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Sunday, January 10, 2010

EDITORIAL 06.01.10

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month  january 06, edition 000396, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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









































  1. ON TOUR



























The news from Bihar couldn't get any better. The State, which had lagged behind everybody else during the years when Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi ruled it with scant regard for development and growth and had become a symbol of stark poverty, rampant corruption and unchecked lawlessness, has begun the arduous journey to recovery. The latest data released by CSO shows Bihar's economy has grown at an impressive annual rate of 11.03 per cent between 2004-05 and 2008-09, which is marginally lower than Gujarat's phenomenal 11.05 per cent rate of growth. The miracle story coincides with the coming to power of the JD(U)-BJP Government headed by Mr Nitish Kumar. It would be easy to pick holes in Bihar's success story by pointing out that it still lags way behind other prosperous States on two crucial indicators of economic well-being: State Domestic Product and per capita income. But that would be tantamount to missing the woods for the trees. It is nobody's claim, least of all the State Government's, that Bihar has joined the 'big boys club'. Yet, it cannot be denied that the State can no longer be written off as a basket case and a drain on the national economy, as it was till the Lalu-Rabri years came to a close. What Mr Nitish Kumar and his colleagues have demonstrated is that good governance, born of political commitment and determination to do that which is right for the people, can deliver results. The crackdown on crime and corruption have also contributed to Bihar's growth story. If the trend continues, along with the encouraging rate of growth in other 'BIMARU' States, then a big step would have been taken in crossing the hump in fighting underdevelopment and its attendant ills, most notably poverty, illiteracy and social inequity.

Good governance, however, must not be devoid of good politics without which inclusive growth of all sections of society is not possible. While Mr Nitish Kumar has reason to celebrate his success in revitalising Bihar's economy and disproving critics, he must also focus on ground level realities which are fashioned, to a large measure, by the politics of those in power. Excessive emphasis on certain castes and communities at the expense of others can rebound on both the JD(U) and the BJP. In a caste-sensitive State like Bihar — it's a social reality which cannot be wished away, nor can it be supplanted with the new economic reality — the JD(U) and the BJP have to be mindful about not alienating any segment of society. If that were to happen, those who feel left out would retaliate by voting against the ruling alliance more out of pique than any logical reason. If some of them find the alternative unacceptable for a variety of reasons, they will stay home on voting day. This will greatly facilitate parties like the RJD and the LJP, which have no stake in Bihar's development and growth and have done their best to hold back the State, to regain the ground they have lost since 2004. If this were to happen, it would be truly tragic for Bihar, its people and the nation. Of course, economics alone cannot decide the choice of the masses — elections are often won and lost for reasons that are grounded in perception rather than reality. If the perception of the JD(U) — as well as the BJP — practising exclusive caste politics gains ground, then the reality of Bihar's remarkable economic growth will be brushed aside. That would be a shame and a pity.






The impressive conclave of former and present MPs and MLAs of Gujarat held on the first day of the year to mark the beginning of year-long celebrations in honour of the State completing 50 years since its creation in 1960, went well beyond an ordinary political function. Five hundred fifty retired and active politicians cutting across party lines graced the occasion to celebrate 'Swarnim Gujarat'. Though the State celebrates its 50th Foundation Day on May 1, the Swarnim Gujarat Sansadiya Parishad used the opportunity to adopt a resolution calling for political unity to further Gujarat's development. Chief Minister Narendra Modi emphasised on the 'Narmada spirit' to urge his peers to rise above political rivalries. He recalled the unity that was displayed by the people of Gujarat during the construction of the Narmada dam to stress the point that differences in political ideologies should not hold Gujarat's progress to ransom. Although there are many who would sweep aside the sentiment as rhetoric of the kind that is not uncommon on such occasions, the idea that politicians from every section of the political spectrum should work together for the welfare of the people is something that should not be dismissed as too idealistic. That so many legislators could set aside their political affiliations and share a common platform, albeit on an apolitical agenda, should fuel the imagination of our leaders as to the possibility of such political unity across the country at both the State and national levels.

If one thinks about it what Mr Modi has proposed is nothing outlandish. Most of the policy decisions that our legislators make have little to do with political ideology. Irrespective of whether one is on the Left or Right of the political divide, the basic thinking on issues such as education, healthcare, national security, infrastructure development, agriculture growth, land reforms, etc, is pretty much the same. It is only the execution of the policies that differs. In such a scenario, why is it not possible for those in Government and Opposition to sit together and jointly contribute to the development of the nation? This would certainly remove the roadblocks in policy-making that are a perennial feature of Indian politics by streamlining the entire process and making policy decisions more holistic. For example, if the Government and the Opposition were to sit together and work out a common strategy for India on the climate change issue, the country would have been spared the numerous flip-flops at Copenhagen as well as been in a stronger position to deal with the problem of global warming. The practice would also disperse accountability over a larger section of the polity, making the process of policy-making more transparent and representative. Granted, all of this requires a large vision and a good amount of political will. Mr Modi has shown he has both in equal measure.



            THE PIONEER



The buzz in the air is that by extending the hand of friendship to Pakistan soon, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is out to make history, a distinction that eluded him in his first term. He had previously done so from Srinagar, Amritsar, Havana and Sharm el-Sheikh but without any follow-up action. New Delhi has doggedly resisted resumption of dialogue with Pakistan, despite repeated requests from its leaders who are saying Mr Singh has reneged on his commitment at Sharm el-Sheikh to delink dialogue from terrorism.

Why is Pakistan keen to revive the composite dialogue ? Some reasons being mentioned are that it wants to throw a smoke-screen over the David Coleman Headley trail which has recently led to three serving Pakistani Army officers. The ruling establishment wants to show that the civilian Government is as effective as the military in resuming talks with India. Further, it says that reopening official channels will relax the perception of Indian threat on its eastern flank.

At a Afghanistan-Pakistan-India trilateral conference in Kabul recently, Pakistani Senator from Peshawar Afrasiyab Khattak noted that early revival of India-Pakistan talks will enable Islamabad to be more focussed in its fight against the Taliban. Although New Delhi has not communicated any benchmarks for starting talks, it seeks the conviction of the seven Mumbai culprits which Islamabad has said it will be able to obtain by February. Action against Hafiz Saeed, banning Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h and dismantling the terrorist infrastructure have become legacy demands.

Sources in the Home Ministry are skeptical about an early conviction, saying three of the seven booked are alibis for the real culprits and have been paid Rs 3 lakh each. Is there a change of heart in Pakistan ? After three back-to-back Track II meetings with Pakistanis in New Delhi, Singapore and Kabul last month, some progress can be reported. Whether the recent spurt in suicide terrorism has altered the disposition of the Army and the ISI towards the Taliban remains doubtful, as they continue making a distinction between 'good' and 'bad' Taliban.

The Government, civil society and lay public are no longer in denial and many are saying tauba (enough) — "our own pets have started biting us". They admit that the country is in deep trouble with the trouble spreading, and add: "Things are bound to get a lot worse before they get better." The message is: Anyone who can help the civilian Government will help the cause of democracy in Pakistan. Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari said that political forces want the ISI to be brought under civilian control but the matter has been shelved for now.

On New Year's Day, India and Pakistan promptly exchanged lists of nuclear installations, reaffirming the commitment not to attack them. India-Pakistan cooperation in multilateral fora is common, especially in United Nations Peace-keeping Operations. Not long ago, IAF helicopters rescued a beleaguered Pakistani patrol in Congo. Their contingents have worked happily abroad under each others' officials.

Yet, when it comes to Afghanistan, Pakistani daggers are drawn to circumscribe India's perceived over-ingress. Several Pakistanis have rubbished the concept of strategic depth, especially after the nuclear balance. Equally, there are not many Pakistani takers except the ISI for the return of 'good' Taliban to Kabul. Afghans and Indians reject the concept of good Taliban except those laying down arms and swearing allegiance to the Constitution.

In Afghanistan too, there is evidence of India-Pakistani cooperation. Accompanying the Indians, Pakistani delegates were smuggled past Afghan security into Kabul's most popular Taliban-proof pub, posing as 'kafirs'. Siachen, Wullar, Tulbul and even Kashmir were solved before dawn. Pakistanis give mixed signals on Kashmir. Many say after Gen Pervez Musharraf it is no longer the core issue,though its settlement will un-knot Pakistan's eastern flank to allow the military to expand the war in the west.

At present, Gen Asfaq Parvez Kayani is telling the Americans he does not have the troops to take the war into other tribal areas. Pakistan is dragging its feet in mounting a fresh offensive on North Waziristan for fear of annoying its ally, the Haqqani network. Have no illusions, the Pakistani Army will not take on the Taliban even after Kashmir is resolved and India provides strategic assurance on the eastern border without US reassurance that it will not cut and run.

Over the last one year, 27 and 39 Mountain Divisions were de-inducted from Jammu & Kashmir to their permanent locations but this has not impressed Pakistan. It could pull out at least two to three divisions deployed against India without suffering any military adversity.

Pakistan is seeking assurances from India not just on the inviolability of its eastern borders but also in Balochistan. The first ever discussion on Balochistan at Singapore, thanks to Sharm el-Sheikh, turned out to be a major embarrassment when the Baloch speaker blamed Islamabad for all their woes, putting it down to wrong policies, misgovernance and stealing its gas, copper and gold. He warned that Balochistan was a Bangladesh waiting to happen.

Yet Pakistan blames India and Afghanistan for fuelling the insurgency. The R&AW is blamed for training 600 Baloch dissidents in Afghanistan, supplying arms and providing funds. When the US Ambassador to Pakistan, Ms Ann Patterson was questioned about Indian involvement, she said, "Pakistan has not shared any intelligence regarding India or else we would take action". The US reportedly has a network of 40,000 informants with satellite phones all over Pakistan and would know of the Indian hand. The Afghan Army Chief, Gen Bismillah Khan says that Pakistan has been periodically alleging that Afghan helicopters have been supplying weapons to Baloch insurgents which is not true. Recently, Pakistani Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani shared with Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif details of India's Baloch dossier and advised confronting India with a copy to the UN.

Pakistan is in trouble for selectively trying to prevent its Talibanisation. The choice for India is between letting Pakistan stew in its own juice or reaching out. Waiting for convictions of Mumbai terrorists could prove to be a long wait, exceeding the needlessly extended Operation Parakram after the attack on Parliament.

Pounded by unstoppable human bombers, Pakistanis naively ask: "What will satisfy India"? On New Year's Day, Aman ki Asha, an Indo-Pakistani peace project gave an emotional answer,ending with "Reach out." Mr Singh missed the opportunity in 2006 to settle the Kashmir issue with Gen Musharraf, on terms favourable to India. Even with a high possibility of failure, he should give it a try again.







GDP is an attempt to measure what is going on in our society, which is market production. It is what I call GDP fetishism to think that success in that part is success for the economy and society," says Joseph Stiglitz, Chair of the Commission on Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress. In 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, dissatisfied with the available tools of economic assessment and concerned about the increasing gap between the information contained in aggregate GDP data and what counts for common people's well-being, created the commission chaired by Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen. The commission, which submitted its report in September last year, highlighted the urgent need to broaden the coverage of economic statistics in light of the recent global financial crisis. The authors argued that those attempting to guide the economy and our societies are like pilots trying to steer a course without a reliable compass.

Hitherto the single-minded fixation of policymakers the world over to increase GDP, which they have mistaken for an index of economic well-being, has led to several wrong decisions. GDP is measured using market prices. Given the bubbles in the prices of assets, GDP sends out misleading signals. Thus, what we have been measuring so far is wrong and makes little sense.

The main message of the commission's report is that the time has come for us to shift our focus from measuring economic production to measuring people's well-being — a concept which the Kingdom of Bhutan has been proposing for sometime now.

Conventional measures of GDP attribute better economic performance — higher income and growth — to a harder-working and unhappier society as compared to a society that chooses to limit consumption of material goods and enjoys more leisure. GDP also takes no account of depreciation and non-market activities. The commission proposed various dashboards of indicators that will allow people to construct different composite indices.

Nonetheless, though the commission gives a comprehensive assessment of the limitations of existing data, its findings have made a very modest contribution to an old debate. GDP has been lambasted for years but we still have not found a globally acceptable alternative. That said, it cannot be denied that the report is timely in light of the global financial crisis. Hopefully, policymakers will realise the heavy price the world has paid for their 'GDP fetishism'.







Pregnant women with food cravings are meant to be promptly catered to, with the reassurance that they are eating for two. And the creation of family units, as in father, mother, child, traditionally brings on a glow of satisfaction in the human condition wherever we happen to live and breathe.

It is the nesting instinct, an ideal of domestic bliss, a nurturing and civilising tendency. It has meaning, truth, stability and posterity embedded within its swaddling clothes. In harsher times no one stopped at one baby, they often didn't stop at a dozen, letting age and obsolescence take care of the big decisions, and natural selection take care of the fates.

And if many still don't do so, especially in populous India slated to become the most populous country in the world by 2020, it is currently viewed as an expression of essential freedom and individual preference.

This is not surprising as it turns out, given the benefits of our demographic dividend. Nations too are, in a sense, a conglomeration of family units with many of the same impulses multiplied manifold. And survival, growth and proliferation are vital to both. We already have the world's largest human resource pool of people less than 35 years of age, and this vibrancy will be ground reality till at least 2035, accounting for much of our success in a twist to the Marxist dogma about labour. And this, while the rest of the world ages and suffers declining population.

Today India's gargantuan and growing population represents actual and potential demand. We are no longer afraid of starvation given the effects of greater prosperity, globalisation, international and local advances in agriculture, its mechanisation, irrigation, bio-technology, communication, supercomputers, satellites, other technological advances and efficiencies.

And neither is the world. China, our Asian competitor in the population stakes, now probably rues its Mao-era one-child policy, with all its linear suppositions and Malthusian flaws, even as it shakes its rapidly greying head in the midst of its new found power and wealth. But it will be a geriatric China that is going from strength to strength.

At the start of decade two of the 21st century, independent India's 60 plus years, its one-trillion dollar economy is headed firmly towards three trillion before this decade ends.

We all need to internalise the implications of this altogether well reasoned projection. If we do so we won't make the mistake of judging the future with the yardstick of the past. Because it is otherwise easy to be unaware of the relentless entwining of economics in our daily lives. And as things stand, we can fail to realise the message of immense hope wrapped up in its probable benefits.

Of course, things will cost more and more, but when the nation gets richer, more and more of us will get richer with it, and over time, many amongst us will be able to afford not only the lifestyle we have at present but many aspects of our aspirational lives as well. So much so, that we are likely to take our progress for granted, and find ourselves seamlessly aiming ever higher.

The key driver of this high growth for the next 20 years will not be, principally, consumption, as it has been in America for the second half of the 20th century and more; though we are certainly a fast-growing and domestic market driven economy. But, right now the numbers reflect the focussed investment in infrastructure and power which accounts for about 40 per cent of GDP.

This is up from some 26 per cent a few years ago. But that erstwhile 26 per cent used to be distributed across a large band of industry, while infrastructure languished, usually resulting in inadequacies of various kinds amongst the beneficiaries, not to mention its muted impact on growth as a whole.

In contrast, this 40 per cent of GDP investment in infrastructure and power, albeit largely private sector investment, aided and supported by foreign investment, is boosting our annual growth figures. Even though, this bout of development is only going to meet a proportion of the pent up demand of a one-trillion dollar economy grown up from half a billion a decade ago.

In other words, we are not as yet eating for two, let alone three. Our quantum investments on upgrading, modernising and infrastructure, will have to rise year on year if we are to keep pushing that ever present bottle-neck further down the turnpike. The coming decade will remain a race between growth and the seizure engendered by a full dress bazaar style logjam.

Western economies have a different history. They have transited from the harshness of a medieval existence, riches via Empire segueing into the evils of a Dickensian/Victorian Industrial Revolution, and then onwards through two World Wars and the end of the Class Divide. They went on through the shortcomings of the brave new world of socialism/communism to welfare statism and a more supervised version of capitalism now.

India is catching up to prosperity via a very different route and experience. We are post-colonials, post feudal — up to a point, post-caste, post-socialism, secularist, but most importantly, we are standing at the threshold of post being defined by our poverty. We are, therefore, in a good, if unexpected place.

And unexpectedly again, if one recalls the assumptions of our early planning processes, we didn't get here by growing our agricultural productivity as a bigger chunk of GDP. We did grow it enough to feed many more of ourselves though and generate surpluses too.

Neither did we get here via boosting manufacturing particularly, though the proverbial fat lady has by no means sung in this regard. Emerging trends in areas such as small car manufacture and auto components seem to suggest good times ahead. We have grown over the last decade, almost by default, mostly on the back of our services and software sectors.

But future growth may come from currently inadequate education and healthcare, supplemented with incremental growth and sophistication in everything, from agriculture using genetically-modified seeds, to manufacturing where we are turning into global hubs for selected things, and from new areas such as bio-technology and drug discovery. We will also have to see further productivity gains, and show greater evidence of innovation, design engineering, confidence and quality.







Touted as a 'hallmark event' because it entails dramatic upgradation of civic amenities in the host city, preparations for the Commonwealth Games seem to have become the hallmark of unilateral decision-making and anti-people policies. In the wake of litigation by environmentalists against the choice of the site for the Games Village on the Yamuna riverbed and flood plains, one might have expected the Delhi Government and concerned agencies to be more circumspect. However, they continue to blunder along, trampling on Constitutional assurances and public sentiments. The prevailing cynicism reminds one of the run-up to the 1982 Asian Games, intended by the Congress Government to showcase the capital, but, instead, drawing flak because of the immense wastage of public money on building sports stadia that are still sparsely used; displacement of people and ham-handed execution of public works; and, above all, pervasive failure to promote a sporting culture.

In the present instance too, the most vital aspect of the event — selection of athletes and other sportspersons and their training — has become peripheral to other concerns, related to expeditious completion of transport links, and sporting, residential and hospitality infrastructure. The games really boil down to a building boom. And thereby hangs a tale that could rouse the most placid citizen to fury. As if the damage wreaked and lives claimed by the ill-conceived BRT corridor were not enough, other questionable initiatives need to be highlighted. India is not a rugby-playing nation. Cricket and football matches can draw huge crowds but not rugby. Yet, a rugby stadium is being built on the Delhi University campus over the past one year, much to the consternation of students, faculty and staff, as well as residents of Cavalry Lane, the gracious old world locality, near the venue. Not only have people been terribly inconvenienced, with approach roads in a shambles, phone lines dead, and so on, but the very character of the area irrevocably altered.

However, residents should be thankful that they have not been rendered homeless for the 10-day event this October. Those already homeless, like the wretched people who resorted to the night shelter at the Pusa Road roundabout in a bid to survive the cold. Last month, they found themselves deprived even of this rudimentary refuge. It was pulled down by the civic authorities during a beautification drive. One destitute man subsequently died. Nothing could be more unkind. This then is the Government that cares, invoking before each election the constitutional promise to make India a nation of equals, and to provide succour to the homeless and deprived, whose numbers seem to be swelling despite State proclamations of the country hurtling towards economic greatness. Enraged rights activists then tried to corner Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit on this issue, finally compelling her to tour the city's night shelters and arrange for more blankets. Chiding her for such excesses, perpetrated on the hapless by civic agencies, they urged the Government to turn Delhi into a "caring" city before trying to make it a "world-class" city. In their view, prioritising elitist urban concerns indicated the Government's policy to "marginalise and criminalise the city's poor and homeless". The Congress regime was similarly castigated at the time of the Asiad but seems to have learnt nothing from the past as it succumbs to hubris.

This time, the concerned authorities appear to be willing to go to any lengths in an effort to please. Delhi Chief Secretary Rakesh Mehta is reported to have said that special food items would be imported for guests and sportspersons. Beef, which is taboo in our Hindu-majority country, would also be imported. This is utterly shocking since no Government here or its functionaries are expected to provide beef for people at a public event. Is the corollary of this move that India should turn into a beef-eating nation just because the number of foreign visitors will keep growing? No Islamic country would ever consider importing pork, taboo for Muslims, to feed foreigners at a sports meet or some other event. The MCD move should be immediately aborted before India becomes totally servile.

And while on food, will wine, women/men and music also get their due? Media reports suggest that informal sanction has been given for escort services to cater to the needs of participants in the Games, official delegates and visitors looking for pleasure. There have been reports of how these agencies are working over time to meet the expected demand. If this were to happen, Delhi would then have truly become a world-class city!








Meghnad Desai's The Rediscovery of India begins with the advent of Vasco da Gama, as if anything earlier was jahilya or darkness. The presumption is that the Portuguese adventurer inaugurated the contact of India with the rest of the globe. That Mohammed-bin-Qasim arrived in Sind in 712 AD, that Mahmud Ghazni visited India 19 times, that Mohammed Ghori interacted with Prithviraj Chauhan in the last decade of the 12th century and whoever else came to India before that, in between, and after, is discounted. Why this partiality for the White man or the European ? In Desai's own words on page 16: "My argument in this book is that many of India's problems lie in a flawed understanding of its own history. Both nationalist and British historians have contributed to this process. Like a patient with a psychological problem, India needs to revisit its birth traumas as a nation. The remedy may be quite radical if one is to rearrange the patient's psyche so s/he can be well again".

Whether India is the psychological patient or the author, needs to be gone into. The outstanding fundament of Islam is that Allah is the only god. How then can his momin or faithful consider having a religious debate with kafirs or non-believers? Incidentally, the word kafir has evolved out of the word kufr or blasphemy. On page 30 the author praises Akbar's inauguration of marrying Hindu princesses as a signal of tolerance. But this tradition did not extend to a reciprocation by the marriage of Muslim princesses to Rajput rajas. The Mughal household had plenty of unmarried princesses. For example, all the three daughters of Shah Jahan — Jahanara, Roshanara and Gauharara — remained unmarried.

Desai says that by 1909 the Congress had failed to construct a narrative of Indian nationhood which was inclusive of diverse religions. He has obviously overlooked the 1887 Congress resolution passed under the presidentship of Badruddin Tyabji that no subject of Muslim interest could be discussed by the party without the prior unanimous concurrence of the Muslim representatives. Desai argues that in 1940 Mohammed Ali Jinnah was not bargaining for a separate nation state; he was brokering for minority rights. This is what Jinnah said in his presidential speech at the Lahore session of the league: "The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different civilisations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. To yoke together two such nations under a single state...must lead to growing discontent and final destruction of any fabric."

The Rediscovery of India is a work by the ignorant, of the innocent, for the unfortunate interested. The author has referred to Sir Aga Khan but incorrectly. He is stated to have met Lord Morley in 1907 whereas the fact was that he led a delegation of 35 eminent Muslims to Viceroy Lord Minto at Shimla in October 1906 and had, inter alia, asked for separate electorates. Has Desai had the opportunity to read the letter of January 24, 1888, written by Syed Ahmed Khan to Badruddin Tyabji wherein he wrote, "I object to every Congress in any shape or form whatever which regards India as one nation on account of its being based on wrong principles, viz that, it regards the whole of India as one nation. Probably you will not like my ideas and therefore I hope you will excuse me for venturing to write so much."

The American scholar, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, wrote, "It was primarily the Indian Muslims who were responsible for the emergence of the new state (Pakistan) and therefore also for the consequent position of their community on the Indian side of the frontier. The Pakistanis followed and accepted, but the Indian Muslims led and created."Prof SM Ikram wrote that the ground for Muslim separation was prepared when Islam entered the sub-continent. According to Prof Francis Robinson of England, the Uttar Pradesh Muslims were at the heart of Muslim separation supported by some Bombay-based co-religionists like Jinnah.

Despite leaving out these and many other sources, Desai writes, "Lack of a single story of why India should be considered a single nation was at the heart of Partition of India." Contrast this with what Sardar KM Panikkar said in his famous Survey of Indian History, "Indian history is of necessity, predominantly the history of the Hindu people... the Hindus still constitute over 80 per cent of her population. Besides, what is distinctly Indian has so far been Hindu."






Could anything be more pristine, more awe-inspiring and more magnificent than the mighty Himalayas? We sometimes forget that we have been blessed with formidable and exquisite mountains, though they come under one of the most highly sensitive ecological zones in the sub-continent. Sadly, the tenuous ecological balance of the Himalayan region is jeopardised by unplanned, almost reckless development and exploitation of its natural resources

Let us take one indicator of this fast-paced destruction — melting glaciers. Not long back, perhaps two or three decades ago, the Himalayas stood like our sentinels with its snow-covered mountains and glaciers intact.

But today, snow-covered mountains, according to geologists, are only 35 per cent of the range which in 1986 was 85 per cent. The glaciers are receding at faster rates than expected. Droughts, earthquakes, floods and landslides are some of the visible signs of the degradation that is eroding this zone. The people living in immediate plains are already suffering and are more likely to do so in future. The Himalayan climate, always considered salubrious is now polluted. Once mosquito-free, the Himalayan valley is now seeing people affected by malaria and dengue.

For the people of Uttarakhand this degradation is not an academic question or a point to be pondered over but a grim reality. For 80 per cent of the population living in rural areas, basic needs are water, land and forests. The economy and environment sustain on this which in turn is sustained by the judicious use of natural resources. Sadly, these resources are now being plundered in the name of development.

With agriculture bearing the brunt, a domino effect on livelihoods and migration can be felt. With rural people migrating due to shrinking incomes in agriculture, villages are deserted, lands are dried and barren.

Unfortunately, those who are at the helm of affairs are unconcerned. Worse, they are conniving with industrial interests to plunder the State. Why is it that every year forests are 'systematically' set on fire and crores of rupees change hands in the name of fire fighting? Every year, this 'fire' claims large tracts of forestland. Pushed out of their natural habitat, animals venture into human habitat for food.

Why is it that once the embers have died down, a move towards 'afforestation' is mooted? For people living in the area all this is a routine farce.

Instead of planting bamboo, which stores water, eucalyptus that draws out water from all around leaving the ground dry is planted. Uttarakhand has been blessed by sufficient water reserves and natural ponds but such mindless plantation is proving to be detrimental and is drastically reducing the ground-water levels. The development paradigm adopted by the State is only adding to the problem. More than 220 water power project are currently underway in 14 rivers of Uttarakhand. This means the gigantic amounts of debris generated goes into the rivers ruining them beyond any redeemable limits.

So while India and the world has been in the throes of negotiating terms for climate change accord at Copenhagen, the precious Himalayas are being plundered, gradually destroyed.

Mahesh Pandey, a social worker, said, "If you want to save the Himalayan environment, not only ancient literature needs to be studied but it should also become a part of current syllabus. We have to encourage people to think. Materialism and consumerism has destroyed the environmental and social structure. We have to study environmental realities before implementing any project."

Pandey's words echo across this beautiful and now a beleaguered region and would find a resonance amongst thousands of people living in the lap of what has been one of the most pristine lands. The writing on the wall is clear: Unless a meaningful initiative to save the Himalayan environment is not taken on time, a terrible future awaits us all.








THE suicide of 12- year- old Mumbai schoolgirl and dancer Neha Sawant, for allegedly being deprived of television stardom after her parents pulled her out of her dance classes, is as much a reflection of our society as the girl's desperation.


Parents have traditionally pushed their children to achieve great heights in their chosen field. There is nothing wrong in encouraging your child, and indeed, in the case of Neha Sawant, the parents perhaps did the right thing by pulling her out of her dance classes to try and contain her desire to be famous on television. Instead, they thought, Neha should concentrate on her school work, in which she was reportedly showing a fall in grades.


So, who is to really blame for Neha killing herself? At 12, a child is hardly at an age to understand the consequences of her actions, however extreme or subtle they may be. Yet, it is also true that at 12, a typical urban child is exposed to several hours of television every day where even minimal camera footage can change lives and give instant fame to those who are lucky enough be at the right place at the right time.


While it was commendable that Neha's parents wanted to moderate her reported desperation for fame, where they may have probably failed is in not obtaining requisite professional help for her. Children of the 21st century are exposed to far many more influences than they were even a generation or two ago. Therefore, steering a child's thinking in the right direction is an extremely tough job. But it is also a job that's got to be done.







HOW we take care of those who are helpless and have nowhere to go could be taken as an acid test of our state as a nation and people. And it hardly needs any guesswork to realise that we fare pathetically by any benchmark. As highlighted by MAIL TODAY , the death of at least 13 people in the last one month in an observation home for the mentally challenged in the capital should shock any civilised human being, leave alone the authorities responsible. That they have been slumbering is evident from their description of the deaths as ' natural' , though most of them could be attributed to the inhuman and unhygienic conditions prevailing at the facility.


Those taking care of the inmates must no doubt explain these deaths, but there is an obvious problem with the infrastructure.


In place of the 350 people that the Asha Kiran complex in Rohini is supposed to house, there are over 740 people living in it. Human rights teams that have visited the centre describe it as an ' overcrowded cage'. There is also an acute shortage of staff to take care of the inmates.


The Delhi Commission for Protection of Child Rights, which had reported that nearly 75 inmates died at the home between 2004 and 2008, has pointed out that its repeated calls for improving the situation elicited no positive response from the government's social welfare department.


The minister concerned owes an explanation on this count. Work on the new home being built for the purpose must also be expedited. Further, the department must put in the public domain details of how funds allotted for such homes have been expended, which could then be crosschecked by activist groups.






SO, the government has stripped molester police officer S. P. S. Rathore of his Police Medal. No one will object to that. But it would be germane to point out that the action appears self- serving in the light of the fact that the same system that awarded him the medal did everything to harass the Girhotra family and was, in a sense, complicit in Ruchika's suicide.


It is no secret that the so- called meritorious service medals are anything but that, be they for the police, the civil service or the armed forces. An enormous amount of lobbying and influence peddling accompanies any award list.


It may be a good idea to dispense with them altogether so that you will never have the embarassment of having to take away a medal for moral turpitude.







PRIME MINISTER Manmohan Singh is right: " If India has to re- emerge as a knowledge power in the 21st Century, then it can only be through developing a strong capability in science and technology." But his prescription for attaining the capabilities was something of a cop- out. The Prime Minister has usually held the Cabinet portfolio for science and technology and Dr Singh claims that under the United Progressive Alliance, the government has invested heavily in expanding and upgrading the S& T and innovation system in the country; indeed, as he put it, " we have worked hard to do what is good for science." Unfortunately, that good is not good enough. As the PM himself opined, Indian science is riddled with bureaucratism, favouritism and a " know it all" attitude. It has been impervious to government efforts to reform its system. A major example of the failure of Indian science has been its inability to support Indian agriculture effectively, despite the huge investments and extensive system of laboratories and institutions that were created for the purpose. This failure is costing the country dear, and will cost it more as the country finds itself unable to boost productivity, or cope with the challenges arising out of the vagaries of climate change.


The Prime Minister's speech listed out a host of initiatives: the new solar mission to boost solar generation capacity to 20,000 MW by 2020, the technology mission for " winning, augmentation and renovation ( war)" of our water resources, the Geo- spatial Technology Applications Mission to promote crop planning and monitoring as well as flood management and so on. In keeping with its proclivity for slogans, the government has declared 2010- 2020 as the Decade of Innovations with a view of obtaining " out of the box" solutions for Indian problems in the area of economic growth, as well as healthcare, energy, urban infrastructure, water management and so on.



But there is one problem. These schemes have to be implemented.


And, the instrumentalities the country has for the purpose are blunt. Dr Singh did say that he had taken note of Nobel laureate, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan's comment about " the need for greater ' autonomy from red tape and local politics' for Indian scientists." But merely taking note is not enough. Nor will it do any good, as Dr Singh suggested, " to have our scientific institutions introspect" on the issue of autonomy and propose solutions.


The government is virtually the monopoly investor in S& T in this country. It is the task of the government to come up with solutions.


Rarely are institutions capable of self- reform, and Indian science which has been ossified for several decades now, will not even be able to introspect, leave alone implement schemes for reform. For one thing, most of those who are being asked to introspect will deny that there is any problem at all.


Actually reform is probably the wrong word. A structure as inflexible and unproductive as Indian science and technology is incapable of being reformed. It needs to be built from ground upwards, all over again. The process must be led by the topmost leadership and its first goal must be to get the government out of the business of managing science and technology.


The government must, of course, continue to fund science strongly. It must audit the funds thus spent, but this role should keep the government servants away from deciding on scientific- technical issues. What is needed is an entirely new framework of relationship between the government and science to achieve what Dr Ramakrishnan wants— freedom from red tape and local politics.


The idea may seem outlandish, but the way to do this is to give science and technology back to where it should have remained in the first place— our universities and institutions of higher learning. One of the big failures of Indian science has been the extent to which it has vanished from teaching institutions. As is well known, S& T flourishes best in an atmosphere of openness and intellectual ferment. This can only happen in places where teaching and research go hand in hand. This is not to decry the need for specialised laboratories and institutions, but only to state that there is need to reset the balance in favour of the universities.


A good example of what the government can do can be had from China.


In 1986, according to a recent article in The New Yorker, four of China's top weapons scientists wrote to supreme leader Deng Xiaoping that China's over- emphasis on military research had atrophied the civilian science set up. As a result of this appeal, Deng set up what is called Project 863 ( The letter was dated 3- 3- 1986) which in the ensuing years poured billions of dollars into labs, universities and enterprises in a range of products " ranging from cloning to underwater robots." In 2001, China added energy technology to the list of projects to be supported by 863.


The burden of the article is the advances that China has made in a host of clean energy technologies, but you can see the impact of the programme in a host of areas ranging from the new Wuhan- Guangzhou high- speed rail network, to the ambitious electric car project. The Chinese learnt their lessons from the US where the Pentagon and the National Institutes of Health create panels of experts who look into competitive proposals and award contracts.


The process has not been without its problems. The most celebrated was the case of Chen Jin, a researcher who got more than $ 10 million grants to make a chip to rival Intel's, but it turned out that he had faked his results. But that has not deterred the Chinese who have incorporated the lessons of the Chen episode into their procedures. Chinese S& T probably still suffers from cronyism and fraud, but it has also come up with substantial achievements.


The key to what has happened in China is to get the bureaucracy out of the business of managing science and technology and debureaucratising the process of funding worthwhile projects.


A similar process would do very well in India. More so than China, India has a tradition of entrepreneurship— commercial, scientific and technological.


Indians like Laxmi Mittal and Swaraj Paul have shown their worth abroad, as have scientists like S Chandrashekhar, Hargobind Khurana and Ramakrishnan. As the case of Information Technology, reveals, Indians like Narayan Murthy and Azim Premji did great things within India, but that is because the government did not control or regulate the sector till it had already taken off.



Indian science and technology, too, has had an inordinate military orientation.


For decades, the nuclear sector gobbled up an unconscionable proportion of R& D resources. They may have given us the bomb ( though the thermonuclear device failed), but they have failed to deliver on the power front. The emphasis on the military has prevented the emergence of an aeronautics industry in the country. Because the focus has been on military products via the Ministry of Defence- owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, India has not been able to establish a worthwhile civilian aeronautics industry, and is fated to import generations of passenger aircraft.


Ironically, despite huge investments, defence S& T has also been a monumental failure. The Rama Rao Committee is reported to have given some proposals to reform the DRDO to the Defence Minister A. K. Antony. But the proposals will not amount to much since Rama Rao, a former DRDO hand, is a " safe" scientist and was appointed to provide anodyne solutions. Nothing short of a drastic remaking of the DRDO, and indeed the structure of official science in India, will enable India to meet the ambitious goals that the Prime Minister outlined at the Indian Science Congress last Sunday.


manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in








HISTORY has repeated itself in Osmania University. On Sunday last, the epicentre of several mass movements witnessed a historic gathering of over two lakh students from all parts of Telangana to raise their voice in support of separate statehood for the region.


Notwithstanding the restrictions imposed by the police and paramilitary forces and preventive arrests, students poured into the campus in tens of thousands, with the crowd spilling over to a few kilometres on both sides of the campus. Hundreds of students were compelled to walk for nearly five kilometres to reach the imposing Arts College building, the venue of the meeting, as the police stopped their vehicles from entering the campus. It was an awesome sight to watch hundreds of students running towards the campus, breaking the police barricades, to reach the venue on time.


Except for a few professors and representatives of people's organisations, who themselves were exstudents or teachers of Osmania University, it was a completely all- students meeting. Following the High Court order, political leaders were kept at bay. Of course, some student leaders made some provocative comments like politicians do, but this could be forgiven in the emotionally charged atmosphere.


Contrary to the fears of the police and the government, there was not a single instance of violence; the students maintained perfect discipline all through the two- and- a half hour meeting.


Four decades ago, the Osmania University had witnessed a similar movement for the same cause.


The historic Telangana movement of 1969 was born on the same campus. Thousands of students gave up their valuable academic year and fought for separate statehood for Telangana.


Nearly 400 students were killed in police firing and other incidents of violence during the agitation.


Unfortunately, the student movement was hijacked by politicians like Marri Channa Reddy, who used the agitation to make their political career.


But this time, the students of Osmania University were cautious.


They have formed a Joint Action Committee of Telangana Students and are leading the movement independently. " There is no question of allowing politicians to enter our movement and take the credit. They are welcome to give advice and moral support, but no politics please," says Pidamarthi Ravi, the JAC leader.


That the OU students were angry with the politicians was evident from the way they roughed up Telugu Desam Party leader Nagam Janardhan Reddy last week for the party not taking a clear stand in favour of Telangana.


The 92- year- old Osmania University has produced several stalwarts like former Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao, S B Chavan, Shivraj Patil, S Jaipal Reddy, Maqdoom Mohiuddin, former RBI governor Y Venugopal Reddy, Md Azharuddin and Nagesh Kukunoor.


The first major students' movement in the OU was the " Vandemataram Movement" of November 1938, when the then Nizam government issued an order prohibiting students from singing the national song at the university hostel campus. The students lodged a protest with the university authorities, but it was turned down. They went on a strike as they were forced to vacate the hostels. Students of other schools and colleges joined the movement and 350 OU students, including P V Narasimha Rao, were expelled, being forced to complete their education at Nagpur.


There were several agitations on the OU campus when the Hyderabad state was proposed to be merged with Andhra state in 1956. After the 1969 movement was suppressed following the betrayal by politicians, there was a radical transformation in the nature of OU student agitations.


The campus murder of George Reddy, the founder of Progressive Democratic Students Union ( PDSU), allegedly by Jan Sangh workers, in 1972, saw hundreds of students taking to Naxalism. Several students and teachers were imprisoned during the Emergency period, despite strong resistance from then Vice Chancellor Justice P Jaganmohan Reddy.


In 1978, OU students campaigned against the police brutality on Ramiza Bee, a Muslim woman who was raped by cops and her husband beaten to death in lock- up. The OU has been witnessing Dalit movements since 1990s. And now, with the Telangana movement taking the centre stage once again, the university is back in the spotlight.



POLITICAL parties launching their own television channel is the latest trend in the media industry in Andhra Pradesh. In October 2008, Congress MP from Kadapa Y S Jaganmohan Reddy had launched the Sakshi television channel.


Now, it is the turn of Telangana Rashtra Samiti president K Chandrasekhar Rao, whose " Telangana TV" channel is set to be launched very soon. Arrangements for the studio and other infrastructure are on at brisk pace at Telangana Bhavan, the party office at Banjara Hills. Needless to say, the channel will harp on Telangana issues.


The sad part of the story is that the TRS leadership is using all means to raise funds for the purpose. Sources said several educational institutions in the Telangana region, asked to cough up funds, are deducting a day's wages of their employees to meet the demand.



THE unprecedented political turmoil in Andhra Pradesh over the Telangana issue caught the Congress high command in surprise. It was obvious that Home Minister P Chidambaram announced on December 9 the initiation of the process for Telangana's creation on the basis of the resolution adopted by state Congress Legislature Party and the support extended by a majority of political parties at the allparty meeting convened by Chief Minister K Rosaiah.


So, what went wrong? What made the political parties change their stand overnight? And how could a movement for a united state, nonexistent before, erupt in Andhra and Rayalaseema regions in a matter of a few hours? Grapevine has it that it was Rosaiah who was responsible for the entire crisis. Sources say Rosaiah, who was in New Delhi on December 9, was given clear instructions by the Congress high command to move a resolution in the assembly on Telangana.


But soon after returning to Hyderabad after midnight, Rosaiah confabulated with government advisor K V P Ramachandra Rao, assembly speaker N Kiran Kumar Reddy and Opposition leader N Chandrababu Naidu. Obviously, none of them had expected the Centre to concede the demand so quickly.


So, they chalked out a plan to stall the process, albeit for the time being.


The plan was conveyed to all important leaders of Andhra and Rayalaseema and within hours, the MLAs started submitting their resignations.


A similar drama was enacted in Delhi with the MPs threatening to resign.


Thus was born the movement for a united Andhra Pradesh.


THE Telangana stir appears to have triggered panic in the Telugu film industry. In the last couple of weeks, proand anti- Telangana activists have disrupted film shootings.


Chief Minister K Rosaiah added fuel to the fire by stating that the Telugu film industry would go back to Chennai, if peace is not restored soon. " The film industry provides employment to over five lakh families, most of them being locals," he said, in an indirect dig at the Telangana agitators.


However, film industry bigwigs denied the reports.


" We prefer working in Telangana to being treated as second- rate citizens in Chennai. We only wanted the government to restore normalcy," producer D Ramanaidu said.








Recent Central Statistical Organisation figures for the last five years reveal that Bihar is the second fastest growing state in India. With a state GDP growth rate of 11.03 per cent for the period between 2004-05 and 2008-09, Bihar has been growing at a pace only a tad slower than the country's economic powerhouse, Gujarat, which grew at 11.05 per cent during the same period. Many small states, home to some of India's poorest people, have also showed remarkable economic growth in recent times, but Bihar's case - and Uttar Pradesh, which has grown at a creditable 6.29 per cent in the last five years - is remarkable because the state has come to symbolise backwardness and poor governance.

A turnaround in Bihar's economy would have a significant impact on poverty numbers in India - it is the third largest populated state in India with over 8.2 crore people. How did this happen? A simple explanation is to attribute the changes to Nitish Kumar's administration. Indeed, Nitish, who's been the chief minister of Bihar since 2005, deserves a lot of the credit. Enforcement of law and order is a necessary condition for an economy to flourish. Nitish's administration can surely boast of having improved the law and order situation in the state. The government also stressed on improving basic infrastructure - from roads to schools. Nitish's business-like approach to administration has also created the perception that the government is serious about governance. The reasonably good monsoon in the past four years also helped Bihar's largely agrarian economy.

But Nitish's predecessors could also claim some credit for Bihar's economic turnaround. The state's economy shifted gears in the second half of the 1990s itself. It grew at the rate of 4.8 per cent annually between 1999-2000 and 2003-04. The Mandal revolution of the 1990s that led to the emergence of leaders like Lalu Prasad and Nitish helped expand the social base of the state's economy. Many social groups who were on the fringes of the economy have since come in as producers and consumers. A parallel could be drawn with the southern states that underwent a similar social transformation in the middle of the 20th century and emerged as strong regional economies.

Under Nitish, Bihar seems to be consolidating the gains of the political and social transformation of the 1990s. The challenge is to further expand the social base of the economy and make growth inclusive. Of course, good governance is a must to make these feasible.







While inaugurating the Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram a few days ago, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh rightly observed that Indian science should be freed from the shackles of "bureaucratism and in-house favouritism". That the scientific establishment in India suffers from an excess of red tape and political interference is no secret. Chemistry Nobel laureate for 2009, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, drew attention to the deficiencies plaguing Indian science, and a MIT-returned scientist lambasted the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research for its lack of basic infrastructure and opaque internal culture. It has been apparent for some time that these are issues Indian science must deal with; yet, nothing has so far been done to reverse the stultification of the scientific community in the country.

But talk is cheap, and we hope that the PM's speech is an indicator that action will finally be taken to address the wide-ranging problems with Indian science. It won't be easy. Lack of adequate funding is an acknowledged problem, and one that could be addressed by gearing research towards producing more applied work with practical applications. But money is not the only problem.

Reform of the scientific establishment needs to be undertaken at several levels, beginning with the way science is taught at school, how undergraduate and graduate instruction in the sciences is conducted, and the way research organisations operate. The general culture of learning in the country doesn't help. The Indian educational system is predicated on rote learning and excellence in examinations, which discourage innovative thinking and creativity. Kids are taught to think inside the box, which explains why so little actual scientific innovation takes place in India.

The autonomy of scientific institutions is also of primary importance. Routine political and bureaucratic interference has bred a culture that stifles innovation and curbs creativity. Rules need to be simplified so scientists don't waste time filling out forms when they could be conducting research. Administrative nitty-gritty aside, bureaucrats must leave actual research alone. There must be incentives for Indian scientists to publish in international journals, and research funding should be tied to patent filings. What's most important, though, is that a curious and inquisitive mind be nurtured and engaged through school and university to produce truly excellent scientific research.








Mahatma Gandhi told the British: Leave India, to God or to anarchy. Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit seems to hold a similar view with regard to the impending Commonwealth Games to be held later this year in the capital. Auntiji, as she is popularly known, has reportedly been praying for the event to go off without major mishap.


The CM's appeal to a Higher Authority suggests a becoming modesty which is a welcome departure from the lordly arrogance that our netas are wont to display. As the deadline of October thunders down on us like a runaway locomotive, Sheilaji's public admission that saving the Games from catastrophe is beyond her powers shows befitting humility.


Despite cost overruns going into thousands of crores of the taxpayers' money, the many projects essential to the success of the event - from stadiums to transport systems - are far from ready. So all that the CM can do now is pray for a miracle. Will her prayers be answered?


 If the India-Sri Lanka ODI fiasco is anything to go by, miracles are as thin on the ground as on the grassless Kotla pitch - on which some Rs 100 crore have reportedly been recently spent - which caused the match to be abandoned. The result is that Delhi will be penalised by the international cricket board with a ban which, in a worst case scenario, could preclude the city from playing host to the 2011 World Cup.


While accusatory fingers have been pointed in a desperate search for scapegoats who will take the rap for the mess, a BCCI official has gone on record as saying, "If a child commits a mistake, you have to scold him or slap him, but you can't disown him."


Too true. But is the all-powerful BCCI - which is accountable to no one and which has at its command thousands of crores, not to mention India's reputation as a cricketing superpower - a 'child' who deserves a slap? Some child, some slap.


Sheila Dikshit's prayers for the Commonwealth Games and the BCCI spokesperson's plea that the organisation is only a wayward child have one thing in common: both represent a total abdication of responsibility, and reveal Delhi's fundamental incapability of rising to challenges and meeting international standards. And if Delhi - the pampered, showcase capital - can't come up to scratch, what hope is there for the rest of the country?


Sheilaji's prayers and the BCCI's 'childish' excuse about the Kotla debacle present an object lesson: we're a long way from being globally accredited hosts for sporting events or anything else. And the problem is not just that of inadequacy of physical infrastructure in terms of brick and mortar and electricity and transport. Glaring as our deficiencies are on this score, perhaps what is an even greater handicap is the inadequacy of the inner infrastructure which constitutes what is called civic sense: by and large, as citizens we totally lack it.


Aggressive, boorish behaviour - from road rage, to sexual harassment of women, to destruction of public and private property as a popular form of protest - is a commonplace, with Delhi perhaps being the worst offender. The disgruntled spectators who wrecked the stands in the Kotla ground after the cancellation of the ODI were true to type: when something goes wrong - which it almost invariably will, thanks to official incompetence and corruption ^ express your disaffection with the state of affairs by smashing up anything and everything that comes to hand. Even Delhi's much-vaunted Metro has not been spared periodic assaults of gratuitous vandalism. You can put a Metro in the city, but you can't put a Metro-mind in the citizen.


So, all in all, Sheila Dikshit is probably right in leaving the Commonwealth Games to God or anarchy. And maybe the BCCI should follow the same formula for the 2011 World Cup. However, what with India being India - and God being God? - we might end not with an either/or but a both/and situation: God and anarchy. Then, not even Heaven can help us.






Before her departure from Interpol's Global Security Initiative, Elaine Dezenski conceptualised and launched a critical part of its platform for 21st century global policing. The GSI identified a number of strategic initiatives where police could work more effectively to address some of the most pressing challenges facing law enforcement worldwide. Dezenski, also a former acting assistant secretary at the US department of homeland security, spoke to Sameer Arshad :

Experts say the inability to collate information gathered on terror attacks weakens responses to it? Have organisations like the Interpol devised mechanisms to address this issue?

One of the lessons learnt from the 9/11 carnage is there was no effective information-sharing environment in the US and globally among institutions like the Interpol. Interpol, at that time, also did not have the capacity to assist the US with managing terrorist threats. Since 2001, the situation has improved and Interpol does have the tools to collect information that could help countries like India to respond to attacks like the Mumbai 26/11assault. For example, India can take advantage from more information on wanted terrorists like Jamaat-ud-Daawa chief Hafiz Saeed, stolen documents that they use and even access biometric data to help solve many types of crimes.

How can India collaborate with the Interpol to tackle terror threats?

International law enforcement agencies have implemented new initiatives to help governments like India to benefit from centralised information. But there is much more to accomplish. Although, measures taken have improved India's access to data, there exists a real need to have even better international information-sharing and communications. It requires governments to commit to providing information and making use of the tools. The level of the trust needs to be improved for better collaboration to effectively tackle extremist threats.

How can India benefit from the lessons learnt post-9/11?

Many lessons learnt since 9/11 should be instructive for India and other countries that face terrorist threats. The most important deals with intelligence-sharing and early response to the threats. Time and again, forensic analysis after an attack will show certain information was known but not always shared with the proper authorities. Breaking down these barriers must be done to deal with terrorism.


A country can't spend all its resources responding to the last attack because it can easily lose sight of the broader risks in the system. It is important to look at adopting systems and tools that can be applied to multiple terror threats. For example, the terrorists who raided Mumbai had come via maritime routes. They were familiar with the targets. It means that they had spent prior time in the country to plan and execute the carnage. Perhaps, a system to track maritime data and visa validating (in the case of alleged Lashkar-e-Taiba operative and American national David Coleman Headley who's believed to have recced for the attacks) would have assisted in identifying or confirming threats.







Nitin Garg's sad death in Melbourne means that the recently released Australian Senate committee report and the interim Baird review report on international student welfare, prompted by the 2009 attacks, have neither calmed students' nerves nor reassured the Indian public and its government. The recommendations and observations provide poor follow-up to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's robust reassurances following the earlier incidents. At best, the recommendations tinker with policy settings that produce the present problem.

Canberra mandarins ignore the inner workings of Australia's third biggest export and its $15 billion income. The Senate inquiry's terms of reference identified the Indian student experience, yet the report is silent on the number, scope and level of Indian students even though they now exceed 1,00,000.

Some commentators seized on conclusions that the attacks were about robbery, not racist aggression. Given that much of the original uproar was based on flimsy evidence, this conclusion is unsurprising. However, the reports offer no convincing evidence for reaching that conclusion, raising questions about whether inquiry members interrogated the Indian student condition deeply enough.

The Senate report concludes: international students must ensure personal safety while in Australia and new information packs will guarantee that; regulations should be tighter and imposed by a new regulatory body that will not be operational until 2011; unscrupulous overseas recruitment agents are the main problem; a light review of immigration work conditions should allow more individual flexibility; and nationally uniform transport concessions will reduce international student discontent.

Baird's preliminary report blames "shonky operators" for the problems, sees the solution in tighter control and compliance mechanisms, seeks to toughen up entry standards and migration rules, and suggests more diligent policing. This is all predictable but simplistic.

Neither report yet investigates the wider social reception given to students; how heavy concentrations of students in major metropolitan areas are perceived; how employment options steer students into risk categories like taxi driving, late night petrol station work, convenience and fast food store service in vulnerable late night areas (as in Garg's case); how tight accommodation availability and high rentals turn students towards troubled suburbs (as with another Indian man attacked the same night Garg died); or how financial pressures caused by a high value Australian dollar affect student lifestyles.

The reports largely ignore the services offered or not offered to international students by providers. One problem begins with the $15 billion income figure: Canberra regards it as a profit when it is a gross income figure bearing little reality to institutional operating costs. Few institutions can report straightforwardly that their international business is significantly profitable. For many Australian universities, international fee income provided a cash flow papering over operating shortfalls following government funding cuts. Little of the income supported international students directly with adequate accommodation advice, counselling and social inclusion services, legal and tenancy back-up, or social welfare support. Even in large institutions, specialist support service staff were few while general support staff were overwhelmed with rising numbers caused by the doubling of domestic student intake. It was higher education's "perfect storm", aggravated by the rapidly rising Indian student numbers.

Little of this yet appears in the reports, even though students have long asked why their services are underdone if the industry is worth $15 billion. The reports downplay the current providers' responsibilities and performance. While many realise the importance of background support and improved service, the pattern remains variable and uninfluenced by the "minimum standards" argument contained in the reports.

The reports see the imminent new regulator and re-education of overseas agents as solutions rather than raising the responsibilities of direct providers. Why not demand all providers spend 15 per cent of gross income from their international students on direct provision of services to those students?

The reports reflect another bureaucratic problem: the uncoordinated response sparked by the bashings of Indian students. There are these two reviews; the Act governing conduct of international education is being revised and requires all providers to re-register under new but as yet undefined guidelines; the federal government's key department is reluctant to criticise state-based regulator performance when the need for coordinated national action is obvious.

Having assured all parties that international students are not just a commercial opportunity for Australia, the government has quietly transferred responsibility for international education marketing from the education portfolio to Austrade - Australian Trade Commission - whose only goal is commercialisation. In India, that will confirm suspicions that while Australia is investing in scholarships and research collaboration, at heart a carpetbagger approach prevails. This Jekyll and Hyde approach undermines the long-term value of international education for Australia. Regrettably, the present inquiries have amassed uninsightful information and ineffective recommendations in anodyne reports that do little to calm the atmosphere, let alone improve the situation.

The writer is former vice-chancellor, La Trobe University, Melbourne.








The 13th Finance Commission is understood to have recommended that the government switch to a three-year rolling budget to bring stability to tax rates. The suggestion, in response to an added term of reference on the Centre's fiscal viability in light of mounting subsidies, is not exactly novel. Tax reforms in India owe a lot to V.P. Singh who, as finance minister in 1985, articulated the concept of a long-term fiscal policy that would freeze taxes over a five-year term. And by switching to a universal value-added goods and services tax — again V.P. Singh introduced value-added tax credits to India in 1985 — stability of tax rates will be ensured irrespective of the periodicity of the budget. The latest Finance Commission's reported recommendation is nevertheless heartening because it shows good ideas do not completely die out in India's administrative quicksand.


There has been no significant change in direct taxes since 1997 when P. Chidambaram brought rates on a par with the civilised world. With a new code being drafted, income and corporate tax rates will be frozen further as a jungle of exemptions are phased out from 2011. In indirect taxes, the continuing theme from V.P. Singh's pioneering attempts has been a somewhat halting journey towards a unified value-added rate for goods and services. Since Indian states started taxing sales on value-adds in 2005, they have felt no compulsion to raise rates. This experience is likely to be repeated with a unified tax where the rate at which no revenue is forgone, once arrived at, should remain fixed for the medium term. This stability is further ensured by requiring states' concurrence for future increases.


Where a rolling budget makes its need felt is in the notoriously unstable government expenditure management. Three-year budgeting can capture more accurately capital and revenue expenditure over the lifecycle of a project than any annual exercise can. Mature economies — whose governments do not have to undertake even a fraction of the capacity building India needs in infrastructure — have some or the other form of rolling budget.  India's budget-making is a fairly exact science from the revenue side — assumptions about economic growth and prices hold while tax rates do not jump about too much.  The smoke and mirrors skills are on display in spending.


If a rolling budget can expose sleight of hand here, we can only urge that it be adopted at the earliest.







We are not alone. That much we know by looking beyond our elbow and finding the guy in the next seat blissfully munching on his samosas. But are we humans the only sentient beings in the universe? Before you can quote that line from the Bhagvad Gita, Nobel Prize-winning Nasa astrophysicist John C. Mather tells us that we are "very close to finding other Earth-like planets in the universe". Which makes it more likely for life like ours to exist outside this climate-changing planet of ours.


So what has made Mather revive that old chestnut of alien life? After all, finding extra-terrestrial life was the talk of the galaxy when the late astrophysicist Carl Sagan put that bee firmly in our bonnet some 30 years ago through his award-winning TV documentary series Cosmos and novel Contact. Well, apart from the instrument on Chandrayaan I finding traces of water on the moon last year and aliens returning in the post-Spielberg era with James Cameron's Avatar raking up piles of earthly currencies, a series of telescopes scheduled for launch this year will be carrying new radiation-sensing technology that can detect planets revolving around alien suns. So? Well, bright boys like Mather presume that if planets spin around a star and have days and nights, they will have temperatures that support life forms. Frankly, we're not holding our breath.


But before we get excited about the prospects of coming into contact with little green men or squidgy brown women, we should ask two questions. Do they want to be found? And is there really intelligent life on Earth? Going by what we see these days, the truth is still out there.









The murder of Nitin Garg in Melbourne on January 2 is appalling. At the time of writing, it hasn't been confirmed whether Garg was the victim of a 'racist' assault or not. But in the light of the recent spate of racially motivated attacks on Indians in Australia, the perception of a growing anti-Indianism does matter.


Garg was not the first Indian to come under attack by bigots. The spate of racist violence raises some pertinent questions about Indians living in Australia.


Which is where the question of cricket diplomacy also comes up. If we can cut off cricketing ties with Pakistan and deny Pakistani players entry into the Indian Premier League then, going by the same yardstick, shouldn't India do the same thing with Cricket Australia? After all, things aren't hunky dory on the ground for Indians in Australian cities like Melbourne. To not accept this is to be in denial.


If we can shut out our neighbours when something goes awry in Pakistan, it seems odd to lay out the red carpet for Aussie players and offer them lucrative endorsement contracts, while something that is also wrong and unchecked is underway in Australia.


I've always believed that sports can't be hijacked by politicians and be used for 'diplomatic' moves. Sadly, countries have to deal with external violence in some form or the other. To have a boycott in place against Australia is nothing personal against Australian cricketers. It is just a 'political' move undertaken so that action is, for starters, seen to be taken against anti-Indian bigots in Australia


Mina Anand is a Chennai-based writer


The views expressed by the author are personal 








How has the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) been protecting the thousands of monuments  in its charge? Has it acted as the institutional guardian of our heritage? Or has it actively facilitated development work, of the kind that has resulted in the disappearance of some of India's protected monuments? While the ravaged monuments that can be commonly encountered across India tell their own story, till recently, I believed that this sorry state was either due to the fact that the conservation undertaken by the ASI in recent years was poor, or because the ASI did not have adequate powers to evict squatters and encroachers. Now, however, there is a new twist to that old story.


The ASI has also, it seems, proactively broken the very law by which it is supposed to protect monuments and archaeological sites. At least, this is what the judgement of the High Court of Delhi has so shockingly revealed. Delivered on October 30 by Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justice S. Muralidhar, the judgement concerns a dispute around a property in the residential colony of New Delhi's Nizamuddin area, where Humayun's tomb is located. The genesis of the dispute lies in a 1992 notification of the Central government, where areas up to 100 metres and areas up to 200 metres near or adjoining protected monuments, as is the case with Humayun's tomb, were declared to be prohibited and regulated areas respectively.


The idea of designating these zones was to ensure better preservation and access by preventing new construction in the vicinity of monuments, and forms part of the 1959 rules that are related to the 1958 Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act. In fact, as far as regulations go, the 100 metres line around protected monuments is inviolable, and the ASI does not have the powers to relax it. Naturally, the HC asked the ASI to follow its own rules in dealing with the Nizamuddin property, which falls within the 100 metres prohibited zone surrounding Humayun's tomb. But the reason why the HC directed the ASI to do this is because, in the course of hearing this matter, it unearthed an ingenious mechanism through which that organisation had repeatedly broken the law that's supposed to govern its functioning.


Apparently, in 2006, the Director-General of the ASI prepared a note at the behest of the Minister of Tourism and Culture, for constituting a committee to advise the D-G in giving permission "for renovation/reconstruction in the prohibited areas" of protected monuments. For several years afterwards, from 2006 to 2009, such permissions were granted, through an Advisory Committee that was specially constituted for this purpose. It is nobody's case that the law regarding monuments does not require rationalisation and amplification. It is just that if the ASI planned to change the law under which it protects monuments, there should have been public consultations. Not only was this not done, no notification for setting up this Advisory Committee was published, nor were any guidelines for its functioning adopted.


The HC judgement explicitly highlights that it is a matter of "grave concern" that "the Committee of the ASI, which has no legal basis for its functioning, has been examining applications and granting permissions for constructions within 100 m of the protected monuments…without any guidelines whatsoever." Significantly, as the High Court pointed out, this Committee granted permissions for new construction within the prohibited area and not merely for renovations/reconstructions. In any case, as things stand, in our country, getting approvals on file is all that is required to alter the law of the land.
What's distressing is that this illegality compromised scores of monuments, and the character of the landscape around them — from the Currency Building in Kolkata to the Mahakali caves in Maharashtra. Thanks to this, structures have been constructed within less than 10 metres of protected monuments. For instance, the elevated road on Barapullah Nullah in New Delhi will pass within 5 metres of the Mughal period Bara Pulah bridge and within 105 metres of the tomb of Khan-i-Khana. The road is meant to connect the Commonwealth Games Village with the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. A senior urban planner, who was member of the Advisory Committee, had pointed out that it was too close to the Bara Pulah bridge, and would endanger it. He had suggested that the government should explore an alternative alignment. This advice was rejected by the ASI and instead, it gave the green signal to a road which, for a two-week event, has permanently compromised a nearly 400-year-old bridge.


Along with medieval monuments, the ASI has also compromised protected structures, of more recent date, which have an iconic significance since they are linked with our greatest leaders. For instance, a building that was illegally constructed some 24 metres near the house where Mahatma Gandhi was born in Porbandar, was given the seal of approval. What makes the Porbandar case so gross is that permission was sought by the owner for a house that was already built, and the ASI was 'advised' that it give ex post-facto permission for that illegal construction! And the speed and efficiency with which the ASI has acted in considering such cases takes one's breath away.


From 2006 till 2009, there have been 23 meetings in which power projects and barrage proposals, multi-storeyed commercial
projects and residential properties have been considered. Why this efficiency seems somewhat suspect is because ASI committees usually meet rather infrequently. The Central Advisory Board of Archaeology, set up in 1945 with the intention of associating scholars and institutions in India with the activities of the ASI, has recently held only its 34th meeting. Evidently, unlike the Expert Advisory Committee of 2006, the older Advisory Board provides little collateral benefit. How can India's heritage be protected from the ASI is what the HC judgement seems to ask. If the acts and rules that are supposed to protect India's national heritage are so easily circumvented, in future there may be very little left to restore and conserve.


Nayanjot Lahiri is a member of the Delhi Urban Art Commission


The views expressed by the author are personal 








If your child can go from a 'near zero' learning ability to getting 95 per cent in mathematics and from a state of malnutrition to WHO-approved standards of health, chances are that you will not find the Naxal ideology all that attractive. I was in the Naxal heartland of Bastar to review the learning skills of children in 300 schools who were being educated by the Naandi Foundation when news came that our trucks carrying mid-day meals to poor children had been burnt in Hyderabad by the Telangana agitators. The food was taken out and thrown away and our canisters burnt.


That day, 3,000 children waited for their only meal of the day that never came while protesters pressed on with their violent cause. I concur with the view that everyone has the right to express their demands. But should it be done at the cost of our children, the face of our future? For 1 million children across four states, the only meal they get is the one supplied by our mid-day meal scheme.


Often, governments supply meals to children that are, in effect, devoid of any nutrition. We have taken the trouble to go into what a growing child needs and added fortified rice, soya milk and eggs so vital to a child's development. The other thing that we have focused on is the child's taste, not surprisingly many children love the taste of pickles that we supply with the food.


It is a shame that these agitations are never about issues like hunger and malnutrition that cut short the lives of many of our children or compromise the quality of their lives. The impressive growth rates will continue and better themselves. But the figures are worrying. Eight million children are severely malnourished. This means they will not see their fifth birthday.


Let us not compare ourselves with other countries. The point is that we should not have a single child dying for want of food, even going to bed hungry one night. This is a negation of democracy. The lamentable fact is that such situations can be avoided so easily and simply. While our ministers bicker over cooked meals and packaged ones, our children fall between the cracks.


To give a child a hot meal once a day takes so little time and effort that I fail to understand why this is not a much greater priority. The prime minister himself called the issue of child hunger a 'national shame'.


One argument being used for dividing Andhra Pradesh is that it will be easier to contain the Naxal menace. The Naxals have only filled the vacuum left by the State and NGOs, which have failed to provide the basics to people.


I would be so much more reassured if those agitating for smaller states could provide us with a vision document on how governance will impact on children. But as things stand, such agitations seem to be by politicians, for politicians and of politicians. In all this, the fact that millions of children depend on good government for survival seems lost. Even for NGOs, it is vital to have supportive governments so that we can function in our role of supplementing the state. The destruction of food meant for children inspires little confidence. How do you explain to a child that an agitation for an objective that lies in the distant future deprived her of her only meal of the day? That it would take some days for those providing food to recover from their losses and get things back on track? That NGOs have to be careful not to offend any political formation so that they can reach their food to the needy on time?


Interestingly, the destruction of the food trucks got scant mention in the papers. The focus was on the political future of a state.


Manoj Kumar is CEO, Naandi Foundation, Hyderabad and is a core member of the Citizen's Alliance against Malnutrition


The views expressed by the author are personal








Years ago I had the privilege of watching Rudy Hartono play. He is considered the greatest badminton player of all time, winning the All- England Championship eight times.


This was then the de facto World Championship, as a formal world Championship was still to be instituted. And when the World Championship was instituted, he won it promptly in 1980.


When he was over with his match, almost toying with his opponent, I asked his manager what was Hartono's motivation. "Is it to win every match he plays", I asked. The manager smiled, "No. Winning every match one plays cannot be the right motivation. It is playing one's best, and that is the motivation for Hartono, and indeed for all our players".


"But he is winning everything he plays", I said somewhat startled. The manager smiled again and said, "Consider this. Young, fitter and even better players may come in the future and they might beat the champion. In that case, if winning all the matches were the motivation, a defeat would shake one's confidence badly and lead to self-doubts. The right motivation for all of us should be "playing to the best of ones ability. It may be a game, your life or whatever one does."


I reflect upon these words quite often. They carry the message of the Gita, which says one's duty is confined to working wholeheartedly, without thinking of success as the fruit of one's labour.


Perhaps Kipling understood the message best of all. In his poem 'If', he describes 'Triumph' and 'Disaster' as 'Impostors' and says that they be treated as the same in the course of one's march of duty. The moral lesson that one gets is that success and failures are a part of one's life. And in fact, one can say they are the two sides of the same coin. And, as someone pointed out, even gods like Ram had to go through various kinds of trials and tribulations that we normal human beings have to go through.








The submission of a white paper to the government on consolidation sets up an interesting new phase for the country's public sector banks. Global consultants McKinsey & Co and Ernst & Young had been appointed by the finance ministry to suggest possible PSBs that could be amalgamated to create larger and stronger banks. They have suggested four combinations, with each proposed entity accounting for a market share of 7-8 per cent. (By way of comparison, the State Bank of India has a market share almost 30 per cent, with Punjab National Bank ringing in second with a share of just 5.2 per cent.) The suggestions are reported to have taken into consideration factors such as cultural synergies, geographical presence and profitability, besides, of course, market share.


The white paper is just the first step in the endeavour to enable PSBs to command economies of scale and scope — and while the process can be complicated, the paper should also serve to immediately provoke an assessment on ways in which PSBs, whatever their size, can be made more responsive to customers' needs. That is, bank consolidation cannot be a substitute for banking sector reform. In the next step, five banks — Punjab National Bank, Canara Bank, Union Bank of India, Bank of Baroda and Bank of India — will submit a detailed report to the government in March, with each suggesting a suitable merger candidate. After studying these reports, the finance ministry will write up a possibly final scheme for bank consolidation, which would then be put to the Reserve Bank of India for approval. Thereafter, concrete steps may be taken by the government to actualise the proposals. It is still early days, and drawing up plans that address duplication and redundancies will be complicated and would determine the effectiveness of the proposed mergers. But with this first step, the white paper, the government should make it clear that decision-making will be participatory and will not be blanketed upon banks.


There is, through it all, the big question. Will the government muster the political will to pull off bank consolidation? Mergers are always stressful processes for employees, and given the abandon with which public sector personnel take recourse to strikes, banks need to prepare their staff for the deliberations ahead. They can only accomplish this if the government demonstrates enough resolve at even this early stage.







The Supreme Court observed if an Indian woman or girl alleges sexual assault, courts need not look for corroborating evidence if her version of events "inspires confidence". While this sounds suspiciously like a patriarchal invocation of "ek Hindustani ladki ki izzat", it is merely an articulation of what has been in practice from the '80s onwards, after women's groups agitated against the horror of custodial rape, for instance. The sole testimony of the prosecutrix has been accepted as sufficient for conviction in most cases of sexual violence, and rightly so, in a system so cruelly stacked against women.


Perhaps the court was trying to point to the fact that many Indian women have more social pressure at stake when reporting sexual crimes, and often risk great public shaming to seek justice. Sexual assault takes place in closed, secret spaces and witness corroboration is practically difficult. What is more, with the peculiar social burden of sexual crime and the tardiness of legal processes, it is possible for medical and forensic proof of crime to be much diluted or unavailable. There is certainly a sense that it costs Indian women more to level accusations of sexual violence, given how they direct hostile attention back to their own person. As an attempt to switch the legal default in their favour, the court's approach carries consistency. It has indeed shifted the discourse from low attacks on a woman's personal life or "character" or a wrangle over tangible physical injury, which resulted in our appalling conviction rates.


But on the other hand, it is unfortunate that the Supreme Court falls back on an all too familiar vocabulary of victimhood, shame and chastity to discuss sexual violence. Instead of reinforcing closed and trapping cultural beliefs — "for an unmarried girl, it will be difficult to find a suitable groom. It would indeed be difficult for her to survive in Indian society." It would surely be more productive to tilt the field and talk of women as rights-bearing individuals, not hapless vessels for male aggression.








Isn't Dubai in the midst of a real estate and debt crisis? Isn't the world in the midst of a real estate crisis? These are hardly the best of times for the inauguration of Burj Khalifa. Or is this the way to persuade the world (and Abu Dhabi) we are out of the crisis? At 828 metres, Burj Khalifa has become the tallest building in the world. It is also a clear winner. Quiz questions about the world's tallest buildings may be common. However, answers are unclear. Otherwise, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) wouldn't have published lists. Nor would it have been set up. That was partly a response to the dispute over Petronas Towers (Kuala Lumpur) and Willis Tower (Chicago). Since 2003, the CTBUH has been Chicago-based. (It used to be in Lehigh University earlier.) Deciding the world's tallest structure is relatively easier, though there can be debates about whether portions below water (in case of under-water constructions) should be included. A building, as opposed to a tower, requires habitable areas. When drawing up lists of the world's tallest buildings, should one only include habitable areas? If there is an observation tower, can that be regarded as habitable? For towers, should one include parts supported by guy-wires or guy-ropes?


For buildings, the CTBUH has three ways of measuring the "tallest" — height to architectural top (excluding antennas, masts, flag-poles), highest occupied floor and height to tip. Burj Khalifa is so much ahead of the rest that it tops across all three categories. Taipei 101, the second tallest building, is only 509m. Burj Khalifa is also considerably higher than Guangzhou's TV and Sight-Seeing Tower (610 m) and the supported TV masts (629 m) in North Dakota. In several senses, there is a correlation between economic development and height of buildings. There is some truth in the Biblical aspiration about the tower of Babel, though that was also about one language and one speech. "And they said, Go to, let us build us a city, and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth" (Genesis 11.4).


Consequently, in pre-skyscraper eras, for a long time so-called records were held by pyramids, inching up to 146 m. The Pharos lighthouse in Alexandria came close, but fell short of the record, as did Jetavanaramaya stupa in Anuradhapura. After all, information wasn't that freely disseminated then. Had the two Ptolemys (Soter and Philadelphos, builders of Pharos) known about pyramids and their heights, they might have aspired for the record. It is even more unlikely that Kings Mahasena and Maghavanna (builders of Jetavanaramaya) knew about pyramids. The Great Pyramid of Giza held the record till 1311 ACE, after which, assorted cathedrals and churches (England, Estonia, Germany, France) held the record till 1884 and we inched up to 157 m, not much progress towards heaven in several centuries. The Washington Monument (record from 1884 to 1889) took us up to 169 m and the Eiffel Tower (record from 1889 to 1930) up to 300 m. Then skyscrapers (and TV towers) took over.


Other than the traditional rivalry between New York and Philadelphia, there is clear correlation between economic growth (citius) and building tall (altius). The US built the Empire State Building (15th tallest now), Chrysler Building (34), American International Building (63), Trump Building (72) and GE Building (120) in the '30s and several more in the '60s and '70s. Russia produced Moscow State University (199) in 1953. In the list of the world's tallest buildings, several are now in east Asia (Taiwan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Singapore, Macau, Philippines, Indonesia) and the Middle East (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar). Australia, Russia, Canada, Panama, Turkey, Germany, Spain and Israel also figure in the top 200. Most of these were built since the '80s, particularly since the '90s. If North Korea plans to build the 29th tallest building (a hotel) by 2012, one cannot presume economic development is the sole explanation and clearly some countries have proclivities towards building tall.

Nevertheless, there is no denying some element of national aspiration cum pride, fuelled by economic growth. This is more evident if one also looks at buildings under construction, rather than those already completed. For instance, in addition to the countries mentioned, Vietnam and the UK also figure in the construction list. As of now, India is 153rd on the list, with two residential Imperial Towers in Mumbai (149 m) under construction (to be completed in 2010). India Tower (a hotel, 301m) in Mumbai will also be completed in 2010. Because of building restrictions, most high-rise buildings in India are concentrated in Mumbai. Nothing in the under-construction list (in Mumbai, Bangalore, Ahmedabad, Kochi) takes us beyond 301m, though there is an Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corporation Tower in


Hyderabad that might take us up to 450m. The proposed Kochi International Trade and Exhibition Centre (500 m), Bengaluru Turf Tower (660m) and Noida Tower (710 m) will take Indian skyscrapers into a different global listing league. And one shouldn't forget the Maharishi Vedic Vishwa Prashasan building (678 m) proposed near Jabalpur.


Human height is not entirely genetic. It is also influenced by the environment. Stated more correctly, an individual's height is determined by genes. But a population's average height increases with better medical care and nutrition and may even be influenced by changes in dietary patterns. There is some evidence that economic growth in China and resultant effects led to an increase in average heights, more pronounced in urban areas. Percentage of under-weight children consistently figures as an indicator of human deprivation or ill-fare. However, increases in height (and with caveats, weight) can also be indicators of welfare. There don't seem to be any similar studies for post-1991 India. But if these were to be done, presumably findings would mirror Chinese ones, that is, average Indian height has increased in segments where growth has occurred. Subject to building laws (and other government policies that inhibit construction), increases in building heights seem to mirror increases in human heights. Economically, it is impossible to give a precise figure as to how far ahead China is. But forced to pin down a figure, most people will come up with something like 25 years. 25 years ago, we were in 1985. If one looks at China's high-rise construction skyline then, it is not very different from what India's high-rise construction skyline is today. 25 years from now, we will get close to Burj Khalifa.


The writer is a Delhi-based economist







In Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, Oxford city — more than just the University — was a centre of "dust": swirling particles of human consciousness.


The parallel also works for some of our larger cities now: one of the aspects sorely overlooked in the climate change summit at Copenhagen was the bold, even aggressive, stand taken on climate change by cities. Forty of the world's largest cities, at the Mayors Conference in Copenhagen, asked in a joint statement why national governments were failing where local governments have succeeded in finding environment friendly, implementable solutions. They questioned national governments (interestingly, while national governments like the US are still coming to terms with the notion of climate change, US cities/ states like California have already put in place plans to tackle the issue) why they couldn't learn lessons from cities on existing carbon-reduction solutions like clean public transport, greening and energy efficient buildings.


In India's own capital, some of the landmark environment policies have emerged from the judiciary: the much-lauded switch to CNG for commercial vehicles and the ban on plastic bags, for example. But there is also evidence that other important policy shifts, like mandating large buildings to recycle their own waste water, and that new buildings comply with the Energy Conservation Building Code, are now driven not by judicial activism, but by the new city-level climate change action plan that Delhi formulated before Copenhagen.


In Tokyo, air-pollution related research has revealed that a "heat island" — a heated spiral caused by vehicular pollution — is forming over the centre of the city. And this is precisely the reason why public-health dangers like land and air pollution are so amplified in large and small cities: because there are so many more people crowding over one single piece of land.


Cities are centres of consciousness in the way people mobilise themselves towards the city, and also experience their land: the first prism of impression is created through the city-level airport or railway station. Cities are also places where opinion is mobilised in sophisticated ways: a large city will sweat a marathon for a cause, bristle for an equal opportunities march, blossom into a gay-pride celebration, or come together for a vigil lit by candles.


It can therefore only be a triumph that local governments and municipalities in places like London, Delhi and Tokyo are putting together clean development concerns while continuing on their growth paths. In November, Australian capital cities committed to a 41 per cent emissions cut by 2020. In India, new fuel emission norms for vehicles will first be introduced in 11 big cities. But while there is reason to cheer, this is also a dire need to take another look at our smaller cities through the same lens.


A new comprehensive pollution index report on the most polluted industrial clusters in India released recently reveals that smaller or emerging cities are the main perpetrators — and victims — of environmental degradation. In the top 10 list, places like Ghaziabad, Chhattisgarh's Korba, Rajasthan's Bhiwadi, Punjab's Ludhiana, and UP's Singrauli figure. But other cities, better known for their rich heritage of beauty and culture, Agra, Aligarh and Haridwar, figure elsewhere on the same list. Equally, while these areas are hubs for industrial activity, they are also places where populated residential settlements exist. These are places where unchecked levels of pollution, in sewage disposal, air quality, toxic soil and water table contamination, presence of carcinogens, are posing a threat to human settlements.


Now is the time to put forward local-level solutions for these cities which also need to continue emerging on their growth paths. While the national-level climate change action plan is being formulated in the corridors of New Delhi, there has to be an equal emphasis on local-level solutions. Environment is the one issue where "local" factors — geological terrain, wind dispersal, water availability — are all-important, and painfully distinct. Therefore, solutions too, have to be.


At the point where climate change debates have entered the policy framework, there has to be a thrust on strengthening local-level pollution control boards, and incentives handed out for creating several local-level environment action plans. We need scores of local action plans. As some of the most exciting cities in the world have shown, the answers, and identities, can and should be cool — and local.








The air is thick with schemes that will enable the state, and its agencies, to identify every resident, and to track what they are doing. A home ministry project for creating a National Population Register which will be prepared along with the 2011 Census has been propelled through its pilot stage. Now, an ambitious programme has been launched to load all the residents of the country on to a data base, providing each of us with a unique identity number. What distinguishes this exercise from any other undertaken so far?


First of all, the intention is provide a Unique Identity Number to the whole population, including the just born. The state is to have data on each individual literally from birth to death; and beyond, for a person's UID is not destroyed at death, merely disabled. The numbers are to be so generated that it will not have to be repeated for between a hundred and two hundred years.


The UIDAI, in its working paper, says that enrolment will not be mandatory, but acknowledges that in practice it is expected not to be voluntary. The 'Registrars', who will enroll people on to the data base, will be both private operators and government agencies, and they will be encouraged to insist that they will entertain only those who are willing to enroll. Over a short time, only those with UID numbers may find themselves able to access services. That is the effort.


The UID has nothing to do with citizenship. The information on the UID database is expected to be basic, and to cover all residents: name, date of birth, place of birth, gender, the name and UID numbers of both parents, address, date of death and photograph and fingerprints. This is because the UID is only to identify the individual to the agency that is looking for authentication.


Just on its own, it could even seem benign.


There are two phenomena that take the innocence out of the exercise. The first is 'convergence'. 'Convergence' is about combining information. There are presently various pieces of information available separately, and held in discrete 'silos'. We give information to a range of agencies; as much as is necessary for them to do their job. The passport agencies do not need to know how many bank accounts you have, or whether you drive a car. The telephone company need not know how you have insured your house. The police do not need to know how often you travel, not unless you are a suspect anyway. It is this that makes some privacy possible in a world where there are so many reasons why, and locations where, we give information about ourselves. The ease with which technology has whittled down the notion of the private has to be contained, not expanded. The UID, in contrast, will act as a bridge between these silos of information, and it will take the control away from the individual about what information we want to share, and with whom.


This is poised to completely change norms of privacy, confidentiality and security of personal information. There are already indications about how convergence will work. Consider the reports that the Apollo Hospitals group has offered to manage health records through the UIDAI. It has already invested in a company called Health Highway that reportedly connects doctors, hospitals and pharmacies who would be able to communicate with each other and access health records. In August 2009, Business Standard reported that Apollo Hospitals had written to the UIDAI and to the Knowledge Commission to link the UID number with health profiles of those provided the ID number, and offered to manage the health records. The terms 'security' and 'privacy' seem to be under threat, where technological possibility is dislocating many traditional concerns.


The second phenomenon is 'tracking'. Once the UID is in place, and convergence becomes commonplace, the movement of people, their monies, their activities can be brought together, especially since transactions from buying rice in a PDS shop to receiving wages to bank withdrawals to travel could begin to require the number. There is a difference between people tracking a state, and the state, and the 'market' tracking people. The UID is clearly not what it is presented as being: it is not benign, nor a mere number which will give an identity to those who the state had missed so far.


Interestingly, the working paper of the UIDAI starts with a claim that the UID will bring down barriers that prevents the poor from accessing services and subsidies by providing an identity, but soon goes on to clarify that the "UID number will only guarantee identity, not rights, benefits or entitlements". Given that it is the powerlessness of the poor, inefficiency, the perception of the poor as not deserving of support, sympathy or rights, and the status of illegality foisted on them that stops them from getting what is due to them, and given that corruption and leakages in the system mutate and persist, this quick stepping back is wise indeed.


In the excitement about technology being deployed to do something that has not been done anywhere in the world, the importance of privacy and protection from misuse of personal information is getting eclipsed.


It is significant that the UIDAI working paper makes no mention of national security concerns, and the surveillance, and profiling, possibilities it will create. Yet, the UID is not a project in isolation. The NATGRID, which the UID will facilitate, places the whole population under surveillance; and the home minister is talking about a DNA bank.


Fallibility, the difficulties inherent in reaching those in extreme poverty, the choiceless existence on a database and the possibility of undesirable others getting hold of information only add to the scariness of the scenario that we seem to have accepted without discussion, challenge or debate. And, once accomplished, we would have reached a point of no return.


The writer is an independent law researcher.









Thanks to George W. Bush's failed gamble in 2003 on ousting Saddam Hussein to promote democracy in Iraq, the idea of 'regime change' had become a despised phrase among liberals in America and beyond.


Just when American liberals thought they had buried 'regime change' as a foreign policy strategy by throwing the Republicans out of the White House, they are now paralysed by the prospect of political change in Iran.


As protestors keep coming back to the streets of Tehran and other cities across Iran despite the harsh repression, the Obama administration is now torn between difficult options. Should he stay with the obsessive emphasis on the nuclear question or should he refocus to support Iran's democratic forces?


Bush tried doing both, and failed. One of Obama's first foreign policy initiatives was to wave an olive branch at Tehran. In return Obama hoped that Tehran would offer major nuclear concessions. Iran hasn't, at least until now.


In statecraft, timing is everything and Obama was unfortunate to get it wrong. At precisely the moment he started calling Tehran regime the 'Islamic Republic of Iran', the people of Iran refused to accept the results of the presidential election they believe was stolen from the opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi.


With the Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei refusing to accommodate the opposition in any form, the protestors have gone beyond the allegations of electoral fraud. They are now challenging the very legitimacy of the regime led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.


Regime change in Iran, however, may not come peacefully. Thirty odd years ago, when Iranian people challenged the monarchy in protests much like those we see today, the Shah of Iran vacillated about cracking down hard. He abdicated and left in 1979 clearing the way for the Islamic Revolution.


Khamenei and his supporters, however, might hold on to the bitter end. Nor will the protestors give up. They seem to have overcome that most important barrier against any mass rebellion — fear. Expect many political twists and turns in Tehran this year against a backdrop of popular protests.


Meanwhile, the Iranian civil war is likely to overshadow all else in the region. If and when it does occur, a regime change in Tehran will dramatically alter the calculations of all the major powers and regional actors on both sides of the Persian Gulf—in Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east and the Arab world to the west.



Why is Pakistan reacting so violently to the Indian Army doctrine that was reportedly outlined by Gen. Deepak Kapoor? None of the elements referred to by Gen. Kapoor — reducing the mobilisation time, preparing for conflict on two fronts, joint operations, technological modernisation, developing the capacity to deal with asymmetric threats, and planning for 'out of area' operations — would have come as a surprise to the Pak GHQ in Rawalpindi.


Nevertheless the organisation of a high-pitched campaign against Gen.Kapoor suggests a few possible motivations. One is that Gen. Kapoor is a useful diversion at a time when the Obama administration is mounting pressure on the Pak Army to take on the Afghan Taliban and its friends operating in Balochistan and North Waziristan.


After the recent bold attack on the CIA post on the Pak-Afghan border, the patience in Washington may be wearing thin. The commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal is in Pakistan this week demanding joint operations against the Afghan Taliban. The 'India threat' is also a useful device for Rawalpindi to sustain the heat against the civilians in Islamabad.



By the time this column went to press, there were no reports on President Asif Ali Zardari's scheduled speech on Kashmir Tuesday. In the aftermath of the elections that brought the PPP to power, Zardari got into trouble with the Army by saying improving trade with India might be more urgent than resolving the Kashmir question. That seems a long time ago.


As he fights for his political life now, Zardari has come out swinging against his adversaries in the last few days. His remarks about non-state actors and other dark forces undermining the elected government have generated some political heat. Until now, Zardari has shown considerable restraint in his statements on India. But in occupied Kashmir on 'Pakistan solidarity day', Zardari might have little flexibility.


The writer is Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.









It is not new for Indian Left leaders to visit China and eulogise about the rapid progress being made by the Communist country. Recently a delegation of CPI leaders went to China and their experience makes an interesting reading.


In the latest issue of CPI mouthpiece New Age, Annie Raja, the head of the delegation, has written that although China achieved tremendous growth and development in the last 20 years, the Communist leadership has now realised that it has widened the gap between the rich and the poor.


"Since 1997, Chinese farmer's income remained low. According to a statistics, the urban-rural income ratio was 2.2:1 in 1990 which went up to 3.3:1 last year," the article says. While her party opposed special economic zones in India, the article talks about SEZs of China, with special praise for the ones in Guangxi province.


"In 2003, the Chinese government cleared all procedures to set up economic development zones in this province. The industries and companies that are operating here are among the world's first class give hundred companies...Guangxi is now characterised by stable economic growth, harmonious and peaceful co-existence between all ethnic groups," she says.


The article titled "China marches ahead with confidence," says that Chinese leaders openly agree that environmental issues, energy insecurity, corruption, widening gap between the rich and the poor are some of the challenges they are facing today. It talks in detail about Sinoisation of Marxism — in other words moulding Marxism to meet the needs of China — and socialist market economy experiment carried out by Beijing.



Why the RSS chose Nitin Gadkari to head the BJP is being debated hotly in political circles. The CPI believes that although the "mofussil" man's elevation as BJP chief is a bit strange, there may be a method behind this "curious conduct" of the Sangh fountainhead.


An article in New Age claims that the RSS always wanted a small town man to steer the BJP. The reason — the city engenders a sense of cosmopolitanism as well as sophistication, which does not gel with the traditional lower middle class base of the BJP, mainly comprising traders with their greater proficiency in vernacular languages rather than in English.


"The fear of the RSS apparently is that such a person will consider an emphasis on issues like the Ram Temple, uniform civil code, Article 370, Akhand Bharat, cow slaughter, conversions by Christian missionaries, St Valentine's Day, women in pubs etc too shrill, as (Arun) Jaitley said while explaining the BJP's defeat in two successive general elections," the article said. Since these issues constitute the core of the saffron brotherhood's Hindu agenda, it is the Rajnath Singhs and the Nitin Gadkaris who are the natural choices of the RSS, it goes on to add.



With the Suresh Tendulkar Committee finding out that over 37 per cent of Indians live in poverty as compared with the existing officially estimated 27.5 per cent, the lead editorial in CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy argues that the UPA government's aam aadmi slogan is a "deception" It says the Tendulkar committee's estimate converges with the fact that many a state government has challenged the central government's estimations of those living below the poverty line (BPL).


"This has become significant since the budgetary allocations for rural development programmes and the supply of foodgrains to the states from the centre are determined by these estimations. The UPA government's commitment to the aam aadmi turned out to be more of a deception in the wake of gross underestimation of the BPL population," it says.


At the same time, the quality of livelihood of the aam aadmi has sharply declined due to rising food prices, which the article blames on speculative and futures trading in essential commodities. It says given their inherent character, the Indian ruling classes refuse to ban the forward and futures trading and strengthen the PDS. "Greater avenues for profit maximisation are created at the expense of imposing further burdens on the people. This once again confirms the fact that the concern for the aam aadmi is nothing but a deception," it says.







Why are we reading Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights instead of taking him somewhere and forcibly finding out where he got the explosive underwear and whatever else he might know about Al Qaeda? Isn't this, as well as the forthcoming federal court trial of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, proof that the Obama administration doesn't really regard the war on terrorism as a war?


Even worse, isn't President Obama, despite his statements on terrorism over the weekend, confused and amateurish on this deadly serious issue? At his direction, thousands of American soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq are doing their best to kill terrorists, would-be terrorists and terrorists in training with no thought whatsoever to the legal niceties. Why do these two scoundrels deserve lawyers and a trial?


Republican critics like Dick Cheney and Newt Gingrich have raised these questions in the past few days. There's a gruesome anomaly here, to be sure: the United States government will blow you to smithereens and consider it a good day's work if you're a Qaeda member dreaming of jihadist glory while residing somewhere outside the United States, but will pay for your lawyer if you get caught in the act within our borders. But this anomaly didn't arise with the Obama administration. It is built into our dual role as a liberal democracy and as a legitimately aggrieved superpower.


The charms of liberal democracy sometimes need to be defended by war, and Obama's critics are right that war can't be conducted with a high level of concern for individual justice. A liberal democracy aspires to punish only the guilty. But war is inherently unfair — it distributes suffering arbitrarily among enemy combatants, civilians and one's own soldiers. A line has to be drawn somewhere to determine which of these utterly different standards of government behaviour is applied where — and the nation's border is as good a line as any.


Members of Al Qaeda are not the only ones affected by this double standard. The most repulsive and obviously guilty child molester — or drug kingpin who may also have information that the government could use — gets American justice, while an innocent child killed accidentally in our pursuit of terrorists gets no justice at all. (This second part of the equation doesn't seem to bother the Cheneys and the Gingriches.) Any place you draw the line, it will be possible to come up with what lawyers call "a parade of horribles." Any line you draw can be made to seem absurd, because it is absurd. But the line must be drawn somewhere.


So why not draw the line to put an Abdulmutallab or a Shaikh Mohammed on the "war" side and treat him as an enemy combatant? Well, first, recognise that this has become a judgment call so the answer is no longer obvious or mandated by logic. Second, recognise that the national border is a "bright line," and if people captured within the United States are going to be treated as if they were somewhere else — provided that they are certified terrorists — things are going to get complicated quickly.


What about Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in November? He was influenced by an Islamic cleric, but seems to have been fighting his own demons rather than participating in a larger plot. And he's a citizen. What about Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber? What about the Columbine high school killers? Are they terrorists? Is American justice too good for them?


American justice is not a "get out of jail free" card. Obviously guilty murderers rarely escape punishment here. We have nothing to be ashamed of, little to fear and much to be proud of in choosing to err on the side of treating captured foreign terrorists as we would treat any upstanding American who tried to blow up an airplane full of people.







The first stage in the government's drive to enable consolidation among PSU banks is now complete. According to a report in The Indian Express on Tuesday, finance ministry-appointed consultants, McKinsey and Ernst & Young, have submitted a white paper suggesting various potential consolidation options to the government. The final recommendations account for factors like market share, profitability, cultural synergies and geographical presence. In each of the permutations, the merged entity will command a 7-8% market share. At the moment, only State Bank of India has a market share greater than 8%—it has a massive 30%. Punjab National Bank ranks a distant second with 5.2% market share. To create stronger, globally competitive banks, there is certainly a case to promote consolidation, particularly among the second and third rung PSU banks—SBI for the moment occupies the top rung on its own. The smaller PSU banks will certainly gain from economies of scale and scope—apart from running more efficient operations, they will also find it easier to raise capital.


But the white paper is not the final word on the subject. In a second stage of the government's exercise, to be completed by March, a number of PSU banks will present their own plans for consolidation. A combination of the white paper and individual bank proposals will be used to arrive at a final decision, a decision that will have to be sanctioned by the finance ministry and RBI. It is our view that while consolidation may make sense, rather than the government forcing it on banks, more freedom should be given to banks to take their own decisions. That may also work in the government's favour. Consolidation exercises come with their problems—will there be retrenchment of staff once the merger happens? There will be problems of duplication in staff and infrastructure, so some rationalisation will have to take place. Given the propensity of bank staff to initiate collective action (read strike), will the government have the political will to force the necessary changes? By devolving the final decision to bank boards, the government will be able to avoid the tricky task of taking the final call on all these matters that are bound to surface. Also, instead of involving itself in the details of consolidation, the government should focus on the larger objective of building a strong, competitive banking system. This will not happen simply by merging some PSU banks. The merged entities, if they are to be responsive to customers, need to be exposed to greater competition from domestic private banks and foreign banks. Any consolidation exercise in PSU banks must therefore be accompanied by further liberalisation of norms for private sector (domestic and foreign) competitors.Otherwise, we may end up simply reducing competition and increasing inefficiency.






In the first-ever direct income estimate, a Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy survey found that the average household income in India in 2008-09 was Rs 1,40,000. As The Indian Express reported on Monday, the survey has delivered really good news on the distribution front, finding that 58.2% of the total income was earned by 45% households—suggesting a swell middle. At 25%, food expenditure (excluding money spent on eating out) continues to draw a significant chunk of average household income. This will change as incomes rise—the average US consumer spends only 12.4% of income on food. Returning to the upbeat front, education spends confirm that this sector holds a growing attraction for an increasing number of people with faith in opportunities for upward mobility. From a more directly financial perspective, we must especially flag the national household savings rate of 40.41% and the fact that around 59% households are investing households. Placing these findings next to those of the Indian Express-Indicus Analytics study reported on New Year's Day, a common point emerges: whether the strengths of Indian households grow exponentially or stodgily is going to be a factor of whether reforms take place or not. We illustrate this point in two categories.


First, take education. It's the second-highest component of consumer spending in China, at 10-14%. For Indian households, the figure is a much lower 3.21% as per CMIE findings, but reflects positive growth. And India has the oft-celebrated demographic advantage. Factors like rising incomes and the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan mean that school enrolment is growing. But what we now need is a massive sectoral expansion, including in higher education. This means deregulation must be expedited, which means legislations like the Foreign Universities Bill shouldn't be delayed any more. Second, take the fact that while 26% of households described themselves as borrower households, only around 25% of these borrowed from banks. The rest still relied on the same networks that used to characterise pre-modern economies: friends, relatives and moneylenders. Why? An important reason has to be that 375 of India's 611 districts are under-banked. Here, mergers will help improve banks in mobilising funds, disbursing credit, creating dissimilar networks and so on. Mobile banking will also help—at present, people with mobiles outnumber those with bank accounts. A high number of households have healthy savings; a high number are also investing households. But these strengths can't draw full and just rewards till the base of banking and other financial services becomes broader, just as the demographic advantage will only bear big fruit if it's educationally shored up.








With BSNL's mega tender for laying 93 million GSM lines—the world's largest tender in mobile space—coming under the scanner of the Central Vigilance Commission for alleged irregularities, the question to be asked is not whether such bureaucratic red-tapism is strangling the company's growth. Instead, as reported by this newspaper, the question to be asked is whether the company, not in the pink of financial health, needs to spend Rs 36,000 crore for laying such huge line capacity. Is there any business case for this?


Four years ago, BSNL was the most profitable telecom company in the country with a net profit of around Rs 10,000 crore. However, over the years, profitability has taken such a hit that the company is poised to post losses to the tune of Rs 500 crore in the current fiscal and Rs 2,500 crore by the next. One of the reasons the company lost the top slot in mobile phone users was the delay in its expansion plans, typical in PSUs, and its high operational costs have long taken a toll on its bottom line—the wage bill continues to be its single largest cost.


It makes sense for the company to first put its house in order as the government's largesse of the past has dried up. It needs to first seriously re-examine its market position and strength, and then expand. In the current case, the business premise is itself outdated. The expansion plan was conceived on the premise that its market share would stabilise at around 15%. In reality it has dropped to less than 13%. Secondly, with tariff wars ensuing between telecom operators, BSNL is going to bleed the most since it can't reduce its operational costs. At best, BSNL's market share is expected to stabilise at around 8% once the new operators launch their operations.

Simple arithmetic tells us that the company doesn't need to add huge line capacity. Secondly, once the 3G spectrum auctions take place, it will need to upgrade its existing infrastructure and even match the bid amounts that private operators make. Isn't it imperative for the company to pause and ponder where all that money will come from?







Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is seen as an astute politician who knows how to choose his battles. So far he has given the impression of going a bit slow on many new reforms initiatives that were stated as high priority in the President's address to Parliament after the UPA came to power in mid-2009. In fact Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had publicly emphasised that the UPA was totally committed to the reform initiatives outlined in the President's address.


However, an impression is now gaining ground that Pranab Mukherjee may be going slow on some of the key initiatives contained in the President's address, especially those relating to reforms in the pension and banking sector. These reforms need to be endorsed by Parliament, as changes to existing legislations are required. Pranab Mukherjee has hinted that there was no point in taking something to Parliament without being totally sure that a consensus exists on those reforms.


It appears that banking and pension reforms evoke a lot of passion in the competitive politics of West Bengal, where both the Left Front and Mamata Banerjee are waiting to make political capital by opposing any reforms in the insurance, pensions and banking sector. Pranab Mukherjee has therefore chosen to go slow on these reforms until the West Bengal elections are over next year.


Now, the question is how long can reforms in these sectors be postponed just to suit the needs of provincial politics. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a very strong statement recently that all hurdles to more efficient financial intermediation must be removed by further opening up the sector. He did express a sense of urgency just as the President's address had done earlier. In spite of such an explicit mandate, if Pranab Mukherjee is going a bit slow on these reforms, there must be some reason why he is doing so.


The finance minister is quite inscrutable at the best of times and does not easily reveal what is on his mind. One has learnt that he is not so freely accessible to his own senior bureaucrats who are involved in the design of various key policy initiatives. So, one can only speculate about what his political strategy might be in driving key reforms in the months ahead.


One gets the impression that the finance minister does not want to fritter away the political capital at his command by doing too many things at the same time. In coalition politics, it makes sense to focus on one or two big areas where consensus can be built relatively easily rather than on trying to push several contentious reforms at once. It appears Pranab Mukherjee will go for reforms where there is least resistance.


In this context, he might try to focus largely on pushing for the goods and services tax (GST). GST is probably the most critical reform because it can transform the political economy and provide a lasting growth impetus to the country. In some ways, Pranab is the right person to make GST happen, as it requires building a political consensus across the federal polity. Mukherjee had earlier expressed confidence that he would get the state legislatures to endorse the necessary constitutional amendments to transform the indirect tax levying structure at the Central and state levels. If Mukherjee pulls this off, it could be the UPA's crowning glory, as it would represent a coming of age for India's political economy within the spirit of federalism.


Therefore, it may be worth focusing on this one piece of tax reform that will transform the way millions of small & medium businesses work in a seamless common market. On GST, the finance minister also has the benefit of tailwinds, as most states have already realised the potential benefits of the new tax regime. The implementation of the value-added tax and the subsequent surge in state revenues provided the demonstration effect for the potential benefits of a single, national level GST.


The real test of acceptability of big-ticket reforms is how some of the politically-sensitive hindi heartland states respond to them. Going by this criterion, GST is ripe for implementation. The biggest surprise of all is the manner in which Bihar is trying to evolve its own bottom-up model of a simplified tax system.


A World Bank project is assisting Bihar with a unique VAT model for small taxpayers. Bihar is proposing a highly simplified tax regime: a lump sum tax payment of Rs 10,000 for those in the turnover band of Rs 10-25 lakh; Rs 30,000 for those in the turnover band of Rs 25-40 lakh. It would require a simple one-time, annual return. After this, there will be no scrutiny or inspection. It is estimated that there are as many firms not registered for VAT as those registered. Given about 1,20,000 registered firms, the same number of firms have turnovers above the threshold but remain outside the tax net.


The Bihar model was discussed and appreciated at the Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers some time ago. When Bihar starts providing cutting-edge ideas, you can be sure something is seriously cooking. Pranab Mukherjee will surely not miss this great political opportunity.







The McKinsey-EY Report on consolidation of public sector banks is timely because this is the time when RBI should have been opening up the sector to foreign participation. With more foreign banks entering the country and capital account convertibility around the corner (though everything has been delayed by the financial crisis), there is evidently a need to seriously debate the issue of consolidation among banks.


Is consolidation an answer to future competition? The answer is a shoulder shrug, even though consolidation would help banks become more competitive. Consolidation helps organisations attain scale. A bigger balance sheet makes it easier for a bank to raise capital against the background of Basel II requirements. Further, such alliances bring about synergies for an organisation, especially across geographies and businesses. A bank focused on wholesale banking and another on retail can merge to create a monolith that provides complete banking solutions. A bank with a strong branch network and another with technology can merge to emerge stronger. Similarly, a bank based in the North can work with one with base in the South. All this helps in diversifying risk, which makes consolidation a viable proposition.


So far, in India, mergers involving public sector banks have been restricted to rescuing failed banks. In the case of private banks there were different reasons such as survival (universal banking), weakness of a partner or plain loss of interest by the promoter. When it comes to public sector banks, the issue is more ticklish. To begin with, the ownership is with the government for all the entities. The management is professional with its appointment following the same procedures. The culture and quality of staff of these banks would also tend to be the same, since the recruitment process is standardised. In terms of profitability and other financial indicators there would be significant differences, which can make consolidation a worthwhile proposition.


However, one needs to examine the rationale for creating these many public sector banks. All these banks tend to be stronger in various regions while there are some, like SBI, that have an all-India presence. Under these circumstances, the objective was to reach out to a larger cross-section of society and make banking more inclusive. The same could have been done by just having SBI stretch out, but multiple organisations made sense from an administrative point of view.


While consolidation would be a sound idea today in a world where size matters, we would have to unwind these structures. The two areas of concern would be the branches and workforce. With the growth in banking, there has been a tendency for banks to open branches in common centres, which makes them redundant when one goes in for consolidation. The other is workforce. While some have been nimble-footed like Corporation Bank, others could have legacy issues that have to be ironed out. Are we in a position to close down these branches and downsize?


The answers to these questions must be juxtaposed with other fundamental questions behind the consolidation debate. Have our banks exhausted the route to organic growth? They are well-capitalised today and have scope to go into non-fund based activities like the private banks. Therefore, there may not prima facie be major advantages in such like-minded banks merging. The second is, are we prepared for concentration in this sector? New private banks have already merged and there are probably three major ones that will continue to dominate the scene in future. Consolidation on the rationale of size would germinate the process of concentration. Third, how real is this threat of competition? Foreign banks operate under unequal regulatory conditions in terms of, say, priority sector lending, but have limitations when opening branches. The performance of public sector banks is almost on par with that of foreign banks. Therefore, prima facie there may be little justification to think that they have a major competitor to tackle. Globally, our banks are still too small, with only SBI making a mark with a domestic share of around 30%. Hence by having a merger that accounts for 7-8% of the system, little can be achieved even in terms of making a global mark.


Therefore, before deciding on a roadmap for bank consolidation, we need to be sure of our objectives. As long as they are state-owned, capital should not be a problem unless we are ideologically inclined towards privatisation. Size building is good for leveraging synergies and diversifying risks, but the costs of technology, physical infrastructure and workforce redundancy have to be balanced. There is hence a necessity to have a serious discussion on the issue.


The author is chief economist at NCDEX. Views are personal








On the one hand, there is the vision of India emerging as a major scientific and technological power in the world. On the other, there is the fear that the strains and limitations that are all too visible in the country's education and science system could cause it to stumble badly. At a time when rich nations and fast-growing developing countries alike are looking to ensure that science and its associated technological benefits become the bedrock for future competitiveness, India cannot afford to fall behind in this race. In the seven years up to 2007, research publications from India rose by about 80 per cent, noted a recent report from Thomson Reuters; it added that if this trajectory continued, India's productivity would be "on a par with most G8 nations within 7-8 years and overtake them between 2015-2020." Inevitably, comparisons are made with neighbouring China. China's spending on science has risen so rapidly that it is now just behind the United States and Japan in terms of gross expenditure on R&D. It has increased its share of the world's researchers from 14 per cent in 2002 to about 20 per cent in 2007, according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics. China has over 1,000 researchers per million inhabitants while India has only one-seventh of that.


"We have worked hard to do what is good for science," observed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he inaugurated the Indian Science Congress at Thiruvananthapuram recently. "We also know that we need to do much more because scientific capability is what will determine our ability to overcome the challenges which lie ahead." The Eleventh Five Year Plan, which started in 2007, has quadrupled the outlay on education and trebled governmental investments in science and technology in comparison with the Tenth Plan. But it must not be a matter of simply churning out more science graduates and Ph.Ds. Encouragement and support for young scientists and enthusiastic students to engage in frontline research that interests them is vitally important. Good teachers, fellow students, and facilities are the necessary ingredients for producing good scientists, observed Nobel laureate Venkatraman Ramakrishnan when he addressed a large gathering in Chennai recently. Quoting Dr. Ramakrishnan, the Prime Minister spoke of the need to "liberate Indian science from the shackles and deadweight of bureaucratism and in-house favouritism." The Scientific Advisory Committee to the Cabinet and the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister are reported to have made a number of recommendations for reducing the red tape. India needs to move quickly on a number of fronts if it is to take its rightful place in the firmament of global science. It is certainly time for action and measurable outcomes.







It would be premature to think of a sharp turnaround in India's foreign trade based on just one month's figures. However, given the continued fall in both imports and exports for nearly 12 months in a row, the trade figures for November 2009 released recently by the Director-General of Commercial Intelligence and Statistics, give room for optimism, especially in exports. In that month, exports at $13.19 billion were 18 per cent higher than a year ago ($11.16 bi llion). Imports too have fared better, registering only a modest 2.6 per cent decrease, which is in sharp contrast to the double-digit decline witnessed through the current fiscal year till October. Positive export growth helped along by the decline — though slower — in imports resulted in the narrowing of the trade deficit to $9.69 billion, as against $12.32 billion in November 2008. While as a rule, a narrower trade deficit ought to be welcomed, the circumstances leading to it matter as much as the trade figures for one month. Even over an eight-month period, April-November 2009, exports and imports on an aggregate basis are well below the levels during the corresponding period of the previous year. Exports are down by 22 per cent and imports by over 27 per cent. The overall trade deficit during this period stands at $66.18 billion, down from over $100 billion the previous year.


An urgent task before the policy-makers is to help sustain the positive trend in exports over the remaining months so that the annual target of $165-170 billion is achieved— the same level as in 2007-08. The decline in exports was due to the sharp fall in demand in the principal overseas markets — the United States, the European Union, and Japan. With the worst of the recession behind them, these countries would be able to import more from India. Export organisations have urged the government to continue extending support, particularly for the labour-intensive export segments such as leather, handicrafts, gem and jewellery, and agro-industries. A strengthening rupee has been another area of concern for the exporters but the scope for intervention by the Reserve Bank of India is limited at this juncture. A fall in both oil and non-oil imports has contributed to the continuing decline in imports. Petroleum prices have remained relatively low since October last year, though they have been rising more recently. The drop in non-oil imports by nearly 24 per cent till November is a cause for concern, reflecting as it does the lower investment in capital goods.









Most patient-physician interactions result in a diagnosis or are a follow-up on decisions made. Diagnostic conclusions are a routine in clinical practice, have major implications for the patient, and will determine subsequent therapy. However, many patients rarely appreciate the complexity of the process, which is also frequently misunderstood by physicians.


Clinical demands: A doctor is required to make clear decisions based on an unambiguous estimate of the problem. Patients usually seek and physicians often provide a definitive diagnosis and this works well in practice. However, often, the clinical picture is ambiguous, making it difficult for physicians to reach a definitive conclusion. In such situations, the possibility of a mistake is real and is a common professional hazard. Rather than accepting the ambiguity of certain clinical situations and explaining it to patients, doctors are often pressured to make definitive decisions in unclear circumstances. Situations, which actually demand a probabilistic inference due to the incomplete and fragmentary nature of information, are often discussed in terms of clinical certainty, forcing errors.


Diagnostic process: The traditional view of the diagnostic process is one of analytical reasoning, which includes the generation of hypotheses, their testing and verification based on patient data, through a conscious deductive process. Recent research argues for non-analytical reasoning among skilled physicians, based on pattern recognition, a process that is intuitive and matches the clinical pattern with memory. The ability to focus on important clinical issues and see the big picture requires clinicians to separate the wheat from the chaff. Classical presentations of uncomplicated disease are diagnosed by pattern recognition, while complex problems require analytical thought in addition.


Experts realise that the context has a more powerful influence on diagnosis than clinical data. Often, the probability of a common disease presenting itself atypically is higher than that of a rare disorder. Knowledge of the background of a patient (age, sex, family history) and local conditions make it possible to reach the correct diagnosis. Skilled physicians follow patterns of symptoms to make appropriate conclusions. They do so, reversing the approaches adopted in medical texts, which are most often organised around disease categories rather than on clinical presentations.


Logic of medical diagnoses: Formal logic is deductive. For example, two plus two is always four within the closed system of mathematics. In contrast, inductive logic (Bayesian), employed in medical diagnosis, does not have the same degree of certainty, as it moves from a set of specific facts to a general conclusion. For example, all observed crows are black, so all crows must be black.


Such a conclusion is convincing and probable, but not necessarily factual or binding. For example, conclusions drawn from studying problems in 100 patients with a particular disease are used to diagnose and predict issues in the 101st patient presenting with similar problems. Such a process is inherently prone to error.


Clinical reality and gold standards: The standards for diagnosis of varied diseases are different. While some conditions are diagnosed based on pathology obtained by biopsy, others rely on radiological and laboratory tests or clinical signs, which are surrogate markers for tissue pathology. In addition, the results of many diagnostic tests employed in clinical practice are sharply divided as positive or negative. Despite their mathematical and clinical convenience, dichotomous demarcations often misrepresent clinical reality, which can lie on a spectrum, leading to errors.


Definite, contributory and surrogate evidence: The evidence generated by medical procedures contributes different weights to diagnosis. Certain procedures, such as a liver biopsy for hepatitis, produce definitive evidence. Others, such as the elevation of the enzyme creatinine phosphokinase in a patient with suspected myocardial infarction, provide contributory evidence. When combined with clinical history and electrocardiographic data, the results of the test can lead to a diagnostic decision. There are many easy and inexpensive procedures, which are surrogate and substituting for more definitive tests, and are employed to screen for different conditions. Those positive on such screens are subsequently confirmed using an expensive or elaborate test.


Statistics of agreement and prediction: A surrogate or screening diagnostic test is judged by its agreement with the gold standard. Many tests have reasonable indices or averages, which reflect the number of people with disease who are identified by the test (sensitivity) and the number of people without disease who are test negative (specificity). However, the predictive value of a test, when applied in practice, is dependent on the prevalence of the condition in the population tested.


Tests used in groups with a low prevalence of the condition to be detected would produce high false positive rates. For example, diagnostic tests like the VDRL for syphilis, when employed indiscriminately, will result in poor prediction and errors. The test should be applied only in patients who report a history of unprotected sexual exposure, as this would artificially raise the prevalence of the condition in the group being tested. Similarly, indiscriminate use of screening tests in groups with a very high possibility of a condition (like clear signs of a disease) results in high false negative rates. The clinician's assessment of disease probability in the individuals tested is important. There should be a reasonable uncertainty about the presence or absence of the disease before the surrogate test is ordered for the most optimal interpretation of results.


The degree of diagnostic certainty needed in making clinical decisions is also a function of the degree of risk presented by the therapeutic options. For the use of specific therapy, which is highly efficacious and has a low level of risk of adverse effects (example, the use of vitamin supplementation in pregnancy), few tests are needed because physicians can accept substantial diagnostic uncertainty. On the other hand, in situations where treatment options are less effective and carry a greater risk of side-effects (as in cancer), clinicians often need a higher degree of diagnostic certainty.


Hindsight and diagnosis: There is no such thing as a perfect diagnostic system; improvements made often have a trade-off. Highly sensitive systems overdiagnose conditions while blunter investigative methods underestimate the risks. The trade-off is essentially between sensitive systems, which give false alarms, and blunt systems, which do not pick up the condition concerned. The diagnostic challenge for physicians is to separate the signal from background noise.


A missed diagnosis is always clear with hindsight. The thread connecting relevant information, which was missed or misinterpreted, can be found but prior to the final discovery, the big picture may form an indistinct pattern. This has been described as "creeping determinism" where the occurrence of an event increases its reconstructed probability and makes it less surprising than it would have been had the original probability been kept in mind. Such creeping determinism later becomes unfair criticism of the diagnostic process. In actual practice, clear diagnostic stories may be less frequent than realised. Nevertheless, medical negligence needs to be differentiated from errors made due to the ambiguity of the clinical situation.



Physicians often prize the production of evidence-supported narratives of diseases. They rarely examine the probabilistic nature of the process of diagnosis. All doctors make mistakes, have weaknesses, and expertise is not a static but dynamic state. Good clinicians regularly review patient data, revalidate the patterns identified, examine the probabilities and have the courage to question their earlier diagnostic interpretations allowing them to reassign risks and diagnoses.


Poor clinicians fail to understand the process and repeatedly make the same errors in judgment. There is need to refocus on improving clinical skills and on the judicious use of diagnostic tests. The journey to exceptional expertise is not for the faint-hearted or for the impatient, and it is a continuous quest for excellence.


It is often difficult for patients to evaluate the evidence and arrive at definitive conclusions. Choosing physicians with clinical skills, asking for the evidence and reasoning behind decisions, accepting the ambiguities of the clinical situations and agreeing to a regular review are crucial. Physicians and patients should realise that judicious use of second opinions in situations, where the implications of diagnostic procedures, the diagnosis and treatment are grave, may be necessary.


The challenge is to integrate the science and the art of clinical medicine. Understanding the diagnostic process can help both physicians and patients make the best decisions related to health.


(Professor K.S. Jacob is on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore.)








Images of caged and shackled detenus at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and of the Gulfstream jets that were used to transfer detenus to secret prisons around the world, have been seared into the public consciousness and become indelibly linked to the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The news that the Guantanamo detention facility, a symbol of injustice and abuse, will no longer be operating after January 22, 2010 is to be welcomed. Guantanamo will be consigned to history, as will be, it is to be hoped, the "enhanced" interrogation techniques and secret Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) prisons. But these positive changes do not obscure the fact that hundreds of others languish in U.S. custody in Afghanistan with no means to challenge their detention, and that the U.S. continues to reserve the right to use rendition and allows the CIA to hold individuals on short-term and transitory basis without the legal framework governing such detentions being made clear.


Nor can the positive changes mask the reality that the U.S. administration continues to invoke the spectre of an ill-defined and perpetual "war", where the battlefield could be anywhere from Peshawar to Peru, to claim the right to detain people until hostilities have ended, whenever that may be.


On January 22, 2009, President Barack Obama signed three executive orders on detentions and interrogations. One of them committed his administration to closing the detention facility in Guantanamo Bay within a year and directed officials to conduct an immediate review of all cases of detenus being held there to determine what should happen to them. However, the new administration continues with the detentions in Afghanistan; in particular, the long-term detention facility operated by the U.S. Department of Defence at the Bagram airbase where hundreds of detenus are being held. New detentions by the U.S. and allied forces in Afghanistan have been occurring regularly .


Since 2002, an unknown number of people — believed to be more than 2,000 — have been held at the detention facility at the Bagram airbase, currently known as the Bagram Theatre Internment Facility (BTIF). Most of the Guantanamo detenus were held in Bagram and/or the Kandahar airbases before being transferred to the naval base in Cuba. Some were held in these U.S. facilities in Afghanistan for many months. Today, several hundred people — the majority of them Afghan nationals — are being detained there. They are being held without charge or trial, or access to courts or lawyers — some for several years. Some were taken into custody inside Afghanistan, some outside. Four habeas corpus petitions pending before U.S. courts involve nationals of Yemen, Tunisia, and Afghanistan reportedly taken into custody in Pakistan, Thailand, the United Arab Emirates and Afghanistan. For some detenus, their transfer to and detention in Afghanistan marked the first time they had been in that country.


As at Guantanamo, in the absence of judicial oversight the detentions in Bagram have been marked by torture and other kinds of ill-treatment of detenus. Agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) deployed in Afghanistan between late-2001 and the end of 2004 reported personally having observed military interrogators in Bagram and elsewhere employing stripping , sleep deprivation, threats of death or pain, threats against detenus' family members, prolonged use of shackles, stress positions, hooding and blindfolding other than for transportation, use of loud music, use of strobe lights or darkness, extended isolation, forced cell extractions, use of and threats of use of dogs to induce fear, forcible shaving of hair for the purpose of humiliating detenus, holding detenus in an unregistered manner, sending them to other countries for "more aggressive" interrogation and threatening to take such action.


If anything, detenus at Bagram suffered more deprivation and had less legal protection than those at Guantanamo. As in the case of Guantanamo, accountability for such abuses has been minimal. As at Guantanamo, detenus at Bagram have included children, denied their rights under international law to special treatment considering their age. As at Guantanamo, detenus have been subjected to transfers to and from the base without judicial or other independent oversight or notification to family members. As at Guantanamo, the CIA is believed to have conducted secret detentions and interrogations at Bagram, and both facilities have served as hubs for unlawful "renditions". At least two cases currently before U.S. courts concern individuals allegedly subjected to enforced disappearance at unknown locations by or on behalf of the CIA before being taken to Bagram.


The U.S. detention of Afghans and non-Afghans in Afghanistan without a proper legal framework or accountability has fostered significant popular resentment in Afghanistan. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, as well as the country's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), have repeatedly called for and failed to obtain access to, or at least monitor conditions at, U.S. detention facilities.


Under the Afghanistan Constitution, the AIHRC has the right to monitor the human rights situation in Afghanistan and investigate violations. Nevertheless, the AIHRC has not had access to the Bagram detenus because it rejected the conditions placed on it by the U.S. authorities — including that its officials be accompanied at all times by U.S. military officials. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) is the only international organisation that has been granted access to detenus held at Bagram. Over the years, it has not had access to all detenus in U.S. custody there or elsewhere in Afghanistan. The organisation maintains a general policy of confidentiality, but has repeatedly revealed its concerns about the lack of resolution of the legal status of the Bagram detenus, and the distress that indefinite detention causes to detenus and their families. In 2008, after prolonged negotiation between the ICRC and the U.S. authorities, programmes of family visits and telephone contact were set up.


On April 2, 2009, a U.S. federal judge ruled that three detenus at the Bagram airbase, who were transferred there by U.S. forces after being seized in other countries, could challenge the lawfulness of their detention in U.S. courts, noting that "aside from where they are held, Bagram detainees are no different than Guantanamo detainees."


The ruling is not wide enough and leaves numerous questions unanswered — not the least of which is: what

will happen to the detenus who were initially detained in Afghanistan? Nonetheless, it was a positive step by a federal judge towards ensuring the rule of law at Bagram and against the position developed by the Bush administration and adopted by its successor.


However, the Obama administration decided to appeal against this ruling. Given that detenus at Bagram do not have access to a system of effective judicial review in Afghanistan, the administration's appeal essentially means that, like its predecessor, it seeks to deny detenus held by the U.S. outside its territory or Guantanamo any effective means to challenge the lawfulness of their detention. This will amount to continuing the arbitrary nature of the detentions in violation of international human rights law.


Like the detention facility at Guantanamo, now the subject of a presidential deadline for closure, the history of detentions at the airbase in Bagram is one of denial of human rights and human dignity. It took more than six years for the detenus at Guantanamo to be recognised as having the right to habeas corpus. It is past the time for detenus in Bagram and other locations in Afghanistan to have the basic protection provided by independent judicial review. With the new U.S. administration committed to sending more troops to Afghanistan, it is likely that U.S. detentions there will continue and may even rise in terms of numbers.


Like Guantanamo, Bagram should be closed. The theory that the U.S. is entitled to detain any individual anywhere in the world at any time, and hold them indefinitely on the premise that it is involved in an all-pervasive global and perpetual armed conflict against non-state actors, should be expressly disavowed and rejected by Mr. Obama and his administration, Congress, and the courts.








  • Ali Abdullah Saleh's government is, to a great extent, the problem, not the solution
  • Foreign powers should not frustrate Yemenis' right to
  • self-determination through ill-judged "assistance"


Concerned about the "regional and global threat" from terrorists in Yemen, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is to host an emergency summit in London this month. Yemen, at the southern tip of the Arabian peninsula, tends to be off the international political radar unless something untoward happens affecting foreigners; it then gets a brief period of attention before being forgotten again.


The current wave of attention was prompted by the attempt to blow up flight 253 last month, the Fort Hood shootings in November and, to a lesser extent, the attempted assassination of the Saudi Arabian Deputy Interior Minister in August — all of which had a Yemeni link.


The fear these incidents arouse around the world is of course very real, yet it is not necessarily shared by the Yemenis. al-Qaeda is little more than a nuisance in comparison with Yemen's other problems: the war in the north with Shia Houthi rebels that has cost thousands of lives and made at least 1,00,000 homeless; the agitation by secessionists in the south; the widespread disaffection with the government; an economy that is in dire straits; the rampant corruption. And looming on the horizon are the problems of drought, as wells are drilled deeper and deeper, and overpopulation — Yemen has the highest birth rate in West Asia, and there is a growing influx of refugees from the Horn of Africa.


The al-Qaeda connection dates back more than 20 years, to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, when unemployed jihadis migrated to Yemen. Geographically and socially there are significant resemblances between Afghanistan and Yemen: the Yemeni state is virtually non-existent outside the cities; it is an impoverished tribal society with a weapons culture and numerous unofficial militias. This, with Yemen's large and porous land and sea borders, makes it relatively easy for al-Qaeda to operate without much interference.


Even before al-Qaeda arrived, Yemen was a recognised safe haven for extremists. Members of the Baader-Meinhof gang took refuge in the south — then run by Marxists — in the late 1970s, as did Carlos the Jackal in the 1970s and 1980s. Last January al-Qaeda announced a merger between its Saudi Arabian and Yemeni sections, regrouping and centring itself in Yemen — a move probably undertaken as a result of a campaign against the organisation by Saudi Arabian authorities.


Yemen will remain fertile ground for al-Qaeda and similar groups unless its wider problems can be sorted out — by ending internal conflicts, developing the economy, controlling population growth, conserving water — and, above all, establishing a stronger and more effective state.


Building a stronger state does not mean more authoritarian rule but less. The need is for a state that has people's support and confidence — one that is seen to serve the interests of the nation rather than a clique, that can deliver services efficiently, and is capable of enforcing the rule of law equitably.


The tricky question is how to achieve that, and what role outsiders can — or indeed should — play. It is tempting to rush in, saying "something must be done", without considering what the negative effects might be. The recent U.S.-sponsored airstrikes against al-Qaeda are a case in point: they appear to have killed dozens of innocent people, which inevitably inflames anti-western sentiment. Yemen does need help in dealing with al-Qaeda but the less visible it is, the better. The U.S. Right has other ideas, though, and would much prefer to see President Barack Obama go in with guns blazing.


Helping to protect the 2,000 km coastline from an influx of arms and infiltrators is a sensible idea, since Yemen has no navy of any significance. It can be done unobtrusively, and the Americans, Saudi Arabians and Omanis are said to be already engaged in that. Such action will probably make a difference but won't entirely halt infiltration.


Whatever else is done, it is important to distinguish between measures that benefit Yemen and those that benefit the regime of its President, Ali Abdullah Saleh. The worst of all outcomes would be to be seen as propping up Mr. Saleh at a time when his power is clearly ebbing. He has to step down by 2013, when he will be 71, unless he changes the Constitution — a move that is not impossible but in the present circumstances would probably cause uproar.


Mr. Saleh may claim he is the only person who can save Yemen from the abyss — with international support, of course — but his bluff should be called on that. As Marc Lynch put it in a recent article for Foreign Policy magazine: "The government of Ali Abdullah Saleh is to a great extent the problem, not the solution."


Mr. Saleh has had opportunities for reconciliation with the Houthi rebels, and could have headed off the southern secessionist movement, but he has squandered them. He has made gestures against corruption while allowing it to flourish. His security services seem more interested in pursuing critical journalists than religious fanatics. He has allowed a multi-party system and regular elections but ensured his own party was the only one to get a serious look-in.


Mr. Saleh's fate is a matter for Yemenis themselves to determine, and foreign powers should not frustrate that process by prolonging his stay in power through ill-judged "assistance". Yemen certainly needs sustained, long-term help, and the best way to start is by not helping Mr. Saleh. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


(Brian Whitaker is author of The Birth of Modern Yemen.)








On January 8, I am going to Liverpool, north western England, to take part in a conference organised by Get Into Reading, a hugely inspiring outreach literacy programme run by The Reader Organisation, a charity dedicated to bringing about "a reading revolution".


Get Into Reading is the brainchild of Jane Davis, founder and director of the Reader Organisation. As an 18-year-old single mother living on state benefits, Ms. Davis discovered her local library, and never looked back. She believes "books can save lives" — believes it so passionately she has, in less than ten years, created an extraordinary movement, with 150 groups now meeting weekly in hospitals, prisons, refugee centres, children's homes, libraries, YMCAs, day centres and homes for older people. They are spread throughout the north-west of England and in London, with more springing up around the U.K. and a recent commission to develop the project in Australia.


These are not "book groups", where people come together to discuss a book they have read; they are reading groups, led by trained Get Into Reading project workers, who read the texts aloud, with group members joining in as much or as little as they wish. Interruptions are encouraged and often lead to spontaneous sharing of life experience.


Texts include novels, short stories, poems, plays and works of non-fiction. And there is no dumbing down: Shakespeare, Chekhov and Milton have all been devoured, as well as works by contemporary writers such as Mitch Albom and Frank Cottrell Boyce.


And while nothing is prescribed, or proscribed, the emphasis is on "great" literature — Tolstoy, say, rather than Agatha Christie.


Nothing wrong with Agatha Christie, but the aim is to banish the sense some people have that great literature is not for them, that it belongs to academics in English departments.


That is why the term a "reading revolution" is wholly appropriate. The storming of what Doris Lessing has described as "a treasure house of literature" is every bit as significant as the storming of the Winter Palace. Time was I might have thought this an overstatement. We have free public libraries, after all. There is nothing to stop people reading great books. Or is there?


As a child of academic parents, it would never have occurred to me that I needed permission to read any book (TV was a different matter), but the mental health system is packed with people who have suffered their whole lives from the failure of others to recognise and respond to them as thinking, feeling, intelligent human beings. Parents, teachers and society in general have repeatedly reinforced the message that the doors to the treasure house are barred to the likes of them. Unfortunately, much mental health treatment does little to challenge it.


Thankfully, there are signs this is starting to change. David Fearnley, a forensic psychiatrist at Ashworth high security hospital on Merseyside, Liverpool, runs a Get Into Reading group with patients. Books read include (delightfully) One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.


Dr. Fearnley — the Royal College of Psychiatrists' 2009 Psychiatrist of the Year — is unambiguous about the benefits. "Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in Mersey Care [health board] and mental health practice in the last 10 years," he says.


Last word, though, should go to a dementia sufferer, who commented on reading poetry: "It moves you. I mean, it hits you inside where it meets you and means something." It is a line the greatest of literary greats would rightly be proud to come up with. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010


(Clare Allan is an author and writes on mental health issues)







Internet pirates are moving away from safe havens such as Sweden to new territories that include China and Ukraine, as they try to avoid prosecution for illegal file sharing, according to experts.


For several years, piracy groups that run services allowing music, video and software to be illegally shared online have been using legal loopholes across a wide range of countries as a way of escaping prosecution for copyright infringement.


In the last year there has been a significant shift, say piracy experts, as the groups have worked to stay beyond the reach of western law enforcement.


The change is rooted in the evolution of "bulletproof hosting", or website provision by companies that make a virtue of being impervious to legal threats and blocks. Not all bulletproof services are linked to illegal activities, but they are popular among criminal groups, spammers and file-sharing services.


Rob Holmes, of the Texas law firm IP Cybercrime, which has worked to close down several bulletproof operations, said successful hosts were now starting to get stronger. "Some of the more popular ones have become more strongholds than they were previously," he said. "Bulletproof hosting is just a data version of money laundering."


Late last year a Swedish court found four men guilty of breaking copyright law through their links to the Pirate Bay website, one of the internet's most notorious gateways for pirated films and television shows.


That decision prompted many piracy services to seek jurisdictions beyond the reach of western law. Pirate Bay

moved its web servers to Ukraine, while another popular file-sharing service, Demonoid, which started in Serbia, also relocated.


"Ukrainian communications law, as they paraphrase it, says that providers are not responsible for what their customers do," said John Robinson, of BigChampagne, a media tracking service based in Los Angeles.


Pirate Bay, after its brief excursion to Ukraine, is now run out of a Dutch data centre called CyberBunker, which is based in an old nuclear facility of the 1950s, about 200 km south-west of Amsterdam. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010









The forte of the surging Indian economy on the global front has been attributed to the country's flair for information technology (IT) and IT-enabled services (ITES). It is not just that heads turned and India was seen as the cockpit of the new phase of capitalist economy. Geeks became heroes and many urban Indians basked in the reflected glory of the envy and respect that India's IT sector commanded across the world.


There were also murmurs of protest in the US about jobs being shipped to India and there were reservations among the big wigs in the sector about India's IT boom. It was recognised that IT cannot be the sole factor of Indian economic growth and that it alone cannot create jobs for all in the country.


It was clear that there is need to strengthen the traditional manufacturing base but the captains of industry were not sure until a few years ago that India could do it. Now there are signs that the country might at last be gaining confidence in the manufacturing sector — the traditional niche of industrial power.


This is visible in the automobile sector. It is not just that more Indians are buying cars than ever before — there is literally an exponential growth — but that auto manufacturers see the country as a base for manufacture and export of small passenger cars. A similar demand is also expected for the ancillary industry of auto components as well. This is indeed the plan of auto majors from Japan, the US, South Korea and Germany, and the estimates are that India will soon touch the million mark in the export of small cars in the next four years.


That is but a modest number, but what it promises is the interesting part of the story. It is that Indians are not just good at software applications and service-related work but that they can meet the challenge of making precision tools. It is true that automobile engineering is now driven and dominated by computer-aided designs and computerised tool-making, but the engineering skills needed to turn out the product remains the same.


This should boost the confidence of the workers and entrepreneurs to win new territory for India in the world economy.
India will have much ground to cover before it can compete with Japan and China, South Korea and Germany. But the journey seems to have begun going by the export turn in the country's car-making industry.







It is most unfortunate that three students committed suicide between Saturday and Sunday and didn't give life a chance. Though the police have cited the pressure to perform well in studies as the main motivating factor in the cases of an 11-year-old participant of reality shows Neha Sawant and an 18-year-old medical student, the reason for class VII student Shushant Patil's suicide on Monday is still unknown.


It would be dangerous to look for a connection here or to forecast a doom and gloom scenario — we are not saying that suicides in India has taken on an epidemic form, as it has in some Scandinavian and European countries. But these three incidents and quite a few in the recent past point to a growing phenomenon — depression.


According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) by the year 2020, depression is projected to reach the second place of the ranking of global burden of diseases for all ages and both sexes. Today, depression is already the second major disease in the age group of 15 to 44 for both sexes combined. India, clearly, is not immune.


Our changing lifestyles, our yardsticks of success, growing consumerism and the increased pressure to perform at all levels appear to have taken some toll on our minds. While there is danger in looking at the past as some kind of a "golden age" since humans have always strived and struggled and we have many more advantages today than we did in the past, it is also true that contemporary life demand a price from us.


A growing intolerance and sense of isolation is reflected in our behaviour towards our friends, parents,

colleagues, neighbours, peers and children. For many, the change from a joint family to a nuclear family system has added new pressure points and discarded old stress-relievers.


Mental health problems are no less important than the diseases that get maximum attention from the health ministry— namely AIDS, cancer and heart ailments. In the coming decades, the world will look to India for its huge population of young people.


It is in the youth that we see the future of India while in the senior citizens we find wisdom of taking on the challenges of the world. We cannot afford to lose them in this battle against depression. It is time India joins the fight and makes a difference.







It's easy to tell that India's relations with China appear, for the moment at least, to be on an even keel: we haven't seen Chinese border patrol drop in uninvited for tea or to spray-paint graffiti on our Himalayan rocks. Our television anchors aren't discussing war strategies in their customary shrill, denunciatory tones on their prime-time shows.


Hell, we haven't come across even a single invocation of that overused 'crouching tiger, pouncing dragon' metaphor in our newspapers in the past month. For now, all appears quiet on our eastern front, and it's a fair bet that the collective sighs of relief from our foreign policy mandarins in South Block can be heard all the way in Arunachal Pradesh — which, by the way, China claims as its own.


This Sino-Indian détente was, of course, fashioned at the Copenhagen climate change conference last month, where both countries teamed up to ensure a stalemate that would protect their cynical right to pollute as much as the developed world. But although this momentary coming together of the two Asian giants may give the appearance of having changed the overall climate of relations between them, the diplomatic détente rests on decidedly infirm foundations.


On other matters of strategic significance to both of them, China and India have very little congruence of interests; and unless the current state of play, characterised by an absence of hostilities and hectoring, can be cemented with some tangible forward movement on the many areas on which they have deep-rooted discords, the mood of the moment may prove fleeting.


The year ahead, during which China will likely seek continued Indian support at the climate change negotiations, opens one window of opportunity for continued cooperation, perhaps even generation of bilateral goodwill. But at other platforms — for instance, at the NPT review conference in New York in May — that same solidarity will be hard to summon up, particularly if under the influence of an actively non-proliferationist Obama, and as the sub-plot of the West's nuclear standoff with Iran, India comes under renewed pressure to sign the NPT and the CTBT.


On other counts too, there is the risk that mere reliance on bilateral bhai-bhai bonhomie may be an inadequate buffer against the tide of contemporaneous events that acquire a momentum of their own — for instance, an unrest in Tibet. 2010 also promises to be a year in which the lingering effects of the global economic crisis will play out, raising the prospects of trade frictions between countries. In that event, China, as the country with perhaps the most to lose from a slowdown in global trade, will likely respond with more of the same political muscle-flexing that we've seen in recent weeks.


One particular border incident last week is illustrative: it involved Chinese law enforcement officials in Shenzhen in southern China and human rights activists in Hong Kong, which is notionally Chinese territory, but which enjoys special status under the 'one country, two systems' formulation. The activists were rallying in defence of human rights in China, but although they were on the Hong Kong side of the immigration control point (where their rights were protected), plain-clothes Chinese police from across the border darted in and dragged activists and journalists back into China. It was as egregious a 'border incursion' as any that
India experienced last year.


Additionally, the mere absence of open Sino-Indian hostilities is no reason for India to lower its guard. China still controversially issues stapled visas to Kashmiris, but since they're routed through Hong Kong, they remain off the radar of Indian immigration officials.


All this is not to say that India shouldn't be smoking the peace pipe with China, only that it should be alert that the heat that it generates doesn't melt away the layer of thin ice on which the diplomatic détente of the moment rests.







The outcome of the Copenhagen climate conference has been seen by many analysts as signifying a major shift in the global distribution of power. There is clearly some merit in this assessment. This is the first time that the Western bloc led by the United States split so completely on a non-military issue of great global significance.


The European Union was totally bypassed as the US sealed the so-called Copenhagen Accord with a new grouping of fast-growing developing countries — BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). Close US allies like Japan, Canada and Australia, and G-8 member Russia, played no role in shaping this collusive deal agreed behind the backs of most of the 193 countries engaged in negotiations under the UN Framework
Convention on Climate Change.


The BASIC countries' importance as the single-largest — and steadily increasing — source of greenhouse emissions among all groupings is undeniable. They will critically determine the future level of atmospheric greenhouse concentrations. But within the US+BASIC, power is unevenly distributed. China and the US, the world's two highest emitters, each accounting for more than 20% of the global total, can single-handedly undo whatever good the world sets out to do. Contrariwise, they can help decisively combat climate change by drastically reducing their emissions and promoting low-carbon development.


At Copenhagen, the US and China, followed by India, decided they didn't want an ambitious, strong, effective and equitable agreement which would sharply reduce emissions. Such an agreement would limit global warming to 1.5 to 2° C over pre-industrial levels by ensuring that global emissions plateau by 2020 and fall by 50% by 2050. Under the Copenhagen Accord, temperatures are likely to rise by nearly 4° C, aggravating climate change, wiping out small island countries and reducing billions of people to an insecure existence as sea levels inexorably rise, wind patterns abruptly change and glaciers rapidly melt, increasing hunger, displacement and devastation.


Copenhagen, then, represents a power shift of a negative, undesirable, retrograde kind. The emerging economies exercised their growing clout to promote their elites' short-term interests in ways that will hurt a majority of their own peoples. Make no mistake. Exacerbated climate change will greatly increase the disproportionate burden which the world's poor — 40 per cent of whom are Indians — already bear.


By signing the Copenhagen Accord with the US, BASIC — India, in particular — has betrayed the survival-related basic interests of its underprivileged people and facilitated a transition to a much hotter planet. Although the Accord isn't a binding document and contains no targets or quantitative goals it will form the basis for whatever emerges as the global climate order.


US lawmakers seem set against domestic emissions cuts beyond 4 to 7% — in place of the necessary 40 to 45%t. But the Indian public needs an ambitious deal. Yet, Indian leaders tailed the US. BASIC made concessions to Washington on reducing the emissions-intensity of GDP (by 20 to 25% and 40 to 45% in India and China) and on international verification. This wasn't reciprocated.


This doesn't bode well for India's foreign policy or general international relations approach. India's power to influence the world has grown dramatically — witness its inclusion in the G-20 and Major Economies Forum, its leverage in World Trade Organisation negotiations and the exceptional nuclear arrangement it swung for itself. India is the world's only non-signatory to any nuclear restraint or non-proliferation agreement which possesses nuclear weapons. Yet it has been accepted as a legitimate civilian nuclear-trade partner. That signifies power. But Indian policy-makers aren't asking what purposes their power should serve, and whether/how it can help make the world less unequal, unjust and violent.


Rather, Manmohan Singh is aligning India unthinkingly with the US — without exploring how much expanded autonomy India can get. This is true of other international issues too, including Iraq, Afghanistan-Pakistan and Iran. Instead of counselling restraint on the US, India has tailed Washington, including on an increasingly unwinnable war in Afghanistan.


India has voted three times against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency at America's behest — and against its own considered assessment that Iran is in no substantive breach of its NPT/IAEA obligations. In the process, India has lost much of the goodwill it commands in Iran. India has all but killed the gas pipeline through Pakistan, with its great potential for subcontinental peace and energy security.


These are serious errors of strategy and lack of vision. Indian policy-makers are acting as if the unipolar moment after the USSR's collapse still continues — when it is long past.







Imagine your life. Imagine your life, not as it is now and not how it used to be, but the way love songs, fairy tales, and bedtime stories told you it was going to be. Imagine waking up one fine morning from a soft bed into luminous sunlight, beginning each day feeling warm, well fed, well loved and well cared for. Imagine moving effortlessly through your day, surrounded by the people you love, working at a job that brings you a sense of such joy and accomplishment that you love being in service to others.


Imagine returning home at the end of your lovely day to a beautiful warm house filled with the smiling faces of those you truly love, where there are good things to eat and evenings are spent by a glorious fire, laughing with careless abandon. Imagine drifting outside and walking under a star-filled sky where fireflies dance in the warm breeze. Imagine walking in a beautiful garden — just over a hill of constant torment, past the rocks of hurt and anger, over the brook of constant worry, past the weeds of intolerance and hatred, to a place of such perfect peace that even the ground feels soft and receptive beneath your feet.


The fire of true love can be rekindled there by a carpet of heather, and reconciliation with the past can happen in an open field of understanding, lit by a golden sun of forgiveness. Turmoil and anguish disappear under a shady tree. Trouble never lived here and peace will never leave. No one ever grows old, no one ever becomes ill, and no one ever dies. Welcome to the world of the hereafter — welcome to the Garden of Souls.


There is a Garden of Souls. It is not only a real and vibrant place, but it is also closer than we can imagine. It is where we once lived, and it is also where we will return. It is a place we will see again only after our lifetime of struggle, hardship and hurt has earned us the reward of true and final peace.


From Walking in the Garden of Souls by George Anderson









Three Pakistani terrorists giving the slip to a lone policeman escorting them in Delhi last Friday and five police officers caught in camera dancing at a party hosted by an underworld don in Mumbai underlines the extent of the rot that has set in in the system. Can the country fight the terrorist menace successfully or handle the mafia groups if the police force takes its work so non-seriously or possibly even colludes with them? The three Pakistanis, who had served their jail terms for working as ISI agents and abetting terrorist strikes in India, were to be deported soon. When they complained of some eye problem, an Indian Reserve Battalion Sub-Inspector was asked to take them to a hospital. The terrorists gave the security personnel the slip while they were taking food in a restaurant after an eye check-up. It is surprising why only one policeman was assigned the task of getting the eyes of the terrorists examined by a doctor? Shamefully, he, too, took the responsibility given to him in a casual manner.


Clearly, the three terrorists virtually having been allowed to disappear is a major security lapse. But who is responsible for this? What is there in the Home Ministry's enquiry report is yet to be made public. Blame game, which has been going on between the Foreign Regional Registration Office and the Special Branch of the Delhi Police, will not do. It is not difficult to find out the officials guilty of not taking their job with utmost seriousness when it involved handling convicted terrorists. The guilty must be given the harshest punishment possible. The terrorists at large pose a serious threat to security in the country. They must be nabbed before they indulge in what they are trained for.


The two incidents — one in Delhi and other in Mumbai — call for a thorough overhaul of the police functioning. How can the police discharge its onerous responsibilities honestly and effectively when some of its officials face the charge of being part of a nexus involving mafia dons? The five police personnel, including a Deputy Commissioner of Police, have been suspended. But this is not enough. They must be removed from service if the enquiry ordered into the episode establishes their link with criminal gangs. 








The Union Home Ministry's decision to strip former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore of his President's Police Medal following his conviction in the Ruchika molestation case will be some consolation for the right-thinking people who were appalled at the disrepute to which he brought the police force through his unbecoming conduct. The withdrawal will be a stern warning to other tainted officials as well. The ministry may recommend withdrawal of police medals from all persons convicted for moral turpitude or any act that brought disrespect to the police force, or any officer who was dismissed from the service for his act that brought disrepute to the police. Several officers may also be stripped of their police awards.


While the loss of medals may be a disgrace for men like Rathore, what is all the more important is that they get due punishment. Only that can act as a deterrent against misuse of their position. They are given authority to protect the public, not to shield themselves. In fact, the way Rathore connived with other powerful politicians and policemen to make life hell for the family of Ruchika and that of her friend Aradhana makes his being free on bail a risky proposition.


The convict is making much of the so-called media trial. What he is forgetting is that the media is only pleading that there should be a fair trial, which he had circumvented ruthlessly. If he and others like him had not made a mockery of justice, the media would not have come into the picture at all. There is need to put in place a mechanism that men like him are not able to take the justice delivery system for a ride. He had the entire might of the state with him. What is wrong with the media sympathising with the distraught families who underwent a nightmare for 19 long years?








While it is not yet clear whether the killing of Punjabi youth Nitin Garg in Melbourne is a racial or criminal act, Australia has gained notoriety for racial attacks on foreign students and the latest brutality will be seen in that context. Indian students who work at night to self-finance their studies fall easy prey to attacks by armed hoodlums who roam freely on the streets of Melbourne and other cities. The External Affairs Minister, Mr S.M. Krishna, has rightly conveyed to the Australian authorities the "deep anger" in India over the abominable act and warned that such incidents could vitiate the atmosphere of trust between the two countries.


Australia's Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard has denied that it was a racial attack. It is not enough for her to portray Australia as "a nation that overwhelmingly is an open, tolerant, multi-cultural, welcoming society" unless such incidents are stopped with a firm hand. The Australian government's response to growing racial attacks on foreign students does not inspire hope. Even the latest law, which empowers the Victorian police to search for weapons without a warrant at designated spots, is a delayed and inadequate reaction to the growing lawlessness, conveniently blamed on layoffs caused by the global financial meltdown.


By taking a soft stance over the mistreatment of overseas students, Australia is only hurting itself. Its reputation as "a welcoming and accepting country" for international students stands tarnished. Education used to be a thriving industry in Australia. No longer so. The quality of education provided by unscrupulous, so-called vocational colleges has cost international students dear and hurt Australia's image. More than 70,000 Indian students studied in Australia in 2009. For the coming session there is a 21 per cent drop in visa applications. Fears about personal safety have largely forced students to look for other destinations of higher education. 









When the Pakistan Supreme Court scrapped the infamous National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), it was thought that the days of President Asif Ali Zardari were numbered. Major changes in the composition of the PPP-led coalition government were also expected because of the revival of corruption cases against the Interior Minister, the Defence Minister and many others. But as the situation prevails today, the NRO verdict is unlikely to lead to the consequences as seen initially. Mr Zardari and the two ministers are showing no signs of looking for the exit door.


Addressing a gathering at Naudero on December 27, 2009, on the occasion of Benazir Bhutto's second death anniversary, Mr Zardari warned all those who wanted him to resign after the apex court judgement, "Don't think that we are weak, or we cannot fight." He had been in jail for over 11 years. He indicated that he was not afraid of going to jail again. But his view was that Pakistan needed him to be in President's House, and he would stay put there. Obviously, he will prefer to use all the resources available to him, including the constitutional provision providing him immunity against court cases, to remain the President of Pakistan for as long as he can.


 Mr Zardari is trying to project him and his party's government as the defenders of democracy, which has been brought back on the rails with great sacrifices made by different sections of society. He has sought to convey the impression that he is not for a confrontation between the presidency and the judiciary, which, many believe, may happen if the NRO verdict is not implemented in letter and spirit. In his speech, there was an indirect hint to the judiciary that it should avoid pressing the matter too much because that might weaken the forces of democracy. The beneficiaries in that situation will be the extremist elements trying to subvert the system by using violent means.


 The threat to stability posed by the Taliban and other extremist elements has, in fact, proved to be a blessing in disguise for Mr Zardari and those on his bandwagon. Many political analysts have been arguing that any attempt to unseat Mr Zardari will be an invitation to instability and chaos, which Pakistan cannot afford today.


 Interestingly, there is talk of "reconciliation" between the Zardari camp and those who want him to pack off and leave President's House. Mr Zardari is being advised to initiate a process for the removal of the 17th amendment to the 1975 Constitution, which gives power to the President to dissolve the national and provincial assemblies and to sack an uncooperative government. He is also being urged to improve the government's functioning to acquire a new and better image.


Even PML (N) leader Nawaz Sharif is not speaking as forcefully as he ought to for the implementation of the apex court's NRO ruling. Addressing a meeting of his party last Saturday, he asked the government to bring back the money stacked in Swiss banks by Pakistanis (an indirect reference to Mr Zardari's overseas bank accounts). But his statement is interpreted as being aimed at mainly silencing his critics, who allege that his party is playing the role of a "friendly" opposition. The former Prime Minister has refrained from issuing a threat to launch a drive for the implementation of the apex court verdict. The language he uses nowadays is different from that of the days when he fought for the restoration of the judiciary's pre-November 2007 status.


Efforts are on to prove that the judgement reflects the judges' bias against the PPP and Sindh province. The verdict is also being interpreted as aimed at targeting certain individuals — read Mr Zardari. The PPP leadership says it will not take the matter lying down.

 The newspapers and TV channels trying to create an atmosphere in which the tainted politicians can find it difficult to survive in their present positions are being targeted by the government. Some ruling politicians have approached the authorities in Dubai to ban TV talk shows lampooning the corrupt in Pakistan. The journalists who have been very harsh in their criticism of the corrupt politicians are being dubbed as "Israeli agents".


Mr Zardari is not in the good books of the Pakistan Army, yet top generals have not hinted at being in a hurry to get him replaced. Any attempt to show the PPP co-chairperson the door is feared to lead to dangerous consequences. Such a course may result in a split in the PPP, throwing the government out of gear. That is why neither the Army nor Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, enjoying the confidence of the armed forces, wants to take any step that may disturb the present political dispensation.


Mr Gilani may have improved his image considerably since he took over as Prime Minister after the 2008 elections, but he is not in a position to carry along with him the entire PPP. He is fully aware of these harsh realities. The status quo also suits the second major partner in the ruling coalition, the MQM.


There is the possibility of Mr Nawaz Sharif emerging as the major gainer if somehow Mr Zardari has to relinquish power. The PML (N) has been invited again to rejoin the coalition it left soon after the formation of the government in 2008. But there is no positive response from Mr Sharif. Perhaps, he is waiting for the government to fall under the wait of its own problems. But this is unlikely to come about soon as efforts are to get Mr Zardari's name cleared of all corruption charges levelled against him when Mr Sharif was Prime Minister.


The Pakistan President's supporters strongly believe that it was vindictive politics that led to the framing of corruption cases against him. Much, however, depends on how far the Establishment is successful in influencing the Supreme Court of Pakistan, particularly when the very eligibility of Mr Zardari to become the President has been questioned.


Mr Zardari, however, appears to be confident of weathering the storm he faces today. He has been asserting that he can defeat the game-plan of his opponents with the help of law. Mr Zardari's camp followers want the judiciary to keep in mind that if the situation further deteriorates, it will be curtains for democracy again. After all, how long can the Pakistan Army resist the temptation of recapturing power?








While most surnames in India reflect caste and lineage, the Parsis had a delightfully modern streak — having landed without caste, history and context, they created identities through professions and urban streets.


Our family moved to Bombay (now Mumbai) from Rawalpindi in 1947. We came as refugees but the family soon settled and by 1953 my father had restarted playing golf at the Willingdon Club. I was eight years old and would walk 18 holes with him every Saturday and Sunday. The three Parsi gentlemen who made up his regular four-ball were "uncles" Poonawala, Coorlawala and Colabawala. Very soon they had rechristened my father Pindiwala.


Uncle Colabawala did not live in Colaba but in a penthouse on Malabar Hill. May be his ancestors had lived in Colaba. I used to spend hours searching the telephone directory to find Parsi surnames and building up stories around their families.


There was prohibition in Bombay those days. So to get liquor you had to find Mr Dalal, who would introduce you to Mr Daruwala, who in turn would get bottles delivered to your home by Mr Batliwala who would be accompanied by Mr Sodawaterbottleopenerwalla (the longest Parsi surname I have come across).


Other surnames whose ancestors were in the beverages trade were Mr Fountainwala, Mr Ginwala, Mr Rumwala, Mr Sodawala and Mr Jhunjhunwala.


We used to have two delightful Siamese kittens in our flat and these were gifted to my mother by her friend Mrs Billimoria. My mother spent hours knitting cardigans for them, with wool she bought from the Unwala family.


My uncle ran the air force canteen in Cotton Green and his partner, yes you guessed it, was Mr Canteenwala. They had this fantastic cook, Mr Bhajiwala. Their mild and meek manager, Mr Jeejeebhoy, nodded his head and agreed with everything everybody said.


My grandfather was the Sheriff of Bombay. I think the first and only Sikh to hold this position. Being Sheriff it was only natural that he had Mr Bandookwala and Mr Golimarwala as his constant companions.


Grandfather had many Parsi friends who were in politics. There was this squeaky clean khadi-clad Mr Ghandy, and the not so clean Mr Kalaghandy — who was invariably being hounded by Mr Kotwal. But he never left home without his "friends" Mr Barrister, Mr Vakil, Mr Lawyer and their munshi Mr Mehnty.


My grandfather built Hotel Waldorf on Arthur Bunder Road in Colaba. So for this he naturally used the services of Mr Contactor and Mr Mistry. He never went to the "native" moneylenders when short of money, but borrowed it from his Parsi friend Mr Readymoney.


Our neighbour and family physician was Dr Adi Doctor — he was only half a doctor. He lived with his in laws Mr and Mrs Pochkhanawala. My sister swears they ate only poached eggs for breakfast.


I remember going to Dr Doctor's sister's wedding. She married Mr Screwala. What he did for a living, I do not know to this day. If you are in Mumbai maybe you can track him down in the yellow or pink pages.


Jokes apart, there is a lesson for all of us here: imagine if we could christen our politicians through democratic vote: Jinnahwalla, Nikarwalla, Icequeen, Motawalla! It would really be able to keep everyone in check, where individuals and media didn't only control your public profile but also your public identity.


The Parsis have taught us that if you take serious interest in satire, you can change the world! My name today is Comedymanifestowalla!









Quite often while discussing the progress of India's bilateral or regional free trade agreements (FTAs), I have argued that first and foremost India needs to sign an FTA with itself! Our domestic markets and economy remain far too fragmented for us to seriously benefit from FTAs with other countries. A universal goods and services tax (GST), then, is a major and long-awaited step in creating a unified domestic economy.


The recently released report of the task force on GST of the 13th Finance Commission rightly remarks that the flawless GST, when in place, will be "an economic game changer". In my view, there are strong political externalities as well, because a universal GST, managed by a council of finance ministers, will strengthen the federal institutional structure and create another strong unifying bond across this diverse and pluralistic democracy.


By helping to bring down prices of wage goods, improving farmers' incomes and generating additional employment by accelerating gross domestic product growth by 0.9-1.7 percentage points, GST will hugely improve inclusion.


By bringing large chunks of the informal and unorganised economy into the tax net, it will help reduce the chasm between Bharat and India, which is a desirable goal. For all these reasons, and others cited in the report, GST must be implemented soonest.


The report suggests that the measure be implemented not from April 1, as originally envisaged, but from October 1 to ensure that the design and implementation plans are not compromised.


Will these additional six months suffice to pass the necessary legislation, set up the council of finance ministers and have all the information technology issues resolved?


I am not so sure, unless the Finance Ministry asks the task force itself to help draft the necessary legislation and produce a detailed implementation plan. For me, however, one of the most important implications of switching over to GST at the rates recommended by the task force is the impetus this will provide to the domestic manufacturing sector.


By recommending a flat and universally applicable rate of 12 per cent (5 per cent for the Centre and 7 per cent for the states), the task force is, in effect, bringing down the incidence of indirect taxes by more than 50 per cent.


The recommended rate – which, the report takes pains to demonstrate, is revenue-positive and not merely revenue-neutral, as is the general requirement – will be 5 percentage points below the applicable rate in China! This is revolutionary and indeed visionary.


The lower taxes on manufactured goods will bring down prices and usher in a new demand upsurge. This will finally allow domestic producers to exploit the economies of scale that their Chinese competitors have been enjoying over the past three decades. Indian manufacturing could hope to become globally competitive.


Moreover, by doing away with the current multiple and complex indirect tax structure, GST will allow investment to flow into sectors in which the country has a true comparative advantage.

I am convinced that this will promote labour — and skill-intensive sectors where our exports can expand further. This has significant employment-generating potential and will yield a much more inclusive growth.


If in the future, revenue realised from levying a 12 per cent GST is seen to be insufficient, the rates can surely be hiked. This will require only the approval of the chairman (the Union Finance Minister) and a two-thirds majority of the state finance ministers who are members of the recommended council of finance ministers.


While the revenue shortage is only a remote possibility, the lower recommended rate should be implemented to provide the necessary fiscal support to domestic producers, especially in the manufacturing sector.


A decade of rapid manufacturing sector growth, with the necessary World Trade Organisation-compatible support, can transform the economy and release massive growth impulses.


So we should persist with the recommended 12 per cent GST even if the Central and state governments have to impose additional direct tax levies to make up for any possible, though improbable, revenue shortfalls.


The suggestion to subsume the real estate sector within GST's ambit, and do away with stamp duty over three years, is very attractive as it will cut at the roots of hugely corrupt practices and generation of "black money" in the economy.


But for this reason, as also for its effect on bringing above ground the large numbers of producers that operate in the grey zone, this measure will be opposed by well-entrenched vested interests. This has to be resisted.


I am a bit disappointed that the financial media has not taken up the cause so far. This is a crucial reform that must go through. Let us hope that all segments of the industry will champion the cause and not allow this measure to be delayed.


After all, we have already spent 26 years in modernising our indirect tax structure. Is this not a sufficiently long gestation period, even in India, where we know gradualism works better than the big bang?


The writer is the Director and CE, ICRIER, New Delhi









Albert Camus had the anguished good looks of a doomed film star, not a writer or philosopher. He died a doomed film star's death, aged 47, when his powerful car skidded on an icy road 100 miles south of Paris and struck a tree on 4 January 1960. Fifty years on, Camus – writer, resistance hero, philanderer and goalkeeper – remains one of the most popular of non-populist writers in the world, and one of the hardest to define. Leftist or libertarian? Novelist or existentialist philosopher? Courageous humanist or heartless womaniser?


Like the protagonist of one of his best-known books (L'Etranger), Albert Camus remains an outsider, and any attempt to interpret or categorise him can still cause trouble.


President Nicolas Sarkozy, an avid Camus reader since his youth, has blundered into this difficult territory. He wants to claim Albert Camus for the nation, by moving his body to the Panthéon in Paris, the last resting place of great Frenchmen (and of one great French woman).


The suggestion has raised a wonderfully French intellectual storm. How dare a right-wing President try to snatch the body of a left-wing hero? (Camus, unlike his sometime friend Jean-Paul Sartre, was never truly a hero of the French left, but no matter). How dare the anti-intellectual President become an intellectual grave-digger and place the Great Outsider inside the secular temple of the Officially Great and Good?


Albert Camus remains, nonetheless, bracketed in the world's mind with Jean-Paul Sartre, who was for over a decade his rival, his friend and occasional companion in the then smoke-filled rooms of Paris Left Bank brasseries. Both men embraced, broadly speaking, the view that there was no absolute morality or truth, only those values or freedoms which human beings created for themselves.


The friendship broke up violently when Camus ridiculed, in print, the habit of French intellectuals, including Sartre, of equating "liberty" with communism.


Camus, born into a poor white family in Algeria, also angered the French left by refusing to take the side of the violent anti-colonial movements in the 1960s. He did not support the violent white colonists either, but called, perhaps naively, for the French army and the Arab independence movements to fight to the death while leaving civilians in peace.


Camus has become, especially outside France, a kind of anti-Sartre. Where Jean Paul was ugly, Albert was handsome. Where Jean-Paul wrote books during the Nazi occupation, Albert joined the Resistance. Where Jean-Paul pursued (and then dropped) the strange gods of Stalinism, Maoism and political violence, Albert remained steadfastly anti-totalitarian and anti-violence.


Within France, until relatively recently, leftish-dominated intellectual thought has preferred Sartre to Camus. The Centre Albert Camus in Aix-en-Provence, which holds the writer's papers, attracts far more foreign researchers than French ones.


Camus remains one of the most-read writers in France, but he was – until recently – patronised in academic circles as a "teenage" writer, a source of "set books" for schoolchildren rather than a subject for advanced study.


Marcelle Mahasela, who runs the Camus centre, says that the problem was that he was too much of a free thinker for the alleged left-wing free thinkers. "He did not defend the accepted system of thought," she said. "He upset the French rationalism of the day and could not be placed in a clear category."


There are signs, however, that he is finally being taken seriously in France, not as a philosopher but, as Todd suggests, a great writer. The 50th anniversary of his death has produced a land-slip of academic books and also – the final apotheosis in France – a bande-dessinée (cartoon book) on his life.


Camus was born in Mondovi in what was then French Algeria in 1913. His father was killed the following year in the Battle of the Marne. His illiterate and partially deaf mother worked as a cleaner.


Albert's talent was recognised by a teacher and he went on to study at the University of Algiers, where he played in goal for the university football team. He later declared, to the disgust of anti-sporting intellectuals, that he learnt everything that he knew about life and humanity while standing in the goalmouth.


After working as a journalist and then joining the Resistance during the war, he became a writer. His reputation is largely based on three novels, L'Etranger (The Stranger or the Outsider, 1942), La Peste (The Plague, 1947) and La Chute (The Fall, 1956).


The question of whether the Outsider should become one of the ultimate Insiders of French life remains unresolved. The decision on whether his body should be removed to the Pantheon rests with his family and especially his daughter Catherine Camus, who manages his literary estate.


She said this week that she had not yet decided. She complained, however, that those people who accused Mr Sarkozy of "using" her father were also "using my father as an anti-Sarkozy missile".


On the whole, she suggested, she could see no reason why Albert Camus should not be honoured as one of the great French storytellers, alongside Victor Hugo and Emile Zola. "My father is a very approachable writer. People feel close to him," she said. "He asks the questions which are at the heart of our existence."n


By arrangement with The Independent







Dr Farooq Abdullah, Union Minister for New & Renewable Energy.


Respected Farooq sahib,

I am a nationally known mechanical engineer whose long professional innings has focussed on development of globally competitive Indian technology and its commercialisation; entrepreneurship, total quality management and higher technical education.


After a 12-year stint on Indian Railways, I joined CSIR in 1965, where I led the design of the 100 per cent Indian Swaraj Tractor and moved on to raise Punjab Tractors (PTL) in Mohali for its commercialisation in 1970.


I then led PTL and its Swaraj group of companies (Swaraj-Mazda, Swaraj Engines and Swaraj Automotives) for 28 years into a Rs 1500 crore nationally and internationally known blue chip.


I was 65 in 1997 when I called it a day at PTL. I have been pursuing my two other interests thereafter: higher technical education (away from rote towards practice) and TQM.


Solar and non-conventional energy and environment pollution have been distinct interests in my long tryst with technology. Latest manifestations of this interest are:


Single-axis tracker for extended linear arrays of PV panels to improve their power factor by 20 per cent +. Patent applied for. Prototype installation in hand in association with Moser Baer


Conversion of environment-nuisance paddy-straw into ethanol. Process also applicable to other bio-mass. Lab process cleared. The Rs 5-crore Pilot Plant under discussion with MARKFED/Punjab S &T.


Our urgency of alternative sources of energy reminded me of the globally exploited practice of advancing the national clock by 1 hour in summer. It shifts human activity to sunlight hours to the maximum extent. The sunrise and sunset times on our longest and shortest days are:


The difference in the duration of our day is as high as 3.42 hrs. Isn't it a criminal waste of sunlight during the summer months to laze round till 900 or 10.00 hrs when the sun has been up for four hours? What is still worse is its consequential impact on extending the working hours of commercial establishments late into the night. Overloaded power-systems and peak-hour restrictions are natural corollaries.


Since we are, and will remain short of power in the foreseeable future, should we not adopt this practice straightway. The beauty of adopting summer time is that:


It involves no capital investment or large effort.


Since its adoption across the country is universal and simultaneous, there is no dislocation of work. Readjustment of body clocks takes just a couple of days.


Developed countries, all in the temperate zones, adopt summer time to leave enough for social activity and weather for outdoor activity is most amiable. In our case, conservation of electricity should be the dictating factor.


With respectful regards and best wishes for the New Year.


Yours sincerely,


Chandra Mohan, Padmashree








The killing of Lilabati Daimary, elder sister of the chairman of the anti-talk faction of the National Democratic Front of Boroland (NDFB), Ranjan Daimary by unidentified assailants on January 4 has once again given rise to speculations whether secret killings started in Assam yet again. The possibility of deterioration of the situation in the State, particularly in the Bodoland Territorial Council (BTC) area in the aftermath of the killing cannot be ruled out and all out efforts must be taken by the police and security forces to prevent the situation from going out of control. Lilabati Daimary, who was a teacher of the Harishinga Higher Secondary School, was not involved in any active politics and her only fault was that she was the sister of a militant leader. In the month of October, Anjali Daimary, the younger sister of Ranjan Daimary, was attacked by unidentified miscreants but luckily she escaped unhurt, but her elder sister was not so lucky as she was shot dead in her residence near Udalguri. The Government should direct the police to investigate into the incident seriously so that the culprits can be brought to book immediately and if the culprits are not arrested there will always be doubts in the minds of people that "secret killings" started in Assam yet again. At one point of time, killings of the family members of the militants, commonly termed as "secret killings" turned into a major political issue and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) was the worst suffer of the political debate over the secret killings.

Moreover, the failure of the Government to check fratricidal killings, particularly in the BTC area, is a major cause of concern as a number of killings took place in the area in the last few months primarily because of the failure of the Government to take strong action to deal with the situation. In recent times, the pro-talk faction and the anti-talk faction of the NDFB have been accusing each other of killing innocents and the possibility of Ranjan Daimary's sister becoming a victim of such clashes also cannot be ruled out. If that is the case, the situation in the BTC area will definitely deteriorate and the possibility of more fratricidal clashes cannot be ruled out in the days to come. The police and security forces must remain alert and additional deployments should be made in the areas considered vulnerable. The Government, on its part, should issue instructions to all the forces engaged in the counter-insurgency operations to take strong action against anyone found to be indulging in any unlawful activity. Steps must be taken to ensure that all the members of the pro-talk faction of the NDFB stay inside the designated camps, while, the operations in the areas where the anti-talk faction of the NDFB have strong bases, should be intensified.







While no one should have anything against the Kaziranga Elephant Festival per se, the disturbing fact that over the years little intervention has gone towards addressing the mounting concerns jeopardizing the survival prospects of this magnificent animal is bound to reduce the celebrations to a ritualistic exercise devoid of any genuine intent. Started since 2003 with the stated objective of easing the man-elephant conflict, the festival – coinciding with the tourist season – may have had some impact in attracting visitors but the larger issue of securing the elephant's future remains unaddressed. One only needs to look at the escalating threats to the elephants, and how those are sought to be tackled. Depleting elephant habitat and erosion of elephant corridors (causing the man-elephant conflict) besides accidental deaths, especially involving trains, pose the biggest threat to the State's elephant population. Regrettably, these crucial issues continue to be outside the focus areas of the Government. In view of the worsening man-elephant conflict, the biggest thrust ought to have been on protecting elephant habitats and corridors but both continue to vanish at an alarming rate. Ironically, the prevailing situation around Kaziranga testifies to this. The traditional elephant corridors linking Kaziranga with the hilly forests of Karbi Anglong now stand degraded – thanks to growing human settlements and mushrooming tourist facilities right on the corridors.

The Government owes an explanation why the sanctity of the corridors – essential for not just the elephant to migrate but for all animals to cross over to the hills during the yearly floods – has not been maintained. Then, rail accidents have regularly been accounting for a large number of elephant fatalities and since the existing safety mechanism like speed limits and patrolling is a proven failure, the only way out is to remove the tracks to outside the forests. The man-elephant conflict – apart from extracting a heavy toll on either side – has made the gentle animal a most despicable enemy for man for no fault of it. Human greed has destroyed, degraded and fragmented the elephant habitats, compelling the pachyderms to raid paddy fields for food. It is naïve to hope for any mitigation in the growing hostilities between man and elephant through rituals like elephant festivals as long as we remain unmindful of the factors fuelling the conflict. Mouthing platitudes on the elephant being a part of Assamese folklore will sound hollow unless we learn to respect that status by ensuring some living space to the elephant – something it needs more than festivities. To prove its commitment to the cause of the elephant, the Government's action will have to go beyond holding festivals.








It goes without saying that the Bru refugee issue is a knotty problem facing Tripura. Finding out an amicable and honourable solution to it at the earliest is important for not only ensuring lasting peace in Mizoram from where around 37,000 Bru ethnic tribals fled to Tripura following a communal flare-up in October 1997, but also to facilitate their long-overdue repatriation and resettlement in areas of their choice in Mizoram. The process was scheduled to start in November as per a broad consensus arrived at in a tripartite meeting on November 4 last at Aizawl. The Home Secretary of Mizoram Lalmalsawma of late briefed the media that the Bru refugees sheltered in six relief camps at Kanchanpur sub-division under North Tripura district could now return to the State by November. To instil confidence into them the Centre even promised Rs 33 crore for undertaking special development work in the western belt covering Bru-inhabited areas and Rs 25 crore for expenses towards repatriation. It is indeed unfortunate that the November 13 killing of a Mizo youth by suspected Bru National Army militants at Bungthuam in the State has not just derailed the process of repatriation, but put the Lalthanhawla-led government in an embarrassing position as well. For there was ethnic violence in Mamit and Kolaship districts bordering Tripura in the aftermath of the killing. Alarmed at the escalating violence in which more than 300 Bru settlements were reportedly set ablaze, nearly 2,000 displaced people belonging to the same community took shelter in the foothills of Jampui in Kanchanpur subdivision since November 14. What is, however, even more surprising is that the government of Mizoram could not protect the homes of the families of the BNLF cadres who had recently surrendered, before they were gutted by miscreants during the resultant mob violence in four villages under Mamit and Kolaship districts, where they have been rehabilitated.

The State government is now engaged in confidence-building measures in the wake of the ethnic strife in the western part of Mizoram by beefing up security in the disturbed areas and forming a relief committee to help Bru families affected during the arson cases. But it is unlikely that these steps will help ensure normalcy and pave the way for the repatriation of the Brus, also known as Reasgs. Actually, the turnaround in the situation largely depends on those who are against reparation and who were involved in the murder of the Mizo youth. That is why all the State government needs to do is institute as inquiry into the circumstance leading to the former's death as soon as possible and take punitive action against all those found guilty.

The Mizoram Bru Displaced People's Forum (MBDPF), the sole representative body of the refugees has also demanded an inquiry into the incident, besides nabbing of the culprits. Interestingly, its secretary has blamed it on those who are opposed to repatriation. Or else he claimed there was no valid reason why the murder should take place just before the beginning of the repatriation process.

Gauging the current mood of the MBDF leaders, one may conceive that other demands related to their safe return and resettlement than addressing the issue of arrest of those involved in the murder of the Mizo youth. They are, inter alia, deployment of Central-military force during their repatriation, their rehabilitation in areas of their choice and land allotment. These are all legitimate claims that riot-affected people may hope to be addressed by a democratically-elected government like the Mizoram ruling establishment for their safety and security before they leave for the State.

Insofar as deployment of Central para-military forces is concerned, it is of utmost necessity in the once-predominantly Bru tribal areas in the western part of Mizoram where their settlements were set ablaze during the recent mob violence. Such an action is necessary to ensure their safe return and resettlement. Now, in a highly volatile situation that still prevails there, taking them back as carpetbaggers that the refugees supposedly are in the eyes of those in Mizoram who are dead against their return as the four State-based leading NGOs, including the Young Mizo Association (YMA), are, will amount to knowingly push them into falling prey to armed attacks by miscreants. It is a pity that the State government wanted their repatriation in haste without any security bandobast in the prevailing tense situation.

Rehabilitation of the refugees in areas of their choice is yet another genuine demand of the MBDPF leadership. Demanding resettlement in their original places is quite logical because there they will feel more secure than in unknown destinations. To say it candidly, the demand for resettlement of the refugees in their native villages, including Tuipuibari, Tengpui, Aampa etc, in the western part of Mizoram is an old one. It was first raised by the Bru insurgent group, the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) led by Surjyomoni Reang. The then Zoramthanga-led MNF government in the State settled for it at a bipartite meeting on April 26, 2005 where the militant outfit entered into an agreement with it and reportedly resettled a batch of 1,6 17 refugees.

But the current incumbent government seeks to resettle them in areas other than those of their choice. So, there does not seem any prospect of their going back. The NBDPF general secretary Elvis Chorkey said that the refugees were not ready to return if there is no meaningful solution to the Bru problem. It is therefore, surprising why the government is procrastinating in meeting the three basic demands of the bonafide refugees, specially when the militant outfits including the BNLF have fulfilled all the conditions of the Peace Accord signed between both side to end insurgency in the State after the 12th round of talks at Aizawl on March 7-10, 2005. It is because of fear of losing image among the Mizos?

One condition set before them by the MNF government for bringing back the refugees was eschewing violence and laying down arms and ammunition. The other is related to withdrawing their demand for an autonomous district council on the lines of the Chakmas, Lakher and Mann tribes for whom it has already been constituted in Mizoram in spite of they microscopic minorities. For the sake of the hapless, a sizable sections of BNLF and BUM activists have already surrendered before the State authorities. Given their wretched condition in the six relief camps in Tripura, they have even withdrawn their demand for the district council. After these developments which were favourable for early return of elusive peace to the State, violence by the militant groups has considerably de-escalated.

Since the militant outfits have fulfilled all the conditions set by the earlier State government, the present establishment ought to have reciprocated by meeting the three demands of the refugees in the interest of a lasting solution to the festering problem. It is a golden opportunity and prudence says the government should make the most of it for early settlement before time runs out. Or else, Tripura more than Mizoram, will be in trouble with the refugees as the Home-grown indurgent groups may try to 4et lose a reign of terror in the Kanchanpur subdivision where the refugees have been sheltered since 1997, as and when the news spreads that repatriation has not taken place because of the alleged rejection of the three genuine demands of the refugees by the government.








Newspapers are serial publications that contain news on current affairs of special and general interest. The process of publication of newspapers in the by-gone era was very interesting. Opportunities were limited. The daily newspaper was essentially the product of an industrialized society and soon became an inevitable part of democracy. It turned a new phase, with the development of science and technology. The introduction of Linotype machine in 1886 allowed production of the vast number of newspapers. Commercial production of newspapers increased in 1890 with the emergence of the 'Press-Baron'- a businessman who owned chains of newspapers by the increasing importance of advertising revenue and by the use of unorthodox methods of winning more readers. In developing countries, newspapers have a vital role to play in disseminating a balance picture.

The Indian media industry is witnessing a phenomenal growth now-a-days and vernacular media became potent force that grew significantly with the improving literacy in the country. Newspapers are original and integral part of mass media and considered to be the fourth pillar of democracy. Disseminating information, knowledge, thoughts and beliefs are the primary characteristic of newspapers. Political, social and moral debates and discussions have evolved through newspapers and have significant influences with respect to a pattern of thoughts and life of its readers. The increase in supplements on features catering to specific audiences is a new development. An average newspaper reader gets an opportunity to read 16 to 24 pages in the morning. Moreover newspapers are published in all regional languages, with almost all big and small towns having their own newspapers.

The newspaper industry in a confluence of three distinct players - the media the advertisers and agencies. In other words, it requires people in advertising, sales, marketing and distribution as well. Media offer a host of desk and field jobs. These include reporting, photography and desk jobs such as editing, graphic designing etc. Field reporters usually cover events and develop specialization in subjects like defence, politics, sports, culture and business. They are the lifeblood of newspaper industry. The traditional role of a journalist as "watchdog" has changed now. Reporters cannot operate as watchdog if they have no protection. Recent boom in media and newspapers in India is often being attributed to advertising. Even in the case of some big newspapers, revenue from advertising constitutes as high as 70 per cent of total revenue. More or less advertising today sustains and steers newspapers. Entry of foreign advertising agencies have also going on parallely.

Newsprint is another important factor in the growth of newspaper industry. Newsprint which is an uncoated groundwood (softwood) has two grades - virgin and recycled. Virgin is made from fresh woodchips and saw mill residue, a by product of forestry industry. In the mechanical process, woodchips are converted to pulp and fibres, which after a series of processes, take the shape of paper. In case of recycled NP, wood pulp is replaced or supplemented by Old Newsprint (ONP) and certain quantity of waste paper which are re-pulled and re-inked using chemicals.

The biggest cost for a NP, is fibre, which is 25 per cent, followed by energy and labour with 20 per cent each, followed by transport 15 per cent chemicals 7 per cent and others (water, taxes etc.) making the balance 13 per cent. Therefore, a hike in cost of any raw material takes its toll on NP prices. Pulp prices are up 11.4 per cent in March 2008. Rising pulp prices could have been negated by using more ONP - an environment friendly and viable substitute. The increasing prices of pulp and ONP, resulted in rasing NP prices. This is because, both these have heavy demand from packaging paper and carton - making units. As a result, international paper manufacturers have shifted their product profile away from NP. As a consequence newspaper became thinner, supplements are less glossy and ads became smaller in size. Inspire of all these hurdles, newspaper industry has managed to run in its own track. According to the report of World Association of Newspapers worldwide circulation of newspapers is rising to 540 million copies a day in 2008, despite a downturn in the global economy. It grew to 1.3 per cent worldwide in 2008, 1.9 billion people read a paid daily newspaper every day. This represents an increase of 8.8 per cent over the past five years. Circulation of newspapers was not booming in the developed countries. It fell by 3.7 per cent in North America, by 2.5 per cent in Australia and 1.8 per cent in Europe. In fact figures show a continued downward trend in developed markets; as newspaper companies into these markets have embraced digital technologies to further improve their products 'On-line' consumers of newspapers go on increasing. But in 2008, newspaper circulation increased 6.9 per cent in Africa, 1.8 per cent in South America and 2.9 per cent in Asia. India and China are two emerging markets of newspapers.

Electronic technology has revolutionized the ways in which newspapers are written, edited and printed while radio and television have development into serious competitors as source of news, official information and entertainment as a vehicle for advertising. According to one survey, television news have now suppressed newspapers as primary and relied first source for news. But newspapers are viewed better, when it comes to "Comprehensiveness". It could be said that TV had no significant adverse impact as apprehended on the levels of readership of daily newspapers. On the contrary, competition has helped to expand the overall market for newspapers. But the competition within and across media has been for the same sections of people. Rural reach as well as coverage is still negligible.

In Assam also quite a good number of newspapers have come up recently. That is certainly a good sign, but the spurt in its growth has to be backed by quality. Media is a mirror of society. North-East/the bio diversity hot spot of India is a geographically distinct region and there are some thrust areas that definitely warrant more media attention. Its vast natural resources, tourist circuit with rich tradition, culture and heritage, border trade, activities of terrorist group are same of them. No doubt, for long term survival of a newspaper, commercial consideration and basic journalistic principle should go together.

(The writer teaches Economics in MDKG College, Dibrugarh)








For someone who keeps maintaining that he is against media trials of all criminal cases, old, new or pending, one wonders why the veteran lawyer Ram Jethmalani is doing the rounds of TV news channels just to make the point that the judiciary should have the final word and not the Fourth Estate. Surely, it would be simpler for one of India's most experienced lawyers to stay away from all televised chat shows on what should happen next in all cases, including the one involving former Haryana DGP S P S Rathore. Instead, we have the celebrated lawyer alternatively scowling and glaring at the TV camera while ticking off one news channel after the other for 'undermining' the judicial system by holding a media trial and stating that he would not like to be a part of this process! The cases for discussion might vary, the TV news channels might be different, but the one constant is a scowling, glaring Jethmalani registering what P G Wodehouse would have called s d (stout disapproval) at this 'intolerable intrusion' by the media into matters it was 'not qualified' to comment on and, therefore, best left to the judiciary.

The man on the street — not the one leading to any court! — might wonder why it took 19 years for Rathore to be convicted of molestation. The common man could even quote from Ambrose Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary where a litigant has been defined as "a person about to give up his skin for the hope of retaining his bones" and litigation as "a machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage". Bierce defined justice as "a commodity which, in a more or less adulterated condition, the State sells to the citizen as a reward for his allegiance". However, Bierce was a 19th century journalist and, therefore, going by Jethmalani's dictum, not competent to comment on judicial matters. Jethmalani would have regarded as not just objectionable but in contempt of court Bierce's definition of a lawyer as "one skilled in circumvention of the law"!







The Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia is on the dot when he says the country's fiscal deficit will not stand out as an egregious case of overspending compared to the US and the UK. But he is dead wrong on one count. The US — to a lesser extent, the UK as well — is able to fund its fiscal deficit by issuing IOUs that the rest of world laps up, never mind that current macroeconomic fundamentals, by themselves, would warrant only junk bond rating for US T-bills.

The rest of the world is willing and eager to fund the excesses of the US economy. If, in the past, it was private US consumption that saw the rest of the world accumulate dollar-denominated assets, today it has been replaced by government spending, courtesy the fiscal stimulus. We in India do not have such luxury. Government borrowing will have to be financed domestically, for the most part.

What this means is that large government borrowing could crowd out private investment. And at 10.3%, Centre and states combined, India's fiscal deficit is large by any standards. The US and UK, moreover, do not have close to 30% of their populations below the poverty line. We do. The consequences of fiscal imprudence — whether a sharp rise in interest rates or inflation — are, therefore, much more adverse for India.

There is, thus, no getting away from the need to rein in our fiscal deficit. Agreed, we cannot do it abruptly given that the economy is yet to recover fully. But we need to make a beginning. Oil, fertiliser and food subsidies are the most obvious egregious examples, to use Mr Ahluwalia's own phrase, of fiscal folly. Numerous expert committees have repeatedly shown how the subsidies do not benefit the poor and lead to sub-optimal resource allocation. Yet, the government is loath to scrap them for fear of an electoral backlash from the vocal middle class. This is unacceptable.

With four and a half years to go before the next general elections, it is time the government took courage in its hands and pruned subsidies drastically. The only justification for a deficit is when it is used for investment that creates the wherewithal to repay costly borrowing. Quality, not size of the fiscal deficit, is the real issue.







As protests in Iran show no sign of petering out, with the regime counter-reacting with more repression, it would be too easy to make comparisons with the 1979 revolution against the Shah. Indeed, most western media have been doing just that. And there have been attendant calls for imposing tougher economic sanctions on Iran in order to aid the sough-after regime change.

But both the 1979 comparison and the idea of tightening the screws on the Ahmadinejad regime through sanctions would be misplaced. Given Iran's complexity, which the west seems ready to disregard, India would do well — despite our increased ties with the US and repeated voting against Iran's atomic adventures at the IAEA — to remember that the protest movement in Iran isn't quite what the western media would like it to be, nor is a total change in regime likely yet.

For, unlike 1979, which essentially saw the whole mass of people across the political spectrum ranged against the regime, this time around it is more a division within Iranian society. Sure, there have been protests across the country, not just in urban areas, with a divide emerging even within the clergy, but there have been equally-huge pro-government marches as well, with large-scale participation by Ahmadinejad's supporters — he, indeed, claims the support of the majority of the poor.


Factor in, as well, that opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi is a figure from within the regime itself, a former key Khomeini aide. Even now, he advocates, as in his latest five proposals to end the crisis, accommodation, not revolution. What is being witnessed is essentially a struggle between sections of the old ruling elite itself. That said, given the government's increasingly-savage crackdown, the stage could be set for a bloody conflict. And certainly, the protest movement has eroded the regime's authority and even energised the political discourse in Iran.

But nationalism also runs deep here, and any act perceived as foreign meddling, sanctions or even a remote military threat, might yet change the political landscape again. Change in Iran must be allowed to occur from within.








Once upon a time, in Korea, there lived a young woman who was quite unable to speak. On the day she turned 19, the woman met the famous Buddhist layperson called Busol. She was able to speak, for the first time in her life. As the master turned to leave, she fell at his feet clutching at his robes, "I got my voice only because of you! Without you, now there can be no meaning in life for me." She also begged the sage for marriage and threatened to kill herself if he should refuse. Busol was in a quandary: if he did not stop her from killing herself, the Buddha's teaching of the eight-fold way could be brought into disgrace.

How could he hope to move forward and eventually achieve perfect enlightenment if he did not resolve the dilemma he was in right now?

He opted to give up monastic life and chose to marry the girl. Then one day, the two Buddhist ascetics who used to practice with Busol called on him. But because he had married, they were rude and treated him contemptuously.

Busol, however, did not get ruffled. He greeted the visitors with warmth and kindness. There wasn't a word of harshness or criticism from him. However, he also could not let his fellow-seekers persist in their vengeful state of misunderstanding. In order to jog up the aspirants out of their folly, Busol filled up three gourds with cold water and had them hung on pegs in the wall.

Next, he begged the monks each to break a gourd. Nothing could be easier, the monks thought. As each ascetic struck a blow, the gourd broke into smithereens and all the water just ran down the wall. But when Busol hit his target, the shattered pieces did fall to the ground, but the water seemed to remain suspended in mid-air in the shape of a bottle gourd, as if it was frozen. The two astonished monks realised that they had erred in their estimation of the depth and power of Busol's spiritual/tantric practice.

They apologised, saying, "Until now, we've paid attention to only theories, without having tried to put them into practice. Further, we didn't discard the stubbornness and arrogance that arose from the thought that we had studied under so many great masters. Please forgive us." Busol then told them that the physical body was like the gourds they broke; whereas their inherent nature was like the water dangling in the air.

He taught them that our inherent nature always remains as it is and doesn't change, regardless of how circumstances may change.







The concept of class action or representative suit is not alien to the Indian Law. The Civil Procedure Code and statutes like Consumer Protection Act recognise the concept and provide for class action with prescribed conditions. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) Act and the Companies Act, however, do not have a provision for class action. This issue came up before Bombay High Court in a case relating to Sterlite Industries. Here, Sebi tried to intervene on behalf of investors, challenging the company's scheme on share buyback.

The scheme envisaged that if shareholders do not return their option forms with their unwillingness to sell the shares, they shall be deemed to have opted for the buyback. Based on shareholders' representations, Sebi approached the court saying the scheme was unconscionable and unfair to shareholders. Sebi pleaded that as the guardian to protect investors' interests, it had the statutory duty to take up any cause that hurt their interests. But the court held that Sebi had no right to appear in the proceedings under Section 391 and 394A of the Companies Act. The Companies Bill, 2009, proposes to provide for class action to protect the interest of shareholders and creditors against oppression and mismanagement.

This is a welcome move. The bigger challenge, however, would be to prevent the misuse of the provision. The US has attempted to check frivolous class action suits, vested interest proceedings and forum-shopping by enacting Private Securities Legislation Reform Act, 1995, and Class Action Fairness Act, 2005. No such legislation is available in India. To prevent misuse, the proposed provision in the Companies Bill can have a stipulation saying the National Company Law Tribunal's permission would be needed to admit class action suits.

A mere fall in the share price of a scrip cannot be always attributed to the mismanagement or fraudulent practices. There may be various reasons for drop in share prices, known and unknown. Hence, class action would not be an effective remedy in all cases involving fall in share prices, though it may be an appropriate remedy in a case like the fraud at Satyam Computer Services.








Share price movements are basically dependent on the demand and supply of a scrip. Hence, shareholders cannot contest against drop in the share price of a company unless it is proven that the management has not acted in their interest. Investors invest money in a company in good faith. They expect the company to be run by its board in the best interest of shareholders. However, when things go wrong, the minimum a shareholder expects is for the regulator to step in to protect their interest.

Right now, investors do not have remedial measures of filing cases against errant promoters or companies in a court of law as a group. The Companies Act, on the other hand, protects the managing or whole-time directors for loss of office by compensating them when they have a problem. A similar protection is not available to ordinary minority shareholders. The proposed provision in the Companies Bill allowing shareholders to take recourse to class action suits will boost investor confidence and instill fear among errant promoters.

It is legitimate for shareholders to seek compensation when they lose their life-time savings invested in a company due to mismanagement or frauds committed by the management. The argument that equity investment carries a risk and, hence, no one can compensate investors when there is a loss is flawed. Investors are ready to face market risks, but they expect systems to protect them from frauds. A class action is a form of lawsuit where large numbers of shareholders collectively make a claim in court of law. The aggregation will certainly increase the efficiency of the legal process and lower the cost of litigation.

We believe that a group of shareholders should be allowed to file a case rather than a few individuals trying to file cases on flimsy grounds. Many a time investors find it difficult to recover their losses even when there is no fault from their side. A case in point is vanishing companies. The promoters continue to enjoy their personal assets and claim that they have lost company's assets. Why should ordinary investors be penalised for no fault of theirs?

A K Narayan, President, TN Investors' Association








Forget trickle-down economics. India's record GDP growth of 8.49% per year in the five-year period 2004-09 is a case of improved productivity and growth in states trickling up and aggregating into rapid growth at the national level. The acceleration did not originate in New Delhi. It originated in the states, especially the large, poor ones, and then trickled up. We have long viewed some states like Gujarat and Maharashtra as naturally fast-growing, and others like Bihar and Uttar Pradesh as irredeemable failures. We are used to thinking of Kerala as having good social welfare without growth, and of Punjab as the main economic dynamo north of the Vindhyas.

These old notions have been shaken up in India's five years of miracle growth, from 2004-05 to 2008-09. Some historical laggards have skyrocketed while one leader has plummeted. The overall pattern is heartening: the vast majority of states have had a growth bonanza. When I wrote recently that Bihar and other poor states had become miracle economies (New miracle economies: Bihar, poor states, Sunday Times of India, January 3, 2010), many readers expressed disbelief. So here is a detailed table culled from the latest government data (the link is SDP_1999-2000_20nov09.pdf).

Few will be surprised that Gujarat is on top and Madhya Pradesh at the bottom. But many will be astonished that Bihar has skyrocketed to share the lead with Gujarat, with Kerala close behind in third position. Indeed, Bihar's growth average of 11.03% is almost China-like. The state has done so badly for so long that it may just be enjoying catch-up gains whose sustainability remains to be established. Nevertheless, for Bihar to top the growth league is revolutionary.

The biggest negative surprise is that Punjab, once the growth leader, has dropped to near the bottom. Assam was always in the lower half of the growth table, but has slipped further to second-last position.
In the past, the richest states often grew fastest and the poor ones slowest. Not any more. The accompanying table shows that poor states are no longer clustered at the bottom of the growth league, they occupy several positions high up. Four of the poorest states — Bihar (11.03%), Orissa (8.74%), Jharkhand (8.45%) and Chhattisgarh (7.35%) — now qualify as miracle economies, going by the international norm of 7% growth. And, wonder of wonders, Uttar Pradesh at 6.29% is now quite close to the miracle growth norm.

Nobody should call this a success of trickle-down economics. Trickle-down assumes that fast growth can be had simply by changing a few policies that benefit the rich, after which some benefits trickle down to the poor. In fact, miracle growth is globally rare precisely because it is so difficult for countries to improve the productivity of a substantial proportion of the population. Only when productivity improvement is widespread is there enough productivity improvement from all regions and people to add up to fast growth. In other words, fast growth does not trickle down, it trickles up.

When India's growth began accelerating, I was sure that this could not have happened without the big, poor states participating. I did not believe, like some, that elite of computer software nerds or auto designers in a few states could make India a miracle economy: that could happen only with widespread growth, especially in poor states with large populations. The issue was not whether fast growth would be inclusive. Rather, I believed that only substantially-inclusive growth across the states would add up to miracle growth at the national level. The latest CSO data prove that this is indeed what has happened.

Once a country grows fast, government revenues will boom, and can be used to accelerate spending in social sectors and welfare. Miracle growth and record revenues enabled the central government to finance the National Rural Employment Guarantee Programme, Bharat Nirman, Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, the farm loan waiver and enormous oil subsidies. This can be called the trickling down of part of the revenue bonanza into welfare and workfare. But neither welfare nor workfare could have caused the sharp acceleration of economic growth. The growth bonanza itself was sparked by state-level political and policy changes that accelerated local growth, which then trickled up to the national level.

The sudden high growth in Bihar, Kerala, Orissa, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh cannot be attributed to New Delhi. It arose from changes at the state level. Central policies certainly improved growth potential after 1980, and more substantially after 1991. But only in the last few years did slow-growing states develop local leadership and policies that converted potential into growth.

Their widespread participation is confirmed by the rapid rise in rural sales of motorcycles and branded consumer goods. Even stronger confirmation comes from the spread of the cellphone revolution. The rate of new cellphone connections has risen steadily to touch 12-15 million per month in 2009. Hundreds of millions earlier excluded from telecom are now getting included.

As of September 2009, urban tele-density in Rajasthan (104.4%) and Orissa (101.59%) exceeded the national level of 101.38%. Bihar and Jharkhand (99.41%) were almost on par, with Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand (88.13%) not far behind. Rural tele-density in these states is still low. But thousands of tele-towers are coming up, so rural tele-density is rising fast from a low base.

The unfinished agenda remains wide and deep. Even if three quarters of the population has enjoyed improved productivity and growth, this still means that 25%, or 300 million people, may have participated only marginally or not at all. Rapid growth has been substantially inclusive, but not totally so. Much more needs to be done, mainly in public service delivery at the state level.







Henry R Kravis , the legendary co-founder and chairman of buy-out firm Kohlberg Kravis and Roberts, says that the firm has now evolved as an integrated global asset manager. The era of financial engineering is over, he told ET during his latest visit to the country, the second in past 12 months:

How do you think PEs will evolve in the future?

I think, it is going to be more diversified and global. PEs will have to have flexible capital. It is no longer like: I am going to buy a company and leverage it. Financial engineering has gone out of the window. Ya, you get lucky from time to time. But, it is always better do real value add. It is the most important thing and is becoming even more important.

Secondly, having flexible capital to invest anywhere in the capital structure is very important and you have to be willing to go anywhere in the world to look for opportunities. And, lastly, the larger private equity funds will strive to get more permanent capital. For instance, we are now a public company and we became public a few months ago because we merged KKR into a publicly-traded subsidiary that we had, which had investments and owned companies.

Today, you should be willing to make different kinds of investments than you made in the past. You have to be willing to be a solution provider to a company and give them what they need. And lastly, something which has not changed over the years, you have to be patient and you have to think long term.

What is your current global economic outlook considering you have investments in a host of companies across different sectors? Do you think the global economy is back on the mend?

Let's start with the US, which is a big driver of the global economy. The US is going to have some headwinds in 2010. Clearly, the scene is better now than what it had been. We are through the worst and the financial crisis has now subsided.

The capital markets in US and Europe are wide open right now. The spreads have come down dramatically on bonds. It is clearly all moved in the right direction. The stock market is up significantly from its bottom in March. All these are the positive aspects and these are must before the economy can grow. There are certain headwinds in the US that will be with us for a while. We have very high unemployment rate now — of around 10% plus, which has been stated — but then, there are also those who have dropped out of the workforce and are not counted in the unemployment rate the way the system works.

Around 70% of the economy is consumption-driven, and so, consumer confidence is very important. We have a long way to go till we go back to the previous employment levels and feel good enough so that we go back and spend money. The housing market is another important component that will determine whether the US recovers or not. The biggest asset that people have in the US is their home. That influences the way people think. These things begin to affect peoples' attitude towards consumer confidence.

The primary concern is: can this economy stand on its own without the stimulus? In the third quarter, there was enormous amount of stimulus and we only grew 2.2%. So, when people say things are better, it is not as bad. But not that things are great — we are not growing yet. Europe will be very sluggish with around 1-2% growth. However, Asia, India and South-East Asia look very positive when it comes to growth, and we are trying to lead the way. India is fantastic. The question being asked is whether we will grow 6% or 8% here and how do you control the growth. I travelled around India in this trip particularly and see nothing, but opportunity.
Given the conservativeness and general risk aversion, do you see the Leveraged Buy Out model changing?
We have been through this before — the cycles. Back in 1980s, you put a dollar of equity and you could borrow 2-4 dollars of debt. Then in the 1990s, you could borrow 4-5 dollars of debt. In the beginning of 2000 till the beginning of 2005, you were still in the same zone after the dot-com bubble.

Then it started creeping back to up to 7 times EBIDTA. In some of the industries, you could borrow 10-11 times debt to EBIDTA. As prices move back up, you are almost at one-to-one debt to equity. We will be at this level for a long time and that is fine. You can make very good money doing that as the prices are down. The PE ratio are down compared to 2005 and 2006. In certain industries, they are way too down so you make those investments assuming that the economy will bounce back in that sector. I have heard so many times that the PE industry is dead. And yet, we survive. You figure out different ways to do things. Our business is cyclical in how it makes investments.

What are the businesses that KKR is focusing on now?

We have expanded our business tremendously. We have 13 offices around the world today and that gives us real flexibility. If Asia looks like it is strong and growing, we will continue to make investments in Asia. There are very attractive investments to make. We are not buying anything here but growth capital. In KKR, PE is a legacy business and is an important piece of what we do. If you take a barbell, one end of the barbell today is private equity and along that is infrastructure. We are investing in anything from power generation, pipelines, airports etc, and then you have private equity.

The other end of the barbell is the asset management business. The asset management business is very important and fast-growing. In the middle of this is the capital market business – from underwriting new issues, we have a license on a global basis and can place debt and equity. Today, messages are an integrated firm that cover capital markets, asset management and private equity, all equal. Number two, we are an integrated firm. That is the message we give internally all the time. We are one firm — but we are also global and so our compensation system has always been and ever true today. No matter where you work in KKR, you participate in everything that KKR does.

Another thing is value add. We have an inhouse consulting firm that is global with 50 operating consultants and that only work for KKR and KKR companies. These guys just go in and do the work along with the management. It is very important to understand that we can invest up and down the capital structure. Historically, we couldn't do that. So, think of us as integrated global asset manager. Think of us also very much like an industrialist— we live and breathe the company. We don't make the investment and hope that it works out.


What are the learnings from the countries and the companies in which you have invested into in the past few years?

Let's take India-China in particular. They are very fast-growing, dynamic and exciting markets. What we are finding here is that it is a much more of a growth capital partnership type of investments as opposed to buying companies. I would be surprised if we buy too much in India or in China. We might not even buy 100% of the company. That is not even our focus. Our focus is, how could we partner with the CEO of a company and help in accomplishing the goals faster than you might do it on your own.

How can we provide expertise and capital to you that will help you, maybe, diversify the business faster than you could on your own. The key to that, in our view, is to find the right partner, the right entrepreneur, right promoter to partner with. It is really critical. You have to do your due-diligence as much on the promoter and the partner as you do on the business.


Currently, the majority of investments of KKR are concentrated in the West. How do you still see this trend changing? Where do India and Asia stand?

This is a nascent market with small transactions. We bought Aricent for $900 million, which is huge. Most of the investment which we would be making would be very small — say $100-250 million in China. It is not about big transaction right now, but eventually it will get there. In the US, when we started, we used to buy little companies in 1960s. By 1975, the largest company that we bought was for $91 million. We had been into business for ten years at that point. It was only in 1979 when we moved to the $100-million deal. Till then, most of the deals were in the $20-30 million range.

Later, we moved up and bought a company called Houdaille Industries for $336 million. That was a huge deal and we had to think long and hard about the financing aspect. Capital markets, at that time, were not open to private equity. It is a little like what is going on here. It's all new. We have a very mature market in the US with a lot of different capital products and structures that can be used. It's the same in Europe. China and India are different. These are more like growth capital kind of markets. We will take our time. We are very patient and we are here permanently.

What kind of investments do you see KKR doing in India?

This is not a market, in India particularly, where you are going see a lot of companies being bought. Most of our investments would be investments up and down the capital structure — could be on the debt side, could be on the equity side — providing good, long-term growth capital, capital to solve a problem for the company. The role that we could play there would be to come in and help them grow. We would be in a minority position, we are happy to do that. Here, in India, it will be more likely a 10-20% or 50% stake. We are trying to be a solution- provider for them to help them with whatever problem that they are facing.

There have been moves to tighten regulation across the world after the credit crisis. Will we see changes in the way finance capital works in the next few years?

We don't know how it will look like. My view, and I am really worried about is, you don't want to stifle innovation. And, that to me is the worst thing that governments can do. Governments often, at times, get hung up on things that they don't understand and don't understand the repercussions from making some of the moves. You are going to have much more transparency, which I favour. You have to have more transparency, say, in the derivative market, and you might end up with some sort of an exchange for derivatives which you don't really have right now.

What will be your advice to an entrepreneur or those aspiring to be one?

Two things. Follow your dream and that's the most important thing. If you really believe that you have an idea, follow it up. You may get the door slammed. But, if you honestly believe in your idea, go for it. However, do your homework. It is very important that you do your due diligence. You really have to have a plan. Think through it carefully and don't be afraid to fail. You probably will fail. But, so what? Pick yourself up and figure another way to do it. We couldn't raise a fund the first time, we tried to figure a different way to do it to get started. If you run yourself into a door and the door is closed, then try a door that is open. There will be another door that will open. Don't give up. It will be hard. If you honestly believe it, follow the dream.








Europe's largest carmaker Volkswagen is targeting a 10% market share in India with its three global brands — Volkswagen, Skoda and Audi. Jochem Heizmann, member of Volkswagen's board, outlined the German carmaker's strategy to gain volumes in the world's second fastest growing market in a free-wheeling interview with ET.

How smooth has the Beetle experience been so far?

We have confirmed customer bookings for around 250 Beetles so far, that speaks itself of the confidence Volkswagen Brand now enjoys in India. The car captured Indian luxury car market in a big way and all our imports are booked till May this year.

That means Volkswagen could import other popular cars too?

There has been good demand for our products and we have imported the Touareg SUV and the Phaeton luxury sedan earlier. The direct import of cars could be considered as and when the demand grows. But such imports will not lead to substantial volumes and we will concentrate on producing cars locally.

What steps are being taken to achieve your sales targets?

We are looking to become a significant player in the Indian market. We launched our premium hatchback Polo and showcased the sporty Race Polo at the Auto Expo on Tuesday. The Polo will be available at our dealerships from March onwards and will be our volume model in India. It will be the most aggressively priced product from our group.

What role will Polo play in your sales?

We expect our share in the Indian car market to go up to 10% on the back of several new models in the next 6 years. Other cars such as Jetta, Passat, Beetle, Touareg will support the Polo. We also plan to launch the Polo's sedan version by June this year.

Polo's price has been a key point of speculation?

We have not disclosed Polo's price, but it will be most competitively priced car in its segment. Polo will be available in 1.2 litre engine in both petrol and diesel versions. The car is sold at the equivalent of Rs 9.5 lakh in Europe, but the Indian variant will come at a very attractive price. Initially the car will have 50% local content that will to up to 70-75% to contain prices.

Will it be priced over Skoda's Fabia like in other global markets?

There has been no consistent policy on that and Polo's price will be determined at the time of its launch. The car has huge potential and will meet customer expectations on price and will meet our global quality and safety standards. We feel it's the right car for the Indian customer.

Is there a possibility of more compact cars from Volkswagen in India?

We are considering another car for India, which will be smaller than the Polo. It could be UP!, which we had showcased here in 2008, but no final decision has been taken on that yet. It has to be a volume driven product with right prices, but it will not be in the Tata Nano segment.

Does that mean that Volkswagen's recent acquisition of 20% stake in small car maker Suzuki Motor will lead to synergies?

It is a long-term partnership for both the companies. There is no specific plan to have any joint-product, but we are in talks with Suzuki to look at synergies in several areas. We see a huge potential for increasing our localisation in India.




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




To no one's surprise, the meeting of Andhra Pradesh political parties chaired by the Union home minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, in New Delhi on Tuesday to thrash out the Telangana issue yielded little. The gathering has its importance nonetheless. Parties spelled out their views at an official forum. It is not likely these will be modified wholesale, but subsequent discussions — if they are encouraged on all sides — could help to modulate maximalist positions. In the case of the Congress and the Telugu Desam, their members are currently taking positions based on regional dictates, and in the light of the current atmosphere of violent agitation. With time, moderation of extremes are possible here too. The home minister has hinted at his desire for the setting up of a "mechanism" to take the process of exploration forward. We wish him well in this endeavour. Had he and his party's leadership been farsighted about the matter, they could have begun with something like this instead of the precipitate announcement of December 9 initiating the process of forming a separate Telangana. Although the Union government and the Congress have played a miscued hand, the other influential players are not free from blame. Both the TD and PR need to explain their volte face. The CPI, which has enjoyed historical influence in Andhra Pradesh and agitated for a united state at the end of the Nizam era, and the BJP need to make the country understand if their original belief in linguistic sub-nationalism as a basis for the creation of states in the post-colonial period had been misplaced. The TRS chief, Mr K. Chandrasekhar Rao, appears reasonable when he says he is prepared for discussions in the pursuit of his objective. However, his supporters in Hyderabad have shown no lessening of volatility and are forever threatening recourse to violent agitation. A time will come when this dichotomy has to be set aside. No state can watch violent agitation passively for long. In this case, when administrative patience is exhausted, KCR will be obliged to take responsibility or dissociate himself from the mobs. So far, compulsions arising out of the agenda of agitation have set the tone for discussion on the Telangana issue. But the historical canvas can hardly be overlooked. After all, the union of the Telangana region of the Nizam's domains with the coastal areas and Rayalseema, following the submission of the States Reorganisation Commission, was a legal act. Undoing this cannot transgress the bounds of legality. The suggestion appears to have been mooted that the President make a reference to the Supreme Court under Article 143 in this regard. Whatever the outcome of this line of thinking, retracing the path in the Andhra Pradesh-Telanagana context can hardly be without regard to wider political implications for the country as a whole. Whatever the emotional arguments being put forward in the name of history by the proponents of a separate Telangana, it is shortsighted to imagine that the status of Hyderabad will not be a key point of debate. All political quarters need to prepare themselves for this. Politicians of every hue must also show the nerve not to be led by crowds in the name of a so-called people's programme, and summon inner resources to lead the people instead in a rational, reasonable, democratic direction.








The ANDHRA pradesh Governor, Mr Narayan Dutt Tiwari's sudden exit from the Raj Bhavan in Hyderabad is a dismal and sleazy affair. He has, of course, stoutly denied all the allegations against him. But he is too seasoned a politician to be unaware of the kind of reputation he has had. That, however, is incidental. The main point is that the Tiwari episode only underscores the stark reality that no exalted office has been devalued and debased so thoroughly as that of governor who, as constitutional head of the state under his charge, is supposed to be the linchpin of the federal system. No wonder the constitutional architecture devised by the founding fathers has been distorted all too often, and sometimes perverted.


Jawaharlal Nehru had emphasised in the Constituent Assembly that only eminent and independent-minded people, "preferably people who have not taken too great a part in politics" should be appointed to this august office. He lived up to his words. In his time people like Rajaji (C. Rajagopalachari), Sarojini Naidu, Homi Mody and Girja Shankar Bajpai were appointed governors. Ironically, even in his time there were two distressing departures from the high norms he had laid down. After the first general election in 1952 in the state of Madras, the Congress lacked the majority in the Assembly. Yet, the governor, Sri Prakasa, brushed aside the larger United Front's claim to form a government and invited Rajaji to do so even though he was not a member of the Assembly. To make matters worse, to Nehru's annoyance, the governor did not ask the chief minister to seek early election to the legislature but nominated him to the legislative council.


What happened seven years later in Kerala was far more shocking. Technically relying on the governor's report, New Delhi unfairly dismissed the E.M.S Namboodiripad ministry, the first Communist government to come to power anywhere through free and fair elections two years earlier. Doubtless, Nehru had qualms about taking this unfair action. But his daughter, Indira Gandhi, then Congress president, and the party right-wing forced his hand. However, this could not absolve the iconic Prime Minister from his share of blame.


The malaise that the aberrations in the Nehru era represented assumed the proportions of an epidemic later, especially during the years Indira Gandhi reigned supreme. According to one estimate, during her 15-year reign in two innings, President's Rule was imposed in states close to 100 times, most of the times high-handedly. This became possible because of a sharp and steady decline in the quality of people sent to Raj Bhavans. There were some honourable exceptions, of course, but more and more ruling party rejects or hacks, pliable civil servants and unforgettable mediocrities were chosen as governors. Instead of acting as constitutional heads of their states, they were happy to act as the servitors of the Central government.


Just four months before her assassination and on the heels of traumatic Blue Star, Indira Gandhi decided summarily to sack Mr Farooq Abdullah's newly-elected ministry in Kashmir. Mr B.K. Nehru, a former civil servant and diplomat and, incidentally, the Prime Minister's uncle, refused to do so. He was transferred to Gujarat! Barely a month later a Congress loyalist in the Hyderabad Raj Bhavan took it upon himself to dismiss the N.T. Rama Rao ministry in Andhra Pradesh. This boomeranged. The Union government had to eat humble pie and reinstate NTR.


Evidently, even 20 years later this made no difference to the present Congress-led Union government. The infamous dissolution of the Bihar Assembly in 2005 when it hadn't been allowed to meet even once is the most glaring of many such shenanigans. The Supreme Court declared this action unconstitutional. Because of its strictures, Buta Singh had to resign as Bihar Governor only to be given another sinecure later.


It is equally remarkable that other political parties, when in power at the Centre for whatever duration, behaved as the Congress has been doing. For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led (BJP) National Democratic Alliance, on coming to power in 1998, had removed some of the governors appointed by previous regimes. But the BJP screamed when six years later the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance sent packing several Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh pracharaks ensconced in luxurious gubernatorial mansions. Moreover, in the matter of unsuitable appointments of governors, honours are even between the rival sides. Both have been generous in "rewarding" former chiefs of the Intelligence Bureau and even the Research and Analysis Wing. And not content with filling some slots with former military chiefs, a lieutenant-general (who could never make it to the post of Army Commander) was also made Governor.


Way back in 1983, the Sarkaria Commission had laid its finger on the heart of the matter when it recorded: "Discredited and disgruntled politicians from the party in power in (sic) the Union, who cannot be accommodated elsewhere, get appointed (as governors)… and tend to function as agents of the Union government rather than as impartial constitutional functionaries". The commission made the salutary recommendation that those in active politics should be ineligible for the governor's post and, in any case, a politician belonging to the ruling party at the Centre should not be appointed governor in a state where some other party, or combination of parties, rules. All successive governments have treated the report with contempt. Just look at the shuttling of Mr S.K. Shinde and Mr S.M. Krishna from ministerial office to Raj Bhavans and back.


Quite apart from the too many partisan acts, too many governors have indulged in another regrettable trend has set in of late.


The Central government always knows every governor's date of retirement. Yet, it fails to appoint a successor in time. Consequently, the incumbents happily stay on. Only Mr Gopalkrishna Gandhi set the shining example of leaving the Raj Bhavan in Kolkata the day his five-year term ended, leaving it to the Centre to place West Bengal under the "temporary" charge of some other governor. The unwholesome current practice prevails in half-a-dozen states.


It is in Punjab, however, that it creates an embarrassing problem. The governor there — a retired Army Chief — faces serious allegations by, among others, two Union Cabinet ministers. His term expired more than six weeks ago but he is sitting pretty, with full immunity.







The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, inaugurating the Indian Science Congress in Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday, echoed the sentiments of thousands of young scientists when he made a fervent plea to rid science of red-tapism and political interference, which he acknowledged had led to the "regression" of science in India. Young scientists are being relentlessly thwarted by administrators and accountants, who can make or break a Nobel laureate in the making by trying to arbitrarily decide what he or she should or should not do. The office administrators at our institutes of science and higher learning are not impressed by the flight of imagination of young people, which is essential for the development of indigenous science. Administrators, because of their training and attitude, prefer "stability" and pre-set procedures, and to stick to "time-tested methods", allergic to innovation of any kind. This, needless to say, has made any kind of original research or thinking in this country next to impossible. The Prime Minister has obviously been touched to the core by the remarks of 2009 Nobel laureate Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, who made the obvious point that Indian scientists needed greater autonomy from red tape and politics. After he and two others shared the Chemistry Nobel last year, Dr Ramakrishnan found almost everyone in India had started claiming him as their own — after showing almost no interest in his work for several decades. He is not the first Nobel laureate born in India to comment on this — 1968 Medicine laureate Hargobind Khurana had noted how he had to go abroad to even do his Ph.D. The rot had set in that far back! It is true that despite all shortcomings and red-tapism, India has advanced tremendously in science and space — from two nuclear explosions to the successful Chandrayaan mission which found traces of water on the moon. It would be unrealistic, uneconomical and untenable to depend entirely on experiments conducted in overseas laboratories. We have to develop at our own pace — and our young scientists must be given unfettered freedom to pursue their innovations, whether in "pure" science or even more prosaic disciplines such as manufacturing. Dr Manmohan Singh has called for a switch from the brain drain to a "brain gain" — urging scientists of Indian origin working abroad to come back to the homeland, if only for a few months at a time, to deliver lectures or otherwise inspire successive new generations. He called for the setting up of a mechanism to free science from bureaucratic heavy-handedness: it goes without saying this needs to be done on a war footing. Apart from anything else, it would also further our strategic interests — in making us less dependent on the developed countries, which would like nothing better than to be able to dump their outdated technologies on us. The human resources development minister, Mr Kapil Sibal, has been working tirelessly since the start of the second UPA government to create centres of excellence in higher education as it is necessary to develop absolute quality and not work on a percentile basis. This is somewhat reminiscent of the extraordinary vision of our first Prime Minister Jawaharalal Nehru, who could dream big and, besides the IITs, had laid the foundation of India's science, nuclear and space programmes through geniuses like Homi Bhabha to whom he gave a free hand.








The 97th Indian Science Congress is in session at Thiruvananthapuram (January 3 to 7, 2010), the capital of the state of Kerala. For me, every session of the Congress is a new experience; an experience of learning and re-dedication to the cause propounded by the country's first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. It is a matter of pride for the scientific community in the country that it is the Prime Minister who inaugurates and sets the agenda for this annual congregation.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who flew to Thiruvananthapuram to inaugurate the session, told the scientific community about the issues facing the country. An internationally-reputed economist, he pointed out three major concerns which need immediate attention —clean drinking water, hunger and malnutrition. He also said that there was a nutritional emergency all over the country. That there is widespread hidden hunger in India where one-third of the population suffers deficiency of calories and micronutrients.


According to Dr Singh, even as there are concerns there are a number of opportunities. It is possible to sort out these issues by making use of biotechnology.


The enthusiasm of the young scientists who have gathered here from all corners of the country make me believe that biotechnology could be made use of to solve the nutritional problems of India. This is specifically important in India's case where the largest number of people go to bed every night without having a single meal through the day.


Though we have launched a number of schemes to eradicate poverty, the number of people suffering from malnutrition and hunger has only increased. Over the years, our agricultural production has remained static or it has not increased in proportion to our ever-growing population. This has made India the home of the largest number of under-nourished children, women and men in the world.


A comparative study with China gives a disappointing result. Both India and China have somewhat equally

cultivated areas. But in 2009, the Chinese produced 500 million tonnes of foodgrains, while India's figures are not that encouraging. With no prospects of getting additional arable land, our priority should be to increase the yield per hectare and, that too, substantially.


It is time we seriously consider the opportunities offered by biotechnology. Procedural delays and concerns expressed by a section of the society in switching over to modern practices of agriculture and farming should be addressed on a war footing. We have to set up an autonomous and fully independent national biotechnology regulatory authority (NBRA) by an Act of Parliament and that too very soon. The proposed NBRA should have professionally-qualified biotechnologists, food technologists, medical professionals, scientists and policymakers who are capable of independent verification of genetically-modified (GM) foods. The body should be the last word as far as food safety and environmental security are concerned.


This is important in the backdrop of GM brinjal, tomato, cauliflower and paddy waiting in the sidelines to make their entry into the market. If the proposed NBRA finds, these foods are safe for human consumption, there is no justification for delaying their introduction in the market.


India is launching "Operation 2015" to ensure that poverty and hunger in the country are halved by 2015. This is part of our Millennium Development Goals and the success of this project depends on our prompt response in accepting the progress made by our scientists. We should use science as a material to overcome the deficiencies faced by the population of India. Discussions with other scientists attending this edition of the Indian Science Congress has convinced me that what we require is a "Food and Nutrition Security Act" instead of the Food Security Act. There is no shortage of Acts or laws in India but where we lack is in delivering the goods. There are many streams of governance and yet they all fall short when it comes to delivering results.


To show that it is possible to streamline and co-ordinate various activities of government, the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai is joining hands with Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, and the National Institute of Nutrition, to launch a major initiative in Koraput and Bolanghir in Odisha. This will also include a Total Sanitation Programme without which Operation 2015 will never succeed.


Scientists who took part in the first two days of the Science Congress told me that nearly 39 per cent of children below the age of three do not get a nutritious and balanced diet. A study by Dr Malavika Vinod Kumar of Chennai showed that more than 56 per cent of Indian women suffer from anemia. Dr Prakash of CFTRI made an important observation during the Congress that old age, which previously set in at 60, now sets in by 40. This is because of the changes in the eating patterns of people.


Overall, there are several causes for worry and concern but these could be addressed if we take immediate action. We should not disappoint the young scientists of the country who have taken path-breaking initiatives in the filed of biotechnology and biochemistry.


M.S. Swaminathan is the chairman of the National Commission on Farmers. He is considered to be the father of India's green revolution.








There has been general shock at the attempted downing of Northwest Airlines flight 253 over Detroit. It isn't just that yet another aeroplane terrorist atrocity was averted only by luck and courage after US and British intelligence were caught with their pants down once again. Nor is it just the lax airport security.


No, the real amazement has been that the perpetrator, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, is a Nigerian who apparently got his orders from Al Qaeda in Yemen; that the genesis of the pants bomber's radical journey lies not in Iraq or Afghanistan, nor in Israel/Palestine, but in Africa.


It was while at school in Toga that Abdulmutallab reportedly adopted the most belligerent version of Islam. As a fully fledged Islamic extremist, he was naturally received with open arms in "Londonistan", where he was further radicalised to terrorism before being kitted out in Yemen with the latest accessories of mass murder.


He is first and foremost a religious fanatic — and the crucial context for his extremism is Africa. Radical Islamists in countries such as Abdulmutallab's Nigeria, Somalia or the Sudan have been steadily butchering, ethnically cleansing or brutally converting Christians and other "infidels", imposing Sharia law at gunpoint and radicalising the continent to the cause of Islamic holy war.


British intelligence has already warned that British Muslims are being recruited into terror in Somalia. Now we learn of a steady stream of Britons being trained in terrorist camps in Yemen. A group called "Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula" has vowed "all out war on the crusaders" and the "enemies of God". Al Qaeda is resilient and adaptable. It settled in Afghanistan because, having driven the Soviet Union from its borders, euphoric Islamic radicals then organised similarly to defeat America and the West. For a while, the war in Iraq drew Al Qaeda there to fight America; it was driven out eventually when local people themselves turned against it.


Now Pakistan, having spent years turning a blind eye to Al Qaeda's activities, has become sufficiently alarmed to inflict serious damage upon it through air strikes. So Al Qaeda has now relocated from Afghanistan to Africa.


This is likely to supply a new line to the "we're fighting the wrong war" chorus by the appeasement crowd. During the war in Iraq, the refrain was this was the "wrong" war, while the "right" war was neglected in Afghanistan.


Now that the West is locked into a desperate war in Afghanistan, the Detroit plane bomb gives rise to a fresh canard.


Al Qaeda says the Detroit plane bomb was retaliation for the recent US-backed air strikes against it in Yemen.

So all we're doing by going after Al Qaeda is recruiting still more to the jihad. Right? Wrong. Abdulmutallab bought his plane ticket to kingdom come before the US-backed strikes. What people still don't get is that Islamic terrorism is not a response to one political grievance or another. This is a civilisational war on many different fronts.


So says Col. Richard Kemp, former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, and former head of international terrorism for the Cabinet office emergencies committee COBRA, and the Joint Intelligence Committee. If we lose in Afghanistan, he tells me, the danger of Al Qaeda returning there in force, heightening the risk that it will conquer nuclear-armed Pakistan, is acute because the Taliban are its natural Islamist soulmates.


Even more devastatingly, a defeat there for the West would have a galvanic effect on the global jihad similar to the perception in the 1990s that the Islamists had defeated the Soviet empire.


As for Iraq, says Col. Kemp, although the war there turned it for a while into a hub of Al Qaeda, the alternative would have been far worse. "I am in no doubt", he says, "that if we had ignored Iraq it would now be an important centre for Al Qaeda which Saddam would have been using against us".


Yes, the war in Afghanistan is awful — but the alternative is worse. Yes, military attempts to defend the free world may stoke up further hysteria among fanatics — but the alternative is to surrender to the violence they instigate. Yes, fighting them in Africa will further strain already stretched resources — but if we don't, Africa will turn into a sub-Saharan Afghanistan. As Col. Kemp says: "We have a choice. Either we accept that these people will continually be attacking us; or we put most of our energy and resources into fighting them".


But the frightening fact is that Britain and the US are not unequivocally committing energy and resources to this war. On the contrary — despite the projected "surge" in Afghanistan, Britain and the US have signalled they are getting out regardless of whether victory has been achieved.


In doing so, they are responding to public opinion which seems not to understand why we are in Afghanistan — nor indeed about the wider defence against the global jihad. But that's because politicians on both sides of the Atlantic have never told the public the truth. They refuse to say that this is a global religious war waged by militant Islam, because they are terrified of enraging Muslims at home and abroad.


This gross failure of leadership has helped create the current mood of defeatism that threatens to bring about the eclipse of the West. Now Africa will doubtless become yet another front in this war for us to ignore, while being used to undermine still further the defence being undertaken on the others.


And that's before we even think about Iran. Which we certainly will do our damnedest not to do, except to use it to rubbish the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the non-war in Africa — not forgetting the non-existent domestic terrorist threat posed by the fictional jihadis of the non-existent global religious war against the free world who are merely reacting to our aggression against them. To identify our greatest enemy of all, therefore, we should not look to Afghanistan, Iran or Africa: we should look in a mirror.


Melanie Phillips is a columnist with the Daily Mail, a British daily








Over the ages, Indian customs, practices and rituals have been dissected, criticised as well as followed by both oriental and occidental radicalists. But those who once discarded them as mere nonsense have now started realising its true value. All our belief-systems that are rooted in our tradition have been derived from long and close observation of nature, after wise inferences. They have originated from reason, ethics, philosophy and simple natural laws.


Modern science often stands amazed at the precision and foresight with which our forefathers have evolved a pattern of life that's tuned to the rhythm of nature.


Such a life is one that is in harmony with all its living and non-living counterparts. Animals, birds, plants, trees, rivers, hills, plains, wind, fire — all co-exist with man who must show due respect and concern for them.


The life that our forefathers had envisioned for us was one that surged with positive energy. The lore they instilled in the literature that was compiled and left behind, was scientific and of high order.


An exploration into those long-lost meanings of beliefs, practices, customs, observances and rituals that spring from that great tradition would furnish us with striking and exciting revelations.


Take the Gayatri Mantra, for instance. It addresses the Goddess who gave us the Sun — the very source of life on earth that has been worshipped in India for long.


Modern science has finally discovered the empirical value of chanting this mantra and people all over the world have now started appreciating it.


It goes like this: Om bhur bhuvah swaha, Tat savitur varenyam, Bhargo devasya dheemahi, Dhiyo yo na



The literal meaning of this mantra, also called Devamatha, is: "Bowing before you heaving Om, the Pranava (the eternal) form, I meditate on the Savita (the Sun God) who illuminates the earth, the heaven and the world of manes. Let that master brain inspire my intellect".


One who chants this mantra with proper pronunciation undergoes positive changes and becomes morally and physically strong enough to overcome all difficulties in life.


Various scientific researches have revealed that the Gayatri Mantra rouses the brain. Regular chanting of this mantra generates continuous vibrations in the human brain that keeps the person vigilant and which, in turn, lead all his endeavours to guaranteed success.


Loka samastha sukhino bhavanthu (Let the whole world enjoy wellness) has always been the Indian approach. We performed yagnas, observed fasts, tamed nature, all for the well-being of the entire world. Hence the customs and practices that evolved in ancient India could not have limited, narrow, national or factional scope.


Our ancestors had great insight into the material and spiritual aspects of human life. Hence they considered every activity of man — from the time he wakes up till the time he goes to bed and from the time he is born till he breathes his last. For everything, the rishis of ancient India formulated a healthy and highly effective system whose executional became customs, practices or rituals in course of time.


In the earlier days, co-existence of man with nature and fellow beings gave him peace of mind. But as he deviated from the lifestyle prescribed to him, stress, tension and worries started troubling him. A balanced life of material and spiritual accomplishments alone will help man enjoy a healthy and peaceful life.


A re-reading of our rituals and practices, a thorough realisation of their values and their incorporation into our daily lives alone will take us away from the perils of the modern times, namely, mortal diseases, wars, atrocities, terrorism, poverty, natural calamities, and so on.


— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the authorof Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedasand Upanishads. The author can be reached
at [1]







IT is only a coincidence that the Prime Minister's appeal at the Indian Science Congress to rescue scientific research from "red tape, political interference and lack of proper recognition of good work'' coincides with reports that around 25,000 doctors of Indian origin are to return to India from the UK within the next four years. What Dr Manmohan Singh said was in the nature of self-criticism but it applied to institutions across the country in which governments and ruling parties maintain a stranglehold that impedes any kind of reform or growth. It is significant that both Dr Singh and Chemistry Nobel Prize winner, Dr Venkataraman Ramakrishnan, spoke of "local politics'' as being one of the main reasons for stagnation in these institutions. When doctors from Britain return, they would perhaps be keen on joining institutions like the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences provided they are growth-oriented and not grounded in the kind of running battle between the administrative head and health minister that finally ended in court. Equally pathetic is the situation in West Bengal where hospital administrations are virtually in the hands of unionised staff and political leaders. While the Nobel Laureate was unequivocal in his complaints about bureaucratic interference, the Prime Minister chose to focus on the "mindset'' of the faculty and university administrations. The ground reality would suggest that the two, with their distinguished academic records, have identified the illness but the treatment would depend on the political will to relinquish power and grant the institutions the real autonomy they deserve.
A large number of the doctors are returning to Bengal and would seek the support of the government to put their skills to effective use. It would be unfortunate if they were to run into the shabby state of government hospitals made worse by the non-performance of the health department. Scientists and professionals of Indian origin can only be encouraged to return by creating the right environment for work. It would not only serve to respect the feelings of the Nobel Laureate but also help convert the brain drain into a brain gain. The Left government has taken two steps backward by putting diploma holders on par with medical graduates to fetch quick dividends in the rural sector. This is part of the baggage that needs to be discarded without hindrance from political quarters. While the Prime Minister sends out positive signals, it remains to be seen whether they are picked up in right earnest and converted into action.







Sunday's tragedy in West Bengal's Rupnarayan river ~ with 18 picnickers still missing ~ deepens with the Centre and the state engaged in a slanging match. It is a commentary on the remarkable insensitivity to death that both Mamata Banerjee and Mortaza Hossain, Bengal's disaster management minister ~ oh, what an irony! ~ should be intent on scoring political brownie points. Thus the railway minister's claim ~ couched in the renewed demand for the government's dismissal ~ that the state was "too inert" to start rescue operations is promptly countered by Mr Hossein with another statement of fact. Precisely that in a recent accident, the Railways too took two days to rescue the trapped passengers. This isn't the occasion for a puerile debate and uncalled-for political intervention. Both sides must accept that just as the Railways' safety network failed in northern India last Saturday, so too has Bengal's disaster management department. The unseemly political sideshow, as was evident on Monday, can only bring cold comfort to the bereaved families. Mr Hossein must accept that his department has failed disastrously in discharging its basic function, indeed its raison d'etre. 
The department, the administration of East Midnapore and professional divers ought immediately to have got their act together to mitigate the enormity of the tragedy. Far from it. Even 48 hours after the capsizal, there is little or no coordination. Neither is there any convincing explanation for the alleged delay in starting the rescue operations. Was it a lapse on the part of the administration during a holiday weekend? To blame the delayed arrival of the rescue launch on the low tides is merely to cite a natural phenomenon. And almost in the manner of the Railways that makes human failure fogbound. For the Chief Secretary to blame the merry-makers is neither here nor there. What else can the objective of a river picnic be? He has a point though when he asserts that the boat, capable of carrying 12 people, was overloaded. Here again, it devolves on those supervising the inland water transport network to make sure that the vessels don't cross the limits of passenger load. From all accounts, this appears to be at the core of the tragedy on the Rupnarayan, as indeed several other capsizals. Both the accident and its aftermath have served to compound the failure of the administration.







IF Maoists have taken up a systematic programme of development in areas worst hit by extremism in West Bengal, it should a matter of serious concern not only for the joint forces engaged in tracking them down but for the state administration that must think of alternative methods of redressing grievances and tackling distress. Long years of neglect have resulted in a crisis of confidence and this is the hurdle that must be crossed before the government can look for desperate remedies. This cannot be done by the Marxists who have been winning elections in the Maoist-affected regions in West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura but who are being targeted by those who have set up a parallel administration. At the same time, local administrations need to utilise development funds, particularly the substantial allotments by the Centre under programmes such as the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme without any hindrance from Maoists who have donned the mantle of local benefactors. This must be done by generating a sense of trust and convincing villagers that the health centres, agricultural cooperatives and services centres set up by Maoists are outside the scope of law, run with extortion money collected from ration dealers, contractors and operators of hooch dens. The resentment against these sections among the poor and helpless has helped the Maoists. That does not minimise the offences arising from killings and outrageous excesses which have terrorised rural communities into submission. Now the state government has the complex task of weeding out law breakers and at the same time convincing the people that they should fall in line with the proper course of development. If women have joined the Maoists in breaking down hooch centres, it is because they have seen them flourish illegally without any action from the police. Similarly, if basic health and service centres set up by those who have taken the law into their own hands have come as a boon to villagers, the government has itself to blame for the trust that the Maoists have earned by default. The task has become more difficult than it should have been in the early stages of despair. While constructive schemes must be undertaken within a time-frame, the mental wall that divides the people from the establishment must be broken first. Only then can the Maoists be exposed as the killers and extortionists that they really are, not the prophets of hope that they pretend to be.







LONDON, 5 JAN: Black outfits have long been appreciated for making the wearer look slim, but the colour has a less adulating effect too ~ it highlights dark lines and wrinkles on the face, according to colour consultants.
While black does give the appearance of a slimmer figure by making shadows less visible, wearing it next to the face brings out the worst, claimed British colourist Mr Jules Standish. "Black clothing highlights dark lines under the chin, shadows around the eyes and wrinkles on the face. It can even make those who wear it appear to have dark 'spokes' or fissures in the iris," Mr Standish explained.

In older women, wrinkles and sunken areas appear deeper and more pronounced, meaning the effect is more prominent. It can even make a woman "feel drained, self-conscious and introverted".

Dark scarves, hats, polo neck jumpers and high-collared coats are apparently likely to emphasise ageing features of the face, The Daily Mail reported. The effect, however, can be moderated by wearing a colourful scarf or a low neckline or some chunky piece of jewellery, she advised.

Asserting that just one in five women in the UK have the correct skin tone to wear black well, Mr Standish said, "Majority of British women will not look young and healthy with black against their faces. In fact, it will age their skin tone dramatically."

Pointing out that most British women have a "warm' skin tone, based on yellow, orange and gold colours, she said, wearing black detracts from the healthy-looking golden hue by "flattening" it and bringing out tired-looking darker patches on the face.

"Warm skins do not cope well with black against their faces as it takes away all the golden glow that they have as a basic skin tone. Black instead looks for dark things on the face such as the shadows, lines and dark circles, and highlights them, particularly as women age," said Mr Standish. ~ PTI 








THE decisive defeat of the Communists in the recent parliamentary and assembly by-elections is an indication that the citadel of the Left, entrenched in West Bengal for the past 32 years, might collapse. Already, an RSP minister has demanded the resignation of the government, to pave the way for fresh elections. The partners of the CPI-M, even some of its ministers, believe that the government has lost its credibility.

The defeat of the Communist candidates in all the three seats in Kerala reveals a similar trend. But the political scenario in the southern state is somewhat different, as it must be in a parliamentary democracy. After every election, power has shifted from the Left Democratic Front to the Congress-led front and vice-versa.
The possibility of the CPI-M meeting its eclipse in West Bengal and Kerala has also shattered the hopes of the party's general secretary, Prakash Karat. He had wanted to use the ruling party in the three states and the unprecedented 60 seats in the last Parliament to gain influence in the Hindi heartland.
The predicament of the Communists in India coincides with the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. This appears to be a delayed effect in contrast to the immediate impact in the home of Communism ~ the Soviet Union which disintegrated soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This was followed by the collapse of the Communist system in Russia, the Central Republics, and the East European countries such as Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

Flight of capital

THE scenario was somewhat different in China ~ another major Communist citadel. There, under the astute leadership of Deng Xiao Peng, the Communist Party anticipated the looming crisis. Much earlier, in 1979 in fact, it veered towards capitalism, arguing that "it does not matter what colour the cat has, so long as it catches the mouse".

What are the larger implications of the possible collapse of Communist power in West Bengal? Is it an irreversible development or can the Left hope to come back? Is it the eventual defeat of Marxist ideology in India as in the rest of the world? Has the ideology ceased to be relevant for the Indian masses?
The Communist parties had always argued that they had to work under constitutional limitations as they were in power in only three states and not at the Centre. Only if they captured power in Delhi could they hope to introduce the full-fledged Marxist-Leninist programme of socialisation of the means of production ~ "taking away from each according to his means and giving each according to his needs". All that they wanted to do was to give a clean, progressive government in the states under their control. And this is what they tried to achieve under Namboodiripad and Achyut Menon and their successors in Kerala and under the long regime of Jyoti Basu in West Bengal. In the latter state they claimed credit for introducing "Operation Barga", a programme of radical land reforms, and the panchayati raj system. Both these programme liberated the productive capacities of the poor, leading to an increase in agricultural production and rural development.
But the private sector was wary about a Communist regime, and capital shied away. West Bengal, once in the forefront of business and industry, witnessed the flight of capital with little or no fresh investment and entrepreneurship. This resulted in economic stagnation and widespread unemployment among the educated Bengali youth. The situation could not be allowed to drift and a breakthrough was imperative. The Communist leaders re-examined their economic programmes especially in the context of globalisation.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee decided to follow the economic-political model which Deng Xiaopeng had introduced in China. He announced a policy of industrialisation and invited big business and multinational companies. Liberal concessions were offered while transferring the land. That dream was shattered, and the rest is history.
The Chief Minister could not achieve what Deng had achieved in China with an authoritarian party and government. Mr Bhattacharjee could never hope to do so in democratic India. So fierce was the resistance that the government had to give up after trying unsuccessfully to crush the dissent. For this, both the police and the party cadres were mobilised notably in Nandigram  and Singur. The planned projects in both places were non-starters.

Lost relevance

AT long last, the people had seen through the reality of the political system which the CPI-M had imposed on rural Bengal. The party machine had established a firm grip over the local community as well as the administration. Only the party functionaries cornered all the benefits of development. The common people were ignored. They eke out a miserable livelihood. The party functionaries have built palatial houses for themselves in the dismal surroundings of the huts and hovels of the villagers. The anger against injustice was waiting for a spark to explode and that was provided in Singur and Nandigram. The rabble-rousing speeches of Mamata Banerjee only fuelled the flame.

Even if the elections are held in 2011 and not earlier, the CPI-M will not be able to retrieve the situation. Even the Leftist coalition might disintegrate. And without their base of power in West Bengal, the Communist parties will not be able to retrieve the situation. The CPI-M runs the risk of losing its base. Indeed after the collapse of the Communists in Russia and the East European countries and the gradual transformation of the party in China, the ideology has virtually lost its relevance. Communist power in India is facing extinction, as in rest of the world.

Not that the fortunes of the people of West Bengal will improve if Mamata Banerjee is the next Chief Minister. She has spent the better part of her political career in leading agitations and making rabble-rousing speeches. Her performance in the national government, whether under the BJP or the Congress, has been indifferent. She neither has the talent nor the capacity nor for that matter the inclination to lead an effective government. She does not seem to have evolved any coherent ideology or any constructive programme. With a proclivity to fall out with her party men, she may not be able to provide a stable government. The people of West Bengal may be headed for a further bout of disappointment.

The writer, a former secretary to the Government of India and Vice-Chancellor, Goa University, is currently chairman, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Pune Kendra







The question of setting limits is seldom tension-free, especially when the issue is one of rights. A person may have the right to move freely, but he may not have the right to trample over another's body during his morning stroll. The Supreme Court has ruled that a judge need not furnish reasons under the Right to Information Act as to why he decided on one verdict and not another. "The judgment itself is the reason," the court reportedly said, indicating that the reasons for the verdict are implicitly disposed in the logic incarnated in the judge's sentence, and can require no further explanation. In setting this limit, the Supreme Court has rightly affirmed the place and significance of constitutionally upheld impartial arbitration in society. A judge's verdict is the complex outcome of the working of his conscience and wisdom, the intuition gained from his understanding of law, his compliance with the Constitution and the evidence he has before him. Even if he were just to reveal the countable steps by which he arrived at the verdict, he could be placed in the position of having to give out information involving other persons, such as the defendant, the complainant or witnesses, without their consent. Asking for the reasons behind a verdict is a far cry from asking for an account of public expenditure, or a list of a public servant's assets, or marked answer-scripts after a public examination.


The Supreme Court ruling indirectly points towards a problem within the RTI Act itself, by bringing attention to bear on grey areas where its application is indecisive. The limits the act sets on itself do include anything that is forbidden by the courts or that may lead to contempt, but that is obviously too vague. The enormous importance of the RTI Act should never be underrated, especially in a country where public institutions lean more towards secrecy than transparency. It cannot be denied that inquiries even now occasionally face attempts at muzzling. Such incidents make the citizen's empowerment through the act all the more significant. Yet, because of the imbalance inherent in the possession of information on the one side and the need to know on the other, the RTI Act is, willy-nilly, dependent to some extent on the government's discretion and its good faith. This is an inescapable limitation located within the law's engagement with the polity. The freedom to know is, like all other democratic freedoms, structured by the context of democratic dispensation.







More than anything else, mutual trust can make all the difference in relations between two countries. If relations between India and Bangladesh have not been very constructive in recent years, it was clearly because of a trust deficit. New Delhi has an opportunity to initiate a course correction during the forthcoming visit of Bangladesh's prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, to India. True, for many years, India had reasons to be worried about certain developments in Bangladesh. The growth of Islamist forces there posed a major security threat to India. New Delhi had concerns over militants from India's Northeast having their arms-training camps or hideouts within Bangladesh. But then, Dhaka too had its complaints about India's policies, especially over trade-related issues and sharing of river water. Some political parties in Bangladesh may be keen to whip up anti-India sentiments for their partisan interests, but there is no denying that India has not done enough to earn the confidence of policymakers and of the people in Bangladesh. There is a general impression in Dhaka that India demands too much from it and is prepared to give too little in return.


The large imbalance in India-Bangladesh trade would surely figure prominently in Ms Wajed's discussions with India's prime minister, Manmohan Singh. Bangladesh may not have many goods which will find a large market in India, but India can lower the tariff and non-tariff barriers on imports from Bangladesh. And the Indian offer has to match Dhaka's wish list. In the past, New Delhi withdrew the barriers on some Bangladeshi items, but those were not the items that were high on Bangladesh's priority list. A more flexible Indian approach on trade can go a long way in making its relations with Bangladesh more fruitful. Yet another Bangladeshi complaint — about access for its goods to Nepal, Bhutan and to India's Northeast — should be addressed by New Delhi seriously. If India wants transit through Bangladesh for shipping its goods to the Northeast, Dhaka can logically expect a similar facility through India for its goods to reach out to Nepal and Bhutan. In both countries, the transit issue raises questions about security and sovereignty. What New Delhi offers to Ms Wajed will be important, but a changed mindset and a regular mechanism for cooperation could be more useful.









A doting father goes to the authorities to take the incredibly difficult step of telling them that his son may be palling around with terrorists. He is no ordinary father loitering on the streets, but a prominent citizen, a well known banker, someone not prone to airing his concerns without thinking, not a loose talker who easily flies off the handle.


There are other red flags. The son has disappeared in a country which is fast catching up with Pakistan as a fountainhead of global terrorism. But he has also told his family that he is voluntarily cutting off all contacts with them for the sake of what he considers to be a higher cause. And the son is no ordinary son; he is not an idler or a waster, but someone who measured up to the expectations of his prosperous family, which found it fit to send him to London where he graduated with a degree in engineering. The boy has cleared the rigorous vetting process by American and British consular officials, and both governments have given him long-term visas to visit or stay, as the case may be, in their countries.


Such a youth is a windfall catch for terrorists because he can travel around the world with ease, board airplanes without arousing suspicion and, as it turned out, can even take banned and dangerous stuff on-board an aircraft headed for a destination with extremely rigorous security checks.


And yet, the information given by the father and other hints of suspicion are filed away by spooks, and nothing is done about the suspect using tools that were specifically created to prevent terrorism in the air of the kind which destroyed the World Trade Center in New York. Until it is too late: the son boards a commercial plane and attempts to destroy the aircraft he is in with nearly 300 other people in mid-air.


Some readers may be forgiven for thinking that this is a plot that could have played out in India, given the security lapses that become talking points after every major terrorist attack in the country.


But no, this was an intelligence failure that happened in the United States of America on Christmas Day just a fortnight ago. And it happened despite tips and warnings that America could be targeted by terrorists during Christmas. Although the airliner that the Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, tried to destroy was saved by a fortuitous combination of circumstances, it was a successful terrorist operation from al Qaida's point of view. After all, their man managed to evade America's vast tracking system that is designed to keep terrorists from flying, he managed to get an incendiary device on-board a US airliner and he tried to set off that device on American airspace.


Exactly a week ago, the Central Intelligence Agency suffered its worst setback in 27 years when a Jordanian double agent was admitted into the CIA's most sensitive base in Khost province in Afghanistan: he killed seven US spies, a Jordanian intelligence officer said to be on loan to the CIA, and wounded six others by detonating an explosives belt that he was wearing under his clothes.


It defies all logic that the Jordanian was allowed into the base without being searched or frisked; that so many CIA operatives were with him for his debriefing when two would have been appropriate, that the Jordanian was allowed to stay in close proximity to valuable CIA agents whose main job at the critical Khost base was to supervise a covert US programme of unmanned aerial strikes in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. It is difficult to recall any security failure in India on this scale costing the lives of so many Indian intelligence personnel.


But then, the history of US intelligence has always been more hype and less accomplishments. The CIA has done extremely well in overwhelming poor societies or governments ill-equipped to contain its ideology-driven onslaughts. Chile under Salvador Allende, the Socialist president who was overthrown at Washington's behest, is one example. But at crucial times in history, US intelligence has let down the people of America. The CIA could not predict or even report the Indian nuclear tests in 1998 quickly enough, although it was well known that the Bharatiya Janata Party was committed to exercising India's nuclear option.


Recently, declassified documents in the West have revealed that contrary to popular myth, the Soviet Union and its former satellites did not collapse on account of any CIA heroism, but under the weight of the stagnant communist system and because of the momentum of a process that was triggered by Mikhail Gorbachev.


The botched CIA attempts to assassinate Fidel Castro have led to a Channel 4 documentary entitled 638 Ways to Kill Castro. The credit for the film's title goes to Castro's aide, Fabian Escalante, who once had the responsibility of detecting and subverting CIA plots to kill the Cuban leader. He calculated that there have been 638 attempts on Castro's life.


More recently, the longevity of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez in office, despite the Bush-era CIA's attempts to overthrow him, is evidence that the American covert operations are falling behind even in the kind of anti-Allende-style coup attempts that they excelled in.


Yet, the Union home minister, P. Chidambaram, wants to recreate India's counter-terrorism infrastructure in America's failing image. It is true that when the home minister was in Washington and in New York, the Americans opened the doors for him like they have not done even for his counterparts from America's allied states. Indeed, prominent elected representatives on Capitol Hill have complained, half in jest, that since Chidambaram's visit they do not often get the kind of access to the US intelligence set-up that Chidambaram got when he was in the US from September 8 to 11 last year.


In the context of America's most recent intelligence failures, that may well be a problem rather than an advantage. Chidambaram, as one among the more intelligent Indian ministers, returned to India from his September visit to the US with lots and lots of ideas, as he has acknowledged.The home minister is now looking at replicating in India a number of US institutions that are involved in the business of promoting national security: the National Counter-Terrorism Center, the Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, as well as the work of the New York Police Department in securing a megalopolis like New York. Although he no longer has anything to do with finance, having been finance minister, Chidambaram has been trying to inject his ministry into the work of the global Financial Action Task Force, of which India is not yet a member.


The trouble with opening up sensitive American institutions to foreigners like Chidambaram, especially foreigners from developing countries, is that American installations like their Joint Terror Task Force or the NYPD are very impressive establishments on the surface and have a facade of quality and efficiency. The question that Indians must ask loudly before their country is firmly and inextricably linked with America in its counter-terrorism effort is how well have these impressive institutions, including the NYPD, performed during times of crisis.


The answer, alas, is in the negative. India should, therefore, think twice about copying American systems. Those systems, in the end, allowed the Nigerian terrorist to get on-board an American airliner and violate US airspace. In the final analysis, terrorism cannot be fought by huge systems that invariably lead to inefficiency and lethargy, systems of the kind the US has created after September 11, systems which leave false impressions of being close to the ideal. There should be greater emphasis, instead, on common sense and raw human intelligence output, which is the strength of India's counter-terrorism efforts. The US systems lack these.


It is interesting that in the days after the Christmas Day flight carrying the Nigerian terrorist was saved, there were big calls in the US for using imaging techniques at airports, machines that hide nothing of the human body. They had been delayed because of concerns about privacy. But in recent days in the US, two top former officials of the department of homeland security have been campaigning in public about the need to use the all-revealing scanners. Obviously, they represent certain industry lobbies, which want to sell scanners for body imaging. For that they will do anything.


Chidambaram may have been pleased with the reception he got in Washington, but this is something that is worth analyzing at some stage. Experts in the US may well be targeting India for its slow response to terror threats, but it is necessary to see these criticisms and the home minister's visit in the context of holding off pressure from Washington to buy US high-tech counter-terrorism products worth millions of dollars that are being projected as critical to Indian security.








What are we to call this new decade? Let's agree, for a start, that a new decade it really is, and did begin last Friday. Ten years ago, plenty of people were insisting that the new millennium must wait until New Year's Day 2001. Maybe there are still some planning to greet a new decade in January next.


Mathematically, these folk are correct: 2,000 years of the current era of the western calendar were indeed not complete until the last day of 2000. But language, happily, is not dictated by mathematicians but created by mankind at large, and mankind said boo to them. Even my late employers, The Economist, a magazine that loves being out of step with the rest of the world but (in its view) right, launched its millennium issue when everyone else did, at the close of 1999.


So the decade known to some as the Noughties is now over, and we are into a new one. But which one? The 2010s? And, if so, how do we pronounce that: the Two-Thousand-and-Tens or the Twenty-Tens? Maybe these are simply the Tens? What about the Teenies? Or (God forbid) the Tweenies? Or as one gloomy blogger has suggested, the New Dark Ages?


Or maybe none of these, or anything like them: I can easily, albeit not cheerfully, imagine some Chinese already feeling, with an inward smile of millennial superiority, that within a few decades it won't matter what English-speakers say, because the whole world will be taking its calendar from Beijing anyway.


My choice is the 2010s, pronounced twenty-tens. It's simple. It's short, written or spoken. And, not least, it is in line with most previous usage.


It is also unambiguous. That is rare when we talk of time. The meaning of yesterday, today or tomorrow depends entirely on when those words were used (and even so the journalist's 'today' means the day his paper comes out, not the day he was writing). Recently and soon are deliberately vague, and only the context tells you whether their user is thinking of a few months, weeks, days or hours. And what husband attaches any firm meaning to I'll be ready in five minutes?


Even some precise wordings can be ambiguous. The twelve-hour clock offers two meanings for every minute it marks. Even the 24-hour one is open to mistrust: dim memories of army life tell me no military event ever began at 24.00 or 00.00 hours, always at 23.59 or 00.01, for fear of a mix-up between today and tomorrow. This Friday, say, usually means the coming Friday. But if you're talking on Saturday it may mean the one just past, as in he's usually here on Fridays, but this Friday no such luck.


Geography plays its part. India's midnight is not Britain's, and you were well into this year before I'd left last year (and don't ask me what happens at the International Date Line). Moscow's winter is Melbourne's summer.


Longer periods too can muddle us. For most of my lifetime the turn of the century has meant around 1900. What did it mean by about 1995? Even some precise names of decades can bring confusion. Does the early 1800s mean roughly 1800-1803, or 1800-1830? The former, on my lips; but probably not so, if it were the 1400s at issue.


I don't think these ambiguities are accidental: though scientists can measure it to less than a billionth of a

second, in ordinary life time is pretty nebulous, and language reflects that. So roll on the precise, definite 2010s. Not too fast, though; I can hardly expect to see them out.


******************************************************************************************DECCAN HERALD





The suicide by three children in Mumbai calls for immediate steps to address the intense academic and social pressure that youngsters in our metros are silently struggling with. In two of the three cases, the children had performed poorly in school exams. It is likely that the children were depressed by their failure. A scolding from parents seems to have prompted one child to kill himself. But poor performance alone cannot be blamed for suicide.

The third child, an 11-year-old who participated in several dance contest shows, committed suicide apparently because her parents had forbade her from participating in reality shows and stage performances as these were affecting her studies. While police are yet to get to the bottom of why the three children chose to take their lives, it is evident that pressure of various sorts pushed them to take the extreme step.

While steps have been taken in recent months to reduce academic pressure on students, this has not been followed up by schools taking measures to monitor the psychological wellbeing of children. The overwhelming majority of our schools do not have counsellors, who could extend students with emotional support through difficult times. Of course, many would argue that it is the responsibility of parents to provide children with a supportive environment. Indeed it is. Unfortunately, increasingly it is parents that are pushing children over the edge by expecting them to be star performers whether in their studies or on stage. In the circumstances, they ignore the silent and not-so-silent appeals for support that their children send out.

The media too must bear responsibility for mounting suicide among children. Suicide is often portrayed as an inevitable and acceptable response to failure, encouraging children to take this route, rather than seek help. Besides, entertainment shows are putting children through immense stress. Children are forced to work long hours. Those behind reality television shows claim that children enjoy performing and are under no strain when participating in contests. This might be so in some cases. But many youngsters are unable to cope with the tension that comes with the performing. We need to bear in mind that they are children, not performing monkeys. The three children who took their lives in Mumbai have sent us a reminder that urgent steps are needed to ensure that children are not denied the simple pleasures of childhood.








The recent changes in the Criminal Procedure Code, notified by the Central government, will hopefully ensure greater justice in rape cases and give faster relief to victims. Though the changes were proposed long ago and Presidential assent was given, the notification was delayed because of objections raised by the lawyers' community to certain provisions like the power of the police to make arrests and the court's powers to grant adjournments.

These have been referred to the Law Commission but the amendments which have come into force make comprehensive changes in the criminal law to check the highhandedness of the police and make justice more easily available to victims. The law now gives greater protection to rape victims and provides for completion of trial in sexual offence cases within two months. It is known that such cases drag on for years because of slackness in investigation, apathy and judicial delays. The members of the family of a woman, who was allegedly raped and murdered, had to stage a dharna in Belgaum for close to three years for a promise for action in the case.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau only three out 10 cases involving crimes against women are investigated within the same year. Delays in investigation are used by offenders to scuttle the case to get away easily. Along with completion of the trial in two months, the law now mandates hearing of rape cases by women judges as far as possible and recording of victims' statements at a place of her choice, preferably by a woman police office officer and in the presence of her family members or a social worker. Audio-video statements and in camera trials have also been prescribed.

The vulnerability and weakness of women, their embarrassment in pursuing cases and the unhelpful attitude of the police and official establishment are major reasons for frequent failure in the prosecution of cases of crimes against women. The amendments are an attempt to address these problems. Courts have tried to deliver justice through some remarkable judgments and better interpretation of laws. Last week's observation by the supreme court that a woman is unlikely to make a false allegation of rape is noteworthy, though its import needs to be carefully studied. Even with all the changes in the law, however, effective implementation is still crucial.










When I longingly look at Europe having one visa, one currency (euro), stronger than dollar, and one parliament to reflect on the decisions taken by individual parliaments, my eyes woefully go to South Asia which is nowhere near normalisation, much less cohesion. It is wracked by internal conflicts and outer dangers. The two main countries, India and Pakistan, are not even on speaking terms. The limited trade between Srinagar and Muzzafarabad was suspended a few days ago.

Not that the European countries, 27 of them, did not quarrel. They had, in fact, wars for hundreds of years and killed thousands of nationals of one another. But they were ultimately seduced by the idea of conciliation and cooperation which has brought them prosperity and stability.

But South Asia remains stagnant. It does not map tidily onto progress for their peoples. It is still stuck in distrust and disruption. Its leaders, leave apart the founders, have never risen above their pettiness and parochialism. It seems that countries in the region realised at one time that they could benefit through friendship and founded the South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC). But their ego and enmity towards one another are so strong that they have not allowed the institution to function. They simply cannot cast off their animosity to begin a new chapter.

The result is that South Asia has the largest number of poor and the illiterate in the world. Child mortality is the highest. Violations of human rights are in thousands. And the infrastructure that the governments should have built is the weakest. Whatever they earn they spend on armaments — the deadlier, the better. And they have enacted so many draconian laws in the name of security that they have even encroached upon the space of individual freedom.

What the rulers in the region do not realise is that governance has to be not through the police or the paramilitary forces, but through the willing consent of the people.

Development is the key. The more people are better off, the lesser would be the tension.

India's GDP is increasing by eight to nine per cent per year. But when 70 per cent of its people and states like Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand and eastern UP do not have enough even to afford two square meals, what does growth mean? The fallout has been the larger sway of Maoists who believe in armed struggle to free the masses from poverty. In Pakistan, particularly in Punjab, the growth of Talibanisation has been primarily due to dire poverty. Those wallowing in it have come to believe that fundamentalism is the only solution to their problems.

The menace of the Taliban can be fought provided the army is focused and supported by the joint front of political parties. But the Muslim League (Nawaz) has its eyes fixed on some gain from the turmoil. I was disappointed by Nawaz Sharif's latest speech which deprecated the Asif Zardari government for not making amendments to the constitution to make it more democratic, but did not have a word against the Taliban. He cannot ride two horses at the same time.

In Nepal, the government feels that it can reap a rich harvest if it plays the China card against India. The Nepalese prime minister has visited Beijing in the belief that if Kathmandu were to introduce a new factor, China, in its affairs it would end New Delhi's dictation. The real malady is that different political parties have not learnt how to behave in a democratic set-up.

China as Big Brother

In fact, the point of concern for South Asia is the manner in which China is trying to act as a Big Brother in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and even Bangladesh. Islamabad is already on Beijing's side. However, some countries in the region wash off their hands with the argument that it is New Delhi which should worry because China's strategy is to surround India. Yet Beijing's real ambition is to dominate the region, which is pursuing a different culture and is striving to establish a society that remains democratic, without following a doctrinaire line.

The responsibility of unleashing the forces of destruction lies on the eight SAARC countries. Terrorism was the genie which the Pakistan government brought out from the bottle. Many gullible people still believe that the Taliban only want true Islam to come back. Does it mean the killing of the innocent and the denial of right to education and freedom to women?

New Delhi has released the Frankenstein of balkanisation by issuing its fiat at midnight that the government is proposing to take measures for creating the state of Telangana. The Manmohan Singh government's flip-flop has reignited fires of individual identity throughout the country. Already in schools of some of the states songs exalting the regional idea have been introduced into textbooks. History books taught in lower classes have disclosed a marked tendency to exaggerate past achievements of the dominant linguistic groups. The government may rue the day when it announced the formation of Telangana because it has led to a sense of frustration, with grave consequences, if similar demands are not met.

In Pakistan, there is a demand for autonomy by Baluchistan, the North Western Frontier Province and Sind. It looks as if the country faces a real danger of disintegrating. In contrast, Bangladesh has consolidated itself through a democratic government. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has retrieved the disturbed Chittagong Hill Tract by giving it more authority. Decentralisation of power is the only way to keep nations together. No country in the region seems to realise this. I hope that Sri Lanka has learnt the lesson.
Otherwise, other elements from among the Tamils may rise and constitute themselves into another LTTE to demand for the right to rule themselves.

Busy as they are in politicking, which only means power and corruption, governance in South Asia is practically non-existent. There is a nexus of politicians, the police and bureaucrats. India, although more democratic in the region, has small fires of defiance burning all over. More stringent measures, which are the only mantra that Home Minister P Chidambaram has learnt, may build up resistance. This is a lesson for the rest of South Asia.

If countries in the region had a common union, they would have together fought some of the challenges they face — terrorism and backwardness. But they would rather shoot at their neighbours than cooperate. Cooperation may help the countries to extinguish the prairie fires, a la Che Guevara, raging within. At present, the countries are wasting all their energies in harming one another. This is the reason why South Asia remains a doomed region.









Amid opposition from the Congress, the Gujarat Assembly passed the Gujarat Local Authorities Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2009, on Dec 19, making voting compulsory in elections to all seven municipal corporations, 159 municipalities, 26 district panchayats, 223 taluka panchayats and 13,713 village panchayats of the state.

Piloting the bill, Urban Development Minister Nitin Patel said it was aimed at making democracy more representative and meaningful. Does compulsory voting make democracy representative? Democracy is a government by choice. To make democracy representative, Gujarat should provide representation to all communities in the selection of candidates, follow the reservation system in all appointments and empower the weakest communities with the right to education bill. As things are, most candidates in most parties do not deserve to be voted, given their credentials.

In the situations, people should have the right not to vote as well to make democracy meaningful. The voluntary nature of voting needs to be maintained, as long as voters do not have a right to reject all candidates.

Chief Minister Narendra Modi called it a move to strengthen democracy. Terming the bill 'an epochal move', Modi said the educated and the intellectual class who often stay away from taking part in grassroots democracy would now have to do so. Taking a dig at those who protested soon after the Mumbai terror, "It was shocking to see that the large mass of people who had collected to light candles in the aftermath of 26/11 attacks in Mumbai did not come out to vote with the same enthusiasm," he said. "Our decision seeks to overturn such a situation to ensure that there is maximum participation of people in elections."

The comparison between mass participation of people after 26/11 and lack of participation in voting is not rational. When the state lacks empathy to the suffering of the people, the citizens of course will come together to find security in each other. On the other hand, when the political system is so rotten why would people go to the voting booths? Why would they cast their votes to leaders who can't provide them security? Most of the citizens' protests are an expression of the lack of trust of the people in governance.

In a democracy, leaders are not there to take the voters to task when they do not vote. Instead of compelling citizens to vote, why doesn't Modi work to put an end to corruption in electioneering like giving and taking bribes, manipulation of election rolls and improve governance to include all?

According to the law, all registered voters in Gujarat will be required to vote. Those absent will be asked to submit a valid reason with proof within a month. The bill empowers the election officer to declare people who do not vote as defaulter voters.

This is both detestable and dangerous. If 'democracy' confers on every adult citizen the right to vote, the right not to vote is also fundamental.

Modi said he hoped that other states as well as the country as a whole would follow suit. He contended that making voting compulsory would go a long way in reducing corruption in the electoral process. "It has been a matter of concern for all of us and Gujarat has taken the initiative to show the way. With the voters going in large numbers to exercise their franchise, the role of black money is sure to be reduced and democracy will be the ultimate victor," he added.

Modi noted that 32 countries had made voting compulsory, leading to the voting percentages shooting up from 45 to over 90 per cent. "How do you justify a situation wherein 50 per cent vote and with a mere 26 per cent, people rule for years while an overwhelming  70 per cent remains unrepresented and without any say? The situation needs to be changed."

Such statements coming from the chief minister of Gujarat who has had no respect  for democratic values, needs to be countered. Since the Act would require a nod from the governor to come into force, one wishes that the governor does not accord his consent. A democratic state cannot be brought about by orders from above. Gujarat needs a democratic society for the evolution of a democratic state. With hate campaign against the minorities and the subalterns, compulsory voting cannot make a democracy out of Gujarat.

(The writer is the principal of St Joseph's College, Bangalore)










My father, known to argue persuasively as a lawyer, was never argumentative with anyone outside the court room, particularly my magisterial mother. A compulsive reader, he introduced me to the world of books at the stately Higginbothams in the 50s in Madras, when a Wodehouse paperback cost a measly two shillings and six pence.

An early morning riser for browsing legal briefs and sipping frothy, freshly brewed, filter coffee, he utilised my services as a librarian. Which meant I had to bring for his reference stout, morocco bound law books with golden letters on the spine. This I did by shinnying up tall wooden racks with simian agility. During my juvenile librarianship, I was puzzled to find that the Hindu Law was written by Mulla, a Muslim. And the Mohammedan Law by Verma, a Hindu. Many of my  father's clients were soft-spoken Muslim gentleman in fez caps, who came by horse drawn carriages, smelling mildly of attar. They presented an incongruous yet harmonious picture in the company of my tufted father.

One little incident  that merits recollection occurred during  a winter morning. While vetting a plaint he looked up and  asked me in a voice reserved for cross-examining nervous  witnesses. "D'you have a new student in your class by name Abdul?" "Yes, pa. His family  moved in recently. Abdul's father is transferred to Poonamallee." "I know," he said bobbing his head, "D'you go to Abdul's house frequently?" "Yes, for updating  him. He has  to catch up with the lessons because of late admission."

My father looked deeply into my eyes. "Well, you better stop going there." "But why?" I asked in a shrill voice, bristling with indignation, "he is a good friend, studious and  polite". "Agreed. But don't go there from today. It is an order."

Having said that, he started rifling through the pages of Law of Torts, which is his way of telling that his conference with me was over. Later, my mother felt I needed an explanation. "Listen, don't you know? Abdul is the son of the judge in the court your father argues his cases."

The ingrained message took years to sink in. And the more I hear and read about some guardians of law now, I mentally compare and salute upright men of yesteryears for their strict observance of the proprieties.









On the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, there are certain Arab Knesset members who are using this opportunity to castigate Israel and score points abroad. What makes this even more disheartening is the fact that while Arab MKs are becoming more extreme and less allied with the state that pays their wages, many of their constituents are seeking greater integration with the Jewish state.


A recent report published by Shlomit, the National Service Placement Organization, indicated that the past year has seen an almost 100-percent increase in the number of Arab-Israelis volunteering for National Service. While the total numbers are not staggering, they do represent a sizable portion of the Israeli Arab sector that is moving toward greater civic responsibility.


During last year's general elections, my party, Israel Beiteinu, was castigated for making civic responsibility and its corollary, enhanced loyalty to the state where one resides, a part of its platform. It is obvious by our success at the polls that this resonated with a public that has become incensed with the situation in which many share a burden that others don't. While many doomsayers felt that ending this acquiescent disparity would further alienate certain minority groups, the opposite has been proven true.


HOWEVER, WHILE significant numbers in the Arab community are seeking greater integration, their supposed representatives in the Knesset are falling over themselves to play to a different constituency.


During a recent rally at the Erez crossing, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka hurled disgraceful abuse at Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who he said enjoys "classical music and killing children in Gaza." He then reiterated these remarks in an interview with Dan Margalit on theNew Evening TV show until Margalit became so incensed with this blood libel that he ordered Zahalka to leave.


Earlier at the same rally, MK Taleb a-Sanaa (UAL-Ta'al) allowed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to use his cellphone as a speaker to direct his torrent of abuse against Israel to the assembled crowd. Sanaa is an employee of the state and thus receives certain benefits like a cellphone, which means that our taxes were being used by a member of an organization sworn to destroy our state. This is unacceptable and should be a matter of concern for all.


Can one imagine a scenario where an American congressman relayed the rants of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri to a crowd in the US using a state-funded communications device? No nation on earth would accept this situation, and this is why Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has rightly demanded that Sanaa be charged with supporting a terrorist organization.


IT HAS long been clear to us that the public declarations of many Arab MKs are primarily for foreign consumption, where they seek the approval of extreme elements in the wider Arab world. These elected officials do not serve their constituents' interests properly and continually propel outside agendas at the cost of providing adequate representation to the Arab Israeli population.


It is clear, not only from Shlomit's statistics, but also from our frequent visits to Arab towns and villages, that many in these communities are interested in greater partnership with the state and its institutions. However, actions and comments like those by Zahalka, Sanaa and, most notoriously, former MK Azmi Bishara, have tarnished the image of the Arab Israeli leadership.


Israel Beiteinu opened the debate on accountability and civic responsibility, not on a religious or ethnic scale, but on a merit-based scale. It is time to create a legal bar of acceptable behavior for an elected official who receives his stipend and benefits from the taxpayers' purse.


AS WITNESSED by its attempts to push through a reworded loyalty oath, Israel Beiteinu remains at the forefront of attempting to achieve acceptable norms of responsibility among our elected officials. People have claimed that this would achieve little and it is just words. However, as we know from history, words are very important and we ascertain from the efforts against the bill how important this issue remains. Now more than ever, when certain MKs are being used as mouthpieces of the enemy, it is vital that there is a standard code of conduct for all, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.


We must make it clear that when one is elected to Knesset, representation is for the people of Israel only and not foreign elements, especially those involved in murderous terrorism. MKs are elected by the people, to serve the people, and are funded by taxpayers' money; it is to the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and its laws that they remain accountable.


Israel Beiteinu applauds those Arab Israelis who volunteer for the army or National Service and continually seek greater integration with our state. To those in the Arab Israeli leadership who continually pander to foreign elements and ignore their constituency, we will continue to remind them that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. No other nation can accept less.


The writer is deputy minister of foreign affairs.







During the Cold War, Westerners consoled themselves in the belief that most people behind the Iron Curtain did not believe in Communism; they were simply entrapped by a morally bankrupt system driven by a moribund ideology. It was not so much the allure of capitalism that ultimately won over the people of Eastern Europe; it was the failure of Communism.


What will it take to "turn" vast numbers of Muslims now enthralled with extremist Islam, and convince those uncommitted, not to follow the path of the Islamists? Much depends on the outcome of the ongoing battle within Islamic civilization between those promoting jihad against the West and those who say Islam does not need to tear down the West in order to thrive.


Yesterday, this newspaper carried a Washington Post dispatch, "Jordan emerges as key CIA counterterrorism ally." The story by that paper's national security reporter revealed that a Jordanian agent working in tandem with American intelligence had been killed by the Islamist suicide bomber who struck a CIA base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border last week.


It now transpires that the suicide bomber was a 36-year-old Jordanian physician named Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi. He had been "turned" - or so it was thought - during a stint in a Jordanian prison for jihadi activities.


According to Al Jazeera, the medical-man-turned-suicide-bomber was in Afghanistan to trap another physician, Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of al-Qaida's two top leaders. Balawi had provided so much reliable information that he was trusted to enter the CIA post without being thoroughly searched.


The dead agent, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was Balawi's handler. King Abdullah II participated in Zeid's funeral, raising the ire of Islamists within his kingdom.


This murky story of spycraft and betrayal serves as a metaphor for how the still-nameless war between freedom, moderation and enlightenment against the benighted forces of coercion, fanaticism and medievalism needs to be waged - by pushing Muslims to choose: the way of Balawi or the way of Zeid.


The most practical way to overcome the Islamists is for them to be defeated from within. After all, non-Islamists have a profound stake in the outcome.


YESTERDAY, President Barack Obama met with his top domestic and foreign national security advisers in the White House situation room. The agenda was two-fold: to unravel what went wrong, both on the systemic and personnel level, that allowed Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to board Northwest Flight 253; and to take stock of the damage caused by what Balawi did at Forward Operating Base Chapman.


Along with Zeid, seven brave CIA agents, with a combined 100 years' of expertise, were lost. This betrayal, like previous acts of perfidy in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere, underscored how dependent the West is on human intelligence provided by those who swim in a sea of anti-Western fanaticism.


Other lessons emerge. The Islamists must not be underestimated. They are getting good at counter-intelligence and disinformation. Israelis have seen this with Hizbullah.


Now Peter Baker of The New York Times has revealed that US intelligence was nearly fooled into thinking that Islamists from Somalia had infiltrated into the US in order to detonate bombs during Obama's inaugural address.


Fortunately, John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, deduced that a "poison pen" operation was afoot. One terror group was trying to get the US to take out its rivals. Pretty sophisticated stuff and illustrative of what the West is up against.


Another lesson is not to belittle suicide bombers as "sad guys with no self esteem," or risk being surprised by those like Balawi, who are harder to pigeonhole.


The doctor had once told an Islamist magazine: "I have had a predisposition for... jihad and martyrdom since I was little. If love of jihad enters a man's heart, it will not leave him, even if he wants to do so."


CLEARLY, some Islamists are irredeemable. But others are not. If the West recognizes the scale of the challenge and confronts it effectively, and if there are enough courageous men the caliber of Sharif Ali bin Zeid working to preserve Islam from within, we can be reasonably hopeful that the jihadis will one day find themselves relegated to the dustbin of history.









As hands are wrung in the aftermath of the near-tragedy on a Northwest Airlines flight approaching Detroit, a conversation from London's Heathrow Airport in 1986 comes to mind.


It consisted of an El Al security agent quizzing one Ann-Marie Doreen Murphy, a 32-year-old recent arrival in London from Sallynoggin, Ireland. While working as a chambermaid at the Hilton Hotel on Park Lane, Murphy met Nizar al-Hindawi, a far-leftist Palestinian who impregnated her. After instructing her to "get rid of the thing," he abruptly changed his tune and insisted on immediate marriage in "the Holy Land." He also insisted on their traveling separately.


Murphy, later described by the prosecutor as a "simple, unsophisticated Irish lass and a Catholic," accepted unquestioningly Hindawi's arrangements for her to fly to Israel on El Al on April 17. She also accepted a wheeled suitcase with, unbeknown to her, a false bottom containing nearly two kilograms of Semtex, a powerful plastic explosive, and she agreed to be coached by him on how to answer questions posed by airport security.


MURPHY SUCCESSFULLY passed through the standard Heathrow security inspection and reached the gate with her bag, where an El Al agent questioned her. As reconstructed by Neil C. Livingstone and David Halevy in Washingtonian magazine, he started by asking whether she had packed her bags herself. She replied in the negative. Then: "What is the purpose of your trip to Israel?"


Recalling Hindawi's instructions, Murphy answered, "For a vacation."


"Are you married, Miss Murphy?"




"Traveling alone?"




"Is this your first trip abroad?"




"Do you have relatives in Israel?"




"Are you going to meet someone in Israel?"




"Has your vacation been planned for a long time?"




"Where will you stay while you're in Israel?"


"The Tel Aviv Hilton."


"How much money do you have with you?"


"Fifty pounds."


Since the Hilton at that time cost at least £70 a night, he asked: "Do you have a credit card?"


"Oh, yes," she replied, showing him an ID for cashing checks.


That did it, and the agent sent her bag for additional inspection, where the bombing apparatus was discovered.


HAD EL Al followed the usual Western security procedures, 375 lives would surely have been lost somewhere over Austria. The bombing plot came to light, in other words, through a nontechnical intervention relying on conversation, perception, common sense and (yes) profiling. The agent focused on the passenger, not the weaponry.


Israeli counterterrorism takes passengers' identities into account; accordingly, Arabs endure an especially tough inspection. "In Israel, security comes first," David Harris of the American Jewish Committee explains.


Obvious as this sounds, overconfidence, political correctness and legal liability render such an approach impossible anywhere else in the West. In the US, for example, one month after 9/11, the Department of Transportation issued guidelines forbidding its personnel from generalizing "about the propensity of members of any racial, ethnic, religious or national origin group to engage in unlawful activity." (Wear a hijab, I semi-jokingly advise women wanting to avoid secondary screening at airport security.)


WORSE YET, consider the panicky Mickey-Mouse steps the US Transportation Security Administration implemented hours after the Detroit bombing attempt: no crew announcements "concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks," and disabling all passenger communications services. During a flight's final hour, passengers may not stand up, access carry-on baggage nor "have any blankets, pillows or personal belongings on the lap."


Some crews went yet further, keeping cabin lights on throughout the night while turning off the in-flight entertainment, prohibiting all electronic devices and, during the final hour, requiring passengers to keep hands visible and neither eat nor drink. Things got so bad, the Associated Press reports, "a demand by one attendant that no one could read anything... elicited gasps of disbelief and howls of laughter."


Widely criticized for these Clouseau-like measures, TSA eventually decided to add "enhanced screening" for travelers passing through or originating from 14 "countries of interest" - as though one's choice of departure airport indicates a propensity for suicide bombing.


The TSA engages in "security theater" - bumbling pretend-steps that treat all passengers equally rather than risk offending anyone by focusing, say, on religion. The alternative approach is Israelification, defined by The Toronto Star as "a system that protects life and limb without annoying you to death."


Which do we want - theatrics or safety?


The writer, director of the Middle East Forum and Taube fellow at the Hoover Institution, has super-elite status at two airlines.








One of the cornerstones of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's policy has been his belief that economics is an integral part of any peace process. He has claimed that "we must weave an economic peace alongside a political process... [It] will support and bolster the achievement of political settlements down the line."


The idea that free-market principles and a strong economy mitigate both nationalism and political extremism - especially the resort to violence - has long been a staple of those who argue for democratization and free trade. What Netanyahu and his advisers may not know is that the theory of economic peace has been alive and well in the Holy Land since the 19th century, among Jewish, Arab and Christian Masons.


Few are aware of the connections that exist between Masons, Jews and the conflict in the Middle East. The fascists, such as Francisco Franco, and the Nazis were fervently anti-Mason. The militant Islamist movement has typically seen the Masons as a threat. Hamas describes Freemasonry as a "secret society" controlled by Zionism, and the term "Freemason" is mentioned three times in the Covenant of Hamas adopted in 1988. Israel's most potent enemy in the 1960s, Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, closed all the Masonic lodges of Egypt in 1962.


THE MASONS are an international fraternal order whose beginnings are traced to Scotland in the 16th century. The movement spread quickly to England and thence to the Americas, where many of the founders were Masons. Freemasonry has been influential in inspiring westernization and secularism among military and political elites in such diverse places as Mexico, Russia and Liberia. However, it has been perceived as deeply threatening to religious groups and conspiracy theorists.


Since its inception, Freemasonry has welcomed Jews as members, and initially most Jewish Masons were from prominent Sephardi families. One of these, Moses Montefiore, is important because of his connection to 19th-century Palestine, where he helped improve the living conditions of local Jews. However, the first Masonic ceremony held in Jerusalem was conducted by a Kentucky-born Mason named Robert Morris at the Cave of Zedekiah (popularly known as King Solomon's Quarries) near Damascus Gate in east Jerusalem. Another Masonic lodge, the Royal Solomon Mother Lodge, was founded in Jaffa in 1873 by American settlers of the Adam's colony. The colony failed, and the lodge was maintained by Rolla Floyd, a survivor of the colony. Another lodge was founded in 1890 in Jaffa by middle-class Jews and Arabs.


The Masonic lodges at this time included Jewish and Arab notables. One example of these, according to an article written by Israeli Mason Leon Zeldis, was a Christian Arab hotel owner named Iskander Awad who was also an agent for the Thomas Cook travel agency. Lodges were founded in Haifa (1911) and Jerusalem (1931), and in each case the membership was composed of leading Jews, Arabs and Europeans.


Dr. Daniel Farhey, a Mason based in Haifa, has written that "Freemasonry is one of the few institutions that actively promotes better understanding between the different ethnic and cultural segments of Israel society, particularly between Jewish and Arab brethren, and also assists in the social integration of immigrants."


DURING THE British Mandate, the Masons in Palestine experienced a huge influx of British members. It may be no surprise that many of the leading voices behind the establishment of the Mandate, such as Lord Arthur Balfour, and Mandatory administrators such as High Commissioner Herbert Samuel were Masons. The lodge in Jerusalem attracted Jerusalem's business and political elite, among them David Abulafia (Sephardi Jewish leader), Daniel Auster (a General Zionist politician and Jerusalem mayor), the Yeshaya family (Jewish businessmen), S.T. Rock (Arab Catholic businessman), Nagib Mansour (Christian Arab engineer) and members of the Muslim elite who, according to information supplied to the author, may have included the Dajani family. This was a coexistence fraternity based on shared economic values.


Reports from the period state that the lodges "stand for peace." A clipping from The Palestine Post published in 1939 describes the death of Samuel Hashimshoni, who was a "fine exponent of Masonry" and who did not travel with a firearm "as an example to his colleagues of his faith in his fellow man. He maintained and sought contacts with Arab friends."


Prof. Ruth Kark of the Hebrew University and Dr. Joseph Glass have documented how the Sephardi Valero family were prominent Masons and maintained close relationships with Arabs throughout the Mandate. This was the essence of Freemasonry in the Holy Land, and is maintained today in the Grand Lodge in Israel where the Koran, Bible and Torah are displayed together.


FREEMASONS HAVE been integral to the Land of Israel from the time of Charles Warren (archeologist in 19th-century Jerusalem) to the continued activities of the dozens of lodges, including eight in Jerusalem alone.


However as history has shown, the early attempts at "economic peace" enshrined in the Masonic ideology did not prevent the 1948 war. Communal leaders like Abulafia, Auster and their Arab counterparts stood by as war engulfed their communities.


The question is whether Netanyahu will be more successful at achieving economic peace than his forebears.








On the one-year anniversary of Operation Cast Lead, there are certain Arab Knesset members who are using this opportunity to castigate Israel and score points abroad. What makes this even more disheartening is the fact that while Arab MKs are becoming more extreme and less allied with the state that pays their wages, many of their constituents are seeking greater integration with the Jewish state.


A recent report published by Shlomit, the National Service Placement Organization, indicated that the past year has seen an almost 100-percent increase in the number of Arab-Israelis volunteering for National Service. While the total numbers are not staggering, they do represent a sizable portion of the Israeli Arab sector that is moving toward greater civic responsibility.


During last year's general elections, my party, Israel Beiteinu, was castigated for making civic responsibility and its corollary, enhanced loyalty to the state where one resides, a part of its platform. It is obvious by our success at the polls that this resonated with a public that has become incensed with the situation in which many share a burden that others don't. While many doomsayers felt that ending this acquiescent disparity would further alienate certain minority groups, the opposite has been proven true.


HOWEVER, WHILE significant numbers in the Arab community are seeking greater integration, their

supposed representatives in the Knesset are falling over themselves to play to a different constituency.


During a recent rally at the Erez crossing, Balad MK Jamal Zahalka hurled disgraceful abuse at Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who he said enjoys "classical music and killing children in Gaza." He then reiterated these remarks in an interview with Dan Margalit on theNew Evening TV show until Margalit became so incensed with this blood libel that he ordered Zahalka to leave.


Earlier at the same rally, MK Taleb a-Sanaa (UAL-Ta'al) allowed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to use his cellphone as a speaker to direct his torrent of abuse against Israel to the assembled crowd. Sanaa is an employee of the state and thus receives certain benefits like a cellphone, which means that our taxes were being used by a member of an organization sworn to destroy our state. This is unacceptable and should be a matter of concern for all.


Can one imagine a scenario where an American congressman relayed the rants of Osama bin Laden or Ayman al-Zawahiri to a crowd in the US using a state-funded communications device? No nation on earth would accept this situation, and this is why Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has rightly demanded that Sanaa be charged with supporting a terrorist organization.


IT HAS long been clear to us that the public declarations of many Arab MKs are primarily for foreign consumption, where they seek the approval of extreme elements in the wider Arab world. These elected officials do not serve their constituents' interests properly and continually propel outside agendas at the cost of providing adequate representation to the Arab Israeli population.


It is clear, not only from Shlomit's statistics, but also from our frequent visits to Arab towns and villages, that many in these communities are interested in greater partnership with the state and its institutions. However, actions and comments like those by Zahalka, Sanaa and, most notoriously, former MK Azmi Bishara, have tarnished the image of the Arab Israeli leadership.


Israel Beiteinu opened the debate on accountability and civic responsibility, not on a religious or ethnic scale, but on a merit-based scale. It is time to create a legal bar of acceptable behavior for an elected official who receives his stipend and benefits from the taxpayers' purse.


AS WITNESSED by its attempts to push through a reworded loyalty oath, Israel Beiteinu remains at the forefront of attempting to achieve acceptable norms of responsibility among our elected officials. People have claimed that this would achieve little and it is just words. However, as we know from history, words are very important and we ascertain from the efforts against the bill how important this issue remains. Now more than ever, when certain MKs are being used as mouthpieces of the enemy, it is vital that there is a standard code of conduct for all, regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.


We must make it clear that when one is elected to Knesset, representation is for the people of Israel only and not foreign elements, especially those involved in murderous terrorism. MKs are elected by the people, to serve the people, and are funded by taxpayers' money; it is to the Jewish and democratic State of Israel and its laws that they remain accountable.


Israel Beiteinu applauds those Arab Israelis who volunteer for the army or National Service and continually seek greater integration with our state. To those in the Arab Israeli leadership who continually pander to foreign elements and ignore their constituency, we will continue to remind them that Israel is a Jewish and democratic state. No other nation can accept less.


The writer is deputy minister of foreign affairs.








In Italy it first saw light in 2000. As with shoe fashion, the journey to Israel took another eight years, but the arrival was bombastic. Veni vidi vici: Big Brother came, Big Brother saw, and Big Brother conquered - the ratings especially.


The show is a cultural phenomenon - a sociological-anthropological case study for beginners. The attention of the media, audience and academics naturally goes to where the action (or inaction) is: the Big Brother house, with its mini-dramas, maxi-sensations and multi-emptiness or trivial day-to-day interactions among people with a questionable potential for constructive social impulse. But the mini, maxi, multi show is lame in comparison to what we can learn about its unconditionally loyal Israeli audience.


So let's shift the attention from the cage to the viewers, who consistently generate an average 30 percent weekly rating. Who are they? In-depth analyses on what happened in the last episode or the nonstop Big Brother Channel on HOT heats classrooms, chat rooms and Knesset corridors. Big Brother viewers are of all ages, classes and professions - which hints at an even more important question: a 30% rating on account of what?


Last February, more people voted for contestants on the show than were registered to vote in that month's primary elections. And it gets worse. At the beginning of December, a documentary was aired showing the Schalit family's efforts to secure the release of their son Gilad, kidnapped by Hamas in June 2006. This Channel 10 documentary, A Family in Captivity, was watched by 10.6% of viewers, while Channel 2's Big Brother episode in the same time slot had a rating of 26.1%. So a clear majority preferred watching the morally questionable human zoo over an intimate insight into Gilad Schalit's family.


THIS CULTURAL phenomenon shapes the values, language and actions especially of the young, and its icons become a source of imitation. The problem with Big Brother and other sensationalist reality shows is that the cultural icons they generate hardly know how to spell the word culture. The star of the first Big Brother season was a man in his 50s, the father of another contestant and a man undoubtedly deserving the Nobel Prize for vulgarity.


The equation is simple even to non-mathematicians: Big Brother + 30% rating + Israel = A reason to worry. It is this equation, and the social, ideological, moral void it reflects, that should be discussed in Knesset corridors and committees. If programs like Big Brother dominate the culture fed to Israel's young generation in their leisure time, we should not be surprised if the number of draft-dodgers further increases in correlation with the level of unmotivated individualism.


Young people need some kind of philosophical impulse to reach their potential as future leaders and guardians of their country's values - and in Israel's case, its existence. Today, the media scenery - a powerful transmitter of such impulses - is void of any such crucial impact.


An exception is State-owned Channel 1, a lonesome and barely surviving warrior in the field of high-quality, horizon-opening info-tainment.


THE GOOD news: For once, Israel is not alone. It is being hit by a degenerating media culture no more than are other countries, including Italy.


The bad news: Israel can't afford it. It can't afford to have its future leaders, soldiers and ambassadors draw their sociocultural inspiration from Big Brother, when the country is under constant global attack in the soft (media) wars of the 21st century and in a far-from-harmony-ridden geopolitical context. These circumstances require a boost of national self-confidence and strength, and information - not dogma! - about this young country's success stories and global contributions in the field of science, technology, culture, environmental protection and humanitarian aid.


I don't know of a single TV program that highlights Israel's high achievers, while too many celebrate its low and non-achievers. Israel's secret for survival and success is no longer a secret: Human capital may not be taken for granted; it's not DNA, but memes (cultural genes) that perpetuate it. Israel's human capital must be cultivated and empowered by all available means - the media being one of them, possibly the most powerful.










A deep malaise has engulfed our political system. There is a general feeling that the body politic is governed by small swing parties; that members of the Knesset are lured into the governing Likud by job offers which border on bribery; that the government does not represent the wishes of the majority; that excessive power is exercised by an omnipotent bureaucracy; that there is no true executive branch; that there is no accountability of public officials or elected representatives.


Are all these allegations true? In my opinion, they are true with regard to the central government, but not with regard to local government. To verify this point, I compared the two systems. I chose the 15 local authorities which are financially independent - i.e., do not receive ex gratia subventions from the government to supplement their income and in which about half of Israeli Jews live - and compared their records in the same year - 2007 - with that of the government.


FIRST I examined the satisfaction of the voters. The difference is immense: Only 18 percent were satisfied with the performance of the government, as opposed to 62% who were happy with the municipalities (the mayors got 63%, as opposed to the prime minister's 17%).


Then I examined their respective effectiveness through their capacity to utilize their budgets according to their specific allocations. Here I compared two municipalities - Tel Aviv and Herzliya - with the government during 2005-2007. In the municipalities, effective use of the budget was 80% of total allocations, versus the government's 33.7% (and anyone who knows the dominance of legal advisers, accountants and other nay-sayers in the civil service will marvel that even this figure has been achieved).


Even more stunning is the third comparison, examining the political support given to the two authorities. The 15 mayors were supported by more than 61% - i.e. much more than the 40% needed by law to be elected. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was elected by a quarter of the popular vote, and even after he took office, his rate of support does not approach the support given to the mayors.


The support given to the mayors by council members elected under the proportional system is even more surprising. Here I took Tel Aviv and Ra'anana as my sample. In these two authorities the mayors succeeded in passing all their initiatives. The typical government notoriously fails to muster a majority in the Knesset even on important initiatives, and every year the budget debate is an occasion for minority swing parties to extract more money for their increasingly exorbitant demands.


THE RESULT is visible to all: In the last municipal elections, 80% of incumbent mayors were reelected, while in three authorities, longtime incumbents were replaced by younger faces - a sure sign of democracy in action. The government's duration is a different story: In the past 13 years, six different governments held office and five Knesset elections took place. Since its independence, Israel has seen 18 Knessets and 32 governments. The short duration of ministers' tenure burdened the weak executive branch even further. While in the government, the first cracks in the coalition begin a short time after its establishment, in the municipalities from 2003 to 2008, coalitions were stable and only in one authority did the mayor have to face an opposing majority in the council.


Beyond these statistics there is also an element that cannot be quantified. New, young faces began to run for mayor and, when elected, they effected a dramatic reform in many aspects of municipal life. In the government, lack of new political blood is noticeable to all observers.


True, allegations of corruption - not always substantiated - abound with regard to local authorities. But suffice it to say that such allegations are also directed - sometimes with greater force - against the central government.


THE MAIN lesson to be learned from the chasm between the two systems is that it is not only political culture which determines the nature of a political system and its efficacy. Structure also matters. The very same Israelis who, under a purely proportional system, give birth to a political monstrosity can give rise to a stable, efficient and democratic system when they personally choose their mayors.


Indeed, before 1975, when the personal vote for mayors replaced the old system of mayors being chosen by council members, local government was synonymous with rotten ineffectiveness. The reform changed all that. The personal votes for the mayors granted them a degree of legitimacy undreamed of by prime ministers.


Democracy is a constant compromise between representation and effectiveness. In 1975 the municipal reform which gave priority to effectiveness succeeded, and no one wants to go back to the old system of election by council members. The system under which the Knesset is elected gives total precedence to representation at the cost of effectiveness. The result is nothing short of catastrophic. It's time to establish a compromise in the Knesset, too.


The writer is a professor of law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, a former minister of education and Knesset member and the recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize in Law.








Former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak has recommended that Israel join the International Criminal Court at The Hague that tries those indicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Barak, who spoke on Monday at a legal conference in Jerusalem, says that Israel will benefit from its participation in the court despite the risk that IDF soldiers and officers, and even Israeli politicians, may be brought to trial.

Israel was one of the countries behind the ICC initiative, but changed its stance at the last minute, once settlements in the territories were included in the list of serious crimes under the court's jurisdiction. At the end of 2000, following an intense debate in the government, Israel signed the Rome Statute from which the International Criminal Court was established, but said it would not ratify its signature because of concerns that the institution would be used for political ends. Since then, Israel has stuck by its refusal to join the ICC and be answerable to its judgments.

Barak said that "Israel is part of the international community, and it must conduct itself in accordance with the interpretation that is common in international law." As president of the Supreme Court, Barak changed an entrenched approach that rejected court involvement in security considerations. In a ruling on the issue of the route of the separation fence, he established the formula of "reason and proportionality" in the exercise of security authority in the territories. His approach also guided the current court president, Justice Dorit Beinisch, in last week's ruling regarding the use of Route 443 by Palestinians.


Since the ICC began its work at The Hague, international law has received increased attention in Israel. Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip a year ago raised serious allegations against Israel for violating the rules of war and even carrying out crimes against humanity. Israel responded that the IDF is "the most moral army in the world," and that international law must take into consideration the exigencies of the war against terrorism, but refused to cooperate with the Goldstone Commission and denounced its report.

A country that believes in the morality of its actions and those of its soldiers should not behave like a permanent suspect and boycott institutions of international law. On the contrary: It must fight within those institutions for its positions and justice. Joining the International Criminal Court at The Hague will place Israel on the side of the enlightened nations, and will contribute to restraining forceful and harmful actions. Barak's recommendation deserves to be adopted.








The word commonly used in Hebrew for "secular" - hiloni - is associated with the opposite of "sacred," as if we secular people were profane compared to the sacred people who wear skullcaps. A better term for us would be hofshi - "free."

A free person, then, needs restraint and magnanimity when it comes to discussing the terrible murder of the baby girl Fruma at the hands of her father, Nachman Anshin. Literally at his hands, because according to the testimony of witnesses who tried in vain to stop him, Anshin grasped his daughter, shouted "I'm grabbing her like a hen," and banged her on the floor until she died.

Why restraint and magnanimity? So as not to "sock it" to the ultra-Orthodox, who are always nattering about how violence and crime are secular things and how "things like that don't happen with us." This is not the time to prove that human nature, with all its ills and perversities, does not take into account lifestyle or some set of religious laws. Or that a hermetic social framework influences a person's evil impulses for the better. Perhaps the opposite is the case - it might well exert excessive pressure.

Indeed, this is not the time, but nevertheless, since this murder could have been prevented we have to talk about it. Fact: Many things are said, or rather shouted, in the ultra-Orthodox community. Yehuda Meshi-Zahav dared to say in front of the television cameras that "before Intel it is necessary to deal with these cases." (Though, of course, he quickly hedged the statement by saying that "there is no need to hurl [such cases] at our entire community.") He added that the rabbis must let professionals treat sick people. Meshi-Zahav's words show that at least a part of ultra-Orthodox society is outraged by the heavy price of its social norms and the authority to hush up problems and avoid airing them to the outside world.

Not only the murder itself could have been prevented, but also all the terrible suffering that preceded it, of which the murder is the climax. These were not prevented because of those same social norms, and the rabbis who let things degenerate are wholly responsible. This time the ultra-Orthodox community's official and unofficial spokesmen will not be able to exonerate their leaders by fobbing us off with the familiar excuse of "just another drug addict turned newly observant - you send us all your nut cases." This murder occurred in the innermost circle of the veteran Breslov hasidic sect.

According to all testimonies, Nachman Anshin suffers from a mental illness and everyone around him knew this, but as is customary in ultra-Orthodox society, the cure for every problem is marriage. However, his marriage did not work out and a few months after the wedding Anshin served his wife with divorce papers. What to do now? Answer: Cover up the disgrace and look quickly for a new wife, also divorced. A few months later a baby is born; this happens to a 22-year-old who can't cope with life: He doesn't have a job apart from schnorring, he is deep in debt and has a mental breakdown.

Anshin's lawyer says the suspect avoided seeing a psychiatrist, but according to his relatives and neighbors he received medication from a rabbi who hands out psychiatric drugs. This rabbi recommended that he stay away from his family and take a trip to Rashbi's tomb for a day or two. Didn't the mother notice that Anshin needed urgent hospitalization? Of course she did, but the norm of not letting things out of the closed circle prevailed.

In 1992 the first school opened in Jerusalem for ultra-Orthodox children with learning disabilities, who until then had been expelled from studies to the margins of society. The principal gave an interview to Haaretz and the next day persons unknown set fire to the school. Since then, however, quite a number of similar institutes and schools have opened and the attitude toward these children has changed dramatically. Back then those children paid the price. Now the price of silence is being paid by a young woman who in a single moment lost both her baby and the last shreds of her standing in the community.

Though the extreme Breslov hasidic sect does not reflect the entire ultra-Orthodox community, the dosage is different in other groups but not the principle. The ultra-Orthodox public swings back and forth between contradictory tendencies: openness to studies, work and information on the one hand, and seclusion and increased extremism on the other, as in the prohibition of the Internet.

In matters of medicine for the body the ultra-Orthodox have known how to organize sophisticated networks and induce the rabbis to become more flexible. Now they must understand that the sick mind is like every other part of the body and also needs a doctor. The murder of the baby Fruma Anshin must make it clear to the rabbis that anyone who prevents professional treatment for a mentally ill person is denying life for him and those close to him.








Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman is right: During the next two years Israel will not reach a permanent status agreement with the Palestinians. Lieberman is also right in the importance he attributes to national honor. Like the foreign minister, I, too, get annoyed when my country is attacked in the foreign media, and I am proud of Israelis who win the Nobel Prize or Olympic medals.

It is possible to interpret Lieberman's seasonal headline attack as needling of his political rival and partner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Lieberman depicts Netanyahu as a fool mesmerized by the deceptive charms of "renewing the diplomatic negotiations," and as a dishrag whose trips to Egypt manifest "national fawning and self-abasement" before President Hosni Mubarak, who refuses to visit Israel. And maybe it is just the frustration of a grounded foreign minister.

But Lieberman's remarks are no mere curiosity. They express a deep truth: The Israeli-Arab conflict has continued since the dawn of Zionism and is not going to end quickly, not even with the signing of a permanent status agreement. This is not a unique phenomenon: The establishment of new states arouses multi-generational conflicts. The unification of Germany took 120 years and entailed a major regional war, two world wars, occupation and a cold war. The partition of India in 1947 was accompanied by great violence, which continues to this day in Kashmir. In the Balkans, Ireland and Cyprus, too, there are no permanent solutions.


If this is the case, what conclusion can be drawn from Lieberman and his colleagues on the right, who are preaching determined steadfastness. Israel must refrain from any territorial concession, convince the world that the settlements in the territories are legal and the Arabs are bad, and parry every bit of criticism with a counter-imprecation and the preaching of morality.

It is a fact, they say, that we have tried "the left's solutions" from Oslo through Camp David, the disengagement and Annapolis, and we have not achieved peace. Let's change our approach and disabuse ourselves of illusions until the world is convinced and our control over the West Bank and East Jerusalem is perpetuated.

The right's approach ignores Israel's size and position in the family of nations. Israel is not a superpower like Russia or China, nor is it an isolated fortress state like North Korea - and even they are dependent on other countries. Israel is highly dependent: Its economy relies on exports and investments from abroad, its citizens love foreign travel and its security is based on military and diplomatic support from the United States (and in the past from the Soviet Union and France).

In return, "the world" expects Israel to draw back into recognized borders and minimize the friction with its neighbors. The world does not care that more Muslims are killed by other Muslims than by Jews.

The Israeli-Arab peace process, which started after the Yom Kippur War, did not end the conflict, nor has a new Middle East been established. The violence has not abated and thousands of new victims have been added to cemeteries in Israel, the territories, Lebanon, Syria and even Sudan.

But the test of results is not binary - either "the end of the conflict and the demands" or giving up and eternal war. Life is gray.

The peace process, more than any other factor, gave Israelis access to markets and tourism sites abroad, connected the Israeli economy to the global economy and led to Israel's gradual acceptance as a legitimate neighbor in the Middle East. This is not a linear process, rather a complex dance of forward-and-back steps.

Netanyahu's frequent trips to Cairo serve the Israeli interest even without return visits by Mubarak. Netanyahu does not believe in a faster permanent status agreement than the foreign minister. However, like his predecessors as prime minister, he realizes that Israel's fate depends on its "strength and justness," as David Ben-Gurion said, and he knows these are relative and not absolute terms.

A country's strength is measured in comparison to its foes, and its justness is determined in the international mind. Israel has weakened because of Iran's strengthening, and its justness has been undermined because of Operation Cast Lead and the settlements.

Lieberman is right in his assessment of the situation and wrong in his conclusion: Precisely because the conflict continues, Israel needs recognition and support - and therefore it must mollify the world and gradually move forward in the peace process instead of unnecessarily irritating the gentiles.









The arrest order issued in Britain against Kadima chairwoman Tzipi Livni is nothing but one of many symptoms of a deep and long-running problem that is unlikely to be solved as long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues.

The apology by British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (whose own government would be well advised to deal with the issue, of which it has long been aware) and his government's plan to tackle the problem through legislation, will not solve our troubles with the European Union.

The root of the problems lies in the fundamental disagreements between Israel and the EU regarding the manner in which the Israeli-Palestinian conflict should be resolved and our conduct vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The conclusions of the EU council of foreign ministers on the peace process, adopted last month in Brussels, and the harsh criticism of Israel voiced by the EU's new High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, are only the most recent examples of the deep gap that has existed for years between us and Europe.



The disagreements do not stem mainly from economic considerations and interests, although their role in shaping the positions of certain EU members should not be discounted. The reasons are deeper and are linked to the lesson taken by European states from the profound trauma of World War II. The preference for multilateral frameworks, the adherence to the principles of international law, the rejection of the use of force to change political realities, the sanctification of human rights as an absolute value (that is sometimes applied in a manner that leaves behind a sense of double standards) and empathy toward those who are perceived as being weak - all these are part of the principles by which the EU states conduct themselves.

The conduct of Israel, as a state that calls itself democratic, is not perceived by the EU countries as conforming to those principles. European politicians (if we permit ourselves to speak in generalities), not to mention the public, are generally unwilling to walk in the shoes of Israel, which operates as a democracy under threat, and to demonstrate understanding for the motivations behind its conduct. And any small understanding is not reflected in the media.

The threat of terror, which has become an inseparable part of Israel's quotidian reality, and Israel's responses - which are covered obsessively - bumps up against a European reality that with the exception of a few instance has not experienced the horrors of terror.

It follows from this that Israel's responses to terror, which result in unintended harm to civilians, are not only met by a lack of understanding but represent a focus of harsh criticism.

One of the by-products of this criticism is the beginning of an open discussion among some European elites of the nature of Israel's democracy as well as the extent of its legitimacy as a Jewish state, which is of great concern.

For years the EU has expressed its dissatisfaction with Israel's political and military conduct with a policy of reward and punishment. When there are unilateral withdrawals and an active peace process, Israel receives a prize; the absence of a peace process and disproportionate military actions lead to punishments.

This pattern, which changes in accordance with the existence of the peace process or lack thereof, is based on a fundamental and mutual lack of trust.

After observing the situation for many years it is hard to escape the conclusion that Israel and the Europeans are conducting not a dialogue, but rather two monologues. A solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could lay the foundations for a new stage in our relations with Europe. Until that happens we must get used to reality, the expressions of which we have been witness to in recent weeks.

The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Germany.








The settlers and their sympathizers know that most of the Israeli public doesn't support or especially like them. As a result, in their public relations campaign against the construction freeze in the settlements, they are not focusing as they did in the past on slogans such as "It is the right of Jews to settle anywhere in the Land of Israel," but instead are using the discourse of human rights. So, for example, in the name of freedom of speech they are coming to the defense of the seditious statements by Rabbi Eliezer Melamed. In this respect, they are adopting the tactics of a number of spokesmen for the Israeli Arab community whose worldview is based on not accepting the legitimacy of the State of Israel, but whose choice of language is also rooted in human rights discourse.

The same approach is also behind the decision by a number of settler spokesmen not to oppose the construction freeze in the settlements head on. They know they should not be dragged into a situation in which they call into question the legitimacy underlying the elected government's decisions. After the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, they are well aware of the slippery slope this presents. So they raise a different argument: that it's a police matter and the army should not be involved. In a democratic country, they maintain, the army should not be used against citizens of the state.

This argument is baseless. First, it's worth remembering that the legitimate Israeli power in the territories is the Israel Defense Forces. (All the settlers' local authorities act by virtue of the Military Administration; in fact, civilian Israeli law does not apply there). Second, while it's true that democratic governments usually use the police and not the army in acting against their own civilians, when democracies encounter emergency or crisis situations, they do bring in the army.

During the struggle for black civil rights in the American South, the federal government found it hard to enforce integration of the schools because of white opposition. It was president Dwight Eisenhower who in 1957 decided to send federal troops to the city of Little Rock, Arkansas, to enforce the integration decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In a speech to the nation, Eisenhower said it wasn't important what citizens or people in high office thought of the court's decision. At the end of the day there is only one authority, and the failure to enforce integration would spell the disintegration of the government's democratic foundations. To ensure effective law enforcement, the 101st Airborne Division, the U.S. Army's elite unit, was sent to Little Rock. Troops from the division accompanied nine black children to a "white" school in the city for an entire year.

When friction between Catholics and Protestants intensified in Northern Ireland in 1969, the British government sent the army to the province, which is an integral part of the United Kingdom. The army remained there for more than 30 years, and at the height of the deployment 30,000 troops were there. About 700 soldiers were killed during those years and thousands wounded. Public opinion was not enthusiastic about dispatching the army, but there was no objection to the legitimacy of the decision. Germany's Weimar Republic, on the other hand, was hesitant at times to deploy the army against riots instigated by the extreme right or left.

The lesson is clear. In their defense, democracies must deploy the army, albeit with a heavy heart, but this is a legitimate step. And it doesn't matter whether the call to insubordination or rebellion comes from the right or left. So the Israeli army was correct when it acted forcefully against disobedience by the extreme left. No manner of hairsplitting can justify disobedience of one kind and legitimize disobedience of another. That must be understood first and foremost by those who speak in the name of universal values that apply to all citizens, whatever their personal beliefs may be.







Gladys Carrión, New York's reform-minded commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, has been calling on the state to close many of its remote, prison-style juvenile facilities and shift resources and children to therapeutic programs located in their communities. Her efforts have met fierce and predictably self-interested resistance from the unions representing workers in juvenile prisons and their allies in Albany.


A recent series of damning reports have underscored the flaws in New York's juvenile justice system and the urgent need to shut down these facilities. The governor and the State Legislature need to pay attention.


A report by a task force appointed by Gov. David Paterson describes a failing system that damages young people, fails to curb recidivism and eats up millions of tax dollars. Children should be confined only when they present a clear threat to public safety. But the most recent statistics show that 53 percent of the youths admitted to New York's institutional facilities were placed there for minor nonviolent infractions.


The report also says that judges often send children to these facilities because local communities are unable to help them with mental problems or family issues. But once they are locked up, these young people rarely get the psychiatric care or special education they need because the institutions lack trained staff.


A report from the Justice Department, which has threatened to sue the state, documents the use of excessive and injury-causing force against children in juvenile facilities, often for minor offenses such as laughing too loudly or refusing to get dressed. And last week, the Legal Aid Society of New York City filed a class-action suit on behalf of youths in confinement, arguing that conditions in the system violate their constitutional rights.


Not surprisingly, these institutions do a terrible job of rehabilitation. According to a study of children released from custody between 1991 and 1995, 89 percent of the boys and 81 percent of the girls were eventually rearrested. New York's facilities are so disastrous and inhumane that state officials recently asked the courts to refrain from sending children to them, except in cases in which they presented a clear danger to the public.


Mr. Paterson's task force was rightly impressed with Missouri's juvenile justice system. It has adopted smaller regional facilities that focus on rehabilitation and house troubled youths as close to home as possible in order to involve parents and community groups in the therapeutic process. Missouri also has cut recidivisim rates by smoothing re-entry and helping young people with drug treatment, education or job placement.


New York clearly needs to follow Ms. Carrión's advice and adopt a Missouri-style system. That means the Legislature will finally have to put the needs of the state's children ahead of the politically powerful unions and upstate lawmakers who want to preserve jobs — and the disastrous status quo — at all costs.







The quest for overhauling immigration received two very welcome lifts on New Year's Day.


Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, at his inauguration, pledged to help the Obama administration pass immigration reform. Mr. Bloomberg is a force to reckon with, as he proved with his national campaign against illegal guns. On the same day, four young people in Miami, current or former students at Miami Dade College, began their own determined march to Washington in an effort to bring pressure from the grass roots.


Three of the four were brought to this country illegally as children. Like thousands of other young people, they bear no blame for their status, and they are frustrated that their hard work and bright promise lead to a brick wall. Their protest for a chance to become Americans is courageous because it exposes them to possible arrest and deportation. "We are risking our future because our present is unbearable," one of them, Felipe Matos, told The Times.


The Obama administration has vowed to press ahead with reform this year. Given the hard economic times, the politics may be bleaker even than in 2007 when reform was scuttled in an ugly battle. The need is just as real — for the undocumented and for the country.


America needs to shut the path to illegal entry and employment while opening smoother and more rational routes to legal immigration. Opponents of reform say the downturn is a terrible time to fix the system, but they are wrong. When the recovery comes, the country will need a functioning system more than ever — one that encourages legal entry and bolsters all workers' rights.


To do this, the country needs to bring its huge undocumented underclass into the light. This means putting 12 million people on a path to being assimilated. It is not a question of adding new people to the work force; they are here, many helping keep the economy afloat while tolerating low pay and abuse from lawbreaking employers who prefer them to American workers.


Representative Luis Gutierrez, a Democrat of Illinois, already has offered a sensible bill that legalizes immigrants who show that they have been employed, pay a $500 fine, learn English and undergo a criminal background check, among other things.


Opponents will try their best to scuttle reform by claiming to be open to compromise while they insist on prohibitive fees, penalties and requirements that turn the path into a fiction — not a wait of months but of decades or never. That is not reform. And it won't solve the problem.


After years of tightening the screws, the system is hopelessly frozen. Those who want to fix it will have to shut out the choruses of no-amnestys and over-my-dead-bodys, sidestep the false arguments and press into the headwinds while holding firm to the core of the better solution. To legalize the undocumented, collect their unpaid taxes, free them to earn more and spend more, to get the immigrant escalator to the middle class moving again. The country needs it; the economy needs it; the immigrants need and deserve it.


"No city on earth has been more rewarded by immigrant labor, more renewed by immigrant ideas, more revitalized by immigrant culture," Mr. Bloomberg said of New York City last week. Substitute "country" in that sentence, as in America, and it is every bit as true.






Ten years after NATO went to war with Slobodan Milosevic over Kosovo, a democratically transformed Serbia has applied to join the European Union. That process is likely to take five years or more, but this is an apt moment to celebrate the turnaround in Serbian policies and attitudes under President Boris Tadic.


Mr. Tadic was first elected in 2004, but it has been only since his 2008 re-election that he became strong enough to set his country on the path toward European Union membership. Many Serbs remain bitter over the wars and territory that Mr. Milosevic lost. Most now are more interested in looking forward toward a better future in partnership with Europe.


The European Union already provides more than half of Serbia's imports and buys more than half of its exports. Serbia's economy, still recovering from the sanctions and chaos of the Milosevic years, needs outside capital to help generate jobs. With European Union membership on the horizon, Fiat already has announced plans for substantial investments in Serbian car production.


Joining Europe makes human sense, too. A generation of Serbs grew up isolated from much of Europe. Since December, Serbs have been able to travel to most of the European Union visa-free.


Important conditions must still be met before Serbia's membership application can progress.


The Serbian government must make every possible effort to arrest two remaining indicted war crimes suspects — Gen. Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic — and deliver them to the Hague for trial. The Netherlands threatens to hold up the application until they are turned over. President Tadic pledges full cooperation. Six months from now, the chief war crimes prosecutor in the Hague is scheduled to report on how well he has kept that pledge.


Another issue is Kosovo. Serbia is now cooperating with a European Union-led police mission there and is securing its side of the border. It still refuses to recognize Kosovo's independence. With five European Union members also holding out, recognition cannot be a condition of membership. But the Serbian government must agree that it will not try to unreasonably bar Kosovo from eventual European Union membership.


To prepare Serbia to compete within Europe, Mr. Tadic must also continue his economic reforms. The country has come far, and the European Union has used the incentive of eventual membership to encourage constructive policies in Belgrade. Serbia now needs to complete a transformation well begun.







On Monday, Dubai celebrated the completion of what is now, and is likely to remain for some time, the tallest building on the planet and its last-second name change. What was supposed to be called Burj Dubai (burj means tower in Arabic) rises to 2,717 feet above a series of rounded, bronzed setbacks. It took five years to complete and cost $1.5 billion. At the opening, it was renamed Burj Khalifa, in honor of Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the president of Abu Dhabi, which gave Dubai a $10 billion loan a few weeks ago to help head off the country's financial collapse.


The building sets many other records: highest swimming pool, highest mosque, tallest service elevator, highest outdoor observation deck, highest vertical concrete pumping during construction, first Armani hotel. From the top you can see 60 miles away — and back to 2004 when construction started in the midst of a real estate frenzy.


It is hard, despite the glitter and fireworks, not to see Burj Khalifa as a monument to Dubai's burst real estate bubble and a caution against much of the world's overreach during the last few years. Its developer says that the building is 90 percent sold. That would make it the exception in Dubai where real estate prices have dropped by as much as 50 percent from their height.


We are all for vaulting ambition and reaching for the heights. But Burj Khalifa is also a reminder that what the world needs right now is sensibly lowered expectations and a far more solid economic foundation on which to build going forward.







Surely, the most important, interesting — and, yes, heroic — figure in the whole Christmas Day Northwest airliner affair was the would-be bomber's father, the Nigerian banker Alhaji Umaru Mutallab.


Mutallab did something that, as far as we know, no other parent of a suicide bomber has done: He went to the U.S. Embassy in Nigeria and warned us that text messages from his son revealed that he was in Yemen and had become a fervent, and possibly dangerous, radical.


We are turning ourselves inside out over how our system broke down — and surely it did — in allowing Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the would-be suicide bomber, to board that airliner. But his father, in effect, told us something else: "My family system, our village system, broke down. My own son fell under the influence of a jihadist version of Islam that I do not recognize and have reason to fear."


The Times, quoting a cousin, said the son had sent the father a text message from Yemen in which he declared that "he had found a new religion, the real Islam" and that he was never coming home again. A Feb. 20, 2005, Internet posting attributed to the son and quoted by The Associated Press said: "I imagine how the great jihad will take place, how the Muslims will win ... and rule the whole world, and establish the greatest empire once again!!!"


Finding people with the courage to confront that breakdown — the one identified by the father, the one that lures young Muslims away from the mainstream into a willingness to commit suicide against innocent civilians as part of some jihadist power fantasy — is what matters most right now.


Yes, we need to fix our intelligence. Yes, we absolutely must live up to our own ideals, as President Obama is trying to do in banning torture and closing Guantánamo Bay. We can't let this "war on terrorism" consume us. We can't let our country become just The United States of Fighting Terrorism and nothing more. We are the people of July 4th — not Sept. 11th.


But even if we do all that, no laws or walls we put up will ever be sufficient to protect us unless the Arab and Muslim societies from whence these suicide bombers emerge erect political, religious and moral restraints as well — starting by shaming suicide bombers and naming their actions "murder," not "martyrdom."


I keep saying: It takes a village. The father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, saw himself as part of a global community, based on shared values, and that is why he rang the alarm bell. Bless him for that. Unless more Muslim parents, spiritual leaders, political leaders — the village — are ready to publicly denounce suicide bombing against innocent civilians — theirs and ours — this behavior will not stop.


Just last Friday, for example, a suicide bomber set off an explosives-laden vehicle in the midst of a volleyball tournament in the Pakistani village of Shah Hassan Khel, killing more than 100 people. Most were youngsters. No surprise. When suicide bombing becomes legitimate to use against non-Muslim "infidels" abroad it becomes legitimate to use against Muslim opponents at home. And what becomes "legitimate" and "illegitimate" in a community is so much more important than any government regulation.


All too often, though, Arab and Muslim governments arrest their jihadis at home, denounce them privately to us, but say nothing in public. The global leadership of Islam — like the king of Saudi Arabia or the Organization of the Islamic Conference — rarely take on jihadist actions and ideology openly with the kind of passion, consistency and mass protests that we have seen them do, for example, against Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.


President Obama should not hesitate to call for it — respectfully but publicly. If he only presses for more effective airport security, which he must, it's a cop-out.


"When you want to foster more responsible behavior in people, you can't just legislate more rules and regulations," said Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, and the author of the book "How." "You have to enlist and inspire people in a set of values. People need to be governed both from the outside, through compliance with rules, and from the inside, inspired by shared values. That is why shame is so important. When we call a banker 'a fat cat' for taking too big a bonus, we're actually being inspirational leaders because we are telling them, 'You are behaving beneath how a responsible human being should behave.' We need to inspire the village to shame those who betray our common values."


Every faith has its violent extreme. The West is not immune. It's all about how the center deals with it. Does it tolerate it, isolate it or shame it? The jihadists are a security problem for our system. But they are a political and moral problem for the Arab-Muslim system. If they won't address this problem for us, I truly hope they will do it for themselves. Eventually, we'll find a way to keep most jihadists off our planes and out of our volleyball games — but they will have to live with them.


Maureen Dowd is off today.



HOW 12/25 WAS LIKE 9/11



IN the days since the attempted Christmas Day airplane bombing, many officials, including the White House's counterterrorism director, John Brennan, have insisted that the Detroit incident was "not like 9/11." In many respects, we agree. But the government's handling of the intelligence leading up to the attack was eerily reminiscent of one of the most shocking — and relatively underreported — revelations to come out of the 9/11 commission's hearings.


The commission, having been informed that before 9/11 the State Department maintained a list of known or suspected terrorists whose travel should be restricted, asked Federal Aviation Administration officials how many of that list's 61,000 names were on the F.A.A.'s "no fly" registry. The answer supplied by senior aviation administration officials was astonishing in two respects. First, the commission was told, the no-fly list had not 61,000 names but only 12, and included none of the 9/11 hijackers, even though the F.B.I. was searching actively for two of them before the attack.


Then came the bombshell: the F.A.A. security officials were unaware — until the commission asked its question at a hearing — that the State Department maintained a terrorist watch list at all.


In the hearing, Tim Roemer, a commission member, was stunned, telling the F.A.A. officials: "There's a difference of 60,988 names between what's been accumulated at the State Department as dangerous people, shouldn't be flying, and what you have with your 12 people. Now, I can't understand why there are not more efforts in liaison activities to reach out to State Department and start to bring some of those names over and prevent those people from flying."


Today, the no-fly list has grown to 4,000 people, but the name of the man accused of the Christmas bombing attempt, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not on it. Critical information concerning Mr. Abdulmutallab's growing estrangement from his family and his Islamic radicalization in Yemen, according to an understandably exasperated President Obama, "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."


Others in the intelligence community, according to Mr. Brennan, were aware that Al Qaeda in Yemen was training a Nigerian, perhaps named Umar Farouk, to carry out an attack. "But there was nothing," according to Mr. Brennan, "that brought it all together." When Mr. Abdulmutallab's father reported his dangerous behavior to the United States Embassy in Nigeria, moreover, no one checked whether the younger Abdulmutallab held a multiple-entry visa (he did), or whether he had been denied a visa anywhere else (he had).


As President Obama said yesterday, after meeting with his national security team at the White House, "This was not a failure to collect intelligence; it was a failure to integrate and understand the intelligence we already had." What, more than eight years after 9/11, and more than four years after the issuance of the 9/11 commission's findings, are we to make of this systemic failure? And what should be done about it?


First, we should dismiss the partisan bickering over the issue. Both parties have presided over security failures and successes; systemic failures cannot be ascribed to the stewardship of a political party. Any effort to take partisan advantage of this unfortunate event, moreover, can only mask the more serious underlying issues, which President Obama raised squarely in yesterday's remarks: are lapses in information gathering and sharing like those that occurred here endemic, or fixable?


The task of isolating the data points that identify one dangerous individual among thousands is hard; there will be, under the best of conditions, an element of judgment involved, an ineradicable quantum of human frailty. Tragic mistakes will always be possible. And there will be little or no defense against a lunatic, unconnected with any group, who ignites kindling in his underpants.


The question that Congress should investigate, and the administration should ask itself, is whether the system we have in place has reduced the likelihood of human error to an acceptable, if not irreducible, margin.


Our national security system should aspire to the zero-tolerance effectiveness with which our military has prevented an accidental launching of nuclear weapons. The attempted Christmas bombing, thwarted by brave passengers and not by our intelligence community, illustrates how far we still have to go.


There are procedural fixes worth undertaking, of course, like mandating enhanced screening, or installing body scanning technology, or coordinating the software used by intelligence agencies, or instructing State Department personnel to query the visa status of any person reported to be suspicious. Reforming the no-fly list procedures, as President Obama has proposed, is certainly overdue. But in our view the problem runs deeper, and requires a searching look at the structure of government itself.


Despite the best efforts of the 9/11 commission and other intelligence reformers, budgetary authority over intelligence remains unaligned with substantive responsibility. Turf battles persist among intelligence agencies. Power is sought while responsibility is deflected. The drift toward inertia continues.


Government agencies are most likely to succeed when structure matches mission. With its many jurisdictional boundaries and its persistent bureaucratic fault lines, our current system, although greatly improved since 9/11, affords too many opportunities to let information slip, too many occasions for human frailty to assert itself.


The attempted Christmas bombing carries an eerie echo of the failures that led to 9/11 because those fundamental flaws persist. The challenge for President Obama and Congress is to resist superficial sound-bite solutions and undertake the harder task of reinventing our national security system. As the president stated, "The margin for error is slim, and the consequences of failure can be catastrophic."


Thomas H. Kean and John Farmer Jr. were, respectively, the co-chairman and senior counsel of the 9/11 commission.







THE Islamic Republic of Iran is not about to implode. Nevertheless, the misguided idea that it may do so is becoming enshrined as conventional wisdom in Washington.


For President Obama, this misconception provides a bit of cover; it helps obscure his failure to follow up on his campaign promises about engaging Iran with any serious, strategically grounded proposals. Meanwhile, those who have never supported diplomatic engagement with Iran are now pushing the idea that the Tehran government might collapse to support their arguments for military strikes against Iranian nuclear targets and adopting "regime change" as the ultimate goal of America's Iran policy.


Let's start with the most recent events. On Dec. 27, large crowds poured into the streets of cities across Iran to commemorate the Shiite holy day of Ashura; this coincided with mourning observances for a revered cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who had died a week earlier. Protesters used the occasion to gather in Tehran and elsewhere, setting off clashes with security forces.


Important events, no doubt. But assertions that the Islamic Republic is now imploding in the fashion of the shah's regime in 1979 do not hold up to even the most minimal scrutiny. Antigovernment Iranian Web sites claim there were "tens of thousands" of Ashura protesters; others in Iran say there were 2,000 to 4,000. Whichever estimate is more accurate, one thing we do know is that much of Iranian society was upset by the protesters using a sacred day to make a political statement.


Vastly more Iranians took to the streets on Dec. 30, in demonstrations organized by the government to show support for the Islamic Republic (one Web site that opposed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in June estimated the crowds at one million people). Photographs and video clips lend considerable plausibility to this estimate — meaning this was possibly the largest crowd in the streets of Tehran since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's funeral in 1989. In its wake, even President Ahmadinejad's principal challenger in last June's presidential election, Mir Hossein Mousavi, felt compelled to acknowledge the "unacceptable radicalism" of some Ashura protesters.


The focus in the West on the antigovernment demonstrations has blinded many to an inconvenient but inescapable truth: the Iranians who used Ashura to make a political protest do not represent anything close to a majority. Those who talk so confidently about an "opposition" in Iran as the vanguard for a new revolution should be made to answer three tough questions: First, what does this opposition want? Second, who leads it? Third, through what process will this opposition displace the government in Tehran?


In the case of the 1979 revolutionaries, the answers to these questions were clear. They wanted to oust the American-backed regime of Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and to replace it with an Islamic republic. Everyone knew who led the revolution: Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who despite living in exile in Paris could mobilize huge crowds in Iran simply by sending cassette tapes into the country. While supporters disagreed about the revolution's long-term agenda, Khomeini's ideas were well known from his writings and public statements. After the shah's departure, Khomeini returned to Iran with a draft constitution for the new political order in hand. As a result, the basic structure of the Islamic Republic was set up remarkably quickly.


Beyond expressing inchoate discontent, what does the current "opposition" want? It is no longer championing Mr. Mousavi's presidential candidacy; Mr. Mousavi himself has now redefined his agenda as "national reconciliation." Some protesters seem to want expanded personal freedoms and interaction with the rest of the world, but have no comprehensive agenda. Others — who have received considerable Western press coverage — have taken to calling for the Islamic Republic's replacement with an (ostensibly secular) "Iranian Republic." But University of Maryland polling after the election and popular reaction to the Ashura protests suggest that most Iranians are unmoved, if not repelled, by calls for the Islamic Republic's abolition.


With Mr. Mousavi increasingly marginalized, who else might lead this supposed revolution? Surely not Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who became a leading figure in the protests after last summer's election. Yes, he is an accomplished political actor, is considered a "founding father" of the state and heads the Assembly of Experts, a body that can replace the Islamic Republic's supreme leader. But Mr. Rafsanjani lost his 2005 bid to regain the presidency in a landslide to Mr. Ahmadinejad, and has shown no inclination to spur the masses to bring down the system he helped create.


Nor will Mohammad Khatami, the reformist elected president in 1997, lead the charge; in 1999, at the height of his popularity, he publicly disowned widespread student demonstrations protesting the closing of a newspaper that had supported his administration.


Many of the Westerners who see the opposition displacing the Islamic Republic emphasize the potential for unrest during Shiite mourning rituals, which take place at three-, seven- and 40-day intervals after a person's death. During the final months of the shah's rule, his opponents used mourning rituals held for demonstrators killed by security forces to catalyze further protests. But does this mean that a steady stream of mourning rituals for fallen protesters today will set off a similarly escalating spiral of protests, eventually sweeping away Iran's political order?


That is highly unlikely. First, Ayatollah Montazeri had unique standing in the Islamic Republic's history; it is not surprising that the coincidence of his seven-day observance with the Ashura observation would have drawn crowds. His 40-day observance — which will fall on Jan. 29 — and the early February commemoration of the 1979 revolution might also encourage public activism. But there is nothing in the Islamic Republic's history to support projections that future mourning rituals for those killed in the Ashura protests will elicit similar attention.


For example, in late 1998 four prominent intellectuals were assassinated, allegedly by state intelligence officers, prompting considerable public outrage. Yet the mourning rituals for the victims did not prompt large-scale protests. In 1999, nationwide student protests were violently suppressed, with at least five people killed and 1,200 detained. Once again, though, the mourning dates for those who died did not generate significant new demonstrations. Likewise, after the presidential election in June, none of the deaths associated with security force action — even that of Neda Agha-Soltan, the young woman whose murder became a cause célèbre of the YouTube age — resulted in further unrest.


In keeping with this pattern, the seven-day mourning observances for those killed in the Ashura protests generated no significant demonstrations in Iran. Clearly, comparisons of the Ashura protests to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, projecting a cascade of monumental consequences to follow, are fanciful. The Islamic Republic will continue to be Iran's government. And, even if there were changes in some top leadership positions — such as the replacement of Mr. Ahmadinejad as president by Ali Larijani, the speaker of the Parliament, as some Westerners speculate — this would not fundamentally change Iran's approach on regional politics, its nuclear program and other matters of concern.


The Obama administration's half-hearted efforts at diplomacy with Tehran have given engagement a bad name. As a result, support for more coercive options is building across the American political spectrum. The president will do a real disservice to American interests if he waits in vain for Iranian political dynamics to "solve" the problems with his Iran policy.

As a model, the president would do well to look to China. Since President Richard Nixon's opening there (which took place amid the Cultural Revolution), successive American administrations have been wise enough not to let political conflict — whether among the ruling elite or between the state and the public, as in the Tiananmen Square protests and ethnic separatism in Xinjiang — divert Washington from sustained, strategic engagement with Beijing. President Obama needs to begin displaying similar statesmanship in his approach to Iran.


Flynt Leverett directs the New America Foundation's Iran Initiative and is a professor of international affairs at Pennsylvania State University. Hillary Mann Leverett heads a political risk consultancy. They publish the Web site The Race for Iran.







Suddenly we have a president who is both visible and mobile. There can be little doubt that the presidency has been stung by the criticism levelled at it from across the entire spectrum of the media, namely that an invisible president sends the wrong message to the nation. It is also a recognition by the PPP that it was suffering more generally as the president's approval ratings dropped like a stone; and it remains to be seen whether his new charm offensive is going to be anything other than a flash in the pan. Appearing in public may be a step in the right direction, but what the president says during his appearances has yet to be harmonised with reality as experienced by the rest of the population. He is on safe ground when speaking of matters concrete and tangible, and unveiling a plaque at the Chief Minister's House at the initiation of the Hyderabad-Mirpurkhas dual carriageway road project is about as safe as it gets. A photo-call with our sailors is likewise safe – and a deserved recognition of their service for the navy, which sometimes seems not to get its fair share when it comes to credit being distributed.

Matters become a little more tricky when he speaks extempore. Recent references to various theories of conspiracy aimed at undermining democracy as well as past statements in which he claimed to know who it was that murdered his wife but was not telling anybody until the time was right do little to enhance either the man or his office. Our politicians have a long and sometimes honourable history of unscripted speaking – but they also have a history of making statements unsupported by facts, making claims and accusations that are unfounded and generally pandering to the lowest common denominator. We are at a time when our politics is dominated by schism rather than unity, and although schism is part and parcel of the political process unity in the face of adversity should bridge it – and the president, who should be above party politics, is the person in whose office that responsibility sits. People would also like to see him addressing us in a manner that appears to be underpinned by coherence, logic and a sense that he is a president for all. A good speech writer may be of assistance as well.







A mysterious outbreak of self-awareness and honesty has developed in some parts of the political establishment. The most prominent affectee appears to be the prime minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, who has said that his government committed a serious error by not moving swiftly to implement the Charter of Democracy when the PPP won the 2008 general elections. The political waters have muddied since the Charter of Democracy was signed in May 2006 and many may have forgotten precisely what it was that the late Benazir Bhutto and Mian Nawaz Sharif committed their parties to. The CoD has four principal sections and assorted sub-headings. The principal sections relate to constitutional amendments restoring the constitution to something close to that of 1973, a political code of conduct, free and fair elections and lastly the relationship between the military and civil powers.

Even with the benefit of hindsight we can see that this is a useful, pragmatic and even foundation on which to build the necessary reforms to our much-battered society and its institutions, and if we had moved swiftly to its implementation after the election, we might have gotten somewhere today. That the prime minister is now saying that the government is working on a package of constitutional reforms in line with the CoD is a welcome development, as is his recognition that the failure to work more closely with the opposition parties in the period immediately after the election contributed to the polarities that hamstring political development today. There was a brief window of opportunity in the weeks immediately following the election when it looked like old rivals might have decided to bury the hatchet – in the ground rather than in one another's backs. But it was not to be, default positions were resumed and we are now at a political stalemate. The Charter of Democracy, if implemented in letter and spirit, remains our least-worst option for fixing a lot that has been decades in the breaking. If the political will to do so can be found among the scrapping parties, then this important document may eventually have life breathed into it.






The term 'target killing' sanitises the underlying reason for the murder of 256 people in Karachi over the last six months. It is a convenient euphemism for political and sectarian murder – people being killed for their religious adherences or their political affiliations. Most of the murders have been political and include workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (Haqiqi), the PPP and the ANP; with 41 of them attributable to sectarian differences. Karachi has a history of political violence and it seems that there is little by way of 'initiatives' that the current government can do to limit them. Sectarian murders are a national issue and not Karachi-specific.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik (who at least in this instance has our sympathies) has chaired a meeting this week in an attempt to get agencies involved in the tracking and catching of those doing the murdering to better coordinate their efforts. Eighteen areas of the city have been identified as the locus and are being 'notified' under the relevant section of the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). The rangers have had their powers extended, enabling them to arrest and hold any person involved in violence for up to 90 days and they are to be given the power to 'deal with' any extraordinary situation. The government has no choice but to act as it has, but the wearying reality is that target killings are not going to stop, no matter the forces deployed to stop it, until those doing the killing decide to stop it. This means that political parties and religious groups have to take a clear and concrete decision that they will not sanction murder, not condone it and not support or harbour those that commit it. All the parties and groups publicly condemn the butchery, yet seem unable to control those of their supporters who carry it out. For that to change a lot of people are going to have to start thinking differently – and we have scant hope of that occurring in the foreseeable future.






The term "non-state actors" is becoming a catchword in our part of the world. But it has had different notional connotations for each different situation. India has been using the term "non-state actors" to describe the "perpetrators" of the November 2008 Mumbai tragedy. In Pakistan, this catchword is being obsessively used to euphemise one's political nemeses. A different kind of "non-state actors," with eminently positive credentials, now seem to have come together in a joint mission to breathe a fresh new impulse for peace in the region.

Two giant media groups in India and Pakistan, The Times of India group and the Jang group have come together in a joint initiative called "Aman ki Asha" (desire for peace) "to energise the process of peace" between the two countries. It is a noble mission and has been generally welcomed in non-governmental circles. The authors of this well-meaning initiative have an ambitious agenda of "unleashing a new social compact" based on the common desire for peace at the level of the people in both countries.


They plan to move pragmatically "to reach out and pluck the low-hanging fruit in the beginning before they aim higher." Issues of trade and commerce, investments, financial infrastructure, cultural exchanges, religious and medical tourism, free movement of ideas, visa regimes, sporting ties, connectivity, reviving existing routes, market access, divided families and each other's prisoners constitutes their initial agenda. All these issues are already part of the Composite Dialogue, thus providing complementarity to both Track One and Track Two approaches.

The sponsors of the "peace initiative" are aware of the complexities involved in the troubled India-Pakistan equation, and the hope they can generate on both sides of the border through enough public awareness of the need for peace and prosperity which has eluded the two countries ever since they became independent. The purpose is "to provide a mutual platform for debate on the major sticking points in the hitherto fickle peace dialogue on both sides of the border -- whether it is Kashmir, the water dispute or security.

The mission statement commits the two media groups "to a movement that will bring the people and civil institutions of the two countries together in fostering an honourable, genuine and durable peace." This is a noble mission and needs to be pursued with all seriousness of purpose. While the ultimate aspirations of Aman ki Asha are admittedly lofty, the sponsors claim to have taken good care in factoring in realistic and deliverable means to ensue the sustainability of their peace endeavour.

In its essence, the Aman ki Asha project involves an expansive media diplomacy seeking "to resolve amicably all outstanding issues that serve as hurdles to peace, and campaign for collaboration on economic, cultural issues through a media-led civil society movement." In the India-Pakistan context, we have seen "media diplomacy" at work in different forms in recent years. Notably, Panos South Asia and the Kathmandu-based Hemal magazine have been organising a series of roundtables and retreats since 2002 for senior media practitioners to explore the modalities of reinforcing the peace process.

One conclusion flagged in those discussions was that no foreign policy without popular support and consent can be sustainable or survive domestic political changes in the two countries. Indeed, the India-Pakistan peace process has never been immune to domestic and external factors and has always been vulnerable to occasional hiccups. We have seen that whenever the dialogue process, initiated in June 1997, appeared to be making headway, some bizarre incident took place derailing and then stalling the process.

The latest is the November 2008 Mumbai tragedy, after which we were back to square one. The dialogue remains suspended despite two summit-level meetings, one in June last year at Yekaterinburg, Russia, and the other in the following month at the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. India and Pakistan seem to have inextricably tied themselves together in a straitjacket with each looking in the opposite direction. They do need help. The US is doing what it can to nudge both sides. But domestically, in the absence of popular momentum, both are held back by the extremity of their traditional trust deficit.

The media is perhaps the only force that can now catalyse the public opinion to bring about requisite pressure on both governments to come out of their negative mode and move ahead. The joint Times-Jang groups' initiative is a timely effort towards generating the needed "surge of goodwill and flexibility" through Aman ki Asha in civil society and the media across the borders and might indeed evoke the requisite popular will in support of peace and normalcy between the two estranged neighbours. But a word of caution is also needed.

There is no room for over-optimism in the India-Pakistan context. There is nothing wrong in being optimistic, but given the volatile history of India-Pakistan relations and complexity of the issues involved, one would be better off being cautious and realistic, not drawing euphoric conclusions or raising unrealistic hopes. This has been a troubled relationship, marked by "conflict and confrontation." In fact, the underlying problems behind this legacy are rooted in their history and the long-standing tradition of mutual distrust and suspicion that they inherited on their independence.

And at the core of all their problems is the Kashmir issue, which has kept the relations between the two countries bedevilled, perpetuating mutual tensions and animosity. The clash in 1948, the 1965 war, the Siachin dispute, the Kargil crisis, the volatile Line of Control, frequent warlike military deployments, the water disputes, including Wullar Barrage and Baglihar Dam, and Pakistan's strategic fears and apprehensions are all directly related to Kashmir.

The Kashmir dispute invokes intense feelings in the peoples of both India and Pakistan, as well as the Kashmiri people themselves. Their historical experiences, cultural diversities, religious fervour, scars of partition, wars and conflicts, liberation struggle in Kashmir and resurgence of violence and terrorism in recent years, all come together in a curious convergence in the unresolved dispute of Kashmir. Even in the most optimistic scenario, Kashmir would remain an overarching factor in any India-Pakistan peace process.

This is not a territorial dispute. It is a question involving the right of self-determination of the Kashmiri people pledged to them by both India and Pakistan and the international community through solemn resolutions of the UN Security Council. Both sides will have to involve the Kashmiri people in the dialogue process. They are the arbiters of their own destiny.

At the same time, mistrust and apprehensions on both sides are deep-rooted and will not evaporate simply by the flames being blown out. India and Pakistan will have to extinguish the fire at its source. Dialogue and constructive engagement are today the only acceptable means of resolving disputes. Progress in this direction could perhaps be facilitated atmospherically by Aman ki Asha project, but eventually high-level political engagement between the two countries will be required.

In the ultimate analysis, however, the success of this process would depend entirely on the freshness of political approach that both sides would themselves be ready to bring in with sincerity of purpose. What should be clear to them by now is that, in today's world, there will be no military solution to their problems. Given the unique political history of South Asia and the particular social and cultural proclivities of its inhabitants, this region needs stable peace, not confrontation.

India-Pakistan rapprochement becomes reality it will benefit not only the peoples of the region but also the world at large in terms of economic opportunities. Durable peace between the two countries would not only be a factor of regional and global stability but would also enable them to divert their resources to improving the lives of their peoples and eradicating poverty and backwardness from the region.

Depending on progress on Kashmir and in mutual confidence-building through nuclear and conventional restraint, the two countries in due course could also explore a no-war treaty with a mutually agreed mechanism for conflict- prevention, conflict-resolution and peaceful settlement of disputes. This would be the sum total of visionary statesmanship that we need in our region to enable our two peoples to live together in peace and harmony. Meanwhile, the newly arrived India-Pakistan "non-state actors" for peace deserve our full support.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@







The media and public attention and disdain has focused almost entirely on President Zardari after the Supreme Court verdict on the NRO. This has triggered a small debate on the fairness of zeroing in on one individual when there are hundreds, perhaps more, on the NRO list with criminal charges, including murder.

It is hard to think of the NRO without some kind of emotion swelling inside. Just the thought of what it might have been rattles the senses: if there was no corruption, or at least not on as monumental a scale as there was. Whatever is being written on the NRO and by whoever, a bit of lament, some traces of anguish, some anger, get woven into the contents. It is probably not possible to bury the inner feelings on the NRO entirely. One recommended way to reduce pain is to make light of it.

The public and the media focus on President Zardari has to be seen in the light of the totality of the NRO -- the ordinance, the Supreme Court verdict, the names on the list, and all else that went with it – and how all these coalesced to turn the NRO into a mega-production, a life-size epic, with a cast of thousands, literally. And Asif Ali Zardari, whose name was a legend for what the NRO is essentially all about, as the star. If in the public eye and in the media President Zardari now appears as the "sole" legatee of the NRO, it is because he symbolises the NRO, and is looked upon as Mr NRO himself.

After the president, it is his party which has borne the brunt of the fallout from the verdict on the NRO. PPP spokespersons have wondered why their party is virtually the sole receiver of the "fulsome" public and media attention after the ruling on the NRO. This is extraordinary wonderment.

It cannot be that they do not know that the reason for the "fulsome" public and media attention to their party is that the NRO was essentially PPP-specific, although spill-over benefits also accrued to some in the MQM and the ANP, that it was cut and tailored to fit mainly beneficiaries from the party; the other major party was calculatedly excluded from the NRO. Its value to the media in NRO matters is now only to extent of the utterances of its spokespersons and leaders on the discomfiture of those presently caught in the web.

The NRO, unfortunately for those who were to be its prime beneficiaries, has been stood on its head, and the recipients of its absolution turned into objects of national scorn.

The media and the public attention, unsurprisingly, is where the NRO verdict has caused the most flutter, not unlike a cat among pigeons – the PPP. Coalition partners MQM and ANP have taken more than a just a little slack, and this must be welcome relief.

The names with major roles in the NRO epic read like the Who's Who of the post-Benazir PPP. The rest of the nearly 8,000-strong cast is made up of extras who were picked for roles in the NRO -- by the NAB, or the FIA or whoever, much as Central Casting in Hollywood studios would pick extras for roles in Hollywood epics. Many of the extras would be big news in their own right if they had appeared in a standard production, instead of an epic like the NRO.

There is only one way to turn the public and media outcry to something less perturbing. All those affected by the outcry, and if they believe in their blamelessness, should stand down from whatever positions they are occupying and appear in courts to show what they claim are mere allegations or accusations against them to be just that, allegations.

Any other mode of defence, whether through waffling on TV talk shows or in specially written pieces in the print media, scaremongering and playing of provincial cards, ranting on conspiracy theories, mysterious movement of boxes through diplomatic channels from lawyers' offices in Switzerland, and all the rest of such out-of-court tactics, is just adding fuel to the outcry that could turn it into an eruption.

For almost the first time in its history, Pakistan has a free and, on the whole, credible media. It has a judiciary, also for the first time, which the people believe and recognise to be independent and, therefore, look upon it with trust. The army is on the way to regaining its somewhat spoiled image.

If similar credibility and trust with the people can also be achieved by the two weakest links in the national chain, the parliamentarians and the executive, which can be only through actions, not through empty, unending rhetoric, Pakistan would be home and dry.


The writer is a retired corporate executive. Email:







The key question to ask about President Obama's military surge in Afghanistan is, "Where is Plan B?" In other words, if the extra troops do not reverse the Taliban momentum and the Afghan governance structure and army cannot take over from the United States in the next few years, what then?

Equally importantly, how does Obama hope to prevent increased U.S. pressure on Pakistan from further destabilizing that country and risking a much greater disaster for the region and the world?

The record of the past suggests that the surge is likely to fail. The additional forces are still not sufficient to win in a country as large as Afghanistan. The Taliban may well be put on the defensive, but given their support in the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, they are very unlikely to be crippled.

As for the U.S. state-building project, this has failed so comprehensively under President Hamid Karzai in the past eight years that it is difficult to see how it can miraculously reform itself over the next 18 months.

Washington's aim to build the Afghan National Army to the point where it is able to hold some towns against the Taliban confronts formidable obstacles: illiteracy, lack of professionalism and above all the underrepresentation of Pashtuns, all of which prevents it from becoming a genuinely national force.

Compared to the Soviet Union, the West is laboring under a crushing disadvantage in this regard. The Soviets inherited the core of the old royal Afghan Army, which had always been a Pashtun-dominated force. The West has tried to build a new force on the basis of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, which is overwhelmingly non-Pashtun.

With continued outside support, the force may be able to defend non-Pashtun areas against the Taliban in the future, but this is not sustainable. Even more questionable is whether it will be able to operate successfully in the Pashtun areas where the Taliban is based.

Given these odds against military success, it is essential that the U.S. plan incorporate a political strategy aimed at Afghan national reconciliation -- and that plan should involve negotiations with the Taliban. The goal would have to be a settlement that allows the Taliban local power in the Pashtun areas in return for the exclusion of Al Qaeda.

Mr. Obama's surge does not rule out the simultaneous pursuit of a negotiated settlement. Bringing military pressure to bear in an effort to soften the enemy's negotiating stance is a well rehearsed tactic.

For this to work, three things are essential.

First, there has to be a simultaneous political strategy. Otherwise, Washington will simply end up emulating the Israeli model of endless, futile campaigns to force a unilateral and unachievable political settlement. So far the Obama administration has given no indication of what its alternative strategy might be.

This also undermines the second essential factor, of time. Historically, all negotiations to end such conflicts have taken very long -- Northern Ireland being a classic example. If Mr. Obama and his generals think that they will ultimately need to talk to the Taliban, they actually need to start doing that now, or at least seeking ways of starting.

The last precondition of a successful strategy is not to take military action that makes negotiations impossible. This means holding ground but not ramping up militarily. It is contradictory to seek talks with Taliban leaders while seeking at the same time to kill them.

Instead of considering this political approach to underpin the military effort, the U.S. is stepping up pressure on Pakistan, which is already struggling with the bloody militant fallout of previously flawed U.S. policies in Afghanistan. The U.S. should recognize that only Pakistan can bring the Taliban to the table once Washington decides to negotiate.

Pressure on Pakistan to act against the Afghan Taliban will not just overstretch the Pakistan Army, undercut its own operations against militants and open a new front for a beleaguered state, but will permanently close the door on a negotiated end to the Afghan conflict.

Most especially, an expansion of drone missile attacks to Baluchistan is fraught with danger. It would further inflame public sentiment, alienate the Pakistani security establishment and probably shatter the Pakistan-U.S. relationship.

It would also destroy any possibility of a negotiated end to the Afghan war. All that Mr. Obama would then be left with would be a losing gamble on military victory in Afghanistan in the face of a shortening time frame, lengthening odds and a dangerously destabilized Pakistan.

(This article first appeared in New York Times/IHT)

Maleeha Lodhi is a senior fellow of the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Pakistani ambassador to Washington and London. Anatol Lieven is a professor in the War Studies Department at King's College London and a senior fellow of the New America Foundation.







Recently I wrote two articles, one on "Ghairat" and the other on "Beghairati." This led to a lively debate on these topics and it soon became obvious that the articles had hurt the feelings of certain people, mostly those who were corrupt, swindlers, munafiqs, etc., and I was bitterly criticised. When I commented to a friend that they were like thieves caught with a straw in their beard, he laughingly retorted that it was not merely a straw but a whole broom. Today's article contains a lesson and moral message to all those in high positions. I sincerely hope those who need to will get the hint.

We all know and appreciate that each office has its sanctity. A teacher is expected to be exemplary in honesty, imparting knowledge and conducting examinations. A judge is expected to impart justice on the merit of the case, without fear or favour. Law enforcing agencies are expected to be honest, impartial, kind and helpful. In this way, each office has its own sanctity, violation of which is an unforgivable crime. Here I would like to give some examples of this sanctity.

History is replete with information on the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb's life, rule, dynasty, adventures, etc. In his court there was a jester (bhand) who used to disguise himself in various forms, but Aurangzeb always recognised him. One day Aurangzeb told him to stop this game as the jester would never be able to deceive him. The jester then challenged Aurangzeb, asking what he would get if he managed to deceive him successfully. He was promised one hundred gold coins. Thereupon the jester disappeared from court, went to a hillock outside the city where he sat disguised as a saint (waliullah). Slowly but surely, people started coming to him, asking him to pray for them. He accepted neither money nor gifts. He soon became quite famous and Aurangzeb was informed about his presence and of the fact that he was gaining popularity day by day. Aurangzeb then decided to pay the "holy man" a visit himself. Failing to recognise his erstwhile jester, he respectfully sat in from of him and asked him to pray for the wellbeing of the dynasty, which the "holy man" did with great seriousness.

Aurangzeb then put a bag containing one thousand gold coins by the feet of the jester. It was pushed unceremoniously aside, with the remark that he did not accept any favours for his prayers. Aurangzeb was highly impressed and left. After two or three days the jester went to court in the same dress but with his face without the disguising makeup. He respectfully greeted the emperor and asked for the reward of one hundred gold coins.

Aurangzeb graciously accepted that he had indeed failed to recognise him, but then said: "I had offered you a thousand gold coins, which you refused to accept, yet now you are asking for a hundred coins. Why?" The jester's reply is a moral lesson for all those in a position of authority. "Your Majesty, I could never think of insulting the sanctity of that position (i.e., that of a saint) which I was only pretending to hold. Even if you had offered the whole empire to me, I would not have accepted it. I am now only asking for what is rightfully mine."

The second example relates to Emperor Babar (or Babur). History students will be aware of the highly adventurous and dangerous life he led. In his autobiography, Tuzuk-e Babari, he has mentioned the following episode. The ambassador of Persia was to present his credentials. Babar was suffering from a severe attack of urticaria (kharish) at the time. Nevertheless he dressed in his royal robes and sat through the ceremony which lasted for a few hours. He mentions how excruciating those few hours were and describes them as the worst experience of his life. Having to sit there with his body itching all over and unable to scratch; in almost unbearable pain and unable to shorten the ceremony -- both those actions would have been against the sanctity of his office.

This episode is about Bosnian Muslim president Dr Alija Izetbegovic. Negotiations were going on in Geneva between the western countries, the Serbs, the Croats and the Bosnians. Before leaving for the airport to attend one such meeting, Izetbegovic asked his driver to take him round the whole city of Sarajevo. While they were driving, the Serbs were firing on and bombarding the city from the surrounding hillocks. The foreign minister, who was sitting with him in the car, was frightened and asked him why he was taking such a grave risk. Izetbegovic replied: "I am the leader of these people and I want to feel what they are going through so that I am able to express their true feelings." In this way he clearly demonstrated the sanctity of his office and his personal courage. I had the privilege of being invited to visit Bosnia by this courageous man as his personal guest in return for the assistance KRL had provided to the Bosnians for their war of liberation. Unfortunately, I was unable to avail myself of the opportunity.

In the light of the above, while looking at our own history, we need to hang our heads in shame. Forget about the ignominious part played by the fairly recent actions of Gen Musharraf as army chief and president, which are a blot on the face of our history. Painful and embarrassing facts have emerged in court (and in the press) during hearings of the NRO cases. The NAB reluctantly gave out the complete list of beneficiaries. It was not only shameful to us within the country, but put us to shame at the international level.

The NRO case hearing in the Supreme Court has brought much of our dirty linen out in the open. It is quite clear that the Persian proverb: "A clever, cunning person usually tells lies to fool others" is very apt for these people. The main problem here is that the ruling elite, bank defaulters, dishonest businessmen, etc., are under the illusion that the Persian proverb "O wealth! Though you are not the Almighty, but, by the Almighty, you can hide the viles and fulfil the needs" is correct. However, all this leads to ignominy.








Uncle Scrooge likes to gloat over the dollars he gets from the toil and sweat of Pakistanis living abroad. The greenbacks are the finance minister's mainstay. They fatten up the nation's foreign exchange reserves. Shaukat Tareen takes credit for the inflow as if he was the manufacturer. Sadly the people sending back the dollars don't matter to our policy-makers. They never have. To the rulers, they are a mere dollar-making machine. Just a number that does not define who they are as a person. Were the wiseacres in our national media ever to focus on these millions of hardworking stiff living in hostile conditions abroad trying to earn a livelihood to send money back to their families in Pakistan, it would simply blow them away. Pakistanis who left their shores decades ago to make North America or Europe their adopted country are flourishing. Some of them are brilliant. Above all their heartbeats are for the country they were born and bred in.

They can form the stilts on which a new Pakistan can stand firm and stop the collapse.

"If a popular Pakistani president had asked the overseas Pakistanis for additional remittances, the community would have sent over two billion dollars in addition to the six billion they send, free of cost, every year," said a young banker based in New York. He's not alone in declaring his undying allegiance to the country he 'loves'. But who is listening? Who at the Pakistan embassy or the mission really cares? The staffers out there are too busy trying to get Green Cards for themselves and their families so that they can continue to live on in the US as 'Permanent Resident Aliens' or Green Card holders.

Over the last year, I've received emails from Pakistanis who live here or have returned. They all have unsavoury tales to relate. "You wrote about President Zardari trying to woo expats to come back to the 'land of the pure' but the apathy of the diplomatic/consular (visa/passport) staff at our missions abroad is a big minus," writes one man. "I got no assistance from our mission when I requested for information and guidance to relocate to Pakistan. I gave up a job in Chicago to move back in 2003. It's been a terrible rollercoaster ride since. I've been discriminated against in professional corporate jobs in Pakistan, called names and beaten up in one instance."

Actually it's a double whammy for expatriates who want to return. They get a first- or a second-degree treatment from our diplomats here topped with a third-degree torture from colleagues back home. Most co-workers back in Pakistan don't take well to 'foreign- educated- trained- returned' fellow Pakistanis. They gang up against the person, the idea being to send him/her back on the next plane from wherever he/she came from. Often their petty intrigues and malicious behaviour succeed in driving these people away.

The power-wielders in Pakistan behave like little Einsteins who think they know everything and therefore don't need outside help. They do everything possible under the sun to keep talent, skills and experience from entering the country. Pakistan has slipped to a pathetic position of 92 in science and technology. And fie on our rulers for making Pakistan come 8th out of 10 top 'scientifically productive Muslim countries'. This gem was actually di