do is to go back to the drawing boardand think over afresh the contours of the problem. In Iraq, the Americans have co-opted sometimes Sunni religious militias and at other times Shia ones to gain control of the situation and they believe they have succeeded.
A similar attempt is being made in Afghanistan to rope in 'good' Taliban. Flirting with extremist groups is not the way to defeat them. Obama will have to thing beyond Af-Pak factor and look at the AQ conundrum.
At home, Western governments will have to find ways of mainstreaming the majority of law-abiding Muslim populations. Hardened prejudices on both sides cannot be tackled just through tough counter-terrorism measures. It is not even necessary for the US and Europe to resolve the festering Palestine-Israel conflict. Ordinary Muslims have other issues on their mind.
The fire in the chemistry laboratory at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) in Mumbai in which two young researchers had died is both serious and dangerous.
The sense of relief in some quarters that the nuclear facility is not affected and that there is no need for alarm is not right. It strengthens the suspicion that the nuclear facilities in this country are wrapped in unnecessary secrecy and that there is constant attempt to divert attentions from lapses, big and small. Scientists are often on the defensive when questioned and show extreme reluctance to share information.
The nuclear reactors in BARC form part of the strategic programme after the demarcation following the India-US civil nuclear deal and it might seem that secrecy is indeed justified. The argument is plain wrong. The safety of the reactors and the research centre itself remains of paramount importance whether it falls in the strategic read military section or the civilian one.
This does not however mean that BARC becomes a closed universe and that there is no scope for reasonable scrutiny when things go wrong. Safety should be the only concern and one of the effective ways of ensuring it is to keep information about it as transparent as possible.
A thorough inquiry into the cause of fire in the radiochemistry laboratory and the death of two young PhD students should be ordered and there should be an external as well as an internal probe.
The administrators at BARC cannot be lords unto themselves. They have to be answerable to the department of atomic energy and to the parliamentary consultative committee dealing with the issue. There is a need to insist on the oversight rights of officials and people's representatives outside the BARC to ensure that there is no complacency inside the institute.
There is of course the need to avoid petty turf battles but that should not exclude a fair appraisal system into all aspects of the institute. There are of course the annual departmental reports about the workings of institutes like BARC but there is a tendency in these reports to gloss over the problems which have a tendency to become nightmares when they are not nipped in the bud.
It is in this sense that the fire incident should be taken as a serious failing and action taken to plug the loopholes that caused the mishap in the first place.
THE CYCLE OF LIFE
The Wheel of the Year is a continuing cycle of life, death and rebirth. Thus the Wheel reflects both the natural passage of life, as well as revealing our connection with the greater world. All of creation is divine and by realising how we are connected to the natural world, we come to a deeper understanding to the ways in which we are connected to the God and Goddess.
Undoubtedly the significance of the Festivals has changed over the centuries, and it is very difficult for us today to imagine the joy and relief that must have accompanied the successful grain harvest.What with factory-farming, fast freezing and world wide distribution, our lives no longer depend upon such things and as a consequence, our respect for the land has diminished in proportion to our personal contact with it.
What is of the utmost importance with the Wheel of the Year is that we understand what we hope to achieve through our festival celebrations, and avoid the trap of going through empty motions, repeating words from a book which may sound dramatic, but have no relevance in our everyday lives.That simply leads to the creation of a dogma, and not a living breathing religion.It is not enough to stand in a circle on a specific day, and "invoke' forces of nature, those forces are currents which flow continuously through- out our lives, not just eight times a year, and if we choose not to acknowledge them in our everyday lives, there is no point in calling upon them for one day.
Although modern lifestyles do not encourage awareness of our personal relationship with the turning seasons does not mean that they no longer exist.The ebb and flow of the Earth's energies may be hidden beneath a physical shell of tarmac and concrete, and a psychic one of human indifference, but they are evertheless there for those who wish to acknowledge them once more.
From Book of Shadows
INFLATION HITS POLITICS
Inflation, it is said, is the bane of the common man today. Inflation is basically the incremental amount you need to pay to procure the same set of goods and services that you would have procured cheaper say a year, two years or even a decade earlier. Political parties, especially in the opposition too are experiencing inflation albeit of a different kind. With the same formula and effort of the last decade, they find that their returns are diminishing; their space is shrinking.
The driver of this new inflation is the Congress leadership team, which is silently changing the rules of the game.
Since India's economic liberalisation began in 1991 the social segment that has seen the greatest opportunity for growth is the lower middle class and the middle class. Their dynamic growth has meant that this segment has a continuously growing and changing list of aspirations. This class is the bhadralok that influences the opinion of many vocal sections of the society. VP Singh had cast his charm on them in the late 80s and the BJP in the 90s.
The combine of Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi has attempted to neutralise this phenomenon with a conscious effort to reconvert this nomadic tribe of voters to the Congress fold.
The 2009 election threw a decisive verdict in favour of the Congress led-UPA. The undercurrent was however to return to one of the old governing principles of Indian democracy a strong Centre led by a strong centrist party.
While our Constitution enshrines the Centre with greater powers, coalition politics in the last one and a half decades ensured that ruling parties at the Centre left many crucial portfolios and policy making roles to regional allies, who often did not rise above parochial interests.
The mandate for the BJP in 1998, 1999 was also essentially for a stronger Centre, but the party could not seize the opportunity. On the contrary the party went for a blind pursuit of allies, creating a government with a weak Centre and often surrendering crucial portfolios to its allies. A Congress party with only 145 seats in '04 ensured that the defence minister was from their party, while the BJP with 182 seats in '98 and '99 could not do so. The pursuit of power thus sometimes dilutes a focus on policy and governance that a strong Centre can give.
The Sonia-Manmohan combine has attempted to solve this dichotomy by uncoupling the process of creating a stable party and government and the process of creating a policy environment. Sonia and Rahul Gandhi focused exclusively on strengthening the party apparatus while the administration has been left to a policy-driven management which used the growing clout of the party to shape decisions. The BJP did the opposite; it used its growing power to attract allies that impacted its base and did not find means to increase its hold over policy-making.
An ability to enforce policy consensus while strengthening the party organisation is a combination that can prove lethal for any opposition. While the Congress does have a focus on Bharat Nirman, the fact is that in an economy where the share of agriculture is shrinking, the party has turned its attention to urban and semi-urban population of India.
The two ministries that directly impact the growing urban and semi urban population are the Urban Development Ministry and the Human Resources Development Ministry. Both have made the right noises since the government came to power. Replacing old pipelines, providing new sleek buses, providing assistance for building flyovers, creating new universities and scrapping board examinations are some of those.
The year to come will see a whole host of measures such as the new tax code, converting the bill for Equal opportunities Commission into legislation and the possible passage of the judicial accountability bill. Several initiatives taken by the government such as the unique identity mission will have long-term impacts and help the ruling party strengthen its hold over the urban and rural poor alike. The Food Security bill is another example.
Politically the Bihar election is expected to help the Congress party consolidate its position as a kingmaker. The party came third in several seats in the recently concluded by polls in Bihar.
Importantly, many backward class leaders of smaller parties like the LJP joined the party strengthening it further. This would enable the Congress party to cross into a respectable 20 to 30-seat tally from the current single digit score. With greater numbers on its side the Congress party could look to wean the JD(U) from the NDA and whittle the size of the NDA further.
The Congress party is likely to work hard towards strengthening its position in the state of Tamil Nadu the Youth Congress saw its enrolment drive lead to an all time high number of 13 lakh new enrolments. This is another state where the Congress will drive a tough bargain with an existing ally.
In the '90s, PV Narasimha Rao presided over a declining Congress and that offered ready space for a host of opposition parties. Now, they will have to battle hard for that very space. Inflation!
LAW CLOSES ON RATHORE
THE MAN MUST GET THE WORST PUNISHMENT
Nineteen years after a molestation attempt on Ruchika, nemesis seems to be catching up with disgraced former DGP SPS Rathore. His arrest seems imminent because the Panchkula District and Sessions Judge on Wednesday refused to grant him interim bail. It is only because of massive public outcry and media glare that the whole case has come to be revisited. What happened in the Best Bakery and Jessica Lal cases earlier, seems to be happening in the Ruchika molestation case as well. Complaints against Rathore by the tormented families were converted into FIRs and the legal net is closing in on him once again. He had torn it to shreds earlier thanks to the tremendous powers which he happened to enjoy as a senior police officer. He misused his authority and influence to the hilt, leading the molested Ruchika to commit suicide. Not only that, the brave families which lent her a helping hand also had to lead a harrowing time all these 19 years. It will be some consolation for them if he gets the toughest punishment for his monstrous deeds.
Nearly two decades have already gone by. Effort must be made to proceed with the case on the fast track so that he is served his just desserts in the shortest possible time. Care must also be taken that he is not able to influence the investigation through his tried and tested methods. After all, how he managed to scuttle even a CBI inquiry is well known. He should not succeed now.
And it is not only him who should pay for his crimes. There are many others who acted hands in glove with him. Politicians, policemen and others who were instrumental in the tragic end of Ruchika must all pay for their insensitivity. For instance, the school management had no right to throw her out when she was already a tormented pupil. Policemen who registered false cases against Ruchika's brother and tortured him must not escape justice. Ferreting out all facts and acting on them with an iron hand is the only way to ensure that no other girl suffers at the hands of a power-drunk fiend.
BALL REMAINS IN THE COURT OF US, CHINA
Whenever there is a discussion on civilian nuclear cooperation between two countries, a reference to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) cannot be ruled out. Thus, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama exchanging views on the CTBT in New Delhi on Tuesday was quite on the predictable lines. The Japanese, being the first and only victims of the nuclear bomb, do not miss an opportunity to advocate for a strict control on the proliferation of nuclear weapon technology. But India cannot be blamed for the CTBT not coming into force. As Dr Manmohan Singh made it clear, a new situation will arise when the US and China first ratify the CTBT. Only then can anybody raise the question why India, too, should not put its signature on it.
Despite not having ratified the CTBT, India continues to occupy the moral high ground because of its unilateral declaration of a moratorium on nuclear tests and adherence to the No First Use policy. In fact, India's record as a nuclear weapon power is much better than that of China, which has harmed the non-proliferation cause by disguisedly helping Pakistan to acquire weapon-production capability.
India's latest stance on the CTBT remains what the NDA government articulated after the 1998 nuclear tests New Delhi would not come in the way of the treaty coming into force if the US and China went ahead and put their signature on it. There is a message in this for the Obama administration too, which has been more enthusiastic about taking up the nuclear non-proliferation and allied issues than the previous Bush administration. What Dr Manmohan Singh has stated, however, does not mean that India no longer considers the CTBT as a discriminatory regime. A treaty that allows those who acquired the nuclear bomb earlier than others to continue to posses it cannot help the cause of making the earth safe from the nuclear threat. The countries like Japan which are too much concerned about nuclear non-proliferation should, in fact, fight for total elimination of nuclear weapons and technology. There is need to go beyond the CTBT, as India has been insisting all these years.
ECONOMY LOOKS UP
RANGARAJAN'S REVISED GROWTH FIGURE IS REASSURING
It is heartening that the Chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, Dr C. Rangarajan, has felt encouraged to revise his October forecast of 6.5 per cent GDP growth for the Indian economy for 2009-10 to between 7 and 7.5 per cent now. Dr Rangarajan is known to be cautious and is not given to hyperbole, so coming from him, the projection can be taken as realistic. His optimism stems from the impressive 7.9 per cent growth recorded in the second quarter (July-September) of this financial year amid signs that the Indian economy is coming out of the economic slowdown that it has been confronted with in the wake of the global recession. Dr Rangarajan who earlier headed the Reserve Bank, has rightly indicated that the fiscal stimulus for growth that the government had announced to keep the economy on keel would continue until March-end 2010. It is important that this prop for the economy to stimulate demand be not taken away prematurely.
As Dr Rangarajan has pointed out, while the economy has been riding on the back of a good showing in the manufacturing and service sectors, there are some grey areas that need urgent attention. Agricultural productivity has decreased because of unfavourable seasonal conditions. The increase in food prices has been substantial. Rice, pulses and sugar witnessed sharp rise in prices. In fact, food inflation in the first week of December soared to a decade's high of 20 per cent. A weak monsoon and deficient prospects for kharif production have contributed to it. A redeeming feature, however, is that the country had 44 million tonnes of foodgrains in stock by September-end, including 15 million tonnes of rice.
All in all, there is hope for the future of the Indian economy. Dr Rangarajan's calculation that if a consistent growth of 4 per cent in agriculture and 9 per cent in the industrial and services sectors were maintained over the next two decades, it would propel India into the comity of developed nations is indeed reassuring and worth striving for.
AFGHANISTAN: THE WAY OUT
GIVE GUARANTEES FOR ITS NEUTRALITY
BY MAHARAJAKRISHNA RASGOTRA
The people of Afghanistan have not forgotten what the Taliban did to them and their country when the extremists ruled Afghanistan with Pakistan's political and military support. The Taliban are not popular in Afghanistan. Even the Pashtuns of Afghanistan want peace and security of life and property in their land. This basic reality does not receive much attention in the US. The US and NATO forces are not fighting an unpopular war: the Afghan people are their best partner; they and the local authorities need to be motivated and mobilised for more active cooperation. Humiliating an elected President Mr Hamid Karzai is hardly the way to do it. There are better and quieter ways of ridding the regime of corruption.
There is a fair sprinkling of Pakistani Pashtuns and other ISI agents and operators in the ranks of the Taliban fighting the NATO forces in Afghanistan. They are trained, armed and financed by the Pakistan Army and the ISI; without that support and their safe havens in Pakistan, the Taliban will collapse in no time. The irony of this war is that for nearly a decade credulous US Administrations have been fighting the proxy and, at the same time, showering a bounty of money and arms on the barely hidden puppeteer.
Pakistan is a country of decent and peace-loving people struggling to create a democratic environment in which the Army and the ISI are brought under civilian control. The elected government cannot possibly have any sympathy for the terror combine of LeT-Taliban-Al-Qaeda, whose leaders and command centres are safely ensconced in Queta, Lahore and Karachi. The Pakistan Army created and nurtured the Taliban; it is sheer naiveté to expect it to fight them or even to restrain them in their safe havens in Pakistan.
American fears of an endless war in Afghanistan and Pakistan's hopes for an early American retreat resulting in the restoration of Taliban rule in Kabul are both greatly exaggerated. There is no parallel here to the predicament, and retreat from Afghanistan, of the Soviet army. That army was fighting to protect and stabilise an unpopular Communist regime. The so-called jehad was supported not only by the Muslim world but also by the United States and European countries with lavish supplies of money, arms and manpower. There was no international support for the Soviet intervention; in fact, Moscow's intentions and motives were suspect even in friendly countries. I remember Indira Gandhi telling Brezhnev in Moscow in October 1982 that he should withdraw Russian troops from Afghanistan; the sooner the better. Brezhnev said Taraki had been asking him for 10,000 Russian troops, that for a time he had repeatedly rejected the request but finally sent 10,000 troops, that now there were 100,000 of them there. He added for good measure: I donot know what they are doing there. I want to get out of Afghanistan, you know the area better; show me a wayout. Indira Gandhi had responded cryptically: Mr Secretary-General, the wayout is the same as the way in. During the following two days it fell on me to explain her the "meaning" but that is a long story for another day.
In contrast to those times, Kabul now has an elected government, and truly the Taliban enjoy the support of only one country Pakistan or more specifically Pakistan's Army and the ISI, all utterly dependent on the US for arms, money and other kinds of support. This war can be brought to a successful conclusion in 18 to 24 month's provided, in recognition of the stark and painful reality of the Pakistan Army's role in this war, Washington suspends all arms and economic aid to Pakistan for two years. The resources thus saved should be used for educational and other social development activity in Afghanistan. Second, NATO forces should stop the flow of drugs out of Helmand province a major source of finance for the Taliban ban poppy cultivation, compensate the cultivators and initiate alternative agricultural development programmes.
Concerns about Pakistan's internal stability and peace or its nuclear weapons falling in the hands of non-state actors are greatly magnified. Nor is there the danger of the country falling apart: Pakistan's Army and police are strong enough to effectively deal with any such contingency or threat. The electoral process will finally defeat and eliminate the religious radicals who are holding this large and potentially rich country to ransom.
In its endeavourer to end the war and bring peace and stability to Afghanistan, Washington is mistaken in ignoring Afghanistan's neighbours Iran, the Central Asian Republics, Russia, China and India. They are all interested in Afghanistan's integrity, independence, unity, peace and stability. Afghanistan-related international conferences in Bonn, New York and Washington D.C. have produced little worthwhile result.
The US should now take the initiative to convene a conference, in Kabul, of countries sharing frontiers with Afghanistan plus China, India, Russia, the EU and the UN Secretary-General. The conference should have a one-point agenda: An agreement guaranteeing Afghanistan's independence and neutrality, and the stationing in Afghanistan of a small UN force for 10 years symbolising the UN Security Council's endorsement of the agreement. This conference could also help determine the size of Afghanistan's armed forces and the ways and means of financing them for a decade or two.
Such a conference, I believe, will have a moderating effect on the Pakistan Army's strategic ambitions vis-à-vis the Gulf region and Central Asia and its periodic military adventures to subjugate Afghanistan for the fulfilment of those ambitions.
Pakistan is a solid land of sturdy, talented and hardworking people. It has been impoverished by an over-sized and pugnacious Army. In a globalising world with softening frontiers, it is dangerous for the Army of any country, especially a country of Pakistan's size and importance, to be the decision-maker of its foreign and security policies. In the way of the armies' greater than the true needs of the countries to which they belong, the Pakistan Army is a victim of the extravagant illusion that the world and Pakistan's neighbours owe it larger territorial expanse and greater depth in strategic space. This is the only Army in the world which has, in the space of half century, provoked and fought four open wars and three proxy wars on both flanks of Pakistan, putting the country itself at risk.
Tragically, the Pakistan Army's ambitions and its Afghanistan policy spell grave dangers for the country which it fails to see. If its Taliban henchmen succeed in recapturing Kabul, they will, once again, be faced with an unending civil war supported, openly or surreptitiously, by Iran, Afghanistan's Central Asian neighbours, Russia and India. Two possibilities could then emerge both of great detriment to Pakistan.
A prolonged civil war could involve the whole region in a conflict which Pakistan and the Taliban could not possibly win, and its defeat, or even a stalemate, would be followed by long-lasting resentment and sporadic conflicts. Or, in the event of Taliban rule getting firmly established in eastern and southern Afghanistan, there will be irresistible revival of the demand for an independent Pashtun state straddling the Durand Line. This would, of course, be a tragedy for Afghanistan as the country would be permanently divided, but with such an unfortunate development will also begin the unravelling of Pakistan.
Neither eventuality would serve any Indian interest. Peace and stability in the AF-Pak region, on the other hand, will facilitate the establishment of roadways, railways and pipeline networks which will carry people, goods and services between South-East Asia and India to Central Asia, Russia and Europe with great profit in trade and in transit fees to Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hopefully, then, a day will also dawn when Pakistan will discover that India is its best friend and well-wisher, and not its enemy.
The initiative for a conference of the kind proposed above should come, most appropriately, from the Obama administration. But are the minds in Washington open to courses other than a troop surge and withdrawal under the cover of a sham success, leaving Afghanistan to Al-Qaeda and God? Diplomacy involving Afghanistan's immediate neighbours has not been tried. It deserves a chance.n
The writer is a former Foreign Secretary of India.
DATE WITH AUDREY HEPBURN
BY LIEUT-GEN BALJIT SINGH (RETD.)
A casual evening gown worn by Audrey Hepburn for the filming of "Roman Holiday" was sold for eighty thousand dollars a few days ago. Now "Roman Holiday" was not just a box-office super-hit but it also ushered in a paradigm shift in the movies produced by Hollywood. Here was Audrey Hepburn who with a mixture of untamed vivaciousness, innocence, impish smile, boyish hair style and exquisitely tailored trousers and shirts (as opposed to pleated skirts and frilly blouses), became a symbol of the new, alluring feminism.
There was something in the manner she kick-started her Vespa Scooter, accelerating to 80 KMPH from a cold start within seconds, and head scarf fluttering wildly which made Audrey Hepburn also the harbinger of a certain subtle aspect of women's emancipation the world over. There were no scooters in India then. So a handful of bold women took to bicycling.
A few years after its premier, Roman Holiday came up for screening on a Saturday evening at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. By then such was the Audrey Hepburn spell over the young and the old alike that the cinema management agreed to three consecutive screenings of the movie.
But what especially caught my fancy this time was the hoarding over the cinema wall. In the background was the picture of the Trevi fountain in Rome and superimposed over it was a life size image of Audrey Hepburn from waist upwards. It looked a copy of that stunning studio portrait of the actress made by Karsh of Ottawa and published in the book entitled "Portraits of Greatness".
This was also the time when I had graduated to a state-of-the-art single lens reflex, Rollieflex camera. Its novel ground glass viewing screen was of the same dimensions as the size of the film negative which made focusing of the object and composing of the picture easier and exciting. So what better opportunity to test out the camera than photographing Audrey Hepburn from the cinema poster?
I exposed one entire film-roll of 12 frames with varying combinations of aperture opening and shutter speed. The results were better than my wildest hopes. The largest blow-up that a Dehradun photo-studio could handle was 14 by 12 inches. And one of these under a cut-mount frame went up on the wall facing my bed. For several days there was constant comings and goings to my room till the lights-out bugle.
During a routine tour of the rooms one day, the inspecting officer noticed the framed portrait. And to him it was synonymous with the forbidden display of glam-girl pin ups! So the next day, I was arraigned before the company commander, charged with "an act unbecoming the conduct of a gentleman-cadet". While reading out the offence report the company commander held aloft the framed photograph as an "exhibit" linked to my crime. Fortunately this being my first act of misdemeanor, I was administered a mere warning and promptly marched out of the office.
But the Audrey Hepburn portrait was confiscated and it went up on the wall facing the bed of the company commander!
INTEGRATE, DO NOT DIVIDE STATES
BY J L GUPTA
The Americans, though migrants from different parts of the world, are just Americans. No one says that he is a European, Chinese, Japanese or Korean. Nor does he call himself an Alaskan, a Californian or a New Yorker. Not one of them describes himself as a Christian, Jew or a Muslim. They are only proud Americans. The Europeans have formed the European Union and have introduced a common currency. The Germans have broken the Berlin wall. The world is breaking barriers. But we seem to be creating new ones.
In India, 'I' is the dominant factor. Every Indian is an individual. He is an Andhraite or Assamese, a Bengali, Bihari, Haryanvi, Kashmiri, Maharashtrian, Malyali, Punjabi or a Tamilian. He is a Christian, Hindu, Muslim or a Sikh. He is an Aiyer or Aiyanger, a Bania or a Brahman, a Jat or a Jatt, a Reddy or a Rao. The list can be never ending. And each one is interested in the preservation of his distinct identity. Culture and language. It is becoming difficult to find an Indian. Diversity has always been a stark reality. But today the unity is being threatened.
Our leaders of yester years had fought and won freedom. They were patriots. They had worked for integration of the smaller states in the Union. The leaders of today are dividing the states. They sow the seeds and then exploit the divisive propensities of the people. Just to perpetuate and preserve their own positions. Their small fiefdoms. For petty personal gains. And any excuse is good enough. Language. Sons of soil. Or any other. Then, they go on fast. Threaten to die. Arouse public sympathy and exploit the sentiment. Apprehending disruption of law and order, the government yields. Sometimes too readily. Is it appropriate?
Sacrificing life for national unity is understandable. It may be patriotic. But dying to force division should be totally unacceptable. Rewarding those who threaten to die for the disintegration of the state is a sacrilege. The fast is an attempt to commit suicide and must be treated as a pure and simple offence. Nothing more.
Today, reorganisation of states has become a regular ritual. The parliamentary pundits perform it periodically without any delay or demur. The result is that not only India but even the Indian Union has grown numerically. While the population has gone beyond a billion and we are doing little about it, the number of states has already risen to 26. And we all know the implications. Each new State means a new governor. Another chief minister and his ministers. And then the cascading effect on the bureaucracy. The taxpayer alone has to bear the additional burden of the cars, kothis and salaries for all of them.
We, as people, must realise that creation of each State only means more expense. It does not help the 'aam aadmi.' It does not lead to more opportunities for education and employment. It does not help the needy. It serves only the greedy. The funds are largely exhausted in providing for the perks. Almost nothing remains that may possibly percolate to the poor. The state then borrows from almost everywhere. And the people are doomed to leave behind the next generation under debt.
India is a rich country. It is rich in resources. We have fertile land. Flora and fauna. Mountains and mines. Perennial rivers. And then a billion pair of hands. These assets are enough to take a nation to the top of the world. Japan is an example for all to emulate. After facing an atomic holocaust and with virtually no resources of its own, the nation has reached the pinnacle of economic growth. In comparison, we are very poor. A majority of our people do not get two square meals a day. They do not have a roof over their heads. The children do not get admission in the schools. The sick cannot get a bed in hospital. The water is not potable. There is abject poverty in the midst of such plenty. It stares us in the face. We can no longer afford to look the other way.
Today, we really need to wage a war against illiteracy, poverty and unemployment. We have to work hard and fight against the ills of corruption, inefficiency and red tape. We must realise that every Indian deserves a dignified existence. We need hospitals and houses. Schools with adequate infrastructure. Institutions to impart vocational training to our young men so that they are able to earn their livelihood. The state must ensure certain minimum work and wage for the millions of unemployed youth. Only then the 'right to life' guaranteed as a fundamental right in the Constitution can become a reality.
To the masses it does not matter whether the minister wears a blue, green or white turban. The common man is worried about two square meals a day. He needs a shelter to protect himself against the vagaries of weather. A bed in hospital for the sick. A seat in the school for his child. Potable water to drink. Our energies must be focussed on providing the basic necessities to the teeming and toiling masses of India. We should not be spending our time and resources in dividing the states into non-viable units of administration.
As we enter the year 2010, let us resolve to unite. Not to divide states. We should decide and be determined to reward efforts for integration and punish those who work for division.
THE MOST INSPIRING PEOPLE OF 2009
BY JOHANN HARI
It was a dark year, 2009, sealing a dark decade. It began with the world in economic free-fall and the Gaza Strip being bombed to pieces (again). We watched the vicious crushing of a democratic uprising in Iran, a successful far-right coup in Honduras, and the intensification of the disastrous war in Afghanistan. It all ended at Brokenhagen, where the world's leaders breezily decided to carry on cooking the planet.
But in the midst of all this there were extraordinary points of light, generated by people who have refused to drink the cheap sedative of despair. The left-wing newsman Wes Nisker said in his final broadcast: "If you don't like the news, go out and make some of your own." I want in the final moments of 2009 to celebrate the people who, this year, did just that: the men and women who didn't slump, but realised that the worse the world gets, the harder people of goodwill have to work to put it right.
Inspiration One: Denis Mukwege. The war in the Congo is the worst since Adolf Hitler marched across Europe: it has killed more than 5 million people and counting. As I witnessed when I reported on the war in 2006, the violence has been turned primarily on the country's women: one favourite tactic is to gang-rape a woman and then shoot her in her private parts. For years these women were simply left to die in the bush. But one man a soft-spoken Congolese gynaecologist with a gentle smile decided to do something mad, something impossible. With scarcely any equipment and no funding, he set up a secret clinic for these women.
He was told he would be killed by the militias for undoing their "work". The threats said his own daughters would be murdered if he didn't stop. Everyone thought he was mad. But he knew it was the right thing to do. He became the Oscar Schindler of the Congolese mass rapes, saving the lives of tens of thousands of women. In the midst of a moral Chernobyl, he showed that the best human instincts can survive and, in time, prevail. It is rumoured he was number two in the Nobel Committee's list for the Peace Prize. He should have won.
Inspiration Two: Liu Xiaobo. A year ago, a petition began to circulate in China demanding that its one billion citizens be allowed to think and speak freely. "We should end the practice of viewing words as crimes," it said. As if they were the Irony Police, the Chinese authorities promptly arrested the authors and many of its signatories. One of the most articulate and brave Liu Xiaobo was sentenced to 11 years in a re-education camp for "subversion".
The Chinese authorities believe human rights are a "plot" to weaken China. In fact, China will be immeasurably stronger when it stops persecuting its citizens when they try to develop their minds and defend each other.
Liu is not alone. Hu Jia is in prison for warning about China's hidden Aids crisis. Huang Qi is in jail for warning that the poor construction of school buildings in Sichuan because the builders bribed the local authorities meant hundreds of children died unnecessarily in the earthquake. There is a long list, and for every prisoner, thousands more are too frightened to speak. But these dissidents stand as models of the truly great nation China will be one day, when it stops persecuting these people and starts electing them.
Inspiration Three: Evo Morales and Malalai Joya. Although they were born thousands of miles apart, these two people embody what real democracy can mean. When Evo Morales was a child, the indigenous peoples of Bolivia weren't even allowed to set foot in the capital's central square, which was reserved for white people. Today, he is the President, and for the first time in his country's history, he is diverting the billions raised from the country's natural resources away from the pockets of US corporations. It is building schools and hospitals for people who had nothing, and poverty is being eradicated in a stunning burst of progress.
Malalai Joya is the youngest woman ever to be elected in Afghanistan, and she was swiftly banned from taking her seat because she kept speaking up for the people who elected her against the violent fundamentalist warlords our governments have put in charge of the country. They keep trying to murder her, but she says: "I don't fear death, I fear remaining silent in the face of injustice ... I am ready, wherever and whenever you might strike. You can cut down the flower, but nothing can stop the coming of the spring."
She and Morales are authentic democrats, in contrast to the parody of it offered by Hamid Karzai and too often our own leaders.
Inspiration Four: Amy Goodman and the team at Democracy Now! It's not hard to despair of the US at the moment, when even the silver-tongued King of Change seems unable to get real healthcare and cuts in warming gases through his corrupt Senate, and he is ramming harder into Afghanistan. A large part of the problem is the atrocious US broadcast media. The TV news sees everything from the perspective of the rich, and ridicules arguments for progress. It serves its owners and its advertisers by poisoning every political debate with death-panel distractions and silence for the things that matter.
But there is one remarkable exception. Broadcasting from a tiny studio in New York, on a budget raised entirely from its viewers, comes Democracy Now! Every day, the hour-long broadcast hosted by the wonderful Amy Goodman tells the real news. While the nightly news fills up with junk and gossip, they calmly, cleverly explain what is really happening. For example, while ABC and NBC were fixating on Tiger Woods' peccadilloes, Democracy Now! was in Copenhagen, explaining how the world's rainforests were being stiffed. They, at least, can tell the trees from the Woods. It is the best single source for making sense of the world that I know and it is a model of what the American media could be if it treated its viewers with respect.
Inspiration Five: Peter Tatchell. Long before it was trendy to support gay equality, there was Peter Tatchell, taking huge risks for what was right. As one of the pioneers of direct action to oppose bigotry against gay people, he was never afraid to put his own body in the path of bigots.
What do they all have in common, all these people? When Mukwege built his clinic, they said he'd be dead within a week. When Tatchell said gay people could be equal, they laughed in his face. When Morales and Joya ran for office, they said people like them could never win. They dismiss Liu and Goodman now; but their arguments will win, in time.
They show that when the world gets worse, that's not a reason to slink away in despair. On the contrary: it's a reason to work harder and aim higher. As the essayist Rebecca Solnit says: "Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you break down doors with in an emergency. Hope should shove you out the door, because it will take everything you have to steer the future away from endless war, from the annihilation of the earth's treasures and the grinding down of the poor and marginal... To hope is to give yourself to the future and that commitment to the future is what makes the present inhabitable." That should be the epitaph for these remarkable people and for 2009.n
By arrangement with The Independent
US CONSUMERS, EMPLOYERS SEE A BRIGHTER FUTURE
BY TIFFANY HSU
Consumer confidence and expectations have hit fresh highs, and more employers are planning to hire workers in 2010, according to studies released Tuesday, signalling increasing economic strength.
A consumer expectations index formulated by the Conference Board rose to its highest level in two years, but Americans still feel pessimistic about their current state. The organization's "present situation index" fell to its lowest point in 26 years.
"While the worst of the economic times are behind us, it's not euphoria," said Lynn Franco, director of the board's Consumer Research Centre. "Confidence is stronger than when we started the year, but for much of the last several months we've been moving sideways."
The consumer confidence index rose to 52.9 in December, a three-month high after increasing to 50.6 in November from October's 48.7 and February's historic low of 25.3.
But confidence is still shaky, according to the index, which last reached a "stable" 90.6 reading in 2007. The data are based on a monthly survey conducted by research company TNS covering a sample of 5,000 U.S. households.
Consumer spending, however, is still moving ahead at "fairly respectable rates," said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist for IHS Global Insight. But the steep discounts and inventory clearance sales that are helping spending now could create a vacuum in early 2010.
"Barring a New Year's miracle in the labour markets, it will be an enormous challenge to maintain forward momentum on real consumer spending," he said in a statement.
Still, expectations are high for the next six months, buoyed by improvements in the business and labour markets. The Conference Board index jumped to 75.6 from 70.3 in November, reaching the highest level since the 75.8 recorded in December 2007.
But worries about short-term income, which Franco said probably would affect spending early in the new year, dragged down the present situation index to 18.8 from 21.2 in November. The index hit a low of 17.5 in February 1983.
A separate report by online jobs site CareerBuilder.com had more mixed news.
While 20 percent of employers said they would add full-time, permanent workers in 2010, compared with 14 percent who said they would do so in 2009, actual job growth probably won't arrive until the second quarter.
"There have been many signs over the past few months that point to the healing of the U.S. economy, especially the continued decrease in the number of jobs lost per month," CareerBuilder.com Chief Executive Matt Ferguson said in a statement.
Just 9 percent of employers intend to cut workers in 2010, while 16 percent said they would cut employees in 2009. Another 61 percent said their staffing levels probably will stay the same, according to the study, which surveyed more than 2,700 hiring and human resource professionals in November.n
By arrangement with LA Times-Washington Post
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
An eventful year for Assam came to an end with the militant groups including the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) facing severe setbacks following the change of heart of the Government of Bangladesh towards India's security concerns. However, the possibility of permanent solution to the problem of militancy still eludes Assam and one hopes that in the new year, the Government will continue its efforts to bring all the militant groups to the negotiation table for political solution of the problems and expedite the process of talks with the militant groups, which already signed cease-fire pacts to express their desire to solve the problems through talks. The ULFA suffered its worst ever setback following the crackdown by the Government of Bangladesh as senior leaders including the chairman of the outfit, Arabinda Rajkhowa were picked up by the security forces of the neighbouring country and were handed over to India to be arrested by Assam police. Though the arrests are major blows to the ULFA, the outfit cannot be written off as yet and the commander in chief of the outfit Paresh Baruah is still at large. Till date, the Government and the ULFA leadership are maintaining rigid stand on the issue of talks for political solution of the issues as the militant group is maintaining that talks must be held only on the core issue of sovereignty of Assam, while, on the other hand, the Government made it clear that talks on sovereignty would not be possible. Under the circumstances, talks between Government and ULFA in near future seem unlikely.
On the other hand, surrender of weapons by the militants belonging to the DHD(J) , commonly known as the Black Widow group is another positive development as in the last few years, the outfit created mayhem in North Cachar Hills district with its acts of violence and the Government should now expedite the peace talks with the outfit for political solution of the problems. The activities of the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB) remain an area of concern as despite reasonable success of the security forces in the operations against the outfit in recent months and it is reported that despite the crackdown against militants by the Government of Bangladesh, the chairman of the outfit, Ranjan Daimary is still staying in the neighbouring country. Another area of concern is the movements for creation of separate States as the demand for separate State of Bodoland has been raised once again and the possibility of the situation deteriorating cannot be ruled out. The Kamatapur State Demand Committee has also intensified its movement and the organization even called for National Highway and Railway line blockade for an indefinite period with effect from the first day of the new year. The Government should immediately hold talks with the concerned organizations to bring the situation under control before it goes out of control turning into a major law and order problem.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
Equality and social justice as guaranteed by the Constitution will remain elusive as long as a sizeable section of the populace remains without access to education. Free and compulsory elementary education, therefore, was envisaged as a means to achieve the goal of universal literacy. Assam has been among the States having a poor literacy rate and the State Government should accord top priority to reducing this disparity. The State Government has set a goal of distributing 3.42 crore textbooks in the coming academic year which will benefit over 71 lakh students. With liberal Central assistance coming under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan Mission, it needs to be ensured that the funds spent result in visible developments. The constraints afflicting the State's education sector are many, and a concerted, multi-pronged approach is a must to tackle the bane. Sustained focus has to be given on reaching out to the marginalized sections including STs/SCs, minorities, etc. While improving access to education is a fundamental need, it is equally urgent to match the spread of education with quality. Merely enhancing the number of children enrolled in schools is unlikely to achieve the objective of meaningful education. Then, the education system should be such that it imparts values of tolerance and harmony, more so in the context of the pluralistic Indian society.
Notwithstanding interventions made at government level, school education in the State continues to be beset with persisting ills. While there has been some quantitative growth in recent years after the launching of the Sarva Shiksha scheme the overall picture still remains lamentable. Periodical assessments of the prevailing scenario invariably reveal gross shortcomings in the qualitative aspect. A recent survey had shown that as much as 50 per cent of the Class-II students in Assam do not know the numbers between 10 and 99, while over 60 per cent of the Class-III students cannot solve simple arithmetic problems like abstraction. Such a deplorable situation is largely attributable to the thrust given all along on increasing the enrolment level rather than addressing the qualitative concerns. On the enrolment front too, the positives have not been at the desired level. Educational projects, including Sarva Shiksha, are primarily content with enrolling more students to meet their targets and devote little towards ensuring that the enrolled students get quality education. The desired change will come only when we recognize that greater enrolment does not necessarily ensure qualitative improvements. Key aspects such as teachers' training, fixing of responsibility on the school authorities for poor performance of students, etc., deserve proper attention under the circumstances.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
ROLE OF CATHOLIC CHURCH IN NORTH EAST
There are many who think that the Christian presence in India is merely a colonial left-over. Very few are aware of the fact that one of the closest disciples of Jesus, Apostle Thomas himself, had landed on the southeastern shores of India (at Crangannore) in 52 AD and that he had founded seven churches there before he died a martyr in Mylapore (Chennai). That was the era when the cultural identity of the subcontinent was still in formation, integrating new religious insights from everywhere with an amazing sense of openness. "Let noble thoughts come to us from every side", sang the Vedic seer. Christianity, therefore, constitutes a significant part of the Indian identity from its very formation period.
In the same way, most people believe that Christianity came to the Northeast only with the British. Very few are conscious of the fact that in 1626 two Portuguese Jesuit missionaries, Cabral and Cacella, had visited Assam. Having come up to Hajo and Pandu, they proceeded to Cooch Behar, Bhutan and Tibet. Similarly, many are not aware of the activities of the Foreign Missionaries of Paris who came to Guwahati in 1850 and tried to make their way to Tibet choosing a path through Nagaon and Dibrugarh. Fathers Krick and Bourry of that Institute were martyred on the Tibetan border in 1854.
Next came the Foreign Missionaries of Milan in 1872. Father Jacopo Broi worked in Assam for 18 years, with Guwahati as his base. His tours to places in upper Assam like Margherita and Joypur are well remembered. But the big leap forward came when German Salvatorian Fathers reached Assam in 1890 as a bigger team and made Shillong their headquarters. Soon enough, important educational institutions came up in Shillong: St.Edmund's College, Loreto School, St. Mary's College and others. The work was fast picking up, when World War I brought the entire enterprise to a sudden halt. The German missionaries were forced to return home. Fortunately, during that period of crisis Belgian Jesuits from Kolkata were able to come to the assistance of the Assam missions until the Salesians of Don Bosco took over the work in 1922.
Once again, further expansion of educational and health institutions began: St.Anthony's College, Nazareth Hospital, and many Don Bosco Institutions in Guwahati, Dibrugarh, Tezpur and other places. After Independence in 1947, the Catholic mission was further strengthened by the arrival of Diocesan Fathers and other religious societies who made invaluable contribution to the social development of the North East. Types of services too diversified: technical schools, women's training centres, youth services, hospitals, health centres, special institutes for the disabled, assistance to street children, community development services, self-help groups, literacy and basic education centres, services to children, assistance to drop-outs, counseling centres, good libraries.
Recently the setting up of Don Bosco University in Guwahati with diverse relevant courses is one of the latest additions to this list. As of now, the Catholic Church is present in all the seven states of the Northeast both at urban centres and in rural areas. It remains ever creative, initiating innovative services as required by each place and each local community.
This contribution must be seen against the background of what the Baptist Church and other Christian Churches had already been doing in the region. Everyone remembers the contribution of Arunodoi and similar writings of the early Baptist missionaries to Assamese literature in its formative days. The warm welcome that the people of the Brahmaputra Valley and the hills around gave to such useful initiatives explains the reason why Christian undertakings have greatly grown in the region.
It is in this context that the proposal for holding the biennial meeting of the Catholic Bishops of India in Guwahati next February becomes meaningful. Providentially, it coincides with the centenary of the present church at Panbazar. Every two years when the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI) meets in one location or another in the country, usually in some metropolitan cities, it seeks to study at depth a topic of social importance so as to make its services more clearly goal-oriented and effective. During the last few years the Bishops have been reflecting on themes like education, health, development, communications, concern for the poor, and probity in public life. Their findings have influenced public leaders and policy makers at the local, regional and national levels. It is hoped that a deeper reflection on the theme of 'youth' that the Bishops have specially chosen for their next meeting will enlighten the minds of educators and youth-animators so as to be helpful to our young people in confronting the future with all its perils and possibilities.
The rapidity of the change that we are experiencing in modern times affects our young people more than anyone else. Moving away from their families and their cultural roots, they are thrown on their own resources and can easily come under negative influences. So, in the most formative period of their lives, they run the risk of undergoing a sort of alienation from their original identities, traditions and the value-systems that constitute the very foundation of a healthy and harmonious society.
At the same time new opportunities are opening out before the younger generation at a pace unheard of before. For example, young people from our region are in Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune and other major cities of the country. Some have gone abroad. If our young people continue to remain dynamic and venturesome on the one hand, but also prudent and discerning on the other, they will be able to build a great future for themselves and for others. But even in this endeavour they will need to be guided and encouraged by wise and perceptive parents, elders, educators and youth-workers.
If the Bishops and other Catholic educators who have had long experience in youth services can throw fresh light on these issues, they may open up new doors to the future for our young people. As of now, the Catholic Church runs over 13,000 schools and 450 colleges in India, and is educating over 7,000,000 students irrespective of caste, creed, colour or gender. There is also a large number of institutions of technical and specialized nature and over 3000 homes for street children and other centres of assistance. Similar institutions have been coming up in the North East too in significant numbers. In these disturbed times, society is becoming more and more conscious of the fact that young people are led into violent movements for lack of occupation, motivation, and enlightened guidance. Legitimate love for one's own people, culture and heritage takes a violent turn in the absence inspiring guides who know how to channel youthful energies in constructive directions. Even a call for development that ought to stir the younger generation to action can lead to frustration when they feel they are not adequately trained and equipped. The Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has kept insisting on the absolute priority of education and health for the growth and development of any society, which are precisely the areas the Catholic Church has been giving the greatest importance. In the sphere of inculcating peace, harmony and development, the Church has been taking a lead in urging people in the path of responsibility, efficiency, work ethics, collaborative effort, mutual assistance, respect for cultural and spiritual values.
It is always a wonder how the Catholic Church, one of the oldest institutions in the history of the world, still retains its resourcefulness in sharing values that are essential for society to cohere together and flourish. It attributes its vigour and strength to the confidence she places in God's ways of working among human beings. That remains always the source of its joy and optimism.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
2009: A WARNING-YEAR OF COMPLEX CLIMATE
DR MANASMANI DEV GOSWAMI
The complex climate has emerged as a new threat today to the nations. It is the challenge that scientists have to be in constant observation of the behaviour and influence of climatic parameters, at least, to redefine climate in its domain of interdependent characteristics. The complex climate, unusual in nature, characterised by unsteady and nonuniform events has been more pronounced for some years. The year 2009 can be termed as a warning year to human beings as the occurrences of climate are a threat to the animal and plant kingdom from probable danger and disaster due to its platykurtic nature. The threat of climate change is the threat to the system of dynamism and sustainability of geo-existence of the earthly elements
The magnitude of the events in recent times is extreme and rarely predictable. A German research group Germanwatch reveals lately that Bangladesh, Burma and Honduras were the three countries most affected in the past 20 years by extremes of climate. Also in the top ten were Vietnam, Nicaragua, Haiti, India, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines and China. Not only are these under developed and developing countries, but the developed countries too are susceptible to abrupt climate syndrome. The 2003 drought in southern Europe, which led to thousands of deaths and huge property losses, as well as a series of category hurricanes in the US are some noticeable events pressurising the nations to think about it seriously. However, one cannot attribute all extremes of weather to climate change; but it is certain that there is a considerable increase in frequency and intensity.
Temperature is the prime factor for all unwanted climatic catastrophes. Due to variations in temperature in regions and that also in abrupt way in certain conditions, the extreme weather events are happening frequently. A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reviewed the multiple reconstructions of temperature over the past 1300 years based on ice cores, tree rings and other indirect measurements. The panel concluded that evidence of global warming was 'unequivocal'. On an average, the earth has warmed up by 0.6 degree C during the 20th Century. The World Meteorological organization in Geneva declares that 2009 is one of the 10 warmest individual years recorded. 1998 was the warmest year, and after 1980, atleast 19 warmest years of almost same magnitude have occurred. 2009 will become the fifth warmest year since 1850. The provisional figure for warming during the year is 0.44 degree C above the long-term average of 14 degree C. The sudden increase in carbon dioxide (CO2) emission, which causes increase in global warming, is observed since 2001. If the current trend continues, atmospheric CO2 will double pre-industrial level by the end of next two decades. That will be enough to rise global warming by around 3-5 degree C. It is mentionable that even sea level rose by 3 mm per year in the 20th Century.
But the warming situation is not uniform across the globe. While some parts will face increased rainfall and floods, others may witness droughts. Even within a country like India, the increase in temperature is not uniform. There is even uncertainty to the already forecasted climatic events. The north eastern region of India including Assam, which faces recurring flood but having enough monsoon rainfall every year, is facing acute drought situation for some years. The drought phenomena were more evident in the year 2006 and 2009. The very reason for such an abnormality across the continents may be changes in sea surface temperatures and circulation patterns. Increased sea surface temperature can affect rainfall pattern: and the reduction in ocean salinity due to ice-sheet melting can lead to changes in ocean circulation pattern.
The natural carbon sinks or consumption by forests and oceans are also losing their ability to absorb CO2. A study of ocean data between 2000 and 2007 showed that ocean's ability to absorb CO2 reduced by 27 per cent to 24 per cent. On the other hand, the oceans are becoming acidic as more CO2 gets dissolved on it. The acidic oceans refuses to dissolve further green house gases and makes it difficult for calcium-shelled marine organisms to build shells which generally holds up carbon. On the other hand, the ice sheets of Antarctica and the Arctic are unable to reflect the same quantum of sunlight as these are shrinking in size by melting. East Antarctica has been losing at least 5 billion tones of' ice every year since 2006. According to recent observation on ice loss, Antarctica could shrink by 33 per cent by 2100, leading to a sea-level rise of 1.4 metres. On the other hand, increased CO2 level can lead to faster plant growth which will facilitate the process of carbon fertilisation and in turn absorb more of the green house gases. But studies have revealed that higher CO2 levels will help only few certain species. While higher temperature will enhance plant growth in cooler regions, in the tropics they may hamper the growth.
These are issues emerging out of an undefined global warming, becoming more challenging to the scientific fraternity. The human beings have to confront the deviations in normal happenings in the meteorological occurrences. Year 2009 can be taken as the base year to think and make study on these issues with more activated programmes so that the earth can sustain optimally. It is noticeable that the strength-gathering at Copenhagen to formulate a political agreement so that the dangerous global warming and related climatic events are controlled and distributed globally across 192 countries, has made year 2009 hot under debate. The situation will boost up all for a renewed interest on investigation and initiation for a result-oriented dialogue on climate-treat and management.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
No wonder some teams are apparently getting the jitters about coming to India for the Commonwealth Games. After all, is anything innocuous any more, anywhere in the world? A new class of missiles debuted last December: shoes. Their reputation as mere perambulatory aids was permanently altered when, a mere two months after former US President George Bush ducked an Iraqi shoe, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had to take similar evasive action during a visit to Britain, followed by our own home minister P Chidambaram at a press conference in New Delhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh at a rally in Ahmedabad, both in April, and IMF boss Dominique Straus-Kahn in Turkey in October. It is doubtful though whether these gentlemen and the security teams of all VIPs will ever regard a leading sports shoe brand's exhortation to Just Do It in the same light ever again. Then, just as the men in black got the hang of flagging footwear as dangerous weapons, a young fellow tried to down an airliner en route to the US by igniting his underwear, less than a decade after another man tried to do the same with what else? a shoe. Talk about red-hot innerwear...
But coming as the 'attack' did on Christmas Day, it sent alarm bells jingling through all relevant quarters, with predictable consequences. Considering security authorities could hardly tell passengers braving the worst winter weather since climate change came centrestage to travel without shoes and underwear, they have done the next best thing. Besides going in for more full-body scanners at airports, at least on flights headed for and around the US, it has been decreed that passengers would not be allowed to get up from their seats for the last hour before planes land. Travellers would appreciate this diktat's potential for chaos, since the queues for the washrooms invariably lengthen during those crucial 30 minutes before the Fasten Seat Belts signs pop up. More so if there are holidaymakers travelling with young children or taking one tipple too many.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BE PRAGMATIC, SEBI
The SEBI proposal to move on compensating retail investors who lost out in the infamous initial public offering (IPO) scam is well-intentioned but misguided. A regulator, especially an understaffed one like SEBI, can either spread its resources thin without much effect or focus its energies on vital issues to secure the market from future abuse. Compensating retail investors in the IPO scam falls into the first category. It is a long and convoluted process that will usurp regulatory time and attention at a time when there are graver issues that deserve its attention. The effort to compensate individual applicants who were not allotted shares because of the scam is simply not worth the trade-off in terms of time and money spent.
This is not to say perpetrators of the scam should be allowed to go scot free. Most certainly not! They should be made to disgorge their ill-gotten gains of close to Rs 100 crore and should be criminally prosecuted as well. But the money obtained will be better spent beefing up the Investor Protection Fund and used to educate investors, the vast majority of whom are sorely in need of financial literacy than going on a wild goose chase trying to identify losers in the IPO scam. Not all retail investors are 'lucky' when it comes to IPO allotments. So how is SEBI going to decide which retail applicants lost out because of the antics of Rupalben and Co and which applicants would not have got an allotment regardless? Again, the Wadhwa committee arrives at the notional loss as the difference between the issue price and the closing price of the shares on listing. Why assume investors would have sold their shares on listing? The committee itself has warned that the facts in question are disputed and legal proceedings are pending at various fora and, hence, 'it may not be possible to determine the quantum of unjust enrichment'. Given this, the larger investor interest would be better served if SEBI does not waste time trying to compensate individual investors and focuses on larger systemic issues, apart from penalising the scamsters.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA INC NEEDS A LIBRARY MEMBERSHIP
The last day at the British Council Library in Mumbai, which took place last week, was a sad occasion. Members staggered in to return huge piles of books, and usually hung around to look at the tables of books the library was disposing of cheap. Soon, many of them were talking to each other about how long they had been members and what a difference the library's closing would make to them. "I have been a member since 1983 and I really don't know where I will get these sort of medical books," said an old lady doctor. "You could see it was coming, the way they had stopped getting autobiographies and other such books," said another gentleman darkly. In general, though, the mood was sad rather than bitter at the British Council.
To which the British Council would reply that there are grounds for neither sadness nor bitterness, because the library is not, in fact, closing. Smaller regional libraries like in Thiruvananthapuram have been closed, but as signs in the Mumbai library proclaimed loudly, this library was just going to get bigger and better online. The closing of the physical library will be followed by the launch of an online one where readers from across the city can choose books that will be delivered to them, and which they can then keep for as long as they like.
This certainly sounds better and high-tech and new, but a closer look raises some questions about this new scheme. It presupposes, of course, that all members will have easy online access, which is certainly debatable in the case of some older members. Even if one accepts, as this new scheme tacitly does, that they don't matter, it's not clear how new online members will be recruited. Using a library is a habit, which a physical library reinforces due to its requirement of regular visits. British Council library users would typically start as students coming for research, and then stay in touch due to regular needs for renewal.
But once the library habit is broken, or never starts because there's no physical place to go to, it's not going to be easy to build it again. Publicising the new online library's services will require publicity budgets one rather doubts the British Council has. From what one learns, the new service will not include the British magazines and newspapers that were always a large part of the library's attraction (many of the specialised ones aren't available online).
Nor has any online library figured how to build in the serendipity factor the joy of finding interesting new books while browsing the shelves. And finally, the fact that at the time of writing, the British Council's Mumbai website has not even a mention of the new scheme doesn't build confidence in their future online abilities. Too much about the scheme seems designed to put off existing members, while not attracting new ones at which point, a couple of years down the line, one suspects the whole thing will be shut down, on the grounds that "customer response targets were not met".
Perhaps that's being unfair to the British Council, but maybe the more honest approach would have been to say, "Look the UK is broke and we no longer can sustain these libraries, no matter how good they are at generating goodwill for us." Such an approach would have forced us to ask another question: if the UK can't run such a service, why isn't India Rising stepping up to the crease? So much of new Indian economic success is built on the knowledge economy and libraries are nurseries for knowledge. The question shouldn't be whether infotech and other such industries can support libraries, but why they aren't falling over themselves to do so?
That they aren't suggests some uncomfortable facts. Like, for all their talk of valuing knowledge, most companies just want the sort of tech drones churned out by computer academies. Or that Indian companies are still happy to coast on infrastructure created by the government or, in this case, foreign governments. But the rise of service companies in places like the Philippines which compete for the same basic level services is going to put the drone model at risk, and governments, foreign or Indian can no longer be expected to run effective knowledge infrastructure services like libraries (if you have any doubts on this score, just step into the few public run libraries in India). India's knowledge sector has some outstanding issues to settle with libraries, and it would be good if it takes some steps to checking them out.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HUMAN WANTS VERSUS NEEDS
The very nature of the mind is to be dissatisfied, not be contented, and not be in the present moment. The mind can only exist either in the past or the future because you cannot have thoughts in the present moment. So, by its very nature, the mind will chase desires. We have to bring awareness to ourselves and understand whether our desires are actually ours or borrowed from others.
When you go for a drive in your car and notice an expensive Mercedes alongside, you start thinking, 'It is time to buy a new car... may be a Mercedes.' Until then you were happy, but now, seeing somebody else's car, a desire has entered you to possess that same vehicle. You have borrowed the desire of that car owner this borrowed desire is an example of a want, not a need, which is born out of comparison. Drop all your prestige problems and do an honest self-analysis of your desires. If you cannot drop your prestige when alone, how will you drop it when you are with people!
Before sending you to planet Earth, Existence furnishes you with the energy to fulfill all that you will require to live a contented and fulfilling life. But when you start spending this energy to realise borrowed desires, you start feeling that you are not equipped with enough energy for fulfilling all your desires. You experience discontentment because your own desires have not been fulfilled. The moment one want is fulfilled, numerous wants arise within you because you borrow more desires from others.
The enlightened master Ramana Maharishi says, 'The mind is such that it shows a tiny mustard seed to be a huge mountain until it is attained. As soon as it has been attained, even a mountain appears as insignificant as a mustard seed!' We all function around these three axes of doing, having and being. Doing for having, without enjoying being, is the cause of all our misery. Doing never catches up with having! Every time you work hard and fulfill one desire, suddenly that desire loses its pull over you.
As soon as one desire is fulfilled, you attract another desire you don't even have time to enjoy your fulfilled desire and feel satisfied. You start thinking, 'Just let me acquire one more thing. Then I can relax and enjoy what I have.' Be very clear, your mind will never allow it happen. You have enough energy for fulfilling all of your needs but not your wants. The only way to really live and enjoy life is to enjoy the very doing itself. Then automatically the doing, having and being, will be integrated and will happen. Be Blissful!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PACKAGE SHOULD GENERATE RURAL DEMAND, REMOVE FARM CONSTRAINTS
With the Indian economy predicted to grow at over 7% and it being abundantly clear that we were not the worst hit in the global recession, there is a growing demand for the withdrawal of the stimulus package. To make a case for or against the stimulus entirely on the basis of growth rates is, however, misguided.
No matter how rapidly the Indian economy grows, there could still be the possibility that a stimulus would make us grow even faster. The more relevant question then is: has the stimulus outlived its utility? And the answer would have to be: not yet, but it may be time to correct some of the distortions that have crept in.
The case for a stimulus is built around a shortfall in demand that prevents the economy from growing as fast as it can. A stimulus becomes counterproductive if it is continued after the shortfall has been completely covered. Pumping additional money into an economy that is already growing as fast as its resources allow it to would only lead to higher prices.
All that governments have to do then is monitor prices to begin winding down the stimulus as soon as the rate of inflation touches unacceptable levels.
And while the rates of inflation are no longer near the sub-zero levels they were during the worst of the recession, the overall rates are still some distance from being at levels that suggest the continuation of the stimulus would necessarily be inflationary.
What makes things difficult is that this overall picture hides the sharp divergences that exist in the Indian economy. Economic growth in the country has been extremely lopsided in favour of industry and services, and against agriculture. There are severe constraints on the production of several critical agricultural products. These serious bottlenecks in the supply of food have resulted in food prices skyrocketing even at a time of a general slump in demand.
There is reason to believe the stimulus package serves to further widen the divergence between trends in food prices and those of other commodities. A large part of the stimulus has taken the form of politically-useful patronage to the poor. Since food accounts for a major portion of the expenditure of the poor, it has further pushed up the demand for, and the prices of, food. Thus, continuing with the stimulus in its present form would almost certainly increase the pressure on food prices.
At the same time, the fact that the overall rate of inflation remains modest despite runaway food prices points to the industry and services sectors being a long way from the threat of uncontrolled inflation. A continued stimulus would provide these sectors with opportunities for more rapid growth. Indeed, it is quite possible that a withdrawal of the stimulus at this stage would nudge them back into recession.
In other words, even as the inflationary pressures the stimulus is generating in agriculture are reaching worrisome proportions, the manufacturing and services sectors run the risk of faltering if the stimulus is withdrawn.
So, it is imperative to shift the focus from whether the stimulus should continue to what form it should take. It is particularly important to ensure the stimulus package not only generates rural demand but also helps remove some of the severe constraints facing Indian agriculture.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
JULY 2010 WOULD BE AN APPROPRIATE TIME FOR A PHASED EXIT
P K CHOUDHURY
The fiscal stimulus packages were announced by the government after October 2008 to support growth and avert a deep and prolonged slowdown resulting from a global economic crisis. Prior to the fiscal stimulus packages, the government also announced certain policy measures such as farm loan waiver and release of the first instalment of pay arrears under the Sixth Pay Commission recommendations.
Roughly, all these measures supported the aggregate demand growth by 3-3.5% of GDP during 2008-09.
The stimulus packages and the policy measures enabled the economy to avert a crisis. While the country's GDP growth slowed down from 9% in 2007-08 to 6.7% in 2008-09 and around 7% in the first half of 2009-10, the economy has achieved a growth rate despite a steep decline in exports which is among the highest growth rates in the world during these periods.
The stimulus packages have not only enabled the Indian economy to avert a severe impact of the global economic crisis but also sustained a high rate of growth during this period. The industrial production has gathered momentum, the services sector is recovering, consumer confidence is returning and business sentiment is improving.
Corporate profitability has improved quarter-on-quarter since Q3 of 2008-09. There is an expectation that exports would return to positive growth by April 2010.
However, all these have been achieved at a substantial fiscal cost; an unsustainably-high fiscal deficit resulting in a departure from FRBM targets and fiscal consolidation. The estimated fiscal deficit of 6% of GDP in 2008-09 and 6.8% of GDP in 2009-10 is way above the target of restricting the fiscal deficit to 3% of GDP by 2008-09. The fiscal deficit in 2010-11 is also likely to remain high as revenue collection may miss the target.
The time has come for fiscal prudence and discipline. It is time to review and arrive at a plan for withdrawal of fiscal stimulus packages. The right course of action would be to consider a gradual withdrawal. A sudden and comprehensive withdrawal could jeopardise the economic recovery that is gathering strength. In the short run, it will surely hurt. But keeping in mind the difficult task of sustaining a combination of high fiscal deficit, strong growth and controlled inflation, it has to be done. The adverse impact could be offset by appropriate increase in investment, both industrial as well as infrastructural.
A priority in that case would be to create enabling policy framework to escalate investment in sectors such as power, roads and ports. The most appropriate time to begin the process of phased withdrawal of stimulus packages would be around July 2010, by when corporate performance during 2009-10 would be known and reliable information on the status of global economic recovery would be availabl
The withdrawal of stimulus packages is inevitable, given the need for fiscal consolidation. Under the circumstances, continued spending by the state and central governments in creating infrastructure is likely to remain a key engine of economic growth and the extent and phase of resurgence of private investment activity is likely to play a critical role in shaping the trajectory of economic growth.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IS 13TH FINANCE PANEL LUCKY FOR STATES?
With the Thirteenth Finance Commission (TFC) submitting its report to the President on Wednesday, all eyes are on Dr Vijay Kelkar and his team. Will the number 13 prove lucky for states?
State governments must be hoping it will as the present system is highly skewed against them when it comes to sharing tax resources. According to a recent paper on Indian Fiscal Federalism by M Govinda Rao, director of the National Institute of Public Finance & Policy (NIPFP), states raise about 34% of the consolidated tax revenues but incur 58% of the expenditure.
Further, even as states' own revenues in total revenues declined to about 34% in 2008-09, their share in expenditure increased at a much sharper pace: from 51.7% in 1990-91 to 58.4% in 2006-07.
Unfortunately, higher spending did not result in higher autonomy or discretion in such decisions. Indeed, states' autonomy in expenditure is less than suggested by the numbers. Reason? About 15% of the expenditure is incurred on specific-purpose transfers where matching requirements are to be made by the states for the centrally-sponsored schemes.
Over the years, the importance of these schemes has increased manifold with the result that states spent about 20% of their expenditure on these schemes in 2000-01 against just 7% in 1985-86. Worse, from the perspective of the states' autonomy, since 2003-04, the Centre has been transferring funds directly to state-, district- and village-level implementing agencies rather than routing funds through the state budgets.
The net result is that vertical inequity has worsened. The story is no better when you turn to horizontal equity, i.e., between states. Inter-state disparities among general-category states are not only high but show an increasing trend.
In 1980-81, the per-capita state domestic product (SDP) in the richest state, Punjab, was about three times that of the poorest, Bihar. In 2006-07, this difference increased to almost five times, with per-capita SDP of Haryana, the richest state, at Rs 48,214 against Bihar's still the poorest! at Rs 10,286.
Ironically, poorer states are also those with abundant natural resources, including minerals. Part of the reason is the out-dated and unfair royalty system that gave the benefit of the rich mineral resources to the Centre, even as states had to spend on related social and physical infrastructure. Hopefully, the new revised royalty rates will address some of this imbalance.
Nonetheless, the net effect is wide disparity in the provision of public services. Rao finds the per-capita spending on development expenditure has a significant and positive correlation with per-capita SGDP rather than with higher tax effort of the richer states, implying that the transfer system has not succeeded in offsetting fiscal disabilities that led to high inter-state disparities in development expenditure in the first place.
Sadly, over the years the role of the finance commissions has been weakened by three developments: expansion of its terms of reference to issues beyond tax devolution the TFC is no exception restrictions on its scope limited to non-Plan revenue accounts and the emergence of multiple and overlapping agencies in making transfers.
So, the capacity of the finance panels to achieve the desired degree of equalisation is increasingly constrained. The transfer system has also become more discretionary. As a result, finance panels are unable to take a holistic view on public service provision while recommending transfers.
This has led to a number of undesirable outcomes. One, there is a disconnnect between creation and maintenance expenditure, resulting in poor public delivery of services. Two, scientific formula-based transfers have given way to arbitrary and discretionary transfers.
Hopefully, the TFC would have taken note of the issues raised in Rao's paper.
(A Review of Indian Fiscal Federalism, M Govinda Rao, NIPFP)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FINANCIAL CRISIS HAS MADE US NIMBLER'
BANGALORE: Girish S Paranjpe joined India's third-largest software exporter, Wipro, almost two decades ago. Before taking over as the company's joint chief executive officer in April last year, Mr Paranjpe, 51, helped the company grow its revenues from financial services customers to almost a quarter of the total revenues. In an interview with ET, he spoke about the lessons learnt during the recession. He said that changing business models will need restructuring of the IT workforce. Excerpts:
We still keep hearing questions about whether America's large banks will be able to sustain their recently reported financial performance. Do you really think that the banking crisis is over?
The crisis is clearly over for these banks, and unless there is another big collapse like what happened with the Iceland, there is nothing much to worry about. Currently, very few strong lenders remain in the US and they are very prudent in lending, especially having averted a much bigger crisis. As for outsourcing and offshoring, availability of skilled IT professionals is still an issue, hence, outsourcing remains attractive. There are, however, negative public sentiments because of job losses and that can drive regulations.
What lessons has Wipro learnt from the crisis?
One of the first things we realised is that a balanced portfolio is needed across customers, geographies and service lines. Earlier, we were always thinking about the next 10,000 people to be hired, but we had to change the stance. The crisis gave us an opportunity to become nimbler. While we did not cut down our salesforce, we upgraded it by hiring specialised professionals. It's also been a good time to start the consulting business, and we now have around 1,200 professionals.
Over the past many years, companies, such as Wipro, have been operating dedicated offshore centres for large customers. What is the next big shift in the remote delivery of software services?
The current model of delivery is very homogeneous that model will morph over the next two years, wherein offshore development centres (ODC) will account for around 30% of work from nearly 80%.
Instead of having large teams, we will have smaller, specialised teams with skills to solve complex problems. Such people will be highly mobile and will have fewer staff. We will also have highly specialised centres of excellence, much bigger in size, but not necessarily customer-focused. Such centres would include competencies for SAP support, CRM roll-outs and infrastructure support among other areas. Reusability, automation and platform-based solutions will be the key ingredients. This will also allow us to look beyond just pure engineering graduates in a big way.
Going forward, non-engineering graduates could be 15-20% of the workforce. Traditional engineers will either have to seek project management or architect kind of role, or evolve as a business analyst. They can also look at taking a managerial responsibility.
Wipro has been following its 'string of pearls' strategy when it comes to M&As. However, experts across the globe call Indian IT companies 'risk averse', when it comes to making big bang acquisitions, and with so much of cash reserves, what are your thoughts?
The reality is that services acquisitions are the hardest thing to execute because it's about people and customers. We have done acquisitions to fill a gap in portfolio, it doesn't make sense to do a large acquisition because it's not for aggregation. And since we are not doing acquisitions for aggregation, smaller specialist firms have been our targets. We do not need to do a large acquisition for entering into a new market the route Dell followed by acquiring Perot. It was an entry strategy for Dell.
JAPAN: TIES ARE GETTING STRONGER
India and Japan have traditionally held one another in estimation. Japan's victory in the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 was hailed in this country as the military triumph of an Asian power against a European one, a circumstance that boosted the impetus to overthrow British colonial rule. But for all that, up till quite recently the relationship between the two countries remained one of one-way aid, Japan being the provider. Its prestige was high as a centre of technological innovation and as the world's second largest economy after the United States, while India struggled with its "Hindu rate of growth". In the Cold War years, with Tokyo firmly on the side of Washington and India theologically nonaligned, occasional diplomatic chiding of India by Japan partly in fulfilment of its political obligations to the US, which had dropped the atom bomb on it, defeated it in World War II and virtually dictated its security policy was par for the course in the absence of a substantive relationship or dialogue. This template looks to be changing with the end of the logic of the Cold War, the rise of India, and faint stirrings in Japan of its sovereign spirit in relation to the US. The visit of the Prime Minister, Mr Yukio Hatoyama, this week as part of the annual bilateral summit between the two countries helps to extend the idea in both countries which surfaced during the tenures of Mr Hatoyama's predecessors, Mr Junichiro Koizumi and Mr Shinzo Abe that the ties between them should develop in a changed direction in which both recognise the vitality of the other in securing Asian stability in economic and security terms, while eliminating the prospect of conflict. India and Japan can have a fresh, strong and regenerative relationship that is beneficial for Asia and the world. As the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, noted during the Japanese leader's visit, economic ties will be the "bedrock" of the interaction between the two countries. The joint statement signed at the end of the summit appropriately stresses key investment areas. There is also a filling out of the security and defence dimension which had commenced with the conclusion of a security agreement in 2008 when Dr Singh had visited Japan. This essentially relates to counter-terrorism and the safety of sea lanes, and deeper collaboration between the military establishments and the foreign ministries of the two countries. The move underlines the mood among policymakers and planners to forge and develop wide-ranging ties with a long shelf life. These are matrices to build on for the expansion and the deepening of ties, across a spectrum that speaks of a long-term commonality of interests. It may be premature, however, to get into circles over international security affairs insofar as counter-proliferation in the shape of NPT and the CTBT are concerned. The two countries do not have shared coordinates in this field, and Mr Hatoyama was frank enough to acknowledge this in his interaction with the media in New Delhi. Dr Singh did indicate that a new situation might come about if the US and China ratified the CTBT. This was respinning the formulation of the Vajpayee era that India won't stand in the way of the coming into force of the CTBT (which can't happen until India ratifies it).
2010 will test Rahul
By Arun Nehru
The current decade, from 2000 to 2009, witnessed sharp political changes in the structure of governance and in the political fortunes of several leaders. In analysing trends for the Congress we have to simultaneously examine the position of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Left and the regional forces. In coalition politics, as in majority rule, the "negatives" in the system often generate the "positives". Coalition politics is less about charismatic leaders with the capacity to win elections on their own and more about effective electoral alliances based on a widely acceptable political manifesto and an effective party organisation with leaders of stature at the state level.
This decade has seen the consolidation of the coalition era which started in 1989. The 10-year period from 2000 to 2009 can best be analysed by studying three distinct periods: We can apply the wisdom of hindsight to the two periods from 2000 to 2004, and 2004 to 2009, and reflect on the political initiatives for 2010 which will determine the mini general elections in 2011 and 2012 in four crucial states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal and Kerala which account for 180 Lok Sabha seats and may well define the electoral and leadership trends for the Lok Sabha elections in 2014. The first phase, 2000-04, saw the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in power with the charismatic Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee as the Prime Minister and regional forces like the All-India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and the Telugu Desam (TD) giving NDA the stability of numbers. The Congress had been in decline after P.V. Narasimha Rao's tenure. The elevation of Sitaram Kesri to the post of Congress president had proved to be an electoral disaster and the two coalition structures under H.D. Deve Gowda and Inder Kumar Gujral, with Congress' support had tested the patience of the voter.
Mrs Sonia Gandhi stepped in as Congress president in 1998 but the time was limited for a positive impact and there were several doubts about her ability to be successful in her own party. The Congress leadership issue was settled after eight years of uncertainty and the entry of Mr Rahul Gandhi in 2003 further cemented the succession trend for the future and provided internal stability to the Congress. This was crucial in the success that was to follow. The party won Assembly elections in Uttaranchal, Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir, but there were few signs of revival at the central level.
The Gujarat riots in February 2002 left hundreds dead. The scars of this tragedy were evident as the issue lingered on and created a sharp divide at the state and national level. The BJP won elections in Gujarat later in the year and went on to win Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh in 2003. With the economy in good shape and Mr Vajpayee's charisma, the NDA went for early Lok Sabha elections in 2004 only to suffer a stunning defeat "minority vote" consolidated and reacted sharply to the Gujarat tragedy, and anti-incumbency trends in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu sealed the NDA's fate. The BJP suffered as did all its allies TD, AIADMK, Trinamool Congress and others and this was reflected in coalition structures in the future as the BJP was isolated wherever minority votes were a decisive factor.
The tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) from 2004-09 generated a positive image within the confines of coalition politics. The image of Mrs Sonia Gandhi, after she declined the post of Prime Minister, combined with general secretary Rahul Gandhi, who strives to restore "meritocracy" within the party and avoids the temptation of "victory", created an "acceptable" public image, one that the Congress seems to be consolidating for the future.
The UPA and the Congress were expected to win the 2009 Lok Sabha elections and both the BJP and the Left were expected to lose ground. But the public response was sharper than expected a positive verdict with 200-plus seats for the Congress and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Though Dr Singh's personal integrity was a contributing factor, the political credit goes to Mrs Gandhi who, during 2004-09, managed the "internal" power bases within the government and the party and never allowed any serious "conflict" to fester. This was a remarkable achievement under any circumstances. Internal power play always relies on the contradictions of dual power basis as Mrs Gandhi dealt with the "present", the concentration of Mr Gandhi was on the "future". A two per cent additional vote share for the Congress in 2009 possibly included a big slice of the "new voters" and this category may well play a decisive role in the future.
After the retirement of Mr Vajpayee, the Opposition NDA crumbled but BJP continued to pose a challenge. But
after the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the pressure points on "succession" became visible. The Left too, which had a record number of MPs, lost its political base in West Bengal and Kerala. Their continued resistance to reform and an outdated ideology helped Ms Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress gain control of the political landscape after three decades of Left rule.
As I write this, 2010 is upon us. In the New Year, Congress general secretary Mr Gandhi faces the difficult task of consolidating the gains in Uttar Pradesh, reviving party cadres in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orrisa and Tamil Nadu and increasing his party's share from 200 seats to the magic figure of 272. It is a bumpy road ahead the difference between victory and defeat is usually one-two per cent of the popular vote and political accidents, like the one in Andhra Pradesh, can take place in other states as well.
The leadership skills of Mr Gandhi and his team will be fully tested with the challenges ahead. Battling the regional powers of Ms Mayawati, Mr Nitish Kumar, Mr Navin Patnaik, and the BJP at the Centre (Mr Nitin Gadkari, Ms Sushma Swaraj, Mr Arun Jaitley) and in the states (Mr Narendra Modi, Mr Shivraj Singh, Mr Raman Singh and Ms Vasundhara Raje) will not be easy. Anti-incumbency trends will also go against the party in power. But on current trends, the Congress has an advantage against the BJP.
Arun Nehru is a former Union Minister
ROGUES AND HEROES OF THE NOUGHTIES
BY MAHIR ALI
BEGINNING in 1929, the Great Depression laid bare the contradictions of capitalism, bringing some of the world's most formidable economies to their knees. Ten years later, the poet W.H. Auden bade farewell to "a low, dishonest decade" and scented "the unmentionable odour of death" as the Second World War commenced. Four years after the carnage ended in 1945, the Cold War had begun and the first of its proxy conflicts loomed in Korea. The years 1959 and 1969 have, remarkably, both been the subject of books subtitled The Year That Everything Changed: a touch of hyperbole, no doubt, but the designation isn't entirely baseless in either case.
Thirty years ago this week, as the year that had witnessed the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the execution of Pakistan's first popularly-elected Prime Minister, drew to a close, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was under way. A case could be made for 1979 as the year when everything well, at least a great deal changed. No such need is likely to arise in the context of 1989, as the commemorations of the past few months demonstrate. The collapse, in rapid succession, of communist regimes across Eastern Europe, which culminated in the summary execution of Romania's Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu 20 years ago last week and presaged the collapse of the Soviet Union two years later, is unlikely to be forgotten in a rush. But what about 1999? It adamantly refuses to take a place of prominence among the years that end in nine. It wasn't, of course, an eventless year, and in fact crucial bits of the architecture that shaped the decade to come were already in place. US and British forces sporadically bombed Iraq at their whim, and tales of horror steadily trickled out of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
India and Pakistan came to blows after the latter repeated its folly of 1965 by infiltrating troops into Indian-administered Kashmir, and one of the architects of the Kargil conflict subsequently assumed power following Pakistan's fourth military coup. The confusion about nines and zeroes persists for some reason, although it's not terribly hard to figure out that while the Noughties are screeching to a halt, we're about to enter, not leave behind, the final year of the 21st century's first decade.
It's hard to imagine at the moment, but it may well be the case that by the time this century is well advanced, humanity will look back on the Noughties as a period it would rather forget. It may be wiser, though, to look back in anger at the faces and forces that shaped these years.
Let Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush jostle for pride of place in the era's rogues' gallery. I'd be inclined to lobby for the latter, who has the distinction of having sent a great many more human beings to their deaths (whether or not you count the executions he sanctioned as governor of Texas). Besides, had it not been for Bush's efforts, chances are that considerably fewer fanatics would have been inclined to follow the murderous trail Osama bin Laden had blazed. Mission accomplished?
Might Laden edge out Bush in the malice and misanthropy stakes? Probably. And it's certainly no coincidence that these protagonists and their leading lieutenants more so in Bin Laden's case, of course, but let's not forget Tony Blair were guided by a sense of divine mission. Islamist terrorism wasn't by any means a Noughties innovation, but the manner in which it manifested itself at the turn of the century made its nature even clearer than before and underlined more sharply the need for its eradication. Yet the disease has been spreading.
The persistence in some quarters of the illusion that the Muslim world's woes are mostly extraneously imposed doesn't help. The blame game slots comfortably into a Manichean worldview, and there are few signs so far that the years ahead will differ substantially in this respect from the ones we're leaving behind.
It would have been a pleasant task to enumerate the technological advances of the past 10 years, particularly in the sphere of communications, as evidence of human progress. Unfortunately one cannot ignore the instances of regression, the constant reminders that barbarism still lurks among us: suicide bombings, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay. The villains hitherto named are but a tiny proportion of those who have perpetrated evil or perpetuated misery in various forms, from Islamist terrorism and imperialist aggression to economic exploitation. Among the victims, far too many cannot stand up to be counted. They perished in Basra and Baghdad, in Kabul and Kandahar, in Mumbai and Madrid, in London and Lahore.
But what about the heroes of the Noughties? There are millions of them: the multitudes who continue to strive against the odds, but with a handful of notable successes for a world whose priorities are not determined by self-interest and greed. Many of them placed their hopes in Mr Barack Obama, who could have been a contender for a heroic slot had he even tried to turn 2009 into a year in which everything changed. There's still plenty of scope for him to redeem himself. The quantum of hope has dwindled alarmingly during his first year in power, which is obviously not a good omen. Nor is it an excuse, however, for fatalistic despondency.
THEY HAVE LIVED
BY S. NIHAL SINGH
Death has no pattern. In 2009 we lost two world beauties from India, a chief minister known for his sure political touch, the rebel leader of a vanquished guerrilla group in Sri Lanka, the King of Pop, the brain behind America's Vietnam War and a self-made labour leader who became President of his country's newly-minted democratic government.
Gayatri Devi (May 23, 1919-July 29, 2009)
In another day and age, Maharani Gayatri Devi would have haunted the salons of the world's richest and most powerful, charming them with her beauty and grace. As it happened, she strode two worlds: the world of privilege and princely pursuits and frolics and India as a democratic, independent country. In 1943, Cecil Beaton photographed her in Jaipur to give her the stamp of a world beauty, an accolade that was repeated many times.
But Gayatri Devi was as headstrong as she was beautiful. The daughter of a prince of Cooch Behar, she took a fancy to the dashing Jaipur ruler Sawai Man Singh who had two wives and would not be dissuaded from marrying him. She lived a life of luxury and privilege but was dedicated to women's empowerment and opened a girls' school in Jaipur in 1943.
India's political processes were, however, soon to catch up with her as Indira Gandhi sought to buttress her position in the Congress Party on the strength of a radical programme, which ultimately led to the abolition of princely purses. Gayatri Devi was on the other side of the fence and made her gestures of protest and was imprisoned for six months during the infamous Emergency of the mid-Seventies.
Leela Naidu, (1940-July 28, 2009)
Born of a Swiss-French mother and a father from Andhra, Leela Naidu had an incandescent beauty that filled the room she was present in. Vogue classed her as one of the 10 most beautiful women, together with Gayatri Devi.
Yet she was scarred by tragedy for much of her life, being married and divorced twice, the first time to the scion of the Oberoi hotel family and then to the poet Dom Moraes, and lost custody of her two daughters.
Amidst these tragic events shone her beauty and sensitivity and although she acted in only a handful of films, her directors swooned on her for her restrained rendering of difficult and demanding roles. She could never become a Bollywood star because she did not dance, but one of her films, Yeh Rishte Hain Pyar Ke, did become a commercial success. Connoisseurs of Indian cinema will best remember her in Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Anuradha.
Y.S.R. Reddy (July 8, 1949-Sept 2, 2009)
Reddy had the distinction of never losing an election he contested. After winning Andhra for a second time in 2009, he was swallowed in a helicopter accident in the jungle. "YSR", as he was universally known, was a Christian known for his advocacy of social welfare schemes and proved the most successful in the country in denting the Maoist insurgency in his state. But perhaps his greatest contribution to the Congress Party and the state was his sure political touch. His secret was his ability to mix shrewd politics with people's welfare.
Andhra sorely missed YSR as passions rose over Telangana. He could not give his son Jagmohan the apprenticeship to claim the throne with a measure of self-assurance.
Kim Dae-jung, (December 3, 1925-August 18, 2009)
It is given to few people to survive a death sentence and an assassination attempt to blaze a trail.
Kim was the first Opposition leader to win South Korea's presidency and he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize for his "sunshine policy" towards North Korea, divided at the end of the Korean War in 1953. Kim believed that the reunification of the two Koreas by peaceful means could only come about through prosperous capitalist South Korea helping the dynastic Communist North with massive economic assistance. The Korean peninsula has seen many ups and downs since then, with the North exploding a nuclear device and testing missiles but Kim's logic cannot be faulted.
Kim's last years were sad. Two of his three sons were sent to prison on corruption charges and even his reconciliation visit to the North became tainted with accusations that he had bribed Pyongyang with $ 500 million to induce it to agree to the summit.
Vellupillai Prabhakaran, (Nov. 26, 1954-May 19, 2009)
For a quarter century Prabhakaran flew the flag of a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. His movement, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, was born out of the sense of discrimination and injustice of Tamils as Sinhala politicians employed chauvinist themes to further their partisan agenda.
For all his successes in guerrilla warfare and training of a disciplined force motivated enough to use suicide bombings as a tool, Prabhakaran was a flawed character. He flirted with an Indian-mediated peaceful solution only to train guns on the Indian peacekeeping force and brought ignominy on himself and his movement by being instrumental in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi. Prabhakaran's end came violently on the battlefield as Sri Lankan forces finally won the war. They have still to win the peace.
MICHAEL JACKSON, (August 29, 1958-June 25, 2009)
The King of Pop was at once a definer of the age he lived in and an exceptional talent like the Beatles were in another era.
His 1982 album Thriller remains the best-selling of all time. He started in 1964 as the youngest of the Jacksons, went solo in 1971 and the rest, as they say, is history He was twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Indeed, Jackson had transformed music video into an art form.
Yet controversy was never far from his rise to fame. First, his changing appearance caused raised eyebrows and he was hounded by charges of child abuse although never convicted. In a sense, he was a tortured soul even as he revelled in his unsurpassed commercial success. Warts and all, Jackson was an icon. A billion people around the world watched his live memorial service.
Robert McNamara, (June 9, 1916-July 6, 2009)
If there is a tragic hero in the upper reaches of the US establishment, it must be McNamara. A whiz kid, his name is permanently connected with the Vietnam War as the long-serving defence secretary. US military strength in South Vietnam had peaked at 3.5 million in 1988 when he left office.
More than 16,000 US soldiers had died (42,000 more died before the American retreat) and McNamara concluded before leaving the Pentagon that the Vietnam War was futile, failing to make his views public until late in life. In 1995, he wrote in his memoir that the war was "wrong, terribly wrong", to be met with a public storm.
McNamara sought to make amends by confessing in public few Americans have on the barbarity of the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. "I think he (General Curtis LeMay) is right. He and I'd say I were behaving as war criminals".
OBAMA CAN'T SEEM TO FIND HIS PULSE
BY MAUREEN DOWD
I was walking through a deserted downtown on Christmas Eve with a friend, past the lonely, grey US Treasury Building, past the snowy White House with no President inside.
"I hope the terrorists don't think this is a good time to attack", I said, looking protectively at the White House, which always looks smaller and more vulnerable and beautiful than you expect, no matter how often you see it up close.
I thought our guard might be down because of the holiday; now I realise our guard is down every day.
One thrilling thing about moving from W. to Barack Obama was that Obama seemed like an avatar of modernity.
W., Dick Cheney and Rummy kept ceaselessly dragging us back into the past. America seemed to have lost her ingenuity, her quickness, her man-on-the-moon bravura, her Bugs Bunny panache.
Were we clever and inventive enough to protect ourselves from the new breed of Flintstones-hardy yet Facebook-savvy terrorists?
W.'s favourite word was "resolute", but despite gazillions spent and Cheney's bluster, our efforts to shield ourselves seemed flaccid.
US President Obama's favourite word is "unprecedented", as Carol Lee of Politico pointed out. Yet he often seems mired in the past as well, letting his hallmark legislation get loaded up with old-school bribes and pork; surrounding himself with Clintonites; continuing the Bushies' penchant for secrecy and expansive executive privilege; doubling down in Afghanistan while acting as though he's getting out; and failing to capitalise on snazzy new technology while agencies thumb through printouts and continue their old turf battles.
Even before a Nigerian with Al Qaeda links tried to blow up a Northwest Airlines jet headed to Detroit, travellers could see we had made no progress toward a technologically-wondrous Philip K. Dick universe.
We seemed to still be behind the curve and reactive, patting down grannies and five-year-olds, confiscating snowglobes and lip glosses.
Instead of modernity, we have airports where security is so retro that taking away pillows and blankies and bathroom breaks counts as a great leap forward.
If we can't catch a Nigerian with a powerful explosive powder in his oddly feminine-looking underpants and a syringe full of acid, a man whose own father had alerted the US embassy in Nigeria, a traveller whose ticket was paid for in cash and who didn't check bags, whose visa renewal had been denied by the British, who had studied Arabic in Al Qaeda sanctuary Yemen, whose name was on a counterterrorism watch list, who can we catch?
We are headed toward the moment when screeners will watch watch-listers sashay through while we have to come to the airport in hospital gowns, flapping open in the back.
In a rare bipartisan success, House members tried to prevent the transportation security administration from implementing full-body imaging as a screening tool at airports.
Just because Republicans helped lead the ban on better technology and opposed airport security spending doesn't mean they'll stop Cheneying the Democrats for subverting national security.
Congressman Pete Hoekstra of Michigan was weaselly enough to whack the President and "weak-kneed liberals" in his gubernatorial fund-raising letter.
Before he left for vacation, Obama tried to shed his Spock mien and juice up the empathy quotient on jobs. But in his usual inspiring/listless cycle, he once more appeared chilly in his response to the chilling episode on Flight 253, issuing bulletins through his press secretary and hitting the links. At least you have to seem concerned.
On Tuesday, Obama stepped up to the microphone to admit what Janet Napolitano (who learned nothing from an earlier Janet named Reno) had first tried to deny: that there had been "a systemic failure" and a "catastrophic breach of security".
But in a mystifying moment that was not technically or emotionally reassuring, there was no live video and it looked as though the Obama operation was flying by the seat of its pants.
Given that every utterance of the President is usually televised, it was a throwback to radio days just at the moment we sought reassurance that our security has finally caught up to "Total Recall".
All that TV viewers heard, broadcast from a Marine base in Kaneohe Bay, was the President's disembodied voice, talking about "deficiencies".
Citing the attempt of the Nigerian's father to warn US authorities six months ago, the President intoned: "It now appears that weeks ago this information was passed to a component of our intelligence community but was not effectively distributed so as to get the suspect's name on a no-fly list".
In his detached way, Spock was letting us know that our besieged starship was not speeding into a safer new future, and that we still have to be scared.
Heck of a job, Barry.
LET'S MAKE LIFE WONDERFUL!
PAY ATTENTION TO LITTLE THINGS
Little things make for a big impact at times. We should let go of our habit of acting busy all the time and neglecting small day-to-day things in the process. It's time to pay attention to little details, like conserving energy by switching off lights, not letting taps run etc. We shouldn't wait for these small things to translate into big traumas.
Vidyun Singh, director (programmes), Old World Hospitality
Health is wealth, take care
One should follow a fitness regime on a daily basis.
In the coming year, I plan to focus even more on my health. I play tennis every morning and alternate that with an hour at the gym from time to time. A good fitness regime is best complimented with a good diet.
The other thing that we must do in our daily stressful metropolitan lives is to find time for our loved ones. Personally, I feel my productivity improves when I am able to balance my time and energy between work and home.
Sundeep Malhotra, CEO, Homeshop18
Enjoy everything you do
Vice-president (Marketing), Modicare Ltd.
I think what needs to improve in our day-to-day lives is our own attitude. To lead a contented life, we must strive to better ourselves every day. I am learning to enjoy my work and this is giving me immense satisfaction. The quality of life also needs to improve by following a realistic and reachable target. A balance needs to be drawn between "what you desire" and "what you can achieve". I always try new things to bring variety in otherwise mundane daily chores.
Invest in India, it's our home
One thing which I would love to see change is our civic sense this will take care of most of the problems we face in our daily lives. Whether it is driving in our lanes or restraining from littering in public space, all emanates from the fact that our sense of belonging is limited to our own premises. In today's time when we are a global power, it is imperative that we invest our energies into improving the general well being of our country.
Sonica Malhotra is Director, Radisson MBD Hotel, Noida
Dr Swati PiramalThere are several small but significant things I'd like to see changed:
* I would like to see education of children across India and improvement in our primary healthcare system. There are still areas where doctors have not been seen for 10 years.
* The temperature of the Earth needs to drop. We need more terrace gardens in every city, beginning with Mumbai.
* Some of our old recipes for pickles must be preserved. Our generation does not know how to make pickles or even papads. We need to preserve our heritage.
* We must document the weavers who make saris and are closing down because of a deluge of polyester from China. Every mother must present her daughter a heritage sari.
* We must preserve our old books in libraries which are in poor condition. Maybe, each one should adopt a book.
Dr Swati Piramal is vice-chairperson, Piramal Life Sciences Limited, and director ofPiramal Healthcare Ltd
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Vice-president, global delivery (technology) and vertical and centre head, Wipro Technologies, Hyderabad
We have a responsibility towards the environment and our ecological system to preserve it and pass it on to our children. In order to sustain our natural resources and maintain our environment we have to conserve energy and water and plant as many trees as possible. Each one of us should follow the 3 Rs reduce, reuse and recycle wherever possible. This will not only save the planet but also save money at an individual level. The efforts towards these taken at a company level will contribute to achieving the "3-P effect" namely, take care of people, enhance profits and save our planet. It is our duty to pass on a safe planet to our children, so let us resolve to adhere to these!
Consolidate the banks
The government has been talking and considering taking infrastructure development forward. I would like to see growth moving faster, particularly on the infrastructure front. I also wish to see credit growth and, of course, consolidation on the banking front. Though consolidation of banks is the crying need of the hour as it will give banks flexibility and muscle power to meet the demands of clients, it is not happening. Government has said that consolidation should be done voluntarily, one needs to understand that consolidation can't be done by managers. We are the managers and the government is the owner of nationalised banks. So the owner has to decide to consolidate the banks. Another thing I would like to see is less corruption and more merit-based decisions.
Yogesh Agarwal is chairman and MD of IDBI Bank
As told to Supriya Sharma, L.V. Reddy and Olga Tellis
DEATH IN CHINA
RUTHLESS SUPPRESSION OF DRUGS AND DISSENT
China has had its way with the execution of Akmal Sheikh, a British citizen, for drug smuggling, ignoring eleventh hour appeals for clemency from the British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and human rights campaigners. He was mentally unstable and reportedly a victim of bipolar disorder that makes one lose touch with reality. Beijing may have gone by its rulebook on jurisprudence; any sovereign country reserves the right to do so and without discriminating between foreigners and locals. And drug peddling runs the risk of capital punishment in many other nations as well. By executing a European in fifty years, China has conveyed a message to the world that the country's law applies to the foreigner no less. Small wonder why no imams pleaded for his life to be spared.
That conceded, China would almost certainly have reaped some goodwill within the comity of nations had it been sensitive to appeals for mercy and commuted the death sentence. In the physical and mental condition that he had been reduced to, Akmal the individual arguably deserved a measure of sympathy rather than Tuesday's lethal injection, the ultimate punishment. One could argue as well that the appeals for mercy, that have somewhat ruffled Sino-British equations, might have met with a gesture of humanity in a libertarian setting. But this is China where 2008 alone witnessed no fewer than 1,700 executions.
It is only too apparent that a rising global power is intent on guarding its sovereignty. The recent exemplars are pregnant enough; it has been a major player in the Copenhagen climate change conference, the eleven-year sentence awarded to the dissident Liu Xiaobo for demanding constitutional change and reform of the one-party system; and crucially the treatment meted out to the minorities in Uighur, where Akmal was executed. Five death penalties were pronounced on Christmas Day, raising to 22 the number of death sentences since September when the Xinjiang Autonomous Region was in ferment. Despite the frequent international outcry, it has been a tale of harshness and ruthless suppression, whether the offence relates to drugs or dissent. Akmal Shaikh's offence was grave, but a reprieve would not have compromised with China's sovereignty.
BUT THE DAMAGE HAS BEEN DONE
When the chief minister was creating an ominous division between "we'' and "them'', the Left had held up Amartya Sen as the most credible mind behind its industrialisation programme. The Nobel Laureate had obviously been relating it to the welfare economics close to his heart. It is debatable whether he was as familiar with the political realities that went with acquisition of agricultural land and whether he could have anticipated the drastic changes after the panchayat and parliamentary elections. The new scenario that has greeted him on his current visit may have prompted him to examine the complexities more closely. His admirers still have reason to be surprised that he has chosen to shift his position on Singur and come down on the Left on a range of issues while talking to a "friendly'' television channel that may have expected him to offer relief and guidance to a government in distress.
The Nobel Laureate talks not so much about acquisition of land which he had endorsed but the method that Tatas adopted of approaching the government to set up its Nano project. While the government claims that the nature of land holdings was such that government acquisition was unavoidable if the deal had to be struck for a total of 1,000 acres, the hint from the professor is that it may have cost the Tatas much less if they had conducted the negotiations on their own and examined other options as well. If this hurts his Left admirers, he rubs salt into wound by suggesting that intellectuals had not been given the respect they deserved. What he didn't (or couldn't) say was that the CPI-M had created a wall that had shut out critics who were either dubbed Maoists or Trinamul activists which included a highly respected Governor who left the state with a touch of sadness. There are losses that cannot be recovered and a mindset that will not change. At best, there can be subtle changes in political strategy for the tough days ahead. For that, the economics wizard may not like to consider himself the Left's mentor.
AVERT THE STRIKE
HALDIA WILL BE THE WORST AFFECTED
THE strike must be averted and the responsibility rests with the Citu-affiliated dock workers in Haldia, the West Bengal government and the shipping ministry. The local unions and the administration can't possibly shirk responsibility on the plea that as many as 12 ports across the country are set to be affected. There is little doubt that the most acutely crippled will be Haldia, a port town that was planned as a showpiece of industrialisation. Maritime trade will get further blighted in the dock whose authorities are out of their depth in trying to cope with the shallow draught and ineffective dredging. A tentative assessment of the impact of the strike suggests that loading, unloading and crane movement will come to a halt, resulting in a whopping loss of Rs 1,000 crore each day. The workers have threatened to cease work from 4 January chiefly to buttress their demand for retrospective effect, from January 2007, being given to the revised wage agreement. This is unreasonable and an attempt to armtwist the shipping ministry on the terms of implementation after a settlement was inked. The other demands are no less unjustified considering that the ports are under the excessively pampered Central sector. Interim relief, merger of dearness allowance and the somewhat absurd "at par medical benefit for retired employees" are the standard parameters of any sarkari agitation. They are of lesser moment than the need to keep Haldia dock operational, indeed to ensure that vessels are able to anchor and maritime activity is unhindered. These are the basics that any functional port ought to guarantee. The workers must realise that the ports in Kolkata and Haldia have reached a point where they are set to lose their utility.
In a very real sense, the strike is an expression of the musclepower of Lakhsman Seth, the CPI-M's defeated MP who was at the root of the mayhem in Nandigram. Despite the fact that he has been a liability to the party, the strategic industrial town and port of Haldia remain his potentially dangerous fiefdom. His nuisance value remains considerable and he may turn out to be a bigger liability between now and the Assembly election. Haldia port and the industrial complexes in the town will have to be saved and the Citu unions reined in even if Seth has to be dumped.
POLITICS IN YOUR GENES?
WASHINGTON, 30 DEC: Is there politics in your genes? Your answer may be negative, but American scientist believe that genetics play a pivotal role in shaping how individual's identify with political parties.
According to an article published in journal Political Research Quarterly, Political Party Identification (PID) could be transmitted genetically rather than socially. The PID is among the most studied concepts in modern political science and scholars have long held that it was the result of socialisation factors, including influence of parents, but the possibility that it could be transmitted genetically was not considered and largely left untested. ~ PTI
FOREIGN POLICY ESTABLISHMENT IN GOOD SHAPE
BY SALMAN HAIDAR
2009 was a much less dramatic year for the country's external relations than were the previous few. There was no high drama, like that associated with the India-US nuclear deal that crowded practically all else off the page. Nor was there any catastrophic assault like those that have so frequently assailed and shaken the country. At home, the foreign policy establishment was in good shape, able to take initiatives and to parlay with the world on major current issues. There was a steady expansion of India's international role and a visible accrual to its standing and influence. New possibilities were charted in the neighbourhood, and there was a considerable stepping up of activity by India's representatives in the many international gatherings where they took part. Thus while there was no great drama, much was stirring.
Indian foreign policy has come to be largely identified with the style and personality of Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh. He has not kept the External Affairs Ministry for himself but his is the voice that is heard in the world, and it is his office that is widely held to be the foreign policy engine room. This has provoked some unhappy comment by persons who would like to see the professionals of MEA in command rather than the incumbents of PMO. But in the constant summiteering of today, the Head is drawn into the diplomatic maelstrom, willing or unwilling. Jawaharlal Nehru was his own Foreign Minister but most Prime Ministers since have entrusted MEA to a senior colleague. As Dr Manmohan Singh's political stature at home has grown, so too has his international standing. He is now seen internationally as a valued interlocutor and partner of choice for many of today's statesmen. And behind him, to give weight to his views and choices, is India's successful management of its economy and political life. These factors combined have permitted a steady ascent by India to a higher plateau of international activity.
Shadow of 26/11
THE year started under the shadow of the Mumbai attacks of 26 November 2008. To bring the perpetrators to justice and to ward off further attacks remained a prime objective for India, and a major foreign policy preoccupation. The efforts that dominated India's diplomacy in the earlier part of the year achieved somewhat better results than comparable endeavours in the past, for the outrage was there for all to see, the international community was aroused, and Pakistan, after initial evasions, felt it unavoidable to take some purposeful measures. At the same time, India did not permit itself to be pushed on the defensive by the terrorists. In the margins of the non-aligned summit at Sharm el Sheikh the Prime Minister met his Pakistan opposite number and discussed resumption of dialogue between the two countries, in a bid to arrive at a settlement of their differences. This readiness to talk proved unpopular with some Indian opinion makers but the Prime Minister stuck to his guns and made it clear that there was no alternative to dialogue. He appeared, and continues to appear, determined to make a dent in the age-old problems between India and Pakistan, in the conviction that the time for a settlement has come and the attempt must be made.
At the global level, India's relations with the USA were consolidated with the strikingly successful visit by the Prime Minister. Nothing like this has been seen in decades. The two countries have advanced beyond the nuclear deal to an expansion of their cooperation in a large number of fields. And it is not with the USA alone that such progress took place: the frequent top level journeys to and from India, that were such a feature of the past year, served to open new possibilities in the EU, South-east Asia, and elsewhere. Doors opened to admit India to forums like SCO where it had earlier not found entry. And Russia re-emerged as a principal partner in India's development plans, which was underlined in the nuclear deal between the two countries.
An important development in the terms of India's engagement with the world was seen at the climate change conference in Copenhagen. There, as the conference approached its climax, India deliberately separated itself from the G-77 within which it has subsumed its economic negotiating interests for so long, in order to make common cause with a smaller group, the so-called BASIC countries (India, China, South Africa, Brazil), to promote a consensus outcome through separate discussions with the USA. Clearly these few large developing countries felt a positive conclusion was more important than maintaining the G-77 position which was leading towards deadlock, and they appeared to be sensitive to the strong opinion in many countries demanding sacrifice from all participants in order to advance the cause of climate control. For India, breaking free in this manner could presage its taking a bigger and more individual part in world affairs, commensurate with its interests and capacity, and liberated from some of the constraints that have hitherto limited its reach and sway.
China & West Asia
There are also some less satisfactory points to be recorded. Within the neighbourhood, for reasons that are difficult to decipher, a sudden squall blew up in the relationship with China. Suddenly we encountered what looked like unfriendly, even intimidating, behaviour by China on the border. Why this should have happened is unclear. Though border difficulties were not permitted to unbalance India-China ties, yet whatever went wrong must be examined closely, and efforts made to remove the fear of recrudescence, for such storms do not serve any positive interest.
Some blank spots in West Asia are also to be observed, where India has drifted away from its traditional policies, at some cost to its regional standing. Policy towards Iran has become something of a touchstone for those who feel that India has bowed excessively to US wishes by opposing Iran at the IAEA. However, nuclear matters are complicated and there could be other reasons for India's IAEA vote, while the fear of subservience to US wishes is surely overstated. Another matter that has created disquiet domestically is India's quietude on Palestine while battle raged in Gaza and civilian casualties mounted. Israel's attack threw up issues of human rights and justice, on which India has not been reticent in earlier times but seemed not very responsive on this occasion. In general, relations with Arab states have made insufficient headway and still await a stronger effort by New Delhi.
Notwithstanding issues where more could have been hoped for, on the whole it has been a good year in foreign policy for India. The country is under good and steady leadership, and seems set for major advances in resolving historical neighbourhood problems, while engaging more meaningfully with the wider world.
The writer is India's former Foreign Secretary
YEAR OF GLOOM
This has not been an easy year for anyone across the world. The global economy remains in the grip of a slowdown. There are some signs of recovery but there is no certainty that the recovery will be sustained. Even optimists do not argue that things will improve dramatically in 2010. Profits, investments and employment generation will remain at a very low level. The shadow of recession has dominated all human activity in the year that ends today. The Indian economy and, therefore, economic enterprise in India have been relatively better off than those in some of the developed countries. But this can offer small comfort within the overall picture of the slowing down of the rate of economic growth and its attendant consequences. The problems of poverty and inequality in Indian society were further marginalized because of the concerns regarding the downturn in the economy. The other issue that grabbed the attention of most people is what is happening to the climate. It is clear that economic development has adversely affected the global environment. No one denies that the developed countries have to bear the responsibility, for historical reasons, of polluting the world in the past. There is, however, no agreement on what steps the developing and the poor countries should take to reduce pollution in the present and in the future. Nationalist sentiments have often overwhelmed concerns about the predicament of all human beings if environmental pollution is not drastically reduced.
The gloom emanating from the economy and the environment lifted somewhat with a coloured person taking over the presidency of the United States of America. Not only did Barack Obama's swearing-in mark a historic occasion ending many years of racial discrimination, but it also marked a shift in the US's attitude towards the rest of the world. Successive US presidents have rode roughshod over the views of the rest of the world. Mr Obama, in his various statements, has shown a greater sensitivity towards the opinions of other countries and their leaders. The beginning of his presidency also represents a major triumph of democracy in the US, a country whose dream of freedom had been vitiated by the presence of racial inequality.
Democracy in India is apparently thriving, as is evident from the turnout in the elections this year. Despite this, there are question marks on the future of the full blooming of democracy in India. One concerns the obvious prevalence of dynastic politics and the importance of individual leaders in political parties. The other relates to poverty and forms of social and economic inequalities and discrimination. These do not disturb the framework of democracy but they do threaten the promise of freedom, which has to be fulfilled if democracy is to be meaningful. Nothing in 2009 suggested that this problem was addressed.
Only three months in office, and Japan's new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, could hardly be expected to make dramatic changes in sensitive foreign policy issues. His call to New Delhi to sign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty should not, therefore, be seen as a pre-condition for improvements in India-Japan relations. It is the continuation of Japan's old policy of a strict export control regime for trade in dual-use high technology items. True, Mr Hatoyama's visit offers no hopes of India getting nuclear power technology from Japan any time soon. Although last year's civilian nuclear deal between India and the United States of America reversed three decades of US policy barring the sale of nuclear fuel and technology to India, there was no real possibility that Japan would follow the US example. But Manmohan Singh's response points to new thinking in New Delhi on the issue. He has now hinted at a different Indian response should America and China ratify the CTBT.
However, the most significant outcome of Hatoyama's visit is not his reiteration of old Japanese policy on CTBT, but a fresh commitment to expand India-Japan co-operation. In this he has followed in the footsteps of his recent predecessors such as Junichiro Koizumi, Shinzo Abe and Taro Aso. The agenda for economic and security co-operation that emerged from Mr Hatoyama's visit indicates Japan's willingness to engage India in a new balance of power in Asia. It also follows from the India-Japan security agreement signed during Mr Singh's visit to Tokyo in October, 2008. Both countries have a stake in peace, stability and the power equilibrium in Asia at a time when the rise of India and China gives the continent new economic and strategic dimensions. The expansion of India-Japan ties need not be seen as part of a strategy to "encircle" China. It is more realistic to see this as being symbolic of a resurgent Asia.
CHAIN OF REMEMBERING
LESSONS IN THE UNKNOWABLE
NOTEBOOK - IAN JACK
The first decade of the 21st century has come to an end and newspapers in Britain have been treating us to instant histories of the period that they insist on calling by the ugly name, 'the noughties'. Most of the events recalled are big, fatal and dramatic the tsunami that swept the Indian Ocean, 9/11, the siege of the Taj in Mumbai. One more gradual and less frequently noted phenomenon is the decline of newspapers themselves. The circulation of the ten national dailies published from London has declined by almost a fifth since 2000. The nine national Sunday newspapers have fallen even further, registering a sales slump of more than a quarter. Within that general pattern there have been some spectacular individual declines. The Daily Mirror sold 2,777,501 copies in November 2000 and 1,260,019 two months ago (a fall of 55 per cent); the Daily Express has tumbled by a third. No newspaper is immune save for the worst one, the Daily Star, whose sales have actually risen. This may illustrate a famous dictum, possibly spoken by Rupert Murdoch, that nobody ever went bust by underestimating the tastes of the British public, but it would be hard to draw a general lesson from the Star's success. Newspapers with only a slightly more elevated approach to sex and celebrity Murdoch's News of the World, for example are having just as hard a time as the more serious Guardian and Telegraph.
For anyone who likes or values newspapers (or, like me, has earned most of his living from them), there's very little light at the end of this particular tunnel. A combination of economic recession and the unstoppable migration of readers and advertisers to the web has led to a widely-believed prognosis that newspapers in Britain and America are finished, at least as profitable enterprises. In the longer term, they may well be. In the meantime, however, the surprise is the number of people who are prepared to lose money by owning one.
In Britain, the latest is the Russian oligarch, Alexander Lebedev. Last year, he bought 75 per cent of London's Evening Standard from the Rothermere family. The fact that he paid all of £1 for this privilege will tell you how hopeless the Standard's future looked. Until very recent times, the paper was the indispensable companion of every London commuter and could boast coverage of politics, books and the arts that compared well with many national dailies'. But then it fell victim to a war between two rival free newspapers, piles of which were given away at street corners and Tube stations. The Standard, on the other hand, cost 50p. No matter that its journalism was ten times better than the stuff in the free sheets, or that it offered all kinds of gifts (umbrellas, books, backpacks) as inducements, the circulation could never be rescued from its relentless decline.
Lebedev's solution was to make the Standard free too, which means that he hopes to meet all of the paper's costs, from the theatre critic's salary to the newsprint bill, from advertising revenue. In one way, this isn't the gamble it seems: the Standard's free rivals have closed and the paper now has the streets to itself. In another way, it looks desperate: the free papers closed, after all, because advertising revenue was in such steep decline. My bet is that Lebedev will need to subsidize the Standard by many million pounds every year if as he promises the paper's editorial reputation is to be preserved.
Why would he want to spend his money like this? According to one explanation I've heard, we should look to the internal politics of Russia. The Standard offers Lebedev a platform if he comes under attack from Vladimir Putin though it seems unlikely that the Russian president would give more than a second's thought to the opinion of a free evening newspaper published in a foreign capital. Lebedev himself says he bought the newspaper because he admires good, independent journalism and came to respect the Standard after he was posted to London as his country's economics attaché 20 years ago (in fact, he was working for the KGB). A more traditional, and perhaps more persuasive, explanation is vanity. Men who are already rich often buy newspapers because they want to be recognized as socially important. According to Forbes magazine, Lebedev is worth about $3.5 billion, wealth that originates in the collapse of the Soviet Union and Russia's transformation to a private enterprise economy. He owns a third of Aeroflot, as well as chemical, hotel, textile, tramway and construction companies. In Britain, he has become known mainly as a philanthropist who saved a decent newspaper. As with the case of Roman Abramovich, who has poured money into Chelsea football club, the source of his wealth remains distant and, by most people, unexamined.
Other British newspapers may soon be under Lebedev's control. The Irish owners of London's Independent and Independent on Sunday look likely to reach a deal with him and get two loss-making titles off their hands. Who, in 1989, could have imagined that the collapse of the Soviet Union would have this as one of its smaller results? Who, even ten years ago, could have imagined the British newspaper industry in such a sorry financial condition that important parts of it could be sold at basement prices to a former operative of the KGB? Anyone predicting the next ten years should heed this lesson in the unknowable. All I shall guess is that come 2020, the number of British newspapers will be halved at the very least, despite Alexander Lebedev's so far benign interventions.
I'm writing this with cold fingers in a house on an island in the Firth of Clyde. There's ice on the road and snow in the garden. The temperature sometimes slumps to minus seven degrees. I've never known it to be so cold here the west coast of Scotland is used to rain and wind rather than our present Alpine days of blue skies and white hills. This year though, the British winter is meeting our romantic expectations. Many parts of the country have had 'a white Christmas.' An Indian friend, in Europe for the first time, told me she'd been 'charmed' by her first snowfall and the sight of snowflakes fluttering down on black London streets. In two days' time (as I write) another charming and seasonal phenomenon will echo around our small island when the ferries at the pier sound their sirens to welcome in the New Year.
The sound always sets off a chain of remembering. When I was a boy in Fife, steam locomotives would whistle for all they were worth at midnight on December 31. Later, when I lived in Glasgow and Glasgow was still a port, the ships in the docks would signal midnight with blasts on their horns. In Calcutta, where I spent several New Years in the 1980s, the same sound came from the direction of Kidderpore. All these places and times will be mixed up when I hear the ferries. I might even remember the seasonal fruit cake that I bought at Flury's in Park Street and carried home to Ballygunge, or the party at the Dalhousie Institute, or myself in bed aged seven (too young to stay up) listening to the distant peep of engine whistles from over the hill. Of course, it's sentimental of me to recall such occasions, but New Year is the supreme celebration of sentiment universally, but especially in Scotland, which (let's not forget) gave it a theme tune. So for the sake of Auld Lang Syne, I wish you a happy one. In Britain it has to be better than 2009, or so we keep telling ourselves.
WHEN A DREAM COMES TO AN END
FIFTH COLUMN - SUMANTA SEN
There is an adage that says, "you can't keep a good man down". To the outside world, the Jharkhand Mukti Morcha supremo, Shibu Soren, may not appear a 'good man', and not without reason. But as the Jharkhand election results show, the ordinary tribal in the small state is still not prepared to go with the outsiders on this. Indeed, the tribals were angry at the way in which both the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party treated Soren. So the people decided to show the world that they were still with their Guruji. Soren had not swept the polls but with 18 seats, he ensured that he would call the shots in a state that yielded the verdict of a hung assembly once again.
After a court had initially linked him to the murder of an associate some years ago, many outside Jharkhand had thought that this would be the end of the man. But he bounced back following his acquittal, and the results show that the Jharkhandis still find him relevant, no matter what the Congress or some BJP leaders in New Delhi have to say. He also won a personal battle, defeating Babulal Marandi who had hoped to emerge as the new guruji by hitching his Jharkhand Vikas Morcha to the Sonia-Rahul bandwagon. Marandi would have tried to bury the differences with Soren had he received the right price. However, he became irrelevant since Soren decided to become the chief minister with the help of the BJP, the Janata Dal(United) and the All Jharkhand Students' Union.
When it came to numbers though, the Congress could have been in a better position. If it had agreed to help Soren become the new chief minister, the combined strength of the two parties would have gone up to 32 . In that case, even if the JVM decided to opt out, the magic figure could have been secured with help from the Rashtriya Janata Dal, the Nationalist Congress Party and the independents.
Soren might have succeeded in forming the government but this is not a happy situation for Jharkhand. Soren's government will continue to be dogged by uncertainty as politicians can fall out as easily as they come together. What Jharkhand needs is stability, as well as a ministry that is determined to pull the state out of the mess it is in at the moment. Notwithstanding its natural resources and the fact that Jamshedpur is home to a huge industrial empire, Jharkhand is the most backward state in the country and a happy hunting ground for the Maoists. It needs to get out of the tunnel, but the uncertain political situation suggests that the state will remain in the dark for quite some time.
There is little point in blaming the voters for this. Like in the past, this time too, they had not a single party before them to repose their faith in. Indeed, if anybody is to be blamed, it is the tribal leaders who had fought for the creation of a separate state. If a Soren, a Marandi or an Arjun Munda had stayed together and resolved that having got their state they would show the world how the tribals' lot can be improved, then the dream of the ordinary Jharkhandi would have come true, at least to a large extent.
But, unfortunately, that was not to be. Like the dikhus, the tribal leaders had also decided that politics was all about self aggrandizement. In this year's elections, the Congress had come waving the development flag but it found that there were only a few takers. After all, what can development mean to a people who are resigned to remain the wretched of the earth, thanks to the present quality of leadership within the state?Also nowhere else perhaps is it so obvious that politics is all about money. Hence, the low turn-out of voters during elections. For Jharkhand, it looks as if this is the beginning of the end of a dream.
BLESSED ARE THEY WHO DO NOT EXPECT
As antidote to the upbeat in the season of good cheer, Aveek Sen shares a personal inventory of the disappointments and let-downs of the year that ends today
Mandatory good cheer feeling it, enacting it, and wishing it for others is a terrible burden. Why must Christmas be merry? Why must the New Year be happy? Why must we have to scroll down endlessly through SMSs of barely decipherable conifers made out of tiny punctuation marks, and then think of suitably warm-hearted replies? And if we have domesticated friends or kin living fecundly ever after in America or England (impossible to tell apart these days), why do we have to be subjected to their annual family updates, just when we thought we had escaped the hourly ones by running away from Facebook? Few understand, or aren't appalled by, this surge of misanthropy and middle age in one when confronted with the merry, the new and the nice. But this year-end, one of those few asked me to make up, as antidote to the upbeat, my own gloom list, a personal inventory of the disappointments and let-downs of 2009. And here it is.
Perhaps one of the most cringe-making moments this year was getting the papers one morning and finding a photograph of Sachin Tendulkar standing, with a beaming face, in front of a large, bad painting of a large yellow woman with large eyes and hands holding what looked like a large cricket bat (I hope I was wrong), and being told that the painting was a 'gift' to this important Indian from one of India's most important contemporary artists. I had been puzzling over the notion of a gift whose exact specifications had been sent in advance by the receiver to the giver. Tendulkar had been so particular about the colour-scheme, dimensions and content of the work (no nudity, please) that Jogen Chowdhury had generously asked for a photograph of his drawing room before starting to paint. The artist as interior decorator is a reality that does not lift one's soul. But I thought, maybe a brilliantly mischievous artist like Chowdhury could make good art out of a bad compromise. (Think of what Lucian Freud had done with his commissioned portrait of the Queen.) But Woman in Yellow with Bat-like Instrument fills me with misgivings about the KMoMA's geographical proximity to the Bengal School. Is it time to get a little less excited about the architecture and do some very hard and public thinking about what, or who, is going to be in that beautifully designed building, and why and for whom? In what language will that thinking be done, for none seems to exist yet that is not already tainted with that decorative or partisan yellow.
Talking of important Indians, a few years ago, Lord Snowdon had made a few trips to India to photograph a rather intriguing selection of eminent Indians. These portraits have now been published as an expensive coffee-table photo-book that makes India look like a rather bland and earnest nation of self-importantly important people in their Sunday best, photographed by someone who does not have a clue about what their lives and worlds are really about. Most of Snowdon's Indians look as if they had to present their most squeaky-clean selves and spaces to a notorious old patrician firang, whose title sounds like a Wordsworthian mountain and who can't quite be trusted with the truth about what the Occident greedily, but nervously, calls The New India. (And those who don't look all decked up look indignantly cornered or are fast asleep next to their dog.)
This is a pity. As somebody who was one of the most talented young rakes of the Swinging Sixties in London, turbulently married for too long to Princess Margaret, famous for his polysexual three(-and-more-)somes, legendarily well-endowed and with his love children duly listed in Burke's Peerage, Antony Armstrong-Jones made a baron in a fit of royal panic would have been the best person to take us on a witty and politically-incorrect romp through the highs and lows of being Indian had he put his alien and once-delightfully-naughty mind to it, as he had done with his British subjects for Vogue, Vanity Fair and The Daily Telegraph magazine. If India had a National Portrait Gallery (a wing at the KMoMA?), then very few of these portraits deserve to be kept there in the way that Snowdon's bromides and cibachromes from the earlier decades have hugely enriched the one in London.
One of the blandest portraits in India by Snowdon is of the home minister, P. Chidambaram. His armour of starched white cotton, together with the benign smile, would have looked interestingly sinister had it not been for the peculiar mix of the uncertain, the arm-twisted and the peremptory in his handling of the Telangana crisis. To give in, first, to fast-unto-death blackmail and then to take fright in the resulting violence and resignations and make vaguely rollback noises a few days later, together with equally vague gestures at starting 'consultations', and to present both non-positions as faits accomplis worked out behind closed doors, is to reduce the process of state-formation to a primitive deadlock. The political, linguistic, fiscal and territorial debates that ought to take place in a modern democracy around the consensual redrawing of internal boundaries become impossible in such an atmosphere of hysteria and indecisiveness. Chickening out of maintaining a position, while trying to look implacable, is not a particularly photogenic way of doing politics.
The rich are not like you and me, darling, and I know less than nothing about golf. But precisely for these reasons, perhaps, another closed door, and fait accompli of sorts, has made me wonder about other people's fortunes and our various stakes in them. The word, disappointment, figures dramatically in the short public statements that Tiger Woods has made before entering what he calls a 'hiatus' from golf. And the other word that he uses is transgression. Ironically, the words are part of his plea for greater privacy. But they belong to a shame culture that sees having to let go of one's privacy as both the price of genius and punishment for what Woods calls his "personal sins".
So, who exactly has Tiger Woods disappointed or let down, if one sets aside the family for a while? The question needs to be asked, because his public statements go well beyond his family and children towards "my fans, the good people at my foundation, business partners, the PGA Tour, and my fellow competitors". It is as if this larger world has to exist in order for the doors to open and shut continually: privacy can be affirmed only in its forfeiture. Of course, astronomical sums of money are at stake here, both within the sport that he gloriously embodies, and in the market that surrounds and draws from it. And it is these billions that present the measure of his transgressions. In the computing of Tiger's 'value', so directly translatable into money (less his own wealth than the others' stakes in him), his excellence as a golfer is inextricable from his sterling qualities as husband, father and son, qualities that he has himself projected as part of his public image. What he 'endorses' another ironic word is this muddle of expectations, a form of trust that is built on an essentially unthinking confounding of morality and commerce.
Woods is not just an exemplar and an icon, but also a brand. And now in his spectacular reversal (Shakespeare and the Greeks have been invoked by more than one journalist), he is turning into another kind of commodity as films are already being budgeted and cast on his life. How marvellous, then, that his luxury yacht is called Privacy.
Ultimately, it is this feeling of public disappointment, this irrational sense of being let down by public figures who 'fail' us, that needs to be questioned, de-sentimentalized and a-moralized. What if Woods had not got into his hiatus of private atonement, and just carried on playing brilliantly and nonchalantly. Would that have counted as atonement, or would it have made him look even more monstrous? Is it not a kind of mental and moral laziness that renders us incapable of distinguishing between genius and virtue, between money and morality?
It is no point trying to dodge the question that follows directly from this. To what extent are we, in the media, responsible for this failure of intelligence, being less and less able to see ourselves countering it without riding a moral high horse?
"THE MOVE COULD JUST END UP ENLARGING BUREAUCRACY."
Almost 13 months after the Mumbai terror attacks, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has come up with a suggestion to bifurcate his mega ministry. The objective is to create an exclusive internal security ministry. The bifurcation would entail separating departments which have no internal security functions, which, it is felt, is imperative for the innumerable security agencies to dedicate themselves to combat terror. Perhaps, this suggestion has come many years too late as terrorism has bled India.
Will setting up a dedicated ministry help address the terror challenge effectively? After every terrorist strike, our befuddled policy-makers have assured the nation that the intelligence agencies and the many police forces would be 'strengthened', 'beefed up' and 'improved upon'. The country has also been told, ad nauseum and ad infinitum, that the security agencies would henceforth function effectively as the key requirement of coordination, which was always lacking, was being fixed. With each ghastly and deadly terror strike, the nation is promised necessary changes in the government's strategies to prevent attacks and battle terrorists. And each time the government and its multiple agencies, working at cross purposes, fail. Needless to say that while pursuing such non-exercises and shadow-boxing, the government has ended up squandering tens of millions of tax-payers' money. Many of the recommendations of a 2001 Group of Ministers on National Security have hardly received any attention.
This is not to dismiss Chidambaram's suggestion. But what cannot be ruled out is that the suggestion could just end up enlarging bureaucracy which has a tendency to safeguard and protect venal interests of a decrepit and self-seeking, self-serving officials and staffers. Take the case of the National Technical Research Organisation which was set up in 2004 with an explicit mandate to provide key inputs to enhancing national security. There is no evidence of it fulfiling its mandate. It doesn't even have a dedicated office building to start functioning. The end result is that it has virtually become place for reemploying retired bureaucrats. Creating another ministry to 'restructure' the national security architecture may not necessarily be a bad idea. But what is important for the government is to ensure accountability on the part of the existing bodies responsible to safeguard and strengthen our national security. The minister ought to consider this before enlarging the security bureaucracy.
A SUPERSTAR FADES
"VISHNU PERS-ONIFIED GRACE, HUMILITY, DISCIPLINE."
Though the Kannada film industry has been growing exponentially in terms of the number of films made in the last one decade or so, it has been a downhill journey of late for a variety of reasons. In fact, 2009 was the worst year as only a handful of over a 100 films made were successful at the box office. As the year comes to a close, the gloom in the film fraternity has only worsened with the untimely death of versatile actor Vishnuvardhan in the wee hours of Wednesday. He is perhaps the last of the superstars of an ailing and struggling industry.
Young Sampath Kumar from Mysore, who was given the screen name of Vishnuvardhan by his mentor-director Puttanna Kanagal, was an instant hit with the Kannada audience with his portrayal of the role of 'Ramachari', in his very second film, 'Naagara Haavu' in 1972. In the same year, Vishnuvardhan had made his debut with a small role in Girish Karnad's 'Vamshavruksha'. Vishnuvardhan's evergreen good looks, versatile acting, ease of dialogue delivery and more than anything, his humility, grace, poise, friendly nature and discipline made him one of the best loved actors in Kannada cinema. Acting in a little over 200 films, including three in Hindi, two in Tamil along with Rajnikanth and one in Malayalam, over a period of 37 years, Vishnuvardhan attained superstardom, bettered only by the inimitable Raj Kumar. There was a touch of rivalry between multitudes of fans of the two stars, though the actors themselves maintained respect for each other. Vishnuvardhan gave some of the biggest hits the Kannada film industry has seen.
Vishnuvardhan, who married another popular actress, Bharathi, in 1975, was sought to be lured by political parties to contest elections at least a couple of times. But he stuck to his profession, his circle of close friends and occasional games of cricket, which he loved. He always raised his voice and joined his colleagues in protecting the interests of the state and the film industry. Like many other veterans in the field, Vishnuvardhan was concerned about the health of the Kannada films and it is unfortunate that he passed away at a relative young age of 59, when he surely would have contributed to the industry's revival. But, he has left behind a wonderful collection of films which should act as a guiding spirit to the new generation of film makers.
QUANTITY SANS QUALITY
INDIAN PROFESSORS ARE MORE INCLINED TOWARDS TEACHING POST-GRADUATE STUDENTS THAN THE ONES IN THE UNDERGRADUATE LEVEL.
BY PROF NAGENDRA
There is a striking similarity between the just-released blockbuster movie '3 Idiots' and the Yashpal panel report on 'higher education' in the country: they speak the same language. Both the film and the report are refreshingly innovative and yet convincing in their message regarding the need for rejuvenating the entire higher education system in the country.
Consider this critical paradox in higher education policy in India: much has been written and discussed on how the policy-makers have tilted public spending towards higher education at the cost of primary and secondary education; but very little is actually spent on higher education. The 10th Five Year Plan (2002-2007) had envisaged an expenditure of 65.6 per cent of the total education budget on elementary education, 9.9 per cent on secondary education; 10.7 per cent on technical education, 2.9 per cent on adult education and the planned spending for higher education was just 9.5 per cent. Even if we combine technical and higher education, the spending accounts for just about 21 per cent.
Even after a big increase in the expenditure for higher education in 2007-08, the fact remained that the country continues to lag behind in terms of per student public spending on higher education, compared to its Asian counterparts. At the moment, public spending on higher education per student in India stands at Rs 18,000. According to United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) data, India had the lowest public expenditure on higher education per student among developing and developed countries. Yet, for the record, India's higher education system is the third largest in the world, after China and the United States.
As of 2009, India has 20 Central universities, 215 state universities, 100 deemed universities, five institutions established and functioning under the State Act, and 13 institutes which are of national importance. Other institutions include around 21,000 colleges, including 1,800 exclusive women's colleges. But only three Indian universities have been listed in a recent list of the world's top 200 universities.
While we go gaga over the 8 per cent GDP growth, there is actually a crisis-like situation in the higher education sector. But it is hidden and is systemic in nature. The situation calls for serious interventions from the government. The 'Indian growth story' could be a bubble as the country will be unable to meet the human capital demand for a sustained transition from a developing country to a developed country.
Indian universities lack multi-disciplinary approach to education and research. In fact, universities have been reduced to mere affiliating entities. The Yashpal panel has questioned the logic of granting university status to specialised entities, be it technology, management or industrial labs like CSIR. Out of the three Indian universities named among the 200 global best, two are IITs and IIMs which are super specialised entities in education and only one Jawaharlal Nehru University is a full-fledged university in the true sense, which means the third largest higher education system in the world has only one university of any quality!
The Yashpal panel emphasises the need to promote multi-disciplinary approach. It questions the logic of eliminating the need for subjects like economics, philosophy, etc in professional courses like engineering and medicine. It makes no sense to produce truck loads of engineers and doctors without any basic background in economy, society or liberal arts subjects. The US has a pre-med degree, where students opt for a variety of courses before beginning their medical education.
The committee quotes a fantastic example of students pursuing mathematics opting for philosophy and vice versa. This can't be underestimated as the whole branch of logic and induction and other epistemological subjects have been synthesis of mathematics and philosophy. University of Penn, Stanford, and New York University are some of the many top universities that boast of research and teaching in these areas. India needs to integrate such wide disciplines qualitatively in universities as opposed to merely proliferating centres of higher education and research that offer narrow areas of specialisation.
A part of the problem, perhaps the most important part at that, is that Indian colleges are no more than super schools where rote learning is continued and reinforced. That is what the Yashpal report has pointed out. A very important aspect covered in the report is the role of undergraduate education. While universities stress on post-graduate education, the undergraduate is the business of 'affiliating' colleges. This creates a great impediment in overall quality drive in renewing and reuniting higher education.
Barring some centres of excellence, Indian professors are inclined to teach only post-graduate students and not prefer to teach at the undergraduate level. The report recommends mandatory teaching for undergraduate students by professors, who have been more or less confined to post-graduate departments.
Finally, the most critical, perhaps also controversial, recommendation of Yashpal committee is its prescription of subsuming entities like UGC, AICTE in one National Commission for Higher Education and Research which will be a grand overall authority reporting directly to parliament. The report is not only critical about the functioning of higher education regulatory agencies but asks a fundamental question of the need of uniformity as against diversity. Diversity doesn't mean decrease in standards, it means enabling of setting up of standards where universities can adhere to. Diversity will help institutions of higher learning to come up with their own syllabus, the students to opt courses of their choice, etc.
SILENCE FROM SPACE
AFTER FIVE YEARS OF LISTENING TO MELODY, HOW CAN WE HEAR SILENCE?
BY H N ANANDA
Bhimsen Joshi will not be singing anymore, not in my house. Nor Kishori Amonkar or Pandit Jasraj. The melodious strains from shehnai of Bismillah Khan will not fill my home. Balamurali or MS or MLV or for that matter Sudha Raghunathan will not be singing for me. A host of others' voice will fall silent from January 1, when the WorldSpace will go off the air. I feel stifled that there will be silence in my house from the NYD.
Five years ago, when I retired, my daughter brought home the WorldSpace music system and said: "Now, relax listening to the music". I did dutifully. Every morning as soon as I got up I switched on the system. And the music flowed Chaurasia, Mallikarjun Mansoor, Sawai Gandharva, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan you name him or her WorldSpace brought the voice home and I was soaked in the melodious strains.
As soon as I left home it was my wife's turn to tune in Lata, Rafi, Mukhesh, Kishore, Asha and others and as she went about with her household chores music from the old Bollywood hits followed her. She felt relaxed as the tunes soothed her and she felt refreshed. I had a sneaking suspicion that she wanted me to leave home early so that she could have her date with music earlier!
But from January 1 we have to get adjusted to a silent house. After five years of listening to melody how can we hear silence? This is the question that started nagging us ever since we read that WorldSpace is shutting shop.
All good things must come to an end, they say. That is philosophy. Reality is different. And it is now staring us. Addiction is dangerous. The penalty is that we now have to face that music, even though WorldSpace is not beaming it anymore.
We are now dusting off the CDs and cassettes. The old music system is being given an overhaul. The house cannot remain silent. And our favourites will delight us again not necessarily from the space but from the box!
STILL A SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
AMERICA'S GREAT SECRET SAUSAGE MACHINE WAS SIZZLING WITH LINKS TO SADDAM.
BY PETER PRESTON,THE GUARDIAN:
What if Hitler had won the war? Or Lee Harvey Oswald had missed? History is full of what-if questions, the stuff of fiction and almost-fact and here are two more as we pound into 2010. What if Tony Blair hadn't dissembled about weapons of mass delusion? And absolutely connected what if Britain hadn't copped out at Suez?
That final question is posed (in crisp counter-factual terms) by Robert Skidelsky at the end of his essay on '20th century Britain for A World By Itself', a chronicle of our small island's upheavals from Bede to Blair. What if the Brits and the French had told Eisenhower to go hang in 1956, he asks. What if they'd put the Suez Canal Company back in place, set up a joint garrison on the waterway and become the empowered driving forces of a united Europe?
Imagine a permanent and very cordiale entente, a new Third Force for planet Earth. And go on imagining. You saw Messrs Brown and Sarkozy playing natural best mates over bankers' bonuses the other day. Now head for the Westminster conference centre as a very ex-prime minister faces the genteel drip-drip of Iraqi water torture.
We know already that there's something dodgier here than the odd dossier. We have heard a parade of the diplomatic great and good curl civilised lips over Downing Street's antics in March 2003. We have seen top lawyers furrow their brows at the illegality of it all. We have even endured Tony singing 'Je ne regrette rien' as per usual. Yet the basic point and harshest of truths has barely been touched on.
George Bush and Dick Cheney had the intelligence they required. America's great secret sausage machine was sizzling with links to Saddam. It may all have been craven rubbish (as a few brave souls declared). But it was what the commander-in-chief deemed conclusive, with necessary action to follow. Mighty armies marched to the top of the hill with no chance of marching down again.
And what could our PM do then, poor thing? Wimp out and order the fleet to sail away? Court derision amid a frenzy of knocking knees? Back John Scarlett's iffy-squiffy conclusions against the torrent of supposed certainties pouring in from Washington? Of course, millions marched for a different answer. Of course doves and hawks were at it again. But cast your mind back to Eden and Suez and ask, in reality, what other choice No 10 had.
So 53 years ago, strapped for cash, short of too many troops fighting a US war in Korea, we let Ike ring down the curtain on empire. (Good job? But that's not the point). So Britain's bomb became America's bomb, lease-lent by default and impossible of independent operation. So MI5 and 6 became mere needy adjuncts of the CIA. So we couldn't fight a war of our own see the Falklands without US help, and permission. So our self-esteem and diplomatic status came to rest on a bit-part role as America's best friend over the water, the Oval Office's bridge to the heart of Europe.
Blair, being Blair, gave such spear-carrying a rhetorical ring. He talked up our influence. But why, after Clinton, put so much effort into getting cosy with George W? Because he thought and surely still thinks that it's the office that matters, not the name of who happens to be president. Don't worry whether it's an elephant in the room, or a donkey: just stick close to a relationship of extra special importance to Great Britain, because it haplessly defines us.
But Wilson stayed out of Vietnam. Why couldn't Blair do the same for Baghdad? Because Europe in 1964 wasn't the Europe of 2003. Because the whole dependency culture of British political life had changed. Call Tony Blair a 'sycophant' like the 'Daily Mail', if you wish. Call him a twister and a cheat, like many in his own party. Call him any of the names Chancellor Brown used to whisper behind his hand. But don't forget that PM Brown is first out of the traps when Obama wants more troops in Helmand, or that would-be PM Cameron, mending his White House fences fast, stands right behind him. Regime change when Mullah Omar departed; regime change again if Karzai doesn't perform.
By all means dump on Blair if it makes you feel better. By all means cheer Chilcot on. But remember that this is by no means the whole of the story. Remember that we are impaled on a relationship none of our leaders past or immediately present will change, specially constrained by a truth that cannot be boldly told. For what would happen if they did? Then no counter-factual needed the emperor would run desperately short of clothes.
THE JERUSALEM POST
NO MORE LAHIANIS
In February 1999, then Labor prime-ministerial candidate Ehud Barak discovered a little-known Bat Yam contractor, Shlomi Lahiani, whose main claim to fame was losing the November 1998 mayoral contest in his socioeconomically challenged city. Barak praised Lahiani as a grassroots reformer and surefire magnet for the blue-collar Sephardi vote. He arbitrarily promised to parachute Lahiani to the eleventh slot of Labor's Knesset list, rebranded One Israel. However, having redeemed Lahiani from anonymity and catapulted him to national prominence, Barak soon reneged on his undertaking. Lahiani's career nonetheless skyrocketed. He handily won the next two municipal showdowns - in 2003 and 2008.
In no time, Lahiani's name became synonymous with Bat Yam and his popularity there soared. He is still widely applauded in the town - even after the police earlier this week detained him (with galling gratuitous fanfare, before invited TV crews), arrested his relatives and top cronies, raided his home and office and leveled against him corruption charges of unprecedented severity. To be sure, plenty of other mayors were previously investigated - some even charged and convicted - but nothing comes close to the dimensions of the Lahiani affair.
The police allege that Lahiani used city resources to line his own and his family's pockets, to a quite remarkable degree. Lahiani's contracting firm went bankrupt and accrued debts of over NIS 35 million, mostly to Bank Mizrahi, which, says Lahiani, forgave half the debt after Union Bank loaned him the other half. The police, though, can't figure out how, on the salary of a public official, Lahiani managed to repay half the whopping remainder in six years. (He still owes NIS 9m. to Union Bank, which incomprehensibly approved the hefty loan to a borrower classified as "insolvent.")
The mayor's brother, Avi, is suspected of having acted as a mediator who peddled licenses, contracts, tenders and perks to builders and businessmen, all for substantial fees. An intricate network of graft, money-laundering and fraud was allegedly employed to generate income.
A blatantly nepotistic sideline is also alleged. Many members of Lahiani's extended family were either directly employed by the municipality or connected to its operations. Several of his closest kin already featured in scathing reports on Lahiani's municipal administration by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, the first to call attention to the bizarre goings-on at Bat Yam's city hall.
In February 2008, Lindenstrauss took Lahiani to task for appointing his mother, merely two months after first assuming office, to head the municipal kindergarten division. Esther Lahiani's only experience was as a nonprofessional kindergarten helper. Lindenstrauss noted that no tender was issued and that, if it had been, the mayor's mother wouldn't have won the post as she lacks the qualifications and education for it.
Three months ago, Lindenstrauss turned his spotlight on Lahiani's wife, Dorit, who was paid NIS 430,000 by his independent list for having ostensibly managed its campaign. Of this, NIS 150,000 was paid as salary and NIS 280,000 more as a bonus. Lindenstrauss nixed the latter.
IT NEEDS obviously to be stressed that Lahiani is presumed innocent until - if at all - proven guilty. What can be stated with certainty, in the vein of Lindenstrauss's criticism, is that great ethical and civic irregularities are evident in the way the city has been run.
Local politics all too often constitute particularly fertile ground for malfeasance of varying degrees. The players know each other and can keep their cards close to their chests, while plenty of appointments, permits, tenders and assorted lucrative transactions are up for grabs. This indisputable fact of life gave rise to a bill submitted to the Knesset by MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima). If adopted, her legislative initiative would prohibit anyone in debt to the tune of NIS 5m. or more (personally or in a business framework) from running for mayor.
We think it a worthy idea. Anyone may seek office but it's up to society to minimize the temptation to transgress. It would doubtless be hard for a debtor to separate his own distress from the considerable financial power entrusted to him. Were this law on the books in 2003, the entire sordid Lahiani saga might have been avoided.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WASHINGTON WATCH: WINNERS AND LOSERS FOR 2009
Few can be sorry this year is ending and the aughts are history. Here are some of the winners and losers.
Joe Lieberman - Lots of Jews and progressives are furious with him for trying to block health care reform, but the senator from Aetna had a very successful year. Barack Obama blocked Senate Dems from punishing Joe for playing on the Republican team in the 2008 elections and helped him keep his seniority and committee chairmanship, but that didn't inhibit the sanctimonious senator from sticking it to Obama and the Dems at every opportunity, even flip-flopping on Medicare coverage out of what seemed more like spite than conviction. He got everything he wanted and no one could touch him, because Dems are willing to pay any price for his 60th vote.
Binyamin Netanyahu - He didn't win the most votes in the last election (sound like anyone we know?) but he got the top job anyway. He deflected American pressure for a total settlement freeze with a partial moratorium. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas insisted on terms he knew Netanyahu couldn't meet and rejected Bibi's invitation to meet him halfway, making the Israeli leader look like the only one who really wants peace.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - He stole the Iranian election, brutalized the opposition and continued his nuclear program without interference. His stall strategy is a big success: Obama keeps declaring and missing his deadlines, the Chinese run interference and the Iranian centrifuges keep spinning. Congress is poised to pass feel-good sanctions, but they're meaningless unless everyone joins in, and that appears highly unlikely.
J Street - The new pro-peace/pro-Israel lobby had a hugely successful first annual convention with unexpectedly large turnout, media attention and contributions - thanks in very large part to the hysterical attacks by its right-wing Jewish enemies who were apparently terrified that it might catch on and be effective.
Sarah Palin - She may like to criticize the media, but all their jousting is selling lots of books and making her very rich. She far outdistances the rest of the GOP pack with glamour and personality, if not brainpower and experience, and she's running for president in 2012-2014.
Dr. Ada Yonath - The first Israeli woman to win a Nobel Prize and only the fourth woman ever to win one in chemistry.
Al Franken - The freshman senator's first measure to become a law left Republicans furious and crying foul. It was an amendment barring defense contractors from preventing employees taking workplace sex assault and discrimination cases to court. Dubbed the "anti-rape" amendment, all 30 opposing votes were cast by Republican men. When they realized what they had done, they accused Franken of tricking them, proving once again the worst wounds are self-inflicted.
Barack Obama - For contracting out health care reform to the Congress, for creating confusing policy on Iran, for getting outfoxed and outmaneuvered by Bibi Netanyahu and for a focus on bipartisanship that never had a chance. After running an effective campaign to become president, he now needs some first-class legislative strategists to help enact his agenda. Quickly.
Hannah Rosenthal - A bright and talented woman whose first action as the special State Department envoy for fighting anti-Semitism was to attack the Israeli ambassador. Whether her comments were right or wrong, she forgot she now works for the US government, not J Street, and private thoughts are to be kept private.
Israel's Labor Party - The once venerable party came in fourth, making it a candidate for the endangered species list. It has become a party in search of meaning.
Middle East peace - 2009 began full of hope generated by the new American administration, but no one seemed deeply committed enough to relaunch peace negotiations that had been on ice for the past eight years.
Nobel committee - One editorial cartoonist put it best: giving the gold medal to the athlete at the start of the race and hoping he does well.
Philandering politicians - Busy doing to their girlfriends what politicians usually do to the country: John Edwards, John Ensign, David Vitter, Mark Sanford, Vito Fossella, Elliot Spitzer and more to come. Several even had their own church/house on Capitol Hill and a regular Bible study group. Now we know what they were praying for.
Jimmy Carter - Al Het or mea culpa, he's now apologizing. Remember all those nasty things Jimmy said about "apartheid" Israel? He's sorry for "stigmatizing" the Jewish state. And he insists his repentance has nothing to do with his grandson running for the Georgia state senate in a district with a sizeable Jewish population and a retiring Jewish incumbent.
Birthers - The lunatic fringe still can't believe a black man could be elected president in the 21st century - Lou Dobbs, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Alan Keys, Rush Limbaugh and Orly Taitz, the Israeli expat dentist-lawyer. Eleven House Republicans even introduced legislation requiring presidential candidates to produce their "original birth certificate."
Rep. Peter Hoekstra - The Michigan Republican said "it really is" fair to hold the Obama administration responsible for the suspected terror incident on a Christmas Day Detroit-bound flight because it is "not going to use the word terrorism anymore."
THE JERUSALEM POST
FUNDAMENTALLY FREUND: IRAN: THE LAST RESORT
As 2009 draws to a close and the second decade of the 21st century looms before us, there is no greater danger facing the world than the prospect of a nuclear Iran.
As the events of recent weeks have made abundantly clear, sanctions and diplomacy have utterly failed to stop Teheran's march down the road to an atomic arsenal. The ayatollahs have gleefully ignored repeated warnings from the West, and stubbornly insisted on proceeding apace toward nuclear proficiency.
We can no longer continue to ignore this reality. Our future and everything we hold dear is at stake. The danger is simply too great, and the threat is too real. As frightening as it sounds, Israel must give serious consideration to bombing Iran before it is too late.
MAKE NO mistake. If a halt is not put to Iran's efforts, we will soon wake up to discover the would-be Hitler of Persia with his finger on the button, threatening Israel and the world with nuclear blackmail and destruction.
What the Nazi leader could only dream of accomplishing more than half a century ago, will soon be within reach of his Iranian disciple. Indeed, the clock is already winding down and we are nearing the end of the game, as Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's scientists prepare to cross the threshold and storm past the nuclear goal line.
Speaking before the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak gave a chilling account of just how close Iran is to meeting its nefarious goal. By early 2010, he said, the mullahs will have the technology to build a nuclear bomb, and they will be able to produce one within a year. That means that sometime in the next few weeks or months, Teheran will reach the technological point of no return, beyond which lies a future clouded in darkness and uncertainty.
And so, less than 1,000 miles east of Jerusalem, a new Auschwitz is steadily being prepared as the world dithers over what to do.
MONTHS AGO, Washington and its allies set a year-end deadline for Iran to accept a deal drawn up by the UN under which their uranium would be enriched abroad. But even this proved unacceptable to the hard-liners in Teheran, who are not exactly quaking in their boots at the prospect of additional economic penalties.
In a speech delivered last Tuesday, Ahmadinejad made clear that he remains unmoved by warnings from the West. The international community, he said, can give Iran "as many deadlines as they want, we don't care."
And why should they? The UN Security Council has already imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran with little to show for it. Does anyone really think that yet another round of injunctions and hand-wringing will do the trick?
In fact, just a few days ago, reports surfaced in the press that Iran was once again actively seeking to violate existing UN resolutions by trying to import 1,350 tons of purified uranium ore from Kazakhstan to further bolster its enrichment program.
This is just one more sign that the West's efforts to freeze Teheran's nuclear program have come up short.
MOREOVER, THE Iranians continue to improve their strategic missile capability, heightening the peril should they succeed in constructing a nuclear warhead. In mid-December Iran test-fired its latest missile, the Sajjil-2, a sophisticated solid-fuel rocket that is more advanced and more accurate than its predecessors. With a range of 1,200 miles, or nearly 2,000 kilometers, it can hit anywhere in Israel and even reach parts of Europe.
Iran's defense minister boasted on state television that the Sajjil-2 can be fired more quickly and reaches its target faster, which makes it harder to intercept or shoot down. Since it is a solid-fuel rocket, it can be prepped in advance and hidden in silos, thereby decreasing its vulnerability to a preemptive attack.
And lest there be any doubt about the ayatollahs' real intentions, the Times of London reported two weeks ago that Western intelligence agencies have obtained an internal Iranian document detailing plans for neutron initiators. These are the triggers which set off nuclear explosions, and they have no other use.
TAKEN TOGETHER, all these pieces combine to form a frighteningly unambiguous picture: Iran is terrifyingly close to becoming a nuclear power. With each passing day, this nightmare scenario moves one step closer to fruition.
And so we must look ourselves directly in the mirror and ask a simple yet very pointed question: Are we really prepared to allow the tyrant of Teheran to threaten our very existence?
An atomic Iran would transform the strategic dynamic of the Middle East, strengthen radical and fundamentalist forces and spark a region-wide nuclear arms race. It would raise the specter of terrorist groups allied to Teheran, such as Hamas and Hizbullah, getting their hands on the most devastating of weapons.
And we all know how Iran's leaders have repeatedly and brazenly vowed to exterminate the Jewish state and wipe us off the map.
The alarm bells are ringing and the danger is near. Iran can and must be stopped, and military force may be the only way to do so. Six decades ago, the world watched in silence as the Germans tossed us into Hitler's ovens and turned six million Jews into ashes. We cannot assume they will act any differently if Iran seeks to do the same.
So we dare not tarry. There is little room left for delay. If the world fails to act, the option of last resort may be our only choice.
THE JERUSALEM POST
RATTLING THE CAGE: A TABOO QUESTION FOR ISRAELIS
There's a question we Israelis won't ask ourselves about the Palestinians, especially not about Gaza. The question is taboo. Not only won't anyone ask it out loud, but very, very few people will dare ask it in the privacy of their own minds.
However, I think it's time we start asking it, privately and in public. If we don't, I think there's going to be Operation Cast Lead II, then Operation Cast Lead III, and each one is going to be worse than the last, and the consequences for Palestinians and Israelis are going to be unimaginable.
The question we have to ask ourselves is this: If anybody treated us like we're treating the people in Gaza, what would we do?
We don't want to go there, do we? And because we don't, we make it our business not to see, hear or think about how, indeed, we are treating the people in Gaza.
All these shocked dignitaries, all these reports, these details, these numbers - thousands of destroyed this and tens of thousands of destroyed that. Rubble, sewage, malnutrition, crying babies, humanitarian crises - who can keep up? Who cares? They did it to themselves. Where to for lunch?
IT'S NOT that we can't imagine life in Gaza. It's that we are determined not to try to imagine. If we did, we might not stop there. Next we might try to imagine what it would be like if our country were in the condition in which we left Gaza. And sooner or later we might try to imagine what we would do if we were living over here like they're living over there.
Or not even what we would do, just what we would think - about the people, about the country, that did that to us and that wouldn't even allow us to begin to recover after the war was over. That blockaded our borders and allowed in only enough supplies to keep us at subsistence level, to prevent starvation and mass epidemics.
What would we think, what would we do, if somebody, some country, did that to us?
A lot of people here, I'm sure, would reply angrily: So why won't the Gazans try making peace?
But is that how we would react? Is that what Israelis would do if a foreign army did to this country what the IDF did to that one a year ago? If another country sent F-16s, Apache helicopters, white phosphorous, drones, tanks and battalions into Israel, if any nation bombed and killed over here like we bombed and killed in Gaza, then rubbed our noses in it afterward, would we want to make peace with them?
Forget we; does anyone know a single Israeli who would?
I'M SURE a lot of people would argue: What about Sderot? Didn't the terrorists in Gaza bomb and kill in Sderot? Let's the turn the question around: What would the Gazans have done if another country did to them what they did to the people in Sderot?
Fair enough. Yes, they would have hit back, too. They're not pacifists, either, to say the least. In fact, their elected leaders are fanatical, murderous Jew-haters sworn to Israel's destruction. That's extremely important to remember, and we do. But what we don't want to remember, what we make 100 percent sure to forget, is that we do all sorts of hateful things to Gaza that they don't do to us, and that this is the way it's been since 1967.
Aside from choking the flow of goods to Gaza by land, we blockade their entire coast. We don't allow ships to sail into Gaza or out. Does anyone stop ships from coming and going at the ports of Eilat, Ashdod or Haifa? What would Israel do if anyone tried? (Think of what Israel did two weeks after Egypt blockaded the port of Eilat in May 1967.)
We also blockade Gaza's airspace, preventing planes from flying in or out. Does anybody stop planes from flying in and out of Israel? Would we stand for it if someone did?
For 37 years, between 1967 and 2005, our soldiers and settlers were the overlords of the Gaza Strip. If foreign soldiers and settlers tried to come in and take over Israel, what would we do?
And regarding the years of rocket attacks on the people in Sderot, I've never been through such an ordeal, but I imagine it's hell. However, I've also never been through the ordeal that people in Gaza have gone through, and are still going through, yet I know - as everyone in the world knows, except Israelis - that life in Gaza is incomparably worse than life in Sderot ever was.
DURING THE 2008 US presidential campaign, Barack Obama visited Sderot, saying, "If missiles were falling where my two daughters sleep, I would do everything in order to stop that."
Absolutely right. I wonder, though, what sort of empathetic reaction he might have had if he'd also visited the Jabalya refugee camp that summer. I wonder how he'd react if he visited Jabalya now.
And how would we react? If we Israelis could go to Gaza and see in person what we've done to that place and its people, would we be capable of empathy? If we thought of our children living in a country that was just like postwar Gaza, would we allow ourselves to think what we might do?
We can't go to Gaza, but we have to start using our imagination. We have to dare to put ourselves in those people's place. And we have to stop doing to them what we would never allow anyone to do to us. Otherwise, we Israelis have no conscience, and little by little we become capable of anything.
THE JERUSALEM POST
ABOUT AVATARS: CAVEAT EMPTOR!
Even before the buzz began building for James Cameron's sci fi blockbuster Avatar, today's "millennial generation," the film's biggest fans, knew what the word meant. Few knew the classical definition of "avatar" as "the incarnation of a Hindu diety" that people my age learned in the 1960s taking comparative religion courses or reading Hermann Hesse. To current-day collegians, the word is the self-definition of a hi-tech kid who manipulates an image of himself projected in a computer game.
Commentators on Cameron's special effects tour-de-force are virtually all enthralled by the 3-D visual pyrotechnics, but are deeply divided along ideological lines. The environment-friendly Left embraces Avatar as a love poem to (extraterrestrial) nature's wonders and a cautionary tale about what will become of our planet and species if we don't reform posthaste. Enviro-skeptics on the Right deride the film as a misanthropic revenge fantasy in which the soulful planet Pandora and its race of blue, 10-foot-tall noble savages - the Navi - all but annihilate humanity's advance guard, portrayed as a rapacious, futuristic military-industrial complex.
Ultimately in Cameron's film, the only good humans are dead - or rather, resurrected as "good Navi" by projection of their astral selves into alien bodies. They are the "avatars" who have "gone native" -first by taking on an alien persona, then by totally identifying with the Navi even if that means the end of the human project back on Earth.
WHAT UNSETTLED me was not Cameron's Romantic primitivism - which, after all, goes back at least as far as Rousseau - but the uncanny resonances of Avatar with a recurrent theme in Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke's Black Sun: Aryan Cults, Esoteric Nazism and the Politics of Identity (NYU Press, 2002). A fascinating excavation of the extreme Right's post-World War II literary underworld, this book explores a subject much less well-known than the prewar nexus between the Nazis and the occult.
Goodrick-Clarke catalogues fantastic tales - extraterrestrial Atlanteans who burrowed under Tibet to escape Noah's flood, only to reemerge now as potential architects of a Fourth Reich; and SS "miracle weapons" (including "W-7" flying saucers) based in Antarctica, where the Fuhrer and Eva Braun are said to have taken refuge - but he also analyzes how, in the post-World War II era, myths of Aryan racial superiority found a home in the world of New Age spirituality and environmental consciousness.
The story starts with Savitri Devi (born Maximiani Portas in Lyons), the self-styled priestess of the new Aryan religion, who spent the prewar and wartime years in India seeking a Nordic-Hindu symbiosis and communing with anti-British ultranationalists who shared her notion of Hitler as "an incarnation of Vishnu." In 1945, she returned to Europe to become the jailed heroine of the new Neo-Nazi underground.
Her devotee Claudio Mutti, a supporter of the Italian neo-fascist movement (MSI) responsible for the terrorist campaign culminating in the 1980 Bologna railway station bombing that killed 85, lauded Muslims for honoring Hitler as a haj at the same time as Hindu extremists saw him as a positive manifestation of Vishnu.
Devi's widely translated manifesto, The Lightning and the Sun (1958), begins with Aryan man's reincarnation in "the late-born child of light" in Braunau am Inn, Austria, in 1889. A millennial redeemer, the late-born Hitler is her "Kalki avatar."
IN THE 1960s, Devi (who died in 1982) became a pen pal of Britain's young fascists and met American George Lincoln Rockwell. For her doctrines of Hitler as a divine leader, she was venerated by the next generation of American Neo-Nazi and Christian identity leaders.
Roughly at the same time that youthful hippie "flower power" was blossoming, Wilhelm Landig's German trilogy of Thule novels counterbalanced fears of Europe's racial mongrelization with hope for a resurgent Aryan "Age of Aquarius." Then, after the Arab and Iranian oil embargoes and the energy crisis, neo-Nazism took on an environmentally friendly hue in D. H. Haarman's three-volume Geheime Wonderwaffen ("Secret Miracle Weapons"), which claimed that SS inventors of electromagnetic flying saucers had also achieved an antigravitational power source that would now be an alternative to fossil fuels were it not for a Jewish conspiracy of banks, oil companies and car makers.
Eventually, Holocaust Denier Ernst Zundel and others used the Internet to market a multimedia mélange of extremist books and music with a New Age flavor featuring time travel, extraterrestrial visitations and fantasies of Nazi revenge and rebirth.
By the late 1990s, fascists on both sides of the Atlantic were brandishing their "green" credentials. The charge made by Louis Farrakhan's followers that "Zionists" were responsible "for the hole in the ozone layer" did not come out of nowhere.
YET WHAT could seem further apart than Hitler the Aryan white supremacist and Cameron's hero, Jake, who loves the wronged Navi enough to be reborn as one?
Unfortunately, youthful members of the rightist underground who avidly read reprints of Devi's deification of the Fuhrer don't look at Hitler with Cameron's loathing - and they may view Avatar as quite compatible with their own extremist faith.
There may not be many such young people today - but there weren't that many more such young people in Europe a century ago, when Mussolini reinterpreted Italian Futurism as a call for fascist revolution and German rightists began experimenting with melding racism and occultist religiosity with ultimately horrific consequences. In the minds of some of today's young extremists, an al-Qaida meditation on the 72 virgins to be had in paradise, and an Odinist vision of a new, antimodern Valhalla to be created on earth are both appealing.
Is it really wise for us to dismiss so confidently the ominous possibility that today's marginal ideologies of hate, rendered palatable for mainstream consumption by hi-tech media evocations of pristine new worlds, may yet be empowered by the 21st century? Just think of what a future Leni Riefenstahl - combining Cameron's imaginative tools with Devi's atavistic vision of apocalypse - might accomplish by unleashing her own Avatar.
The writer, an historian with a PhD from UCLA for a dissertation on the history of Black-Jewish relations, lives in San Diego.
THE JERUSALEM POST
IN DEFIANCE OF DEMOGRAPHIC FATALISM
In 1948, prime minister David Ben-Gurion declared independence in defiance of demographic fatalism, which was perpetrated by the country's leading demographers. He rejected their assumptions that Jews were doomed to be a minority between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean, that a massive aliya wave was not feasible, that the Jewish fertility rate was declining to below reproduction levels and that the Arab fertility rate would remain the highest in the world, irrespective of modernity.
Instead, Ben-Gurion highlighted demographic optimism and aliya as top national priorities, coalesced a solid Jewish majority and planted the seeds that catapulted Israel to a Middle East power, highly respected for its civilian and military achievements.
In 2005, in capitulation to demographic fatalism, prime minister Ariel Sharon retreated from Palestinian terrorism, uprooting 10,000 Jews from Gaza and Samaria. Sharon abandoned his lifelong ideology of defiance, subordinating long-term strategy and security concerns to doomsday demography. Thus, he facilitated Hamas's takeover of Gaza and its ripple effects: slackened posture of deterrence, intensified shelling of southern Israel, the 2006 Second Lebanon War, 2008's Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone Report and the exacerbated global pressure on Israel.
DEMOGRAPHIC ASSUMPTIONS have played an increasing role in shaping national security policy since 1992. But what if these assumptions are dramatically wrong? For example, since the beginning of annual aliya in 1882 - and in contradiction to demographic projections - the Jewish population between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean has grown 238-fold, while the Arab population increased only sixfold. Since 1948, the Jewish population has increased almost tenfold, and the Arab population has expanded threefold.
Israel's demographers did not believe that a massive aliya would take place in the aftermath of the 1948/9 war. One million Jews arrived. They projected no substantial aliya from the communist bloc during the 1970s. Almost 300,000 Jews arrived. They dismissed the possibility of a massive aliya from the USSR, even if the gates were opened. One million olim relocated from the Soviet Union to the Jewish homeland during the 1990s.
Contrary to demographic assumptions, a rapid and drastic decline in Muslim fertility has been documented by the UN Population Division: Iran - 1.7 births per woman; Algeria - 1.8 births; Egypt - 2.5 births; Jordan - three births; and so on. The Arab fertility rate in pre-1967 Israel declined 20 years faster than projected, and Judea and Samaria Arab fertility has dropped below 4.5 births per woman, tending toward three births.
Precedents suggest that low fertility rates can rarely be reversed following a sustained period of significant reduction.
At the same time, the annual number of Jewish births increased by 45 percent between 1995 (80,400) and 2008 (117,000), mostly impacted by the demographic surge within the secular sector. The total annual Arab births in pre-1967 Israel stabilized around 39,000 during the same period, reflecting the successful Arab integration into the infrastructure of education, employment, health, trade, politics and sports.
AN AUDIT of the documentation of Palestinian births, deaths and migration, which is conducted by the Palestinian Authority ministries of Health and Education and Election Commission, as well as by Israel's Border Police and Central Bureau of Statistics and by the World Bank, reveals huge misrepresentations by the Palestine Central Bureau of Statistics.
For instance, the PCBS's census includes about 400,000 overseas residents who have been away for more than one year, ignores high net-emigration (28,000 in 2008, 25,000 in 2007, etc.) and double-counts some 250,000 Jerusalem Arabs, who are also counted by Israel. Furthermore, a 40,000-60,000 annual birth gap is confirmed between PCBS numbers and the documentation conducted by the PA Health and Education ministries.
The audit of Palestinian and Israeli documentation exposes a 66% bend in the current number of Judea and Samaria Arabs - 1.55 million and not 2.5 million, as claimed by the PA. It certifies a solid 67% Jewish majority over 98.5% of the land west of the Jordan River (without Gaza), compared with a 33% and an 8% Jewish minority in 1947 and 1900, respectively, west of the Jordan River. An 80% majority is attainable by 2035 with the proper demographic policy, highlighting aliya, returning expatriates, etc.
In conclusion, demographic optimism is well-documented, while demographic fatalism is resoundingly refuted. There is a demographic problem, but it is not lethal, and the tailwind is Jewish. Therefore, anyone suggesting that there is a demographic machete at the throat of the Jewish state and that Jewish geography must be conceded to secure Jewish demography, is either grossly mistaken or outrageously misleading.
The writer is executive director of Second Thought, which researches national security aspects of Judea and Samaria.
THE JERUSALEM POST
WHO'S BEEN NAUGHTY: THE ATTEMPTED CHRISTMAS DAY ATTACK
Much remains unknown about Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the alleged attacker of Northwest Airlines flight 253. Apparently, during questioning he identified himself as a member of al-Qaida, but this has yet to be confirmed. It also has been reported widely that he was on a US terrorism watch list, but not on a no-fly list. Questions have been raised regarding security screening and about the improvised explosive device he used in his failed attack.
The answers to these and other questions about the attacker, his motives and the events that led to his arrest in Detroit should become clear in the coming days and weeks.
Other facets of this incident are immediately apparent and are consistent with long-standing understandings about terrorism and its perpetrators, including Abdulmutallab's reportedly well-to-do background and Western university education, the symbolic timing of attacking on Christmas and the choice of a commercial aviation target.
ATTEMPTS TO bring dangerous materials aboard aircraft continue (illustrated most notably by the UK-based transatlantic bombing plot in 2006, the same year the US Transportation Security Administration intercepted more than 1.6 million knives at security checkpoints), and two recent developments pose particular challenges for airport security officials. First, the use of less detectable weapons technologies (i.e., liquids and powders instead of metals) makes it appear increasingly likely that determined terrorists can board with their hazardous cargo. Second, the potential for suicide attacks undermines some security measures, such as matching checked luggage to on-board passengers. The TSA claims that it screens 100 percent of checked baggage using explosive detection systems. Undoubtedly this claim will be reviewed, in the US and elsewhere, in the wake of Friday's abortive attack.
In broader terms, even before the attempted attack on Christmas Day, 2009 has witnessed a significant number of planned, attempted and successful terrorist attacks in the US. Among them: the May 20 attempted bombing of two New York synagogues and plan to shoot down a military aircraft at an air force base elsewhere in New York; the June 1 shooting attack at an army recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas, that left one soldier dead and another wounded; the alleged bomb plot by Najibullah Zazi, arrested by FBI agents on September 19; the similar, though apparently unrelated, attempts to bomb federal and commercial office buildings in Dallas, Texas, and Springfield, Illinois, in late September; the November 5 active shooting attack by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan at Fort Hood, Texas, that left 13 dead and 32 wounded.
THIS STREAM of activity appears to represent an increase over recent years. Why is this the case, especially in light of the September Pew Global Attitudes Project report that worldwide support for Osama bin Laden (and by implication, for the ideology he represents) is decreasing?
First, such surveys, though encouraging, can be misleading. While public support is essential for the maintenance of terrorist campaigns, typically only a small number of people are responsible for most terrorist activity. Indeed, even if Abdulmutallab turns out to be an al-Qaida-inspired but unaffiliated "lone wolf," it will demonstrate yet again that individual terrorists can make a global impact. (Incidentally, the Pew survey showed that support for bin Laden was decreasing in eight of nine Muslim publics surveyed. The only place where support was found to have increased? Nigeria.)
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the terrorists involved in the attacks listed above specifically mentioned being motivated by current American military activity around the world, which they perceived as targeting Muslims. Despite the change in administration and the subsequent improvement of America's image around the world, US efforts to combat terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan might be creating more terrorists than they are defeating or dissuading.
This is just the latest manifestation of the considerable challenge terrorism presents to governments around the world: How can they use the full spectrum of counterterrorism tools (e.g., legal, public diplomacy, military) to meet this threat without making things worse?
The writer is a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.
THERE IS NO DELUXE OCCUPATION
The High Court of Justice's decision, in a panel headed by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, to end the ban on Palestinians using Route 443 is one of the most correct and just decisions the court has made in recent years.
Ever since the outbreak of the intifada, more than nine years ago, this road - which runs from the Ben Shemen interchange to the Ofer Base junction - has become a route for Israelis only. The ban even applied to the 10-kilometer portion of the road that passes through the West Bank, including on lands that were expropriated for public use. As a result, residents of nearby villages, including the owners of the land that was expropriated, who seek to reach the West Bank's main cities are forced to use roundabout ways of getting to their destinations.
Over the course of 42 years of occupation, an approach has taken root which holds that the security and even convenience of the settlers take precedence over the property rights and welfare of the Palestinians. In order to ensure the safety of Israelis, dozens of bypass roads were paved in the West Bank and hundreds of roadblocks were put up. The route of the separation fence, which was supposed to separate the West Bank from the territory of the State of Israel, was also adjusted to the settlements' expansion plans. To this end, thousands of dunams of land were expropriated from their owners and farmers were separated from their fields, the source of their livelihood.
As was to be expected, MKs from the right attacked the Supreme Court with the questionable assertion that removing the roadblocks at the entrance of the villages near the road would undermine the security of travelers. These MKs ignore the principle behind the court's ruling and the rules of international law, which enable the military administration to violate property rights only if this is done for the benefit of the local population. The term "local population" does not include those citizens of the occupying country who choose to live in the middle of occupied territory. Democratic and moral countries do not expropriate both the land and the right to make use of it.
The barring of Palestinians from Route 443 was one of the ugliest aspects of a deluxe occupation. Real security cannot be achieved by roadblocks, fences and separate roads, but only by a fair peace accord that will bring an end to the occupation.
JOURNEY TO NOWHERE
BY GIDEON LEVY
Well, here we are. A new year begins at midnight, and for the Middle East, 2010 will be a year of negotiations. Peace envoys are warming up at the starting line, document writers are polishing draft agreements for the envoys, advisers are coming up with their own phraseology, pundits are piling up verbiage, photographers are aiming their cameras, and diplomats are packing their bags and sharpening their tongues. George Mitchell will be here soon, Benjamin Netanyahu has already been to Cairo, Mahmoud Abbas is on his way. In the end there will be a summit. In Washington they'll be elated, in Europe they'll be exhilarated, the settlers will fulminate and the leftists will somnambulate. Yet another scene in the theater of the absurd, another act in the endless grotesque burlesque. Here we are again: The season of negotiations is upon us, negotiations that amount to nothing.
Already the archives are bursting at the seams with plans and initiatives, outlines and parameters, all already thick with dust. Never before has there been so dangerous and so protracted a conflict with so many wars and so many peace plans. From the first Rogers Plan of December 1969 to the second and third Rogers plans and up to the present, it's been a horrifyingly dreary tale of sterile diplomacy, a 40-year journey to nowhere.
Everything has already been written and all the plans are amazingly similar, which isn't surprising. If you want peace, just go to one of the drawers and randomly pluck out any of the plans, it really doesn't matter which, and start implementing it. And if you want a "peace process," you're invited to join the coming festivities, including the killer hangover.
One could, for example, pull the original Rogers Plan out of the mothballs. William Rogers himself has been dead for years, but everything is right there in his plan: withdrawal to the 1967 borders, recognition, sovereignty, peace. It was Israel that rejected it. Forty years on, and we are wallowing in the exact same spot. You want to be a little more up-to-date? Take Bill Clinton's plan - everything's there too. So why start off yet again on another campaign of tortuous language? Why do all the Uzi Arads and George Mitchells have to wear themselves out?
Benjamin Netanyahu has already undergone his "historic turnabout," he's reportedly ready to discuss, certainly discuss, the '67 borders, with territory swaps and security arrangements. Even the timetable has already been set - two years, of course it's two years, it's always two years, two years more. At the end, Israel's ultimate triumph will be declared: There's no partner. Again we'll hear that the Palestinian president is "a chicken with no feathers" or that the Palestinian leaders are "a gang of terrorists," and again we'll hear that there's no one to talk to.
There is no Palestinian partner, because there is no Israeli partner who is ready to take action. The day that Israel starts acting, together with the Palestinians, the partner will be there. Even Nelson Mandela wasn't the Mandela we know until he was freed from prison and South Africa was placed in his hands. He too refused to give up armed resistance for decades, but when he was given a true opportunity, he followed a path of peace. The key was in the hands of F.W. de Clerk, not those of Mandela. Israel, too, has that key. Now that it is no longer possible to halt everything because of terrorism, since there is almost none, Israel has lost one of its best weapons. When there is terrorism, one cannot act, and when there is no terrorism, there's no reason to act. But don't worry, it will be back, if nothing happens. The experience of the disengagement won't help either, because the continued imprisonment of the Gazans means that nothing has changed in their lives.
The last person to touch the dream was Ehud Olmert. Countless "excellent" meetings with Abbas, photo ops and bold speeches in abundance. Almost courage, nearly accord, a "shelf agreement" any minute now. Meanwhile, at the edge of the shelf are two lost wars and more settlement construction. All the fine words were rendered worthless by the action on the ground. Because this is the supreme test: It doesn't matter what the Israelis say, it matters what they do.
The time for words is over. Stop negotiating, start doing. Lifting the blockade on Gaza and declaring a perpetual freeze on building in the settlements would do more than a thousand formulations. Someone who wants two states doesn't build even one more balcony. This is the litmus test of Israel's true intentions. Without taking these steps, everything else is a waste of time, the time of the negotiators and of all of us. Does Netanyahu mean to take any of these steps? That is very doubtful, troublingly so.
BY ISRAEL HAREL
The sage Hillel, who lived at the end of the Second Temple period, was quoted in Pirkei Avot ("Ethics of the Fathers") as saying: "Because you drowned others, they drowned you; and those that drowned you will eventually be drowned." As has often been remarked, there is no happiness like schadenfreude. The party of the deserters is crumbling. Thus it will be done (by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) to Kadima, the party that split Netanyahu's Likud.
But why raise the banner of Israel's security in vain? When it comes to backing for Israeli action against Iran, Netanyahu needs U.S. President Barack Obama, not Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni. And if action is taken (and with Netanyahu at the helm, it doesn't look likely), Kadima will stand with the government; it has already committed to this.
As is his wont, Netanyahu has been oscillating wildly. He was raised as an adherent of the Land of Israel and this is part of his very being. But as prime minister, he is heading toward the partition of the country. History will record him as the one who gave Hebron to the Palestinians, and in his Bar-Ilan University address, he declared his support for two states for two peoples.
Between one concession and the next, he is also a realist. All indications, Netanyahu reassures us, are that there is no chance of the Palestinians ever recognizing Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, conceding the refugees' right of return, or accepting a united Jerusalem as Israel's capital. Therefore, what he said in his Bar-Ilan speech has no practical significance. This is also how the prime minister attempts to strike an emotional balance between his identity and his weaknesses.
Former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin - who has good sources, especially in the United States - said that under American pressure, Netanyahu would halt construction in the settlements. Two months later, Netanyahu presented just such a plan. Now Beilin says Netanyahu has told the Americans he is prepared to withdraw, with some adjustments, to the 1967 lines. Following the premier's meeting with President Hosni Mubarak this week, the Egyptians corroborated this report.
So the cat is out of the bag. It is not to confront Iran, but rather to confront the majority of his own party - which would adamantly opposes such a weakening of his positions - that Netanyahu needs Kadima. And if it comes to this, he, too, like Ariel Sharon before him, will manage to splinter an Israeli political party: his own.
If the heirs to Ze'ev Jabotinsky had a trace of his greatness as a statesman and leader, they would act in accordance with his "iron wall" principle of strength in the face of Arab hostility. In fact, however, it is they, not the enemy, who are destroying it. Their weakness is strengthening the Arab belief that the wall of Israel's existence, which was achieved through such valor and at the expense of so much blood, is cracking and crumbling. With a little patience (and what is 60, 70 or 100 years in the historical context?), the Jews will bring it down upon themselves from within. This Arab belief was justifiably bolstered when the prime minister who built his career on "never giving in to terror" capitulated in the Gilad Shalit case as well.
But in one very important area, Netanyahu does need Kadima: to serve as a political counterweight to the ultra-Orthodox, in order to transform them from a growing burden to productive partners in building the Israeli state and Israeli society. With Kadima's help, Netanyahu could return to one of his own signal achievements as finance minister and continue cutting child allowances - thereby reducing, and ultimately eliminating, the flow of billions of shekels that perpetuates a society that has lost its way and is atrophying, a sin in which every Israeli government has been complicit.
What today is called a "blossoming" - a society of scholars that disassociates itself from the real life of Israel and the world - is in practice an idealization of the fear of coping with reality. Ultimately, when the state can no longer fund this anomaly, the bubble will burst with tremendous force. And then, not even its role as political kingmaker will be able to save ultra-Orthodox society from descent into the abyss.
If Netanyahu were to enlist Kadima on this issue, or if Kadima were to condition its entry into the government on it, Kadima would achieve greatness. And Netanyahu would be remembered, in the long run even by the ultra-Orthodox themselves, as someone who effected a dramatic turnabout in Jewish society. With the addition of hundreds of thousands of productive workers, Israel's economy would flourish. And the army, after a period of transition and adjustment, would benefit from a substantial boost in its ranks and a reduction in dependence on reserve soldiers.
That is Livni's real challenge - not the expulsion of Jews, the destruction of their communities and the partition of the country. Others will take care of destroying and uprooting us.
WHY LOBBIES DON'T MATTER
BY YOSSI SHAIN AND NEIL ROGACHEVSKY
The signing of a peace treaty between Armenia and Turkey in October was a little-noticed milestone. Since the Ottomans deported and murdered Armenians in World War I in what Armenians and much of the world call the Armenian Genocide, Armenians have not been fond of Turkey. For its part, Turkey has long disputed both the genocide and the Armenian presence in Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan, a close Turkish ally. Though signed pledges do not guarantee peace, the U.S.-brokered pledges to reestablish ties and open borders could well prove to be the beginning of the end of this intractable conflict.
The pledges were made in the face of some resistance in both countries, but particularly among the Armenian diaspora and its leaders. The so-called "Armenian lobby," which was thought in the 1990s to determine both U.S. and Armenian government policy in the Caspian Sea, staunchly opposed the deal and mobilized the community against it. In Los Angeles the week before the signing, Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan was confronted by around 12,000 protesters. One prominent Armenian-American declared the agreement "the latest entry in the ledger of crimes committed, and covered up, against the Armenian nation." Nevertheless, opposition from the Armenian Diaspora did not stop Turkey and Armenia from coming to terms.
The Armenian lobby's failure to block the treaty is instructive when one considers that other mythically powerful diaspora group known as the "Israel lobby." The Israel lobby has long been thought to exert vast influence on U.S. policy in the Middle East. In the extreme version of this view, it is only the foot-dragging of hawkish pro-Israel groups like AIPAC that has stymied American efforts to improve the prospects for peace in the Middle East.
Many believers in the power of lobbying have expressed hope that new dynamics in the American Jewish community could shift U.S. policy in the Middle East. Finally, there is a president who has pledged a more "evenhanded" policy between Israelis and Palestinians, and the American Jewish community remains firmly in his camp. Furthermore, a new dovish Israel lobby called J Street, which held its inaugural conference in November to great fanfare, was formed with the explicit task of supporting U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East policy - or in the words of J Street founder Jeremy Ben-Ami, "to be the president's blocking back."
In short, if ever there were a time in which America could "change course" in the Middle East, it would seem to be now. Obama, supported by J Street and the American Jewish community at large, can lean on Israel with no domestic political cost, so American policy in the Middle East can finally become more rational and effective.
But so far, there has not been much progress. A year into Obama's term, the situation in the Middle East - particularly on the Israeli-Palestinian front - looks as intractable as before. The parties remain as far from each other as ever on the so-called "core issues" such as the future of Jerusalem and the Palestinian right of return. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah faction has said he will not run for a new term. Without him, Fatah's control over the West Bank, tenuous at the best of times, could become still weaker.
Over in Gaza, Hamas is deepening its control and does not seem to be moderating its position with the necessities of governing, as some experts had hoped. Meanwhile, Israel's settlements in the West Bank, thought by some to be an obstacle to peace, continue their "natural growth." If there is progress on Israel-Palestine any time soon, it doesn't seem that it will come by way of U.S. diplomacy.
Both the successful signing of an Armenian-Turkish accord and the inability of Israelis and Palestinians to achieve one indicates that the power of lobbies to influence events, and even U.S. policy, has been highly exaggerated. The Armenian diaspora could not stop the Armenian government from concluding a deal. Despite its alleged power on Capitol Hill, the Armenian lobby could not dent American enthusiasm for blessing this new opening in the Caucasus. Earlier, it had been thought that the Armenian lobby was hindering an accord. But it turns out the moment for such an accord was just not right. Now, with Turkey's serious push for European Union membership and Armenia's desire to benefit from the end of the Turkish blockade, conditions have become favorable for a deal.
Similarly, the Obama administration faces no politically relevant opposition from American Jews on its Middle East policy. But no progress has been made, despite this administration's new orientation, because the sides aren't ready. The situation, to use the old phrase, is not ripe. Ignorance of those conditions could lead one to believe that a little bit of lobbying can make all the difference - and to a vast over-estimation of the power of ethnic lobbying over U.S. policy. But, happily or unhappily, reality has other ideas.
With all the attention on lobbying, shuttle diplomacy and the like, genuine small achievements in Israel-Palestine have gone unnoticed. Checkpoints have been removed in the West Bank, the Palestinian economy in the West Bank has grown steadily, and robust civil society, slowly but surely, continues to grow in the West Bank. These encouraging signs may one day make the situation ripe for agreement. Should that materialize, let's not allow any lobbying organizations to take much credit for it.
Prof. Yossi Shain heads Tel Aviv University's Hartog School of Government. Neil Rogachevsky is a doctoral student at Georgetown University. The two are writing a book on American foreign policy and the myth of the Jewish lobby.
BY GABI SHEFFER
Anyone listening to recent statements made by cabinet ministers, the chief of staff, the head of Military Intelligence, the general in charge of Southern Command and others has heard them all refer to Israel's supposed ability to take independent deterrent action.
The prevalent assumption is that the Second Lebanon War, the bombing of the nuclear facility in Syria and Operation Cast Lead have greatly strengthened Israeli deterrence. The proof is the present quiet on the borders.
But then, almost in the same breath and without explaining the inherent contradiction, they all say this quiet won't last forever. The conclusion: Israel must prepare energetically for the possibility of a military or terrorist outbreak, and even thwart it with a preventive strike.
The calls for such an offensive primarily refer, of course, to Iran. It is not clear whether Israel really intends to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, or whether the speakers' sole aim is to strengthen the status of the defense establishment and increase its budget. But the government must deal with the contradiction in these statements.
To understand the situation, one must first understand one of the most basic elements of deterrence in inter-state conflicts and conflicts between states and groups referred to as terror organizations. Each of these conflicts involves two sides. A conflict cannot be one-sided. This sounds like a self-evident truth, but the overwhelming majority of the Israeli public, as well as politicians and military officials, act as though the Arab-Iranian side is the sole cause of the continued conflict and the inability to resolve it through negotiation.
The truth, of course, is that Israel has contributed and is contributing to the conflict to a large extent. The bilateral nature of the conflict means that the Arab-Iranian side is also trying incessantly to improve its deterrence vis-a-vis Israel and its ability to attack Israel. This is one of the main reasons Hezbollah continues to arm itself, Hamas continues smuggling arms to Gaza, and Iran insists on developing its nuclear ability.
There is no way of predicting Hamas' future moves. But if it refrains from joining the Palestinian Authority and its people are convinced that Israel won't lift the siege over Gaza, it is very possible Hamas will inflame the border region again, despite the knowledge that Israel will retaliate with greater firepower. In other words, Israeli deterrence will not work.
As for Syria, it is possible that it will refrain from military moves against Israel in the future as well, but this does not mean it won't continue amassing power to deter Israel and to ensure it is capable of launching an attack, should it so desire. The same can be said of Hezbollah.
As for Iran, even if it attains military nuclear capability, it will probably refrain from using it, in part because of the destructive reaction that would result. Thus, as more and more observers have been saying, Iran does not constitute a threat to Israel's survival. However, if Israel does not make do with deterrence and attacks Iran, the latter is very likely to react in a destructive way.
What are the strategic conclusions of all this? One conclusion is that Israeli leaders must stop spreading the idea that Israel has the ability to take decisive deterrent action and must initiate a military operation every few years to preserve that ability.
Instead of preparing for an attack on Iran, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, the government should be investing a lot more in direct attempts to resolve - by negotiations - the conflicts with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians. This would also reduce the fear of Iran to a large extent.
The writer is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
New Yorkers should be appalled at their failed state government, particularly their corrupt and clueless Legislature. Scandal and irresponsibility have been Albany's creed for decades. This year, the gang added another outrage to the list: complete fiscal incompetence.
The only solace is this: The entire Legislature is up for re-election in 2010. And unless there is a sudden turnaround and, so far, we see few signs of it New Yorkers have no choice but to vote out all the lawmakers and start over.
If there is any doubt left, here are just a few reminders of this year's worst of the worst:
WHAT, US WORRY? New York has been on the brink of economic collapse, but the Legislature blithely ignored the problem for months. When the deficit reached a truly alarming $3.2 billion, the lawmakers grudgingly agreed to last-minute fixes while carefully protecting their political buddies and donors. That meant rich school districts on Long Island kept their money (until Gov. David Paterson imposed a temporary, across-the-board reduction), but 500,000 schoolchildren in New York City many of whom can't afford it will now have to pay to ride the subway to class.
Even after draining state savings accounts and using federal stimulus dollars that were supposed to be spent next year, they still fell $500 million short. Next year is now a few hours away. The state is already in the red, and it could be facing a $9 billion deficit by March. Yet there is no sign that legislative leaders have spent much time thinking about how to address this disaster.
SCANDALS "R" THEM There were so many legislative scandals this year that we're not sure where to start.
First, there were the revelations surfacing only after the Democrats took control in January about how Senate Republicans had abused their 40-year majority and secretly used state money to pursue party business. Among the discoveries: a secret plant, with 75 employees, to print Republicans' mail to constituents; a Republican-only television studio; secret Republican Party research staff. The Democrats have closed a few of these scandalous operations, but they have not been energetic about scaling back their own perks now that they're in charge.
The Republicans' longtime Senate leader, Joseph Bruno, stepped down in 2008 before he was indicted on eight counts of exploiting his office for personal gain. Earlier this month, Mr. Bruno was convicted on two felony counts involving "theft of honest services."
The trial offered more instructive and stomach-turning details about the sleazy way that Albany operates. Mr. Bruno ran his private consulting firm out of his posh, taxpayer-financed Capitol office. His Senate secretary, other staff, phones, cars and copy machines were all used to get business and campaign contributions from private clients, some of whom came to him for help in writing and passing legislation.
Worst of all, it took federal prosecutors to uncover these abuses because there was no explicit New York State law forbidding them.
We don't want to prolong the pain, but let's not forget the Republican coup in June, abetted by two of the least-qualified Democrats: Senators Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx and Hiram Monserrate of Queens. Never mind that Mr. Espada was and is being investigated for allegedly living outside his district and failing to report campaign contributions. And Mr. Monserrate already had been indicted for assaulting his girlfriend, who had been slashed somehow in his apartment by a broken glass.
Nothing got done for more than a month until these two switched back to the Democratic side. Mr. Espada negotiated another title and salary bonus and more money for his district. He failed, after wide protest, to slip his son into a $120,000-a-year state job.
As for Mr. Monserrate, he was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend after dragging her through his apartment lobby and then driving her past several emergency rooms to find a hospital where he would not be recognized. His fellow senators are expected to decide next month whether to oust him. If they have any shame left, they must. He is clearly not qualified to represent New Yorkers.
O.K., MAYBE A TOUCH UP So do any of them get it? Not many. After all this sleaze and incompetence, John Sampson, who leads the Democratic majority in the Senate, suggested this week that legislators might need a public relations "makeover." No superficial paint job can cover such a rotten core. What is needed is a sweeping top-to-bottom reform.
Democratic leaders say they are considering changes, including an ethics reform package that, with more muscle, might make it possible to rein in some of Albany's worst abuses. There is talk about taming the state's anything-goes campaign finance system, but it will take more than talk and press releases this time.
Almost no one is focusing on two other major problems: the gerrymandering that allows so many undeserving incumbents to hold on to power and Albany's relentless greed and influence-peddling.
Lawmakers must create a nonpartisan commission for fair redistricting before the maps are redrawn in 2011. Without it, the state will go another decade with no real political competition. They must establish a small, expert financial board to advise the state comptroller on pensions, one unswayed by political pressure or favoritism. And they must enact tough new disclosure laws that require lawmakers to fully, accurately and publicly report the sources of all their outside income.
New Yorkers have waited in vain for these reforms. Every year lawmakers promise to do better. And every year Albany has gotten worse. Legislators can either start doing the public's work now, or voters should turn them out. The election is less than a year away.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
It didn't take long for an Al Qaeda branch, this time in Yemen, to crow about its role in the attempt to blow up Northwest Flight 253. The alleged bomber, meanwhile, told American authorities that he had gone to Yemen to get the explosive device and for training.
If there is any good news here, it is that the Obama administration which shockingly missed a series of warnings about the plot has been paying close attention to Yemen and, in recent months, has stepped up covert operations against Al Qaeda forces there.
Washington is providing $70 million over the next 18 months to equip and train Yemeni security forces for counterterrorist operations. And it has provided targeting intelligence and additional firepower possibly cruise missiles and drones for attacks on Al Qaeda bases.
Yemen's government is corrupt and repressive. But President Ali Abdullah Saleh seems to want to cooperate so long as Washington keeps a low profile.
The administration is now looking at ways to deepen military and intelligence cooperation with Yemen's government even more. But the country is foundering in so many ways that it may be on the verge of collapse. That means the United States and its allies are going to have to devise a broader strategy that also addresses Yemen's desperate economic, political and social problems.
The government's control does not extend much beyond the capital, Sana, and it faces an armed insurgency in the north and a separatist movement in the south. As the poorest country in the region, Yemen has an unemployment rate of 40 percent and a population that will double by 2035. Experts predict that it will soon run out of oil (its major revenue-producer) and water.
If these problems are not dealt with, there can be no hope of defeating Al Qaeda.
Administration officials say that for several months they have been working on an economic development plan for Yemen with Saudi Arabia, Europe, the World Bank and others and expect to hold a meeting in six weeks to agree on a framework. They need to speed up the process. They should encourage mediation, where possible, between the government and its adversaries and urge and help underwrite reform of a prison system that helps breed jihadists.
Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen? Americans have a right to feel weary. But the Christmas Day plot is a warning we hope in time of why it's so important to head off full chaos in Yemen. The last thing the world needs is another haven for Al Qaeda.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SENATOR DEMINT'S PRIORITIES
The attempted jetliner bombing has laid bare a welter of security shortcomings. One could be easily fixed if Senator Jim DeMint would drop his wrongheaded hold and allow the Senate to confirm a new chief for the Transportation Security Administration.
The Obama administration failed to offer a nominee until September, pleading the time was needed to find the right executive for the important post. Their belated choice, Erroll Southers, is a former F.B.I. agent who earned high marks when he served as chief of homeland security for California. He was easily approved by two Senate committees and heading for bipartisan confirmation until the South Carolina Republican obstructed.
What's the problem? Mr. DeMint says he won't let the nomination go forward until he's assured that a legal ban on T.S.A. workers unionizing will remain in place. Even after last week's near-disaster over the Detroit airport, Senator DeMint clung to his union-bashing and knee-jerk warnings about the risks of security workers being allowed to collectively bargain.
He absurdly argued that "union bosses" will only worsen airline security (never mind that other federal workers and all manner of police forces responsibly exercise that right) while suggesting that President Obama has been out to "appease the terrorists."
The Senate's Democratic leadership isn't doing any better when it comes to the nomination of Alan Bersin, an experienced homeland security veteran of the Clinton administration, to be the new commissioner of customs and border protection. This is another bulwark security agency that was without an administration nominee until the summer.
In this case, the issue is neglect, not ideology. Mr. Bersin's confirmation has been sidelined by the contentious Senate agenda. By now, Senator Harry Reid, the majority leader, surely realizes that he must make both positions an instant priority. If there's any doubt, President Obama needs to forcefully remind him.
Even then, the jobs can't be filled until the Senate returns three weeks from now. The gap could be even longer if Senator DeMint won't drop his destructive hold on Mr. Southers. That would make a cloture fight necessary in what should have been a quick and dynamic response to an essential public need.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THAT WAS THE YEAR THAT WAS
BY GAIL COLLINS
Wow, what a long year.
Just think. At the beginning of 2009, George W. Bush was still in charge of the country, talking about how time had flown since he first ran for president.
"Just seemed like yesterday," he reminisced.
This was a sentiment the rest of us did not entirely share. I felt as if Bush had been running things since the Mesozoic Age.
But now it also feels as if Barack Obama has been president forever. I'm beginning to wonder if in the 21st century, White House years are going to be like dog years in reverse. Every one is equivalent to seven or eight in the normal human calendar.
I personally think Obama has been doing a good job, all things considered. The economy is still depressing, but that's an improvement over mind-bendingly terrifying. The rest of the world likes us better, and whenever the president goes overseas he seems to be able to nudge the other countries toward a little progress on some issue on which they had been hopelessly stuck.
And health care reform. Extremely big deal. Really could pass. Eventually.
No matter how difficult the issue, Obama has been sensible, deliberative. Just look at Dick Cheney swooping around like a dementor from Harry Potter, and you have to appreciate how much things have improved.
But Lord, is it good to bid farewell to 2009.
And imagine how Obama must feel. Every problem is a long, grueling slog. Even in the last minutes of the year, he was stuck trying to get out of the hole that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano had dug when she used the fatal phrase "the system worked" after the failed plane bombing in Detroit.
Napolitano's statements were more nuanced than we're currently giving her credit for, but that doesn't matter. What she said was ill advised on so very many levels, only one of which was the matter of the system not working.
In a time of crisis, you cannot make any sweeping statements defending the performance of the Department of Homeland Security. In a bureaucracy that big, somebody is screwing up somewhere.
Napolitano should have said something like: "Well, we were so happy that the Swiss guy tackled the underwear bomber. Let's give him a shout-out! Now excuse me, but we have a lot of work to do."
Maybe the problem is that the Department of Homeland Security is just too big to function. We know that creating it was a bad move since it was Senator Joseph Lieberman's idea. (This will undoubtedly be a chapter in my upcoming book, "How Joe Lieberman Ruined Everything.")
Remember how hopeful everybody was last winter? Remember when Obama had the bipartisan Super Bowl party? I wonder who he'll invite this time. Captain Sully Sullenberger appears to be the only person left in the country who everybody likes. But the way things are going, we'll probably hear tomorrow that Sully was driven out of his home on New Year's Eve by an angry spouse wielding a hockey stick.
For Obama, one of the plusses of the first few months of 2009 was that the opposition was so inept. This gave the president momentum while also providing the troubled nation with much-needed entertainment.
Remember Obama's first speech to a joint session of Congress? The one that the Republicans followed with a speech by Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, who attacked "wasteful spending" on monitoring volcano eruptions in Alaska?
And when Arizona State University refused to give Obama an honorary degree because "his body of work is yet to come?" That was in April. And in October, he got the Nobel Peace Prize. Take that, Sun Devils!
But things really slowed down when we got to health care. Remember the Blue Dog Democrats holding the bill hostage in the House? The bipartisan panel of six senators who spent the summer sending back reports on what a great conference call they had had last Tuesday?
Remember Olympia Snowe? Whatever happened to her?
Remember the Ben Nelson crisis, and the Joe Lieberman crisis, and the plan from the freshman Democrats, and the plan from the moderates, and the revolt of the conservative Democrats and the revolt of the progressive Democrats? Boy, those were fun times. I bet Majority Leader Harry Reid is reliving them right now while he spends New Year's Eve on the floor of his bedroom in a fetal position.
The job of governing jumped from difficult to impossible after those right-wing tea parties last summer, which eliminated any Republican notions that if a president won a big election victory and large majorities in the House and Senate then that might be a sign of the American people wanting him to succeed.
No more. This might allow one to theorize that Glenn Beck wrecked our year if we did not already know it was Joe Lieberman.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TIMES TO REMEMBER, PLACES TO FORGET
BY DANIEL GILBERT
TONIGHT, millions of Americans will raise a glass, sing the only three Scottish words they know and remember the past with an ineffable blend of sadness and delight. Nostalgia has all the hallmarks of a universal emotion, and it is only natural to assume that the yearning for "auld lang syne" that was shared by our grandparents will someday be shared by our grandchildren.
But maybe we've reached nostalgia's end. "Nostalgia" made up of the Greek roots for "suffering" and "return" is literally a longing for the places of one's past. And lately, it has become harder and harder to find things to miss about America's places.
Downtowns were once collections of local businesses that lured us with claims of uniqueness: "Try our homemade pies," their signs read, or "Best jazz selection in town." Today, those signs have been replaced by familiar corporate logos that make precisely the opposite claim, promising us the same goods arranged in the same way as they are in every other place. The banks and burritos and baristas on one city block are replicated on the next and in all the malls, in all the cities, in all the states. Americans can drive from one ocean to the other, stopping every day for the same hamburger and every evening at the same hotel. Traveling in a straight line is no longer much different than traveling in a circle.
When the industrial smoothing of our nation's once-variegated edges has been fully accomplished, Americans may no longer need to gather at midnight on the last day of the year to yearn for their yesterdays, because wherever they are they will see the landscapes of their youths.
When they remember the Starbucks where they met the one they married or the Gap where they lost the one they didn't, they will be marinating in memories that happened everywhere but not somewhere, reliving experiences that are located in time but dislocated in space. And when they return to the places where they grew up, or went to school, or fell in love, they may not even notice that the Old Navy has been replaced by an Abercrombie, the Fridays by an Olive Garden and the once-fleeting past by an endless present.
Ours may be the last generation of Americans to suffer for return to remember events that took place when place still mattered. So tonight let us revel in our nostalgia, and long for the days when longing was easy.
Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology at Harvard, is the host of the forthcoming television series "This Emotional Life."
I. THE NEWS
Meeting aboard a ship just off the coast of Gwadar, the four chief ministers, the finance minister and the prime minister have, at a historic summit, signed the 7th National Finance Commission Award. The signing ceremony was followed by exuberant embraces and an exchange of congratulations. The achievement is no small one coming is it does after a period approaching two decades. The finance minister, who played a pivotal role in pushing through the negotiations which led to the contours of the new award being agreed on, deserves a round of applause, and so do the chief ministers for showing considerable give and take, willingness to hear each other out and take heed of mutual concerns. It was this spirit and the willingness from Punjab to change the criteria for the award which led to success.
The dramatic meeting aboard a ship was symbolic and demonstrated a will to keep the federation sailing on and staying afloat even when the waters are stormy. The choice of Gwadar as a venue also marks a recognition of the development potential of this port and indeed other places in our country. The question now is whether the government can keep all the four provinces safely on board, pour oil on troubled waters and move towards a brighter tomorrow. Certainly, we need all groups in the country to work together to haul it out of trouble. The pledge by the PM at Gwadar that the 17th Amendment would be done away with also promises the possibility of greater harmony across the political spectrum. The signing of the NFC Award is indeed an achievement. But we now have to move beyond this, towards even greater effort to overcome problems, with all the provinces playing their part in keeping the ship of state moving smoothly on.
I. THE NEWS
A CITY MOURNS
Life in Karachi has slowly been moving back to something resembling normal following the Ashura Day suicide attack. The toll from that incident is now up to 43. The toll taken on business, and on other aspects of life, is still unfolding. For months Karachi had been able to stay safe from the deadly terrorist incidents ravaging the rest of the country. It has now found itself pulled into the very centre of that whirlpool of violence. The losses in terms of human life are known. In terms of business the costs are still being calculated. It is estimated that the fires which ravaged markets have claimed at least 10,000 jobs and caused losses worth Rs30 billion. The shopkeepers devastated by the incident hope to gain some compensation. The KCCI is assisting them. But the fact is that not all the jobs lost will be restored and others, such as transporters and labourers who made a living by working at the wholesale market, will suffer too. The interior minister has said an inquiry has been initiated into why the fire began and how it took hold so rapidly. The suspicion being strong that the fire was premeditated.
The spectre of terrorism in Karachi is an especially menacing one. As the hub of business and commerce in the country, unrest here has an impact on virtually every other town and city. Disrupted transport heading out from Karachi affected the entire southern Punjab on Tuesday. There is also the issue of confidence in Pakistan. If businessmen and foreign investors fear instability in Karachi, this inevitably means a loss in faith and a consequent economic downslide. We can simply not afford this at the present time given that re-building a sound economy remains a primary priority. Efforts to keep Karachi safe from terrorism must be stepped up. The prospect of further attacks in the country's largest city is horrendous. We must do everything possible to avoid it and thus prevent a further descent into mayhem.
I. THE NEWS
CNG vendors went on strike and are threatening to strike indefinitely. The All Pakistan CNG Association says that it has no option as the government has forced its hand by refusing to accept their demands. The APCNGA was asking that the 50 per cent price differential between gas and petrol prices be restored as per the 1992 Petroleum Policy; a cancellation of the two-day 'holiday' for CNG stations, and thirdly no rise in CNG prices from January 1, 2010. It was never likely that the government was going to agree to any of these and we now face yet another power-related crisis. The knock-on effect of the CNG station shutdown is going to feed the growing sense that this is a government bumbling its way towards the brink. The price rise of 18.5 per cent from the beginning of January is going to hit the common man hardest, and he will be doubly hit because the transporters have decided to join the strike in solidarity with the CNG stations.
The move to promote CNG was, until recently, a success story. The sector is estimated to have attracted an investment of Rs185 billion and Pakistan has more than 3,000 CNG stations 2,500 stations in Punjab and NWFP, with 542 in Sindh and Balochistan. More than 2.5 million vehicles are running on CNG. Despite all this we appear to have a shortage of the product at source. We are having a warmer and shorter winter than in previous years but there is a reported shortfall of 350mmcfd in the Sui Northern Gas Pipelines systems according to an official of the petroleum ministry. Representatives of the CNG industry at a press conference in Peshawar told a different story, claiming that there was no shortage of natural gas as supplies had been resumed from the Manzalai gas-fields. It is impossible to know one way or the other who is right the petroleum ministry or the CNG industry spokesman; and it is almost an irrelevance as the crisis is now upon us, CNG stations are closed over most of the country and the transport system is grinding to a halt. There is now an accretion of deficits gas, electricity, water that are for the most part the result of poor resource management and development. The current government has done very little by way of either tackling or reducing the impact of any of them, and there is little sign either that it knows how to. The systemic deficits are now feeding into one another and have a synergy of their own another dark and stagnant year waits around the corner.
I. THE NEWS
A YEAR OF LIVING ON THE EDGE
DR MALEEHA LODHI
Even by the standards of Pakistan's volatile political history, 2009 was a year of turmoil and disarray, with governance in a shambles for much of the year and the embattled country lurching rudderless to confront one challenge after another. In a year that generated more gloom than hope, the leadership void was the defining theme.
At year-end, Pakistan plunged into deep political uncertainty in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling that declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance ultra vires of the Constitution. The note of defiance struck by the government despite declarations to the contrary and its efforts to whip up Sindhi provincial sentiment promised a perfect storm of trouble ahead, raising the spectre of a prolonged gridlock in governance and a clash between a dysfunctional executive and the newly empowered judiciary.
The divided political reaction to the latest display of judicial activism encouraged the PPP-led government to insinuate "selective justice" and play victim in an effort to obfuscate the public debate about the accountability of elected officials. Meanwhile, the apex court's verdict elicited criticism from an unexpected quarter prominent liberals who argued that the court had taken a step too far, grounding its judgement on reasoning that encroached on the domain of other state institutions.
In a year of judicial activism, critics depicted the Supreme Court's actions ranging from striking down the NRO, inquiring into loan write-offs, determining the price of sugar and questioning the pricing of petroleum products as evidence of populist grandstanding and injudicious overreach.
While the political manoeuvring that followed the NRO judgment reflected the Zardari-led government's efforts to rally support it also betrayed its deep insecurity. This lack of confidence revealed itself during 2009 in the president's continual reading of criticism as conspiracy. It was also exemplified by President's Zardari's combative speech on the second anniversary of Benazir Bhutto's assassination.
These actions left the country in the midst of a profound sense of foreboding about the future. An uneasy calm prevailed at the dawn of the new decade. The prospect of a jittery government distracted by the aftershocks of the NRO verdict triggered widespread public fears about instability at a time of unparalleled challenges for the country.
The public mood grew progressively glum in the context of the government's lacklustre performance and its singular lack of public-policy initiatives. By mid-2009, the despondent public mood was reflected in a number of opinion polls. The Pew organisation found 89 per cent of Pakistanis were dissatisfied with the way things were going up sharply from two years ago. A poll conducted by the International Republican Institute recorded similar findings: 84 per cent of the people polled saw the country headed in the wrong direction.
If the government failed to provide leadership, the enigma of a political opposition unable or unwilling to fill this vacuum not by destabilising the coalition but providing a clear policy direction seemed even more baffling. Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif remained the country's most popular leader according to opinion surveys. But the PML-N's pronounced reluctance to play the role of a vigorous and thoughtful opposition, staking out positions on pivotal issues, hurt his public-approval ratings and attracted criticism that the party remained trapped in the past. Even so, the party lost no opportunity to remind Zardari of his broken promises on scrapping the 17th Amendment.
The year went down as the deadliest in Pakistan's history. A record number of bombings shook the country, casualties among civilians and security personnel shot to a new high, as did IED explosions and suicide attacks. 2009 saw one- third of all terrorist-related violence recorded since 2001. This took the number of people killed in terrorist-related violence in the past decade to an estimated 25,000.
Much of the violence represented a bloody backlash to the military assaults undertaken in Swat and South Waziristan the country's biggest airborne counterinsurgency operation and ground offensive, respectively. These actions showed the government's resolve to fight militancy and the military's capacity to act decisively. While they re-established the government's writ and drove out the Taliban, the wave of terrorist reprisals that engulfed the country warned of the scale of the challenge ahead.
The operations made remarkable gains in the "clear" phase. Swat and Malakand saw the return in record time of tens of thousands of displaced people. But the fate of the "hold and build" phase remained open to question, while the tardy and inadequate government response to post-conflict stabilisation in Swat raised doubts about the sustainability of the security gains that had been attained.
At the close of the year the military operation had expanded to Orakzai and Khyber, but concerns about whether the militants had been dispersed rather than defeated suggested that Pakistan's counterinsurgency efforts would be a long haul.
The danger that these efforts could be jeopardised and the army overstretched by the demands of the new regional strategy announced by President Obama became a key question as the New Year approached. The military escalation signalled by Washington's troop surge and the expansion in drone-launched missile strikes in the tribal areas heightened fears of further destabilisation of the country. Islamabad's concerns and anxieties were conveyed to Washington during its strategy review, but the enunciation of the new policy left Pakistan facing the predicament of maintaining stable ties with the US while preserving its vital interests.
And this at a time when the trust deficit between the two nations seemed to widen rather than diminish. This was amply illustrated by the furore in Pakistan over the Kerry-Lugar Bill. The enhanced assistance came gift-wrapped with conditionalities that many Pakistanis saw as gratuitous meddling in their internal affairs and as an infringement of national sovereignty.
The strains evident during 2009 in an increasingly tenuous relationship suggested that the year ahead would see ties being tested by a number of issues: approaches to stabilising Afghanistan, dealing with North Waziristan, the evolving Washington-Delhi-Kabul nexus and Washington's aversion to engaging with the sources of Pakistan-India tensions.
Among the few bright spots in the otherwise bleak political landscape was the 7th National Finance Commission Award agreed between the elected representatives of the four provinces. This reflected a consensus that had eluded the country for close to two decades and was made possible by the spirit of democratic accommodation shown by all the provincial leaders, especially the chief minister of the Punjab.
The most consequential development of 2009 was the reinstatement of the chief justice in March, which marked the triumph of the two-year campaign for the rule of law waged by the legal community, civil society and the opposition. This turned Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry into a symbol of the popular yearning for an independent judiciary. It also changed the political equation in the country by establishing the judiciary as an independent power base.
Economic management continued to fall short of the challenge at hand. It assumed the form of seeking more external financing to address the symptoms of the country's deep-seated economic problems. This meant continuity with an inglorious tradition of not using the fiscal space provided by external resources to decisively attack the causes of the structural imbalances: low revenue, narrow tax base and budget and balance-of-payments deficits.
There was no qualitative break with a strategy of over-reliance on external financing by creating the means or culture for enhanced domestic resource mobilisation. A "stabilisation" or crisis-management strategy shorn of any long-term policy to address structural problems exposed an unsustainable approach that increased foreign liabilities and merely postponed rather than resolved the crisis of macroeconomic imbalances.
The security situation and the global slowdown cast a long shadow over the fragile economy. Economic woes were compounded by the power crisis, not of the government's making, but one it sought to partially and controversially address through the rental power projects.
In a setting of economic drift and political gloom the most memorable and uplifting moment of the year came with the cricket team's spectacular Twenty20 win. But even then there was no escape from a grim reality. Asked why the national team had been on such a long losing streak, ex-captain Yunus Khan succinctly summed up the national state of play: "How can cricket be stable in Pakistan, when nothing else is?"
The writer is a former envoy to the US and the UK, and a former editor of The News.
I. THE NEWS
BEYOND THE NFC AWARD
The National Finance Commission (NFC) will be announced by the Prime Minister in Gawadar today. Felicitations are due not only for the amicable coming to fruition of a process fraught with long-drawn disputes, but also for the innovations which have been introduced with regard to a set of new criteria. Indeed, the dispensation of vertical and horizontal distributions from the divisible pool have ensured a better deal for the smaller provinces, and can pave the way for better federal-provincial and inter-provincial relationships.
Before some of the constraints that stand in the way of achieving these objectives are reviewed, the issue of resource transfers should be examined more closely. Systemic resource transfers are not confined to the NFC, but occur at three other levels -- from the provincial to the local government; from the federal to the local government and from the local to another tier of the local government. There must be similar issues at these levels that are never brought to the fore, perhaps, since the local stakeholders do not wield the same influence as the provincial political hierarchy.
Additionally, there are random methods of resource transfers such as grants, which must be taken into account. This becomes important as the government is increasingly making use of debt swaps to free up resources, and in view of the envisaged inflow of aid under the new Kerry-Lugar arrangements. Although there will be no subventions and grants for provincial governments under the new NFC, given the 56 per cent provincial share from the divisible pool, a policy relating to random transfers will nevertheless bring greater clarity.
Now that the provinces are on their way to becoming more empowered, the question of other provincial taxes, which are to be levied and retained by the provinces such as the agriculture tax, should also be addressed squarely. There are political and capacity constraints in this regard. The extent to which the feudal dominated provincial assemblies will make headway in that direction remains to be seen.
An increase in financial resources for the provinces must bring to bear the poor correlation between total spending and intended outcomes, particularly development outcomes. Unless there are parallel efforts to improve returns on spending, not much will be achieved.
Several factors are known to impair the ability to expend; these include excessive centralisation of operational decision-making, onerous financial and administrative procedures, lack of accountability of decision-making delays, and limited capacity to plan and implement. An allied issue relates to quality of expenditures -- tracking of budgetary fund flows in the public sector shows a predominance of expenditures in May and June before the financial year ends, with non-development budgets predominating. These constraints need to be addressed through financial management reforms..
In terms of returns on investments, the effect of corruption on compromising public investments in a highly-constrained environment must be taken into account. Leakage of funds from the system is an outcome of various forms of corruption. These occur because of poorly-managed expenditure systems and poor fiscal controls over flow of public resources.
Procurement graft is rampant and is fully institutionalised in many areas in provincial domains. It is, in fact, one of the 'easiest' ways of pilfering resources from the system. The recent attention to this systemic fault line should lend impetus to fully institutionalising procurement reforms.
In the same vein, it must be recognised that the there is an additional responsibility that the provinces now have with regard to generating surplus cash balance in order to meet budget deficit targets stipulated by the IMF, in view of the limitations that the federal government now faces, due to a decrease in the size of its share in the divisible pool.
Coming back to the NFC, the importance of building capacity to deal with the matter on an on-going basis must be concomitantly underscored. Although the decision on the NFC award has been remarkably well handled this time round, it is not a guarantee that it will always be the case in the future, which is why institutional capacity is needed to track progress and inform policy in order to guard against any future deviations as has been the case with NFC awards in the past. Inclusion of net hydel profits and royalties and excise duties on oil and gas in the divisible pool, which caused federal provincial tensions for years, despite the clear constitutional stipulation that these should be dealt with outside of the NFC award, is another example, while reflecting back in history. Yet another is that of implementation of the GST on services by the federal government, revenue from which under the constitution should have accrued entirely to the provincial governments. Although these matters are now history given that they have been admirably resolved under NFC 2009, they have nevertheless set a precedent in the past.
Then there is the long-standing issue of tax devolution, towards which the provinces would like to move and policy issues with regard to pros and cons of tax devolution that need to be balanced. All these and other complex issues need policy guidance on an on-going basis. By creating a dedicated intuitional resource for on-going policy guidance to strengthen fiscal federalism, NFC 2009 can have a sustainable impact on other awards in times to come.
The writer is the founder and president of the NGO think tank, Heartfile. Email: sania @heartfile.org
I. THE NEWS
RESOLUTIONS FOR 2010
Amid all the turmoil and carnage, something good seems to be happening in Pakistan, imperceptibly but slowly. The visible indications promising that 2010 will be a year of hope and resurgence are:
1. The major resolve for 2009 "to bring the unfinished business of Chief Justice Iftikhar Ahmad Chaudhry to a closure to the satisfaction of the conscience of the nation" thankfully became a fact of life on March 15, 2009. Subsequent Supreme Court judgments confirmed the cause of justice has been well served by the restoration, the icing on the cake being the fact that the NRO was declared ab initio black as black as can be. From being an abstract hope, accountability of the previously unaccountable may actually be about to become a reality.
2. The magnificent success of the Pakistani army in breaking the back of the militancy in Swat, and subsequently in FATA, symbolised the significant professional turnaround orchestrated by Kayani and company.
3. Probably most important, the first glimmer of realisation by the US (after the Hillary Clinton visit) that Pakistan being crucial to the US war effort in Afghanistan, what matters is support for the democratic system rather than any favourite individual.
The NFC Accord is a major success of the beleaguered Gilani government. This magnificent achievement is integral to the unity of the federation. The pragmatism of financial Czar Shaukat Tarin encouraged the four provinces through their chief ministers to display outstanding cooperation and mutual consideration. Increased expatriate remittances point to a favourable economic environment taking hold. To reinforce this success, the 2010 resolve must be to force-multiply economic regeneration. Reversing the flight of capital will go a long way in creating economic stability.
Countering terrorism remains the major challenge of 2010. The vicious terrorist attacks in 2009 of the most inhumane kind are a desperate attempt to break the public's morale and use the resultant clamour to stop the army's relentless onslaught against the terrorists' strongholds in Swat and South Waziristan. Notwithstanding the tragic loss of innocent lives (symbolised graphically by the suicide bombing of the 10th of Muharram procession in Karachi), the intelligentsia and the masses are absorbing this as a price to be paid for us to be rid of the evil incarnate. Very suspicious was the planned mob attack after the Muharram suicide bomb, which targeted small businesses and deliberately meant to cause widespread economic havoc. Why, and by whom?
A national anti-terrorist mechanism has been finally set up as an independent unity. The 2010 resolve must be to acquire the services of the very best professionals. The hollow rhetoric that terrorism can only be eradicated if efforts are not undercut by political compulsions has now become a standing (but macabre) joke. Incidentally, why is the UN commission investigating Ms Benazir Bhutto's assassination not being allowed to meet the army chief and the former director general of the ISI to ascertain their views about the tragic incident, when neither has reservations about talking to the commission?
President Zardari's speech marking Ms Bhutto's second death anniversary was really disappointing. Was this the same man who raised the "Pakistan Khappay" slogan on Dec. 29, 2007, and limited irreparable damage to the federation by calming the volatile anger on the streets? And why is he intent on trying to provoke the army? Is this a desperate ploy by NRO-affected Zardari associates to confuse an honest-to-goodness judicial verdict by turning it, as Haqqani implied, into "the start of a military coup"? Is the Zardari game plan to somehow provoke the army into reaction, thereby converting their "accused of corruption" status in public and (more importantly) international perception to being a victim of "anti-democratic" forces? That is the thrust of the president's op-ed article in international media!
While things must be on a short fuse and even though one feels "an ultimate provocation" may be in the offing, the army must keep its cool. I don't even dare mention it, lest it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy! The 2010 resolution for the army: confine themselves strictly to their professional military obligations and let the Supreme Court do its job. It is well on course to ridding this country of the corrupt and will not be deterred by all the shenanigans of the NRO beneficiaries. The political posturing and the needless/heedless innuendos by the head of state underscore what was written on Jan 1, 2009, "The office of the president should preferably not be a political one, he (or she) must be directly elected by exercise of adult franchise", unquote.
To be truly credible, accountability must not be selective and should be applicable to all. The corrupt among the judiciary and the armed forces must not escape justice. My Jan 1, 2009, remark on corruption is still applicable on Jan 1, 2010: "Corruption and accountability thereof remain a major challenge. Even-handed accountability of all without exception is a must to strike at the roots of corruption without bias. The National Accountability Board (NAB) must be under the superior judiciary, its anti-corruption mechanism not compromised by selective application for personal and/or political purpose. Justice must be made simple and inexpensive. What is the reason for extremism except lack of fair play in justice and frustration at seeing the corrupt prospering?"
The real tragedy is that the Gilani-led government seems hell-bent on committing political "hari-kari." Putting at risk the goodwill and confidence of the establishment and the opposition parties Yusuf Raza Gilani has gained by his mature politics. If the NRO beneficiaries, most of them Johnny-come-latelys in the PPP, are disassociated from governance. The Gilani-led PPP coalition will survive (and even flourish) for its full five-year term, and that will be good for democracy.
The resolutions for 2010 must seek to improve Pakistan's image "by strengthening political institutions, introducing long-term structural political reforms in our political system so that we are perceived as a stable, sovereign entity, and not a rogue state with nuclear weapons. Broad and pragmatic foreign-policy initiatives are needed, instead of inveterate friends and/or inveterate enemies. We must aim for reasonable balance in our nation-to-nation relationships." The 2010 resolve should be to put the national interest ahead of personal interest (or gain thereof), to remove from public office those working actively to dismember and destroy institutions vital to the State.
The clear and unambiguous Supreme Court resolution for 2010 must be to take suo moto notice of attempts to gamble with the existence of the state by maliciously targeting its vital institutions. The responsibility of governance is a sacred trust that no individual or entity has the right to sacrifice at the altar of personal survival and greed. Can any individual be greater than the nation he (or she) has been given the opportunity by Divine Providence to govern?
The "Resolution for 2010" is the same as that for 2007: "All individuals have a responsibility to the community and to the family. This is force-multiplied manifold for those in power in the country. That responsibility must be used for the good of the people and the nation they govern."
The writer is a defence and political analyst. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
ACCIDENTALLY ON PURPOSE
Mr Zardari has proved us wrong again. When we thought that what mattered to him was not whether he came out on top but whether he came out alive, he told us in Larkana that he preferred to die. He proclaimed that while he respects the ballot, he cares a fig for the bullet. In short, that he, a Zardari, had metamorphosed into a Bhutto.
There was little in Mr Zardari's actual speech that deserves scrutiny, because not once could one detect in it the use of an argument. He appeared to be firing one of those multi-barrelled "Stalin Organs" of Soviet WWII fame in the general direction of the enemy; only this time, instead of pointing up, they seemed pointed down, at his own feet. Alas, the effect was more sad than spectacular. Even the audience of seated jiyalas (imagine jiyalas being seated and behaving sensibly) did not know what to make of it. They clapped tepidly, instead of gyrating furiously, arms akimbo. There was something bogus about the meeting. It seemed imitation PPP; and the poorest of all imitations, at that.
Mr Zardari's critics, who now number in the legions, were quick to allege that his motives for spouting what he did were transparently base and meant solely to divert attention from his own troubles. Indeed, Mr Zardari seems in serious trouble. The ripples of the "consequential" Supreme Court decision are forming a wave which, when it breaks, may sweep him from office. And Mr Zardari, who is neither blind nor deaf, can have few false notions about his popularity. It is not surprising, therefore, that Mr Zardari should appear a worried man, desperately attempting to shape the political battlefield to avoid the fate that many feel is in store for him.
But none should underestimate Mr Zardari. He has proved a consummate tactician and in the past he has played a weak hand well. And here too he is displaying a virtuosity that few expected of him, and that is nothing short of exceptional.
The sentiment that Mr Zardari conveyed in his speech, rather than the words in which they were couched, was arresting. It contained what we have known for a long time but fearfully left unsaid. Namely, that the federation is not working; there is mistrust, bitterness, a sense of injustice on the part of the smaller units and, worse, hopelessness. The fact that Mr Zardari said it because he is slowly being cornered is not relevant. He knew that he would be accused of speaking irresponsibly. He knows that as far as the public is concerned it is better to speak irresponsibly and be right than to speak responsibly and be wrong. The smaller units of the federation do indeed demand a better deal.
Mr Zardari is offering to champion the cause of the smaller provinces. He has made it plain that their only hope of achieving true autonomy is if the government that he leads is allowed to continue in office, and if he is ousted for any reason, then, for Sindh at least, he implicitly warned, the game would no longer be worth the candle. Clearly convinced that desperate times need desperate measures, Mr Zardari is playing the deadly game of political "chicken." He has taken his position squarely in the centre of the road and served notice that he does not intend to budge. Others who wish to use the road either have to give way or wait until he passes. Mr Altaf Hussain has lined up behind him. The Baloch have been waiting there for ages, and the NWFP, or "Paktoonkhwa," as Mr Zardari repeatedly stressed, is preparing to do so.
Hence, Mr Zardari's opponents have a choice either to pass up the challenge or to risk collision and face the consequences. And to signal his resolve not to budge, Mr Zardari had Zulfiqar Mirza say that were it not for his restraining hand on that fateful day, exactly two years ago, Sindh would already be in the throes of revolt. Nor has Mr Zardari left the nation in any doubt about the direction of the threat that he faces. He had Barrister Kamal Azfar say "accidentally on purpose" that the danger posed was from the court and the Americans, while he himself in his speech hinted at the army.
Mr Zardari intends to keep all options on the table for the battle ahead. He certainly does not want to break the federation, but he knows that he will be lost if he appears scared to go to the brink. So he is positioning himself in such a way that although he appears willing to sacrifice the federation, the blame for the breach will be laid on the door of his opponents.
The seeming paranoia and panic that some say have Mr Zardari in their grip is mostly contrived. He remains cool and collected. He knows that the public is aware that many before him, in the same office, did as the Romans do and got away with it. Some were, in fact, lauded and their rule remembered as the halcyon days when Pakistan counted. Their mind-boggling corruption and chicanery to stave off democracy did not bother the courts; nor did treason, not even judicial murder. In fact, one of the culprits who allegedly connived in the murder of Mr Zardari's wife received a guard of honour on his departure. What all these men had in common was that they were not Sindhis. On the other hand, Mr Zardari, an honorary Sindhi, spent 11 years in jails for crimes of which he was never convicted.
As for his critics, Mr Zardari believes that those who spend most of the time designing mausoleums for their enemies may actually end up finding their own bones interred in them. And, being the supreme pragmatist that he is, Mr Zardari believes that if two wrongs do not make a right, why not try three. Because if that buys time for Pakistan to acquire the desperately needed political stability to confront the formidable challenges it faces, then everyone benefits.
Mr Zardari is banking on the fact that his opponents are made of the same stuff as he is. They are birds of a feather albeit that never flocked together. Now they need to, to save Pakistan. He is hoping that they will and, in the process, save his hide. He is right, because so also are the people.
The writer is a former ambassador. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
END OF ANOTHER YEAR
The writer is a freelance columnist and former newspaper editor
The film, '2012', focused around a series of cataclysmic events that according to the ancient Mayan calendar would herald the end of the world by the end of that year has proved remarkably popular in the country. The standard disaster flick has brought people streaming into cinema houses and the spectacular special effects are not the only reason for this.
The events of 2009 have left a deepening sense of gloom which makes it difficult to approach the New Year with much cheer. The fatalism that forms a part of our mindset has reached new heights, and even the interest in the latest doomsday film appears to be centred on such feelings. Sub-consciously there may be a belief that perhaps only the end of the world can bring an end to Pakistan's problems. The encouragement to think along such lines has come through the decades from rulers, allied with clerics, who have seen gain in persuading people that the grim circumstances of their lives are the outcome of fate rather than the failures of state.
As we exit 2009, we find ourselves staring at what could be another crisis of democracy. Despite the overt exchange of pleasantries, the PPP and the PML-N are said essentially to be at odds. As had been predicted by the tongue-in-cheek skits put on by television channels in 2008, when Asif Ali Zardari and Mian Nawaz Sharif swore ever-lasting friendship, a breakdown in trust has pulled the two parties apart.
Within the PML-N, for reasons that are not difficult to comprehend, there is a growing reluctance to believe anything the PPP says. The party's stubborn refusal to go beyond rhetoric on issues such as the scrapping of the 17th Amendment is one valid reason for this. For its part, the PPP has reverted to conspiracy theories, with the 'pro-Punjab' PML-N cast in the role of villain, out to cease power. It is impossible to say where fact and fiction separate. The national security bogie looms once more; its shadows continue to lengthen.
The process is wafted breezily along by inanity. The latest demonstration of this has come from the Sindh home minister, who says he and other party members had planned the 'break-up' of Pakistan after the December 27th, 2007 assassination of Benazir Bhutto. It transpires that this extraordinary comment constitutes an especially sycophantic effort to depict Asif Ali Zardari as a hero by casting him in the role of the man who prevented this. That we have descended to such levels of absurdity is deeply depressing.
So too is the fact that, as Benazir's second death anniversary was marked, we are no closer to solving the riddle of her murder. Despite the fact that her party has held office since March 2008, there has been no headway in the investigation of a killing that shook a nation. TV anchormen have unveiled more details than our police and agencies. The questions that were asked in 2007 continue to be asked now.
There is doubt as to whether the facts will ever come to the surface, or whether the crime at Liaquat Bagh will join the list of unsolved mysteries that stud our history. Her party now says a monument to Benazir, which will cost Rs1 billion, is to be built at the site where she died. This is no less than a crime in a country where hunger, poverty, illiteracy and ignorance seep in to create a sea of human misery. The news that the mystery of the illness that had crippled at least 200 children in the fishing villages of Rehri Goth, on the outskirts of Karachi, has been 'solved' has been presented by the Sindh government as 'good news'. But is this really the case?
Experts say malnutrition, genetic disease and lack of awareness had contributed to the distorted bones and abnormal growths afflicting the children. They say in other villages, many more such children can be found. The images of the children laid out on reed mats is evidence of the extent of the neglect of people and the inability of the state to bring about any improvement in their lives over six decades after the country was created.
This failure is responsible too for the militancy that still threatens us all. In thousands of homes across the country the victims of suicide bombings continue to be mourned. It is relatively easy to point fingers; to blame what we are seeing on outside intervention in our country.
But we have largely contributed to the violence ourselves by stripping people of hope or in any confidence of a meaningful future for themselves and their children. And while debate over the US role in the country continues, we hear all kinds of conspiracy theories. Reducing matters to the most simplistic, US columnists hold that 'anti-American' feelings in Pakistan are promoted by the media and by elements that back the militants.
These ingenuous theories forget that Washington's backing for military dictatorship in Pakistan is one reason for its present crisis and one factor behind the lack of willingness of people to trust the US. The last of these dictators quit office just a year and a half ago. He continues to comment smugly on events in Pakistan from London.
During his nine-year reign, during which we heard much talk about tackling extremism, the Taliban entrenched their position, militancy prospered in places outside the north, the gap between the rich and poor continued to widen and the military developed closer links with politics even as mainstream parties were undermined.
This is a legacy we take with us into 2010. The failure of the government to draw people closer to it, to offer them a share in decision-making, has exacerbated the problems we face. The challenge for the coming year is to find a way out of the dark corridors of the maze we have built, to end the fatalism that grips us and to aspire like the Mayans to build a civilisation based on wisdom and knowledge, rather than focus on prophecies of doom with which we seem to have become increasingly obsessed.
I. THE NEWS
NEW YEAR IN SWAT
Recently, in a meeting with the Hotel Association of Swat, the army decided to celebrate New Year with a festival to invite tourists to Swat. The hotels scattered in the valley will offer them free lodging. It was decided that the festival will begin on New Year's Eve and would go on till January 10. Visitors would be provided with all necessary security and would undergo screening at the entry point to the city. Quite possibly, many tourists will not visit, but hopefully many will come to enjoy the snowfall; and many would certainly love to see the place. The people of Swat are hopeful that a large number of guests will visit the beautiful valley despite the winter. People also expect that they will not suffer much in the name of security in areas where the visitors would go.
The move should be well advertised via the media. The people of the country can be urged to come to Swat to show their support for the locals who have gone through a great deal owing to the insurgency.
Things seem to be okay now but one has to wonder if those days when jubilant Lahorites would come to Swat to celebrate will ever return? Those days when they used to come and play bhangra in the bazaars of Bahrain and Kalam. Gone are the days when girls from the universities and colleges would rush to Swat and celebrate their birthdays there. We have seen many such great times when we would enjoy the car drives in full moon on the Swat roads running between lush green fields and orchards. Many a honeymoon couple would come to Swat to celebrate the beginning of a new life. Sadly, Swat has also seen the days when their women were publicly lashed when beheaded bodies were found strung over the poles each morning.
We have really experienced the Kabul of 1995 in Swat. During the rule of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the only entertainment for the people seemed to be the daily lashing and beheading at the playgrounds in Kabul. We have also witnessed such scenes in Swat when the children would gather and watch the lashing for recreation. Kabul was described during that period as an 'entertainment-starved capital'. We in Swat were also forced to entertain ourselves with songs about brutality and with sickening videos of butchering and lashing.
The people of Swat now deserve all kinds of entertainment. To provide them with such occasions will provide them with some much-needed respite. Having said, we still remain fearful as much needs to be done in Swat. It is winter now in the region. We don't expect too much from our fellow Pakistanis except for support. Hopefully, our economic conditions will improve when spring comes and the orchards of the region begin to bloom. In the words of Shelley: "The trumpet of a prophecy! O Wind, If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?"
The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: ztorwali@ gmail.com