media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 13, edition 000402, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper's Editorial at one place.
For ENGLISH EDITORIAL http://editorial-eng-samarth.blogspot.com
For TELUGU EDITORIAL http://editorial-telugu-samarth.blogspot.com
- MARXISM VERSUS FAITH
- A DIPLOMATIC SUCCESS
- TIME TO WIPE THAT SMILE OFF - JS RAJPUT
- HIDING THE TRUTH ABOUT POVERTY - ASHWANI MAHAJAN
- FALLEN ON BAD DAYS - ANURADHA DUTT
- CAN'T BE US, OR CAN IT? - NADEEM F PARACHA
- RISK-TAKERS ARE NOW CAUTIOUS - B RAMAN
- IN 2010, CHINA AIMS TO OVERTAKE JAPAN - DMITRY KOSYREV
- WHOMUST PROBE CHARGE ON SWINE FLU
- DOWN UNDER LOGIC
- FAILING GRADE
- ZERO TOLERANCE NEEDED TO STEM ARMY ROT - BY MANOJ JOSHI
- PATIALA PEG - VIKAS KAHOL
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- EASTERN PROMISES
- MAKE THEM PAY
- THE AGE OF REGION - JAYADEVA RANADE
- 'SOCIETY HAS NOT ACCEPTED RAGGING AS A SOCIAL EVIL' - JYOTI PUNWANI
- MONKEY BUSINESS - KAMAKSHI CHAKRAVARTI
- DO-IT-YOURSELF INDIA - JUG SURAIYA
- WALL FLOWERS
- TO BE BORN AGAIN
- TURNING A NEW CORNER - SMRUTI S. PATTANAIK
- NEW & IMPROVED
- INNER RESOLVE
- TERROR'S CYBER AVATAR - SUDEEP PAUL
- THE TELECOM LESSON - SAUBHIK CHAKRABARTI
- THE SOCIAL SPENDING SIEVE - RASHID KIDWAI
- MISSILE DEFENCE - C. RAJA MOHAN
- VIEW FROM THE LEFT - MANOJ C G
- THE BALLAD OF EAST AND WEST
- IT'S ABOUT THE VALUE CHAIN
- GROWTH AND STIMULUS
- HOW AUTO EXPO CAN BECOME TRULY WORLD CLASS - YOGIMA SETH
- SUN SHEDS LIGHT ON BUYOUTS - SHOBHANA SUBRAMANIAN
- INFOSYS SHOWS THE WAY FORWARD - DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
- NOT EXEMPT FROM PUBLIC SCRUTINY
- CRISIS OF INDIAN HOCKEY
- INDIA AND PAKISTAN: DEADLINES FOR DIALOGUE - SUHASINI HAIDAR
- NO WINTER LULL FOR AFGHAN WAR - ROD NORDLAND
- DIVERSITY EXPERIMENT IN FAR-RIGHT BASE - ADAM BARNARD
- CHIMPS AND MONKEYS COULD TALK. WHY DON'T THEY? - NICHOLAS WADE
- HISTORIC VERDICT
- STABLE FRIENDSHIP
- WHY DOES LOST WEIGHT INSIST ON BEING FOUND? - AAKAR PATEL
- TOUGHER CHALLENGES - SHASTRI RAMACHANDARAN
- WORSHIP THE SUN
- VERDICT FOR TRANSPARENCY
- LEND ME SOME MONEY
- DEMAT OF DEGREES
- SILENCE OF THE WOLF - BY AMULYA GANGULI
- NO NEWS, GOOD NEWS - BY S. RAGHUNATH
- NO PEACE IN NEPAL WITHOUT MAOISTS - BY MAJOR GEN ASHOK K MEHTA
- ENJOY CHEAP MONEY WHILE IT LASTS - BY HAMISH MCRAE
- SMALL STATES GOOD FOR DEVELOPMENT ? - BY MANOJ DAYAL
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- TROUBLE DOWN UNDER
- AGRICULTURAL SETBACK
- WHAT DO THE ASSAMESE WANT? - SANJOY HAZARIKA
- THEATRICAL MOVEMENT IN ASSAM - BABUL TAMULI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- SINNING IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY - RISHI V K
- DOMESTIC MOMENTUM: GATHERS INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH
- DEVE GOWDA GRADUATES TO SEVEN-LETTER WORDS
- DESTROY THOSE ENVYING ROOTS - PARMAHAMSA NITHYANANDA
- CHAIN YOUR EGO AND UNCHAIN YOUR SPIRIT - VITHAL C NADKARNI
- IT'LL PREVENT THEM, AND RATIONALISE ASSET PRICES
- NO, BUT WHAT MARGIN WOULD BORROWERS PAY?
- WE SEE A SIGNIFICANT OPPORTUNITY IN THE CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT SEGMENT: SANJEEV BAJAJ
- LARGE DEALS ARE BACK AGAIN: S GOPALAKRISHNAN - PANKAJ MISHRA
- A NEW CHAPTER IN TIES WITH DHAKA
- STARVATION AND SUICIDE - BY P.C. ALEXANDER
- DON'T GIVE INTO THE DRAGON'S SWAGGER - BY ROGER COHEN
- BETWEEN THE LINES
- THE POLITICS OF CLIMATE - BY VANDANA SHIVA
- THE TEL AVIV CLUSTER - BY DAVID BROOKS
- NOT YET A SCARE
- PARTY GAMES
- VISIONS AT A BICENTENARY - TAPATI GUHA-THAKURTA
- FUTURE PLANS - SUMANTA SEN
- ENCOURAGING SIGNS
- VOTING RIGHTS
- MENDING TIES WITH BANGLA - BY B G VERGHESE
- VENEZUELA SURROUNDED - BY IGNACIO RAMONET, IPS:
- A PROFESSIONAL PERK - BY KRISHNAN SRIRAM
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- TAX THEM BOTH
- FOOTBALL AND ANTITRUST
- COMPASSION IN NEW JERSEY
- MIEP GIES - BY DOROTHY SAMUELS
- THE BIGGEST LOSER - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- IS CHINA THE NEXT ENRON? -
- BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- CORRUPT TO THE BONE
- OFFICIAL MISOGYNY
- WHERE IS US PUBLIC DIPLOMACY? - BY SHAMSHAD AHMAD
- THE WAGES OF TOIL - BY RAOOF HASAN
- PAKISTAN'S MEMON BENEFACTORS - BY DR A Q KHAN
- AFGHANISTAN PROBLEM - BY S ISHFAQ
- QUESTIONS FOR HOLBROOKE - BY ANJUM NIAZ
- GREED - BY MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
- ZARDARI'S ILL-ADVISED MOVE FOR TRUST VOTE
- CRUSHING COST OF WAR ON TERROR
- NSO COMES OUT WITH INNOVATIVE SAVINGS PLAN
- A REJOINDER TO JASBIR RAKHRA - ASIF HAROON RAJA
- SECURING PAKISTAN - RIZWAN GHANI
- AMERICANS, BEWARE OF ECONOMIC DOOM! - SAEED QURESHI
- UN TOWARDS COLLAPSE? - MEHWISH LODHI
- NOTHIN' UNUSUAL 'BOUT IT..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- FOUR-LANE HIGHWAYS
- SPECTACLES FOR THE POOR
- WOMEN'S HUG POWER..!
- PEACE AND SOCIAL ORDER - ABDUL KHALEQUE
- RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND TOLERANCE IN ISLAM - ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER
- IGNORING SERBIA - JOSCHKA FISCHER
- IMPROVING DELIVERIES OF POLITICAL GOVERNMENTS - DR M S HAQ
- EDUCATION: MAKING THE CLASSROOM ATTRACTIVE - MD MASUM BILLAH
- EFFICIENT TEXTILE COMMUNITY: ROLE OF RESEARCH AND PUBLICATION - ENGR. AYUB NABI KHAN
- MEMO TO MR RUDD: MR ABBOTT HAS A POINT
- ASIC ATTACKS AFTER THE EVENT
- WE'RE NOT WINE SNOBS, BUT...
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- CALLING TIME ON THE SMOKO
- A CASE FOR EXPLANATION
- FAREWELL THE FALCON AND A BIT OF LOCAL MOTORING'S SOUL
- MORE UNFULFILLED PROMISES. (THEY'RE PART OF THE PAIN.)
- IN PRAISE OF NEANDERTHAL MAN
- IRAN: LEAVE WELL ALONE
- IRAQ INQUIRY: THE CAMPBELL EFFECT
THE KOREA HERALD
- PEACE TALKS BID
- UNFULFILLED DREAMS
- CLOSING THE AIRPORT SECURITY LOOPHOLE - LEE JAE-MIN
- WE HAVE TO KEEP DREAMING IN 2010 - KIM SEONG-KON
THE JAPAN TIMES
- RESTORING TRUST IN PENSIONS
- JAL'S LAYOVER IN BANKRUPTCY COURT
- ASIA'S CHANGING DYNAMICS - BY BRAHMA CHELLANEY
THE JAKARTA POST
- BEHIND THE PRISON WALLS
- BOOK BANNING IN INDONESIA: A BLAST FROM THE PAST - JOHN ROOSA
- G20 AND EAST ASIA: A FORUM FOR THE ASIAN AGENDA - MARIA MONICA WIHARDJA
- VIEW POINT: THE PATCHWORK PRESIDENT - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
MARXISM VERSUS FAITH
CPM CAN NEVER WIN THIS BATTLE
The CPI(M)'s rectification programme, ostensibly meant to cleanse the party of corrupt, immoral and bourgeois tendencies, suffered a severe setback last Saturday when Mr KS Manoj, a former Marxist MP from Alappuzha, Kerala, tendered his resignation from the party. Mr Manoj quit the party rebelling against the clauses on faith and religious beliefs in the rectification plan document provided by the party's central leadership to State units for discussions and suggestions. The document stipulates that leaders and elected members of the party should not take part in or organise religious functions. Mr Manoj said in his resignation letter that he was quitting because his faith in god and belief in Christianity could not be sacrificed for the sake of Marxist ideology. The CPI(M) had made Mr Manoj a candidate for the 2004 Lok Sabha election when he was the diocesan president of the Kerala Latin Catholic Association in Alappuzha. He was a member of the local committee in Alappuzha's Thumboly which is known for its concentration of Latin Catholics who are approximately 20-lakh strong in the State. A huge majority of Latin Catholics have now declared support for Mr Manoj for defending his faith in god and religion. Sensing the possibility of a massive erosion in the party's support-base among Latin Catholics, the CPI(M) is now struggling to play down the issue, though without success.
On Monday evening, Kerala CPI(M) secretary Pinarayi Vijayan added fuel to the fire by scornfully describing Mr Manoj as a half-priest. On Tuesday, reports appeared that hundreds of Latin Catholic members and supporters of the CPI(M) were preparing to leave the party, protesting against its insistence on adherence to atheism. Local party leaders have told their bosses that steps need to be taken urgently, failing which the party would suffer a serious setback in those areas which have a a large concentration of Latin Catholics. More importantly, it could have a snowball effect beyond Kerala especially in West Bengal where the CPI(M) is fighting a rearguard battle for survival. The Kerala episode could well spur those looking for an exit from the party to cite faith as their reason. In a sense, it is absurd for the Marxist bosses to lay down an anti-faith line as a prerequisite for being a 'good' Communist who is faithful to the party's ideology. In this day and age with faith witnessing a resurgence across classes witness the success of faith channels on television, more so in Kerala it is silly to demand that people should abandon their religious beliefs to demonstrate party loyalty. It has not worked around the world; it won't work in India.
A DIPLOMATIC SUCCESS
INDIA-BANGLADESH TIES ON NEW TRAJECTORY
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to New Delhi has proved to be a watershed event for the two neighbours. The three-day visit has seen India and Bangladesh move appreciably closer, something that is evident in the slew of bilateral agreements that have been signed between the two sides. The three security-related pacts that were inked include an agreement on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, another on combating international terrorism, organised crime and illicit drug-trafficking, and finally an agreement on transfer of sentenced people. The pacts signed also lay the foundation for a possible extradition treaty between the two countries, something that is sorely missed in the bilateral security matrix. Both sides acknowledged that counter-terrorism co-operation is a priority while Sheikh Hasina reiterated that her Government would not allow anti-India forces to operate from Bangladeshi soil words New Delhi can take comfort from as her regime has proved its resolve with deeds. On the trade and economic front, India has reduced the number of Bangladeshi goods on the import negative list and has promised to further lower that number along with significantly scaling back non-tariff barriers. The two sides have also reached a mutual understanding regarding greater rail connectivity between India and Bangladesh. When this matures, it will in turn pave the way for enhanced connectivity between the North-East and the rest of India with Bangladesh acting as the facilitator. Correspondingly, India has decided to facilitate transit of Bangladeshi goods destined for Bhutan and Nepal through its territory, a long-standing request of Dhaka's. But nothing exemplifies how close New Delhi and Dhaka have become like the $ 1 billion credit line the former has opened up for the latter to boost infrastructure development. If that weren't enough, India has also agreed to supply 250 MW of power to Bangladesh, a substantial increase from the 100 MW that was earlier agreed upon.
All of this is proof that there has been a palpable change in Indo-Bangla relations. The hesitancy and apprehension that marked bilateral ties till now have given way to shared confidence and mutual alignment of priorities. Needless to say that this will benefit both sides in the long run. New Delhi also deserves a pat on the back for conducting the bilateral meeting on an equal footing. It has gone out of its way to ensure that Dhaka is treated as an equal partner and that is precisely how it should be. By doing so it has also sent out a positive message to all regional stakeholders that it is willing to give generously if its goodwill is reciprocated even by half. Sheikh Hasina should have no hesitations about defending the direction towards which Indo-Bangla ties are heading. What she is taking home from New Delhi should be enough to silence her detractors who had mischievously floated the bogey of a sell-out to India before she left Dhaka. Her Government is reaping the benefits for having amply proved its sincerity towards establishing a cordial, long-term relationship with its neighbour. From here on, if things continue to move on the present track, that relationship will grow rapidly. A new, bright chapter in Indo-Bangla ties has been initiated. It would be prudent for both sides to seize the opportunity and make the most of the new situation.
TIME TO WIPE THAT SMILE OFF
One more incident of abuse of power has stirred the conscience of the nation. The inhuman treatment that was inflicted on Ruchika Girhotra and her family by power-drunk individuals, society and its creations extinguished the very desire in her to stay alive and watch her father and brother suffer ever-increasing insult and humiliation. A 14-year-old girl is molested, turned out from the Tennis Academy and expelled from school; her brother is sent to jail on fabricated charges; her father is reduced to pleading with the police to show mercy and hand over his daughter's body; her family is forced to move to a neighbouring State. All this happened in independent India!
The man who has been held guilty of tormenting Ruchika and her family flourished without an iota of social, professional or ethical concern even in the least measure. The judgement in the case came after 19 years he was sentenced to six months in jail instead of two years since he is 68 years old! But he was granted bail immediately. The smirk on the face of former Director-General of Police SPS Rathore not only shocked people across the country but also left them feeling humiliated.
Since then, many more facts have come to light, raising some serious questions. How can the school, which expelled Ruchika and is guilty of being a partner in the sordid and arrogant power play, claim innocence? Why did the CBI's senior functionary who was approached by the accused and offered favours fail to place this fact on record the very day it happened? Had all this not happened it could have changed the entire sequence of events and Ruchika may have still been alive. If insisting on transparency and summoning the courage to argue on the basis of facts were to become part of training for bureaucrats and the police, probably their hierarchical arrogance would take a back seat.
Ruchika's tragedy is not an isolated case. So much happens in small towns and rural India that is hardly ever reported by media. An IPS officer accused of raping a woman was dismissed from service but no one bothered to arrest him for more than 13 years! How could the administration behave in this manner? Is this a manifestation of the 'brotherhood' at work? Should it be permitted? Why should those belonging to the divine civil and police services be treated as super human beings and be permitted to inflict their vices on the 'subjects' they are supposed to serve but in reality demand that they submit themselves to their whims and fancies?
Which brings us to the question: What effective steps can bring about an attitudinal change? There have been suggestions to change legal provisions. But the issue is how to prevent a person holding public office and wielding clout from behaving like a despotic monarch.
The Union Government and its top policy-makers must embark upon an objective scrutiny of the provisions contained in Articles 309 to 311 of the Constitution of India that provide 'safeguards' to civil servants. It is known that these are in continuation of the Government of India Act of 1935. The British had instituted these provisions to ensure that their own people remain distinct and different from the subjects they were supposed to rule and lord over. The post-independence transition was supposed to usher more than mere change of nomenclature of the civil services from 'Imperial' to 'Indian'.
Unfortunately, practically nothing has changed in the approach, attitude and lifestyle of the bureaucracy (including the police) in free India. It takes ages to secure permission to initiate even cases of corruption against IAS/IPS officers and senior members of the civil services. The 'brotherhood' ensures protection and support, both covertly and overtly. These provisions nurse the arrogance of our officials. Needless to say, Indian civil services are among the most corrupt in the world. The bureaucracy's nexus with politicians has become absolutely clear to the nation in the manner in which Ruchika's family was harassed for years. A couple of similar cases have also come to light. It is now increasingly perceived that such exploitation, harassment and intimidation are more of a rule than an exception.
A very senior bureaucrat, Mr Vijai Kapoor, who has served as Secretary to the Government of India, Chief Secretary in three States and was the Lt Governor of Delhi for six years, has this to say about the provisions contained in Articles 309 to 311 of the Constitution: "These provisions were conceived at a time when our leaders were concerned that the civil services should not be under the undue influence of biased politicians and thus needed protection against reduction in rank, removal or dismissal from service except after an inquiry. Even after the inquiry, another opportunity of hearing has to be given before any penalty is imposed. Over time, the scope of these protections has been enlarged by various court rulings to such an extent that taking action against a civil servant for not discharging duties properly has become more difficult nowadays than proving a criminal case in a court of law."
The above observation is essentially the reiteration of the general perception among all those who know the way our bureaucracy has acquired a new feudal character. It was evident when the Punjab and Haryana High Court, taking suo motu notice of the Ruchika case, made revealing observations on January 3: "One always hears the names of some police officers, some politicians and highly connected people who have either not allowed investigations or the trial to reach the decision-making stage with requisite speed. Courts cannot entirely absolve themselves of the blame."
While the Government is seriously thinking of framing strict laws to punish those guilty of committing crimes against women, it must examine the root cause of corruption and what brings about the conviction that once somebody is in a position of power, no harm can come his or her way. We must appreciate the role of media and the Union Government's response in this case. It is indeed a positive development that people have realised their potential to shake up things. They have successfully made the system move in cases like that of Jessica Lall, Priyadarshini Mattoo and Vikas Yadav.
The Government must now be ready to take bold decisions in a broader framework that will force the civil services to identify with the people's concerns rather than be obsessed with their own career ambitions and material well-being. In brief, the Government must restore basic values to the civil services so that babus and policemen are more humane.
HIDING THE TRUTH ABOUT POVERTY
The Government has consistently been providing contradictory figures about the extent of poverty in India. Thus, it is difficult to know the exact extent of poverty in the country. Frequent changes in the definition of poverty line make the issue even more complicated. It is obvious that in the absence of a uniform statistical measure of poverty, programmes of poverty alleviation cannot be meaningful.
The Government adopts various measures to reduce poverty. Through the Public Distribution System kerosene and cheaper food grains are made available to the poor. Rural and urban employment programmes, free health facilities, etc, are all aimed at alleviating the plight of the economically backward. The Government's proposed food security legislation, according to which those living below the poverty line would have the right to obtain food at subsidised prices, is also a step in the same direction.
Nonetheless, till date the Government has not been able to identify, even approximately, the number of people living below the poverty line. The Saxena Committee report presented recently has revealed a shocking state of affairs. According to it as much as 49.1 per cent of the country's population lives below poverty line but 23 per cent of the poor do not even have any ration card let alone a BPL card. It further says that 17.4 per cent of ration cards are held by the rich. It recommends that the Government should undertake a national survey to identify the exact number of poor.
In December 2009, former Chief Economic Adviser to the Prime Minister SD Tendulkar submitted the report of the Expert Group to Review the Methodology for Estimation of Poverty. It noted that the existing all-India rural and urban official poverty lines were originally defined in terms of per capita total consumer expenditure at 1973-74 market prices and adjusted over time and across States for changes in prices, keeping unchanged the original 1973-74 rural and urban all-India reference poverty line baskets of goods and services.
The National Sample Survey Organisation estimated the percentage of people living below the poverty line to be only 28.3 per cent in 2004-05. In contrast, the Arjun Sengupta Committee has revealed that more than 77 per cent of the people in the country are forced to live on Rs 20 or less per day. But the Government always tries to underestimate the number of people living below the poverty line and show that. A comprehensive survey to ascertain the real number of poor is the order of the day.
FALLEN ON BAD DAYS
EVERYBODY CLAIMS TO BE WORRIED ABOUT THE DEPLETING POPULATION OF TIGERS IN OUR SANCTUARIES WHERE THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO FLOURISH BUT ARE ON THE VERGE OF EXTINCTION. FACTS SUGGEST THAT ACTION TAKEN ON THE GROUND REMAINS INSUFFICIENT AND MARRED BY BUREAUCRATIC PROCRASTINATION.
This February 14, conservationists will converge at a global tiger meet that will be hosted by India. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests will highlight measures being undertaken to save these big cats. The country has the distinction of harbouring almost half of the world's tiger population, which, unfortunately, is rapidly declining because of the illicit international trade in animal parts. They are now said to number about 1,000 in India.The four-day Global Tiger Workshop, held in Kathmandu last October, reflects the worldwide concern for saving this endangered species, whose numbers are estimated to be a meagre 3,500 or less. In 2008, Mr Bivash Pandav of World Wildlife Fund was reported to have said that till five years ago, in 2002-2003, the estimate was around 5,500 to 6,000.
All the 14 tiger range countries were represented at the Kathmandu conference: India, Russia, China, Nepal, Bangladesh, Laos, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Bhutan, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar and North Korea. The 17-point recommendations included regional cooperation in tackling the problem; and strengthening laws against poaching. In view of the magnitude of the crisis, leaders of countries, where such trafficking is rampant, were to be especially sensitised to the issue, and the need to conserve tigers on an emergency basis. Nepal's Forest and Soil Conservation Minister also expressed his seriousness about reviving the carnivore's numbers. The Himalayan nation's tigers are estimated to be a paltry 121. The Government now plans to double the number in the next 10 years.
It is a difficult task, given that Nepal happens to be a key conduit for the illegal trade in tiger parts, along with Tibet, China and some South-East Asian countries. India, of course, has been the hunting ground for poachers and suppliers. China and Tibet comprise two of the largest markets for pelts, bones, teeth and other parts and their derivatives. These are used for making apparel, in talismans, aphrodisiacs and in religious ceremonies. In Asia, trafficking in animal parts is said to have crossed $ 1 billion, being second to the arms trade. Kashmir, incidentally, figures prominently in this crime network, not only as a conduit but as a recipient of dirty money. Intelligence sources reveal that some of the funds derived from the illicit wildlife trade are deployed to feed terrorist activities. It is a vicious cycle, with crime engendering further crime.
Now with China having declared 2010 as year of the tiger, according to Chinese astrology, conservationists fear a spurt in tiger poaching. The year begins on February 14 and ends on February 2, 2011. Superstition and custom are expected to combine so as to make the coming months even more hazardous for the majestic creatures. While tiger farming is permitted in China, trade in tiger parts is banned in all countries. However, people have been lobbying with the Chinese Government and these include owners of tiger farms to legalise the trade in animal parts within China. They want the domestic tiger trade ban, imposed in 1993, to be lifted. The World Bank, on its part, wants tiger farming, anywhere, to end as it poses the threat of driving the endangered animals closer to extinction in the wild.
In the meantime, India, as the main refuge of the big cat, needs to act faster to stem its decline. The World Wildlife Fund now lists the tiger as most endangered in a list of 10 species. The other nine, in order of risk perception, are polar bear, Pacific walrus, magellanic penguin, leatherback turtle, bluefin tuna, mountain gorilla, monarch butterfly, Javan rhinoceros and giant panda. Latest disclosures are utterly shocking. While the last tiger census, using the camera trap method considered more scientific than the inaccurate pugmark technique placed their numbers at 1,411, thereby repudiating the earlier estimate of over 3,500 tigers, the current estimate is reported to be a dismal 1,000. The results of the new census will be known probably by early next year.
This is certainly discouraging as in the wake of the brouhaha over the Sariska scandal, when all tigers in this sanctuary were claimed by poachers, it was expected that the Ministry of Environment and Forests would clamp down on poaching and do everything possible to increase numbers. Instead, in a replication of the Sariska tragedy, the Panna reserve's tigers all disappeared. This, despite the upgradation of Project Tiger into a statutory body, called the National Tiger Conservation Authority in September 2006, and setting up of the Wildlife Control Crime Bureau in June 2007. In a bid to deter poaching and trafficking, the Wildlife (Protection) Act was amended in 2006 to make penalties harsher. Thus, first conviction invited a jail term of three to seven years, along with a fine of Rs 50,000 to Rs 2 lakh. A case of subsequent conviction was to be awarded a seven-year prison sentence and fine ranging from Rs 5 lakh to Rs 50 lakh.
But, as the old adage goes, the more things change, the more they are the same. After all this, one might have expected a marked improvement in tiger conservation. Instead, came the strange disclosure last year that Panna reserve was bereft of tigers. When Mr Jairam Ramesh took over as Minister of State for Environment and Forests, he made clear his intentions of reviving the depleting population of these big cats. Almost a year later, he is honest enough to admit that "Tigers are in stress in many areas of India". This is despite the sustained media focus on the imperative of saving the animals, and handsome funding for the endeavour. International agencies, including WWF, have been pouring money into the mission of reviving tiger numbers and ending poaching. The 11th Five-Year Plan has allocated Rs 600 crore to save the tiger. But the results of all the planning and promises are contrary to expectations. This suggests that action taken on the ground remains lackadaisical and bogged down by bureaucratic procrastination.
Before the February meet in India, conservationists will be conferring on the issue in Bangkok on January 29. This probably sums up most conservation efforts, confining them to a jet-setting exercise.
CAN'T BE US, OR CAN IT?
HISTORY BOOKS IN PAKISTAN MAKE TALIBAN LOOK GOOD!
NADEEM F PARACHA
On the day of the devastating terrorist attack on the Ashura procession in Karachi, the MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, pleaded for a complete boycott of those political parties and personnel who he believed were supporting the Taliban.
Leaders of other secular political parties such as the PPP and the ANP and members of the liberal intelligentsia too have been expressing their concerns about certain political and TV personalities who are said to be mouthing loud, sympathetic sentiments for the Taliban. It must be asked: What does it mean to be an educated, pro-Taliban entity in a modern, urban setting?
To begin with, the question is riddled with an obvious dichotomy. How can a person or a party in a modern, urban setting sympathise with a set of mountain men who are completely detached from reason and humanity; and whose idea of an Islamic state is actually a stony religious emirate built on the slain bodies of thousands of men, women and children, and a scruffy, violent romanticism derived from glorious myths about jihad, martyrdom and battles?
Well, supposedly educated men and women can regularly be seen on TV and heard in drawing rooms, passionately giving an economic twist to the shameful ways of the extremists. They say it is economic exploitation and lack of opportunities in the rugged areas of Pakhtunkhwa that have forced the locals to take up arms. But if this is true, then are these the only people in Pakistan hit by exploitation and poverty?
One can come across even worse cases of poverty in the widespread slums of urban Pakistan. This poverty has given birth to all sorts of crime and even a few protest movements, but how many of these people have decided to blow up whole markets and mosques packed with people; and that too, in the name of god? The so-called economic argument by the Taliban sympathisers does not bode well with their supposedly educated dispositions. But then the question arises: What is their education made of?
Many intellectuals and scholars have constantly lamented the volatile content that exists in the many Pakistan Studies books that have been used in both Government and private schools ever since the 1971 East Pakistan debacle and, more so, since the reactionary Zia-ul Haq dictatorship.
These scholars have systematically criticised these books for glorifying jihad and hatred (against both non-believers as well as those Muslims who do not follow a narrow and myopic rendition of Islam). Instead of telling history as a linear narrative based on authentic sources, these books read like badly written fairy tales oozing with half-truths and obvious distortions.
The space here does not allow one to analyse the number of such 'history books' being taught in Pakistani schools, so I will take a single example in this respect to hit home the point. The Illustrated History of Islam by Abdul Rauf is an example. Published in 1993, it is said to be offered by schools as an 'important side reading'. The cover is a watercolour painting depicting a Muslim warrior on horseback, wielding a heavy sword against what, I'm sure, are infidels.
Not surprisingly, the book uncritically uses the usual (and clearly polemical) Arab sources (that started emerging some two to three hundred years after Islamic conquests). Insisting on portraying the religion as a culturally homogenous entity (with all other variations being heretical innovations), the author, it seems, uses a war drum instead of a thoughtful pen to jot down his thoughts.
Then, as is typical of such history books, the author laments the downfall of the Muslim empire and squarely bases the reasons of this downfall on the theological innovations of Muslims that made them move away from true Islam and indulge in luxurious living and social laxities of the infidels. Of course, the author never touches upon the stark economic and political reasons that can explain the fall of empires in a more rational and thoughtful manner. That would require a pen, instead of the sword he seems to be using here.
My favourite section of the book is a sub-chapter called 'The Four Anti-Islam Elements.' This is what the author writes: "Currently Islam faces grave dangers from the following four elements: Christians, Jews, Hindus and atheists." In other words, everyone who's not Muslim is a threat to Islam.
If such are the books being taught to children, is there any element of surprise left in watching certain TV personalities, politicians and their largely urban middle-class fans nodding in uncritical approval to what is simply a convoluted charade peddled as history and analysis?
The scary thing is, the bulk of young, educated middle-class men and women are lapping up these one-dimensional and black and white 'historical' tirades, and then using them to understand the issue of terrorism and extremism haunting Pakistan. No wonder then that even in the face of some stark proofs of the local Taliban's involvement in terrorist attacks and religious coercion, our minds, as if on hypnotic cue, shut down and let the irrational instincts studded with paranoia and denial rule the roost.
"Can't be us," becomes the mantra. Has to be some Christians / Jewish / Hindu or other such 'anti-Islam' abomination.
The writer is among the most popular columnists in Pakistan. He wrote this article for Dawn.
RISK-TAKERS ARE NOW CAUTIOUS
DESPITE BEING AN INSIDER'S HANDIWORK, THE KHOST BOMBING WILL NOT DETER CIA FROM GOING AFTER TERRORISTS. INSTEAD, THE AGENCY IS LIKELY TO BE CAREFUL IN ASSESSING THE DEPENDABILITY OF ITS HUMAN INTELLIGENCE
The US has kept up its drone strikes in North and South Waziristan of Pakistan. While this is a continuation of the policy initiated under former President George W Bush in August 2008, the stepped-up strikes since the beginning of this year are meant to convey a message of re-newed resolve to go after Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists operating from Pakistan unshaken by the claimed success of the Pakistani Taliban in killing seven officers of the Central Intelligence Agency and one of the Jordanian intelligence in Khost province of Afghanistan in December last year, through a Jordanian agent of the Jordanian intelligence, who betrayed the two intelligence agencies. The stepped-up drone strikes are meant to show that the tragedy suffered by the CIA has not affected its determination to go after the terrorists. Any wrong message that the CIA's morale has suffered would have been counter-productive.
The drone strikes depend partly on human intelligence and partly on technical intelligence. Since August 2008, there was a considerable improvement in the flow of HUMINT as could be seen from the increasing successes of the strikes. The success of a drone strike in killing Baitullah Mehsud, the then Amir of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, in August 2009, was made possible by precise TECHINT pinpointing the house of Baitullah's father-in-law in South Waziristan and equally precise HUMINT indicating that Baitullah had come to his father-in-law's house for medical assistance.
While the flow of TECHINT will not be affected by the Khost tragedy, the flow of HUMINT can be in the short run. This is because the CIA has lost some experienced field operatives with considerable knowledge of the area across the AfPak border. It is also because the CIA is likely to be more cautious in its operations in future and more careful in assessing the dependability of its sources. Extra or over caution tends to slow down HUMINT operations affecting its flow.
In the short run till the CIA is able to find alternate ways of keeping up the HUMINT flow without exposing its field operatives to physical dangers due to excessive risk-taking as one saw at Khost, the TECHINT agencies will have to step up their coverage in order to make up for the difficulties that could be faced by the CIA in its HUMINT coverage.
The US will not be able to depend on Pakistan's intelligence agencies to fill the gap in HUMINT. While there is no evidence of any institutional collusion between Pakistan's ISI and the TTP, there is definite collusion between the ISI and the Afghan Taliban operating from the Quetta area of Balochistan and between the ISI and the Haqqani network operating in the Khost and adjoining areas of Afghanistan from North Waziristan. The question of the CIA depending on the ISI for HUMINT collection would not, therefore, arise.
The Afghan and Uzbeck intelligence agencies could be useful to the CIA in its efforts to fill the HUMINT gap. The fact that a joint operation with the Jordanian intelligence proved catastrophic should not inhibit the CIA from exploring the possibilities of joint operations with the intelligence agencies of Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. There would always be the risk of double agents betraying the CIA, but the risk has to be faced.
There is no intelligence without risk-taking. The tragedy struck the CIA not because it took risks, but because the risk was not combined with adequate caution. It has been reported in the US media that the CIA did subject the Jordanian suicide bomber to frisking, but he triggered the improvised explosive device in his suicide vest just as the frisking was about to start. This is what has been happening in Pakistan repeatedly TTP suicide bombers set off the IED just as the frisking is about to start. This has resulted in the death of a number of policemen in Pakistan who died while trying to frisk TTP suspects.
Unfortunately, no new technology has been devised so far which could enable the neutralisation of the triggering device of an IED carried by a person from a distance without subjecting him to physical frisking. This problem poses a serious dilemma without a solution. One idea that could be tried is frisking of suspects through robots before they are brought inside a camp for a more detailed search.
The CIA would now go after Hakimullah Mehsud, the Amir of the TTP, and Hussain Mehsud, its trainer of suicide bombers, with greater determination than before now that the video released by the TTP has established that it had motivated and trained the Jordanian suicide-bomber. Baitullah suffered from health problems. His movements were, therefore, confined to the South Waziristan area. It was comparatively easier to hunt him and run him down, but even then, it took two years. Hakimullah and Hussain move around in a much larger area in the Pakistani tribal belt. Running them down is going to be even more difficult. That should not deter the CIA from going after them.
The writer is a former top official of R&AW. His book, Mumbai 26/11, has just been published.
IN 2010, CHINA AIMS TO OVERTAKE JAPAN
WHAT SEEMED UNLIKELY TILL RECENTLY NO LONGER APPEARS IMPOSSIBLE, WRITES DMITRY KOSYREV
It is unusual to sum up the results of the year in January but some people have calculated that this year China will overtake Japan, becoming the world's second biggest economy after the US. Mr Arthur Kroeber, managing director of the Beijing-based company Dragonomics, has just made a statement to this effect. This forecast was already made in the fall but this time Mr Kroeber is backing it up with statistics.
Last Sunday the Chinese Customs Service published statistics showing that China has become the world's leading exporter: Its exports amounted to $ 1.2 trillion. It has already outstripped Germany, but not the US or Japan. Germans count more slowly but their exports are expected to be a mere $ 1.17 trillion.
It is a strange time for China to take the lead, now during a recession rather than an upsurge. China's exports in 2009 decreased by 16 per cent but German exports dropped much more.
It may be that this recession will greatly help China to outstrip Japan, which has already lost 9 per cent of its GDP since 2007. The crisis, which started in 2008, is not the only cause of this. For the last 30 years the Japanese economy has been experiencing problems, primarily due to sluggish domestic demand. The Japanese explain it by pointing to a change in their attitude to life, which "has become too boring."
When that new generation of Japanese people, born right after World War II, was busy creating an economic miracle, they enjoyed life and spent a lot. But now this enthusiastic generation is reaching retirement age. During this decade Japan's manpower will decrease by 7.6 million or 10 per cent. There will be more pensioners and fewer active workers.
Now Japan has a new Government led by the Democratic Party. It is planning to spend money on increasing the birth rate and improving education. In other words, it wants to invest into people rather than the country's infrastructure. However, this investment will not produce the desired effect in 2010. It can help the economy grow, probably by about 1 per cent. This is when China will seize the initiative.
That forecast about China soon becoming the world's biggest economy is nothing new. It was first made at the beginning of last decade. What is new is the attitude of these, and other, countries to this prospect.
The recent emotional outburst was caused by the predictions of Mr Robert Fogel, a 1993 Nobel Prize winner from the University of Chicago. He gave his estimate of what would happen if all countries continue to develop at current rates, for example, basing his projections on China's continued growth at its 2009 rate of 10.8 per cent. Mr Fogel calculated that if this happens, then China's annual GDP will reach $ 123 trillion in 2040. Obviously, this will be the world's biggest economy but the scale is truly stunning. This is three times more than the entire world produced in 2000, and the annual income of $ 85,000 per man is double the figure predicted for the European Union for the same year.
If this were to happen, the Chinese economy would amount to 40 per cent of the world economy, with the relevant figures for America and the EU being a mere 14 per cent and 5 per cent.
These predictions are much bolder than recent estimates by the Carnegie Endowment, according to which by 2050 the Chinese economy will only be 20 per cent bigger than America's.
Mr Fogel is not trying to spin us a yarn about a geopolitical bogeyman. He is now studying comparative labour productivity of educated and uneducated people. He knows that according to the estimate for America, a college graduate is three times more productive than a person who has completed nine years at school. In formulating his estimates of China's growth Mr Fogel takes into account the fact that the number of college students in China grew by 165 per cent from 1998 to 2002, the number of students studying abroad went up by 152 per cent, and has continued growing.
Mr Fogel is using his research to work for the reform of American education planned by President Barack Obama. He referred to China just to illustrate an idea, which has nothing to do with it.
The writer is a political affairs columnist based in Moscow.
WHOMUST PROBE CHARGE ON SWINE FLU
THE allegation by a health expert in Europe that drug companies which stood to make billions were behind the declaration of the swine flu outbreak as a ' pandemic' by the World Health Organisation last year is shocking. For, Wolfgang Wodarg, the man who made the charge, heads the health division of Council of Europe.
He has branded the H1N1 outbreak as " one of the greatest medical scandals of the century'', alleging that pharmaceutical companies wishing to promote their patented drugs and vaccines against the flu had influenced scientists and public health authorities to alarm governments worldwide. He says the companies had placed ' their people' in the ' cogs' of the WHO and other influential organisations, which may have led to the definition of ' pandemic' being softened by WHO. These are serious charges by any standards.
They call into question the entire mechanism set in motion by governments across the world to check the spread of the virus. When Mr Wodarg says the swine flu scare saw many countries having to spend from their meagre health budgets on what was a relatively mild disease, we in India can understand what he means. The outbreak saw the Indian health authorities sound the alarm bells and initiate preventive mechanisms last year which included stocking huge quantities of Tamiflu though even at its peak we were aware that the numbers falling prey to swine flu were nothing compared to those afflicted with regular preventable illnesses in India.
This is not to deny that there were no grounds for the authorities to get concerned even on Monday, 83 cases were confirmed in India. But the fears that the situation would aggravate in winter have been proven largely ill- founded. This is reason enough for Mr Wodarg's charges to be probed by the WHO.
DOWN UNDER LOGIC
VICTORIA Police Chief Commissioner Simon Overland's statement that Indians are safer in Australia than in India is as immature and insensitive as it is comic. It would be pertinent to point out to the top Victoria state policeman that there is no country, Australia included, that is crime free. To say that Indians are safer in Australia because that is what the data apparently says belies reality.
Going by Overland's logic, Australians are far safer in India than in Australia as hardly any crime has been recorded against them, and certainly none of the racial kind.
Overland, in fact, must take a long hard look at his country's crime statistics.
According to the United Nations Survey on Crime Trends and the Operations of Criminal Justice Systems ( 2002) and the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute, Australia ranks very close to India on almost all per capita parameters such as assaults, murders, car thefts, etc.
Records also show that close to 400 Indians were assaulted in Australia in 2009. This is a disturbing trend in a country that has less than 22 million people. Of note is the fact that many of these assaults did not involve robbery or murder, which gives fillip to the hate crimes theory. Instead of pointing fingers and passing sarcastic remarks at the Indian media for highlighting what seems to be an issue of discord between the two nations, Mr Overland could expend his energies in rooting out the problem.
NATIONALIST Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar once fancied himself as a prime minister. But he has failed to even leave a mark as union agriculture minister.
His response that he was not an astrologer to predict when prices would come down is not befitting a senior political figure. Mr Pawar could well be right in blaming the lackadaisical attitude of states for the price rise of food commodities, but to sound dismissive of public concerns over the issue is not good politics.
Mr Pawar has probably one of the most difficult portfolios in the government.
India's economic performance and the well being of hundreds of millions of its people depend vitally on how agriculture performs.
If he finds managing it difficult, he should be divested of the portfolio and asked to look after something relatively innocuous like sports.
ZERO TOLERANCE NEEDED TO STEM ARMY ROT
BY MANOJ JOSHI
THE DAY after tomorrow, on January 15, the Indian Army will commemorate the 52nd Army Day, the anniversary of the first Indian to take command of the army of independent India, General, later Field Marshal K. C. Cariappa. As days go, there is nothing unusual about it.
There will be the traditional parade in the cantonment and the reception at the chief ' s house later in the evening. But this Army Day, it will be difficult to avoid a dark sense of foreboding caused, not by the weather, but certain developments related to the discipline and good order of the force.
On Monday, the Army chief General Deepak Kapoor ordered the issuance of show cause notices to four of its senior generals. This would have been seen as an act of condign disciplinary action, were it not for the fact that the general has been visibly reluctant to act on the issue which involves his Military Secretary Lt Gen Avdesh Prakash, one- time Deputy Chief of Army Staff designate, Lt Gen P. K. Rath, Lt Gen Ramesh Halgali and Maj Gen P. Sen.
The four generals named above have been found to have crossed the red lines by a court of inquiry which has recommended that Prakash be dismissed, Rath and Sen tried by a court martial and administrative action be taken against Halgali.
This recommendation, relating to actions they took in relation to some land in Sukhna cantonment, has been upheld by the vigilance wing of the army headquarters. Such a recommendation is unprecedented in the annals of the army. As Military Secretary, Prakash heads all the promotion boards of the army and handles the postings of all officers above the rank of colonel and decides on the foreign postings of officers. The lack of an ethical compass in an officer at that level may have inflicted longer term damage.
Unfortunately, the scandal is only the latest in a line of revelations that have besmirched the image of the Indian Army. Last year, the army dismissed Major General A. K. Lal found guilty of molesting a woman officer.
Responding to a question in the Lok Sabha in early 2007, Defence Minister A. K. Antony gave a list of 25 senior armed forces officers facing charges of corruption and financial irregularities. Among them were several general- level officers as well as people like ex- Maj Gen P. S. K. Choudhry and ex- Brigadier Iqbal Singh who were caught taking bribes in the Tehelka episode.
In the past and in a sense even now, it is not uncommon to have officers in the Army Supply Corps or the Army Ordnance Corps to be found with their hand in the till. However the recent trend, more alarming because of it, is that officers in the combat arms are being found guilty of moral turpitude and corruption.
There was the 2004 case where an exmajor general, G. I. Singh Multani, was found to be selling military liquor by the truckload in the civil market.
Since British times, the Indian Army has owed its operational efficiency to the fact that it is deliberately
separated from society at large. The military live in special cantonments, have their own canteens to buy things, their own schools to educate their children and so on. This ensures that the many divisions and tensions of Indian society are not reflected in military units which have long been rightly advertised as the best example of India's secular nationalism.
In common with the military forces of many countries, the Indian Army is governed by a special statute, the Army Act of 1950 whose aim is to ensure swift and drastic action for any infringement of discipline and good order. To civilian eyes, military justice is too swift to be fair. That is not the case, but it is certainly draconian, something seen as desirable if the military is to be able to function at its best.
Military law and the summary powers, which are often devolved to unit commanders, emerged from the compulsions of organising armies and ensuring that they were able to be battle- ready at all times. For this reason, even in democratic societies, military law has a distinct draconian touch. But this is what has provided the army its unique ethos which evokes considerable respect from all sections of society in the country.
In earlier times, officers could be court- martialed and punished for " conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman" which could be anything from indecency and dishonesty to cruelty. In 2000, a Lieutenant General in charge of the Leh Corps was asked to put in his papers for being involved with another officer's wife.
There may be a view that such matters are private and what happens between consenting adults is no one's concern. But, and this should not surprise, people hold their leaders to a higher level of accountability than they would themselves. This is what accounts for the righteous indignation over the conduct of, say, erstwhile Governor of Andhra Pradesh, N. D. Tiwari.
Therefore, the government needs to do everything to ensure that the military leadership does not back away from the task of maintaining discipline and good order in its ranks. The government has created an armed forces tribunal to act as a civil court while adjudicating service matters and a criminal court when looking at appeals against courts martial.
But there is something more that can and needs to be done. The sense of honour is an important component of the ethos and esprit de corps of the military. That is why G. I. Singh Multani of the booze scandal and P. S. K. Chaudhry of the Tehelka fame were stripped of their rank as majorgeneral.
The government must now follow it up with stripping officers convicted of serious crime and moral turpitude of their decorations and distinguished service awards.
This has been done in the case of former DGP S. P. S. Rathore of the Ruchika molestation case almost as an afterthought. Public outrage pushed the Union Home Ministry to act swiftly on the matter. There is no reason why military officers convicted of various crimes and misdemeanours are also not stripped of their honours and medals.
To the civilian, a medal is a piece of metal with a bright ribbon. But it means a great deal to the person who wears it on his chest. The disgrace of being stripped of rank and decorations will add some teeth to the failing deterrent of military justice.
Indeed, in the early 1990s, the then Defence Secretary not only ensured that a corrupt general was forced to leave the army, but his decorations were withdrawn. However, the sympathy of his brother officers led to their restitution later. Unfortunately, the response of many senior army officers to the Sukhna scam is that the Army can only be as good as the society it springs from.
The problem with the military of today is that instead of maintaining a tradition of zero tolerance, there is misplaced solidarity with brother officers. This is what has enabled Rathore to escape justice for so long, and this is what seems to have persuaded Kapoor to drag his feet in the Sukhna case.
What has happened in the police forces could well happen to the army if its officers start believing that they must stick together through the thick and the thin as a corporate entity. This attitude will hollow out the army's discipline, good order and ethos, and eventually the whole country would pay the price.
The army has a great reputation as a national institution and instead of allowing it to " catch up" with civilian institutions in its failings, an effort should be made to show it as an exemplar of ethical conduct.
manoj. joshi@ mailtoday. in
WHEELS OF JUSTICE MOVE FAST FOR ONCE
IN THE heat generated by the Ruchika molestation case has gone unnoticed a small but positive change aimed at the delivery of speedy justice in district courts in Chandigarh. The measure thanks to the initiative of sensitive prosecution, considerate judicial officers and cooperative defence lawyers culminated in the fast disposal of over half a dozen criminal cases in 2009.
Remarkably, the trial in five cases which were taken up for hearing was concluded in a single hearing each. The trial in two other cases was completed in two hearings each.
The judicial set-up including additional sessions judges Raj Rahul Garg and R S Attri taking up the cases for hearing were looking to deliver speedy justice since the victims were children and women.
The cases put on the fast track for trial included the infamous rape case involving a 20-year-old German tourist. She was abducted from the upmarket Taj hotel in Chandigarh and raped at a farmhouse in Haryana. Additional district and sessions judge Raj Shakhar Attri disposed of the matter within three months of the incident.
It all started when Manu Kakkar a deputy district attorney in Chandigarh realised during a trial that the witness in a murder was the victim's seven year old child. The child was present in the room when his father killed his mother. Manu feared that the child could come under family pressure and turn hostile if the trial in the case was delayed.
Under such circumstances, the accused could go unpunished.
He urged the court to put the trial on fast track and the child's father was convicted.
Manu says that reversing the trend of inordinate delays in a small number of cases in one year may not look impressive.
But, at least they have learnt that trial could be put on fast track with some planning and coordination between different wings of the justice delivery system.
Explaining the mechanism behind the fast delivery of justice, Manu revealed that the prosecution examined important witnesses for the purpose of proving the charges and summons were issued in advance.
The defence counsels were also helpful in ensuring the speedy trials. Putting trials on the fast track appeared difficult to everyone initially, Manu Kakkar confides.
But it was necessary for helping revive public faith in the judiciary.
It is true that the judicial system is overloaded. It works slowly and is beset with delays.
But, the experiment at the Chandigarh courts proves that attention to some judicial procedures, and sensitivity towards the victims can actually help achieve speedy justice.
We all know what effect long delays often have on a trial.
Delays often dissuade witnesses from supporting the prosecution's case, tired of getting summoned to courts for years. This works to the advantage of the accused.
Legal experts point out that it is possible to ensure the fast disposal of some cases with the collective efforts of a sensitive judicial set up.
There are instances when the prosecution does not care about cases getting delayed, thus benefitting the accused. But an alert prosecution and hardworking judicial officers can foil attempts by the accused to delay matters.
CM WANTS TO LAUNCH A TV CHANNEL
HARYANA chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda wants to set up an independent satellite TV channel in the state.
The chief minister wrote to the Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni to allow setting up of the channel " to meet the long standing demands of the people of Haryana." However, Hooda's opponents say that he requires a channel to " cover up" the controversies being raked up during his tenure. " He cannot tolerate independent channels portraying the true picture of Haryana. The state has failed to provide the basic amenities to the people. So he wants a TV channel to divert public attention from the issues," say Hooda's opponents in the party.
CHANDIGARH LETS LIQUOR FLOW FREELY
ADULTS in Chandigarh consume eleven bottles of alcohol every month on an average. Annually, they drink nearly 136 bottles. This does not include the consumption of beer and wine. No surprise then that there are more liquor vends in the city than schools.
Records show that the voting population above 18- years of age ( 4,83, 982) consumed more than 65,736,000 bottles of alcohol in 2008- 09. They reveal that about two lakh bottles of liquor are sold in Chandigarh every day. The higher consumption no doubt has a link with the availability of alcohol at lower prices compared to neighbouring states.
The figures were obtained by a social activist Kamal Anand under the Right to Information ( RTI) from Chandigarh's excise and taxation department. Kamal obtained this information for People for Transparency an NGO that has launched a campaign to " Stop Underage Drinking." The Excise Act is specific about the minimum age of drinking being 25. Despite that, less than 20 cases were registered in Chandigarh in the last 10 years for underage drinking. " But, you can witness youngsters drinking alcohol in every bar, restaurant and disco," says Kamal.
The NGO obtained information on alcohol sales in Chandigarh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi. The data showed a higher per capita alcohol consumption in Haryana and Himachal Pradesh than in Punjab.
In 2008- 09, Delhi consumed 16.28 crore bottles of liquor.
In all, Punjab, Haryana, Chandigarh, Himachal and Delhi consumed 74.46 crore bottles of alcohol during 2008- 09, the figures reveal. This is certainly good news for the alcohol industry. But are the health authorities listening?
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Better relations between India and Pakistan undoubtedly hold the key to transforming the South Asia region. Even as the governments of the two countries engage each other in fits and starts, people-to-people initiatives - such as Aman Ki Asha, this newspaper's project - continue to place their hope in the prospect of peace. Imperative as better Indo-Pak relations are, it is work in progress. The next best thing, however, would be close and friendly ties with Bangladesh. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to the country presents just such an opportunity. Fortunately, New Delhi seems to be grasping it with both hands.
As the slew of agreements announced during the Bangladesh PM's visit reveal, it's not just platitudes and rhetoric doing the rounds this time. Substance has been injected into the relationship. New Delhi has pledged a $1 billion credit line to Bangladesh to help develop rail tracks, fund dredging of its rivers, and lend monetary muscle to its infrastructure development. From India's point of view, Bangladesh's cooperation in cracking down on extremists operating against India from its territory is crucial. Hasina's categorical assertion that terrorists would not be allowed to use her country as a base for anti-India operations is thus reassuring. There also appears to be some progress on the long-standing issue of India being allowed to set up a transit route via Bangladeshi territory. Clearly, both sides are looking to operate within a give-and-take framework.
For several years now, India and Bangladesh have shared a strained relationship. Among other reasons, Bangladesh has resented what it perceives as India's 'big brother' approach while New Delhi has felt that Dhaka is too prickly. However, these two countries share many interests. There are synergies in the field of trade and commerce, security cooperation and cultural exchange that have not been pursued seriously. It is, therefore, welcome that there appears to be a new sense of purpose in the approach being taken by both New Delhi and Dhaka to shore up bilateral ties.
The two sides have signed five important agreements which cover prisoner exchange, cooperation in fighting terror and drug trafficking and enhancing cultural exchange programmes. New Delhi has also chosen to be sensitive to Dhaka's water concerns by halting work on the Tipaimukh dam project. Enhanced trade and investment ties between the two countries could transform the nature of the relationship. It could unleash Bangladesh's economic potential and benefit Indian industry and investors. Bangladesh is among the more stable of our neighbours and is pursuing economic growth. India has much to gain by being a supportive, engaged neighbour.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
MAKE THEM PAY
That financial considerations should come in the way of ensuring aircraft and passenger safety is dangerous in the extreme. And yet, that is precisely what the situation seems to be in the Indian airline industry today. Five incidents of passengers behaving in a manner that contravened basic safety norms in the past 10 days have highlighted an old problem, that of the ugly Indian traveller.
And given the bare-knuckle rivalries in the Indian aviation industry, exacerbated by the global downturn, airlines seem reluctant to voluntarily enforce mechanisms to deal with the issue, fearing that they will lose passengers in the process. That puts the ball in the Directorate General of Civil Aviation's (DGCA) court. The DGCA is in the process of framing guidelines for dealing with unruly passengers. It needs to make these guidelines mandatory for airlines to follow.
Improper behaviour towards female cabin crew - shading off into molestation and sexual harassment - has been a long-standing issue. Troubling enough as this was, the security concerns that have come to the forefront in the past decade have deepened the implications of such behaviour. Consider the failed Christmas bombing aboard an American airliner by Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. There are no convenient lines to be drawn between the all-too-common recalcitrant traveller and a genuine security threat such as Abdulmutallab. The incident last year when an intoxicated passenger aboard a domestic flight here claimed to be a terrorist is a prime example of this. A zero-tolerance policy is the only option.
It is the DGCA's responsibility that both the response guidelines it is framing and punitive measures emphasise this. Immediate diversion of a flight to offload unruly passengers, as practised in the US and UK, is one option. Another is the establishment of a preventive mechanism by publicising the zero-tolerance policy during the check-in procedure and in-flight. And barring drunk individuals from boarding - as well as a database tracking serial offenders, accessible by all airlines, enabling them to blacklist individuals - would go a long way towards preventing dangerous situations from developing mid-flight.
Laws tailored to deal with air safety are needed as well. For instance, no specific law currently exists to deal with hoax hijack attempts of the kind perpetrated last year. Neither has filing charges against passengers for molestation under the relevant section of the IPC proved particularly successful. Amendments to the Civil Aviation Act putting in place harsh penalties for such infractions could go some way towards ensuring that they do not occur. Individuals drunk on alcohol and a sense of entitlement must no longer be allowed to imperil the safety of their fellow passengers and crew.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE AGE OF REGION
Reading tea leaves is risky business. Reading Chinese tea leaves - there are over a thousand varieties - is fraught with even greater risk. Nevertheless, it is necessary to occasionally lift the veil and discern what polite smiles and commercially enticing conversations conceal. More so, since China appears to have replaced its policy of 'taoguang yanghui', or 'lie low, bide your time', with a more assertive one.
Changing strategic equations in Asia seem to have prompted Beijing to begin reviewing its Asia strategy. The US's 'undisguised interest' in Asia and recent initiatives in Myanmar and North Korea have attracted particular concern. Beijing assesses that Japan is preparing to play a larger role in Asia and Japanese premier Yukio Hatoyama's India visit would have been interpreted as part of the effort. China's concerns were reflected in an article in an influential Beijing-owned Hong Kong daily. Observing that Asia is "undergoing big changes" and "a major restructuring", it noted Hatoyama's proposal for an East Asian community, Seoul's suggestion for new diplomatic thinking on Asia and Singapore's recommendation that America get closely involved in East Asian affairs.
Visits recently to Japan, South Korea, Myanmar and Cambodia by Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping, widely tipped to succeed Chinese president Hu Jintao, indicate Beijing's interest in the region. Chinese authorities took care to ensure that each visit was punctuated with a significant gesture. In Tokyo, he was granted audience by the emperor despite short notice. In Yangon, he was received by the normally reclusive senior general Than Shwe. Cambodia sent some Uighurs back to China and certain incarceration a day prior to Xi's arrival. While these hint at Xi's rising stature in the Chinese Communist Party hierarchy, they particularly display China's clout.
Military strength has been key to China's foreign and strategic policy. Last year, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) conducted over 23 exercises. Unlike in previous years, almost none contained an amphibian element. The exercises suggest Beijing envisages a possible conflagration along China's periphery. China's assertiveness has been in evidence elsewhere too. At least five confrontations occurred between Chinese and US navy vessels in the South China and East China Seas in the course of the year and Chinese vessels clashed with Vietnamese craft.
China's territorial disputes in the region centre on the resource-rich Spratly and Paracels archipelagos which sit atop an estimated 130 million barrels of oil and gas. The National People's Congress, China's version of a parliament, is currently deliberating a 'Draft Law on the Environment Protection of Sea Islands', which stipulates that ownership of the uninhabited islands will revert to the state and that the state council of the People's Republic of China will exercise control over them. The draft appears to include the Senkaku (Diaoyutai) Islands disputed between China and Japan in the East China Sea and Nansha (Spratly) Islands disputed between China and a number of countries including Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Tension has escalated. Last March, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, then Malaysian prime minister, inspected the Spratlys and claimed sovereignty. That month the Philippines promulgated the 'Philippines Baselines Law' asserting sovereignty over some of the Spratlys. Once it enacts the draft law, Beijing is likely to get more assertive.
Chinese assertiveness has already triggered quiet alarm in the region. In Taiwan, the popularity of KMT president Ma Ying-jeou, increasingly viewed as pro-Beijing, has ebbed. Strategic analysts in Japan privately voice increasing criticism of Hatoyama's policies towards China and the US. In December, Vietnam convened a conference to discuss the Spratly and Paracels Islands territorial issue.
India has for the past two years been subjected to increasing diplomatic and military pressure. The list of unfriendly actions is long. Most recent instances include designating the entire state of J&K as disputed by the practice of issuing loose-leaf visas to its residents. Official Chinese protests objecting to the separate visits by India's prime minister and the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh were noticeably tougher than in the past. Chinese academics who visited Delhi last October, echoing Beijing's view, asserted that the Dalai Lama's visit was instigated by the Indian government and hinted at the possibility of punitive action.
The reported incidence of intrusions by Chinese troops along the entire Line of Actual Control remains high. This is accompanied by a major build-up of defences in Tibet. China is building seven modern airfields in the Tibet Autonomous Region. Sixty airfields are planned by 2020. The number of fighter aircraft deployed in Gongga near Lhasa has increased. The network of border defences, roads and intelligence outposts has been expanded. The PLA's annual troop rotation in Tibet was completed quickly; troops no longer have to go via Lhasa but can directly reach many border locations from the Chinese mainland, reducing transportation time.
The window for China's neighbours to formulate policies to engage Beijing while preparing against possible adventurism will not be open for long. Once the Shanghai Expo concludes in October 2010, Beijing could begin to seriously re-examine its Asia strategy, evaluating the advantages of enforcing its territorial or perceived strategic goals.
The writer is a former additional secretary, cabinet secretariat.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'SOCIETY HAS NOT ACCEPTED RAGGING AS A SOCIAL EVIL'
The ragging incident involving 18 students attached to KEM Hospital's prestigious G S Medical College has shocked Mumbai. Mohit Garg, co-founder of Coalition to Uproot Ragging from Education (CURE) and the website noragging.com, tells Jyoti Punwani that ragging can be eliminated:
Q: What do you think of the action against the accused students?
Filing the FIR against them was swift and appreciable, and in keeping with the Supreme Court guidelines. But the chief minister's statement that their careers should not be affected does not help. A crime is a crime and should be handled as such. Careers are not more important than the dignity of life. Another issue here is that those who were ragged should not be ostracised. Typically in such cases, freshers are blamed for spoiling careers, which is another deterrent against complaints.
I wouldn't be surprised if there was far severe ragging happening in other professional colleges in Mumbai. As per a CURE study, the number of media-reported cases in Maharashtra is low compared to Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal. This does not imply less ragging, since reported cases would be a tiny fraction of the incidents happening on the ground.
Q: Are there any support systems or networks for victims?
Unfortunately, no. I have seen cases of very severe ragging victims trying to contact one another but either people wish to forget and don't connect with other victims or their own fight is so time-consuming that they are unable to give anything beyond sympathy to others. Another perspective against such a network is that instead of victims carrying the scar throughout their lives, the best remedy is to help them get back to normal as quickly as possible.
Q: Some students feel ragging can never end because its victims want to avenge their humiliation on their juniors.
This is a vicious circle - the victim becoming the perpetrator. We can break it by ensuring that two or three batches are not ragged. This would eliminate the revenge feeling. In fact, most colleges that have successfully eliminated ragging have done this.
CURE advocates a three-pronged approach. One, monitor ragging and mete out strict punishments. The victim cannot be expected to complain. Offenders should be punished strictly according to law, since whatever is inflicted in the name of ragging is a criminal offence. Two, create social awareness. In every ragging death, it emerges that the victim informed his parents, who took it lightly. Whenever one talks to friends about ragging, they think that only cowards are scared of it. Society has not accepted ragging as a social evil. It's regarded as a necessary initiation ritual, a joke. Ragging is not fashionable, please! Three, alternate means of interaction for breaking the ice.
We should have a college-ranking system that includes ragging as a criterion. Only this will make reputation-conscious colleges improve their efforts to eliminate ragging.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FLOSS OF CIVILISATION
According to a recent study by Kyoto University, there are certain types of monkeys that floss their teeth with human hair. Who would have guessed that flossing was part of the collective unconscious? That's right, a primal instinct that has primates lying awake at night afraid of the dark and poor oral hygiene. Where did they get the idea to use our luscious locks to this end, to begin with? I know necessity is the mother of invention but one can hardly imagine that human hair is plentiful in the wild.
It would have to be a strange confluence of factors that led to this discovery. First, there would need to be monkeys in captivity then add in long-haired humans with very poor hair care regimens and finally throw in stringy foods that really get in there and drive you crazy. If you think they are just monkeying around, this should change your mind - these monkeys spend twice as much time flossing when their babies are watching. This would indicate, decisively, that they are conditioning their little ones to clean their deciduous teeth with the unconditioned strands. In the immortal words of James Joyce, when they are ''Jung and easily Freudened'', they learn to ape their parents. Not that, one imagines, much teaching is required. I mean, it's so simple even a monkey can do it. Well, better for the little beasties to follow these foul practices than be foul-mouthed.
I know this farcical follicle folly strains belief and usually one ought to discuss only the most refined matters. I have decided, however, just this one time to make an exception at the risk of biting off more than one can chew. It's all in the interests of sanitary sanity. I just want to put the idea into your head that, instead of fighting each other tooth and nail, our teeth and nails could be so much better employed getting to the root of our problems. Part of me thinks, and it's a hair-raising thought, that we are being taut, er, taught by example. It's up to you to decide whether this monkey business should be taken seriously.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
India is increasingly a do-it-yourself country. And the government of India should give a medal to the residents of Tajnagar village, near Gurgaon, for setting a new benchmark in the DIY (do-it-yourself) scheme of things. Having waited a quarter of a century in vain to get their own railway station from a sarkar that seemed deaf to all their pleas, the enterprising Tajnagaris had a whip around among themselves, raised Rs 21 lakh, and set up their own railway station, certainly the first DIY railway station in India, if not in the world.
God is said to help those who help themselves. Our sarkar goes one better than God: it doesn't even help those who help themselves, but implicitly urges them to continue the good work and keep helping themselves some more because - as sure as eggs is eggs - the sarkar certainly ain't going to help anyone.
In that way our sarkar is eminently fair, and does not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or gender. It leaves us all - irrespective of particular persuasion - to help ourselves to whatever it is that we think we require.
You want an uninterrupted supply of bijli? Fine, it's not an unreasonable request. But don't look to the sarkar, or any of its many agencies, to generate it for you; you've got to do it yourself. Get a genset. Or a kerosene lantern and a handheld pankha. What? No kerosene available in the government-run fair price shops? Haven't you ever heard of a do-it-yourself source of supply for kerosene - or for that matter for anything else you might require, like potatoes, and onions, and dal and rice - which is called the black market?
No municipal water to be had? Stop bellyaching and get on with the job of digging a community bore well in your area. Set up a rain harvesting system. Push comes to shove, buy bottled water. To drink? No, dummy. To bathe in. It's either that or don't take off your clothes before sending them to the drycleaners.
Government hospitals and healthcare centres either non-existent or full of rats, disease and infections? Go to a private - read, do-it-yourself - nursing home. What do you mean you can't afford it? Of course you can. What do you think do-it-yourself medical insurance is for, for which you have to pay those humongous annual premiums?
There are no textbooks, blackboards or teachers at your local sarkari school? Send your kid to a school set up by a do-it-yourself entrepreneur who charges swingeing fees for the services provided. Almost everything in India is on a do-it-yourself basis. Electricity, water, health, schooling.
With the virtual collapse of the governmental postal system, the sarkari postman has become an endangered, if not a near-extinct, species, spotted only at Diwali time when he rings your doorbell to collect his yearly baksheesh. The rest of the time you deal with a do-it-yourself delivery system called a courier company.
Rising incidence of crime in your neighbourhood and the cops unable, or unwilling, or both, to do anything about it? Employ do-it-yourself security guards to protect your property and your person. In some parts of the country you have not just do-it-yourself cops but do-it-yourself armies, like the Ranvir Sena, or the Salwa Judum. And to provide competition to these, you have another do-it-yourself army called the Naxalites, who are said to run a parallel do-it-yourself state-within-a-state in over 160 districts across the country.
Each day, in every way, India's do-it-yourself capacity increases, as exemplified by the resourceful villagers of Tajnagar who got themselves their own DIY railway station, thus relieving railway minister Mamatadi of an onerous chore. The sarkar should recognise and honour such do-it-yourself enterprise. The residents of Tajnagar deserve a medal for the DIY spirit they've shown. Trouble is, the medal will also have to be of the DIY variety, because the sarkar can't supply even that.
Hey, I want my money back! They told me that on November 9, 1989, the Wall had come down and they would be celebrating the 20th anniversary of its fall here.
Um. Sir, this is China. The wall you're talking about was in Berlin.
But hang on. What's this then?
This, Sir, is the Great Wall of China. It is unlikely to ever be taken down.
Oh. But wouldn't you like it to come down and end decades of people of the same nation being apart?
We don't need to bring down this wall for that, Sir. Our policy on the Tibetan Autonomous Region is quite well-known.
Surely you're not suggesting that Tibetans and Chinese are like the old East Germans and West Germans.
Of course not, Sir. We never needed a Russian with a red patch on his head to bring the same people together or stop World War III.
So what has been your trick?
To infest the world with our cheap, defective products. They keep the world safe and make everyone our customer.
Do say: So where the hell is the Wailing Wall now?
Don't say: All in all, you're just another brick in the Great Hall of the People.
TO BE BORN AGAIN
You can live at your in-laws while your home is getting renovated. You can be shacked up in a temporary space while your office is being refurbished. But what do you do while your city is getting rehauled for weeks and months on end apart from closing your eyes and expecting the brightest, shiniest town to be unveiled when all the work is done? Well, you can complain if that city is the capital of 2010 India and complain with double-force if the heart of that capital becomes totally unmanageable, thanks to detours and renovation work.
It turns out that the uncontrolled chaos that has been New Delhi, made visible especially at its core, Connaught Place, has finally been noticed by the powers-that-be. At last, Delhi's Lt Governor Tejender Khanna had to order civic authorities to scale down renovation work to "manageable levels". Even as our nervousness remains regarding what he means by "manageable levels", the fact that many places in Delhi may now look less like a battle-scarred zone can bring comfort to Delhiites. Unlike the citizens of Mumbai or Kolkata, used to "manageable levels" being 'unmanageable', Delhiites aren't used to such urban nightmares. On the flip side, Delhi's political class and VIPs have been far used to travelling via 'red lights' that make traffic part in the proverbial Red Sea parting manner.
With Delhi all a-crumble before the supershine of the Commonwealth Games that will, according to the super-message, cure everything, authorities have planned to junk the earlier plan (yes, there was apparently one) and figure out something that won't turn the national capital into a giant rat maze. In the meantime, we both curse and thank our stars that in a few months' time we will have a national capital that will shine like no other. And in case that doesn't happen, well, let Delhiites make their homes and offices prettier. They may have to spend more quality time indoors.
TURNING A NEW CORNER
SMRUTI S. PATTANAIK
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's visit to India is a historic one. Not only is a strong political will evident, there's a palpable enthusiasm to walk the extra mile. Her Awami League (AL) government has just completed one year in office and the two governments have time on their side to tackle complex bilateral issues.
The AL's historic win has been a cause for celebration in India and India's stakes in the regime's success are high, poised as it is to take several decisions that will determine Bangladesh's secular future. Whether it is the trial of war criminals or zero tolerance for terrorism, this government is set to create history in Bangladesh's politics.
During Khaleda Zia's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP)-led regime, Indo-Bangladesh relations had touched their nadir.
Political patronage to radical elements, growing religious intolerance and reluctance of the government to act against Indian insurgent groups, refusal to sign on to the multilateral trans-Asian Highway project just because the route would benefit India are but some instances where the BNP government did not hesitate to adopt policies that adversely affected Bangladesh's interests; all in the name of protecting its sovereignty.
Given this backdrop, this visit is definitely about the 'charter for change' in the AL's election manifesto, which had boldly declared that 'rail and road connections with neighbouring countries under the Asian Rail and Highway schemes will be established'. The government has also announced that, after modernisation, the Chittagong and Mongla ports will be opened to all of Asia. What's more, it has the popular mandate to carry these proposals forward.
India has announced a $1-billion line of credit that would help Bangladesh build infrastructure and emerge as a hub between South and Southeast Asia. Also, the memorandum of understanding on electricity exchange, to the tune of 900 million units per annum, will go a long way in dealing with power shortage in the two countries.
India needs to walk the extra mile and, if necessary, provide unilateral trade concessions, already hinted at by the finance minister. But any concession or policy announcements must not be allowed to get tangled in bureaucratic red tape, leading to broken promises India's offer of half a million tonnes of rice during cyclone Sidr being a case in point.
India has already agreed to provide transit facilities to Bangladesh for trade with Nepal and Bhutan; it now needs to resolve undemarcated land and maritime boundaries rather than letting the issue fester. To address its main security concerns, India must be prepared to bear some economic loss a small price to pay in the long run. What's important here is to send the right political signals.
Bangladesh has suffered more than India by tolerating radical elements and no one knows this better than the current government, which could have lost its entire front-ranking leadership in the August 2004 bombing of an AL rally. Hasina's government has busted militant networks and has made several arrests and facilitated the surrender of Ulfa leaders who had taken refuge in Bangladesh. So, the agreement on mutual legal assistance on criminal matters, extradition of sentenced criminals and the bilateral resolve to combat international terrorism and organised crime is significant.
India must demonstrate magnanimity commensurate with its size, stature and global aspirations. Let the benefits be evaluated in intangibles, like strengthening liberalism over fundamentalism and shared political and social values, which should not get lost in the bilateral nitty-gritty.
Smruti S. Pattanaik is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
The views expressed by the author are personal
NEW & IMPROVED
This year's runaway hit, 3 Idiots, focused on some all-too-recognisable truths about how teaching and learning is transacted in India. A young engineering student kills himself after his brilliant, all-new idea is shot down by the dean, and instead he finds himself on the wrong side of the school's administrative strictures.
Higher learning in India is all set for a big bang, as the government announced 14 all-star innovation universities, partnering with the best schools abroad. What this means is a tighter linking with faculty and institutions, and open to students from around the world. They aim for never-before admission standards and autonomous functioning, and HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has pitched his idea to several elite educational institutes, including Harvard, MIT and Princeton. Such collaboration obviously suits everyone concerned, as the vice chancellor of Cambridge University pointed out. These schools will have the independence to frame their own rules on academics and the qualifications needed for teaching positions, and get to decide their own fees, curricula and rules for the appointment of faculty. What's more, there will be no purse-strings attaching them to bureaucratic scrutiny, and they will be free to decide how money is spent on research or teaching.
However, exactly what makes them "innovation universities"? While the role of universities in a knowledge economy is generally acknowledged, there is much debate over the extent to which they should directly link up to industry and entrepreneurship. There might be plenty of lightbulb moments, and much jugaad and improvisation in India, but nurturing new ideas needs an entire social ecosystem, an innovation infrastructure that we have not put in place yet (despite IIT's incubator set-ups and other such initiatives). University structures should help, not hinder entrepreneurship. This is not to claim that academic research should naturally flow into more applied and lucrative areas, or what is of immediate utility to business, or even that such transfers flow in a linear way from lab to firm. However, India patently needs to recast its educational system to facilitate and reward creativity. Innovation is not some romantic "can-do, will-do" spirit as is often imagined, but the result of systematic public policy efforts. If these 14 universities are going to make innovation a centrepiece, the first thing they must do is launch a conversation on exactly how we intend to re-engineer our systems.
With the Delhi high court ruling that the office of the Chief Justice of India comes within the ambit of the Right to Information Act, a long-drawn-out debate will now hopefully find amicable resolution. The ruling of the three-judge bench was on an appeal by the Supreme Court registry against the high court's single-judge verdict in September. The challenge to the September verdict was that such liberal interpretation of the RTI law could hamper the judges' independence. Basically dismissing the appeal, the three-judge bench of Chief Justice A.P. Shah and Justices Vikramjeet Sen and S. Muralidhar said: "The judicial independence is not a privilege to a judge but a responsibility." The full extent of the information impacted by this ruling will be clarified over time; nonetheless, it holds out the possibility of closure on the judges' assets issue in a way that retrieves for the higher judiciary the credibility and moral authority it has traditionally enjoyed.
The demand to make public details about the judges' assets had over the past few months visibly divided the judiciary, with many high courts seen to be pushing the apex court to greater transparency. Moreover, by being perceived to be holding out against the kind of transparency and accountability that it was helping impose in practically all other areas of public life, the senior judiciary was seen to be in danger of undermining its position. Indeed, in the months since the issue first came up, a greater number of judges, including those of the Supreme Court, have made public details of their material wealth. What the Delhi high court's verdict, were it to remain unchallenged, does is make the declaration a formality, and not just a voluntary gesture. As J.S. Verma, former chief justice of India on whose watch the full court's resolution on declaring assets was accomplished in 1997, has argued in these pages, there is a legitimate concern about harassment of judges by "unscrupulous persons and disgruntled litigants". But he went on to say that this must be accepted as an occupational hazard, and some safeguards can be determined. The larger issue, he said, is this: "In the current environment of waning credibility of the higher judiciary, with specific allegations of corruption based on prima facie authentic materials even against a few of the highest, it is in the judiciary's own interest to be fully transparent and above suspicion."
Our higher judiciary is considered the world's most powerful. It has played a pivotal role in upholding constitutional propriety, and filling in the spaces vacated by the executive and the legislature. The prospect of closing a rocky chapter in its history, and that too through its own, can only be good for the judiciary.
TERROR'S CYBER AVATAR
Barack Obama didn't just become a war president. He began as one. But Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its "testicle-bomber" from Nigeria have cornered Obama with the truth that he is fighting not George W. Bush's wars but his War on Terror. Almost surreptitiously, that proscribed phrase has returned to the White House (courtesy Robert Gibbs) and the rupture with the Bushies bridged.
The Christmas Day near-disaster was a human failure. Already over-invested in anti-terror technology, the US may invest even more; and there's likely a bureaucratic simplification to reduce possible points of confusion. There mustn't be a repeat embarrassment of sitting on an information pool but failing to use it.
Now, the forecast for this decade is a sustained, asymmetric global jihad that may not cause World War III but will certainly eat away at resources, and everyday civilian security. And facing particular scrutiny: the war in cyberspace, or online jihad.
Continuous state eavesdropping on jihadi chatrooms is a given
today. But it wasn't so in the aftermath of 9/11; and even now state agencies are usually the last to catch up. As jihadists grasped the potential of the Internet in fact, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was an early convert among top terrorists, to go by his pioneering of an online press secretary and the video of American contractor Nicholas Berg's beheading in May 2004 there was the advent of the private online jihadi tracker: individuals who informed the government of actual and budding terrorists as well as plots being hatched, even if it did not, or could not, always
follow up immediately. For sure, the trackers' Arabic illiteracy was an initial handicap; but Arabic-knowing and Arabic-speaking experts, some refugees or immigrants from the Middle East, are available for help; and the voluminous online jihadi conversation in English as the jihadi human resource pool shifts Westwards and includes "unsuspicious" Western names is not bad at all.
Investing in a handful of computers in a home-cum-office, some branded and some handcrafted software, the online jihadi tracker would listen in on, or watch, the enemy's dialogues, often at personal risk as the jihadists too could watch him/ her watching them. Through most of the latter half of the last decade, online jihadists and their trackers improvised and evolved in response to each other and not just worrying about DNS and reverse DNS queries.
Of course, not every query or comment marks out a real or potential terrorist. Abdulmutallab's digital footprints are mostly being tracked retrospectively. And a certain Farouk1986's postings between 2005 and 2007 at gawaher.com are generating a lot of interest, not so much for the general consensus that Farouk1986 was Abdulmutallab, or the possibility that the Nigerian banker's son had become radicalised as early as 2001, but for his queries about the theologically legitimate, which hint at the direction of his evolution. (gawaher.com, of course, is a mainstream Islamic forum, with no jihadi or even salafi links.)
Tracking jihad online will occupy the global war on terror, and undoubtedly no state administration has the time and human resources for such painstaking scrutiny of chatters across the globe in real time. Thus private trackers like cyber-terror consultant Evan Kohlmann or the controversial Aaron Weisburd, founder of anti-jihadi watchdog Internet Haganah will continue to be valuable intelligence sources. Incidentally, both Kohlmann and Weisburd were tracking "Irhabi 007", perhaps the most phenomenal independent Internet jihadi public relations campaigner ever, who disappeared from the Web when a 22-year-old Moroccan, Younis Tsouli, was arrested in West London in late 2005 on a tip-off from Bosnia.
After land, sea, air and space, cyberspace is the fifth dimension of war. Its democratisation and sophisticated, but available, software have significantly enhanced jihadists' reach and encryption capabilities. Forget the British campus, cyberspace already the primary recruiting ground for global jihad may soon morph into a real (certainly not virtual) battlefield, where we've to worry about much more than "talent spotter" Anglophone Internet imams like Anwar
al-Awlaki reductively simplifying complex theology into radical ideology and offering signposts to Al Qaeda for potential recruits.
But a fissure right down the middle of the online watchdog discourse is whether to take down jihadi sites as Internet Haganah does or mine them for intelligence. Anyway, along with assaulting online jihadists, cyberspace will have to be protected and entire populations and economies dependent on it from terrorist assaults. Encryption and information safety will call for new defences. Let alone military personnel, very soon we'll all be paranoid about our PCs and cellphones. In cyberspace, terrorists operate inside the ring we all are in, with technology no longer restricted to superpowers. And there's no time for online jokes like the Nigerian "b***-bomber" taking Freudian psychosexual growth to a new dimension.
THE TELECOM LESSON
Auctioning of spectrum for 3G telecom services is finally starting and the standard and justified question is, why was the process so tortuously long? But look at telecom in another way, take a long view, and the more interesting question is, how come telecom policy has gone through so many positive changes, changes that have made India's telecom industry a global player?
If you look at the history of telecom policy over the last 20 years, you will immediately spot the following: at least three ministers who regularly attracted/ attract controversies, Sukh Ram, Pramod Mahajan and Raja, the current incumbent; big fights between telecom barons; headline grabbing allegations on abrupt policy changes, influence peddling, favouritism and much worse; continuous and disruptive meddling by the department of telecom; government coddling of two telecom PSUs, at least one of which, BSNL, has precarious financials.
This is not an exhaustive list but it is enough to make the following point: surely with this much controversy and these many fights and so many allegations of favouritism, telecom policy would have stalled. Because that's the way government works. But telecom policy has moved forward, frustratingly slowly sometimes, but again, if you take the long view, the progress has been impressive.
And that raises a further, interesting question. Why has telecom, despite a tumultuous recent history, seen policy move forward whereas many other sectors have not? Contrast telecom's positive policy shifts with 20-year policy progress on, say, insurance. The contrast is striking, almost shocking. Insurance still has the same small FDI limit it was given way back in early-middle '90s. Things are better than when LIC/ GIC were the only players. But a telecom-like paradigm shift hasn't happened, because policy hasn't changed enough. This experience has been replicated across sectors in post-reforms India things have changed for better, but not by much and policy change has stalled.
We can refine the question and ask whether there's a political economy lesson from telecom that has general applicability? There probably is and the clue to it lies in the very first change in post-reforms telecom policy.
The new telecom policy that was announced by the Narasimha Rao Congress government did one thing very important: it made possible enough policy change to happen during the first shot at reforms, and therefore made possible a critical mass of benefits and realisable potential benefits for end-users to become visible quickly. Basically, the policy made clear we will never have to depend again on the big, black sarkari issue telephone to get one of which we needed to know someone who knew someone who knew the relevant minister/ big sarkari officer.
As a result a momentum for further change was created, a momentum strong enough to survive all the horrible complications that the Indian system can throw up. The same thing happened when stock market reforms happened via the abolition of the Controller of Capital Issues and the creation of new liberal rules and a modern regulator, SEBI. Some people tried to block stock market policy reform; sometimes, like in the case of abolishing the ridiculous badla system
of trading, they appeared to be stalling successfully, but they didn't succeed. Another example is the abolition of industrial licensing big first change, big first impact.
This is the key. In a fractious democracy where policy is prone to capture from a variety of powerful interests, small initial policy changes that produce a small set of initial benefits can get tamed by the system. This is what has happened with insurance, with retail, with banking, with agriculture reform, etc. In each of these cases, the logic for liberal, market-friendly reform is clear, and that logic was the reason the first changes happened, but the first change and the resultant impact weren't big enough. So in each case, the forces of inertia are winning now.
Discussions on Indian policy reform often mention how in a complex policy-making environment, the clever thing to do is to change things incrementally. But the telecom story has another lesson: the even cleverer thing to do may be to use the first change to create the logic for further change.
This means, to take an example, to get retail reform going the trick will be to allow multi-brand/ multi-store foreign retail in some way. That's a big change from current policy. But the benefits will be so clear in so short a time that follow-up policy changes can be completely stalled only at the risk of explaining the unexplainable to a critical mass of beneficiaries.
Think about it this way: it is impossible to tell Indian telecom users now that, sorry, 3G won't happen. But it is possible to tell Indian insurance users that, sorry, all the innovations that you see in insurance worldwide won't come to you. LIC is part of the insurance story in a way that BSNL/ MTNL simply isn't.
The telecom lesson has implications for sectors as yet untouched by reforms as well. Take labour policy. The conventional argument is that this is so politically tough that change, if any, can only be done in small ways. But precisely because vested interests are so strong in the labour aristocracy that the logic for a big bang first change is attractive.
Of course, every sector has different political-economic constraints and it takes different orders of political courage to effect big first changes in different sectors. But that doesn't invalidate the general principle.
Reformist UPA-II ministers may find this principle useful. UPA-II has inherited policy stasis on many fronts, some of these are inheritances from UPA-I. The usual assumption is that the Congress wants to be cautious. Your correspondent has absolutely no special insight into how the Congress and its key reformist ministers want to go about the job of policy change. But they might want to consider this: if even an A. Raja can't stop telecom policy advances, imagine what can be achieved by a genuinely reformist minister who's courageous enough to make a big bang change now.
THE SOCIAL SPENDING SIEVE
When the Prime Minister of India says that only 15 paise of every rupee spent by the government on social schemes reaches the beneficiaries, most people would assume that the entire machinery would go into overdrive to rectify the situation. Kudos to Rajiv Gandhi for admitting this in 1985. It is sad that at the end of 2009, almost 25 years later, the Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission reiterates that Rajiv Gandhi was right indicating that over the last 25 years there has been a constant siphoning off of huge amounts of money meant to be spent for the benefit of the poorest of the poor.
Of total funds sanctioned, what donors and government allow NGOs to spend is 90 per cent on projects and 10 per cent on "admin" which includes salaries, office and travel costs. Let us be charitable and allow government 20 per cent. Let us also add another 15 per cent spent on social infrastructure that would be required, and that we assume has been established. Were you to add the 15 per cent that apparently reach the beneficiaries, you'd get 50 per cent. This would mean that for the last 25 years, 50 per cent of expenditure on social spending has been siphoned off!
What Rajiv Gandhi found was that funds were going from the Centre to the states, who in turn were re-allocating these funds to the different projects. He probably assumed that the funds were being siphoned off at the state level; and so, to prevent misuse, he ordered the funds to be sent directly to the implementing agencies from the Centre. Despite the best of intentions, what this did was to lower the level of corruption: from the state government to the project head, who probably had to share the booty upwards too. I hope government's latest initiative on Unique Identity Numbers, when implemented, will ensure that the beneficiaries gain from direct transfers to them by the centre rather than routing it through anyone.
By most reports, the NREGA scheme has been the most successful of government schemes what that means is perhaps, not 50 per cent, but a lower amount is being siphoned off. Let's face it, the scheme is dependent on the Block Development Officer and the sarpanch to identify and confirm the beneficiary before payment is disbursed; what are the checks and balances in place to ensure that a nexus between these two does not lead to siphoning off of funds to non-beneficiary accounts? The BDO post is reportedly being auctioned off for as much as 5 crores these days, giving lucrative police station house officer postings stiff competition.
A worthwhile exercise for the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) would be to undertake a state-wide exercise to identify the number of NGOs that are founded by politicians or bureaucrats or through family members or fronts. Ideally, identify where (say) more than 0.5 per cent of the sanctioned funds for any one scheme in a state were sanctioned and then identify the organisations that received the funds. Then depending on the findings, to investigate those organisations where politicians or bureaucrats were involved to see how the funds were spent/disbursed, or at least to show the data on their website for others to study how the funds were actually spent. If these large amounts are being siphoned off it would need people in power to initially authorise the projects to the NGO, and then to sanction the payment to them which could be fictitious.
The shocking truth is that approximately 60 per cent of the central schemes are sanctioned directly to NGOs and social organisations, where the CAG has no purview for an audit (because these funds do not pass through the consolidated fund of the respective state)! The existing CAG audits would at least show misdemeanours, if any, about the past; if they were done in an effective manner, it would still scare these people in prominent positions about being exposed for their misdeeds in the future. We need processes to ensure pro-active methods to prevent corruption instead of just reporting it, but till we find such methods, the fear of future exposure could act as a real deterrent.
The CAG reports go to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), which have been known to stall or delay action on these reports. PAC meetings are held in camera. Why hold them secretly? The public should be engaged in the PAC process when did they receive the CAG report? When and how did they act on it? The need is for transparency here.
It is good to see that the CAG is focusing more on outcome-based audits. For instance, if there is a project on female education, the audit in addition to what it does, shows the increase/decrease in the number of beneficiaries rather than just compliance with regulation.
Till about the mid '80s, if an officer was caught with his/her finger in the till, s/he was ostracised not only by the service but by society at large; most genuinely believed that bureaucrats were there to provide services for their betterment. In just 25 years all this has changed, and corruption has almost been accepted as "kya kare, chalta hai". After years of a public perception that there was a nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and corporates that was responsible for the major corruption in our country, perhaps the new nexus between politicians, bureaucrats and the social sector will reveal corruption at an even bigger level.
Perhaps the most obvious product of this: the Prime Minister's/Chief Minister's Relief Funds, which encounter problems with donations with too small a fraction reaching beneficiaries, most philanthropists would not want to fund these bodies. Many who do are actually interested in political favours. It is deeply worrying that government, which can and should provide redress to those in distress especially after natural calamities, is not trusted even at that highest level. The PM's relief fund does not have sufficient credibility because he himself does not manage it, but someone down the line does. Is it time to bring in a credible and capable head from outside, and to introduce a proper governance structure? Such action would help in attracting more funds from NRIs and foundations. Long-term solutions need to be conceived of and implemented. Currently, the funds provide for immediate food and shelter, but lack treatment for trauma and longer-horizon sustainability for the affected once the doles are done with. If a more pragmatic and transparent approach were adopted, perhaps much more funding would flow in to help the affected. Could such action also be a catalyst for efficiency in government's other social-sector schemes?
The writer is CEO, Grassroots Trading Network for Women
C. RAJA MOHAN
Three years after it surprised the world with the test of an anti-satellite weapon, China this week announced the successful shooting down of one missile with another. Unlike the total silence regarding the controversial test in January 2007, Beijing has given a bit of information this time.
According to the Xinhua News Agency, the test demonstrated Beijing's "ground-based midcourse missile interception technology". "The test has achieved the expected objective," Xinhua added.
"Compared with a previous test of anti-satellite technologies, the missile interception system is more advanced as the targets are moving objects and the satellite was flying within a pre-planned orbit", an analysis in the Chinese media said.
This is not the first time that China has tested missile defence systems. Western reports say, Beijing had tested a surface-to-air missile in 2006 that is similar to the American 'Patriot' missile defence system.
Western analysts say the latest test suggests the steady maturation of Chinese missile defence technologies, which are based on its own anti-aircraft missile systems and on advanced Russian air defence systems that Beijing had imported in recent years.
The new systems are likely to be used to protect high value political, economic and military assets. These include political command centres, large dams, and missile batteries.
Although these might not be effective against American ballistic or cruise missiles, they could be effective to counter perceived threats from the regional missile arsenals including the Indian one, analysts say.
The latest test underlines the delightful dualism in Chinese space policies. On the one hand, Beijing opposes American missile defence programme and joins the Russians at multilateral forums in thundering against the American designs to 'weaponise' outer space. On the other, Beijing uses Russian technology to develop its own space weapons.
Even more impressive has been the emergence of a space doctrine in China that defines clear strategic objectives and is backed by organisational innovation at home and effective military diplomacy abroad.
Like Beijing, Delhi too has begun to speak in two tones about space weapons. Its diplomats in Geneva and New
York and its political leaders love to posture against the weaponisation of outer space.
Meanwhile the Indian defence scientists have been announcing missile defence tests since the end of 2006. Earlier this month, the head of DRDO, Dr. V.K. Saraswat boasted about India's military space programme.
"We have the building blocks...What is needed is technology to track the movements of enemy satellites, for instance before making a kinetic kill. We are trying to build a credible deterrence capability", Saraswat said on the sidelines of the Indian National Congress.
Space security, according to Saraswat, demands a range of capabilities including the protection of satellites, communication and navigation systems and denying the enemy the use of his own space systems.
Sceptics might hold their breath against some of the extravagant claims of our science departments, especially after DRDO's failed missile launches last year and the recent squabbling among the atomic scientists on the results of the 1998 nuclear tests.
The real problem, however, lies elsewhere-with our civilian leadership which seems unprepared to address the challenges posed by the unfolding transformation of Chinese military space programme.
It has been a while since the Indian Air Force called for the creation of a space cell to bring together different organisations involved in the development and use of military space technology. There has been no movement since then, thanks to inter-service rivalries and the many problems of coordination with the science departments.
If there is no one in the Ministry of Defence to strategise about outer space, shouldn't the PMO be taking the initiative to bring all the stake holders together and order the drafting of a military space doctrine for India?
As Beijing develops its own space weapons, it has also launched a strong campaign against American plans to sell missile defence systems to Taiwan. The one billion dollar sale, announced in Washington last week, rounds off the arms supply package that the Bush administration
had unveiled a few years ago. China has been pressing the United States to stop all arms sales to Taiwan, and it is not clear if the Obama administration will risk approving new weapons transfers to Beijing.
The writer is Henry A Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC.
VIEW FROM THE LEFT
MANOJ C G
Life and taxes
Although Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has maintained that efforts would be made to ensure that the new Direct Taxes Code meets the aspirations and expectations of the people, the CPI feels that the DTC would only help the big companies. It says the code when it comes into force is not likely to yield for the government more revenue to promote economic growth or mass welfare."Its basic objective, it seems, is to further moderate tax liability of business corporations and the wealthy in our society of mass poverty in the name of promoting voluntary and better compliance in the payment of taxes by individuals and business corporations," an article in CPI weekly organ New Age opined about the code.
With the draft of the new tax code proposing to bring down the tax liability of those with an annual income of 30 lakhs and above from 30 to 25 per cent, the article argues that tax on profits of the business corporations in India are bound to derive sizeable gain from the concession.
Reading Singh's signs
While Amar Singh's next move is still a matter of speculation, especially when some kind of rapprochement efforts are underway with the Mulayam Singh family, the CPI is quite sure that he has sent feelers to the Congress. An article in New Age says: "Amar Singh has already opened his window to the Congress, now he is praising Sonia Gandhi in his blog. Besides, he may use it to protect his political and business interest by opening to the Congress as he believes that only such steps can bail him out from the legal cases pending against him." It says Singh, who recently quit all posts in the Samajwadi Party, has already sent feelers to the Congress of his willingness but the grand old party is treading cautiously.
"It was Amar Singh who prevailed on Mulayam Singh to bail out UPA-I in July 2008, on the crucial voting on the nuke deal. All along he has been keeping good relations with some of the top Congress leaders. His U-turn on the nuke deal was a blessing for the Congress and the party cannot forget a friend, who rescued it from an imminent crisis," it says.
The report of the Justice Saghir Ahmad-led working report on strengthening relations between the Centre and Jammu and Kashmir has raised much heat in political circles. The CPM feels that the report failed to come up to the expectations of the people.
"It is not that one could have expected this report to be a panacea for all the troubles the state is facing. But the contents of the report should (and could) have certainly been more encouraging," an article in the latest issue of CPM mouthpiece People's Democracy concluded.
The article says political analysts feel that the "dismally prepared report" has rendered the Prime Minister's key working group insignificant. "The recommendations regarding abolition of the Legislative Council in the state, regarding the human rights situation in the state, and about scrapping the Armed Forces Special Powers Act have been left inconclusive. Moreover, one gets the impression that these extremely important issues have been dealt with a lackadaisical approach," it says.
As regarding the autonomy question, which triggered jubilation in the National Conference camp as it feels that the working group has accepted its proposal, the article says even a cursory glance at the report would make it clear that the report has made no clear-cut acceptance or rejection of the proposal coming from any political party.
On the demand of autonomy, the working group report says that the question of "autonomy" and its demand can be examined in the light of the "Kashmir accord" or in some other manner or on the basis of some other formula which the prime minister may deem appropriate so as to restore the state's "autonomy" to the extent possible.
"The sort of autonomy which has been mentioned by the Justice Saghir Ahmad report is in no way the autonomy which can satisfy the aspirations of the alienated people," it says. Participating in the working group meetings, the CPM had favoured maximum autonomy to the state and regional autonomy for Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh.
THE BALLAD OF EAST AND WEST
NEW YORK TIMES
India has for so long been obsessed with the security of its north-western frontier and relations with Pakistan that issues on its eastern borders have been neglected. But various events are forcing New Delhi to focus on some interrelated security challenges in the east and northeast. So the four-day state visit to India by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed of Bangladesh that began Sunday has an importance far beyond the ceremonial.
While geography alone makes Bangladesh highly dependent on its giant neighbour, India is beginning to appreciate that bullying Bangladesh makes other problems worse. In reality, both nations have security and economic issues that require cooperation.
Three particular issues have brought home India's eastern vulnerability. The first is China's newly confrontational stance over its claims to much of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China regards these areas as part of Tibet. That in turn links to the second issue: separatism in some of India's seven northeast states. The insurgency in the largest state in the region, Assam, may now be at least as troublesome as that in Kashmir. China does not at present appear to be helping the insurgents but clearly has the potential to do so.
One cause of these tensions is the third issue: the relative lack of development in the region, including nearby eastern Indian states such as Bihar and Jharkhand, which has spawned the growing insurgency. The Naxalites, radical communists who have informal links to the Maoists recently in government in Nepal, have become a major threat to the state, killing officials and disrupting rail traffic. Bangladesh may be a poster state of poverty but it has been outshining neighbouring Indian states in social development.
The election of Sheikh Hasina last year has opened an opportunity for cooperation with India to which Delhi needs to respond generously. Her Awami League has long been seen as less suspicious of India than the rival Bangladesh National Party of former Prime Minister Khaleda Zia. She has bought some Indian goodwill by arresting and handing over to India the chairman of the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam. Her government is also seen as less likely to turn a blind eye to Islamic militants. But for her own credibility she must get something meaningful in return if good relations with India are to be a vote winner at home.
Top of the Bangladesh wish list is a reduction in trade barriers that contribute to a 10-to-1 trade advantage in India's favor. But Bangladesh in turn needs to be more open to Indian investment generally and development of its gas industry in particular, which have long been stymied by nationalism and corruption. Likewise both countries have long hurt each other by impeding transit rights and thwarting the full use of rail and river links that date back to British rule. India also has been frustrated by Dhaka's unwillingness to be a conduit for piping Myanmar gas to energy-short eastern India. Indeed, oil and gas exploration in the Bay of Bengal is frustrated by lack of agreed boundaries between Bangladesh, India and Myanmar. Even more fundamental issues need to be addressed. Bangladesh's biggest security issue is water. It has legitimate worries about Indian plans for dam building on shared water resources that are the lifeblood of all of Bangladesh and much of northern India. Can the two cooperate for mutual benefit and to oppose any plans China, the source of many of these rivers, has to divert them for its own use? Indeed, given the depth of Chinese influence in Myanmar and its fostering of relations with Bangladesh, it is surprising that India has not made more effort to treat its neighbour with respect, not condescension. But a new chapter in relations between two nations that share so much culture, language and history could be opening if Delhi responds to Sheikh Hasina's visit with the generosity and leadership that should be expected of the regional power.
IT'S ABOUT THE VALUE CHAIN
Infosys company results for the quarter ended December 2009 are an early indication that the worst phase for the Indian IT sector is over. Sequentially, way ahead of analyst expectations, the IT bellwether reported 2.7% growth in net profit after tax and 2.8% growth in income. Interestingly, the company's North America business grew 7.8% sequentially and the region accounted for 66.6% of the total business as compared with 62.3% in the quarter ended December 2008. The company bagged 32 new clients, added 4,429 new employees to its roll in the quarter and plans to add another 6,000 in the fourth quarter. A marginal uptick in revenue per employee has helped to improve margins and the company was also able to hold on to pricing. These two factors, to some extent, compensated the 3.4% appreciation of the rupee against the dollar and the wage hike. Though guidance is muted in the fourth quarter, as it is usually a soft quarter, a clear picture for the entire year will emerge once companies finalise their budget by February. But recovery in financial services in the US will clearly buoy Indian IT. Analysts also expect an early pick-up in discretionary spending and revival in verticals like manufacturing, telecom and retail that will drive the industry to double-digit growth in FY11, compared with flattish revenue growth in FY10.
Going ahead, to stay ahead of the curve, IT companies will have to think long in terms of investing in solutions and people. They will have to move up the value chain to develop patented software as the economic recovery will open up new windows of opportunity for IT products and services. As we have argued earlier, it is imperative for Indian software companies to invest in technology across services and verticals, increase headcounts and invest in selling and general administration expenses to remain competitive in the challenging global business environment. A major problem for scaling up proprietary software services is cost. Venture capital and angel investors should look at investment in Indian IT industry, which would enable them to build scale and develop strong revenue streams in the future. In the outsourcing space, McKinsey estimates that 34% of global Fortune 500 companies will offshore their high-end IT infrastructure services over the next three years and each company will save around $500 million in wage bills. We must tap the growing opportunity in high-end software services before countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines gain an edge in lower value-added services.
GROWTH AND STIMULUS
The 11.7% rate of growth registered by the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) in November 2009, the highest in the last 25 months, shows that the economy is finally moving from resilience to strength. Industry has posted double-digit growth in three of the last four months. Even export trends have turned decisively positive over the last two months. Is it, therefore, time to begin rolling back stimulus? Yes and no. There is still need to be cautious about the growth numbers in the IIPthe double-digit growth has been clocked on a very low base year growth. Also, the structure of growth has been uneven with most of the gains confined to certain segments. In consumer durables, for example, growth has been high following the salary hike of government employees, as recommended by the pay commission, and the attractive EMI schemes worked out by banking and non-banking financial intermediaries for automobiles and other white goods. This has pushed up growth of consumer durables from 17.6% at the start of the fiscal year to 37.3% in November.
But the growth of demand for articles of daily consumption in the non-durable consumer segment continues to
be erratic, with growth now slumping to a five-month low of 3.1% in November. Similarly, though the pick-up in investment demand has been significant with capital goods growth crossing over to double digits in the last three months, it is still far short of the close to 20% growth averaged in 2006 and 2007. And the growth linkages are still not strong enough to warrant a full reversal of policies. While the recovery in intermediate goods, which include oil, chemical and ancillary products, has been encouraging, with growth touching 19.4% in November, the signals from the basic goods sector, which includes metals, cement, fertilisers and electricity, remain weak with growth hovering around 6% during the last three months. So, for now, any move to roll back the stimulus should focus on the fiscal sidethe government had reduced Cenvat by 4 percentage points and followed it up with a cut in general rates from 10% to 8%. In auto, in particular, there is no need for a fiscal stimulus anymore. The withdrawal of tax concessions will also stem the unexpectedly sharp fall in gross tax collections and help lower the revenue deficit. But with the flow of bank credit slowing down to 7% in the current fiscal, any move to tighten monetary policy at this stage will be premature and likely to hurt.
HOW AUTO EXPO CAN BECOME TRULY WORLD CLASS
India may claim to have hosted the world's biggest automobile show in terms of footfalls with the 10th Auto Expo recording an estimated 2 million visitors, but there is still a long way to go before Auto Expo attains the status of a world-class show, on the lines of the Frankfurt Motor Show or the Tokyo Motor Show.
The immediate priority for the organisers, the Confederation of Indian Industry, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers and the Automotive Component Manufacturers' Association, is to look for an alternate venue that is not only bigger than the existing venue, Pragati Maidan, but also is in a better state to accommodate the rising number of exhibitors as well as visitors. Also, there is a need to make it an annual event as India gains notice on the global automotive map.
Though the expo centres in Greater Noida and Hyderabad are ready-made venues for the next show, they may be too small and too distant. On the other hand, Gurgaon enjoys proximity to the international airport and would be connected by the Delhi Metro Airport Express Line by 2011, with full connectivity coming in 2015. No wonder the organisers are seriously betting big on Haryana, though talks are on with other states as well, such as Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
The deal, if it goes through, will be a win-win situation for all. While all exhibitors would get a chance to exhibit their products in a far bigger space, the state government will generate revenues ranging from Rs 50-70 crore from just one such event.
However, if things do not work out in terms of an alternate venueITPO seems to be in no mood to part with such a lucrative business optionthe organisers could at least make it an annual event, alternating between car and bike shows one year and commercial vehicles as well as auto components next year, so that neither the business visitors nor the general public lose their focus from India as a major auto hub.
SUN SHEDS LIGHT ON BUYOUTS
The recent downturn has shown how quickly Indian entrepreneurs can respond to falling demand and how fast they can bounce back after so severe a hit. Of course, they're blessed with a huge market to cater for, but it's nevertheless a jungle out there as the tariff war in the telecom space has shown us. In all this, Dilip Shanghvi, the man who set up Sun Pharmaceuticals, stands out as a businessman with tremendous tenacity, a man with his feet on the ground not willing to be carried away by any kind of hype. That Mark Mobius, the reputed emerging market fund manager, has been compelled to switch sides in the battle for Israeli drug firm Taro Pharmaceutical Industries is more than ample evidence of this.
Ever since Sun Pharma picked up a 25% stake in Taro for $60 million in May 2007, following it up with a secondary market purchase of another 11% for an additional $45 million, Mobius, whose Templeton Asset management owns a 10% share in Taro, has been complaining that minority shareholders deserved a higher price than the $7.75 that Sun was offering. More than two years down the line, he seems to have realised that he's perhaps been backing wrong horse; the Levitts, who control Taro with effective voting rights of 41%. Mobius is now carping about unaudited balance sheets and has said it is important to hasten the takeover of Taro by Sun Pharma. Taro reported that it had posted a profit of $33 million on revenues of $276 million for the nine months to December 2009. Of course, in a recent interview Mobius clarified that it was not a matter of backing Sun Pharma but taking action in the wake of the proposal by the current Taro promoters and controllers to absolve their directors of any responsibility for the audit of the accounts of the company. However, it is a fact that Templeton has withdrawn its motion for a special tender offer to be made by Sun Pharma. And with a largish stake of 10%, Mobius can't afford to go wrong.
The battle for Taro is far from over because although two independent directors were not re-elected at a recent annual general meeting, nine of the directors on the board have been re-elected and Sun Pharma has no board seat just as yet. Also, the company has just suffered a reverse in the district course. Moreover, the Israeli Supreme Court's judgement on whether Sun Pharma needs to make a special tender offer or an ordinary offer will do is still awaited. That's something the Levitts have been trying to delay because once the open offer to minority shareholders is complete, the Levitts have to 'contemporaneously' part with their shares, selling it to Sun Pharma. So far Dilip Shanghvi has managed to hang in there and with a bit of luck should manage to get what's rightfully his. Taro should follow the several other acquisitions that Sun Pharma has made; Sun has completed 14 acquisitions (excluding Taro) since it was set up in 1983 and almost all of them were loss-making units. Most of these have been turned around. Among the recent acquisitions was that of the assets of Able Labs for $23 million and 100% of Chattem Chemicals in the US.
There are others who could follow Shanghvi's sober approach of picking up distressed assets and not always paying top dollar. In other words, not biting off more than one can chew. In the very same pharmaceuticals industry, another player Wockhardt has made a mess of its acquisitions. A perfectly sound business has been brought to the brink of bankruptcy. No one faults Habil Khorakiwala for having attempted to take the inorganic route to growth. But instead of settling for a couple of buyouts, which would have put the company on a faster growth track, Wockhardt ended up with nearly half a dozen companies. It bought out the Paris-based Negma for $265 million in May 2007 after acquiring the Irish generics firm Pinewood for $160 million in the previous year. Since there was easy money for the taking, the management went ahead and borrowed way too much and at one stage it had piled up a debt close to Rs 3,800 crore. Today it is asking bankers for a bailout. And selling off whatever assets it canit recently sold some hospital assets to Fortis.
Instead of raising money through equity, Wockhardt chose to issue convertible bonds, which the company is unable to repay and are reportedly being bought by the banks as part of the Corporate Debt Restructuring plan. In fact, Wockhardt could have raised equity instead at a fairly good premium given that the stock markets were booming. It would have been far more prudent for the firm to go ahead with the Initial Public Offering of Wockhardt Hospitals at whatever valuation the issue was fetching. At the end of the day when the debt blew up in its face, it was not the promoters but the minority shareholders who bore the brunt of these decisions.
INFOSYS SHOWS THE WAY FORWARD
DARLINGTON JOSE HECTOR
If any more proof were required about the gradual but steady recovery in the IT sector, Infosys delivered it on Tuesday in ample measure. Its third quarter revenues of Rs 5,471 crore stood 5% over the top end of its guidance for the quarter, enabling the information technology bellwether to revise the full-year guidance upwards, signalling a likely turnaround in fortunes for the $60-billion Indian IT outsourcing firmament.
For the first time in the last three quarters, the Nasdaq-listed company is expecting positive growth in dollar revenue and positive earnings growth in dollar and rupee terms, indicating a changed macro-economic environment. In rupee terms, the company now expects a revenue growth of 3.6-3.8% for FY10 (from 1.2-1.7% earlier) and 1.8-2% in dollar terms on a yearly basis, with the rupee estimated at Rs 45.75 to the dollar.
Now this is exactly what the industry wanted to hear, and if its cross-town rival Wipro and Mumbai brethren TCS also go the same way, it will not be too long before the ills of last year seem part of the folklore.
A closer look at Infosys's Earnings Per Share (EPS) reveals how the sentiments have changed. The FY10 EPS has been revised upwards to Rs 107.06 on the upper band, which surpassed street expectations by some distance. This is a good indicator of a more stable pricing environment and greater flow of orders. Analysts view this as a sure sign of recovery and are predicting a similar result for the rest of the tier-1 software cross-section. Pricing has been a worry throughout the last season for all players, but the first signs of them getting fixed have emerged.
Its quarterly net profit has fallen for the first time on a year-on-year basis, but the industry has not read too much into it, considering it has been a tough season that also houses the festive period.
It is now perfectly possible for Infosys to post a near 20% growth in revenues in FY11, with such positive sentiments breaking through. The fact that the banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) sector has bounced back in the US has contributed significantly to Infosys's fortunes in Q3 and that's really great news. BFSI has rebounded much faster than expected and considering that 60% of India's IT export revenues come from the US, it was important that this particular vertical came out of the woods soon. One can already see Nasscom chief Som Mittal beaming.
The Infosys top management has said that one deal was worth over $200 million. Now that's something one has not heard of in recent times and has sweetened the first results of the season considerably. For a long time, software services firms, including the top-tier ones, have been left looking at sub-$100 million deals, with transformational contracts being few and far between. Now it could all change.
Management at Wipro has been talking about how it was difficult to hold on to pricing last year, and how they had to push for more Indian clients who could be pursued a little more easily into accepting a more rigid price. But with the scenario changing, Wipro could now announce some huge deals, especially in West Asia, its traditional strong fort.
Verticals such as manufacturing and telecom are still struggling, but the demand strength is reflected in the employee utilisation levels going up by 3% to 76%, quarter-on-quarter. The bench has been reducing over the last few months and the coders can now very well shut their Facebook pages and get on to some serious code writing.
Infosys's net profit grew almost 3% over Q2 to Rs 1,582 crore. Still it had to settle at about 4% below Q3 numbers of last year, thanks to a 3.7% rupee appreciation in the quarter. Higher employee spends did not help either. Despite this, operating margins moved north by 90 basis points sequentially and 40 basis points year-on-year to 35.5%, bringing cheer to the street.
Wipro and TCS are also bound to face the rough cross-currency winds, and it would be interesting to see how well they have been able to protect their margins. It would also be significant to see how the smaller IT players would fare. During the downturn they have been smart enough to move quickly and snap up some new contracts, but the real battle will begin now.
Some analysts feel that Info-sys may have guided conservatively, but that is something that the company has become famous for. Also, most clients finalise budgets around February, which is when greater visibility would emerge. In any case, Infosys has always prided itself on under-promising and over-delivering. Bring on TCS and Wipro now. Indian IT suddenly seems to be dancing on its own two feet.
NOT EXEMPT FROM PUBLIC SCRUTINY
The decision of the full bench of the Delhi High Court comprising Chief Justice A.P. Shah, Justice Vikramjit Sen, and Justice S. Muralidhar confirming that every citizen has the right to obtain information provided by the Supreme Court judges and held by the Chief Justice of India is a welcome blow for transparency and accountability in the higher judiciary. This was the third in the series of legal challenges to such disclosure mounted by the Supreme Court it had earlier contested the issue before the Central Information Commission and a single judge of the Delhi High Court. The case related to the information on the disclosure of assets of judges to the CJI as required under the 1997 resolution passed by all the judges of the Supreme Court. What the RTI applicant sought was not even the contents of the declaration but merely if the judges had furnished the information required under the 1997 resolution. The reluctance to provide even this information was indeed inexplicable, particularly in the context of the court laying so much store by transparency and accountability for public officials and mandating the disclosure of assets of candidates contesting elections, for instance. Before the Delhi High Court bench, the Supreme Court raised the technical contention that the 1997 resolution had only moral force and declaration of assets was not information held under any law to which the RTI Act would apply. It also argued that the CJI held such information in a fiduciary capacity and in confidence and could not be made to disclose it.
The Delhi High Court rejected both these arguments, pointing out that the 1997 resolution passed unanimously by the judges themselves was considered binding. It also held that the CJI was not acting in a fiduciary capacity but was holding the information by reason of his office, and in any case the content of the declarations was not sought. It is significant that the court also sought to place the right to information on a higher constitutional footing of the fundamental right to freedom of expression under Article 19(1)(a) and not just on the RTI Act. The decision marks the close of one chapter that saw the unusual spectacle of the Supreme Court canvassing its case before the High Court and losing an outcome that should strengthen public perception of the independence of the high court. Stranger still would be the Supreme Court taking up its own case on appeal from the Delhi High Court decision. Bowing to the public opinion, the Supreme Court made public the declaration of assets of all its judges on its website and the issue raised in the case has been addressed substantially. The gains from such transparency would be squandered if the court were now to use its authority to insulate itself from public scrutiny.
CRISIS OF INDIAN HOCKEY
Indian hockey has reached its nadir. The boycott of the training camp by players demanding their "due" has paralysed the game's administration, with 45 days left for the World Cup in Delhi. Monetary remuneration is a complex issue. Hockey might have brought India eight Olympic gold medals but for decades it was an amateur sport. Even today, hockey fails to appeal to big sponsors. What hurts players most is that even when good sponsorship deals are struck, their rewards are negligible and payments erratic. Hockey India, a mechanism created by the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) that is yet to be formalised in a democratic election, has remained apathetic to players' concerns. When the International Hockey Federation (FIH) accorded recognition, it was on the understanding that the national body would be formed by November 2009. The deadline was extended in view of the difficulties encountered in merging associations in each State. But the insistence of Hockey India's affiliation panel on a mandatory endorsement of the State Olympic Associations led to controversies. The threat of legal action by a few delayed the constitution of the voters' list. The FIH and the Sports Ministry saw the necessity of nominating observers for holding fair and free elections. The FIH named a senior vice-president, Antonio von Ondorza, and Union Sports Minister and former Chief Election Commissioner M.S. Gill tasked the former legal advisor to the Election Commission, S.K. Mendiratta, with the responsibility of ensuring that democratic norms were observed. The delay in granting affiliation to Punjab triggered a heated debate. This obliged the Ministry to issue fresh guidelines, one of which stipulates that the Returning Officer should be an independent nominee, preferably a retired High Court or district judge.
The takeover of hockey administration after India failed to qualify for the 2008 Olympiad is yet to produce tangible benefits. The quality of governance by the IOA-led Ad Hoc Committee and then by Hockey India has been appalling. The dismal record of 2009 speaks to this. India has tumbled to the 12th place in world rankings, the lowest ever, and missed for the first time a podium finish at the Asia Cup. Indian hockey needs to be liberated from unelected power brokers. A command structure that is competent, democratic, and transparent in its functioning and gives primacy to the raising of standards and the welfare of players must be formed in the elections scheduled for February 7. The FIH and the Sports Ministry hold the key to this.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
INDIA AND PAKISTAN: DEADLINES FOR DIALOGUE
EVERY IMPENDING DEADLINE, COUPLED WITH THE WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR TALKS IN KASHMIR, UNDERSCORES THE NEED FOR A NEW LINE OF ENGAGEMENT BETWEEN NEW DELHI AND ISLAMABAD.
As a slew of new track-2 and track-3 initiatives try to build a 'roadmap' for a new India-Pakistan dialogue, it may be time to look at some of the circumstances in which dialogue has been derailed in the past and hunt clues for the future. In the parlance of India-Pakistan ties, specifically in the past decade, it is the top leadership that has proposed new initiatives for peace, and it is terrorists and those who direct them who have been most easily a ble to dispose of them.
On the night of the Mumbai terror attacks of November 26, 2008, just an hour before the attackers fired the first shot, the Indian and Pakistani Foreign Ministers were holding a press conference in New Delhi. The tension between the two countries at the time was over the Indian cricket team's hesitation to go play a series in Pakistan after the Marriott hotel bombing in Islamabad. Coincidentally, India's Home Secretary was in Islamabad, where the two countries had issued a comprehensive Joint Statement on fighting Terror and Drug Trafficking. India and Pakistan had agreed to 'fast-track' the 5th round of the Composite Dialogue. Hours later all dialogue was suspended, and history was written once again by the terrorist's gun.
While the Mumbai attacks led to what's become the most prolonged suspension of talks since the year 2000, it is part of a distinct pattern. In May 2006, negotiators were close to a breakthrough on demilitarising the Siachen glacier, which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had hoped to make a "mountain of peace." According to those who knew, talks with Pakistani officials had entered an advanced stage, due to be taken forward that summer. But first deadly attacks at the Congress party rally in Srinagar on the eve of the Prime Minister's roundtable conference, and another brutal attack on tourists pushed Siachen talks to July, when the Foreign Secretaries were due to meet. In July 2006, just nine days before that meeting, the Mumbai train bombings left more than 200 dead and with them buried all talk of talks for months.
In 2007, revived talks made strides on the Wullar dispute. On Sir Creek they had all but agreed on a settlement, when the Samjhauta blasts took place. Again and again, the dialogue was buffeted in a series of blasts, in Hyderabad, Jaipur, Ahmedabad, Bangalore, and Delhi, where more than a hundred were killed.
In 2008, it was the bombing of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and then the Mumbai attacks that finally halted all talks. Through these brutalities, the composite dialogue has lurched from event to event, sustaining itself on the oxygen of meetings on the sidelines of international summits Havana, Colombo, New York, L'Aguilla, Yekaterinburg and Sharm El Sheikh and always going into dialogue-ICU after the next big attack. Closer home, the attack on Fazl Haq Qureshi in Srinagar and the fidayeen hotel siege at Lal Chowk have followed reports of dialogue being initiated between the Central government and separatists.
The Mumbai attacks, however, cannot be clubbed with the rest because of the deep scar they left on our nation. Even Islamabad seemed to get the message from India's pain and the international community's outrage that there would be no going back after 26/11. In the months that followed, Pakistan took unparalleled action, beginning with the reluctant admission that the attackers were Pakistani, to the investigation it undertook on the basis of Indian dossiers. And then in October, the pressure on Pakistan seemed to double. The revelations from the Headley investigation and subsequent indictment by U.S. officials for the Mumbai attacks brought his handler, a former Pakistani army Major, into focus and with it fresh impetus for Islamabad to act. Within a month, Islamabad charged seven men with 26/11. While Indian statements have kept up a steady focus on Hafiz Saeed, they have failed to acknowledge that the men now awaiting trial at a Lahore court are far from 'small fry.' LeT operational commander Zaki Ur Rahman Lakhvi, for one, known as the 'Imam of jihadis,' Abu Al Qama (wanted for the Red Fort and Akshardham attacks), and computer expert Zarar Shah. If shutting down the LeT and the JuD and arresting Hafiz Saeed are impossible tasks for those in Islamabad who created them, these indictments could at least be considered a start.
But the gains from keeping the pressure on Pakistan have now hit the law of diminishing returns and diminishing sympathy from the pro-peace constituency in Pakistan, which believes India should show more concern about the terror attacks that paralyse ordinary Pakistanis every day.
At least the first decade of the 21st century gave our leaders many opportunities to kickstart and restart the dialogue process. The next decade, however, is unlikely to afford that leeway for at least three distinct reasons. In fact, the next 18 months may be all the time for flexibility they have.
For one thing, the next 18 months are the only space the United Progressive Alliance government and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have for any bold foreign policy initiatives. Uttar Pradesh and other key States will head for Legislative Assembly elections in 2012. If he so chooses, Dr. Singh will also be able to counter the sizeable strategic community opposed to talks with the lowered threat perception that has arisen amongst the larger national community after the past 13 months of relative freedom from major terror attacks. Already, several people-to-people, and media-to-media initiatives are starting without the public outcry they would have faced a year ago.
Another deadline is the one announced to the American people by President Barack Obama, to begin the pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan by mid-2011. If this is met, it will certainly change the power structure in that embattled South Asian nation. As American troops thin out on the ground, India, with its consistent refusal to be part of peacekeeping forces, may find Pakistan, the U.S.'s ally in the 'war on terror,' gaining leverage and perhaps less willing to yield in talks.
Finally, the unspoken deadline that looms before Pakistan and is an equal threat to India is the time changes will occur within the Pakistan army structure. India has always seen the Pakistani army as its biggest enemy, one that has raised and pushed militants over the LoC. Paradoxically as a cohesive, centrally commanded force, it is also best placed to protect India from the jihadi terror that savages Pakistan's cities today.
But many inside the Pakistani establishment point to a timeline 18 months hence: when some of the army recruits enlisted during General Zia-ul-Haq's 'Islamicisation' drive in the mid-1980s (1984-1988) would reach Brigadier rank and above. In his widely acclaimed book, Crossed Swords, Shuja Nawaz, whose brother Gen. Asif Nawaz was Army Chief from 1991-1993, describes the former military dictator's efforts: "Zia tried hard to change the ethos of the army, making Islamic ritual and teachings part of the army's day to day activities, changing its motto to 'Iman, Taqwa, Jihad fi Sabeelilah' (Faith, obedience, struggle in the path of Allah). The Jamaat-e-Islaami took advantage of the changing demographics and nature of the army by sending out directives to its members to sign up for the army by taking the Inter services selection board examinations."
It is those army recruits who could soon reach the highest levels. The fear, of course, is that some will answer not to the military high command but to a 'higher' one. During the recent 18-hour siege of the GHQ in Rawalpindi, the generals were reportedly worried during the first few hours that the fidayeen attack had been engineered by 'Talibanised' elements of the army itself. The fears turned out to be unfounded. But the GHQ attack established a different pattern of worry for the country that of the South Punjabi Lashkar, trained in PoK, carrying out an attack for the Taliban in Waziristan, Pakistan's triangle of terror, quite literally closing in on its central command structure, and putting both Pakistan, and India on notice. All those in India who today wonder, "Yes, talk but who to talk to?' may find the current lack of options nothing compared to what may follow.
All these impending deadlines, coupled with the window of opportunity for talks in Kashmir hasten the need for a new line of engagement between New Delhi and Islamabad, an engagement that understands that agencies that have unleashed terror attacks to derail the process in the past will shadow the next round too.
Finally, the question most often asked, 'Why talk at all?' may well find its answer in George Mallory's response
to the question, 'Why climb Everest?' 'Because it's there,' the mountaineer replied. Why talk to Pakistan? Because it will always be there. And we still can.
(Suhasini Haidar is Deputy Foreign Editor, CNN-IBN.)
NO WINTER LULL FOR AFGHAN WAR
NATO FATALITIES THAT USED TO DROP INTO THE SINGLE DIGITS IN WINTER ROSE SHARPLY THIS TIME AS MORE TROOPS POURED IN AND THE TALIBAN HELD ITS GROUND.
Afghanistan's high mountains and harsh weather once meant that winter was a respite from much of the war's violence, but as the deaths of six Western soldiers in three separate attacks on Monday show, this winter is proving to be different.
U.S. military leaders and Taliban commanders are vowing to carry the fight to each other and skip the traditional winter vacation, and there is every sign that they are doing just that.
Though the trend has been building, in past years, the Taliban generally slipped off to sanctuaries in Pakistan, or just stayed home, while NATO forces enjoyed a drop in attacks and a steep decline in the body count from December through March.
A combination of factors has changed that. U.S. troop levels nearly doubled in 2009, meaning more missions against the Taliban and more potential targets for them. Military crackdowns by Pakistan along the border have in some places made it harder for insurgents to flee there.
The Taliban has in any case consolidated its hold over large parts of southern Afghanistan and has less need to fall back than in previous years. Seeking to make a political point, the militants have also stepped up the frequency of their attacks and are now using methods like improvised explosive devices and suicide bomb attacks that are less affected by the weather.
Both sides seem determined to make a larger political point by continuing to fight through the snow season. As General Stanley McChrystal, the senior commander in Afghanistan, said in his report to President Barack Obama in August, the Americans need to show that "it is not a cyclical kinetic campaign based on a set 'fighting season'; rather it is a continuous yearlong effort" to help the Afghan government win the support of people.
The Taliban hopes to undermine support for the war in western countries before more U.S. forces can arrive this year.
What happens in the winter "shouldn't say much about the ability of the reinforcements, since most units won't arrive until spring and summer," said James Dobbins, an Afghan expert with the RAND Corp. "If the situation seems to be getting worse and worse, it may change public opinion even though it shouldn't, especially in countries where the war is more unpopular."
On Monday afternoon, three Americans were killed in a firefight in southern Afghanistan, according to a statement by NATO's International Security Assistance Force, which gave no further details.
A Taliban spokesman, Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, reached by telephone, claimed that the Americans had been killed in an ambush in the Shah Wali Kot district in Kandahar province by a single insurgent named Sardar Muhammad. Ahmadi said the insurgent hid along a path used by a U.S. foot patrol in the heavily mountainous area, and then fired on them with an AK-47 automatic rifle. He claimed that Muhammad killed five U.S. soldiers before the others returned fire and killed him.
The military also said that a member of the international forces was killed in southern Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device on Monday. And coalition forces reported that two service members were killed in eastern Afghanistan on Monday, without specifying nationalities.
Separately, the French government confirmed that at least one of its soldiers was killed and another badly wounded in what was apparently the same episode.
Rear Admiral Gregory J. Smith, a spokesman for the coalition forces, said winter had not slowed the war much this time.
Insurgent activity has stayed at the level it reached in September, when attacks spiked in response to new troop arrivals. "We don't look at the winter as a time when our activity is less; we intend to keep the tempo up," he said.
Admiral Smith said the increase in deaths among coalition forces was due to an increase in troop numbers and a resulting increase in contact with enemy forces. Overall coalition fatalities rose from 295 in 2008 to 520 in 2009, according to icasualties.org, an independent organisation that tracks military casualties.
Coalition forces are logging 500 violent encounters with insurgents every week, Admiral Smith said, an increase of 20 per cent over the same time in 2008.
"The difference is we have more forces operating in more places" where insurgents have long had sanctuaries, he said.
The Taliban commander in Kandahar province, Hafizullah Hafi, struck a similar note in a telephone interview. "We are staying in the winter," he said. "We have more fighters than they do, and they should not think that we are weak and we will not retreat in the winter."
General Shir Muhammad Zazai, the corps commander of the Afghan National Army in Kandahar, maintained that Taliban attacks had actually decreased against Afghan forces though not against the Americans.
"This year, winter is the safest time for us," said General Zazai. "It is calm. Incidents against Americans, though, are not calm. Against the Americans it is strange. It looks like the Taliban are staying to target the Americans and show that they are not weak and disappearing."
The spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defence, General Zahir Azimi, said it only seemed as if the Taliban was more active this winter because the militants were relying much more on improvised explosive devices, known as IEDs, and other tactics, rather than on carrying out offensives as they had in previous years.
"Two years ago they changed their tactics; now they're mostly resorting to roadside mines, IEDs, suicide attacks, guerrilla attacks like in Logar and the U.N. guest house," said General Azimi.
He was referring to an attack by suicide bombers and gunmen on provincial headquarters in Logar province south of Kabul, which killed six Afghan officials in August, and a raid on a U.N. house in Kabul, which killed five of the organisation's staff members on October 28.
"These sorts of attacks don't require a certain time or a certain season," he said. "The winter helps them for planting IEDs; they just have to plant explosives in the snow."
Over the past year, more than 60 per cent of all fatalities of allied troops were from these explosive devices, compared with 42 per cent in 2007, according to data from icasualties.org.
According to the Brookings Institution's Afghanistan Index, NATO fatalities dropped into the single digits in the winter, as did Afghan civilian casualties, in every year from 2001 to 2008.
Last December, though, American fatalities were six times as high as in the previous December, and coalition fatalities over all were up 29 per cent. © 2010 The New York Times News Service
(Reporting was contributed by Taimoor Shah from Kandahar, Afghanistan; Sangar Rahimi from Kabul; employees of The New York Times from Jalalabad and Helmand province; and Nadim Audi from Paris.)
DIVERSITY EXPERIMENT IN FAR-RIGHT BASE
A FLEDGLING PROGRAMME TRIES TO GIVE CHILDREN IN AREAS WHERE FAR-RIGHT POLITICS HAS GAINED A FOOTHOLD EXPOSURE TO A MORE MULTI-CULTURAL ENVIRONMENT.
- Schools in areas with BNP councillors taking radical steps to change hearts and minds
- As the programme evolves there is a major shift in how students define what makes someone British
The children of Shirley Manor, a primary school in a run-down part of Bradford, northern England, an area far-Right activists call a powerbase, are stunned. They have just returned from a visit to a school in another part of Bradford, where almost every pupil is Asian. "But actually, they like pizza," the children report. "And they watch television. And one has an Xbox!"
Almost all these children are white British; some of their parents have played a part in the British National Party's electoral successes in Bradford. For most of them, it has been their first social interaction with British Muslims. Barriers came tumbling down as representatives of the two schools began to list the things they had in common. Friendships were formed. "When are we meeting them again?" is the question ringing in teachers' ears.
Shirley Manor is one of a host of primary schools across Britain emerging as an unexpected frontline in the fight to stem rising support for the BNP. As battle lines are drawn for local and national elections, schools in areas with BNP councillors, or where BNP candidates are finding support, are taking radical steps to change the hearts and minds of future generations of voters and their parents.
Predominantly white schools in deprived areas as far apart as Bradford (northern England), Solihull (central) and Essex (south-east) all regions where the BNP has gained a presence on local councils over the last decade are initiating programmes of exchange visits with inner-city schools that are predominantly non-white. The visits provide stimulus for public art projects and performances, to which parents are invited, celebrating diversity in Britain and condemning racism.
The action is not nationally co-ordinated. A series of independent schemes have come to life during the current academic term, most aiming for completion before the mooted May elections.
For example, this job advert was found in November on the internet notice board artsjobs, for a creative practitioner to work on a project with pupils at a primary school in Solihull, West Midlands: "The school is in an extremely mono-cultural area of high deprivation ... The area has a BNP councillor." The project? To oversee a series of exchange visits with a Birmingham school that is "100% Muslim", then help pupils to create a piece of "outdoor/environmental art or sculpture", to go on public display by May 2010.
The school is located at the centre of a large estate in an area of Solihull called Chelmsley Wood. The ward's BNP councillor won his seat in 2006 and is due for re-election in May.
This year's school development plan at a primary school in Epping Forest, Essex, where seven BNP members now sit on the district council and where around 90 per cent of the school's population is white British, stated: "[In] 2008/2009 there was a rise in the number of recorded racial incidents. We need to raise levels of tolerance for all children...". The school is forging links with a primary school in Enfield described as "mainly Turkish".
Both the Solihull and the Epping Forest schemes are new; the content is still being negotiated and organisers are
treading softly as one commented, "wary of upsetting the parents", in other words, the parents whose support enabled the BNP to gain a foothold in the first place.
In Bradford, Shirley Manor was running exchange programmes as long ago as 2004 the year a BNP councillor won a seat in the ward of Wyke, where the school is located. "Our pupils never really mixed with Asian children," says Hannah Brown, a year four and five (eight-nine-year-olds) teacher who has overseen the exchange programme. "They think they're from another planet." She says some pupils arrive at her school with "some" racism entrenched, but also considerable confusion: "They hear words bandied about and aren't sure what they mean."
Shirley Manor is at the beginning of a new relationship with Thornbury primary, a considerably larger school nearer the city where most pupils are of Pakistani heritage and nearly all are learning English as an additional language.
The schools have been brought together by the Schools Linking Network, an organisation based in Bradford that is now rolling out its services across Britain. With funding from the Department for Children, Schools and Families the SLN is underwriting the cost to both schools of managing an exchange programme, paying for additional staff and coaches.
The two schools will first come together in a community centre for a day of games and activities. Everything is designed to let the children discover parallels in their lives, such as a game where you have to perform a certain action if, say, you have two brothers. "By lunchtime you see groups forming," says Ms. Brown. "Like boys who support a certain football team. It's never forced."
She makes a point of discussing discriminatory language with the children before the trip, and will encourage them to ask the Thornbury pupils: "Is this word offensive to you?"
The pupils will meet again in subsequent weeks when they visit each other's schools. In previous years, deep connections have formed. Ms. Brown tells the story of two girls crying at the end of the final visit; they later met up outside school. Many continue to correspond by email.
One legacy of these exchanges is wall displays that line the corridors of both schools. Pupils create cut-out paper dolls of each other. The multiracial dolls will be mounted side-by-side, their hands touching.
Previous exchange visits have changed children's outlook, says Ms. Brown, citing an activity in which pupils define what makes someone British. When first asked, the children of Shirley Manor tend to say you are British if you are born in Britain and speak English. Following the exchange visits last year, year five worked together to word a new conclusion: "If you are prepared to follow rules and be a good citizen, you deserve to be British."
Angus King, headteacher at Thornbury, says his predominantly Asian population can be as mono-cultural pupils as in Wyke.
The implicit danger is militant Islam. "Extremism can exist in any group," he points out. "It comes from a lack of knowledge and understanding. The children at my school don't normally meet white British kids en masse. I think the big thing is to give children the opportunity to meet other children."
Ms. Brown says it is essential that this work is conducted at primary level. "If it's left too late, the views of those around them are imposed," she says.
But politics is never mentioned. "The project gives the children information and encourages them to make decisions," says Ms. Brown. "We would never say, 'You mustn't vote BNP'."
She is now making plans to hold an adult "linking night" next year, in which the parents of children at the two schools will meet each other for the first time. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
CHIMPS AND MONKEYS COULD TALK. WHY DON'T THEY?
Walking through the Tai forest of Ivory Coast, Klaus Zuberbuehler could hear the calls of the Diana monkeys, but the babble held no meaning for him.
That was in 1990. Today, after nearly 20 years of studying animal communication, he can translate the forest's sounds. This call means a Diana monkey has seen a leopard. That one means it has sighted another predator, the crowned eagle.
"In our experience time and again, it's a humbling experience to realize there is so much more information being passed in ways which hadn't been noticed before," said Mr. Zuberbuehler , a psychologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
Do apes and monkeys have a secret language that has not yet been decrypted? And if so, will it resolve the mystery of how the human faculty for language evolved? Biologists have approached the issue in two ways, by trying to teach human language to chimpanzees and other species, and by listening to animals in the wild.
The first approach has been propelled by people's intense desire perhaps reinforced by childhood exposure to the loquacious animals in cartoons to communicate with other species. Scientists have invested enormous effort in teaching chimpanzees language, whether in the form of speech or signs. A New York Times reporter who understands sign language, Boyce Rensberger, was able in 1974 to conduct what may be the first newspaper interview with another species when he conversed with Lucy, a signing chimp. She invited him up her tree, a proposal he declined, said Mr. Rensberger, who is now at MIT.
But with a few exceptions, teaching animals human language has proved to be a dead end. They should speak, perhaps, but they do not. They can communicate very expressively think how definitely dogs can make their desires known but they do not link symbolic sounds together in sentences or have anything close to language.
Better insights have come from listening to the sounds made by animals in the wild. Vervet monkeys were found in 1980 to have specific alarm calls for their most serious predators. If the calls were recorded and played back to them, the monkeys would respond appropriately. They jumped into bushes on hearing the leopard call, scanned the ground at the snake call, and looked up when played the eagle call.
It is tempting to think of the vervet calls as words for "leopard," "snake" or "eagle," but that is not really so. The vervets do not combine the calls with other sounds to make new meanings. Their alarm calls seem less like words and more like a person saying "Ouch!"
But the calls do have specific meaning, which is a start. And the biologists who analysed the vervet calls, Robert Seyfarth and Dorothy Cheney of the University of Pennsylvania, detected another significant element in primates' communication when they moved on to study baboons. Baboons are very sensitive to who stands where in their social hierarchy. If played a recording of a superior baboon threatening an inferior, and the latter screaming in terror, baboons will pay no attention this is business as usual in baboon affairs. But when researchers concoct a recording in which an inferior's threat grunt precedes a superior's scream, baboons will look in amazement toward the loudspeaker broadcasting this apparent revolution in their social order. Baboons evidently recognise the order in which two sounds are heard, and attach different meanings to each sequence. They and other species thus seem much closer to people in their understanding of sound sequences than in their production of them. "The ability to think in sentences does not lead them to speak in sentences," Drs. Seyfarth and Cheney wrote in their book Baboon Metaphysics.
Some species may be able to produce sounds in ways that are a step or two closer to human language. Mr. Zuberbuehler reported last month that Campbell's monkeys, which live in the forests of the Ivory Coast, can vary individual calls by adding suffixes, just as a speaker of English changes a verb's present tense to past by adding an "-ed."
The Campbell's monkeys give a "krak" alarm call when they see a leopard. But adding an "-oo" changes it to a generic warning of predators. One context for the "krak-oo" sound is when they hear the leopard alarm calls of another species, the Diana monkey.
Even more remarkably, the Campbell's monkeys can combine two calls to generate a third with a different meaning. The males have a "Boom boom" call, which means "I'm here, come to me." When "booms" are followed by a series of "krak-oos," the meaning is quite different, Mr. Zuberbuehler says. The sequence means "Timber! Falling tree!"
Monkeys and apes possess many of the faculties that underlie language. They hear and interpret sequences of sounds much like people do. They have good control over their vocal tract and could produce much the same range of sounds as humans. But they cannot bring it all together.
This is particularly surprising because language is so useful to a social species. Once the infrastructure of language is in place, as is almost the case with monkeys and apes, the faculty might be expected to develop very quickly by evolutionary standards. Yet monkeys have been around for 30 million years without saying a single sentence. Chimps, too, have nothing resembling language, though they shared a common ancestor with humans just 5 million years ago. What is it that has kept all other primates locked in the prison of their own thoughts?
Dr. Seyfarth and Dr. Cheney believe that one reason may be that they lack a "theory of mind"; the recognition that others have thoughts. Since a baboon does not know or worry about what another baboon knows, it has no urge to share its knowledge. "In principle, a chimp could produce all the sounds a human produces, but they don't do so because there has been no evolutionary pressure in this direction," Mr. Zuberbuehler said. "There is nothing to talk about for a chimp because he has no interest in talking about it." At some point in human evolution, on the other hand, people developed the desire to share thoughts, Mr. Zuberbuehler notes. Luckily for them, all systems of perceiving and producing sounds were already in place as part of the primate heritage, and natural selection had only to find a way of connecting these systems with thought.
Yet it is this step that seems the most mysterious of all. Marc D. Hauser, an expert on animal communication at Harvard, sees the uninhibited interaction between different neural systems as critical to the development of language. "For whatever reason, maybe accident, our brains are promiscuous in a way that animal brains are not, and once this emerges it's explosive," he said.
In animal brains, by contrast, each neural system seems to be locked in place and cannot interact freely with others. "Chimps have tonnes to say but can't say it," Mr. Hauser said. Chimpanzees can read each other's goals and intentions, and do lots of political strategising, for which language would be very useful. But the neural systems that compute these complex social interactions have not been married to language. © 2010 The New York Times News Service
The resistance to declaring their assets by the justices of the Supreme Court has surely become something of an embarrassment.
A verdict by the Delhi High Court emphatically states that the assets of judges including the Chief Justice of India come under the purview of the Right to Information Act and a declaration of assets by judges is necessary for an open society.
"Democracy expects openness and openness is a concomitant of a free society. Sunlight is the best disinfectant," the court said.
It also observed that the Right to Information Act was the "most significant event in the life of Indian democracy" and further found that the RTI had its roots in the fundamental rights of the Constitution.
The Delhi high court has in a sense reminded the judiciary, judges and the public about its own role judges must be clean and accountable, that the same rules had to apply to all judges, that the higher the judge in the hierarchy the higher the standard of accountability and that cases of judicial corruption are far more
serious than othercases of corruption. "Judicial independence is not a privilege but aresponsibility", as the court has pointed out.
This could well be a textbook for judges set out by the three-judge high court bench, which included the chief justice. The verdict's significance is two-fold. Apart from making judges and their assets open to public scrutiny, it also underlines the power and importance of right to information.
This right has to become inalienable as far as our bureaucratic and secretive system is concerned. The Government of India is no longer a colonial power taming a native population and has to stop hiding behind the shields which were put up in colonial times.
Openness has to become the norm and Government must accept, even if it does not want to understand, that the people of India have a right to know how and why their country is run the way it is.
Democracy means a lot more than voting in elections and RTI has in spite of the many hurdles put up to prevent its easy functioning managed to open several doors. This judgment is not just about judges but also about the rights of citizens.
The government has given a guarded response but it has a greater responsibility to uphold the RTI Act, which is a significant milestone in the journey of Indian democracy.
India-Bangladesh relations have always been on a positive note whenever prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed and her Awami League have been at the helm in Dhaka.
It should not be a surprise then that her visit this time round has marked some significant developments, including New Delhi's $ one billion credit line to Dhaka, as well as transit facilities to Nepal and Bhutan through India.
The India side is hopeful that systems for closer cooperation are now being put in place which would remain unchanged even when there is a change in government in Dhaka, a clear reference to former prime minister Khaleda Zia, her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and their radical Islamist supporters.
It is this dependence on Wajed that has been the weakness of the Indian policy towards Bangladesh. It also makes the position of Wajed vulnerable in her country and allows the opposition in Bangladesh to inveigh against the Awami League leader.
India's decision-makers have not been able to evolve a stable policy approach towards Bangladesh based on general principles.
There is an unstated expectation in New Delhi that Bangladesh should be inherently friendly towards India, which is an unrealistic expectation.
Then there is the strong suspicion and ensuing anger that Bangladesh has become the centre and transit point for jihadi elements from Pakistan and elsewhere to enter India. Sometimes New Delhi's frustration and anger towards Pakistan is deflected towards Bangladesh. It seems that India is at last willing to place India-Bangladesh relations on an independent footing.
There are of course problems in Bangladesh. First, there is the issue of illegal immigration into India. The mistake that Dhaka made was to deny it instead of bringing it up front. The Indian side is satisfied with the Dhaka's assurance that it would not allow Bangladesh territory to be used against India.
The Hasina government made good its word when it facilitated the handing over of the key Ulfa leader Arabinda Rajkhowa to the Indian authorities. But this should be seen as only of limited value.
New Delhi will have to learn to deal with Bangladesh even when there is no overtly India-friendly government in Dhaka and that can happen only when the two sides can identify their real national interests.
The political and security establishment in Dhaka must recognise that good relations with India are beneficial to Bangladesh. This should be the outcome of a realist assessment on both sides.
WHY DOES LOST WEIGHT INSIST ON BEING FOUND?
Ilook nothing like this photograph suggests, but it's actually quite recent. Over a decade and a half I have lost, and found, 35 kilos four times, and 40 kilos once.
Currently I am on the plus side, what is referred to as being healthy in the north, though of course it isn't.
People are often surprised that I am able lose this much weight, leave alone do it with such regularity, but it isn't difficult. The problem of fatness isn't losing weight that's quite easy to do.
Easy, in any case, in knowing how to lose it: Eating one small meal a day, avoiding even that when possible. This isn't as terrifying as it sounds: Gandhi did it for 32 years.
The thing to know is, it's not one long and drawn out battle with hunger that you must fight every hour. The most difficult part is getting through the second half of the first day, and the first half of the second day. After this, the body gets accustomed to the mild starvation and its cries for nourishment become increasingly muted. Perhaps being tortured might be similar.
It's true that your undernourished face becomes rather wan, but in some circles this is considered fashionable. Still, it is tempered with the glow of achievement that arrives as the weighing scale decelerates at the rate of two kilos a week.
Is this dangerous? Dieticians and doctors who tell you that dramatic loss of weight is harmful are talking through their hat. The fact is that they think it is harmful, but they don't really know if it is.
This is because there hasn't been a large enough scientific survey of fat people losing dozens of kilos rapidly and being monitored for change. And there is unlikely to be one soon, because, as you probably know, such weight loss doesn't happen easily, though we know what the method is.
What is missing of course is motivation. And that is the first and only rule of becoming thin. If you really want to lose weight, you will. Most of us who say we want to, do not want it badly enough and that's fine. It's fine because perhaps deep down we really know where the problem of fatness really lies: It is in knowing what to do with yourself when you're thin.
The real problem is in figuring out what happens after you lose the weight you wanted to lose; after dispatching into the ether those kilos you were certain were holding a shining avatar of you back from doing all the wonderful things that thin people do.
The banal truth is that life doesn't really change much when you're thin or even, and I speak from knowledge, when you're
Does the world see you differently? A few people might but this soon becomes unimportant. Are you more attractive to some people? Perhaps, but you need more than thinness to go from second look to second base.
And there is something about serious weight losers that is in fact unattractive. This is their inwardness and the insufferable virtuousness that they carry around with them.
So focused on what they are not eating are the thin-at-all-cost individuals that they are oblivious to the many joyous things others take delight in. And so, once this reality sinks in, the weight returns slowly as the motivation to keep it off is eroded.
Knowing all of this, why do I continually succumb to the fake appeal of weight loss? Because the temptation of the other side is too strong even though experience might suggest otherwise.
But as I get ready for another foray into the realm of thinness, I know what I will find on the other side: Not another world. The motivation for changing our behaviour, in this case how much we eat, must be something higher than entry into this imaginary place where we become more attractive.
Gandhi had a real reason to starve, most of us don't and that's why we find the weight after we lose the dream.
The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist
Climate change at the end of last year followed by heavy weather in the New Year seems apt for China in terms of where it stands in the world today.
AtCopenhagen in December, Beijing heaved a sigh of relief at what it felt was a fitting finale to 2009, which began with anxiety and apprehensions over 'critical' anniversaries in the calendar.
Given the formidable challenges it had to contend with, in its own eyes China acquitted itself creditably both at home and abroad.
If the G20 summit in April underscored the reality of G2, of Chimerica being no chimera but the centrepiece of an emerging order, the climate change conference affirmed that the climate of global power equations had changed with China's arrival on the world stage.
On the strength of its unrivalled foreign exchange reserves, China "capitalised" upon the global economic crisis as an opportunity. After the G20 summit, there was no whisper of a "China threat".
Far from that, China was assiduously wooed. The big powers were convinced that, as the first one to break out of crisis, the political, military and diplomatic heft of the "world's factory" need to be dealt with in inventive ways.
In contrast to 2008, when the Tibet "issue" threatened to (but did not) cast a shadow over the Beijing Olympics, there was no incident in 2009 on the 50th anniversary of the March 10 revolt when the Dalai Lama fled to India.
Similarly, there was no attempt to observe publicly the 20th anniversary of the suppression, on June 4, 1989, of the protests in Tiananmen Square and elsewhere; or, the 10th anniversary, on July 22, of the ban on Falun Gong.
While these dates were incident-free, the authorities were shaken by the July 5 riots in Xinjiang's Urumqi, which claimed nearly 200 lives. A
As a result, in the run-up to the Republic's 60th anniversary celebrations on October 1, security measures were tightened on a massive scale to signal that not the least disturbance would be countenanced.
The National Day show of military muscle was intended as much for restive elements at home as for overseas entities, especially the US and Taiwan.
Today's China is stable, strong, and prosperous. Yet the security lockdown for October 1 was unprecedented to stress that the leadership will not allow its grip to be tested or image to be tainted.
November brought Barack Obama, who had declined to meet the Dalai Lama before his visit and gave a wide berth to ticklish issues. By then, the Chinese were the biggest car buyers. In contrast to the US touching a four-decade low of 10.3 million in 2009, China's auto sales hit a high of 12.75 million.
After the warm glow of a record auto boom, the $586-billion stimulus, upbeat growth and leading a critical mass of developing and small nations at Copenhagen, 2010 began with the worst cold snap in 40 years.
The New Year saw China heavily snowed under. China-US relations took a dive and Australia scrapped a natural gas pact. Beijing was flayed for executing a British drug smuggler, jailing a dissident and blocking the US bid for sanctions against Iran. It was panned, again, for the "failure" of the Copenhagen summit.
And, in a new twist, the economic meltdown was blamed on China's rise on the world stage, which had made it "arrogant", "mercantilist" and unmindful of its responsibilities as a major power.
There was more bad news: Washington announced the sale of air-defence missiles to Taiwan, scheduled Obama's meeting with the Dalai Lama and held out the prospect of more trade protectionism and pressure for appreciation of the yuan.
The downturn in China-US ties prompted Beijing to hint that President Hu Jintao may keep away from Obama's nuclear security summit scheduled for April.
Clearly, China is bracing itself for the difficulties it expects to face on almost every issue at gatherings of world leaders in 2010. China-US friction would affect other conclaves, too, particularly the two G20 summits in Canada and South Korea. It doesn't take a Nobel laureate (Paul Krugman) to foresee that 2010 will be China's year, "but not in a good way".
At home, China looks forward to a better year. With the six-month World Expo from May, Shanghai bids fair to join Milan, New York, Paris and London as a new fashion capital.
The Expo is billed as a diplomatic blockbuster, akin to the Beijing Olympics, with over 240 countries, regions and organisations signing up. The other big event is the 16th Asian Games in Guangzhou. These events always bring out the best in China.
In the year ahead, China expects the resentment against its rising influence to persist, though its politico-diplomatic strength is far from commensurate with its economic capabilities.
Beijing knows that the world cannot do without its economic muscle and would expediently overlook its political policies at home, but that China would be denied the brownie points needed for international respect.
The writer is co-author of the book State of Nepal
WORSHIP THE SUN
The beginning of the Sun's northward journey (Uttarayan) when it enters the sign of Makar (Capricorn) is looked upon as the most auspicious day by the Hindus and celebrated as a festival from the times of the Aryans.
This time also signifies that we should turn away from the darkness of delusion and begin to let the light within us shine brighter.
The Sun God, Surya, is said to turn his back on winter with his chariot marching forward. In Mahabharata too, the auspiciousness of this period is mentioned.
Bhishma Pitamaha, in spite of being wounded and lying on a bed of arrows, waits for Uttarayan before breathing his last. It is believed that a person who dies in this period attains 'moksha' (salvation) and escapes the cycle of birth and death.
During this holy festival we learn that our real wealth is the goodwill of those around us, the land on which our food grows, and the animals that help to make our work lighter.
In Punjab where December and January are the coldest months of the year, huge bonfires are lit and celebrated as Lohri. Sweets, sugarcane and rice are thrown in the bonfires, around which friends and relatives gather together.
In Bundelkhand and Madhya Pradesh this festival is known as Sukarat and is celebrated with great pomp and merriment .
In South it is known as Pongal, which takes its name from the rice boiled in a pot of milk. It is very popular particularly amongst farmers.
In Uttar Pradesh, it is called Kicheri. Having bath on this day is regarded as important. A mass of humanity can be seen bathing in the Sangam at Prayagraj where the rivers Ganga, Jamuna and Saraswati flow.
It is observed in West Bengal as Gangasagar Mela at Sagar island where the Ganga connects with the Bay of Bengal. It is believed that taking a holy dip here cleanses all sins.
From various sources
VERDICT FOR TRANSPARENCY
CJI SHOULD ACCEPT THE DELHI HC RULING
TUESDAY'S Delhi High Court ruling upholding its single bench order that the Chief Justice of India comes within the purview of the Right to Information Act and that details of judges' assets must be revealed under it, is welcome. In an important order, the Bench consisting of Chief Justice A.P. Shah, Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice Vikramjeet Sen not only rejected the apex court registry's contention that the CJI was not covered under the RTI but also emphasised that even income-tax returns and medical records of judges needed to be disclosed if these serve public interest. It observed that the CJI is a "public authority" and hence cannot claim any immunity under the RTI. As the judgement dispels all doubts about the CJI's status vis-à-vis the RTI, the CJI would do well to accept the verdict in the right spirit and refrain from going in appeal to the apex court on the ground that the issue involved interpretation of important points in law and the Constitution.
One fails to understand why Chief Justice of India Justice K.G. Balakrishnan is rigid on the issue when he has nothing to hide as regards his assets or decisions taken on the administrative side in his capacity as the CJI. In fact, following public and media pressure, he and his colleagues declared their assets on November 2, 2009, and put the details on the official website. The argument that the independence of judiciary will be adversely affected if judges declare their assets seems specious and unconvincing. On the contrary, it will promote transparency, ensure accountability and strengthen democracy of which the judiciary is an important pillar.
The High Court ruling assumes special significance in the context of increasing cases of corruption and misconduct involving judges. As the issue revolving around Karnataka High Court Chief Justice P.D. Dinakaran shows, the functioning of the collegium is shrouded in mystery and one does not know how the high court judges are appointed or elevated to the apex court, their backgrounds and the criteria for appointment. If the right to information is a fundamental right and aimed at empowering citizens, the CJI cannot remain outside the purview of the RTI Act.
LEND ME SOME MONEY
HELPLESS MANPREET SOUNDS ALARM
Being the Finance Minister of a debt-ridden, fiscally irresponsible state like Punjab must be one of the most embarrassing jobs in India. No wonder, off and on a helpless Mr Manpreet Singh Badal erupts in exasperation. With the budget-making exercise under way, the FM is to put his figures together to understand the state of current finances and brief the Planning Commission accordingly next month. He has often spoken publicly how subsidies are bleeding the exchequer, but the other two Badals just ignore or even snub him. Yet he hangs on to power.
As successive Punjab governments have been relying on loans to meet their financial commitments, the state has accumulated a staggering debt of Rs 63,000 crore. When the Finance Commission offered last year to defer the recovery of Rs 15,000 crore and cut interest on Rs 25,000 crore of the loan amount provided the state government ends populist subsidies, levies user-charges on services and restores house tax in cities, the political leadership chose to dither instead of lapping up the offer. The Chief Minister deputed his son, Mr Sukhbir Badal, and Industries Minister Manoranjan Kalia to review the subsidies.
However, since Mr Manpreet Badal, a vocal critic of the subsidies, was not included in the committee, it became clear the government's intentions were less than honest and the whole exercise was a farce. The committee was given two weeks' time to submit its report. It has taken more than three months and there is no sign of a report. None in the government feels embarrassed selling public land to raise money. Various departments face legal cases from harried citizens for payment defaults. Development has come to a halt. No one even talks about it. Infrastructure, health and education face the brunt of non-governance. The state may invite a financial emergency unless urgent steps are taken to mobilise resources. But is the Chief Minister really bothered about it at all?
DEMAT OF DEGREES
CENTRE'S MOVE WOULD BE A BLOW TO FAKERS
The Central Government's decision to make available online in the electronic format all educational degrees and certificates from the school to the university level is a very heartening development. So serious has become the problem of fake degrees and even fake institutions that it was necessary to plug the gaping holes in the system. By setting up a suitable registered electronic depository which would dematerialise the academic degrees and certificates, the scope for fake degrees would be minimised. Not only would the depository store the new degrees that would form part of the national database by assigning individual account numbers and passwords, it would also be assigned the task of converting old degrees and certificates from physical into electronic form. That there is the benefit of experience in the demat of share certificates is a matter of relief. The National Securities Depository Limited and the Central Depository Services Limited, which currently deal in share certificates stored electronically, are well equipped to take on this role.
Considering that all degrees that are electronically converted will be preserved on the national database, the need for institutions to maintain physical degrees for years together would be obviated. That would be a big boon for institutions. The problem of replacing lost degrees and certificates would also end. The students on their part would be saved the bother of getting attestation done.
Having said all this, it is important that this plan be implemented without any dragging of feet and extended to the entire country so that vested interests do not take advantage of the areas where it is not in operation. The scale of the dematting operation would indeed be a major challenge. It is also time that all unrecognised institutions be given a specific time frame to meet the requirements for recognition so that those that remain outside the system are disallowed from continuing. As for those who continue to produce fake degrees in physical form, the punishment must be swift and stringent.
SILENCE OF THE WOLF
STRANGE ARE THE WAYS OF NARENDRA MODI
BY AMULYA GANGULI
All through the recent brouhaha in the BJP, which saw a change of guard at the top, Mr Arun Jaitley's objections to the party's shrillness and the expulsion of Mr Jaswant Singh, one man maintained an enigmatic silence. Yet, he has often been mentioned as a leader who can revive the party's fortunes and whose brand of politics is seen as a more combative version of Hindutva. Even then Mr Narendra Modi chose to take a back seat while his party grappled with the aftermath of defeats in two successive general elections and an uneasy transition to GenNext.
The only event which turned the spotlight on him was his championing of a legislative measure making voting compulsory in local elections. However, the flurry of statements and counter-statements about the controversial step died down as the BJP dealt with more immediate problems such as the assumption of the office of party president by the previously virtually unknown Mr Nitin Gadkari and the government formation in Jharkhand. As a result, there has been no convincing explanation for Mr Modi's aloofness from national politics at a crucial time when the RSS was suspected to be tightening its grip on the BJP through Mr Gadkari.
Considering that Mr Modi's name was touted as a possible future Prime Minister by Mr Arun Shourie, among others, on the eve of the general elections, one might have expected the Gujarat strong man to play a more active role. Instead, he chose to behave like a typical provincial apparatchik who has only a minor say in national affairs. Of course, no one places Mr Modi in the ranks of Mr Shivraj Singh Chauhan or Mr Raman Singh or Mr B.S. Yeddyurappa if only because his larger-than-life image cannot be ignored even when he remains in the background. It is also possible that because Mr Modi is aware of the influence which he exerts even when remaining quiet that he does not mind staying put in Gujarat.
However, the deliberate shunning of the limelight may not be without a purpose. If a senior police officer, one of the few who defied Mr Modi during the 2002 riots is to be believed, the Chief Minister confided after the outbreak that the violence had gone out of control. Kuchh zyada hi ho gaya, he is supposed to have said. Mr Modi's subsequent behaviour also points to a deliberate attempt to distance himself from the carnage which, he undoubtedly realises, has become a permanent stain on his reputation.
Although he has refused to apologise for the disturbances, he has also resisted all attempts to raise the issue at public forums and insisted more than once that he stands for all the people of the state, irrespective of their religion. The post-carnage emphasis on development also underlines a conscious attempt to build a new image of himself, which is different from his earlier hawkish reputation. There are occasional lapses, of course, as during the Sohrabuddin Sheikh episode when he drew cheers from the crowd over the killing of the accused in a fake encounter. But there have been no crude references to the religious backgrounds of Mrs Sonia Gandhi and Mr James Michael Lyngdoh, as in 2002.
But even more significant than these uncharacteristic signs of sobriety is the reason which Mr Modi advanced for his preference for compulsory voting. According to him, such a focus on individuals to ensure that they will have no alternative but to cast their votes will deflect attention from treating them as vote banks. As a result, the parties will have to shed their segmented approach in terms of caste or community and accord greater importance to them as citizens. In a way, this approach of treating society as a composite whole is in tune with Mr Modi's development-oriented policies, whose rationale is that a higher growth rate will benefit everyone and not particular groups.
For a person whose dubious role during the riots is still being scanned by the Supreme Court and whose attitude towards the refugee colonies housing Muslims was callous in the extreme - he called them child-breeding factories - the turning away of his government's attention from communities to individuals is difficult to explain. What is more, since most of Mr Modi's decisions are seen by his detractors to have been inspired by a sinister motive, even the latest move will be regarded with considerable suspicion.
Some may interpret it as the kind of an unofficial census of religious minorities which the Gujarat government initiated after the anti-Christian violence in the Dangs area to identify the members of the community. Since compulsory voting entails the possession of identity cards, it will mean that no one can hide if the law comes into force. As a recent report from Surat said, many Muslims assume Hindu names there to secure employment in diamond units. Such subterfuge will no longer be possible.
Notwithstanding such misgivings, there is little doubt that the proposed law runs counter to the basic objectives of caste-based and communal parties like the BSP and the BJP, to name only two, with their targeting of certain groups and demonising of others. It is necessary to remember that even the BSP realised that concentrating only on Dalits would not take it far and that there was a need, therefore, for a rainbow coalition which included the Manuvadi Brahmins, who were previously excoriated as traditional enemies of the Dalits.
Similarly, the forced moderation of some of the BJP leaders like Mr L. K. Advani in line with the example set by Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was an explicit admission that the Hindu vote was not enough for it to gain power. In some respects, Mr Modi's idea of compulsory voting endorses this inescapable fact of electoral politics where dependence only on a group of voters yields limited dividends.
It is difficult to predict the outcome of elections under the new law. Besides, whether the measure will at all be enacted is doubtful because, first, a consensus may elude the political class. Secondly, civil libertarians may see it as an infringement of basic rights since a person should have the freedom not to vote. And, thirdly, the enforcement of the law in so large a country where people are almost always on the move may be as difficult as the decision on the kind of punishment for the absentee voters. The law courts will also be clogged by petitioners challenging their punishment.
Irrespective of the fate of the proposed law, what is more relevant is Mr Modi's purpose behind the unusual initiative. It is clear that he wants to project himself as someone different from the average politician who is forever embroiled in ego hassles within his own party and in striking opportunistic deals with other individuals and parties. In contrast to them, Mr Modi apparently wants to demonstrate his intention to rise above mundane party politics and to show that he is concerned with issues which have societal implications. Development is one of them and compulsory voting another.
At a time when the BJP is entering the post-Vajpayee and post-Advani phase when it has no obviously popular front-runners among its current crop of leaders, Mr Modi does not want to be seen jostling for party positions with the Jaitleys and Sushmas and Gadkaris, or presenting different interpretations about the inclusiveness or otherwise of Hindutva, or whether December 6, 1992, was the "saddest day" or shauriya divas, as the VHP's Mr Ashok Singhal wants it to be called. Yet, as the Chief Minister tries to reinvent himself, he must be aware that the leopard is not known to change its spots. What is more, he cannot be sure that the BJP and, more importantly, the RSS will endorse his idea of reducing the importance of parties at the expense of individual voters. If his intention is to position himself in a way which will enable him to play a larger role in national affairs, he may not find the going easy.
NO NEWS, GOOD NEWS
BY S. RAGHUNATH
The Editor was grim-faced as he rapped the staff meeting to order. "We're up against it in no uncertain manner, " he said, "our readers are complaining bitterly that we're driving them up the wall and inducing in them suicidal thoughts by publishing unremitting bad news strikes, bandhs, riots, full text of the Prime Minister's speech on Panchayati Raj institutions and the women's reservation bill."
"As you know, it's our established policy only to inform and educate our readers and not instigate them to end it all by reaching for the nearest open razor."
"I've decided on a redical U-turn in our editorial policy. From tomorrow, we shall publish only good news and nothing but good news. Bad news is out and out for good. I welcome suggestions."
The paper's crime reporter a veteran of 25 years in covering the police beat said: "I'll do an upfront story to the effect that thanks to improved policing methods and citizens' involvement, the crime graph is showing a downward trend and underline the fact that during 2008-09, there were only 8306 cases of house break-ins compared to 8309 cases during the preceding year."
He was handed an urgent note: "Come home immediately. Miscreants have broken into your house in broad daylight and they have gotten away with everything they can lay their hands on, including the imported electronic burglar alarm and the German Shepherd watch dog."
The paper's distinguished political analyst said, "I'll do a two-part oped lead article to the effect that with the formation of the Congress-led coalition government at the centre, Indian politics has entered a more mature and healthy phase and instability and fragmentation of political parties should soon be a thing of the past."
He was handed a telex message: "Lok Dal (Ajit Singh) has split into Lok Dal (Ajit) and Lok Dal (Singh).
The paper's young sports correspondent said eagerly. "I'll do an upbeat story to the effect that Indian hockey is on the comeback trail and retrieve its lost glory, highlighting the fact that in the pre Olympic quarter finals-Indian 'A' team lost by a solitary goal to Kenya 'D' team."
He was called to the telephone to take a message: "Indian 'A' team lost by a margin of 18 goals to Rwanda Burundi 'Y' team."
The editor was close to despair when the paper's press manager walked into the room.
"I'm afraid tomorrow's "Good News Only" edition can't be printed, "he announced gravely.
"Why not ? snapped the editor going red in the face.
"Because," said the manager, "the printing staff has just gone on an indefinite strike."
NO PEACE IN NEPAL WITHOUT MAOISTS
BY MAJOR GEN ASHOK K MEHTA
Out of power, the Prachanda-led Maoists in Nepal are like fish out of water. Everything was going for them but for their crossing one red line too many. Sacking the Army Chief, Gen Rukmangad Katwal, who was seen as the last obstacle to absolute power, was their undoing while enriching the Maoist lexicon with the mantra of civilian supremacy.
Overgenerous overtures to the Chinese at the party, military, government and track II levels raised hackles in Delhi. Eight months outside Singha Durbar have been a chastening experience for the Maoist grand design of "looking beyond India" Prachanda's vision of reducing dependence on India.
The late King Birendra came to grief exploring this alternative during the economic blockade of the late 1980s, which resulted in the restoration of multi-party democracy. The battle between the old guard and the new revolutionaries over reforming Nepal is at the crossroads.
Invoking the lofty principle of civilian supremacy, the Maoists organised disruptive protest campaigns in three phases, which blocked the Constituent Assembly that doubles as Parliament, paralysing the government.
This brought no relief to the Maoists despite regular announcements that a new national unity government led by them would soon be in power.
Deception and self-delusion have become integral to their bravado illustrated famously by the ill-fated attacks at Khara in 2005 which forced hardliners into realising that the military capture of Kathmandu was not feasible.
That was when the ground reality first hit the Maoists. Once again the Maoists have learnt the hard way that they cannot be returned to power through unconstitutional means by winning street battles.
Like their leaders recognised in 2005 that India will not allow them to seize Kathmandu, they are belatedly admitting that Delhi's blessings are essential for returning to Singha Durbar.
Prachanda observed: "We will have to talk to India" with his deputy party ideologue Baburam Bhattarai adding "It is time to hold talks, not with the puppet (government) but those who run the puppet".
He added: "We will declare the constitution from the streets and capture power if the deadline (28 May 2010) to write the constitution is not met."
The Maoists are a bundle of contradictions as all the delay is on their account. Mr Bhattarai clarifies: "We know the constitution will not be written so that the Constituent Assembly can be annulled and President's rule imposed".
Except for three days the Maoists have not allowed Parliament to function. The same is the fate of the constitutional drafting process with Mr Bhattarai claiming: "Not a word will be written which is not our word".
One of the issues Prachanda wants to discuss with Delhi is reducing Nepal's trade deficit, which this year has risen by 40 per cent. Rather than blaming India, notes a Nepali journalist, "Prachanda needs to do some soul-searching to realise to what extent his party has contributed to the demise of the manufacturing sector, export-oriented production and export potential".
It is the Maoists' fault, given their pressure on an increase in wages/ allowances, strikes of trade unions, industrial complexes and the transportation sector, power shortages, road closures and excesses of the Young Communist League (YCL) clearly "it is Prachanda's trade deficit," he adds.
Everyone realises that the current stalemate can be broken mainly with India's mediation. Delhi has been instrumental in fashioning major changes in Nepal: ouster of the Ranas in 1950, short-lived experiment with democracy in 1959, restoration of multi-party democracy in 1990 and mainstreaming the Maoists and ending the monarchy in 2005-06.
As the back channel the Delhi Agreement of November 2005 between the Maoists and the political parties was
facilitated by India. Nepalis say Delhi has a moral responsibility to 'reset' the peace process.
Delhi's terms for talks with the Maoists have been communicated to them. These are not different from what Prachanda agreed to in Delhi in 2005 and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2006 support for multi-party democracy, rule of law, human rights, an independent judiciary, free media and so on, all once anathema to the Maoists.
They had also agreed to return the confiscated property and disband the YCL. With Maoists in violation of these agreements, Delhi wants them to be tamed. It is precisely what the majority of the political parties, civil society and the people of Nepal want.
To its terms of engagement, Delhi has added its renewed concerns about the Maoist overreach to Beijing and the latter's over-ingress into Nepal. The Maoist response to Indian terms is not known but their call for talks was acknowledged when Ambassador Rakesh Sood met Prachanda before visiting Delhi for consultations over the new year.
The present Nepal government without Maoists on board is like a boat without oars. Foreign Minister SM Krishna will be in Kathmandu (January 15) and will meet the Leader of Opposition, Prachanda, among other leaders. They could explore ending the stalemate through the instrument of a package deal, factoring in the concerns of the immediate stakeholders, including the UN Mission in Nepal.
Underlining the package deal must be the resolve of political parties to write an inclusive constitution with a national unity government, which includes the Maoists. All previous agreements not honoured will have to be implemented. The integration of the Maoists (PLA) with the Nepal Army has to be the key driver of the compromise agreement. The Indian Embassy in Kathmandu, in an unprecedented step, has disowned the Indian Army Chief's statement rejecting integration.
A mechanism for disbanding and reintegrating the YCL, helping Maoists to be taken off the US terror watch list and separate economic packages for the Maoists and the peace process are other ingredients of the package, which will not stick unless there is a referee to monitor the peace process.
As the high-level political mechanism has not worked, a more robust body is required. Recommended for the Nobel Peace Prize, Mr GP Koirala, the last of the first-generation leaders, is no longer fit and able to mentor the peace process.
Meanwhile, the Maoists have announced the fourth phase of their agitational politics: Accept our leadership of a national unity government or face indefinite countrywide strikes from January 24.
They will also target Delhi for interventionist politics. Nudged from their laid-back stance, major political parties launched a show of solidarity on the birth anniversary of King Prithvi Narayan Shah, who founded and united Nepal, repudiating the Maoist declaration of ethnicity-based federal state, which is regarded by most others as a sure means of splitting the country.
That the pain caused by the Maoist protest programmes has made them more unpopular than King Gyanendra after he seized power in 2005 is only a Kathmandu-centric view, say Maoist sympathisers.
With blood on their hands and power on their minds, the Maoists have one more chance of legitimately reclaiming power during the general elections after the constitution is written. Time is running out for Nepal. Delhi cannot ignore the Maoist status as the single largest party in the Constituent Assembly. Without the Maoists, there is no peace process and a new Nepal.
ENJOY CHEAP MONEY WHILE IT LASTS
BY HAMISH MCRAE
Interest rates are on the rise again. Not here as yet, nor in most of Europe or in the US. But looking around the world, it is clear that the tide of cheap money will turn in the next few months and the issue will be not where, whether or when, but how quickly rates will go up. And there will be little that an individual country such as our own will be able to do about it.
Actually something happened yesterday that highlights what will happen. Up to now there have been a few isolated cases of central banks increasing interest rates Norway and Australia, for example but there has been no general movement. But yesterday the Bank of China announced that it would increase the reserves that banks have to hold, the first such increase since June 2008. That is not a headline increase in rates as such but it is a sign of things to come.
China matters hugely. It is not only becoming the world's second-largest economy as it is now passing Japan, but it is also the world's largest source of savings. Its banks are the largest in the world: there is no talk of banks being "too big to fail" there. If you look at the world economy as a whole, as opposed to seeing it through a British, European or North American prism, the turning point in the interest rate cycle has now been reached.
In any case long-term interest rates are clearly on the rise and have been for some months. In Britain 10-year yields on government securities are over four per cent, whereas back last spring they were only about three per cent. Rates would doubtless have risen faster had it not been for the Bank of England buying so much of the Government's debt under its quantitative easing programme. That is now coming towards its end.
The Bank's Monetary Committee can decide to hold short-term interest rates down but it cannot control what happens to longer-term rates. These are determined by the supply and demand for savings around the world, and the UK Ggovernment has to compete for these savings, just like other would-be borrowers.
The effect of this is starting to be felt. It is more expensive now to get a fixed-rate mortgage than it was a few months ago. Companies seeking to reduce their bank loans by raising money with bond issues have to pay more for those funds. If there is any doubt about the security of a country's finances, its government finds it has to pay much more to cover its deficit.
That is why Ireland and Greece have recently brought in severe budget measures, with clearly more to come in the case of Greece. It is why we too will have to get our public finances under control as soon as possible after the election.
But interest rates will rise irrespective of what our next government does the question is one of degree and we had better get used to this. Instinctively we know this. One of the really stunning things that has happened in recent months has been the extent to which British households have started to save again.
You may recall that a couple of years ago people were actually spending more than they had in income: people borrowed against the value of their houses and used the money to hold up their consumption.
That has completely reversed, partly of course because mortgages have become much tighter. Now, savings are up to about eight per cent of income, the highest level since the early 1990s. People who are lucky enough to have mortgages linked to base rates seem to be using the extra monthly savings to pay back their mortgages more swiftly. The world has changed and we know it.
What we don't know is how quickly things get back to normal for it is utterly abnormal to have base rates at 0.5 per cent or to deny savers any real return on their money and what the consequences of higher interest rates will be. My own guess is that the first rise in UK interest rates will take place some time in the summer and that people will be surprised at the pace at which they subsequently climb.
That leads to the troubling possibility that rising interest rates will choke off the recovery. Even if the Bank of England manages to hold down short-term rates for a while, it cannot hold down long-term ones. And if the world is going to have more expensive money, we will too.
By arrangement with The Independent
SMALL STATES GOOD FOR DEVELOPMENT ?
BY MANOJ DAYAL
India consists of 28 states and eight Union Territories. Recently, the Central Government agreed to form Telangana after the passing of a resolution in the state assembly. However, this sparked a hue and cry in Andhra Pradesh.
The formation of a separate state will lead to a lot of financial implications and legislative problems for the government. It is not at all in favour of the public since India is passing through an acute financial crisis.
For the formation of a separate state there should be a variety of human and physical capital in terms of administrative capital, legislative capital, and judicial capital and infrastructure with funds from the central government.
Under the circumstances, forming smaller states is not at all good for the nation's progress. There would be utter chaos if any more splitting of states is initiated.
There are enough legislative norms in the Indian Constitution for protecting individual freedom in respect of language, culture, and other factors.
The formation of new states should not be on the basis of politics as without resources small states would face a lot of difficulties. These days the demand for new states is politically motivated with threats of agitations. The Centre should be careful in not succumbing to their ill-conceived motives.
A separate commission may be formed to scrutinise the demand for new states.
The creation of new states imposes significant administrative costs and financial burden on the exchequer. The public disenchantment in a state is basically on the efficacy of governance, not on the size.
A lot of issues associated with large states can be resolved by decentralisation and administrative reforms. This, in turn, leads to overall good governance, and better local management of divisive or contentious issues so that the federal government can handle complex national and international issues better.
Unity in diversity has been the real strength of India. When the British ruled India, women and men from different cultural, religious and regional backgrounds came together to oppose them.
India's freedom movement had thousands of people of different backgrounds in it. They worked together to decide joint actions, they went to jail together and they found different ways to oppose the British.
Interestingly, the British thought they could divide Indians because they were so different and then continue to rule them. But the people showed how they could be different and yet be united in their battle against the British.
Modern India presents a picture of unity in diversity where people of different faiths and beliefs live together in peace and harmony.
India remains one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. This is the result of the freedom which every region and community has enjoyed to develop its genius through mutual interaction.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
TROUBLE DOWN UNDER
Disconcerting news of attacks on Indians continue to pour in from Australia, each more gruesome than the other. The latest in a long and continuous string of attacks is the one on Jaspreet Singh, a 29 year old Indian who was set on fire by a group of four assailants in Essendon in Melbourne as he was about to park his car. It was quick thinking on his part in peeling off his burning clothes that saved his life, though he suffered severe burns. Two other cases of fatalities had been reported within the first week of this year itself. A student, Nitin Garg, was stabbed to death in a park in Melbourne by unknown assailants while walking to a restaurant where he worked part time. Three days later the partially charred body of a 25 year old Indian youth was found in Griffith, New South Wales. The Australian authorities continue to maintain that these were random crimes with no racial overtones and should not be construed specifically to be directed against the Indian community, especially students. But there have been too many attacks on Indians in Australia the past year for such a phenomenon to be deemed coincidence and a contrary assumption not to be made. Strong evidence of a racial bias against Indians among a section of white Australians has now almost been established, despite protestations to the contrary by the Australian Government.
Unfortunately, there appears to be no antidote, for neither laws nor law-enforcing agencies can effectively combat a collective racist attitude and put an end to racially motivated crimes. Thus the ritualistic words of condemnation which emanate from the External Affairs Ministry after every attack on Indians hardly serve to mitigate a problem which threatens to persist in the future. That the impulse prompting such crimes stem from raw emotions rather than pecuniary or other motives makes solving them difficult, while the fact that more often then not they are committed spontaneously and are opportunistic rather than pre-planned renders prevention just that much harder. The image of Australia is being tarnished, but this consideration obviously does not weigh on perverted minds propelled by personal biases. Also, Australia is gradually being viewed as one of the least favoured destination for Indian students desirous of pursuing higher studies, which will deprive that nation a slice of a lucrative pie, education being its third highest income generator after coal and iron-ore. The latest indication of this is the travel alert issued by the Indian Government to students intending to undertake studies in Australia, which ironically reads like ones periodically issued by Western nations in regards to third world countries! Clearly, Indians are being made to pay a price for the economic, academic and scientific successes achieved by the nation, for racialism is but jealousy in another guise.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The planned expectation of India's agricultural growth at 2 per cent in the current fiscal appears now to be belied in all probability. India's gross domestic product (GDP) projected at 7.5 per cent to 8 per cent in the year 2009-10 could also be affected by poor prospects of agricultural sector. Though contribution of farm sector on national income of the country has gradually come down from 50 per cent in 1950's and 1960's to just 18 per cent today and, hence, low growth of agriculture does not much inhibit the overall growth process, still an expected 10 per cent increase in GDP could be reduced to 8.2 per cent if agricultural growth rate in the year is zero. Therefore, the Union Finance Minister, Pranab Mukherjee has sounded a caution on agricultural sector that might be coming in the way of India's GDP reaching the projected 7.5 per cent in current fiscal. He legitimately fears a negative agricultural growth in the third quarter of 2009-10 preceded by 2.5 per cent in the first quarter and by less than even one per cent in the second quarter. The rising trend of food prices is moving unabated and the annual rate of food inflation is now on the verge of touching 20 per cent. This is mainly due to fall in agricultural production following the worst dry spell in the year in four decades and floods in parts of the country hurting summer crops. Since again, food prices are politically a highly sensitive factor, the products have warranted a higher dose of price support programme in recent months. Food prices are generally found to ease in the post-harvest months of November and December. But the scarcity of cereals is not receded this time and, hence, is the upswing of prices. The Agriculture Ministry as well as the Finance Minister have urged the States to take measures to improve the functioning of public distribution system and take strong measures against hoarding and black marketing as the government is anticipating a shortfall of more than 10 million tonnes of foodgrains in the current fiscal.
While a lasting solution lies only with removal of the mismatch between the demand for and supply of agricultural commodities through increased production, the short term measures, the most important need of the hour, are revamping public distribution system, increased imports of scarce items, rooting out of hoarding and cleaning of civil supply administration. An important agro-product, sugar, which is now selling at more than Rs 40 a kg is believed to have already been subjected to large hoarding and black marketing operations. India's top agricultural scientist, MS Swaminathan thinks that the farming sector of the country is being woefully neglected. His recommendations as chairman of the National Commission on Farmers, made in November, 2007 with respect to second green revolution, a change in compensation laws for farmers, attracting the country's youth to farming and amendment of Women Farmers' Entitlement Act to allow them to avail bank loans without their land as collateral security, which could bring about a radical change in India's farm sector, still remain to be implemented by the government. While these recommendations should be immediately brought into operation, the various laws governing agricultural sector need expeditiously go through a thorough scrutiny and get reframed in the light of MS Swaminathan's analysis with immediate effect in order that the restructured legislative formulation could be introduced in the upcoming Budget session to find a way out to agricultural failures in years ahead.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
WHAT DO THE ASSAMESE WANT?
Soon after last month's seizure and subsequent arrest of Arabindo Rajkhowa, chairman of the banned United Liberation Front of Asom, his colleague and head of the remnants of the organization's armed wing reaffirmed, along with Rajkhowa, that Ulfa would only talk about sovereignty of Assam with the Central Government and that Ulfa could change its stance if there was a referendum on the issue in the State.
This was part of a series of statements made by the two leaders including one in which Baruah, rarely known for taking his words back, apologized to the people of Assam for the bomb blast in Dhemaji on Independence Day, when an explosion killed school children and others. The apology followed years of denials by Ulfa. But how is this sovereignty, never actively sought by the people of Assam or those elected by them yet demanded so vociferously by one group which has never tested its strength in elections, to be secured? The prescription is nothing new: the people of Assam, whose will has been tested in election after election, are asked to express their views in a referendum.
It is such a nice idea: but how and where will the referendum take place? And who will supervise it? In whose Assam or more precisely in which Assam? The Assam that the Nagas claim in their Nagalim and which takes in huge parts of Jorhat and Nagaon, all of Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills? This is part of the NSCN map which was distributed at international conferences by the NSCN (I-M). Does Ulfa agree to this map which seeks the vivisection of Assam: it is not a position that the NSCN has resiled from. Maps and map-making are important to history. To ignore these basic facts shows a worrying lack of realism.
So, that is the Naga view of Assam. What about the Bodos who are in a coalition with Tarun Gogoi in Dispur, holding up the Congress-led Government? They too now have revived the demand for a separate State. Do they want to take part in a referendum on sovereignty, since one group is in the government and the other in a ceasefire mode, despite the occasional attacks by the faction which still owes allegiance to Ranjan Daimary, the head of the organization? And what of the Dimasas and the Karbis, each with their own group seeking greater autonomy and with the existing powers under the Sixth Schedule, much abused as it is, where they virtually run a state within a state in the shape of the Autonomous District Councils, with their own funds, personnel and powers.
The Assam of today is not the Assam that the young men left many years ago thinking that armed struggle would bring about change; it has Assam has suffered in this conflict and contestations, through agitations and unending confrontations, divisions and ethnic cleavages. It is not the Assam of yesterday. People have been fighting for their rights for many years; they may not have got what they sought but they have got where they are after a long struggle and they have no intention of throwing it away on a chimera, which is no closer to what it was in 1979 when Ulfa began its story. After nearly 30 years of killings on all sides, with the economy and social conditions torn apart, what is there to celebrate as we approach Bihu?
The Rajbongshis, Morans, Rabhas and Deoris do not want sovereignty either, a notion that a handful of youth thought up in a burst of enthusiasm and resentment against the system. Just as it is important to review the failures and shortcomings of the political system in India, it is also important to consider the state of the organization and of the hundreds if not thousands who have died as a result of this armed struggle.
Several "civil society" groups are calling for talks, appealing to both sides to work for the welfare of Assam. There are demands for talks from several groups. But what will the two sides talk about? Sovereignty? The official side could easily say, "Let us talk about India's sovereignty for Assam is part of India." Ulfa will stick to its guns and it will go nowhere. The important thing is for both sides to talk directly to each other, not through interlocuters, and define the greatest flexibility they can show and then negotiate around the imponderables just as China and India have sought to improve relations by trying to improve trade and other areas of cooperation while letting the border issue take its time.
What's next on the table: proper development of natural resources no more of this colonial extraction, right and protection of local identities and better governance and economic growth and development and rights for the original inhabitants. Of course that has been demanded by every group seeking these rights for decades: so there's nothing new in that, either.
But what about the Bangladeshis in Assam? Some two million of them live there, at least one say one of every 15 persons in the state? How is it going to be resolved when Ulfa doesn't even speak of it? The question is why doesn't the organization address an issue which has been burning issue in Assam for decades?
So, let's have a referendum but let's change the focus a bit: it should not just about what Ulfa wants but also what the people of Assam want of Ulfa and New Delhi.
The issues Ulfa speaks of are argued by many others and, barring the issue of sovereignty, have a resonance: of extraction of natural resources and Assam not getting a fair share from the Centre, on lack of governance and delivery of services, of continuing poverty and lack of growth, on a colonial mind set in Delhi.
There are regular dialogues and workshops, seminars and policy formulations, vigorous interactions and Governments in Delhi and in the North East pay attention. They don't do as much as been sought of them. But which government does, wherever in the world?
These roads and discussions are well-traversed. And they see solutions within the Indian democratic framework, not outside it, even though democracy is flawed and has limitations. After all, there is so much of identity reinvention that can be done.
It will take great courage to talk, to accept that a war of weapons has not led to the achievement of the goal. It took courage to take up arms; it will take guts to try and resolve the issue peacefully, through dialogue, for the sake of the greater good. The sacrifice of those who have died, on all sides, should encourage a process that should declare: "No more violence, no more lives." That must be the talisman, without which no real progress or growth can take place despite the much vaunted Vision Document of the Government of India for the North-east.
After all, what people want is very different to the political demands made by many groups, within and without the democratic framework: These are simple things: as in anywhere in this country and the world, where marginalized and the poor live, they want basic needs met, essential services delivered (health, education, drinking water and sanitation, jobs and decent housing) as well as core aspirations satisfied: empty hands with work, empty stomachs with food and empty hearts and minds with ideas which really satisfy, abandoning the pursuit of a false dawn.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
THEATRICAL MOVEMENT IN ASSAM
The theatrical movement in Assam had a glorious past. It was initiated by the great Vaishnavite saint Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva in the early part of the 15th century with his maiden drama called Sihnayatra. The drama though still remains untraced captivated the people with brilliant performance of Sankardeva as described in a number of autobiographies. Later, he wrote six dramas viz. Patni Prasad, Kali Daman, Keli Gopal, Rukmini Haran, Parijat Haran and Ram Vijoy. The dramas wrote by Sankardeva are popularly called Ankiya Nat and their performance is known as Ankiya Bhaona. With dance and music Sankardeva followed the style of Sanskrit dramas in performing his Ankiya Nat Like Purbaranga of Sanskrit dramas, Sankardeva also introduced Dhemaliat the beginning of Bhaona. He also introduced a character called Sutradhar to explain the sequences of a drama to the audience.
Following Sankardeva, his chief disciple Madhabdeva wrote a number of dramas and enriched the Assamese dramatical literature. So far, five dramas of Madhabdeva had been discovered. They are Arjun Bhanjan, Chordhara Pimpara Guchowa, Bhumi Letoya and Bhojan Bihar. Except Arjun Bhanjan, all other dramas of Madhabdeva are popularly called as Jhumura. In Maithali, Magadhi, Bhojpuri and Avadhi dialects of northern India, a folk-dance called "Jhumuris still found to be very popular among different ethnic groups. As the dramas ofMadhabdeva are mainly based on dance and music, so it is believed that they are called as Jhumur.
After Sankardeva and Madhabdeva, a number of Vaishnavite saints like Gopal Ata, Ramcharan Thakur, Daityari Thakur etc also wrote many Ankiya Nats and enriched the Assamese Vaishnavite literature. But except Gopal Ata, other playwrights could not attain maturity in their writings. Other than historical importance their dramas have no literary value.
In 1857, Gunabhiram Barua laid the foundation of modern Assamese drama by writing the first socio-tragic play called Ram-Navami Influenced by the social reformative movement initiated by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar in Bengal he had written it to propagate widow marriage in Assam. The drama published serially in the first Assamese news-magazine Orunudoi was later published in the form of book in 1870. To free the society from the clutches of opium, Hemchandra Barua, the doyen of Assamese language also wrote a socio-comic play called Kaniyar-Kirtan
It is pertinent to mention here that neither Gunabhiram nor Hemchandra wrote dramas for stage performance. They used drama only as a tool for reforming the society. Their dramas carried a message to the society. While Ram-Navami carried a message in favour of widow marriage, Kaniyar-Kirtan sarcastically warned the society against opium.
In 1888, a group of Assamese students studying at Kolkata set up a socioliterary organization called Asomiya Bhasar Unnati Sadhini Sabha' for the upliftmant of the Assamese language and literature. The Sabha also brought out a monthly magazine called Jonaki. By incorporating western thoughts and ideas Jonaki heralded the dawn of romanticism in Assamese literature. Lakhsminath Bezborna , one of the pioneers of modern Assamese literature emerged as the most successful playwright in the pages of Jonaki with his satirical dramaLitikai, Ratnadhar Barua, Ramakanta Barkakati, GunananBarua and Ghanashyam Baruatranslated Shakespeay Cominedy of Errors into Assamese as Bhramaranga and laid another milestone in Assamese theatre. It brought the Shakespean style of writing into the Assamese drama. Bhramaranga also known as the first Assamese drama successfully performed on the stages of Assam.
The last part of the 19th century and the first part of the 20th century is regarded as the 'golden age' in Assamese theatre. Many theatre halls established during this time in different parts of the State helped in accelerating the theatrical movement in Assam. The temporary stage of Kamrup Natya Samity was upgraded to a full-fledged stage at Guwahati in 1923 with a new name Kumar Bhaskar Natya Mandir. In 1907, a number of stalwarts in Assamese theatre set up Ban Stage at Tezpur. Similarly, Sivasagar Natya Mandir at Sivasagar, Amolapatty Natya Mandir at Dibrugarh , Jorhat Theatre at Jorhat, Nagaon Natya Samaj at Nagaon set up during this time also created a congenial atmosphere for regular performance of Assamese drama. Apart from producing many reputed actors they gave birth to a number of Assamese playwrights. Padmanath Gohainborua, Indreswar Borthakur, Saradakanta Bordoloi, Atul Chandra Hazarika, Jugal Das etc emerged as the most successful playwrights in Assamese theatrical world. Most of the dramas written during this period were based on historic events or pertaining to mythologies and legends. The only exception is Jyotiprasad Agarwala who paid equal emphasis to acting and literature, incorporated both romanticism and realism reflecting the ideals of both Shakespeare and Ibsen.
For the upliftment of Assamese drama and theatre, a group of theatre loving people gave birth to an organization as Asam Akanka Natya Sanmilan in 1959 at Dibrugarh. While Bishnu Prasad Rabha was the founder president of the Sanmilan, Tafazul Ali was selected as its general secretary. Later, expanding its branches all over Assam, it was reconstituted as Asam Natya Sanmilan. Apart from creating a congenial atmosphere for the growth of Assamese drama and theatre, the Sanmilan during last the 50 years of its glorious existence has been relentlessly fighting for the rights of actors, playwrights and theatre loving people of the State.s
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SINNING IN GOD'S OWN COUNTRY
RISHI V K
The recent arrest of a local politician for alleged immoral activities has leapfrogged into becoming one of the most talked-about events in Kerala. The person in question, Rajmohan Unnithan, a member of All India Congress Committee, has been suspended from party and barred from travelling outside Kerala by a local court since his arrest during the night of December 20. Doesn't sound all that abnormal, for India, that is. What is unusual, however, is the way this small-time Malayalam film actor was taken into police custody and charged with such a serious offence.
According to media reports, local activists of DYFI, the youth wing of the ruling CPI-M, and the People's Democratic Party of Abdul Nasser Madani, broke into a house at Manjeri in Malappuram district to find Unnithan with a woman. They accused the two of immoral activity, actually took their photographs and held a public hearing for hours before handling them over to the police.
Unnithan and his 32-year-old female companion, a former Congress Sewa Dal member, were subjected to medical tests and had to spend a night in the police station before being granted bail by the Manjeri first class judicial magistrate the next day. And all this for being in the same house.
Since that day, Unnithan has been using all his time, energy and oratorical skills to explain he was set up and that he had no sexual relationship with the woman in question. Most commentators, bloggers and the public at large are debating what the two grown-ups were doing in the house and trying to guess if any remark from this otherwise small player in local politics may have led to a possible entrapment (Unnithan is known for his sharp and often nasty remarks.
For example, when the Congress invited K Karunakaran to rejoin the party, this is how he explained why the former CM's son Muraleedharan was not invited: "Vada comes free with masala dosa in Udupi hotels, you don't need to order separately.") Meanwhile, the man's own party, Congress, has ordered a probe into the incident.
Very few in the state have come out in the open to say the real issue was about violation of privacy and that consensual sex has nothing to do with illegal trafficking. One prominent person who did say that, writer Paul Zacharia, has allegedly been roughed up by DYFI activists for doing so. That's God's own country. A paradox. It leaves the rest of the country far behind in social indicators such as literacy, healthcare and social awareness, yet Kerala remains one of the most backward when it comes to relationships between the sexes.
Sample this: at the beautiful Varkala beach in south Kerala, Indians are not allowed to bathe at the main beach. It's kept exclusively for foreigners. There's no need to argue with the security guards or local police. Just watching how sensitive sun-bathing foreigners are to local stares is good enough. At Kovalam's famed Hawah Beach too, it's hard to spot brown skin in a sea of bare-bodied sunbathers.
That may sound like other parts of conservative India. But Kerala is 'progressive'. It believes in equality. It voted the first democratically elected Communist government into power. It has implemented land reforms. Here, girl children are taken care of, they are well-educated, confident and most of them work for a living, many outside the state. It's even supposed to be a traditionally matriarchal society!
Yet, here, even young husbands and wives are reluctant to share the same seat in local buses and college boys and girls seem reluctant to mingle with each other outside campuses. It's next to impossible to find a local woman in a bar or see a woman travel alone after sunset. Despite all its progressive claims and the ability of its people to adapt to different conditions around the world it's said that there are more Malayalis outside the state than within Kerala remains a male-dominated society that's steeped in moral backwardness. The only probable exceptions could be found among the youth in cities like Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram.
In Kerala, it seems, only man is human. He errs. He drinks and robs, and sometimes kills. But a woman is beyond all that. She's a goddess, or furniture, or just a machine. She's incapable of action. She can't sin. She can't really live. Here's the most Catholic society in the world. It lives in a state of false morality that stands between man and woman, increasing their distance and distrust, and turning people into perverts. There are numerous sex scandals and cases of gang rapes. Yet, everybody is busy moral policing. Sex, thus, is one of the original sins in God's own country.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DOMESTIC MOMENTUM: GATHERS INDUSTRIAL STRENGTH
The sharp 11.7% rise in the index of industrial production (IIP) in November 2009, the fastest acceleration in 25 months, together with the trends seen over the past four months suggest that recovery is slowly but surely getting firm. But this growth has been obtained over a low base: the IIP grew by only 2.5% in the same month last year.
The base effect will continue till February 2010 and, to some extent, mislead casual observers to believe that the economy is, indeed, booming. The base effect apart, strong recovery is underway, and improved consumer sentiment, Sixth Pay Commission arrears as well as the fiscal and monetary stimulus have played a significant role reversing the deceleration that set in about a year ago.
Strong demand for cars and consumer durables has ensured that manufacturing gained momentum, expanding 12.7% during the month, recording double-digit growth for the fourth straight month. Production of transport equipment including passenger cars and bikes grew a whopping 38.3% in November.
This is reflected in the spurt of 37.3% in consumer durables, whose weightage and composition are truly obsolete, understating their contribution to industrial growth. The revival of the capital goods sector, expanding 12.2% after 0.5% rise a year ago, reflects industry's optimism, as does the bottoming out of non-oil imports.
The performance of the mining sector, rising 10% from a year ago, thanks primarily to the starting of production at Cairn India and Reliance's KG gas basin, is good news, and should be seen as a positive contributor to GDP in the years ahead. However, lagging performance of the electricity sector could be a cause for concern.
Positive trends on the export front, both in November and December, even though on a low base, too should translate into healthier IIP growth.
Clearly, it is time to think of withdrawing the stimulus. However, a sudden reversal of the stimulus can threaten recovery. And so, a calibrated approach would be required, gradually restoring the indirect tax rates to pre-December 2008 levels, and phasing out the wholly-irrational subsidies on petroleum fuels.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DEVE GOWDA GRADUATES TO SEVEN-LETTER WORDS
TIME was when Deve Gowda would only focus on four-letter words like NICE Nandi Infrastructure Corridor Enterprise which was tasked with building a multi-lane highway between Karnataka's two main cities of Bangalore and Mysore but which attracted the ire of the former prime minister who initiated the project during his tenure as the state's chief minister and subsequently campaigned against it on the grounds that thousands of farmers were being displaced without getting adequate compensation.
The matter is now before the Supreme Court but Deve Gowda has organised a public 'court' along the highway where farmers can 'depose'. It was when a newspaper quoted Karnataka chief minister B S Yeddyurappa as insinuating that those protesting on the highway had been hired that Deve Gowda lost his cool and uttered a seven-letter word beginning with b and ending with d to question the legitimacy of the chief minister's parentage!
Such seven-letter words had not been used even at the height of the agitation against the Narmada dam where the number of those displaced was many times the total affected by the NICE project.
When he was the CM, Deve Gowda had once in a speech to a high-level British business delegation said, "Please don't screw us"! The former prime minister has now graduated to using seven-letter words.
Deve Gowda has expressed regret in his usual 'gracious' style by stating that he regretted using the word 'b*****d' but that it was the CM who had started it all by provoking him. The only thing the self-styled fumble harmer sorry, humble farmer did not say was that "I apologise for calling that b*****d a b*****d"!
If, as and when the move to regulate news channels takes effect, interviews involving the former prime minister could perhaps be telecast at midnight when children are fast asleep and dreaming of past prime ministers whose language is truly inspirational and not of the kind that schoolboys are chastised for using!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DESTROY THOSE ENVYING ROOTS
The enlightened master, Buddha says, 'Destroy those envying roots and enjoy lasting peace.' Just be fully aware when the feeling of jealousy arises.
And you will be surprised, it simply disappears. Jealousy cannot be overcome either by escaping from it or hating the object of jealousy.
A woman once hired a professional artist to paint her portrait. The artist carefully made a large portrait and then presented it to her saying, 'How do you like it?' The lady looked at it and said, 'Yes, very nice. But can you add a few things? I want you to add a glittering diamond necklace, a gold watch and bracelet, emerald earrings and beautiful pearl rings on the fingers. The artist was surprised and said, 'But madam, the portrait looks simple and beautiful as it is. Why do you want to add all the jewellery and clutter it?'
The woman replied, 'I want my rich neighbours to see the painting and go crazy when they see all the jewellery that they will think I have.' Understand, the way out of jealousy is not by suppressing it or denying its existence. Expressing and encouraging it is also not the way because then you are not ready to face the jealousy with awareness. Just watch how jealousy arises in you, how it develops into hatred for the object of jealousy, how it creates restlessness and frustration inside you and makes you lose all of your peace and calm.
Be aware of the jealousy instead of hating it or the object of your jealousy. Just watch, as if you have nothing to do with it. Be a scientist in your inner world and let your mind be your laboratory. Just be aware and witness without any prejudice.
Do not condemn the emotion saying it is bad because that is what you have been taught. It has not become your experience. Understand, if it is your experience that jealousy is a negative emotion you will drop it automatically. It has not become your own experience; it is only something that you have picked up from others. Unless it becomes an experiential understanding in you that jealousy and comparison are negative, it will not become a part of you.
Do not condemn the object of jealousy. The object has not generated the emotion from outside. The jealousy is happening inside you. The fire of jealousy can just consume you completely if you don't control it with the fire extinguisher of your awareness. Once you witness your jealousy with awareness, you will realise that it does not have a basis for existence at all. When this happens, jealousy will drop automatically. You won't have to drop it. Be Blissful!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CHAIN YOUR EGO AND UNCHAIN YOUR SPIRIT
VITHAL C NADKARNI
ED AND Deb Shapiro's new tribute to meditation takes its title from one of Mahatma Gandhi's most famous quotes, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Change has to start from within, say the award-winning authors of 15 books on meditation, self-development and social action in their latest offering, How meditation can transform you and the world, "If we want to have more love in our lives, we must become more loving; if we genuinely want to end terrorism and to bring real and peaceful change in the world, then we must start by ending the war within ourselves."
The authors and a host of well-known practitioners drafted by them contend that with meditation, peaceful change starts from the individual level and spreads to the world. Health benefits of meditation are well-documented by now.
What is not as well-accepted is the contention that mantras, or, more correctly, meditation per se, inspires a social movement towards a more caring and peaceful future. One key argument in favour of this thesis involves modulation of ego through meditation and its practice of self-contemplation. "Without this fundamental technique, we are subject to the ego's every whim and have no way of putting a brake on its demands," the Shapiros contend. "Meditation, on the other hand, gives us the space to see ourselves clearly and objectively, a place from which we can witness our own behaviour and reduce the ego's influence."
But how exactly does one achieve that egoless state of equipoise is the million-dollar question that the Pandava Prince Arjuna puts to his friend-philosopher-and-guide Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. The Lord advises persistent practice with detachment.
But that does not involve a wrestling match with the ego. "Instead of thinking that we have to somehow eradicate or annihilate the ego, through the practice of meditation, we find that its more positive aspects are enhanced while the more self-centred aspects begin to fade in importance," the Shapiros say. "As the need to be constantly engaged in the details of our own story loses its relevance, so the ego releases its grip and becomes less demanding. This does not mean that we become just like a doormat and let people walk all over us. Rather, we are able to communicate more openly and honestly, and to love more unconditionally."
We aren't immutable as the ego has us believe, but truly free and unbound.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IT'LL PREVENT THEM, AND RATIONALISE ASSET PRICES
A longer tenure of contracts for stock lending and borrowing will not create an asset bubble. On the contrary, it is likely to prevent the formation of asset bubbles and could lead to more efficient asset prices. Contracts with longer tenures in the securities lending and borrowing (SLB) market may increase liquidity in equity markets, with more investors willing to short-sell stocks. Improved liquidity, in turn, will help unwind the liquidity premium built into stock prices, leading to an increase in their value.
A 1986 article, Asset pricing and the bid risk spread, by Yakov Amihud and Haim Mendelson in the Journal of Financial Economics, shows that investors expect a higher return to hold less-liquid stocks. In a more liquid market, the expected returns are lower, giving prices a fillip and, thus, making them more valuable. If, for any reason, prices increase beyond what is implied by the company's fundamentals, investors will borrow shares from the SLB market and sell them in the equity market. This selling pressure ensures that an asset bubble is not formed.
A related issue is whether the volume of trading in the SLB market will increase with the change in contract tenure. If volumes on the SLB market do not alter considerably, liquidity in equity markets will not change. Foreign institutional investors have traditionally borrowed shares from offshore markets and will continue to do so, given the higher transaction costs and margins in the SLB market.
For Indian investors, both retail and institutional, the stock futures market provides an alternative trading option. Only stocks available on the futures and options (F&O) segments are put up in the SLB market. Instead of borrowing shares from the SLB market and then selling them in the equity market and bearing transaction costs in both markets investors would simply short-sell a futures contract on stocks in a single transaction. The margins in the futures market are also lower than those in the SLB market. This may lead to domestic investors staying away from the SLB market.
The extended contract tenure is unlikely to affect volumes in the SLB market and, consequently, will not have a significant effect on liquidity in the stock market.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
NO, BUT WHAT MARGIN WOULD BORROWERS PAY?
THE securities lending and borrowing (SLB) scheme was launched two years ago. Although the tenure of contracts for SLB was raised from one week to a month, there was hardly any participation, making the scheme illiquid. The recent move to raise the tenure of SLB contracts to one year will enhance participation, leading to more people willing to lend securities against a fee to the borrowers. The objective of borrowers is to deliver the borrowed securities to the exchange. They would borrow only if they feel that the price of the stock is higher than its inherent value. The goal of the borrower is to sell the shares, make profit if the valuation call is right, and the price meets the lower value level.
The lenders are usually long-term participants in the market and are generally not worried about short-term aberrations between the price and value. Such a mechanism will result in an increase in the supply of shares. Besides, more shares will be available for rent. This, in turn, would result in better price discovery and price value equation. As a result, it would not lead to an asset bubble.
In fact, asset bubbles can be prevented as shares will be available on rent. The availability of shares through the SLB mechanism will also lower the discount in the futures segment if the value of the stock is shrinking. If the discount is more than the borrowing cost, arbitrageurs will borrow the shares and sell them at a higher rate in the cash market. So, even here, if the SLB market becomes liquid, the discounts would reduce as arbitrageurs will play both sides of the market: buy cash, sell futures and buy futures, sell cash.
However, there could be an adverse impact in some cases, resulting in a short-seller squeeze. If shares are borrowed with the idea of selling and the buyers cartelise and raise the prices, there will be a short-seller squeeze. This would increase the prices and may stretch the value price even further. The key to success of the SLB market remains the margins that the borrowers would have to pay. No doubt the extension of the SLB tenure to a year from a month has solved the problem relating to timeframe, but the issue of margins still remain.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
WE SEE A SIGNIFICANT OPPORTUNITY IN THE CONSTRUCTION EQUIPMENT SEGMENT: SANJEEV BAJAJ
Sanjeev Bajaj, MD, Bajaj Finserv, in interview with ET NOW talks about company's Q3 results and future plans.
Tell us how has the new business premium income growth been in the Q3 gone by?
Sanjeev Bajaj: Before I come to the new business premium income, let me just talk about the consolidated figures for Finserv and our income from operations is up almost 40% to 119 crores in this quarter, while our PAT is up almost two times from 12 crores to 35 crores or so. Now the new business premium that you are talking about is relevant for the life insurance business where we have shown a 10% increase on the new business premium and a 14% increase on growth premium but the important story there is when you look at the bottom line where our PAT over there for the company as a whole has grown up from 30 crores to 154 crores. That is on the life business. If you look at the general business, while our gross premium is flat at 583 crores, profit again is up from 17 crores to 29 crores and same in the consumer finance business, we have shown a growth both in gross income from 158 crores to 250 crores and profit again has grown handsomely from 11 crores to 27 crores. So across businesses, we have seen top line grows stably but significant growth in the bottom line.
Right but in light of the reason IRDA norms capping those ULIP charges, what kind of impact do you see in terms of your profit margins and what kind of new products will you be focussing on now?
Sanjeev Bajaj: We have refined our products for them to fall in line with the new charges of IRDA but most of our products were by and large in line and as a result, we do not expect to see significant difference going forward in our particular case.
Right and what about Bajaj Auto Finance, that has posted a stellar set of numbers, the segments apart from financing Bajaj Auto's vehicles as we are well aware of, what are the other segments you are looking at to grow the loan book because analysts have said that the lack of access to deposit base may constrain expansion of your loan book size, what is your sense?
Sanjeev Bajaj: We have seen significant growth both at the low and unsecured business which is consumer durables. I believe we are one of the financiers of consumer durables across the country and we are present in our 50 cities. So that portfolio grew well particularly during the festival season and has continued even through December. In addition on our secured portfolio which is loan against property, we have seen steady growth. We are doing almost 100 crores of business over there a month and as a result, if you see in total, we have done about 1200 crores of business in the quarter. We are seeing very stable growth across businesses outside of the two wheeler business. The two wheeler business is only captive to our own products and there again, after restructuring the internal processes and team last year, we are seeing very handsome growth in this quarter.
What are your plans for new business initiatives, you are considering entering equipment finance as well, is that going to be largely in the construction equipment space?
Sanjeev Bajaj: Absolutely right, we see a significant opportunity overall in the construction equipment segment with supports as you know the overall infrastructure finance segment in the country. So we are looking forward in the first quarter of the next financial year to enter the segment and we are currently building the team on the construction equipment financing side. In addition, we currently do loan against shares but we only do promote our funding over here. We are building the team and the IT platform so that again in the first quarter next year, we are ready to start retail loan against shares as well. So these are two new businesses that we expect to start in the next quarter that is the first quarter of the next year.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
LARGE DEALS ARE BACK AGAIN: S GOPALAKRISHNAN
In a year when top customers shelved large tech spending decisions in order to cope with the recession effectively, and several others attempted to do more with fewer vendors at lower billing rates, Infosys Technologies had a tough time gaining new business. However, many of the company's large banking customers are now looking healthier and have even started fleshing out large multi-year outsourcing contracts. Infosys CEO & MD S Gopalakrishnan talks to ET about his company's long-term priorities. Excerpts.
What shifts do you see taking place among your customers, post-recession?
There is a lot more emphasis on integrated services, wherein customers are seeking to integrate BPO with operations and IT services. Many customers want to work with fewer, strategic suppliers, not one but 2-5 vendors depending upon the size of their business. We are starting to go back to the large deals.
Some of these new models include shift from time and material-based and fixed price to transaction-based pricing. Companies want to shift from capex to opex-based models of delivery.
What kind of progress you have achieved in gaining business using these new models?
For us, such new initiatives usually take around 3-5 years to become a significant portion of our revenues, which is around 5%. We are already serving two customers each, using software-as-a-service (SaaS) and social commerce-based models. The revenue profile in these engagements is different from other models as it is not done in chunks.
You have recently established a subsidiary for public sector business in the US. Any plan for similar arms in other markets?
We need to diversify and are looking at the public sector opportunity in the US apart from several other markets. Every market needs a different model and we will serve locally wherever needed. Right now, North America is what we are really focusing at when it comes to the public sector opportunity; especially because of the healthcare spend.
What specific healthcare opportunities do you see for Infosys?
The electronic healthcare records, modernising of data systems, embedded systems, personalised medicine & legacy work are some of the areas we are looking at. In personalised medicine area, you can use a cellphone to track and monitor patients. Any investment takes around 3-5 years. We invest, develop pilots and the yield could even happen over 5-10 years.
A NEW CHAPTER IN TIES WITH DHAKA
The true potential of the relationship between India and Bangladesh has never been realised in spite of this country's historic role in aiding the process of Bangladesh's birth, and the existence of a significant section of opinion in that country that embraces the idea of democratic development and a secular polity. Ms Sheikh Hasina Wajed has been in power before at the head of the Awami League but she and her party have always had their hands full battling tendencies that were not well disposed toward cutting the umbilical card with Pakistan dominated by the mullah-military complex. Now on a visit to India, the Bangladesh leader has promised to take her country away from seeds that give rise to extremism and terrorism, and move toward an era of democratic change underpinned by the notions of peace and justice. These were some of the ideas Ms Sheikh Hasina expressed in her acceptance speech on being conferred the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development in New Delhi on Tuesday after she signed a slew of agreements and MOUs with the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, the previous day. The Bangladesh leader's personal commitment to the high ideals she alluded to were never in doubt. But the ground situation in her country did not allow her to attain her goals. The difference now is that Sheikh Hasina and her Awami League-led alliance pulled off a spectacular victory a year back, winning 80 per cent of the seats it contested. The rival BNP-led alliance, which includes the extremist Jamiat-e-Islami, was routed. No less important, the December 2008 election was unprecedented in being completely peaceful, with 85 per cent of the electorate voting. No Bangladesh leader has won an election with such goodwill. Therefore, this time around, Ms Sheikh Hasina has a far freer hand in shaping her country's domestic and foreign policy. She has promised to take Bangladesh's relations with India to a new level. Dr Manmohan Singh too has noted that Ms Sheikh Hasina's visit opened a new chapter in ties that would lead to "complete unity of heart and mind". Such sympathetic articulation on both sides doubtless promises to give a big push to a relationship that had been for the most part unproductive. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. This essentially means that the visiting Prime Minister and her party will have to handle domestic affairs wisely, firmly, and fairly if its foreign policy, particularly concerning India, is to take off in the anticipated direction. New Delhi has agreed to offer Dhaka a billion-dollar line of credit for infrastructure development, the best it has given any country before. This gives us an idea of the degree of investment India is prepared to make to raise the level of its relationship with its eastern neighbour. Dhaka has also been offered access to Nepal and Bhutan through Indian territory. Mutually beneficial arrangements in the power sector are in the offing. India has cancelled plans to make a dam on its side that Bangladesh was apprehensive about. On its part, Dhaka has offered India complete support in ensuring that terrorism against this country is not mounted from its soil.
STARVATION AND SUICIDE
BY P.C. ALEXANDER
During the last three years, two subjects have been consuming the attention of the world community almost to the exclusion of other equally important subjects. One is the financial crisis, which had threatened to lead to a meltdown of the global economy, and the other is the threat to orderly climate changes in the world. As we step into the second decade of the 21st century, the global financial crisis seems to have crossed the stage of "crisis" and some of the gloomy predictions about the collapse of the global economic system now appear to have been an over-reaction to the early symptoms of crisis.
The threat to the regular cycle of climate change had caused great concern about healthy living in the near future and people had become convinced about the urgency of corrective action on a global basis. However, the manner in which the conference on climate change in Copenhagen concluded its deliberations with a "non-agreement", shows that some of the grave apprehensions which dominated the international thought process prior to the conference were not equally shared by all those who attended the conference.
The point to be noted is that the entire world was riveted by financial crisis and climate change for over a couple of years now, almost sidelining some very vital issues which are of great concern to the overwhelming majority of the developing countries including India. One such issue is the fight against hunger. Now that both the financial crisis and climate change have begun to be seen in their proper perspectives, it is important that the issue of fight against hunger should move to the center of attention of the world community.
As early as 1974, Henry Kissinger, the then secretary of state for the United States, while addressing the first World Food Conference in Rome, had declared that no child would go to bed hungry within 10 years. However, such bold promises about removal of hunger still remain paper projects as is evident from the fact that in an industrially advanced country like India, 42 per cent of the population lives below the international poverty line of $1.25 a day. Even though the Planning Commission may have a more liberal criterion for drawing the poverty line, which may bring down the percentage of people below the poverty line, the fact remains that India has the largest number of people among the developing countries of the world who go to bed every day without food.
The irony of the situation is that the majority of people who are suffering from inadequate intake of food belong to the class of farmers engaged in producing food. A brief column like this cannot attempt to even refer to all the important problems faced by the small farmers in India and the grave iniquity involved in the continuance of the problem, in spite of credible progress in other sectors. My intention is only to bring to the notice of our policy-makers, both in the government and in the Opposition, the urgency for giving top priority to one important dimension of the problem, which has emerged in recent years, much to our shame suicide by farmers. The number of farmers who committed suicide in the decade between 1997 and 2007 has been estimated as 1,82,936! About two-thirds of these suicides were in five big states of India Maharashtra, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh which together account for a third of India's population.
The government had taken several steps to mitigate the misery of poor farmers, the most important of which was the bailout of about 36 million farmers who had borrowed money from various public sector organisations. There has no doubt been a decrease in suicide deaths in the country because of the various measures taken by the government in 2008, though several experts have warned against the expectation that the problem would disappear very soon. In fact, the problem may assume an aggravated form if there is a recurrence of severe drought or failure of monsoons. What the country requires at this stage are policy initiatives which will ensure that even if more adverse conditions set in, the small farmer will not be driven to killing himself.
Certain disturbing aspects of farmers' suicides deserve special notice. One is that the majority of the farmers who had committed suicide were relatively young below the age of 45 and left behind young wives and children to cope with the tragedy. This is not to say that suicide by elderly persons would have been more tolerable but just to highlight hopelessness at a relatively young age.
The second is that while the number of farmers' suicides would have shown a decline in absolute terms, its seriousness should be assessed in the context that the total number of rural farmers has also been declining. It has been estimated that between 1991 and 2001, as many as eight million people left farming. Thirdly, while the government has promised enormous sums of money in tackling the problem of hunger in the last few months, the pace and procedures of delivery of such measures have not changed. No attention has been paid at all to the task of improving the delivery system along with financial support. Suicide by a debt-ridden farmer takes place only when he finds that there is no alternative left. Further, the scheme of debt relief announced by the government is about the debts that farmers owe to the public sector organisations. However, mere sermons by the politicians about moneylenders adopting fair rates of interest, repayment periods etc. will be of little help to poor farmers steeped in debt.
Several other well-conceived programmes of the government are not yielding the desired results because of its failure to gear up the delivery mechanism to be prompt and efficient. Digging new wells, employment-generation linked to National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), improving rural roads, better access to markets etc, require altogether new procedures on the part of those responsible for delivery of government assistance to the rural population. Otherwise, most of the well-intentioned relief and rehabilitation programmes may sink into the traditional pattern of government schemes marked by red tape, lethargy and corruption.
P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
DON'T GIVE INTO THE DRAGON'S SWAGGER
BY ROGER COHEN
A US official here told me he was "getting a little nervous about 2010" when it comes to Chinese-American relations. I'd say there's plenty of cause for that. I'm not optimistic about the world's most important relationship in the short term.
The Obama administration came in with a deeply held philosophical view about making the Chinese stakeholders, and partners, in an interconnected world. Human rights complaints were muted, the Dalai Lama put on hold, and the US President, Mr Barack Obama, swung into town in November with arms outstretched to the rising behemoth.
The Chinese were polite enough, if less so at the Copenhagen climate talks a month later, but they're not buying this touchy-feely interconnection thing. When you're sitting on sums north of $2 trillion in reserves, riding three decades of near double-digit growth, and just trucked past the United States to become the world's largest auto market, nationalism trumps globalism.
Think of the headiest moments of US expansion the Gilded Age or the Roaring Twenties to get some idea of Chinese swagger and possibility.
It's been a rough two months since that November visit. China has snubbed Obama.
Top of Obama's human rights list when he met the President, Mr Hu Jintao, was the case of Mr Liu Xiaobo, the principal author of a pro-democracy manifesto. Liu's since been sentenced, on Christmas Day, to 11 years in prison. Take that.
Top of Obama's non-proliferation list was Iran and the need for a united front on its nuclear programme. China has since said "sanctions themselves are not an end" as the United States tries to harness support for them. Take that, too.
Top of Obama's trade list was the need for China to allow its currency, the renminbi, to appreciate rather than pegging it at an artificially low rate that spurs Chinese exports and, in effect, keeps jobs in Guangzhou as it kills them in Ohio. But a basic rule in China is that it looks inward before it looks outward. Its cheap-currency job-hoarding is about Chinese social stability, which is job one for Hu and his cohorts, so there's no sign of any movement.
Take that, for good measure, Mr President and in a year with a US mid-term election where disappearing jobs are going to haunt Obama and the Democrats.
Then there was Copenhagen, of course, where Prime Minister Wen Jiabao's treatment of Obama left a bad taste in Washington; and the forced repatriation of Uighurs who'd fled to Cambodia from China, which infuriated Washington; and the execution of a UK citizen with mental problems, which dismayed Washington (and left British leaders seething). Well, you get the idea.
"Things are much tougher than I thought possible a couple of months ago", William McCahill, a former US diplomat who heads a Beijing research company, told me. "With the mid-terms and the Chinese inching toward their succession in 2012, a period when hard-line positions get staked, you can expect the rhetoric to pitch up".
It already has. Since I arrived in China, newspapers have been awash in Chinese outrage at reports of the Obama administration's approval of a sale by Lockheed Martin of advanced Patriot air defence missiles to Taiwan, the self-governing island that China views as a renegade province. The Chinese foreign ministry spoke of "severe consequences" from the sale, part of a $6.5 billion arms package for Taiwan approved under the Bush administration.
I have a double reaction to this Taiwan arms contract. On the one hand, Obama's been stiffed, the United States is obliged under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 to provide arms of a defensive nature to Taiwan, and China responds better to resolve than all that interconnected globe stuff. On the other, come on! Relations between Taipei and Beijing have never been as good, you're never ever going to get a Chinese buy-in to real cooperation as long as it views Washington as meddling with its core strategic interests in this way, and "one country, three systems" looks a thousand times more likely to me within the next half-century than a Taiwan war that would shred Chinese stability.
Of these reactions, the latter is stronger because Obama is accepting a core antagonism of interest in the Chinese relationship even as he's talked up cooperation. Perhaps that's inevitable between the world's superpower and its ultimate likely successor; but the Taipei deal guarantees it.
"The arms sales are stupid", Chu Shulong, a political scientist often critical of the Chinese government, told me. "Yes, Taiwan and its democracy are important for your credibility in Asia, but what's more important, that or the mainland? As long as America does this, it will be perceived as wanting to check China, divide China and challenge China's fundamental national interests".
The painful condition of the US and China is that they are codependent, through trade and debt, but antagonistic. As elsewhere, Obama has changed language but not reality. I see a 2010 of rising protectionism, suspended military dialogue, Iranian discord, human rights disappointments and wars of words.
It could be worse. I don't see outright confrontation now or any time. China wouldn't risk its rise with that.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Headlines from the US, most of which you will never get to read:
* In England pensioners burning books for warmth: Dickens, Michener, Gibbon most popular.
* France bans psychological abuse: Except in restaurants.
* Official portrait of Princes Harry, William shows them in "Casual moment": Actually, they were drunk.
* Study says looks matter more in city: Less when on desert island.
* Antidepressants not effective for those only mildly depressed: News causes mildly depressed to become severely depressed, making antidepressants effective.
* Report says health bill will leave 23 million uninsured: But they'll be easily identifiable with special toe tags.
* Afghan President Hamid Karzai's latest Cabinet picks rejected: Afghan Parliament says Jamid, Kamid and Khamid Karzai too close to President.
* Mind-reading systems could change air security: Not to mention poker, dating.
* Experts say cold snap doesn't disprove global warming: But casts doubt on evolution.
THE POLITICS OF CLIMATE
BY VANDANA SHIVA
The Copenhagen climate change summit was probably the largest gathering where world's political leaders and negotiators came to work on innovative yet achievable solutions to climate change. Climate chaos is already costing millions of lives and billions of dollars. Science tells us that to keep temperature rise within 2o Celsius, an 80 per cent cut is needed by 2050. But without a legally-binding treaty, emissions of greenhouse gases will not be cut, the polluters will continue to pollute and life on earth will be increasingly threatened.
There were multiple contests at Copenhagen:
* Between the earth's ecological limits and limitless growth;
* Between the need for legally-binding commitments and the US-led initiative to dismantle the international framework of legally-binding obligations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
* Between the economically-powerful historical polluters of the North and economically-weak southern countries that are the victims of climate change, with the BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) negotiating with the South but finally signing the Copenhagen accord with the US; and
* Between corporate rule based on greed and profits and military power, and earth democracy based on sustainability, justice and peace.
The hundreds of thousands of people who gathered at Klimaforum and on the streets of Copenhagen came as earth citizens. Danes, Africans, Americans, Latin Americans, Canadians and Indians stood united in their concern for earth, climate justice, rights of the poor and the vulnerable and for the rights of future generations. Never before has there been such a large presence of citizens at a United Nations (UN) conference.
Ever since the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Earth Summit, took place in 1992 in Rio de Janeiro, the US has been unwilling to be part of the UN framework of international law. It never signed the Kyoto Protocol. During his trip to China, US President Barack Obama with Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark had announced that there would only be a political declaration in Copenhagen, not a legally binding outcome. And this is exactly what the world got a non-binding Copenhagen accord, initially signed by five countries, the US and the BASIC Four, and then supported by 26 others with the rest of the 192 UN member states left out of the process. The excluded countries came to know that an "accord" had been reached when Mr Obama announced the accord to the US press corp. They refused to sign the accord and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) only "noted" the accord, it did not adopt it. This means that there is no obligation for a member of the convention to implement the accord. When the full membership of the Conference of the Parties (COP) was summoned to the closing plenary the consequences had to be explosive.
The Venezuelan delegate, Claudia Caldera, said, "Until you tell us where the text has come from, and we hold consultations on it, we should not suspend the session. Even if we have to cut our hand and draw blood to make you allow us to speak, we will do so."
Ian Fry of the small island of Tavalu, said, on the money that had been offered in the "accord", said, "We are offered 30 pieces of silver to betray our people and our future. Our future is not for sale. Tavalu cannot accept this document."
The 30 pieces of silver is $30 billion that is supposed to address the mitigation and adaptation needs of the entire Third World countries. India alone lost $30 billion in 2009 as a result of the failure of the monsoon and the post-monsoon floods that wreaked havoc in south India. The money being talked about is inadequate for the challenge being faced by the climate change, and it is not clear how this money would be mobilised. It could be through emission trading that has promoted polluting sponge iron plants and Hydrochlorofluorocarbons plants in India as part of the "clean development mechanism".
Sudan ambassador Lumumba Di Aping said he saw the pact as a "suicide pact" that aimed to maintain the economic dominance of a few countries.
As American economist Jeffrey Sachs notes in a recent article, "Oba7pagema's decision to declare a phoney negotiating victory undermines the UN process by signalling that rich countries will do what they want and must no longer listen to the 'pesky' concerns of many smaller and poorer countries".
The Copenhagen accord will undoubtedly interfere with the official UNFCCC process in future negotiations as it did in Copenhagen. Like the earth's future, the future of the UN now hangs in "imbalance". There has been repeated reference to the emergence of a new world order in Copenhagen. But this is the world order shaped by corporate globalisation and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), not by the UN Climate Treaty. It is a world order based on outsourcing of pollution from the rich industrialised North to countries like China and India.
Climate change today is global in cause and effect. Globalisation of the economy has outsourced energy-intensive production to countries like China. The corporations and the consumers of the North thus bear responsibility for the increased emissions in the countries of the South.
In fact, the rural poor in China and India are losing their land and livelihood to make way for an energy-intensive industrialisation. To count them as polluters would be a major crime. Corporations, not nations, are the appropriate basis for regulating atmospheric pollution in a globalised economy.
The Copenhagen accord is in reality the accord of global corporations to continue to pollute by attempting to dismantle the UN Climate Treaty. It should be called the "right to pollute accord" as it has no legally-binding emission targets.
To protect the planet, to prevent climate catastrophe through continued pollution, we will have to continue to work beyond Copenhagen by building "earth democracy" based on principles of justice and sustainability. The climate crisis is a result of an economic model based on fossil fuel energy and resource intensive production and consumption systems. The Copenhagen accord was designed to extend the life of this obsolete model for living on earth. Now citizens of the earth must unite to pressurise governments and corporations to obey the laws of the earth, the laws of Gaia (Greek for Mother Earth). And for this we will have to be the change we want to see.
Forty per cent emissions are produced by a fossil fuel-based chemical, globalised food and agricultural systems that are not only destroying our health but also forcing our farmers to commit suicide. Forty per cent reduction in emissions can take place through biodiverse organic farming, which sequesters carbon while enriching our soil and diet. The polluters ganged up in Copenhagen for a non-solution. We as earth citizens can prove that we are for real solutions.
Dr Vandana Shiva is the executive director of the Navdanya Trust
THE TEL AVIV CLUSTER
BY DAVID BROOKS
Jews are a famously accomplished group. They make up 0.2 per cent of the world population, but 54 per cent of the world chess champions, 27 per cent of the Nobel physics laureates and 31 per cent of the medicine laureates.
Jews make up two per cent of the US population, but 21 per cent of the Ivy League student bodies, 26 per cent of the Kennedy Centre honourees, 37 per cent of the Academy Award-winning directors, 38 per cent of those on a recent Business Week list of leading philanthropists, 51 per cent of the Pulitzer Prize winners for non-fiction.
In his book, The Golden Age of Jewish Achievement, Steven L. Pease lists some of the explanations people have given for this record of achievement. The Jewish faith encourages a belief in progress and personal accountability. It is learning-based, not rite-based.
Most Jews gave up or were forced to give up farming in the Middle Ages; their descendents have been living off of their wits ever since. They have often migrated, with a migrant's ambition and drive. They have congregated around global crossroads and have benefited from the creative tension endemic in such places.
No single explanation can account for the record of Jewish achievements. The odd thing is that Israel has not traditionally been strongest where the Jews in the diaspora were strongest. Instead of research and commerce, Israelis were forced to devote their energies to fighting and politics.
Milton Friedman used to joke that Israel disproved every Jewish stereotype. People used to think Jews were good cooks, good economic managers and bad soldiers; Israel proved them wrong.
But that has changed. Benjamin Netanyahu's economic reforms, the arrival of a million Russian immigrants and the stagnation of the peace process have produced a historic shift. The most resourceful Israelis are going into technology and commerce, not politics. This has had a desultory effect on the nation's public life, but an invigorating one on its economy.
Tel Aviv has become one of the world's foremost entrepreneurial hot spots. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than any other nation on earth, by far. It leads the world in civilian research-and-development spending per capita. It ranks second behind the US in the number of companies listed on the Nasdaq. Israel, with seven million people, attracts as much venture capital as France and Germany combined.
As Dan Senor and Saul Singer write in Start-Up Nation: The Story of Israel's Economic Miracle, Israel now has a classic innovation cluster, a place where tech obsessives work in close proximity and feed off each other's ideas.
Because of the strength of the economy, Israel has weathered the global recession reasonably well. The government did not have to bail out its banks or set off an explosion in short-term spending. Instead, it used the crisis to solidify the economy's long-term future by investing in research and development and infrastructure, raising some consumption taxes, promising to cut other taxes in the medium to long term. Analysts at Barclay's write that Israel is "the strongest recovery story" in Europe, West Asia and Africa.
Israel's technological success is the fruition of the Zionist dream. The country was not founded so stray settlers could sit among thousands of angry Palestinians in Hebron. It was founded so Jews would have a safe place to come together and create things for the world.
This shift in the Israeli identity has long-term implications. Netanyahu preaches the optimistic view: that Israel will become the Hong Kong of West Asia, with economic benefits spilling over into the Arab world. And in fact, there are strands of evidence to support that view, in places like the West Bank and Jordan.
But it's more likely that Israel's economic leap forward will widen the gap between it and its neighbours. All the countries in the region talk about encouraging innovation. Some oil-rich states spend billions trying to build science centres. But places like Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv are created by a confluence of cultural forces, not money. The surrounding nations do not have the tradition of free intellectual exchange and technical creativity.
For example, between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the US Saudis registered 171. Israelis registered 7,652.
The tech boom also creates a new vulnerability. As Jeffrey Goldberg of the Atlantic has argued, these innovators are the most mobile people on earth. To destroy Israel's economy, Iran doesn't actually have to lob a nuclear weapon into the country. It just has to foment enough instability so the entrepreneurs decide they had better move to Palo Alto, where many of them already have contacts and homes. American Jews used to keep a foothold in Israel in case things got bad here. Now Israelis keep a foothold in the US. During a decade of grim foreboding, Israel has become an astonishing success story, but also a highly mobile one.
NOT YET A SCARE
Bertrand Russell once said that collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity towards those who are not regarded as members of the herd. And it has. For a few weeks now, fear about a possible hike in interest rates seemed to have gripped several groups of people, business associations and sections of corporate India, and all of them have expressed virtually the same fears in a very vehement manner: that higher interest rates are not yet justified, they will choke the incipient economic recovery and damage the 9 per cent growth prospects that India wants and can return to quickly. But among other groups of analysts and economists, there is a parallel set of fears: high inflation (already, food prices have risen rapidly in the last few months) and the onset of another asset bubble fuelled by the enormous amounts of liquidity created as part of fiscal stimulus packages announced as a response to the global financial crisis. Raising interest rates has been part of the wider debate on deficits and how they can be cut and debt. Throughout it all, the Reserve Bank of India has been silent on the course of monetary policy and the measures that markets could reasonably expect.
However, everybody could be missing the wood for the trees, forgetting that the determinants of short-term interest rate behaviour those which monetary policy affects most differ from those that influence the behaviour of long-term interest rates. Second, the real amount of liquidity may be overestimated. Third, the yield curve, which represents interest rates from the short (one year) to the long (10 years) term, is already very steep. Fourth, capital inflows are very robust just now; raising interest rates could lead to a spurt and pose problems for exchange rate management.
A back-of-the-envelope estimate for liquidity is money the RBI takes in through its liquidity adjustment facility: about Rs 80,000 crore in mid-December down from its peak of nearly Rs 166,000 crore on September 4, 2009. Within that Rs 80,000 crore, about Rs 20,000 crore is a cushion for capital outflows if there is another global shock. Other adjustments reduce the overall liquidity even further. The difference between the interest rates on 364-day treasury bills and 10-year government bonds is about 310 basis points or 3.1 per cent. Long-term debt is already hard to finance, and pushing up short-term rates will only result in raising those at the long end too. Financing infrastructure, for instance, could become even more difficult. Higher interest rates mean higher rate differentials, more capital flows and even a stronger rupee, not something that would help exporters. Perhaps one should take a leaf out of James Thurber's book: not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.
When in trouble, most politicians invent or manipulate issues. There is thus nothing new about Nepal's Maoist leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, inventing "threats" to his country's sovereignty from India. What is a little more curious about his charges is the fact that he has connected the threats to Nepal's sovereignty to those on his own life. The latest developments within the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) would, however, suggest that the charges have more to do with Mr Dahal's own problems. It has been known for some time that he has major differences with his deputy, Baburam Bhattarai. But now, Mr Dahal, better known as 'Prachanda', has given the inner-party feud a strange twist by calling his deputy an "Indian agent". At the same time, he has alleged that those who threatened Nepal's sovereignty also posed a threat to his life.
The anti-India rhetoric may be an overused tool in Nepal's domestic politics, but using it in order to settle scores with a rival leader within the party can have disturbing consequences. New Delhi depended much on Mr Bhattarai to strike a deal between the Maoists and other political parties to end the armed insurgency in Nepal. But he had Mr Dahal's approval for the negotiations with New Delhi. The Maoist chief's latest volte-face thus shows his desperation since his resignation as prime minister. His attempts to whip up anti-India sentiments are meant to recover lost ground both within his party and with other parties now running the government. The Maoists are still a major force in Nepal's politics, and their role is crucial for stabilizing the new republic and its nascent democracy. Mr Dahal's politics of confrontation over the "integration" of the Maoist army with the regular armed forces and other issues is not a good omen for Nepal. His devious campaigns are the worst threats to the country's peace and stability.
VISIONS AT A BICENTENARY
REINVENTING THE INDIAN MUSEUM
The city today is abuzz with a growing public concern for heritage and environmental preservation. In the line of its many campaigns for this cause, The Telegraph has recently carried a diatribe against the creed of Calcutta empanelled conservation architects and their continuing destruction of heritage buildings in the name of modernization and restoration ("Method of Madness", Metro on Sunday, December 13, 2009). At the centre of the controversy is the iconic 1875 structure of the Indian Museum, Calcutta, and the horrors of a "monstrous proposal" that threatens to add a mansard roof above the first floor and a glass lattice dome covering the inner courtyard of the building. Having allowed a series of mindless demolitions of Calcutta's colonial period architecture, having looked the other way while one after another of the city's flyovers rudely obstructed the street frontage of some of its grandest 19th-century buildings, we cannot but welcome such belated heritage awareness of citizens, journalists and conservationists. But there is also an irony in the way such orchestrated protectionist anxieties can end up blocking any imaginative architectural scheme in the city and scotching new visions even before they have had a fair chance of being debated and thought through. It is imperative, at this juncture of the city's heritage planning and developmental history, not just to give vent to a general anger against all alleged malpractices of renovation, but to treat each case in its context and specificity. It is equally important to extricate the real issues at stake from the morass of bureaucratic biases, clashing egos, and misguided public fears fuelled through a selective leaking of information to the press.
Let me try to place in perspective some of the restructuring plans for the Indian Museum, the oldest in the country, as it moves toward its bicentenary celebrations in 2014. As a researcher on the early history of this museum, and as a member now of its Board of Trustees and its Bicentenary Vision, Concept and Development Committee (formed in the summer of 2008), I think it is my responsibility to invite a different order of civic interest in the proposed overhaul of the institution and the many deterrents that stand in the way. Any attempt to transform this massive and fossilized museum is a gargantuan task. If the range and diversity of its collections (belonging to the fields of natural history, geology, zoology, anthropology, archaeology, sculpture, painting, textiles and decorative arts) are unparalleled, so is the scale of corruption and unprofessionalism that has permeated different levels of the functioning of this institution. Here is a museum where not even a basic centralized record of all items on display and in storage is in place; where formats and arrangements of galleries have remained frozen in time; where none of the fundamental conservational and rotational requirements of fragile exhibits like miniature painting or textiles has been met; and where huge amounts of funds have been misspent on inexpert, piecemeal redesigning of galleries. Before any other plans are considered, the foundational work of compiling a full inventory of all objects has now been given top priority under a freshly activated Physical Verification Committee.
For a museum that has, since its inception, housed the various Surveys the Geological, the Botanical, the Zoological, the Archaeological and the Anthropological there is also the major problem of the assertion of single custodianship over objects and spaces. While the archaeological, arts and crafts and anthropological collections stand under the direct custody of the Indian Museum, the Geological, Botanical and Zoological Surveys continue to hold on to their individual collections, galleries and offices within these precincts, even as they come under separate Central government ministries and regimes of funding. Not a single showcase or exhibit can be moved, nor any gallery redesignated, nor any space reclaimed for other uses, without a carefully crafted arrangement of collaboration and consent of these Surveys and the various curatorial departments of the museum. A series of seemingly insurmountable challenges confront an external body like the Bicentenary Committee, as it attempts to steer this mammoth institution towards a new future. How does one radically redefine the collections, functions and aesthetics of this museum, while retaining the flavour of its imperial past and its status as the composite object-archive of the empire? In what ways can one maximize the spaces for exhibition, storage, offices, library, and public facilities and circulation within this built structure and its inner and outer precincts? And how effectively can this committee exercise its authority and work towards certain commonly-conceived goals vis-à-vis a series of bureaucratic obstacles and administrative injunctions crowding this heritage space and structure?
These are critical questions that the public must be made aware of as much as the committee must cautiously negotiate. That there is a crying urgency of structural and systemic changes within the Indian Museum is a point on which all agree the contentions are over the extent to which existing arrangements can be undone and reworked. Currently, a main source of consternation consists of certain dramatic architectural additions proposed on the museum building, which has been classified as a Grade A structure by the West Bengal Heritage Commission, and is therefore said to permit no changes in its external façade. But, in this hue and cry, it is important to drive home the point that the chairman of the museum's Bicentenary Committee is also the chairman of the West Bengal Heritage Commission, and that the committee consists of some of the most reputed persons in the museums, and architectural, archaeological and academic professions in New Delhi and Calcutta. Is it too much to ask that some confidence be invested in the opinions and judgments of this expert forum, and that it be allowed to proceed with its work of planning and conceptualization, in the faith that it will not be wanting in sensitivity towards the heritage value of the precincts in its charge?
It is out of a rigorous selection process, where several architectural firms from all over the country made a series of presentations before the committee, that a particular consortium of city architects (with impressive credentials in heritage restoration) was selected to work closely with the museum authorities, a curatorial team and the members of the committee on a wide-ranging plan for the upgradation of the exterior and interiors of the building. These redesign plans extend from the galleries of the main building to the entire complex at the back, spread out between Sudder and Kyd Streets, including the historic Jhinjiri Talao tank with the idea of converting these grounds into a public entrance, a car park, a complex of Museum and Survey offices, cast-making units, temporary exhibition halls, shops and cafeterias, and perhaps an open sculpture courtyard. These plans, it must be emphasized, have been based on meticulous information gathering on the architectural and institutional history of these premises. It is in the critical interests of augmentation of space that there are also proposals for creating a basement storage section beneath the building, constructing an additional floor with a mansard roof and covering the open inner courtyard with a glass canopy (this last proposal has of late been vetoed by the Board of Trustees). An ornamental copper mansard roof (similar to that of the Writers' Buildings) was, in fact, a part of the original plans of the architect, Walter B. Granville, for the building, but was finally never executed for shortage of funds. Today's proposals for building this roof (in the style of the old, but with new light weight material) could well be seen as fulfilling Granville's uncompleted vision of the building, and endowing it with a new elevation and frontage that can rise above the obstruction of the flyover. Whether or not any of these proposals will be implemented, and with what revisions and emendations, is still an open question. At this point of planning, what needs underlining is that none of these proposals can ever come about without the extensive collaboration of the CPWD and the KMC and the sanction of the Heritage Commission. And it is the arduous negotiation of these arrangements that has, much to the frustration of the Bicentenary Committee, stalled the appointment of a consulting architect firm and curatorial expert for this project, a year since the selection processes began.
There is also a pressing need at this juncture to ask Calcuttans to look outwards to other contemporary museum histories in the world to alert them particularly to the radical modernist interventions that sacrosanct heritage buildings like those of the Louvre and the British Museum have made room for in the past decades. The construction of I.M. Pei's spectacular glass pyramid at the centre of the Louvre courtyard (opened in 1989), or of Norman Foster's equally spectacular glass dome over the new Great Court of the British Museum (opened in 2000), were not without their share of fierce criticisms. But who can today deny that these architectural innovations have powerfully redefined the life of these two museums and become the pride of the cities that host them? To stick uncritically to the position that nothing can be changed or added to the architectural structure of the Grade A heritage building of the Indian Museum, whatever the new needs of the time, is typical of the kind of bureaucratic mindset and straitjacketed thinking that has been the bane of many restoration schemes in the city. Can we not, instead, think collectively and creatively on how these redesign plans for the Indian Museum can best be carried forward? This is a time when there is greater administrative will and initiative, professional experience and government funds at the disposal of this institution than ever before in its recent history. Let us not lose this valuable opportunity. Leaving behind partisan interests and adverse reporting, let us work towards giving the city a fitting gift of a rejuvenated Indian Museum on the occasion of its bicentenary.
The author is professor of History, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, Calcutta
The Congress is reported to be apprehensive of the recommendation of the chief minister of Bihar, Nitish Kumar, that elections to the state assembly be held earlier than November, when the term of his ministry is scheduled to end. The cause for apprehension is that an election in the next couple of months will not give Rahul Gandhi the time he needs to revamp the party so that it can singlehandedly take on the Janata Dal (United)-Bharatiya Janata Party combine. The party also feels that if the election is held before the monsoon, it will not be able to take advantage of the routine government bungling in relied operations after the inevitable floods. Both arguments need to be examined.
First, the state of the party organization. For well over two decades, the Congress has been in a moribund state. The last time it was in office in Patna in the mid Eighties, factionalism had become so acute that in about three years the state had an equal number of chief ministers Bhagwat Jha Azad, Satyendra Narayan Sinha and Jagannath Mishra. At present, the Congress has a state unit president who is apparently not wanted by anybody in its upper ranks. Indeed, the situation has become so precarious that the Congress is even thinking of bringing back Jagannath Mishra to the limelight, irrespective of the fact that the man from Mithilanchal had severed his connection with the Congress, and had to spend time in prison in connection with the animal fodder scam. Mishra may not ultimately be projected as the chief ministerial candidate, but this speaks volume of the deep desperation that caused some to even think of him.
What can Rahul Gandhi achieve in this scenario, even if the elections are held in November? At best, he can enroll new members. But will an addition to its ranks make the party more acceptable to the people, particularly in a state where the other backward classes call the shots, and the Congress woefully lacks a leader of the stature of Nitish Kumar, Lalu Prasad or Ram Vilas Paswan? Also, there is no indication that the upper castes are trying to break away from the BJP. The BJP may be having problems elsewhere, but as a partner in the state's coalition ministry, it is in much better shape in Bihar. Indeed, while having rosy dreams about the future, the Congress would do well to take a look at the last Lok Sabha elections, in which it could manage to win only three of the 40 seats. And there is no point referring to Uttar Pradesh in this discussion. In that state, all anti-Congress parties have serious problems of their own which is not the case in Bihar.
Then the post-flood advantages. There had been floods when Lalu Prasad and, later, his wife were the chief ministers, and also in the last four years. But could the people's discontent build up to any sustainable movement? It could not, because discontent over flood relief eases out with the receding river waters. When voting, people never go by an annual spell of discomfort to which they have become used, but take into account the overall performance of a party. Going by the recent standards in Bihar, the performance of the ruling coalition has certainly been something to write home about. For the first time in many years, the state has a government that is being positive.Having said this, one should also take note of the fact that in the recent by-elections, the JD(U) did not fare as well as expected. But the gainer was the Rashtriya Janata Dal, not the Congress. There should be a lesson in that for the Congress. Instead of trying to create a miracle, it should seek to have a fair presence in the House, for which it should revive its alliance with the RJD as well as with the Lok Janshakti Party of Paswan. To regain past glory, it needs some ground beneath its feet. Doing it alone right now will make that task much more difficult.
"IT'S TIME TO STRENGTHEN RELATIONS WITH BANGLADESH."
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed's visit to India seeks to strengthen New Delhi-Dhaka relations which have earlier experienced their share of ups and downs. This prime ministerial visit takes place in the backdrop of Dhaka's security cooperation with New Delhi over the arrest of key LeT and ULFA operatives. India has reciprocated Dhaka's gesture with enormous economic aid to the tune of $1 billion credit which is the largest ever one time assistance by New Delhi to any country till now.
The year-old Awami League government with Sheikh Hasina at the helm is expected to make progress on bilateral relations with India. In her earlier tenure as prime minister, the two neighbours resolved the contentious dispute over sharing the Ganga River waters. Unlike the Bangladesh National Party which pursues religious nationalism, the Awami League practices a liberal and secular agenda similar to the Congress-led UPA government which facilitates security and economic cooperation between the sides. While India has always sought cordial relations with Bangladesh over the years, the domestic dynamics of Dhaka has not permitted close ties with New Delhi. This is because Dhaka has been ruled by a group of military generals and pseudo-democratic rulers for 30 out of 39 years of its nationhood. These rulers who are tilted towards Pakistan and allowed Bangladeshi soil to be used for anti-Indian activities. As a result, India-Bangladesh relations never realised their true potential.
Prime Minister Hasina has now proclaimed that Bangladesh's territory would no longer be allowed to be used against India. This has tremendous significance from India'a security viewpoint. At the foreign ministers' meeting held last September in Dhaka the two countries informally agreed to combat terrorism together. Apart from the bonhomie that lately characterises bilateral relations, the irritants are many that need to tackled with a sense of urgency. Two major issues are movement of people and the territorial disputes. To cope with human traffic, India has erected a fence along a part of the the border to regulate the illegal movement of economic migrants and border trade, besides the infiltration of jihadis from Pakistan. New Delhi also needs to resolve the other outstanding issue of 225 enclaves in each others' adverse possession as early as possible. With the Awami League government firmly ensconced in power, there is need to make up quickly for the lost decades between the two sides.
"VOTING RIGHTS TO NRIS IS A WELCOME MOVE."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's announcement last Friday at the inauguration of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in New Delhi that non-resident Indians would be given voting rights meets a long-time demand of a large section of the country's citizens living abroad. The demand has been voiced from many forums inside and outside the country. The government had made a similar announcement earlier too and had introduced in the Rajya Sabha an enabling bill to amend the Representation of People Act accordingly. The bill was referred to a standing committee whose report is before parliament.
The government plans to facilitate voting by NRIs by changing the definition of the voter from a citizen normally resident in India to include Indians living abroad too. But the facility would be of limited value because the non-resident Indian would have to be present in his constituency to exercise his voting right. It is not clear from the prime minister's announcement whether the proposal would go beyond this and enable NRIs to vote from their places of residence outside the country, as members of the armed forces or the staff of Indian diplomatic missions abroad are allowed to do. Various suggestions like voting by postal ballots, e-voting and voting by proxy have been made for this. There is no agreement at present on the voting method NRIs can use. To put in place the technology and procedures for this, after a decision is taken on the method of voting, is very difficult at present, considering the large number of Indian citizens spread out all over the world.
Therefore the prime minister's announcement marks only an in-principle acceptance of the proposal. It is not likely that many NRIs will come to India just to exercise their franchise. Those who happen to be in the country at the time of elections may get the right to vote. Even this is a step forward and is welcome because it removes an impediment in the exercise of the basic democratic right of a citizen living abroad. Extending the right to NRIs who want to vote from their countries of residence will take time, after an agreement is arrived at on the method and logistics. It is unlikely that it will be possible by the next elections, if the prime minster meant that by his promise.
MENDING TIES WITH BANGLA
THE ANSWER LIES IN LARGER MARKET OPPORTUNITIES FOR BANGLADESH IN INDIA AND MORE INDIAN INVESTMENTS IN THAT COUNTRY.
BY B G VERGHESE
Sheikh Hasina's visit to Delhi marks the opening of a new chapter in cooperative relations between two close South Asian neighbours. Long separated by an avoidable degree of mistrust, these mutually hurtful stances, partly a product of internal political compulsions, have given way to a new spirit of accommodation. This has largely been brought about by the posture of the current administration in Dhaka after the Awami League's massive electoral victory just a year ago.
Prime evidence of this are the steps being taken to restore the secular, democratic character of the original Bangladesh constitution. The distortions woven into the country's post-liberation history are being sought to be removed by taking action against those responsible and bringing to trial those charged with war crimes.
The earlier visit of the Bangladesh foreign minister to India a couple of months ago set the stage for a broad understanding on a number of long outstanding issues. Some of these were firmed up, most recently on water resources cooperation, and have now been signed by the two prime ministers. A Teesta sharing agreement is to be expedited on the basis of accepted river discharge readings and India has given assurances of no harm to its neighbour from the proposed Tipaimukh dam, which, on the contrary, would confer substantial benefits on Bangladesh in terms of flood moderation, upgraded navigation and fisheries, and lean season salinity control.
Climate change concerns in fact demand greater cross border and indeed basin-wide cooperation in the management of disasters from aberrant and extreme events.
India is to supply 250 MW of power to Bangladesh with technical studies to points and alignments of proposed interconnections. This could signal the beginning of an eastern SAARC energy exchange, including hydrocarbons and coal. India is also to give Bangladesh transit rights for land and power connectivity with Bhutan and Nepal through its own territory thus paving the way for a new transit regime between the two countries without demanding reciprocity as a prior condition.
This is wise and harks back to the once-criticised and mistakenly abandoned so-called Gujral doctrine. Once India takes the lead, Bangladesh is bound to follow and permit transit, including passage to Chittagong port, all of which would earn it valuable transit and service charges.
A flyover or underpass is also to be constructed by India across Tin Bigha to give Bangladesh 24x7 access to these enclaves in fulfilment of an agreement signed as far back as 1958. The final demarcation of the remaining 6.5 km of land boundary and exchange of other enclaves in adverse position of either side also needs to be speedily completed so that this petty irritant is removed and the underlying human problem is resolved.
India has submitted its claim on the maritime boundary to the concerned UN agency and Bangladesh is to do so this year. But irrespective of international law, there is every reason for India to offer Bangladesh a compromise settlement which will mean a lot to the latter in terms of an accretion of its limited EEZ without much loss to India, with the condition that fishing rights and any undersea mineral discoveries in this area will be jointly exploited.
Bangladesh has at long last barred its territory as a sanctuary for Northeast insurgent groups and has delivered Arbinda Rajkhowa, the ULFA chief, and some of his aides to India. An extradition agreement has now followed. The influx of migrants into India from across the border has not been specifically mentioned. But the answer to this is not border fencing but larger market opportunities for Bangladesh in India and more Indian investments in that country so as to stimulate employment and income generation that will diminish the reasons for out-migration. In this context, the substantial grant in aid made by India to Bangladesh could set the process in motion.
On the western front, India continues to face the fallout of Pakistan's fragile and confused political situation. The overturning by the supreme court of the national reconciliation ordinance has exposed Zardari and some central ministers to pressure with the prospect of criminal prosecution causing them to fight back. Just weeks ago, a government lawyer told the supreme court that the army and the CIA posed a threat to the country's democracy.
Addressing the PoK assembly and council in Muzaffarabad more recently, Zardari harked back to Kashmir's right to self determination and its being Pakistan's 'jugular vein', reiterating Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto's flamboyant rhetoric of waging a 1,000 year war in this cause, though this time by means of peaceful struggle rather than war.
However, jihadi infiltration and encounters across the LoC have increased and the militants killed include Pakistani nationals whose intercepted communications revealed that they were receiving instructions and encouragement from Pakistani handlers during these engagements. Obviously there are elements spoiling to sabotage the internal peace process in J&K and block further withdrawals of Indian troop in J&K as is under way. Neither process should be stopped.
In the light of all of this, Pakistan appears to be protesting too much about the Indian Army chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor's remarks at a seminar of India's need to prepare to fight a two-front war on the west and north even under a nuclear hangover. This is not belligerence but a defensive statement in the context of much hidden and open belligerence, double talk and military cooperation by Pakistan and China.
IN 2006, THE CHAVEZ GOVERNMENT BEGAN TO SPEAK OF A '21ST CENTURY SOCIALISM' AND ALBA WAS FORMED.
BY IGNACIO RAMONET, IPS:
Hugo Chavez' assumption of power in Venezuela on Feb 2, 1999, coincided with a military development that was traumatic for the United States: the closure in November of that year of its primary military base in the region, Howard Air Force Base in Panama, as required by the Torrijos-Carter Treaty of 1977.
The soldiers from Howard were relocated to Roosevelt Roads Naval Station in Puerto Rico, but after massive protests there, the Pentagon closed that base as well, transferring personnel to Texas and Florida and the US Southern Command to Miami.
As a replacement, the Pentagon chose four strategically-situated locations to control the region: Manta in Ecuador, Comalapa in El Salvador, and the islands of Aruba and Curacao, which belong to The Netherlands. The US added to their 'traditional' function of spying a few new official duties combating illegal immigration to the US and monitoring drug trafficking and various other, covert tasks: controlling the flow of petroleum and minerals, biodiversity, and fresh water. However, from the very beginning their main objectives were monitoring Venezuela and destabilising the Bolivarian Revolution.
FOLs and CSLs
After the Sept 11 attacks, US secretary of defence Donald Rumsfeld outlined a new military doctrine to combat 'international terrorism'. He altered the strategy of foreign deployment with massive bases and large numbers of personnel, opting instead for a far larger number of Foreign Operating Locations (FOL) and Cooperative Security Locations (CSL) with less military personnel but ultramodern detection technology, state-of-the-art radar, gigantic satellite antennas, spy planes, surveillance drones, etc.
As a result, the quantity of military installations abroad rapidly jumped to the astonishing number of 865 FOL or CSL-style bases in 46 countries. Never in history had a country so dramatically increased its military presence around the world.
In Latin America, the redeployment of bases made it possible for the Manta unit to collaborate on the failed coup against Chavez on April 11, 2002. Since then, a media campaign directed by Washington has been spreading false information about the presumed presence in that country of cells of organisations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and even al-Qaeda, which, it is claimed, "have training camps on the island of Margarita".
With the excuse of monitoring these groups, and as retribution for Caracas' termination in May 2004 of the 50-year US presence in Venezuela, in 2005 the Pentagon renewed a contract with The Netherlands to widen the use of its military bases on Curacao and Aruba, which are located close to the Venezuelan coast and where US war ships have recently increased the frequency of their visits.
In 2006, the Chavez government began to speak of a '21st century socialism', the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) was formed, and Chavez was re-elected president.
Washington reacted by imposing an embargo on arms sales to Venezuela with the pretext that Caracas was "not collaborating enough in the war on terrorism". The country's F-16 fighter jets went without replacement parts. As a result Venezuela forged an agreement with Russia to strengthen its air force with Sukhoi planes.
On March 1, 2008, with assistance from the Manta base, Colombian forces attack a camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in the interior of Ecuador. Quito, in retaliation, decides not to renew the agreement on the Manta base, set to expire in November 2009. A month later Washington responds by reactivating the Fourth Fleet (deactivated in 1948) the mission of which is to patrol the Atlantic Coast of South America. A month later the countries of South America meet in Brasilia and respond by creating the Union of South American Nations and then, in March 2009, the South American Defence Council.
A few weeks later, the US ambassador to Bogota announces that the Manta base will be relocated to Palanquero, Colombia. In June, with the backing of the US base in Soto Cano, a coup is carried out against President Manuel Zelaya of Honduras, who had joined ALBA. In August, the Pentagon announces that it will open seven new military bases in Colombia. And in October, the conservative president of Panama, Ricardo Martinelli, admits that he granted the US use of four new military bases.
And so at present Venezuela and the Bolivarian Revolution find themselves surrounded by no less than 13 US military bases in Colombia, Panama, Aruba, and Curacao, as well as the aircraft carriers and warships of the 4th Fleet. President Obama seems to have given the Pentagon a free hand. Would the people of the world allow a new crime against democracy to be carried out in Latin America?
A PROFESSIONAL PERK
IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE TO BUY A LOUNGE SUIT OR GET IT STITCHED ON OUR OWN.
BY KRISHNAN SRIRAM
What's in a name? For the Bard, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. And trust our own CAG to smell out a scam by a bunch of senior army officers who ingenuously procured golf carts for their favourite course in Chandigarh by describing them as hospital equipment for moving invalid patients.
This reminds me of an incident very early on in my journalistic career. As a young reporter, I was deputed by my newspaper to undergo a war correspondents' course run by the ministry of defence. The idea was to get us familiarised with the army's operations in the aftermath of the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.
Most newspapers picked their youngest reporters for the course and I was the chosen one of my newspaper. We were all required to wear a set of formal 'officers' mess-wear' a lounge suit for the duration of the four-week course. Now, with most of us on measly stipends/salaries, it was well nigh impossible to buy a lounge suit or get it stitched on our own. Nor did we own any lounge suit at that time. A substantial chunk of the tour advance taken from our offices, however, came in handy to fund this. While some of us got the suits stitched, yet others went to pick up readymade lounge suits.
It was when we returned after the course that we needed to account for this expenditure. I had listed it as 'lounge suit' in my tour bill along with sundry other expenses and submitted to the news editor. Next day I was called to his room and asked to explain this particular item on the bill.
On being told that the suit was a must mess-wear, he asked me to change its nomenclature to 'army regulation suit.' This, he said, would help offset any audit objections. And true enough it did. So that's how I got a lounge suit gifted to me by my first employer, a rare perk those days! But another reporter sent by a rival newspaper was not that lucky. He had gone and picked up one of the most expensive branded suits and billed the same to his newspaper.
Not known much for charity, the newspaper's management promptly asked him to return the suit to the office. This, notwithstanding the fact that it could fit only an extremely lean 6'2" tall frame. What they could've done with a lounge suit of this odd size is something we never quite figured out, despite being professional reporters. If nothing else, this at least taught us all very early in our careers that everything's in a name, despite protestations to the contrary by the all-knowing Bard!
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
TAX THEM BOTH
The White House is talking about levying a tax or fee on large banks to recover the $120 billion it spent to bail out the financial system. That is a good place to start, but it shouldn't stop there. President Obama and Congress should also impose a windfall tax on the huge bonuses that bailed-out bankers plan to pay themselves over the next few weeks.
This is an issue of fairness and sound public policy. The Treasury needs the money. A fee may also get banks and bankers to rethink the way they do business something the much-promised, far-too-delayed and increasingly watered-down financial regulatory reform effort is unlikely to do. A permanent tax or fee imposed on the nation's largest banks could reduce future risks by discouraging big banks from getting even bigger.
Let's be clear, the crisis spawned by banks' recklessness has cost the country a lot more than $120 billion. Any calculation must also include the deepest recession since the 1930s and the loss of more than seven million jobs. What profits banks have made since then have not come from lending to credit-strapped businesses. They are trading profits made possible by trillions of dollars in cheap financing from the Federal Reserve.
The crisis occurred because banks that had grown too big to fail came too close to failure driven by a reckless pursuit of risk and profit. Credit froze, and the government was forced to put enormous public resources at their disposal to keep them afloat.
Though all that public money has pulled banks back from the brink, some too-big-to-fail banks have since got even bigger by swallowing their weaker brethren. That means, if they get in trouble, they could wreak even greater havoc on the economy.
A levy on these financial giants would help by putting a brake on this consolidation making the largest banks somewhat less profitable and steering investment and other resources into smaller banks, which, if they failed, wouldn't take the rest of us with them.
The Obama administration has not specified either the size or the type of levy it would impose on the nation's big banks. Officials are reportedly considering a tax on profits of the largest banks and a tax based on the size of their assets. Designing either will not be easy. Banks will deploy phalanxes of lawyers to avoid them and threaten to move their operations to friendlier climes.
To be effective, any fee or tax should be implemented as part of a coordinated effort with all the big financial centers around the globe. Britain and France would be likely to come on board. The Group of 20 leading industrial and developing nations asked the International Monetary Fund last year to study different ways to make big banks raise money to contribute for present and potential future bailouts.
Crafting a coordinated taxation regime might take a while. In the meantime, the Obama administration could start filling the budgetary gap with a windfall tax on those big bankers' bonuses. It is a perfect way to say thank you.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
FOOTBALL AND ANTITRUST
On the surface, American Needle Inc. v. National Football League seems to be about hats, shirts and other items with team logos on them. But if the United States Supreme Court issues a broad ruling in favor of the N.F.L., it could help define how far joint ventures can go in stifling competition.
American Needle used to manufacture apparel with team logos, but the N.F.L. entered into an exclusive deal with Reebok nine years ago. American Needle sued, charging that the arrangement illegally restrained trade in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.
The trial court ruled that the law did not apply and that the case could not go forward. The United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, in Chicago, agreed in a poorly reasoned decision, ruling that the N.F.L. was not covered by Section 1 because it is a "single entity," and, therefore, not capable of restraining trade. This ruling is wrong on the law and disagrees with many other federal courts.
Although it won before the appeals court, the N.F.L. urged the Supreme Court to take the case, perhaps hoping for a broad ruling that would cement its monopoly power. The court, which is scheduled to hear the case on Wednesday, should reverse the appeals court decision and allow the case to proceed.
To fall under the "single entity" exception that the courts have recognized, the N.F.L. would have to be a single economic entity. But the league is actually a cooperative effort of 32 separately owned, profit-making teams. They compete in everything from hiring to ticket sales. They should have to comply with Section 1.
If the N.F.L.'s exemption is upheld, it would allow the teams to artificially inflate the prices of their insignia items. It could also clear the way for the teams to eliminate competition in other areas. In a friend-of-the-court brief, the National Football League Players Association argued that the league's position in this case is a "Trojan horse" designed to free them from the requirements of Section 1 when it comes to paying and assigning players.
If the N.F.L. wins, the Consumer Federation of America warned, other joint ventures including health care networks and credit card networks could try to use the ruling to block the government's efforts to promote competition in their industries.
The Sherman Act was designed to promote robust economic competition. Treating 32 separate professional teams as a single actor, and freeing them from the requirements of the act, undermines that important goal.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
COMPASSION IN NEW JERSEY
It was a rare piece of good news for those suffering from such diseases as cancer, AIDS, Lou Gehrig's disease and muscular dystrophy. The New Jersey Legislature on Monday legalized medically prescribed marijuana, and Gov. Jon Corzine has promised to sign the bill before leaving office next week.
As one woman suffering from multiple sclerosis cheered after the vote, "I'm in heaven. It means I am no longer a criminal in the State of New Jersey."
This show of compassion for the chronically ill comes at an important time for New Jersey lawmakers, who failed last week to summon the same kind of courage and empathy for gay couples. The Legislature rejected a same-sex marriage bill that Mr. Corzine, a Democrat, said he would have signed before handing over the State House to Gov.-elect Christopher Christie, a Republican who has said he would have vetoed it.
The legislation that was passed on Monday allows doctors to prescribe marijuana the way they would controlled painkillers like Oxycontin or morphine. New Jersey will be one of 14 states to allow the drug to combat pain, nausea and other debilitating side effects from chemotherapy or for seizures, muscle spasms and glaucoma. That will give doctors in New Jersey an important option to the pharmaceutical drugs now available to treat these serious illnesses.
Despite criticism from antidrug groups that the change would open the door to more abuse of marijuana, the New Jersey law would not make it easier to grow your own or puff away freely on the nearest street corner. Doing so is very much illegal. And federal officials have made it clear that while they won't go after patients using marijuana, they want law enforcement officers to focus more firepower on dangerous drug dealers in their states.
New Jersey's law is expected to be the nation's most restrictive. That is a far cry from California, where marijuana can be used for ailments as common as anxiety. Patients in New Jersey would have to get an ID card that says that they have one of the authorized medical conditions. They could obtain their supply only from government dispensaries at a rate of two ounces per month.
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora, a Democrat from Princeton and a lead sponsor of the legislation, said he hopes it will become a model for other states. New York, Connecticut and other states that are concerned about the well-being of their sickest citizens should take heed.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY DOROTHY SAMUELS
"I am not a hero," insisted Miep Gies. "I was just an ordinary housewife and secretary." It was Mrs. Geis's habit to deflect accolades for defying Nazi occupiers of Amsterdam by helping to hide Anne Frank, her family and three other doomed Jews in a secret annex to the business office of Anne's father, Otto Frank.
But to accept that self-description would be to overlook the remarkable selflessness and courage Mrs. Gies demonstrated, an example so powerful that it continues to inspire nearly 70 years later.
Mrs. Gies, who died on Monday at age 100, was a trusted employee of Otto Frank in 1942. His family went into hiding that year in unused rooms that were hidden behind a movable bookcase, seeking to avoid the fate of thousands of Dutch Jews being deported to concentration camps. Asked by Mr. Frank to help hide them, and to bring them food and supplies, she readily agreed, even though it meant risking her life.
Working with her husband, Jan Gies, a member of the Dutch resistance, and three other employees of Mr. Frank's business, she provided books, emotional support and nourishment. She traveled on her bicycle to spread her food purchases among different grocers in order to avoid suspicion. After the Gestapo raided the hiding place in August 1944, Mrs. Gies made a bold but unsuccessful attempt to bribe Gestapo officials to spare the lives of the eight arrested Jews. She is owed the world's debt for preserving Anne's diary, which she hid unread in the hope that its young author would survive and return to claim it.
Mrs. Gies was the last surviving member of Anne Frank's protectors. Their collective story is an enduring reminder that human beings always have a choice, even when millions were acceding to unspeakable evil.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BIGGEST LOSER
BY MAUREEN DOWD
Maybe America just didn't want to look at a redhead at that hour.
"For the record," Conan O'Brien wryly noted in a statement addressed to "People of Earth" outlining his refusal to host NBC's "The Tonight Show" if it was shoved back half-an-hour, "I am truly sorry about my hair; it's always been that way."
This is the week of the television winter press tour from Pasadena, when the networks traditionally roll out their offerings for midseason replacement shows. But there's only one replacement show that anyone here is talking about: an NBC family drama bloodier than "The Tudors" and more inexplicable than "Lost," a tragedy about comedy featuring an imperious emperor and his two dueling jesters in a once-mighty and now-blighted kingdom.
As NBC reeled from the fallout of Jeff Zucker's tacit admission that his attempt to refashion the customary way Americans watch prime time had failed, Hollywood was ablaze with baldenfreude.
In a town where nobody makes less than they're worth, and most people pull in an obscene amount more, there has been a single topic of discussion: How does Jeff Zucker keep rising and rising while the fortunes of NBC keep falling and falling?
The 44-year-old is a very smart guy who made a success as a wunderkind at "The Today Show," but many in the Hollywood community have always regarded him as a condescending and arrogant East Coaster, a network Napoleon who never bothered to learn about developing shows and managing talent. At a moment when Zucker's comedy double-fault was smashing relationships in L.A., he showed the talent of a Mafia boss for separating himself from the hit when he went and played in a New York City tennis tournament. (He lost in the first round.)
"Zucker is a case study in the most destructive media executive ever to exist," said a honcho at another network. "You'd have to tell me who else has taken a once-great network and literally destroyed it."
Zucker's critics are ranting that first he killed comedy, losing the NBC franchise of Thursday night "Must See TV," where "Seinfeld," "Friends" and "Will & Grace" once hilariously reigned; then he killed drama, failing to develop successors to the formidable "ER," "West Wing," and "Law & Order"; then he killed the 10 o'clock hour by putting Jay Leno on at a time when people expect to be told a story; and then he killed late night by putting on a quirky redhead who did not have the bland mass-market appeal of Leno and who couldn't compete with the peerless late-night comedian NBC had stupidly lost 16 years ago, David Letterman.
Zucker is a master at managing up with bosses and calculating cost-per-hour benefits, but even though he made money on cable shows, he could not program network to save his life. He started by greenlighting the regrettable "Emeril" and ended by having the aptly titled "The Biggest Loser" as one of his only winners.
Certainly, Zucker greatly underestimated the deeply ingrained viewing patterns of older Americans, who have always watched the networks in a particular way. The kids come home, do their homework, the family has dinner. They're in front of the TV by 8, and 8:30 is known as the dog-walking slot. At 9, it's time for more comedy. As they get tired, they like to watch a fictional drama that leads into the real drama of the late local news. And then they like to laugh again so that those images of war or a local murder are not the last thing they see before bed.
America has been watching a very specific sort of guy at 11:35 p.m. for half a century, one who chuckles as Mary Tyler Moore or Sarah Jessica Parker tells an amusing story and lets us drift off by the time some stand-up comic or blow-up starlet tells a salacious joke.
Zucker rolled the dice because he wanted to show Jeff Immelt that he could get beyond his Ben Silverman debacle and get prime time to stop bleeding money (a problem he created). But he learned the hard way that it is a lot to undo.
As Mark Harris wrote in New York magazine in November, "Zucker has often behaved like the grudging caretaker of a dying giant. ... As much as Jeff Zucker would like to cast the blame elsewhere, substituting number-crunching defensiveness for enterprise, adventure, and showmanship is what helped get NBC into this mess."
Consumed with the NBC game of musical late-night chairs, Hollywood machers play a game of trying to figure out the last time there has been a blunder of such outlandish proportions. Despite everything, Zucker just got his contract renewed for three years with the Comcast acquisition of NBC. "Not since J. Pierrepont Finch in 'How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying' has an executive failed upwards in so obvious a fashion," marveled one TV writer.
Another called the Leno experiment the worst mistake made by anyone in television since an ABC Entertainment executive told the Chicago affiliate chief that the network didn't want to own and broadcast the new daytime talk show hosted by a young black woman. Her name: Oprah Winfrey.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IS CHINA THE NEXT ENRON?
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Reading The Herald Tribune over breakfast in Hong Kong harbor last week, my eye went to the front-page story about how James Chanos reportedly one of America's most successful short-sellers, the man who bet that Enron was a fraud and made a fortune when that proved true and its stock collapsed is now warning that China is "Dubai times 1,000 or worse" and looking for ways to short that country's economy before its bubbles burst.
China's markets may be full of bubbles ripe for a short-seller, and if Mr. Chanos can find a way to make money shorting them, God bless him. But after visiting Hong Kong and Taiwan this past week and talking to many people who work and invest their own money in China, I'd offer Mr. Chanos two notes of caution.
First, a simple rule of investing that has always served me well: Never short a country with $2 trillion in foreign currency reserves.
Second, it is easy to look at China today and see its enormous problems and things that it is not getting right. For instance, low interest rates, easy credit, an undervalued currency and hot money flowing in from abroad have led to what the Chinese government Sunday called "excessively rising house prices" in major cities, or what some might call a speculative bubble ripe for the shorting. In the last few days, though, China's central bank has started edging up interest rates and raising the proportion of deposits that banks must set aside as reserves precisely to head off inflation and take some air out of any asset bubbles.
And that's the point. I am reluctant to sell China short, not because I think it has no problems or corruption or bubbles, but because I think it has all those problems in spades and some will blow up along the way (the most dangerous being pollution). But it also has a political class focused on addressing its real problems, as well as a mountain of savings with which to do so (unlike us).
And here is the other thing to keep in mind. Think about all the hype, all the words, that have been written about China's economic development since 1979. It's a lot, right? What if I told you this: "It may be that we haven't seen anything yet."
Why do I say that? All the long-term investments that China has made over the last two decades are just blossoming and could really propel the Chinese economy into the 21st-century knowledge age, starting with its massive investment in infrastructure. Ten years ago, China had a lot bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash program of building subways in major cities and high-speed trains to interconnect them. China also now has 400 million Internet users, and 200 million of them have broadband. Check into a motel in any major city and you'll have broadband access. America has about 80 million broadband users.
Now take all this infrastructure and mix it together with 27 million students in technical colleges and universities the most in the world. With just the normal distribution of brains, that's going to bring a lot of brainpower to the market, or, as Bill Gates once said to me: "In China, when you're one-in-a-million, there are 1,300 other people just like you."
Equally important, more and more Chinese students educated abroad are returning home to work and start new businesses. I had lunch with a group of professors at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, or HKUST, who told me that this year they will be offering some 50 full scholarships for graduate students in science and technology. Major U.S. universities are sharply cutting back.
Tony Chan, a Hong Kong-born mathematician, recently returned from America after 20 years to become the new president of HKUST. What was his last job in America? Assistant director of the U.S. National Science Foundation in charge of the mathematical and physical sciences. He's one of many coming home.
One of the biggest problems for China's manufacturing and financial sectors has been finding capable middle managers. The reverse-brain drain is eliminating that problem as well.
Finally, as Liu Chao-shiuan, Taiwan's former prime minister, pointed out to me: when Taiwan moved up the value chain from low-end, labor-intensive manufacturing to higher, value-added work, its factories moved to China or Vietnam. It lost them. In China, low-end manufacturing moves from coastal China to the less developed Western part of the country and becomes an engine for development there. In Taiwan, factories go up and out. In China, they go East to West.
"China knows it has problems," said Liu. "But this is the first time it has a chance to actually solve them." Taiwanese entrepreneurs now have more than 70,000 factories in China. They know the place. So I asked several Taiwanese businessmen whether they would "short" China. They vigorously shook their heads no as if I'd asked if they'd go one on one with LeBron James.
But, hey, some people said the same about Enron. Still, I'd rather bet against the euro. Shorting China today? Well, good luck with that, Mr. Chanos. Let us know how it works out for you.
I. THE NEWS
CORRUPT TO THE BONE
A story in this newspaper details massive corruption in the Pakistan Steel Mills. Another discloses a plan to cover it up and allow the top management to get away with looting the organisation. Meanwhile, a former naval chief has confirmed that a deal to purchase submarines from France did indeed involve kickbacks for key officials in office at the time. Among them of course was a certain Mr Asif Ali Zardari. These are not matters that can be easily dismissed. There seems to be no getting away from the corruption which is eating away at the soul of our country like a cancer. It continues despite directives from the SC to move against it and the increased outrage of people who watch helplessly as they see immense sums of money vanish into pockets even as hardships grow for most citizens. The chief justice, in comments while hearing the Bank of Punjab case, has reiterated previous warnings that corruption will not be tolerated and anyone guilty of robbing public money would be punished. But even as these aspirations are expressed Prime Minister Gilani and his team are, it seems, determined to help the corrupt escape penalty.
It is true we have come to accept wrongdoing in public office as a fact of life. But this is something that needs to change. The revelations regarding the role of the prime minister in all this are especially shocking. He has apparently played a key part in protecting those accused of theft at the PSM and removing those who exposed them. We are led by men who have, it seems, no integrity and no sense of morality. They resort time and again to rhetoric promising action against the corrupt but mean nothing of what they say. This is frightening. Pakistan today faces all kinds of problems. These can be solved only by those ready to demonstrate commitment and character. This cannot come from those bent on saving those who rob the country or indeed who do so themselves. Such people cannot be expected to devote their energies to solving the problems of people. Indeed, it is corruption that has through the years contributed greatly to the mess we find ourselves in. We will be able to shake it off only if we find a way to genuinely combat corruption wherever it exists and remove those guilty in any way of promoting it.
I. THE NEWS
In a bizarre bid to preserve law and order, the Peshawar district administration has barred property dealers and housing unit owners from renting out premises to women living alone. This action comes in response to the murder of 26 women residing in flats or other premises on their own during 2009 and the first month of the current year. The orders suggest these unfortunate women perhaps intended to get killed and thus create problems for the authorities. It is truly sad that those responsible for protecting the lives of citizens should be reacting in so obscurantist a manner. This measure simply promotes extremist ideas and indeed violates the Constitution by treating one group of citizens as inferior than others.
We have through the years seen a failure to improve the status of women in society. Official steps which act to impose new restrictions on them exacerbate their problems and promote the myth that it is indeed women who are themselves responsible for crimes committed against them. This argument has in the past been used to justify rape, molestation and harassment. The fact is that women's right to movement, to earn an income and to exist independently must be defended. The issue of safe housing for single women, even in large cities, has had a negative impact on these freedoms. It is also a fact that in the hard times we live in today more and more women need to support themselves. They must be facilitated rather than hampered in this. The district administration in Peshawar needs to apprehend those murdering women rather than punishing the victims. It would also be advised to consider measures that can make women safer instead of infringing on their liberties and thus further marginalising them in society.
I. THE NEWS
The death of any child is a tragedy, but to have an infant killed by its parents in an attempt to rid their household of demons takes us beyond the tragic. In Karachi's Zaman Town area a four-month-old was killed in the course of an exorcism and her body buried in the family compound. When the police broke into the house they found the father of the child in a trance surrounded by earthenware lamps; and the mother locked in a closet with another child with both in a distressed condition. The father told the police that he believed the family to be cursed because they had broken an 8-day fast. He said that their spiritual leader, said to be living in Dera Ismail Khan, had told them to silence the child if they wanted to remove the demons from their house.
Although the death of a child in this manner is unusual, the practice of exorcism is common and found in all our faith communities. They are sometimes performed by reputable people, but increasingly they are performed by 'fake Pirs' who prey on a highly suggestible populace, girls and women in particular, and there is ample anecdotal evidence of 'fake Pirs' molesting women and girls. The conventional wisdom is that it is the poor and uneducated who are the primary victims of these unscrupulous people, but there is again evidence that the educated and moneyed classes are no less susceptible to their wiles. Also vulnerable are the mentally ill, in particular those suffering from epilepsy (a condition that is controllable with medication) who are believed to be possessed by evil spirits manifesting themselves through fits. We do not know for certain at this point if the influence of a 'fake Pir' lies behind the death of this child, or if it was the parents acting of their own volition. Either way, the child was murdered sacrificed in the belief that her death would drive out whatever evil was believed to be in the house. In 2008 two women were killed in Mirpurkhas by being thrown alive into a fire on the pretext of exorcism, the sad result of interfamilial jealousy and false accusations. There are reports of broken limbs and other injuries associated with the casting out of 'devils'. Exorcising the malign spirits in our midst is as much a job for the law-enforcement agencies as it is for 'holy men' and the exposure of 'fake pirs' and their prosecution will leave us all a little cleaner.
I. THE NEWS
WHERE IS US PUBLIC DIPLOMACY?
BY SHAMSHAD AHMAD
The post-Second World War generation grew up admiring America's ideas and ideals, and always felt inspired by its universal values of freedom and democracy. As students in the fifties and sixties, we used to be regular visitors to USIS (the United States Information Service), the best reading places in town with books on all subjects and journals and newspapers for every taste. In that intensely bipolar world, there could not be a better instrument of public diplomacy.
With the end of the Cold War, that approach is history now, and that diplomacy is nowhere in sight. Since 9/11, it is the US military or the CIA that communicates with foreign audiences. American diplomacy in Pakistan, in particular, is a classic example of this new approach. Our most distinguished frequent diplomatic interlocutors from Washington are not State Department officials but hardcore military commanders from the Pentagon and CIA functionaries. Admiral Mike Mullen, Gen Petraeus, and Gen McChrystal are now household names in Pakistan.
According to a veteran US diplomat, this "mission creep" has got way out of hand. Pentagon-led US public diplomacy is a dismal failure. Critics all around, Washington insiders and the public beyond the Beltway, members of both major political parties, even America's friends abroad, all recognise that US public diplomacy has had a great fall. A number of separate studies, reports and findings on American public diplomacy issued by governmental and non-governmental commissions and groups also endorse this conclusion while urging remedial measures.
The common theme in these reports is that the US now has totally different priorities to be followed in the world. In the past ten years, its budget for foreign public diplomacy, which had been originally conducted by the US Information Agency and now the State Department, has remained static. On the other hand, there has been a disproportionate increase in resources available to the Defence Department for "public affairs." Thus, US image-building is now left to the Pentagon, leaving very little to non-military institutions for articulation of America's "ideas and ideals" overseas and advance its foreign policy goals.
It is 10 years since the US government reorganised its public diplomacy effort, but one has yet to see any coherent display of US public diplomacy effective enough in long-term relationships and image-building. Instead, the relationship-building effort is limited to academic exchanges while the image building efforts are left to the Pentagon, rather than the State Department. The US government has almost abandoned its public diplomacy efforts to project the cultural values of the American people through cultural presentations or full-fledged libraries, relying almost exclusively on provision of informational material via the Internet.
Even the laudable "American Corners" -- for all their value -- are but small parts of larger institutions, such as local libraries, that have their own missions. They can never present American culture the way that USIS libraries and centres once did. No wonder we witness a clueless US public diplomacy in Pakistan. Never in our history did we have so much public resentment against US policies and behaviour. An ABC report finds that anything with a US imprint is surely in for trouble these days, and has been for some time.
Despite the American's expansive diplomatic footprint, the US embassy in Pakistan could not anticipate the backlash to the Kerry-Lugar Bill and also has not been able to handle the issue involving the movement of its diplomatic and consular vehicles. The Vienna Convention on diplomatic privileges and immunities provide the US embassy and the Pakistani Foreign Office a clear framework to resolve this issue amicably. Apparently, the US embassy has been bypassing normal channels and instead dealing directly with governmental agencies and functionaries in handling cases that could be best dealt with through the normal channels.
It has been our experience that as soon as the US achieves its objectives vis-à-vis Pakistan it loses interest in cooperating with us. Pakistan was either consigned to benign neglect or hit with a succession of punitive sanctions that left in their trail resentment and a sense of betrayal. This sequence of "highs and lows" turned into a love-hate relationship between the two countries. Every US "engagement" with Pakistan was issue-specific and not based on any shared perspectives.
Washington's continued insensitivity to the popular sentiment in Pakistan only reinforces the global perception that the US was not a "steadfast and reliable" friend and that over the decades, the US neglect and "self-serving" exploitation of its friends had been contributing to most of the current problems in the world. There is no consistency between America's values and ideals and its actual practices. In fact, it follows two sets of values, ne for itself and the other for the rest of the world.
During her recent visit, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left a positive message in Pakistan. After eight years of the Bush administration, during which suspicions between the two countries had deepened, Pakistan now had a "friendly" new administration in Washington where, according to her, both she and her president, Barack Obama, were seeking to build a new bilateral relationship to be based on mutual respect. Getting this message across was an uphill task, as she herself admitted, even as she hoped that her visit will turn a new page in US-Pakistan relationship.
Turning one page, it seems, was not enough. It has not changed the 62-year-long history of a relationship which has lacked continuity, a larger conceptual framework, and a shared vision beyond each side's "narrowly based and vaguely defined" issue-specific priorities. It has been a curious, if not enigmatic, relationship as it never had any conflict of interest, and yet it experienced repeated interruptions in its intensity as well as integrity. We expected a positive turnaround in our relationship after her visit. But the way things are unfolding, it seems we are heading into another cul de sac.
Besides their persistent trust deficit, the two countries have had no control over the growing list of irritants. There are scary Blackwater stories, almost daily incidents involving interception of suspicious US diplomatic and consular vehicular movement with fake identity papers for the vehicles involved, continuing drone attacks, non-disbursement of Coalition Support Funds, lack of any progress on market access and ROZs, and now inclusion of Pakistan in a short list of "special interest" countries whose nationals will be subjected to enhanced screening on arrival in the US. These are some of the irritants that need to be resolved through mutual discussions and diplomacy.
Ms Clinton must have also seen how the people in Pakistan feel disturbed by their country being treated as America's traditional fall guy. They consider the US responsible for all their terrorism-related problems. They are concerned over the growing Indo-US nexus beginning with their defence and nuclear deals three years ago and now developing into a multi-dimensional strategic partnership with ominous implications for the critical balance of power in the region and for Pakistan's legitimate security interests. This situation needs correction through a criteria-based approach for transfer of nuclear fuel and technology.
One fears the KLB issue was the beginning of yet another "estrangement" phase in our troubled relationship. On her part, Ms Clinton wanted us to forget the unpleasant past and look to a promising future. She assured our people that this time the US will not abandon them as it did after the Soviet withdrawal. She repeatedly said the current US engagement with Pakistan is going to be enduring, not transitory. These were welcome assurances.
Hillary Clinton had promised that she and her president were determined to redress this historic sense of injustice among the Pakistani people. The change of leadership in Washington did provide a watershed opportunity for "remaking" of the US-Pakistan relationship. We hoped Vice President Joe Biden's vision of a new people-centred approach in transforming this "transactional" relationship into a normal one will soon become reality. But there is no sign of this equation moving beyond the question of terrorism anytime soon.
Also, on disbursement of US aid under the KLB, we thought Washington's new focus will be on the Pakistani people rather than the corrupt ruling political and bureaucratic elite who have always abused this relationship for their own self-serving purposes. We have yet to see any people-centred projects on the cards. This is also an issue on which the US missions in Pakistan must engage in, in a well-calibrated public diplomacy.
The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@ yahoo.com
I. THE NEWS
THE WAGES OF TOIL
BY RAOOF HASAN
Apparently, the uncertainty regarding Mr Zardari's survival in the presidential bunker may appear to have subsided, but indications abound that questions relating to his eligibility (and immunity) are only gaining in strength and relevance with the passage of time. The unusually aggressive posture adopted recently by the president and his close associates is reflective of a besieged mindset that sees more than just fear on the horizon.
The presidential bunker's defence strategy, based on a fundamental flaw of equating the future of an individual with that of democracy or the 'system' has backfired. The collateral efforts to use the 'Sindh card' also fell through, leaving little meaningful impact. Amid the frenzy of a possible departure of Mr Zardari, tempers reached boiling point and one even heard a confessional statement from a close associate of the president, a sitting minister from Sindh, for having thought of "breaking up Pakistan". This only signifies the growing pressure for making critical adjustments with regard to the president and co-chairperson of the party.
Where the PPP leadership faltered badly is the nature and intensity of response to the calls for the resignations of some of its leaders, including a few ministers, pending decisions by the accountability courts. Mr Zardari feared that, if allowed, the guns would subsequently be turned towards him and there would be demands for his resignation as well. The parallel was not only ill-conceived, but grossly over-stressed. The call for Mr Zardari's resignation, which is already resonating the national spectrum, has a fair bit of rationale to it which relates (in addition to the numerous alleged cases outstanding against him) his efforts to run the government from the presidential bunker and its sheer lack of performance stretching to almost two years now, his publicly botched promises with regard to the restoration of the judiciary and the annulment of the dictatorial amendments made in the constitution, the continuing dithering on implementing the Charter of Democracy (CoD), the non-functionality of the state institutions and rampant corruption that plagues them and, more recently, the refusal to honour the Supreme Court (SC) judgement on the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO), particularly with regard to allowing the re-institution of the Swiss case against himself. With power stemming from the presidential bunker, parliament has all but become irrelevant making little impact on the manner and content of governance. All this springs from the myopic notion that it is Mr Zardari who has to be saved from the growing onslaught and it is his integral right to use all state institutions, including parliament and the judiciary, for the purpose. While the legislature may still be under his sway, it is the judiciary that has slipped the grip and is causing sleepless nights for the president and his sergeants at arms.
Because of this deeply ingrained infatuation to save Mr Zardari, the functions of the government have suffered enormously. For a while, there was a feeling that the prime minister may be able to stay clear of the controversy surrounding the president's person. This expectation was not rooted in reality and the nature of the personality-based politics that has become the hallmark of the PPP. While talking to a television channel recently, the prime minister has vowed to "rise and fall" with the president. Therefore, for all intents and purposes, Mr Zardari is the PPP and every one, within the party and the government, has to follow his script. Consequently, the government, its functionaries and the institutions are more engrossed in conceiving and churning out petty propaganda campaigns than undertaking projects for the welfare of the state and its people. That, by itself, is material enough for the SC to take notice of as it encompasses rankling misuse of the state largesse for personal or party aggrandisement.
The government's inefficiency and its primordial involvement with issues not falling directly within its ambit are causing seething unrest throughout the country. Prices of daily commodities are rising steeply while petrol, electricity and gas are beyond the reach of the ordinary people. Black-outs are increasing and the gas shortage is only adding to people's miseries. The law-and-order situation is worsening with the NRO-ed interior minister having little to nothing to offer by way of any initiatives that the government may have to tackle the growing militancy. The recent attack on the Ashura procession in Karachi and the subsequent orgy of loot and arson only accentuates a bleak and alarming picture of the depleting writ of the government. The spate of target killings over the recent days has prompted the Mutahidda Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner of the PPP in Sindh and the centre, for demanding that the army and Rangers be called in to control the situation. Its legislators are even reported to be pressing for sitting in the opposition. That is a testament to the lack of faith that a senior coalition partner of the ruling hierarchy has in either the intentions or the competence of the government to address the grave issues.
While the prime minister, who is a nominee of the PPP for the job, may have the exclusive prerogative to vow his allegiance to his master and 'rise and fall' with him, it is the people, too, who should have the option to chalk out a path that they feel is in their best interest. Keeping them in bondage as the government remains humiliatingly pre-occupied with efforts to save a besieged president is tantamount to snatching their right of access to even the basic needs of survival. Their demand for enacting a transparent accountability system and for ensuring a mechanism for its impartial and non-discriminatory enforcement, therefore, merits respect.
It is in this context that the role of the state institutions should not only be viewed, but encouraged so that the concept of equity and equitability, so deeply enshrined in the constitution, becomes a barometer to judge the performance of the government and people associated with managing its affairs. If the judiciary, therefore, is leading the way to the fulfilment of this most critical aspect for the sustenance and empowerment of the state in preference to safeguarding the interests, legitimate or otherwise, of an individual or a few of them, it should be fully supported and encouraged in its endeavours. As a first step in that direction, it is incumbent upon the government to implement the SC adjudications in letter and spirit without exception. It is only then that we would be finally on course to finding an enduring solution to the gruesome anarchy that we, otherwise, are sinking into.
The writer is an independent political analyst based in Islamabad. Email: raoofhasan @hotmail.com
I. THE NEWS
PAKISTAN'S MEMON BENEFACTORS
BY DR A Q KHAN
This column is about the Memon Community who wholeheartedly supported newly-born Pakistan, firstly by bringing in badly needed hard cash and then by putting up a variety of large industrial concerns in both Wings of Pakistan. They are, as a community, one of the greatest benefactors of Pakistan.
When my mother and younger sister came to Pakistan, my elder brother, who was with the Karachi Police, hired a flat in a neat and clean building near Jubilee Cinema opposite the Police Hospital. There was a covered market at Ranchor Lines, near where a large Memon community resided.
Most of our younger generation is not aware of the sacrifices made by so many people and of their contribution towards sustaining its very existence and creating viable circumstances for the newborn country. From Bengal to the Frontier and from Kashmir to Malabar, people supported the establishment of Pakistan with their wealth and blood. Some of these benefactors were Maulana Hasrat Mohani, Nawab Ismail Khan, Sir Abdur Rehman, H S Suhrawardy, Fazlul Haq, Sir Aga Khan, Raja Sahib Mahmoodabad, Nawabzada Liaquat Ali Khan, Sardar Abdul Rab Nishtar, Qazi Isa, Sir Abdullah Haroon, Pir Sahab Manki Sharif, Dr Abdul Rahim Bangash, the Nawab of Bhopal, and many more. The undisputed leader of this struggle was, of course, Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Many of the refugees coming from UP and Hyderabad were well educated and experienced, and they provided the manpower for the administration. People used to bring pencils and pens, and even babool thorns were used as pins.
Mr Maratab Ali had also given generous financial support to the newly-born Pakistan. The building of the new country was undertaken with missionary zeal by all including Parsis and Christians and other communities. They set up many welfare projects, educational institutions, etc. The Valikas set up industrial units to provide a sound base.
Now more about the Memons. During our stay near Jubilee Cinema I came into close contact with many of them. Most of the inhabitants of the area were middle-class. In the evenings they sat outside teashops drinking innumerable cups of tea, chewing pan and chatting. More often than not, they would be dressed in suits but with no tie, with shirt collar over their jacket collar and, surprisingly, complimented with open sandals, or chappals. The well-to-do gave financial assistance to cash-strapped Pakistan and established important large industrial units, enabling the country to grow economically.
After completing my BSc. from DJ Sindh Government Science College, I joined the Karachi administration as inspector of weights and measures. At one time the whole industrial area was under my jurisdiction and I regularly visited the factories and mills located there. It was here that I realised just how much the Memon community was doing for Pakistan.
When I returned to Pakistan from abroad and was appointed head of the uranium enrichment plant at Kahuta, this business/friendship circle widened and deepened. I became fond of many Memon dishes. Their food, though hot and spicy, is very delicious, especially their memni pulao. After knowing them at close quarters, I became interested in their history, culture, etc. I first read what the Quaid-e-Azam had said about them in 1937: "The Memon community, being hardworking and courageous, have started taking an active interest in politics, which is very encouraging, and this is the key to success in the world. I wish you all success in your noble endeavours."
There are various stories about the community's conversion to Islam. Some say that in the 15th century about 700 families from the Lohana caste converted to Islam at Nagar Thatha at the hands of Pir Yusufuddin. Some say that they converted to Islam at Mansura during the reign of Hazrat Umar bin Abdul Aziz (RA). British historian Richard Burton wrote that they embraced Islam in Kutch. Some say that they did so during the period of Muhamad bin Qasim and that the "me" in the word "memon" stands for business and "mon" for diamonds. Some historians claim that the people belonging to the Banu Tamim tribe in Memna later settled in Thatta and were known as Memons. Most members of the Memon community in undivided India lived in Sindh, Gujarat and Kathiawar. They were known as Sindhi Memon, Gujarati Memon and Kathiawari Memon, respectively. Those living in Kenya are known as Nasarpuria Memon.
Upon getting to know them better, one soon realises that they are soft-spoken, amicable, kind and very patriotic. It would take a thick volume to describe all their services to the people and our country. Suffice it to say that whatever they have done for the economic, social, etc., welfare of Pakistan since its creation is highly praiseworthy and to be proud of. Ordinary people connect the word "Memon" only with trade, but their services in other fields have been exemplary. After Partition they set up a number of important industrial units in East Pakistan: Bawa Jute Mills, Adamji Jute Mills, Adamji Tea Gardens, Karnaphuli Paper Mills, Karnaphuli Jute Mills, Dawood Rayon Mills and Chemical Factories, to name but a few.
After the independence of Bangladesh many of them lost everything. However, they did not give up and concentrated all their efforts in building up the industrial infrastructure in (West) Pakistan. We are all familiar with names like Adamji, Pakola, Dawood, Fecto, Al-Noor, Dada, Hussain, Dadabhoy, Abdullah, Jaffer, Bawany, Machiara, Tabani, and many more. That is not to forget the many small and medium-sized industries set up by others. They are very active in social welfare and have set up many colleges, hospitals, schools, mosques, etc. a list too long to mention. According to available data, there are about 1-1/2 million Memons outside Pakistan. There are about 600,000 in the country, about 700,000 in India, about 13,000 in America and about 25,000 in England. I am thankful to my friend, Merchant Navy Captain Kamal Mahmoodi, for the information about the Memon community.
Some famous Memons, past and present, are Haji Sir Abdullah Haroon, Haji Abdul Sattar Seth Adamji, Haji Dawood, Haji Abdul Ghani Beg Mohammad Bawani, Usman Isa Bhai Vakil, Haji Dada Wali Mohammad Modi, Ahmad E H Jafar, Yusuf Haroon, Mahmood Haroon, Ashraf Wali Mohammad Tabani, Zain Noorani, Abdul Sattar Edhi, Alhaj Zakaria Kamdar, Haji Hanif Tayyab, Dr Farooq Sattar, Nisar Memon, Kassim Parekh, Abdullah J Memon, Ghulam Ali Memon, Ahmad Dawood, Hussain Dawood, Abdul Qadir Lakhani, Aqil Karim Dedi, Razzaq Balwani, Aziz Tabba, Abdul Razzaq Thalpawala, Hussain Lawai, Amin Ghaziani, Justice A Hafeez Memon, Justice Rahim Bux Memon, Justice M Bachal Memon, Justice Rahim Bux Munshi, Ghulam Mohammad. Adamji Fecto, Ahmad Ibrahim Wali Mohammad Bawani, Haji Ilyas Memon, Hussain Ibrahim, Latif Ibrahim Jamal, M Ibrahim Tabani, Yaqub Tabani, Usman Salman, Haji Abdul Razzaq, Amin Lakhani, and many more.
Most people are not aware that the father of Urdu poet Wali Dakani (born in Gujarat 300 years ago), whose real name was Shah Mohammad Waliullah, belonged to the Memon community. I am proud to be and have been a friend of the late Mr Ghulam M Fecto, Mr Aziz A Munshi, Mr Hussain Dawood, Mr Yaqub Tabani, Haji Hanif Tayyab, Mr Hussain Lawai and Haji Abdul Razzaq. In the nineties, when Pakistan was in great financial crisis, Haji Razzaq, the "Golden Boy" of Dubai, lent $185 million to the country. While many people have done much for Pakistan, the Memon community stands out in its prominence as a benefactor of the country.
I. THE NEWS
BY S ISHFAQ
The international community's failure against the insurgency in Afghanistan is breeding violence and instability in the region. The US involvement in Afghanistan is pushing radical elements across the border into Pakistan, and is destabilising this nuclear-armed country. The US should change its policy on the global war against terrorism and try to bring peace by adopting a policy that must stress on economic, educational, food, healthcare and security assistance. Only the deployment of troops throughout Afghanistan will not defeat Al-Qaeda or the Taliban.
India's participation in this global peace effort against terror and extremism remains eyewash. Countless complaints against Indian troops and intelligence operators in Afghanistan substantiate the fact that there is an Indian hand behind the recent troubles inside Balochistan and FATA. It is an open secret now that the Balochistan Liberation Army, a well-organised Kabul-based movement inside Pakistan, receives monetary and other assistant from Indian defence and intelligence circles.
It is astonishing that when stability in Afghanistan is vital and the stakes high for the US and India, both countries have implausible strategies and ideas. At this critical juncture, the US direly needs to understand that the military surge is not a solution to the Afghan problem. Rather, it will add more violence and in turn result in further influx of militants and refugees from Afghanistan into Pakistan. On the other hand, India's current Afghan policy is highly flawed and is hardly able to deal with a wide range of hard security matters. It requires a larger strategic vision, not a blueprint for town and country planning for Afghanistan. The Indians are intent on punishing Pakistan, without realising the implications of their covert operations in Afghanistan. They are in fact destabilising the whole region.
America and its western allies must know that in the Afghan factor India is an unnatural partner whose partnership will not last long. Their decision to make India the regional boss is a farce. India has a history of meddling in the internal affairs of neighbouring states and supporting dissident elements there to create chaos. India is doing the same in Afghanistan in the name of reconstruction and development. It is supporting and financing the Taliban to unleash terror in Pakistan, but India forgets that by doing so it is actually making itself more vulnerable to terrorism.
Just like every group which was created and supported by India eventually turned against it, such as the Nepali Maoists and Sri Lankan Tamils. Nowadays Nepali Maoist claims to support Indian Maoists, who are the biggest internal security problem of India. And the Tamils, who had been supported by the Indian Congress, later assassinated Rajiv Gandhi. Similarly, the possibility cannot be ruled out that one day these Indian-supported fake Taliban will turn their guns on India. It is crystal clear that Afghanistan is slipping away from the US and NATO and billions of dollars and sacrifices of young Americans are being wasted in Afghanistan because of Indian help to the Taliban. Afghanistan needs development, not troops. The past eight years have shown that foreign forces equipped with modern weaponry could not establish their control beyond Kabul. The Americans could have learned from the British, who avoided direct control of the tribal areas after assessing that the people of the tribal belt cannot be tamed or subjugated. Thus, in those times too Afghanistan was used as a buffer zone. Since force is not a solution to any problem, the US and its allies must adopt a developmental approach and also ask India to stop its anti-peace activities at once. Or else, Afghanistan will prove to be another Vietnam for America.
I. THE NEWS
QUESTIONS FOR HOLBROOKE
BY ANJUM NIAZ
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
Richard Holbrooke appears to be running out of options on what to offer the rulers of Pakistan. But creative as he is, he arrives in Pakistan this week, with his latest lure. While he's no Santa coming with a bagful of dollars, he comes waving a white flag. He wants to broker a peace deal between the feuding politicians and the establishment in Pakistan. The United States, he says, has good relations and respect for the Pakistani military. "We also have good relations with Nawaz Sharif and others in the opposition," he informed a group of Pakistani journalists invited for a heart-to-heart at the State Department in Washington DC last week.
Does he sound too intrusive? Well, here's another zinger: "If we are asked and people think it will help, as in the past, we will [broker peace between the politicians and the military]. We are watching (the situation) with sympathy and support the elected government." When reminded that this amounted to interference in internal affairs of Pakistan, Holbrooke said: "We are not interfering (in Pakistan's internal affairs) but we are friends of Pakistani people and of the elected government."
Hello did we hear him right? Did he claim to be "Friends of Pakistani people"?
Holbrooke who has surfaced after a long hiatus (I wonder what he was up to all these months) has never before bothered to factor in the interests of common Pakistanis who really don't exist for the American policy-makers. The US has traditionally dealt with a claque of leaders who don't represent the interests of the masses; they represent their own selfish interests. Any leader willing to toe the US line on 'war against terror' is Washington's favoured one until one day he or she loses his or her use and is eliminated from the political scene, as happened to Gen Musharraf.
America has been playing a very dangerous game and if history is any guide then it has been getting badly burnt in the process. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have ruined the country's economy. Just look around the wasteland called the US today. Eighty-five thousand Americans have lost their jobs in December. Senior citizens who should be enjoying retirement have lost all their social security benefits and are being forced back into the labour force. The stores are empty. People don't have money to shop. Putting food on the table is presenting a challenge to the poor. Health care is in a shambles. "I've never seen businesses suffer like this before," says Fredrick Murad, my car mechanic.
President Obama, who only 12 months ago carried a halo around his face, promising to be the saviour, has fallen low in the public eye. He has failed to live up to his campaign promises not a single one of them has he fulfilled. "He's a one-time president, for sure," say many Americans who are convinced that he's bad news for the country. The Americans will not re-elect him in 2012, vouch the political pundits.
Recently I watched Admiral Mike Mullen, the top man in the military on 'Daily Show with Jon Stewart' on Comedy Central. The show became famous in Pakistan when Musharraf arranged to be a guest only to sell his book. But our ex-president hit it off with the comic. He even made him laugh. I was looking forward to a hearty gup-shup between the admiral and his host, similar to the Musharraf exchange. But Mullen was sullen, to say the least. He was humourless, unsmiling and tense like an overstretched rubber band. It seemed he would snap any moment. The host was clever enough not to needle the admiral. He let him have his say. Now this is not the Mullen we know, watch or read about when he comes to Pakistan. He and our top military man, General Kayani, spend hours talking over several cups of tea, according to Mullen. He likes and respects Kayani. The admiral comes across as a professional soldier with a twinkle in the eye. He is known to have a sense of humour.
During Mullen's monologue on how America manages to win by defeating its enemies in the end, he brought up Pakistan each time he talked of Afghanistan. But Jon Stewart was not interested in engaging him on Pakistan. Watching the brittleness of Mullen would convince any viewer that America's 'war on terror' is not going well.
A Pakistan-watcher in Washington DC says that the media back in Islamabad must ask Holbrooke tough questions on the estimated $7.5 billion projected as aid to Pakistan. Here are some questions Hobrooke must be asked, he says: who will determine where the money should go? How much of it will actually be allocated to health and education? How much will go towards development? Who are the US contractors coming to Pakistan to set up the various projects? Who will be the local NGOs that will get chosen to be given the funds and for what?
USAID in Islamabad too needs to answer questions from the Pakistani media. Amy Meyers, who literally controlled the agency in Islamabad for four years, and was known to have become 'arrogant', has suddenly been eased out. Why? Perhaps Holbrooke has the answer. He should be asked at least. He may not give us a straight answer.
Conversely, Obama's special representative expects an honest answer from our leaders both military and civilians -- regarding the threats voiced by the Indian military chief. General Deepak Kapoor boasted that India could take on Pakistan and China simultaneously and "bring it to a satisfactory conclusion in 96 hours." Holbrooke is unwilling to believe the statement unless President Zardari and General Kayani tell him to 'read our lips'!
By the same token, our leaders too must engage in some blunt-speak. They must question Peter Chamberlain's nerve-jangling assertion that the "The US has decided that to win the war in Afghanistan, it must attack its closest ally in the war, because allegedly, Pakistan is the state sponsor of the Afghan Taliban." Chamberlin, a defence analyst determined to expose the 'lies' of the American government, makes even more appalling allegations blaming the "American motives and CIA dishonesty as the primary source of problems in this war." His weblog, Therearenosunglasses's, carries inflammable stuff. In his latest article Image of the Beast, he writes: "Obama's minor investigation into agency shortcomings demonstrated during the underwear bombing incident (Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who tried to blow up a jetliner over the US filled with Christmas travellers), the destruction of the CIA drone centre in Khost and the scathing NATO report on US intelligence shortcomings, on the heels of the Eric Holder investigation of CIA torture. All of these ongoing problems scream of an out-of-control spy agency. We have entrusted the CIA to lead this intelligence-driven war and time after time, but the egomaniacal spooks have consistently dropped the ball."Pakistanis have every right to question such flagitious conspiracy theories. And should Holbrooke worry about US aid to Pakistan being pilfered, he must be told that while the US wants to disburse aid through its own official agency, the USAID, the corruption and ineptitude of its contractors is well-documented. "So, for once Pakistan should not be faulted for corruption," says the Pakistan-watcher in Washington, "The US contractors are the ones who are corrupt."
And by the way, half the funds allocated as aid to Pakistan never leave the US, according to development experts!
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org & www.anjumniaz.com
I. THE NEWS
BY MIR JAMILUR RAHMAN
The revelation by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the star-studded list of people who have been allotted Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG) licenses has come as a great shock. Some of the names included in the list are the sons, daughters, sons-in-law and wives of powerful people. There are relatives of former heads of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), ex-governors and high-ranking retired military officers: a banker who draws monthly salary of Rs1.5 million; a lawyer who charges Rs10 million to represent a client.
It is the worst example of political corruption and shows the all pervasive greed in our society. The people on the list are millionaires but they still want more. There is nothing wrong with making money, provided that it is done through legitimate means, and not surreptitiously through government patronage. Who is the culprit here? The one who benefits from the government largesse? Or the one who gives away the country's wealth to friends and relatives. Both, I think.
It is difficult to eradicate corruption from the society especially when the government itself promotes it. It is a centuries-old malady and the society is still looking for an answer. Twenty-four centuries ago, Kautiliya Chankia, advisor to the king of Taxila, enumerated 40 ways of stealing the king's money. He writes about this in his book, Arthasastra, advising the king that "If an officer has a large expenditure, he consumes state revenue." He says it is almost impossible to detect a corrupt officer. "Just as fish moving inside water cannot be known when drinking water; even so the officers carrying out works cannot be known when siphoning off money," he writes.
Chankia adds that it is impossible for an official not to taste the king's money: "Just as it is not possible to taste honey placed on the surface of the tongue, even so it is not possible for the one dealing with the money of the king (state) not to taste the money in however small a quantity."
Similarly, a favourite officer of Maharaja Ranjit Singh was notorious for demanding bribes. He was efficient and loyal, and the maharaja did not want to lose him. He posted him to River Ravi and ordered him to keep count of the waves. The maharaja thought there would be no opportunity for bribery now but he was wrong. The officer stopped all boat traffic crossing Ravi, explaining that boats' movement disturb the waves, which makes it impossible to carry out the count. The problem was resolved when the boatmen offered him bribes.
Political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. The experts are of the opinion that all forms of government, whether democratic or dictatorial, are susceptible to political corruption. Forms of corruption vary but include bribery, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. In some nations, corruption is so common that it has gained a formal status. The end point of political corruption is a kleptocracy, which means "rule by thieves."
A treatise written in 1896 describes the effects of corruption on politics, administration, and institutions. It says that corruption poses a serious development challenge. In the political realm, it undermines democracy and good governance by flouting or even subverting formal processes. Corruption in elections and in legislative bodies reduces accountability and distorts representation in policymaking; in the judiciary, it compromises the rule of law; and corruption in public administration results in the unfair provision of services. At the same time, it undermines the legitimacy of the government, and democratic values such as trust and tolerance.
Email: mirjrahman@hotmail .com
ZARDARI'S ILL-ADVISED MOVE FOR TRUST VOTE
THE categorical statement of Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Ch Nisar Ali Khan that the largest Opposition political party ie PML (N) would oppose any move of the Government to seek vote of confidence for President Asif Ali Zardari from the two Houses of Parliament has raised the political temperature further up. A similar message was also delivered by Punjab Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif a few days back firmly stating that the Punjab Assembly would not adopt any such resolution.
Provincial Assemblies of Sindh, Balochistan and the NWFP have already passed resolutions expressing confidence in the leadership of the incumbent President and it is widely believed that the Government has convened simultaneous sessions of the Senate and the National Assembly to get trust vote from Parliament as well. Though the coalition Government has the ability to secure such a vote from the National Assembly provided MQM backs the motion yet adoption of the resolution in the Upper House depends totally on the PML(Q). Irrespective of the fact whether or not the Government is able to get the motion passed, the controversy generated by the move will further pollute the political environment. It would, at least, make it clear that the largest province of the country with decisive weight in the numbers game has no confidence in the President. One wonders as to what was the necessity for the President to seek vote of confidence at this particular point of time. We say so because Asif Ali Zardari is an elected President who came to power through votes of Provincial Assemblies and Parliament. Those who advised the President to go for vote of confidence afresh, despite the fact that there was no such constitutional or legal requirement, are causing him unnecessary embarrassment. Otherwise too, it amounts to self-infliction and myopic thinking, as the move, instead of strengthening him, has further weakened him politically. It also shows that Asif Ali Zardari, for un-understandable reasons, is under great pressure and that is why he is resorting to actions that are proving counter-productive. We will, therefore, urge the President that instead of going for such cosmetic moves, he should strengthen his relationship with the masses by speaking their language, safeguarding their interests, defending national sovereignty, improving law and order, curbing corruption, arresting unending price-hike, generating economic activity, creating more employment opportunities and moving towards the cherished objective of good governance.
CRUSHING COST OF WAR ON TERROR
FINANCE Minister Shaukat Tarin has spoken of the financial stress Pakistan is facing due to expenses in the war on terror, security related issues and rehabilitation and reconstruction of the IDPs and damaged infrastructure. During a press conference on Monday, the Minister also divulged that Pakistan's arrears under the head of Coalition Support Fund(CSF) from the United States swelled to $ 2 billion by December 2009 and if this huge amount is not timely released, there would be sizeable cut in the development budget.
There is no doubt that Pakistan is paying a heavy price on the war against terrorism in terms of loss of precious lives, expenditure in military operations against militants and negative impact on economy due to law and order problem. The pledges made by the Friends of Democratic Pakistan (FoDP) in Tokyo are either not being honoured or released with much delay. Pakistan had estimated that it would get $ 2 billion for budgetary support during the current financial year but according to the Finance Minister it is expected to get $ 1.4 billion to $ 1.8 billion leaving a deficit of $ 200 to $ 600 million. In addition the expenditure for military operations in Swat, Malakand and South Waziristan and security related matters was not budgeted. The United States which is in the forefront to pressurize Pakistan for launching more operations against militants in Tribal Areas is deliberately delaying the release of due funds under the CSF to get its demands accepted. We had been emphasising in these columns that Pakistan must claim at least $ 60 billion for the losses the country suffered in the war on terror and get advance payments to meet the expenditure. However the former and the present Governments have not given due considerations to the national interests and got the country unnecessarily involved in the fight against terrorism. In return the country either got peanuts assistance or empty pledges. We think even now the Government should make it clear in categorical terms to the United States and other countries that if the dues of CSF were not cleared immediately, pledges at the Tokyo Conference were not honoured and reasonable compensation is not paid for the losses our economy has suffered, Pakistan would not be in a position to continue the partnership in fight against militancy.
NSO COMES OUT WITH INNOVATIVE SAVINGS PLAN
THE National Savings Organisation (NSO) has come out with yet another innovative saving scheme that is bound to get attention of the people. Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz on Monday launched National Savings Bonds for investment with attractive features that would suit almost all segments of the society.
The NSO, led by a sound professional Zafar M Shaikh, deserves credit for announcing this appealing investment scheme that not only offers handsome return to the investors but also helps boost much-needed savings. Mr Shaikh, who has rich background and experience of conceiving innovative ideas, is taking pains to revolutionize the working of the National Savings Organisation that has played a key role in national development. The NSO currently has a portfolio of over one trillion rupees and an extensive outreach to over six million investors who have kept their lifelong savings with the organization. Mobilisation of domestic savings and their efficient use is of crucial importance for revitalizing the economy of the country and it is because of low rate of savings that Pakistan has to depend heavily on foreign assistance. We hope that the new scheme would help realize the objective of encouraging more savings as it has many attractive features like good rate of return, flexible maturity period to suit different investors, easy terms for minimum and maximum limits of investment, tradability of the bonds on the stock exchanges and above all the firm security guarantee of the Government. The launch of the scheme shows that with innovation we can mobilize necessary resources without resorting to harsh measures like further burdening the taxpayers as indicated by the Finance Minister. One such example is the frequent announcement of packages by cellular companies resulting in phenomenal growth of the sector.
A REJOINDER TO JASBIR RAKHRA
ASIF HAROON RAJA
It has become a routine for Indian writers within and outside India to build a false image of India and to pour scorn on Pakistan . As a state policy, India has always endeavored to create wedge between Pak-US, Pak-China, Pak-Afghanistan, Pak-Iran, Pak-South Asian, Central Asian and Gulf States relations to isolate Pakistan. Jasbir Rakhra (an Indian) working in Institute of Peace and conflict studies (IPCS) has written a befuddling article in the IPCS magazine dated 21 December steamed up in falsehood and half-truths. Salient contours of his write up are as under:
There is a nexus between Taliban-Al-Qaeda-Punjabis. Pakistan has become a battleground and is threatened from all directions. Attack on GHQ was most serious since it is symbol of glory and honor. Nuclear installations are as vulnerable as GHQ to terrorist attacks and that possibility of attack on nuclear installations has now become distinct. Three attacks on nuclear related facilities at Sargodha , Kamra and Wah have already taken place. Attack on nuclear installation will not be launched to seize a weapon but to achieve a symbolic victory by attacking at nation's pride, which would lead to national destabilization.
Pakistan 's nukes have become more vulnerable after its alliance with USA . Main threat to nukes is not so much from terrorists as from persons with extremist bent of mind employed within installations. Former or serving members of security establishments have been involved in acts of terror. (To substantiate his point he gives the example of Aqeel alias Dr Usman, an ex AMC nursing officer who led the raid on GHQ). Reading between the lines, his major thrust point is on Pakistani nukes which in his view have become vulnerable to terrorist attacks. He builds his case on the basis of GHQ attack and three attacks already having taken place on nuclear related targets. He is either ill-informed or is pretending to be naïve since suicide attacks in Sargodha and Kamra were on two air force buses including one children school bus which were plying on the main road. Suicide attack in Wah was on the gate of ordnance factory. He somehow missed out another attack on KRL bus in Pindi which an American writer had also described as an attack on Kahuta nuclear facility. Going by his logic that an attack on nuclear installation would lead to Pakistan 's destabilization, India should have fragmented several times seeing the large number of incidents (total 51) in various Indian nuclear facilities.
Like all Indian leaders, Jasbir appears to have got vexed about the Congressional Report expressing complete satisfaction over Pakistan 's nuclear command & control security arrangement as well as system of selection of personnel for security installations. Their anxiety is justifiable when seen in the backdrop of years of efforts put in to brainwash US leadership trying to impress upon them that Pak nukes have become highly unsafe and that there was likelihood of their falling in wrong hands. Indians have been trying hard to put fear into the hearts of US leaders that until and unless Pak nukes were destroyed or whisked away world security would be in jeopardy. Major plank on which their argument rested was on the extremist threat. This was magnified when Swat Taliban took up positions in Buner and Lower Dir in April 2009. Hue and cry was made that extremists were on the verge of taking over Islamabad as well as nuclear stocks. Jewish controlled American think tanks and journalists lent support to these themes. Their psychological warfare got blunted when Pak Army turned the tables on the militants in Swat and Malakand Division in quick time and made them run for life. The Indians had convinced the Americans that the battle positions of militants in Swat were so formidable that it would take many years for the Army to overcome them. Likewise, they assessed that the persons displaced from troubled regions numbering over two millions would not be able to return for another two years or so and that economically impoverished Pakistan would not be able to sustain the burden. They could never imagine in their wildest dreams that Swat would be over powered by security forces in less than two months paving way for displaced persons to return.
Their high hopes on Hakimullah led Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in South Waziristan (SW) also dashed when the army executed another brilliant three directional maneuver and uprooted the whole network within one month. Praises by American officials displeased the Indians. Dispirited Jasbir consoles himself and his countrymen and also props up hopes of US leadership by prophesizing that defeat of TTP in SW is highly doubtful. He makes a wild guess that there will be massive retaliation by extremist forces. He doesn't disclose his source of information or assumptions on which he arrived at this conclusion.
Sinister plans of our adversaries to reduce Army's combat ability as well as its counter terrorism capability getting blown to pieces, they next focused their attention towards major cities with the help of suicide bombers, saboteurs and Blackwater elements. GHQ was purposely targeted to bruise prestige of the Army and to lower down its raised image in the eyes of public. Purpose of targeting senior army officers and ISI set ups was to make the people lose faith in the Army as their protector.
With their wicked designs receiving a setback, Indian writers like Jasbir have changed tack and have shifted the threat to nukes from extremists to working members within nuclear facilities. He casts aspersion on the integrity of Strategic Plans Division (SPD) by asserting that it enrolls majority from Punjab province on the plea that Punjabis have relatively fewer links with extremist groups. After subtly provoking ethnic tensions he then tries to feed doubts by saying that five out of ten terrorists who attacked GHQ hailed from Punjab . What he slyly implies is that Punjabis are equally prone to fundamentalism as any other ethnic group. He link Punjabis with Al-Qaeda and Taliban in an effort to prepare grounds to press Pakistan to launch another military operation and provide excuse to CIA to employ drones in Muredke and South Punjab. He next strikes at the ISI and MI responsible for the clearance of persons getting selected for security organizations. He doubts them by asserting that there is no reliable system to carryout check on ISI/MI officials. He then insinuates that that there are elements within these sensitive organizations affiliated with Taliban. Rather than Pakistan getting worried, Jasbir for reasons best known to him is losing his appetite and goodnight sleep fretting over self-imagined unreliable persons working inside Pakistani installations.
The chief reason behind writing this silly piece is India 's frustration and annoyance at Washington 's apparent change of heart and its efforts to remove misgivings of Pakistan . It has suddenly changed its stance on vulnerability of our nuclear assets. All top military and civil leaders including US Congress have expressed their complete satisfaction over the steps taken by Pakistan to strengthen its safety and security systems to make nuclear arsenal safe. The Congress has also approved the selection procedure of persons for security outfits and finds no flaw in it. Indo-Israeli axis doesn't want Pak nuclear arsenal to become safe and secure. Its endeavor is to make it unsafe and insecure so that nuclear eggs could either be destroyed through a surgical operation, or whisked way in a single swipe or a joint US-Pakistan control system is put in place. Indians want the US to review their stance on these two aspects and have given them added angles to ponder over. In other words, Indian spin masters would devise new ways to once again foment suspicions between USA and Pakistan and make Washington formally declare Pak nuclear program unsafe.
The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst.
It is very important to secure Pakistan now and after a brief worldview preamble I will come to a list of possible ways of securing Pakistan. I am of the opinion that America's linking of Yemen to X-mas failed attack is an attempt to use so-called war against terrorism (SWAT) to land lock Arabian Peninsula from Yemen too. Reportedly, France and Yemen had signed a deal last year to develop a Yemeni port that would have allowed Europe a foothold on the Arabian Peninsula which would have breached American occupation of Arabian Peninsula right from garrisoned Iraq down to 7th American Fleet in Strait of Hormuz and Egypt under pro-US/Israel dictator overseeing Gulf of Suez linking Indian Ocean with Europe through Mediterranean Sea. America's unfolding Yemen policy is another act of illegal war to protect its stakes vis-à-vis Europe. "Independent experts" are already dragging Saudi Arabia into the Yemini conundrum to expand their illegal war, which OIC should condemn. Aljazeera's "Yemen: a failed state" helps understand unfolding chaos and extent of American influence in undermining fragile governance system in third world countries.
Incessant US drones attacks in Pakistan, media reports of US raids in Pakistan and preemptive action against Yemen following illegal Iraq and Afghanistan occupations raises fundamental questions about America's respect for international laws and conventions, sovereignties of states, and human rights. A study of post 2nd WW history shows that Washington respects international laws as long as they protect its national interests. Thus, if "Ghettoization of Gaza" by Israel is a microcosm of undermining global conventions and treaties and human rights "Global Ghettoization" by America in the name of SWAT is its macrocosm. An American Congressperson in Larry King's "Politics of Terror" said that nobody voted for Afghan war in Congress. US presidents are waging wars without approval of Congress which is a violation of US Constitution. Islamabad instep with EU should instead support international laws and human rights to strengthen its relations with rest of the world instead of getting isolated by standing with Washington and its ally Tel Aviv. The era of running with the hare and hunting with the hound must come to an end.
Islamabad therefore has to reject its pro-America policy to help Pakistan transform into an independent viable state which respects international laws and human rights. To secure its foreign policy objectives Islamabad should reduce number of American diplomats to single digit and withdraw permission for expansion of US embassy in Islamabad and "freeze" construction of US Karachi Mission if both countries are serious to salvage deteriorating Pak-US relations.
Anne Patterson should be replaced because she has become news and she is undermining US constitution by undermining relations between two countries. Scrap 9000 plus visas issued to the Americans to end the controversy of "American boots on Pakistani soil". Karachi traders and political parties should reject Patterson's Rs. One bln aid which is covered with blood of 28,000 Pakistani killed in SWAT including 800 drone deaths. Haqqani, Pakistan's ambassador to America should also be replaced with a person who enjoys respect of Pakistan's military, foreign office, public and media.
To protect its national security, Islamabad should relocate military on its eastern borders and sealing its western borders with help of targeted fencing, mining, paramilitary forces, police, intelligence agencies and immigration policies. Discuss pros and cons of involving regional forces including SCO members including deployment of their air and satellite technology on Pak-Afghan border to end foul play by NATO on Pak-Afghan border, expose west's hypocrisy over Pakistan's support against anti-state elements, expose occupation forces war crimes in Afghanistan and improve Pakistan's international image. In accordance to freedom of information act, public's right to know, sunshine laws and as part of constitutional "checks and balances" to keep political leaders from destroying country's very existence judicial inquiries should be ordered to investigate: a) America's role in suicide bombing in Pakistan and resultant innocent deaths. b) Alleged issuance of Pakistani Passports and visas from Washington and use of "lost" passports from different Pakistan Embassies from 2000 to 2009. d) Constitutional legitimacy of use of Pakistani bases by the Americans and resultant war crimes committed against people of Pakistan in form of drone attacks, running rendition flights by Pakistani and American leaders from 1999 to-date including presidents, PMs, Interior Ministers, Foreign ministers, Law and Justice ministers, AGs and allied setups. e) To hold persons responsible for cooperating with US "overseas contingency plans"; rendition flights; missing persons; and handing over of Afia Siddiqui to America. FM statement about "defending her" shows that Islamabad has no plans to press US for her return. In that case in accordance to international prudence country's court have moral and legal obligation for ordering return of Afia Siddiqui and others. g) Review and scrap Kerry-Lugar Bill to protect country's nuclear program and national security. h) Cancel controversial Pak-Afghan Trade and Transit Act allowing India land access to CARS which will destroy Pakistan's trade interests to the tune of $400 bln annually.
Islamabad should get rid of legal provisions that allow dual nationality holders to work in sensitive positions in line with America. On February 19, 1942 President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 authorizing military to isolate Japanese Americans for the reasons of national security. China boycotted America in 1800s due to US Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 which authorized deportation of millions of Chinese. The fate of American Muslims and inclusion of 13 Muslim countries in list of "14 Countries of interest" shows that America is still living in age of Social Darwinism: superior few to rule rest of the inferior world. What FM Shah Mehmood is describing as "US immigration policy" is in fact "overseas internment and profiling". Instead of protesting, Islamabad should adopt tit for tat policy starting with cancellation of Musharraf's military and NRO deals, and replacing people holding sensitive position since dictator's era to protect America's interest at the cost of Pakistan's interests. Islamabad should end abuse of legal provisions of state secret act and military courts instead of scrapping them. Pakistan should nationalize communication networks to end foul play in use of mobile phones in suicide and remote control attacks. In US Senate hearing multinational telecommunication companies (MTC) admitted violating user rights and undermining company policies. A MTC software engineer was murdered in Greece who had detected a spy program that was traced to western embassy in Athens.
-The private telecommunication companies whose chips are recovered from crime scenes, NADRA and Passport offices should be included in investigations to rule out their corrupt failures resulting in loss of life and other anti-state activities. Privatization is another mean of acquiring strategic assets of developing world so as to micromanage state's economic and foreign policies for vested stakes. The massive privatization of USSR foiled nationalist takeover which proved instrumental in its disintegration. Local body government system is another mean to undermine state authority. In a "country of interest" mayors of few major cities can "freeze the country". The case in point is Thai political standoff where urban minority scythed democratic majority of rural majority while the west watched. Handpicked mayors of important western capitals are ugly spots on face of modern democracy.
Finally, securing Pakistan at this stage is critical to country's unity, prosperity and stability. Failure is not an option. Islamabad must uphold public demand and reduce US meddling in country's affairs by downsizing its presence to single digit, replacing ambassadors of both countries and rejecting US blood drenched economic aid including black K-L bill. Only a law abiding America is welcome in Pakistan.
AMERICANS, BEWARE OF ECONOMIC DOOM!
The statistics are hair-raising. The national debt of United States currently stands at $ 12 trillion which if divided on a population of 300 million comes roughly to $40,000 for every man, woman and child in America. The budget deficit for the year 2009 is estimated to be an all time high at $1042 billion. The cost for both Iraq and Afghanistan war in 2010 would be around $ 1046 billion. In 2014 America's debt-to GDP ratio would reach 108 percent. By 2019 payments on the federal debt would rise to $799 billion.
China and Japan are the two biggest creditors of United States, thus far holding 798 billion and 751 billion worth of U.S. Treasury securities. The trade deficit that was zero in 1991 soared to 763 billion in 2006. If this trade deficit is not checked, by 2030 it will rise to 15 percent of the GDP or $ 5 trillion annually. By November 2009 the mortgages of 16 million Americans were upside down. So far 100 banks have close their business, 416 are at risk of bankruptcies. By 2013, the projected losses on account of bounced real estate loans will be 600 billion. The acute economic downslide places the United States in a risky situation of losing reserve currency status of dollar as well as its superpower status.
There is growing loud thinking that the United States has already lost its superpower status. It is being feared that America's economy that is in extreme dire straits, would impinge on its superpower status. Besides, its leadership in the field of science and technology would be prodigiously hampered due to the paucity of funds. It is surmised that the China and Japan will outpace United States in the scientific research. There is also a very potent apprehension that since United States would need more credits from Japan and China; these countries could also influence America's foreign policy and her conduct of external affairs.
The European Union, a conglomeration of 27 countries is emerging as a strong economic contender or rival of the United States. EU's common currency Euro is 1.5 times stronger than the US dollar. It means one has to pay 1.5 dollar to buy one Euro. EU is world's single largest market with a population of 500 million individuals. United States war bill will astronomically soar if it decides to expand its war on terrorism to Yemen and those pockets where the terrorists are resettling. A military action against Iran preceded by clamping of sanctions and embargoes on that country would not be a one sided affair. Like the Somali pirates a similar kind f blockade can be mounted by Iran in the Strait of Harmus which might lead a calamitous conflagration in the area between the United States and west on one side and Iran on the other. Bu the paramount question is that in the face of a crumbling economy and much dependence on foreign loans, would this be a rational or the prudent course to adopt? Will not the armed standoff, if not the actual engagement, spell further disaster for the American economy?
Should United States still push for opening more armed conflicts around the world, despite the stalemated war situation in Iraq and Afghanistan and the domestic economic decline with closure of such giant enterprises as Chrysler and General Motors, complete mess in real estate and closure of elephantine financial institutions,? We can chase the Al-Qaida all around the globe with our forces and huge military potential but is there is an iron clad guarantee that this pursuit would end at some point of time with absolute success. Besides these economic disasters, it is being conjured that with the unfunded liabilities and payments to the million of retiring baby boomers in the coming times, not only would create chaos in social security, Medicare and Medicaid but also push up the American national debt to a horrifying level of 50 trillion. So what is the prudent and safe way-out of this treacherous marshy situation in which we can further sink instead of jumping out of it with a victorious banner in our hand? The enemy is not stationed or concentrated at one place. If it is defeated in one part of the world, it slips to another part, thus forcing the United States to move to the new places and sanctuaries as well.
A better, pragmatic or discreet strategy could be to assign the task of hunting, combating, and eliminating the terrorists to the countries from where they operate or are based. This strategy is paying its dividends in Pakistan where Pakistan's army has earned the singular distinction of subduing the radical militants and terrorists in various parts where they were well entrenched since the defeat of the Soviet Union in 1989. The bulk of the miscreants and their local abettors have been exterminated or forced to surrender or flee. The incumbent U.S. administration was passed on the cataclysmic war hysteria by former Bush administration manned by extreme right radical wings commonly known as neo-cons. Imbued by a misplaced fervor to conquer the anti Christ nations, in this case the Muslims, they launched their mighty military forays against Iraq which was a blatant transgression of the international norms governing the interstate relations.
Saddam was a person no less than a devil. He was sinister both for the region and for his own suppressed people. But merely to remove him at a huge cost was such a grievous blunder whose baneful and ruinous repercussions continue to this day. The United States should have withdrawn once the tyrant was fallen. The tyrant however never gave an impression that he was an adversary of the United States. If United States mounted that gubernatorial military adventure for the safety of Israel then it should be understood that by saving Israel, America ruined itself economically, militarily and even morally. I would like the United States to make the world and United States safe havens by killing all the terrorists and the anti American elements. But this cannot be achieved by fighting unnecessary and self-destructive wars on foreign soils. What United States have not achieved at the cost of making it economically broke, could have been achieved by giving a fraction of the war funds to the countries where the terrorist elements were hiding.
A mighty and majestic country, a well deserved superpower after the defeat of communism is beset by rampant and escalating unemployment, huge debt burden, and trade imbalances. There is in the making a doom's day scenario exacerbating with every passing moment. The streets of United States look run down; the roads cannot be repaved for want of funds, and are instead resurfaced with ugly uneven patches. The bridges are old, the signboards are obsolete. The loans are scare and not easily available; the air travelling is turning into a nightmare. The educational institutions don't get the adequate funds; the hospitals are overcrowded and handicapped because of insufficient budget allocations and so on.
The social-civic sector that was an exemplary hallmark of American society is now in the throes of decline and decay. Name one sector that is financially sound and stable in the face the ongoing economic meltdown. A realistic reevaluation of the prevailing frightening situation that is devouring the wealth of this great country is called for. Concurrently the war on terror can be won with much less hassle and loss and at much less cost and without committing the American troops to fight in foreign uncharted and inhospitable terrains. Moreover, they look like occupation forces.
UN TOWARDS COLLAPSE?
The twentieth century witnessed two devastating world wars. The League of Nations was established after the first World War and was often called "child of war", yet it failed to attain goals of peace and security. After World War II another organization was reshaped namely United Nations in 1945. UN was set up to save the nations from the curse of war. It is perhaps best to observe at the outset what the United Nation is not. It is not a super state, and it does not encompass a world government. By no means does it represent a federal type of government. It does not have the authority to legislate or tax, nor does it have the power to put into effect their decision upon individuals. The organization is based on the principle of sovereign equality of all its members. The "equality" in representation, in voting, in status. Irrespective of size or power, violation of rights must be measured neutrally. Wealth and power is not to be used as an escape from the duty to observe international obligations.
If we see all these idealistic characteristics of UN its seems to be a perfect international organization, but is it heading towards collapse. UN has failed shoddily for several reasons. Since the induction of the organization, it is working to stem the poor and facilitate the powerful. On the converse it always consented with the big powers for their acts of insurrection and disruption. UN has failed to do any thing that can be called sincere effort or unbiased fight to endorse the banner of the democracy and justice especially in the countries of the Third World. It is always working as an apparatus in the hands of giants ruling the international affairs. There is the Kashmir issue, a cause of strain between the two adjoining nuclear powers. The resolution is lying in the archives of cold storage of the UNO. The powerless organization as it calls itself gets massive power when the patrons want to rebuff a so called rebellious nation, a nation that it does not act upon the dictates of the lashing forces of UN. For the poor countries of Asia and Africa, the UN is not a boom but a bane and mere a tool in the hands of West. Decision making of UN is in hands of great powers, which is causing its failure. United Nations is unable to take direct and independent actions without support from its members. In other words, the UN is completely powerless. In a world filled with war-mongering dictators and suppressing regimes who know the UN lacks any real power; regimes are almost completely free to do whatever they want. For example, North Korea has tested nuclear weapons and threatens to do so again, with the United Nations only considering sanctions. In practice, it is obvious that despite the guarantee of legal equality, the major powers have a position within the organization for more commanding and influential status. UN has failed to contain the big powers and has never accomplished its goal of abolishing war. It hasn't even come close.
Second in the UN five nations can veto any resolution that the majority of the UN members agreed upon. The countries with this veto power are China, France, Russia (formerly the Soviet Union), the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Complete structure of the UN needs a major overhaul, but this is unlikely to happen, since the countries with veto powers would never agree to give up this right for fairness sake. Thirdly, since a lot of the countries in the United Nations are not for peace, these nations have very questionable voting practices. The only possible solution is to deny voting rights for war mongering nations.
The fourth and final reason is that the United Nations is useless against terrorism. The UN does not formally recognize any country as a terrorist State. Furthermore, terrorists are not interested in the politics of debating in a public forum, such as the United Nations, to discuss and work out their issues. Therefore, the U.N. does not get involved in politics with terrorist groups. As a result, the United Nations is completely blind to terrorist groups, has no plans to address terrorism. The fact that the United Nations, as the largest international organization that promotes peace, is completely incapable to address terrorism is further proof that the UN is useless.
Peace and development and concept of democracy and equality are still missing in many parts of the world despite our trumpeted slogan of world getting into a global village. No doubt the globalization has drawn countries closer with reference to their economic relationship, advanced means of communications and regional cooperation yet organizations like UN who became the instrument in hands of great powers instead of a global organization are a big question on the legality and the sole character of international organizations. These are the general reasons that are cited as the influencing factors on the effectiveness of UN. Otherwise there are a lot of other things that can be said as the failure cause of organization and put question on UN character.
The given facts regarding UNO's efficiency has proven itself as a failure for its entire history and continue being useless. Maybe if peaceful countries withdraw their membership and stop participating in the United Nations in protest, it will force the United Nations to abandon its old methods of dealing with non-peaceful and non-humanitarian nations. Instead of focusing so much on the political aspects of the UN which should be given a back seat, pour the money into world education and health, something the UN does very well when well funded.
NOTHIN' UNUSUAL 'BOUT IT..!
Come now me Indian friends, whatcha makin' dis big noise 'bout an Indian being killed 'ere in me Australia? Dese things happen in all dem big cities, I don't know 'bout udder big cities, but it done happen' in the de cities own here Under" "You know whatcha mean? No?
Ah well, let me tell ya in simple words you will be understandin', You walkin' down de road right, not in dem small village in me Australia, but in one of dem big cities, and sudden like you see dat big shadow fall across de ground behind you and you say to yerself oh me gosh I'm bin followed!"
"Now why de hell you bin followed? Because yer in a big city dammit! Yeah! In dese big cities you git followed and sudden like you see dem big shadow all round you and you tell yerself, 'oh me gosh I'm in a big city and I'm gonna be killed!"
"You gotta realize dat in a big city dese things happen! So whatcha do next? Why get on yer knees dammit! I 'aven't become de deputy prime minister of deese big country fer nothin'! You get on yer knees and pray, yeah man you pray and pray and pray dat de shadow behind will go away and if it don't, well den goddamit you pray some more, because 'ere in dis big city de only thing dat can work dammit is to get on yer knees and jes pray. Dis is Down Under man and I know dis country like you know yers and dis ain't India, it's what?"
"Yeah Australia!" "Now I'll tell you one lil' secret, and you gotta believe it, you be prayin' right and you be on yer knees right and you be all afraid and cryin' out loud and sayin' lord ave mercy, lord ave mercy, dats how you pray right and suddenly you got another big shadow jes behind de one behind you and you know yer prayer you bin prayin' its bin answered. You know dat dat shadow behind de shadow behind you is dat of a "
"Yeah, you got it right, its de shadow of a policeman!""And you pray and you tank god in heaven and say, lord I bin on me knees and me knees are sore, but you done sent a policeman to rescue me and tank you lord, tank you and you start to gettin' up" "Oh I'm sorry, I clean be forgettin' dat it be an Indian on his knees in Australia, so me story be a little different right?"
"So you start to get up and dis 'ere shadow of de policeman behind de shadow of de one behind you, he says, hey dats not one of ours!" "And de shadow behind you, it laughs and says, 'no it ain't bobby it ain't!' "And de shadow behind the shadow of de one behind you it go away and leave you alone wid de shadow behind you to be killed!"
"Dese things happen in all dem big cities, I donna 'bout udder big cities and I donna 'bout yer cities in India, but it done happen' in the de cities Down here Under, oh yeah it does, and I know Australia, otherwise I wouldn't be de deputy PM right? Dere's nothin' unusual 'bout it let me assure you..!"
Of the different modes of communications, roads and highways have certainly changed for the better in our country. With the proposed transformation of the Dhaka-Chittagong Highway into four lanes at an estimated expenditure of Taka 1,655 crore, travelling between the two main cities of the country may gain remarkable speed. Now we are told, the government is keen to turn all the highways into four-lane ones. Understandably, the speedier are the communications the more the economic development. Yet macroeconomic development is no guarantee for ensuring social justice and equitable distribution of opportunities and wealth. Better, smooth and more efficient road transport may serve privileged classes, leaving the less fortunate to make do with outmoded transport. So, developed nations have long devoted themselves to reach economic benefits through mass transport.
Lanes notwithstanding, highways may not be highways in true sense of the term if other conditions remain unfulfilled. Highways without restricted entry and exit points are meaningless because this can be dangerous posing further threat to our already accident-prone road journey. Traffic rules, moreover, are more conspicuous by their violation than their compliance. More lanes or not, traffic movement runs the risk of getting hampered if the rules are not followed meticulously and proper supervision is not enforced. Also, the efficiency of highways, which act as the main thoroughfares of a country, is dependent on artery-like roads that connect them to small towns and villages. Those roads as well deserve more attention.
Admittedly, even the finest bus services have their limitations to become mass public transport. As for transportation of goods at a long distance, road is hardly suitable. If we have to make massive investment in public transport, our option now should be railway. Time has come for us to think of electric train service which is less costly as well as environmentally friendly. A policy review of our entire communication system may indeed help us get our priority right. In the interest of faster and more comfortable journey, dispersal and expansion of our commerce and business as well as sound environment, we should set our eyes on development of railways alongside highways.
SPECTACLES FOR THE POOR
Many people in the developing world are in need of a pair of spectacles, but they are generally too costly for the poor. A study published in a World Health Organisation journal in June estimated the cost in lost output at $269 billion a year. As tackling vision problems early can help prevent later blindness, supplying glasses for the world's poor may be one of the most valuable investments we can have. One promising technology is self-adjustable spectacles which let untrained wearers set the right focus themselves in less than a minute, greatly reducing the need for trained optometrists, who are rarely available in Africa and many parts of Asia. Though these adjustable glasses cannot yet help with conditions like astigmatism, at least 80 per cent of refractive errors can be fixed.
Both Dutch models are based on a design pioneered in the 1960s by Luis W. Alvarez, an American who won a Nobel Prize in physics. The design uses two lenses that slide across each other to alter their focus. Focus on Vision has one advantage - its unique injection-moulding process allows its Focusspec eyeglasses to be made cheaply. Focus on Vision invited a Dutch engineer, Ron Kok, who grew wealthy by streamlining the manufacture of compact discs and contact lenses, to work the same magic on its glasses, who saw immediately that they could be made simpler. The third, based in England is championing a British invention called AdSpecs, which has been attracting widespread media attention for more than a decade. AdSpecs, which allow the corrective power of the glasses to be adjusted by means of a clear fluid injected into the lenses, were developed by Joshua Silver, a physics professor at Oxford University who directs a research institute there called the Centre for Vision in the Developing World.
WOMEN'S HUG POWER..!
Yesterday when Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina visited India, most newspapers carried pictures, not of her shaking hands with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but of Sonia giving her a warm friendly hug.
"Look closely at that hug!" shuddered the Pakistani President as he looked in the general direction of India and Bangladesh, "It's a woman, woman thing! It means they are ganging up against a man, and the only man I can think of is "
"Yes, yes, it's always me isn't it?
"What are you going to do sir?"
"Abdicate! Give up! There's nothing you can do when confronted with woman power!" said the President and shuddered again as he looked at the photo.
In Sri Lanka both the President and the General who had won the war for him and who was now standing against him in the upcoming election, looked at same picture in their respective papers then looked away then looked at the phone and dialed one another, "I guess there's nothing else we can do but get together!" said the President to his political opponent, "You can't win against women power alone!"
"Yes sir!" said the general and donned his uniform again.
And in far off America Obama yelled to his missus, "We need a photo of us hugging each other!"
"But aren't we always doing that honey?"
"It's got to look how these two are doing it!" said Obama showing her the picture.
"Husband!" laughed Michele, "When we sisters hug the whole jungle quakes, that's an old Tarzan saying!"
"Heck, but I can't let this happen!"
"Well maybe you could let me and Mrs Clinton hug each other? What a picture for the world, the president hugging his secretary of state!"
"President?" whispered Obama, "But I'm the president!"
"Yeah but once they see that pic, they'll know who the real President is, right Barack?"
Obama shivered, as back home in India, the new leader of the opposition shuddered, "We've got to make a woman alliance like this!" he thundered.
"We can have Sushma hugging Uma Bharti, or maybe even Jayalalitha?"
"This isn't a photo of two tigresses fighting, whereas Sushma and Uma or Sushma and Jayalaitha would "
"I get the point sir," said his aide quickly, "We don't want to lose the next election too!"
"You're a good hugger ma!" said Rahul to his mother that evening and then watched in horror as Priyanka entered and his mother hugged her, "Mom!" he screamed, "What about me?"
"There's more power here!" said his mother, hugging her daughter.
Zardari, Obama, the Sri Lankan President, Rahul and India's opposition leader shivered as they looked at the photo again: Woman power was here to stay..!
PEACE AND SOCIAL ORDER
PROFILE OF BANGLADESH POLICE
The historical course of the development of human society from the primitive time right up to the present day ancient, medieval and modern events that played an influential part in the march of human progress and happiness, the gradual development of productive and distributive forces are matters of deep enquiry for an understanding of human problems from the earliest to the present epoch. The primitive man had no fixed dwelling house. He found his sustenance by gathering whatever food nature happened to provide him and by hunting animals. He learnt to make pebble tools consisting of a piece of stone with a slightly sharpened edge and used them both as means of defence or attack and as work implement. Man was helpless before the forces of nature and forced to live, work and defend in group. The primitive groups of man lacked any concept of hierarchy and inequality. The idea of property and family did not exist. Any one who held aloof from the group was the equivalent of an enemy, and when left outside the group was fraught with danger. Man at that time made use of natural shelters, mainly caves.
When the clan community came into being the kinship was exclusively matrilineal. Group marriage was a common practice, as a result of which children never knew who their father was. They knew only their mother. During this period of development of mankind, man used bows and arrows and started to tame animals, and primitive forms of land cultivation and animal husbandry made their appearance. Women observed that the grain started to grow after it had fallen on the ground. And so, she planted the grain and grew plant from it. The domestication of food animals developed from hunting practices. Then began stock-breeding. The subsequent development of agriculture and stock-breeding became linked with patrimonial kinship. The invention of plough brought mall, instead of woman, to do the strenuous work of ploughing with beasts. Woman was now allotted the new role of managing the domestic tasks. The transition from stone tools to metal tools took place. Cultivators spread to various parts of the western and the eastern hemispheres in the valleys of great rivers. The pastoralists mostly settled in southern Siberia, Arab Sea basin, Iranian plateau and Black Sea border. An exchange of produce grew up between pastoralists and cultivators. The probability of barter induced man to produce within a given tribe, clan or family. With the urge to accumulate surplus produce for barter, man now developed a new attitude to prisoners captured in inter-tribe warfare. These prisoners were not killed, nor absorbed into the rank of the winning tribe, but forced to work for their conquerors. They were thus turned into slaves. The patriarchal era brought slavery into being in the primitive community.
The use of iron plough, axe and spade brought about fundamental revolution in agricultural techniques and craftsmanship. Ironsmiths appeared, followed by the invention of potter's wheel and weaving loom, further division of labour took place when craftsmen ceased to work on the land, and cultivators no longer spent part of their time fashioning metal and clay. During this epoch, the institution of private property was introduced, the first private possessions being cattle and slaves. Gradually land came under private possession. Inequality based on property relations resulted from this and side by side with the categories of free 1men and slaves there emerged the new categories of rich and poor. Within the various clans a type of nobility based on riches and power became discernible. From this nobility, emerged tribal leaders and members of the council of elders. Family ties became now gradually replaced by links between people inhabiting the same area. Territorial communities sprang up with the disintegration of the clan-based community.
The development of man's technical equipment and the appearance of private property and the spread of slavery gradually led to the division of society in large groups occupying different social positions. There were those who owned land, tools and slaves but did no work themselves, and those who supported themselves by their own labour (peasants and craftsmen) or those who did not own anything and were obliged to work for their masters as slaves. These large groups occupying such widely divergent social positions came to be known as classes. The class which owned riches and compelled others to work for it started striving to hold them in subjection. To this end a new institution evolved. This is the state with its various organs of power such as prison, army and court of justice.
We have spoken of the "State" in the development of human society. It was not the same state as we have seen it in our time. The definition of the ancient state was not different from its modern version. But the distinction was notable in respect of its structure, institutions and governance, and to a large extent in respect of the relations between the state and its citizens as well as in respect of the objective principles of state policy and rights of citizens. Principalities, Kingdoms, Empires, Vassal States, Protectorates, and Republics came into being in different regions according to specific exigency social, political, economic, cultural, ethnic and geographic. There was frequent change of territorial boundaries because of the strong primitive impulse to fight, conquer, subjugate, exploit and oppress others by sheer force. This impulse gave birth to ancient militarism and despotism, the lingering effect of which still persists. Thus, there have been rise and fall of ancient states with concomitant changes in social, political, economic and cultural contents of life. Along such changes came forth changes in the thought of man who sought escape from a particular order and envisioned a different one, and looked for ways to realise that. Philosophies, ideologies, utopia, whim and realism grew and developed, and provided new impulse fur newer thought and action and this trend of history has continued.
The ancient state with its meagre population representing the ancient man had problems which the modern state has with its vast population representing both ancient and modern man and mind. The problem of the ancient state in keeping peace within the territory and with neighbouring states, in imposing the win of the ruler on the ruled not by consent but by force and intimidation, in granting freedom with tolerable restraint and limitation, in providing security of life and property, in enlightening the minds of people in the light of what people elsewhere received, and in promoting human happiness on earth was as acute as it is of the modern state. The ancient monarchs, rulers, despots or generals were as afraid of the inherent power of the ruled as their modern counterparts. What then has human society over thousands of years actually and basically achieved and bequeathed to mankind? This is a question to which we have an answer that in spite of the development of science and technology man's proneness to primitive impulses has continued, and that man today is more afraid of his fellow-beings than wild beasts and furies of nature. In many parts of the world the modern monarch, ruler, despot or general has the same primitive impulse to fight for territorial, ideological, cultural, political economic and ethnic gains.
The history of mankind brings us to the ancient seats of civilisation - their socio-economic political and cultural contents of life, their institutions and historical and political landmarks and socio-legal evolutions and problems related to peace and tranquillity. Institutional peace-keeping bears antiquity from the time humans formed themselves into families, clans and tribes. The pursuit of peace is, indeed, a process of solving issues that crop up because of quarrels, conflicts of interest, intolerance of dissent, fixed and angular likes and dislikes, hatred, enmity, greed, passion, lust, etc. It involves fundamentally an atmosphere of discipline and self-restraint, and demands an anti-disorder and an anti-crime alliance expressing the will of social, political and cultural groups and waging a struggle to create peace and to maintain and defend peace. The government of a country is the supreme peace-keeping institution, and in its efforts to establish durable peace and relax tension and to prevent disorder, the government devises strategy of governance in which law and order and administration of criminal justice occupy a place of considerable primacy like national defence and involve lot of investment. From the time of Hammurabi (1728-1686 BC), Moses and Chandra Gupta Maurya (321-297 BC), the problem of peace and tranquillity has engaged considerable attention.
(The writer is former IG Police & Secretary)
RELIGIOUS DIVERSITY AND TOLERANCE IN ISLAM
ASGHAR ALI ENGINEER
As everywhere the rightist forces thrive on hatred of the other and the ban on the minaret in Switzerland is also the result of rise of rightist politics. The Muslims in India too have experienced it when the BJP tried to come to power through hate politics of Ramjanambhoomi.
In France too, ban on hijab came under the regime of Sarkozy who is known rightist. Secondly, the rising number of immigrants also creates fear in the minds of original inhabitants of the country and, in order to press the issue, these numbers are highly exaggerated. Muslims, both by way of migration and birth, are the fastest growing minority in the Europe. Thirdly, most of the Muslim migrants are non-whites, many of them blacks from African countries and here both religious as well as racial prejudice combine and intensify hatred and intolerance.
In France, for example, most of the Muslim migrants are from former French colonies and hence happen to be black. Discrimination against them and their marginalisation totally alienates them and this alienation finds expression through complex ways - through aggressive behaviour or overemphasis on their identities which in turn further intensifies their alienation.
And, if this is followed by economic crisis as Europe is undergoing these days, majority fear against the 'migrant other' becomes even more aggressive born out of fear and the rising tide of rightist forces in such circumstances further aggravates it. Also, the US policies in the Middle East has resulted in intensifying extremism in a section of youth in the Muslim countries resulting in terrorist attacks such as 9/11 which excites even more hatred against Muslims in the west.
What is the way out then? Where to stop this vicious circle of action and reaction? It is for sure that we cannot control all the factors. But it is also equally certain that we need a wise political leadership who is not after power but welfare of people. Democracy ideally speaking is for people's participation and for their well being. However, like other political systems, democracy too, has become means of grabbing power by certain groups and classes. Also, it tends to be majoritarian i.e. heavily tilted in favour of racial, religious or linguistic majority. There has been hardly any exception to it in the world.
Certain Muslim countries who swear by the Qur'an as their constitution also flagrantly violate the Qur'anic provisions. The Qur'an gives certain ideals and values for governance, an idea of the desirable society. It says diversity is Allah's creation and must be respected and celebrated. And this diversity includes linguistic, racial and religious and human beings, whatever religion, race or linguistic group they belong to, must be accorded equal dignity and which means all of them should enjoy equal rights.
However, you will not find any Muslim country swearing by the Qur'an as book of Allah implementing these ideals. You find discrimination on the basis of religion, even sects, language and ethnicity. You very much find discrimination for example in Saudi Arabia, against non-Arabs, against non-Wahabi Muslims and against other ethnic and racial groups. One finds discrimination in Iran against Sunni Muslims, against Arabs, against Bahais and against non-Persians.
In Pakistan one finds discrimination against certain linguistic groups like Baluchis and Sindhis. It is dominated by the Punjabi majority. Not only that there is sectarian violence between Shi'ahs and Sunnis besides Christians and Hindus. It is Punjabi majority which rules the roast. One has yet to see any Muslim country which does not violate injunctions of the Qur'an while swearing in by it as one has yet to see any western democracy not violating injunctions of their own constitutions enshrining ideals and values of modern democracy.
As long as the goal remains power, this is bound to happen. Another bane of the situation is current rise in rightist forces which arouse emotions of people on the basis of religion, race and language. Again no country is an exception to it. Education system itself, which prepares children and students for future material of the society, is controlled by, in most, if not all cases, by rightist elements.
The Netherlands is also undergoing severe problem of anti-Muslim tirade. One politician made a film called Fitna and refused to take it back. Also, a Muslim fanatic murdered a filmmaker from the Netherlands who cast slur on Islam and this further led to anti-Islamic surge there. I met a professor of Islamic studies from Netherlands in Germany who spoke on Islam. The seminar was on progressive Islam.
I was stunned by his anti-Islamic outpouring. It was nothing short of hate-Islam speech. When we protested the organisers maintained that all views are allowed to be expressed from this forum. May be it was so. But what was worrying factor was that the person was teaching Islam in the Netherlands. If such Islam is taught in universities of a country what mindset would be generated? One shudders to think.
Media is no exception. While it must be made clear there are honourable exceptions and some newspapers and TV channels which are quite objective or tend to be so but then such papers and channels are, more often than not, popular. They are read or watched by serious kind of people. Popular media tend to be prejudiced. Also, media is often owned by certain interests and it is not committed to the cause of objective reporting.
The Muslim countries too will have to seriously contemplate policy changes and have to make concerted efforts to project peaceful Islam on their part. They will have to fight powerful interests and confrontationists mindset on their part. The rulers in the west Asia have to go for modernization, changes in their education system and promoting spirit of understanding and dialogue with the other.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is wiser than his predecessors and following strategies to contain extremist elements in his own country. Like Obama's his hands are tied too. In Pakistan military establishment is too powerful to be contained easily and for quite sometime to come civilian rule will not be able to ascertain its independence and Pakistan is very crucial for peace in Afghan-Pakistan region.
Well, while working for greater understanding let us understand these challenges too. (Concluded)
The writer is an India-based Islamic scholar.
Just before Christmas, Serbia's government formally submitted its application for European Union membership. A few days earlier, visa requirements for the country's citizens were lifted, together with those for citizens of Montenegro and Macedonia. The exultation about this step was great in all three of these countries; their expectations of the EU are even greater now.
Reactions in Europe, by contrast, were meager or non-existent. Public sentiment towards EU enlargement is negative. In fact, a majority of states and citizens would prefer to stop enlargement, the most important and effective means by which Europe is capable of projecting power -once and for all. Anonymous senior diplomats in Brussels were quoted as regarding Serbia's application to be too early; otherwise, an embarrassing silence prevailed.
Exhausted by the frustrating climate negotiations in Copenhagen, European leaders seemed not to be in the mood for questions about EU enlargement. Indeed, given the domestic political mood in the 27 member states, they are deeply convinced that discussing further enlargement would win them no bouquets.
As a result, a subjective twilight is lowering over the European project. That is tragic, because many unique and even historic opportunities are not being seized. Serbia's application for accession is precisely such an opportunity.
It was Serbia, Yugoslavia's largest federal unit, which, led by Slobodan Milosevic, triggered the great Balkans crisis and caused numerous wars and ethnic cleansings, as the federation collapsed at the start of the 1990's. Under Milosevic, a majority of the Serbs turned to radical nationalism based on violence and territorial conquest.
Four wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo had to be fought and a fifth one in Macedonia had to be prevented at the last minute by NATO and the EU in order to put violent Serb nationalism in its place. With the defeat in Kosovo, Milosevic was finally thwarted.
Still, throughout this time, integrating Serbia into the region's post-nationalist order remained central to the West's strategy. Certainly by the time of the West's military intervention in Bosnia, this strategy was based on the assumption that the European continent after the end of the Cold War should not allow itself to have a divided security system, that is, if security and peace were to be permanent.
This meant that the Balkans, too, had to be introduced to Euro-Atlantic structures first and then integrated into NATO and the EU, because only a new European order could overcome the region's recurring
tragedies and guarantee lasting security.
Serbia played and plays a central - perhaps even the leading - role in this. For Serbia's path to Europe will immediately enable resolution of the main Balkan crises and conflicts that continue to this day: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, and war criminals.
Without addressing the question of its final borders, however, Serbia has no prospect of joining the EU. The Europeans have gained experience with Cyprus. They will not let another state into the EU whose border issues are not resolved beyond any doubt. And, in Serbia's case, this question remains open regarding Kosovo and in a more concealed way Republika Srpska in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Serbia must also deliver Gen. Ratko Mladic, who led the Bosnian Serb army during the Balkan wars, to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague or prove that he is dead or hiding elsewhere. Mladic, whose troops carried out atrocities throughout Bosnia and Herzegovina including the massacre of thousands of Muslim civilians at Srebrenica in 1995 is the most significant war-crimes suspect still at large since former Bosnian Serb President Radovan Karadzic's arrest in Belgrade and extradition to The Hague in 2008.
Nevertheless, the great importance of Serbia's application for EU accession is that it could bring about successful and permanent reorganization of the Balkans. To be sure, sure, the path to accession will be tiresome and long, but if both sides set out on this path decisively and sincerely, the whole region will be changed for the better.
Europe stands only to gain from continued accession negotiations over Serbia. Bringing Serbia into the EU would permanently stabilise the regional order and at the time when Europe is increasingly wary of indefinite military commitments -- offer the prospect of a concrete exit strategy for NATO troops in Kosovo.
But this assumes that the governments of EU member states finally accept their political responsibility and, instead of pandering to rampant enlargement fatigue, take decisive steps against it.
Europeans may be too tired and divided to play a significant role in world politics, which could have dire consequences for Europe in this time of global realignment. But even if Europe abdicates its global role, the EU cannot forget about order within its immediate neighborhood, or hope that others will solve their problems for them. The Balkans are a part of Europe, and Europeans must solve the region's problems. Serbia's application for EU accession provides a historic opportunity to achieve just that.
(Joschka Fischer, a leading member of Germany's Green Party for almost 20 years, was Germany's Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 until 2005) Copyright: Project Syndicate/Institute of Human Sciences, 2009.
IMPROVING DELIVERIES OF POLITICAL GOVERNMENTS
DR M S HAQ
There exist several ways and means for bringing about improvements in deliveries by political governments in Bangladesh. Deliveries by political governments include inter alia: one, deliveries of election promises by ruling parties during their life time; and two, deliveries of election promises by opposition parties in the parliament - within limitations of being opposition parties therein, though - also during their life time. In an increasingly uncertain and competitive universe - wherein challenges and opportunities associated with survival, continuity and growth in especially, poor countries like Bangladesh are on the rise, deliveries of election promises are, on the other hand, failing to keep pace - in quantitative, qualitative and other terms and in varying degrees - with rising challenges, as well as opportunities in countries mentioned above. Further, pollutions of various nature and dimensions - with varying impacts on a variety of things - from such sources as environments, institutions, medicines, needs, technologies, wastage, wants, moral degradations, justice and visions at local, national and other levels are being increasingly instrumental in inter alia complicating situations in above and other countries, manifolds. Besides, the impact of cause, effect and causality of progressively reintegrating world on for instance human genes, product life cycles, product consumption patterns and resources management has inter alia be instrumental in creating, sustaining and promoting additional challenges, as well as opportunities both within and outside of challenges, as well as opportunities mentioned above. One of the end results of above and other developments is: the gap - between the outcome of deliveries of election promises by political governments and legitimate expectations of the people from above promises - has, among other things, been widening, relative, however, to time, space and other variables.
In light of what has been discussed so far in the article, it can be assumed: an increasingly result-oriented and continually sustainable cross-fertilisation of the country's resources and capacities at individual, collective and other levels - in pursuits of managing uncertainties (used in a wider sense of the meaning) associated with say common good - could for example create and sustain a critical mass of better governance in Bangladesh. Interesting though, windfalls from the development could facilitate, among other things, improvement of deliveries mentioned above.
Let us now focus on a number of measures, Bangladesh could elect to explore with a view to improving its delivery situation.
I. Bangladesh should work towards discontinuation of present-day practice pertaining to hiring of ministers from among MPs - both elected and selected - with a view to allowing concerned MPs to pursue their core work in more relevant, more purposeful, more constituency-friendly and more time-befitting manners than that of MP-ministers -- save and except those exceptional MPs whose cutting edge advantages in pertinent areas are proven and are well known to people of Bangladesh; rendering their candidacy for ministerial positions somewhat indispensable in the best and overall interest of Bangladesh, for example. One of the underlying assumptions here is: the outcome from a full-time and result-oriented engagement of the MPs in activities such as: law making; reformation of laws; facilitating proper and timely implementation of parliamentary decisions through for example audit, monitoring and feedback via parliamentary committees; assisting development activities in respective constituencies in coordination and cooperation with local governments and other stakeholders; and performing such other duties as assigned to them by the parliament from time to time -- could not only facilitate strengthening of the parliament plus improvements in parliamentary outcomes but promote efforts towards an eventual devolution of development activities throughout the country in an accelerated and cost effective fashion - could be a feat of for example bottom-up transactions in the country's governance.
It will not be out of place to mention here: a windfall from the development could, in the future, witness inter alia replacement of more and more present day MP-ministers by technocrats and professionals - whether party people or otherwise - known for their cutting edge comparative, competitive and other advantages in pertinent areas.
Let me put it in this way. I am proposing here an integrated governance mechanics for Bangladesh - I would like to call it in that way - that could, among other things, be used as a tool for attracting, harnessing, sustaining, promoting and recycling, as appropriate, cutting edge knowledge capacities and cutting edge knowledge directions of for example the country's ministers at any given time for purposes of processing resultant capacities and directions through competent bureaucracies under watchful eyes of institutions such as parliamentary committees, opposition parties in the parliament, regulatory bodies, the media (print, electronic, others), civil society, donor communities and concerned others - all, in pursuits of say ensuring, on a continuous basis, the delivery of right product of political governments to the right person at the right time, place and costs. One of the guiding principles for the integrated governance mechanics should be: hiring of ministers and for that matter candidates for political, as well as constitutional positions should be done in the best and overall interest of Bangladesh and not merely in the party interest - all, in a manner that will inter alia be transparent, accountable, and acceptable to maximum number of Bangladeshis.
The bottom line is: energize, add value to, and build upon, the delivery of political governments through for instance - cutting edge and renewable knowledge leaderships, as well as team work on the part of for example government ministers; smarter operational leaderships on the part of continually competitive and reinventing bureaucracies; efficient and effective control regimes - formal, informal or otherwise, as applicable; the right justice for all at all times; putting national visions over the party visions; and thinking globally and acting locally plus thinking locally and acting globally plus thinking sideways and acting on sideways at individual, collective and other levels for win-win situations for say all concerned - in fact, a 360 degree approach to thinking and acting for desired results, outcomes and impacts in pertinent areas.
II. Establish, operationalise and maintain - what I would call - Independent Political Service Commission for dealing with purposes such as recruitment and selection of ministers - in pursuit of say ensuring the right person for the right job at the right time, place and cost.
III. Reduce the per unit cost of deliveries by political governments through for example: taking more result-oriented measures - than those at present - towards digitisation of priority operation areas and controls (used in an engineering sense); making solid investments in areas say leadership development, team building, result-orientation and system improvement; intensification of outsourcing of cheap but quality services; rehabilitation of victims of digitisation and outsourcing via relocation, retooling and other means - as appropriate; stopping corruption and other forms of wastage to a humanly possible extent; cultivating further culture of best practices and feedback; and establishing links between entrepreneurial skills and performance related excellence.
IV. Efforts should be strengthened further towards setting - leadership by example - at all levels of transaction both within and outside of Bangladesh.
V. The performance of for example, ministers and other political appointees should inter alia be more substantive than that at present in pursuits of creating initial conditions for organisational empowerment and development of all concerned including secretaries of ministries, to mention a few. People of Bangladesh should inter alia be able to learn from ministers in pertinent areas.
The bottom line is: improve the supply side of political appointees especially beyond those dos and don'ts of ruling parties that are not compatible with for example the best and overall interest of Bangladesh, per se.
VI. The outcome of loyalty of ministers, advisers, partisan bureaucrats and concerned others to for example political parties should not be instrumental in inter alia depriving - people of all of Bangladesh - of their per capita entitlements of full and meaningful outcomes from contributions of above ministers and advisers, per se. The bottom line is: allow Bangladesh to harness maximum potentials of competent ministers and concerned others in the best and overall interest of Bangladesh in particular and the world at large.
VII. Use mindsets and agendas of all of Bangladesh and not mindsets and agendas of political parties for brining about wholesome, sustainable and country-wide improvements in the delivery of political governments.
The last word: Ministers, political appointees and concerned others of Bangladesh should take their respective jobs more seriously than that at present in pursuits of inter alia: maximizing the return on investment made by the country on them; maximizing the per capita entitlement of welfare of people of all Bangladesh - especially, the poor, the hungry, the women, the sick and the disabled - irrespective of for example their party affiliations; maximizing progress and prosperity of Bangladesh in a sustainable manner; and enhancing the quality of gene transfers - in pertinent areas - at intra-generational, inter-generational and other levels - could be a feat of fully blown gene mechanics, among others, in the future! Empower - among others - parliamentary committees and local governments and harness their potentials in a better manner in pursuits of for example creating the future of Bangladesh. God bless.
(The writer is an analyst)
EDUCATION: MAKING THE CLASSROOM ATTRACTIVE
MD MASUM BILLAH
It may not be unknown to most teachers that a safe, clean, comfortable and attractive classroom can stimulate learning and help build classroom community. But many teachers seem not to be bothered about it. Remaining absence from the class and dropout from the schools are very common phenomenon in rural schools and even in some urban schools. In rural schools it happens due to some social and financial factors where teachers may not have any direct control or influence. In urban areas also it happens because of not having any attraction or excitement in the class. But a teacher can make the most of his/her classroom environment by carefully considering his/her needs and the needs of his/her students. The physical environment of the classroom is a key element in effective classroom management. Though a subject teacher does not have full control over the overall school administration, an individual teacher can contribute a lot to bring some novelties and attractions in his/her class. Really some wonderful ideas are imperative to improve physical arrangement of a class. In order to be the star attraction in the classroom a teacher will need to create a 'center stage'. Certainly a classroom comes to life with word walls, bulletin boards, and posters but for many students visual stimulants like these are very distracting. A teacher should take time to think about where he/she will be when delivering most of his/her instruction. It is best to create a bland area there so that a teacher becomes the brightest star in his/her classroom universe. When these individual efforts to make a classroom attractive can collectively exercise an impression on overall administration of the school and bring a real positive change.
Colourful pictures, posters, drawings and writings of the students can be hung on the walls of the classroom. It will help them own the classroom and an unknown kind of urge to come to the class to their individual works. These creative works will remain in the classroom till a certain time. And then they will be replaced by newer kind of creative materials as the old ones will not hold their attraction for long. Newer posters and drawings mean newer excitement and environment. One class can take minimum two shows a year and if possible three or four. Unfortunately in our classes most of the cases there is nothing except one blackboard. It will never attract the students to come to the class whatever bright students they are. Teachers have full control over the class and such kind of arrangements. He is the monarch in this field. So, he can bring tasteful changes in his class to bring novelty and love for the class.
School compound remains bare or unused. The whole school campus can be turned into a heavenly place by making beautiful flower gardens, vegetable gardens and fruit gardens. The newly established schools in the cities and towns do not have such kind of facilities as schools are housed on one or two floors. But in rural areas still schools are located in the open space offering a serene and suitable environment for teaching and learning. But these beautiful places are not looked after to retain and increase its beauty.
A teacher can help kids stay focused by carefully arranging classroom furniture. Items don't have to live where they were dropped off by the custodians. The physical elements in a teacher's classroom can have a great impact on learning. He can't change the location of window, doors or boards but keeping window and doors to students' back or at least along the sides can be effective ways to reduce distractions. Teacher's desk and such operations centre should be away from teacher's centre stage in a somewhat less visible location. When the teacher confers with a student or group at his desk while other students are doing seatwork or group work, a less visible desk area will minimise distractions. So carefully consider your furniture arrangement and the function of various areas in your classroom.
Seating arrangement in the classroom should be made purposefully. A teacher should not or cannot simply 'stand and deliver'. Research in best teaching practices shows that for many of today kids don't respond to the teachers who don't move in the class. And moving among the students while we are teaching is one of the most effective ways to manage a class. Of course some teachers just lecture and think these are a great job. But no matter how spellbinding we might be, their hidden dynamic that directly relates to the ways students are seated. In the traditional classroom seating arrangement of row of desks, those students in the front row or two are much more involved with your lesson due to your proximity. The middle rows are somewhat involved but to a lesser extent. Those back rows, no matter how much you try to involve them are too far away to have the same feeling of involvement as the front rows.
Change this dynamic by rearranging your seating to include some aisles you can walk through. As you teach waling among the desks, you will give all students the feeling of those front row students as you repose yourself here and there in the classroom. When you begin using this new arrangement, explain to the students what you are doing and why. Tell them you are trying a new arrangement to help you be the most effective teacher possible and you hope it will help them learn as much as possible in your class.
A learning centre is a space set aside in the classroom that allows easy access to a variety of learning materials in an interesting and productive manner. Learning contents are usually designed to offer a variety of materials designs through which students can work by themselves or with others to operation the information learned in the classroom. Centres are designed to enhance the learning of concepts, skills, themes or topics. This learning can take place after a topic is presented to students during the course of presenting important concept or as an initial introduction to material in the text.
Learning centres can have any number of designs each limited only by your creativity and imagination. Feel free to work with your students in creating a center they will want to use. Such shared responsibility assures that students have a sense of ownership in the centre and will be more willing to engage in the resultant activities. Education specialists say that there three different types of learning centers: enrichment centre, skill centers and interest and exploratory centres.
Enrichment centres are designed to offer students a variety of learning alternatives as an adjunct to a common unit of instruction. These centres are typically used after the presentation of important materials or concepts and are designed to provide students with opportunities to enrich and enhance their appreciation and understanding of the topics through individual experiences in the center. For example, after you have presented a lesson on the life cycle of plants, you might assign individual students to a centre with the following components.
Enrichment centres require you to be aware of your students' learning styles as well as their knowledge about a topic. The enrichment centre can provide individual students with varied activities or combination of activities that differ from those pursued by other students. As such the centre becomes an individualised approach to the promotion of the topic.
Skill centres are similar to enrichment centres in that they are used after the initial teaching of a concept or skill. Their differences lie in the fact that students are assigned particular areas in the centre as opposed to having free choice of the topics they want to pursue. Thus after introductory instruction on a particular concept has taken place, you can assign students to various parts of the center to help reinforce the information presented. You must be aware of the various skill needs of your students to effectively assign individuals to the areas in the center through which they can strengthen and enhance these skills.
Interest and exploratory centres differ from enrichment and skill development centers in that they are designed to capitalise on the interests of students. They may not necessarily match the content of the textbook or the curriculum. Instead they provide students with hands on experiences they can pursue at their own pace and level of curiosity. These types of centres can be set up through the classroom with students engaging in their own selection of activities during free time upon arrival in the morning as a free choice activity during the day or just prior to dismissal.
These centres allow students to engage in meaningful centres. A paper and pencil inventory can provide you with important information about their interests. Many teachers apply different strategies in the classroom and some of them are highly effective. Sometimes a few simple changes can make surprising improvements in the way students remain focused and help reduce interruptions caused by minor distractions. As teacher we should remember effective teaching begins with a well-planned physical set-up of the learning.
(The writer is Senior Manager: BRAC Education Programme, PACE)
EFFICIENT TEXTILE COMMUNITY: ROLE OF RESEARCH AND PUBLICATION
ENGR. AYUB NABI KHAN
The textile industry plays a vital role in the economy of Bangladesh. Ready-made garments emerged to be a non-traditional export-oriented sector most promising in the socio-economic context of the country. Research is the only way to achieve new level of efficiency in every operation. Scientific work on different specific topics ensures development of that specific part. Publications will ensure dissemination of acquired knowledge of any part of the industry to the industry people. Sharing of research results is more important than only conducting researches. A research outcome will be fruitful only when everybody will know and implement that at the right time. Institutional research and professional magazines can work together to make the textile industry sustainable and progressive. Any specific factory and company may achieve a new level of development because of research and proper implementation. A knowledge-based community only can ensure comfortable exchanges of business interest by linking the industry components. To achieve a sustainable sector with continuous growth, we believe that there is no other alternative but to build knowledge-based society by doing research with publication.
Contribution of textile and RMG industry to the national economy:
* Textile and RMG contribute about 40% of industrial value addition;
* Provides 4.5 million jobs of which 70% are women;
* 78% of the total export earnings come from textiles & RMG products;
* Provides 0.2 million jobs in waste recycle industry related to RMG;
* Contributes 10.5% to GDP;
* Provides indirect employment to 0.80 million workforce in accessories industries related to RMG;
* Generates huge cliental base for banking, insurance, shipping, transport, hotel, cosmetics, toiletries & related economic activities.
Vision of PT and RMG industry
Number of units
Cotton and Man-Made Fibres
1. Large mills
ii. Power loom units
iii. Hand loom units
Knitting and knit dyeing
i. Export oriented
ii. Domestic market
Dyeing, printing, finishing
Export-oriented RMG & Knitwear
Many companies are ambitious to expand further into international markets. According to the survey conducted by Ministry of Textile GOB and UNIDO, the percentage of companies with plans to expand, by sub-sector, are - spinning mills - 43%, weaving mills - 29%, knitting mills - 68%, fabric wet processing and finishing mills - 48%, yarn dyeing mills - 74% and export-oriented RMG factories - 58%.
On average nearly 13% of the surveyed companies (i.e., 15% of spinning, 6% of weaving, 18% of knitting, 11% of dye houses and 17% of the surveyed RMG units) expressed their vision to be the market leader in the respective areas among the competitors in the region. Fig. 02 shows the aspiration of the PT and RMG industry revealed in this survey.
Against such high aspiration the overall preparedness of Bangladesh PT and RMG sector is not good enough. The main reason is that the industrial units by and large are deficient in terms of skilled trained manpower and research in essential areas including production and marketing. The sector will not be able to compete in the global market unless its supply of skilled manpower and research are overhauled after proper evaluation.
The industrial business housed in Bangladesh, as a whole, so far do not feel the necessity for creating in-house research facilities due to the fact that the enterprises are in most cases small or medium sized and the products they produce are mostly of a basic nature and above all the lacking of knowledge on benefits of research. Moreover, the companies are mostly new and only a few of them are financially capable to create such capacity. But increasing involvement with global export business has started creating the necessity for taking research support.
In general Bangladesh PT and RMG companies do not have any full-scale in-house research capacity except in case of a few large companies shown in table 2 that 3% spinning, 1% knitting, 3% dye house and 3% surveyed RMG units have some limited in-house research programme mainly for new product development, efficiency studies, marketing and cost minimisation. The survey reveals that the majority of the companies, 68-75% depending on the sub-sector, do not have any research facility. However, about one-fourth to one-third of surveyed units does find it necessary and prefer to have this support from elsewhere. The surveyed companies highlighted the following areas of interest where research and development is concerned:
* global and regional market research* product development
* new business / project ideas
* economic sourcing of raw materials
* strategic marketing
* maintenance and replacement of machines
* improving quality and productivity
* friendly work norms and new work norms through experimentation of best work practice
* comparative study of different technologies
* software for market research, inventory management, production planning and controlling, fashion designing
nd simulation of production process
* analyzing/measuring works, standardization of times, performance analysis and evaluation
* manuals for maintenance, cleaning/oiling, testing procedures and standardization,
* industrial house keeping
* labor safeguards;
* strategies against fire hazards
* building collapse and other disasters
* improvement of in-shed environment
* Improvement of gender relations for better cooperation, etc.
Research & publications in educational institution
None of the primary textile and RMG oriented educational or training institutions were found to conduct any consistent research programme or to involve cohesively in helping research articles published in any kind of journals. A few individual or collective initiatives were taken for publications of research works by publishing specialized journal, like ITET Journal, Bangladesh, Bangladesh Journal of Jute Fibre research from BJRI and the latest one is Bangladesh Textile Today. But every time those faced premature failure. An investigation over 50 teachers/trainers reveals that 84% of them never published any research articles in their life. Some 10% had to do it in connection with their PhD/MS thesis. Some 6% published research works in their professional life, but half of them did it once so far. Most recently it is seen that there is a tendency from the textile graduates to do their post graduate research study in other department like Physics, Chemistry, as there was no scope was available in College of Textile Engineering & Technology and presently there is none in Private Universities. Most recently College to Textile Engineering & Technology opened the door to do research work to interested individual. It is a ray of hope for the textile graduates to do their post graduate studies.
Industries with research facility
3% dye house
3% RMG units
For making capable manpower in textile sector educational institutions should have start research by building close link with textile industry. In India there are research and development organisations like ATIRA, BTRA in the private sector to contribute to the overall development of textile industry. In the developed countries or even in our neighboring country, it is often seen that, the University and industry maintain a close relation with private entrepreneurs in order to get mutual benefits. Enterprise offers research work on their problems to the university. Research work is funded by the private enterprise. In this way the organization can optimise their benefits. I can share my experience on India visit 2001.It covered 15 export oriented industrial units and organisations those involved in research. I found SITRA, a research organisation, was involved in carrying out research work on productivity, improvement in quality, cost and project etc. They published the research findings and distributed to the industrial and academic professionals. It means that good and rich research culture prevails there. It is necessary to point out that Indian government has provided various incentives to RMG and textile Sector under the "Technology Up gradation Fund Scheme (TUFS)" for their research and development work.
One the other hand in Bangladesh we have seen in our country there is very insignificant fund available in Textile Sector though its contribution to the country's economy is very significant indeed. We often see other sector gets more priority in case of fund allocation for doing research and development activities in textile. It is known that in the then East Pakistan there was a system of charging levy from the total export value of jute for research work in jute.
It is right time to take initiative in order to do research and development work for making our RMG product more competitive in the world market. In this connection followings are the few recommendations:
1. Special fund needs to be allocated in the government budget for research work in Textile Sector.
2. In private sector only one i.e. BKMEA has started research which is a good sign. But BGMEA, BTMA should also set up research cell.
3. Cooperation between education institute and industry need to be strengthen in order to create win-win situation between both the parties by taking initiative in research and development activities.
4. College of Textile Engineering and Technology should be transformed in to Textile University which will create more Research Opportunity.
5. A small percentage of levy can be charged from RMG export value in the field of research work in primary textile and RMG
6. There is no research work is carried in country's lone textile training and research institute so it is needed to reorganise National Institute of Textile Training Research and Design (NITTRAD) without delay.
7. Lecture series on specific topics should be arranged in industry and educational institute, in doing this all professional should come forward.
Society means partnership of persons and such partnership ensures participation through an interactive process. Building knowledge-based society is an emerging concept and let us come forward for building a society which will help for the betterment of the our self and the country. Q
[The writer is Professor and Principal at National Institute of Textile Training Research & Design (NITTRAD)]