media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 15, edition 000404, 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
- AT LAST, A NEW PROMISE
- GOOGLE DISCOVERS EVIL
- ISLAMIC BIGOTRY GRIPS MALAYSIA - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- TO HELL WITH HOCKEY - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
- GOOGLE'S RARE SHOW OF DEFIANCE - JOE MCDONALD AND MICHAEL LIEDTKE
- OBAMA GRADES HIS RECORD AS 'B+' - KALYANI SHANKAR
- IT'S HIGH TIME WE REDEFINED THE ROLE OF REGULATORS - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM
- CENTRE AND STATES HAVE FAILED ON PRICES
- NEED SOBER RESPONSE
- BUILDING BLOCKS
- DR GOWDA'S LESSON ON THE USES OF ABUSE - BY NARENDAR PANI
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
- HUGE SYSTEM SNAG HITS DELHI AIRPORT
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- SHAKY GROUND
- SHADOW WARS
- LOOK NEARER HOME - KANTI BAJPAI
- 'WE NEED A SEPARATE SET OF CHILD LAWS'
- CHATTERBOX SPECIES - MADHUMITA GUPTA
- AMEN KI ASHA - JUG SURAIYA
- KEEP KUMBHIN'
- GOOGLE SOUP FOR THE SOUL
- STICK TO IT - HARTMAN DE SOUZA
- ACTIONS TWEET LOUDER - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- CONFUCIUS SAYS: ABOUT TIME! - NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- HERE WE GO AGAIN
- SOVEREIGN WHIMS
- SUGAR FREE
- GETTING CONNECTED - MK VENU
- THE BANGLADESH MOMENT - WAHIDUDDIN MAHMUD
- AFTER THE QUAKE - POOJA BHATIA
- AUSTRALIAN FOR FEAR - MAN MOHINI KAUL
- DAYS OF HAZE - RITESH GAUTAM
- THE TRAGEDY OF RUCHIKA AND BEYOND
- PRICEY PROPOSITION
- FLYING ON BUDGET
- NOW, TIME FOR GRAND BARGAIN ON GST - DHIRAJ NAYYAR
- INFLUENCE FROM THE IVORY TOWER - RAJESH CHAKRABARTI
- ALLOW FDI IN DEFENCE - GAURAV MEHNDIRATTA
- SEIZING THE MOMENT
- ON A STRONG WICKET
- CHOICES BEFORE THE AFGHAN CONFERENCE - M.K. BHADRAKUMAR
- FROM ELUSIVE CURE TO ENABLING COMFORT - ENNAPADAM S. KRISHNAMOORTHY
- LOOKING PAST THE FACADE OF ROSARNO AFTER RIOTS - RACHEL DONADIO
- EARTHQUAKE ADDS TO WOES OF A BENIGHTED COUNTRY - HAROON SIDDIQUE
- IRAQ HAS POISONED OUR FAITH IN POLITICS - JONATHAN FREEDLAND
- DRAGON VS GOOGLE
- NO FLYING HIGH
- FOR A FRIENDLY NEIGHBOUR - G PARTHASARATHY
- HISTORY THROUGH THE LIVES OF OTHERS - MADHU JAIN
- LIGHT AND DARK
- DELAYED RESPONSE
- CHARGE-SHEETS IN 25 YEARS
- FAILING THE RURAL POOR
- INDIA AND NPT, CTBT - BY O. P. SABHERWAL
- RITES OF PASSAGE - BY VIJAY OBEROI
- LOOK BEYOND PACKAGES - BY NIRMAL SANDHU
- RANTING AGAINST IRAN - BY ADRIAN HAMILTON
- CHINA ACCOUNTS FOR 1 PC OF GOOGLE REVENUE - BY STEPHEN FOLEY
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
- BHOGALI'S CHEER
- GMC VS GMDA
- ULFA ISSUE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION - HIRANYA SAIKIA
- CRIME AGAINST WOMEN - DR H K GOSWAMI
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- TACKLING INFLATION
- GOING THE SOLAR WAY
- POLI PORN: DO WE REALLY WANT TO KNOW?
- THE DOWNSIDE OF UPMANSHIP - MUKUL SHARMA
- TIME FOR AN NREGS FOR SPORTSPERSONS
- THIS VICTORY IS GREATER THAN AN OLYMPIC GOLD
- CLIMATE TALKS: LOOKING AHEAD - MANOJ PANT
- LANDMARK RULING TO BOOST TRANSPARENCY
- SPRUCE UP SECURITY - BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
- RED ALERT: IS CHINA WORLD'S NEXT ENRON? - BY THOMAS L. FRIDMAN
- LET'S CALL IT A DRAW? - SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY
- THE BIGGEST LOSER - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- MAKE GITA YOUR SPIRITUAL GUIDE - BY RAJASHREE BIRLA
- LEADERS & THE REST
- COMEBACK CALL
- FUELLING A CRISIS
- WEALTH & HAPPINESS~I - BHARAT DOGRA
- SHOULD INDIA LEGALISE PROSTITUTION?
- WHERE PEOPLE BUY MUD TO EAT
- DRIVING HOME A POINT - KK KHULLAR
- SHOCK WAVE
- TIME TO ACT
- TAXING PROBLEM
- CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA
- LAND OF NO HOPE - MALVIKA SINGH
- LAGGARDS' LEAP
- HELP HAITI
- MINNIE'S STORY - BY LAKSHMI NAIR
- ATTEMPTS TO ERASE HISTORICAL TRUTHS - BY LEONARDO PADURA
- IN SEARCH OF PEACE - BY KULDIP NAYAR
THE JERUSALEM POST
- MAKING SENSE OF HAITI
- DIPLOMACY IS NOT A CIRCUS
- FIVE COMMENTS ON THE SITUATION - BY YOEL MARCUS
- FOOLS IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT - BY DORON ROSENBLUM
- SHAS GIMME GIMME - BY YOSSI SARID
- ISRAEL AND THE ILLUSION OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE - BY GERALD STEINBERG AND ANNE HERZBERG
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- WHOSE BONUSES ARE THEY?
- HELP HAITIANS HELP HAITI
- SENTENCED TO ABUSE
- ALBANY'S CLUB
- THE UNDERLYING TRAGEDY - BY DAVID BROOKS
- BANKERS WITHOUT A CLUE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- CIVILIZATION ON A FAULT LINE - BY DEBORAH BLUM
- EXPECTING THE BIG ONE - BY SIMON WINCHESTER
- REACHING OUT
- PRESIDENT IN PUNJAB
- GREEK GUEST
- A GOVERNING CLASS WHICH MAKES ONE CRY - AYAZ AMIR
- SAGA OF A 15-YEAR-OLD - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- MQM: REALITY VS FANTASY - MOSHARRAF ZAIDI
- INSTITUTIONAL DECAY - DR MASOODA BANO
- POLITICISING STATE INSTITUTIONS - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- NCA APPROPRIATELY WARNS INDIA
- NUDE SCREENING OF PAKISTANIS, SHAME ON YOU
- CONDITIONS IN THE COUNTRY
- MINISTER THAROOR PAYS FOR HIS CANDOUR - M D NALAPAT
- INDIA STEALING PAKISTAN'S WATER - SULTAN M HALI
- ISLAM: THE IDEOLOGICAL SUPERPOWER - MAULANA WAHIDUDDIN KHAN
- PAK-US RELATIONS REDEFINED - MALIK M ASHRAF
- HEY KIDS DON'T DO IT..! - ROBERT CLEMENTS
- REDUCING INTEREST
- THE HAITI QUAKE
- THE NEW FRONTY..!
- ENVIRONMENTAL SECURITY AND SUSTAINABLE FUTURE - OBAIDUR RAHMAN
- FOREIGN INVESTMENT AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT - MD JOYNAL ABDIN
- EU GOES WINDOW SHOPPING - DR. TERRY LACEY
- LESSONS TO LEARN
- PLEASANT SURPRISE
- INDIAN FM'S VISIT: BOOST TO PEACE PROCESS - RISHI DHAMALA
- TOPICS: LOVE, LOVE AND ONLY LOVE DINESH KHANAL
- BLOG SURF: HI ALL! - ENGLISHFORUM.CH
- CREDOS: YOU CAN DO IT-III - CHRIS PRENTISS
- NOW CANBERRA NEEDS TO FLICK THE SWITCH TO GROWTH
- CLINTON CELEBRATES THE ALLIANCE
- HOW TO CREATE HOPE FOR HAITI
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- HOW TO PLAY AN INDIAN BOUNCER
- A RUM WAY TO CELEBRATE
- THE RIGHT CHOICE - AND KEEP MARRIAGE OUT OF IT
- QUAKE ADDS TO THE DEPTH OF HAITI'S HUMAN MISERY
- BANKERS' BONUSES: THE (SMALL) CHANGE WE NEED
- IN PRAISE OF DECISION TIME
- HAITI: DISASTER BEYOND MAGNITUDE
THE KOREA HERALD
- BUBBLE WARNINGS
- EARLY SETTLEMENT
- BODY IMAGE ISSUES GET A NEW MEANING - SUSAN REIMER
- FAREWELL TO FORMER INDONESIAN LEADER - ANDREW SHENG
THE JAPAN TIMES
- POPULATION DECLINE WORSENING
- ALLAYING ALLIANCE ANXIETY
- RUSSIA LOOKING TO EXPAND OIL MARKETS IN EAST - BY MICHAEL RICHARDSON
- ISLAM'S PLACE IN POLITICS - BY IQRA ANUGRAH
THE JAKARTA POST
- LACKING DECORUM
- A SYMBOL OF ECONOMIC DISPARITY
- DIAZ HENDROPRIYONO
- IMPRISONING EMPLOYERS? - SURYA TJANDRA
- GUS DUR'S LEGACY TO THE NATION - ABOEPRIJADI SANTOSO
- EYEING HOUSING PRICES
- ACADEMIC PRUDENCE
- DEMYSTIFYING MEDICAL PRACTICE IN LAND OF THE DRAGON - BY ERIC SOMMER (CHINA DAILY)
- IS OBAMA'S 'NEW DEAL' REALLY NEW? - BY WANG YUSHENG (CHINA DAILY)
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- THE WHIRLING TANDEM - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
- THE ANTI-ORANGE ELECTION - BY ALEXANDER J. MOTYL
AT LAST, A NEW PROMISE
UPA TO CHECK PRICE RISE IN 10 DAYS!
The UPA Government, it would appear, has at last woken up to the grim reality of prices of essential commodities, especially food grains, shooting to an all-time high. The middle class is more than feeling the pinch; the plight of the poor can only be imagined as inflation remains untamed. The situation on the price front has been worrisome since mid-2008 and it has steadily worsened after last year's failed monsoon. Yet, apart from taking recourse to fiscal measures, neither UPA-I nor UPA-II has bothered to act with alacrity. Instead, we have heard the Prime Minister tell an astonished nation that people should get used to the idea of high prices while his Agriculture Minister has dragged his feet on administrative measures that, in the past, have helped dampen food prices. We have also heard the Government promise that inflation would be checked in a week's time. Hence, there is little or no reason to be comforted by Wednesday's fresh promise by the Government that it would ensure relief from escalating prices within 10 days. Had the Government been truly interested in the wellbeing of the aam admi, as the Congress claims it is, it would not have slyly sought to pass the buck to State Governments, making them responsible for controlling prices. Nor would the Prime Minister have waited for nearly six months before calling a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Prices to discuss specific anti-inflationary measures and deciding to discuss the issue with Chief Ministers. Indeed, the callous indifference of the Government is best exemplified by the manner in which it has allowed the price of sugar to reach Rs 50 a kilo in recent weeks without bothering to deal with the reasons for the escalation. For instance, huge quantities of imported raw sugar are lying unrefined because of a clause in excise rules that should have been amended months ago but was left untouched. It would be easy to blame the bureaucracy for not doing its work, but the fault really lies with the political leadership. Had the rule been amended in time then the supply of sugar would have considerably increased, forcing its price to dip. Instead, short-term political benefits were sought by pandering to sugarcane farmers without bothering about the impact on consumers. It would be tempting to ask whether farmers will be less affected now with the Government deciding to allow the import of sugar at zero duty.
The slew of administrative measures announced on Wednesday will prove to be meaningless unless their impact is felt by way of affordable prices of essential commodities. To ensure there are results the Prime Minister must instruct relevant Ministries to work overtime; Ministers will have to lead from the front and not leave it to bureaucrats who, we can be sure, will discover a million reasons why a particular step cannot be taken. Second, Chief Ministers will have to crack down on hoarders eager to reap profits. This is something which State Governments alone can do. Third, every possible measure must be initiated to import food grains and pulses before international prices are artificially hiked bearing in mind India's demands. We cannot put it beyond our politicians and political parties seizing upon this opportunity to cut deals that will help fill their coffers. Sadly, the Opposition has failed to force the Government into acting on the issue of prices. It can redeem itself by not allowing the Government to forget its '10-day' promise.
GOOGLE DISCOVERS EVIL
BUT ALL THIS WHILE IT APPEASED CHINA
Internet giant Google's dramatic announcement on Tuesday that it might consider shutting down its local website and offices in China over the hacking of several Gmail accounts held by Chinese human rights activists and Beijing's obsession with censoring content in cyberspace has hypocrisy written all over it. According to Google, the "highly sophisticated" cyber attacks took place in mid-December and targeted 20 other large companies. Plus, the leading Internet company is reportedly frustrated with having to constantly put up with China's rigorous censorship regime that requires it to filter content that is deemed by the Chinese Government as potential fuel for 'dissent' and 'anarchy'. For example, hitherto any information regarding the 1989 Tiananmen massacre is simply inaccessible in China. Similarly, following the Xinjiang unrest last year, Chinese authorities have blocked social networking websites for the fear of these being used to mobilise opinion against the Government. Now Google says that it will try and negotiate a mechanism which will allow it to operate an unfiltered search engine in China. Otherwise, it will leave China for good.
It is a fact that freedom of speech is as dead as the dodo in China. Any expression of opinion that is seen to be contrary to the official point of view is stifled summarily. The Chinese have one of the most elaborate cyber censorship programmes in the world and little gets past the 'Great Firewall of China'. But all this was known when Google entered the Chinese market in 2006. Yet, the technology company, whose motto ironically is "Don't be evil", had no qualms about compromising on its principle of keeping the Internet censorship free. In fact, it more than willingly obliged the Chinese authorities. When asked to bend it chose to crawl. Case in point, on the Chinese Google website, the map of India shows Arunachal Pradesh as part of China. When the issue was raised with the company, it said that it was its 'policy' to tailor its products and services according to the circumstances of the client country. Likewise, every Chinese censorship request was met obediently. Therefore, for Google to now wake up and rediscover its belief in freedom of speech is hypocritical. The truth is all this while Google chose to oblige the Chinese simply because of its greed. The burgeoning Chinese market with its 350-million-and-growing Internet users provided it with too good an opportunity to pass up. But having been unable to penetrate the Chinese market as much as it would have liked, Google now wants to cut its losses and reinvent itself as a champion of democracy. If Chinese authoritarianism is the devil, American capitalism is no saint either.
ISLAMIC BIGOTRY GRIPS MALAYSIA
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Unreconciled to its ancient Hindu lineage and still groping for a valid Islamic identity, Malaysia is in the throes of yet another sectarian conflict, this Time with Christians over who owns Allah.
Many Muslims (more than 60 per cent of the 29 million population) insist he is their exclusive property. Christians, a mere eight per cent, as well as more liberal Muslims recognise Allah as the Arabic word for god that was in use before Prophet Mohammed and the birth of Islam. The Catholics of Sabah and Sarawak (both in what was known as Borneo) referred to their Christian god as Allah long before they joined the Malay Federation in 1963 (like Chinese-majority Singapore) to form Malaysia. No one objected.
The argument did not begin until a few years ago as part of an Islamic revival that reinforced the Malaysian quest for a distinctive identity. But it was not until January 2009 that Mr Hamid Albar, then Home Minister, ordered the Catholic weekly, Herald, which is published in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese, not to call the Christian god Allah in its Malay edition. The reason was that such use would confuse simple Muslims and by blurring the distinction between the two religions, encourage them to convert to Christianity.
The charge seemed a little far-fetched since the Herald is distributed only in church after weekend Mass, which means to those who are already Christian. The editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, strongly denies any conversion campaign. Archbishop Murphy Packiam, head of the Catholic Church, filed for judicial review of the order in February last year and was rewarded on the last day of 2009 when Kuala Lumpur High Court's Judge Lau Bee Lan a Chinese from his name, not a Malay Muslim ruled that Article 10 of the federal Constitution gave the Herald the "constitutional right" to call god Allah. However, when Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak intervened, the court issued a stay order.
Militant Muslims have been mustering their forces since then. More than 12,000 people promptly joined an Internet Facebook group titled Menentang Penggunaan Allah Oleh Golongan Bukan Islam (Opposition to Non-Muslims using the word Allah) with Mr Mukhriz Mahathir, whose father, Mr Mahathir Mohammad, was Malaysia's longest-serving Prime Minister, vociferously supporting the campaign. But not all Muslims are with him. Some acknowledge the right of those who believe in the Old Testament to use the word. Others take a universal view. "All of mankind, regardless of their religion, should say that Allah created the world, that Allah tells us to do good," says Mr Asri Zainul Abidin, a respected Islamic scholar and former Mufti of Perlis State. "It is not appropriate for a Muslim to protest when he hears non-Muslims say such things."
The most curious aspect of this heated debate is not that it has divided Muslims but that the two main political groups have switched sides. The fundamentalist Parti Islam SeMalaysia which formerly ruled Kelantan State and argued at one time that chopsticks were un-Islamic now maintains that Allah is no religion's exclusive property. The party president, Mr Hadi Awang, a conservative cleric, issued a written statement after a recent three-hour conclave with his peers to say that "based on Islamic principles, the use of the word 'Allah' by the people of the Abrahamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism, is acceptable."
But fearing erosion of its political support, the ruling United Malays National Organisation seems to have stolen the PAS's fundamentalist clothes. Traditionally, the UMNO prides itself on its liberal approach to matters concerning race and religion. It is in partnership with Malaysia's Chinese and Indian political organisations. But roles have changed. "PAS is holding on to the more plural and moderate position while UMNO is digging itself into an intolerant hardline position that has no parallel that I know of in the Muslim world," a veteran UMNO dissident, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, a prince of Kelantan State, declared at a Singapore meeting the other day.
It's not as if the Malaysians have suddenly discovered religion. Islam has always been a force and the Westernised Mohammedali Currimbhoy Chagla describes in his autobiography how he had to make excuses to avoid having to accompany Tengku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia's first Prime Minister, to the mosque for Friday prayers when he visited Kuala Lumpur in the 1960s as Mrs Indira Gandhi's External Affairs Minister.
But Malaysians were then a carefree people who enjoyed contrasting their relaxed attitude to life with the stern Mr Lee Kuan Yew's disapproval of long hair and chewing gum in Singapore. Now, however, Malaysia is becoming a land of rigid taboos. The crime of 'khalwat' (unmarried men and women caught in 'close proximity'), the decision to cane a woman for drinking beer in public, and recent attacks on Christian churches testify to a creeping fundamentalism.
If Mr Mahathir's son represents the new drift towards bigotry, his daughter, Ms Marina Mahathir, speaks for the opposite camp with some understanding of the national psyche. "A confident Muslim will not walk into a church, hear a liturgy in Malay or Arabic where they use the word 'Allah' and think he or she is in a mosque," she wrote in her blog. "A confident Muslim knows the difference."
Confidence is in short supply. Many attributed Mr Mahathir's complexes to the part-Indian parentage that was never publicly mentioned. Tiny Singapore's prosperity is like a constant pinprick. But as I discovered when researching my book on South-East Asia, Malaysia's insecurity goes much deeper, partly explaining why the federation expelled secular Singapore in 1965.
Describing the fourth century Hindu deities found in the Bujang Valley, Malaysia's richest architectural site, Anthony Spaeth wrote in Time that "the official literature does its best to downplay, even denigrate, the Indian impact on the region". Spaeth thought "an Indian Malaysian visiting the Bujang Valley might come away feeling demeaned rather than proud and that would be no accident".
About 40 per cent of Malay words, including the all-important 'bumiputera' (son of the soil), the political concept that sustains Malaysian nationalism, are borrowed from Sanskrit. The nine Malay sultans who take turns to be king are descended from Indian royalty. Their rituals are recognisably Brahmanic.
It could explain why Hindu temples and Indian Malaysians are targeted for attack. Malaysia is trying to erase its past.
TO HELL WITH HOCKEY
Now that the dust has settled and our national hockey players have gone back to honing their skills with the ball and stick, it is time to seriously consider the niggling question that has haunted the sport in this country for quite some time now: Is hockey deserving of the national sport tag? Let's face it, barring a few hockey enthusiasts, and a brief period in 2007 when Shahrukh Khan all of a sudden brought the game back into the limelight with his stellar performance in Chak de India, no one really cares for the sport. It is true that hockey is the team sport in which India has shined the most, having won eight Olympic gold medals. But that is ancient history. Popularity for the game has only dwindled in the last two decades.
The national team's strike last week over payment of financial dues, weeks before the Hockey World Cup kicks off in Delhi, seemed like the last desperate yelp from a beast whose pride had been totally shattered. It is welcome that support for the players and the sport in general materialised out of thin air everyone from Bollywood stars to corporations to the janta rediscovered their love for a game they probably follow once in a blue moon. But how long this support will last and whether it marks the beginning of a revival in Indian hockey is anybody's guess.
It is easy to gauge how popular hockey really is by simply comparing cricket's Indian Premier League and hockey's now shelved Premier Hockey League. The two professional domestic leagues had a similar format with city or State specific franchise teams competing with each other for the coveted league title. While IPL has become a grand success and a huge money spinner, the existence of PHL has been totally wiped off from collective memory.
Given the huge amount of public apathy clearly associated with Indian hockey, does the sport still deserve the honour of being called the national sport of India? Strictly speaking the answer to that would be no. Cricket has a much wider audience in the country and interest in the game, both commercial and otherwise, far outstrips that in hockey. The only conceivable reason why hockey should still claim the official title of the national sport is so that it does not completely fall off the sporting map of the country. But that itself is a lame reason. It would be better if India could proudly confer the title to a sport that genuinely resonates with the aspirations of the people.
GOOGLE'S RARE SHOW OF DEFIANCE
THE WEB SEARCH ENGINE GIANT'S THREAT TO PULL OUT FROM CHINA OVER CENSORSHIP AND HACKING CONCERNS COULD EMBARRASS CHINESE LEADERS WHO CRAVE INTERNATIONAL RESPECT. MORE IMPORTANT, IT MIGHT HELP GOOGLE REPAIR ITS CORPORATE IMAGE, WRITE JOE MCDONALD AND MICHAEL LIEDTKE
Google's threat to end its operations in China over censorship and computer-security concerns could embarrass communist leaders who crave international respect. Yet it appears unlikely that many other companies would follow suit and try to change how business is done in China.
"As long as you aren't involved in politics, the media or pornography, the Government will leave you alone," said Siva Yam, president of the United States of America-China Chamber of Commerce, which primarily represents US companies in China. Such high-tech companies as Microsoft Corp and Cisco Systems Inc had no comment on Google's announcement on Tuesday that it would stop censoring results on its Chinese search engine at Google.cn and might leave the country entirely.
Yahoo Inc said it was "aligned" with Google's position, though it's not clear what that would mean. Yahoo closed its offices in China several years ago when it sold much of its business there to the Alibaba Group. Yahoo retains a 39 per cent stake in Alibaba, and Yahoo spokeswoman Nina Blackwell declined to say whether the company would consider selling its holdings.
Google angered free-speech advocates when it created its China search engine, Google.cn, in 2006 and agreed to exclude links to sites blocked by Government filters, popularly known as the Great Firewall of China.
Now Google's decision to confront Beijing might help repair its image. "Google is putting the other companies in a delicate position, raising the ante and trying to occupy the higher moral ground," said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, head of Government studies at Hong Kong Baptist University.
"Other companies that are ready to cooperate with Chinese censorship maybe are going to be criticised and targeted by human rights activists." There was no Government reaction in Beijing to Google's announcement on Tuesday, which said the company was dismayed by hacking attacks launched from within China. Google said the attacks were apparently designed to break into the computers of US companies and gather information about human rights activists. China's state Xinhua news agency cited an unidentified Cabinet official as saying the Government was seeking more information from the company. A statement from the Chinese consulate in San Francisco said: "The Internet of China is open. The Chinese Government encourages the development and usage of the Internet. The law of China prohibits any kind of cyber attacks. We welcome Internet companies to operate in China according to Chinese law."
At the very least Google's threat sets up a conflict between the Government's desire to maintain strict controls on the Web and the hopes of its increasingly prosperous, sophisticated citizens. Many of them poured out support for Google on Wednesday. Visitors left flowers and lit candles outside Google's offices in Beijing's high-tech Haidian district. Notes on bunches of flowers said, "Thank You Google" and "Google Bye-bye." "I'm here to pay my respects to Google because they did not lose their dignity and they stayed true to their company's beliefs," said You Liwei, 28, who works in publishing. Other visitors bowed in a traditional gesture of respect.
Comments on Chinese Internet bulletin boards pleaded with Google to stay. A note on Tianya.cn hailed Google as a "great soldier of freedom," while on the Website of the ruling party newspaper People's Daily, a visitor appealed for a compromise. "Google is good. For the sake of technology advancement, the Chinese side should reach a cooperative agreement," the note said. Google managers told employees to go home, and they did not know whether to come back on Thursday, said an employee who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorised to talk to reporters. Google has been able to hire its pick of China's brightest university graduates since its Beijing office opened in 2005.
Chinese regulators have backed down in rare cases over other technology issues. In June, the Government gave in to complaints by trade groups and withdrew a demand that computer makers include "Green Dam" Internet-filtering software with PCs. Early last year, after Washington objected, China withdrew a demand that companies reveal how their computer security technology works. But foreign companies have long accepted far-reaching Government control in exchange for access to the huge and growing Chinese market.
In industries from automaking to fast food, companies have been forced to let communist authorities influence or even dictate their choices of local partners, where to operate and what products to sell. Companies avoid saying anything that might prompt retaliation. Internet services have faced special challenges given that information, their core business, is even more tightly controlled than manufacturing of autos or home appliances. Indeed on Wednesday, the president of General Motors Corp's China group, Kevin Wale, said state-required partnerships help GM navigate the restrictions it faces in China. "They're not causing us any major impact at the moment," he said.
Meanwhile, China regularly blocks access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube which is owned by Google. So to run Websites in the country, companies have agreed to avoid certain material. For instance, Microsoft disabled some blogging services that carried comments the Chinese Government disliked. Yahoo once handed over e-mail account information that led to a jail sentence for a writer prompting US Rep Tom Lantos to tell Yahoo executives in a Congressional hearing that "morally you are pygmies." Cisco, the world's biggest maker of computer-networking equipment, has been criticised by human rights groups because its technology is used by the Chinese Government to censor Websites and spy on Internet traffic.
The company declined to comment on Google's possible pullout. In the past, Cisco has defended its business practices in China, saying that it doesn't modify its equipment for the Chinese market and that it is up to customers, not Cisco, how its devices are programmed.
Google had 32 per cent of China search revenue in 2009, versus 61 per cent for Baidu.com, according to Analysys International, a Beijing research firm. The prospect that Baidu's main rival could leave sent Baidu's US shares up $ 54.36, or 14 per cent, to $ 440.85 in afternoon trading on Wednesday.
Google shares were down $ 6.93, or 1.2 per cent, to $ 583.55. Google contends that China accounts for an "immaterial" percentage of its $ 22 billion in annual revenue. JP Morgan analyst Imran Khan had been expecting Google's revenue from China to be about $ 600 million this year.On Wednesday, Google.cn appeared to be still censoring some results. A search for the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement returned a message saying the browser could not open the page. A notice on the site said some results were deleted in line with regulations.Google.cn said its top search term of the day was 'Tiananmen', likely from people looking for material on the violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989. The No 2 topic was 'Google leaving China'. Michael Liedtke reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writers Alexa Olesen, Chi-chi Zhang, Vincent Thian, Charles Hutzler, Jordan Robertson, Jessica Mintz, Tom Krisher and AP researchers Yu Bing and Bonnie Cao contributed to this report.
OBAMA GRADES HIS RECORD AS 'B+'
THE MAN WHO WAS ELECTED TO AMERICA'S HIGHEST OFFICE ON THE SLOGAN OF 'HOPE' HAS NOT QUITE LIVED UP TO EXPECTATIONS IN THE FIRST YEAR OF HIS PRESIDENCY. BUT IT HAS BEEN A GOOD YEAR FOR INDIA-US RELATIONS
US President Barack Obama told television talk show queen Oprah Winfrey in a recent interview that he deserves, a "solid B plus" for his first year in office which ends on January 20. But the question arises: What does America think of his freshman year? As far as opinion polls are concerned, they do not give him such high grades despite getting the Nobel Peace Prize. Some experts say that the first year of the presidency is more of a settling down period and the major decisions will come only next year. After that he will concentrate on his re-election in the 2012 election.
Mr Obama took over the reins amidst hope from his supporters that he would take the US to a new height. Naturally, he was not able to keep up with the high expectations. Both at home and abroad, the President continues to face some tough challenges.
During 2009, Mr Obama had a very ambitious domestic agenda and took up issues like healthcare, energy policy and dealing with the financial mess. The biggest challenge is to restore the health of the economy and provide jobs for the Americans. He ended the year on a high note as the US Senate passed the Healthcare Bill. The Congress has passed several of Mr Obama's agenda items, including the expansion of the children's health insurance programme and the economic stimulus package. The President has acknowledged that the passage had not been as smooth as he expected. On the international front, he had travelled to as many as 20 countries in the first year and made his mark by brokering the Copenhagen accord on climate change.
However, there are mixed ratings for Mr Obama on home turf, the question is can he take India-US relations to next level. After years of ups and downs, the India-US relations are at a high point thanks to the Bush Administration's efforts in pushing the nuclear deal between the two countries.
The Obama Administration started 2009 on a good note as there had been many high-level visits from the US, including that of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who personally delivered Mr Obama's invitation to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Moreover, Mr Obama has included some eminent people of Indian origin in his Administration. Mr Obama's First State Dinner in November where he welcomed Mr Singh in Hindi, was a high point for the India-US ties. At the banquet he was quoted as saying, "My administration's commitment to India can be seen in our new strategic dialogue, which addresses the full range of challenges and opportunities before us." He has also accepted Mr Singh's invitation to visit India and if he does early this year, it will be to the advantage of India, as it will be a first for a US President early in his regime.
Mr Singh came back satisfied with much of his concerns allayed although there are still some which remain to be addressed. New Delhi is wary of the US's Pakistan policy of providing greater military cooperation and economic aid to deal with terrorism. There is a feeling that Mr Obama has not yet evolved a comprehensive policy towards India.
Second, the American policy towards China has made New Delhi apprehensive of its intentions. Mr Obama's visit to China in November and the signals emanated from his joint statement with the Chinese leaders had caused concerns. Although India and China have been working closely on the climate change issue, the frictions between the two countries still remain. The new US thinking on China appears to be to persuade the latter to rein in Pakistan to check Al Qaeda. However, New Delhi thinks this will not work.
Third, Mr Obama is harking back to the non-proliferation agenda. India wants transfer of dual use technology arguing that being strategic partners, restrictions on transfer does not make any sense.
Fourth, India wants the US to stay involved in Afghanistan arguing that a victory for the Taliban would have a catastrophic effect on the world, more so for South Asia. Mr Obama has taken a big gamble by increasing the number of troops to Afghanistan at the same time promising it was not an open-ended thing and some troops would be coming home soon.
This does not imply that the India-US ties are not improving. Trade relations, military cooperation and information sharing on terrorism between the two countries have improved and continue to do so. Therefore, Mr Obama deserves at least a B grade on his handling of India-US relations.
IT'S HIGH TIME WE REDEFINED THE ROLE OF REGULATORS
A RECONSTRUCTED REGULATORY REGIME CAN SAVE INDIA MUCH OF THE TROUBLE WHICH DEVELOPED COUNTRIES ARE FACING
As the role of governance has evolved, its centrality in the regulatory function has come under increasing focus. However, for the practice of any line of thought, it always helps to have valid conceptualisations coming out of verifiable data. Unfortunately, in the field of regulations, whether it is at a national level or international level, there is not enough empirical data to give a robust basis for action. Nevertheless, as the expression goes the show must go on.
Not only is the scope of a regulator in various domains ill-defined, but even the specialisation of the background from which the regulators should come is not clear. An illustration from the financial domain will highlight some of the concerns in setting up a regime for regulation.
It would hold to reason that if there is more than one regulator in play, say in a domain, there should be congruence in the functioning of regulators.
In the domain of higher education, for example, there are AICTE, UGC, Indian Medical Council, ICAR and other big and small regulators. And periodically, committees have petitioned for a unified regulator. What the present thinking of the Government is on the matter is anybody's guess. However, the fact remains that there cannot be conflicting jurisdictions and overlapping domains and certainly not gaps between one jurisdiction and another.
In the finance area the complexity becomes a little more complicated. Financial transactions, being what they are, require a system where there is a need also to assess the impact of the regulatory process. This needs be done on a continuing basis and in an evolving manner.
Indeed, very often the issue is not of regulation but of transparency. If there was credible and dependable action, regulatory process would itself be rendered redundant and confined to ensuring that transparency was the rule and dependability was a habit. Coming to corporate and financial companies insisting on a very wide disclosure would itself solve many problems.
For example, how much is the group money which is coming into a particular finance company? This doesn't get to be known often enough. That can be used, for example, for getting high valuation of a company selling it out and exiting. Without naming any of them, it is no secret that there are financial companies that do so and indeed even private companies are doing it. Whose job is it to keep a track of it?
For banks, as is known, there is a Basel convention. There is a capital adequacy ratio. Perhaps it is time to go beyond capital adequacy ratio and develop the concept of maximum leverage ratio.
In any balance sheet, there can be and are several below the line exposures. If there are a lot of off-balance sheet items and exposures, somebody must look at how much is the off-balance sheet exposure and then a maximum leverage for that company should be thought of. During the period of the so-called meltdown most of the crisis which happened in American companies happened because the items were below the line. They were off-balance sheets; making the balance sheets appear very strong.
It is important for someone to keep track whether any company is doing its primary business and hedging against its normal business activities or it is primarily going into a speculation which is indeed none of its business. Going in for security derivatives and spreading the net to include index futures, single stock futures, index options and single stock options may help. A strong exchange-traded bond market would help. Similarly, a strong exchange-traded currency market and exchange-traded commodity futures need to be considered. The time to do so is now.
With a regulatory regime, and good coordination amongst regulators, several ills would be eliminated and may be India could be saved much of the trouble which developed countries are known to be facing. This is not to deny the legitimate requirements of trade and finance of corporate in India but only to make it more secure all around. By the same token, there has to be some regulator on the functioning of rating agencies. This is so because there can be conflict of interests there. There are limitations on their models. When the research or the model comes into commercial activity it can lead to people putting their money on it and losing it. That can be dangerous. Clearly, regulation is at crossroads and ducking the issue will not help.
CENTRE AND STATES HAVE FAILED ON PRICES
THE Centre and the states are currently engaged in a predictable mutual blame game on food inflation. The truth is that both have contributed their own acts of commission and omission which have led to the current crisis. That the current crisis a scenario of over 20 per cent inflation in food articles could have largely been avoided only makes the failure of governance in this instance worse.
It is not as if the government did not know that trouble was brewing. That the monsoons were going to be deficient was known more than six months ago. Sugar, another commodity which has seen a record surge in prices, was going to face a huge shortfall in production, a fact which was known months ago, and sugar mills had even taken some preventive action by importing raw sugar in bulk. That 10 lakh tonnes of sugar so imported are still stuck in ports because of bureaucratic hurdles only compounded the problem. And the actions like UP chief minister Mayawati's move to ban the ' import' of raw sugar into the state, to placate the lobby of sugarcane farmers, only added fuel to the fire.
But there are long- term as well as shortterm reasons for the growing pressure on food prices. India's agricultural output has been growing painfully slowly. And, while there is talk of free trade with other nations, the internal market for food articles continues to be enmeshed in red tape and regulations, giving middlemen and hoarders free reign. A mission- mode approach, with concrete steps to increase food production, while removing infrastructure and other bottlenecks in the food market, is the need of the hour.
NEED SOBER RESPONSE
THE Melbourne police dismissed attacks on Indians in its jurisdiction as " opportunistic" and devoid of any racial context.
But how do you explain the arson attack on the premises of a gurudwara in a suburb of Melbourne? Someone has clearly targeted the building associated with the Indian community, since the building could not have " accidentally" come in the way of some thugs.
In this context, it is significant that there are now prominent voices, such as those of Professor Simon Marginson of the University of Melbourne, who confirm that the Australian government is being in denial about the racist nature of violence directed against the Indian community. He has bluntly pointed out the lack of official and civic concern about the security of international students in the country.
That said, we would like to make it clear that the worst way to handle the issue is to take up the Shiv Sena's call to not allow the Australian cricket team to play in Maharashtra. To take up the suggestion would be to descend to the level of the hooligans and thugs who have been targeting Indian students in Australia. And doesn't the Shiv Sena and its off- shoot make its living by directing hate against not just foreigners like Pakistanis, but Indians who happen to belong to other states? There is little to be gained by tit- for- tat responses. We must maintain the diplomatic pressure on the Australian authorities to protect international students.
IN an era when the romance of five- day cricket is supposedly dead thanks to instant fame and greenbacks provided by its Twenty20 sibling, we are constantly reminded of how the game is far greater than a few auction- organising personalities.
One such reminder came in the form of the nail- biting Ranji Trophy final between Mumbai and Karnataka at Mysore. It may have been a domestic match, but it was Hitchcockian in its suspense and DeMilleian in its epic nature. Mumbai won the thriller but not before stopping a few million hearts for a while.
It was historian, social theorist and cricket writer C. L. R. James who had said, " What do they know of cricket who only cricket know?" Likewise, it would be fallacious and indeed insular if we viewed the Ranji final without doubt one of the best cricket matches ever played within the narrow confines of cricket as a mere sport. It would be hard for the national selectors to ignore Bangalore batting prodigy Manish Pandey, who almost carried Karnataka home. Just that the difference was six runs too many.
DR GOWDA'S LESSON ON THE USES OF ABUSE
BY NARENDAR PANI
FORMER prime minister Deve Gowda's use of unprintable epithets to describe Karnataka chief minister B. S. Yeddyurappa has been widely seen as marking a new low in Indian politics. It is tempting to treat this as further evidence of the declining quality of Indian politicians; of their inability to even control their tongue. But that view does not explain why Gowda has over the previous half a century in politics not chosen to use such language at least in public, or why this time round he kept calmly repeating the words on national television.
It does not also explain why other politicians educated in more reputed international institutions than Gowda, like Varun Gandhi, are not averse to using crudely provocative language.
In reality the link between language and Indian politics tends to be rather more complicated than some television channels would have us believe.
And the use of language to establish very different political approaches goes back a long way, most certainly to the differences between Jawaharlal Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi. For the Mahatma language was essentially a means of conveying the purity of an idea and its practice. Verbal gymnastics were to be avoided as they only served to distract from the essential idea.
For Nehru on the other hand, the language used had to establish a politics from above; a politics where an elite leadership knew what was best for the country.
Thus the tryst- with- destiny speech at Independence had to be in English, a language that the vast masses of Indians, at least at that time, did not understand. It also had to have a very high rhetorical content, sometimes even at the cost of meaning.
When shorn of its rhetoric, a phrase like ' As the world sleeps, India awakens' is at best, as any call centre employee will tell you, a statement of the obvious.
Even as the Nehruvian approach was taking roots through the sixties, it was coming up against the challenge of democratisation. There was greater pressure from within the democratic system to use the language of the people. This meant a move towards Hindi as the main political language even as further democratisation led to the emphasis on other more local languages. And the change was not just in the choice of language but also in the way it was used. There was a strong movement from the art of rhetoric to more direct slogans. Together the language of Indian politics moved from Nehru's ' Temples of progress' to his daughter's ' Garibi Hatao'. The political change associated in the move to ' Garibi Hatao' was however a limited one. It did not challenge the top- down approach of the Nehruvian era. It only made a distinction between an elite that knew all and an elite that promised to give all. And this difference was reflected in the language as well. The know- all elite was largely under the control of an English- speaking bureaucracy.
The patronage politics of promising the moon and sometimes giving something was carried out by politicians in Hindi and other local languages.
The strength of the distinction between English knowledge and Hindi- or- local language patronage has ensured that widespread economic reform could be carried out in a democracy without most politicians being directly involved.
The WTO strategy too has little room for elected representatives of areas that contribute substantially to India's exports. The ability to maintain this distinction has led to what has been called reforms by stealth.
For this dualism to continue there is a need for a leadership at the very top that can straddle both the English- speaking world of policy and the Hindi- speaking polity. The Nehru- Gandhi family and to a lesser extent Narasimha Rao provided it for the Congress. Vajpayee did the same for the BJP. And the new elite in the Congress is convinced that as long as the English- speaking policy makers can achieve a growth rate that generates funds to spend on employment guarantee and other such schemes, the dualism can be maintained.
But this neat arrangement is once again coming up against the pressures of democracy. As new leaders with poor English language skills rise to the top they find it difficult to extend the acceptance they have in the Hindi- or- local language polity into the English- speaking realm of policy. Even when some of them can claim policy successes, as in the case of Lalu Prasad's railways, there is an effort to credit that success to the English- knowing bureaucracy.
Having tasted political success right up to Delhi though, the non- English speaking leadership is not quite willing to stay out of policy matters. All the more so in a post- liberalisation environment, where the policy towards private investment can get closely linked to politically sensitive projects. The takeover of land for the Bangalore- Mysore expressway project of NICE is a politically sensitive issue, particularly since many farmers believe there is more land being acquired than is necessary. This political war cannot be fought without battles in the English- speaking domains of the national bureaucracy and judiciary.
The use of English- language television can then become important tools in the hands of English- speaking policy makers.
The non- English speaking political leadership has however not got where it is without some understanding of the working of these institutions.
They know that, with their poor English skills, the only way they can get the attention of the national media is by doing the outrageous.
They know that it is more important for them to disrupt parliament rather than make poorly- worded speeches in it. And the use of outrageous language is an effective way of breaking into national television.
It is also important not just to say the outrageous but to say so in a language that will attract the attention of the national media. Gowda's Kannada phrases in that verbal attack before television cameras was foul in itself. But it is unlikely to have got him and his son on national television.
It was the use of English swearwords that allowed him to take his case against the project to a national television- viewing audience.
Such an approach does, of course, further distance the former prime minister from English- speaking policy makers. But it brings him closer to those who are hurt by liberalisation and believe there is no way they can be heard. This is not as small a constituency as growth rate figures would have us believe.
And even if we assume, somewhat unrealistically, that this constituency is not large enough to ensure electoral problems for the ruling party, it could point to an even greater danger. As the Naxalite districts keep reminding us, the actions generated by anger against a distant policy maker using an English the affected people are not comfortable with need not be confined to foul language.
The writer is professor of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore
THE LAHORE LOG
HIS CHOICE IS TO SINK OR SWIM
BY NAJAM SETHI
THE BESIEGED Peoples Party of Pakistan ( PPP) government is convinced that an unholy alliance between the media, judiciary and the military establishment is out to get President Asif Zardari.
They say that a powerful section of the media, in particular, has an axe to grind against the government for various mundane reasons related to the refusal of the government to grant it DTH licensing, tax exemptions and preferential trade practices. They claim the judges are being vindictive because Zardari was first reluctant to restore them and is now thwarting their aggressive attempt to encroach into the domain of the executive.
And they believe the military is hostile to him because he didn't see eye to eye with them on how to conduct the war against the Taliban, how to build peace with India and how to develop and extend Pakistan's relationship with the United States.
Indeed, the conspiracy theory in Islamabad is that the military, in cahoots with the media and the judges, is secretly destabilising the PPP government with a view to replacing Zardari ( and his government, if possible) with a more compliant and subservient executive. As proof, a number of developments are cited: the seemingly inexplicable, last- minute pullout by the MQM ( a long term military ally) from supporting the government's bid to get Parliament to pass the National Reconciliation Ordinance ( NRO); the Supreme Court's rather sweeping judgment on the unconstitutionality of the NRO which is now threatening to engulf President Zardari himself, despite his constitutional immunity from prosecution; and the military's public display of hostility to the Kerry- Lugar legislation ( that commits $ 1.5 billion in American assistance every year to Zardari's cash- strapped government over the next few years) on the ground that Zardari's minions connived with Washington to draft the legislation which conditions US aid on proof of civilian supremacy over the military in Pakistan. W HILE judges may claim to speak through their judgments and the media insists on its independence and ability to hit back, the military is irked by allegations of any complicity on its part. Senior military spokespersons insist in off- the- record briefings that the military has its hands full dealing with renewed threats from India ( as articulated by its army chief) and the extension of the war against the Pakistani Taliban into Waziristan. Therefore, the idea of destabilising the government and system, at a time when consensus and unity of command is critical, is preposterous.
This makes sense.
Unfortunately, it doesn't explain why the military thought it fit to go public against the government over the Kerry- Lugar Bill when there is no paucity of government forums to discreetly lodge its complaint and seek redress. Indeed, military spokespersons are still reluctant to admit any wrong- doing on their part.
Worse, while they admit that they ended up destabilising the government, they refuse to own up to the option of reversing the slight by appropriately stabilising the government through a similar, but opposite, show of public support. Why, the very thought of somehow supporting the Zardari government is anathema to them, even though there is no better constitutional option at hand in these critical times than exactly such an intervention! Therefore, the conspiracy theory holds weight and Zardari is not yet out of the woods. In fact, two significant issues are on the presidential anvil regarding the judiciary and military. First, let us take matters related to the judiciary. The chief justice of Pakistan has " requested" the president to appoint his right- hand judge, Justice Khalil Ramday, as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court after his retirement on January 12. Justice Ramday, it may be noted, was the " writing light" behind the NRO judgment that so threatens President Zardari and his party. Zardari is also under pressure from the Lahore High Court chief justice ( CJ) to appoint 28 judges to fill outstanding vacancies. THE PROBLEM is that the PPP government thinks these handpicked judges smack of favouritism and lack of merit or impartiality. Worse, the list has the full backing of the opposition Pakistan Muslim League ( Nawaz) chief minister in Punjab, Shahbaz Sharif, a sure shot red rag to the PPP bull. Worst, the Lahore CJ doesn't want to go to the Supreme Court as required by legal precedence and is, instead, nudging his number two to go instead. The problem is that the number two has rightful expectation of being the CJ of Lahore High Court and doesn't want to be shoved upstairs. Media reports of a secret meeting between the Chief Justice of Pakistan and Sharif, stoutly denied by all sides, have muddied the waters.
Therefore President Zardari's decisions will be critical. Will appeasement of the judges or non- compliance get him off the hook, or land him in greater trouble? Second, the director- general of the ISI is scheduled to retire in February. Given the war- like situation on the country's eastern and western fronts, the military establishment believes it has rightful expectation to seek the current DG's extension in service from the PM for purposes of policy continuity and coherence.
But there are two problems here. As in the case of the judges seeking extensions or transfers, what is being demanded is unprecedented; it is also debatable whether the government should give succour to the very institutions that are suspected of having connived in undermining its writ and weakening it.
Will appeasement help, or non- compliance hurt Zardari? The Ides of March are not too far away.
The writer is the editor of The Friday Times ( Lahore)
A fictitious diary of Imran Khan
AS YOU know, everyone's waiting in a queue for Zardari to go. Foremost in this queue is myself and my friends and relations, followed by the honourable judges, some hacks and hackettes and other bits and bobs. When Zardari is turfed out, I will throw a grand dinner party at my palatial residence in Islamabad. Of course, I never serve booze at my dinners. So people start drinking the minute they receive my invitation with the result that I have very drunken dinners. I'm thinking I'll stop serving food too and that way people can bring their own lunch boxes and we can all sit together and eat them.
As soon as Zardari's taken care of, I'm going to form a government. For that, I'm preparing by standing in front of the mirror and practicing standing on a truck and waving to the nonexistent masses and by imagining myself doodling on a pad during cabinet meetings and by sitting at the United Nations listening to myself making a brilliant speech. For my cabinet, I've started looking for honest, upright and highly stupid people of the male variety. This has resulted in my brain going into overdrive. At the best of times, my brain is not known for its activity and alacrity but with this cold wave it's become somewhat jammed and frozen.
This is not the fault of my brain because as the fossilised experts have written in books on fossils and evolution, it has been found that my species' brain didn't fit into the charts. First they thought that the size of the brain in apes is what made us human. Then they changed their minds, if not their brains, that no, that's not the case. The defining moment for us as a species was when we stood up on our own two feet and climbed down from the trees. Before this we were fish and we swam out of the seas before we climbed down from trees and climbed into bed and then climbed out of bed and climbed on to a truck and became politicians.
Since apes and men coexisted side by side and they still do, some species evolved into politicians whilst others evolved into wannabe politicians. I'm going to have to choose my cabinet from the latter department because the former are all discredited.
My minister for foreign affairs will be a foreigner and everybody else will be local. Why he must be a foreigner I don't quite know, however, it sounds appropriate.
And if I can't find the right foreigner, I'll have to take this portfolio myself since I've long been an expert in conducting foreign affaires.
TTFN ( ta ta for now) Im the Dim
HUGE SYSTEM SNAG HITS DELHI AIRPORT
BY MAIL TODAY BUREAU IN NEW DELHI
THE COMPUTER system of the Air Traffic Controller ( ATC) at the Indira Gandhi International Airport ( IGIA) collapsed during peak hours on Thursday evening, affecting several flights.
From the Pakistan- Afghanistan border in the west to Lucknow and Udhampur in the north, to Khajuraho, the entire airspace turned into a blind spot for an hour.
" The air space went blank for some time when the computer system crashed, bringing down the radar," ATC guild president D. S. Raghavan said.
With the fog already disrupting services, the systems failure further added to the woes at the IGIA. Two of the three operational runways at the airport could not function since the technical glitch was noticed at 5.44 pm by the ATC staff.
For the first 30 minutes, ATC officials had no clue about the flights' locations, making life miserable for pilots and passengers.
" In about two hours, around 80 flights came to Delhi. They had to wait in the air as the system was not working," an ATC official said.
The ATC tracks movement of aircraft through multiple communication systems called the Automation Surface Movement Guidance and Control System.
The radar system interprets data on altitude, distance and speed, facilitating faster movement.
" After the Raytheon installed Auto Trac II failed, the ATC shifted to procedural system," air traffic management executive director V. Somasundaram said.
He admitted that flight movement had been affected.
" Flights were affected as the ATC staff were not able to see aircraft location on their computers.
We will investigate the cause of the snag," he said.
Airport officials stopped departures to allow incoming
flights, which were hovering over the Delhi airspace, to land. The ATC made aircraft land by increasing the separation time between them.
The standard separation between two aircraft is 10 nautical miles but with the radar unavailable, the ATC increased it to 80 nautical miles.
The Auto Trac II was finally restored around 7.30 pm.
" After restoration, things became normal. Though there was a backlog and there must have been some diversions, at the end of the day we managed to restore operations," Raghavan said.
Passengers on flights that were made to circle Delhi complained of lack of information from the airlines.
" For 35 minutes we were stuck in the air but the pilot didn't inform us why the flight was getting delayed.
We were clueless about what was happening," said Shashi Kumar, who was coming from Coimbatore by an Air India flight.
Another passenger, Madhu Kohli, was shocked that the pilot didn't inform the passengers about the system collapse.
" I am surprised that the aircraft was hovering but the pilot didn't tell us about it.
We reached Delhi on time but for the next 45 minutes we didn't land," said Kohli, who was on a Jet Airways flight from Bangalore.
RETURN OF DENSE FOG DISRUPTS FLIGHTS AT IGIA
fog once again wreaked havoc at the indira gandhi international airport ( igia).
Visibility began dipping from Wednesday night, leading to cancellation of 50 flights, delay of 17 flights and rescheduling of 18 on Thursday. Though the Met department predicted dense fog for Friday night, visibility will not go below 200 metres.
Though visibility was good enough to land under CAT III condition ( when runway visibility is 50- 200 metres), air traffic controllers ( ATC) said the problem arose as the incoming flights did not have trained pilots.
" According to the guidelines of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation ( DGCA), the flights departing before 10 am should have CAT III- equipped aircraft and the pilots should also be trained to fly under such conditions. But since the flights coming to Delhi lacked the requirements, they were diverted to nearby destinations," said an ATC official.
Last week, the first spell of dense fog led to cancellation of 100 flights, delay of more than 600 flights and diversion of 50 in the Capital.
" Operations at the IGI Airport proceeded normally from Saturday. But from Thursday the visibility is again likely to affect the flight operations," said an airport official.
STRANGE are the ways of the Rashtriya Janata Dal ( RJD). Lalu Prasad, who now spends a lot of time in Patna, has been lambasting the Nitish Kumar government for the rising food prices.
So much so that he has even planned an anti- government agitation with his foe- turned- friend Ram Vilas Paswan.
But in Delhi, his party colleague and former rural development minister Raghuvansh Prasad Singh has held the Union government, particularly agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, responsible for the galloping food inflation. It is understandable that the RJD has different political compulsions in Delhi and Patna. But the party should learn to speak in one voice at least on some issues.
Date with Delhi
IT'S THAT time of the year when everyone likes to grab a calendar. The central government, possibly, prints the largest number of these pictorial date- sheets every year.
While the smarter souls have already got a calendar or two, the Union government's offices in the states have a long wait ahead. An IAS officer serving at a big central government institute in Uttarakhand wanted a few calendars so that he could take them to his place of posting.
But his requests to hand over his institute's quota of calendars to him were promptly refused. The officer was told that the ' gift' can reach him only by post and that would take a few months. Realising that the New Year fun would be over by then, the officer requested his friends in the government to get some for him.
One of them pulled the strings and got him three calendars. The IAS officer has now returned happily. He, however, promised to keep a keen eye on his post for the official ' bundle of joy' from Delhi.
IT IS calendar season in the Congress. After an aide of Rahul Gandhi brought out a 2010 calendar featuring Priyanka Gandhi, Maharashtra PCC general secretary Pradip Rathi has brought out a king- size calendar featuring all the Gandhis right from the Mahatma.
Rathi is considered close to Shivraj Patil, a former Union minister and a staunch 10, Janpath loyalist, who is currently cooling his heels awaiting a suitable " constitutional" post. The cover of the calendar features a smiling Sonia Gandhi in a pink sari. Priyanka in a black top and Rahul below in a black suit are featured in February.
THE Nationalist Congress Party has two father- daughter pairs in its top echelons. After P. A. Sangma and his minister- daughter Agatha, NCP chief Sharad Pawar bolstered the dynasty line by inducting his daughter Supriya Sule as a member of the party's working committee.
Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar is absent from the 19- member working committee.
The NCP is now the first national party which has two fatherdaughter pairs in its top decisionmaking panel.
Agatha is a two- term member of the Lok Sabha and Union minister of state for rural development, while Supriya was earlier a Rajya Sabha member and now represents Baramati in the Lok Sabha.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The scenes being flashed around the world from Port-au-Prince, capital of Haiti, are terrifying and tragic in equal measure. The earthquake on Tuesday - 7.0 on the Richter scale - is proving to be a humanitarian disaster of staggering proportions. As of now, the casualties number in the tens of thousands; a hundred thousand by some accounts. But as rescue operations proceed, this number is bound to increase. A Haitian senator estimated a final death toll of five hundred thousand, in a country with a population of just nine million. A disaster of this magnitude will and should prompt questions regarding mitigation and response plans, not just in Haiti but elsewhere. We, for one, would do well to look within at the potential for similar disasters here.
And that potential is high. The Indian subcontinent is prone to dangerous earthquakes with five having taken place in the past two decades. The latest surveys indicate that about 60 per cent of the country is at some risk of experiencing an earthquake. With the country divided into four zones denoting various levels of seismic activity probability, several major metropolitan centres - Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, to name a few - lie in areas of moderate or higher risk. Extrapolating from the devastation in Port-au-Prince and in previous earthquakes in India such as the one in Latur, the loss in terms of life and property if one of these far more densely populated areas were to be hit could be devastating.
Despite this, at every level from Centre to state to district, the level of preparedness is minimal. The basic prerequisite of mitigating risk is earthquake-resistant construction. But an exceedingly small number of institutions in the country offer any training in earthquake engineering or integrate it with civil engineering. Even existing regulations are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Cities like Mumbai and New Delhi may be death traps in this regard. Nor, in many instances, is disaster management integrated into developmental planning as it is elsewhere.
Development of better building codes, strict enforcement of existing ones, creation of disaster management plans and response bodies from the local level to the central, streamlining of the relevant administrative machinery with funding and jurisdiction clearly demarcated, are all measures that should have been taken already. Alongside them, public education to create awareness is a must as well. The best regulations in the world can be nullified if people do not see their purpose. When San Francisco was battered by an earthquake in 1989, the Californian government poured billions of dollars into research and construction to make its cities safer. It's time urban planners in India woke up to this.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The rout of the Samajwadi Party (SP) in the UP legislative council elections follows a pattern that indicates a decline in the party's electoral prospects. Since it lost the assembly elections in 2007 to the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), SP's political support has shrunk at an alarming pace. As an influential political group in UP, which sends 80 MPs to the Lok Sabha, the future of SP is likely to have some bearing on national politics as well.
The decline of the SP is manifest in the ongoing war of words between Amar Singh and Ramgopal Yadav, Mulayam Singh Yadav's relative and Rajya Sabha MP. Their battle has the trappings of a personality clash but it is also a reflection of the party's political predicament. Singh has had a meteoric rise in the SP. His influence with Mulayam has impacted the vision of the party. Singh, with the endorsement of Mulayam, sought to transform the public profile of the SP from an essentially peasant-centric outfit to a political platform studded with businessmen and Bollywood's glamour crowd. He advised Mulayam to look beyond the traditional political base of the SP. The SP's dalliance with Kalyan Singh, who was the BJP chief minister during the destruction of the Babri masjid in 1992, was an attempt to consolidate the other backward castes in the state. But it alienated the party's Muslim supporters.
The SP needs to expand its social base to remain relevant in UP, no doubt. OBC identity politics may have exhausted its possibilities in the state. People's priorities have changed and a return to old-style peasant politics is unlikely to yield much electoral dividend. Similarly, instrumentalist notions of secularism limited to extending patronage to minority communities may have run their course in UP. The Congress, and to some extent the BSP, are now focusing on governance and these parties seem to have struck a chord with voters.
Neither Amar Singh nor his opponents in the SP seem to discern the change in the political climate. The SP needs to transform its political agenda radically. There is some truth in Singh's complaint that a family coterie around Mulayam wants to control the party. Similarly, the criticism that Singh's Teflon politics is against the core of the party's ideals is equally relevant. But the party will have to look beyond these stale binaries and rebuild itself, perhaps as a modern social democratic outfit, to regain primacy in UP politics.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LOOK NEARER HOME
Now that the climate talks in Copenhagen are behind us, it is time to turn once again to India's policy on Afghanistan and Pakistan. A region-led policy, rather than a US-led policy towards Afghanistan, and the resumption of talks with Pakistan, rather than the stalling of negotiations, should be Indian policy.
New Delhi should start with five assumptions. The first is that the United States will quit Afghanistan by 2012 at the latest. When US troops leave, they will leave Afghanistan neither stable nor democratic. Second, the Taliban will remain a military and political force, supported by Pakistan or by elements within the Pakistani government. Third, India-Pakistan tensions over Afghanistan and Kashmir will continue, with both sides claiming legitimate interests in both places. Fourth, Pakistan will be a violent and turbulent place. US presence in Afghanistan will on balance exacerbate, not reduce, extremism in Pakistan which in turn will hinder India-Pakistan relations further. Fifth, terrorists will strike Indian targets again, even as New Delhi improves its counterterrorism, tempting India to hit back at Pakistan - with unpredictable consequences.
Indian policy must therefore change. New Delhi's insistence that the US should stay in Afghanistan, that it must discipline Pakistan, that there is no such thing as good and bad Taliban, and that the resumption of talks with Pakistan must await stern action against the perpetrators of 26/11 and the dismantling of the terror apparatus is not wise policy. The US and its allies do not seem to have the will to stay in Afghanistan much beyond 2012. Washington's ability to discipline Pakistan historically has been intermittent at best and ineffective at worst, principally because Islamabad is important to the US for a number of geopolitical reasons including, at present, military operations in Afghanistan.
New Delhi's contention that there is no difference between elements of the Taliban is unconvincing. All our experience within India shows that there is always a more extreme and a less extreme faction of insurgents. If there was no relatively good Taliban, the hijacking of IC-814 in 1999 would have ended very differently - in tragedy for the passengers. In any case, to say there are no moderates is to suggest that there is no possibility of negotiating an end to Afghanistan's troubles. Logically, then, the only option is to exterminate the Taliban. Postponing talks with Pakistan until terror has been more or less dismantled and full action taken on 26/11 is like waiting for Godot, in Beckett's famous play by that name.
What is the alternative? Indian policy on Afghanistan must move towards a regional understanding that includes in the first instance Pakistan and perhaps Iran. The fundamental compact between India and Pakistan must be of a simple, robust nature: that both countries have legitimate interests in Afghanistan. India has an interest in overall stability and the protection of northern, non-Pashtun Afghans as well as various other minorities including Sikhs and Hindus. Pakistan also has an interest in the country's stability and in the Pashtuns finding their rightful place in any future government of Afghanistan. India and Pakistan could agree therefore that India will continue to provide developmental aid and that Pakistan will have influence on political developments, the goal of both countries being to help evolve a lasting, just and inclusive political system. Iran, Russia, China and the nearby Central Asian states should be part of a conclave on Afghanistan as they are all affected by events in that troubled country and wield influence in it. A beginning towards a conclave would be for Afghanistan, India and Pakistan to meet on the future of Afghanistan.
In addition, India must resume talks with Pakistan. The absence of talks is music to the ears of extremists in Pakistan. Composite dialogue between the two countries goes back to the Narasimha Rao government and the so-called "non-papers" of the early 1990s which culminated in the "six plus two" talks (Kashmir and security being the "two"). Progress can be made on the two principal issues as also other outstanding bilateral matters. There is broad convergence on a Kashmir deal. New Delhi has rightly reopened talks with Kashmiris; it must also reopen talks with Islamabad on the future of Kashmir, whether in a 'back' or more public channel. The two countries should in the meantime pluck the low-hanging fruit: Siachen, Sir Creek and Tulbul/Wular. The late J N Dixit recorded that in 1993 the two countries were ready to sign agreements on all three disputes. Agreements here will strengthen Islamabad domestically and have a positive impact on Pakistani opinion.
The prime minister has shown that his instincts are right on many aspects of domestic and foreign policy and that he has the tactical acumen and will to carry the day. Under his leadership, New Delhi must take the initiative on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The policy articulated here is not without risk and danger, but it is a more realistic policy than the present US, Pakistani and Indian course on the region.
The writer teaches at Oxford University, UK.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'WE NEED A SEPARATE SET OF CHILD LAWS'
Winner of a national award for Bitter Chocolate, an eye-opener book on child sexual abuse, author-activist Pinki Virani tells Nandita Sengupta the nation has let down its children in the Ruchika Girhotra case.
You have said that government response to the Girhotra case is appalling.
In the national outrage on Ruchika, government has missed the woods for the trees. I'm appalled that the law minister says we will now strengthen the molestation law. He doesn't realise that a child is not an adult and it's not only girls who are abused. Boys are lost in the national discourse on molestation. For one, the molestation law does not cover boys. Cutting across all classes, 25 per cent boys are sexually abused at any point in time. That means one in four under-16 boys. The count is 40 per cent for girls, but don't ignore the boys. We need a separate set of child laws. The nation is in complete denial about child abuse. Statistics of missing children are staggering. Where do they go? Instead of looking at real reform, government is seized by this molestation law, playing adult games.
What would be the ambit of child laws?
Child protection laws would include any crime inflicted on a child by an adult: sexual and porn, physical and emotional, ragging, corporal punishment. Within this, you recognise differences: family abuse and outsider abuse. Right now, judges use their discretion to let off molesters from within family with shorter sentences. So merely increasing punishment on paper or increasing number of women in the force, as the minister has suggested, is no solution. New laws that recognise various issues around child abuse are need of the hour. International police is worried that India has become a paedophile hub. It is easy to pull our children into international porn racket because we have no laws. Even if the paedophilia racket hasn't reached middle and upper class homes yet, it has certainly reached every street kid.
But laws apart, to encourage reporting of abuse, we need a child protection court. That only means the child doesn't go to a kacheri. He goes to any normal room where there are toys, the judge sits casually, not behind a bench. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the child's testimony is taken down only once on video. The perpetrator is not present in the room. All this doesn't take any extra money. It takes political will and parental demand.
How can laws help if mindsets don't change?
Child sexual abuse is never going to cease, until the adult in a position of power realises that responsibility is not about abuse. We need adult awareness of boundaries especially when it comes to the child. Who puts these boundaries: families. Families protect their children. But the ignorance is such that you teach children to cross the road but you're not teaching them to protect themselves from anything else.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TALK & TALK
Some wit had aptly labelled Indians as a race that suffers verbal diarrhoea. Whether it is 'khushi' or 'gham', we have to express ourselves. I'm rather in a minority for a nation of talkers, content to mostly listen and observe quietly. Watching and labelling the wide variety of talkers has now become a passion as all-consuming as birdwatching. And my observations have brought to light four distinct varieties of this species. The first and the most common is the 'Roadroller'. They start and they don't stop. Not for interjections, not for questions and never for another person's opinions. Stifled yawns don't deter them; neither do bored looks. If there are any interruptions they trundle over them, crushing them as effectively as a roadroller. The next is the 'I, Me, Myself' brigade. Regardless of factors like common interest, time and place, this species is immersed in themselves under the happy assumption that their affairs are of as absorbing interest to all as they are to them. Unlike the roadrollers they do stop to listen, but a barrage of reminiscence about their own precious selves follows every instance uttered by you.
A rather likeable species is the 'Tube-Light'. They take some time to understand what others are talking about, a little more to warm up to the subject and then they positively glow with their own accounts. It is a pity, however, that by the time all this happens, the others have moved on, leaving them grappling again! The most interesting and consequently most rare is the 'Anecdoter'.Not surprisingly, the three of the formers often fancy themselves to be this rare species, but the original can be easily identified by, first, their vast repertoire of interesting experiences - not necessarily their own, but often garbed as their own; then, they have the requisite voice, modulation and expressions to match - not for them the snore-inducing monotone! And above all, they're alive to the reception of their anecdotes and quick to change tracks at the slightest signs of boredom. It is this last variety that makes me wonder what makes a great conversationalist. Is it their versatility or their knack of gauging audience-interest correctly, or their ability to make the person in front feel like the most important person on earth at that particular moment, or a combination of all these and the mysterious factor X? Perhaps that's why so many of us are talkers, but not good conversationalists.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
AMEN KI ASHA
Can mortal enemies ever become friends? Can implacable foes with a long history of warfare -- both overt and covert -- by some miraculous change of heart become bosom buddies? Can mutual mistrust and paranoia turn into jigri dosti and the exchange of high fives?
These are the challenging questions that the TOI has raised in its innovative, path- breaking, pioneering campaign, Aman Ki Asha. Innovative, path-breaking, pioneering? Aren't they more or less the same thing? Isn't the use of all three needless repetition? Repetition, yes. Needless, no. For some things need to be repeated. For how else, but through constant repetition, can a history of hatred be turned into a destiny of love? How else can the hawks of war be turned into the white doves of peace, guns turned into roses? How else can the rhetoric of revenge be transformed into the purple prose of poetic harmony?
A formidable challenge indeed. How to turn sworn adversaries into allies, thereby ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity for all. The problem was made all the more difficult in that the two opposing entities were of unequal size, resource base and histories. One of the entities was larger, had access to greater resources, and could boast an historical narrative much longer than that of its Johnny-come-lately antagonist.
This asymmetry -- real or perceived -- of power, pelf and influence, made an already complex situation even more complicated. Each time the larger of the two entities would try to reach out a hand of friendship it would be seen by the other, smaller entity as, at worst, a threatening gesture -- Come near me and i'll give you such a slap! -- or, at best, as a token of patronising condescension -- Come here and have your head patted, like the good little fella you are, all your naughty shenanigans notwithstanding. The olive branch of peace -- repeatedly held out by the larger, more mature entity -- was repeatedly misconstrued as the danda of attack or intimidation by the smaller guy.That's why the TOI launched its campaign. To clear up all these misapprehensions which have entrenched the battle lines and further vitiated the climate of hostility between the two. And which are the two horn-locking, eyeball-to-eyeball entities that Aman Ki Asha is addressing? India and Pakistan? Well, yes. Sort of. But the real, coded message of Aman Ki Asha is meant for adversarial entities more difficult of reconciliation than India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan? Yeah, sure, they've had their spats, starting with a really nasty one called Partition. But one of these decades, they'll finally kiss and make up.
So who are the bitterest of enemies -- with one of them being far more bitter than the other -- that Aman Ki Asha is all about? Coke and Pepsi? Mukesh and Anil? They're practically Facebook pals compared with two warring camps which would make Kurukshetra look like a Rotary Club meeting. That's right: Aman Ki Asha is about the TOI and its arch rival, the HT.
Being the bigger of the two, and far older, TOI has repeatedly waved the white flag of truce vis-a-vis HT. Hey, let's quit scrapping, guys. The name of the game is no longer competition but co-opetition, where both can share an ever-increasing market of readership and ads. But do you think HT would buy this line? Nope. HT was -- and is -- convinced that these are all Trojan horses, ploys to put HT off-guard and open to flank attack.
Being smaller, and less mature, than the 170-odd-year-old TOI, HT is uncomfortably conscious of following in TOI's footsteps, doing today what TOI had already discarded yonks ago. This is what has given HT not just a chip but a whole packet of Lay's Masala Flavour on its shoulder. That's the real reason behind Aman Ki Asha. To broker peace with HT, amen. That's the real Amen ki asha.
That religion is a lifestyle choice is obvious when you go to the Kumbh Mela. The mother lode of all festivals, the Kumbh is without doubt the biggest, phattest congregation of humans on Earth. Yes, religion and matters of the spiritual realm do make a big pitch. But as anyone, hard-nosed atheists included, visiting Hardwar between yesterday and April 28 will gather, Hinduism a la the Kumbh is our rock'n'roll, a way of life one can choose. The numbers thrown up at the Kumbh itself are of planetary proportions. Fifty million visitors are scheduled to visit Hardwar over the next three months. Along with the minimally-dressed sadhus, who manage to keep their combustible engines glowing in the cold with a little help from friends and faith, there will be warmly-clad family folks thronging the banks of the Ganga.
Some wags insist that as India's biggest religious festival, the occasion should be used to 'radicalise' the devout to become more socially aware. Cleaning the Ganga, using the vast donations made by pilgrims to help the poor are fine ideas. But to hitch the Kumbh pony only on to such utilitarian, noble functions is to miss the party for a seminar. The Kumbh's basic purpose is to get drunk with the joy of being alive. After all, the festival's origins lie in the puranic 'Samudra manthan,' the divine churning of the sea that brought forth 'amrit' (nectar). The rest are add-ons. At the core of the Kumbh lies what 19th century French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire celebrated: "... entering the crowds as if walking into an immense reservoir of electricity". Basically, it's a vast pool of alternatse energy.
GOOGLE SOUP FOR THE SOUL
The search engine company, Google, has done the world a favour by saying it is prepared to forgo accessing the world's largest online population rather than compromise its integrity. For years, Beijing has run an internet policy that has had two major negatives. The first has been to control its own population's access to information on the internet, even denying them the ability to anonymously network with others. The second has been to use a hacker's guise to carry out cyber-espionage against governments and companies across the world.
The international community has generally shrugged at Beijing's attempts to control the internet. By one account the government employs some 100,000 people to monitor the cyberworld. The argument is made that internet freedom is a domestic legal issue. There is also an assumption that the internet's own rapid proliferation will eventually defeat even the Chinese government's resources. The world is but should not be passive about the repeated and sustained cyber-attacks emanating from China that are universally believed to be sponsored by Beijing. While always uncomfortable with Chinese censorship, Google seems most concerned about hackers attempting to access its services to penetrate western security and technology firms. While Beijing has been privately ticked off by various governments, Google's response is the first time a company has publicly warned that the nation's actions would have consequences.
The disappearance of a search engine used by only a fraction of online Chinese will hardly shake the mandate of heaven. But it would severely tarnish China's image as an economic investment destination. Like McDonald's and shiny airports, the Google rectangle is seen as evidence of a country having accepted that global economic integration is in its best interests. When such symbols disappear, investors fear a loss of commitment. Finally, freedom of information and the integrity of social networking lie at the heart of technology-based, high-end service economies. China has come to rule the world of manufactured goods. That formula is producing diminishing returns, as labour costs rise and other competitors emerge. The next stage in its economic development will be about creating the environment that will produce companies like Google. So far, Beijing has shown little aptitude for that much more difficult task.
STICK TO IT
HARTMAN DE SOUZA
For those of us who follow hockey in this subcontinent, the apathy of those supposedly steering the game in India is only to be expected. If blame has to be apportioned for this sorry state, let this not be heaped on the players.
There are millions like me who love hockey. Are memories so short that we can't remember the thrilling 1982 World Cup quarter-final at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium, where we lost by the skin of our teeth to Australia? Or how we shifted loyalty to Pakistan in the final, and sat shocked and silent as West Germany scored first, then, cheering as one, goading Hasan Sardar as he took the ball at the half-way line, and slowly, teasingly, broke into a Maradona-esque run right through the leaden-footed Germans, cutting into the 'D', darting left of a stumbling keeper and, with the most delicate of back flicks, floated the ball into the back of the net.
I was one of the guys in the stadium who whistled his head off when Pakistan routed the Germans 4-1, in what many say was hockey's equivalent of Brazil trouncing the Italians in the 1970 Football World Cup in Mexico.
Equally, millions like me have sat by helplessly seeing hockey player after hockey player good enough to walk into any team in the world shown the carrot and being forced to eat the stick. The game in this country must be in the hands of former players of distinction and those among them who have expertise to offer. Throw the others politicians, bureaucrats, retired officers etc out. From Zafar Iqbal and Joaquim Carvalho right down to the much younger Viren Rasquinho and the present team, we have enough evidence of articulate persons who can only bring good to the sport.
Hartman de Souza is a theatre veteran based in Pune
The views expressed by the author are personal
ACTIONS TWEET LOUDER
If the twitterati were India's voting class, then Shashi Tharoor would be the Supreme Leader. A few weeks ago, when Tharoor's tweet on the government's visa policies generated much fuss among his ministerial colleagues, I had jocularly tweeted, "Maybe, Tharoor should quit politics and join journalism. He would have greater freedom as an edit page writer than as a neta!" Within minutes, I was hit by an avalanche of angry Tharoor followers on Twitter, suggesting that I had committed the ultimate 'sin' by questioning their Twitter icon's credentials to hold public office.
Unfortunately for Tharoor, his parliamentary constituency of Thiruvananthapuram isn't quite the Twitter universe while his Congress party workers reserve their adoration for only one Family. Which is why Tharoor the politician is at odds with Tharoor the twitterer. The success of Twitter is built on the idea of having an open and constant conversation among a mix of anonymous and influential people and is designed to bridge social divides. Indian politics, by contrast, thrives on being an exclusive club of the power elite, with minimal contact with the masses. Notions of transparency which the Twitter world claims is its defining badge are alien to those who reside in the forbidding corridors of Lutyens' Delhi.
The Congress party increasingly resembles a closed shop, with little space for internal debate and dissent. When was the last time we knew what exactly transpired in a Congress working committee meeting? When did a post-election Congress legislature party meeting result in anything other than a one-line message authorising the ubiquitous high command to decide leadership issues. Banal press releases and platitudinous statements are the staple diet of political communication in the Congress.
It's not just the Congress party which is secretive. The Left is, if anything, even more inclined to stifle internal democracy. Politburo meetings are, by all accounts, an exercise in Soviet-style functioning where no one is allowed to question the prevailing party line. A majority of regional parties are run like tightly-controlled family businesses.
Perhaps, the BJP has been the most 'open' of our major political parties, often at some cost to its well-being. Witness a series of public 'rebellions' in recent years, the most graphic of which was undoubtedly Uma Bharti's infamous walk-out from a party meeting in 2004.
Tharoor, of course, faces another peculiar problem. As a first-time MP who has been catapulted into a ministership, he arouses envy and insecurity among his contemporaries. For the many netas waiting in the queue, the fact that a 53-year-old electoral debutante has taken the elevator to political success is enough for them to look for ways to cut him down to size. Lateral entrants are still a novelty in Indian politics: the many years that Tharoor spent as a UN diplomat count for little in the heat and dust of Bharat. An anglicised, accented, foreign-returned Tharoor is almost a caricature for a vast majority of netas who derive their legitimacy by claiming to be genuine desi 'sons of the soil'.
In a sense, by turning to Twitter, Tharoor is seeking to legitimise himself amongst a constituency he more naturally identifies with: the youthful, urban, English-speaking middle-class. This is the class which uses social networking as a weapon to express its solidarity against a 'system' it has lost faith in. Just as a candle has become the preferred symbol of middle class activism, the 140-character limit of Twitter is perfect to express a strong opinion without having to actually get involved in the muck of public life. For this chattering class, which despises the traditional dhoti-kurta politician, Tharoor is a role model: an educated Indian who 'sacrificed' professional comfort to plunge into the uncertainty of political life.
As India's first Twitter hero, one can appreciate why Tharoor feels an urge to reach out to this large constituency. If a Lalu and a Mulayam have their caste alliances, a Rahul has the family name, a Narendra Modi has a Hindutva appeal, for someone like Tharoor with no mass base, Twitter is integral to his brand recognition in the political marketplace.
And yet, there are limits to Twitter power that Tharoor must come to terms with. For a film star like a Shah Rukh Khan or a Priyanka Chopra, being on Twitter adds to their celebrity quotient and perhaps promotes their films. For a journalist like me, Twitter is another means with which to engage with the viewer and share news breaks. Tharoor is neither a glamorous film personality nor is he a journalist. At the end of the day, he is a minister in the government of India, bound by the oath of secrecy and the principle of the 'collective responsibility' of the cabinet system. He does not have the same freedom that an ordinary citizen would have in sharing information or expressing an opinion in a public space like Twitter. The opaqueness of the state may infuriate us, but to expect Twitter to effect a radical transformation in government functioning is to overestimate its capacity.
Moreover, Tharoor, in the end, will be judged not by the number of followers he has on Twitter (or for that matter, the number of books he releases), but simply by the work he does for his constituency and his achievements as a minister. For example, as a Minister of State for External Affairs who is responsible for the Gulf region, why doesn't Tharoor take up the issue of working conditions for migrant workers? A tweet on his actions might earn him more goodwill than telling us who he lunched with!
Post-script: Tharoor and I come from the same school. He has over six lakh followers, I have a little over 30,000. Since Twitter can be one giant ego massage, must confess to being a little envious!
Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief , IBN Network
The views expressed by the author are personal
CONFUCIUS SAYS: ABOUT TIME!
GOOGLE'S DECISION TO STAND UP TO CHINA'S CYBER-OPPRESSION IS GREAT NEWS FOR THE CHINESE
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
It has been dispiriting to see America's banks apparently stand for nothing more lofty than plunder. It has been demoralising to see President Barack Obama hiding from the Dalai Lama rather than offend China's rulers.
So all that makes Google's decision to stand up to Chinese cyber-oppression positively breathtaking. By announcing that it no longer plans to censor search results in China, even if that means it must withdraw from the country, Google is showing spine -- a kind that few other companies or governments have shown toward Beijing.
One result was immediate: Young Chinese have been visiting Google's headquarters in Beijing to deposit flowers and pay their respects. China promptly tried to censor the ensuing debate about its censorship, but many Chinese Twitter users went out of their way to praise Google. One from Guangdong declared: "It's not Google that's withdrawing from China, it's China that's withdrawing from the world."
Cynics say that Google tried to turn a business setback (it lags in the Chinese market behind a local search engine, Baidu) into a bid to burnish its brand. Whatever the motivations, it marks a refreshing contrast to Yahoo assisting the Chinese government in sending four dissidents -- Shi Tao, Li Zhi, Jiang Lijun and Wang Xiaoning -- to prison for terms of up to 10 years.
Google announced its decision after a sophisticated Chinese attempt to penetrate the Gmail addresses of dissidents. The episode and the resulting flap highlight two important points about China.
The first is that Beijing is increasingly devoting itself to cyber-warfare. This is a cheap way to counter American dominance in traditional military fields. If the US and China ever jostle with force, Beijing may hit America not with missiles but with cyber-infiltrations that shut down the electrical grid, disrupt communications and tinker with the floodgates of dams. Moreover, China's leaders aren't keeping their cyber-arsenal in reserve. They seem to be using it aggressively already.
A major coordinated assault on computers of the Dalai Lama, foreign embassies and even foreign ministries was uncovered last year and traced to Chinese hackers. The operation targeted computers in more than 100 countries and was so widespread that Western intelligence experts believe it was organised by the Chinese government, although there is no definitive proof of that.
A second point is that China is redrawing the balance between openness and economic efficiency. The architect of China's astonishingly successful economic reforms, Deng Xiaoping, clenched his teeth and accepted photocopiers, fax machines, cellphones, computers and lawyers because they were part of modernisation.
Yet in the last few years, President Hu Jintao has cracked down on internet freedoms and independent lawyers and journalists. President Hu is intellectually brilliant but seems to have no vision for China 20 years from now. He seems to be the weakest Chinese leader since Hua Guofeng was stripped of power in 1978.
Instead, vision and leadership in China have come from its Netizens, who show none of the lame sycophancy that so many foreigners do. In their Twitter photos, many display yellow ribbons to show solidarity with Liu Xiaobo, a Chinese writer recently sentenced to 10 years in prison.
That's guts! China's Netizens scale the Great Firewall of China with virtual private networks and American-based proxy servers like Freegate. Young Chinese are also infinitely creative.
When the government blocks references to `June 4', the date of the Tiananmen Square massacre, Netizens evade the restriction by typing in `May 35'.
When I lived in China in the 1990s, an early computer virus would pop up on the screen and ask: Do you like Li Peng? (He was then the widely disliked hard-line prime minister.) If you said you didn't like Li Peng, the virus disappeared and did no harm. If you expressed support for him, it tried to wipe out your hard drive.
Eventually, I think, a combination of technology, education and information will end the present stasis in China.
HERE WE GO AGAIN
The Shiv Sena has such a rich history of digging up cricket pitches and isolating Mumbai from international cricket that you cannot shrug this off as the hollow rant of a party desperate for a cause. As long as there are attacks against "our Indian brethren on Australian soil", threatened Sena chief Bal Thackeray in the party's journal Saamna, Australian cricketers would not be allowed to play in Maharashtra. Australian cricket officials reacted within a day, expressing concern about around 40 players in the forthcoming season of the Indian Premier League.
Thackeray's party had, of course, been successful in enforcing a long blockade on Pakistani cricketers. It, in fact, was almost a given that a match involving Pakistan would not be scheduled in Mumbai.
The Sena's workers even tried to target Delhi's Kotla track before Pakistan's 1999 tour of India, till its leadership was stared down politically. That is the catch. The Sena is in the business of wrecking the cricket calendar for very narrow political considerations. As a start, it would help if other political parties rebutted Thackeray's sentiments; that it is an absurd justice that's premised on inflicting the kind of violence on others that is sought to be stopped against persons deemed to be one's own. And, at the least, the administration needs to make
a strong statement that such vandalism will not be permitted.
To have Mumbai off cricket's map would be cruel. Cricket has always acknowledged the city's special place in the game. And most recently, barely a fortnight after 26/11, the English cricket team returned to India to complete a tour interrupted after the attack, with their captain making the point that life would go on. But like almost everyone else, sportspersons too these days are easily perturbed by the prospect of disruption and violence. This country cannot permit its territory to be off limits because of threats that are, in essence, racist.
The Neetu Singh affair ends as abruptly and mysteriously as it started. The Nepali film student at FTII, who was deported last month by the Maharashtra police on charges of "anti-India activities", has been allowed to return to the institute but with a cluster of conditions, including that she reveal nothing to the media.
Whatever the outcome, this episode has left a sour aftertaste between the Maharashtra police which deported her and the home ministry which appeared oblivious to the security threat she allegedly posed, the government has come across as divided at best and manipulable at worst. Singh claims she was being threatened with deportation and harassed by her husband, who is an emerging force in Nepal's politics and clearly influential in India. The circumstances of her deportation were shady and sudden enough for AIDWA to take up her cause with the Centre, which promised to resolve matters. But holding out this offer of a furtive return is neither resolution nor reparation.
Singh is now banned from talking to the press, forced to stay on campus, is not allowed to approach local courts. Her movements will be watched by local authorities, and the FTII director will be held responsible for any violation of these orders. AIDWA is outraged at the restrictions, and Singh has asked the Maharashtra government to prove its allegations before attaching these strings to her mobility. While there may be no legal recourse for her, subject to the sovereign whims of a foreign government, it would be deeply unjust to penalise her without furnishing any proof whatsoever that her presence destabilised national security in some way. Indeed, if her story is to be believed, Neetu Singh is a lone woman who sought succour in India, escaped her husband, father and brother to pursue an independent, creative life. If she is indeed being punished for this action, and if any part of the state is somehow complicit in this, it is indeed a sad reflection on individual freedom and Indian justice. Respecting Neetu Singh's agency and providing her, and us, an explanation for these arbitrary actions would be the decent thing to do.
Nobody in government should be surprised that sugar is selling at nearly Rs 50 a kg, possibly the highest it has reached in history. The supply-side causes have been visible for months. Last year's patchy monsoon, of course, had an effect on the size of the domestic sugarcane crop; and, meanwhile, across the world in Brazil, extra-heavy rain has hit its production. Consequently, traders worldwide have been gearing up for a shortage; futures prices had gone through the roof. What is shocking, therefore, is how government in India, both at the Central and the state levels, waited till the crisis had actually hit before moving, leisurely, to fix it.
Because this is no normal, supply-driven crisis. Sugar is globally produced, and two local failures, even if in the world's largest producers, should not have caused Indian prices to go up so precipitously. No, the most unacceptable facet of the fact that state response was so dilatory was that the problem is caused by state control in the first place. This is on almost-farcical display right now as Uttar Pradesh and the Centre blame each other for the price rise. UP said the Centre's "bullishness" was to blame, and that it favoured mill owners; Delhi said that UP had given in to farmers' pressure following their demonstrations last November and halted the processing of imported sugar, meaning that, since then, eight lakh tonnes of raw sugar had been sitting at various ports of entry, waiting for various government agencies to sort their act out. Of course, the (Central) customs and excise department's rules prevented the sugar mills in UP that had originally imported this sugar from getting anyone else to process it, either. (This was hastily undone by the cabinet on Wednesday.)
This is the sort of bureaucratic and political manoeuvring that is endemic to the sugar industry in India. At the local level, political cartels and district strongmen dominate production and milling. Further up, there's a strange divide: while the Centre frames policies on sugar, state governments do so for sugarcane. Unsurprisingly, politics trumps basic economic good sense at every point. There's only one way out: finish the reform process. Let farmers sell their produce to whoever wants it, let mills buy raw material from anywhere. Government "protection" has been shown to be a sham. Let's shove the politics out, or we will keep on getting hit by 50-rupee sugar.
The unusually high contribution made by the services sector to the high growth rates in backward states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa during 2004-09 would appear to turn conventional wisdom on its head. In classical theory, economic development happens in a certain sequence. Historically, societies have progressed from agriculture to industry, and then to a predominantly service economy. The contribution of the service sector is therefore very high in developed economies like the US and EU, compared with those in the developing world.
So it does come as a surprise that states like Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh which grew at 8.5 to 11 per cent annually in the previous five years should be so heavily driven by service sector components such as communications, construction, hotels and restaurants. All these states have been marked by low levels of industrialisation in the past 16 years or so, after industry was delicensed in 1991. The received wisdom is that industrialisation leads to proliferation of a service economy and not the other way round. I would contend that in some of the backwards states like Bihar, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh, the sequence may get reversed, somewhat.
It is possible that a pick-up in the services sector could lead to better agriculture and small manufacturing in these backward states. This may sound absurd to a trained economist but anecdotal evidence indeed suggests that an improved services sector will actually enhance productivity and incomes in agriculture and industry. The key driver here is communications. Data shows that communications, a big part of the service sector, grew 17.4 per cent in Bihar, 24 per cent in Jharkhand, 18 per cent in Madhya Pradesh and 19.5 per cent in Orissa between 2004 and 2009. Evidently, this has been made possible largely by the telecom revolution in India even as the mobile subscription base has crossed 500 million in the country.
Using anecdotal evidence I would like to illustrate how the mobile revolution is enhancing productivity growth in rural areas. Some months ago I visited the Pune-Nashik belt of rural Maharashtra. In small villages with population of no more than 2,000, you could see a total transformation in the way the small grocery shops ran.
Traditionally, the grocery shop would stock up the usual daily consumption items like foodgrains, soap, toothpaste, etc. But things have changed now. Virtually every grocery shop is now earning nearly 50 per cent of its total revenue from selling mobile pre-paid cards. I asked a shopkeeper in a village called Vadagaon, about 75 km outside Pune, how this had changed the way he worked. He said earlier all his sales comprised of items he would get from the wholesale agents of Hindustan Levers. Of course, these items continue to be sold over the counter, as before. However, the shopkeeper is additionally selling pre-paid cards which do not require any additional storage space. It is all stored in a mobile handset. There are two young boys who come on their mobikes and act as door-to-door distributors of mobile talk-time within a 4-5 km range, covering three to four clusters of Vadagaon.
Many grocery shop owners along the Pune-Nashik belt had the same story to tell. Their sales had nearly doubled after the advent of mobile talk-time as a new consumer item. A wholesaler said even in value terms the average household had a faster turnover of mobile talk-time than washing powder! So pre-paid cards had become a faster-moving consumer good.
Though Maharashtra is an industrially developed state, the sale of talk-time through small grocery stores is also happening on a fairly big scale in non-industrialised states like Bihar and Orissa. In these states the dynamics are a bit different. There is a big money order economy operating in these states where workers send back money from bigger metros. These incomes are driving service sector activities, including communications and construction. If millions of households add an extra room to their present house from money sent back from their kith and kin, there will be a big off-take in steel and cement in the economy. No wonder, steel and cement off-take had been normal in India throughout 2009.
So the backward states seem to be witnessing a veritable revolution in communications and construction. The two Cs are driving overall growth in these states. The communication revolution is possibly also helping the self-employed improve their incomes and productivity. Data shows that nearly 45 to 50 per cent of all employment growth in the past decade is in the self-employed category. In the absence of large-scale organised manufacturing, the self-employed number is fairly large in India. This is also peculiar to India as other rapidly industrialising societies have not seen such a big proportion of self-employed in their work force.
Economists argue there is something seriously amiss about India's service sector expanding rapidly as a proportion of its GDP now 56 per cent even before manufacturing realising its full potential. There is some truth to this assertion but a lot more research needs to be done to understand whether the ongoing communication revolution could actually reverse the sequence. It is possible that the advent of 3G mobile could end up giving a huge leg-up to the productivity and incomes of some 200 million self-employed, which in turn would create demand for more manufactured goods in the future. The bulk of rural India is still unbanked. If appropriate policy changes allow the 3G revolution to be accompanied by low cost mobile banking, India will not only greatly enhance its savings rate by collecting rural deposits, but also enable a large population to access cheaper bank funds. More efficient agriculture and manufacturing could follow later. Clearly, India appears to be defying conventional economics.
The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'
THE BANGLADESH MOMENT
The significance of the four-day official visit of Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina should not be judged merely in terms of the number of agreements and MoUs signed; much more important is the expression of political will for cooperation. In bilateral relationships all over the world, economic cooperation is seldom initiated significantly without regard to the prevailing political relations. There is no reason to expect an exception in this case. No one doubts the potential "win-win" gains to be reaped from Indo-Bangladesh economic cooperation, but such cooperation is likely to hold out better prospects if they are anchored within a broader framework of political and strategic relations.
The political will for cooperation, which affects countries' mindset and preconceptions, is all the more important in the case of Indo-Bangladesh economic relationships for at least two reasons. First is the asymmetrical relationship between a small country and a big neighbour, in which the former perceives an unequal bargaining power. India's predominant position is seen not only in terms of its much larger and more advanced economy, but also in terms of its physical advantage as an upper riparian country surrounding Bangladesh's three sides (with the opening to the Bay of Bengal on the remaining side now at the risk of being compromised by an ongoing maritime boundary dispute). It requires a great deal of conscious will and effort for Bangladesh to shake off a feeling of mistrust and develop a sufficiently strong confidence in bilateral relations with India .
Second, also arising from the unequal size of the two countries, is the way in which the distribution of possible gains from economic cooperation is evaluated by each side. While India's gain in relation to its economy as a whole will be
limited, it attaches high importance to transit facilities through Bangladesh as a means of integrating the north-eastern states with the rest of India economically, politically, and strategically. India thus tends to link, at least implicitly, Indo-Bangladesh trade negotiations with the issue of transit facilities to its north-eastern states. Bangladesh , on the other hand, sees its vital interest in water-sharing arrangements regarding the common rivers and in getting greater access for its exports to the Indian market, given its large trade deficits with India . Such multiple-issue negotiations require a comprehensive framework of give and take, and their success depends on the willingness of the political leadership to compromise and take a long-term view in order to find a mutually beneficial arrangement.
In such multi-faceted economic relationships, both sides need to make genuine gestures to win each other's trust and confidence. However, many in Bangladesh believe that India with her superior and more advantageous position could perhaps be more forthcoming in taking "non-reciprocal" measures, such as reducing tariff and non-tariff barriers on those export items from Bangladesh which have prospects of penetration in the Indian market. Once the benefit of economic integration with India becomes more evident, public opinion in Bangladesh may be more easily swayed towards, say, opening the Chittagong port for the use of its natural hinterland that includes the north-eastern Indian states. Bangladesh should also come to realise that if it has to attract a significant volume of foreign direct investment, it has to bet on Indian investors. Given India's economic ascendancy in the global economy, it will be a pity if Bangladesh cannot take advantage of its geographic proximity with India.
The environment of cooperation can be greatly improved by transparency and exchange of information on all sensitive issues, ranging from the proposed Tipaimukh dam to the alleged illegal inflows of Bangladeshi labourers into India. In fact, such exchanges of information should be seen as a step towards a more comprehensive framework of cooperation such as harnessing regional resources through joint planning and management. That will not happen within the straitjacket of traditional diplomacy but will need statesmanship and more straight talk. For example, while there is no point denying the fact that there are illegal Bangladeshi migrant workers in India, it is not helpful to exaggerate their numbers either. The Mexican president at the time of NAFTA negotiations was reported to have said that the US had to accept or import "tomatoes from Mexico or tomato growers." To some extent at least, India has a similar choice between opening her markets for labour-intensive goods from Bangladesh, and accepting the flow of migrant workers.
The writer is Professor of Economics at the University of Dhaka and a member of the United Nations Committee for Development Policy
AFTER THE QUAKE
FOR most of the past 20 hours I've been hiking the earthquake-rubbled streets of Port-au-Prince. Tuesday night, when we had less idea of the scope of the devastation, there was singing all over town: songs with lyrics like "O Lord, keep me close to you" and "Forgive me, Jesus." Preachers stood atop boxes and gave impromptu sermons, reassuring their listeners in the dark: "It seems like the Good Lord is hiding, but he's here. He's always here."
The day after, as the sun exposed bodies strewn everywhere, and every fourth building seemed to have fallen, Haitians were still praying in the streets. But mostly they were weeping, trying to find friends and family, searching in vain for relief and walking around in shock.
If God exists, he's really got it in for Haiti. Haitians think so, too. Zed, a housekeeper in my apartment complex, said God was angry at sinners around the world, but especially in Haiti. Zed said the quake had fortified her faith, and that she understood it as divine retribution.
This earthquake will make the devastating storms of 2008 look like child's play. Entire neighbourhoods have vanished. The night of the earthquake, my boyfriend, who works for the American Red Cross, and I tended to hundreds of Haitians who lived in shoddily built hillside slums. The injuries we saw were too grave for the few bottles of antiseptic, gauze and waterproof tape we had: skulls shattered, bones and tendons protruding from skin, chunks of bodies missing. Some will die in the coming days, but for the most part they are the lucky ones.
No one knows where to go with their injured and dead, or where to find food and water. Relief is nowhere in sight. The hospitals that are still standing are turning away the injured. The headquarters of the United Nations peacekeeping force, which has provided the entirety of the country's logistical support, has collapsed. Cell and satellite phones don't work. Cars can't get through many streets, which are blocked by fallen houses. Policemen seem to have made themselves scarce.
"If this were a serious country, there would be relief workers here, finding the children buried underneath that house," my friend Florence told me. Florence is a paraplegic who often sits outside her house in the Bois Verna neighbourhood. The house next to hers had collapsed, and Florence said that for a time she heard the children inside crying. Why, then, turn to a God who seems to be absent at best and vindictive at worst? Haitians don't have other options. The country has a long legacy of repression and exploitation; international peacekeepers come and go; the earth no longer provides food; jobs almost don't exist. Perhaps a God who hides is better than nothing.
The writer is a fellow at the Institute of Current World Affairs.
AUSTRALIAN FOR FEAR
MAN MOHINI KAUL
Objectively, relations between India and Australia have never been so good and yet, subjectively, public perception of Australia has never been so bad. The relentless attacks on Indian students, particularly in Melbourne, could evoke the same words that were used by Australian leaders in response to India's nuclear tests in May 1998. However, our Indian sensibilities would not permit the use of such expletives. Bilateral relations between India and Australia have undergone a significant transformation in the last ten years. The chill of post Pokhran II has been replaced by a new warmth, marked by convergence of strategic and security interests and a mutual desire for greater economic engagement. Much of the bilateral relationship is being shaped by the process of globalisation which is generating people-to-people contact and creating a new constituency of the Indian diaspora. From occasional meetings between mid-rank officials there are now institutionalised regular meetings both at the bilateral and multilateral levels. There are also the shared values of democracy and multiculturalism and a belief in the geopolitics of interdependence.
India and Australia are now also focussing on a mutually beneficial strategy of closer economic ties. A number of initiatives have been taken to facilitate and accelerate this process. If India's market is of growing attraction to Australian exports, the latter's richness in energy resources is not lost on India. However, even though bilateral trade tripled between 2003-04 and 2007-2008 from about US$3 billion to US$ 9 billion, this is still very small in absolute terms given the size of the two economies and is also far less than the Australia- China bilateral trade.
In the context of strategic interests, India and Australia are in many ways natural allies, not least because both have a vested interest in the stability and peace in Asia. Both want to prevent emergence of a "hegemone" in the Asian region. However, natural allies can sometimes become artificial adversaries, and the challenge is to prevent inevitable relationship irritants from adversely impacting overall bilateral ties. In other words, insulate the growth of bilateral relations from being undermined by any single issue. There is also a need to promote greater understanding between societies. In this age of post-modernism, India and Australia have the responsibility to construct in our imagination and in more material form a security community in Asia of which they will be the central pillars.
India's Look East Policy, though primarily focused on South East Asia, also emphasises the significance of Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific Island States. While India has consciously tried to forge relationships and support and strengthen existing regional initiatives of cooperation such as ASEAN, Australia has tended to also support the creation of new parallel initiatives. For example, Labour Prime Minister Hawk initiated APEC in 1989 minus India and decades later the current Labour Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has introduced the idea of the Asia Pacific Community with India, but minus uranium. Such postures and attitudes are at times seen as patronising and lack an understanding of India's sensitivities.
The Indian diaspora is an important point of contact for the growth of bilateral ties. The immigration of Indians to Australia is a fairly recent phenomenon and there is no comparison with the "old Indian diaspora" of immigrants who went overseas in the nineteenth century, especially under the indenture system. Contemporary attitudes shape the identity of what is known as the "new Indian diaspora". There are about 234,000 Indians in Australia, constituting the third largest source of immigrants to Australia, after UK and New Zealand. In recent years, Australian universities have greatly increased the intake of fee paying Indian students who have become crucial to Australia's economy and education industry. In the 1990s, when Australian universities were little known in India, it was the good word of those who had studied there that helped in projecting Australia in positive terms to prospective students. An Australia government document of 1996 states "...the Indian target audience does perceive Australia to be a safe and tolerant society, one where parents could feel comfortable about the physical and emotional well being of their children." Unfortunately, the recent harassment of Indian students not only impacts on Australia being a preferred destination, but also puts a severe strain on bilateral relations. The Australian government will have to be more proactive if the country is to be seen again as being non-discriminatory and not judging the people on the basis of their religion or colour of their skin.
Cultural diversity needs skilful and sensitive handling by the host country. The spate of attacks on Indian students and Dr Hanif's case has raised fears about the possible revival of the erstwhile "White Australia" policy. Australia needs to rise beyond this. With a distinct multicultural identity and important strategic interests in Asia, the partnership with India is critical for Australia to make the transition to being a 'real' Asian power.
The writer is a professor at the School of International
Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University
DAYS OF HAZE
The severity of this year's thick fog blanket over northern India has again caught public attention. But it will not be long before the dark white winter shroud disappears and is forgotten, as has always happened in the past. It is imperative to address this serious environmental threat so that the associated impacts on public well being are minimised in future. At the outset, the occurrence of fog is not unique to this part of the world and certainly not a recent phenomenon over India, as we have witnessed it in recent years and in previous decades as well. However, the intensity, persistence and the widespread nature of the winter fog is overwhelming. Given the exorbitant impact on public life, it has almost become equivalent to a natural hazard which is unlike on any other part of the world.
In simple terms, fog is a cloud near the surface with visibility less than 1000 metres. It requires the right amount of moisture in the air and cold temperatures together with frequent pressure variations collectively and commonly known as cold waves during this time of the year. Over northern India more specifically in the Indo-Gangetic Plains which is one of the most fertile belts on the planet about 700 million people live in parts of Pakistan, India, Nepal and Bangladesh. The plains are fed by the Indus and the Ganges rivers downstream of the towering Himalayas, and thus bolster agriculture in the region and provide a livelihood to the large population there.
In the past three decades, along with the population growth, atmospheric pollution has risen alarmingly due to an increase in various emission sources such as coal-fired power plants associated with the growing energy demand and a number of vehicles of which the diesel-run types constitute a significant percentage. Together with the pollution from industrialisation and urbanisation, bio-fuel cooking (chulha) is very common among the underprivileged and also contributes significantly to air pollution. Frequent winter cold waves lead to dramatic dips in temperatures, with the lowest mercury levels recorded during this time of the year. To combat the cold, the poor keep themselves warm by burning wood and other old and traditional alternatives causing more particulate pollution or emitting aerosols in the atmosphere. The impact of this tremendous conglomeration of aerosols is felt the most every year during the winter period when thick and dense haze engulfs the entire Indo-Gangetic Plains. Observational data available from few airports and ground stations during winter have indicated that trends in poor visibility has substantially increased to over 90 per cent, i.e. almost everyday. The valley-type topography of the Plains (bounded by the Himalayas), cold waves with moist air, and the resident aerosols, are the most important ingredients for the formation of winter fog over most parts of northern India. The dense haze and fog also prevent the sun from warming the land, which further keeps the temperatures low, in turn providing a positive feedback to the persistence of foggy and cold conditions. Beyond frequent delays in flights and trains and occasional incidents of train accidents owing to poor visibility, significant number of deaths are also reported every year due to intense cold among the homeless. As an advanced developing country focusing on prosperity in metropolitan cities, it is necessary to install the latest technologies to enable landing of flights under thick fog. However, this is not the solution to a long-term problem that will most likely continue and, as we observe this year, potentially intensify in future given the worsening air quality.
The science of fog formation and the inclusive geophysical variables is known. But there is a lack of understanding on:
(a) Whether increasing aerosols are responsible for more fog?
(b) Whether the ambient moisture in the Plains has increased over the years from cold waves or from local changes in irrigation patterns?
As a climate science researcher, I think these are key questions that urgently need to be investigated, and that are little known in the scientific published literature. State-of-the-art research into the linkages between the seasonal fog cover and pollution should be initiated and supported through government agencies in the form of intensive data collection observatories all along the Indo-Gangetic Plains to better understand the physical and chemical composition of fog and haze particulates and other meteorological parameters. Derivations of cause and effect relationships based on extensive observations can only help in building sophisticated fog forecast models and can further empower mitigation efforts and guide policymakers for devising decision making tools to tackle the grave problem.
The writer is at the NASA/Goddard Space Flight Centre and the University of Maryland
THE TRAGEDY OF RUCHIKA AND BEYOND
The tragic case of Ruchika Girhotra has been covered extensively. Delhi-based daily Hamara Samaj, in an editorial (January 6) writes: "The decision of the central government to withdraw its (meritorious services) medal from former DGP, Haryana, S.P.S. Rathore, following his conviction for molestation of Ruchika is laudable. The interest the government has shown in the matter after 19 years is, in itself, of great significance, because, firstly, in view of the seriousness of the case, it has decided to treat all complaints at police stations as FIRs and then it took the initiative for evolving a system under which the medals of convicted officers would automatically be withdrawn." The paper adds: "In similar cases of decorated Army officers too, such strict action is needed."
However, Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Dehradun-based daily, Sahafat, in its editorial (January 2) endorses a view that the Central government's proposal connected with FIRs is "a doubled-edged sword, which could be beneficial as well as harmful." It writes: "If FIRs were to be filed for all cognisable and non-cognisable offences, an unending process of arrests of innocent people would start. Weaker sections of the society may particularly be targets of such complaints and arrests. Also, there would be additional pressure of work for courts, already under a heavy load of cases."A columnist in Rashtriya Sahara (December 29) alleges that there are "double standards" in campaigns for justice in such cases. He cites the case of the gang rape of pregnant Bilquis Bano during Gujarat riots. "Were proponents of justice, who have raised a storm over the Ruchika episode, as active in getting justice to Bilquis Bano as they are now? Why are there double standards of justice in our country? Is the story of Bilquis Bano not more dreadful than Ruchika's?", he asks.
Ranganath Mishra Report
Hyderabad-based daily, Rahnuma-e-Deccan, in an editorial on December 27 writes : "The one-member commission of a former Chief Justice (the Ranganath Mishra Commission) has proved certain pre-conceived notions wrong. For a long period of time, those opposed to providing reservation to Muslims have been putting forth lame excuses stating that there is no scope for such a provision from the Constitutional point of view, and even if such a step is taken, it would not pass the judicial scrutiny. But now a Commission headed by a very experienced judge, who had occupied the highest judicial position, has made it clear that there is no legal or constitutional hurdle in providing reservation to Muslims, then there is no need for any more hesitation and indecisiveness in this regard." A columnist in Delhi-based Jadeed Khabar on January 9 writes; "when the government does not have the capacity to implement recommendations of a Commission, what right does it have to splurge the taxpayers' money on its working?"
A columnist in Delhi-based daily Hindustan Express, Moonisa Bushra Abidi on December 29 dwells on the argument often given by forward sections of Muslims that providing reservation to backward classes among Muslims would promote caste system in the community, "something they have imbibed from their fellow countrymen." Adds Abidi, "Syeds, Mughals, Pathans, etc may lag behind due to economic backwardness even if they are meritorious. In such a situation monetary aid to meritorious students becomes much more important than reservation. It is true that the ideal situation would be that all sections of society have access to equal opportunities. But when, in the country, one very clearly sees open favouritism (jaanibdaari) in the fields of education and employment and, now, even with regard to residential facilities, who can ensure equal opportunities and how and on the basis of what truth a struggle for attaining equal opportunities can be waged?"
Amar Singh's latest spat with members of the Mulayam Singh family have been the subject of much comment. Delhi, Lucknow, Mumbai and Dehradun-based daily, Sahafat, (January 11) writes that Amar Singh has done to Mulayam Singh what Mulayam Singh had done to the late Chandra Shekhar when he walked out of the former prime minister's flock and formed his own Samajwadi Party. Rashtriya Sahara (January 12) finds substantial support for Amar Singh among influential Muslim leaders in the party. Its editor, Aziz Burney, writes: "Whether it is Abu Azmi who has been seen as the Muslim face of the party after Azam Khan or Obaidullah Khan Azmi who too has been inducted into the party as a Muslim face, supporters of Amar Singh perhaps want to demonstrate that the Muslim leadership of Samajwadi Party is with Amar Singh. It is another matter that some Muslims have also stood up against Amar Singh as a counter to these leaders."
Compiled by Seema Chishti
As we noted yesterday, trapped between the wills of the Centre and the Mayawati government, 10 lakh tonnes of raw sugar imported at zero duty by UP sugar millers is idling at the ports. The Centre waited till this week to revise the excise notification that prevented sugar importing UP mills from getting the commodity processed in other states. Meanwhile, sugar prices have continued to rise, with the Centre and the state blaming each other for their skyrocketing. This situation illustrates how the politicisation of food distorts food prices in India. After a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Prices, Union food & agriculture minister Sharad Pawar came out blazing bullets against the states, who he said have been really lackadaisical about lifting the rice and wheat stocks allocated to them by the Centre. A meeting of all chief ministers has also been convened in January-end to address the issue of hoarding of essential commoditieshoarders are classic bogeymen for both the Centre and states when it comes to assigning blame for food price rise. Actually, the fact of the matter is that government interventions working at cross purposes (as in the case of the Centre and UP) or in gratuitous ways (as in the case of mandi taxes) have really distorted the producer-consumer equation, muddling up matters that should be relatively straightforward, changing prices and tax at random intervals.
As food inflation eases, and it looks like it has gone past its peak now, it is probable that politicians will put the issue on the backburner once again. That would be very unfortunate indeed since there are systemic faults in India's food supply chain that are crying out to be fixed. And one size won't fit all commodities. In pulses, for example, our production has been flat-lining even as consumption is rising, and global markets aren't flooded with plenty either. So, issues of appropriate acreage and yield need to be addressed. In vegetables, which have seen great volatility, the main problem appears to be a rising gap between wholesale and retail prices. Here, the call of the hour is retail reform. An amendment to the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act that prohibits transactions outside the mandis in most states has been on the anvil for years. Had it been in place by now, intermediaries wouldn't have been able to take control as they have over the past year. Had liberalisation's borders been truly extended to big retail, then we would have been in a better situation.
FLYING ON BUDGET
The shift towards low-cost carriers (LCCs) has never been so apparent as they continue to steal passengers, including high-yielding business travellers, away from traditional carriers. The latest data from DGCA shows that nine LCCs in India account for about 60% of the market share. The trend accelerated over the last year as flyers continued to tighten their purse strings because of the economic slowdown. Around 80% of the capacity added or converted in 2009 was in the low-cost segment and a large part of it came from existing full-fledged carriers like Jet Airways and Kingfisher. In fact, Jet Airways now operates 65% of its capacity in LCCsJetLite and Jet Konnect. Last year, LCCs attracted more passengers than full service carriersIndiGo posted 90% seat factor, followed by SpiceJet at 88% and JetLite at 81%. In contrast, Jet Airways reported 78% seat factor and ailing Air India 75%. International studies have shown that seat factor above 80% is the viable matrix for profitability. Therefore, this year too will see further additions in the low-cost segment. LCCs are not a successful model in India alone. In Europe, the three big playersRyanair, easyJet and Air Berlin flew 139 million passengers last year, and revenue increased by 15% as compared to 2008 and a staggering 80% increase from 2005 levels. In contrast, full service carriers like British Airways lost 15% of its revenue and Air France-KLM lost 19% of its revenue in the last year.
However, despite the growth potential, operating conditions still present a challenge for LCCs in India. The parking and landing charges at airports are the same for everyone and there are no secondary airports like in Singapore and London where LCCs use the airport that charges the least. Low Internet connectivity, the main ticketing medium for budget carriers, pushes up the cost of the airlines as they have to pay fees and commissions to travel agents. Aircraft utilisation and turnaround times are lower due to poor infrastructure like few runways and hangars at the airports. Then there are the general policy problems that afflict aviation as a whole. Airport charges in India are 60% higher than international levels and ATF costs are much higher as compared to countries in Asia, Europe and North America. In fact, ATF charges account for over 40% of the total operational costs of airlines in India, compared to 20-25% globally. The Union Cabinet had set up a ministerial group in 2006 to look into the high ATF prices, but nothing has come out as of yet. Still, LCCs have shown remarkable resilience by coming out of the slowdown and policy obstacles in relatively good shape.
NOW, TIME FOR GRAND BARGAIN ON GST
Judged by the kind of political challenges that important economic reform measures present to the UPA government think land acquisition, financial sector liberalisation, and labour laws to name just threethe implementation of a goods and services tax (GST) is relatively low-hanging fruit.
Most importantly, there is little in terms of intellectual opposition to reforming our complicated indirect tax system. Despite the vast improvement brought by the implementation of VAT, there are still far too many, usually cascading, indirect taxes in the economy. What is worse, they are not uniform across the country, varying greatly across states, something that prevents the economy from reaping the enormous benefits that are associated with a genuine single market. Needless to say, too much power remains in the sphere of a discretionary government tax apparatus that lends itself to unproductive lobbying, rent-seeking and corruption. A single GST (with separate components for Centre and state) can rid the indirect tax system of all these problems, while increasing the tax base (good for governments) and contributing to additional GDP (with massive benefits to both producers and consumers).
Yet, progress on GST, originally scheduled for implementation on April 1, 2010, is in stalemate amidst disagreements between the Centre and states. The time frame is actually the least of the problemsa delay is acceptable if it will eventually lead to a better system. What is more worrying is the potential dilution of the final goal of a single GST. Ostensibly, states are objecting to the recommendations of the GST task force set up by the 13th Finance Commission for a 'revenue neutral' rate of 12% (with 7% for states and 5% for Centre). Despite all the thorough mathematics (see the GST taskforce report that uses at least five different methods to substantiate its calculations) that indicate otherwise, states insist that this is not a revenue neutral rate and are demanding more.
The real problem is more complex and relates to the political economy, not arithmetic. GST involves a clear move away from source-based taxation to a tax on final consumption, and that's an unambiguously good thing. However, that fundamentally changes how tax is collected across the country and by whom. It's obvious that states that have higher levels of consumption will collect more taxes. So richer states, whose populations consume more (than they produce), like Gujarat or Delhi, will gain revenues. Conversely, states that consume less, like Bihar and Orissa, stand to losein the current system, they at least generate revenue from source-based taxation levied on industries (particularly resource-based) in their states. In a consumption-based system, they lose that advantage. So, there is a distribution issue between states.
Unfortunately, even the states that stand to gain are not putting their weight behind the current proposals in the hope that they will get more if there is an upward revision in ratesthe greed factor.
The other strong interest group which would be only lukewarm to the introduction of GST is the tax establishment at the Centre and in states. At the Centre, a simple 5% GST will greatly reduce the turf of the Central Board of Excise & Customs and their discretionary powers. Even in the states, once indirect tax is consumption-based, there is less power and no discretion for tax inspectors who are used to collecting taxes at the factory door.
The two interest groups that should support GST without reservations have their own problems. Industry should welcome GST because it will eventually bring down costs and, critically, bring a level playing field with imports (there will be a standard countervailing duty, at the GST rate, on all imports), but they get distracted by the task of seeking exemptions. Consumers, who will also gain from a lower tax burden, suffer from the perennial problem of organising collective action.
If policy is ultimately decided by the weight of relative interest groups, things are not looking bright for an uncompromised GST. Those who should support GST are either not organised or distracted by greed and exemptions, while those opposed are quite focused.
The one thing worse than GST not being implemented at all is the implementation of a flawed GST, evolved out of compromise. So, a GST at the rate of say 20% will be a mistakethat will simply encourage evasion and potentially reduce the tax base. At any rate, it won't lower the indirect tax burden from what it already isaround 24%. The other fatal mistake will be to enforce two different rates of GST, low and high. This will lead to lobbying and rent-seeking as everyone tries to get their good or service included in the lower rate category.
What we need now to salvage a flawless GST is a strong intervention from the Centre, preferably from the finance minister or Prime Minister. If necessary, the Centre should be ready to offer a 'grand bargain' to protesting states. So, for example, if some states lose revenue after GST, the Centre can promise to compensate themChidambaram as FM offered something similar at the time of VAT. Alternatively, if a marginal increase in rate to say 13% will allow a flawless GST, the Centre should offer it. Also, if 12% turns out not to be revenue neutral, the Centre can promise to tweak the rate later.
Unfortunately, the Centre hasn't indicated any thinking on these lines so far. Someone needs to urgently take ownership of a fabulous policy idea called GST.
INFLUENCE FROM THE IVORY TOWER
In December 2008, at the height of the financial turmoil, the finance faculty at Stern produced a timely and useful collective document analysing the reasons behind the crisis and sketching the broad reform agenda to be followed to fix it. A year later they have followed it up with an e-book initiating a serious debate about the ongoing developments in the US financial system. The scale and reach of the current crisis and the extent of regulatory thought and action it has spawned, particularly the two landmark Bills currently in the US Congressthe recent Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2009 passed by the House and the Restoring American Financial Stability Act in the Senatehave been overwhelming for most observers.
The e-book*a form particularly appropriate for 'real-time' dynamic inputs, given the evolving and continuous nature of the discussionis an extremely useful resource to evaluate the regulatory reaction and anticipate its outcomes.
The legislations in Congress, like all US law-making, are already the result of much compromise and support-shopping. They cover aspects of the market and the economy ranging from consumer protection to derivative trading. The Stern group rightly points out that within this motley baggage, it is the management of systemic risks that should be of the highest concern.
Here the two Bills seem to be at odds. The first Bill, passed by the House, seems to reaffirm the Fed's powers in dealing with such firms while the second appears to emasculate the Fed. The Stern group recommends setting up a new regulator for Large Complex Financial Institutions (LCFIs) that create such risks. If you think beyond the knee-jerk 'Yet another one?' response, this makes perfect sense. None of the segment regulatorsthe Fed, SEC, FDIC etcare really equipped to handle cross-segment risks, and 'coordination' among regulators rarely works. The unified regulator approach of the UK has hardly fared better. A cross-segment regulator for a specific set of large firms is the most practical compromise. The debate is of singular significance for India, which has a fragmented regulatory environment like the US.
Notwithstanding their difference of opinion on who should bell the cat, both the House and Senate Bills rely largely on simple systemic risk criteria for the identification of LCFIs. These include, broadly speaking, size, leverage and interconnectedness. However, real-time monitoring and management of systemic risks would be served better by continuously variable market-based measures. Also, given the imperfections in measuring these variables, hiving off systemic risk-creating activities away from the 'implicit guarantee' may be a good idea. Both proposals suggest taxing the too-big-to-fail institutions and create an insurance fund of sorts. This is a good idea in principle but application may have its challenges, particularly in identification and assessment of taxes. The group identifies several other lacunae in the proposals and implementation challenges implicit in them. But it is not exclusively critical or disapproving of the endeavours. It readily acknowledges merit where it finds it.
Apart from providing valuable input in a key debate, the Stern Working Group approach sets an example of how responsible academia can contribute to better policymaking. As distinct from individual research or commentary, the papers in the e-book are collaborative output of multiple experts. Together they add to the quality of the discussion and enhance the pool of ideas dealing with a contemporary problem at hand, instead of flawlessly dissecting the problems of the previous decade. This approach is of relevance to all parts of the world, but particularly India, which has no dearth of capable economists. While clearly the role of an academic is different from that of a policy advisor or commentator, it would not hurt if major research institutions adopted this approach to carry out a conscious, collaborative effort to discuss current issues.
Of course, directors and deans would be ill-advised to create another 'policy advice committee' and draft faculty into it to achieve this end. Policy advice given under duress can cause more harm than good. Being informed in current affairs and carefully arguing about them requires time and effort, particularly if the pursuit is away from one's normal research interests. Faculty must have suitable incentives to voluntarily participate in such an activity. In turn, institutes need to have incentives from, not obligations to, the government and civil society to take up such initiatives.
The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad
ALLOW FDI IN DEFENCE
In 2001, the government of India envisaged that involvement of the private sector, with its expertise and technology, would augment India's indigenous defence production capability. With this intent, Press Note 4 was released where the government decided to open the defence industry for private sector participation of up to 100% of equity, with FDI permissible up to 26%. Later, the Defence Procurement Procedure 2005 set out the official offset policy. The policy was the outcome of this aspiration to become 'self-sufficient' in defence manufacturing, stipulating that all contracts won by foreign vendors over Rs 300 crore would carry an offset obligation. The foreign vendors could meet their obligation either by purchasing/executing export orders for goods & services produced by the Indian defence industry or by investing in India's defence industrial infrastructure (through FDI).
However, while the ministry of defence aimed to be 70% self-reliant in defence acquisitions by 2010, progressing to 90% in 2020, only 30% was achieved by 2007. There are many reasons for such sluggish performance.
One major reason is that the policy guidelines on the FDI front have not progressed in the anticipated way. Despite India being envisaged as a huge defence market, there has been a lack of enthusiasm on the part of foreign investors to invest in the Indian defence sector. Such unwillingness is on account of the current FDI limit of 26%. Also, the industry perceives the guidelines to be extremely stringent and one-sided, wherein a foreign investor is expected to invest its resources in a venture where it has no significant control, strict capacity/ product constraints, no purchase guarantee, no open access to other markets (including exports) and wherein there is an unfair advantage to the local public sector. Given these constraints, with such little control, major investors are reluctant to share technology and invest in Indian companies.
With an increased FDI limit (say 49%) there would be clear incentives to invest, enabling Indian companies to be part of their global supply chain. Also, foreign firms would find this reasonable to meet their offset obligation.
The author is Partner, BSR & Co
SEIZING THE MOMENT
For most of the past four decades, India and Bangladesh have been distant neighbours, separated by distrust and suspicion despite their visceral connections of geography and ecology, language and culture, economics and politics. There have been periods of acute stasis and also moments of hope, when a basic transformation in the relationship seemed possible. But never before has the overall situation been quite as propitious as it is now. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh is i n his second tenure as the head of the United Progressive Alliance government and the position of India as a growth pillar in South Asia and the world means the logic of regional integration is more compelling than ever before. In Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina Wajed is once again Prime Minister, this time with a majority so convincing that she need not keep looking over her shoulder to second guess what the Bangladesh National Party of Khaleda Zia might say or do in response to the improvement in bilateral ties with India. Notwithstanding the benign domestic political situation the Congress and the Awami League find themselves in, the governments have a two-year window to bring about a fundamental shift in the structure and content of the bilateral relationship before electoral compulsions kick in once again. And judging by the success of Sheikh Hasina's recent visit to Delhi, a fine start has been made.
India has promised a $1 billion line of credit to Bangladesh and a pruning of the negative list of Bangladeshi products that are denied preferential access to Indian markets. It has also agreed to push for better border connectivity so that bilateral trade can increase, and Teesta water sharing has been flagged for discussion. On its part, Bangladesh has dropped its opposition to granting India transit rights. The Agartala-Akhaura rail link will now be developed, creating the potential for railway freight to be sent from Kolkata to Tripura and thence to the rest of the North-East via Bangladesh. On the security front, Dhaka demonstrated its willingness to accommodate Indian concerns by facilitating the handover of ULFA leader Paresh Barua. All this suggests that both countries are serious about opening a new chapter. But one ought not to minimise the challenges that lie ahead. One test will be whether India is prepared to allow Bangladeshi garment manufacturers preferential market access. Another will be its willingness to craft agreements on the equitable sharing of all river waters. As the bigger economy, India needs to go the extra mile in giving a boost to its neighbour's economic potential, especially considering that Sheikh Hasina has moved so far in addressing longstanding Indian requests on transit.
ON A STRONG WICKET
The rupee touched a 16-month high of Rs.45.34 against the dollar on Monday, January 10. The trend of rupee appreciation that began in March-April 2009 has accelerated in the new year. The rupee gained almost three per cent in less than 10 working days. In the middle of the previous week, the rupee breached the Rs.46 mark. The Indian currency's strong showing is in line with the strengths exhibited by most Asian currencies recently. Between December 31 and January 6, the Korean won moved up from 1164.000 to 1136 in relation to the dollar, and the dollar also lost ground against the Malaysian ringgit and the Thai baht. The yen moved up rather sharply from 93.02 to 92.20. In a broad sense, the strength of the Asian currencies is attributable to the relatively robust turnaround of their economies in the post-recession period. In contrast, the recovery in the United States has been tepid as well as uneven. The currency markets saw a mild rally in dollar when reasonably positive employment data emerged during the first week of December. However, the unexpectedly large unemployment figures released at the end of the month accentuated the depreciation of the dollar. It is no surprise that economic news from the U.S. continue to have such a major influence on other currencies even after the global crisis. All talk of replacing the dollar as the world's reserve currency has proved to be premature and the American currency retains it pre-eminent position in international trade and currency dealing rooms.
In India, the recent gains by the rupee are attributed to a spurt in foreign institutional investment (FII). During 2009, FII flows were estimated at around $17.5 billion. The volume, below the peak in 2007, is high enough to signal a revival of interest in India. There is every likelihood that these flows will swell or at least be sustained as long as returns from India are seen to be higher than in the developed world. A recent statement by the U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman ruling out monetary tightening for now is positive news for stock markets: cheap dollar funds will continue to be available for investment abroad. The Reserve Bank of India has not intervened so far probably because a continuous mop up of dollars will mean a large accretion to reserves. Also, domestic liquidity that is already high will increase manifold, fuelling inflation expectations. The strong rupee hurts exports, now recovering after a long period of decline. The forthcoming monetary policy statement will make clear how the balance is to be struck among the conflicting objectives.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
CHOICES BEFORE THE AFGHAN CONFERENCE
ACCORDING TO GORDON BROWN, THE AIM OF THE INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE IN LONDON ON JANUARY 28 WOULD BE TO DELIVER "A NEW COMPACT BETWEEN AFGHANISTAN AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY."
An international conference in London on January 28 will focus on the eight-year-old war in Afghanistan. Some 70 delegations, including from India, may attend the conference, co-chaired by the Secretaries-General of the United Nations and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. The challenge is daunting as the Afghan war is no more redeemable.
An international conference is always an organic entity that evolves in its run-up, especially when an old warhorse like Britain happens to be the master of ceremonies. What began as an angry demand to rationalise the waywardness of the United States strategy in Afghanistan has transformed beyond recognition. Last September, the German contingents in the Amu Darya region perpetrated a horrific war crime by ordering a NATO airstrike on an impromptu gathering of poor Afghans helping themselves to free fuel from a tanker stuck in a bend in the Kunduz river. The German psyche chaffed, having vowed never again to commit war crimes. Reacting to a public outcry on the eve of a tricky national election, Chancellor Angela Merkel demanded that the international community draw a clear timeline to "Afghanise" the war so that Berlin could contemplate an exit strategy.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy came to Ms Merkel's rescue and they addressed the U.N. to hold an international conference to set a timeline for the Afghan government to assume the responsibility of the war. It fleetingly seemed as if the tipping point had been reached. Britain promptly appeared on European mainland. Empathising with the German-French demand, it offered to host the conference. Washington seemed disinterested but observers could anticipate that the London conference would be an Anglo-American enterprise.
These footfalls must echo in the memory in order to put the conference in perspective. To be sure, Britain will host a gala event "all 43 powers engaged in the international coalition will attend, together with other regional and Muslim partners and international organisations." Prime Minister Gordon Brown justified that it was "right" for Afghanistan's regional neighbours (such as India) to attend, since "it is very important to recognise that in the longer term, Afghanistan's future is dependent on both non-interference by its immediate neighbours and economic and cultural cooperation between Afghanistan and its neighbours."
Mr. Brown said the aim of the conference would be to deliver "a new compact between Afghanistan and the international community." He underscored that "the first of those priorities is security," which meant expectations that countries like Germany might actually announce "troop deployments building on the total of 1,40,000 troops promised for 2010." Yes, incredible as it sounds, Ms Merkel might actually end up pledging more deployments on top of the 4,500 troops already serving in northern Afghanistan. The German press is reporting about parleys among Berlin politicians to arrive at a consensus figure.
Indeed, U.S. Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama have introduced a new subplot to Clausewitzean wars you raise troop level and rev up the war and thereafter decide when to freeze it and on what terms ("the status of forces agreement," as in Iraq). Mr. Brown said: "I hope the London conference will also be able to set out the next stage in a longer-term plan: the changing balance between [NATO] alliance forces and the Afghan army and defence forces as the number of Afghan forces increases from 90,000 to 1,35,000 next year and possibly to 1,75,000 later." He touched, en passant, on the core issue of "Afghanisation" which, in his view, would form only the second priority setting out an "outline programme for the transfer of the lead responsibility" to the Afghan forces, which he hoped could begin during 2010.
British diplomacy is famous for its tenacity. Mr. Brown said: "London must also encourage a new set of relationships between Afghanistan and its neighbours and, in particular, better joint working with Pakistan." Thus is born a brand new key theme of the conference Britain will actively work on the setting up of a "regional stabilisation council." After all, as an erstwhile imperial power, that is the least Britain can do for regional stability. The energetic Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, is already trudging the long and lonely diplomatic mill towards the proposed regional council.
Meanwhile, the genie is out of the bottle: Mr. Obama's December 1 strategy never intended to focus on a U.S. withdrawal plan. The plain-speaking U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke said on December 7 that Mr. Obama's mind was being widely misinterpreted, in particular the mid-2011 date in his strategy speech six weeks ago. "It's not a withdrawal, but the start of a responsible transition in which American combat troops will begin to draw down," said Mr. Holbrooke, adding another review by Mr. Obama would look at the issue again in December.
Mr. Holbrooke was shepherding an attentive gathering of American think-tankers to think straight instead of meandering into silly notions of a U.S. troop withdrawal. He underlined that the U.S. had more important issues to worry about such as promoting reconciliation between the Afghan government and the "relatively moderate" Taliban elements. Mr. Holbrooke, who is in Islamabad for consultations with the Pakistani civilian and military leadership, says the reconciliation process with the Taliban is "high on our personal priority list." Indeed, he already has an able and highly experienced deputy positioned in Islamabad to assist him Ambassador Robin Raphel, who as Assistant Secretary of State in the Bill Clinton administration was exceptionally well regarded by the Taliban leadership in Kandahar.
In essence, the idea of the "good Taliban" refuses to go away. Mr. Holbrooke explained: "They [Taliban] fight for various reasons; they are misled about our presence there. They have a sense of injustice or personal grievances. Or they fight because it's part of the Afghan tradition that you fight outsiders and they have the NATO/U.S. presence conflated with earlier historical events, some of which [read Soviet intervention] are not too far in the past." Therefore, the U.S. strategy's priority in 2010 will be to win over the "non-ideological militants" and entice them to quit the fight and instead help the U.S. forces turn the tide of the war. "It's absolutely imperative that we deal with this issue. If we don't deal with it, success will elude us."
Some other templates have also appeared before the London conference. Washington has resumed its covert war of attrition against Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The U.S. has realised that it does not squander much smart power to persuade the inexperienced Afghan parliamentarians to reject those of Mr. Karzai's Cabinet nominees in Kabul who are not Washington's blue-eyed boys and thereby cast the President in the bazaar as a weak leader as well as debilitate him by breaking up his pan-Afghan coalition of supporters. Washington wants the decks cleared for a "regime change" in Afghanistan as soon as the co-option of the Taliban on its terms is completed.
Conceivably, Mr. Obama cannot be a "hands-on" President as regards such political skulduggery in Kabul, but the stench of the eddy is bound to strike his nostrils some day. Mr. Karzai defiantly said last week: "With the international community, I don't need to have their favour The international community, especially the West, they must respect Afghanistan and its government, and understand that we are a people, we are a country, we have a history, we have interests, we have pride, we have dignity. Our poverty must not become a means of ridicule and insult to us We're not going to ask [the London conference] for more cash. We are going to ask the international community to end night-time raids on Afghan homes. We are going to ask them to stop arresting Afghans. We are going to ask them to reduce and eliminate civilian casualties the war on terror is not in Afghan villages. It's not in the pursuit of every man that's wearing a turban and has a beard."
Mr. Karzai has reason to be indignant. He just received the report of the Afghan investigation team which looked into the massacre of civilians in two recent U.S. military operations. A statement on Mr. Karzai's website said: "The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village in Narang district of the eastern province of Kunar and took ten people from three homes, eight of them schoolchildren in grades six, nine and ten, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead." Mr. Karzai's call to the U.S. to hand over the killers has fallen on deaf ears.
The non-NATO participants at the London conference such as India will face a tough call as to how far it is in their interest to identify with the patently unilateralist Anglo-American agenda. The bottom line will always be that India should never consider deploying troops in Afghanistan. Fortunately, the U.S. will never disregard Pakistani sensitivities and invite New Delhi, either.
(The writer is a former diplomat.)
FROM ELUSIVE CURE TO ENABLING COMFORT
WE MUST CONSIDER QUALITY OF LIFE AND WELLNESS AS TREATMENT OUTCOMES AND ASK OURSELVES WHETHER THE TREATMENT WE OPT FOR WILL HELP US ACHIEVE THESE OUTCOMES.
ENNAPADAM S. KRISHNAMOORTHY
Quality of life is a relatively novel concept that dominates both medical science and health policy today and is widely accepted as the best indicator of outcome of treatment. The focus among practitioners of modern medicine, and indeed, in social consciousness, however, remains firmly on the elusive concept of "cure." The adage among medical practitioners of yore: "to cure sometimes, control often; but comfort always," hints at the importance of l ife quality, one that is forgotten, however, in the quest for miracle cures.
That the majority of chronic conditions defy cure is something doctors know, but often choose to be agnostic of. Thus apart from infections, inflammations, metabolic disturbances and transient visitations of their ilk, that respond well to drugs designed to terminate them; and indeed abnormalities of structure (organs that have lost structural integrity) that are amenable to surgical intervention, the vast majority of medical conditions while potentially controllable, are not curable. Diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, ischaemic heart disease, stroke, epilepsy, dementia and a host of other conditions while "treatable" and/or "modifiable" (relief from clinical symptoms and attendant complications) are not "curable." The promise of a "cure" for many chronic diseases thus remains wishful; that rainbow with its elusive pot of gold, at the end of the dark, illness cloud.
There is no doubt we are living longer as a society, and this longevity is attributable, in great part, to advances in modern medicine; cardiac bypass procedures, joint replacements, organ transplants and such like. There is ample evidence to support our collective social longevity, the average Indian lifespan having increased by over a third, since the time of independence, the increase being greater in "advanced" societies like Japan. However, whether such longevity leads automatically to enhanced quality of life remains a conjecture. For example, the follow-up data after a cardiac bypass surgery, arguably the best known lifespan enhancing procedure, shows in many studies high rates of depression and cognitive dysfunction (memory and higher order brain function problems) 5-10 years after the procedure. It would be fallacious to blame the bypass procedure for these complications in the brain and mind; after all, had the person with ischaemic heart disease lived long enough, without the procedure, he might have developed these anyway. However, in evaluating the overall "success" of such procedures or advocating their widespread application through policy implementation, these factors must be considered carefully. In this instance, the question that begs our attention is: "while the procedure enhances lifespan, does it enhance the quality of life?" And if it does not for a select group, who constitutes the group? Why not for it? When does it enhance the quality of life, and when doesn't it? What determines the outcome in a given individual? Where and how is this outcome determined? These questions need clear answers and we do not always have them.
It is striking how both modern medicine and society are obsessed with the concept of "cure," the quest for magic pills (or, indeed, magic procedures) that will help achieve the longevity goal, being never ending. The energy, enterprise and expense invested in this quest, by affected individuals, their families, and governments are, unfortunately, not always rewarded with a good quality of life after the procedure. Our obsession with "cure" probably comes from two very different directions. The first is idealistic; the tantalising possibility that we will, through advancements in science and technology, "fix" the vast majority of problems concerning the human body. When mankind has learnt to fly, build tunnels through mountains and under the sea, and transport itself into space at will, this aspiration of curing chronic diseases and enhancing longevity does not really seem that distant a frontier.
The second, however, probably has more sinister origins that merit careful consideration. The business of curative medicine is enormously lucrative and demands the constant creation of markets that will utilise the goods and services it develops. What could interest the human race more than the possibility of a cure for illness and life-enhancement (with or without quality)? A degree of scepticism of novel, potentially curative treatments is, therefore, warranted in the modern social context, and we must examine carefully whether the promise of "a magic cure" for any chronic condition guarantees alongside an improvement in the quality of life. Thus, while we share a collective belief that people not only live longer due to advances in medical science but also live well, the presumption of a better quality of life, is sadly, in many instances, just that a presumption!
Scientifically viewed, the proof that many modern medical treatments enhance the life quality remains tenuous, to say the least. At a recent lecture in VHS, Chennai, Shah Ebrahim, Professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Chair of the South Asian Chronic Diseases Network, a renowned international expert on chronic disease epidemiology, rued our societal predilection for magic bullets (The Hindu, January 9, 2010). Talking about the "polypill" a combination of aspirin (blood thinner), a Statin (to lower cholesterol levels), and antihypertensive agents (to lower blood pressure) that is intended to enhance cardiovascular health, he pointed out that simple health promotion measures such as changing over to rock salt from processed salt (high in sodium) and using soya oil as opposed to palm oil (which strangely attracts a lower tax probably due to anomalies in trade policy) were just as likely to improve cardiovascular health. These are far cheaper for governments to implement, and relevant to developing nations.
Prescribing the widespread use of the polypill for the middle-aged, as opposed to implementing these simple public health interventions through changes in policy, both health and trade, will be deleterious in many ways, he opined. It will be costly to the nation and poorly sustainable, will have low penetration in society and perhaps, most importantly, take away the responsibility for our health from us, placing it firmly in the hands of the pharmaceutical industry. Further, the former approach, of making people assume responsibility for their lifestyle and diet, alongside the implementation of a complementary government lead policy, is far more likely to enhance other desirable health behaviours in society and, indeed, global health outcomes.
Why do we then as a society look to the "polypill" with such enthusiasm or consider it with such seriousness? The answer probably lies in our preference for "cure" as opposed to comfort and life quality. Happily for us, improved quality of life and "wellness," a concept that has traditionally dominated eastern thought and traditional medical systems, is today receiving much global attention. Wellness encompasses both physical and mental well-being, the latter being a dynamic state of optimal functioning referring to the individual's ability to develop his or her potential, work productively, build strong and positive relationships with others and contribute to the community. We must recognise that the prevention and management of diabetes extend far beyond the popular notion of blood sugar control; that cardiac health cannot be achieved merely by unblocking blood vessels and enhancing circulation through a stent or bypass; and indeed that the drugs for dementia available today do not even guarantee slowing of disease progression, let alone cure or reversal.
Given this scenario, we as a nation and society must consider quality of life and wellness as treatment outcomes, quite seriously, and ask ourselves whether the treatments we are considering, however technologically advanced and seductive, will likely help us achieve these outcomes. We would also do well to examine closely the role of traditional and indigenous medical systems that have for centuries retained this focus on wellness and life quality through health promotion, prevention of illness, care and comfort for those affected with chronic illness; not merely curative treatments.
(Dr. Ennapadam S. Krishnamoorthy is Honorary Secretary, Voluntary Health Services Hospital, Chennai. The views expressed herein are his own.)
LOOKING PAST THE FACADE OF ROSARNO AFTER RIOTS
IN A BROAD SENSE, THE WORST IMMIGRANT RIOTING EVER SEEN IN ITALY CUTS TO THE HEART OF THE NATION'S DIFFICULT EVOLUTION FROM A PLACE OF EMIGRANTS TO ONE OF IMMIGRANTS.
The official figures show there are 1,600 agricultural workers in Rosarno, Italy, all but 36 of them Italians. The reality, exposed by the raw and violent riots last week, was far different: some 1,200 foreigners, most of them Africans, earned about $30 a day under the table picking oranges and clementines. Now that the town is largely cleared of foreign labour, the fruit remains on the trees. In other places, $30 is not a living wage. But this is one of the poorest parts of Italy, and many local people do not earn much more, even if most will not pick fruit.
In a broad sense, the worst immigrant rioting ever seen in Italy shocking not only because of the anger of migrants but also for the attacks on them by townspeople cuts to the heart of the nation's difficult evolution from a place of emigrants to one of immigrants.
But it is also a story fixed to Rosarno. The economy is so weak here that locals and immigrants are competitors. In a town where people are reluctant to reveal their last names and often their first, a mysterious element complicates any full understanding of the riots: the ongoing strength of the Calabrian Mafia, or `Ndrangheta, which has deep roots in agriculture. The son of a local organised crime boss was arrested and accused of wounding a policeman in the riots, suggesting that the mafia may have orchestrated the locals' response to the immigrants' violence.
"It's a very, very complicated situation," said Francesco Campolo, a police prefect who is one of three interim commissioners appointed by the region to govern Rosarno since the arrest last year of the mayor, who was charged with having organised crime ties. This week, the absence of immigrants, 1,200 of whom were whisked by bus and train to detention centres over the weekend, was clear. On Tuesday, fire-fighters demolished a former factory that served as seasonal housing for many migrants.
Authorities are investigating these central questions: How did the protests become so violent? Who, if anyone, orchestrated the citizens' retaliation? And who benefits from the immigrants' temporary or perhaps permanent disappearance from the area? Alberto Cisterna, who oversees Calabria at Italy's National Anti-Mafia Commission in Rome, called Rosarno the Corleone of Calabria, where clans of the `Ndrangheta exert "extraordinary control."
Official estimates indicate that the `Ndrangheta did 44 billion, or more than $60 billion, in 2008, in international drug and arms trafficking, public works fraud, usury and prostitution. Many authorities say that in a town where the `Ndrangheta is strong, the presence of the immigrant workers must have been welcome or, at least, convenient. They note that agriculture is not profitable if transportation and labour costs are high and producers pay about 75 cents for a carton of fruit. In any case, most agricultural outfits may have Italians on the rolls but they pay migrant workers under the table to harvest the fruit if it is harvested. For years, state authorities have not cracked down on the arrangement.
Calabria, like other southern Italian regions rich in agriculture, has long benefited from hefty European Union agricultural subsidies. To prevent fraud in which small acreage yielded puzzlingly large harvests, in 2007 the EU changed its rules to base subsidies on the number of hectares planted rather than the tonnes produced.
The result, some authorities hypothesise, is that it may be more lucrative for some Calabrian landowners to let their harvests rot on the tree and collect the subsidies than to pay pickers. In theory, the migrants may have become less useful and, possibly, less tolerated. Still, over nearly two decades, their presence had become part of the fabric of Rosarno.
This week some local shops were hurting for the migrants' business. "Before Christmas, I baked a whole batch of sandwich rolls just for them," said Letizia Condulucci as she worked the counter at her family's bakery.
Like many Rosarno residents, she defended what the townspeople had done over the years to help the migrant workers and was outraged that they had wounded residents. "Ninety-nine percent of us helped them," she said. And in the riots, she said, "they destroyed the town." On Monday evening, Rosarno residents held a peaceful protest, marching through the city's flat concrete grid with a sign that read: "Abandoned by the state, criminalized by the media. Twenty years of cohabitation isn't racism."
But conversations with residents revealed a more complex reality. Many used an oft-heard phrase in Italy: "We're not racist, but ..." Ultimately, they tended to say that maybe things were better without the immigrants, since it was hard enough for the Italians to make a living.
The city commissioners say the riots were fuelled by wild rumours on both sides. The immigrants had heard that local residents killed an immigrant, while local residents had heard that immigrants had wounded a pregnant woman badly. Both rumours were false, the commissioners say.
Still, the violence was dramatic. After immigrants struck residents and shops with sticks and burned and smashed cars, residents began responding with violence. By late Saturday night, most immigrants feared for their safety and voluntarily boarded buses and trains that took them to immigrant detention centres, Rosarno authorities said.
Those with residency permits, which Doctors Without Borders says could be as many as half, were free to leave. Alessandra Tramontano, the director of Doctors Without Borders' seasonal workers programme in Italy, said the group was "worried" about where the immigrants would go and "how they will manage the winter."
Meanwhile, early Tuesday morning, a special team of Italian fire-fighters was using demolition equipment to take down the factory where many had been squatting in conditions widely denounced as inhumane. Campolo, one of Rosarno's commissioners, said that even before the riots, the city had received state money to remove the immigrant encampment, which sits next to a middle school, and build a playground and sports fields. It also plans to build a meeting centre, with some health care facilities and dormitories, for the migrant workers. Campolo said the city planned to go ahead with the project. "Of course," he said, "for the immigrants, when they come back."
(Gaia Pianigiani contributed reporting from Rome.) © 2010 The New York Times News Service
EARTHQUAKE ADDS TO WOES OF A BENIGHTED COUNTRY
The earthquake that has hit Haiti, raising fears that thousands have been killed, is the latest in a long line of natural disasters to befall a country ill-equipped to deal with such events.
Hurricanes and flooding are perennial concerns for the poorest country in the western hemisphere, which has time and again been dependent on foreign aid in emergencies. In 1963 hurricane Flora, the sixth deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history, devast ated the island. The U.S. weather bureau estimated the death toll at 5,000 and the cost of damage to property and crops at between $125m and $180m.
The country was struck by two disasters in 2004. In May, heavy rains caused flooding that killed more than 2,000 people. Four months later, mudslides and flooding caused by hurricane Jeanne, the 12th deadliest Atlantic hurricane, killed more than 3,000 people, mostly in the town of Gonaives.
Tragedy struck again in 2008 when four storms tropical storm Fay, hurricane Gustav, hurricane Hanna and hurricane Ike dumped heavy rains on the country. Around 1,000 people died and 800,000 were left homeless. The number of people affected by the storms was put at 800,000 almost 10 per cent of the population with the damage estimated at $1bn.
Deforestation that allows rainwater to wash down mountain slopes is believed to have exacerbated many of the natural disasters in Haiti. Two-thirds of Haitians live off the land and the same proportion on less than $2 a day, so the impact of such tragedies has been long lasting. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
IRAQ HAS POISONED OUR FAITH IN POLITICS
THE IRAQ POISON WILL REMAIN IN THE BRITISH BODY POLITIC UNTIL WE HAVE A TRUE RECKONING.
So now we know Tony Blair's former director of communications Alastair Campbell's loyalty to his former boss has limits. "If he'd asked me to jump off a building, I wouldn't," he told the Chilcot Iraq war inquiry in London on Tuesday. But even if he draws the line at suicide on command, Mr. Campbell showed he remains utterly faithful to his former master. Asked if he had any regrets about the war in which he served not merely as PR man b ut as principal adviser, he struggled to think of any.
He stood by "every single word" of the notorious September 2002 dossier, which declared "beyond doubt" that Saddam Hussein was building a terrifying arsenal of weapons of mass destruction even though it turned out those WMDs did not exist. When he considered the enormous loss of life the invasion of Iraq had entailed, did he still believe it had been a success? "I do," he said, adding that far from feeling any shame for his role in the greatest foreign policy calamity since Munich, he felt "very proud of the part" he had been allowed to play. Britain too should feel proud of what it had done ridding Iraq of a ghastly dictatorship and stop "beating ourselves up" over it.
So Mr. Campbell established himself as the last of the true believers, still clinging to the talking points he scripted back in the first years of the last decade, even as earlier witnesses to the Chilcot inquiry have steadily sought to distance themselves from the Iraq debacle. He gave not an inch to the fainthearts who believe that going to war to disarm a nation that had already disarmed was a catastrophic error.
Still, despite himself, he let something slip. He admitted that Tony Blair had written to George W. Bush in early 2002, declaring that come what may, Saddam Hussein would be stripped of his WMDs. Ideally that would be done by diplomatic means but, if push came to shove and military action were required, "Britain will be there." That directly contradicted what Mr. Blair, Mr. Campbell and all the others said at the time, as they regularly told parliament, press and the people that "no decision has been taken." Now we have (yet more) confirmation that a decision had very much been taken that if diplomacy failed, Britain was sworn to go to war.
Will anyone care? The five members of the inquiry team will. Their body language suggested an impatience with the alternative reality sketched by Mr. Campbell, in which he simultaneously "bombarded" the intelligence chiefs with instructions to rewrite their dossier yet insisted that they could not have felt a scintilla of even subconscious pressure to beef up their assessment of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein.
Beyond the Chilcot panellists, who but scholars and anoraks will really be bothered by what Mr. Campbell and Mr. Blair decided and when? Hasn't the Iraq war, now that the bulk of British troops have withdrawn, passed out of contemporary politics and into the realm of history?
The answer is: not quite. For the Iraq episode continues to cast a long shadow over our public life. It haunts domestic politics in the present and sets limits for what will be possible in the future.
Take one immediate consequence. Even if Labour is not ejected from power until this coming northern spring, the observers of the future will surely conclude that it was the Iraq war that broke the bond of trust between this government and the nation. True, Labour won the election of 2005, but it did so with a meagre 35.3 per cent of the vote in a verdict that was more about the unelectability of their Tory opponents than enthusiasm for Labour.
The damage extends far beyond one party. It was the widespread belief that Britons had been led falsely to war that planted the seeds of distrust which grew to full bloom in the MPs' expenses affair. After Iraq, voters believe the very worst about their politicians. There is no graver responsibility than sending men and women to face enemy fire: if our leaders can lie about that, they can surely lie about anything.
That, in turn, has fed a disenchantment with democratic politics itself. A refrain chanted with depressing regularity is: "If they can ignore two million people on the streets against the Iraq war then what's the point in ever protesting?"
There is a flaw in that logic: democracy does not mean rule by demo, in which policy is determined according to crowd size. But faith in the power of citizens to affect events was badly dented by the experience of February 15, 2003. The effect has been reinforced by the aftermath of the financial crisis. There is perhaps no one in the country not even the parents of the RBS boss, he said who can defend the multimillion-payouts to bankers. And yet it carries on, the shower of bonuses falling like fat drops of rain this very week. No one seems able to stop it, just as no one was able to stop that war. The result is a pervasive and corrosive sense of powerlessness.
All this is compounded by the fact that, in the Iraq case, none of the consequences one might legitimately have expected has materialised. If there had been even a modicum of accountability, one would expect the guilty men those who led us to disaster, whether through good faith, incompetence or deception to have paid a price. They would be consigned to the margins, shamed into a kind of exile.
So where are the guilty men of Iraq? A permatanned Tony Blair travels the world by private jet, trousering multiple salaries to pay the £40,000 a month he needs to feed the mortgages on his four homes in Britain. The Foreign Secretary of the time, Jack Straw, still has his seat at the cabinet table. Geoff Hoon, the Defence Secretary of that era, is alive and well and plotting in curry houses.
What of those who were right about Iraq? The one-time Foreign Secretary Robin Cook is dead and one-time international development secretary Clare Short is one of the political undead, severed from her party and cast into outer darkness. There is something unsettling about this fate, in which those who took us into a needless, bloody war flourish while those who opposed it remain as unheeded as ever.
More is at stake here than a few careers. The Iraq episode has poisoned public support for any and all military action, including the wars we are still fighting. Hardening public opposition to the Afghan mission is not solely about the loss of life: it is about the loss of faith. After Iraq, whenever we hear our leaders telling us force is necessary, we start counting the spoons.
This will matter, if not for this government then for the next one. Let's say a new administration concludes that Iran really is developing a nuclear arsenal, and that its regime genuinely poses a danger to the world's most unstable region. Who would believe David Cameron (the likely winner of the forthcoming U.K. elections) when he began talking about "intelligence assessments" and "credible threats?" Not only has Iraq killed off the 1990s notion of liberal intervention; it may have destroyed for a generation Britons' willingness to use force anywhere.
The Iraq poison will remain in the body politic until we have a true reckoning with that episode. The gentleness of most of the Chilcot inquiry's questioning its reluctance to forensically nail witnesses down to specific answers suggests that it will not provide that reckoning. But we need it. Until we get it, our system will remain hobbled and haunted by an event that refuses to be laid to rest. © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
DRAGON VS GOOGLE
Internet giant Google declaring its intent to discuss with the Chinese government the need for unfettered functioning of its search engine inside China 'within law' sets up a veritable clash between the communist leviathan and a capitalist behemoth.
A clash of civlisations, or of culture if you will, in the real world of market economy. Google is raising fundamental issues of basic freedoms and it is implying that it is willing to sacrifice business interests if the need arises.
The Chinese government response is not yet out. It could as well take an interesting turn with both sides willing to do business at the end of it all through cloak-and-dagger negotiations. Google has made the first move.
Meanwhile, the debate will rage as to the issues that are at stake, and it might seem that it is the good old battle between
tyranny and liberty, between good and evil.
It might be necessary to consider some of the basic facts of the story so far. Most Western business and industrial giants have only been too willing to make the necessary compromises to enter the Dragon because of the huge market potential waiting to be tapped.
Is it a case of Google responding to its liberal conscience even if it has woken up a little late? Or, is it that the business plans have not turned out to be what they promised to be, and the issue of freedom is a convenient fig leaf? Is the US government using Google to fight its own war of dominance?
It is a known fact that in the uncertain economic climate of the day, the US and China are literally battling each other on many fronts. The story needs to be explored and dissected because the tussle is not what it appears to be.
It is a testing time for the Chinese as well. Their variant of market socialism with its totalitarian political set up has worked well for three decades now.
The Americans and Europeans have continuously grumbled about human rights violations behind the Bamboo Curtain, but no one seriously considered the option of boycotting China, not even in the post-Tiananmen phase of 1989.
It is possible that the Chinese cannot hope to have their way any longer and they may have to bend quite a bit to keep things in place. The two sides are trying to push each other as far as possible without reaching the breaking point. At the moment this is a war of nerves worth watching.
NO FLYING HIGH
Looking at the news in recent times, readers or viewers would be forgiven for thinking that aeroplanes in India are fast replacing bars as the next entertainment hotspots.
If inebriated passengers are not misbehaving with cabin crew, then pilots are arriving to work three sheets to the wind. This is apparently as common on domestic flights where the "consumption of alcohol" is no longer tolerated as it is on international flights, where alcohol is a way of life for some.
When aviation opened up in India, alcohol flowed freely literally and ultimately the taps were shut off because of public behaviour. The problem was that people could not seem to appreciate the difference between savouring a couple of drinks on a one-hour flight and aiming to drink the whole bottle in half an hour because it was free.
At the time, the most common explanation was that this was the natural expression of a repressed society. In some parts of India, bars are also called "permit rooms" and suddenly alcohol on planes was not just permissible, it was also free!
However, somewhere there is also the feeling that at times, as a society, we are unable to exercise moderation or follow a "middle path". And this can lead to extreme behaviour, which in turn leads to extreme government reactions which in turn leads to extreme counter reactions.
The idea that drinking must lead getting completely blind drunk is usually an adolescent's view of life. As people get older, they often find that a drink is to be savoured and the buzz that it brings to be enjoyed.
But when people see alcohol as a licence to misbehave, it only results in anger, revulsion and the somewhat unfortunate consequence of moderate drinkers finding their pleasures being cut off.
Of course, "getting high" in the casual usage has nothing to do with being several miles up in the air in a metal flying device. Pilots who report for work drunk can be allowed no excuses.
The dangers are too obvious to be listed. For cabin crew, too, drinking on the job is a no-no. But when it comes to passengers who are "under the influence", a more nuanced approach has to be worked out.
Marshals maybe an extreme step, but cabin crew could be given more powers to subdue badly behaved passengers. Doctors on flights might not be a bad idea either. If nothing else, cold water usually acts as a good dampener and a very uncomfortable flight could be adequate punishment.
FOR A FRIENDLY NEIGHBOUR
New Delhi rolled out the red carpet to welcome Bangladesh's prime minister Sheikh Hasina as its first State guest of this decade.
Overcoming formidable hurdles, Sheikh Hasina's Awami League swept to a decisive electoral victory in December 2008, winning 230 seats and securing a two-thirds parliamentary majority.
Ever since she was sworn in, Sheikh Hasina has not only faced challenges from rightwing parties including the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) of Khaleda Zia, but also the Pakistani-Saudi assisted fundamentalists of the Jamat e Islami (JeI).
The greatest challenge that Sheikh Hasina overcame in her first year was the mutiny by the paramilitary Bangladesh Rifles, which erupted on February 25, 2009.
The mutineers killed their chief, major general Shakil Ahmed and his wife and dozens of others.Sheikh Hasina acted deftly in getting a large number of the mutineers to surrender and then permitted the army to crack down using tanks and heavy weapons.
India reacted decisively to the mutiny. It sealed its borders with Bangladesh and forced back mutineers,
attempting to cross over.
Sheikh Hasina reciprocated India's assistance, by acting to force the surrender of ULFA leader Arabindo Rajkhowa, its deputy military commander Raju Barua and others operating from safe havens in Bangladesh.
It has been made clear to North-eastern separatist groups that they could not consider Bangladesh a safe haven.She has also cracked down on terrorist groups like the Jamat ul Mujahideen and the Lashkar-e-Taiba and acted to pre-empt cross border attacks on India and on the Indian High Commission in Dhaka.
One of the major irritants in relations with Bangladesh has been unresolved differences on demarcating the border. Under the 1974 Indira-Mujib agreement, India is required to return around 111 enclaves to Bangladesh and in return gets 51 enclaves from Bangladesh.
It took us 18 years to lease a small corridor of land near Tin Bigha to Bangladesh, which we were required to do, under the 1974 agreement. Barely 6.5 km out of the 4096 km land border remain undemarcated. Sheikh Hasina secured agreement in New Delhi to move to expeditiously resolve these differences.
A political consensus needs to be built in West Bengal, to resolve the remaining issues of "adverse possessions" and enclaves, which have bedevilled relations through the past four decades.
The most crucial issue for India is "connectivity," which would involve developing road, rail and river communications facilities in Bangladesh, for promoting access to our landlocked north-eastern states.
By expressing extending a Line of Credit of $1 billion for infrastructural development, India has cleared the way for its involvement in the development of road and rail communications linking our landlocked north-eastern states with the rest of the country.
India can now invest in the development of the Chittagong and Mongla ports, whose facilities would be useful, in return for providing access for goods from Nepal and Bhutan to these ports.
It has been agreed that India would provide assistance for the Akhaura-Agartala rail link and undertake actions to meet Bangladesh's immediate energy requirements, by sale of 250 MW of electrical power.
Bangladesh presently faces a shortage of around 1800 MW of power and there are indications that in course of time it would need around 1000 MW of power from India. It is, however, important that these agreements are implemented expeditiously.
Two highly emotive issues in Bangladesh the sharing of the waters of the River Teesta and the construction by India of the Tipaimukh Dam across the Barak River in Assam have been addressed during Hasina's visit.
The sharing of the Teesta River could be addressed as Bangladesh had earlier agreed to "Joint Hydrological Observations," by both countries, so that future actions are taken on the basis of realities and not unfounded fears.
Considerable effort will be needed to convince public opinion in Bangladesh that their fears that the Tipaimukh dam would promote scarcity, silting and floods in the country, are ill founded and politically motivated.
Sections of the Bangladesh army and its intelligence apparatus have been traditionally anti-Indian and supportive of the BNP and JeI. There appears to have been some change in this mindset in the aftermath of the BDR mutiny.
New Delhi should strengthen military ties with Bangladesh and facilitate greater participation of the Bangladesh military in international peace keeping, to discourage Bonapartist ambitions.
The political mood in Bangladesh can be volatile and one could well see a return to the earlier era of supporting terrorist and separatist elements which are anti-Indian, if Sheikh Hasina falters and cannot fulfil the growing aspirations of her people.
The writer is a former Indian high commissioner to Pakistan
HISTORY THROUGH THE LIVES OF OTHERS
Smog hung listlessly over the Arabian Sea, enveloping Marine Drive like a semi-transparent shroud through which the buildings perched on this gently curving stretch of reclaimed land resembled ghost-like apparitions.
Time seemed to stand still as I looked out of the half-open, huge windows of Mahendra Doshi's cavernous workshop in Walkeshwar. Set far back from the busy road and with nothing but the sea at the other end, barely a sound filtered through.
We could have been in another century, I thought, as I looked round the three-tiered workshop where old furniture and objects of daily life of times long past were being restored by a score of craftsmen, silently going about their way bringing back to life vestiges of the past.
I had dropped in on my friend Chiki Doshi he works with his uncle Mahendra to see the restored colonial and art deco furniture as well as traditional Indian chests and carved furniture that will be exhibited later this month at the Ananda Coomaraswamy Hall at the Prince of Wales Museum.
Titled, Something old, Something new, the exhibition will include the authentically old as well as the authentically new: reproductions for those with tinier budgets.
Undoubtedly, the immaculately restored old furniture of the Raj is fascinating, even quirky: from a whimsical Victorian chaise lounge for women, art deco chairs, an 8-feet high rosewood writing bureau (apparently many European men of letters chose to stand and write) to a foldable brass chaise lounge with wheels and a compact art deco bathroom also foldable the last two form part of the British campaign furniture for soldiers on the move.
But what stopped me dead in my tracks were the objects of quotidian life that still had a whiff of the past about them.
Fact-studded history books can tell you a great deal about how people lived in other times and places. But touching the clothes they wore or passing your fingers over what they used makes the past and lived lives more poignantly alive.
In Mahendra's benign cabinet of curiosities many objects have a story to tell. Some even had secrets that had long remained buried secrets that emerged gradually.
About two decades ago Mahendra, who is known for his unerring nose for sussing out rare artefacts, came across a large, wooden jewellery box. Objects of everyday life are his passion.
When he first saw it, the box resembled a stack of cards. Weeks of restoration revealed multiple chor khannas (secret drawers). Most of them have a spring and open when a button undetectable to the eye is pressed.
A carpenter found some silver and gold coins in one of the hidden drawers. For years the box with beautiful inlay work just lay there, almost forgotten until six years ago while foraging through it Chiki came across a letter tucked into a drawer that had remained hidden till then.
It is a letter from a Parsi gentleman to his mistress written in the late 19th century. Explains Chiki: "He writes to tell her that he would be reaching Victoria Terminus at such and such hour and will take a tonga to the Astoria, where she should meet him."
This letter was written a month before the planned assignation in this hotel near Churchgate.I kept staring at the lovely box until I could almost visualise the clandestine rendezvous, like a sequence out of a period film: the lady would probably have taken a tram to the Astoria and her lover would have commandeered a Victoria to take him there.
Museums displaying the objects of everyday lie are not uncommon in Europe: Paris even has a Musee de la vie Romantique. It's time we had some of them here.
Mahendra's workshop is a veritable Ali Baba's cave of treasures, with bits and pieces that silently tell their stories; many even inform us about relationships between people of different backgrounds.
The writer is a Delhi-based journalist
LIGHT AND DARK
The eclipse of the Sun has traditionally been viewed with dread over the ages, as the great giver of life seems inexplicably to disappear from the sky.
Birds prepare for bed; the sky darkens in the middle of the day. It seems as though something dreadful is about to happen. Over the years, experience has shown us that old things come to an end under a solar eclipse.
The effect of eclipses has been seen to be generally felt for some six months, until the next eclipse then restructures the cosmic energies.
Astrologically, solar eclipses signify the fall of the mighty. Depending where in the zodiac the eclipse occurs, stress is always placed on the matters governed by that sign of the zodiac. A powerful solar eclipse can create massive havoc, in accordance with other aspects in the heavens at the time.
At a more personal level, the solar eclipse can have a big effect on our lives when it occurs in conjunction with one of our natal planets, especially our natal Sun, Moon, or ruling planet.
Solar eclipses signify beginnings and manifest as events in the outer world. At solar eclipses we: begin something new, make promises to ourselves, feel pressured by deadlines and a buildup of emotions, experience a crisis and feel excited.
The first solar eclipse of 2010 is an annular eclipse of the Sun, at the New Moon in Capricorn on January 15th. This eclipse will be visible over a wide pathway, allowing millions in Africa, Europe and Asia to see it. It will therefore be of considerable significance, as the more visible the eclipse, the more powerful its effects.
A solar eclipse with a New Moon has tremendous impact. The Sun that gives us life is joined briefly with the dark and mysterious qualities of the Moon.
The Moon blocks the light of the Sun. In this moment of perceived darkness, spirituality and the psyche begin another cycle in the spiral of our personal development.
From various sources
TO CONTROL PRICES, FOCUS ON AGRICULTURE
Despite the fact that an unbridled price rise can push people to bring down a government, no matter what good work it might have done in other fields, the UPA leadership has learnt few lessons from the past and displayed insensitivity on such a sensitive issue. The Cabinet Committee on Prices on Wednesday decided on steps that the government should have taken long back, given repeated protests inside and outside Parliament. The public patience has been tested far too long. A weak monsoon and floods in certain areas did give advance signals that farm output would suffer this year. Yet the government did little to prepare itself for the inflation battle. Hoarders became active as states, barring a few, watched helplessly. Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar's thoughtless statements contributed to fears of shortages.
It does not require experts to tell the government to cool the prices by releasing more wheat and rice in the open market, facilitating the import of commodities in short supply, banning the export of scarce items and waiving or cutting taxes on food items. Yet the government has taken far too long to take these measures. The Prime Minister has called a meeting of chief ministers to press the need for checking hoarding. The hoarders, apparently protected by state politicians, can be driven out of business through greater imports. Sugar scarcity is the result of years of neglect of the grower, who has shifted to other more remunerative crops.
The food price rise would have been tolerable had farmers gained from the rising prices. After all, they too need relief as the cost of living is going up. But it is the middleman who is fattening at the expense of the consumer. In the long run the Centre and states will have to spend more on agriculture to raise farm productivity, improve irrigation, encourage research on genetically modified crops and facilitate the much awaited second Green Revolution if future food shortages are to be avoided.
CHARGE-SHEETS IN 25 YEARS
HOW MUCH LONGER FOR '84 JUSTICE?
Former MP Sajjan Kumar has been prosecuted in the 1984 riots cases earlier also. He was let off by the courts because very weak cases were mounted against him by the police. Now the CBI has chargesheeted him, full 25 years after the mass killings took place. If it takes a quarter century to reach that stage, one can well imagine how much longer it will take to bring the case to its logical conclusion. Even then, there is no guarantee that ends of justice will be met, because all this while, the tendency of powers that be to let off such criminals has been apparent. When the prosecution itself is more interested in helping a person than convicting him, one cannot be too optimistic. Yet, one hopes against hope that the CBI will do a professional job for once.
The nation's conscience was pricked by the way former Haryana DGP SPS Rathore merrily misused his authority to circumvent law for 19 years in the Ruchika suicide case. Something far more heinous happened in November of 1984 when thousands of innocent Sikhs were butchered in the wake of the murder of Indira Gandhi. Sajjan Kumar was a Congress councillor at that time. He later became MP from the Outer Delhi constituency in the 14th Lok Sabha.
Despite all the mud sticking to him, the Congress had chosen him to contest the 2009 Lok Sabha election as well. His name was withdrawn only because of a loud public outcry. Thanks to such attitude, many persons like Dharam Das Shastri and former union minister HKL Bhagat allegedly involved in the riots have died and many others still roam free. The Congress, which castigates the Narendra Modi government for being in league with perpetrators of Gujarat riots, must show its impartiality by effectively bringing to book all those involved in the 1984 riots, whatever position they might hold.
FAILING THE RURAL POOR
PUNJAB, HARYANA MUST IMPLEMENT NREGS BETTER
It is deeply regrettable that the implementation of the Centre's watershed National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS) meant to redress the problem of unemployment among the rural poor has been found wanting in Punjab. A recent study by the Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development (CRRID) bears out that the NREGS has been a flop not only in Punjab but also in Haryana. Both states would do well to learn a few lessons from Himachal Pradesh which has put the scheme to good use.
NREGS offers 100-day guaranteed employment to rural households. The scheme has not only ensured minimum employment and wages but for migrant labourers from Bihar it has also meant increased wages in Punjab. Besides, NREGS has led to women empowerment as a considerable number of women are employed under the scheme. Unfortunately, Punjab's track record has been unsatisfactory. Even Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal admitted that NREGA is not a success in Punjab. The funds under the scheme stand underutilised. The situation in Haryana too is dismal. The CAG report for 2007-2008 had faulted the Haryana government for the absence of proper planning mechanism in execution of the scheme. According to the CRRID study, corruption in implementation was reported. Earlier, The Tribune had highlighted that in Ambala poor families were not paid wages even after three months though it is mandatory under the scheme that they should be paid every fortnight.
Both state governments have to own up responsibility and see to the time-bound spending of funds on projects beneficial to the community. The Punjab government, instead of demanding that the scheme be dovetailed according to the state's needs, should ensure that the scheme reaches out to the much neglected rural poor whose numbers are not insignificant. Panchayats, which play a pivotal role in the scheme, need to be trained and offered all cooperation by the state government machinery. NREGS, which has the dual advantage of creating jobs for the rural poor as well as building rural infrastructure, cannot be allowed to be an empty promise because of the absence of political will.
INDIA AND NPT, CTBT
NEED FOR NON-PROLIFERATION CONSISTENCY
BY O. P. SABHERWAL
The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) are back on centre-stage. First, President Obama's renewed commitment to the NPT during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, and now the Japanese Prime Minister's quest for India to join the CTBT stare this country in the face. It becomes necessary for India to clarify its standpoint on the two nuclear treaties.
Widely held is the perception that the NPT, and even the CTBT, is a threat to this country's de facto nuclear weapon power status. The fact of the matter is that the renewal of global interest in the NPT and the CTBT is a fresh opportunity for India to redress a wrong and for winning back its rightful place as a weapon power within the NPT structure, in order to give a momentum to global nuclear disarmament. And in this aim, the CTBT fits in neatly.
There is a forgotten history of the NPT worth recalling. The NPT was launched on the plea for freeing the world from the nightmare of nuclear weapons as a nuclear weapons non-proliferation organisation that curbed their spread not only horizontally but also equally vertically. These objectives are enshrined in the NPT preamble, in the shaping of which India contributed a great deal. The operative structure of the NPT, however, contains little that makes it binding on the weapon states to curb their nuclear arsenals. India's plea for such a binding insertion in the NPT text was deliberately not accepted by the NPT promoters primarily, the United States, aided by Britain and the erstwhile Soviet Union.
The preamble is thus no more than an illusion to lure the non-weapon states into permanent inferior nuclear status so as to perpetuate Big Power nuclear hegemony with the help of the NPT. The upshot: the NPT has belied its promise and, instead, has become a major proliferation agent vertical proliferation at first, allowing the big powers a free run in the nuclear arms race.
The Cold War years witnessed a frightening build-up of nuclear arsenals by the two super powers, the US and the erstwhile Soviet Union, to the extent that the two or either of them could destroy entire world civilisation twice or three times over. This realisation pulled the two super powers back from the brink, resulting in rewinding of the Cold War. But the damage had been done. The real face of the NPT was revealed, and countries desired to free themselves from the big powers nuclear straitjacket.
Countries like Libya that unsuccessfully sought to build nuclear weapons were termed "rogue" states by the United States. So was North Korea, who not only pulled out from the NTP but also defied the big powers by openly building nuclear weapon devices. India had special relevance for the NPT, for this country alone among the non-weapon states had acquired nuclear weapon capability when the NPT was formed.
The question has been posed: was India cheated of its right to a weapon status in the NPT structure by virtue of its acquisition of weapon capability well before the 1979 deadline? The answer is in the affirmative.
Indian nuclear scientists assert that BARC, the premier Indian R&D centre, was delivering weapon-grade plutonium 239 from 1964 onwards five years before the NPT proclaimed Lakshman Rekha. And this weapon grade plutonium was tested in 1974 and found perfect. True, India did not go in for a nuclear test by the NPT deadline. Instead, India used its plutonium capability for peaceful purposes. The NPT, with its declared purpose of curbing nuclear weapons, should not have had a problem in this regard. The criteria for the NPT should be nuclear capability, including weapon capability, and not the explosions, for which India had ample know-how, as was shown, first in 1974 and later in 1998. But the United States was bent on bringing India in the NPT with a non-weapon status for obvious reasons.
Consequently, India refused to join the NPT because it was a discriminatory treaty, debarring the bulk of the nations from testing nuclear weapons while giving a free run to the five declared nuclear weapon states. Also, because it barred India from nuclear tests if and when it considered it necessary to do so for its national security. For 20 years India successfully fought a tug of war with the US on this issue and has now emerged a victor.
That phase is over, with the US recognition of India's advanced nuclear capability built indigenously, and urging the Nuclear Suppliers' Group to allow India international nuclear commerce and interaction even while it retained its nuclear arsenal. By virtue of entering a "separation" clause which allowed India a free hand in retaining and building its nuclear arsenal, the Indo-US nuclear accord accepts India's international nuclear commercial and scientific interaction keeping the imported nuclear material and technology for peaceful uses under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
It is, therefore, time to re-examine India's status vis-à-vis the NPT. If India joins the NPT, it would be as a weapon state. It would be in the interest of the NPT to restructure its relevant clauses to accept India as a weapon state member. If India joins the NPT as a member with weapon status, it would use its standing to propel the NPT for complete non-proliferation not only horizontal but even more vertical aiming at total nuclear disarmament. The forthcoming NPT review conference should be an occasion to bring about these changes in the interest of ending the nightmare of nuclear weapons.
Where does the CTBT fit in? After having failed to hook India for the NPT, the US conceived of another stratagem for the same purpose, namely, to draw India in its "non-proliferation" plans through the CTBT, thus debarring an Indian nuclear test. That is why India vetoed the CTBT at the Geneva disarmament conference. Subsequently, the US virtually blocked the CTBT by refusing Congressional ratification. China too followed suit, by refusing to ratify the CTBT till the American Congress ratified it.
Now we are being assured by President Obama that he will pressurise the American Congress to ratify the CTBT. If and when this transpires and ensures a full global endorsement of the CTBT a new situation would arise, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said. Having built a nuclear deterrent for its security concerns, it would be in India's interest to join the CTBT and become a leader of global nuclear disarmament. While retaining and strengthening its nuclear deterrent, Indian objective henceforth should be to side by side campaign for global nuclear disarmament. The CTBT, in such an eventuality, can be acceptable to India.
This may not be to the liking of our hydrogen bomb nuclear fundamentalists, arduously campaigning for more nuclear tests to further add to Indian nuclear lethal capability by perfecting a super hydrogen bomb. That is not Indian thinking and strategy, which has since its inception aimed at global nuclear disarmament, hitherto not acceptable to the big powers. If the CTBT comes giving parity to all nations, India should welcome it.
RITES OF PASSAGE
BY VIJAY OBEROI
Mayank, all of 14 years, became a man at 10:30 pm on a cold and windswept evening on the wide four-lane Gurgaon Expressway on the 27th of December 2009, when a somewhat older young man, having imbibed too much, recklessly drove his brand new car and smashed it into the taxi carrying Mayank and others and severely injuring one of the occupants Mayank's mother.
Mayank, his 11-year-old sister and their mother had taken the taxi at Palam airport and were proceeding sedately to their home on Sohna Road, when the speeding car hit the parapet, bouncing off and smashing into the taxi, which in turn hit the parapet on the other side and rebounded, to be hit again by the rogue car, which had turned full circle and smashed once again with full force on the left side of the taxi. All this took only moments, but left behind in its wake a lady with multiple fractures and deep muscle and flesh injuries, with profuse bleeding and two stunned and shocked kids.
It was precisely then that Mayank transited from a carefree boy to a mature adult. He neither cried nor stood by helplessly, but took immediate charge, retrieving the cell phone of his mother, ringing up friends of his mother, his grand-parents at far away Panchkula and, more importantly, the emergency number of the police.
The aftermath of such an event leaves one wondering about what propelled this boy in his teens to act the way he did. In situations of this type, even most adults display a sense of helplessness and bewilderment and here was a boy, still wet behind the ears, who not only rose to the occasion but did so with confidence and panache. He never wavered from what was of immediate importance and did not reduce his efforts till help in the form of friends arrived.
Having analysed and reanalysed the behaviour of Mayank, I can only conclude that it were qualities of character, which we in the army hold in great esteem in both our officers and men alike, which came to the fore on that cold wintry night.
The military spends a great deal of time and effort in character building of their personnel, right from the time they join the defence forces and thereafter continuously as they rise in rank and service. However, Mayank is not a soldier, at least not yet, although he has aspirations to be one! It could therefore only be the environment in which he has been brought up, at home and in school that has influenced him.
There may be other reasons too. However, the important conclusion one can infer is that it is such young men and boys on the threshold of becoming mature adults who are destined to carry forward the destiny of their families, the society and the nation to greater heights. Our nation does need more such youngsters.
LOOK BEYOND PACKAGES
STATES SHOULD TRY REGIONAL COOPERATION
BY NIRMAL SANDHU
The Central tax sops for industry in Himachal Pradesh, granted in 2003 and due to end in March, 2010, have soured the good neighbourly relations among the north-western states.
Political leaders are engaged in a dirty war of words for and against the extension of the Central package, which covered Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir also.
The five-year income tax exemption and the 10-year excise duty waiver, among other benefits, have not helped Himachal to the extent expected.
In seven years Himachal Pradesh has got an actual investment of Rs 6,230 crore only though proposals amounting to Rs 40,123 crore have been cleared.
Industrialists are hesitant. There is no infrastructure worth the name. Roads are in bad shape. Water availability is poor. There is no reliable hospital or a proper school or college where employees and executives can send their children to get quality education.
The government rules say employ local people. But trained manpower is unavailable. The industrial package has not motivated the ruling politicians in Himachal to train enough local youth for upcoming jobs.
Baddi has attracted industrial and real estate investment. But the town lacks basic civic amenities. Those working there live in Panchkula or Chandigarh and commut to their workplace daily. They are often caught in traffic snarls.
In the past seven years the state has failed to develop Baddi as a self-sufficient industrial, commercial and residential centre. This is true of other Himachal towns which have attracted industrial units after the tax bonanza was announced.
Industry is ready to come in, but Himachal is not. So this is not the right way to help a state grow. If a bigger, inter-state approach had been adopted to develop this region by involving the governments of Himachal and Haryana and the administration of Chandigarh, such lop-sided growth could have been avoided.
Politicians in this region spend more time and energy on fighting over Central relief than joining hands for growing together. If the industrial package is not extended beyond March, the Himachal politicians would start blaming the Centre for industrial development coming to a halt. They won't own responsibility for not doing enough on their own.
The ridiculous practice of politicians begging for Central help prevails in Punjab also. The Chief Minister blames the Centre for every problem in Punjab. Politicians actively oppose the package to Himachal and hold it responsible for the so-called flight of industry from Punjab.
This is to cover up their own non-performance. Industry is moving out of or languishing in Punjab for one major reason: the non-supply of quality power. Besides, poor governance, red tape and corruption are driving or keeping industry away.
Haryana's proximity to Delhi gives it a tremendous advantage. The state is growing at a fast pace. That is why it is less concerned about the tax benefits to Himachal.
If the governments in Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Punjab as well as the Chandigarh administration together build world-class common educational institutions, health centres, infrastructure and help one another in maintaining law and order, it would lead to sound and balanced development. Baddi could get a fast-track rail link with Pachkula and Chandigarh.
If the state governments work together to create a congenial atmosphere for growth, there would be no need for any tax or other financial relief for the industry. In fact, in their own interest, the industrialists should give up the habit of demanding crutches from governments.
In Punjab and elsewhere there are industries that thrive on evading taxes and stealing power. This is because of the poor enforcement of the law. What the industry really needs is good infrastructure and clean and responsive governance.
The existing politician-bureaucrat-industrialist nexus is bad for responsible governance. It is time to leave industry alone. The taxpayers' money should not be used to bail out industries which are inefficient and cannot face competition, domestic or global.
Those who make mistakes should be allowed to fail. This way only those companies will survive and flourish which are strong and can stand up to global competition.
If states fight over packages it is partly because the Centre plays an unfair role and doles out assistance on political considerations rather than adopt some transparent and objective criteria to help those in need. Over the years it has taken over too many sources of revenue and deprived states of their rightful share. It is time for some financial decentralisation.
If growth is to gain momentum, the Centre should adopt a region-specific approach instead of the present state-specific one. The northern region is not attracting enough foreign investment because of the poor quality of political leadership, infrastructure, red tape and corruption in the northern states.
If an integrated development model is adopted, each state can encourage industries that suit its resources, terrain and people. Himachal, for instance, has a huge untapped potential for developing hydroelectric projects but it lacks funds to exploit it.
Instead of collaborating with Himachal Pradesh to generate electricity from water, Punjab is opting for coal-based power plants disregarding the damage to the environment. Since Haryana is going in for a nuclear power plant, Punjab too has woken up to this source of clean energy.
There is no need to squander the limited resources on duplicating facilities. Inter-state barriers must come down. If the Berlin Wall could fall to unite Germany and if the European states could sink their differences to form the European Union, the states too should not find it hard to share their resources and strengths for mutual advantage.
RANTING AGAINST IRAN
BY ADRIAN HAMILTON
What to do about Iran? The country is in the throes of a protracted and profound internal struggle whose outcome no one seems able to predict. The plight of the reformers is real and getting worse as the authorities clamp down on dissent, arrest protesters and harass their leaders with increasing brutality.
The difficulty of dealing with the regime, and knowing how best to support its people, is made all the more difficult by its position in the region and its nuclear ambitions. It's hard enough trying to decide how to treat with a regime such as Burma's, where our interests are fairly distant. With Iran you are approaching a country whose future and whose ambitions could reshape the region and even bring on war.
The problem, however, may lie more in the question than the answer. We've done "doing something" about difficult regimes and achieved little but harm. Castro, Mugabe, the Sudanese government and the Burmese military regime still stand, while as for our invasion of Iraq, the least said the better. It's not ours to "do something" about Iran.
There's no shortage of voices here, as indeed within Iran, calling for us to condemn the Iranian regime in the strongest terms, to declare it a pariah among nations, to load it with sanctions and even to cease contact altogether.
Life would be so much easier if one could be morally righteous in one's dealing with other countries and leave it at that. But quite aside from the sheer hypocrisy of singling out Iran for punishment while totally ignoring China's much greater breaches of human rights, just what good would isolation do?
Sanctions rarely work, as we know from Zimbabwe and Burma and, for that matter, pre-invasion Iraq. Indeed as the Iraq example showed, they actually serve to entrench autocratic regimes in power by enabling them to monopolise such goods and services as do come into the country.
The sanctions already imposed on Iran by the US Congress have greatly increased the profits of the Revolutionary Guards, who now control a major share of the country's economic activity. Doubling them up, as the US and Europeans are now urging, will only increase the regime's control of resources and hence power.
The same with isolation. It's done nothing to undermine President Mugabe or Kim Jong-il in North Korea, quite the opposite. Nor is it easy to cease relations with a country whom we are desperately anxious to engage on the subject of its nuclear ambitions, its interests in Afghanistan and Iraq, and its position as backer of Hamas and Hizbollah. Nuclear need must not override moral imperatives, say the callers for confrontation with Tehran. But nuclear issues are a need, and an urgent one if we are to avoid an arms race through the region and possible pre-emptive action by Israel.
Whatever one's feelings about President Ahmadinejad and the legitimacy of his regime, the world cannot afford to pass up a chance of constructive negotiations over nuclear issues and there still is a chance for all that Israel and the right in the US say because of distaste for the people with whom we are talking.
The collapse of the Soviet Union 20 years ago gave the West too seductive a view of the inexorable march towards freedom and democracy. It was not that simple, and we didn't do that much to help. The major changes were wrought in occupied countries.
Those like Ukraine, with large Russian populations, or the Central Asian Republics in need of Russian support, have moved a lot less swiftly down that path. We could do far more to support occupied peoples the Palestinians and the Tibetans spring to mind but we don't seem inclined to.
Iran is a sovereign country, and a proudly nationalistic one. Outside intervention quickly brings back memories of foreign intervention and Western support for Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war. It is also a peculiarly difficult country to read, thanks partly to the opaqueness of its power structure.
The current struggle embraces not only the obvious groups of students and professional classes seeking greater freedom but also a battle within the theocratic elite between conservatives who came to power in the Islamic Revolution and the younger more militant groups forged by the Iran-Iraq war.
The rural population, which has been the recipient of President Ahmadinejad's populist policies in the past, now seems more restive under the tightened economic circumstances and the withdrawal of subsidies under way. So far workers and the urban population have not joined the so-called "Green Movement" for reform, as they did when the Shah fell, but then the country has a large majority of under-21s who could jump either way towards oppression or revolt.
The trouble with most comment is that it is suffused by what people on the outside, and the exiles, want to happen rather than what they think will. Opponents of Tehran's policy on nuclear, Palestine and the region wish for a velvet revolution that would produce a pro-Western government which would reverse all those plans.
The one near-certainty is that, if changes comes, it will be from within the country not without and that when, and if, it comes it cannot be seen to be at the behest of the West and to the detriment of Iran's independent standing. Our policy should be what it should have been these past 10 years to forget all the nonsense of sanctions and forcing Tehran to the table, to keep negotiating in good faith and with due understanding of its imperatives, and to support reform by keeping communication open, constantly reiterating our concern and providing a refuge for any who need it.
By arrangement with The Independent
CHINA ACCOUNTS FOR 1 PC OF GOOGLE REVENUE
BY STEPHEN FOLEY
There was something deflating about Google's decision to set up in China, like hearing an idealistic student had cut his hair and gone to work for an investment bank. The search engine company had not only revolutionised the internet, it had also promised to change how corporations operate. For a decade it had held fast to its motto of "Don't Be Evil"; and yet the price of admission to China was submission to the Communist regime's rules on censorship.
The new Google.cn launched in 2006 filtered out the foreign websites and internal content that apparatchiks deemed subversive. Executives argued at the time that it would at least be able to encourage web use in China, and that the leaky, cacophonous internet would ultimately overwhelm censors but the cynical viewed this as a fig leaf for what the company's new motivational force: making money.
By mid-2009, China had 338 million internet users, more than any other country in the world, but that still represented less than a quarter of the population. Google has turned itself into a $200bn company by selling adverts alongside its search results, and it anticipated repeating its stellar growth in China.
A campaign against Google's self-censorship remained an embarrassment to executives, however. From day one, the company was deluged by complaints. In June 2006, Amnesty International published Undermining Freedom of Expression in China: the role of Yahoo, Microsoft and Google, and took Western internet firms to task for supporting the repression of dissidents in China.
And in the US, the company has come under uncomfortable scrutiny from Congress, along with other US internet firms operating in China. Controversy flared when it was revealed Yahoo had given the authorities information on one of its users, journalist Shi Tao, who was arrested and imprisoned for leaking a government document.
At the subsequent Congressional hearing, Google's public affairs director, Elliot Schrage, told lawmakers that complying with Chinese censorship laws was "not something we did enthusiastically or something we're proud of at all". Democrat Tom Lantos said: "I simply don't understand how your corporate leadership sleeps at night."
In New York, where Google's shares traded lower yesterday, financial analysts were trying to count the cost of its exit, should the Chinese authorities refuse to allow it to run uncensored web searches. The company has about 30 per cent of the search market in China, behind local competitor Baidu, but was growing fast with new ventures in music downloading and phone software, which could be hurt if this turns into a bigger feud with the government. For all its future potential, though, China so far accounts for barely 1 per cent of Google's revenues, and probably even less of its profits. Jeetil Patel, an analyst at Deutsche Bank, thought China accounts for only $4 of the $580 Google share price. By contrast, by standing up to the Chinese authorities, Google closes a public relations sore, and puts pressure on rivals Yahoo and Microsoft. Last night, Yahoo said it was "aligned" with Google in condemning the cyber attacks, but made no similar threat to change its operating policies in the country.
By arrangement with The Independent
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
The festive season is once again upon us in the guise of Magh or Bhogali Bihu. Bhog connotes feasting and merriment, which Bhogali Bihu is all about. This harvest related festival unique to Assam is perhaps the most enjoyable of all three Bihus. During Bohag or Rongali Bihu thoughts in young minds might turn to love, but during Bhogali all thoughts, of old or young, without exception, are focussed on filling the belly! None of the two other Bihus require the kind of preparation needed for Bhogali. During earlier days, when the pace of life was slower and demands on one's time less stringent, preparations for Bhogali began at least a month in advance, even while the farmers were reaping in the paddy harvest. Granaries were full, rivers teemed with fish and other aquatic edibles, kitchen gardens or plantations glowed with the fresh green of vegetables. It had been the season of plenty and there had been plenty to cheer about. The stucco thud of the dheki was a common sound heard even in urban areas, the air was redolent with the smell of til-pitha and narikal-laddu. The men folk were busy building mejhis or bhelaghars and arranging for buffalo-fights and other games, while the women were stocking up with provisions for the mandatory visits by friends and relatives. The combined blaze from myriad mejhis was enough to drive the gloomiest fog away.
Times, alas, have changed. It might once again be the festive season, but there is not much to be festive about. Traditional celebration of Bhogali Bihu is becoming a dying culture even in rural areas, change of social mores as well as terrifying demand on every individual's time being some of the causes. After all, few urban women today would undertake the hassles associated with making pithas and laddus at home, when packeted versions of the same are available in the market! But the biggest dampener in celebrating this joyous festival in a befitting manner is, of course, the terrifying rise in prices of food items. If it is the season of plenty, it is so only for those who can afford it, with the common citizen having to make compromises on the hospitality front! However, we must bear in mind that of all festivals Bhogali Bihu is the most community-inspired one, where relatives, friends, neighbours and community members unite as one to celebrate an occasion dear to every true Assamese heart. Even if we cannot whip up the feast associated with this Bihu, it is incumbent that we reinforce the community spirit that this Bihu evokes. Bhogali Bihu too is an apt occasion to commence repairing the ruptures that have appeared in Assamese society. Let Bhogali's cheer be a unifying force; may the mejhi's blaze weld each of us into a common identity.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
GMC VS GMDA
Indian politicians have contrived many institutions to retain power over sources of finance and influence. They have even gone around the provisions of the Indian Constitution and built up extra-statal bodies. One such example is that of the Guwahati Metropolitan Development Authority (GMDA), which is not an elected body but is appointed by the Government of Assam (GOA) with the Chief Minister as the Chairman. Over the years people have come to look at GMDA as an extra-statal body which mainly grants building permissions often in contravention of its own rules and regulations. GMDA, therefore, has become a parallel institution compared to the Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) which is a duly elected body under Article 243 Q(1) (C) of the Indian Constitution. The Twelfth Schedule (Article 243W) of the Constitution defines GMC's functions. Under entry No. 1 GMC has the power for "urban planning including town planning." Under entry No. 2 GMC has the power of "regulation of land-use and construction of buildings." The Constitution does not recognise GMDA. Of course, the Constitution also provides for setting up of " Metropolitan Planning Committee to prepare a draft development plan for the Metropolitan area as a whole" under Article 243ZE. A "Metropolitan area" has been defined as " an area having a population of ten lakh or more, comprised in one or more districts and consisting of two or more municipalities or Panchayats or other contiguous areas." Again, "not less than two thirds of the members of such Committee (for Metropolitan Planning) shall be elected by, and from amongst, the elected members of the Municipalities and Chairpersons of the Panchayats in the Metropolitan area in proportion to the ratio between the population of the Municipalities and of the Panchayats in that area" under the proviso to Article 243ZE (2). There is also provision for representation in such Committee of the Government of India and GOA. No such Committee for Metrpolitatan Planning, as enjoined by the Constitution, has been set up as yet by GOA. The civil society also seems to be happily ignorant about such a provision.
But what the civil society and the various committees and commissions in the past have done is to recommend withdrawal of the power of building permission from GMDA. The most recent recommendation is that of the Third Assam State Finance Commission (TASFC) chaired by the former Chief Secretary H.N. Das. TASFC categorically recommended that "only ULBs (Urban Local Bodies) should be empowered to grant such (building) permission and to realise the laid down fees". It further stated that "GMC alone should be allowed to exercise this power (of building permission). Such a measure will help augmentation of GMC's revenues, end confusion and help systematise the procedure." GOA accepted this recommendation vide the Explanatory Memorandum on Action Taken laid on the table of the Assam Legislative Assembly by the Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi on December 11, 2009. GOA asked the Guwahati Development Department to carry out TASFC's recommendation. This is a welcome decision. The civil society will eagerly await its implementation in the immediate future.
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
ULFA ISSUE AND CONFLICT RESOLUTION
The Indian Constitution promised constitutional safeguards to the Assamese and economic development of Assam. But thing happened otherwise. Balkanization of Assam took place since 1963 with the creation of Nagaland. By 1972, Assam was divided into four more states. Even Shillong, the century old capital of Assam was left out with Meghalaya. From an area of 2,55,000 square kms Assam was reduced to 78,228 square kms. The division of Assam was avoidable. It went against the recommendation of the States Reorganization Commission of 1953 which recommended even unification of Manipur and Tripura with Assam. The government tried to justify the division of Assam to end armed insurgencies. After four decades of the division of Assam, the region is still disturbed.
Unlike the Nagas, who revolted against Indian domination under Phizo since 1946-47, the Assamese reposed faith on the Indian system and tried to be good Indians. But the great Indian experiment has ended in the devastation of the Assamese. The chronic neglect of Assam and ruthless exploitation of its natural resources by the Indian State pauperized the Assamese. Assam is thus deprived of its legitimate rights on its resources. Though Assam's 5 million tonnes of crude oil worth about Rs 11,000 crore is enriching India's economy every year, the economy of Assam has deteriorated since the time of India's independence. The per capita income of Assam was 4 per cent above India's national average in 1950-51. Today the per capita income of Assam is about 45 per cent below the national average.
The Central government has failed to protect the indigenous people of Assam from being swept away by foreigners from erstwhile East Pakistan and present day Bangladesh. The West Pakistan border was sealed. But the East Pakistan border was kept open. The liberation of Bangladesh in 1971 by India was the greatest foreign policy blunder. Presently the Bangladeshi nightmare is haunting the Assamese. The Assamese are marginalized on socio-economic and political fronts. A fear psychosis has gripped the Assamese. The Indian government remains insensitive to the aspirations and anxiety of the Assamese.
Slowly and steadily, the faith on the Indian system got eroded. The piled up uncertainties and multiple grievances created a congenial atmosphere for the growth of armed rebellion. There is no future and nothing happened as expected. The government also did nothing to restore the faith on the system. The Assamese people felt disillusioned. All modes of peaceful protests, be it for language, refinery, bridge or deportation of foreigners were exhausted. The Assamese were left with no other alternative. Then the protest came in a violent way. They have resorted to the last option. The Assamese have raised arms against the Indian State. Thus ULFA (United Liberation Front of Asom) was born on April 7, 1979 to free Assam from the clutches of the Indian colonial dominion to establish a sovereign socialist republic. ULFA's sovereign Assam was aimed at to define and assert the Assamese people's own destiny. Basically the denial of justice and the accumulated wrong that have been heaped up for years were the reasons for the birth of ULFA.
The armed liberation struggle by ULFA is based on the 'Right to self determination' of the Assamese people which is within the framework of the United Nations Charter. The armed resistance is basically against Indian colonial domination. ULFA's belief in Marxism has given a broader definition to a greater Assamese nationality. ULFA's demand for sovereign Assam has thrown an internal challenge to the Indian nation builders. The government instead of facing ULFA's ideological challenge politically, has taken to strong arms tactics to find a military solution. The government reacted in the most authoritarian way. The State empowered itself by enacting various draconian Acts. An undeclared martial law was imposed in Assam since 1990 which has institutionalized unbridled State power and subverted democracy. The Indian Armed forces were empowered extraordinarily by enacting the most anti-democratic law the AFSPA (Armed Forces Special Powers Act) 1958. The Act empowers a Havildar (a non commissioned officer) to shoot to kill anyone on suspicion. On the other hand, the AFSPA acts as a protective shield from prosecuting the armed personnel even for their gross human right violations.
The Indian ruling class is trying to treat the illness without diagnosing the disease properly. The 'Sovereignty' demand of ULFA is a political concept. So, a political concept has to be treated politically. An idea can't be fought militarily. The last two decades of military exercise has proved futile. The Indian State which was itself a victim of two centuries of British colonial domination is trying an outdated colonial policy of military suppression. The Indian State which has done immense wrong to Assam is in a morally weak position. The only way for a peaceful resolution of the 30 year long conflict is by engaging ULFA in a political dialogue. Enough of blood shed has already been shed. An intelligent nation would never waste so much time in finding out a political settlement. The Indian nation builders should analyze the historiography of Assam and address the insecurity and the hurt psyche of the Assamese people.
The concept of 'sovereignty' has under gone changes with time. In the 21st century, the globalized economy has redefined the meaning of 'sovereignty'. Today the countries are inter-dependent for economic, political or military reasons. If democracy is 'by the people' so also sovereignty emerges from people's will. A diversified set of sovereign state structures (like a separate constitution or a flag) could be framed by discussion. The Indian ruling class should be aware of this changing concept of "sovereignty" and find out a non military option to end the problem. Discussing 'sovereignty of Assam' with ULFA does not necessarily mean granting outright territorial sovereignty to Assam.
On August 15, 1947, India became independent. Nehru betrayed the 1934 Congress resolution of drafting the Indian Constitution by a Constituent Assembly duly elected by adult franchise. The Constitution of India which was framed by the Constituent Assembly elected in 1946 election which was held on a limited franchise of 15 per cent of the total population. The Constitutional development in India never reflected the sovereign will of the people. The Indian Constitution was framed according to Nehru's guidelines. The Indian Constitution was an extension of the British legacy with an all powerful Central domination. Gandhi, the father of the nation wanted a loose federation of India. Nehru's strong central policy ended his vision. Like the colonial Constitution, the Indian Constitution concentrated power at the Centre. The Indian Constitution of 1949 was in fact a modified version of the Government of India Act, 1935. The sovereignty struggle of ULFA is an outcome of a people losing faith in the centralized Indian Constitutional setup.
India is a nation in the making. It is basically a subcontinent with diversified regions and peoples, each having its own peculiar national aspirations and problems. Since the Indian Constitution was framed to fulfil the Central hegemony, it has failed to fulfil the diversified aspirations of the constituent States. Out of 1.15 billion people in India, approximately 400 million people live below poverty line. Today, in India 7 States are affected by separatist movements and Maoist struggle has spread to 15 States which prove that there is serious deficiency in the Indian system. Therefore, it requires an overhauling of the Indian constitution. Already the loss in terms of money and men is tremendous. Without domestic peace, India can't move forward. The internal civil wars will drag it backward. The nation builders should leave dogmatic approach and infuse a system of understanding and equal participation. Hence, the Central Government should not waste any more time for initiating a political dialogue with ULFA.
(The writer is a member of People's Consultative Group and the views expressed in the article are his own alone)
THE ASSAM TRIBUNE
CRIME AGAINST WOMEN
DR H K GOSWAMI
Crime against women has become so pervasive not just in the public place but within the household, in situations where a woman might believe she is safe that the issue has to be kept in the public eye. A recent report titled "Gender Violence in India" prepared by the Chennai-based Prajnya Trust looks at six kinds of violence: pre-natal sex selection, child marriage and forced marriage, honour killing, dowry death, domestic violence and rape. Statistics of the National Crime Research Bureau (NCRB) reveals that the incidence of reported rape is steadily moving up. These are only the reported cases of rape. For every rape that shows up as statistics, there are many that remain hidden. "Cruelty by husbands and relatives" makeup 3.8 per cent of the total crimes registered under the Indian Panel Code (IPC). In fact, women are likely to face more violence in their homes than out on the streets. Furthermore, one must not forget incidents like dowry deaths that refuse to disappear, as well as'honour killings most prevalent in Punjab and Haryana but also now reported from some districts in Tamil Nadu, especially in the case between Dalits and non-Dalits.
According to a report released by the Centre for Equity and Inclusion (CEQUIN) in New Delhi recently, a vast majority of women believe that Delhi is unsafe for them. Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on November 13, 2009, CEQUIN co-founder Sara Pilot said sexual harassment and assault on women in Delhi have become so common that it is generally condoned as a minor act of "eve teasing" and not a matter of grave concern. "The physical and psychological fall-out that such acts have on women and girls are rarely recognised. Their impact in terms of restricting a woman's mobility and access to public places, thereby limiting her access to goods and services, has never been measured. We will work with residents' welfare associations, market associations and schools, to break the stereotypes associated with women. At present, we are working with the Delhi police to create gender sensitisation and refine training modules from the constables to the inspector", said Pilot, who wants to involve all stakeholders in the endeavour to make Delhi a safe city for the fair sex.
The CEQUIN report, based on a survey conducted by the Centre for Media Studies, highlights the response of 630 respondents in the age group of 12-55 years living in the capital city covering educational institutions, metro railway stations, bus stops, market places, residential colonies including slums. The survey points out that Chandi Chowk, Connaught Place, Karol Bagh and Rohini are among the most unsafe localities. Alarmingly, 82 per cent of women felt that the bus is the most unsafe mode of transport in Delhi. Stating that women cutting across age, class and caste barriers were subjected to various degrees of harassment in public places, Pilot said : "What this implies is that freedom of mobility, speech and expression is not effectively applicable to half the population. Women are unsafe to achieve their full capabilities due to social and cultural constraints which often create violent barriers, thus impending their effective economic and political participation."
According to Delhi police, over 1200 women fell prey to criminals in the national capital from January to November 2009. There were 414 cases of rape, 222 eve-teasing, 492 molestation and 112 cases of murder of women. Murder of women has registered a slight increase compared to the figure of 2008. In 2008, Delhi police registered 108 murder cases of women. Out of the 414 rape cases in the city till November 2009, 57 were gang-rapes while the figure of rape committed by a single person was 357. In 2008, the number of gang-rape cases was 60 while the figure of rape committed by single person was 380.
In Assam, the police has registered a total of 4,306 cases relating to crime against women during the period from April 2009 to September 2009. Of this, cases of domestic violence tops the crime graph with 2,464 cases registered during this period. Cases of rape registered during the period stands at 979, molestation cases at 744, murder cases at 81, trafficking at 29 and eve-teasing at 9. This was revealed by the Assam Forest and Environment Minister Rockybul Hussain on December 11, 2009, in the State Assembly in reply to a question from an Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) MLA.
In Sikkim, the recently conducted National Family Health Survey-III (NFHS-II) points out that 19 per cent of women of Sikkim have experienced physical violence while 4 per cent have experienced sexual and physical violence. The survey, conducted among women aged 15-49 years, however, shows that the overall violence against women in this tiny Himalayan State is less than the national average. Significantly, five per cent of married wom- en in Sikkim reported that their husband had physically forced them to have sex. The chairperson of the Sikkim State Women Commission Subadra Rai told mediapersons in Gangtok recently that in most cases domestic violence is not reported to the Commission. Nevertheless, the Commission is actively working towards creating awareness among women especially in rural and semi-urban areas.
Meanwhile, on December 15, 2009, the Union Home Minister P Chidambaram told the Lok Sabha that the police, prosecutors and judges were not following detailed guidelines issued by his Ministry on handling of cases relating to crime against women keeping in mind the sensibilities and sensitivities of the victim. "There are very strict guidelines on how a case relating to crime against women should be investigated and prosecuted. I agree that the guidelines are not followed in some cases by the police, prosecutors and even judges". Chidambaram also said: "The Centre from time to time impressed upon the State governments so that sufferings of the victim were lessened. I appeal to the police, prosecutors and judges to follow the guidelines properly so that problems of the victims are lessened. I hope that the State governments will take the advisory seriously and implement it." The guidelines in the advisory are thorough investigation and charge sheet against accused within three months from the date of occurrence, medical examination in cases of rape without delay and creation of Special Women Police cells in police stations among others.
(The writer is former Principal, Mangaldai College).
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
The acceleration of the wholesale price index (WPI) for December 2009 to 7.31%, from a year ago, has been led mostly by food inflation and, therefore, the government must focus on addressing supply-side constraints on a priority basis. The index for primary food articles rose 19.2% during the month, and potato, considered a common man's staple, climbed 123%. Prices of pulses were up 41.6% and vegetables 39.2%.
It is, therefore, not surprising that prices of processed food products rose in tandem by 26.4%, pushing up price index for manufactured goods by 5.2%. Import of items that are in short supply is not a long-term solution, and even in the short term, imports can do little to cool domestic inflation when prices of food around the globe are high. Policymakers will first need to look inwards to address structural and political problems that prevent speedy movement of food from producing parts of the country to the consuming parts.
Wastage of fresh vegetables and fruit due to non-development of farm-to-store cold chains and rotting of foodgrains due to poor storage facilities need to be addressed on an urgent basis. The rise in prices of manufactured goods is not much of a concern yet. However, with crude oil prices climbing, an upward revision of petroleum product prices in the domestic market looks inevitable. Increased power and transportation costs will then exert upward pressure on headline inflation numbers, and also push up prices of manufactured products.
Rising mineral prices across the globe, following signs of economic recovery, too would be transmitted into domestic prices. Also, it cannot be ignored that the low-base effect is gradually kicking in, and that will in the months ahead make inflation numbers look worse than they really are.
Headline numbers are clearly in an uncomfortable zone, and monetary policy need not cool food prices but it can check second-round effects. The Reserve Bank of India should be prepared to act, but mostly to suck out excess liquidity that can potentially drive up asset prices. It can do this by raising the cash reserve ratio later this month. Lifting policy rates at this stage could threaten economic recovery. Growth is still tenuous and needs to be supported.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GOING THE SOLAR WAY
The launch of the National Solar Mission, which aims to add 20,000 mw by 2022 from practically zilch currently does call for a viable policy strategy. No doubt there's huge potential for tapping commercial energy from the sun, but as things stand, solar power is uneconomical. It would thus make perfect sense to proceed incrementally, go for the low-hanging fruit, and not plan large prestigious projects that are likely to lose money.
Also, given the widespread energy poverty, what's required are policy solutions to tackle immediate problems in a cost-effective manner. Given that the annual bill for subsidised kerosene (SKO) is now over Rs 20,000 crore, much of which is diverted for fuel adulteration, what's needed is speedy diffusion of solar lamps. The rollout of such lighting aids and the phasing out of the subvention on SKO surely needs to be concurrent. As the prime minister did mention, the rapid spread of solar lighting systems, solar water pumps and other solar-based applications can change the face of India's rural economy.
In tandem, we need to significantly bring down energy costs in urban areas by policy-boosting solar heating and lighting solutions (read off-grid applications). Yet, in the first phase of the mission, up to 2013, the focus seems diametrically opposite: 1,100 mw of solar power to feed the grid, 7 million sq m of solar collectors and only a modest target for off-grid supply. The relatively-large target capacity for 'collectors' appears to suggest misplaced emphasis on dearer photovoltaic (PV) panels, when we ought to be concentrating on solar thermal power as the costs seem more viable.
It would be worthwhile to frontload generation of solar thermal power, and backload the PV programme until there are more breakthrough cost reductions. The plan to allow producers to set up grid-connected solar power projects on a build-own-operate basis is a move in the right direction. Also, the idea of Solar Valleys as hubs for solar science, engineering and manufacturing needs to be explored. However, open-ended subsidies and giveaways for solar power would nip the potential for innovation in the bud.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POLI PORN: DO WE REALLY WANT TO KNOW?
Would you like to know what goes on behind the scenes in a tumultuous general election? It doesn't get any more colourful than a good old-fashioned Indian electoral outing, after all. From the sheer size and spectacle of it, to the plethora of characters, there's enough to spawn a million Bollywood potboilers.
Yet, we all seem to shy away from taking a peek behind the ballot curtain. The Americans have no such qualms obviously, and the latest offering about the 'historic' election that gave the US its first black president promises to even outdo the anonymous depiction of Bill Clinton's first campaign in Primary Colors. They're calling this no-names-barred story by two journalists 'poli porn' for its racy description of screaming matches and adultery, expletives and bloated egos, paranoia and subterfuge.
Indeed, the rambunctious behind-the-scenes action described in The Race of a Lifetime so belies the candidates' sugary appearances shaking hands, kissing babies and expounding lofty rhetoric that there's almost a guilty pleasure in finding out exactly how two-faced some candidates and their campaigns were.
Of course, the Obamas emerge the whitest if you would excuse the term in this context in this greyscape of opportunism, but then Americans probably subscribe to the cliché, "To the victor, the spoils..." That is presumably also why the book has appeared nearly a year after Obama assumed office to underline that the best man, relatively speaking, won.
We Indians, however, are quite tolerant of the hypocrisy of politicians, no wonder poli porn has not emerged as a genre here, despite sporadic reports of lascivious goings-on in Raj Bhavans and inexplicable sabbaticals by some leaders. Money changes hands, lady-loves make leaders switch sides, spin doctors inflate or create imaginary personas, government formations hinge on invitations to (or exclusion from) tea parties during the election hoopla, but nary a tell-all book emerges in the aftermath. Is it because we subscribe to another cliché: ignorance is bliss?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE DOWNSIDE OF UPMANSHIP
Zero confrontation means not head-banging against somebody who has a different point of view. However, it doesn't necessarily mean immediately being able to see where that person is coming from, though of course that helps enormously too.
But by simply refraining from smearing an opinion, attitude or position however personally and objectively validated these may be into the other's face by means of sarcasm, innuendo, irony or fists can almost always retrieve a potentially-explosive situation from going ballistic.
Righteous belief, to paraphrase Alan Wallace, founder of the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies in the US, makes about as much sense as righteous cancer or righteous tuberculosis.
Does zero confrontation then mean an end to social relationships and interpersonal discourse? No, because that would imply a self-imposed hermitage of the kind that sits on mountain tops; intentionally cut off from all dealings and dialogue, limited to individual deliberation, separated from other selves and society. While there may be much to be said for such a course of action, most of us are not really ready to abjure company for an enlightened end result.
Rather, we like to group together in order to herd and mix amongst ourselves. It seems to be in our nature. Unfortunately, it also seems to be in our nature in such situations to climb social ladders, top pecking orders and attempt to assume alpha roles in the flock. Think of it as a constant exercise in two-upmanship: I'm not only better than you, I'm also better than me.
In the process though, we grate ourselves into other people in ways that are not conducive to partnering them into our lives. Unsaid animosity, seething rancour, ill-will, bitterness, retaliation, open hostility and physical aggression become the order of behaviour that spreads from one person to one's community to entire nations at undeclared combat with each other.
Confrontation, on the other hand, is a zero-sum game in which a gain by one person or side must be matched by a loss by another person or side, and is based on the totally-pretentious homily that says, "Oh well, you lose some and you win some." And, therefore, things like marital strife, road rage and world wars gain tacit respectability even though, over a lifetime, they only manage to neuter both parties with the pluses and minuses cancelling out in the end.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TIME FOR AN NREGS FOR SPORTSPERSONS
It is astonishing that the country's top sports administration, to the highest level, has been brought to a deadlock over an utterly paltry amount. The average national cricket player perhaps pays more income tax than the amount required to meet the demand of all the national hockey players put together. The problem, clearly, is not of resources but of attitude.
For decades, the country has worked on the principle of 'rough it out' in the most critical sectors: the army, the police, the paramilitaries, teachers and, of course, most sportspersons. The glamorous sports such as cricket, tennis, golf, even soccer, get relatively generous deals, but the toughest sports get little more than constant public humiliation. Training schedules in hockey are extraordinarily demanding. Training camps mean a gruelling dawn-to-dusk regimen; but facilities provided by the Sports Authority of India by way of food, habitation and other amenities are abysmal. We talk of players playing for national pride, but what pride does the nation instil when players are treated like cattle, herded around in sub-standard facilities, with even the minimal commitments made to them unmet? Exhortation to play for national colours is dishonest opportunism posturing as patriotism.
Those who deprive sportspersons of a fair deal show little appetite for comparable sacrifice in their own lives. Worse, they betray the national cause, failing to understand the enormous psychological significance of sporting victories in a nation's self-image. An international victory in the hockey field would have far greater national impact than a major global acquisition by an Indian corporation. Sports has tremendous potential for employment generation, not only directly but through elaborate forward and backward linkages as well.
Sports is an industry and, like any other, unless you invest in it, the returns cannot accrue. Crucially, elite sportspersons are the lynchpin of this industry, but this top layer strengthens in proportion to the depth and penetration of the sport through the country. It is time to talk not only of commensurate benefits to India's sports elite but of an NREGS for sportspersons as well. The outcome of an abundant investment in sports is national glory something that India desperately needs.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THIS VICTORY IS GREATER THAN AN OLYMPIC GOLD
Seldom has such a small group won a battle so big. The battle, that a band of 22 Indian hockey players seemed to have won at least for the time being is easily bigger than the battles their predecessors fought and won for eight Olympic gold medals. This victory is bigger simply because this battle was fought against an opposition far more dangerous than those with hockey sticks. This opposition defends not goals, but their seats. And without so much as stepping on to the field, they indulge in emotional blackmail by asking the players to place country above money, and at the same time, deny the practitioners of sport their right to livelihood and just rewards for their efforts.
Any Indian sportsperson worth his salt or bank balance will tell you how difficult it is to reason with an Indian sports official. Indian sport is littered with tales of sportsmen having to pay the price of raising his or her voice. Indian sport is littered with tales of sportspersons spending their post-glory days in abject penury: breaking stones and their head besides selling vegetables and medals.
There were many 'brokers' who worked towards the uneasy peace that seems to have returned to Indian hockey. For a few days, the national game had morphed into a national shame with the whole country standing behind the 'wronged' players. The deadline for the payment to the players, February 7, is rather symbolic for that is when the caretaker body of Hockey India is to have its elections and hand over the sport to a democratically-elected body.
There have been countless times that 'trade-union like' movements to quote the phrase of a former hockey official have emerged, but every single time, it has been squashed. Not just in hockey, but in every other sport. Ask Prakash Padukone. Ask Leander Paes and Ramesh Krishnan, Viswanathan Anand, Krish Srikkanth, Virender Sehwag. Or others. Anyone, for that matter.
Yet, this band of 22 players has broken through the toughest defence in world sport, by scoring a goal that may be the biggest and most invaluable in the annals of Indian sport.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
CLIMATE TALKS: LOOKING AHEAD
The doomsdayers and the anti-trade people will disagree. However, it is clear that trade negotiations under the WTO over the last decade and a half have been fairly successful. The success lies in four principles. One, acceptance by countries that multilateralism is important so that member countries by and large accept their bound tariffs as their minimum commitments.
Second, acceptance by countries that they must notify their departures from multilateralism under Section XXIV of Gatt (preferential trade arrangements) to the WTO. Third, acceptance of the principle of special and differential treatment (S&DT) so that countries can avail of different speeds of adjustment to multilateralism with less developed countries getting exemptions and lower tariff adjustment requirements.
Fourth, and possibly most important, emergence of negotiating blocs as (contrary to popular opinion) you cannot obtain a positive consensus with close to 140 different negotiating partners. The idea is to obtain a consensus in small groups which can then lead to a consensus at the multilateral level.
More generally, only incremental progress at the WTO is now necessary. As far as international negotiations are concerned, the big ticket item in the coming decade will remain climate change negotiations beginning with Mexico towards the end of this year. As I have argued in these columns (ET, Nov 13), while the issues may differ, in essence climate negotiations will also need to establish the equivalent of the four principles I have listed in the previous paragraphs. While I will look at the details in future articles in this column, here I will concentrate on two issues: India's preparedness for climate change negotiations and negotiating blocs.
We now know that India was woefully unprepared for trade negotiations in 1995 in the sense that it had little idea of the implications of various agreements for India. To that extent, the Indian environment minister has already committed India to a 20-25% reduction in emission intensity. What does this imply? We now know that the current state of scientific knowledge indicates that the best known methods of reducing growth rate of carbon emissions are expansion of carbon sinks (forests) and reduced burning of carbon-based fossil fuels. For India the most important such fuel is coal. It is obvious that in India the demand for electricity is bound to grow in tandem with growth. About 65% of the power is generated in coal-fired plants. Controlling carbon emission will naturally require some of these coal-based plants to switch to other non(or less)-polluting fuels.
India has limited resources of crude oil. Hence, the best replacement non-polluting fuel seems natural gas. One thousand megawatt (mw) of power generation requires about 5 million cubic metres (mcm) of gas per day. The current installed power capacity is about 1,40,000 mw. Even for this capacity and assuming only about 25% of coal-fuelled power is replaced by gas generation, the total requirement of gas would be about 40 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year. According to the website of the ministry of petroleum, the gas production in 2008-09 is likely to be about 33 bcm per year assuming a production figure of about 90 mcm per day.
Even the projected production in 2011-12 is about 160 bcm. These calculations are admittedly rough but they indicate that India is woefully unprepared to fuel its power requirements for future growth unless other sources of power kick in (solar, wind) or Indian power plants become much more efficient. This is important given the well known low quality of Indian coal reserves. Alternatively, India would be forced to draw dangerously from its known reserves of gas. Or the minister for environment has some inside information that we don't.
Consider the second issue of negotiating groups. In trade negotiations the low tariff countries (read the US, Europe) were a natural bloc negotiating tariff reductions and market access with the high tariff developing countries. It was thus the US and the EU who negotiated mutual exemptions for their agricultural policies in the Blair House accord of 1992 thus making the 1995 WTO agreement possible. An agreement without the main trade blocs would have been meaningless. At climate negotiations, it thus seems natural that US and China form one bloc as they are the highest polluters (20% of global emissions).
The second set of countries would be the lower polluters (EU, about 3%, India, Brazil about 2%). The third group would make up the island economies for whom climate control is synonymous with survival. Yet, for some reason, India and China are partners! India thus announces unilateral emission reductions because China has done so! As the cynic would say, fools rush in...
Negotiations require homework. Here India seems woefully unprepared. Commitments precede knowledge. To someone who has followed the WTO negotiations seriously, there must surely be a feeling of déjà vu.
LANDMARK RULING TO BOOST TRANSPARENCY
In a ruling of long-term import, a three-judge bench of the Delhi high court on Tuesday rejected the contention of the Supreme Court registry and held that the office of Chief Justice of India fell within the ambit of the Right of Information Act as it was a "public authority". Essentially, this means the country's highest judge can be interrogated by any concerned citizen on any aspect of his work and personal life such as health, and assets and liabilities insofar as it has any bearing on the public domain. While serious charges of corruption or dereliction of duty have not generally been brought against members of the superior judiciary in this country, especially Supreme Court judges, the position taken by the Delhi high court broadens the question of openness in a democracy, maintaining that this does not come into clash with the idea of judicial independence. Through months of nationwide public debate on whether "judicial independence" could be hurt if frivolous procedures were brought against senior judges, especially over disclosure of their assets and liabilities, the Chief Justice of India maintained this was indeed the case. Parliament, however, rejected this view. In the end, Supreme Court judges who were earlier disclosing their assets only to the Chief Justice, were obliged to make the information public. The high court judgment, thus, goes much beyond the question of disclosure of assets, and by implication covers all aspects of a judge's functioning and personal life if the latter impinges on the public sphere. Laying down a principle, the bench held that "judicial independence" was not a personal privilege available to a judge but a responsibility cast upon him. The meaning of this is clear. Now any citizen, through use of the RTI Act, can question if judicial independence is being put to appropriate use in an efficient manner. Supreme Court judges will clearly be under watch. Whether this is the end of the matter is not yet clear. In a brief interaction with the media, Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan said he would make a considered response to the high court ruling only after going through it. So we don't know yet if the Supreme Court registry will go in appeal against the high court judgment. If it does, the extraordinary situation is apt to arise where the Supreme Court is in a position of sitting in judgment on itself. The law minister, Mr M. Veerappa Moily, has not made his views explicit on the issue, but he appears to give the impression that he might not be wholly comfortable with the radical departure the high court is looking to make. About two months ago, the Supreme Court judges had made their assets public. It was refreshing to see that our seniormost judges are squeaky clean that in some cases they own assets that may be less than that commanded by successful middle class professionals. SC judges thus need not be apprehensive that their integrity is being assessed. Clearly, the point made by the Delhi High Court is a point of principle really. As Justice A.P. Shah, Delhi High Court chief justice, observed: "After almost 55 years since the coming into force of the Constitution of India, a national law providing for the Right to Information was passed by both Houses of Parliament. It is undoubtedly the most significant event in the life of Indian democracy."
SPRUCE UP SECURITY
BY ARUN KUMAR SINGH
I visited China in mid-October 2009. The three cities (Beijing, Dalian and Qingdao) which I saw, were as modern as Washington D.C., which I subsequently visited a week later. My Chinese hosts mentioned that all the major Chinese cities are of similar standard, while Shanghai is a generation ahead. I had visited Shanghai in 2000, and had found it to be an ultra-modern city even then. A brief chat with an English speaking salesperson, at a large Beijing departmental store, was revealing. This worker got only one day leave a month, and this explains China's phenomenal economic rise, based on massive exports of practically all commodities. The pragmatic Chinese have put aside ideology, and have put energy-cum national security as the twin pillars which support mass production, export-based national prosperity. Realising that corruption, separatism and terrorism are the biggest threats to national prosperity, as also the one party rule of the Communists, the state is ruthless in dealing with these evils, which have regrettably taken firm root in India.
I had visited Tiananmen Square, where a fortnight earlier, the massive military parade had taken place, and wondered whether we in India, could learn a lesson from the Chinese, and perhaps have only one "good" Republic Day parade every 10 years. Imagine the time and money wasted in the annual month-long parade rehearsals, lost productivity, the inconvenience caused to the common working man and the tempting targets put up for the terrorists on every January 26.
I also briefly visited the Beijing Olympic village and the ultra-modern stadia where the spectacular 2008 Olympics were held, and felt saddened by the way we are preparing for the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, and the recent December 27 cricket fiasco in Delhi.
Qingdao, where the Chinese Navy held its 2009, International Fleet Review is an ultra-modern port city, while the port city of Dalian has a shipyard which is possibly larger than all the eight Indian public sector shipyards combined.
The Indo-Chinese energy requirements are similar, but here too, the Chinese are taking rapid steps to boost energy security. Ten nuclear power plants will come up annually, while the planned 7,000 km Turkmenistan to China oil pipeline will add to energy security, as will the Pakistan-China Karakoram highway-cum-oil pipeline, the "string of pearls" Indian Ocean bases, which will be less vulnerable than Chinese oil imports by ships from West Asia and west Africa.
Fortunately, in a rather eventless 2009, India signed the Indo-Russian pact which ensures uranium supply in perpetuity for Russian nuclear plants and military cooperation has been extended to 2020, while media reports of India proposing to import 145 American made 155mm "Light" Howitzers is welcome. Also, fortunately, the Indian economy has grown at an impressive rate, thanks to the ingenuity of the Indian trader. Unfortunately, the problems of 700 million poor people, the Naxal insurgency, massive corruption and the external threat environment continue to pose grave problems. Unless, urgent steps are taken, food and water shortages will further aggravate the situation, since India will overtake China by 2050, as the world's most populous nation.
The Indian media needs to be congratulated for repeatedly highlighting the inadequacies in our defence preparedness. The news that lack of "environmental clearances" have resulted in only 12 roads built (out of the 73 needed "urgently") along the 4,073 km Indo-China LAC (Line of Actual Control), is only one of the numerous security worries.
The recent January 11, media report that "an official report indicates that India has lost substantial land along LAC to China in the last two decades", is shocking, though not really surprising, in this land of zero accountability.
The brief "Copenhagen India-China bonhomie", and Pakistan's present internal crisis, should not cloud our thinking about the threats from China, Pakistan and Pakistani sponsored terrorists. What will India do now that China has occupied substantial Indian land along the LAC? What will be India's response if terrorists take over a "Liquified Natural Gas" ship or a "chemical" ship and explode it in a busy harbour like Kolkata or a petroleum centre like Vadinar? Since no Indian port is Container Security Initiative (CSI) compliant, what will India do, if terrorists use a shipping container to smuggle in a "dirty radio active bomb" to Delhi, via the sea route?
It is a fact that no Army in the world gets 100 per cent of its perceived needs, but to be 50 per cent deficient, as indicated by the media reports is shocking, as are media reports that the Army will get all its requirements only by 2027. The Army's proposed doctrine of fending off a simultaneous China-Pak military adventure will need hardware and manpower to make it credible.
India's strategic posture received twin jolts from the recent publicity given to the 1998 thermo-nuclear "fizzle", and the failure of two consecutive Agni-II firings. Hopefully, the forthcoming January 2010 repeat tests of Agni-II and Agni-III are successful, and that the subsequent 5,000 km-range Agni-V ballastic missiles are sufficiently tested before being declared operational.
The December 23, 2009, announcement by the home minister to set up by end 2010, the National Counter Terrorism Centre (NCTC), and a NATGRID (Unified Data Centre for seamless flow of 21 sets of data by 2011) is a welcome move. Having personally seen in 2005 how the US Coast Guard provides coastal and waterfront security to New York, it is my opinion that adequately trained, motivated manpower and modern equipment are urgently needed to combat terror.
India, cannot overtake China in the economic or military fields. We can however emulate China's pragmatic approach to national interests. We must also learn from America's ruthless approach to homeland security. The West too needs to investigate, why Muslim youth get radicalised after being educated in their "liberal" environment. 2010, promises to be complex and difficult year, and India must be prepared to meet the challenges.
* Vice-Admiral Arun Kumar Singh retired as Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Visakhapatnam
RED ALERT: IS CHINA WORLD'S NEXT ENRON?
BY THOMAS L. FRIDMAN
Reading The Herald Tribune over breakfast in Hong Kong harbour 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 on 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 of bridges and roads to nowhere. Well, many of them are now connected. It is also on a crash programme 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 (HKUST), who told me that this year they will be offering some 50 full scholarships for graduate students in science and technology. Major US 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 US 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, labour-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.
LET'S CALL IT A DRAW?
WE NEED TO TACKLE PAK'S PROXY WAR
Regaining control over Jammu and Kashmir which was lost to India after the first Kashmir War of 1947-48 remains one of the basic aims of Pakistan's national policy, in pursuance of which Pakistan has fought three unsuccessful wars and undertaken a long- running proxy war since 1989 against this country. The highly emotive issue of revenge against India for Pakistan's humiliating debacle in Bangladesh in 1971 "Badla for Bangladesh" has been added on to this and Pakistan has targeted Jammu and Kashmir, specifically the Kashmir Valley, to exact retribution. These intentions remain unchanged to the present day.
A section of India's leadership has romanticised the notion of "peace with Pakistan", hoping for a corresponding reciprocity from across the border. The Pakistan Army, which controls the foreign policy of that country, is rightly to be seen as the most radical of hawks that will not turn into the gentlest of doves overnight. The fidayeen attacks in Srinagar are manifestations of the Pakistan Army's policy of proxy war. In such a fight, each attack or bomb blast is an individual injury inflicted on India within Pakistan's larger proxy war aims against this country of "death by a thousand cuts". India's leadership must never seek to minimise this perspective.
Pullback, reduction, or withdrawal of forces from Jammu and Kashmir, howsoever described, must be visualised in this broader strategic context. Such moves become a cynical game of political volleyball confined to politicians and their interlocutors in Srinagar and New Delhi. The Jammu and Ladakh regions of J&K, which constitute a sizeable portion of the state, are absolutely against any such pullback. They have never been taken into account in any significant manner by the political actors in the Valley, who dominate the state's political hierarchy, and ignored even by the Government of India. The issue of "azaadi" has been built up into an intensely emotive political programme in the Kashmir Valley by politicians with strong separatist and pro-Pakistan sympathies, whose agendas find disproportionate representation and weightage in the national media. An adequate presence of security forces will always be required in Jammu and Kashmir in the foreseeable future to respond to direct and indirect aggression by Pakistan. In these circumstances, further reductions of force levels in the Valley, beyond the two divisions already withdrawn, would be an unsound decision.
Kashmir is an issue of core national security for India on which there can be no weakening or compromise.
GEN. SHANKAR ROYCHOWDHURY,FORMER ARMY CHIEF
AN IMPETUS TO GET BACK TO NORMALITY
The Mumbai-style terrorist attack on Lal Chowk in Srinagar, the sudden increase in the number of attempts at infiltration across the Line of Control (LoC) and movement and encounters with terrorists provide firm indication of attempts at increasing the levels of violence in Jammu and Kashmir. The lull of the past year, the large turnout of voters in the last general election, and the sizeable withdrawal of the Army from the state appears to have caused alarm bells to ring across the border. The handler of the Srinagar terrorist duo was candid when he referred to the militancy in the state as a "dead horse". The People's Democratic Party, the National Conference and the Congress, the three major parties in the state, had welcomed the withdrawals. Separatist groups and Pakistan expressed their misgivings, respectively referring to it as too little and "cosmetic". The United States expressed its appreciation of the move.
Troop reduction has been considered time and again for nearly a decade. The improvement in the conditions enabled the government to withdraw troops. A popularly elected government under a young leader with a clean image and the troop withdrawals will certainly enhance the process of normalisation, and propel the "quiet" talks which are proposed. The measure also reveals a willingness on the part of the government to be resilient and a willingness to take risks to reach out to the people of the state. These efforts to win the support and confidence of the people to bring permanent peace has caused dismay among the separatists and their Pakistani inspirers.
The people now need to realise who their true friends are and who merely want to use them for their own nefarious purposes. The Shopian investigations have chillingly brought out the extent and the low depths to which the separatists can stoop to exploit the sentiments and emotions of the common people. A family tragedy caused by an unfortunate drowning mishap was used to whip up emotions and orchestrate violence all over the state. They have no respect for human life.
The government must be vigilant to protect the people of Jammu and Kashmir against such persons and the jihadists who misuse and misinterpret religion.
Certainly even more troops should be withdrawn as conditions improve. The reduction, however, should not increase in any way the risk to the life and property of men, women and children of the state. The actual ground conditions and the safety of the people should be the cornerstone and the determinant factor.
Arun Bhagat is former director, Intelligence Bureau
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 duelling 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 LA, 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.
"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 programme 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 eight, 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 pm 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", marvelled 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.
MAKE GITA YOUR SPIRITUAL GUIDE
BY RAJASHREE BIRLA
Gita is universal in its appeal. Its teachings are religious and community agnostic. Recognised as one of the world's top most spiritual treatises, the Gita is a moral compass that guides mankind on the path of righteousness and truth. The serenity and magnificence of its conception is unparalleled.
A contextual reference is appropriate. Known commonly as the gospel of Lord Krishna, Gita textures the most profound discourses given by Lord Krishna to Prince Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.
As the war between the cousins the Pandavas and the Kauravas is about to begin, Prince Arjuna of the Pandu clan, is struck with a tremendous sense of despair. This is because he realises fully well that war can only lead to destruction. And that too the destruction of his kith and kin. He feels that war is futile. It is as this point that Lord Krishna, who acts as his charioteer, expounds various principles. The fundamental premise being that it is a war between right and wrong "dharma and adharma". Between good and evil. Between darkness and light. Gita thus enshrines principles that are not bound by time. They have a timeless quality about them.
The Gita's spiritual wisdom has embellished the lives of millions across the globe, giving them a new perspective. Right from the Father of the Nation Mahatma Gandhi to Aldous Huxley to Albert Einstein. Said Mahatma Gandhi "When doubts haunt me, when disappointments stare me in the face, and I see not one ray of hope on the horizon, I turn to Bhagvad Gita and find a verse to comfort me; and I immediately begin to smile in the midst of overwhelming sorrow. Those who meditate on the Gita will derive fresh joy and new meanings from it every day".
Listen to what Einstein has to say "When I read the Bhagvad Gita and reflect about how God created this universe everything else seems so superfluous".
And comments Aldous Huxley "Gita is one of the clearest and most comprehensive summaries of the perennial philosophy ever to have been done. Hence, it's enduring value, not only for Indians, but for all mankind... the Bhagvad Gita is perhaps the most systematic spiritual statement of the perennial philosophy".
On all counts, Gita is the stairway to a higher purpose in life. It teaches how to transcend oneself through contemplation, self-control, meditation and compassion as well. All of which helps quieten the chatter of the mind, which ceaselessly flips from one issue to the other. Gita teaches you how to master the mind through following the path that it enshrines. It transposes you to an entirely higher plane. Giving you inner peace and a kind of tranquillity. Today, more than ever, most people all over the world are seekers of this inner peace. People have begun to realise the need for self-control in the midst of unrelenting stress. We, as a family, look upon Gita as our spiritual guide. Our aspiration is to try and reach the exalted level of the true Karmayogi. Karmayogi ethos says that the fruits of our efforts are not ours to aspire for. We must let them come from the Lord, whenever He wishes to bestow them upon us. This is one of the best lessons from Gita. For in a way it urges us to be totally selfless in our action, to dedicate our work as an offering to the Almighty and to enjoy this journey of life without expectations.Besides my husband Adityaji, I have found in pujya Ma my mother-in-law, Dr Sarala Birla and pujya Kakoji, Shri B.K. Birla true Karmayogis, who as the Gita says, "perform their duties equipoised, abandoning all attachments to success or failure". Rajashree Birla is the chairperson of the Aditya Birla Centre for Community Initiativesand Rural Development
LEADERS & THE REST
CADRES AS CANNON FODDER
THE CPI-M state secretary in West Bengal has been remarkably candid in diagnosing the malaise that plagues the party. But it his prescription and course of treatment that will raise cavil, and perhaps even within the party. Having initially dragged its feet and then resolved in principle to effect what it calls a "course correction", the party would rather the cadres spread the word of rectification. Does the central committee reckon that the problem is beyond redemption, arguably too hot a potato for leaders to handle? This tendency to delegate and make amends for unpleasant truths was pronounced in Mr Biman Bose's homilies to the cadres in volatile Hooghly district on Tuesday. "Go to the people with folded hands and express regrets for the mistakes you have committed.''
The "mistakes", he needs hardly to be reminded, are those of the party and its government. Singur and Nandigram are merely symptoms of the reality that the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has moved away from the people since the 2006 assembly election. The policies and decisions that floundered were the party's; the execution was the government's; and the cadres merely carried out instructions, a faithful reflection perhaps of the in-house discipline. They could not have marched into Singur, masquerading as the police, without a nod from on high. Equally, they could not have carried out the mayhem in Nandigram without the tacit connivance of the administration.
Ergo, it would be a conscious skirting of responsibility if the leaders pass the buck and leave it to the cadres to seek absolution. That precisely is the message of Mr Bose's public meeting. The leaders don't appear to figure in the scheme of things. There hasn't been a single rally, either in Kolkata or anywhere in Bengal, where the heavyweights on the dais have told the people what Mr Bose wants the party workers to do ~ "Tell the people that we will not commit mistakes in future." For the leaders, it is a retreat to unsplendid isolation, reducing the cadres to cannon fodder, as it were. It is almost a variant of the "they" and "we" construct. Let's hear the leaders speak.
LALU'S TACTICS COULD PROVE SUICIDAL
Lalu Prasad is one of those leaders who can employ the most unconventional methods of devising a political comeback without raising too many eyebrows. Charge-sheeted in cases involving the fodder scam and holding assets disproportionate to his known sources of income, he surrendered the chief minister's chair only to give it to his wife. He had always considered Ram Vilas Paswan his staunchest rival till he discovered they were in the same boat and needed to embrace each other. The bad run has continued, prompting him to explore more options before the next assembly poll. A serious handicap is that, unlike the CPI-M which is equally desperate to reverse the anti-incumbency trend, Lalu is a one-man organisation being hammered from all sides. While Nitish Kumar's record in the last four years has robbed the RJD-sponsored bandh call on 28 January of much of its steam, Lalu has to contend with the Congress' indifference, on the one hand, and Mamata Banerjee's hard-hitting White Paper on his tenure as Union railway minister, on the other. Yet he feels he cannot allow party workers to sink into a state of despair. While a demoralised CPI-M proposes to put its organisational machinery into top gear before the next election, the best advice the RJD boss can offer to his followers is that they should "retain their fighting spirit'' and present him with certificates of having served jail terms if they are keen on grabbing tickets for the next assembly election.
In Lalu's dictionary, those words should have one meaning: party workers should conduct themselves during the proposed bandh or any other occasion in a manner that would recall ominous images of a lawless regime. Even worse is the offer that such conduct may fetch them an opportunity to represent the people. That such direct signals can be sent out to party workers who are naturally inclined to be unruly is bad enough. Lalu seems to have wilfully chosen the path of self-destruction without having learnt any lessons from his poll debacles. The Congress may pretend not to take note though on paper he remains in the UPA. But the sanest advice that his political friends ~ if he still has them ~ can give him is that his new adventures could prove to be suicidal.
FUELLING A CRISIS
ESSENTIAL PREREQUISITE ISN'T IN PLACE
A vehicle can't run without fuel. That problem with the basics is central to the renewed crisis in Kolkata's urban transportation. It is the outcome of inordinately delayed implementation of and the lopsided follow-up to the High Court order. And once more, the ubiquitous and convenient autorickshaw symbolises the recurrent dislocation. True, most of these vehicles have dispensed with the two-stroke model, switching over to the pollution-free mode in compliance with the court order. True too that the operators took more than a year to complete the process, a defiant delay that was tacitly condoned by the administration. However, it would be less than fair to blame them if the network is now almost as chaotic as it was some months ago on account of the severe shortage of LPG pumping stations Having effected the changeover, it devolved on the transport department to ensure that an adequate loop of filling stations was made available. And that is precisely what the High Court order of July 2008 is all about. The stalling of traffic over the past few days by auto operators, in a fruitless quest for fuel, points to a mess of the government's creation.
The state is yet to convince the public sector oil companies about the requirement and the necessity of adequate filling stations. More than 18 months after the judicial order, there are barely 18 filling stations in Kolkata and its periphery. That 25 more units will come up by the end of 2010 is a saccharine assurance, at worst an illustration of the feet-dragging over a court directive; at best a long-term plan that may or may not fructify given the state's inertia over new ventures. It was only to be anticipated that political parties would stir the troubled waters, with Trinamul activists blocking roads and a demarcation of the areas of protest by Citu and Trinamul-backed operators. Both parties appear to have come together on a matter of mutual interest. While the Metro Railway copes with the additional burden post extension of the southern track, the adjunct service has almost screeched to a halt across the city. It is the unions, cutting across party lines, that will serve as the government's opposition ahead of the elections.
WEALTH & HAPPINESS~I
THE MOST COMFORTABLE CAN ALSO BE THE MOST DEPRESSED
SOME of world's greatest philosophers have often emphasised that the path to genuine happiness lies not in the accumulation of more and more wealth but in contributing to the welfare of all. The message has now acquired even greater relevance. To arrive at a satisfactory solution to the environmental crisis, it is essential to convince the people that they can lead a more meaningful and happier life by giving up a consumerist lifestyle.
We will first have to explode the myth that the existing lifestyle of the rich and developed societies is necessarily happy and hence desirable. It is ironical that depression and anxiety are touching record levels in some of the richest countries. In a review article on Oliver James' book Britain on the Couch, Simon Jenkins recently wrote in The Times, London, that "a generation that is the most comfortable in history is also the most depressed. Clinical depression is 10 times higher among people born after 1945 than among those born before 1914. Women under 35 are especially at risk".
Oliver James says that modern life makes us feel like losers, even if we are winners. The fragmentation of communities, the pressure of free market expenditure, the incentives for short-term material gratification have led to loneliness and depression. As a result, "millions now turn restlessly from one therapy to another."
THE social scenario is dismal in Australia where beach life and surfing are integral to the way of life. Bill Hulton reported in The Guardian that "male suicide rates are the highest in the world and growing fast. Ten per cent of young Australians commit some form of self-harm. There is an upsurge of bullying, stealing and vandalism in schools. There has been as upsurge in social marginalisation and sheer loneliness... Loneliness is emerging as a hot political issue." No fewer than 403 drug crimes per 100000 population were reported in Australia, the highest rate for this crime among all industrialised countries.
In the USA, the plight of teenagers, as revealed in a survey by a 37-member commission, is even more shocking. One out of eight teenagers is afflicted with a sexually transmitted disease every year. One out of 10 teenage girls becomes pregnant in a year. One out of five adolescent girls attempts suicide. The rate among adolescent boys is one out of 10. Nearly half of the high school students consume alcohol. Nearly 30 per cent of tenth graders have experimented with drugs.
During 1987-91, the number of divorces, as a percentage of marriages contracted, was 48 in North America, 50 in the Nordic countries and 34 in the industrial countries. During 1985-92, the percentage of births outside marriage was 27 in North America, 46 in the Nordic countries and 17 in all industrialised countries. The divorce rate in the United States nearly doubled between 1970 and 1981. Since 1960, the rate has doubled in almost every country in Europe. It has trebled in the Netherlands, quadrupled in the United Kingdom and has risen tenfold in Barbados.
During 1955-88, the number of broken marriages in the UK increased six-fold. The percentage of people living alone increased from 17 in 1971 to 26 in 1988. The percentage of children born out of wedlock increased from 5 in 1955 to 25 in 1988, a five-fold increase.
A report in The Daily Telegraph states that allegations of ill-conduct are made in 75 per cent of divorce cases in Britain. Over 30 per cent of the divorced men lose contact with their children. It is widely recognised that the type of family life and parental care that children get can have a significant impact on their adulthood. The National Survey of Health and Development in the UK assessed children from broken homes in their twenties and thirties. The levels of under-achievement, poor education, delinquency, anger and bitterness, drinking and smoking and lack of self-confidence is much higher among them.
In the United States, domestic violence is the biggest single cause of injury to women, accounting for higher hospital admission as compared to rape, mugging and road accidents combined. Naomi Wolf has summarised several studies on crime against women in her book, The Beauty Myth. "According to the 1983 random survey conducted by Diana Russell of 930 San Francisco women, 44 per cent had survived rape or attempted rape as defined by the FBI; 88 per cent of them knew their attacker. In a Dutch study of 1,054 middle class, educated women between the age of twenty and forty, 15.6 per cent had been sexually abused by relatives, 24.4 per cent had been sexually abused as children by non-relatives, and 32.2 per cent had forced sexual experiences before age sixteen". This book quotes another US study which revealed that more than 50 per cent of the boys and nearly half the girls thought it was okay for a man to rape a women if he was sexually aroused by her. A survey in Toronto reports that children are learning dominance and submission patterns at an earlier age. One in seven boys in grade 13 refused to take 'no' for an answer, and one in four girls of the same age reported having been sexually forced. According to researcher Susan G. Cole, "In spite of hopes to the contrary, pornography and mass culture are working to co-relate sexuality with rape, reinforcing the patterns of male dominance and female submissions so that many young people believe this is simply the way sex is. This means that many of the rapists of the future will believe they are behaving within socially accepted norms."
THE Human Development Report states: "Although per capita incomes in the OECD countries now average $20,000, surveys reveal growing insecurity and considerable dissatisfaction." It is a sad comment on the thinking promoted by the existing economic system that even some of the richest suffer from economic tensions. According to a recent news report: "The survey of the wealthiest 1% of Americans ~ those with at least $200,000-a-year household income, or $3 million net worth ~ found that most fear they won't have enough money in retirement." The major worry is that inflation will erode their retirement income, forcing them to reduce their standard of living. Other findings reveal that wealthy people over the age of 50 are most likely to fall short of their retirement goals. The survey says they want an average $218,300 a year. But their portfolios will produce only $126,064.
According to Robert Reich, former US Secretary of Labour, "a new world of economic dynamism and possibility has seen the end of the old era of stable mass production and the implicit social contract that used to bind companies with their workers and their communities... " Former President Bill Clinton voiced the growing feeling of insecurity in the USA when he said, "I think it is fair to say that almost every family feels some insecurity at the scope and pace of change in the world. There are so many people in the country that, because of these changes, they feel like they're always going to be on the losing side of cost-cutting and quality issues in every sector of life."
"What's new about the new economy is that it's scary all the time, not just in cycles", wrote Nancy Gibbs, in Time magazine. Because the market is global, there is no longer even the illusion of control and that is what really frightens people.
(To be concluded) The writer, a social activist, is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi
SHOULD INDIA LEGALISE PROSTITUTION?
THE SUPREME COURT'S RECENT SUGGESTION TO THIS EFFECT HAS RECEIVED A MIXED RESPONSE FROM ACTIVISTS WORKING WITH SEX WORKERS IN INDIA. KAMAYANI BALI-MAHABAL REPORTS
THE Supreme Court of India recently suggested legalising prostitution as a solution to the reality that, despite a raft of law, there is a rapid proliferation of the sex trade. The apex court, presided over by a two-judge bench, said no legislation anywhere in the world had successfully managed to stop the sex trade, and legalising it would allow the authorities to "monitor the trade, rehabilitate and provide medical aid to those involved".
This suggestion, however, has received a mixed response from activists working with sex workers in India. While those like Dr Smarajit Jana, the man behind the formation of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee, a 65,000-strong sex workers' forum, have welcomed it, others fear that such a move would only encourage traffickers and the prostitution mafia.
Jana, who is principal of the Kolkata-based Sonagachi Research and Training Institute, sees the apex court's comments as a positive development. According to him, no amount of punitive action has or can prevent prostitution. It has only led to violence and criminalisation of the trade. "Sex work should be treated as work and brought under the Work Schedule of the labour department. Sex workers from both brothels and the streets should be recognised as workers and the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act should not be applied to them. Legalising the trade will also help curb the spread of HIV," he reasons.
The court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation filed by the NGOs, Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save Childhood Movement) and Childline, complaining about largescale child trafficking in the country and seeking directives to contain it. Says RS Chaurasia, chairperson of the Bachpan Bachao Andolan, "We are against all forms of exploitation of men, women and children, including commercial sexual exploitation, forced labour and all such slavery-like practices. We have filed this petition against trafficking within India as well as across international borders with the intention of developing better policies against all forms of trafficking."
Madhu Kishwar, professor at the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and founder-editor of Manushi, is clearly against legalising prostitution. "We will only end up giving immunity to the pimps and brothels to buy or sell human beings. This will in turn increase trafficking of young women and children." She points out that it is also worth noting that the judges were not dealing with those women who take to this profession as a choice, but with children who are abducted, trapped, bought and sold by criminal mafias to be inducted into the flesh trade.
In India, the Immoral Traffic Prevention Act is the only piece of legislation dealing with the crime of trafficking but it only considers trafficking as prostitution and is not in accordance with International Policies and Guidelines, including the Palermo Protocol of 2001, which India signed. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs because Article 23 prohibits "traffic in human beings and all similar forms of forced labour".
Prostitution is legal with some restrictions in Canada, and almost all of Europe, including England, France, Wales and Denmark, most of South America, including most of Mexico (often in special zones), Brazil, Israel (Tel-Aviv is known as the brothel capital of the world), Australia and many other countries. It is either legal or tolerated in most of Asia. Even Iran has "temporary wives", which can be for only a few hours. In 2003, New Zealand passed one of the most comprehensive decriminalisation acts which even made street hookers legal.
However, Kishwar argues that despite legalising sex work, the women involved are not free from dehumanising forms of sex slavery and prostitutes do not command social respect. Therefore, copycat solutions will not work. While there is the need to decriminalise this activity and free women in prostitution from the terror and extortionist grip of the police, to make it socially acceptable would mean turning a blind eye to the dehumanising circumstances under which the vast majority of children and women are trapped into the trade.
Pravin Patkar, founder of the Mumbai-based NGO, Prerana, which works for the rehabilitation of children of sex workers, tends to agree with Kishwar. He feels that decriminalisation of the profession will open the floodgates for human trafficking. "Despite having a well-formulated law against trafficking, we have been unable to check the menace. By what stretch of the imagination can we believe that trafficking can be curbed when the trade itself is decriminalised?" he asks.
"Within the Indian context, sex work is 'dhanda', a business. It is an exchange of a sexual service for monetary benefit," explains Meena Seshu, a feminist activist and founder of Sangram, an organisation based in Sangli, Maharashtra, that has helped women in prostitution become Aids educators among themselves and in the wider community. "Legalisation of this business will not help the women involved in this business. It would mean that the state would have more control over the mobility of the sex workers and also increase their vulnerability to mandatory testing of HIV and STD," she elaborates. Indian law and government policies have failed to protect sex workers, as ambiguity in the law has made them vulnerable to abuse.
According to Seshu, this abuse has been exacerbated in recent years because the increased visibility of sex workers due to public health interventions has proved dangerous.
Coupled with this is the attention this visibility is attracting from the moral brigade. According to Seshu, it has spearheaded the strategy of "raid, rescue and restore" missions. This 3R ideology stems from the idea that all prostitution is a form of sexual victimisation. According to her, these programmes have not only proved to be indiscriminate, violent and incredibly destructive of invaded communities, they have also proven ineffectual in combating HIV/Aids, child prostitution and sex trafficking.
"But has anyone asked what women in the trade feel?" asks Kamlabai, a sex worker with the Veshya Anyay Mukti Parishad (Prostitutes Against Injustice) for almost 12 years. The 50-year-old, who is from Karnataka, says, "On the one hand, the police use force and violence against us. On the other, society discriminates against us because of our profession. Will the violence and discrimination end once our profession is legalised? Suppose we get identity cards, and we have to migrate, what will be the process? Will I get rid of corrupt police officials, pimps then? I want to know what benefits me decriminalisation or legalisation?" But she is clear about one thing. "If there is a law for us it has to be made with our participation."
On trafficking, she believes women in prostitution cannot be put into a box. "The fact that a majority of adult women in sex work consent to it is disbelieved and ignored. The understanding that trafficking is synonymous with sex work or prostitution has also dodged the strategies by policy-makers who insist that all women in sex work are victims of trafficking. Not all the women in sex work are trafficked and not all trafficked women are in sex work," she argues.
Even women in prostitution, who are informed of their health rights, do not always have full agency in protecting themselves. The police, government officials and criminals will often force these women to have sex without condoms, threatening them with blackmail, extortion, arrest and/or violence. They are, therefore, at a higher risk of contracting diseases, with a lesser chance of accessing good health care.
Because society deems women in prostitution as being morally corrupt, they are assumed to be guilty in any altercation, and thus "deserving" of any violence committed against them. This amounts to a gross denial of their human rights.
Women's Feature Service
WHERE PEOPLE BUY MUD TO EAT
THAT'S HOW POOR HAITI IS, WRITES ANDREW BUNCOMBE
The timelines that show the slew of natural disasters to have befallen Haiti in two centuries since it secured independence from France give an indication of the vulnerability of the Caribbean nation to the forces of extreme weather.
What they obscure is the far more damaging impact of foreign intervention that has ensured the ordinary people of Haiti the poorest country in the Western hemisphere have remained oppressed and impoverished. Such a situation has left the country shamefully ill-equipped to avoid and deal with calamities such as that which is currently faces.
Just a 90-minute flight from Miami, democracy has rarely had a chance in Haiti. Between 1956 and 1986, the country was dominated by the murderous dictators Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Baby Doc.
Four years after Baby Doc fled to France, a young, dynamic Catholic priest who spoke of equality and empowerment, called Jean-Bertrand Aristide, was swept to power in a democratic election with almost 70 per cent of the vote. But his liberation theology and desire to raise the wages of ordinary labourers did not go down well with the country's small elite or their supporters in Washington; less than two years later he was ousted in a CIA-backed coup.
Aristide was returned to power by US marines dispatched by the Clinton Administration and would be later re-elected for a second term. Yet, his continued efforts to raise wages in a country that had become a sweatshop for the US garment industry and resist demands of the IMF and others to "liberalise" the economy, again angered his opponents. In 2000, the USA now dispatching emergency funds actively blocked more than $500 million in international aid.
Four years later, Aristide, by then turning to the tactics of violence to try and maintain his position, was again forced from power by a coalition of business interests and former soldiers, partly funded and supported by elements of the Bush Administration and the US Republican establishment.
"The USA has spent a lot of energy over the last 100 years in preventing the emancipation of ordinary Haitians citizens and every time there was a chance of this it was blocked," says academic Peter Hallward, author of Damming the Flood.
The blocking of Haiti's progress is all too obvious to any visitor to the island. Lack of investment in infrastructure and agriculture has helped create a country where three-quarters of the population lives on less than two dollars a day and a full 50 per cent on just one dollar. Only sub-Saharan Africa is poorer. In the crowded markets, biscuits made of mud and salt that are baked in the sun are sold to the poorest of the poor.
Meanwhile, less than half the population of cities such as Port-au-Prince, where the poor are squeezed into notorious gang-controlled slums such as Cite Soleil or else forced to build squatter camps in ravines that are prey to flooding, have access to clean water.
Urban migration has resulted in a city that has swollen to two million people. On the steep hillsides of the capital there is little room to build homes; those that are built are hastily and cheaply constructed, usually from concrete. They can barely withstand a tropical shower let alone an earthquake.
"The magnitude of this terrible tragedy is directly linked to the massive influx of people who have come to live in Port-au-Prince over recent decades," says Charles Arthur, of the Haiti Support Group. "This human wave has overwhelmed the city and the rudimentary services. The result is completely unregulated construction, poor or non-existent sanitation and the spread of poverty-stricken shantytowns. The loss of life, the potential for disease to spread, are all far greater because there are too many people living in Port-au-Prince."
Poverty has set upon the landscape. Unlike the neighbouring Dominican Republic, less than two per cent of Haiti's forest cover remains, having been chopped down either for export or else because of the domestic charcoal industry. When hurricanes struck two years ago, more than 1,000 died around the town of Gonaives, while in Cuba where the storms struck more heavily there were far fewer deaths. Dr Paul Farmer, who runs an organisation called Partners in Health, witnessed first-hand as an absence of trees allowed flash-floods to sweep the area.
"It's the ecological disaster that underpins the entire process. And again, the chaos and the ecological disasters are caused by humans and not the wrath of God," he later said.
The government's ability to respond had also been undermined by food riots. Months before the hurricane, the country's Prime Minister was forced from office over soaring food prices but, ironically, a failure to impose tariffs on subsidised rice from the USA had helped undermine the local food industry.
In the days ahead, one will read much of Haiti's "chaotic past", its "long-troubled history" and its effective status as a "failed state". There are reasons for such a situation. Few of them have anything to do with the beleaguered people of Haiti.
DRIVING HOME A POINT
THERE is a story of an American businessman who purchased a new car at Tokyo airport on return from Bangkok because he had forgotten to tell his driver to pick him up. Driving home, he joined the driver at the party he was giving to his friends and family on Christmas eve. Another businessman, a Japanese, kept a shadow car, besides his station wagon, which he himself drove with the driver on his left.
In ancient times, sailors had a wife in every port. Today, the neo-rich have a car parked at every airport, but no drivers. They do not purchase cars, they chase them.
And yet the pity is that they look like drivers even in their own cars. Among the drivers, I like truck drivers, particularly when they talk in English. I call it Truck-English. "Paji, have you made khoah?" (Brother, have you made milk-cake?) I have, therefore, decided that if and when, or if at all I have a car, I will have it driven by a truck-English-speaking driver, preferably from Jullundur, my home town, and more preferably by a driver who hails from an area which now forms Pakistan, such as Sialkot, Gujranwala or Multan.
The last named is fascinating because of Multani-Mitti. It is said that when Baba Farid went to Multan, the Ulemas met him on the outskirts of the town. They had a jar filled to the brim with water, which meant that there was no room at all for another Sufi. Farid took some mitti (earth) in his hand and set afloat a flower on the neck of the jar, which meant that he would not demand any space but would float like the flower on water.
My condition was almost the same. When I went to see a car in a showroom, the gatekeeper told me all the cars had been sold and there was no more room in the showroom. So my condition was like that of a pitiably drenched crow on a monsoon morning in the rain without an umbrella. So I enjoyed the rain.
The other day a middle writer of no mean quality set afloat the rumour that I had purchased a car. People and relatives wrote letters to me. All were car-less but I did not care less. I did not read the letters and kept quiet.
But you cannot keep quiet when you are asked about your car in the middle of a reception. And a distant relative did ask me, without keeping the required distance. Putting his hand on my shoulder, he asked, "Where is your car parked?"
"Unhand me," I said and I knew that a simple "Yes" or "No" would cut no ice. I took his hand from my shoulder and put it in my pocket. "Here." He is not on talking terms with me since then.
After a few days, there was another reception. This time the questioner was more experienced, more mature:
"Which car do you drive, brother?"
Brief as brevity, I replied, "I am driven."
I pulled a fast one. Quoting Dr Johnson, I said, "A fat ox." Then looking at his tummy, I added, "One who drives fat oxen himself need not be fat."
He reacted, "But lean drivers drive better."
"But faster," I retorted and got lost in the crowd.
I thought I had escaped narrowly. But lo and behold, he met me at the gate at the time of leaving. He waved, a twinkle in his eye. His teeth shone as in a toothpaste advertisement.
It was winter. The night was deepening. I smiled. He returned my smile. He grinned. I grinned. He drove. And I rode pillion.
An earthquake measuring 7.0 on the Richter scale would be calamitous anywhere in the world. Even the richest nations are likely to crumble before its might. So, in a failing state like Haiti, best known for being the poorest country in the Western hemisphere, a natural disaster of such proportions is bound to be catastrophic. While there may be impeccable logic in such reasoning, one cannot take any comfort from it. Even considering the cyclones, hurricanes and floods that have played havoc with this Caribbean nation for years, Tuesday's earthquake and its trail of destruction were unprecedented. Around 100,000 have perished as scores of buildings, including the presidential palace, have been razed to rubble. As thoughtless neoliberal policies practically finished off the agrarian sector in the 1970s, Haitian farmers were forced to move into congested urban slums. Fragile shanties huddled along deforested ravines made these people an easy target for nature's fury.
Although the evidence linking earthquakes to global warming is still untenable, that does not exculpate the sins of the bigger nations. The United States of America, which invaded Haiti in 1915, is by far the chief architect of all the evils afflicting the latter. Unemployment, violence and illegal migration run high across Haiti, as disbursal of foreign aid remains structurally flawed. Billions of dollars are liberally spent on funding new 'projects', but precious little is done to maintain existing infrastructure a crucial stretch of road had to be rebuilt thrice in 25 years, last time with a $170m loan, but needs repair again. In 2006, the US Congress passed the Haitian Hemisphere Opportunity through Partnership Encouragement Act, and gave it a suitably feel-good acronym Hope. This legislative move has secured some of the best trade deals for Haiti, giving it a chance to move on. But years of US meddling in the internal affairs of the state has effectively scotched any chance of Haiti radically reinventing itself. As the former president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, put it, Haiti has finally moved on "from absolute misery to a dignified poverty". But that is clearly not enough, as its woeful unpreparedness in the face of the latest crisis shows. Until there is political stability in Haiti, no amount of aid will alleviate its suffering. Haitians may be vulnerable to nature's wrath, but they deserve a chance to face it in their own terms.
TIME TO ACT
When a fire destroys homes of some 450 people, only in Calcutta do people's leaders stop fire tenders from reaching the site. When an ambulance is desperate to reach a hospital with a dying man in it, only in Calcutta, political activists stop it and think nothing of letting the sick man suffer or even die. The cruellest part of the story is that such ugly, inhuman acts are hailed as signs of a vibrant political culture. On two consecutive days, bandhs and blockades by political parties showed how little Bengal's political class has changed. The bandh organized by the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) in South 24 Parganas also suggested that the comrades, humiliated in one election after another since last year's Lok Sabha polls, are incapable of learning any lessons whatsoever. In rejecting the Marxists in these polls, the people had expressed their anger not only at their government's many failures but also at their politics. The trouble is that the alternative offered by Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress is proving to be more of the same. Ms Banerjee's loyalists apparently think that the surest way to beat the Marxists is to imitate their politics of bandhs and street battles.
Governments never learn, says an old adage, only the people do. If Bengal's political class will not learn, the people must. It is time that the people stood up and told the politicians to learn. Everyone now agrees that bandhs solve no problems. They have long ceased to be of any importance in terms of political symbolism. Worse, even the political parties know that bandhs and other forms of hold-ups are all a matter of flexing muscles. But, if the civil society is to raise its voice, it must steer clear of the partisan argument. It must draw a clear line between political loyalties and disruptive politics. It will not do to choose between the CPI(M) and the TMC in condemning the politics of bandhs. After all, such politics violates the basic freedoms of citizens. Political pluralism is an essential part of democracy, but it is time the people rose above their party preferences in order to condemn the attack on their freedoms and rights by self-seeking politicians. There are now signs that the political scene in Bengal may change at last. But a change of government will mean nothing unless it comes with a change in the political culture. Bengal needs a people's revolt to save itself from its politicians.
SIDESTEPPING THE CONSTITUTION MAY NOT BODE WELL
CUTTING CORNERS - ASHOK MITRA
The Maoists are not the only ones engaged in effecting a revolution in India. Another revolution too is taking place, through the proposed deus ex machina of the goods and services tax. Once this legislation enters the statute book, several provisions of Article 246 and the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution will be shown the door. It will be a revolution since the cataclysmic change will be brought about without the bother of a constitutional amendment.
What is being done is part of the reforms considered integral to the grand process of economic liberation initiated in the 1990s. The aim was to usher in the capitalist era in the country. Capitalism flourishes in an ambience where the market is free and subject to a minimum of distractions and constraints. Paying taxes is a necessary evil, for the government has to maintain law and order and needs resources on that account. Capitalists would, however, like the tax system to be smooth and seamless: there should not be a multiplicity of taxes or a multiplicity of tax rates; plurality of taxing authorities is an equal nuisance.
A federal financial structure is, not surprisingly, not the cup of tea for capitalist entrepreneurs. The Indian Constitution, however, made a stab at precisely that kind of a thing. Since the banking system is under full control of the Union government, thank heavens, there is a centralized monetary policy. In the fiscal arena, the regime for direct taxes is not so bad: the Centre collects the taxes on income accruing to both individuals and companies; it also decides on the rates structure for these categories. Excise on production too is mostly at the Centre's bidding. But the problem lies with indirect taxes, such as sales taxes. The Constitution has allocated the prerogative of imposing taxes on the sale of commodities to the states. Different states could set different rates of sales tax for the same commodity, and there could be varying schedules of rates for different commodities. Besides, each state might tend to have its own distinct modes of tax administrations. All this, entrepreneurs complained, amounted to fragmentation of the national market, which impeded development by affecting adversely the tempo of production and distribution. In this context, reference was constantly made to the example set by Europe. The European countries retain their separate political entities, but, to foster accelerated growth, they have gone ahead with economic integration, creating the common market, introducing a common currency and substituting national-level sales taxes by a value-added tax on commodities and services applicable uniformly to all countries belonging to the European Community.
What Europe has done, the authorities over here have decided, India too must do. The first giant stride towards that direction was taken half a dozen years ago with the abolition of the system of state sales taxes and its substitution by a value-added tax with a schedule of standard rates enforceable in all the states; the tax rates were kept low to the delight of manufacturers and traders. Low tax rates, it was argued, encourages sales and therefore stimulates production and growth.
Whether the hypothesis is right or wrong is yet to be seen. What, however, intrigued was the modality chosen to get rid of state sales taxation and introduce the value-added tax instead. Abolishing a tax that was inscribed in the Constitution as well as inserting a new tax instrument not hitherto mentioned in it should, on the face of it, necessitate a constitutional amendment. That route was not taken: the state governments were simply advised to amend their respective sales tax laws in a manner that would transform them into a regime of value-added tax. Whether this procedure was constitutionally valid was a question that was not seriously raised. No public litigation case got filed, neither did the judiciary choose to consider the matter suo motu.
It has not hit them yet, the states are yet to realize what they have deprived themselves of by giving up their sovereign right to impose sales taxes. The states are now without any effective fiscal device to encourage investment within their territories. In the past, they could offer a tax holiday either time-bound or indefinite to lure entrepreneurs to come and be their guest. They can do so no longer. Practically the only incentive a state administration is now in a position to offer is the prospect of satisfactory economic infrastructure. Developing infrastructure, however, itself calls for huge investment funds. A relatively backward state suffers from a built-in disadvantage here. Because it is underdeveloped and poor, it lacks the resources necessary to set up an adequate economic infrastructure and is therefore unable to compete with the relatively more resourceful states in attracting investors. The Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act, thrust upon them by the Centre, had already weakened the capability of the states, especially the poorer ones, to offer development subsidies or spend on social welfare measures. The deprivation of the tax incentive instrument is likely to cause a further setback and aggravate, inter alia, the trend towards widening regional inequalities.
The goods and services tax might make things even worse. The states had till now little say in taxing services, barring a few items such as entertainments; the Constitution has by implication left this matter to the purview of the Centre. In the six decades since the Constitution came into place, the Indian economy has grown and grown and services have emerged as its fastest growing as well as the most important sector. When the Centre had persuaded the states to abandon sales taxation and adopt the uniformly enforced value-added tax, the bait offered was of their being allowed a liberal share from out of the burgeoning receipts accruing from the taxation of services. That assurance, it is claimed, is being fulfilled by the goods and services tax. The overriding reason for introducing this new tax measure is, nevertheless, to satisfy the demand of the entrepreneurial class for a seamless tax structure. The tax intends to bring all forms of indirect taxes and all commodities and services, under one umbrella. The jurisdictional division of fiscal powers between the Centre and the states will be wiped out; there will be a unified and uniform rates structure for the entire country. The tax administration too is proposed to be 'harmonized'. The schedule of tax rates is expected to be on the low-to-moderate side so as to add to the jollity of the capitalist order.
The state governments have been fed on hopes that they will be net beneficiaries from the new fiscal arrangement. But nobody really knows how the cookie is going to crumble. One thing is however certain: it is bound to crumble in a way that will badly hurt the poor and backward states, if only for the reason that they have as yet few service activities taking place within their borders.
And there is, of course, the very big issue of sidestepping the Constitution. The fiscal texture woven in Article 246 and the Seventh Schedule will be comprehensively destroyed with the legislation of the Goods and Services Tax Act. Is overhaul of such a major order valid in the absence of an amendment to the Constitution? The misgivings expressed at the time of the introduction of the value-added tax system need to be re-echoed. This is a matter which should have caused concern to savants in jurisprudence. But jurists are possibly less excited over fiscal issues than over human rights or environmental problems.
Even so, whether a unitary fiscal framework is a sustainable proposition for a multi-party democracy like India is a question that will not fade away. For consider the total landscape that is fast emerging. Neo-liberal policies have yielded high gross domestic product growth, but have been accompanied by increasing income inequalities and acuter regional imbalances as well. Conventional political parties are seemingly unable to grasp the significance of these developments. The army is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Centre. The so-called war on terror has again vested the central police and security personnel with immense power in the area of maintenance of law and order, nominally the responsibility of the states. Now a big effort is on to concentrate all fiscal and monetary powers in the hands of the Centre. It is a big country with a complexity of problems. True, China is bigger, but it has a regime under the total command of the communist party whose writ is enforced with cool efficiency all over the country. India, in contrast, has a pluralistic arrangement with dozens of parties and a Constitution allowing the right of uninhibited expression of views. A polity, featured by a highly centralized fiscal and monetary discipline as well as an extreme concentration of military and police power, has to grapple with the phenomenon of remorselessly growing horizontal and vertical inequalities. Such a system could be in constant danger of coming apart. Even if it does not come apart, it is likely to spawn big and small pockets of intense discontent that Maoist-kind of formations will lusciously take advantage of.
LAND OF NO HOPE
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The ridiculous visa policy recently introduced by the government of India has left us gaping in disbelief and bewilderment. It makes no sense at all. Just because the government machinery has failed to enforce the law for decades, it is mindless and unproductive to change the rules that should apply to travellers of all kinds coming to this country, in an effort to curb their misuse. Those who have failed to enforce the law men and women representing the State who have become lazy and corrupt should be hauled over coals. The home ministry should have cracked the whip on the employees of its various departments who have abused the system over the years. It should have made them accountable for their failures instead of assaulting innocent citizens of the world with this set of new visa rules. How many times is the government going to change rules that are never enforced with honesty by its representatives? Is this the new process of 'cleansing' that the United Progressive Alliance government is experimenting with? If it is, only god can help us.
Shashi Tharoor was absolutely right when he said that militants and terrorists do not enter by announcing themselves. Laws have to be enforced by those mandated to do so. Unfortunately in India, for a bit of money, babus have been known to bend the law with ease. Our newspapers are replete with examples of the misdemeanours of senior members of the armed forces, the judiciary, members of parliament, businessmen and bureaucrats, all of whom have misused their privilege and access to power. This horror has besieged us and is suffocating the citizens of India and Bharat. There is no man, woman or child that has not been attacked by this deadly disease. When a Tharoor contradicts a government diktat on Twitter, a communication device of the modern world, and raises questions in the public domain, within a functioning democracy, about the validity of a policy, the frightening fact that transparency and debate within the government are dead is brought home.
Exclusive decision-making, lack of transparency, no argument in party and government forums, diktats that lead to backroom machinations and negative politicking, lies and counter-lies, non-existent dialogue and dissent, have all come together and corroded the machinery that governs India. If party and government platforms discourage, and more often than not disallow debate, intelligent, thoughtful leaders and politicians will use other means to communicate sane ideas. Our leaders need to look within, listen to their inner voice, and respect their conscience.
The fact that David Headley got away with what he did proves the failure of governance, of the inability of a soft State to enforce existing laws. This has got nothing to do with the premise of the law itself. Why burden people with an incomprehensible new regulation? The prime minister of India needs to ensure a reversal of the rather untenable visa rule. We have become the laughing stock of the world as we proclaim our aspiration to lead the region. We only mark time and take no real strides forward.
The prime minister wants to encourage business and investments from overseas, but no person with a multiple entry visa can return to this country within a gap of two months. What sense does this make? This is not the 18th century, when you had to come around the Cape of Good Hope! Why is the UPA setting India back in time? Is this the way to fight illegal immigration to India? Can a spokesperson of the government rise and explain the logic? The mind boggles at the thought of why any government should react in this unthinking fashion.
'BIHAR'S GROWTH STORY IS INDEED CREDITABLE.'
Most people were pleasantly surprised by the figures of GDP growth in some of the country's most backward states, provided by the Central Statistical Organisation. They showed remarkable economic growth in the last five years and the pack of fast-movers was led by Bihar which rarely escape being called hopeless and benighted. All the traditional laggards Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, UP and Rajasthan clocked growth ranging from 6.25 per cent to 11.05 per cent.
Bihar's 11.03 per cent was next only to Gujarat's 11.05 per cent. There was even some skepticism about the authenticity of the figures but it now seems that they are credible. It is indeed difficult to manipulate the figures for all the states. Only Madhya Pradesh lags behind others, but there is a view that this is because of reasons beyond its control like the vagaries of nature.
Bihar's performance has attracted most attention. Many reasons have been cited: the good governance provided by the Nitish Kumar government with emphasis on better law and order which is a condition for economic growth, construction activities and building of infrastructure like rural roads, the spread of telephony, the growth of the service sector, increased public spending under social programmes, social changes brought about by the Mandalisation of the state in the 90s and the bandwagon effect created by the growth in other parts of the country are some of the explanations. None of them on its own could have produced such a near miracle. A combination all these and other factors could have contributed to the progress of the state. Bihar's performance is all the more creditable because it is predominantly agriculture-dependent and is not resource-rich like Orissa or Jharkhand.
The growth of both Bihar and UP will have a major impact at the national level because these two are big and populous states. It has been observed that the growth recorded by them has largely excluded the poorest sections of the society. This has generally been the case in many other parts of the country too but would be more so in the hitherto most socially backward states. If the momentum of development in these states is maintained the country will soon start growing at an annual rate of more than 10 per cent of the GDP. While the prospect is good, the challenge is how to sustain the growth and make it more socially inclusive and less divisive.
'HAITI HAS REPEATEDLY BEEN HIT BY DISASTERS.'
Tens of thousands of people are feared to have been killed in the massive earthquake that shook Haiti on Tuesday. The quake which measured 7 on the Richter scale is said to be the largest to hit the Caribbean in over 200 years. Over three million people are said to be affected by the quake. The country is in ruins and the capital Port au Prince has been reduced to rubble. The Presidential Palace, the UN headquarters and a host of government buildings, indeed much of Haiti's infrastructure is said to be in shambles. Rescue efforts are on. But humanitarian agencies say that the rescue effort is poorly coordinated. Equipment that is available is inadequate given the magnitude of the disaster. Relief has started coming in. But it is still only a trickle.
Haiti is a country that has been repeatedly hit by disasters, natural and man-made. Tropical storms that hit it in 2004 left several thousands dead. A series of deadly hurricanes ripped through the country in 2008 leaving millions homeless. But more devastating in their impact have been the man-made problems. Haiti is desperately poor. With 80 per cent of its population living below the poverty line, it is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. The country has also suffered on account of decades of dictatorial rule, bad governance and corruption. Political instability and social unrest have plagued it for many years. These multiple problems will stand in the way of Haiti's capacity to cope with and recover from the earthquake.
Haiti will need help to recover from this horrific disaster. The international community must not hesitate to be generous in funding the relief and reconstruction effort. Many will complain that international aid to Haiti has in the past brought little visible change. Indeed, foreign aid has been rather ineffectual here. This is not surprising given the fact that aid has rarely reached the intended beneficiaries. However, this is not the time for governments and aid agencies to debate whether Haiti is a failed state or to quibble over the quantum of aid. Haiti is staring at a humanitarian crisis and the international community must not turn its back on the Haitian people in their time of need. Failure to help Haiti through this challenging period could prove critical in preventing this country from crumbling under social unrest.
SHE HAS ALWAYS EMERGED A VICTOR AND HAS BECOME MY BEST FRIEND OF TWO YEARS.
BY LAKSHMI NAIR
It's a bright sunny day, and I sit watching Minnie at play with a little grey earwig. Her little body is tense with excitement, whiskers twitching, tail swishing, eyes burning bright. A happy little cat like any other, except that Minnie is differently abled. She is bow legged and has a crooked back. On most days her body is racked with pain which makes her cry piteously.
Minnie is a two-year-old grey and white cat. Her journey with me from day one has been an adventure, filled with twists and turns, some happy, others painful. This is her story.
On a cold November afternoon in 2007 Minnie a tiny wriggling mass came into my life with her two brothers. Her mother, a tabby, was flighty to the extreme. So after attending to her maternal duties in a perfunctory manner for about two weeks she abdicated. It was left to me to play surrogate mum to the kittens.
I named them Minnie, Mickey and Buddha. Minnie was the outgoing one. Mickey, a grey tiger, had a voracious appetite. Buddha the pensive one lived on love, air and little else. In the early days their diet mainly comprised of lactose free milk, which they sucked greedily from a filler.
Play time was totally monopolised by Minnie. She was a gymnast at heart. We watched her breathtaking back flips, jumps and double loops along with other awe inspiring airborne tactics. She also liked to play mother to her two younger siblings.
Buddha, the thoughtful one, contracted a viral infection and died in his infancy. That came as a terrible blow to Minnie because he was her pet brother. For days she moped and mewed for him. As the days went by, Minnie's and Mickey's personalities began to change. Mickey became the typical aggressive male cat while Minnie was the docile, lovable little girl. Mickey enjoyed pushing Minnie around and bullying her at every given opportunity.
One day when they were about four months old I saw them engaged in a furious tug of war with a discarded piece of cloth on our balcony. I left them to their game and went inside for a couple of minutes. When I returned I found Minnie missing and Mickey looking nonchalantly around. I searched for her every where but could not find her. With a sense of growing panic I finally looked over the balcony railing.
I found her lying comatose on her side on the ground floor. I rushed downstairs absolutely panic stricken. She was breathing but was in terrible pain. I discovered that she had broken one of her front and back legs. Days of therapy and loving care followed. In the end Minnie pulled through but was left with a crooked back and bow legged. Through injury, infections and pain Minnie has always emerged a victor and has become my best friend of two years
ATTEMPTS TO ERASE HISTORICAL TRUTHS
EVEN AFTER HIS CRIMES HAVE BEEN MADE KNOWN TO THE WORLD, STALIN HAS HIS FOLLOWERS AND ADMIRERS IN RUSSIA.
BY LEONARDO PADURA
A few weeks ago I had an opportunity to see 'Katyn', the latest film of great Polish director Andrej Wajda. Since then I have been haunted by the final scenes in which we 'see' what we already know: the execution of 20,000 officers of the Polish army by the soldiers of the occupying Soviet army which, in mid-1939, in keeping with a provision of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, invaded eastern Poland.
The images from the film stayed with me less because of what happened in Katyn, horrifying and shocking as it was, than because another more awful and wide-ranging question: how was it possible to hide this event, twist the historical truth, impose silence, and propagate the deception that was practised for decades?
Very recently, in periodicals and on television, I came across other images related to the execution of the Polish officers which reinforced my question as to the extreme vulnerability and prolonged manipulation of historical truth.
These images are related to what happened in Moscow in the last days of December when large numbers of Russians celebrated the memory of Josif Vissioronavich, better known as Stalin, on the 130th anniversary of his birth. People wound through the streets of Moscow with portraits of the leader while newspapers, including 'Pravda', organ of the communist party which Stalin headed in his day, wrote of him in a tone we had thought had long disappeared and that, given what has been revealed about his actions, could seem repulsive at the very least.
Day of 'grace'
But the celebrations demonstrate that even after so many of his crimes have been made known to the world, "the grave digger of the revolution", as Trotsky would soon call him, still has his followers and admirers. Some of them even asked for the anniversary to be made a day of 'grace' during which no one could harm the memory of the "leader of the peoples".
The process by which the truth about the history of Stalinism was made known was long and difficult. Though in 1956, three years after Stalin's death, Khrushchev presented the Central Committee of the Communist Party his report exposing the 'errors' and 'arbitrary acts' of the Secretary General, it would take decades before the world would have a clear idea of the nature of these 'errors': the terror and psychological cruelty which each Soviet citizen was subjected to, the economic, ecological, and ethnicidal disasters, the betrayals and machinations, the destruction of great Russian art and artists, the perversion of the utopia of equality, and above all the millions and millions of deaths that he caused or assassinations he ordered as head of the party.
Yet there are still men for whom these facts are irrelevant to the historical judgement of the man. The worst result of this sort of amnesia is that, to avoid admitting that they had been fooled, manipulated, and even perverted these keepers of Stalin's memory have to shower praise on one of the most destructive men in history.
In May 2009, Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, urged the creation of a committee of experts to safeguard the 'historical memory', with the intention of "countering attempts to falsify the history and interests of Russia". One of these 'experts' declared that it was necessary "to decide which history books would tell the truth and which wouldn't". And to censor. And a law was proposed to punish with fines and even prison those who dared question the acts of Stalin's regime during World War II.
The whitening of the memory of Stalin and his system is completed with the closure of certain archives holding material relevant to the crimes committed during the war and to the deportations of various nationalities. It is no accident, thus, that history texts are appearing that refer to Stalin as an 'effective leader'.
Although in Russia there are voices protesting this attempt at erasing historical truths that were brought to light in recent decades, and while Ukraine is demanding that the land collectivation process imposed by Stalin be recognised as an act of 'genocide', pressure against the vulnerable historical truth remains strong, and I do not doubt that it will prevail, as there are clear political interests involved.
In his monumental novel 'Life and Fate', Vasili Grossman comes up with this observation, among other pearls: "Neither tens of thousands, or even hundreds of millions, but enormous masses of people were involuntary witnesses to the massacre of innocents. But they were not only involuntary witnesses: when necessary, they voted for the annihilation in a clamour of approving voices". Is it this clamour, now growing stronger, that is seeking to wall in a creature as vulnerable as historical truth? Is it the inheritance of guilt, genetically-transmitted fear, and submission to the powerful that drives them to march in parades and maintain silence about atrocities? What fate awaits this, and other, historic truths?
IN SEARCH OF PEACE
IT WOULD BE BETTER IF INDIA AND BANGLADESH WERE TO INTEGRATE THEIR EFFORTS WITH THE ONES INITIATED BY PAKISTAN AND AFGHANISTAN.
BY KULDIP NAYAR
It was a welcome coincidence that both Bangladesh and Pakistan figured in the discussions in New Delhi this week. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina was on her first official visit after a landslide victory last year. Top Pakistan lawyers, academicians and human rights activists sat in the capital with their counterparts to find a road to peace after the governments in Delhi and Islamabad had failed to resolve their problems in the last 60 years.
One thing common between the two meetings, held at separate places and at different levels, was the search for peace. Both have succeeded in the sense that they have taken certain decisions which, if implemented, will yield untold benefits. The difference a big one was while the governments of Bangladesh and India signed several agreements to restart on a path to peace and friendship after a dreary journey, India and Pakistan have gone still further apart.
The Manmohan Singh government was at pains to accommodate Sheikh Hasina to register that India had opened all its doors to cultivate at least one of its estranged neighbours. On the other hand, New Delhi hardly took notice of the three-day Indo-Pak meeting right under its nose.
Sheikh Hasina's visit, which took place after one year of her rule, has come at a time when she has assessed her country's needs and India's capacity to meet them. She did not demand anything but it was apparent that if her government could not lift her people economically, she would slide further on the popularity graph, already down from 83 to 67 per cent as a recent survey of a Bengali daily published from Dhaka shows.
Sheikh Hasina's biggest contribution to Bangladesh is the strength she has given to democratic and secular forces: the plank on which she fought election and won three-fourths seats in Jayti Sangad (parliament). India too has, in turn, gained. Lessening of fundamentalism in a neighbouring country helps.
In fact, during the talks between Manmohan Singh and Sheikh Hasina, when the latter took a principled stand and assured him that no terrorists would be allowed to function from her country, the entire scenario changed. She had a long list of demands. But even before she could read the first line, Manmohan Singh reportedly said that she did not have to ask for anything. Whatever is the need of Bangladesh, India will go to the farthest extent to meet it.
The proposed $600 million credit to Dhaka was doubled. India gave an undertaking that it would not take any step on the Tipaimukh hydro electric project without the consent of Bangladesh where it had become a controversial issue. Nor did New Delhi ask for any transit facility which again was a sensitive issue with Dhaka.
The resolve to eliminate terrorism is what the region wants, from Kabul to Dhaka. Islamabad would like New Delhi to join the operation but India is in no mood to listen to Pakistan's argument for the resumption of a composite dialogue. The 26/11 carnage, even though 13 months old, is still fresh in the minds of people.
The Indo-Pak meet has also appreciated the point and has suggested a bilateral and regional approach to combat the menace. It would be better if India and Bangladesh were to integrate their efforts with the ones initiated by Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Reza Gilani and Afghanistan President Karzai.
The Pakistani speakers were frank enough to admit the havoc the terrorists were creating in their country. One of them said that no one leaving the house was sure whether he would return alive. Islamabad needs to be retrieved. It does not mean that India will be less anxious in having Pakistan pursue its effort to book the perpetrators of 26/11.
It is strange that Islamabad has not yet understood how the system works in Delhi. Otherwise, Pakistan would not have overreacted to the statement by chief of the army staff Gen Deepak Kapoor that India may have to prepare for war against China and Pakistan. However irresponsible the statement, it does not pose any threat to Pakistan. Defence Minister A K Anthony scoffed at Islamabad's reaction.
Gen Kapoor is not Gen Pervez Kayani. The systems in the two countries are different. Gen Kapoor or the Army has no say in India's political affairs. He is due to retire after serving his tenure. The government will soon be naming his successor.
Making a mountain out of a molehill gives the impression as if Pakistan is trying to score a point, however weak and farfetched. What all this boils down to is the unending mistrust. Until it is replaced by confidence, the two sides have to see that they do not present an exaggerated picture, indulge in accusations or imagine something which has no basis.
Sheikh Hasina's visit and the Indo-Pak meet should make people in South Asia think of the miracle that can take place if all the countries were to pool their resources. They do not have to give up their separate identity or sovereignty. They have to only shed distrust and suspicion to build the region for the common good.
THE JERUSALEM POST
MAKING SENSE OF HAITI
It's not all that often that the front pages of Israel's newspapers and the lead stories on the nightly news programs all devote themselves to a catastrophic event on the other side of the world. Sixty years-plus of conflict have narrowed the range of news ordinary Israelis tend to be drawn to.
When we do focus on troubles abroad, we invariably look for a parochial angle, in this case the fate of a number of missing Israelis in earthquake-devastated Haiti. That's human nature; every country is obsessing about the safety of its nationals caught up in the catastrophe.
Israel is rushing a field hospital, doctors and medical equipment to the stricken island and a team of experts to assess how else we can effectively help. American Jewry has sprung into action through the Jewish Federations of North America partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee; the American Jewish World Service is also mobilizing.
Like many spiritual leaders, Rabbi Barry Cohen of Temple B'nai Israel in Oklahoma City is telling his congregants to give charity: "God instructed us not to stand by idly while our neighbor bleeds."
AS THE initial shock wears off and aid begins to arrive, people are reflecting more generally on the apparent randomness of the misfortune and asking why bad things happen to good people. In the instance of Haiti, the issue really becomes why bad things happen to those already mired in misery. In a country where half the population is illiterate and where per capita income is $3.60 a day.
"Every time Haiti takes one half-step forward, something like this happens. It's so unfair. Why does this happen to Haiti over and over again?" asked The Rev. Lauren Stanley, an Episcopal missionary.
One prominent fundamentalist pastor - even as he raised funds for disaster relief - had a ready answer for Stanley: The people of Haiti turned away from God and made a pact with devil and have been punished ever since.
Mainstream Jewish theology, in contrast, abjures trying to read God's mind. Rabbi Emanuel Feldman, former editor of Tradition magazine, cautions rabbis not to use their Shabbat sermons to offer glib theological "reasons" for why the Haiti disaster occurred - as if they have a direct line to the Almighty. God's actions, many Jewish thinkers would argue, are simply unfathomable to the limited human mind.
And yet we feel impelled to search on. From time immemorial, humans have tried to find spiritual meaning for
personal loss and the tragic consequences of natural and man-made cataclysms. While some will say this quest is a prescription for banality, there is an unquenchable thirst for ideas that try to make sense of it all.
The top New York Times nonfiction bestseller this week is Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom. Book dealers are also featuring The Case for God by Karen Armstrong, a former Catholic nun, and The Evolution of God, by Robert Wright, who makes the subtle argument that when people define God more by His compassionate - than other - attributes, humanity is drawn closer to some underlying truth about the divine.
Perhaps the most evocative popular treatment of the "Where was God" conundrum came in Paul Young's The Shack, a Christian novel about a father grieving over the murder of his daughter, who is granted the opportunity to challenge God (in the form of the Trinity). The book sold over 7 million copies in 2009.
FOR SOME, the process of probing why bad things happen is a salve in itself - a case of the journey being as important as the destination.
It's a process that's taken some Jews to mysticism. In the Kabbala we find the suggestion that bad things happen because God has pulled back from the world - tzimtzum - to make room for the finite. And in The Disappearance of God, Richard Elliott Friedman suggests that while God gradually vanishes in the narrative from Genesis to Second Chronicles, the intended endgame is a divine-human reunion.
Reflecting on such ideas can be consoling as we watch the horrible images coming from Haiti. Meanwhile, however, the survivors need tangible help repairing their broken world.
DIPLOMACY IS NOT A CIRCUS
To the eye, the tragicomedy performed this week on the Foreign Ministry's stage, Israel vs. Turkey, has a happy end: The lead actor, Danny Ayalon, sent a letter of apology to the Turkish ambassador and his superiors, and Turkey's threat to bring its ambassador home was lifted. However, the problem was not a slip of the tongue or a comment leaked from a closed meeting. It was a deliberate act by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Ayalon, and the finale is far from happy. We have to turn it into the beginning of something else: the removal of Lieberman and Ayalon from the rickety flagship of Israeli diplomacy.
Lieberman opted to clash publicly with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan so he could play the role of the defender of national pride. It may be that Lieberman believes his stance will win votes for his party. This is yet more proof of the folly of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who gave Lieberman the foreign affairs portfolio. Netanyahu has been Israel's ambassador to the United Nations and a deputy chief of mission in Washington, and Ayalon has been ambassador to Washington. Both should know how diplomats and foreign ministries behave, but their professional experience has been undermined by the influence of Lieberman. In this affair Netanyahu presented himself as co-conspirator or a weakling, and both options are bad.
The anchor of Turkish-Israeli strategic ties is the Turkish army, which has seen itself as the constitutional keeper of the seal since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk established the modern Turkish regime after World War I. For the past 50 years the two countries' defense establishments have had a useful relationship. This week, the incoming Defense Ministry director general, Udi Shani, visited Turkey, and early next week Defense Minister Ehud Olmert is due in Ankara.
The Turkish generals suffer due to the vitriol of Erdogan, the leader of an Islamist party. Only a fool would burden them further with a public insult to Turkey's official representative in a way that bolsters Erdogan as the defender of national pride, someone who managed to humiliate those who humiliated him and extricate an apology - while worsening the popular mood toward Israel. The Turkish army's sympathy for its Israeli counterpart will not be enough to overcome Turkey's hostile political elite and public opinion.
Israel has a justified argument with Erdogan's stance on Iran and Hamas. An argument should be carried out using educated reasoning, without hyperbole. In the same spirit, Erdogan's proposal to resume mediation between Israel and Syria should be reexamined. Diplomacy should not become a circus.
The excitement over a television program in which Israel is shown in a distorted way is especially strange. National and religious stereotypes appear in movies and the media throughout the world; in Israel, too. These are not a subject for foreign ministers or their deputies, and it is certainly ridiculous to turn their protest into another three-part television series: protest and humiliation, insult and threat, backtracking and apology.
There is a substantive difference between being steadfast and aggressive. In their foreign policy, Lieberman and Ayalon are displaying this second quality. If Netanyahu leaves them in their posts, it means they are setting Israeli policy, not he.
FIVE COMMENTS ON THE SITUATION
BY YOEL MARCUS
- The saying "It's worse than a crime, it's a blunder" is attributed to the French diplomat Charles Maurice de Talleyrand. Here, we have an even more apt adage: "When a fool throws a stone into a well, a hundred wise men will not be able to retrieve it."
Old-timers will no doubt recall the complaint the late prime minister Golda Meir made to journalists after a bitter meeting with the Austrian chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, a Jew: "He didn't even offer me a glass of water." But at least he didn't seat her on a low chair. The campaign to humiliate the Turkish ambassador initiated by Danny Ayalon, which was probably known in the Foreign Ministry by the code name "Turkish delight," proves that the deputy foreign minister is no great genius.
There are many more diplomatic ways of expressing protest or dissatisfaction. But the way this was staged - the small room, the low sofa, the tone of voice and even the glass of water that was not offered - adds up to a dangerous game with a country that has the highest possible strategic value for Israel.
David Ben-Gurion was the author of the doctrine that it is important for Israel to maintain relations with the secular Islamic countries in our region. For years, the defense establishments of the two countries indeed cooperated, despite the radicalization of the Turkish government. And this objective has become even more important at a time when Iran threatens the region.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is not going to Ankara on Sunday to apologize, but rather to continue the discussion with Turkish defense officials on expanding strategic cooperation. The one who should apologize is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appointed a character like Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister. Beware, Lieberman may yet sit U.S. envoy George Mitchell down in the men's room for talks.
2. Why is most of the public refusing to be vaccinated against swine flu? Perhaps because of the wide publicity given those who died, children in particular, after receiving the vaccine. Also because of the conflicting opinions about the kinds of vaccines on offer. But more than either of these, it's because doctors and nurses have not been in a hurry to get vaccinated themselves. That's not so terrible, one doctor said on the radio: After all, more than one doctor has advised a patient to stop smoking and then lit up a cigarette.
Most influential of all, however, is that the politicians, who have never turned down something they are offered for free, are by and large refusing to be vaccinated. And the most embarrassing aspect is Netanyahu's refusal to be immunized. Does he know something he isn't telling us?
3. An argument broke out after George Mitchell's comment on the American loan guarantees over whether it was a slip of the tongue or a threat meant to make Israelis worry in anticipation of his arrival here. But judging by the segment that was broadcast, his remark seems to have been a tempest in a teacup.
The interviewer, Charlie Rose, asked Mitchell what sanctions the United States could take against Israel. He replied that the only sanction the administration could impose without obtaining the approval of Congress was stopping the loan guarantees. And the likelihood of Congress supporting dramatic sanctions against Israel is slim. So it seems this was not a threat, but rather a to-the-point answer to a question - namely, what the president can and cannot do on his own authority.
However, it turns out that in addition to Ayalon, we have another macho in our midst - Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, who immediately responded arrogantly that we don't need the American guarantees at all. Really? And what if that sanction were to be only part of a larger removal of the U.S. security and diplomatic umbrella over Israel? The Israeli braggart neither sleeps nor slumbers.
4. What do those involved in our conflict actually want to achieve? Ostensibly, the partitioning of the land.
Back when he was prime minister, Ehud Barak, together with U.S. president Bill Clinton, offered PLO leader Yasser Arafat far-reaching concessions, including in Jerusalem, at their Camp David meeting. To the surprise of his interlocutors, Arafat turned them down, and a few weeks later, the second intifada broke out. In a conversation with a foreign journalist, Arafat explained that he could not allow himself to be remembered in Palestinian history for generations to come as the person who gave up Greater Palestine.
Current PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas wants what Netanyahu wants - to survive without making concessions. Neither of them wants to be remembered as the one who conceded the territory of his historical dreams. What is important to them - as well as to U.S. President Barack Obama, who cannot see an end to all the global problems that have sprung up before him - is to discuss the process. Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Abbas have already shown that it is possible to conduct talks for two years without making any concessions or achieving anything.
5. Every time there is a deadly earthquake somewhere in the world, an expert geologist is invited to one of the morning radio programs and asked whether something like that could happen here. After all, we sit on the Syrian-African Rift. The expert clears his throat and replies that it is a possibility. 7.3 on the Richter Scale?! Not that, but perhaps 7, 6 or 4 - that is definitely possible. Yes, no, and also perhaps.
N.B. Meanwhile, prepare for the earthquake we will have here when former president Moshe Katsav's verdict is reached and announced.
FOOLS IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
BY DORON ROSENBLUM
If we were dealing with a seasoned and cunning prime minister like Ariel Sharon, we might have thought that the grotesque appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister was a brilliant and sophisticated move designed to position the man as the government's lightning rod, the person who makes the prime minister seem like a glowing light of responsibility and moderation. But since we are talking about Benjamin Netanyahu, a politician who is nothing more than the sum of all his suspicions, fears and efforts to be liked by everyone, it was probably luck or intuition rather than intelligent planning.
Because that has been one of Netanyahu's traits from way back: to refrain from an unpleasant tete-a-tete, especially the kind that photographs poorly. Just as during his previous term he made sure to keep his distance from the sites of terror attacks (he would swoop down on them when he was in the opposition), the prime minister is now hiding behind Lieberman in his unavoidable conflict with the world, just as he is hiding behind Defense Minister Ehud Barak in his equally unavoidable conflict with the settlers.
We have to recall this when we observe the daily burlesque show being performed for us by the huge super-troupe, which numbers dozens of cabinet members and various and sundry deputies. These include this week's Monty Python-like performance by Deputy Minister Danny Ayalon in front of the Turkish ambassador, to the circus tricks of his master Lieberman, the sledgehammer from Kishinev, who every week goes to battle with a different country. They also include the attempts by the Shas ministers and their deputies to pickpocket public funds and cushy political jobs with a juggling act a la Harpo Marx.
When we watch this production we must remember that someone bears responsibility for it: Behind Ayalon stands Lieberman and behind Lieberman - as behind every government minister - stands Netanyahu. His apologetic "national dignity" and crumbling machoism are the commander's spirit spreading through the troops. Although he is careful to keep quiet and hide behind the scenes, we should recall that he is the casting director, playwright, director and producer of this spectacle.
In other words: That's how the "Bibi Show" looks the second time around, too. If it contains any lessons compared to its predecessor, they are limited for now to on-stage nuances such as breathing, pauses and timing. Are these enough to prevent the fiasco awaiting at the exit this time, too?
If there is any minor consolation in this entire spectacle, it's Israel's truly marvelous strength and talent for survival even amid the worst uncertainties, blows and pranks by generations of cynical prime ministers, incompetent foreign ministers and brutal defense ministers. One after another they fight Israel in the arena, and Israel is still standing.
Indeed, why only see the glass as half empty? Yes, we can count each of the weekly "diplomatic" quarrels, the number of countries that within a year have switched from being friends to enemies, the deep-freeze temperatures of our relations with our neighbors, the overall index of hatred for Israel. But why not console ourselves with the very fact that the country - somehow, almost miraculously - still survives? That even though irresponsible adolescents have taken dad's car out on the weekend, played terrible games with it and caused accidents - and without insurance yet - somehow it is not yet a total loss? In fact, a public relations campaign is currently underway against drunk driving by young people who don't make sure to appoint a sober person to drive them home. Fortunately for us, that role is traditionally filled in our politics by Shimon Peres, the "fixer" for generations of Israeli governments. Whether as president, foreign minister or simply a member of the Socialist International, he's the one who takes care to pick up the pieces, make phone calls, conciliate, smooth things out, speak to the insurance company and take the damaged car to the parking lot. That's what he did this week, too, in the crisis with Turkey. But for how long? After all, the man turns 87 this August. Is there really no responsible adult left except him?
SHAS GIMME GIMME
BY YOSSI SARID
It's not clear from the Biblical text how many daughters the proverbial leech has, but two are named - "Give" and "Give." Maybe they are twins.
There were times when Shas the bloodsucker contented itself with one "give," showing a certain degree of restraint. The party, which since its inception has not been satiated, at some point finally realized that there's a condition for national responsibility - restraint. At least that's how it seemed for a moment. For a brief moment only.
Shas quickly returned to its old ways, raised its head and in recent weeks has again given full rein to the pleasures of its rule. The wearers of Versace suits and Borsalino hats are letting loose with all their lust.
Shas has begun bombarding along the whole front, and Israel's secular community - a free-floating majority whose silence and submissiveness make you forget its real size - is under attack. Will it ever come to its senses and fight back?
After the so-called Nahari law, which was intended to coordinate the transfer of funds from local authorities to ultra-Orthodox schools, proved to be a bottomless pit, Shas tried its luck with the "jobs law," which currently boils down to two superfluous deputies for the mayor of Jerusalem. And after Shas coerced the wealthier local authorities to subsidize the religious councils in weaker communities, it is ordering the community leaders of Shoham and Elad to set up a religious council, to the displeasure of the people, both religious and secular.
This deep, dark pit called a religious council is not filled with its own ills, but with ours. And in Israel today 133 such pits have been dug and the hand of Shas is extended to dig more. The religious councils are unnecessary entities. Their services could be given for free to anyone who needs them by the local council; they have been created solely to provide sinecures and salaries for party hacks.
Blessed be Herzliya Mayor Yael German among women, for she hath recently eradicated the Hevra Kadisha religious burial society in her town. Now it's possible to die in Herzliya without the corpse enriching any coffers.
But Shas has not yet fired all its ammunition. Its pistol is loaded and pressed to our heads. In the near future it will fire two new legislative initiatives: Businesses will not be granted a license unless they commit to observing the Sabbath, and during Passover leavened products will not be seen in the land, and it's not just a question of public places.
Here it is possible to confess: During the seven days of Passover I eat unleavened bread - matza; it is not my nature to annoy. But the moment they force me to abstain from leavening, I will not stop eating it.
Nor have we forgotten the leader's slander of gays, migrant workers and their children as spreaders of dangerous diseases. Shas will not rest until it has joined the World Zionist Organization, as we were informed this week. O Herzl, who will brush the earth from thine eyes, for even the ultra-Orthodox are coming under thy wing. Wherever official positions are to be had, Shas will always be there.
God has again opened the mouth of the lord and teacher in his recent weekly Saturday night sermons: "Anyone who does not keep the Sabbath is a beast," said the Jerusalemite Aesop Ovadia Yosef, who has also become famous because of his animal fables.
He's right, Ovadia, he knows our souls. The secular Israeli really is a donkey of donkeys - a domestic animal used for riding and carrying loads. And not because we don't keep the Sabbath, but because we are still keeping Shas - which the saving of human lives should have superseded long ago.
ISRAEL AND THE ILLUSION OF INTERNATIONAL JUSTICE
BY GERALD STEINBERG AND ANNE HERZBERG
Speaking at a legal conference on January 4, former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak suggested that Israel would benefit from participation in bodies such as the International Criminal Court in order to fight for "its positions and justice." In endorsing Barak's recommendation, a Haaretz editorial ("Join the Court," January 6) contended that such participation would "place Israel on the side of the enlightened nations." Similarly, the argument goes, Israel erred in refusing to cooperate with the UN Human Rights Council's Goldstone Commission and the International Court of Justice proceedings on the security barrier.
While surely well-intentioned, in practice this line of thinking is pure folly. The dominance of nondemocratic and Islamic nations in international organs, and the increasing politicization of these bodies, virtually guarantees that no justice will be done when it comes to Israel or even NATO countries. In such morally corrupt frameworks, international law and human rights have become political weapons, disconnected from legitimate judicial processes and legal systems in democratic societies.
The ICJ's handling of the 2004 case regarding Israel's security barrier is a telling example. The suit was initiated by the UN General Assembly at the behest of the Arab League and the Organization of the Islamic Conference. European-funded advocacy groups such as B'Tselem, aided by NGO superpowers Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were central to this effort.
Legal scholars sharply criticized the court for accepting a predetermined political mandate from the UN and for its breach of procedural protocols in deliberations on the matter. The ICJ's resulting advisory opinion negated Israel's right of self-defense and displayed an utter lack of sympathy for terror victims. Its simplistic and troubling legal analysis clearly reflected the influence of the Arab League and politicized NGOs. Hardly an independent judicial inquiry, this distorted proceeding encouraged subversion of the rule of law, rather than its enforcement, by allowing for political manipulation of the judicial process.
Similar problems plague the ICC. Calls for the creation of an ICC were first made in the late 1980s by Caribbean and Latin American countries seeking international support in trying drug traffickers, and were bolstered by the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunals for Yugoslavia and Rwanda in the mid-1990s. Following a massive push by NGOs, the ICC statute was finalized in Rome in 1998, covering the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and the court began operations in 2002.
Some complain that the ICC in practice has become an "African court" that lets Western democracies off the hook, but this claim is unjustified. Although NGOs pressed for the ICC to have wide-ranging jurisdiction, it was intended to be a court of last resort for the very worst crimes, adjudicating only those cases that could not be fairly tried in national courts due to the lack of a competent judiciary.
From the beginning, Israel strongly backed the idea of an international court based on the Nuremberg precedent. But, as happened with other international legal bodies, the ICC process was co-opted by nondemocratic forces. Arab and Islamic regimes succeeding in changing the court's statute at the last minute to define Israeli settlement activity as an international crime while omitting terrorism as an offense. This overt politicization of the court forced Israel to withdraw its support.
Following the Gaza war, the PLO pressured ICC prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo to open a case against Israel, even though "Palestine" is not a state and doing so would be a gross violation of the court's treaty. Moreno-Ocampo has admitted to working closely with the Arab League in this process. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, funded primarily by European governments, is also deeply involved in this one-sided effort, as are Amnesty and HRW.
These same Arab League members have hypocritically and repeatedly offered shelter to indicted war criminal Omar Bashir of Sudan, refusing to hand him over to the court to stand trial. Thus the countries that dominate the UN system use their power to control and manipulate its institutions for their own interests - not in pursuit of universal justice.
The careful balance that Justice Barak developed in Israeli jurisprudence in weighing human rights claims against security needs receives no respect from the Arab League and its NGO allies, whose political demands international institutions are unable or unwilling to resist. Barak's wishful thinking to the contrary, it would have made no difference if Israel had participated in the ICJ case or even the Goldstone mission. The record clearly indicates that any information provided by Israel would have been twisted and discounted to fit predetermined conclusions. Claims that Israeli cooperation could have changed the outcome have no basis.
Refusing to be a party to this sort of legal travesty does not mean Israel is insensitive to international law or human rights, or that the Jewish state does not wish to be a member of the international community. Nor should this principled position be used to claim that Israel is trying to shield itself from critical inquiry - far from it. Israel's Supreme Court is a leading adherent and innovator of international law and is a major proponent of human rights.
To suggest that Israel could exert any influence on bodies where nondemocratic regimes wield excessive power, however, is a pipe dream that has no connection to today's unfortunate reality.
Gerald Steinberg is a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University and president of NGO Monitor; Anne Herzberg is NGO Monitor's legal advisor
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
WHOSE BONUSES ARE THEY?
Maybe bankers do know a little bit about shame or at least about public opinion polls.
Their objections have been muted to President Obama's decision to impose a fee on the country's largest banks, insurance companies and broker-dealers to recover some of the money spent bailing them out. And they are so panicked by talk in Congress about taxing their enormous bonuses (the industry is expected to reward itself with tens of billions of dollars this year) that they have decided not to take all of that money in cash.
Banks, instead, are bending over backward to ensure their windfalls fit the prescriptions of Kenneth Feinberg, the White House pay czar. The government's goal is to reduce incentives to reckless risk-taking. The bankers clearly just want to get the money any way they can.
JPMorgan Chase is scheduled to be the first to report its bonuses on Friday, and other big banks will be following suit beginning next week. Some are forcing their highest-performing executives to accept only stock shares. Others are conditioning payouts to future performance criteria. This is all good for the stability of the banking system where pay has typically been rigged to encourage high-risk, fast-reward schemes that paid bankers handsomely, regardless of the long-term performance of their investments.
It is unlikely to quell the furies on Capitol Hill, where House Democrats on Thursday proposed imposing a 50 percent windfall tax on bankers' bonuses. And it is unlikely to satisfy taxpayers. It shouldn't.
For the sake of fairness, Congress should pass a one-off windfall tax on bonuses. After all, what profits the banks had in 2009 were largely underwritten by taxpayers, who pumped in billions of dollars of capital, covered losses from the collapse of the American International Group and guaranteed the debts of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The Federal Reserve lent hundreds of billions against shoddy collateral that no one else would touch and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation guaranteed loans worth hundreds of billions more.
And for the sake of long-term financial stability, Congress should also pass President Obama's proposed big bank fee intended to recover, over 12 years, the $117 billion that the administration estimates it will spend on financial bailouts. That should discourage banks that are already too big from getting even bigger and posing a larger threat to the overall economy.
Goldman Sachs, where compensation for 2009 is expected to near the record $20.2 billion it paid out in 2007, has said its top 30 executives will receive their entire bonuses in stock that cannot be sold for five years. It has assured regulators that cash will make up only a small share of bonuses for executives further down the ranks.
Others are said to be reducing the size of their bonus pools. Morgan Stanley is reportedly conditioning the payout of bonuses to meeting a set of criteria for future performance. Bank of America plans to pay part of bonuses in some sort of chit that would fluctuate in value according to the company's performance.
That's better than how the game has been played. But we would find it more persuasive if the boards of the banks disclosed clear guidelines on how performance-related bonuses are determined. And we would like to see clear clawback provisions to recoup bonuses if the investments they were based on tank in the future.
Ideally, these provisions would be part of the reform of financial regulation winding its way too slowly through Congress. Congress should strengthen that legislation, and it should require the banks and bankers to send more money back to the public coffers from whence it came.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
HELP HAITIANS HELP HAITI
President Obama made a promise to the people of Haiti on Thursday. "You will not be forsaken," he said. "You will not be forgotten." He said those words at the end of a short White House speech detailing the many ways the United States was rushing food, water, medicine and other aid to that stricken country.
We wish he had added that his administration had found the courage, in this emergency, to take a basic but politically difficult step to grant temporary protected status to undocumented Haitians in the United States.
The Department of Homeland Security occasionally grants such status to immigrants stranded in this country by war, famine, earthquake or some other disaster back home. Protected immigrants are allowed to work legally and cannot be detained or deported. It's a temporary amnesty, given in 18-month increments to those who qualify, and is currently available to citizens of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Somalia and Sudan.
Earthquakes and hurricanes have routinely prompted the United States to grant and extend protected status to Central Americans. Similar pleas by Haitians have always been rebuffed, even after a devastating series of storms in 2008 left hundreds of thousands homeless.
Advocates for Haitian immigrants, whose diaspora is centered in Miami, have waged a long and fruitless campaign for protected status, arguing that remittances by Haitians in the United States are a vital source of aid more than $1 billion each year. Now that Haiti has suffered its worst disaster in centuries, the argument for a temporary amnesty is overwhelming.
It was not enough for the administration to announce this week that the Department of Homeland Security would halt the pending deportations of the 30,000 or so undocumented Haitians. Burdening a collapsed country with destitute deportees would be a true crime. But all that does is leave the potential deportees in limbo, unable to work without fear.
Tuesday's earthquake has caused a global outpouring of giving. But that will inevitably subside as fatigue sets in and new crises arise. What will help keep Haiti going for the long haul is Haitians helping Haitians. The Obama administration should give undocumented Haitians in the United States the simple thing they desperately want: not charity, but the chance to work.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SENTENCED TO ABUSE
The Justice Department needs to act swiftly and decisively to protect young people who are being battered and raped in juvenile corrections facilities all across the country. A shocking new study by the Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Statistics surveyed more than 9,000 young people in custody and found that 12 percent reported being sexually abused one or more times, mainly by staff members.
Particularly alarming, the study found several juvenile facilities where 30 percent or more of the young people reported being raped. Some of the institutions with high rates of victimization were in Indiana, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Texas.
These latest findings are consistent with those reported in June by a federal commission created by Congress under the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act. The commission, which examined the problem for five years, also outlined a list of sensible policy changes, which the Justice Department has the power to make mandatory for all corrections institutions that accept federal money.
The commission said that corrections facilities must make it easier for victims to report abuse without fear of reprisal and promptly and thoroughly investigate all rape claims. It said that prison employees must be better screened before they are hired, and they must be better trained in how to deal with vulnerable young people.
The commission also called on state corrections agencies to develop written zero-tolerance rules for employees of adult and juvenile facilities and write those rules into union contracts. Employees must be put on notice that they will be held accountable if they participate in sexual assaults or look the other way when they occur.
The 2003 law gave the United States attorney general until June of this year to evaluate the commission's findings and issue new rape-prevention standards. But juvenile justice advocates worry that the Justice Department will allow state corrections officials to water down those requirements, partly by arguing that they will be too expensive to implement. The department should not allow that to happen. If it does, Congress will have to strengthen the legislation. Zero tolerance for abuse in prisons or juvenile facilities must be the law of the land.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Pretty much everyone knows by now that the New York State Legislature is corrupt and dysfunctional. But it doesn't end there. It seems every week that New Yorkers learn about another state legislator who has brought shame to the state or worse. (Let's not forget the felony convictions only last month of Joseph Bruno, the former Republican leader.)
Now a bipartisan group of senators is calling for the expulsion of Senator Hiram Monserrate, a Queens Democrat, after he was convicted last year of violently assaulting his girlfriend. Despite Mr. Monserrate's protest that "I answer to my constituents," the entire Senate should get rid of him as quickly as possible. And, this week, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo revealed the first details of his long investigation of State Senator Pedro Espada Jr. of the Bronx.
Mr. Espada's behavior appears to be a particularly disturbing example of the dirty way Albany conducts its business and how a powerful legislator might get away with it for far too long.
The filing by Mr. Cuomo's office is technically a demand for documents subpoenaed in August. It alleges that Mr. Espada violated a number of laws by siphoning off funds from the nonprofit and tax-exempt health clinics that he runs in his "private" life. The court papers claim evidence of potential fraud, violations of state election law, plus a whole string of other possible violations.
Mr. Espada's reaction was anything but remorseful. He accused Mr. Cuomo of "conducting a witch hunt" and of using him, a top Hispanic official, as a "political piñata." In reality, Mr. Espada has failed for years to report campaign contributions and refused to settle questions about whether he actually resides in his own district.
Senators Espada and Monserrate stunned fellow Democrats last June by moving to the Republican side of the Senate, a shift that triggered a legislative stalemate for more than a month. As a reward, Republicans elevated Mr. Espada to the post of Senate president, which made him next in line to take over the state if anything happened to Gov. David Paterson. The stalemate ended after Governor Paterson finally appointed a lieutenant governor and Mr. Espada returned to the Democrats. They then named him Senate majority leader.
If you are shaking your head right now in disgust and disbelief, you should be. Mr. Cuomo must press ahead with his investigation. The Senate needs to rid itself of Mr. Monserrate. And New York voters need to vote this whole crowd out later this year, unless there is sweeping reform in Albany.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE UNDERLYING TRAGEDY
BY DAVID BROOKS
On Oct. 17, 1989, a major earthquake with a magnitude of 7.0 struck the Bay Area in Northern California. Sixty-three people were killed. This week, a major earthquake, also measuring a magnitude of 7.0, struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The Red Cross estimates that between 45,000 and 50,000 people have died.
This is not a natural disaster story. This is a poverty story. It's a story about poorly constructed buildings, bad infrastructure and terrible public services. On Thursday, President Obama told the people of Haiti: "You will not be forsaken; you will not be forgotten." If he is going to remain faithful to that vow then he is going to have to use this tragedy as an occasion to rethink our approach to global poverty. He's going to have to acknowledge a few difficult truths.
The first of those truths is that we don't know how to use aid to reduce poverty. Over the past few decades, the world has spent trillions of dollars to generate growth in the developing world. The countries that have not received much aid, like China, have seen tremendous growth and tremendous poverty reductions. The countries that have received aid, like Haiti, have not.
In the recent anthology "What Works in Development?," a group of economists try to sort out what we've learned. The picture is grim. There are no policy levers that consistently correlate to increased growth. There is nearly zero correlation between how a developing economy does one decade and how it does the next. There is no consistently proven way to reduce corruption. Even improving governing institutions doesn't seem to produce the expected results.
The chastened tone of these essays is captured by the economist Abhijit Banerjee: "It is not clear to us that the best way to get growth is to do growth policy of any form. Perhaps making growth happen is ultimately beyond our control."
The second hard truth is that micro-aid is vital but insufficient. Given the failures of macrodevelopment, aid organizations often focus on microprojects. More than 10,000 organizations perform missions of this sort in Haiti. By some estimates, Haiti has more nongovernmental organizations per capita than any other place on earth. They are doing the Lord's work, especially these days, but even a blizzard of these efforts does not seem to add up to comprehensive change.
Third, it is time to put the thorny issue of culture at the center of efforts to tackle global poverty. Why is Haiti so poor? Well, it has a history of oppression, slavery and colonialism. But so does Barbados, and Barbados is doing pretty well. Haiti has endured ruthless dictators, corruption and foreign invasions. But so has the Dominican Republic, and the D.R. is in much better shape. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island and the same basic environment, yet the border between the two societies offers one of the starkest contrasts on earth with trees and progress on one side, and deforestation and poverty and early death on the other.
As Lawrence E. Harrison explained in his book "The Central Liberal Truth," Haiti, like most of the world's poorest nations, suffers from a complex web of progress-resistant cultural influences. There is the influence of the voodoo religion, which spreads the message that life is capricious and planning futile. There are high levels of social mistrust. Responsibility is often not internalized. Child-rearing practices often involve neglect in the early years and harsh retribution when kids hit 9 or 10.
We're all supposed to politely respect each other's cultures. But some cultures are more progress-resistant than others, and a horrible tragedy was just exacerbated by one of them.
Fourth, it's time to promote locally led paternalism. In this country, we first tried to tackle poverty by throwing money at it, just as we did abroad. Then we tried microcommunity efforts, just as we did abroad. But the programs that really work involve intrusive paternalism.
These programs, like the Harlem Children's Zone and the No Excuses schools, are led by people who figure they don't understand all the factors that have contributed to poverty, but they don't care. They are going to replace parts of the local culture with a highly demanding, highly intensive culture of achievement involving everything from new child-rearing practices to stricter schools to better job performance.
It's time to take that approach abroad, too. It's time to find self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people maybe just in a neighborhood or a school with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.
The late political scientist Samuel P. Huntington used to acknowledge that cultural change is hard, but cultures do change after major traumas. This earthquake is certainly a trauma. The only question is whether the outside world continues with the same old, same old.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BANKERS WITHOUT A CLUE
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
The official Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission the group that aims to hold a modern version of the Pecora hearings of the 1930s, whose investigations set the stage for New Deal bank regulation began taking testimony on Wednesday. In its first panel, the commission grilled four major financial-industry honchos. What did we learn?
Well, if you were hoping for a Perry Mason moment a scene in which the witness blurts out: "Yes! I admit it! I did it! And I'm glad!" the hearing was disappointing. What you got, instead, was witnesses blurting out: "Yes! I admit it! I'm clueless!"
O.K., not in so many words. But the bankers' testimony showed a stunning failure, even now, to grasp the nature and extent of the current crisis. And that's important: It tells us that as Congress and the administration try to reform the financial system, they should ignore advice coming from the supposed wise men of Wall Street, who have no wisdom to offer.
Consider what has happened so far: The U.S. economy is still grappling with the consequences of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression; trillions of dollars of potential income have been lost; the lives of millions have been damaged, in some cases irreparably, by mass unemployment; millions more have seen their savings wiped out; hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, will lose essential health care because of the combination of job losses and draconian cutbacks by cash-strapped state governments.
And this disaster was entirely self-inflicted. This isn't like the stagflation of the 1970s, which had a lot to do with soaring oil prices, which were, in turn, the result of political instability in the Middle East. This time we're in trouble entirely thanks to the dysfunctional nature of our own financial system. Everyone understands this everyone, it seems, except the financiers themselves.
There were two moments in Wednesday's hearing that stood out. One was when Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase declared that a financial crisis is something that "happens every five to seven years. We shouldn't be surprised." In short, stuff happens, and that's just part of life.
But the truth is that the United States managed to avoid major financial crises for half a century after the Pecora hearings were held and Congress enacted major banking reforms. It was only after we forgot those lessons, and dismantled effective regulation, that our financial system went back to being dangerously unstable.
As an aside, it was also startling to hear Mr. Dimon admit that his bank never even considered the possibility of a large decline in home prices, despite widespread warnings that we were in the midst of a monstrous housing bubble.
Still, Mr. Dimon's cluelessness paled beside that of Goldman Sachs's Lloyd Blankfein, who compared the financial crisis to a hurricane nobody could have predicted. Phil Angelides, the commission's chairman, was not amused: The financial crisis, he declared, wasn't an act of God; it resulted from "acts of men and women."
Was Mr. Blankfein just inarticulate? No. He used the same metaphor in his prepared testimony in which he urged Congress not to push too hard for financial reform: "We should resist a response ... that is solely designed around protecting us from the 100-year storm." So this giant financial crisis was just a rare accident, a freak of nature, and we shouldn't overreact.
But there was nothing accidental about the crisis. From the late 1970s on, the American financial system, freed by deregulation and a political climate in which greed was presumed to be good, spun ever further out of control. There were ever-greater rewards bonuses beyond the dreams of avarice for bankers who could generate big short-term profits. And the way to raise those profits was to pile up ever more debt, both by pushing loans on the public and by taking on ever-higher leverage within the financial industry.
Sooner or later, this runaway system was bound to crash. And if we don't make fundamental changes, it will happen all over again.
Do the bankers really not understand what happened, or are they just talking their self-interest? No matter. As I said, the important thing looking forward is to stop listening to financiers about financial reform.
Wall Street executives will tell you that the financial-reform bill the House passed last month would cripple the economy with overregulation (it's actually quite mild). They'll insist that the tax on bank debt just proposed by the Obama administration is a crude concession to foolish populism. They'll warn that action to tax or otherwise rein in financial-industry compensation is destructive and unjustified.
But what do they know? The answer, as far as I can tell, is: not much
THE NEW YORK TIMES
CIVILIZATION ON A FAULT LINE
BY DEBORAH BLUM
I USED to be a science writer for a California newspaper, where I learned to think of the ground beneath my feet as something alive. It crawled and shivered, stretched and quaked. It was the thin, wrinkled skin of an A.D.D. planet, whose muscles and bones constantly twitched beneath it.
In California as opposed to the relatively placid terrain of Wisconsin, where I now live it's impossible to miss that reality. The great San Andreas fault, where the Pacific and North American plates meet, slowly rumbles its way along the western edge of the state. The fault slides and catches, builds up pressure and then releases that pressure along smaller adjacent faults. Residents and scientists alike play a waiting game in California, uneasily trying to foretell when the big fault itself will go, setting off another geologic convulsion like the one that destroyed San Francisco in 1906.
At one meeting of seismologists I attended, the organizers strung a banner across the front of the conference room with a quotation attributed to the historian Will Durant: "Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice." I've always liked that line its rebuttal of our natural hubris, our assumption that we inevitably lord over this small sphere in one of our galaxy's lesser solar systems.
Durant, writing with his wife, Ariel, came back to this point again in "The Lessons of History," drawing this time on a Biblical analogy: "To the geologic eye all the surface of the earth is a fluid form, and man moves upon it as insecurely as Peter walking on the waves to Christ." Again, the Durants hit the right note because a crushing earthquake like the one that devastated Haiti on Tuesday brings with it a Biblical, a Homeric, epic sense of the world gone wrong.
Surely, you think, we should be able to rely on rock. A country like Haiti, already battered enough by circumstance, should be able to find safety in solid ground. Somehow it should be so, even though our planet proves that wrong again and again. Remember the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan Province in eastern China, which left more than 88,000 people dead or missing? The Indonesian earthquake of 2006, which killed more than 6,000 people?
Haiti is situated along a strike-slip fault between two great plates of the earth's crust, just like the San Andreas of California. The word fault does not imply a mistake. Nor does it suggest a stationary crack in the earth's crust. In geology, the word "fault" implies motion. Beneath the thin outer skin on which we stake our lives, our planet flexes its muscles. The hot magma that lies below, the liquid minerals and metals that swirl around the earth's core, conspire to keep the surface moving. The crustal plates, which cover the planet's surface like a great rocky jigsaw puzzle, push against, under and over one another. All with the slowness, and the inevitability, of geologic time.
The great continental and oceanic plates of crust are always moving, rubbing, rearranging the bedrock of our lives. The motion is too slow to catch our attention except when it becomes erratic. Strike-slip faults tend to get stuck as they slide against each other, one jagged section catching on another. They grind slowly onward though, moved relentlessly by that underground current, eventually breaking the hold, setting off the reverberations of a quake. It's been more than 100 years since the San Andreas broke in a spectacular way, more than 200 since the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden Fault, the one adjacent to Haiti, did so. It takes time for even the earth to build up to a catastrophe.
Although we have used that time to learn the mechanics of earthquakes, we are still a long way from being able to predict them. The territory is too large, the hidden influences buried too deep. The United States Geological Survey, for instance, has long focused prediction research on an earthquake-prone section of the San Andreas, near the central California town of Parkfield. From 1857 to 1966, moderate earthquakes rattled Parkfield every 20 to 30 years. The survey forecast the next to occur before 1993. It came in 2004, a tremor registering 6.0. Geologists have been watching the fault region for 25 years now. More than 175 papers have been published on observations at Parkfield. When I read through them, they seem to all reach the same conclusion: we live on a very tricky planet, unstable, restless and, yes, still unpredictable.
But they also offer insights into the subterranean world that we hope will move us a little closer to predicting danger. We do know how to engineer buildings with a greater degree of earthquake safety. But that takes money, commitment and a rigorous standard of government regulation and inspection. It shouldn't be surprising that a state like California has imposed safety measures while Haiti, long an impoverished and disorganized country, has struggled. I'm always heartened by international rescue efforts, like those in Haiti at the moment. But it would be even better if they were less necessary. Eventually, I hope, we will figure out a way to build an international coalition on building standards with some money behind it, able to invest in proactive safety measures.
After all, we're together here, all of us clinging to the skin of this perilously active planet. At our best, we confront the risks as a global community. As Will Durant also pointed out, "Man, not the earth, makes civilization."
Deborah Blum, a professor of science journalism at the University of Wisconsin, is the author of the forthcoming "The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York."
THE NEW YORK TIMES
EXPECTING THE BIG ONE
BY SIMON WINCHESTER
THOUGH it can offer scant comfort to the victims of the earthquake in Haiti, seismology is making some slight progress in its search for the holy grail of being able to predict dreadful events like that on Tuesday. New studies into ultra-slow-motion events deep underground called nonvolcanic tremors are showing vague but promising signs that the same kind of subterranean danger signals that allow us today to forecast when a volcano is about to erupt may one day offer some warning of the hitherto unpredictable nucleation the explosive beginning of an earthquake.
The most interesting studies are those that are proceeding, slowly and expensively, in Parkfield, Calif. (as it happens, just a little north of the road crossing where James Dean was killed in a traffic accident nearly 55 years ago). A deep hole has been drilled into the countryside there, directly into the San Andreas fault, which runs for 800 miles along the junction between the North American and Pacific tectonic plates.
The academic and government researchers who run the drilling program seek to find out what happens at the precise point of contact between two plates. It now appears highly likely that the very low impact, but still measurable, nonvolcanic tremors that the researchers have detected in boreholes deep beneath the San Andreas are in some way associated with the destructive earthquakes that occur at shallower depths above them. What the scientists would still like to determine is whether it might be possible to discern a nonvolcanic tremor's signature in the deep crust some useful time before a major earthquake happens far above.
This is highly relevant to the disaster in Haiti because the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, the tectonic culprit behind Tuesday's earthquake, shares many similarities with the San Andreas: it is a strike-slip fault of about half the length (it runs from the Dominican Republic to Jamaica), it separates two plates (the North American and the Caribbean), for most of its length it is simultaneously locked solid and under severe stress, and it shears substantially every century or so. (The last time was in 1907, in Jamaica; scientists have long warned of a catastrophe one day involving Port-au-Prince.)
It is highly likely that the low-impact, nonvolcanic tremors measured in the San Andreas happen in the Caribbean also. If a real correlation between these tremors and earthquakes can be found, then science will turn out to be truly on to something. Such a relationship has not yet been discovered. But the tremors do seem to have some unusual bellwether characteristics: there seems to be a correlation, for instance, between their occurrence and such external phenomena as the tides and the phases of the Moon. A link to movements within the Earth's crust is at least a further possibility and that is something that could not have been said five years ago. Hence the faintest glimmer of hope for progress.
But then what? If the geophysicists at the University of California at Berkeley, the United States Geological Survey, the California Institute of Technology and the Scripps Research Institute are convinced of a correlation, and then one day detect with their deeply buried devices a sudden swarm of nonvolcanic tremors, would they call the mayor of San Francisco or Los Angeles and issue a warning? And would the mayors then order a mass evacuation? And if they did, what if the scientists turned out to be wrong?
These are questions well worth asking and asking even more stridently of a place that is somewhat less sophisticated than California. If a similar swarm of data is noticed in the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, would geologists try to warn the citizens of a city like Port-au-Prince? And even if the forecasts were right, would such a warning save lives, or would it set off panics more lethal than the earthquake itself?
The branch of seismology that deals with prediction is undoubtedly in a slightly better place than it was half a decade ago. But new questions arise with every step toward the grail, and the answers come too slowly to bring true comfort to anyone today, least of all the unfortunate people of Haiti.
Simon Winchester is the author of "A Crack in the Edge of the World: America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906" and the forthcoming "Atlantic: A Biography of the Ocean."
I. THE NEWS
The hearts and prayers of Pakistani people, whatever their faith, will today reach out to the people of Haiti. Few may be aware of this but we have a detachment of police in Haiti as part of the UN peacekeeping force, and they are all reported safe which is where the good news ends. Haiti has suffered one of the most devastating earthquakes of recent times, and whilst early projections of casualties have to be treated with caution, it is possible that when the final count is in there will be more than 100,000 who have lost their lives. The quake struck the most densely populated part of the country Port-au-Prince -- at dead of night when most were asleep in their beds. There was no warning (though a major quake had been predicted in 2008 by seismologists testing on the fault line that runs to the south of the centre of the city) and aftershocks continue to bring down buildings already damaged in the primary shock. Nations around the world have quickly mobilised to help the stricken nation and aid is beginning to arrive. The coming days will tell of heroic effort and, perhaps, miraculous rescues; but the rescues will be far outnumbered by the burials and Haiti will have to get on with the business of rebuilding itself, albeit with massive support.
Appalled as the world is by the magnitude of the tragedy there are lessons that we as an earthquake-prone nation that in 2005 suffered similarly to Haiti need to take to heart. Global populations doubled between 1900 and 1960 and doubled again between 1960 and 2000. A fourfold increase in the world's population, most of it in the developing world in poorly constructed cities, suggests that future extreme seismic events have the potential to far exceed in severity those which happened in the past. Cities in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh have become larger and more numerous and the infrequent earthquakes that have hitherto taken more than 100,000 lives may in future produce more than a million fatalities per event. Humankind has never seen fatality on that scale as a result of naturally occurring events but it will. Port-au-Prince and its environs will eventually rise from the rubble, but it will be a long time doing so. We are still recovering from the quake of '05 and the Balochistan quake of October '08 suggested that there were massive inadequacies in our disaster preparedness and response. As our prayers go to the people of Haiti we need to remember ourselves as well and urban administrators need to dust off those building codes and regulations and see that they are enforced; no matter how 'influential' the property developer.
I. THE NEWS
PRESIDENT IN PUNJAB
President Asif Ali Zardari's welcome in Lahore has been almost as cool as the climate, with temperatures hovering just above freezing point in the Punjab capital. Both Mian Nawaz Sharif and Mian Shahbaz Sharif are out of the country, and the PML-N has not put on any reception for the president who finally arrives in the city nearly a year and a half after he was sworn in. Security concerns had led to the cancellation of a visit scheduled late last year. Indeed, there is conjecture that Mr Zardari's flurry of visits beyond Islamabad are motivated by the need to counter growing criticism that he seems intent on spending his entire tenure as president either within the lavish confines of the presidency or else on an aircraft headed for a destination overseas.
While PPP leaders have strung up the usual posters and banners welcoming the man who also heads their party, citizens for the most part remain largely unenthusiastic. Certainly there has been no outpouring of joy on the arrival of Mr Zardari, who will meet the business community, journalists and lawyers during his visit, besides addressing a public meeting. The lack of gas and power in the principal city of the country's largest province could have something to do with this. So could the fact that Mr Zardari is seen as a pal of the Punjab governor, a man who, through his aggressive comments directed against the Punjab government, has earned himself many enemies in the home city of the Sharifs. Mr Zardari's visit also comes at a time when relations between the PML-N and the PPP are at an all-time low. Tension has been rising once more for several weeks, and many observers believe that, in the province at least, the alliance forged amidst much fanfare in 2008 is today little more than a façade. The full implications of this are yet to unfold. But it seems apparent that there will be no real bid to patch up relations during this visit. The PML-N's cold shoulder to the president makes this evident. We can only wonder if Mr Zardari is able to accept the extent to which he is personally responsible for this and for the consequent instability that now stalks the country.
I. THE NEWS
We have been told by a delegation led by a former union council nazim that the Greek national kidnapped from Kafiristan some months ago is indeed safe, is being treated by the Taliban as their guest and is in high spirits. This is all rather beside the point. The main question is, why the man, who had set up a museum and other services for the Kalash people, is not free and indeed what is being done at the official level to secure his release. It is still unclear if his captors seek a ransom or whether the man was punished simply for assisting a community of 'infidels'.
The case highlights the plight of the Kalash, and indeed all other ethnic and religious minorities in Pakistan. Forced conversions have already destroyed the unique culture of the area. The latest kidnapping is another example of this. What is especially disappointing is the fact that so little has been done by the government to protect the rights of people or intervene to save those working for their cause. What we are seeing in our country is a rapid imposition of uniformity. Not only the Kalash, but Christians and Hindus too have been compelled to abandon their religion. Young women have frequently been targeted for such 'conversions'. The authorities must do more to spread awareness of the fact that our country is multi-cultural and this is a source of its richness and strength. The diversity must be built on and not crushed. As good hosts, it is vital too that we do more to secure the release of a man who had, quietly and with great devotion, acted in the interests of an impoverished group in our country.
I. THE NEWS
A GOVERNING CLASS WHICH MAKES ONE CRY
"Patience, stout heart, thou hast endured far worse than this."
The OdysseyOdysseus would have had to revise his understanding of patience were he to have undertaken his voyages in the salubrious climate of the Islamic Republic. Adversity and facing up to it are part of the human condition. But the consistent ability to make simple problems worse and invent new problems all the time is a distinction that sets us apart from many other countries in what used to be called the Third World.
RAW and Mossad in their wildest imagination can't do to us what we are capable of inflicting on ourselves.
We just can't get things right and governance or the administering of things seems to lie wholly beyond our collective ability or our collective endeavours. Yes, we face a tough situation that would have taxed all of Odysseus's cleverness to fix. But what explanation for the collective death wish which seems to afflict our governing class, from one end of the spectrum to the other?
Does the responsibility for saving the democratic system rest only on our shoulders and not President Asif Zardari? Must only we, setting all reservations aside, continue to bleat about the system while His Excellency the President, and the minions supposedly most loyal to him, continue to do as they please?
For his own good, and his party's good, why is it so difficult for the president to rely a bit more on elected men from within his party rather than on the unelected drones who surround him and on whose advice, often at fatal cost to himself, he continues to rely, to the exclusion of any other sane counsel?
Nawaz Sharif, to the dissatisfaction of many in his inner circle, offers not one but several olive branches to the president by saying that he would stand in the way of any unconstitutional moves to replace him. And how does our foremost product of accident and circumstance respond to this? By taking a dig at him in his Naudero speech (on the occasion of BB's second death anniversary) and by blithely allowing his perpetually-switched-on megaphone in Lahore, Governor Salmaan Taseer (another product of circumstances, if ever there was one), to blast the PML-N leadership all the time.
If this be not part of the death wish we seem to be suffering from, what else is it? Is the president trying to be president or is he taking Samson as his model who when he went took the whole temple of doom with him? At whose behest is Salmaan carrying out his sustained attempts at demolition?
The president already has problems, and serious ones at that, on the judicial front. We may see some action regarding Swiss corruption and money-laundering cases in which his name is involved or we may not. But this is a potential time-bomb, a perennial spectre at the president's table, which if nothing else would dictate a measure of circumspection on the part of his team.
What do we get instead? A virtuoso performance by Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira who virtually baits My Lord the Chief Justice by saying that he should take suo moto notice of the reports -- since vehemently denied -- that the CJ and Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had met in the dark of the night. It would take a man out of his mind to go on about anything like this but, to all appearances, we have such a worthy in the shape of the honourable Mr Kaira.
Knowing his flexibility I am sure he will put a spin on what he has said and put the responsibility for his almost incendiary remarks on other shoulders. Is My Lord the CJ likely to be amused?
And then what to make of events in Karachi? For the first time in the PPP's history the party had an absolute majority in the Sindh assembly after the last elections. This had not happened with Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, nor with Benazir Bhutto. The PPP was in a position to form a government on its own. Wiser heads had counselled the president not to feed milk to snakes but he went ahead and is now having to live with the consequences.
Thanks to these policies the Lyari township of Karachi, for over forty years an invincible stronghold of the PPP, has witnessed an unprecedented outpouring of anger against the PPP and the president personally. Why? Because PPP workers were mercilessly targeted in a supposed law-and-order operation carried out in Lyari. Only a genius could have fomented such unrest in such a locality. But we have seen this miracle come to pass, thanks to some of the president's closest advisers.
On the question of Lyari, it is pertinent to ask who got Rehman Dakait (dacoit), Lyari's Robin Hood, killed? He was caught in Balochistan but killed in a staged police encounter near Malir. Rehman enjoyed the protection of powerful godfathers (discretion forbids me to take their names). But when the chips were down for him, it was his godfathers who let him go. Cruel as the ways of politics may be, it is still pertinent to ask at whose behest, or to please whom, did the godfathers so behave?
The crocodiles of Manghopir (just outside Karachi) can be satisfied. Feed them enough and they will bask in the sun. The snakes of Karachi are insatiable.
But since it is the entirety of the political spectrum which is, or should be, under the microscope, what to make of the democracy certificate conferred on army chief General Ashfaq Kayani by Mian Shahbaz Sharif? Talking to Hamid Mir in his 'Capital Talk' TV programme, the Punjab chief minister said that of all the army chiefs he had known -- and he recounted their names -- he had found Gen Kayani to be the most pro-democracy.
Can we please put a moratorium on such certificates? Bhutto elevated Gen Zia above six other generals to make him army chief. Zia's gratitude took the form of seeing Bhutto swing from the gallows not long thereafter. Benazir Bhutto conferred a democracy medal on Gen Aslam Beg during her first premiership and could only rub her hands in bewilderment when, with Ghulam Ishaq Khan's help, he ousted her a year-and-a-half later.
Shahbaz Sharif was one of the persons instrumental -- I will not name the others -- in getting Pervez Musharraf picked up from Mangla where he was corps commander and made army chief in 1998 after Gen Jahangir Karamat had stepped down. Musharraf must have seemed very pro-democracy then but we know where it all ended.
Musharraf should be tried under Article 6 of the Constitution which prescribes the punishment for high treason. But before that, it would perhaps not be out of order if those who detected a democrat in him in 1998 should proffer a public apologia.
Which is not to say that Kayani has it in him to be like any of the others. He could well be the exception who proves the rule about our army supremos. All the same, he still has some way to go. There will be time enough for medals later. CM Sharif should concentrate on his bailiwick, Punjab, where he has his job cut out for him. (To give him his due, he is one of our better administrators.) But his military diplomacy, judging by his past record in this field, deserves to be taken with a fistful of salt.
As if to prove that we are all in the same bathhouse (the Urdu word hamaam has a sharper resonance to it) there is the spectacle of My Lord the CJ proposing Justice Ramday -- who after a distinguished career as a senior judge has just retired -- as an ad hoc judge of the Supreme Court. Why can't we let our stars have some mercy on us?
My Lord Ramday has played his innings and a good innings at that. If all the world's a stage -- although, it has to be said, it's getting a bit crowded -- more important than one's entry is the timing and manner of one's exit. We are given to prolonging, often painfully, our departures, simply not knowing how to bow and take our leave. Justice Ramday should be allowed to leave with dignity and grace, concentrating on his memoirs and his garden. It will be the proper example to set. Ad hoc Judge Ramday just doesn't sound right.
I. THE NEWS
SAGA OF A 15-YEAR-OLD
DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
On the Day when graves will be opened, all will rush towards God, we are told, and on that day bones will speak and the good Lord will judge each and everyone human being who ever lived on this sad and tortured earth.
On that day, the saga of a 15-year-boy caught in Afghanistan by the American Special Forces, tortured, and then flown to that outpost of humanity called Guantanamo Bay, may not stand out as the worst crime of humanity. But here below, it certainly stands out as the fulfilment of the promise Satan made to his Creator, that he will mislead humanity, beguile them, and make them believe in phantoms of their own making.
A 15-year-old boy named Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was caught in the Great Game started by someone in Afghanistan back in 2001. On the morning of July 27, 2002, a team of American soldiers from the 19th Special Forces Group and the 505th Infantry Regiment, along with a "militia" composed of approximately twenty Afghan fighters loyal to mercenary warlord Pacha Khan Zadran and led by Zadran's brother Kamal, arrived in a village near the Khost airbase in a tan Toyota Tacoma. They came to search the house of one Abdul Khalil, alleged to be a bomb-maker.
The search turned up no evidence against the occupants of the house. While they were at the house, a report came in that a monitored satellite phone had just been used 300-600 meters from the group's present location. Seven soldiers were sent to investigate the site of the phone call.
This group of Americans, led by Major Randy Watt, arrived at a series of mud huts and a granary filled with fresh straw surrounded by a 10-foot stone wall. There they found five well-dressed men were sitting around a fire in the main residence. The group called for more support, and 45 minutes later reinforcements arrived, bringing the total number of Americans and Afghan militia to about fifty. Two militiamen were sent into the compound to speak with the inhabitants.
They returned to the Americans and reported that men inside were just local villagers. They were told to return to the huts, and inform the occupants that the Americans wanted to search their house, regardless of their affiliation. Upon hearing this, the occupants of the hut opened fire, shooting both militiamen. A fight broke out. Helicopters were called in and they bombarded the house. More Americans arrived, and ten minutes later a pair of A-10 Warthogs arrived on-scene and began attacking the houses, along with the Apaches already bombing.
Eventually, when the Americans thought all were dead in the house, they sstormed the house through a hole in the south side of the wall, while at least two other American troops continued throwing grenades into the compound. The team began picking their way over the bodies of dead animals and three fighters. As they went toward the house, hand grenades were thrown at them and they were fired at. Two Americans died and five were wounded.
When the dust cleared, one American soldier, who had just killed an Afghan, saw the 15-year-old Khadr crouched, facing away from the action and wounded by shrapnel that had just blinded his left eye. Khadr was shot twice in the back after being pulled out from under rubble. Later, Khadr was given on-site medical attention, during which time he repeatedly asked the medics to kill him, surprising them with his English.
An officer present later recorded in his diary that he was about to tell his Private Second Class to kill the wounded Khadr, when Delta Force soldiers ordered them not to harm the prisoner. He was then loaded aboard a CH-47 helicopter and flown to Bagram Airbase, losing consciousness aboard the flight.
The rest of the story of Omar Khadr can be read at his family's website or at other websites dealing with his captivity and trial. In short, he was transferred to Guantanamo Bay under horrible conditions; the Canadian government has remained utterly unresponsive to the numerous human-rights violations of one its citizens, and since Khadr was underage at the time of his capture, Americans have violated a number of international laws in keeping him at Guantanamo Bay and torturing him.
Omar Khadr is now about to be transferred to the mainland, where a military trial is scheduled to begin in July. But military courts are kangaroo courts, and what this court will do is a foregone conclusion. What is most important in this saga of a 15-year-old boy is the extraordinary resilience and strength he has shown during the last seven years. Those who have met him, such as the two Canadian lawyers, who are probably the only two human beings Khadr trusts, describe him as a beautiful human being who has kept his humanity despite all odds. The way he has been tortured by the Americans reminds one of what is said of Nazi torture camps, but the moral of the story, if you can draw one at such a late hour of humanity's decent into inhumanity, is a question: where does his resilience come from?
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
MQM: REALITY VS FANTASY
When bodies start piling up in Karachi, the gut reaction of the Pakistani mainstream outside Karachi is to blame the MQM. This is a twenty-five year old problem. The MQM's reputation did not emerge from thin air, but its sustenance is the stuff of three decades of political grandstanding by the GHQ of the Pakistani military, by the PPP, by the mainstream parties of the Punjab (a la the various PMLs), and the opportunism of the ANP. Politics is all about making the best of opportunities. The MQM's sustained strategy since 9/11 has been to position itself as a secular and liberal political party. This too is opportunistic. Both the demonisation of the MQM brand through associating the party with violence, and the laundering of the brand through associating the party with the "secular" and "liberal" labels are bad ideas. It is time for Pakistan to grow up about the MQM, and time for the MQM to take the lead in helping its brothers around the country come to a new consciousness about the MQM, about Mohajir identity, and about the centrality of Karachi to the Pakistan's economic, social and political future. Lahore may well be the heart of Pakistan. Karachi is its wallet, its Blackberry and its cologne. Karachi is Pakistan's mojo.
The mythology being constructed on a daily basis about the MQM's roots is stupefying. Day after day, leaders of the MQM are given free reign to speak unchallenged about the gloriously secular and liberal foundations of the MQM. The notion of the MQM being a secular and liberal force in Pakistan has tremendous appeal among diplomats assigned to Pakistan and eager to report to headquarters that they can indeed find people that "we can work with". There is nothing, despite the current obsession with conspiracy theories, sinister about this. But there is something desperately stupid about it. Diplomats who are aching to hear what their memos and briefs already tell them are dangerously pre-programmed to perpetuate their own views of Pakistan. Too often, because of the stakes involved and the dangers of working in Pakistan, history, even very contemporary history, is almost entirely absent from these views. Luckily, anybody that had a pulse and could read in Pakistan during the 1980s and the 1990s should be more than capable of distinguishing between the fantasy of convenient "secular and liberal" talking points and the uncomfortable reality of the MQM's genesis.
The MQM is an incredible and thesis-worthy object of attention and intellectual affection. Altaf Bhai is not an ordinary political talent. He is, hands down, the finest political mind ever produced by this country (outside the Bhutto family). Period. The PML-N has its Ahsan Iqbals, and though it hasn't cherished them properly, the PPP has its Aitzaz Ahsans, sure. But the MQM has truckloads of political talent almost always ready to go. Whoever had heard of the administrative juggernaut, Mayor Mustafa Kamal, before he became mayor in 2005? That's not a one-off thing. The MQM develops young political talent in ways that are more sophisticated and sustainable than any political party in the country.
The MQM's unique legitimacy as an urban political party is a reality. Its organisational skills and its potential for a serious reform agenda that is deeper and wider than any previously conceived in the country is a reality. The empowerment of disenchanted, disengaged and disenfranchised young men during the late 1980s and early 1990s in Karachi and Hyderabad is a reality. The vibrancy of the MQM's original agenda and its appeal for the empowerment of Urdu-speaking Mohajirs is a reality. The MQM's uncontested dominance of the Karachi vote-bank (notwithstanding three iffy seats) is a reality. Most of all, despite desperately wanting to move on, the MQM's Urdu-speaking Mohajir identity is a reality. Love it or hate it, you cannot ignore it. The MQM cannot be relegated to the political periphery. That is a reality.
Despite its genuine credentials as possibly the most modern and urban political party in Pakistan, the MQM does not have the history, the character or the genetics of a party that can legitimately claim to be secular and liberal. More importantly, the conflation of these two terms is not a demonstration of the MQM's own politics, but the confusion of Pakistan's political language, which in turn is informed by Pakistan's multiple existential crises. There are much more organic things that the MQM can claim to be, including a rare expression of middle-class assertiveness in a country that is all about how much patronage the elite can transfer to a massive underclass that is perpetually in their social, economic and political debt. What it mustn't claim are things that it is not.
The secularism of the MQM is fantasy because opposing the Taliban does not make you secular. By very definition and instinct, it is a political party that is a manifestation of a centuries-old South Asian Muslim political narrative. The foundation of the Mohajir experience was not a commitment to the South Asian secular dream. The forefathers of the young men and women that made the MQM what it is today would not have needed to change addresses at great cost to get that brand of politics. A strong dash of Muslim identity does not render a people radicals or extremists, obviously. But it does problematise the notion of their secularism. It happens to form the core of the MQM's ethos. No amount of wordsmithing the MQM's background can extricate it from its original name. This was, is, and will forever be, the party formerly known as the Mohajir Qaumi Movement.
The liberalism of the MQM is a fantasy because the galvanisation of young Mohajirs in the 1980s was not a spontaneous combustion of liberal ideas in Karachi and Hyderabad. The kids that helped form the All Pakistan Mohajir Students' Organisation (APMSO), and later the MQM, were actualising their identities. And they were doing so in a very assertive manner. Violence is an inconvenient truth in the MQM's search for a broader national role in Pakistani governance. That the MQM can achieve that broader role without deconstructing and explaining its violent genesis truthfully is a fantasy. Perhaps most importantly, it is a fantasy that such an explanation can be made without defining what drove the rage of young Mohajirs during the 1970s and 1980s. That rage and its violent expression have scarred the impressions of Pakistanis outside Karachi of what it means to be Mohajir. The idea that words like bhatta and curfew can be separated from the MQM brand because of a series of flattering interviews that feature the secular and liberal credentials of the MQM is a fantasy.
Luckily circumstances offer the MQM a chance for sustainable and long-range rehabilitation. Helping resolve the issue of decentralisation, creating an effective police force in Sindh and negotiating a grand political bargain with the PPP that ends the bickering between these existentially antagonistic entities are just three of many ways that the MQM can start on the road towards an elusive broader national role in Pakistani governance.
Sindhi nationalism's romance with the Bhutto family is at its lowest point ever. There is unprecedented goodwill between the MQM and Baloch nationalist parties. The PML-N is interested in having a working relationship with the MQM. Most of all, as I've written before, the MQM's degree of comfort with religion and religious symbolism is unmatched. That is not the mark of a so-called secular party. It's the mark of a seriously tuned-in urban Pakistani political party. If the MQM will expand, it will do so by becoming a trusted brand in the long strip of cities that dot the Indus River in Punjab. Faux chest-beating about secular and liberal values might be hot in the Diplomatic Enclave, but they won't fly in the heart of Pakistan. The heart knows what it wants. And it doesn't want fantasy. It wants reality.
The writer advises governments, donors and NGOs on public policy. He can be reached through his website www.mosharrafzaidi.com
I. THE NEWS
DR MASOODA BANO
It is true that governments at federal as well as provincial levels are confronted with a series of challenges to fight militancy. However, this is not an adequate justification for the failure of the PPP government at the federal level along with the provincial governments to push forward an overall reform agenda in the country. Not only have the present governments at the federal or provincial levels failed to spell out a development agenda, more importantly they are failing to check continued deterioration of the state institutions. The complete mismanagement of the PIA and Pakistani international airports, though at one level an insignificant issue, is a good reminder of the utter chaos in the state institutions. More saddening is the realisation that much of this chaos is a result of simple mismanagement rather than resource constraints.
It is common knowledge that the fog in Lahore can create delays in flight departures. However, the PIA management seems oblivious to this face despite the chaos it is creating at the Lahore airport. This Tuesday, due to fog a couple of early morning PIA international flights had to be delayed. This is not a big deal in itself as people know that flights are often delayed because of this.. However, the problem emerges with PIA's management complete lack of planning to deal with the scenario. Rather than rescheduling the delayed flights in a systematic manner, the management decided to check in passengers for all delayed and current international flights at the same time. The result was chaos at an international airport that looked worse than a fish market.
Passengers for Toronto, London and Copenhagen were all asked to make one queue with the result that even the flight which could have left on time was delayed for over three hours because the check-in process took more than six hours. The plane was ready, and half of the passengers were made to go on board, while it took another three hours to get the remaining passengers spread in the queue to make their way on the air craft. The check in process itself was terribly slow with boarding card and label tag printers breaking down at many check-in counters. The worst however was the complete mismanagement of space. Lahore airport is quite spacious. Yet, the check-in counters were being managed in such a way that luggage trolleys were bumping into each other, thus blocking the way and leading to further delays.
The real problem was that the PIA management and staff refused to really address the issue. Passengers were repeatedly shouting out for breaking the queue because the PIA staff refused to take responsibility for ensuring that the queues operate smoothly. Knowing full well that the passengers for a given flight are failing to check in due to the overall slow process and mixed up queues, the airline staff started to make departure calls for a flight creating further panic at the check-in counters. The plane did not leave for more than three hours after the announcement as clearly it could not leave the passengers being delayed at the check-in counter. Yet, the management did not have the common sense to recognise that such departure calls will only create further chaos at the check-in counter.
These issues, at one level, appear too mundane to merit serious analysis. However, they have deep implications. First, the international airports are the first point of contact for foreigners to a country. They, thus, are expected to present a civilised image of the country. Anyone who was at these check-in counters would not have been left with a pleasant image of Pakistan. Chaos, mismanagement and people bursting out in anger was all that one saw at the Lahore International Airport. PIA is Pakistan's national airline. It should strive to provide services that do not make the travellers feel as if they are standing at a congested bus stop, hoping to get a seat for a cheap bus ride.
The other reason it is important to take this seriously is that it is reflective of the federal and provincial governments' complete failure to reform the working of public institutions. If PIA, an institution that has direct contact with the public, can be allowed to perform so miserably then it shows how the federal and provincial governments feel no pressure to reform the state institutions. It is true that the state needs to fight militancy. But, it is also true that without reforming the working of the state institutions, be it PIA, the police, or any other state agency,, Pakistan can neither progress nor can it keep a check on militancy.
The writer is a research fellow at the Oxford University. Email: mb294@hotmail .com
I. THE NEWS
POLITICISING STATE INSTITUTIONS
The entrails of our society, particularly in Karachi, are hanging out. Over a hundred targeted killings may seem like another gruesome statistic. And we have been through so many in recent times that nothing registers for too long. But this is a clear evidence of state retreat, if not state failure.
The truly alarming part is that political actors controlling the state structure in one form or another are linked to the killings, whereas they are required to defend it. This adds a particularly difficult overhang to an already weakened police apparatus that has poor training and poor technical ability, and is riddled with political appointees.
The last part becomes a critical factor in Karachi because of deep political polarisation. Over the last twenty years, the police, indeed all other departments in the city, have gone through a transformation. Whenever an opportunity has presented itself, political parties have stuffed their supporters into the lower ranks of the bureaucracy and police.
This has deeply eroded the autonomy of the state structure. The upper ranks may be apolitical, but by the time an order filters down to the operational level it is seen with a partisan lens. More importantly, it is transmitted to political patrons, and their take on it colours implementation. This leaves the officers hanging in the air, seemingly in charge but without real command or control. It is difficult, if not impossible, for the state to function in such circumstances.
Our entire system of government is based on state autonomy and neutrality. It is indeed a legacy of colonial rule, as in it an autonomous state structure without political or local links was an essential. But while this made the government distant from the people, it had advantages in a society that is deeply divided by family, clan and tribal, and now political, loyalties.
While such a bureaucracy's ability to undertake development and promote social growth was limited, its neutrality was an asset when it came to maintaining order or negotiating through the minefield of sectional disputes. It is beginning to lose even this advantage. Besides a general erosion of ability through poor educational standards, its alignment with local interest groups has thrown merit, and the much bandied about good governance, out of the window.
Karachi is an example of this decline. Gang or political warfare erupts and the state becomes a bystander. Rangers have to be called in and at least one party openly asks for the army to intervene. Let us remember that anytime a paramilitary or a military force is asked for, it is an admission of failure for the normal governing structures. The frequency with which this is happening. and not just in Karachi, is a loud announcement of our deteriorating governing ability.
We have to get our politics right, but we also have to get our governance right. And how will this happen if the entire effort of our political masters is to bend the state structure to their will. And they are doing this without taking responsibility, because all orders are signed by civil servants.
Political governments have come and gone, but nobody has decided to change the rules of business so that the political masters become the authorised signatories on orders that they ask the civil servants to issue on their behalf. Most often these are verbal and in one case the prime minister used to write on yellow stick-on chits that were removed later. In other words, it was a deliberate attempt not to leave behind a paper trail.
In such an environment where politicians, with honourable exceptions, refuse to take responsibility for their orders, complying civil servants start to appear partisan or linked to a particular person. It is therefore not a surprise that at least some have begun to be known by their political affiliations.
A classical demonstration of this was the brief and ill-fated imposition of governor's rule in Punjab. The first order of business for the new management was to transfer a number of top civil servants out of the province and get new people in. These newcomers were all booted out the moment the previous setup came back.
It is this politicisation of the bureaucracy that is adding to all the other troubles we have. A civil servant performing diligently today under this or that political government is inadvertently tainting himself or herself with partisan colours for the next setup. And liable to be punished for it. How do we expect him or her to keep only merit as a guiding principle for performance?
This political overhang is now also being deliberately extended to the judiciary. The statement by Information Minister Kaira about the chief justice of the Supreme Court meeting Mr Shahbaz Sharif is a naked attempt at politicising the judiciary. It has been denied by everybody, but it was deliberately articulated to imply that there is a close nexus between one political party and the Supreme Court.
This is highly dangerous, because if the judiciary is also politicised there is no arbiter left in the system. There are fairly eminent people openly advocating that the government should not comply with the orders of the Supreme Court that are beyond the mandate of the Constitution. In other words, it is for the government to judge the constitutionality of a Supreme Court order.
If this advice is followed it will of course bring constitutional governance to a grinding halt. It is the responsibility of the courts, and particularly the Supreme Court, to interpret and decide what is constitutional. This is not the prerogative of any other state authority. If the government chooses to implement only that which it considers legal and constitutional, the court is as good as dead. Will that serve the cause of democracy?
In a similar vein, there are suggestions that the military should publicly declare, before the fact, that it will not implement Supreme Court orders issued under Article 190 of the Constitution; it will refer them to the ministry of defence, as Gen Karamat had done in 1998.
Besides asking the military to anticipate events and answer hypothetical scenarios, it amounts to dragging it into politics. If the purpose is that it should declare its neutrality by such a posture, it would actually do the reverse. It will pull it into the political debate. And if the military's statement on the Kerry Lugar bill was wrong by some reckoning, another on a sensitive subject cannot be right.
It is an indicator of the state we are in that every institution in the country is being tarred with the brush of partisanship or accused of having agendas of its own. This is a sure recipe for failure. We are in a very difficult battle, not just against terrorism but poverty and a host of other problems. We have to be at our best, or we will not succeed.
I. THE NEWS
Pakistan oscillates between a military oligarchy and a civilian plutocracy. In the binary world of "either you are with us or you are against us", it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold an objective view and then not get branded either pro-establishment or pro-democracy by the hawks on the one side and apologists on the other. Depends how either party interprets the argument you are propounding and then rejects you for being misdirected, confused, disloyal to the country's interest, or even as pushing a narrow personal agenda. I, however, maintain that two people can't be right at the same time if they are presenting conflicting views but both of them can be wrong at the same time.
The mindset of the Pakistani establishment, prevalent in the military and civilian elite and large parts of the middle class alike, finds everything wrong with the incumbent president and wants him removed as soon as possible. Their impatience is evident from the way the media, intelligence agencies and segments within different factions of the PML and other smaller parties are single-mindedly pursuing the agenda of the president's removal from office. Even due credit is not given to the PPP-led coalition government. The NFC Award is a case in point. Although it is not comprehensive in terms of resolving outstanding resource distribution issues among the federating units, some credit must be given to the incumbent government for getting the agreement pulled along. The government has also been successful in creating a near-consensus on the army operation against the anti-state militants in the north-western parts of Pakistan. I am not so sure about the efficacy of the Balochistan package after going through its wishy-washy text but at least an effort is made which must be acknowledged.
On the other hand, we have people who have an answer to every question that you raise about the inability of the government to show us the path we need to tread, let alone immediately start being effective in delivering services to the people and ensure their constitutional entitlements. They ask you not to criticise any act of the president or the government because it would be detrimental to the survival of democracy and therefore the survival of the country. You can't talk about rampant corruption because one, terrorism is a bigger issue and two, who else is not corrupt. Undoubtedly, Benazir Bhutto is an undisputed martyr in our political history. But she as well as her opponents ran plutocratic governments in the 1990s. What an irony that those who now shamelessly sing the great socialist poets Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib in public meetings crushed trade unions in their own factories. Unlike different factions of the PML, Benazir's PPP did have a marginal representation of the underclass in its folds. Most voters of the PPP come from different tiers of working people but by design they only get to elect members of the idle rich class. The ANP has only letters in its acronym which may allow it to lay claims on the political past of its predecessor National Awami Party (NAP). The MQM refuses to change its coercive nature and the course of pressurising its constituents, partners and opponents alike even after being in the electoral mainstream for decades.
What we now see is a civilian interlude between martial rules. The military must never be allowed to intervene but at the same time, if new representative political forces of people from middle and working classes do not emerge, the idea of a federal democratic Pakistan will remain a distant dream.
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: harris@spopk. org
NCA APPROPRIATELY WARNS INDIA
THE National Command Authority (NCA) at its meeting on Wednesday took a serious view of recent Indian statements about its capability to conduct conventional military strikes under a nuclear umbrella and made it clear in unambiguous terms that Pakistan will not compromise on its security interests and maintain a credible minimum deterrence. The NCA in a statement after the meeting said irresponsible statements from the defence establishment of India reflected a hegemonic mindset, oblivious of dangerous implications of adventurism in a nuclearised context.
This categorical statement from the country's highest strategic forum chaired by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani for the first time following voluntary withdrawal of President Asif Ali Zardari as head of the Authority was very timely to send a message to the neighbouring country that Pakistan cannot be browbeaten by such boasting and threatening statements. At the same time the NCA reaffirmed Pakistan's policy of restraint and responsibility and resolve to continue efforts to promote peace and stability in South Asia. However we are of the firm opinion that peace could be achieved if nuclear armed India is sincere in resolution of outstanding disputes and avoid interfering in the internal affairs of the neighbours. The ground reality is that New Delhi is on a massive arms buying spree from all sources and plans to spend $ 30 billion on the purchase of fighter aircraft, aircraft carrier and nuclear submarine in addition to indigenous development of a range of missiles and nuclear war heads. What is more worrisome is that countries, which oppose spread of nuclear technology, are in the forefront to offer the same to New Delhi. During last month, India reached deals for 16 nuclear reactors with the United States and Russia with work on them starting in 2010-2011. These agreements came within two weeks of several nuclear incidents that shook the people of India about the security of the nuclear plants. The most shocking was the painful incident at Bhabha Atomic Research Centre where a mysterious fire cooked two young scientists. These security lapses should have raised multiple questions about the vulnerability of Indian Nuclear Assets. Regrettably the United States and nuclear suppliers group have taken no notice and instead are in competition to sell the sensitive technology to a country, which is unable to secure its existing nuclear assets and hurling threats at the neighbouring countries and thus proving to be a dangerous nation for the security of the region and world.
NUDE SCREENING OF PAKISTANIS, SHAME ON YOU
THE United States describes Pakistan as a strategic ally and a frontline State in the war against terror but its actions and treatment meted out to the country speak otherwise. The shaky relationship was already imperilled due to unilateral decisions of Washington in respect of war on terror especially the drone attacks which are universally condemned and abhorred in Pakistan but introduction of new screening system for passengers from Pakistan and 13 other Muslim countries has added salt to the injuries.
Of course, the United States or for that matter any other country is fully entitled to adopt necessary security measures but these must not violate human rights of others. Singling out passengers from a few countries for special checks which are, except Cuba, Muslim is a sheer discrimination and amounts to hurling insults on them. There was absolutely no justification for invasive screening and physical body pat-downs as envisaged in the new security system introduced by the United States for passengers from these countries. It is strange that the United States has resorted to this kind of reaction following an incident in which a Nigerian attempted to blow up a US-bound plane, ignoring that stricter security measures were in place in Pakistan and there was not a single incident of any security breach in the recent past. However, the decision of the United States is another manifestation of discrimination against Muslims which is being viewed as an attempt to push them to the wall. It is because of this that both the Government and the Opposition have joined hands in slamming these new restrictions. While Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi conveyed concerns of Pakistani people to the visiting US special envoy Richard Holbrooke, who was understandably non-committal on the matter, the issue was agitated in the Senate of Pakistan where Deputy Chairman Senate Jan Muhammad Jamali announced that he would not undertake any visit to the United States in protest. There are also logical demands that passengers from the United States should also be subjected to similar security checks. This is a genuine demand because if the United States can adopt tougher measures even after a single incident then Pakistan has every justification to introduce similar checks especially when there are almost daily incidents of terrorism and sabotage involving foreigners as well. There are reasons to believe that unchecked arrival of foreigners including visitors from the United States is one of the major reasons for deteriorating security.
CONDITIONS IN THE COUNTRY
Preventive measures agai