media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month january 27, edition 000414, 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
- CHILLING POSSIBILITIES
- THERE'S NO 'GOOD' TALIBAN
- REINCARNATION SUTRA RETOLD - CLAUDE ARPI
- ASI'S ILLOGICAL DENIAL - ASHOK MEH
- IDEOLOGY IS IRRELEVANT - GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
- US STILL CLUELESS ON IRAN - BARRY RUBIN
- MAKING A FRESH START POSSIBLE AGAIN - ILYA KRAMNIK
- WHY WE HONOUR THE BRAVE ON R- DAY
- FREE THE UNDERTRIALS
- BASU SAGA FACT& FABLE - BY RANABIR SAMADDAR
- PATIALA PEG - VIKAS KAHOL
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- A SILENT SUCCESS
- FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS - BHASKAR ROY
- 'KASHMIRIS HAVE FELT ISOLATED DURING CONFLICT'
- UNFOUNDED FEARS? - JUG SURAIYA
- KEEP UP WITH THE RHETORIC
- GHETTO BLASTER
- COLD, UNFEELING CITY - HARSH MANDER
- OPEN UP THE SHUTDOWN STATE - KUMKUM DASGUPTA
- MARSHALLING TIES
- ON THE SIDELINES
- A HISTORY OF FORGETTING - SRINATH RAGHAVAN
- STEADY SUPPLY - ISHER JUDGE AHLUWALIA
- SPEAKING TO EACH OTHER - RAJINDER KUMAR VIJ
- THE GREAT GAME FOLIO - C. RAJA MOHAN
- BASU'S FIRST EDITORIAL
- HOLDING GROUND
- AFTER THE HIMALAYAN BLUNDER
- ROOM FOR MORE - SURABHI AGARWAL
- UNIVERSITIES NEED TO BE FIT FOR USE - YOGINDER K ALAGH
- IS FUTURE OF FINANCIAL REFORM HERE? - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- OBAMA'S GAME-CHANGING PLAN
- CUTTING NOISE
- END OF TWO-PARTY DOMINANCE IN U.K.? - HASAN SUROOR
- BANKERS RETURN TO DAVOS BUT WITH A BIT LESS SWAGGER - JACK EWING
- FRENCH PANEL RECOMMENDS PARTIAL BURKA BAN - LIZZY DAVIES
- OZONE HOLE'S HEALING MAY WORSEN GLOBAL WARMING - SINDYA N. BHANOO
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- REGULATE RATING AGENCIES BETTER
- UNDO IPL'S PAK BUNGLING
- BENEFIT SANS BORDERS
- AGENDA FOR THE LAND ACQUISITION BILL - RAM SINGH
- COLD AND HOMELESS - BHARAT DOGRA
- PAIN FLOWERS KIND FRUIT - VITALC NADKARNI
- SSTL WILL TURN EBIDTA-POSITIVE IN LAST QUARTER OF 2012: CEO - JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
- BUILD A COST CULTURE: CAPTAIN GOPINATH - AMIT SHARMA
- GO BEYOND WORDS
- ON THE EDGE
- HARDLY A SUPERPOWER - BY S L RAO
THE JERUSALEM POST
- HAITI ADOPTIONS - A LAST RESORT
- THE NEW CONVERSION LAW IS A JOKE - BY SETH FARBER
- ISRAEL'S WHITEWASH
- AT THE MOUTH OF THE VOLCANO - BY ALUF BENN
- FOR NATIONAL VALUES - BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
- EVERYTHING WILL REMAIN, DOCUMENTED AND DATED - BY NIVA LANIR
- MOSES OF SOUTH TA - BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- OPPOSITE OF BOLD
- THE TALIBAN WOULD APPLAUD
- RADIATION THERAPY'S HARMFUL SIDE
- A RESPONSIBLE MAN - BY ROBERT B. SEMPLE JR.
- BRINGING SEXY BACK - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- ADULTS ONLY, PLEASE - BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
- STATE OF THE UNION, IN DUTCH
- TALKING FORWARDS
- MINISTER'S CONTEMPT
- LAW AND DISORDER
- 'THIS MELON IS NOT RIPE YET' - BY SHAMSHAD AHMAD
- EDGING TO THE BRINK - BY RAOOF HASAN
- FIGHTING TERRORISM - BY TALAT FRAOOQ
- THE BLESSED ONES BY DR A Q KHAN
- CORRUPTION'S MANY CHIMERAS - BY ANJUM NIAZ
- AN UNWINNABLE WAR - BY RIZWAN ASGHAR
- TRILATERAL SUMMIT FOR TALKS WITH TALIBAN
- PAKISTAN LOSING EU MARKET
- POLICE TOO PROTEST IN QUETTA
- SECRETARY ROBERT GATES VISIT TO ISLAMABAD - AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
- EMERGING TRENDS IN IRRIGATION SECTOR REFORMS - QUDRAT ULLAH
- START RESPECTING SUPREME COURT - RIZWAN GHANI
- CBI: SEARCHING FOR MILITANTS? - ALI SUKHANVER
- THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN - ERIC SCHMITT
- HOSPITAL WASTE
- PLASTIC INDUSTRY
- CHAUFFEURS AND THEIR CARS..!
- SHIFTING SANDS - SYLVIA MORTOZA
- REVERSING BATTING ORDER? - M. SERAJUL ISLAM
- REBUILDING HAITI FROM DAVOS - KANAYO F NWANZE
- LESSONS FROM THE COLLINS CLASS
- TRANSPARENCY MUST DEFINE THE TREATMENT OF REFUGEES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- SCIENCE, POLITICS IN A HEAT HAZE
- BEYOND THE IDENTITY CRISIS
- A MAN ON A TIMELY HEALTH MISSION
- RUDD EXPOSES PUBLIC TO EVEN MORE GREENWASH
- IN PRAISE OF TEATRO DI SAN CARLO
- ECONOMY: BUMPING ALONG THE BOTTOM
- IRAQ INQUIRY: THE RULE OF LAW
THE KOREA HERALD
- UNDOCUMENTED KIDS
- SEJONG CITY BILL
- FISCAL CRISIS DOWN BELOW NATIONAL LEVEL - MICHAEL BOSKIN
- PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTH CARE DISASTER
THE JAPAN TIMES
- MR. OZAWA'S LATEST ACCOUNT
- RESCUING YEMEN FROM THE GRIP OF EXTREMISM - BY MAI YAMANI
THE JAKARTA POST
- FOCUSING ON BANK SUPERVISION
- THE MISSING NUTS AND BOLTS OF DEFENSE REFORM - EVAN A. LAKSMANA
- `DIRTY DANCING' OR `THE SOUND OF MUI-SIC?' - JULIA SURYAKUSUMA
- INDONESIA AND THE WORLD 2010 (PART 2 OF 2) - MARTY M. NATALEGAWA
JIHADIS ARE PLOTTING FRESH ATTACKS
Landmark anniversaries such as Republic Day are obvious targets for terrorists. As such, the alerts of the past few weeks were expected. Even so, there has been some suggestion of tactical innovations by jihadi groups. The possible use of paragliders to launch suicide attacks in urban locations is both chilling and just the sort of blockbuster that Al Qaeda and its copy-cats have attempted to re-create in the period after 9/11 and, more recently, 26/11. Intelligence of the likelihood of a hijack attempt has also been received. It is understood that Indian-owned airlines were the focus and vulnerable airports within the country or in the neighbourhood particularly Nepal and Afghanistan were spoken of. So serious were the potential implications that the British Government issued a higher-level threat warning. There were concerns that the hijacked plane could target British facilities, whether in the United Kingdom or elsewhere. Given the backdrop of the hijacking of flight IC-814 in December 1999 and the release of three terrorists in Kandahar, such inputs cannot but be taken seriously. Indeed, if nothing else, mistakes that were made in the final week of 1999 must not be allowed to be repeated. It is here that the role of the Government of Nepal and political authorities is disquieting. The Kandahar tragedy began, as it will no doubt be remembered, in Kathmandu. A lax airport security system and the long-term presence of Inter-Services Intelligence and related sleeper cells in the capital of Nepal contributed to ensuring safe passage for the terrorists as they boarded the flight with weapons. This time, yet again, Kathmandu has been mentioned as a high-risk airport. Obviously, the pressure exerted by India in the months after December 1999 and attempts made to remove Pakistani jihadis who had made Kathmandu a safe sanctuary have now lessened. In the past few years, with political turmoil in Nepal, the lack of a strong Government and depleting Indian influence, the sleeper cells have been reactivated. In this context, the disinclination of the Nepalese Government to allow sky marshals aboard Air India flights to and from Kathmandu is downright disconcerting. Insubstantial reasoning, such as the apparent search for a 'political consensus', is being bandied about. In a country where the Maoists are painting India in lurid colours and threatening Indian companies, a 'political consensus' on allowing an Indian security official to land on the tarmac of Kathmandu airport can easily be blown up into a massive domestic issue. In the meantime, passengers flying out to India will be put at grave risk.
This situation is simply not tenable. Political positioning and sloganeering is all very well but there are moments when political establishments have to get serious. The threat of a major aviation-linked terror incident is, in a sense, a test case for Nepal and its reckless politicians. If Kathmandu is not cooperative, India needs to send a hard message. It must be made clear that insufficient cooperation on the terror front could lead to a suspension of Air India operations in Nepal, with a similar recommendation to private-owned Indian aviation companies. That aside, the land border between India and Nepal, particularly in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, could do with more rigorous check-posts. Right now, it is more or less an open border and Indian surveillance is minimal. India can't change its neighbours but it can certainly build better fences, as well as fireproof its house.
THERE'S NO 'GOOD' TALIBAN
THEN WHY EVEN THINK OF TALKING PEACE?
There is no doubt that a stable Afghanistan is very much in the interest of the region and the larger international community. Thus, every effort should be made to liquidate the forces of terrorism as represented by the Taliban and Al Qaeda to bring peace and security to the Afghan people. It is in this context that Afghan President Hamid Karzai's announcement that he will propose the lifting of UN sanctions against certain Taliban members who have renounced Al Qaeda and want to be part of the establishment becomes truly ominous. According to Mr Karzai, his Western allies are willing to back his 'reconciliation' programme which they believe will split the Taliban and divide them. It appears that the international military effort in Afghanistan is fast shifting its objective from destroying the Taliban and their allies to creating conditions that would force the latter to come to the negotiating table. Strengthening this perception is top US General and Nato commander in Afghanistan Stanley McChrystal's recent statement, "As a soldier, my personal feeling is that there's been enough fighting I believe that a political solution to all conflicts is the inevitable outcome." This, coupled with the fact that Pakistan has made it clear that it would not be launching fresh offensives against the Taliban in the next six to 12 months, proves that slowly but surely opinion about the situation in Afghanistan is veering towards a hasty political settlement and a shameful retreat.
Needless to say that cutting deals with the Taliban is the worst possible move that the international community could make. The entire notion that there are 'good' Taliban and 'bad' Taliban is totally bogus. In fact, given the situation in Afghanistan, any talk of negotiating a peace deal with the jihadis will be a major boost for the latter. The need of the hour is to continue the military offensive and leave no stone unturned to completely annihilate the Taliban. It must be remembered why the military effort in Afghanistan was initiated in the first place. Afghanistan was a country that was ruled by a despicable, authoritarian, backward-looking mullah regime. Under the Taliban, the people of Afghanistan had become one of the most oppressed in the world. Plus, the Taliban were harbouring and supporting terrorist masterminds who had vowed to destroy democracy and impose their barbaric brand of Islam on the world. Hence, the war in Afghanistan is not just about eliminating terrorists but fighting those forces that represent the very antithesis of the democratic way of life. Several countries are to meet in London over the coming days to discuss how to move ahead in Afghanistan. If the forces of fanatical Islamism are to be defeated, no quarter should be given to those who want to sup with the Taliban.
REINCARNATION SUTRA RETOLD
Beijing is becoming increasingly nervous. The fact that China is today a recognised world power (the Middle Kingdom has become the second largest economy and the largest exporter) may lead you to conclude that the leadership in Beijing lives in peace with itself, enjoying its newly-acknowledged position.
But that would be a wrong conclusion. For, despite their status, the Politburo members in the walled-enclave of Zhongnanhai are trembling. As in the famous Asterix comic books, some indomitable tribes continue to refuse the rule of the most powerful empire of its time. Though the tiny Armorican village could not be captured by the Roman Empire because the villagers managed to acquire invincible strength by drinking a magic potion brewed by their druid, in this case the tribe does not use magic potion, but non-violence.
The Empire does not really know how to strike back. A meeting of the all-powerful Politburo of the CCP was held on January 8 to deal exclusively with the situation in the Tibet Autonomous Region, which represents about a third of historical Tibet. China's President Hu Jintao, who between 1988 and 1992 was posted as CCP's Tibet party secretary, spoke during the meeting of two objectives: "To seek a breakthrough in (economic) development and maintain long-term stability."
Mr Hu said that the Chinese Government would help Tibet in four ways: Boosting investment, transferring technology, and sending in more qualified officials as well as "experts and talents". The new motto suggested by the Chinese President is "going down the road of development with Chinese characteristics and Tibetan flavour".
Unfortunately, this will not apply when it comes to the Lamas' most sacred institutions: The reincarnation tradition. "Keeping a living Buddha under control means keeping a temple under control, and keeping a temple under control means keeping a district under control." These words, conveniently put in the mouth of an unknown supporter of the 'separatist Dalai group', appeared in The People's Daily on January 7. In fact, this is what the CCP realised a long time ago.
The People's Daily article, headlined "Dalai Lama's reincarnation tale indicative of separatism", is most offensive and reflects great nervousness on Beijing's part. The People's Daily has argued that a few months back the Dalai Lama had declared he could very well be reincarnated in the form of a woman. Beijing says that this is "an eye-popping thing to say".
Several years ago, I had the occasion to ask the Dalai Lama to elaborate on this point. He had then explained: "In Tibet, the tradition of having reincarnated teachers is almost 700 years old. Among them, we had one instance of a female reincarnation. In case a female Dalai Lama is more useful to Tibet in future, then why not have a woman as 'reincarnation'? If a Tibetan female Dalai Lama comes, every male will become her follower!"
He had gone on to add, "I feel that education alone cannot solve all our contemporary problems. More emphasis should be given on 'compassion'. Women are basically more sensitive and compassionate. But men are not. They are more aggressive".
The Tibetans consider the Dalai Lama to be the reincarnation of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and Patron Saint of Tibet. His 'job', as the present Dalai Lama puts it, is to make sure that the Buddhist tradition flourishes in the Land of Snows.
Beijing has now reacted violently (and belatedly) to the idea of a female Dalai Lama. "A living reincarnation, reincarnated as a girl or a bronze-haired foreigner all these absurd arguments by the 14th Dalai Lama on his reincarnation have made people in the Tibetan Buddhist circle feel furious," says the People's Daily.
The daily, which truthfully reflects the thinking of the Communist Party of China, which has apparently gained great expertise in the Buddha Dharma, argues, "According to the basic teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, (the Dalai Lama) 'may be a woman' is simply an outrageous remark." It then adds: "In the eyes of many Tibetan Buddhists, it is a blasphemy."
What a sexist remark! Did not Buddha ordain his own mother? But one cannot expect the Communists in Beijing to have read the sutras.
A couple of years ago, the Chinese Government had announced new 'Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas in Tibetan Buddhism'. Beijing has clearly been preparing for the Dalai Lama's departure (and return); the 'measures' targeted the Tibetan leader. If Karl Marx could read some of the 14 articles of the 'measures', he would be turning in his grave.
The 'measures' describe in great detail how "reincarnating living Buddhas should carry out application and approval procedures". The Chinese Government threatened: "No group or individual may without authorisation carry out any activities related to searching for or recognising reincarnating living Buddha soul children." The Communist Party of China, which has always treated religion as 'poison', has suddenly become an authority on the centuries-old tradition of 'reincarnation'.
The People's Daily refers to the 'measures' to state that "the reincarnation of Living Buddha shall not be interfered or dominated by any organisation or individual abroad". It is another way of saying that the Dalai Lama has no business in deciding his own reincarnation.
In Tibet, the lineage system has never been rigid. For example, during the 13-14th century, the hierarchs of Sakya monastery ruled over the Land of Snows. Their succession was set up by way of 'transmission' from father to son or uncle to nephew. Further, historians believe that at the beginning of the 17th century, two Dalai Lamas were alive at the same time (the Sixth and the Seventh). There was no fixed place about where a Dalai Lama could be reborn. The Fourth Dalai Lama, Yonten Gyatso was born in Mongolia while the Sixth, Tsangyang Gyatso, was born in India (in Tawang district of today's Arunachal Pradesh).
Through Tibet's history, the interregnum between two Dalai Lamas has been a weakness of the reincarnation system. The 19th century saw a succession of five Dalai Lamas. The Chinese, through their Ambans (or Ambassadors) in Lhasa, made full use of this weakness. Many surmise that the premature deaths of the Ninth up to the Twelfth Dalai Lamas were not a mere coincidence and the Chinese Ambans certainly took great advantage of their 'timely departure'. It is clear that the problem is not only a spiritual issue, but also a political one and this explains the meddling of the Chinese Communists in what seems at first sight to be a religious affair.
ASI'S ILLOGICAL DENIAL
This refers to Rajesh Singh's article, "Saraswati flows on in ASI record" (January 10). Please excuse me for being blunt, but Mr Singh has been taken for a ride by the Archaeological Survey of India. He has heaped appreciation on the ASI for collecting evidence about the existence of the Saraswati River. However, if any organisation deserves credit, it is the Indian Space Research Organisation and not the ASI. It is only after ISRO first mapped the river through satellite images that researchers wrote two definitive articles "New findings on the course of the River Saraswati" (published in Journal of ISRO Vol 32 No 1, 2004) and "Course of the Vedic river Saraswati as deciphered from latest satellite data" (published in Puratatva, the ASI bulletin, 2005-2006) about the ancient river.
After having submitted an application under the RTI Act to get details of its discoveries about the river, lSRO supplied me with copies of the two articles mentioned above which confirmed the existence of the river right from the end of the ice age to about 2000 BC when the river disappeared due to the great drought which lasted for over 200 years.
Based on the information given to me by ISRO, I wrote an article titled, "When Saraswati turned real", that was published in The Pioneer on May 7, 2008. I had mentioned in that article that in reply to my RTI application, the ASI had shown complete lack of knowledge about the Saraswati and had given vague responses. In fact, I had received a telephone call from one deputy director of ASI. He had told me that the ASI was not aware of the two articles on Saraswati referred to above. Further, in reply to my question whether the ASI had accepted the findings reported in the two articles, the latter said that it was not in a position to accept or reject any finding based on various research activities carried out by different scholars unless and until a 'consensus' is reached.
The existence of the Saraswati River is a fact. There is also no doubt about its course and about its disappearance in 2000 BC. Unfortunately, the ASI is not willing to accept this position.
IDEOLOGY IS IRRELEVANT
THE ENDLESS, MEANDERING, CLICHÉ-RIDDEN LEFT-RIGHT DEBATE ON ECONOMIC GROWTH AND PROSPERITY IS MEANINGLESS. THEORY IS OF LITTLE OR NO USE WHEN IT COMES TO DELIVERING RESULTS THAT HAVE A POSITIVE IMPACT ON THE MASSES. HENCE, WHAT MATTERS IS WHETHER POLICY LEADS TO PALPABLE PROSPERITY FOR ALL
With the departure of Jyoti Basu, a person that may have better merited Nirad C Chaudhuri's description of The Great Anarch; it brings to mind, partly in reflection of the spew of commentary on the subject, that there is a tiresome and pointless dichotomy between broadly Leftist and Rightist world views. It hogs public debate and reams of newsprint with its either/or dichotomy, without once embracing both and without once coming the slightest bit closer towards convergence.
All practitioners of ideology prefer to leave the matter of practical resolution to those who don't possess, or perhaps refuse to wear on their sleeve, their own invigorating blunderbuss of idealism and ideology. The Left/Right badge-wearers give these doers no marks for their usefulness. Instead, they look down on them for their pedestrian preference for the expedient and the practicable. They are considered to be craven opportunists without principle, mainly for their flexibility, with scant regard for their solid contribution to all that works and is accomplished in our lives.
Meanwhile, the pointless debate amongst the preachers of ideology rages on. The Left-leaning ask: What is the point of jobless growth? The Right-wing says: All growth contributes, and a richer polity can provide better facilities, even for its jobless. The Left asks: What is the use of young, malnourished, and uneducated youth? The Right points out that it is better than the same number of old, unhealthy and ignorant people, typically lacking in focus or interest about anything beyond their own navels.
The Left/Right debate runs the gamut. Why should the rich indulge in paroxysms of conspicuous consumption arguing just one big fat Indian wedding could pay for a thousand hand-pumps (or is it a lakh?) to provide drinking water to the rural poor. The other face of the same cliché is depicted in the celebrated Mira Nair film Monsoon Wedding the beneficiaries of a big fat Indian wedding are also many both near and far.
The paradox, though, in failing to recognise the contribution of both Left and Right to the progress of the nation is beyond sensibility and preference. It is as if moral victory is intertwined somehow with ideological underpinnings. And without this ideology to give a matter its tone, the suggestion is that it is somehow not worth having.
It's especially interesting and not a little comic when the Left and Right seem to swap positions. Take the Nano versus BMW debate, for example. Because, now suddenly, it cuts both ways. It is the Left that says the Nano will choke the roads, with scant regard for its dramatic affordability for the many towards the bottom of the pyramid. And to justify this assertion, the Left calls for better public transport instead, including more like the bewildering BRT corridors in New Delhi, because the elite travel by cars!
The Right, on the face of it, couldn't care less, as long as there are enough highways being built and there are no Nanos clogging up the fast lane. There is also no Right-leaning guilt about paying for cars, often rather expensive.
One could go on with the examples on both sides of the fence, but in the interest of synthesis, it's best to recognise that there is no case for a country on the way to prosperity with millions of poor people living in misery. But then, by the same token, there should be no debate on the righteousness of poverty alleviation. While theoretically and ideologically the Left and the Right can agree on this, the irony of the process is that poverty reduces via the acquisition of riches involving a number of non-populist moves.
A no-growth poverty alleviation programme is impossible. An attempt to do so results in something like the Marxist-ruled West Bengal; where the State has preserved its power edifice despite its general decrepitude, by looking after party cadre who are increasingly indistinguishable from things.
In the interest of resolution, therefore, there may be merit in seeing things the other fellow's way. Because then, hand-pumps and highways don't seem so mutually exclusive. Besides, all practitioners of power are not as easily bamboozled by the contradictions and paradoxes of deviating from ideological moorings.
It is, therefore, all the more necessary for the theoretical debaters to puncture their own ideological balloons. Otherwise, the gap widens between how it ought to be and how it really is, without enough effort going into narrowing this divide.
We albeit get the Government, indeed the country, that we deserve. So if nothing seems to be working like it should, the answer may lie in large doses of pragmatism and efficiency rather than in the arcana of ideology.
But while we split hairs, India's politicians have been feeding off the dividing line between so-called communal parties and those which are purportedly secularist. But the fact is, neither is quite what the other side says it is, nor is it quite what it professes to be.
To move on, it is necessary to rededicate ourselves to a new work ethic that judges efficacy by the results. Otherwise, like Jyoti Basu's West Bengal, we are in for an ideology-induced twilight that does not protect or satisfy even as it strangles progress. All that takes its place is a cynical calculation of raw power of absolutely no benefit to the masses.
At the end, we should come away with something better than the pointless mantra of Bihar-born George Orwell's Animal Farm, in which the celebrated "Four legs good, two legs bad" commandment was not quite enough to plough the field of the proletariat's dreams.
US STILL CLUELESS ON IRAN
OBAMA IS ADDING TO THE INCREASING LOSS OF US CREDIBILITY BY FAILING TO ACT ON TEHRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAMME. THE PAST YEAR HAS SEEN WASHINGTON DRIFTING FROM NON-POLICY TO NON-ACTION
We must now face an extremely unpleasant truth: Even giving the Obama Administration every possible break regarding its Iran policy, it is now clear that the US isn't going to take strong action on the nuclear weapons' issue. Note that I didn't even say "effective" action, that is, measures which would force Iran to back down. I am saying that they aren't even going to make a good show of trying seriously to do anything.
Some say that the Administration has secretly or implicitly accepted the idea that Iran will get nuclear weapons and is now seeking some longer-term containment policy. I doubt that has happened. It is just not even this close to reality.
From its behaviour it still seems to expect, incredibly, that some kind of deal is possible with Tehran despite everything that has happened. Then, too, it may hope that the Opposition-unaided by America will overthrow the Iranian Government and thus solve the problem for them. And they are too fixated on short-term games about seeking consensus among other powers two of them-China and Russia are clearly not going to agree to anything serious. This fact was clear many months ago but the US Administration still doesn't recognise it.
Not only is the Obama Administration failing the test but it is doing so in a way that seems to maximise the loss of US credibility. A lot of this comes from the Administration's philosophy, almost unprecedented concepts of guilt, apology, defeatism, and refusal to take leadership never seen before among past liberal Democratic Governments from Franklin Roosevelt through Mr Bill Clinton.
Yet the British, French, and Germans are ready to get tough on Iran, yearning for leadership, and not getting it.
All of this is watered down in media coverage, focussed on day-to-day developments; swallowing many of the Administration's excuses plus its endlessly repeated rhetoric that action is on the way. When the history of this absurdly failed effort is written the story will be a shocking one, the absurdity of policy obvious.
It was totally predictable that the Iranian Government would not make a deal. It was totally predictable that Russia and China weren't going to go along with higher sanctions. It was totally predictable that a failure by the US to take leadership and instead depend on consensus would lead to paralysis. And it is totally predictable that a bungled diplomatic effort will produce an even more aggressive Iranian policy along with crisis and violence.
First, the Administration set a September deadline for instituting higher sanctions and then, instead of following a two-track strategy of engagement plus pressure, postponed doing anything while engaged in talks with Iran.
Second, it refused to take advantage of the regime's international unpopularity and growing opposition demonstrations due to the stolen election. On the contrary, it assured the Iranian regime it would not do so.
Third, the Administration set a December 2009 deadline if engagement failed, then refused to recognise it had failed and did nothing. It is the failure even to try to meet this time limit by implementing some credible action that has crossed the line, triggered the point of no return.
Fourth, the US kept pretending that it was somehow convincing the Chinese and Russians to participate while there was never any chance of this happening. Indeed, this was clear from statements repeatedly made by leaders of both countries. Now, this duo has sabotaged the process without any cost inflicted by the US while making clear they will continue doing so.
Fifth, high-ranking US officials continually speak of their continued eagerness to engage Iran and speak of at least six months more discussion before anything is done about sanctions.
Sixth, the Administration now defines sanctions as overwhelmingly focussed on the Revolutionary Guards, who it cannot hurt economically, thus signalling the Iranian regime it will do nothing effective to hurt the country's economy. This means that even if and when sanctions are increased, they will be toothless.
All of these steps tell Iran's regime: Full speed ahead on building nuclear weapons; repress your opponents brutally and the US will do nothing.
After these six failures, the US is now in effect resting. And that is the seventh failure. There are no signs that anything is changing in Washington, DC.
he writer is director of the GLORIA Centre, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle-East.
MAKING A FRESH START POSSIBLE AGAIN
MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON CAN'T IGNORE THE REASONS FOR ARMS CUT-BACK
Russia and the United States have agreed to resume talks on a new strategic arms reduction treaty. A US delegation led by National Security Adviser General James Jones and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, is expected in Moscow soon.
US President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart, Mr Dmitry Medvedev, agreed last year to reduce the nuclear warhead stockpile to between 1,500 and 1,675 for each country.
A higher level of the negotiators shows that the sides have made progress toward signing a new START treaty, which was at the top of their agenda last year. The new treaty is to replace the 1991 agreement, which expired on December 5, 2009.
Russia and the US failed to finalise a new treaty late last year, but hope to sign it soon.
Mr Medvedev said commenting on the work to draft a new fundamental treaty on nuclear disarmament: "The way it was done in Soviet times is unacceptable when the Soviet Union ratified the documents and the US did not."
"We must prepare a document that has been well thought out, that reflects our understanding about strategic armaments, and ratify it together. Or this process is impossible," Mr Medvedev said.
The issue of simultaneous ratification of a new treaty is key to the ongoing talks. There have been many cases in Russian-American relations when the ratification of such agreements was put off for far-fetched reasons. For example, the US Senate has not ratified the SALT-2 strategic arms limitation treaty signed in 1979.
Russia cannot accept this in the current situation because in conditions of a sharp quantitative reduction of strategic nuclear forces any change in the balance of forces in favour of either side or failure by one of the sides to implement an agreement slashing strategic nuclear arms could disrupt the Russian-American nuclear parity. Therefore, "simultaneous ratification of the relevant documents must be our guiding principle," Mr Medvedev said.
By now, Russia and the US have coordinated a number of disputed issues, such as the limitation of delivery vehicles to 700-750 systems, no limits on the deployment sites for silo-based missiles and for the patrolling areas of mobile systems, as well as a method of calculating delivery vehicles that will preclude the creation of the so-called return potential (stockpiled warheads).
The main disputed issue is the planned worldwide deployment of US ballistic missile defence systems. Russia insists that a new treaty must limit a potential deployment of such ABM systems, while the US has so far refused to make the commitment.
The US has made concessions to Russia with regard to the return potential and control of mobile missile systems, which means that Russia should agree to concessions on the ABM deployment sites, the limitation of which could render it almost useless.
In future, intercontinental ballistic missiles could be intercepted, with a minor degree of probability, in the absence of effective ABM systems based on new physical principles only if the defending side knows the tentative location of the launching sites. But the probability of intercepting ICBMs plummets dramatically if the area of potential launching sites is large.
When speaking about the reasons for Washington's readiness to make concessions to Russia on a new START treaty, we should bear in mind a dissenting view that says Moscow should reciprocate by changing its stance on the Afghan war and the potential Iranian conflict.
The American politicians and public should thoroughly consider which is more important for the US, a new treaty or Russia's assistance.
As for Russia, it has already decided that even a signed and ratified START treaty is not worth its involvement in a war. Therefore, the best achievement for Russian diplomats will be the signing of the treaty against the promise of 'moral support' to the US in armed conflicts and more practical assistance in the form of transit corridors.
The writer is a military affairs columnist based in Moscow.
WHY WE HONOUR THE BRAVE ON R- DAY
IT may be a big parade, but it was the small ritual before it that told us a great deal about India's 61st Republic Day. This was the ceremony to confer the nation's top gallantry awards to three army personnel, two of them posthumously.
The medals of Major Mohit Sharma of the 1 Para ( Special Forces), and Havaldar Rajesh Kumar of 11 Rajputana Rifles were awarded posthumously and received by their wives. There was special poignancy in Major Sharma's wife, Reshma Sarin, who is also a major in the army, receive the medal and salute the President. Major D Sreeram Kumar was fortunate enough to receive his award personally.
Though the parade is a celebration and display of national might, the award ceremony that precedes it is important because it tells the nation that there are people who are willing and do lay down their lives for the nation.
To put it another way, despite the travails of everyday life, the run- ins with the corrupt bureaucracy and cynical politicians, there is still something in the nation that persuades people to make the highest sacrifice for the sake of their country.
We are often awed and horrified by the terrible ability of terrorists to kill themselves or undertake suicide missions to carry out their task of butchering innocent people. But as the example of Major Sharma, Rajesh Kumar and scores of other brave men shows, there are also people who are motivated by the far nobler desire to protect and preserve the innocent, as well as uphold the constitutional compact that has given this republic its shape.
Despite the advances made by the country and its recognised potential, the situation with regard to security remains alarming. This year, for example, the parade took place under perhaps the most stringent security cover, ever. The audacious attack on Mumbai in 2008 remains fresh in everyone's mind and those charged with ensuring the security of the country on this day of celebration clearly took no chances.
The situation on the border with Pakistan is not too good. The fact that the top- most planners of the Mumbai attack have yet to be arrested, leave alone punished, is an ever- present reminder of the threats that the country faces.
So it is only appropriate that on this day we honour those who have played a significant role in ensuring that we live in a safe and stable environment.
FREE THE UNDERTRIALS
LAWMinister Veerappa Moily's announcement that the Centre would assist in the release of two- thirds of undertrials languishing in our jails within a six- month time frame has been long overdue. It is an acknowledgement by the Indian state that a majority of the 3 lakh undertrials in our jails suffer only on account of tardy legal processes, with many spending more time behind bars than the maximum sentence they would invite were they to be convicted.
It needn't be pointed out here that most such undertrials are poor and illiterate, with many lacking the resources to furnish bail bonds for their release with the state which is supposed to provide such people legal assistance failing miserably.
But the onus really lies on our courts to ensure that this process is carried through. If this is to happen, their role in both their administrative and judicial capacities will be vital. Also, state government agencies like the police and prosecution will have to be instructed to not oppose bail and discharge of undertrials where they are warranted.
Further, the Centre must pass the amendment to the Criminal Procedure Code which qualifies the police's power to arrest people which it has put on the backburner owing to protests by lawyers.
Failure to do so would mean that the present move to clear our jails of undertrials is undone after a certain period of time.
Freeing undertrials would also be a relief to convicts in the overcrowded jails who often live in inhuman conditions. It would also act to protect many undertrials from the baleful influence of criminals in jails.
As the bottomline, bail should be the rule, with jail being an exception.
BASU SAGA FACT& FABLE
BY RANABIR SAMADDAR
MAMATA Bandopadhyay aka Banerjee, the present Railway Minister, also the person leading the opposition in West Bengal, was for once tactful and precise while she said that with Jyoti Basu Left politics had begun and with his death it has come to an end. Mamata did not say communist politics, she was careful, and who does not know that communist politics like other rebellious traditions does not begin or end with a person?
As with some other communists of his time, the thirties and forties of the last century, Jyoti Basu came from a well-to-do background, got himself educated in England, and then leaving everything aside joined the communist movement. But this cannot be generalised.
For, there were communists and communist leaders in greater number who came from a toiling class background, had deep political experience through participation in nationalist movement and movements of workers and peasants, and had an equal if not more contribution to the growth of the communist movement in this country. Yet today, in the aftermath of the huge myth that Jyoti Basu's death has turned him into, we shall not hear the names of A.K.
Gopalan, or P. Sundarayya, or Nripen Chakrabarty, or Binoy Chaudhury, who did not get the comfort of retirement, and died either in neglect or abuse.
The reason? None of them could governmentalise the party in the way Jyoti Basu did, none of them could make the party more administration-centric than he did, none of them could dilute communist principles in the name of Left unity in the way he did. None of them could embrace populism as ideology as he did.
West Bengal party cadres who form a society among themselves have forgotten that besides him there were several other leaders in his time setting exemplary instances for others to follow. Land reforms were initiated by leaders like Hare Krishna Konar and Benoy Chaudhury, who also set up the panchayat system. Similarly reform measures instituted by the Left Front government in West Bengal were not unique.
The communist government in Kerala led by E. M. S. Namboodiripad also had initiated reforms.
All die, all of these leaders are dead, but all do not die equally. Those who do not have the fortune of dying gloriously die without leaving any personality cult behind. Myths were not built around them, because most of them were too earthy to be material for myth making exercises.
In his time Jyoti Basu did what common sense dictated.
He got involved in union activities, was subsequently elected to the legislative assembly, took its work seriously, turned communist politics into popular- parliamentary politics, which he epitomised in fifties, sixties, and which from then on carried him far. This is now considered as the glorious period of the communist movement, also for a person and a party for whom and which legislative activities, electioneering, deputation submission, and other forms of mass protests leading to more assembly and parliamentary seats formed the core of communist politics.
Not that Basu or his party were determined to carry agrarian reforms further, fight caste inequalities, or for justice for the adivasis and Dalits. All through the life of the Left Front politics they made all sorts of compromises, reducing popular demands in the name of national unity.
Likewise they had no idea how to devise new methods in trade union movements.
In weak industrial units the party led unions flexed muscles, in big units they remained silent content with getting some power and privilege from the owners.
Similarly, after the period of limited land reforms ( 1977- 90) they stagnated, and eventually sided with the rich and prosperous middle farmers, and were extremely cautious in hurting property interests in the countryside. Anyone who showed them the limits of their populism was ruthlessly silenced.
Slowly, as they stayed in power, they got governmentalised.
Weekly flights of ministers to Delhi, gradual adoption of the big state culture in administration and politics, rubbing shoulders with central ministers, holidaying in bungalows surrounded by guards and served by the government machinery, riding cars with hooters and surrounded by blaring motorcycles became the way of living.
They were like the modern prince; they surveyed the countryside and the peasant's condition from the horse top. All took heart from Basu's example, namely that if all of these were essential to government running, then why could not others do? This is what resulted from the governmentalisation of the party and the movement.
It began with giving primacy to electoral considerations.
Then as if almost unknowingly history took its revenge. If the party had conquered the government, it was now the turn of the government to vanquish the party. Thus police and administration machinery became the biggest instruments of rule. These were deployed indiscriminately against those ( not the Congress of course) who would not obey the rules of the game.
Many oppositionists were murdered, thrown out of jobs, boycotted socially, and ridiculed in public life, though these efforts did not always succeed. Likewise panchayats became yet one more tier symbolising local state, local government, local power, and local wealth and riches. On the whole the system became a machine adept at using power in favour of the propertied against those who would oppose the hoarders, corrupt ration dealers, traders, and bad gentry. The entire party was now deployed to run the administration with governmental attitude a classic union of governmental bureaucracy and party bureaucracy.
Jyoti Basu's legacy in the form of uninterrupted thirty three years of Left Front rule in West Bengal therefore forms a period of deep conflict of which we still do not have a proper history. This is partly because of the myths I have referred to, but partly because historians write only of things which become matters of past.
But we need proper accounts of whatever happened in West Bengal's nearly thirty five years ( 1977- 2010), when rights expanded along with new kinds of insecurities and emergence of new kinds of power.
In this period, which began with the bloodbath at Marichjhanpi where the refugees from Dandakaranya wanted to settle on return to West Bengal now that " their" government had come to power, several events happened, like limited land reforms, establishment of panchayats, expansion of democracy, persistence of hunger, emergence of a new kulak class in the countryside, industrial recession, decimation of the industrial working class, expansion and then stagnation of educational opportunities, corruption, a servile attitude towards industrial and financial magnates, continuing plight of the Dalits and the indigenous population, and above all merciless demonstration of party power over left wing dissenters and protesters.
Sub- regional imbalance also accentuated in this period.Loss Basu was fortunate that he left governmental responsibility before the decline of Left politics became stark. The myth thus remained all that was good in Left politics began with Basu, or at least he was the figure of all that was good, and the bad started after his departure.
Yet, the decline had started much earlier, it was there within the way and form in which Left politics functioned, and masqueraded as communist politics.
It was to Jyoti Basu's credit that he at least firmly believed that only in popular politics communists will survive. That is the lesson he drew from the disasters in socialist politics and economics all around. It did not matter to him if in the process the cupboard was getting full with compromises, nepotism, corruption, inefficiency, governmentalism.
Bengal has massively grieved at his death, for the utopia is lost forever. Even though we can be sure that reality of the contradictions of his political legacy will mercilessly again dawn on all of us. In such a situation, the myth will be the only solace of a mourning Bengal.
Jyoti Basu was possibly the last of the liberals who believed that rights of the poor and security of the rich went together, and both could expand simultaneously.
We should not be surprised if this common sense which he epitomised becomes the life motto of current governing reason in the country, and thus he is anointed as a father figure of modern India.
The writer is Director, Calcutta Research Group
NRI INDUSTRY FEELS HEAT OF GLOBAL CRISIS
THE slowdown in economic activities worldwide has also severely hit the seasonal businesses thriving on the NRIs' return home every winter.
The unconventional businesses popularly known as the NRI cottage industry did not boom as usual when the Punjabis came home this time.
Traditionally, the winter months when the non- resident Punjabis return to their roots on vacation have always given a boost to the real estate business in Chandigarh and Punjab.
But the NRIs coming home this winter did not bring cheer to the people in the real estate business in Punjab. They refrained from purchasing property, hardpressed as they are on account of the economic uncertainty in their adopted countries.
The NRIs return to Punjab in December and start packing up in February every year. With their arrival begin thriving various " cottage industries" in the state.
Earlier, the winter months were a boom- time for taxi operators.
The non- resident Punjabis would hire SUVs to visit their relatives and splurge money on hosting get- together parties.
They would flaunt their affluence and leave the native Punjabis full of dollar dreams. The sales figures of premium liquor brands also witness a rise in the winter because in keeping with their status, the NRIs drink quality stuff.
The NRI women would shop till they dropped, often leaving their local counterparts fuming as some popular tailors and boutiques catering to the crowd refuse to entertain them during the " NRI season." As a yearly ritual, car dealers also look forward to the arrival of the non- resident Punjabis, who often buy SUVs and other expensive vehicles. Their preferred sports utility vehicles remain Scorpio, Safari and Ford Endeavour.
The splurging of dollars and pounds by NRIs on vehicles ultimately benefits local people who keep track of such vehicles, which are often sold off by the NRIs before they leave at throwaway prices.
The season is also the time for politicians and NRIs to strengthen their mutual bonds.
The politicians felicitate influential and rich NRIs on their return to Punjab. They arrange for gunmen for the visitors who love to flaunt their newly acquired riches in their native land. These NRIs return the favour when the politicians go abroad. The NRIs arrange for their comfortable stay on such trips.
But, the season this time has been lacklustre. The sheen of the dollars and pounds seems to have worn off. The NRIs who have seen hard times in their adopted countries in the recent months thought better of mindlessly splurging money during their trip to their native land.
The NRI heartland in Punjab the Doaba region has also seen many Punjabis return home on a one- way air ticket. They want to stay back till economic trouble persists abroad.
So this time there have been few lavish weddings and the other tamashas that serve as an excuse for the well- heeled to show off. In the past, many of them would organise unconventional weddings for attracting the attention of the people and grabbing headlines. At one such wedding, the groom hired horse carts for his NRI invitees.
Another rode an elephant to the bride's place.
The taxiwalaas are no doubt complaining as they have fewer customers this season. The tailors and boutique owners agree that they too have less orders this time. And the realtors have virtually no NRIs clients to jack up property prices. There also may not be many SUVs available for the locals to grab at throwaway prices.
As for the politicians, they are already complaining that Punjabis abroad are losing their sense of hospitality.
PUNJAB BOYS MAKE THEIR MARK AS POLICE OFFICERS
MAHESH Kumar Aggarwal, DIG, Central Bureau of Investigation in Chandigarh, has been awarded Police Medal for meritorious service. Aggarwal who joined the Indian Police Service in 1994 was the youngest officer of his batch.
He hails from Bathinda district in Punjab. A law graduate, he has handled sensitive sub- divisions in Tirunalveli, Tuticorin and Kanya Kumari districts in Tamil Nadu. He has also served as deputy commissioner of police in Chennai for four years. He is credited with introducing various crime prevention strategies, resulting in a drastic reduction in the crime rate. He also set up Special Patrol Teams when he was DCP traffic. His innovative ideas resulted in the lowest road fatalities in a decade. His services in Tamil Nadu were recognised in the form of Chief Minister's medal for outstanding devotion to duty.
He joined CBI in 2006 and was posted as SP at CBI's anti corruption branch in Chandigarh.
On promotion as DIG, he took charge of the Chandigarh Zone of CBI, having jurisdiction over the states of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir and the union territory of Chandigarh.
Ashwani Kumar, SP, CBI headquarters in New Delhi, is also a recipient of the President's Police Medal for Distinguished Service. Kumar who hails from Jalandhar in Punjab is also a recipient of Indian Police Medal for Meritorious Service. He had received this award in 1996. Ashwani Kumar had joined the CBI as a subinspector in 1975 and has discharged various important assignments with the investigative agency, which included the investigation of high profile cases, as also those relating to economic offences.
BREAK FROM ' MARTIAL LAW'
WHEN former union home minister and ex- Lok Sabha speaker Shivraj Patil took over as Punjab Governor in Chandigarh on Friday, a group of people at the swearing- in started discussing the tenures of previous governors.
" Patil is the first politician as the Punjab governor in the past two decades. Otherwise retired generals ruled Punjab most of the time," remarked an officer. " You mean Army rule in Punjab is over now?" quipped another.
NO ENTRY AT PEOPLE'S MONUMENT
SOCIAL activists have launched a movement to " reclaim" Open Hand the common man's monument in Chandigarh. The monument conceived by Le Corbusier a Swiss- French architect who designed Chandigarh symbolises democracy.
Entry to Open Hand is however " illegally restricted" by the administration and people are required to seek permission for visiting the monument.
The road leading to the monument is blocked by security men who explain that they have got orders from the Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Chandigarh administration to deny entry to Open Hand. The activists, using Right to Information Act, discovered that no such permission is required. The High Court authorities have also not restricted the movement of public around Open Hand.
The special security personnel and traffic police have no official orders to stop any vehicles or tourists from entering the place.
" The space below the Open Hand is called ' contemplation pit.' Originally, it was a place where citizens would come together for discussion of various issues relating to the city and come out with their solutions. But citizens are not allowed to enter it as in its proximity is a ' VVIP Parking,'" says Dr Gaurav Chhabra, president of Hum Log, an NGO. Hum Log is spearheading the movement to " set the monument free".
Vikas. kahol@ mailtoday. in
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A SILENT SUCCESS
India is Asia's third largest economy, South Korea its fourth. Growing synergy between them calls for greater engagement. South Korean president Lee Myung-bak's current visit to India and the signing of a slew of pacts in areas ranging from peaceful uses of outer space to information technology continues a trend that has quietly taken shape over the past few years.
The numbers bear out the expanding scope of the India-South Korea relationship. In 1992-93, bilateral trade was worth $530 million. It hovers around the $16 billion mark now, with the signing of a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in August 2009 a significant milestone. Examples of synergies between South Korean and Indian industry include the complementarity between South Korean expertise in the IT hardware sector and India's software prowess. The automobile industry is another such area, with India turning into a global small car hub and South Korea's Hyundai Motor Co having a significant presence here. And South Korean involvement in infrastructure building, which India desperately needs, is part of the reason why the former is the third largest investor here.
Another interesting aspect of the burgeoning relationship is the potential for moving beyond economic engagement to strategic cooperation. The resolution by the two parties this time to work on closer engagement in the nuclear sector as well as strengthening security and defence ties is an explicit acknowledgement of this. From New Delhi's point of view, Seoul can be the foot in the door as far as East and South East Asia are concerned. As South Korea is a member of ASEAN plus three, it could play an influential role in getting India admitted into an expanded ASEAN plus three structure. This would give India the role it seeks in Asia.
So far, South Korea has been a significant success of India's Look East policy. But red tape continues to make life difficult for South Korean firms in India. Posco is a prime example. The South Korean steelmaker's proposed $12 billion steel project in Orissa, the single largest FDI in India, has been held up for three years because of regulatory hurdles. New Delhi must do better. Despite political tensions between Japan and China, Japanese investment powered the Chinese miracle. But Japanese investment has been wanting in India. While New Delhi should certainly do all it can to pull in investment from Tokyo, it can also bank on Seoul to fill the gap.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
FRIENDS AND NEIGHBOURS
No foreign relations event for Bangladesh attracts the kind of attention and raises emotions among its people as ties with India do. This is very significant and makes it abundantly clear that the two countries are more than just close neighbours. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina made a very pertinent observation in her press conference in New Delhi recently: strong anti-India sentiments have always been there but if the common people benefited from India-Bangladesh relations, negative forces would be subsumed.
Bangladesh's main opposition, led by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party-Jamaat-e-Islami (BNP-JEI) alliance, has been building up an anti-India campaign since the Awami League came into power in January 2008. The latter swept the last polls and the BNP-JEI alliance, which vitiated India-Bangladesh relations during its tenure in government from 2001-06, came up with a dismal electoral performance. Of course, Bangladesh has concerns on specific issues such as India's stand where the waters of the 54 common rivers are concerned, especially the Farakka Barrage and Teesta river. The impact of the proposed Tipaimukh dam on the Barak river on Bangladesh's ecology is a pertinent issue. India has, however, repeatedly assured Bangladesh that this project will not be started if it harms Bangladesh in any manner. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has personally given this assurance.
Relations between India and Bangladesh, following the assassination of Bangladesh's top leader, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, on August 15, 1975 have been lukewarm to bitter. The 2001-06 BNP-JEI government took the relationship to an unprecedented low, when many bilateral agreements and MoUs stagnated and anti-India propaganda flourished. Immediately after Sheikh Hasina's return from India on January 13, the BNP unleashed a vicious campaign against the Awami League government and India. BNP chairperson and former prime minister, Begum Khaleda Zia, now leader of the opposition, alleged that Sheikh Hasina had "signed a secret security deal" with India, sold out Bangladesh's interests and sovereignty and dubbed the visit a total failure.
The JEI perceives the Indo-Bangladesh cultural agreement as an assault on its Islamic agenda in Bangladesh. The party's mouthpiece, the Sangram, described the agreement as a "Brahminical-Tagorean" cultural imposition on sovereign Bangladesh. Little does the outfit realise that Tagore and Rabindrasangeet are much more nurtured and cultivated in Bangladesh than in India. Bangladesh's high commissioner to India, Tariq A Karim, is seen by the JEI as the main culprit in this development.
The BNP and the JEI have made little mention of the positive aspects of the Sheikh Hasina visit, like tariff concessions, and the zero tariff on 47 new items, India's agreement to sell 250 mw of power to an electricity-starved Bangladesh, and the revenue that Bangladesh would earn giving India access to the Chittagong and Mongla ports.
Unfortunately, the BNP and the JEI, in a short-sighted anti-India stand, stalled India-specific projects which could otherwise have helped Bangladesh's economy substantially. This includes the Asian highway that could give road transport connectivity from South East Asia to Europe. Hopefully, Sheikh Hasina's government with people's support can change all that.
Much of the BNP-JEI opposition is outlandish. Senior BNP leader and shipping magnate, Salauddin Qader Choudhury, who collaborated with the Pakistani army in 1971, alleged that the $1 billion credit line offered by India would only increase corruption in the country, and that Indian access to Chittagong port could result in the breaking away of the district from Bangladesh. There are allegations that Choudhury was involved in the smuggling of 10 truckloads of arms meant for the ULFA in north-east India. Interestingly, the BNP has stubbornly opposed giving India access to its north-east through Bangladesh. The reason was quite straightforward. It wants to prevent quick access of Indian troops to the north-east, especially Assam, in case of an insurgent upheaval.
A number of cases in Bangladeshi courts charge the BNP-JEI alliance of harbouring anti-India terrorists in the country at the behest of Pakistan's ISI. Some BNP leaders are under interrogation along with extremist organisations like the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HuJI) for trying to assassinate Sheikh Hasina in August 2004. Ongoing investigations by Bangladeshi agencies now reveal that some BNP leaders even collaborated with Dawood Ibrahim and the ULFA in 2004 to destabilise India, a plan initiated by the ISI. No wonder the opposition alliance protested so strongly against Bangladesh facilitating the arrest of ULFA leaders like Aurobindo Rajkhowa. It argued that the ULFA were freedom fighters like the Mukti Bahini who fought for Bangladesh's liberation. The BNP-JEI coalition government had turned Bangladesh into a virtual terrorist state. Unfortunately, their efforts have not flagged, though the new developments make them nervous.
It is now India's move to implement the agreements on the ground as soon as possible. Delay will only weaken the enthusiasm in Bangladesh, which is clearly in favour of India now. In the larger context, it could create a South Asia development quadrangle when the land connections between Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan through India become operational. One visit cannot achieve everything. But a great beginning has been made.
The writer is a strategic analyst.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'KASHMIRIS HAVE FELT ISOLATED DURING CONFLICT'
British author-journalist Justine Hardy has watched Kashmir over the last 20 years and witnessed the impact of the protracted conflict on the mental health of people. Hardy, who under the auspices of her 'Healing Kashmir' project, brought alternative therapists from the UK to treat trauma patients recently, spoke to Sameer Arshad:
What has been the cost of conflict in terms of mental health?
The conflict has caused long-term mental damage to a high percentage of the population. There was one psychiatric hospital in the Valley, where doctors would have perhaps one patient a day in 1989. By 1994, the doctors were seeing up to 300 patients a day. One of the highest costs of the conflict to the government would be the budget for mental health and most specifically the varied disorders associated with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD makes a whole range of people either roll their eyes or argue that this is a modern invention, a by-product of our softening society. The doubters have probably not witnessed war: they've not seen their children being blown up; they haven't had their son delivered to their doorstep, his body barely recognisable.
Can't they just pull themselves together and get on with their lives?
They can't. The shock often results in a nervous breakdown, reducing the individual to a barely functioning state. Several psychiatrists claim that up to 90 per cent of the Valley's population of around six million has been affected by some PTSD level. It's impossible to rebuild a society that is only functioning partially on a mental level. The government response was to medicate the problem, literally, with very high doses of tranquillisers, sedatives, anti-psychotics and anti-depressant drugs. The side effects of many of these high doses have been as difficult to manage as the disorders.
An integrated approach is needed for these people to recover and allow the society as a whole to progress and heal. The idea of combining conventional and alternative therapies was the route i wanted to pursue, but on the condition that it could be done with the participation of local doctors. But most of the psychiatrists i spoke to in Kashmir barely had time to breathe.
How different is your project?
Our aim is to treat patients with a combination of conventional and alternative medication and therapies for the fullest recovery. In November 2009, 'Healing Kashmir' brought four alternative therapists from the UK and treated patients in both the clinical environment and villages. The average number of treatments was between four and seven sessions that included counselling, homeopathy, physiotherapy, cranio-sacral therapy and Reiki. The results were dramatic. Kashmiris have felt very isolated during the course of the conflict, so just the arrival of foreign therapists in itself had a positive effect. Most patients are used to two minutes with a doctor or psychiatrist in crowded, noisy and chaotic hospitals. We were treating patients individually in a quiet room, for up to an hour at a time.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
Is a subtle change of climate taking place about the 'proven fact' of man-made climate change? The claims of India's most visible eco-crusader and proponent of climate change, R K Pachauri, have come under critical scrutiny after it was revealed that the alarms raised about melting glaciers in India could have been based on a literally Himalayan blunder. It seems that our glaciers are not melting after all. Or at least not doing so at an abnormal or disquieting rate.
The 'prediction' that the Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035 was apparently based on an 'approximation' made by an Indian expert in 1999 which had been 'misquoted' in the New Scientist. As the expert -- whose 'expertise' should be put within the inverted commas of doubt -- never bothered to correct this 'misquotation', the false prophecy became a 'factoid', a fact manufactured by the media and other public agencies.
Environment minister Jairam Ramesh has taken to task the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for fobbing off 'speculation' as scientific fact, and thereby doing a grave disservice to the environmental movement as a whole. For the real fact is that humankind -- and in particular the so-called First World -- has done perhaps irreparable harm to the health of our planet through profligate consumption of the Earth's resources. However, to raise a needless scare about man-made climate change -- which has been elevated to the status of an unquestionable religion -- is to divert attention, and funds, from other more immediate environmental issues to which practical solutions can and must be found. It is as though a patient suffering from fever is told -- on the basis of pure 'speculation' -- that what he has is in 'fact' terminal cancer. The fever -- which could, and should have been treated -- is neglected while various cancer treatments, from surgery to chemotherapy, are endlessly discussed. Eventually the poor patient dies, either because of the neglected fever, or fright, or both. This is the real danger of the false theology of man-made climate change. By making scary claims based on 'speculation' (for which read 'unreasoning faith') instead of provable data, it jeopardises the environmental movement as a whole.
Man-made climate change is not the only man-made bogey recently raised to frighten us. Reports suggest that WHO 'experts' deliberately created the H1N1 -- or swine flu -- scare at the behest of international pharma companies, who could potentially reap huge profits from selling preventive vaccines or antidotes for the disease.
Why are such groundless, or at least exaggerated, fears created? One of the obvious reasons of course is money. When people are frightened they stop thinking critically and are ready to believe in any snake oil salesman who offers a talisman which will exorcise the demon of fear. In the case of climate change, the antidotes on offer include the lucrative trade in carbon credits and an array of supposedly 'clean' technologies and processes that have to be purchased by industries and individuals at substantial cost. That Al Gore, the world's foremost advocate for climate change, has become a multi-billionaire overnight speaks for itself.
Money-making apart, fear is also the most effective tool with which to make people blindly obedient to authority, be it governmental or corporate. Fear can turn thinking human beings into mindless robots, ready to follow orders and instructions, no matter how unreasonable, intrusive or oppressive they may be.
Fear is the secret ally of all dictatorships, and the hidden enemy within all democracies. To ensure safety and survival, all of us need to be alive to dangers, be they in the form of environmental catastrophe, disease or anything else. But let's try and ensure that our fears are founded on fact, and not on 'factoids'. That our fears are real, and not manufactured for us, the better to exploit us with. That is the truly frightful fate.
COLD, UNFEELING CITY
Each night, as temperatures continue to plunge and Delhi shivers through its coldest winter in the last decade, a few more people lose their lives on its streets. The people who succumb to the cold include rickshaw-pullers, balloon-sellers and casual workers, the footloose underclass of dispossessed people who build and service the capital city of the country and yet are forced to sleep under the open sky. They die because the national, state and local governments in Delhi refuse to make the very modest investments required to ensure decent shelter for each resident of the city.
These deaths are often reported as fatalities due to the 'cold wave', as though people are dying because of the unfortunate extremes of climate for which only nature is to blame. But as law scholar Usha Ramanathan points out, "When people die because they are exposed to the elements, it is not a natural death. It is death caused by neglect and reckless disregard of the responsibility of the State to protect the lives of the poor. It is as if the poor do not matter. As if they have to keep paying for their poverty, even with their lives."
People die in the cold firstly because we do not plan our cities in ways that its working people are enabled to access affordable and decent housing, close to their work sites. In the absence of this, the least they need for basic survival are homeless shelters. The government runs night shelters in Delhi for less than 3 per cent of the homeless population. M. Tarique of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences recently surveyed all the shelters in Delhi, and reported that they lack the most elementary facilities of clean beddings, potable drinking water and functioning toilets never mind food, livelihood, emotional and legal support services. There are no special shelters for homeless women, children or families, or recovery shelters for the homeless ailing, aged, destitute and mentally challenged.
Since 2001, the Delhi government and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) have erected tents in winter in open spaces, as temporary shelters for homeless people in winter. These are even more basic, with tattered tents, dirty beddings and no other facilities. But these tents still save lives. The numbers of tents were very small, and our demand was that several hundred of these come up every year. Instead, mysteriously, the government reduced the number of shelters this winter from 46 in 2008-09, which included 17 permanent shelters and 29 temporary ones, to 33 (17 permanent and 16 temporary shelters).
To make matters worse, one of these 16 temporary shelters was demolished by the MCD on one of the coldest winter nights.
The authorities claimed that they wanted to establish a park there. The tent would anyway have been removed by March, when flowers could have been planted, if indeed they wanted a park. At least two people have died at that very location since the temporary shelter was removed. In response to a petition by the Shahari Adhikar Manch, the Delhi High Court angrily directed government on January 12 to restore all the old temporary shelters, and to build at least 140 permanent shelters.
As activist Indu Prakash Singh points out, the Delhi Master Plan itself committed to one night shelter for every 100,000 people.
People also die in the cold because they do not have enough food. There is considerable scientific evidence that people succumb to bitter cold also because they are severely malnourished. A World Health Organisation report confirms that a "cold environment increases an individual's energy expenditure especially if shelter, clothing and/or heating are inadequate". In other words, when it's cold, people need more food even to maintain body temperatures. The need for nourishment becomes especially high for homeless people exposed to near-freezing temperatures with no walls and highly inadequate clothes, blankets and fuel. Studies have also shown that in winters, the limited money that homeless people earn is spent on keeping warm, resulting in a shift of expenditures away from food and other essentials.
Here once again, the record of the Delhi government has been dismal. The Supreme Court commissioners in the 'Right to Food' case directed the government to distribute Antyodaya ration cards to all homeless people, which would make them eligible for 35 kg of wheat at Rs 2 per kg every month. More than three years since the order, and a symbolic distribution of a few cards by the chief minister, officials have blocked the distribution of these ration cards. The Congress manifesto also importantly promises community kitchens that would supply balanced clean hot food at affordable prices to urban homeless people and migrants. The need is for half a million people to get such food daily in Delhi. But the government has only provided for supplying such food to little more than 1,000 people a day.
People die in the cold, finally, because governments have no comprehensive social security systems to protect the abandoned aged, women rendered homeless because of violence, and children without adult protection. They are all left to brave the cruel city streets without State support.
The government and middle class residents of Delhi aspire to transform it into a 'world class city'. To be a 'world class city,' elementary compassion must first be restored to the centre of governance.
Harsh Mander is director, Centre for Equity Studies
The views expressed by the author are personal
OPEN UP THE SHUTDOWN STATE
when I know security forces will kill me the day I finish college?' 15-year-old VK, a Class 9 student. had lobbed the question at me. Without waiting for an answer, he hurled another one: "We have the right to education. But we also have the right to live. Don't you agree?" VK was explaining to me the rationale behind the closing down of all educational institutions in Manipur as a protest against the encounter killings of Sanjit and Rubina in July 2009. All educational institutions, including 'coaching classes' were shut down indefinitely by students' unions in Manipur in September 9, 2009. They reopened only on January 11, 2010, after the chief minister announced a probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation into the killings. Manipur's academic calendar is from April to March.
In Manipur, the political situation had been tense for years now, with discontent rising for many reasons: extra-judicial killings, corruption, the nexus between political leaders, underground rebels and security forces, and the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that gives securitymen the power to shoot, kill and even maim people on suspicion, in the name of counter-insurgency operations. Sanjit and Rubina's deaths had provided another spark to an already tense situation.
The call for an unprecedented shutdown of all educational institutions was given by the 35-group civil society organisation Apunba Lup and was supported by the All Manipuri Students' Union, the Manipuri Students' Federation and the Kangleipak Students' Association. VK is a member of the Manipuri Students' Federation. Even though the cause behind Lup's action is justified, their reaction is not. Denying youngsters a chance to carry on with their normal lives in the abnormal situation that prevails in the state today can never be a solution to any problem.
Equally surprising is the attitude of the Centre. Surely, New Delhi understands that the four-month shutdown was a symptom of a much larger problem the quality of governance under Chief Minister Ibobi Singh. Manipuri society has been exposed to constant pressure and turmoil: nobody ventures out after dark lest they get caught in a crossfire between underground groups and security forces; very few entertainment options are available thanks to diktats of the underground groups; extortion threats; and the lack of job opportunities. All these are choking a society that, given the space and opportunities, can grow like any other part of the country.
Take sports. Despite constraints, the state has produced our best boxers, footballers, hockey players and wrestlers. Manipur is the 'birthplace' of polo. Yet, the government has hardly bothered to revive this traditional sport. Corporate companies don't want to sink their money in such a violent state. "We need money to keep polo alive. It helps us to forget the hopelessness that surrounds this place," one polo player said.
Manipur's 'soft power' has made its mark outside the state. Playwright, director and 1987 Sangeet Natak Akademi Award winner Ratan Thiyam is considered one of the leading lights of contemporary Indian theatre. Top Manipuri dancers travel and perform all over the world. "We do a lot of experimentation with different classical dance forms. Currently, we are fusing the Manipuri sword dance with Kerala's Kalaripayattu," said Dilip Mayengbam, Director, Jawaharlal Nehru Manipur Dance Academy. "Unfortunately, there is no State patronage and no investments... The culture of violence and counter-violence and protests have started affecting artistes. If there is a performance in Delhi, there's no surety you will make it, thanks to regular curfews and bandhs."
"People have been forced to become resilient. But actually they are suffering. Only peace can heal this society," Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for 10 years against the AFSPA, told me over and over again. Sometimes resilience can prove to be such a ticking time-bomb.
KEEP UP WITH THE RHETORIC
INDIA FACES A MIX OF UNUSUAL SECURITY THREATS.
POLICY CHANGES MUST GO BEYOND THE SUPERFICIAL
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often signalled his belief that the most difficult barriers in the way of India's rise are the threats that come from across its border. The unfortunate truth is that after over 60 years of Independence such threats have multiplied, both in number and intensity. As Home Minister P. Chidambaram recently noted, India in the 21st century has "turned out to be the confluence of every kind of violence". India's founding fathers would have been astonished at the spectrum of security threats that the country faces today, ranging from a first-use nuclear strike from a failing State to forms of religious terrorism unprecedented in their willingness to cause mass casualties. India faces no shortage of economic and social challenges at home. But at least their solutions are largely an issue of India's own willingness to seek a solution. This is not necessarily the case when it comes to external threats.
Among all these threats, Islamic terrorism from groups that are largely based in Pakistan tops the list. It is a clear and present danger. India has traditionally been remarkably passive about addressing these threats. The 26/11 Mumbai attack and the attempts to recruit Indian minority members into the ranks of terror make it clear that the economic and political costs of such passivity are too high for India. India needs to reform its national security system to a level that transcends the superficial.
There is reason for optimism. First, recent statements by Mr Chidambaram and Vice-President Hamid Ansari, for example, indicate there is some healthy debate about the nature of the administrative overhaul of the security apparatus. The key issue of public oversight of the intelligence agencies has rightly been raised from the start. Second, the government has begun looking not merely at the predictable -- like, who the intelligence agencies will report to; giving the National Security Guards airlift capability, etc. -- but also at far thornier issues like patching up a moth-eaten, demoralised constabulary. However, as Mr Chidambaram has noted, routine and complacency have strong roots in the bureaucracies of the home and defence ministries. The United Progressive Alliance began its term with Shivraj Patil manning the country's defences. The real test will be whether there is enough political will to implement changes and policies that, after all, still exist only as rhetoric.
A BENGALI-MAJORITY AREA CAN'T KEEP NON-BENGALIS OUT.
NOT IN KOLKATA, NOT IN DELHI, AND CERTAINLY NOT IN INDIA
Like the Chinese of Chinatowns in almost all major cities of the world, the Bengalis of Chittaranjan Park in New Delhi claim the neighbourhood as a patch of Bengali land -- if not of Kolkata -- far from `home'. What Southall and Brick Lane is to British Punjabis and Bangladeshis respectively, `CR Park' is to diasporic or otherwise Bengalis of Delhi. But just because you get your mutton ghugnis, phhuckas (never gol gappas here!) and panthuas (never gulab jamuns here!) in this paara (not ilaka or muhalla), does that mean that nonBengalis in the neighbourhood are persona non-grata?
Rubbish, says the Delhi High Court very rightly.
Subnationalists in monkey caps had gone to court opposing the allotment of land in `their' neighbourhood to a non-Bengali Buddhist Mission. Justice M. Muralidhar stated clearly that in a residential colony in an urban metropolis, "any attempts by members of the dominant community of that colony to exclude members of any other community from access to public space and reserve such space to themselves must be frowned upon". Hear, hear! The last thing one wants in Delhi is to have community-based areas being sanctioned officially. It's one thing to gravitate to particular areas inhabited by members of your community, and quite another to keep those not in your linguistic, ethnic or religious club out.
Bengalis usually divide humanity into two: Bengalis and non-Bengalis. That's fine by us. But who said that Bengalis can keep non-Bengalis out of areas where Rabindrasangeet reigns supreme? Kolkata certainly hasn't. And we don't want to turn into a Mumbai now, do we?
Like the Chinese of Chinatowns in almost all major cities of the world, the Bengalis of Chittaranjan Park in New Delhi claim the neighbourhood as a patch of Bengali land -- if not of Kolkata -- far from `home'. What Southall and Brick Lane is to British Punjabis and Bangladeshis respectively, `CR Park' is to diasporic or otherwise Bengalis of Delhi. But just because you get your mutton ghugnis, phhuckas (never gol gappas here!) and panthuas (never gulab jamuns here!) in this paara (not ilaka or muhalla), does that mean that nonBengalis in the neighbourhood are persona non-grata?
Rubbish, says the Delhi High Court very rightly.
Subnationalists in monkey caps had gone to court opposing the allotment of land in `their' neighbourhood to a non-Bengali Buddhist Mission. Justice M. Muralidhar stated clearly that in a residential colony in an urban metropolis, "any attempts by members of the dominant community of that colony to exclude members of any other community from access to public space and reserve such space to themselves must be frowned upon". Hear, hear! The last thing one wants in Delhi is to have community-based areas being sanctioned officially. It's one thing to gravitate to particular areas inhabited by members of your community, and quite another to keep those not in your linguistic, ethnic or religious club out.
Bengalis usually divide humanity into two: Bengalis and non-Bengalis. That's fine by us. But who said that Bengalis can keep non-Bengalis out of areas where Rabindrasangeet reigns supreme? Kolkata certainly hasn't. And we don't want to turn into a Mumbai now, do we?
Ever since it came to light last week that intelligence reports are crackling with the possibility of terrorist groups hijacking an aircraft in South Asia, Indian airports have amplified security checks. In fact, intelligence agencies are reported to have distilled specific information on plans to target an Air India or Indian Airlines. In this regard, a review of sectors on which to deploy sky marshals would have been an obvious response. And given the still bruising experience of flight IC-814 ten years ago, flights to and from Kathmandu should naturally be priority for security agencies.
As reported in this newspaper, the Central government issued a demarche on Nepal a week ago seeking greater cooperation on the deployment of sky marshals on board flights to that country. The request reaches back to the immediate aftermath of the hijack in December 1999 of flight IC-814 from Kathmandu, which the hijackers eventually commandeered to Kandahar to win the release of three terrorists then in Indian custody. The fact that there has been so little movement on sky marshals aboard Indian carriers flying to and from Nepal should be cause for concern. Concern in Kathmandu presumably stems from a possible scenario in which for some reason of inclement weather, for instance sky marshals are forced to deplane and enter Nepal's territory. These are, however, issues that can easily be thrashed out to the satisfaction of both governments. And, more importantly, these are issues that can be sorted out without them acquiring political overtones.
The fact of the demarche, based on a genuine and grave security concern, spotlights a larger problem in India-Nepal bilateral relations. Fears of infringement of Nepal's territory, and the possibility of these fears to acquire political strength and destabilise a fragile government in Kathmandu, are invoked to stall processes that should be non-controversial between most neighbours and certainly between neighbours which have a unique arrangement of accommodating the free movement and economic activities of each other's citizens as India and Nepal do. This arrangement is to the mutual benefit of both countries. But it is worth highlighting the accommodation that has strengthened this special bilateral relationship to make a point or two to Kathmandu the most important being that it would be jeopardised if India's legitimate security concerns are ignored by misrepresenting notions of sovereignty.
ON THE SIDELINES
Not even the harshest critic of the World Economic Forum could dismiss this iteration of its annual meeting at Davos as about only incremental change. "Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild," goes its official theme, and the atmospherics of the meeting are certainly resolutely reformist. While, as always, a sometimes quirky cross-section of human endeavour and thought will be on display, there is a clear main attraction this time: the question of whether, and how, to push the long-delayed reform of the architecture and regulation of finance. And bankers will be on the back foot, especially following US President Barack Obama's populist broadside at them last week. The changed mood is reflected in the planned composition of many of the panels: discussions on financial markets which previously featured executives from banks and hedge funds now feature regulators and academics who have advised governments. And the opening speaker is Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France, a man who is not known for shyness about the role of the state in stabilising finance.
And it isn't just about the continuing attempt to impose some multilateral and trans-national order on financial flows. No, thinking about reform of finance at the national level is what is most likely to benefit from the sort of free exchange of ideas and best practices for which Davos is known. That's where the bankers will hope to make a stand: in the middle of "bonus season", the heads of Citibank, HSBC, the Bank of America, and Deutsche Bank will stand up and try and make a passionate defence of both their compensation methods and what they will say is their right to grow unfettered by state control or concerns that they will become "too big to fail."
There is much that India's 100-strong "official" contingent could learn. Sadly, however, it will have little to teach in turn. A focus on financial sector reform will tragically leave India on the sidelines; after all, there is in this country hardly a financial sector worthy of being called so, leave alone one the rest of the world can learn from. India is but starting down a path; a disagreement in the far distance on which turn that path should take is not a discussion to which we can profitably contribute. So a shallow reading that more regulation equals more security would be disastrous for India's growth dreams. We need to listen to the debate, and learn from it, as we prepare to deepen and grow India's finance.
A HISTORY OF FORGETTING
The recent publication of excerpts from the diaries of G. Parthasarathi India's ambassador to China from 1958 to 1961 has reignited a long-running debate on Indian foreign policy: Why did Jawaharlal Nehru fail to foresee the war
with China? Coming at the heels of the controversy over Shashi Tharoor's observations on Nehru's foreign policy, the current debate should focus both on substantive historical issues and on our attitude towards contemporary history.
Let's start with the historical questions. The received wisdom explains failure against China through Nehru's naïve idealism: the Panchsheel and the slogan "Hindi-Chini bhai bhai" are held up as prime examples. The extracts from G.P.'s diary are interesting precisely because they record Nehru's disavowal of both these attitudes in March 1958. What's more, Nehru held that the Chinese were "arrogant, devious, hypocritical and thoroughly unreliable." This only confirms what we know from several other sources.
A persistent myth about Nehru's China policy is that Vallabhbhai Patel recognised the threat from China whilst Nehru was complacent. Patel's note to Nehru in late 1950, warning of the need to secure frontier areas, is widely quoted. But Nehru's response to this, in a note to his cabinet colleagues, is surprisingly ignored. Here Nehru agreed that there were "certainly chances of gradual infiltration across our border and possibly of entering and taking possession of disputed territory." This led to the appointment of a committee under the deputy defence minister, M.S. Himmatsinhji, to recommend measures to strengthen India's hold on the frontiers with China. It also led to the Indian decision to oust the Tibetans and take full control of Tawang in February 1951.
Nehru harboured no illusions about China's goodwill. Speaking to a delegation that was visiting China in 1952, he noted: "We must not let China have the upper hand. Else, we start on the slippery path." Writing to the Indian ambassador in Burma immediately after the Panchsheel agreement of 1954 was signed, Nehru observed: "In the final analysis, no country has any deep faith in the policies of another country, more especially in regard to a country which tends to expand."
Nehru's comments to G.P. in 1958 were expressed during a noticeable cooling in relations. Beijing's denunciation of Yugoslavia's ideological stance was seen by Nehru as indicative of its willingness to breach the Panchsheel principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country. He instructed the foreign secretary to be "particularly careful in the future in what we say and do in regard to China." China's reluctance to allow Nehru to visit Lhasa was another issue during this period. Visiting Bhutan in September 1958, he drew the King's attention to the revival of Chinese expansionism under cover of communism.
Then why did he fail to anticipate the war? At least since 1950, Nehru believed that the threat was of infiltration and attempts to grab bits of territory, and not a large-scale military attack. He discounted this possibility owing to international factors: an attack on India would carry the risk of great power intervention. Moreover, Nehru was quick to discern the emerging split between the USSR and China. He believed that Moscow was keen to avoid alienating a non-aligned India, and hence would restrain China. Neither of these assumptions was off-beam until the summer of 1962. Thereafter Nehru failed to keep up with the evolving situation.
The question is why these assumptions proved so tenacious. There is ample evidence that these were held not
just by Nehru but by most of his top advisors. Explanations based on group psychology seem too facile.
To get a more nuanced understanding, we will need access to official records.
This brings us to our approach to the history of the recent past. Most historians still prefer to work on the colonial and earlier periods. Consequently, myths and poorly-informed narratives of foreign policy have gone unchallenged and have congealed into conventional wisdom. The absence of historical sources is an untenable argument. This article has drawn on material available for nearly three decades now, especially the magnificent work of Sarvepalli Gopal. So long as the historical profession refuses to take contemporary history seriously, it will be difficult to overturn erroneous but entrenched wisdom.
Then again, the government's policy on declassification is a major hurdle. There are signs of change, but a lot more needs to be done. There is no reason to refrain from declassifying any historical material that pertains to ongoing conflicts. Countries such as Israel that confront persistent conflicts do follow the 30-year rule. More damagingly for India, even China has started allowing access to its records on the run-up to 1962: future historians will rely largely on the Chinese material.
Unless we have informed debates on the past, we can neither understand the present nor prepare for the future. In the short term, there may be partisan attacks on historical figures; but eventually important, substantive issues will occupy the foreground. And then we will realise, as did
the historian Jacob Burckhardt, that the point of history is not to make us clever for the next time but wise for ever.
Raghavan is the author of 'War and Peace in Modern India: A Strategic History of the Nehru Years'
ISHER JUDGE AHLUWALIA
The water scenario in three cities of Karnataka, i.e., Hubli-Dharwad, Belgaum and Gulbarga was not very different from that in most other cities of India until recently. Water was available for 1 to 2 hours every 5 days or so, covering only 50 per cent of the population. Since all households did not have individual meters, a fixed rate of Rs. 90 per month was charged to all residents. The richer households met their additional water needs by buying water from tankers at a price of Rs.150 per tanker. Others would invest in storage tanks and electric pumps to make the most when water would flow. The poorer households would line up for hours on the day water would come through the pipes and would therefore miss reporting for work and forego their wages for the day. Today 25,000 individual households or almost 2 lakh residents enjoy the benefits of 24x7 water supply with a world class water distribution system.
This is the result of a pilot project with public-private partnership covering the three cities and costing Rs 237 crore over a period of 5 years. The pilot covers approximately 10 per cent of the population of these cities, which now has access to 24 x 7 water at a cost which is lower than what they paid for earlier, especially when account is taken of the payments for private supplies and loss of wages incurred while queueing up to get public supply of water. All property connections are metered and computerised records are maintained. Average monthly water bills range from Rs. 80 to Rs. 150 depending on consumption. Customer service centres operate 24x7 to address customer complaints and queries. With this pilot, the Karnataka Urban Water Sector Improvement Project (KUWASIP) has successfully demonstrated the technical feasibility of providing water round the clock to all the residents of the pilot project area. Fittingly, the project received the National Urban Water Award for public private partnership from the President of India on August 13, 2009.
Arvind Shrivastava, managing director of the Karnataka Urban Infrastructure Development and Finance Corporation, pointed out to us that in Gulbarga for the first six months, customers received their bills, based on actual consumption, but had only to pay the old fixed charge. After seeing that the new charges were mostly lower than earlier, the customers willingly switched to the new system of consumption-based payments.
The project focused on (i) physical investments in the system, and (ii) strengthening of institutions for service delivery. The latter, which in many ways is crucial, meant improving information systems, benchmarking services, pricing services to recover the cost of operations and management, and putting in place other measures designed to improve the performance of the public sector. The reforms covered the municipal corporations, the Karnataka Urban Water Supply and Drainage Board (KUWSDB), and the Karnataka Urban Infrastruture Development and Finance Corporation (KUIDFC).
The role of the private operator, a French water company, Veolia Water, was to develop an investment programme to refurbish and transform the existing system and to implement the programme. The private sector involvement revolved around single accountability, with a review of the existing systems, data validation, system design, network revamp, and operations & maintenance all handled by a single party. This was tied into a performance-based contract with stringent performance requirements and payments linked to achievement of the targets. The management fee of Rs. 22 crore to the private operator had a fixed component of 60 per cent, while the remaining 40 per cent was linked to performance. The contract also included a maximum bonus of Rs. 5.6 crore and a penalty of up to 10 per cent in case of failure to meet the performance targets. In the event, "all performance targets were met", said a beaming Mr K.A. Joseph, regional director of the private company.
The operator was responsible for providing 100 per cent customer connections as well as billing. Actual collections remained with the corporations. Providing adequate bulk water to the private operator was the responsibility of the KUWSDB. The project has comprehensively proved wrong the perception that 24x7 requires more bulk water. Against the 135 lpcd assumed for the project, average water consumption is actually 100 lpcd. The funding for the project came from the World Bank (77 per cent) and the Government of Karnataka (23 per cent).
The project protects the interests of the poor through a cross-subsidy in the tariff structure such that a minimum lifeline supply of 8,000 litres per household is provided at a subsidised rate for the poor, and connection charges are also waived. Not having to store water in large containers means that household space is freed up. Improved water quality has also meant less spending on medicines for water-borne diseases. For example, cases of diarrhea and dysentery at the Belgaum Corporation Maternity Hospital dropped from 402 during the fiscal year 2005-06 to 177 during the fiscal year 2008-09.
A touching revelation during our interaction with the women in the slum area of Madhavpur in Hubli-Dharwad was the enthusiasm of the women for the project. When a politically motivated man tried to intervene by saying that 24x7 water is good but it should be made available cheaper and that women did not realise the value of money since they do not earn, the women protested by saying, first, that they were also earning wages and then, "what would men know about the inconvenience of bringing water from distant locations?" Their empowerment was writ large on their faces.
The political will at the level of the urban local body was evident in our discussion with the corporators. So was the effort at social intermediation. Mr P.S. Vastrad, municipal commissioner, Hubli-Dharwad, highlighted the importance of involving the local NGOs who took the message of the benefits of the programme to the communities.
Much to the delight of the residents in other areas of the cities which were not covered in the pilot project, the
Government of Karnataka has approved the up-scaling of the project to the entire population of the three corporations within the framework of public-private partnership. If three cities in Karnataka have shown that 24x7 water is indeed deliverable, should other cities and other states of India be far behind?
Isher Judge Ahluwalia is the chairperson of ICRIER and chair of the High Powered Expert Committee on Urban Infrastructure. Ranesh Nair is a consultant to the committee. Views are personal
SPEAKING TO EACH OTHER
RAJINDER KUMAR VIJ
The Naxal menace has occupied centrestage in the internal security scenario after being pronounced as the gravest threat to the nation by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and corroborated by most state governments. The level of governments' preparedness to check this menace is steadily improving. Recent calls for peace talks have gone unheeded until now and the mindless violence by Naxals remains unabated. Therefore, this calls for a coordinated and collective action now, may it be between central paramilitary forces (CPMFs) and state forces on one hand, or between adjoining states on the other. This could wrest control over the Naxal-dominated areas and put peace back on the road to development.
There are a host of reasons to justify coordinated police action. It is apparent that the Maoists don't have just state-equivalent geographical units. They also have bureaus, special area committees and special zonal committees which are further divided into zones and area committees, have more than one state's local guerilla squads and local organisational squads within its jurisdiction, particularly in the bordering areas. Their commanders are selected on merit but can be transferred to any other area as a punishment or on promotion. When they plan for a massive attack on a security post, adjoining military units flock together, aiming to outnumber the security forces and ensure a successful operation. Similarly, looted arms-ammunitions are distributed to the deficient or newly formed units, irrespective of their location. Injured and diseased rebels go to specialised hospitals for treatment, which are generally situated out of their area of operation, in order to hide their identity. The central committee and technical wing members of the Naxals also have no state alliances. Therefore, the affected states have to congregate and make collective efforts to give the Naxalites a befitting reply.
Sharing of interrogation reports of arrested top cadres and relevant seized documents is equally important to know the Naxalites' future strategies. Intelligence inputs need to be put across the concerned state agencies on a real time basis. The specialised training institute in Andhra Pradesh that has produced Greyhounds, and Counter Terrorism Jungle Warfare (CTJW) Kanker, Chhattisgarh which is imparting jungle warfare training to many states, can grow into regional training institutes to cater to the needs of affected states. The recently coined counter insurgency and anti-terrorism (CIAT) schools have been designed to improve the training capabilities of states in combating terrorism. Fighting forces can be assured of immediate relief by arial evacuation to minimise fatalities in case of emergency through a committed fleet of helicopters. Although the task force constituted by the government has borne fruit over a period of time, it can bring more synergy by enhanced coordination and sharing of information.
Recently, the Government of India has initiated a project 'Crime and Criminal Tracking Network and System' (CCTNS) under the National e-Governance Plan to bring
efficiency in police functions by using information and communication technologies. The State Wide Area Network (SWAN), another mission mode project to create infrastructural support, is the backbone for providing statewide connectivity to the CCTNS project. Once implemented, this will provide information-sharing on real time basis. Similarly, the Special Infrastructure Scheme which came into action only a year back, is bound to help affected states in strengthening their security related infrastructure. Besides providing troops and technology, the Centre's financial assistance is also helping the states and central paramilitaries in anti-Naxal operations. A recently announced Surrender and Rehabilitation (S&R) policy of the Centre, though not very different from the existing state policies, not only contains a long-term rehabilitation clause to ensure employment to the surrendered, but also empowers the central paramilitaries with the responsibility of the S&R policy. Thus Centre-state and inter-state coordination is vital for
tackling the Naxal menace.
Support from civil society groups is also necessary. Human rights organisations and social activists while opposing dastardly acts of violence, should strive for ultimate peace and not become mere spokesperson for Naxals' human rights. Trade unions, student unions, women's fronts, lawyers' organisations, teachers associations etc. must be wary of the Naxals' infiltration to check their growing base.
The only solution is a two-pronged strategy of development and coordinated police action. Wide swathes of areas, still ridden under Maoists' control, are to be regained and pumped with ample avenues of employment for sustainable development. The civil administration needs to reassert its authority in areas neglected for quite some time. Therefore, the security forces, while pursuing this road map, should try to avoid unnecessary violence and collateral damages, and must forge ahead with synergy.
The writer is a senior police officer in Chhattisgarh
THE GREAT GAME FOLIO
C. RAJA MOHAN
Two international conferences on Afghanistan this week Monday's conclave in Istanbul and Thursday's gathering in London highlight the local, regional and international political respect that the Taliban has wrested in recent months. That the world is ready to accept the Taliban as part of any future political arrangement in Afghanistan is underscored by three recent developments.
The first is Pakistan's flat refusal to take on the Afghan Taliban, despite the American pressures to do so. The Pak Army has reportedly conveyed explicitly to the US defence Secretary Robert Gates who was visiting the region last week that it will not confront the Afghan Taliban any time soon.
Second, there is a new urgency in Washington to engage the Afghan Taliban, with or without the additional support from Islamabad. The US had hoped that its military surge and simultaneous pressure from Pakistan would create better conditions for what were seen as inevitable future negotiations with the insurgents. With Pakistan's refusal to turn the heat on, the US appears to have chosen to engage the Taliban under less favourable conditions.
The commander of the US and international forces in Afghanistan Gen. Stanley McChrystal has emphasised this week the importance of reconciling with moderate elements of the Taliban and suggested they might even be welcome to join the government in Kabul.
Third, Hamid Karzai, who was re-elected as President of Afghanistan last year, has been calling for a dialogue with the Taliban for more than a year and has reached out to anyone who could facilitate a dialogue with the Taliban. Karzai now hopes that the London Conference will put up some big money to attract the Taliban to the negotiating table.
One does not have to be a political genius to see that those who are winning on the battlefield have no incentive to talk. What can be predicted, however, is that the Taliban will raise the price for reconciliation very high, further divide the international coalition, and weaken its resolve.
One of the first tasks of the new National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon, will be to review and reframe India's approach towards Afghanistan. Delhi no longer has the luxury of repeating the old mantras.
Proclamations in Delhi that there is no such thing as "moderate Taliban" or the argument that the United States should forever fight the Taliban underscore the enduring Indian tradition of emphasising a principle even when it has no connection with reality.
What India needs instead is a recast of its own assumptions about Afghanistan. Rather than argue that there is no difference between the "good Taliban and the bad", Delhi must significantly expand its outreach to the Pashtuns.
India must come to terms with the fact that all Taliban are Pashtun while not all Pashtun belong to the Taliban. India cannot forever cede the Pashtuns to Pakistani influence in the name of a 'principled position' against the Taliban. Unlike in the 1980s and 1990s when India put itself against the Pashtun sentiment, this time Delhi must focus on building bridges with the Pashtuns.
India also cannot expect that President Barack Obama will continue to spend American blood and treasure in Afghanistan in fighting the Taliban. Which elected leader in a large democracy would want to fight a costly war that has rapidly declining domestic political support?
Any rewrite of the Indian mantra on Afghanistan must also deal with the fact that its refusal to talk to Pakistan after the outrageous terror attack on Mumbai in November 2008 has severely limited Delhi's room for manoeuvre in the region.
The longer Delhi takes to get out of its post-Mumbai sulk, the stronger it makes the anti-India forces in Pakistan. Meanwhile
the Pakistan Army is betting that the world needs its help more than ever to find a reconciliation with the Afghan Taliban. Rawalpindi's price for such cooperation would be international pressure for a reduction of Indian influence in Afghanistan, concessions on Kashmir, and a nuclear deal similar to the one that Delhi has had with Washington.
With such high stakes in the Great Game, one wonders why Delhi finds it so hard to inject a measure of flexibility into its Pakistan policy.
The writer is Henry A. Kissinger Chair in Foreign Policy and
International Relations at the Library of Congress, Washington DC
BASU'S FIRST EDITORIAL
In a tribute to Marxist legend Jyoti Basu, who passed away on January 17, CPI(M) weekly People's Democracy in its latest edition reproduced the first editorial written by him for the mouthpiece in 1965 a year after the birth of CPI(M) after splitting from the CPI in his capacity as its founder editor. The largely informative article which talks about the split begins by Basu explaining the reason for choosing the name 'People's Democracy' for the mouthpiece. " We have set ourselves the immediate task of achieving a People's Democratic State by replacing the present state which represents the interests of a handful of vested sections of society," he says.
Ironically, Basu says the new state that the CPI(M) envisages will replace the present state of capitalists and landlords dominated by the big capitalists and monopolists who are collaborating with imperialist capital in pursuing the capitalist path of development. Slamming the revisionist CPI leadership, he says they hope to effect fundamental changes in the system under the leadership of a section of the Congress representing the national bourgeoisie which will oppose monopolists and condescend to share power with the working class.
"Thus it is not a question of individuals or groups of Congressmen joining the democratic front, it is their objective to work for some sort of a coalition government with a section of the Congress party and in this combine the working masses, to begin with, will be junior partners. They are afraid to visualise working class leadership lest the national bourgeoisie is frightened," he says.
The CPI(M) government in Kerala had been crying foul over the Union Home Ministry's decision to allow the National Investigation Agency take over the probe into some terror-related cases in the state. The state's contention was that the local police was competent enough to take the investigation to a logical conclusion. Taking a cue from the state government, CPI(M) Malayalam daily Deshabhimani came out with an editorial seeking to know why the NIA has not taken over investigation of the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks so far.
"The NIA has taken over six cases which were investigated by the Kerala police. The Kerala police had zeroed in on the culprits also. The other two cases taken over by the NIA are in Assam and Pondicherry. It is not clear why the NIA has not taken over investigation of the Mumbai terror attack case even after Kavita Karkare (widow of Hemant Karkare) complaining that the probe by the Mumbai police was not satisfactory," it says. This is a clear case of partisan attitude. This is a political move and it should be condemned. It is not justifiable why the NIA has not taken over the extremely serious and sensitive terror-related cases and has hastily chosen to take over six cases in Left-ruled Kerala, it says.
On the occasion of Republic Day, former SC judge Krishna Iyer says socialism has been given a short shrift by
the present rulers. In an article in Deshabhimani, he says the Congress, which had no loyalty to Nehru and Gandhi and their socialist ideals, ushered in globalisation and liberalisation in the early 1990s. "Narasimha Rao brought in Manmohan Singh and brought to the fore Manmohanomics, which had nothing to do with socialism." "Now India has become a colony of the US after the nuclear deal... Election expenditure is on the rise. Majority of the population is below the poverty line... Agriculture has vanished while industry has acquired a colonial touch. The concept of swaraj is dying," he says.
Compiled by Manoj C.G.
If India is to meet its April 1 date with a goods and services tax (GST) system that will genuinely transform the country into a single market, it will take a really targeted intervention from the Centrea strong contention on the part of the PM or the FM, for example. On Monday, the Centre inched in this direction by making public its department of revenue's formal response to the empowered group of state finance ministers' discussion paper on GST. A third report that's on the table is the one authored by the 13th Finance Commission's GST taskforce. The Centre's position as presented in the new report appears to have more in common with the commission's technical paper than with the states' case. The Centre is calling for a single rate for taxing goods and services at both the central and state level. This must be the final goal of the GST regime. A dual-slab regimesuch as the states have recommendedwould only leave the door wide open to lobbying and rent-seeking, which are precisely the behaviours that are in desperate need of reform. The Centre has also disagreed with the states by pitching for including petroleum products and alcohol in the GST ambit. Again, doing otherwise would raise possibilities of misuse. But the big disagreement between the commission and the states' reports was over the appropriately revenue-neutral rate. The former recommended a 12% rate with 7% for the states and 5% for the Centre. The latter demanded a bigger piece of the pie, even though a low uniform rate that would capture most of the supply chains was a basic raison d'être for embarking on the GST adventure. But on this key issue the department of revenue's response published on the finance ministry's Web site is silent.
These columns have been arguing that one thing worse than delaying GST implementation is the implementation of a flawed GST, whether by dual-rate structures or by way of high ones. The states have their reasons to want dual rates or higher ratessome states fear that they will lose revenue as indirect taxes move from being levied at the factory gate to the point of consumption. Obviously states that have higher consumption will gain more. Here, the Centre must offer a one-time sop to states to win them over in favour of a flawless GST, some version of a 'grand bargain', either by offering compensation to states that actually lose revenues or allowing a marginal rate increase to, say, 13%.
AFTER THE HIMALAYAN BLUNDER
The 40th annual meeting of the World Economic Forum kicks off in Davos, Switzerland, today. The official theme for the 2010 edition is 'Rethink, Redesign, Rebuild', a perfectly reasonable theme to pick as the global economy enters the year of recovery from a devastating economic crisis that began in 2008. But underneath the overarching theme, the subjects that will likely attract the most urgent discussion are exit strategies from stimulus and regulation of global finance. What makes Davos special is the fact that all discussion and debate can be relatively freewheeling without any expectations of firm conclusions that are expected of more formal international forums. Also, unlike in the
G-20 where the twin issues of stimulus and regulation get much attention from governments, in Davos businesses and other non-government groups can play a full and transparent part in all deliberations.
Interestingly, while there seems to have been, and still is, a fair consensus on prolonging stimulus until the global economy has recovered more robustly, a similar consensus continues to elude the shape of a future global financial architecture that takes into account the flaws of the system as exposed by the financial crisis of 2008. Barack Obama has indicated a new-found resolve to crack down on banks, banning certain activities like proprietary trading and cutting the biggest banks down to size, quite literally. Davos presents the perfect opportunity for bankers to make an intellectual case for softer regulations than the ones Obama is proposing and many others, including European leaders, are now backing. The banks must persuasively argue that while mistakes may have been made in the run-up to the crisis, excessive government control that is not easy to enforce and which can easily go wrong, will be detrimental to the cause of faster economic recovery. The financial system for better or for worse is what drives the real economy. It is our considered view, already expressed in these columns, that shareholders, not governments are best at enforcing discipline on firms. That is an intellectual argument that must be reiterated in Davos. It is also likely that what we are witnessing now in the Westa visible recovery of finance without a recovery in the real economyis a temporary phenomenon: the real sector always recovers more slowly. The forum also presents a great opportunity for governments and businesses from emerging economies like India to make a strong pitch of their relative strengths. Trumpeting the safety of India's financial system when compared with the fragility of the West's, however, will be a mistaken showcasing of our achievements. In the financial sector, we are still too far behind even global second-best practices.
ROOM FOR MORE
For quite some time the country's top policymakers have been losing sleep over hosting approximately one lakh tourists that are expected for the Commonwealth Games in October this year. While the tourism ministry debated whether so many tourists would actually come to India for the Games, it struggled to find the required rooms in the national capital region. The tourism ministry is relatively relaxed now as it feels that its plans have paid off and some 40,000 rooms would be ready on time. However, the worries haven't disappeared completely.
As reported by this newspaper recently, there are over 4,000 rooms that are still to come up in the region. Though several hospitality companies have committed to start operations before the Games, they could go for partial openings in case they are not able to complete projects on time. Market estimates say that only about 50% of the current room inventory under construction would come up before the Games, as hospitality is a highly fund-intensive and time-consuming business. This could make the numbers go completely awry.
As a last resort, the ministry has got guesthouses on board, which comprise over one-fourth of the total inventory with 11,000 rooms. However, there is a quality issue with hosting foreign tourists in guesthouses, many of which may not be up to the mark in service. Experts say that cities like Beijing and Melbourne were better prepared.
While DDA is pitching in with apartments that would be converted into 5,500 rooms, there is a larger issue of getting the basic amenities and facilities in place, which has still not happened. Even senior ministry officials are worried about this bit. Above all these issues, looms the manpower shortage issue. Where is the required trained manpower to service so many tourists? Though the ministry has begun programmes for training staff, there is no data on how many have actually enrolled. Even if the ministry's efforts to cobble up the numbers are note-worthy, guesthouses and DDA apartments are mere compromises, which could reflect badly on the country's tourism industry as a whole. And 1,00,000 tourists is a lot of bad publicity.
UNIVERSITIES NEED TO BE FIT FOR USE
YOGINDER K ALAGH
I accepted the invitation to write on the subject of deemed universities hesitantly, for I have great sympathy with the twin objectives of improving the efficiency of higher education systems and improving enrolment rates, particularly for poorer sections of the Indian population. Systems take time to respond, and as an outsider one is unsure of the details. But anyway, tightening the regulation with respect to undeserving deemed universities is a welcome step. This is particularly so since the roadmap was unclear.
Just before the beginning of the academic year, all the deemed universities were put through an inspection by the UGC, supposedly at the behest of the MHRD, which presumably did not have the powers to do this itself. It turns out that some of the worst universities were deemed universities. But some of the best ones also belong to the same category. An IGIDR, a TISS and many others were under some pressure when all deemed universities were being inspected, with probably about a thousand inspectors going around, and not all of them being quite equipped to take on the best and the brightest in the land. This was being done by the UGC, which meant that flak was being piled upon historical baggage, given that most teachers don't think of this august body as one of the world's most efficient bodies, even if its integrity has seldom been questioned.
A more discriminatory approach would probably serve regulatory needs better, since this is a process question of some importance. Designing a system that ensures autonomy and accountability is at one level a question of understanding educational objectives as well as the technology of knowledge generation and transmission. At another level, this is a question of understanding the nuts and bolts of systems that reward performance and punish laggards. This has to be done without 'sitting' on teachers while they are reading, teaching or researching. So, factory-line methods are irrelevant.
I resisted an audit committee for a major educational institute and instead went for a finance committee because I know that work on the board of a major Indian MNC is different from governing a university. Given the fact that reporting is very detailed and inspection is periodic, the grain could have been separated from the chaff before putting the chaff through the laundry. But that is a matter of detail and the men advising MHRD are persons of great experience and so we may expect things to become clearer in the future.
The issue is of some urgency as we expand state-run systems into larger networks involving those who will go where no one has gone before. At work, there would now be the NGOs, foreigners and many well-meaning science and health and educational social service groups that the country is blissfully endowed with. And a more nuanced governance and regulatory system is essential.
The first point to appreciate is that autonomy and accountability has to be at all levels. In our systemsapart from some exceptions like the JNU structureonly the teachers, students and karamcharis are held accountable. The same cannot be said of the vice-chancellors, registrars and the educational bureaucracy at UGC. Once is all right, but in the future they should explain why a deemed university is inspected out of turn. This is of some consequence in the design of new systems that will regulate foreign universities and private participation in higher education.
I was a bit amused when it was suggested that Nobel Prize winners would seek out vice-chancellors for India, considering that first-rate academics are promised top jobs but never arrive on account of 'other commitments'. We need a culture of transparency and excellence to attract and employ the best. The first thing to do is to start at home. Action against bad deemed universities is good for starters. Putting the reasons for doing so under the public scanner is better. Like Oliver Twist, we will ask for more.
One aspect I am unclear about is how to build a firewall to ensure autonomy for good deemed universities, or to protect any university from high-level political interference. A defeated politician was appointed the lifetime chancellor in a state university. In one of the best art schools in India, a student whose exam was vandalised is yet to get his degree and his dean is still under suspension. Governor Jamir tried an experiment on transparency in selecting university vice-chancellors in Maharashtra but he is gone from there. Nobody even noticed what he left, let alone trying to replicate the system by some alert educational authorities he tried to introduce. An alert public opinion and a transparent bureaucracy have to provide the beginning.
The author is a former Union minister
IS FUTURE OF FINANCIAL REFORM HERE?
RBI has made some big changes this month. We have already seen extension of currency futures market to include three more currency pairs, the roll-out of the rules for a corporate repo market and a somewhat less noticed permission to float subordinate debt to retail investors by banks.
On the next mile, are plans to introduce currency options, the natural extension of the currency futures market.
One will really have to scan back long and hard to find out a comparable period when RBI moved so fast to introduce so many changes in the financial market, designed to open them up.
Taken together they are the biggest pack of liquidity enhancers for banks (FIIs and others have been kept out of some of these markets for now). This is about more than arcane money-making operations for players in the financial markets.
On Monday, SBI announced it had suffered a Rs 450 crore loss from its treasury portfolio. Last Thursday, ICICI Bank too wrote down Rs 26 crore from its portfolio against a profit of Rs 976 crore the year before. In this season, several other banks will come out with equally bad hits to their bottom line. The culpability lies with the government as its huge borrowing pushed up yields, and lowered prices of the papers the banks held, through this fiscal.
The new markets that will now come up will give the treasury managers of these banks the chance to offset the losses in government treasury operations with possible profits in corporate papers. Just as the rest of the world is discovering the virtues of old fashioned 3-6-3 banking, Indian banks are realising it is impossible to make the balance sheet sing with that formula. Just as 2007-08 was the year for massive profits from treasury operations, where credit managers just shut their books and went home, the year 2009-10 is turning out to be a nightmare. In that scenario, as one of the managers at a private bank that managed to book profit despite the volatile market explained, corporate debt market need not be played as a mirror image of the government securities market. In other words, there can be far more flexibility in that market. Opening up the market for corporate repo means banks will be able to earn liquidity from the corporate debt papers they are now sitting on. In the absence of a market for corporate repo, these papers were basically locked in the bank vaults. Because there was no liquidity stemming from these papers in the short run, banks in turn were reluctant to invest in the papers. So, companies had a problem when they wanted to float such papers as the buyers, typically banks wanted a higher rate of interest to compensate for the fact the papers had to be held to maturity.
But typical of the caution that RBI always couples with new developments, all these come with big caveats. The market for corporate repo will be an over the counter (OTC) market. What was needed was to make the market an exchange traded one. But here is a turf issue. An OTC market will be run by RBI, the exchange traded one would have passed under Sebi. So we have a queer situation, where equity markets of companies are handled by Sebi, the companies will also raise debt as per Sebi rules, but the subsequent market for those papers will be run by RBI. FIIs have, therefore, been kept out of the market.
The other spanner RBI has thrown in is the 25% haircut in the pricing of the papers. This is a substantial margin that the banks will have to account for. Fixed income market managers are convinced this is a steep margin and could considerably reduce the interest of the banks to place the papers in the market. It will be interesting to watch if despite these hiccups, the market picks up as robustly as the currency futures, where just with one pair the volume of trade has touched $7 billion on some days.
On subordinate debt to retail investors RBI has rightly said the banks must not use their fixed deposit rates as benchmark to price the new paper. No cavil with that just as it is quite proper to ask the issuers to explain to borrowers the difference between buying a subordinated bond and a fixed deposit, basically that bonds are not covered by deposit insurance. Though the Indian version of the application of the 'too big to fail' phenomenon means no bondholder really needs to be worried on that score.
The steps had, of course, been listed in the second quarter monetary policy statement of the RBI governor, D Subbarao. In a speech to the FIMMDA he had also said the current turmoil in the global markets should not detract from the need to bring in reforms in the financial markets. But the pace at which RBI usually moves had made most of us assume that all this was further into the future than it turned out.
OBAMA'S GAME-CHANGING PLAN
In the developed world, banks have recovered faster than the other sectors of the economy, and now face concerted regulatory action in many countries. After they were bailed out with enormous amounts of public money, it was expected that they would be more circumspect and avoid the practices that landed them and the global economy in a grave crisis. Instead, their imprudent investment banking activities have continued unabated. High investment fees boosted their profitability and made some of them declare oversized bonuses, which in turn triggered public anger against the banks. Government intervention in the financial sector has not waned even after the gradual withdrawal of the massive support that ironically contributed to the soaring profits. In all the developed countries, there is a strong public opinion in favour of reining in the banks. The United States and the United Kingdom have imposed an additional tax on bankers' bonuses. Sweden has instituted a "stability levy" to curb risk-taking. But the plan unveiled by President Obama last week goes farther than any proposal mooted so far by other countries or in the G20 summits.
One part of the plan seeks to restrict the scope of banks' activities. Banks that have insured deposits, and thus access to emergency funds from the Federal Reserve, would not be allowed to own or invest in private equity or hedge funds. Nor would they be allowed to engage in proprietary trading, the practice of wagering their own money in the markets. The second part of the plan seeks to restrict the size of banks through a cap on their liabilities. The aim is to prevent concentration, which has actually increased during the crisis. In the future, American taxpayers would not be held hostage by a bank that is "too big to fail." The new plan has many features in common with the Glass-Steagall Act enacted in the aftermath of the Great Depression, but it does not envisage segregating commercial and investment banking activities into water-tight compartments. However, many of the mighty banks that transformed themselves during the crisis have to readjust by shedding proprietary trading and abandoning hedge fund activities, for instance. The plan might be difficult to enforce but that cannot be an argument for shelving or even diluting what appears to be the boldest attempt till date to bring big finance in line with the public interest. In this, there are lessons also for India, which has fortunately kept commercial banking and investment banking activities separate. It is about time that the strictly non-bank activities, such as those relating to the capital market and credit cards, are evaluated in terms of risks and returns.
Noise is the permanent background score to life in bustling cities and towns. But when it exceeds a threshold, it disrupts the thought process and causes great annoyance. The World Health Organisation says it also affects health. Prolonged exposure to noise at particular levels can lead to hypertension. Other problems arising from chronic exposure include sleep disturbance, poor communication in classrooms, and hearing impairment. A decade ago, the Noise Pollution (Regulation and Control) Rules 2000 issued under India's Environment (Protection) Act 1986 promised to bring about change. Although the law is clear about the exposure limits for noise, the penalties, and the authorities responsible for enforcement, it has been unable to control the rising din. Given this background, it is difficult to imagine that the recent amendments to the rules notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests will by themselves substantially reduce ambient noise. The amendments seek to make the rules more enforceable by bringing specific high-noise sources under their ambit. Thus horns, sound-emitting firecrackers, and sound-producing instruments may not be used in silence zones; protection from noise at night is also strengthened. State governments must now announce, in advance, the number and particulars of days on which there will be a regulated relaxation of norms for cultural or religious festive occasions.
The Environment (Protection) Act empowers the central government to plan and execute a countrywide programme for the prevention, abatement, and control of environmental pollution. Noise pollution is a good place to start. The State governments, which have enforcement authority on the ground, must act here and now. There is no justification, for example, to allow transport vehicles such as autorickshaws to tamper with silencers to generate noise for 'visibility' on the road. The amended rules stipulate that the noise level at the boundary of a public place should not exceed the legal noise standard by 10 dB(A) the decibel unit or 75 dB(A), whichever is lower. After a long era of poor voluntary compliance and enforcement, the first order priority is obviously to create greater awareness in the community on the effects of noise; vigorous enforcement can follow. Improving the motoring culture to restrict the use of horns through campaigns and strong persuasion is vital. Governments can take the lead and contribute directly to lowering of noise levels by replacing the large number of rickety transport buses that they run and by repairing roads.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
END OF TWO-PARTY DOMINANCE IN U.K.?
IN BRITAIN, THE IDEA OF A HUNG PARLIAMENT IS A BIT OF A NOVELTY. IN ITS PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY, THERE HAVE BEEN ONLY A FEW OCCASIONS WHEN ONE OF THE TWO MAIN PARTIES HAS BEEN FORCED TO TURN TO THE SMALLER THIRD PARTY FOR SUPPORT.
Is Britain's famous two-party system, which has served the country so well but also made British politics somewhat dull and predictable, about to be shaken up ushering in an era of Indian-style coalition governments at Westminster?
Until recently, if anyone had suggested this they would have been dismissed as fantasists. For so dominant was the Tories' lead in opinion polls that they were seen as dead certain to win the coming general election comfortably. The conventional wisdom was that Labour had already "lost" it and the elections would be simply a formality with voters going through the motions of performing its "last rites." And the Liberal Democrats, the third party, were dismissed as a bit of a "nuisance."
But since then, polls have tightened and for the first time Labour believes that it may yet be in with a chance. While, short of a miracle, it still looks impossible for Labour to win an outright majority hopes have been raised that it might be able to gain enough seats to spoil the party for the Tories. The talk, increasingly, is of a "hung" parliament with neither of the two main parties winning a majority and the Lib. Dems hitherto derided as irrelevant emerging as kingmakers.
No wonder, Lib. Dem leader Nick Clegg has suddenly emerged as hot property with both Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his Tory rival David Cameron shamelessly trying to outdo each other to woo him. A party for which they only ever had contempt (Mr. Brown rarely mentioned it without taking a cheap shot) is now being claimed by both as a "natural" ally.
Mr. Cameron provoked ridicule recently when he claimed that his party shared a "lot of common ground" with Lib Dems and tried to talk up the logic of a "centre-right" alternative to the centre-Left Labour.
The fact is that on most of the key issues such as immigration, electoral reforms, taxes and redistribution of resources, the Tories and Lib Dems are poles apart. It is believed that most Lib Dem activists would rather go with Labour than with Tories if they were to choose between the two in the event of a hung parliament. Heaping scorn on the Tory tactics, one Lib Dem member urged voters not to be "fooled" by Mr. Cameron's opportunistic "love-bombing" of her party.
"I write this after watching the 6 O'Clock (BBC) news After the usual sick feeling that I invariably feel when I hear Cameron speak subsides, I am left in a state of mild shock at what he just tried to do: make the public believe that there aren't many differences between the Lib Dems and the Tories and scaremongering our supporters into voting for them under the pretence that a hung parliament would be 'bad for Britain,'" said Layla Moran, a prospective Lib Dem parliamentary candidate.
In a desperate move to "outbid" the Tories, Mr. Brown has given in to the Lib Dems' demand for electoral reforms. Indeed, he has already set in motion a legislation promising a referendum on an alternative voting system after the elections. And the trick appears to have worked with at least some Lib Dem strategists. One Lib Dem frontbench MP is reported as saying that Mr. Brown's move has gone down well enough in the party for him to secure its support in forming a government if there is a hung verdict.
Publicly, of course, Lib Dems are playing hard to get in order to extract maximum price for their hypothetical support. Mr. Clegg, clearly enjoying his new status as a potential kingmaker, has been deliberately ambivalent in his remarks declaring "plague on both your houses" in the same breath as suggesting that he would support whichever party gets the biggest "mandate."
All this will sound familiar to Indian voters used to witnessing political horse-trading that follows a divided political verdict, but in Britain the idea of a hung parliament is a bit of a novelty. In Britain's parliamentary history, there have been only a few occasions when one of the two main parties has been forced to turn to the smaller third party for support. Besides, unlike India where the single largest party is normally entitled to being given the first crack at forming a government, Britain follows a slightly different practice. Here, the outgoing prime minister retains the right to continue in office (even if his party loses the majority in the elections) unless he or she is defeated on the floor of the House.
Considering that Labour remains the underdog (or "insurgent," the term preferred by party strategists) despite a slight improvement in polls a hung parliament is its best hope. Being able to deprive the Tories of an outright majority will itself be seen as akin to a victory.
But while this might be good for Labour's morale and even help it remain in power with the Lib Dems' support , historically coalition governments have not worked in Britain. They have been unstable, to start with, and collapsed within a short period leading to fresh elections.
"An inconclusive election result might lead to a period of uncertainty and delay, with negative consequences for public confidence and government effectiveness," warns a report published by the Institute for Government, an independent think-tank.
Meanwhile, although the elections are still a good four months away (the most likely polling date is May 6), unless Mr. Brown gets bold enough to call them early, the election campaign is already in full swing. Such is the "election fever" that someone, newly arrived in Britain, can be forgiven for believing that the polling day is just round the corner. Hundreds of posters bearing an (allegedly) airbrushed photograph of Mr. Cameron and declaring that the country has had enough of New Labour and "we can't go on like this" have sprung up; and not a day passes without Messrs Brown, Cameron and Clegg not unveiling new policy initiatives though, more often than not, there is little new about them.
Notwithstanding the seemingly confrontational rhetoric, there are actually few clear dividing lines between the two main parties on the really big issues of the day. Mr. Brown's attempt to create one by portraying the Tories as the party of the rich and the privileged whose policies are "dreamt up on the playing fields of Eton" and contrasting them with Labour's supposedly pro-poor agenda has been shot down by his own party. The fear was that stoking a phoney "class war" in order to target Labour's "core" vote risked alienating the "aspirational" middle class voters. It was on the back of these mostly floating voters that Labour has been able to win three consecutive general elections, and to lose their support could be fatal at a time when even its core voters are threatening to abandon it.
The biggest campaign issue relates to public spending cuts to balance a staggering £178 billion budget deficit caused by government borrowings in the wake of the recession. Whichever party comes to power will need to take some hard decisions in terms of spending cuts and/or tax increases and the only question is the scale of the cuts and where the axe will fall.
Mr. Brown has been accused of being disingenuous in trying to pitch the elections as a choice between "Labour investment" and "Tory cuts."
No doubt, Tories are notorious when it comes to cutting public spending (Margaret Thatcher effectively destroyed Britain's public services by starving them of public funds) but given the dire state of the British economy even Labour will struggle to maintain the currents levels of spending. The Chancellor of the Exchequer Alistair Darling, who is normally more upfront than the prime minister, has already warned of deep cuts ahead.
So, there goes another spurious dividing line.
Similarly, on immigration another key election issue the rhetoric is much the same. There is a competition going on between Labour and the Tories as to who can sound more tough on immigration as they seek to neutralise the appeal of the far-right British National Party which is threatening to take away substantial white working class votes on the back of a poisonous anti-immigrant agenda.
With so little to choose from, voters are confused and hence the buzz about a hung parliament. Ultimately, the election would be decided not so much on the basis of policies as on the extent of Labour-fatigue among voters after nearly 13 years of its rule. The view that if over the next four months Labour is able to get the country out of recession it could yet pull off a surprise victory has merit but for that to happen would require a dramatic economic turnaround. And, at the moment, that looks unlikely.
BANKERS RETURN TO DAVOS BUT WITH A BIT LESS SWAGGER
EXPECTATIONS ARE HIGH AMONG PARTICIPANTS THAT DAVOS COULD CONTRIBUTE TO THE DEBATE ON FINANCIAL REGULATION.
Bankers are trickling back to Davos, but they will not be strutting quite the way they used to.
With an economic recovery under way, the financial elite will not be in hiding as they were last year, when only a comparative handful showed up in Davos, Switzerland, for the annual World Economic Forum. But they will still be on the defensive. The prospects for tighter regulation, which seemed to be fading a few months ago, look more likely than ever.
Amid popular outrage about soaring profits and bonuses, political leaders and economic policymakers seem intent on making progress toward some kind of rulebook that would prevent another bank-led crisis of the financial system. "We cannot afford to have a financial system which is as fragile in the future as it has proved to be in the past," the European Central Bank president, Jean-Claude Trichet, said this month.
The world's top bankers will arrive in Davos just as the political mood in Washington and other capitals is turning against the financial industry again. Last week, President Barack Obama called for laws to keep financial institutions from becoming too big, as well as restrictions on risky practices that include betting bank capital on securities markets.
In Europe, leaders are responding to voter frustration at having to pay for bank bailouts even as unemployment continues to rise.
Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King has raised the prospect of breaking up the big financial institutions in that country. Britain and France plan to tax banker bonuses, while European Union officials are working on a regional bank regulation agency.
Some bankers say they support new rules, at least in principle. Chief executive of Deutsche Bank Josef Ackermann, a co-chairman of the World Economic Forum, said in a video posted on YouTube that he favoured regulations on the amount of capital banks were required to hold, as well as better mechanisms for winding down sick institutions.
But there is widespread suspicion that bankers are hoping, now that the risk of a collapse of the financial system has retreated, to return to business as usual.
"In the midst of the crisis there was a certain willingness among banks" to accept restrictions, said Erik Bergloef, chief economist of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which was involved in preventing a financial debacle in Eastern Europe. "Now what I see is a certain forgetfulness of what happened in the crisis."
Expectations are high among participants that Davos could contribute to the debate. "I am more optimistic now than I have been in recent months," said Barry Eichengreen, a professor of economics and political science at the University of California, Berkeley, who will moderate a panel on financial regulation featuring Mr. Trichet.
While all agree on the need for a sturdier financial system, the tough part will be creating uniform standards that apply around the world. Inconsistency would encourage "regulatory arbitrage" in which big banks set up operations wherever local rules are most comfortable, Mr. Eichengreen and others said.
The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen last month, widely regarded as a failure, left some Davos attendees skeptical that countries could agree on a common course when it comes to financial regulation.
"The decision-making process stinks," said Ben Verwaayen, chief executive of the telecommunications equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent and a Davos participant. "You see national governments taking action depending on what's happening in their national theatres."
The World Economic Forum, which runs from Wednesday through Sunday, will have several panels on an overhaul of the financial system, which should help keep the issue on the public agenda. There will also be a series of private meetings of government representatives and bank chiefs, who will meet separately in Davos and then together.
After avoiding Davos last year only months after Lehman Brothers collapsed and the crisis was at its height bankers are cautiously returning. They will number 235, forum organisers said, a 23 per cent increase from 2009.
The bankers will take a lower profile than in the pre-crisis days, however. That is all right with organisers of the event, who say that the event had become too focused on money and glamour. "Until 2007, there was maybe an overparticipation of the finance industry in Davos," said Klaus Schwab, executive chairman of the forum.
No one expects participants to emerge onto the snowy streets of Davos triumphantly waving a global accord on bank supervision. Even if there were broad agreement, any new regulations would require an extraordinary amount of work on the technical details.
But the discussions that take place during the forum could help advance a process begun at the meeting of the Group of 20 developed and emerging economies in Pittsburgh in September, when members created a Financial Stability Board to devise uniform banking rules. One area of common ground that seems to be emerging is a requirement that banks stockpile more capital in good times to see them through the downturns.
Despite his skepticism about international decision-making, Mr. Verwaayen said he thought that the advantage of the annual pilgrimage to Davos was that it brought together a diverse group of leaders in an informal setting.
"You have academics, you have NGOs, you have politicians, you have business," Mr. Verwaayen said, referring to nongovernmental organisations. "Where else do I find that assembly of stakeholders?"
© 2010 The New York Times News Service
FRENCH PANEL RECOMMENDS PARTIAL BURKA BAN
COMMITTEE URGES THAT ANYONE COVERING THEIR FACE BE BARRED FROM ENTERING PUBLIC SECTOR PROPERTY, INCLUDING HOSPITALS AND SCHOOLS, AND USING PUBLIC TRANSPORT.
France on Tuesday took the first step towards barring Muslim women from wearing the full veil when using public services, but stopped short of calling for an outright ban after critics argued that such a move would be socially divisive and hard to enforce.
A cross-party committee of MPs was set up last year to explore the controversial issue in France of burkas and niqabs. The committee recommended to Parliament that Muslim women should be allowed to carry on covering their faces in the street.
Its final report, however, recommended that anyone covering their face be barred from entering public sector property, including hospitals and schools, or using public transport.
Under the proposals, a woman who fails to remove her veil in such cases would not face a fine for breaking the law but would be refused access to the service. She would not, for instance, be allowed to collect her child benefit payments or take the bus.
Nicolas Sarkozy, who has repeatedly said that the full veil "is not welcome" on French soil, is believed to be in favour of this partial legislation rather than other, more radical suggestions from recalcitrant members of his own Right-wing UMP party.
The French President has been warned that an outright ban on the full veil could be found to be unconstitutional and almost impossible to put into practice. Mr. Sarkozy, who has stressed the need to find a solution in which "no one feels stigmatised", is also keen to play down speculation that his policies are doing more to aggravate social divisions than bridge them.
Steps to ban the burka, which have been opposed by the Muslim Council of France and other religious groups, have coincided with the French government's "big debate" on national identity. Critics of the government, from the Left and Right, have accused Mr. Sarkozy of encouraging dangerous rhetoric which has seen the country's five million Muslims become the object of increasing critiques.
Tuesday's cross-party report whose contents were leaked to the French press last week looks likely to recommend the passing of a non-binding parliamentary resolution setting out the country's "symbolic" opposition to the full veil.
After that, steps should be taken to vote into law a series of "separate but multiple bans" which would make clear the garment's practical incompatibility with French values of sexual equality and freedom, the report will say.
"We have to make life impossible for them in order to curb the phenomenon," one MP told the French daily Le Figaro. However, opponents have said that banning the full veil either outright or partially would serve merely to reinforce the isolation of women already partially alienated from mainstream society.
The 32-member panel, which has been meeting and questioning experts on the issue for the past six months, was set up by Mr. Sarkozy last summer after he declared that the full veil was "a sign of subservience [and] debasement".
The president of the committee, Communist MP Andre Gerin, has not made any secret of his desire to see a ban on what he has denounced as a "walking prison". His feelings have tapped into growing concern in France over an item of clothing worn by a small minority of Muslim women. According to police figures, no more than 2,000 women most of them young and a quarter of them converts wear a face-covering veil.
In a country which places a high value on laicite secularism and which in 2004 banned headscarves in schools, it is unsurprising that such an overt display of religion has raised eyebrows. The major political parties, leading feminists and even one prominent imam have made clear their dislike for the full veil, which they view as an affront to women's rights and a sign of an emerging strand of fundamentalist Islam.
Despite wide-ranging opposition to the garment and polls showing that a majority of the French public is in favour of a ban, opinions have differed in how to go about discouraging women from covering their faces.
The Socialist party, while condemning the full veil, has refused to support a ban. The UMP's Jean-Francois Cope, a politician with half an eye on the 2012 presidential elections, grabbed the headlines with a proposal to outlaw the full veil anywhere on French streets and fine wearers 750 each a suggestion rejected by the committee.
"The problem of public space, by that I mean the street, is very delicate," said Mr. Gerin last week, explaining why his panel had rejected the option of an outright ban while not ruling it out for the future.
Mr. Cope, he added, was "behaving like a bull in a china shop".
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
OZONE HOLE'S HEALING MAY WORSEN GLOBAL WARMING
SINDYA N. BHANOO
That the hole in the Earth's ozone layer is slowly mending is considered a big victory for environmental policymakers. But in a new report, scientists say there is a downside: Its repair may contribute to global warming.
It turns out that the hole led to the formation of moist, brighter-than-usual clouds that shielded the Antarctic region from the warming induced by greenhouse gas emissions over the last two decades, scientists write in Wednesday's issue of Geophysical Research Letters.
"The recovery of the hole will reverse that," said Ken Carslaw, a professor of atmospheric science at the University of Leeds and a co-author of the paper. "Essentially, it will accelerate warming in certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere."
The hole in the layer, discovered above Antarctica in the mid-1980s, caused wide alarm because ozone plays a crucial role in protecting life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation.
The hole was largely attributed to the human use of chlorofluorocarbons, chemical compounds found in refrigerants and aerosol cans that dissipate ozone. Under an international protocol adopted in 1987, many countries phased out the compounds, helping the ozone to start reconstituting itself over the Antarctic.
For their research, the authors of the new study relied on meteorological data recorded between 1980 and 2000, including global wind speeds recorded by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts.
The data show that the hole in the ozone layer generated high-speed winds that caused sea salt to be swept up into the atmosphere to form moist clouds. The clouds reflect more of the Sun's powerful rays and help fend off warming in the Antarctic atmosphere, the scientists write.
The sea spray influx resulted in an increase in cloud droplet concentration of about 46 per cent in some regions of the Southern Hemisphere, Mr. Carslaw said.
But Judith Perlwitz, a University of Colorado professor and a research scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said that although the paper's data were sound, she questioned the conclusions.
Even as the ozone layer recovers, greenhouse gas emissions are expected to expand, she said.
She predicted that the rise in temperatures would cause wind speeds to increase over time and have the same cloud-forming effect that the ozone hole now has.
Ms. Perlwitz also pointed out that the ozone hole was not expected to fully recover to pre-1980 levels until at least 2060, according to the World Meteorological Organisation's most recent report on the issue.
© 2010 The New York Times News Service
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REGULATE RATING AGENCIES BETTER
The Report of the Committee on Comprehensive Regulation for (Credit) Rating Agencies (CRAs) disappoints , for two reasons. One, the committee offers little on the conflict of interest in CRAs, one of the few businesses the other notable one being statutory audits where the appraiser is paid by the entity being rated, not the user of the ratings.
Two, it does not address the vital issue of post-rating monitoring sufficiently. Yes, rating agencies in India have less to answer for than their global counterparts who, along with investment banks, have emerged as the villains of the financial crisis. But for that, thank not so much their virtue as the Indian banking regulator's curbs on fancier (riskier?) financial instruments.
Moreover, the other issues lack of transparency, domination and cartelisation (the field is dominated by just two major players , Crisil and Icra, and ratings seldom differ across agencies ) are as much a feature of CRAs here as overseas. So, the committee's contention that there is no immediate concern about the operations of CRAs is to miss the point: it's not enough to address only immediate concerns.
We need to think ahead so that we don't repeat the mistakes of the west. Particularly since regulatory dependence on ratings has grown across the board. Banks can reduce the amount of capital they have to set aside if they hold highly-rated paper, for instance, and some investors, such as money-market funds, must stick to AAA-rated securities.
The internal risk-based model for banks' capital adequacy under Basel-II jacks up the importance of CRAs, as all loan assets have to be compulsorily rated. Clearly, therefore, it cannot be business as usual; the model needs to be rejigged.
The committee discusses alternatives to the existing issuer-pays model, in which either the regulator or the investor pays for the rating, only to dismiss both. To the extent this is a debate that has not yet been resolved globally as well, the committee was, perhaps, wary of suggesting something that might smack of overkill.
After all, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in the US is widely held to have raised compliance costs well above the benefits. Nonetheless , if the purpose is to ensure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, we will need to think out of the box. The committee, clearly, does not.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
UNDO IPL'S PAK BUNGLING
The government was not involved in any manner in the snub handed out to Pakistan cricket by Indian Premier League's failure to place even a single bid for a Pakistani player for the third edition of the Twenty20 tournament , home minister P Chidambaram has clarified.
He took his time to do it, but then, better late than never. IPL boss Lalit Modi, too, has confirmed that the government was not involved. Franchise owner Shah Rukh Khan's belated angst over the insult delivered to Pak cricketers, with unamplified hints at some kind of an administered consensus among franchise owners to not bid for a Pakistani player, suggests that the problem was at the level of the IPL itself.
This is most unfortunate. And the issue goes beyond the quality of cricket that would be on display in IPL 3 minus the heroics of Pak players, who are among the finest exponents of the Twenty20 version of the game.
Cricket is indisputably one of the most potent forms of people-to-people contact between India and Pakistan. The failure to bid for Pak players has been perceived as a national insult in Pakistan and Islamabad has escalated the matter to the political level by cancelling some official visits to India.
Instead of playing a unifying role, cricket has now served to create fresh tensions between the two countries. It is possible to undo the damage and IPL must take the initiative to get Pak players to take part in IPL 3.
India is one of the world's emerging economic powerhouses . Pakistan's GDP is less than 15% of India's , and India's relative size advantage will only grow. India should be in a position to utilise this growing economic clout to counter some, at least, of the hostility towards India in Pakistan .
The surest way is through a network of commerce, as a result of which the livelihood of a sizeable chunk of Pakistan's populace would depend, directly or indirectly, on what happens in India.
While direct trade in goods between the country has inherent problems, IPL has proved an extremely viable commercial network linking the two economies and generating mutual goodwill.
Indian authorities should sensitise IPL bosses about the strategic dimension of the games they play. Cricket must strengthen those in Pakistan who want normal relations with India, not the bigots who see India as the enemy.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BENEFIT SANS BORDERS
Sport jamborees such as the Olympics and Commonwealth meets are supposed to do more than distribute medals and set records. New friendships and cultural ties, besides lucrative construction contracts and higher tourism revenues, are par for the course. But not redrawing maps or changing national contours.
A town in France may set an interesting precedent in that regard. City councillors of Pas-de-Calais in France are apparently thinking of rebranding themselves as a part of Britain, as they are but 30-odd km from the southern English county of Kent so that they can cash in on the rush, especially as training centres for the teams and as a cheaper off-site accommodation venue for those heading for London's 2012 Olympics .
The forward-thinking Frenchmen aver that taking the Eurostar from Calais to East London will be faster than trying to make it to the Olympic venue using London's overburdened metro and bus systems.
Nor is this bonhomie to be co-terminus with the Games: the councillors say that a lot of businesses from Britain may also set up permanent pied a terres in France.
This is indeed a departure from the two nations' previous history , a large chunk of which was devoted to one trying to assert and then retain suzerainty over parts of the other. The skirmishes between the royal houses of Valois and Anjou famously lasted a hundred years and gave medieval martyrs like Joan of Arc a raison d'etre.
Had the sparring cousins Charles VII of France and Henry VI of England been as canny as the Calais councillors and decided what's a flag or two and a few hectares of land between old enemies, especially if there is a mutually-beneficial pecuniary angle, a lot of bloodshed may have been prevented.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AGENDA FOR THE LAND ACQUISITION BILL
During the last 10 days two land acquisition notifications have been set aside. The Punjab and Haryana High Court (HC) has quashed a Haryana government's 2002 notification for inappropriately releasing land to private developers.
Similarly, the Allahabad High Court has repealed a UP government's notification under which land was acquired for a private project in 2005. Both notifications have been cancelled on account of procedural lapses.
However, these rulings highlight the three most problematic aspects of the land acquisition under eminent domain: namely, excessive misuse of compulsorily acquisition laws by states to serve private interests; inadequacy of compensation provided to the owners; and violent protests against compulsory acquisitions.
The Land Acquisition (Amendment) Act, 1984 provides for compulsory acquisition of private property by the state for making the provisions of public goods and services; such as, roads, dams, schools, etc. Section 38 allows acquisition for private projects as well, provided it serves a public purpose.
The law is ambiguous about what is or is not a public purpose . Unfortunately, this and the other ambiguities have been misused by a nexus of the authorities and the industry to provide subsidised land to the latter.
There are many instances in which the states acquired land for ostensibly public purposes but ultimately used it for notpublic ends. In one such instance, in 2002 the Haryana government acquired land to construct a Metro rail line, evidently a public purpose. However, 90% of the acquired land was subsequently transferred to private developers.
The situation is worse as to the compensation rules. Under Section 23, the owners are entitled to the market-value of the acquired property plus a solatium. The floor price (circle rates), or the average of sale-deeds of similar property can be used to determine the market-value . Generally, circle rates are dated and well below the market rates.
Also, in order to save on stamp-duty , the price quoted in sale-deed is much lower than the actual transaction price. Therefore, neither the sale-deeds nor the circle rates can reflect the market-value .
Besides, since property market is inherently thin, even market-value itself is less than the potential value. On the top of it, due to restrictions regarding changein-land use, etc, the market-value of agricultural land is further suppressed downward . Indeed, the very basis of determining compensation is flawed.
Since the compensation required is significantly less than the potential value, there is a tendency among public as well as private entities to over-acquire . In many instances, the excess land is used to earn profits in the realty sector.
Examination of court cases related to the acquisition for Delhi Metro reveals that the legal ambiguities have other costs too. In most cases, land acquisition collectors (LAC) have awarded compensation on the basis of the lower circle rates. In contrast, courts have used the higher sale-deeds as the basis. So, courts have awarded higher compensation.
The findings are startling. Both the LACs and the courts have applied the same law. Yet, strangely they have awarded drastically different compensations . For example, in Jantar Mantar area while the LAC valued the land at Rs18,480 per sq m, the rate used by the court was Rs 75,878.
Such instances abound. Preliminary examination of high court cases indicates that this is a general phenomenon. It explains why the affected parties invariably resort to litigation. Of course, law suits are costly and entail huge wastage of time and national resources.
Poor farmers cannot afford costly and prolonged litigation and therefore are vulnerable to political manipulations . These people along with labourers resort to violent protests. As a result a large number of infrastructure projects have got delayed. According to an estimate these delays have cost industry as much as $100 billion.
The judiciary is also responsible for this unfortunate outcome. Certainly, the legislature and the executive are better equipped to determine what can or cannot serve public purpose.
But, the judiciary could have ensured that the acquired land is used only for the prestated purpose, that the unused land is released back to its owners, and that the alternatives are explored before acquiring agricultural land.
Similarly, by providing clear and consistent compensation rules, it could have spared the people from agonising litigation. After all, ensuring that people's entitlements are protected and the executive uses the enacted law according to its spirit is the responsibility of the judiciary.
While some judges are eager to intervene in purely administrative matters, the judiciary has turned a blind eye to the important wish-list in the Land Acquisition Act.
To sum up, serious thinking and wider consultations are required on issues like what is or is not public purpose . It is imperative for the forthcoming bill to have clarity and inbuilt safeguards against potential misuses.
Moreover, in view of the above arguments , the market-value is not an adequate compensation criterion. A suitable mix of cash and equity or annuity compensation needs to be explored. The earlier Land Acquisition (Amendment ) Bill 2007 had paid only lip servicetotheseissuesandwasasdefective as the existing law. Hopefully the prospective Bill will do a better job.
(The author teaches at the Delhi School of Economics)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
COLD AND HOMELESS
Recent directions of the Delhi High Court to improve conditions for homeless people housed in Delhi's night shelters need to be widely welcomed. At the same time, it should be realised that the problems of the nearly four-million homeless deserve wider and more regular attention as the lack of basic facilities for them at a national level is simply too glaring.
Pucca and permanent shelters which can be used throughout the year are available for less than 10% of the homeless. Extra tent accommodation is available only during winter.
Although all homeless people comprise a high vulnerability group, women, children and destitutes among them are particularly so. The problems homeless women face in meeting their sanitation needs are more serious. Similarly their safely and modesty is badly threatened all the time.
In fact some homeless girls are known to dress up as boys to avoid sexual exploitation. Despite these threats there are very few shelters for homeless women and girls, in fact hardly any for women. Even male homeless children face frequent threat of sexual exploitation as well as intimidation from criminal elements. The chance of being lured into several addictions is quite high.
A survey of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan in Delhi revealed that most homeless people work hard and send back their savings to their poor families in remote villages. Helping the urban homeless thus indirectly helps some of the most poverty-hit families in rural areas.
The challenge ahead is to provide adequate shelters which provide essential facilities and safety to the homeless. Special needs of rickshaw-pullers , cart-pullers , vendors and water-vendors for safekeeping of their means of livelihood should be met. Separate shelters for women, children and families which meet their needs should be built. When many families are to be sheltered , shelters for men and women can be built separately but close to each other.
A review of the struggles of pavement dwellers by Bishnu N Mohapatra says in the context of Mumbai, "The case of Mumbai's pavement dwellers clearly suggests that a group of people who are economically poor and socially marginal find it difficult to make their mark on state policies even the ones that directly influence their lifechances .
Here, mediation by voluntary organisations is of crucial significance."
This study adds, "There are different ways by which a voluntary organisation can do this. For instance, it can act independently on behalf of these people and put pressure on appropriate institutions, in which case it does not need to mobilise the people except to the extent that it can ascertain , aggregate and represent their true interests .
Thus, the people on whose behalf the organisation speaks may not necessarily be active participants in the process. Another way would be for voluntary organisations to raise the issue of marginal groups by mobilising them and work towards enhancing their agency in the public sphere."
Instead of creating such a clear-cut division , however, these roles need not be so exclusive of each other. While on the one hand there is a clear need for policy intervention on behalf of the homeless on many fronts, at an early stage it may not be possible to mobilise the entire community of the homeless people in this effort particularly in a vast city. However with the passage of time the active participation of homeless people should steadily increase.
A related question is that of rights-based approach or service-based approach. Till some years back voluntary organisations followed a service-based approach which provides at best only some temporary relief . In contrast rights-based one emphasises the ability of people to obtain more stable gains as a matter of right.
While fully accepting the appropriateness and primacy of a rights-based approach, this should be supported by providing some essential services . Sometimes the homeless are carried away to beggars' homes just to fulfil targets. While laws should be used strictly against confirmed criminals, they should not be used against the innocent homeless somehow earning a difficult but honest livelihood . Unfair and arbitrary laws, frequently used in this way, should be revised.
A collaborative effort of the government and civil society groups can achieve much to reduce the pain of being homeless. While the need for this is most acute during the winter months, we should not forget the homeless at other times of the year.
(The writer is a Fellow , Institute of Social Sciences , New Delhi)
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PAIN FLOWERS KIND FRUIT
In the days of the Buddha, a group of monks wanted to get far away from the madding crowds of cities like Pataliputra to meditate. The Buddha promised them such a place in a forested glade where they could live and work on their liberation undisturbed by human distractions.
The monks went to the tranquil forest laden with fruit and fresh water springs and settled down to meditate. However, unbeknown to the monks there lived a gang of tree spirits in that very patch of wood.
The sprites were most upset about the monks coming and making themselves at home in their beloved sacred grove of trees. Now as you know, trees spirits can be extremely mean and menacing when they want to scare someone out of their wits! So they did everything in their power to spook off the monks from their meditation seats.
The poor monks hurried back to the Tathagata and complained loudly about the antics of the tree spirits.
They requested the Buddha to recommend another, safer haven for meditation. But that wasn't to be. "Instead the Buddha taught them a meditation practice of loving kindness, or metta in Pali ," write the eminent self-development experts Ed and Deb Shapiro in Be the change: How meditation can transform you and the world, "which develops loving kindness toward everyone, including ourselves and our enemies . And then he sent them back to the forest. His famous last words were this ` is the only protection you will need.'"
Thinking the Buddha must be wanting to test them, the monks grudgingly went back to the glade, sat down and began practising what the Master had taught and it worked! The tree spirits no longer had any effect. For all their antics, the meditators just kept sitting there and beaming out loving kindness.
The moral of the story: the spirits were won over by the waves of compassion radiating from the robed ones and, far from chasing the bonzes away, the same nasties that once had been so ferocious now became docile disciples!
According to the Shapiros the tree spirits stand for everything that goes on in our minds all the doubts, fears, anger and negativities that keep addling our minds. The Buddha's point was that loving kindness has the power to overcome all manner of inner monsters and to lead us to a true heart opening, to prove that love is stronger than any opposing force. Seeing and knowing pain, we embrace and actualise kindness.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
SSTL WILL TURN EBIDTA-POSITIVE IN LAST QUARTER OF 2012: CEO
JOJI THOMAS PHILIP
NEW DELHI: Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL) one of the new entrants in India's crowded telecom market is confident that ultra-low tariffs are sustainable in the long run, even as incumbent operators share a different view. Despite the lack of clarity on the growth path, especially with regard to spectrum allocation for CDMA players, SSTL's chief executive Vsevolod Rozanov is confident of succeeding in the Indian market in the long run. For the first time, Mr Rozanov during his interaction with ET also revealed guidance for the future and said that the telco would turn EBIDTA positive in the last quarter of 2012 and cash positive in 2013. Excerpts.
There is a High Court order directing you to have an IPO in 2010 in order to give an exit route to the minority shareholders. What are you doing about it?
The High Court has only asked us to initiate proceeding for the listing in 2010. It does not specify when to do the IPO. We have initiated proceedings and the company's board has already given us an in-principle approval to go in for a listing. Personally, I don't think this is the best time for that as the market conditions right now is not too positive. We are yet to decide on how much stake we will offload and other details related to the IPO.
We would also like to have a convincing business model in place before we list and this can be possible only if we have stable results over two to three quarters.
There have been reports that the Russian government is likely to delay its investment over Rs 3,000 crore for less than a 20% Sistema Shyam Teleservices (SSTL) stake. Is this true? How does it impact your expansion plans? There are also reports that you are in talks with Japanese and Chinese banks for a $2 billion funding.
The delay on the part of the Russian government will have no impact on our expansion plans. We are not borrowing $2 billion from banks since we don't require that type of funding. Currently, we are sorted out and we may require to raise only about $300-400 million by the end of the calendar year.
Your competitors, other new entrants like Telenor (Uninor) have given forecasts that they will have an EBIDTA break-even in roughly three years, with operational cash flow (OCF) break-even in five years from launch. Telenor has also said it will aims for a 8% subscriber market share by 2018. What is it for you? Sistema has never given forecasts or guidance. Telenor has added one million customers within the first month of its launch and does this have you worried?
We have given ourselves a three-year time frame to be EBIDTA positive. So in the last quarter of 2012, we should be EBIDTA positive and we will be cash positive in 2013. This is taking into consideration the current tariff wars in the country-we have factored it. We don't have a target for subscribers because we are not looking at numbers alone, but are looking at revenues. Operators cannot be content with the number of SIMs they dish out as these may not translate into proportional revenues. We have already launched in 11 of the 22 circles and in the remaining areas, our networks are already in place. Our aim is to be commercially present in all circles by the end of the calendar year. We have crossed the 3 million mark in customers and we are seeing growth. The difference is we are focused only on data and don't want to be measured on the number of SIMs. Unfortunately, when you are new, there is no other way to compare us with existing operators, but the number of customers.
SSTL offers perhaps the lowest tariffs in the country at half paise per second. The savage tariff war has eaten into the revenues and profits of telcos and the industry is not in the greatest of shape right now. Do you think the current tariffs are sustainable?
There is no point complaining about competition. We think the current pricing structure is sustainable in the long run. The average revenue per user (ARPU) does not depend on the tariffs alone, but on implementation of the business model and the teams that run the operation.
We don't offer half-paise-per second in all the circles. We have also noticed that usage is sometimes higher in those circles where we don't offer half-paise-per second tariff. If we can provide good high-end handsets for increased data use, it will lead to increased ARPUs irrespective of the tariffs we offer.
As per Trai figures, the average ARPUs of CDMA players are 50% lower when compared to GSM players. Does that mean your ARPUs are very low?
If we look at incremental ARPUs, then we are fairly comfortable. We definitely want higher numbers. There is entry level perception that is associated with CDMA-based mobile services. But, that will change as we introduce a range of high-end handsets. In fact, it is already changing.
Are you worried about the lack of clarity on policy for the growth path for CDMA? Trai is set to come out with recommendations on wide ranging issues will impact the sector in the long run. What are your views?
Our humble opinion is that we industry must know the rules of the game for the next 5-10 years. Operators need clarity because, we are bringing out huge investments and we are committed to this market. But, if rules change frequently, then telecom companies cannot drive growth. I cannot comment on Trai's upcoming recommendations, but let us agree on the rules and have them in place for the next 10 years. For CDMA, if we get spectrum in the 450 MHz and 1900 MHz band, it will help us, especially in rolling out data networks in rural India. Even in the case of the upcoming 3G auctions, there is no spectrum in six key circles for CDMA operators. These circles, which include Mumbai and Delhi are the largest revenue earners.
Telecom continues to be a sector which is seeing large attrition, especially the mid-level executives, who have so many offers on their table due to multiple operators in the market. How does this impact a company like Sistema? Tell us about some of the other HR initiatives in your company?
With so many players in the market coupled with constant people movement, companies can no longer guard ideas and be different. Whatever somebody launches a new product or service, it is copied within days.
Many a times, it is not because the competitor could replicate it within such a short timeframe, but rather, due to constant movement of people, ideas are often leaked. We have some advantages - first, we are an international player and we can therefore attract big talent. The joy of building something is greater when you are not an institution yet unlike some of our competitors. We also feel that most executives in telecom are spoilt by success because it came easy and are therefore looking at hiring more form FMCG where they have to fight a lot harder to win.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BUILD A COST CULTURE: CAPTAIN GOPINATH
He has just launched a telltale, autobiography titled Simply Fly: A Deccan Odyssey. A simple man who believes in economising the bottom of pyramid consumer, Captain Gopinath, CMD, Deccan Express Logistics, feels that mass is the way to go in emerging markets. In an interview, the entrepreneur, helicopter pilot, farmer, politician and now author, discusses what his journey has been like and what are the needs of the Indian aviation sector. Excerpts:
It has been seen that marketers continue to have contempt for products meant for consumers at the bottom of the pyramid. What are your views on this?
It remains the case where most marketers are unwilling to expand market size and instead poach one another's market share. There is enormous scale to be reaped once an offering is taken to the masses. When I decided to start an airline, I was triggered by the fact that ours is a country of a billion consumers. Consumers, even those in the small towns, had become aspirational. They were buying everything but air tickets. Flying was still meant for the rich and was not even envied by the masses. It was with this thought that I started my airline. We set out to connect tier-II, III cities with the metros, reaching out to as many as 68 cities in four years. So, now a new India was flying, one that provided us reach and scale of operation.
What are the key aspects of effective brand building that airlines today should focus on?
For successful brand building in India, one needs to build businesses which are genuinely scalable. If only one per cent of India is flying, then companies are just eating one-another's customers. In emerging economies like ours, companies need to expand consumer base. I do not want to say that I know everything, but while the industry is going through a crisis, airlines have to be clear who they are serving. If a flight is going 95% empty, people either can't afford or do not want to pay higher prices.
If you were to give an advice to airline bosses, what would it be?
My advice would be to build a cost culture; a culture of saving, not wasting resources. It requires innovation. The moment Air Deccan started selling tickets online, we eliminated travel agents, the need for call centres, and airport counters. Ticket printing costs were also nipped in the bud. Then we also did not offer food onboard, which liberated space in our aircraft.
GO BEYOND WORDS
'SONIA HAS THE POWER TO CHANGE ELECTORAL SYSTEM.'
Congress president Sonia Gandhi's call to curb the use of money and muscle power in elections will not be opposed by anybody. She made the call appropriately at the diamond jubilee celebrations of the Election Commission of India which has the task of conducting and supervising elections and ensuring that they are held in a free and fair manner. It has conducted 15 Lok Sabha and 326 assembly elections, though it has been less successful in containing the influence of money and muscle power. It has monitored the expenditure of candidates and has campaigned against criminals joining the fray. But its efforts have had little impact, as everyone who has observed the recent elections knows and as the bio-data of candidates and elected representatives show. Mrs Gandhi's call also underlines the fact.
The irony is that Mrs Gandhi can do more than the Election Commission or anybody else to implement her own call. She is the leader of the country's largest party and she controls the government. There are at least 150 MPs in the Lok Sabha with criminals charges against them and 41 of them are Congressmen. The party is only marginally behind the BJP, which has 42 MPs in that category. The dubious distinction of having an MP facing the maximum number of criminal charges also goes to the Congress. All these MPs faced these charges before they contested the election. The Congress and Mrs Gandhi could well have denied them the ticket. More than one-third of the candidates in the recent Jharkhand elections faced serious criminal charges and many of them were from the Congress. The number of crorepati MPs in the present Lok Sabha is 300, which is twice the number in the previous Lok Sabha. To be rich does not prove that money power was used to influence elections. But the fact that more numbers of richer people get elected sends out a clear message.
It is not as if there are no laws against the use of money and muscle power in elections, though they can be made stricter. But for them to be effectively implemented, the political and government leadership should have a stronger will. It is dishonesty and hypocrisy on the part of leaders to make such a call without trying to do what they can.
ON THE EDGE
'IT'S TIME TO FIND A SOLUTION TO THE ETHNIC QUESTION.'
President Mahinda Rajapaksa's victory provides him with another six years to address the multiple problems that confront Sri Lanka. He has won the elections by a huge margin. Still, given the bitterness that accompanied the campaign and the deep political polarisation in the country, it is likely that the emphatic mandate will not automatically translate into unquestioned political authority for Rajapaksa during the second term in office. So much so, the combined opposition has even started questioning the poll verdict. There are also fears of post-election violence between supporters of Rajapaksa and his main rival and former army chief Sarath Fonseka. The drama that unfolded in Colombo on Wednesday morning, with heavily armed troops surrounding a hotel where Fonseka was staying is reason for more concern. There are dangerous signs of the Lankan army getting increasingly politicised. A defeated Fonseka immediately made known his lack of confidence in the army that he once led as one of his close aides sought protection from 'a neighbouring country.'
In his first term, Rajapaksa chose to pursue a military solution to the ethnic conflict. While he was successful in defeating the LTTE on the battlefield, the ethnic question remains. It is eight months now since the Tigers were defeated, yet the President has taken no steps towards a political settlement of the problem. He cannot afford to drag his feet any longer, as Tamil alienation from the state, evident from the low voter turnout in Tuesday's polling, remains almost complete.
The political polarisation in the island nation can go out of hand unless Rajapaksa extends a reconciliatory hand to the opposition. General elections to parliament are due by April. The political divide and stirring of ethnic and political sentiments might help his party win votes but it can lead to unprecedented violence. Sri Lanka is justifiably proud of its democratic tradition and the successful conclusion of the presidential election is undoubtedly a significant achievement. Yet, elections alone do not make a democracy. Sri Lanka's democracy has been steadily weakened over the years by a trend of the militarisation of society. The press has been muzzled and political dissent is not tolerated. Rajapaksa too has a role in this. The resounding mandate gives him an opportunity to restore these democratic rights as indeed another chance to find a lasting solution to the ethic question.
HARDLY A SUPERPOWER
THERE ARE TOO MANY NEW CHALLENGES BEFORE THE INDIAN GOVERNMENTS. WHILE SOME HAVE BEEN TACKLED, MANY OTHERS REMAIN.
BY S L RAO
The last decade of the 20th century saw the first Opposition government at the Centre to last a full term; a dramatic change in US-India relations; the arrival of terrorism on an organised scale from Pakistan; a global recession and India's ability to survive it with little damage; the beginnings of a new influential world grouping of Brazil, Russia, India and China; the recognition of India as a nuclear and fast growing economic power, and a successful separation of the Congress presidency from the office of the prime minister, ie, politics from governance. Some Indians have projected all this and boast that India is an emerging superpower.
It is not. There are too many weaknesses and new challenges before Indian governments. Some have been tackled, while others were not tackled adequately. Thus the spate of communal killings (the Staines' murders in Orissa, the post-Godhra riots in Gujarat, and others) seem to have abated.
But organised and externally supported 'Maoist' rebellion in a broad swath of India, externally funded terrorist attacks, growing internal mobilisation of some Muslim youth to create communal disharmony and shake the Indian state, have not.
The administrative apparatus remains largely unaccountable, ineffective, inefficient, corrupt, and concerned more with turf wars than in dealing with the growing challenges. It has made all policy implementation uncertain. The second decade is starting with growing hostility to migrants speaking other languages, (in Mumbai, and states attracting migrant agricultural labour like Punjab, Haryana) with government support as in Maharashtra.
States reorganisation is likely to create much disruption until it is implemented and new smaller states created based on development needs and not just language. Fear of electoral consequences, Balkanisation, and unwillingness of legislators to delegate power, have prevented consideration of smaller states, and local autonomy at district and local body levels.
Terrorist attacks have made home and internal security ministries vital, not to be left to a self-styled 'Iron Men' or a loyal clothes horse. But there is poor coordination and flexibility in dealing with the tribals in 'Maoist' controlled areas, or Jammu and Kashmir.
Minority development, especially Muslims, is another national security challenge and has yet to be vigorously tackled.
The economy has many challenges. Economic reforms began with the opening in the 1980s under Rajiv Gandhi to information technology and telecommunications, the relaxing of rigid industrial licensing and on industrial 'monopolies'. Now we must progress to a diminished role for the public sector, improving agriculture and infrastructure and eliminating the red tape that hampers investments. 'Inclusive growth' is now a national idea but poorly implemented because of bad administration. Administrative reform in recruitment, transfers,training, evaluation, promotion, tenures and transfers, specialisation, accountability, disciplinary actions, etc, are overdue.
India is not a superpower now or will be any time soon, not a country that has the capacity to project dominating power and influence anywhere in the world, and sometimes, in more than one region of the globe at a time.
High GDP growth does not make us one. It has to pervade all sectors and people. Millions just subsist, almost 500 million Indians have no access to electricity, consumption of manufactured goods and of food grains, sugar, pulses, edible oils, milk, etc, even fast moving consumer goods and durable consumer goods, are very low in relation to population size, as are access to sanitary facilities, pukka housing, health care, and a good education.
The 'real' economy is pitifully small. India is not a major factor in international trade, and is mostly a net importer. Foreign exchange reserves are hardly 15 per cent of China and foreign investment is mainly in shares, loans and deposits.
Infrastructure, restrictive labour laws which have held back labour intensive manufacture, a procedure ridden bureaucracy with no individual accountability, have hindered substantial investments in industry and infrastructure. Government has huge borrowings and deficits. Agriculture has had negative public investment growth in real terms and remains dependent on the monsoon. Productivity is falling. Water management is poor. Subsidies on fertilisers, food, kerosene, debt write-offs, have replaced investment in agriculture capital assets.
Our youthful population gives a growing domestic market and insulates us from global fluctuations. Poor access to good education and training, and health and nutrition, can make it a disaster. The software industry is well developed as also management, advertising, market research, economic forecasting, design capability, etc. We can leapfrog technologies as we have done with mobile telephony, and biotechnology, stem cell research or renewable energy, etc.
The top priority has to be reform of administration with transparency and consultation with stakeholders. That requires decentralisation to give local communities a greater role in services delivery. To take decisions locally, urban and rural local bodies must have authority, funds, capacity and training to deal with matters like teacher attendance, teaching quality, health centre functioning, expenditure on facilities, distribution of cheap fertilisers, electricity, etc and community asset creation.
Rather than boasting of superpowerdom we should focus on doing the necessary things to provide a good life to our people.
THE JERUSALEM POST
HAITI ADOPTIONS - A LAST RESORT
IT WOULD DO US ALL WELL TO HEED UNICEF'S SOBERING ADMONITION AGAINST IMPULSIVE ADOPTIONS.
When we see a child in distress, the natural tendency is to rush to help and offer comfort. But we don't quickly and permanently take the child home with us. Much the same should apply to the many thousands of children - some evidently orphaned or abandoned - wandering the streets of Haiti's quake-ravaged capital, Port-au-Prince.
Their plight tugs hard at our heartstrings. They need shelter, food and care.
But does that mean they should be sent abroad for adoption, uprooted from their familiar socio-cultural environment? Should their problem be solved outside their own country?
Acute moral issues are involved. For a start, there is no foolproof way of telling which of these children is indeed orphaned. Well before the recent devastation, Haiti reported some 380,000 homeless children, many of them AIDS orphans. And even then, the statistics were problematic. As is the case in many impoverished countries, parents who lack the wherewithal to look after their children, sometimes board them in orphanages, with the aim of taking them back when the family fortunes improve.
Amid the turmoil into which Haiti has now been so violently plunged, everything is incomparably more chaotic. The central government, dysfunctional as it was, is now in tatters. No proper recordkeeping exists and chances are minimal for immediately reuniting displaced children with parents who may be hospitalized or relocated. It is all but impossible to rapidly establish which child has lost both parents and which has a surviving parent, siblings or extended family.
Thus the obvious danger exists that a child whisked out of his or her native element, albeit for the most high-minded and charitable reasons, will be tragically missed by surviving relatives. Children, moreover, are emphatically better off growing up with their own kin than with even affluent and kindhearted foreigners.
Jews should be extra-sensitive to the searing wrongs which can be borne out of seeming compassion. We should recall the gargantuan effort that was required to return to the Jewish people thousands of children who had been hidden during World War II. In its aftermath, many caretakers and Catholic institutions refused to relinquish their charges. There is still no telling how many Jewish children remained behind, unaware of their true identities and lost forever to their families.
There is no parallel between that era and the Haiti disaster, but that history and pain oblige us to show particular sensitivity.
THIS SENSITIVITY is patently missing in the alacrity of numerous well-intentioned Israelis to adopt Haitian children and in the Welfare and Social Services Ministry's announcement that it intends to promote such adoptions. The desire to help is admirable; the consequences may not be. Israel most certainly shouldn't open itself to charges that it attempts to steal youngsters.
As National Council for the Child Chairman Yitzhak Kadman noted, dislodging children from their natural surroundings "is the wrong solution. If resources are allocated for Haitian children, they should be earmarked to aiding them in their country.
"Extracting children who had experienced major trauma and transplanting them to a faraway alien land, where they are detached from their culture and extended families, is a dreadful mistake."
Kadman added: "It's good that Israel opens its heart to the hardship of Third World children, but first it must look after those already living among us" - that is, children of illegal foreign workers whose status in Israel is not regulated. These children, of course, generally have parents - which leaves them unavailable to prospective adopters.
Unfortunately, for some nowadays, the desire to adopt doesn't only arise from the wish to become a parent and offer a nurturing home. Adoption has also become something of a fad, emblemized by Hollywood stars who, much though they might dispute this, seem to "collect" tots of assorted backgrounds and extractions, almost as fashion accessories.
The vogue may be contagious. But cute cuddly babies, unlike cute cuddly puppies, grow with all the needs, complexities and problems of human beings. And they can't be abandoned when they are no longer cute.
The repercussions of the Haiti quake will be felt for a long, long time yet. It may well be that Israel, so quick and efficient in providing emergency rescue and medical assistance, has a further role to play.
But it would also do us all well to heed UNICEF's sobering admonition against impulsive adoptions which might in the end actually abet child-traffickers. No matter how dire the humanitarian circumstances, UNICEF prudently cautions, "inter-country adoption should be the very last resort."It would do us all well to heed UNICEF's sobering admonition against impulsive adoptions which might in the end actually abet child-traffickers.
THE JERUSALEM POST
THE NEW CONVERSION LAW IS A JOKE
BY SETH FARBER
Coalition MKs have added a clause that effectively neutralized the law.
At the immigration and absorption conference in Ashdod this week, both Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman called for universal support for a new conversion bill - a bill which would ostensibly "take the power away" from the Conversion Authority and allow local community rabbis to perform conversions.
At first glance, their suggestion is meritorious. The Conversion Authority has been notoriously deficient in effecting conversions - to a large extent because of lack of leadership and policy. By "privatizing" conversion, the process would become much more personal and much less overwhelming. This, in turn, might alleviate a looming demographic crisis threatening the Jewish character of the State of Israel - given the more than 300,000 citizens who emigrated under the Law of Return, but do not meet the Orthodox halachic definition of Jewish.
However, the law which these ministers support is layered with populism and party interests, and ultimately, will help few potential converts.
In fact, in its original form, the bill would have allowed all community rabbis to perform conversions. Since a handful of community rabbis are considered "moderate" in their approach to conversion, the authors of the bill assumed that converts would be able to approach these rabbis and have their conversions certified nationally.
However, all that changed four months ago.
It was then that the bill came up for review in the Knesset Law Committee and almost immediately, MKs who serve in the coalition added a clause that effectively neutralized the law. The new provision mandates that community rabbis can perform conversions "if they receive an additional certification from the Chief Rabbinical Council."
IN OTHER words, the fact that a rabbi has received the authority to register marriages, supervise burials and organize kashrut in his city doesn't imply that he can effect conversions (even though he has been examined on the laws and rituals concerning this matter).
This clause is a deliberate slap in the face to the moderate city rabbis. It suggests that notwithstanding their scholarship or experience (many used to perform conversions before the Conversion Authority was established), they need further "approval." Given the constitution of the Chief Rabbinical Council, it is a given that none of the moderate city rabbis will ever be certified to convert.
Just to provide two examples, one of the members of the council is himself a city rabbi who won't register people who convert in the Conversion Authority. And another served on the rabbinical court which issued the notorious decision in 2008 by Rabbi Avraham Sherman annulling Rabbi Haim Druckman's conversions.
In short, the new conversion bill - in its present and apparently final form - is sophistry of the first order and is being promoted as an offering to the immigrant population, with no substance supporting it. In many respects, the country would be better off if the law wasn't passed and if politicians began studying the core issues and seeking genuine resolutions, rather than trying to simply pass off another bill as a solution to an essential issue threatening the Jewish fabric of Israel.
There needs to be a full review of conversion policy and strategy, and a public relations effort that will make conversion a national priority. Anything less, and we will continue spinning our wheels for another decade.
The writer is the director of ITIM: The Jewish Life Information Center (www.itim.org.il), an organization dedicated to helping Israelis and immigrants navigate Jewish life here.
The cabinet's likely approval of an "examination committee" to look into certain aspects of Operation Cast Lead as a response to the Goldstone report, and in anticipation of the UN discussion of the report next week, is yet another grave error in the state's response to the claims made about the conduct of the Israel Defense Forces in the Gaza Strip. It's a case of too little, too late. After foolishly boycotting the Goldstone committee, a move that turned out to have been immensely damaging, the government persists in its attempts at a cover-up - entrenching itself further still in its refusal to appoint a state commission of inquiry.
Such a commission is vital, and not only to satisfy Richard Goldstone or world opinion. This goes beyond a public relations problem. A commission is needed first and foremost in order to conduct an honest, independent examination that will determine, once and for all, whether acts that are defined as war crimes were indeed committed in Operation Cast Lead. Israeli society has the right to know what happened in Gaza. If Israel is so sure that it is right, it cannot continue to evade what may be the last chance to repair the severe damage to its standing in the wake of the military operation in Gaza. Any other option, such as the examination committee being proposed now, will not fully determine the truth and will focus "on the quality of the internal investigations" of the army and of the cabinet resolutions. A committee whose authority will be limited and whose scope of operation will be narrow can only further damage Israel's shaky position and prevent a genuine inquiry.
The opposition by the defense minister and the IDF chief of staff to a state commission of inquiry seems to imply that the IDF has something to hide. If this suspicion is unfounded, a state inquiry commission must be permitted to disprove them. And if, heaven forbid, inappropriate acts and crimes were committed during the war, the Israeli public has a right to know.
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Any attempt to evade the explicit demand that Israel examine its conduct can only make things worse. The world will not buy into the conclusions of a co-opted committee with limited powers, and its work will not dispel the suspicions hanging over Israel. The prime minister must immediately act to appoint a state commission of inquiry, chaired by a Supreme Court justice, and stop covering up and avoiding a thorough investigation of the truth.
AT THE MOUTH OF THE VOLCANO
BY ALUF BENN
There is deep concern surrounding U.S. President Barack Obama's public announcement that his effort to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has failed. One can understand the frustration that Obama must feel over the stubbornness, foot-dragging and political score-settling by both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But this is not a contest between Obama and his predecessors over who achieved more peace in the Middle East; this is about preventing war. For America to abandon its efforts would increase the danger of a regional conflagration at a time when the air is already becoming saturated with flammable vapors.
Signs indicative of an impending explosion are coming from every side: from Iran, Lebanon, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and also Israel, which is on its own against them all. Instead of trying to calm the situation, the region's leader are sharpening their swords and trading verbal barbs. The evident weakness of the "world's policeman" is encouraging local leaders to take risks.
On the Iranian front, an arms race is taking place, along with one of escalating threats. Iran is developing nuclear weapons; Israel is threatening to launch a preventive war and bomb Iran's nuclear facilities; and the Iranians are threatening to destroy Tel Aviv in retaliation. The military preparations on both sides bolster the credibility of their threats: Israel has increased its defense budget and the Israel Air Force is training for a long-range attack, while Iran is testing surface-to-surface missiles. Iran is arming Hezbollah and Hamas with missiles that can reach central Israel, and Israel is developing missile defense systems and preparing the home front for war. Israel plans to hold a huge nationwide exercise in May; the cabinet has decided to distribute gas masks to the entire population; and rescue crews were sent to Haiti to gain experience in dealing with a massive disaster. Iran has signed a defensive alliance with Syria and strengthened its ties with Turkey, while Israel has grown closer to Egypt.
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In the north, both the Israel Defense Forces and Hezbollah are completing military preparations for the next round of fighting, while also publicly warning each other not to start. Bilateral deterrence is based on the threat of mutual assured destruction: Lebanese rockets on Tel Aviv versus Israel's threat to demolish Lebanon.
In the West Bank, Palestinians are preparing for a third intifada, which will center on civil disobedience against the settlements and the separation fence, and are seeking to isolate Israel diplomatically and to obtain recognition for a Palestinian state. Senior PA officials, including Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, hold well-publicized meetings with the "popular committees" that are leading the protests against the separation fence in Bil'in and Na'alin. In their view, this is an appropriate way of realizing their "rights," without suicide bombings.
And in regard to the Gaza Strip, the prisoner exchange negotiations between Hamas and Israel have stalled while the cease-fire is gradually eroding as border incidents multiply.
Israel is in strategic trouble. Netanyahu warned at Yad Vashem on Monday about "calls to destroy the Jewish state" and challenged the world to "deal with this evil before it spreads." But the world is turning its back on Israel, which it views as an occupying pariah state led by an extreme right-wing government. Within Israel, the combination of fear of another Holocaust and international isolation is a recipe for trouble, especially when Netanyahu has allotted the world only "a few weeks" to thwart the evil.
With regard to the Palestinians, Netanyahu veered sharply right after his gestures were received dismissively by both the White House and the PA, and after the "leftist" press once again began harassing him and his wife, Sara. His government is highlighting its efforts to Judaize East Jerusalem, with enthusiastic assistance from Mayor Nir Barkat, sparking a growing outcry from the Palestinians and their supporters.
Netanyahu's political positions, which call for annexing the major West Bank settlement blocs and maintaining military control over the Jordan Valley, are no different from those of his predecessors, Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. But the timing of his declaration, at tree-planting ceremonies this week in the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim and in settlements in Gush Etzion, that "we will remain here forever" - meant to bring him closer to his rightist political base - were viewed internationally as a provocation. And in eight months the partial freeze on settlement construction will expire.
In this situation, leaving the regional players to their own devices, imprisoned in their unceasing desire to settle accounts with their rivals, increases the risk of war. Perhaps Obama is blind, and does not understand this, or perhaps he is simply sick and tired of "the Jews and the Arabs." But there is a third possibility - that he is acting like Henry Kissinger before the Yom Kippur War: waiting for it to begin so that afterward he can summon the wounded parties to America, which will rescue them and impose order in the region.
FOR NATIONAL VALUES
BY AVIRAMA GOLAN
A French parliamentary committee on the burka, the cloak worn by some Muslim women that covers the whole body, has recommended that any clothing that obscures the wearer's face be banned in public places.
But this will not end the controversy in France regarding Muslim female apparel. The burka, niqab, chador and veil, cloth that covers some or all of a woman's hair, face and body, also conceal a highly charged socio-cultural battle.
The reasons the women themselves cite in favor of modest dress are taken from the European human rights and feminist vocabularies. The women say it gives them freedom (to go anywhere without being considered wanton) and a sense of control and power.
Similar reasoning has been voiced by young women in Israel over the veil and even the niqab, which covers the entire head except for the eyes (or a hair covering for Jewish women).
As always, women are being exploited by political camps. It seems their sexuality is still such a threat to the established order that men forcefully encourage them to hide it.
The women also recognize, however absurd it sounds, that the less their bodies are exposed, the more they control the rules of the game.
Many women in Western countries actually choose to express their identification with Muslim society through their dress (as the many secular teenage girls who have decided to wrap themselves in Muslim garb attest to). But the politicians say they are a threat, and accuse them of extremism and even membership in terrorist organizations.
The controversy over female Muslim garb cuts across French society. On the side opposing the modest dress one will find militant Muslim feminists such as Prof. Leila Babes, who is the author of the book "The Veil Demystified," or the organization Ni Putes Ni Soumises (Neither Whores Nor Submissives), aligned with secular republicans from the right and center. All of them contend that the Muslim leadership oppresses women through such dress.
On the other side are liberal human rights advocates, leftists and Muslim and Christian religious people who argue that the state cannot interfere in matters relating to the freedom of the individual.
They say the women choose modest dress not as a matter of defiance of secular society, but to protect their bodies and their respect in the face of the impulses running wild on the street. The two camps therefore interpret "respect for the individual" and "respect for women" in conflicting ways and each group is convinced that its own interpretation is the only correct one.
The division is testimony to the fact that, contrary to what appears to be a culture clash between Islam and the West, another battle is raging over the veil between the authority of isolationist communities - which seek to retreat behind their own customs, language, educational and social welfare systems and symbols - and the state.
The case of France, a secular republic whose president, based upon its constitution, can make such statements as "the burka is contrary to our values," is conspicuous, but it has implications for other countries as well, especially Israel.
Forget about the burka and the veil and the hat and the sheitel worn by Jewish religious women, and all the other bright ideas that men have invented and that women have had to suffer or have tried to transform from a sign of weakness into a sign of strength. Take note of the official statement by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, opposing isolationism and promoting nationalism in the name of the state.
This is in contrast to Israel, where nationalism has, for increasing numbers of groups, become a dirty word. Both the right and the left are coming up with a new invention: a binational or multinational state.
The right wants to erase the border and annex the territories, while elements on the left seek to give up Israeli nationalism which is offensive in their view and which they say is an abomination in the eyes of the progressive international community. Both are convinced that there is no prospect and no need for "two states for two peoples." From now on, the settler shall dwell with the Palestinian and the ultra-Orthodox with the atheist. They will all show respect for each other and their kind and the hijab and the tefillin will be jumbled all together.
But maybe just wait a minute. Maybe first we should see if Europe fulfills the post-nationalist dream and if leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Sarkozy and others, together with all of the citizens who weep while singing the national anthem and on national days of remembrance, give up nationalism in favor of the multi-communal dream. According to all indications, including the French parliamentary report on the burka, we can ensure that for the time being that it absolutely does not happen.
EVERYTHING WILL REMAIN, DOCUMENTED AND DATED
BY NIVA LANIR
Memory and denial. On the eve of the screening of his film "Shoah" in Israel, Claude Lanzmann remarked that even though it is over, the Holocaust is infinite and will exist in human memory forever. Professor Saul Friedlander, author of the monumental book "The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945," achieves in this volume what Lanzmann hoped to achieve in his film.
Even after the last of the victims, the last of the murderers and the last of those who looked on have died - everything will remain, documented and dated: the ideology that set Europe on fire, the functioning of the Nazi regime. The chronology of the mass slaughter month after month, year after year, at hundreds of sites throughout Europe. The voices of those who would become victims, alongside the words of the murderers. And also the silence - the passivity that descended on leaders, governments and heads of the Catholic Church.
Friedlander, who won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction, is as worthy as Winston Churchill of a Nobel Prize for Literature. If anyone (at the Foreign Ministry, for example) still bothers to think anything through over here, this book could be the cornerstone of International Holocaust Memorial Day, which is being marked today. An artery blocker for anti-Semites, historians, bishops and other Holocaust deniers, neo-Nazis and other crazies.The Catholic Church in the synagogue. Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the Great Synagogue of Rome was as bitter as wormwood thanks to the reigning pope's enthusiasm to sanctify Pope Pius XII. Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom attended the event and asked the pope to open wartime Vatican documents to scrutiny. This request, it seems, will apparently not budge Benedict.
The Vatican, says Friedlander in his book's introduction, continues to place obstacles in front of historians. The limited number of available documents does not enable a summation of the attitude held by the Vatican and Pius XII during World War II, making it difficult to elucidate the role they played.
Traditional Christian anti-Semitism, writes Friedlander, easily melded with the ideology of the fascist movements and some of the Nazis' measures - and even amplified them. The Church was mainly busy attempting to reach arrangements with the Reich and found compassion only at the killing of the mentally ill.
In interviews granted on the eve of the publication of his book in Hebrew, Friedlander said the goal of his current research is to access the Vatican Archive. It is doubtful this work will affect the Church's decision on the matter of Pius XII's saintliness. However, if Friedlander does manage to get to the truth, we will finally know hy Pius XII preferred to stand on the sidelines.
A visit to Berlin. Upon his return from a working trip to Germany with a cabinet minister, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attacked the opposition for having broken a tradition of many years by calling for a vote of no confidence in his government while he was there.
"It is not proper," said Netanyahu, and then he explained why. "After the Jewish people was destroyed, after they slaughtered six million of our people, the government of the state of the Jews came to Berlin, [a stone's throw] from Hitler's bunker - and this was a moment of spiritual elevation that no doubt unites all the members of the Knesset and all the ranks of this house."
However, in Berlin, a stone's throw from Hitler's bunker, alongside German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Netanyahu put on the "Sara, Sara, Sara" show. A family schmaltz cabaret or - if you will - an embarrassing manipulation, like the comparison between Hitler and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; or, and this is not the same thing at all, between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and Nazis - falsely propounded by both the right and left. Like using the term "Holocaust" to describe a bad film, or a flood or a drought. Media wizard Netanyahu brought his wife into the political kitchen and he's discovered that it's hot in there. So now he's complaining?
MOSES OF SOUTH TA
BY AMALIA ROSENBLUM
About 10 days after the earthquake in Haiti, it already seemed there was nothing left to take from among the ruins. But then Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog found yet another treasure: children.
Over the weekend the Social Affairs Ministry announced it would promote the adoption of Haitian orphans by Israeli families. Herzog said he saw the move as "the completion of Israel's humanitarian work in Haiti."
Indeed, one's heart is torn at the sight of babies thrown into orphanages and there is no doubt adoption "will bring great happiness and joy to families who want to adopt an orphaned child," but even in the best case this is a bad idea.
Where is Israel's humanitarian compassion for the approximately 1,200 children of migrant workers living here, who are destined be deported at the end of the current school year? And why should Israeli families not be content with the "great happiness and joy" they would have from extending a hand to the hundreds of children from Darfur living among us in terribly wanting conditions?
And what about the 783,000 children in Israel who can't manage to raise their heads above the poverty line? Ah, yes, and what about the Palestinian children?
Moreover, it is questionable whether hasty adoption by Israeli families, in a society not tolerant of strangers, is the best thing for the children of Haiti. If we have already decided that all the children of the world are equally in need of our help, then let us make a greater effort to donate money to the community in Haiti to rehabilitate itself and leave the children in its bosom.
About a year ago, Israeli economists calculated that it costs approximately NIS 660,000 to raise a child here. If the cost of living in Haiti is about 3 percent of the cost of living in Israel, then the state of Israel can donate to Haiti about NIS 20,000 for every child it wants to rescue.
But it is clear to us that a donation of this sort will never be chosen in order to show "the completion of Israel's humanitarian work in Haiti," because deep down we known the idea of importing children from Haiti does not come from motives of conscience.
If Israel truly wants to help the children of the world, there is no need to go as far as Haiti. And if it does indeed want to benefit the children of Haiti, there is no need to tear them from their homeland.
That being so, on the assumption that this isn't just a cynical act of public relations, what is motivating Herzog? Could it be that behind the crazy idea of adopting Haitian children is the desire to evade the moral obligation to care for the non-Jewish children who already live in Israel?
We are so eager to adopt these children and care for them that we have created for ourselves a provision in the Adoption Law: For such a child to be adopted, his religion has to be "identical to that of the adopter." Adopting Haitian children, however, falls under the definition of adoption of children from abroad, a procedure in which it is not obligatory for the parents and the child to have the same religion.
And why don't we want to adopt unfortunates who are living among us - the Filipino, Sudanese and Palestinian children? Most of us read the Passover Haggadah every year. And we know very well what happens when rulers make the mistake of adopting and nurturing from among a nation of slaves a child who becomes a leader.
However, all the orphans we seek across the sea will not prevent the moment we will have to deal with Moses from South Tel Aviv.
The author is a doctor of social psychology.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
OPPOSITE OF BOLD
In and of themselves, the economic initiatives announced this week by the Obama administration are not objectionable.
One is a modest package of tax credits and other subsidies intended to help middle-class Americans with some big expenses, like day care, student-loan payments and retirement savings. The other, intended to signal President Obama's willingness to cut the budget deficit, calls for a three-year spending freeze in many discretionary domestic programs, and for increases no greater than inflation after that. The freeze would apply to lower priority programs in a sliver of the overall budget, while spending on administration priorities like education and environment would continue to grow.
The freeze would have a relatively small effect on spending about $10 billion less in 2011 out of about $500 billion in programs. It would be foolish to cut any more deeply when the economy is still so troubled. The real value of the freeze would lie in Mr. Obama's ability to use it politically say by trading this deficit reduction for lawmakers' votes on a jobs bill this year.
The problem with the initiatives is that even if they work as planned, Americans need much more. They need leadership that is more inspired and an agenda that is bigger and more detailed than these ideas. The country desperately needs bold moves, starting with the State of the Union address Wednesday night.
The Obama administration has done some important things. Without last year's stimulus package, the economy would be in a far weaker state. Health care reform would be good for the economy and the budget, if it can be saved.
But there's a crater in the economy where the job market used to be, a hole so deep that it would take at least 10 million new jobs to fill it. There are more than six jobless workers for every job opening, which means prolonged spells of unemployment for many of the nation's 15.3 million jobless workers.
A lack of jobs also means delays in getting hired or lower entry-level wages for millions of high school and college graduates long-lasting setbacks. It portends little to no wage gains well into the future for millions of underemployed Americans, and even for the majority who have held on to their jobs as the economy has tanked. It means intractable budget deficits because without new jobs, economic performance and tax revenues will remain inadequate.
Mr. Obama owes the country an unflinching assessment of the dire job situation and a plan for fixing it that starts with a commitment to lead the effort himself. If he leaves it up to Congress, lawmakers are unlikely to deliver. Even the $154 billion jobs bill passed by the House in December is only a starting point for the repair and recovery work that needs to be done.
To create jobs, Mr. Obama must make it clear that he will not abandon the states at this time of budget crises. Bolstered aid to states is unpopular. But it is among the surest ways to preserve and create jobs because the money is pushed through quickly to employees, contractors and beneficiaries. The alternative is recovery-killing spending cuts and tax increases on the state level.
Mr. Obama also must champion increased small business lending and direct creation of both skilled and low-skilled jobs. He must embrace ways to pay for initiatives, such as redeploying money from the bank bailout or endorsing a financial-transactions tax on Wall Street.
The danger is that the initiatives announced so far this week will move to center stage, eclipsing more difficult and more important needs. It is Mr. Obama's job to make sure that does not happen.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE TALIBAN WOULD APPLAUD
It is easy to see that a woman's human rights are violated when a government requires her to wrap her body and face in an all-concealing veil, as the Taliban used to do when it ran Afghanistan. It should be just as easy to see the violation when a French parliamentary panel recommends, as it did this week, barring women who wear such veils the burqa and the niqab from using public services, including schools, hospitals and public transportation. (Muslim head scarves have been banned from public school classrooms since 2004.)
People must be free to make these decisions for themselves, not have them imposed by governments or enforced by the police.
Instead of condemning the recommendation, President Nicolas Sarkozy seems determined to outdo it. He already has declared that full-body veils are "not welcome" in France. His party's leader in Parliament wants to pass a law that bans women wearing burqas and niqabs from the streets. The Taliban would be pleased. The rest of the world should declare its revulsion.
Unfortunately, French politicians seem willfully blind to the violation of individual liberties. With regional elections scheduled for March, Mr. Sarkozy and his allies are desperately looking for ways to deflect public anger over high unemployment. It is hard to produce jobs and far too easy to fan anti-Muslim prejudices.
France has more than five million Muslim residents, the most of any Western European country. Fewer than 2,000 are said to wear full-body veils, posing no obvious threat to French identity or security. But because they are so few, they make a temptingly cheap electoral target.
Muslim-bashing has been a potent vote-getter for French far-right politicians, most notably Jean-Marie Le Pen. In a clear bid to peel off some of those votes, Mr. Sarkozy's center-right government has spent months promoting a sometimes foolish, sometimes menacing "national debate" on French identity. No political gain can justify hate-mongering.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
RADIATION THERAPY'S HARMFUL SIDE
Radiation treatments have helped save the lives of countless cancer patients, but when medical personnel get sloppy and manufacturers fail to provide technical safeguards the results can be devastating. Two tragic cases at hospitals in New York City illustrate the dangers, and a look at cases elsewhere reinforces the feeling that much more needs to be done to protect patients.
The dark side of radiation therapy in an age when the technology is getting more powerful, complex and medically useful was laid bare in two investigative articles in The Times this week by Walt Bogdanich.
The first, published Sunday, described the plight of two patients who died in New York City after receiving extremely high doses of radiation from linear accelerators. In the first case, a man being treated for tongue cancer at St. Vincent's Hospital in Manhattan was subjected to high-energy radiation that was supposed to be directed precisely at the tumor but blasted his brain stem and neck for three days because of a computer problem. Technicians did not notice the warnings on their computer screens.
In the second case, a woman being treated for breast cancer at the state's Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn got three times the prescribed radiation for 27 days because a therapist programmed a computer improperly, a vital filter was not activated and therapists again failed to notice indicators on their screens.
Wednesday's article described cases in several other states where patients were overradiated because medical teams made mistakes or failed to detect errors.
Radiation oncologists typically respond that such accidents, while heartrending, occur in only a tiny fraction of the radiation treatments delivered annually. But no one really knows how often radiotherapy accidents occur because there is no central clearinghouse of cases. Accidents are thought to be hugely underreported.
Manufacturers need to develop software that will shut down the linear accelerators before they can deliver extreme amounts of radiation. Medical teams that deliver the radiation must be far better trained than many now are. Surely it should be standard procedure to run a test before the first treatment to be sure the computer is programmed correctly. Once the damage is done to a patient, there is little that can be done to correct it.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A RESPONSIBLE MAN
BY ROBERT B. SEMPLE JR.
The news that Charles "Mac" Mathias had died at 87 of Parkinson's disease aroused fond memories of a slightly round and rumpled man who drove a battered blue station wagon to his Senate office and sometimes brought his black Labrador retriever with him.
It also brought back memories of a time when legislative combat could be as fierce as it is now but when there seemed to be more room for independent judgment or, more accurately, when there were more legislators willing to ignore their party's disciplinarians and demagogues and act on principle alone. Mr. Mathias, a Republican variously described as moderate or liberal, was just such a person. He represented Maryland for 26 years in Congress, eight in the House and 18 in the Senate, before retiring in 1987.
Though he never considered leaving the Republican Party and supported Richard Nixon in 1968 and 1972, he was one of President Nixon's most nettlesome opponents on legislation and the Vietnam War. He was an early champion of campaign finance reform (never accepting a contribution, after Watergate, of more than $100) and opposed the death penalty.
His signature issue was civil rights. It is not much remembered, but when President John F. Kennedy failed to submit a promised civil rights bill, three Republicans introduced one of their own. This inspired Mr. Kennedy to deliver on his promise, and it built Republican support for what became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The three were Representatives William McCullough, John Lindsay and Mr. Mathias.
The lofty way to describe him would be to say that he voted his conscience. But as he saw it, he was simply voting for things that everyone of conscience ought to support: respect for constitutional rights, respect for the environment, respect for the balance of powers.
He once told The Times's Tom Wicker that the senators he most admired were Democrats J. William Fulbright, Mike Mansfield and Philip Hart, and Republicans John Sherman Cooper, Jacob Javits, George Aiken and Clifford Case.
Why these? "Individual responsibility," he answered. "Each one of these people would take an issue on his own responsibility. They wouldn't have to have the cover of some ideology. They'd simply come to the conclusion that this was the right thing for the country." That describes Mac Mathias.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
BRINGING SEXY BACK
BY MAUREEN DOWD
He's The One, all right.
The handsome, athletic pol with the comely wife and two lovely daughters who precipitously rose from the State Legislature to pull us all together.
The fresh face and disarming underdog America's been waiting for, someone who suffered through his parents' divorce, watched his mom go on welfare and survived some wayward youthful behavior to become disciplined and successful a lawyer, a lawmaker and a devoted family guy who does dog duty.
Someone who's always game for a game of pickup basketball, loves talking sports and even boasts beefcake photos. A pro-choice phenom propelled into higher office by conservatives, independents and Democrats, a surprise winner with a magical aura.
The New One is the shimmering vessel that we are pouring all our hopes and dreams into after the grave disappointment of the Last One, Barack Obama.
The only question left is: Why isn't Scott Brown delivering the State of the Union? He's the Epic One we want to hear from. All that inexperience can really be put to good use here.
Obama's Oneness has been one-upped. Why settle for a faux populist when we can have a real one? Why settle for gloomy populism when we can have sunny populism? Why settle for Ivy League cool when we can have Cosmo hot? Why settle for a professor who favors banks, pharmaceutical companies and profligate Democrats when we can have an Everyman who favors banks, pharmaceutical companies and profligate Republicans? Why settle for a 48-year-old, 6-foot-1, organic arugula when we can have a 50-year-old, 6-foot-2, double waffle with bacon?
Everyone in Washington now wants to touch the hem of President-elect Brown known in the British press as "the former nude centrefold" who has single-handedly revived the moribund Republican Party. It uncannily recalls the way they once jostled to piggyback on the powerful allure of One-Term Obama.
The capital is abuzz. What did Scott say about that? Has anybody checked with Scott? Let's not make a move without consulting Scott!
One of the most famous political figures of the age, John McCain, was thrilled (and no doubt envious) that a newbie unknown a week ago made robo-calls for him in his tightening Arizona re-election race.
Before the Senate rejected a debt-reduction commission on Tuesday, reporters pressed for Brown's hypothetical intentions: Would he have voted yes if he had been seated? (Yes, his spokesman told The Politico's David Rogers.)
The Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, has even christened Brown "41," usurping Poppy Bush's nickname.
That's because Brown, the only Republican in the Massachusetts Congressional delegation, gives his party the needed 41st vote to filibuster unmolested. Even some in the Obama White House secretly wonder if the wonder from Wrentham, Mass., is The One. Could he be a more authentic version of their guy, who also swept in as a long-shot outsider only 14 months ago?
Obama is coming across as plastic and hidden, rather than warm and accessibly all-American. (Brown has even been known to do his daughter's laundry when she gets too busy.)
Whereas Obama had to force himself to nibble French fries and drink beer (instead of his organic Black Forest Berry Honest Tea) during the Pennsylvania primary, Brown truly loves diners, Pepsi, Waffle Houses and the unwashed masses.
David Axelrod, Obama's senior strategist, praised Brown for his "spectacular" campaign. And Obama aligned himself with the new symbolic force, telling ABC's George Stephanopoulos that "the same thing that swept Scott Brown into office swept me into office. People are angry and they're frustrated."
Even though Brown opposes Obama's plan to tax big banks, the president tried to wrap himself in Brown populism: "And here in Washington from their perspective the only thing that happens is that we bail out the banks."
Stephanopoulos pointed out the obvious difference between Barry and Scotty, telling the president with the populist mask: "But you're in charge now."
At the moment, President-elect Brown is a new blank slate in an old pickup truck. As the president scrambles to freeze some spending and unfreeze his persona, Obama strategists hope that, in some weird way, Brown will help revive the president's fortunes.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
ADULTS ONLY, PLEASE
BY THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
Maybe it's just me, but I've found the last few weeks in American politics particularly unnerving. Our economy is still very fragile, yet you would never know that by the way the political class is acting. We're like a patient that just got out of intensive care and is sitting up in bed for the first time when, suddenly, all the doctors and nurses at bedside start bickering. One of them throws a stethoscope across the room; someone else threatens to unplug all the monitors unless the hospital bills are paid by noon; and all the while the patient is thinking: "Are you people crazy? I am just starting to recover. Do you realize how easily I could relapse? Aren't there any adults here?"
Sometimes you wonder: Are we home alone? Obviously, the political and financial elites to whom we give authority often act on the basis of personal interests. But we still have a long way to go to get out of the mess we are in, and if our elites do not behave with a greater sense of the common good we could find our economy doing a double dip with a back flip.
Dov Seidman, the C.E.O. of LRN, which helps companies build ethical cultures, likes to talk about two kinds of values: "situational values" and "sustainable values." Leaders, companies or individuals guided by situational values do whatever the situation will allow, no matter the wider interests of their communities. A banker who writes a mortgage for someone he knows can't make the payments over time is acting on situational values, saying: "I'll be gone when the bill comes due."
People inspired by sustainable values act just the opposite, saying: "I will never be gone. I will always be here. Therefore, I must behave in ways that sustain my employees, my customers, my suppliers, my environment, my country and my future generations."
Lately, we've seen an explosion of situational thinking. I support the broad proposals President Obama put forth last week to prevent banks from becoming too big to fail and to protect taxpayers from banks that get in trouble by speculating and then expect us to bail them out. But the way the president unveiled his proposals "if those folks want a fight, it's a fight I'm ready to have" left me feeling as though he was looking for a way to bash the banks right after the Democrats' loss in Massachusetts, in order to score a few cheap political points more than to initiate a serious national discussion about an incredibly complex issue.
President Obama is so much better when he takes a heated, knotty issue, like civil rights or banking reform, and talks to the country like adults. He is so much better at making us smarter than angrier. Going to war with the banks for a quick political sugar high after an electoral loss will just work against him and us. It will spook the banks into lending even less and slow the recovery even more.
That said, part of me can't blame the president. The behavior of some leading Wall Street banks, particularly Goldman Sachs, has been utterly selfish. U.S. taxpayers saved Goldman by saving one of its big counterparties, A.I.G. By any fair calculation, the U.S. Treasury should own a slice of Goldman today. Goldman has been the poster boy for banks behaving by "situational values" exploiting whatever the situation, or rules that it helped to write, allowed.
Also, President Obama tried to create a bipartisan commission to come up with a plan to reduce the national debt a plan that would inflict pain on both parties by cutting some programs and raising some taxes. But the Republican leader, Senator Mitch McConnell, said the G.O.P. would not cooperate with any commission that proposes raising taxes. And some liberal Democrats rejected cutting their favorite programs. Way to take one for the country, guys.
Then let's look at the unions hardly paragons of sustainable thinking for the country. We all know they got more than their fair share in the General Motors settlement and in the Obama health care proposals because they could shake down the Democrats in return for votes.
And, finally, don't forget both the Democratic and Republican senators who have decided to get a quick populist boost by turning one of the few adults we have left Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke into a piñata. No, Mr. Bernanke is not blameless for the 2008 crisis. But since then he has helped steer the country back from the brink and kept us out of a depression. He absolutely deserves reappointment.
No doubt, this is a lousy season to be the leader of any institution. We are in the midst of a long period of austerity, where all that most leaders will be able to do is cut, fire and trim. It is so easy to play populism and run against them. But this time is different. When our government is this deeply involved in propping up our economy, and the economy is this fragile, politics as usual will kill us. We badly need leaders inspired by sustainable values, not situational ones. Without that, we'll just be digging our hole deeper and making the reckoning, when it comes, that much more ferocious.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
STATE OF THE UNION, IN DUTCH
Americans tend to think of the State of the Union as our singular event. But while it is a special night, it's not unique. In fact, leaders around the world deliver a yearly address in which they step onto the podium to score points, lay out agendas and offer up a flourish or two. So how does American rhetoric measure up? Read the following excerpts (taken from official transcripts and translations of speeches given in the last few months), listen to the president tonight and then decide.
President Dmitri Medvedev
Address to the Federal Assembly
Nov. 12, 2009 (11,944 words)
Citizens of Russia... the foundation of my vision for the future is the firm conviction that Russia can and must become a global power on a completely new basis. Our country's prestige and national prosperity cannot rest forever on past achievements. After all, the oil and gas production facilities that generate most of our budget revenue, the nuclear weapons that guarantee our security, and our industrial and utilities infrastructure most of this was built by Soviet specialists. In other words, it was not we who built it. It is still keeping our country afloat today, but it is rapidly depreciating both morally and physically. The time has come for today's generation of Russians to make their mark ....
Today we are talking about modernization this is the essential aspect of my address today about our desire to be modern. We must remember of course that modernity is a fluid notion. It is not a final stage of progress at which point you can rest and relax, as we say quite the contrary. A truly modern society is the one that seeks constant renewal, continuous evolutionary transformation of social practices, democratic institutions, visions of the future....
I note that in August this year, Russia registered its natural population increase for the first time in the last 15 years. This growth is still only small just 1,000 people but still, it is an increase nonetheless. This result was achieved above all thanks to the National Project on Health and the new demographic policy we have been implementing....
Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg
New Year's Address
Jan. 1, 2010 (2,045 words)
Among the first public buildings we know of from the earliest civilizations are granaries. They were used to provide emergency relief in years when crops failed. We remember the story of Joseph advising Pharaoh to build up a store of grain because the seven good years would be followed by seven years of famine. This is ancient wisdom: we should save when times are good so as to be prepared for hard times.
Over the last year, the world has experienced the most severe economic crisis since the 1930s.
This international crisis has also affected Norway. We have a small, open economy, and half of what we produce is sold abroad. When export markets disappear, people at home are hit. Some of those who used to manufacture car components, smelt aluminum or build ships lost their jobs because people abroad stopped buying these goods.
Losing a job is first and foremost a blow for the person concerned. But unemployment also harms the community. With fewer people producing goods, there is less to go round. During this crisis, we have injected a great deal of extra funds to keep the wheels in motion. We have been able to spend more during these difficult times because we were careful when times were good. In this respect, you could say that we have followed the advice Joseph gave to Pharaoh, albeit in a rather different way. The Egyptians built granaries. We built the Government Pension Fund Global.
Queen Elizabeth II
Speech From the Throne
Nov. 18, 2009 (735 words)
My lords and members of the House of Commons, my government's overriding priority is to ensure sustained growth to deliver a fair and prosperous economy for families and businesses as the British economy recovers from the global economic downturn....
The Duke of Edinburgh and I look forward to our visit to Bermuda and our state visit to Trinidad and Tobago and to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in this, the Commonwealth's 60th anniversary year. We also look forward to receiving the president of South Africa next year. ...
My government will continue to work closely with the devolved administrations in the interests of all the people of the United Kingdom. My government is committed to the Northern Ireland political process and will continue to work with Northern Ireland's leaders to complete the devolution of policing and justice and to ensure its success.
In Scotland, my government will take forward proposals in the final report from the Commission on Scottish Devolution. My government will continue to devolve more powers to Wales....
My government will work for security, stability and prosperity in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and for peace in the Middle East. Legislation will be brought forward to ban cluster munitions....
My lords and members of the House of Commons, I pray that the blessing of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels.
Speech From the Throne
Sept. 15, 2009 (1,574 words)
Members of the States-General ... the economic recession has exposed ethical shortcomings in the way market and society operate. The government has identified flaws in the financial sector both inside and outside the Netherlands, and drawn up proposals for stricter standards and better supervision. Binding agreements will be made on limiting excessive salaries and bonuses.
In these difficult times, the government believes it is important to continue working toward a society in which people feel a sense of togetherness, respect one another and share responsibility. A good upbringing and good education are the foundation of responsible citizenship.
Over the past two years, the government has taken measures to promote social cohesion, safety and security, stability and mutual respect. A persistent, multiyear approach is required to achieve results. The government will therefore continue to devote special attention to youth and young people, civic integration and vulnerable neighborhoods in the big cities.
The lack of integration of certain groups in society, widespread disrespectful and offensive behavior in public places and criminal behavior by groups of young people are stubborn problems that cause a great deal of annoyance. The government is therefore not only taking consistent action against offenders but also tackling the causes of unacceptable behavior.
President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo
State of the Nation Address
July 27, 2009 (4,373 words)
A few days ago Moody's upgraded our credit rating, citing the resilience of our economy. The state of our nation is a strong economy. Good news for our people, bad news for our critics.
I did not become president to be popular. To work, to lead, to protect and preserve our country, our people that is why I became president. When my father left the presidency, we were second to Japan. I want our republic to be ready for the first world in 20 years.... To those who want to be president, this advice: If you really want something done, just do it. Do it hard, do it well. Don't pussyfoot. Don't pander. And don't say bad words in public. ...
We inherited the longest-running communist insurgency in the world. Leah de la Cruz is one of 12,000 rebel returnees. She was only 16 when she joined the New People's Army.... She was captured in 2006. She is now involved in an L.G.U.-supported handicraft livelihood training of former rebels. We love you, Leah!...
We inherited an age-old conflict in Mindanao, exacerbated by a politically popular but near-sighted policy of massive retaliation.... There is nothing more that I would wish for than peace in Mindanao. It will be a blessing for all its people, Muslim, Christian and indigenous peoples. It will show other religiously divided communities that there can be common ground on which to live together in peace, harmony and cooperation.
President Jacob Zuma
State of the Nation Address
June 3, 2009 (4,545 words)
Fellow South Africans ...since 1994 we have sought to create a united cohesive society out of our fragmented past. We are called upon to continue this mission of promoting unity in diversity. ... We must develop a common attachment to our country, our Constitution and the national symbols. In this spirit, we will promote the national anthem and our country's flag and all other national symbols.
Our children, from an early age, must be taught to pay allegiance to the Constitution and the national symbols, and know what it means to be South African citizens. ...
Sport is a powerful nation-building tool. Working together we must support all our national teams from Bafana Bafana to the Proteas and the Springboks; from Banyana Banyana to Paralympians.
Our teams can only do well with our support. Allow me to use this opportunity to congratulate our national teams for their performances in the past week, indeed in pulling off a hat trick. The country's women's netball team has done us proud by winning the Tri-Nations Netball Challenge. Congratulations to the Sevens Springboks who have become the I.R.B. Sevens World Series champions and not forgetting the Blue Bulls who have won the Super 14 finals in a convincing fashion!
We take this opportunity to wish the Springboks well in the upcoming series against the British and Irish Lions.
I. THE NEWS
Eventually, the fighting is going to have to stop and the talking begin in earnest meanwhile both talking and fighting continue each in their different ways but, it seems, with converging agendas. The trilateral summit in Turkey involving Presidents Zardari, Karzai and Abdullah Gul is independent of the upcoming London summit on Afghanistan but is inevitably being seen as the curtain-raiser for it. Turkey has been a friend to Pakistan through thick and thin and we may regard Turkey as an honest broker between ourselves and Afghanistan. The trilateral summit is no one-off; it is the fourth such in the sequence and there will be others in the future and on continuity such as this is confidence built. An element of that confidence is that Turkey is a fellow Muslim state, secular and stable, with a foot in both the east and the west. This places Turkey in a unique position when it comes to acting as a conduit between the Muslim east and the secular west, and why this summit will have done much to prepare the ground for what follows next in London.
The talks about talks that are the talk of the diplomatic and military circuits are those that are to be had or are already being had with the Afghan Taliban which are the concern of Mr Karzai. The Pakistan Taliban are the concern of Mr Zardari, and he expressed the view that his government was going to be willing to 'talk to the people who want to give up their way of life and are reconcilable.' The Americans will want to have a tongue in the talking and the British have said that whilst they support the idea of talking in principle they are not happy with Pakistan as the sole interlocutor and would prefer a 'team effort'. The bottom line for the Taliban will be that they will want to talk from a position of strength rather than weakness easier to do in Afghanistan than in Pakistan and those who want to talk to them will be seeking a similar position. Fighting is going to continue in Afghanistan for years to come and the battle waged here with the Taliban is far from won indeed, a purely military victory is unlikely in either country. The islands of talk that are beginning to emerge from an ocean of war will provide the space for peace to eventually prevail. We should not expect it to be a rapid or tidy process, nor the end result to be picture-perfect and to the satisfaction of all. We could conceivably see maps redrawn, arbitrary lines moved to positions more consonant with ethnic and cultural realities. War will continue but in London and Turkey we may see the beginning of an outbreak of peace.
I. THE NEWS
Our accident-prone interior minister seems to be stumbling ever deeper into trouble. While it is expected he may be among those facing the hardest times following the undoing of the NRO, the Supreme Court, even before this could happen, has issued him with a contempt of court notice, after rejecting the reply he had submitted to it on a query as to the ouster of DG FIA Tariq Khosa. The court has interpreted this action as intervention in its inquiry into massive corruption in the Pakistan Steel Mills. It is difficult to see how the government will shake off the murk that is attaching itself to it in this matter. The removal of the DG, widely reputed to be an outstanding officer, had immediately raised eyebrows. So too have apparent cover-up efforts since then. The court has made it clear that it interprets this as direct interference in its working and has asked why the interior minister chose to interfere in judicial business.
The heat then is quite clearly turned on high. The courts are in no mood to tolerate high-handedness from ministers. Also, the tone struck by the interior minister in his response to the court has obviously irked it. Arrogance it seems is accompanied by a lack of good basic sense. The minister and his lawyers should indeed have known that courts expect a note of apology when letters of the nature of the one written by him, accepting that a mistake has been made, are dispatched to judges. But then perhaps our ministers have become so accustomed to the idea that they are above the law that they simply cannot reconcile themselves to being questioned or challenged in any way. That things on this front are changing is a good omen. Certainly we need more accountability at all levels. Ministers must be willing, as representatives of the people, to explain their actions. The fact that the interior minister seems to be struggling to do so is indicative of the problems in our system of government. It is time this was corrected. By doing so we would strengthen our state and the mechanisms that exist within it to guard against wrongdoing by those who wield power.
I. THE NEWS
LAW AND DISORDER
Protesting policemen, through acts of quite unnecessary unruliness, reduced Quetta to chaos on Monday proving they have little respect for the law they are entrusted to uphold. The policemen, demanding an increase in their salary, blocked traffic for hours as several hundred staged a sit-in outside the Chief Minister's Secretariat. Elsewhere in the city, tyres were burnt and the windows of vehicles smashed. Most of the cars of course belonged to ordinary people in no way involved in determining wages or any other administrative issue. Reports from other towns in Balochistan speak of similar hooliganism there by the men whose duty it is to prevent disruptive behavior. They must count themselves fortunate in that they were not beaten with batons, unlike other categories of citizens who stage protests. Even those who have adopted entirely peaceful means to do so have not infrequently faced the wrath of policemen.
But putting this issue aside, the cops had a point. They have complained that those in uniform in Balochistan are paid far less than their counterparts in Punjab. This indeed is unfair. But the bigger problem seems to be the lack of training and the poor salary structure of the police force as a whole. At present this force stands on the frontline against terror. We need to bolster its abilities and its capacity. The example of the Motorway Police, which expertly patrols the Lahore-Islamabad Highway, suggests how better pay, more perks and the building of professional pride can lead to a quite dramatic improvement in performance. We need to expand this experiment into other areas and see what can be done to make our police a force better able to tackle terror and other problems of law and order we face.
I. THE NEWS
'THIS MELON IS NOT RIPE YET'
BY SHAMSHAD AHMAD
At the current session of the Geneva-based 65-member Conference on Disarmament (CD), Pakistan had no choice but to question the insidiously choreographed ambiguity on implementation of the "programme of work" adopted at the CD's session last year. The elected government this time must be credited for showing grit and taking a position in Pakistan's national inertest. There will be pressures, as always, to force us to bend but the government must remain steadfast in its position.
Last year, Pakistan had joined the consensus on the CD's "programme of work" in "good faith" on the assumption that the CD would be enabled to substantively address all the four "core" issues on its agenda namely, nuclear disarmament, negative security assurances, prevention of an arms race in outer space and a fissile material treaty without any selectivity or discrimination. This was a clear evidence of Pakistan's constructive approach in support of the CD's work as a building block for an eventual nuclear weapon-free world.
As anticipated, Pakistan soon discovered alarming manoeuvres on the part of some countries which traditionally have had a one-dimensional approach on nuclear disarmament issues. An attempt is now being made to bulldoze a selective and preferential agenda rather than adopt an integrated approach to holistically address the four core issues identified as the crucial elements of nuclear disarmament. Pakistan is thus doing what it ought to in its vital national interest.
By asking for balanced and equally substantive attention to all the four core issues included in the CD's "programme of work" adopted by consensus last year, Pakistan is only seeking to strengthen, not weaken the cause of disarmament. Rather than opening up the document on the "follow-up and implementation" for consultations, an accepted norm in any multilateral process, the Western countries are portraying this well-meaning initiative as an attempt by Pakistan to block the CD.
The core issues are crucial elements of nuclear disarmament and constitute the very raison d'etre of the CD as the world's only multilateral disarmament negotiating forum. But ever since the creation of this body to negotiate a treaty for elimination of the world's nuclear arsenals, the major Western nuclear powers have circumvented meaningful debate on genuine nuclear disarmament. They kept negotiations on a verifiable fissile material treaty, which is in cold storage only because they were allergic to the very concept of verification.
This was a clear breach of the 1995 Shannon Mandate for a multilateral, non-discriminatory and effectively verifiable treaty. It became a big issue because without verification states can easily cheat on their actual stocks. We had this experience with India in 1992 when in a non-verifiable bilateral agreement it undertook not to develop chemical weapons. Subsequently, while joining the chemical weapons convention, India turned out to be a possessor state.
In any case, a non-verifiable and mere cut-off treaty will not be a disarmament measure. It will just freeze the status quo and not further the goal of disarmament.
After more than a decade of stalemate in CD negotiations, the US restored its support last year for a verifiable fissile material treaty. That is how a consensus became possible on the CD's programme of work last May which Pakistan joined in good faith on the assumption that in its subsequent work the CD will accord equal treatment to all the four core issues.
It was a misjudgement on our part. We forgot our experience in NPT negotiations in the sixties when the US managed to exclude the issues of negative and positive security guarantees to non-nuclear-weapon states. Regrettably, the multilateral system is again being used only to legitimise the strategic and security setup suited only to the few. The Cold War is long over, yet tens of thousands of nuclear weapons remain in arsenals around the world. Together, the US and Russia alone possess 95 percent of the world's nuclear weapons.
To our friends in the Western world the nuclear question has traditionally been one-dimensional. Symptoms, not the disease, are their problem. Their undivided focus has been on non-proliferation only as a concept which they have ingeniously adapted to their own objectives. Partial efforts at arms reduction and arms limitation between them also do not amount to disarmament. These measures only take away the focus from Article VI of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The self-serving non-proliferation policies of the key powers and their selective and discriminatory "waivers" from the non-proliferation regime in violation of treaty obligations have only been weakening UN disarmament processes and institutions. A whole network of non-proliferation regimes has been built up by them only to confine "everybody else" within its four walls. What they really keep saying is that they can have their weapons forever, but others should do without them, a situation that amounts to telling people not to smoke while you have a cigarette dangling from your own mouth. It is nuclear apartheid.
This discriminatory policy has already failed. Country-specific and short-sighted policies for access to nuclear technology motivated by narrow gains, in disregard of equitably applicable criteria, have further undermined the international non-proliferation regime and detract from its credibility and legitimacy. The situation is compounded by the distinct possibility of such arrangements leading to diversion of nuclear material for military purposes. The US-India nuclear deal is a case in point.
Pakistan must resist attempts to make exemptions in line with the US-India deal with negative consequences for our security, as well as for regional stability. What the Western countries should realise is that their attempts to disturb the strategic balance in South Asia are no service to its peoples, or to the cause of peace and security in this region. They must understand that instead of making "preferential" and discriminatory nuclear deals they should be contributing to strategic stability by reducing security gaps in this volatile region.
Any nuclear cooperation arrangement without adequate international safeguards has the potential for increasing fissile material stocks that can be diverted towards weapons production, as has been done in the past. For this reason, the issues of verification and stocks have become vital for Pakistan in any negotiations on an FMT. We also cannot ignore the ominous implications of the US-India nuclear deal which bolsters India's massive nuclear and conventional build-up, including its nuclear "triad" and its adoption of an offensive "cold start" doctrine based on a rapid conventional strike capability.
In any case, the Geneva impasse cannot be blamed on Pakistan. Before joining last year's consensus on the CD's programme of work, we imposed no conditionalities and only sought to strengthen the modalities of and implementation of the conference's agenda. We asked for "outcome-based" equal treatment to all the four core issues included in the programme of work in line with certain recognised principles so that no state is put at a disadvantage vis-a-vis other states.
In contrast, India spelled out on the floor of the conference a number of conditionalities for joining the consensus. It linked its concurrence to joining the negotiations on an FMT to its perspective that the scope of the treaty will be limited only to "cut off" future production of fissile material. On this aspect, India and other major nuclear-weapon states seem to have complete convergence of interests. No wonder, India exempted itself from any limitations on its existing stocks or on facilities covered under the US-India nuclear deal.
These are double standards. We are used to them since 1974, when India conducted its first nuclear test not far from our border. Pakistan's security and survival then faced double jeopardy. On the one hand, we faced India's nuclear ambitions as a direct threat to Pakistan's security and survival; on the other, we faced sanctions imposed by our friends and allies in the name of nuclear "non-proliferation." They even denied us the means of a conventional defence.
While we are pursuing since 1999 our proposal for a strategic restraint regime involving three interlocking elements of conflict resolution, nuclear and ballistic restraint and conventional balance, India continues with its threatening doctrines against both China and Pakistan. This ominous perspective cannot be overlooked in CD negotiations. There is no cause to fault ourselves for an impasse and a disarmament setback in Geneva. The process was a non-starter from the very beginning.
On its part, China also sees many procedural pitfalls in the Geneva negotiations, and is citing an ancient Chinese proverb that "this melon is not ripe yet" to forewarn that the harvest season has not arrived yet, and CD members "still need to exercise a bit of patience."
The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: shamshad1941@ yahoo.com
I. THE NEWS
EDGING TO THE BRINK
BY RAOOF HASAN
After sixty-two years of bludgeoning through sequential alleys of darkness, suffering the agonies of military dictatorships, ill-governance, institutionalised crime and widespread corruption that sunk in deep, the country finally saw the advent of an independent judiciary at the culmination of a memorable people's struggle led by the lawyers' community. But, within less than one year of the historic event, just when one thought that the country would be finally rid of the innumerable ailments that plagued our body politic, there are conspiracies galore to frustrate the independence of judiciary and replace it with a bench that would swear allegiance not to justice, but to the diktat of the corrupt political leadership against whom there are outstanding cases for a multiple range of crimes and misdemeanours. There are even convictions that render some of them ineligible to hold public offices. This constitutes the core of the unease the incumbent leadership is gripped with and the reason behind the weaving of devious and Machiavellian plans to blow away the promise of justice and the proclamation of the rule of law for all, without discrimination.
After the Supreme Court (SC) judgement declaring the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) void ab initio, one thought the government had only two options: it could accept it and take steps for its implementation, thus running the risk of some of its cronies being forced to quit, or it could appeal the judgement and wait for the court's order. Expectedly, and true to its track record of the last two years replete with broken promises and unkept commitments, what the PPP leadership is doing is something quite devilish: together with appealing the judgement and issuing loud proclamations of accepting the SC adjudication, it is playing every conceivable trick to subvert it. The prime minister appears to be completely out of sync with his ministers and aides who don't let an opportunity slip by of criticising what the judiciary has done. Strangely, the only supporting voices that the ruling concoction has been able to elicit publicly relate not to the legality and constitutionality of the judgment, but the credentials of the judiciary that has passed it. I heard someone say in blistering anger on one of the private television channels recently: "It is the same judiciary that had legalised the rule of a dictator". Does one infer that, if an institution has erred once, it is incumbent upon it to keep erring for all times? Quite simply, it makes a mockery of reason and logic.
On the face of it, while the government has taken no cognisable step for implementing the decision, it has, in a fit of anger and frustration, returned the chief justice's recommendations with regard to the elevation of Justice Saqib Nisar of the Lahore High Court and the appointment of the much-respected Justice Ramday as an ad hoc judge of the apex court. Concurrently, the lackeys and sycophants of the government are consistently engaged in efforts to bring disrepute to the judiciary by insinuating that, in effect, the SC adjudication is an assault on the system and an effort to subvert democracy.
Much has been written on the fallacy of equating the fate of an 'individual' with either the 'system' or 'democracy'. There are hardly any buyers of that preposition. In the event the government persists with its current attitude, as it is most likely to, what are the consequences that it might have to confront and the ingrained dangers that it may entail for the institutions of the state? There would be a sequence of three steps that the SC is constitutionally empowered to take. First, the government would have to face the contempt of court proceedings. The SC could, concurrently or thereafter, directly order the relevant secretaries of the government, including its law secretary, to take steps for implementing the NRO order in totality and reporting to the court. It could also, under article 190 of the Constitution, call upon the army to extend help to have the order implemented. These are potent and dangerous weapons that the SC could use if left with no alternative. Would the government be comfortable with that eventuality?
The current rule of the PPP government makes for a sordid sequence of petty tricks (and I am not one to believe that they were not pre-meditated), each time doling out a promise of doing something to ease the pressure, followed by a deceitful and arrogant refusal to honour its commitment and, instead, asking for further negotiations and more time. The restoration of judiciary came about not as a gesture of goodwill by Mr Zardari. If that were to be the case, he should have ordered it immediately after the PPP government took charge. He did not because he did not want to. Instead, it came about at the culmination of the lawyers' movement that resulted in a long march heading for Islamabad. Paradoxically, it was the chief of army staff (COAS) who had to intervene to stop what may have been a harrowing bloodbath, and pave the way for the prime minister's speech containing the announcement of the restoration of the judiciary. Is the PPP leadership heading for another showdown? Instead of giving in voluntarily to the writ of law, would it instead prefer to be 'ordered' to do so as it has been in the past?
The picture has never been more vivid than it appears today. It is a corruption-tainted leadership with no legitimacy that rules the country. Not that the leaderships in the past have not been corrupt, but the difference is that some members of the incumbent leadership, including its president, have serious cases with sustainable evidence to nail them. Ostensibly, there is also a standing conviction that has led to Mr Zardari's eligibility to be president questioned in the SC. With an approach goaded with an evil intent of non-compliance and sabotage, the PPP leadership would only expedite the advent of undesirable eventualities that it may live to regret.
The writer is an independent political analyst based in Lahore. Email: raoofhasan@ hotmail.com
I. THE NEWS
BY TALAT FRAOOQ
One of the post-9/11 narratives has focused on the root causes of terrorism by carrying out in-depth analyses of the phenomenon. One school of thought sees a fundamental connection between poor economic conditions and terrorism and considers poverty to be a significant determinant in this regard, whereas the opposing view ascribes terrorism to religious fundamentalism and not poverty. This viewpoint is defended on the grounds that the terrorist leadership and operators include affluent people who use religion for political ends.
Yet another perspective maintains that terrorists are motivated by injustice and perceived social, political or historical wrongs embedded in autocratic political systems. This particular analysis upholds that terrorism is not associated with per capita income and terrorist risk is not higher in economically backward countries, and that higher levels of terrorism are actually associated with lower levels of social justice, including political rights.
The rise and perpetuation of the militancy in Pakistan may be explained by the above argument. Political and social flux has intensified in the last two decades with the state itself sponsoring non-state actors at the cost of its writ and, in the bargain, progressively impeding institutional development. Terrorism remains unbridled because Pakistan is in transition; whether it is towards a stronger democracy or a powerful dictatorship remains to be seen.
By refusing to review and discard the pre-partition modes of governance in this particular region, the Pakistani state has failed to serve as a unifying force since 1947. Instead of positively harnessing the diversity of its multi-ethnic society it has used religion and misplaced nationalism to impose uniformity in order to maintain a strong centre. Within the first few decades it emboldened the religious extremists by declaring a section of its own people non-Muslims out of sheer political expediency, estranging the Bengalis to the point of no return and spawning alienation by refusing provincial autonomy. Prolonged and perpetual social and political discrimination, coupled with widespread corruption at the top, has gradually manufactured conditions conducive to the growth of extremist religious ideology and militancy.
Poverty and religion are not among the root causes of terrorism but grow within an environment that hinders viable opportunities for self-actualisation. The failure of the state to provide balanced education to the masses has seriously aggravated the situation. Institutionalised corruption has played a vital role in this regard. Without quality education there can be no hope of a better tomorrow and the failure to achieve personal and economic growth is bound to give way to depression and desperation.
This has encouraged the vested interests to exploit both poverty and religious sentiment. So much so that before the public opinion took a u-turn a sizeable section of the Pakistani populace, including members of the well-to-do class, sympathised with the Taliban agenda by misinterpreting it as an answer to Western hegemony and domestic discontent. This particular mindset continues to exist although its supporters may have decreased.
The corruption-ridden state institutions lack the moral courage to bring unregulated religious activism through mosques and madrasas under stringent control.
At this point in time Pakistan's ongoing transition is being manoeuvred by a slowly maturing media, an emboldened judiciary and the short-sighted political elite who refuse to learn from the changed ground realities. Their immaturity is evident from their attitude toward the NRO verdict of the Supreme Court. Those in government wish to protect party interests and those in the opposition desire to use the NRO issue for political ends.
Nothing weakens state-society relationship more than rampant and unchecked corruption of the powerful. Yet there is no effort on the part of the political elite to genuinely ponder the implications of sleaze and fraud that have retarded institutional development and hampered Pakistan's shift toward social parity. The corrupt in Pakistan are by now so well entrenched that they can actually add insult to injury with impunity.
The recent dishing out of billions of rupees worth of bailout packages to corrupt organisations and placing a controversial minister in charge of the NAB are nothing short of flaunting corruption.
The majority of the Pakistani politicians lack the integrity, the sagacity and the will required to ensure strong institutions that alone can guarantee a just social system and consequently a violence-free society. Post-9/11 studies also show that the number of trans-national violent events is far less than domestic terrorist activities. Terrorism feeds on domestic inequalities that result from moral and financial corruption. No military operation can eradicate terrorism entirely; only an equitable and corruption-free system of governance that serves and not rules the people can bring about a lasting solution to the problem. If terrorism in Pakistan is to be curtailed then we have to look inwards; justice, like charity, begins at home.
For this to happen, Pakistan needs statesmen and not politicians. Unfortunately, there are none on the horizon. The time is ripe for the civil society to get its act together, take a unified stand and step into the fray wholeheartedly.
The writer is executive editor of Criterion, Islamabad. Email: talatfarooq11@gmail .com
I. THE NEWS
THE BLESSED ONES
BY DR A Q KHAN
Throughout history there have been certain individuals who achieved recognition in certain areas. Shaikh Saadi said: "Honour is not earned, it is conferred by the One Who Confers." According to this concept, if a great deed is accomplished by someone, he should regard it as a gift of God rather than "the muscles of his own arms." It is a special favour from God that a particular individual is selected by providence and singled out for a specific task.
Sir Sayyed was given the honour to accomplish the educational uplift of the Muslims. He was neither a pious religious scholar nor a wealthy man, nor did he occupy any high office.
In the 18th century, Raja Ram Mohan Roy brought the Hindus out of isolation and encouraged them to pursue modern education. Until then they had considered travelling overseas a cardinal sin. Now they started going to England and Europe for education. These educated Hindus earned the trust of the British and were placed in high positions in the government. The Muslims continued to live in the past. It was Sir Sayyed who changed this. He turned a small school into a university, thus enabling the Muslims to acquire modern education. Before him, Pandit Madan Mohan Malwiya had done the same for Hindus by establishing the Banaras Hindu University. After Aligarh University was established, it started producing cadres of modern educated Muslims. They joined in the competition for high governmental posts and started advancing in the fields of politics, trade, journalism, etc.
When Allah selects someone for a certain task, He provides him with all the required resources. How could Hazrat Musa talk to Firawn on an equal footing? Only because he had been raised in the king's palace and was familiar with the royal manners. In short, Hazrat Musa had been prepared in advance for this role by Divine Providence. In the same way, Salahuddin Ayyubi was cast in the role of the Conqueror of Bait al-Muaqaddas and Malik al-Zahir Beybars was destined for the task of defeating the Mongols. The honour of conquering Constantinople the seat of the Eastern Roman Empire belongs to the great Ottoman Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih ('the Conqueror'). The advance into the heart of Europe and the capture of a major part of Eastern Europe goes to the credit of Sultan Bayazid Yaldram ('the Lion'). Incidentally Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih was the same Mujahid of Islam about whom the Prophet (SAW) had forecast victory. The Prophet (SAW) had given glad tidings of Paradise to "the army and its virtuous Commander that will conquer Constantinople."
In pre-partition India, the Hindus had formed many political parties. They took over the Indian National Congress that had been founded by A O Hume an Englishman along with Parsi Dadabhoy Nouroji and five others. At the time there were hardly any capable all-India Muslim leaders. Congress had inducted into its ranks some Muslim leaders as showpieces.
Allah (SWT) in His Infinite Wisdom chose someone different from the traditional ulema and leaders for the task of protecting the Muslims from Hindu domination someone who could not speak or write Urdu, let alone Arabic. Normally such a person would not have been able to convince 100 million Muslims. However, he was one of the topmost barristers of British India; a man of upright character who enjoyed respect among friend and foe alike for his impeccable conduct. His popularity incurred the ire of many traditional ulema and they took to mobilissing the Muslim public against him. Despite their fierce opposition, things happened exactly the way they were destined by Divine Providence. Quaid-e-Azam succeeded in obtaining independent nationhood for the Muslims. Despite all the mischievous efforts made by the Hindus, some Muslim traitors and the treachery of the British, the nascent Islamic state survived.
Another event of great consequence was India's nuclear explosion. There appeared no major international reaction from anywhere. No one seriously condemned India for this act, nor did any censure come from the custodians of world peace and non-proliferation. In fact, some of these powers are today helping India in expanding its destructive powers and patronised its ambitions for regional domination. At one point the Indian leadership entertained fresh hopes of destroying Pakistan and annexing it to Mother India. But as the Persian proverb says: "Man plans, but Providence ridicules." East Pakistan had meanwhile become independent as Bangladesh. In the now truncated Pakistan, the prime minister, Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, resolved to make his country a nuclear power. Being a small frail state overwhelmed by economic ills, it could hardly afford such an expensive ambition. Foreign support or scientific assistance for such a project was not possible. Our scientists were not equipped with the requisite knowledge, infrastructure and know-how. But when something is decided by God, no difficulties defy solution.
Circumstances put me in the right place at the right time and I was selected to take up this task an ordinary citizen of the country, a man of meagre resources. I was educated at a government school and college, without any scholarship or stipends. I was afforded, by desire and circumstances, an opportunity to study abroad. During my stay abroad I had not only studied the right subjects for this cause, but had also acquired practical experience in the relevant field. Upon the request by the late Mr Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, I resigned from my foreign job and undertook this seemingly impossible task. Professional jealousy, predictions of failure and the wasting of precious time and resources were to be my companions from the start.
However, Allah's help seemed to be on our side from the beginning. Mr Bhutto's determination in going through with this project ensured its continuity. Despite our very limited resources, the requirements of secrecy, the fact that we had to buy each and everything in the open market and the opposition we faced, both from internal and external sources, our work could not be stopped.
Fortunately, despite frequent changes of government and the diverse policies followed by different rulers, no one attempted to halt this programme or succumbed to external pressures. While the credit of inaugurating this project goes to the late Mr Bhutto, Gen Ziaul Haq, despite involvement with America in the Afghan war, ensured that it continued. Mohtarama Benazir Bhutto also remained supportive.
Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif has gone down in history by his courageous decision to undertake the explosions, despite constant American pressures. The late Mr Ghulam Ishaq Khan, while holding various offices, not only supervised this work, but always provided the necessary facilities. Similarly, General Aslam Baig and General Abdul Waheed Kakar also protected the programme from all harm. They even confronted Americans with plain and forthright answers wherever this was warranted.
In all the momentous events mentioned above, the eternal principle laid down in Verse 26 (Aal-e-Imran) had been at work: "Say (O Muhammad [SAW]): O Allah! Possessor of the kingdom, You give the kingdom to whom You will, and You take the kingdom from whom You will, and You endue with honour whom You will and You humiliate whom You will. In Your hand is the good. Verily, You are able to do all things."
I. THE NEWS
CORRUPTION'S MANY CHIMERAS
BY ANJUM NIAZ
The writer is a freelance journalist with over twenty years of experience in national and international reporting
Today we live among phantoms, among bogeymen, among illusions. We delude ourselves that Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will purge Pakistan of corruption. Others daydream that Asif Zardari will gift democracy to Pakistan as if it was his personal fiefdom. Many among us hallucinate that General Kayani will bring back the spectre of military dictatorship. Some simpletons fancy Prime Minister Gilani telling his president and his cabinet to confess their sins and cough up the supposed loot.
In Greek mythology, a chimera is a "fire-breathing she-monster usually represented as a composite of a lion, goat, and serpent" or "An imaginary monster made up of grotesquely disparate parts." Corruption is our chimera, a monster that molests our minds and has no cure.
Blithely unaware of how to put the NRO beneficiaries in the dock, there are a thousand questions that none has the answer. Tell me where in the world does a government run by a president seize his wealth and freeze it? How can a prime minister handpicked and controlled by the president request Swiss authorities to transfer $60 million purportedly belonging to his president? How can a government whose own top power horses stand accused order their subordinates to come and scrutinise them? How can the Central Executive Committee of the PPP demand the persecution of the widower of their slain leader?
If we expect the emasculated, impoverished and comatose National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to execute the orders of the Supreme Court, then think again. The babus at NAB are mere fossilised file-pushers with no spine or will of their own. Its chairman, Naveed Ahsan, a Musharraf appointee, is a typical bureaucrat who does exactly as ordered by his bosses. That's his training, he once told me. Ahsan is not programmed to act but only follow instructions. A visit to the NAB's office in Islamabad will dispel anyone of grandiose hopes that this innocuously harmless outfit will deliver millions of dollars stolen from the country back into the treasury coffers.
Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry's judgment refers to the $1.2 billion that the post-Abacha government in Nigeria wrested back in a deal with the heirs of the deceased Gen Abacha who siphoned off $3-4 billion when he was the ruler in the 90s. The ruling also refers to the Philippines former president Marcos whose ill-gotten wealth was returned to the country. But in both instances, it happened after the two had been deposed.
How can a sitting head of state and government (that's what Zardari is) be expected to stand up, say sorry, present his allegedly laundered billions to the people of Pakistan on a platter? How can his corrupt cronies swear before the court of the people that they have sinned? The day that happens, heavens will open. Pakistan's fortunes will change forever.
The soberly serious columnist Arif Nizami recently wrote on these pages: "Some US diplomats based in Islamabad have been openly briefing media persons and opinion leaders since the Supreme Court verdict on the NRO that Mr Zardari has been weakened to the extent that in his dealings with the army he is no longer of any use for Washington. They also do not see him lasting beyond March."
Nizami's last sentence is a clincher, cleverly packed inside his column that few would care to notice. The Americans know when it's time for the top gun in Pakistan to be packed off. I remember well that November afternoon in 1996 when the US Charge d' Affaires John Holzman in Islamabad said something to me which went over my head. I let it go. Hours later, while Pakistan slept, President Farooq Leghari dismissed Benazir Bhutto's government on corruption charges. Was Holzman a good man with excellent diplomatic skills (rare now) trying to tell me something but I was too dumb to get it? Later, I asked him why he didn't just say it! He just smiled. So what I'm trying to say is perhaps Nizami knows something that we all don't know or care to know?
Notice the timing of Farooq Leghari getting vocal once more. Is it merely a coincidence that he has linked the president's role in Murtaza Bhutto's death or is he being manipulated by 'invisible hands,' to speak up at this moment when a net to catch the president is apparently being laid? Leghari's candid talk in a TV interview is damning for the president. We should not be surprised if Leghari were perhaps to become a witness should someone file a case in the Supreme Court. Though he has admitted that he does not have evidence beyond what he said on record. But you never know
Some influential voices in the media, law and human rights are censuring the judgment against the NRO. The Supreme Court is under attack by them. They editorialise in undisguised anger. In their hand wringing, they predict the downfall of democracy and the rise of dictatorship, an unholy alliance between the judiciary, the army and the media. It makes for a deadly combination, they contend. So far the debate in the media has thrown no solutions to the issue of corruption. It seems that democracy (read Zardari) is more precious to these few opinionated than accountability. To be fair to them, they advocate accountability across the board. But how? That they don't know.
Almost all the top dogs of our military, bureaucrats, politicians, industrialists and socialites have left behind or will be leaving a tidy package for their progeny to lord over. While these departed and still-alive-and-kicking corrupt are accountable before the highest court of our creation, their kids are certainly kicking it up living off their dads' dough around Pakistan. Recently some Pakistani students on the verge of completing their degrees in the US got asked as to what next they planned to do. Almost all chimed in "Why, of course go back!" They said they came to the US to study but why they should slog it here looking for jobs when back home their 'inheritance' awaited them. I can bet you that some among these students will return to double their fortunes by wheeling and dealing with our power elites. They have the money, clout and family name to milk this nation, leaving enough wealth for their next generation. Ours is an incestuous society we are all related to each other through blood and marriage; through old boys' network and business connections in some way or the other.
And we are all corrupt!
The day our high society jettisons hypocrisy and embraces truth speak, we will have a fighting chance to reform. The day we admit that we are guilty of corruption or our kith, kin and friends have made money through unlawful channels or have misused their official privileges or have taken bribes or have stuffed their charlies in jobs they don't deserve, the streets will automatically clean up, the roads will be cleared of potholes and the stink in the air will vanish.
Prior to the NRO judgment, almost all castigated the reprehensible act brokered by the US and the UK between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto. The so-called opposition in parliament speechified and spieled against Zardari and his cronies' corruption. But today Chaudhry Nisar's oration on the floor of the house as the opposition leader is mere chalk talk that lacks substance while big boss Nawaz Sharif looks flummoxed.
Email: email@example.com & www.anjumniaz.com
I. THE NEWS
AN UNWINNABLE WAR
BY RIZWAN ASGHAR
President Obama will not be able to win the war in Afghanistan but he could save his country from a disgraceful defeat. However, so far President Obama has based his strategy on the dictates of a warlike strategy.
The violence in Afghanistan is on the rise. On Dec 29, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan released figures demonstrating that Afghan civilian deaths rose to 2,038 in the first ten months of 2009, from 1,838 during the same period in 2008.
The US is sending at least 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan. The decision reflects the Obama administration's short sightedness and failure to focus on the pragmatic solutions. Observers and analysts believe that troop reinforcements will not help defeat the Taliban. The chairman of the Laghman Provincial Council commented that "when the commander in Kabul asked Obama for extra troops, he knew the US would end up with one achievement, and that is more civilian causalities." Mikhail Gorbachev, the USSR's president, in 1985 also ordered the built-up of Soviet troops in Afghanistan to 140,000 and asked his generals to win the war within a year.
Recently it has been decided that the Obama administration is sending 1,000 more US civilian experts to the country to help in the so-called reconstruction projects. But the history of the last eight years of the Afghan war shows that such efforts have invariably come to naught because of corruption and inefficient management of the projects.
The US has spent a huge amount of money since 2002 to improve Afghanistan's electrical grid, but there is no improvement because of poor oversight by the authorities concerned. In this way the task of nation-building remained unfulfilled to a large degree.
The world outside America perceives Obama's polices as essentially a continuation of the past and it is being claimed that Obama has acceded to the demands of the US military establishment and warrior pundits. The period of eighteen months is long enough to damage Obama's presidency. Today Obama's approval rating has fallen to the discouraging level of 47 per cent. With every passing day the situation is deteriorating and more and more Americans are coming home in flag-draped coffins.
Obama is trying to win a losing war and which no invader from Alexander the Great to Soviet Russia could win. The forces of history are bound to succeed this time again. The war in Afghanistan is not only unwinnable but its prolongation is detrimental to US national security. For American troops it is time to move away from their infatuation with war and go back before they bring the US down to dust. Perhaps it will not be wrong to say at this time that history is not on Obama's side.
After eight years of bloodshed and strife, Afghanistan remains an incubator for terrorists and a haven for Al Qaeda recruits. Afghanistan is a primitive country that seriously lacks basic infrastructure, sanitation, transportation and a modern communication system. The educational system of the country is in a shambles as a result of three decades of incessant warfare. Without foreign support the Afghan forces cannot pose even a semblance of resistance to the Taliban onslaught.
If Obama does not change his course of action immediately on the Afghan front the day is not far when he will not only lose the war in Afghanistan but also lose the confidence of his people. President Obama need not be fearful of being tagged as a weak president and has to seriously think about the phased withdrawal of his weary troops from Afghanistan to assume the mantle of a sensible leader.
The writer is a freelance contributor: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
TRILATERAL SUMMIT FOR TALKS WITH TALIBAN
THE outcome of the trilateral summit of Pakistan, Turkey and Afghanistan in the Turkish city of Istanbul would surely help achieve the objective of regional peace, stability and prosperity if decisions taken by the leadership of the three brotherly countries are implemented with the same spirit disregarding foreign pressure.
President Asif Ali Zardari, his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan have agreed on a number of measures to boost economic cooperation and bring the three countries still closer in different fields. It seems that the initiative of Turkey to help remove misunderstanding between Pakistan and Afghanistan and coordinate their strategies for regional peace are bearing fruits. Apart from the fact that the trilateral mechanism has provided yet another forum for intensified interaction to forge consensus on how to move ahead in tackling the menace of terrorism in all its forms and importance of enhancing indigenous capacities to that effect, the new forum also affords an opportunity to the leaders to ponder over ways and means to forge their bilateral relationship as well. Taking advantage of the visit, leaders of Pakistan and Turkey, during their meeting, agreed to undertake a $20 billion venture to upgrade a railway link from Islamabad to Istanbul, basically to speedily transport cargo from Pakistan to Turkey and ultimately to Europe. But the most laudable outcome of the moot was the consensus of the three countries on the need to initiate talks with Taliban to address the issue of terrorism and extremism on a sustainable and durable basis. We have been emphasizing in these columns that apart from foreign elements who needed to be dealt with sternly, both Pakistan and Afghanistan must hold talks with local Taliban, who are part and parcel of their societies and cannot be brushed aside as such. The policy of heavy reliance on the use of force at the instance of the United States and other Western countries has stoked further terrorism with serious implications for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Incidentally, the United States too has come to the same conclusion that no amount of surge in troops would work until and unless the process of dialogue is initiated with what it dubs as good Taliban. In an interview published on Monday the commander of US forces in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal has not only talked about negotiations with Taliban but also proposed that senior Taliban leaders could join a new Government in Kabul. And in Istanbul, President Hamid Karzai echoed similar sentiments by demanding that names of Taliban should be removed from a UN blacklist and that those laying down arms could be reintegrated back into the national mainstream. Though President Zardari expressed willingness of the Government to talk to the people who want to give up their way of life and are reconcilable yet it is understood that the Government was shy of openly pursuing the path of dialogue because of the pressure from the United States. We, however, believe that there is no military solution of the conflict be it in Afghanistan or the border region on this side of the Durand Line, and the Government will have to ultimately settle the issue politically.
PAKISTAN LOSING EU MARKET
AT a time when Pakistan was seeking greater access to US and European Union markets, a report published in this newspaper has warned that the country could even lose whatever access it already has to EU market once the 27-member economic blocs inks deal with India on the under-discussion Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which is likely to be finalized next year.
The European Union has been one of the largest trading partners of Pakistan and the two sides have been in talks for years on issues like FTA, grant of preferential trade GSP plus, export of fisheries and rice and ban on PIA flights. There is immense goodwill in the member countries of the European Union for Pakistan especially because of its lead role in the war against terror and the bloc prefers to provide meaningful economic assistance to Pakistan as a means to stabilize the region than entering into the risky business of sending more troops to the treacherous terrains of Afghanistan. Countries like Italy, Belgium and Sweden have been ardent supporters of extending GSP plus status to Pakistan and signing of Free Trade Agreement as they see more benefits in the arrangement than denying them to Pakistan on various pretexts. It, however, seems that Pakistan Foreign Office, Ministry of Commerce and our missions in EU countries have miserably failed to capitalize on the opportunities that exist because of the favourable environment created by our role in the war on terror and its adverse consequences for the country. This was evident from the fact that the EU had first-ever summit meeting with Pakistan in June last year but the initiative could not produce desired results. Second summit is also due this year and our policy-makers should undertake necessary ground work both at home and in member countries of EU to make it result oriented.
POLICE TOO PROTEST IN QUETTA
IT was surprising to witness the Police in Quetta protesting in front of the Governor House and Chief Minister Secretariat on Monday over meagre salaries of the force demanding that their pay be brought on a par with their counterparts in other Provinces. What was more disturbing was that the policemen, who are required to maintain law and order, themselves indulged in smashing of window panes and burning of tyres on roads to prevent smooth flow of traffic and even misbehaved with media persons who were covering the protest.
There is no doubt that police in Balochistan is performing duty in difficult and trying situation and suffered the most after the NWFP force. Realizing the hazardous nature of police duty, Punjab Government doubled their salary followed by Sindh, the NWFP and the Federal Police but Balochistan Government did not care for the welfare of its force. That irked the personnel and perhaps after failing to get their demand accepted, the situation reached to such an extent that they resorted to protests not only in Quetta but also in other parts of the Province. Justice demands that there should be uniformity in salary of the Police force at the Federal and Provincial levels. Due to peculiar security situation in Balochistan, the Police suffered a great deal and many personnel lost their lives. There are also no fixed duty hours for Police and as such they deserve due compensation. Regrettably a culture has developed in our country that unless and until a segment of the society holds street protests and resorts to violence, Government does not pay any attention to its demands and this too was perhaps the case with Balochistan Police. The question is why there was delay on the part of the Provincial Government in raising the salary of the Police force, which is an important arm of state machinery to ensure peace and order? One wonders about the capability of the Government to handle the precarious law and order situation and deal with the estranged political leadership to bring it on the mainstream when it is so incompetent that it even cannot take an administrative decision to satisfy its Police force.
SECRETARY ROBERT GATES VISIT TO ISLAMABAD
AIR MARSHAL AYAZ A KHAN (R)
Robert Gates the US Secretary of Defense during his two day visit to Islamabad in three years had to face a volley of unpalatable remarks, and questions, from journalists and military officers, which according to New York Times made him look like a punching bag. His statements in New Delhi had angered Pakistani, and were interpreted, that he was goading India to continue hanging the sword of democle on Pakistan neck. He did not pacify India war rhetoric and made no secret that in case of another terror attack India reserved the right of military aggression on Pakistan. He said that New Delhi may loose patience with Pakistan after any repeat of Mumbai style attacks. In Delhi he had endorsed Manmohan Singh soft repeated threat of war against Pakistan, if a repeat terrorist attack is not stopped by Islamabad. He trumpeted the Indian line, which implies that terrorists are under the command and control of Pakistan. This is astonishing considering that Pakistan is the foremost target of terrorist suicide bombings and terror attacks.
As a long time CIA top official in the past, and US Secretary of Defense under George Bush and now under Barack Obama, Gates should have shown restraint in his pro-India utterances. No one in Obama Administration has been mired in Pakistan for as long as Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, yet is insensitive of Pakistani feelings. He regretted the trust deficit between Washington and Islamabad, and tried to soothe the country gnawing rancor towards the United States.
Some US officials take Pakistan for granted as a boot boy, which could be ordered around to do their bidding. And the questions hurled at Mr Gates by journalists and military officials reflected the Pakistani resentment. New York times reports that during a closed door session with the students and faculty at the National Defense University at Islamabad, a military officer asked, Are you with us or against us? Mr Gates could hardly miss that the Pakistani officer was mimicking former President George Bush. Stunned Secretary Gates replied, Off course we are with you. That indeed was the essence and the message Mr Gates wanted Pakistani to accept. Robert Gates was fully informed about the resentment in Pakistan over US drone attacks and the surge after terrorist attack on the CIA base at Khost. He brushed aside questions on the subject.
In his meetings with Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar and COAS General Ashfaq Pervez Kiyani, he urged immediate military action in North Waziristan, elimination of the so called Quetta Shura and Haqqani Jehadists. It is good that the Pakistani Army indicated that it would not launch any new offensives against extremists in the mountainous region of North Waziristan for at least six months to one year. NY Times has interpreted this as, pushing back calls by the United States to root out militants staging attacks along the Afghan border. Army spokesman Major General Ather Abbas described Pakistan policy and position without mincing words. This was an unqualified NO to American diktat. Mr. Gates had urged the Defense Minister and top Pakistani military officials to pursue extremist groups along and across the border, and that ignoring one part of this cancer would threaten the entire country stability. But Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, told American reporters at the General Headquarters of the Pakistani Army in Rawalpindi that Pakistan had to contain the extremist groups fully in South Waziristan, in the wake of offensives last year against the insurgents. General Abbas said it would be six months to a year before any new operation began. Reports are surfacing that Pakistani authorities are negotiating peace with Afghanistan based Taliban, and there may be no further military operations in FATA. General Ather Abbas bluntly said that the situation was not as black and white as Mr. Gates described. It was annoying the way Robert Gates was talking to us. He was badly briefed and had not done his home work on the issue of US Drone bombings, which had killed a few militants, but thousands of innocent Pushtun men, women and children. How come he was all sugar and honey in New Delhi, and was handing over hard to digest bitter pills in Islamabad? He did not utter a word about Kashmiri right for self determination; implying that the US supports Indian military occupation of Jammu and Kashmir.
Mr. Gates sounded a theme similar to his remarks to reporters, saying that Pakistan had to do more to fight the multiple extremist groups on its Afghan border. Pakistani political leadership, the Foreign Office, the Pakistani media and Pakistani military is sick of the dictation, to do more. Pakistan knows what it needs to do. He pressed Pakistan to root out the Afghan Taliban leadership, the Quetta Shura, which has found refuge in Pakistan Baluchistan province outside the tribal areas. Pakistan silence on this allegation has been misunderstood by Washington.
According to New York Times, American officials are increasingly frustrated that while the Pakistanis have launched offensives against the Pakistani Taliban, they have so far not pursued the Afghan Taliban and another extremist group on their border, the Haqqani network, whose fighters pose a threat to American forces. Maintaining a distinction between some violent extremist groups and others is counterproductive, Mr. Gates stated. Only by pressuring all of these groups on both sides of the border will Afghanistan and Pakistan be able to rid themselves of this scourge for good. Pakistan Foreign Office and the Pakistani political leadership need to come up front, and respond to such provocative allegations forcefully. But while Pakistan is fully engaged in rooting out terrorists on its territory, it is astonishing for Mr Gates to state that Pakistan should pressure such groups across on Afghanistan soil. There is urgent need for closest cooperation between Islamabad and Kabul to discuss and develop joint plans for the elimination of terrorism on both sides of the common border.
NATO, US, Afghan and Pakistani military chiefs have been meeting and discussing such matters from time to time. What they discuss must surface, to enable the media and the public to assess, that all stakeholders are serious to rid the two countries from the menace of terrorism. NATO and the US military do not have a strategy to bring peace to Afghanistan. Military power has failed in Afghanistan, and is not likely to succeed in the future.
India has entered Afghanistan as a spoiler. The Pushtun who are in a majority (65%) detest India. Hamid Karzai has embraced India and Delhi is hugging him in pursuit of its vested interests; one of which is continued turmoil in Pakistan. Karzai wioth US approval plans to handover training of the Afghan armed forces to India. This will have serious implications for Pakistan. India is funding the terrorists and is supplying them with weapons. Robert Gates should have been told that Indian threat of pre-emptive short war in case of another terrorist attack is immoral and unjustified. Pakistan has failed to stop terrorist attacks inside its cities and towns, and is paying a very high price in blood and tears. How on earth can Pakistan stop terrorist criminals crossing into India. India has three million troops-1.5 million Indian Army and 1.5 million para-military. Much of Indo-Pakistan border has been fenced with electrified barbed wire and mines. India needs to cooperate with Pakistan to fight terrorism. Indian jingoism, anti-Pakistan propaganda and threats of war is not the solution. In Delhi, Robert Gates instead of appeasement and flattery, should have spoken out firmly that India should stop brow beating Pakistan; should extend a hand of friendship, to enable both the governments to cooperate on the vital issue of end to terror.
EMERGING TRENDS IN IRRIGATION SECTOR REFORMS
Keeping in view the changing patterns in water sector, growing needs of water utilization for food crops and the need to involve the farming community in the repairmen and maintenance of colossal irrigation infrastructure, the government of the Punjab embarked upon a major institutional reforms programme by involving decentralization and transformation of its colossal irrigation system. These institutional reforms were launched with the promulgation of Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority Act, 1997 by the Provincial Assembly of the Punjab. World Bank provided loan for the reforms. Since then, the irrigation management transfer reforms are being managed by the Irrigation Department i.e., under public sector infrastructure.
The reforms in irrigation management mainly focus on decentralization, participatory management, improved services and sustainability of the infrastructure. Under the implementation of reforms process, the management functions of various entities are transformed and functions of Irrigation Department are shared by newly established institutions viz. Punjab Irrigation and Drainage Authority (PIDA) at provincial level (representation of farmers and the government), Area Water Boards (AWB) at Canal Command level, Farmer Organizations (FOs) at Distributaries level and Khal Panchayats (KP) at Watercourse level.
Under this new role, Irrigation Department has the responsibility of overall policy regulation and overseeing of reforms process. PIDA, as an autonomous entity, is responsible for all the functions of the Irrigation Department with emphasis on improving irrigation performance, optimizing water use efficiency, introducing the concept of participatory management, undertaking measures to improve assessment and collection of Abiana (water charges), and making the Authority self sustaining. The Area Water Board performs most of the above mentioned irrigation management functions at the Canal Command Level (CCL) and also adopts implementation programs aimed at promoting the formation and growth of Farmer Organizations. Farmer Organizations are the basic management unit and responsible to operate and manage the Distributaries in their jurisdiction, obtain irrigation water from the main canals and supply it to the farmers equitably, repair and maintain the channels/works & structures, resolve the water related disputes, and assess, collect & deposit the amount of water charges etc.
It may be added here that Punjab accounts for 80% of Pakistan's total agri-production. Over 90% of Punjab's agricultural output comes from lands irrigated by its huge irrigation system. However, in the recent past, Punjab faced major irrigation and drainage challenges with serious social, economic and environmental implications which included poor irrigation service delivery, unreliable and inequitable water distribution, absence of user participation in operation, maintenance and management of irrigation service and lack of communication with stakeholders in water management.
The irrigation infrastructure of Punjab comprises 3993 miles long 24 main and branch canals along with 19191 miles long Distributaries and Minors. As a whole, the total length of inter-river link canals is 528 miles. The total off-take capacity of main canals is 1.2 lakh cusecs and link canals' 1.1 lakh cusecs. There have been 58000 outlets installed in these water channels for the purpose of irrigation whereas Gross Command Area is 23.35 million acres and Culturable Command Area is 20.78 million acres in the province. There are thirteen Headworks/ Barrages which are very helpful to ensure water supply in all the cultivable lands of Punjab and therefore, becomes the base of the largest irrigation system of the world.
Punjab Irrigation & Power Department (IPD) is undergoing a fast program of lining of irrigation channels for efficient and equitable distribution of water besides improving the huge irrigation sector which is more than a century old and therefore, the need was arisen to revamp and modernize the colossal network which is benefiting many a million farmers in the province and making it a virtual food basket of the whole country.
With this thing in mind, the provincial government launched massive overhauling of irrigation infrastructure. The various mega water sector projects relating to the rehabilitation of the canal infrastructure include, Rs. 30,996 million worth scheme of channels' lining .This scheme is aimed at improving hydraulic performance of the system, maintaining equity of distribution, reducing maintenance needs to ensure substantial water conservation. Similarly, the project of irrigation system rehabilitation (ISPR) will provide equitable and assured water supply to the farmers, especially at the tails. This will be achieved through strengthening of canal banks and rehabilitation of hydraulic structures / regulators. The Rs.19, 519 million project includes 25 different schemes and these schemes have been financed through public sector development program.
Keeping in view the importance of irrigation sector in the overall economy of the country, and the role played by the IPD, various international donor agencies like World Bank, ADB and JICA are also funding irrigation projects. JICA has financed Punjab Irrigation System improvement project in Bahawalpur, D.G. Khan and Faisalabad Zones. This project is expected to be completed in June 2013 with the cost of Rs. 6260 million. Punjab Government is contributing 12% share and 655240 hector CCA will be benefited by this project.
For the improvement of the oldest Lower Bari Doab Canal System in Punjab, Asian Development Bank and Government of Punjab have together launched the Lower Bari Doab Canal Improvement Project to maintain and enhance the water supply up to 1.7 million acres in the districts of Kasur, Okara, Sahiwal and Khanewal. This Project comprises of the rehabilitation and up-gradation of Balloki Barrage Complex, On Farm and Ground Water Management, implementation of Institutional Reforms and the migration of environmental issues of the area. The total cost of the LBDCCIP is Rs. 17, 176 million; out of which 77% is the share of ADB, while rest of the amount is shared by Punjab Government.
With an amount of Rs. 9142 million, rehabilitation of Lower Chenab Canal System (Part-B) Project is being implemented to revamp the Lower Gugera, Burala, Main Ali and Rakh Branches of the LCC System to maintain the water supply up to 1.69 million acre cultivable lands of Hafizabad, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib, Faisalabad and T.T Singh districts of Punjab. Japan Bank for International Cooperation contributed 72.6% cost of the project, while the rest of 27.4% share is financed by Government of the Punjab. The LCC rehabilitation project will help to rehabilitate the 381 KM long Branch canals, 1501 KM Distributaries and Minors including 994 KM lining. There will also be 231 new bridges constructed or replaced with the old ones. Likewise, 188 new Cattle Ghat will also be constructed under this project. The project deadline has been declared March, 31, 2013.
It is hoped that these reforms will help to overcome the water supply shortage, rehabilitate the irrigation infrastructure, promote public-private partnership and result in increasing agri-productivity for ever increasing population. It is equally important that timely completion of these schemes should be ensured and corruption should also be zero tolerated.
Punjab government should also attend to the needs of building a much larger water reservoirs like the Kalabagh Dam as roughshod India already stopped Pakistan's legitimate water share by building network of dams, canals and Distributaries; while the federal government is turning a deaf ear to this epiphany that if we continue napping like this, then one day, there will be no water for our agriculture. And, this is what India has actually planned for Pakistan.
START RESPECTING SUPREME COURT
PPP leadership has virtually refused to uphold Supreme Court's (SC) NRO decision on different pretexts including "waiting for detailed order" excuse. It is only matter of time all these matters will be settled by the apex court for future. PM Gilani's latest comments in the parliament about upholding SC NRO verdict is yet another low on individual hypocrisy and undermining country's parliamentary system. Leader of the Opposition in the National Assembly Chaudhry Nisar echoed public sentiments on the floor of the House when he said that some people in the government are trying to engineer a confrontation among state institutions, and multiple tactics are being employed to pressure the superior judiciary. He said that the way the government is trying to pressure senior judges is a reflection of tactics employed by the Musharraf regime and the government was "holding up" files to influence cases pending in courts. Government must pay heed to Nisar's statement and start respecting SC orders.
There are no two opinions that writ of law will be held supreme and country will not be allowed to held hostage to individual apathy, criminals and foreign meddling. To avoid another derailment of democracy, government must implement the recommendations made on the appointment of judges to high courts by ending "dilatory tactics" as pointed out by Chaudhry Nisar. Gillani's statement that government is having excellent relations with judiciary is sheer propaganda. The fact of the matter is PPP government instead of implementing NRO judgment went on the offensive by removing interior secretary, AG and bringing infamous Babar Awan as country's law minister. It is opined that the only objective of brining Babar Awan to the law ministry is to undermine country's judiciary to protect Zardari in the aftermath of detailed NRO judgment. The fact of the matter is government should facilitate the judiciary to discharge its functions forthwith starting with orders for filling of vacant posts of judges in country's high courts to facilitate public under the dictum justice delayed is justice denied. Reportedly, Lahore High Court is working with one third of the total number of judges. The situation is no different in other high courts of the country. Chaudhry Nisar also urged the government not to sabotage the democratic and constitutional system for the sake of one man. I am of the opinion that Nisar's statement is for the gallery and aimed to allow PPP government stay in power. Had PML (N) been serious about implementing SC NRO judgment, it would have tabled no confidence motion against the PM for failing to uphold the judgment. It is PML (Ns) failure that PM has the cheeks to tell the nation from the floor of the house that government is waiting for the detailed NRO judgment. Legal experts are of the opinion that government's failure to act on short NRO order is contempt of court. Political experts are of the opinion that PPP using the excuse to gain time to save Zardari.
It is opined that PPP government has no plans to uphold SC NRO judgment including opening of Swiss cases because under NRO deal it is facilitating continuation of American agenda in the country and the region since 1999 through the presidential form of government. Gillani's defense of NRO judgment is nothing but another example of disconnected Facebook wolf in sheep skin compromised PM, who when nudged echoes his mater's voice to protect president at the cost of parliamentary form of democracy and then returns to don hypocritical image of a good cop. Public has been left in distraught over Gillani's double standards in which he is running with the "parliamentary form of democracy and hunting with presidential form of government" and there are no signs of restoration of parliamentary form of government.
Nisar said the opposition stood with the government in every issue, but it could not be given a license to sabotage the constitution. I have my reservations about the controversial role and use of the constitutional committee. PPP is using 17th amendment to make blanket changes in the constitution instead of restoring parliamentary form of government. It is political game aimed to keep Zardari and Washington at the helm of affairs as long as possible. The reports of botched PPP attempt to get "Sideeq and Amin" removed from sub-clauses of Article 63 of constitution support the assertion. PM in his last address said that parliament can only pass laws which are in accordance to the 1973 constitution. Since 1973 constitution envisages a parliamentary form of government therefore the constitution committee should only change 17th amendment as demanded by PML (N). Only after restoration of genuine parliamentary form of government that constitution committee can legally, morally and technically discharge its duties that too under strict parliamentary oversight. The current role of constitutional committee at best is a dubious hotchpotch aimed to facilitate one-man rule under the garb of "balance between presidential form of government and the parliamentary form of government".
The constitutional committee should therefore assemble on a single agenda of recommending scrapping of 17th amendment to help restore 1973 Constitution in its original form to help empower parliamentary form of government without fail. Nawaz Sharif was correct in his observation that it is taking years to undo the law laws passed in minutes during Musharraf era. Mr. Sharif the hard reality is it takes two to tango and without PML (N) upholding its end of the deal PPP couldn't have come this far. Hats off to those who orchestrated the NRO deal despite in such a way that despite knowing the truth the public is still dependent on fickle PML (N) leadership for the restoration of parliamentary form of government. It explains how two faced politicians shed crocodile tears with public in Pakistan while they stay hand in glove with Washington. In words of Imran Khan our government and the opposition are two sides of a same coin.
The idea of establishing a federal court in Islamabad based on the concept of separation of constitutional and criminal justice on behest of western powers is a conspiracy against unity of the federation of Pakistan. Instead, government should bring accountability under judiciary to ensure across the board transparency and accountability on lines of North Carolina Supreme Court which is successfully dealing with complex corruption issues (www.ncbusinesscourt.net). It cannot play judge and jury simultaneously if it is serious about getting rid of corruption and establishing writ of the state. Expand existing network of (high) courts and establish new (high) courts all over the country ion and incorporate PAC and parliamentary committees to help judiciary dispense justice, end corruption and establish writ of the state. However, all this has more to do with the will of the government than mere availability of resources.
Government should respect SC's powers to interpret constitution in accordance to its powers of Judicial Review. The US Supreme Court in Marbury v. Madison case in 1803 established the authority of the American courts to decide whether acts of Congress are legitimate under the constitution of United States. The court set aside portion of Judiciary Act of 1789 which authorized the court to issue writs of mandamus (court orders) to government officials as unconstitutional. In his opinion CJ of US SC Justice Marshall declared that any "law repugnant to the constitution is void". Therefore, if PPP government wants to preserve democracy it has to uphold orders of the SC or make way for those who will uphold the law of the land. In that case no one else but the PPP will be responsible for its fate.
CBI: SEARCHING FOR MILITANTS?
Militants is in fact the term coined by the West for the freedom fighters. Be it the blood dripping valley of the Indian Held Kashmir or the miserable state of Palestine, the brutally exploited mountain ranges of Afghanistan or the oil-pouring lands of Iraq; militants are always there as pointed out by the Western media.. What is the philosophy behind; what is the logic; certainly difficult to answer. Militancy has been made an allegation and blame. What should the people do when their basic human rights are continuously violated and they are deprived of their natural privileges? In such a condition they are left with a very limited choice; either to bear all these atrocities or to raise a cry of protest. Unluckily when they raise their voices, they are named as Militants and at some later stage, as the terrorists. The Central Board of Investigation India has recently very successfully proved that it has nothing to do with 'investigations'; its actual job is to frame the Muslim protesters in every case of violence and cruelty instead of pointing out the real culprits..
In the second week of the last December , the Central Board of investigation , India (CBI) issued its 66 pages probe report into the alleged rape and murder of two kashmiri women Nilofar Jan and her seventeen years old sister-in-law Asiya Jan . The dead bodies of these two women were found in a stream on 30th May 2009 in Shopian. According to the details these two women were kidnapped, raped and murdered by the Indian troops deputed there in the Shopian town. After the discovery of their dead bodies the Shopian town observed a 47 day long shut down. The worsening law and order situation after the incident compelled the state government announce an inquiry commission to probe into the matter and four security personals were arrested. But unfortunately the commission gave a clean chit to the four arrested officers and said that the death of these two women was nothing but an accident and the basic cause of their death was drowning into the stream.
Delhi-based Independent Women's Initiative for justice (IWIJ) has protested on the findings of the CBI commission and said that the Commissions report is a useless effort of pacifying the people. The IWIJ had sent its team to the valley on a fact-finding mission after the incident. This team had made a visit to the stream from where the dead bodies had been recovered. The team found the water in the stream only an ankle-deep not enough for any body to drown in it. After the Commission's report had come to the surface, the Indian newspapers started a well-planned propaganda movement blaming the so-called Militants for the murder of these two Muslim women. It seems that the Indian media and politicians are following the west in the usage of the term 'Militants'.
The Indian social and political set up has got into its blood the habit of following the western attitude in every walk of life that is why this term of militancy has also become very popular there in India . Every day one finds a lot of criticism in Indian newspapers regarding the Militant activities in the Indian Held Kashmir. The Kashmiris are at present looking towards the so-called compassionate and considerate western world for remedy and consolation, for help and support; but they find no one to take care of their miserable plight.
Their lives, their properties, the honour of their women and the future of their youth, in short each and every thing is at stake. The brutal Indian troops have snatched away every moment of calm and peace from these innocent people of Kashmir. But in spite of all these bitter realities the Indian media and the politicians are calling them with the name of Militants. It seems that the West and its disciple India both have deliberately or unknowingly prescribed this term for all those Muslims who are fighting for freedom. As far as the misuse of this term Militants is concerned, we never find it used for those Hindu activist organizations which are continuously in a state of war with the central government of India. There are so many separatist movements ongoing in different Indian states for a long time but these movements are never called the militant movements.
Militants, freedom-fighters and the terrorists have nothing in common. They all belong to different states of being and are reactions of different actions. The Naxalites, the Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban and those struggling for freedom in the India-held Kashmir could never be measured with the same yard-stick. If militancy means struggle for freedom; the Naxalites must also be called the Militants; however it would be better if this term is modified a little by referring to the caste and creed of the Militants. If it is done so, we would find the Hindu militants, the Christian militants, the Sikh militants and the Jew militants along with the Muslim militants because militancy is the name of a mental approach not of a religion.
Although the Naxalite movement is getting its roots deeper and deeper into the soil of Indian society and causing a grave problem to the stability of India yet the Naxalites are never called the Militants. This movement represents those ethnic minorities which are being continuously crushed and maltreated by the uppercaste Hindus. The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, FICCI has recently stated that Naxalites are posing a grave threat to Indian's economic development. Naxalites influence is growing in rural and urban areas and they are building inroads in Punjab. The government of India has uselessly tried to crush this movement by introducing an artificially designed and state sponsored counter movement Salwa Judum. A Norwegian analyst on regional affairs, Professor Johan Galtung said in one of his recent statements that force is not a solution to any problem and Salwa Judum can't stop the growth of Naxalism. He said that Indian government can only solve the problem by finding what led to the growth of the Naxalite movement.
Be it the freedom movement of the Kashmiris or the Naxalite struggle , it is no solution to call them with the titles of Militants or Terrorists and crush them by use of force .The Naxalites and the Kashmiri freedom fighters both have a legitimate and justified cause. That is why they are enjoying popular support in the public; particularly the Naxalite movement in the poorer areas of rural, central and eastern India. But the Indian government is criminally ignoring the realities. It is of the opinion that all such movements can be made silent through military actions. According to the reports the Indian government has decided to deal with the Naxalites in the same way as it has been dealing since long with the freedom fighters in the occupied territory of Kashmir. Preparations are in process to launch full-fledged anti-naxal operations at three different areas, considered tri-junctions of worst Naxal-affected states. The government of India is closing its eyes to the daylight fact that any such venture will be a greater challenge to the Indian security establishment.
Indian atrocities against Naxal-affected states and other ethnic minorities as well as against the helpless people of Kashmir are deplorable and appalling. These Indian brutalities uncover the true face of Indian democracy. The situation could be changed into a better scenario by listening to the voices of these wretched and miserable people who are on one hand claimed to be the part of the democratic India but on the other hand are deprived of their basic human rights. According to the Indian claim, Nilofar Jan and Asiya Jan were also the citizens of India but they were treated as strangers simply because they were the Muslims. Just like the west, India has a different set of rules and regulations and a separate dictionary of terms for the Muslims but even then it claims to be a secular state.
THE WAR IN AFGHANISTAN
The United States Ambassador in Kabul warned his superiors in November that President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan "is not an adequate strategic partner" and "continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden," according to a classified cable that offers a much bleaker accounting of the risks of sending additional American troops to Afghanistan than was previously known. Notes from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and other areas of conflict in the post-9/11 era.
The broad outlines of two cables from the Ambassador, Karl W Eikenberry, became public within days after he sent them, and they were portrayed as having been the source of significant discussion in the White House, heightening tensions between diplomats and senior military officers, who supported an increase of 30,000 American troops.But the full cables, obtained by The New York Times, show for the first time just how strongly the current ambassador felt about the leadership of the Afghan government, the state of its military and the chances that a troop buildup would actually hurt the war effort by making the Karzai government too dependent on the United States.The cables one four pages, the other three also represent a detailed rebuttal to the counterinsurgency strategy offered by Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American and NATO commander in Afghanistan, who had argued that a rapid infusion of fresh troops was essential to avoid failure in the country.
They show that Mr. Eikenberry, a retired Army lieutenant general who once was the top American commander in Afghanistan, repeatedly cautioned that deploying sizable American reinforcements would result in "astronomical costs" tens of billions of dollars and would only deepen the dependence of the Afghan government on the United States. "Sending additional forces will delay the day when Afghans will take over, and make it difficult, if not impossible, to bring our people home on a reasonable timetable," he wrote Nov. 6. "An increased U.S. and foreign role in security and governance will increase Afghan dependence, at least in the short-term." Without offering details, Mr. Eikenberry has said in public hearings since then that his concerns have been dealt with, and that he supported the White House's troop increase plan.But it is not clear what might have changed about his assessment of President Karzai as a reliable partner, and the strong language of the cables may increase tensions between the ambassador and the Karzai government, especially as world leaders meet in London on Thursday to discuss a much-debated Afghan plan to reintegrate Taliban fighters. It also coincides with a strong effort by the administration to mend ties with Mr. Karzai.
An American official provided a copy of the cables to The Times after a reporter requested them. The official said it was important for the historical record that Mr. Eikenberry's detailed assessments be made public, given that they were among the most important documents produced during the debate that led to the troop buildup. On Nov. 6, Mr. Eikenberry wrote: "President Karzai is not an adequate strategic partner. The proposed counterinsurgency strategy assumes an Afghan political leadership that is both able to take responsibility and to exert sovereignty in the furtherance of our goal a secure, peaceful, minimally self-sufficient Afghanistan hardened against transnational terrorist groups.
"Yet Karzai continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden, whether defense, governance or development. He and much of his circle do not want the U.S. to leave and are only too happy to see us invest further," Mr. Eikenberry wrote. "They assume we covet their territory for a never-ending 'war on terror' and for military bases to use against surrounding powers." He continued, "Beyond Karzai himself, there is no political ruling class that provides an overarching national identity that transcends local affiliations and provides reliable partnership." In a second cable, dated Nov. 9, he expressed new concerns: "In a PBS interview on November 7, Karzai sounded bizarrely cautionary notes about his willingness to address governance and corruption. This tracks with his record of inaction or grudging compliance in this area."
On Monday, Mr. Eikenberry declined through an embassy spokeswoman, Caitlin M. Hayden, to comment on the cables and his vie
In his memos, Mr. Eikenberry raised other concerns. He said he had serious doubts about the ability of the Afghan police and military forces to take over security duties in the country by 2013. "The Army's high attrition and low recruitment rates for Pashtuns in the south are crippling," he wrote. "Simply keeping the force at current levels requires tens of thousands of new recruits every year to replace attrition losses and battlefield casualties."The New York Times
Untreated hospital waste is posing a serious health hazard to city dwellers, according to a report published in The Independent. Most of the 1200 odd hospitals of the capital - many of them unregistered - throw their rubbish in the open creating a major threat to public health. The list of hospitals littering the cityscape includes many of the top hospitals, both government-owned and private. But according to the newspaper report the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) is finally waking up to the challenge and is planning to force the deviants to clean up their act next month.
This is not the first time that the issue of hospital waste management has come up for public discussion. Indications are that it will also not be the last time, as most of our hospital authorities seem to be insensitive about it. In other words, our medical system, for whatever it is worth, is not only curing diseases but also contributing to its regeneration. This speaks of the poor ethical standards of our health administration.
Although there has been no study about the cost of leaving hospital waste unprocessed. It can be safely assumed that it is very high as many of the germs are borne by the waste that is used by the afflicted ones. That way every disease has a multiplier effect on society.
The management of hospital waste is neither a difficult job nor is it expensive. It only needs application of mind. The key element in medical waste disposal is sterilisation. Thus disposal becomes safer and chances of contamination are mostly eliminated. Besides, incineration is also useful for many of the articles used in hospitals.
It is difficult to take action against hospitals as they cater to a very vulnerable section of society. The actions proposed by the DCC people, like disconnecting the utilities, are questionable tactics. Possibly they cannot do this because of the adverse public reaction that may ensue. But it is possible to slap substantial fines on them. Besides, public campaigns should also be launched by the DCC to motivate the recalcitrant.
There has been a consistent campaign for promotion of plastic products for sometime now. One of the reasons why it has appealed to some at the policy level is the prospect of marketing the products abroad. At a time when policy support for the plastic industry is on the cards, the consideration for environment has poured some cold water on the enthusiasm of its promoters. Cheaper, lighter and easier to handle compared to other such materials, plastic goods enjoy popularity among their users, particularly the poorer segment of the society.
All this counts in favour of encouraging the plastic industry in the country and those involved with it have been demanding a policy framework to facilitate the setting up of an industrial park, exclusively for manufacturing plastic goods. When a decision on this was about to be taken, the finance minister sounded caution purely on environmental consideration. He raised the issue of non-bio-degradability of plastic. He pointed out that 60 per cent of rejected plastic goods are recycled but 40 per cent get littered all around. The uncollected 40 per cent, the finance minister warned, 'would be a great threat when the industry would grow further'. Also, the minister is not sure if a plastic city can be a success when most of the industrial estates of the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) failed to take off.
We definitely share the finance minister's concern so far as the threat from non-bio-degradable plastic is concerned. But then, there is no reason why we cannot improve the level of recycling plastic preferably to 100 per cent. Even if we do not go for industrial estates for plastic, we have to ensure higher percentage of plastic recycling. Or else, the accumulation of plastic at the current level will, in the finance minister's words, 'eat up the whole country'. The point is to avoid throwing plastic materials here and there. If scientifically collected and recycled, we definitely have a case for developing an export-oriented plastic industry.
CHAUFFEURS AND THEIR CARS..!
Have you ever seen chauffeurs and how they keep their cars?
Some of them, not all, take out clean cloth and dust every speck of dirt fallen on bonnet and hood, clean windshield, shine hub caps, open hood, check water in radiator, fill distilled water in battery and see if all lights are working.
They look under chassis and from nearby tap direct flow to get rid of clinging obstinate piece of dirt and mud. Then when done, they stand proudly next to their car waiting for owner to come and be seated inside.
Like I said some of them, not all of them.
There are many who care a damn.
The car is not theirs anyway, and they treat it like some stray dog the owner has asked to hold onto. The dirt can gather for days, hubcaps can roll off for all they care. They bang the doors and mesh the gears as if they drive a pick up truck!
They seem proud of dust and grime and have never looked beneath to see caked underside. The paint looks tired and jaded, a little water would have done wonders but the chauffeur is busy or too big to do such job.
And when the owner comes they are nowhere to be seen. They stand near teashop or sit on culverts chatting to other drivers. They see owner waving frantically and they look as if it is to someone else he waves to, till finally with grimace and grumble and grin to friends they stroll to their car.
They make no effort to seat the owner in. Its the owners problem to open and shut his door, while driver sits with smug expression and looks askance through rear view mirror or just cleans his teeth or nose, or teeth and nose and pretends the owner isn't around.
He turns the key, the car refuses to start. He turns the key again and curses as wheezing sound comes from where the engine is. He sits in car till owner gets down and pushes..!
Later, the owner looks around. Inside there is dust and dirt everywhere.
But the owner of the car whose driver cares for his set of wheels sits in elegant comfort. Inside, the car is clean and comfortable. The cushions have spring, and upholstery bright and cheerful.
I have seen both types of such chauffeurs: The latter is happy with whatever car he has. Even old model in his hand is transformed into proud possession, whereas driver who doesn't care can break sleek limousine into old jalopy within months..!
But before we criticize, let me ask, 'What type are you?'
You have been given a body to use here on earth, maybe not a shining gleaming one. Ill and sick, not too tall or good looking.
How well do you look after your body? Is it clean and sparkling, so well kept that when the Owner sits in it, you are proud of how well maintained it is?
Or have yesterday's drinks, and today's cigarette smoke made it look dull and listless? Are the interiors filled with strange smells of empty beer cans and used condoms?
What kind of chauffeur are you?
A question raised by an article in the Christian Science Monitor is food for thought as it said the Copenhagen Summit was a screen for a new global order. If that is so, we need to review the outcome. What is revealing is the fact that four developing countries were able to take control of the proceedings placing China, India, Brazil and South Africa in the driving seat. That this is the state of things to come is a clear sign that global power is shifting away from the developed countries to the new economies. Timothy Wirth, president of the United Nations Foundation based in Washington put it into words when he said, "The geopolitical landscape is shifting. Copenhagen was the place where a lot of that played out."
Although at Kyoto the core deal was struck between the US, Japan and the European Union, at Copenhagen, things were different as the new political agreement aimed at including developing countries. This means that the economic gap between developed and developing countries has been narrowed significantly and five world leaders, four from countries outside the usual post-World War II power brokers, hammered out the final details of an agreement, if it can be called an agreement. We have already seen this effect in other areas one of which involves international finance because, during the current economic crisis, world leaders recharged the International Monetary Fund's fiscal aquifer with $1 trillion. Hard bargaining by countries such as China, India, and Brazil in the run-up to that decision, translated out into receiving a 47 per cent share of the voting rights in the body." In other words developing countries are finding ways to flex their muscles and as a result, are demanding a much greater say in world affairs.
But one thing to be noted is that the China-India-Brazil-South African bloc, instead of negotiating on behalf of the larger bloc of developing countries, concentrated purely on their own interests. This raises a further question. Which comes first - the developing world's need for energy or its need for controlling global warming? To fight global warming, which was the purpose of the Copenhagen Summit, the British government had earlier held a three-day international conference on climate change. The conference insisted countries can cut carbon emissions without affecting their economic growth and hoped the gathering of scientists from Europe, Asia, Africa and America would lead to a new international consensus on the threat posed by rising temperatures. But was all this an expensive screen for establishing a world government? This is what we have to determine. But whatever you take developing countries with rapidly growing economies made it clear they were a new force in global politics. Lord Christopher Monckton reporting from the Summit added another element to the proceedings by saying, "The only goal of the conference was to implement the framework and the funding for a world government. That is the one thing that they are definitely going to succeed in doing here (at Copenhagen) and they will announce that as a victory in itself - and they will be right because that is the one and only single aim of this entire global warming conference, to establish the mechanism, the structure, and above all the funding for a world government. They are going to take from the western countries the very large financial resources required to do it. (Of course) "They will disguise it by saying they are setting up a $100 billion fund for adaptation to climate change in third world countries, but actually, this money will almost all be gobbled up by the international bureaucracy. The first thing they will do, and the one thing I think they were always going to succeed in doing at this conference, is to agree to establish what will be delicately called "the institutional framework." That he says, is a code word for world government.
Lord Monckton said although the word "government" has been dropped from the treaty, all the interlocking bureaucratic features of a world government are still present in the final draft which also legislates for a global tax on financial transactions that will be paid directly to the World Bank. These are the new entities that are going to create a world government. But global interdependence and the recognition of a shared humanity have magnified moral responsibilities without enhancing the commitment or building the international institutions that could fulfill those responsibilities. Ban Ki Moon, the head of the UN, made this clear when he said, "Once this agreement (Copenhagen) goes through, we are going to have to set up a structure of global governance just to handle the enormous amounts of money which we are going to get from the countries of the West." He said in an interview with the LA Times that a formal treaty would be signed by mid-2010.
Although they were trying to see whether they could get a binding treaty, at the outset they realised they would have to abandon that idea because it would never pass the US Senate. If they call it a treaty it requires two thirds of the US Senate to vote for it and there are just too many blue dog Democrats as well as sensible Republicans, who will not vote for the destruction of the US Constitution; the establishment of a world government; or for the bankrupting of the United States and the destruction of working people's jobs right across the industries of the US. If as Lord Monckton says, world government is coming because the leaders of the West have given up and no longer care about democracy any more than they care about the truth or about the climate. They are willing to go along with world government because they see roles for themselves in it in exactly the same way the leaders of the EU did. They can get more power as unelected leaders than they can get at home.
Resistance and awareness about this have only just begun but it is growing as the truth about what actually happened at Copenhagen is revealed. The truth is China wrecked the talks in a simple strategy. It blocked the open negotiations for two weeks and then ensured that the closed-door deal that ensued made it look as if the west had failed the world's poor once again. Sure enough the aid agencies, civil society movements and environmental groups bought it, hook line and sinker. Which raises another question. What was China's game? In the words of an UK-based analyst who spent hours in heads of state meetings, why did China not only reject targets for itself, but also refuse to allow any other country to take on binding targets? The analyst, who has attended climate conferences for more than 15 years concluded that China wanted to weaken the climate regulation regime now, "in order to avoid the risk that it might be called on to be more ambitious in a few years' time as China's growth, and growing global political and economic clout is based largely on cheap coal.
This is fast becoming China's century yet its leadership has displayed that multilateral environmental governance is not a priority. Instead it is viewed as a hindrance to growth and the new superpower's freedom of action. China knows it is becoming an uncontested superpower and its newfound muscular confidence was on display at Copenhagen. Moreover as its coal-based economy doubles every decade, and as its power increases, its leadership is unlikely to change this formula unless forced to do so. But the sad part of it all is we are not talking about a small piece of grazing pasture, but the despoiling of the environment on a terrestrial scale. Some vital components need to be developed that are essential for the future of the planet and in order to accomplish this, an alliance has to be made to establish a global development programme. But a world government? Are we ready to lose our national identity? Give it a thought. Although Copenhagen illustrated clearly a profound shift in global geopolitics, now that China (and India) are becoming rich and suddenly carbon production is out, no wonder China and the 30 other developing countries scuttled the process.
(Sylvia Mortoza is a staff writer of The Independent)
REVERSING BATTING ORDER?
M. SERAJUL ISLAM
Bangladesh is showing a strange consistency. Its tail enders with one or two lower order batsmen are making it a habit to post a total to embarrass the top order batsmen and also save the team from embarrassing total. There are also a few other consistencies in the Bangladesh team. Once the team's top batsman, Ashraful has now become a model for failure. An article on the Internet compared Ashraful's batting to the Eids. Like we can have only two Eids a year; we can likewise have only two good innings from the former captain in a year.
The other consistency is of course the regular defeats in Tests that our team has made a habit. The two wins against the West Indies last year should not be taken seriously because these were registered against a West Indies team that was its second eleven. So far, Bangladesh has played 59 tests, lost 51, won 2 and drew 6. Although Bangladesh is the youngest Test playing nation, the players playing at Test level are not inexperienced. Ashraful is playing in his 52nd Test in Dhaka, as many as Bradman had played in his entire career.
Thus the argument that Bangladesh is a new Test playing country should not merit serious consideration in defending the team's performance. Individually, some of the players also have talent. Saquib is now a recognised world-class all-rounder. While batting and bowling, the team shows glimpses of having the potentials to achieve even the unimaginable. In the first Test against India in Chittagong, even foreign cricket scribes were not writing off Bangladesh's chances of achieving a 415 target in the fourth innings.
So why is Bangladesh so consistent in losing Test matches? The answers are their galore. On the first day of the Dhaka Test now being played, Ashraful made the point for even the blind person to see. He had hit a four and had moved to 39. He was playing like a batsman in form although his performance in the preceding Tests pointed to the contrary. For the next shot, he went down the pitch and tried a shot that was worse than atrocious to miss it and be stumped! One scribe described the moment as one when Ashraful had a "brain freeze". The captain, trying to bring the innings back from the jaws of death, did very much the same to be out at 34 when he could have brought it back to its rails. Saquib did the same in the Chittagong Test that makes Bangladesh Test cricket consistent where top order batsmen show the regular tendency of getting out to atrocious shots at moments when the team needs them to put their heads down making irresponsibility another consistency among our top order batsmen.
There is a new consistency now being shown by our Test players-their habit of making loud claims while talking to the media. Tamim Iqbal, a talented batsman no doubt but who plays Test cricket like it is one day format, sometimes even like it is 20/20, said before the Dhaka test that he did not even rule out the chances of a Bangladesh win. Of course, Bangladesh can win a test for individually there are players who could achieve that for Bangladesh. However, for a batsman like Tamim to make this claim and then get out for a zero playing like a novice is audacity to say the best. I was impressed by Saquib hearing him speak to the media a few times. I thought he had a sensible head on his shoulder. Unfortunately, I thought there was a streak of arrogance over confidence in him when he said to the media that Bangladesh was capable of scoring those 350 runs on the final day of the Chittagong Test with eight wickets remaining.
There are a few serious problems with Bangladesh's Test cricket. It is not lack of talent. It lacks common cricketing sense both individually and collectively. In fact, only two cricketers of the present team can claim that sense. Mushiqur Rahim is one and Mahmudullah Riad is another. The other problem is that our batsmen play Test cricket in the limited over mode. In the Dhaka Test against India, Ashraful who came when two wickets had fallen for four runs went about playing his natural game. Common sense should have told him that he was playing his shots too early when there was still some natural movement due to weather conditions and that if he hanged a while longer, he could have batted for himself as well as the team. The fact that he lasted till 39 was more a matter of good luck than his talents. One wonders why someone from the team's management did not send him a message to calm down. Manager Siddons said that although he is failing consistently, there is no one to replace him. Nevertheless, it is time to give him a rest. He is still only 25 and a year or so on the sidelines would make him realize that he is not Vivian Richards but more like a bowler with some batting pretensions. The team's management should force this into his thick brain. Then may be his talents will mean something for the Bangladesh team. In fact, if any batsman is given this much freedom to play without being dropped, there would be many batsmen like Ashraful around. The management should also try and understand why our batsmen score such a high proportion of their runs in boundaries.
The stand by Indian captain Sewag was very insensitive when he made the comment about the Bangladesh team's ability of bowling India twice in a Test before the Chittagong Test and then found himself utterly embarrassed with his team's batting efforts on the first day of the Test. However much we have disliked Sewag's comment, facts bear out what he has said very crudely. Here is a glance of Test batting average of Bangladesh's top batsmen. Ashraful's average is 23.09; Tamim Iqbal's 27.64; Shahreer Nafees's 26.09; Saquib's 29; Imrul Kayes' 12 (!!) and Mushfiqur Rahim's 26. All these players have played quite a few tests. With such appalling average of leading batsmen, it is difficult to imagine how the Bangladesh team can score enough runs to save a match let alone win one. Among the bowlers, only Saquib who has 55 wickets in 16 Tests is anywhere near Test class.
The statistics on match results, batting and bowling of our Test cricket team sadly lends credence to Sewag's comments. Unless the top batsmen can somehow push their averages over 30 and a couple or more over the 40 mark, Bangladesh's tryst with Test match defeats will continue.
The recent exchange in the media between the President of Bangladesh Cricket Board and Saquib was unfortunate. But the President's anger was based on solid grounds because our cricketers showed utter callousness as a Test team in the Chittagong Test. Coming in the wake of such an appalling performance, the captain should have kept his mouth shut and tried to understand the President's frustration that was also the nation's frustration. The Board must evolve a carrot stick policy for the Bangladesh cricket team because common sense seems to have taken leave of our Test cricketers. A team where the tail enders play like top batsmen and top order batsmen play in reverse must have fundamental problems in player management, training, selection and supervision.
One could be tempted to reverse Bangladesh batting order in Tests but then in the serious business of Test cricket this would be impossible to implement. But something should be done. As food for thought, the Board should judge Test batsmen, because our problem seems more to be with them and not with the bowlers, by the length of their stay at the crease and not by the runs they score. Then they would be forced to stop playing 20/20 strokes and stay longer in the crease to learn to draw. Once they can do that, then they can start playing their strokes and attempt to win. The model for Bangladesh batsmen should be Hanif Mohammad. Unless this is done, the averages of our top batsmen are bound to be around the 20s that is not good enough for Test cricket.
I am a dreamer and since in cricket they say it is a game of glorious uncertainties, I dream that even in the Dhaka Test where Bangladesh is in a tight corner, a miracle would happen.
(The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan)
REBUILDING HAITI FROM DAVOS
KANAYO F NWANZE
When the captains of business and industry meet in Davos for the World Economic Forum this month, the devastation caused by the recent earthquake in Haiti will be near the top of their agenda. It should be, for there is much they can do to help.
Haiti was in dire straits even before the earthquake struck. Rapid population growth, coupled with political and social turmoil, helped make Haiti the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere. Right now, the international relief efforts in Haiti are rightly focused on the country's urban areas, which suffered most in the earthquake. But when rebuilding starts, rural areas must not be overlooked.
In fact, many of those who have lost their homes and jobs in Port-au-Prince and other Haitian cities will likely return to rural communities where they have family. This will put pressure on the rural economy and place more strain on areas already grappling with meagre resources.
Agriculture plays a vital role in Haiti's economy, yet the country does not produce enough food to feed its people. Some 60 per cent of the food Haitians need, and as much as 80 per cent of the rice they eat, is imported. Sustainable agricultural development is essential to improving the country's prospects for long-term economic and food security.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has seen first-hand how investing in agriculture can help people recover from natural disasters. Our experience in developing countries tells us that investments in agriculture can be twice as effective in reducing poverty as similar investments in other sectors.
Less than two years ago, Haiti was devastated by a hurricane that caused about $220 million in damage to food crops at a time when the population was also struggling to feed itself because of high world food prices. IFAD funded a programme to kick-start food production. The 2008 winter planting yielded $5 million in bean crops, helping to improve food security and the incomes of poor farmers.
While the crisis in Haiti is a major setback in achieving increased food production, it should not be a stop sign on the path to long-term development. The challenge is to ensure that earlier efforts are not lost, and that recovery includes a push toward sustainable agricultural production systems for Haiti.
One group now rising from the rubble is Fonkoze, a microfinance organisation operating predominantly in rural Haiti. With assistance from IFAD's multi-donor Financing Facility for Remittances, Fonkoze purchased satellite phones and diesel generators in 2007, and began delivering remittance services in rural areas where basic infrastructure is often weak or lacking.
Only today is the true value of that investment coming to light. Fonkoze was back in operation only days after the earthquake. Remittances transferred through Fonkoze are free, giving recipient families in Haiti vital resources to meet short-term needs while also encouraging long-term development.
More than $1.9 billion was sent to Haiti in 2008 through remittances, more than official development assistance and foreign direct investment combined, with more than half of these funds going directly into the hands of families in rural areas.
When I am in Davos, I will highlight for the CEOs and business leaders the mutual benefits of forming partnerships with small producers. Much-needed capital investment can enable smallholder farmers to provide the private sector with a sustainable supply of high-quality agricultural products.
Indeed, smallholder farmers are often extremely efficient producers per hectare, and can contribute to a country's economic growth and food security. For example, Vietnam transformed itself from a food-deficit country to the second-largest rice exporter in the world by developing its smallholder farming sector. As a result, poverty fell from 58 per cent in 1979 to below 15 per cent today.
In Haiti, and in developing countries around the world, smallholder farmers can contribute to food security and economic growth just as they did in Vietnam. But they cannot do so without secure access to land and water as well as to rural financial services to pay for seed, tools, and fertiliser. They also need roads and transportation to get their products to market, and technology to receive and share the latest market information on prices. Above all, they need a long-term commitment to agriculture from their own governments, the international community, and the private sector, backed up by greater investment.
The productive capacity of Haiti's small farmers will be crucial in helping the country to overcome this crisis and avert severe food shortages. That is why Haiti needs the private sector now more than ever to help rebuild both the country and the livelihoods of poor rural people.
Indeed, the private sector has a pivotal role to play in rural development, not just in Haiti but throughout the developing world. But public-private partnerships must be backed up with the right policies and support for rural communities, so that poor rural people can increase food production, improve their lives, and contribute to greater food security for all.
Organisations like IFAD can help link the private sector and smallholder farmers. We can support investments that expand the productive potential of the smallholder sector in the developing world by helping investors reduce their risks, and by assisting smallholder farmers in accessing new financing and markets through private-sector partnerships.
Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum, has said that this year's Davos meeting should be used to solicit commitments in practical help for relief of the continued pain of Haiti's people, and particularly for the reconstruction of Haiti. In Davos, I will work to ensure that the interests of the world's smallholder farmers in Haiti and in developing countries around the world are represented.q
(The writer is President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), an international financial institution and a specialized agency of the United Nations)
Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010
LESSONS FROM THE COLLINS CLASS
DARE WE RISK BUILDING THE SUBMARINES' REPLACEMENTS?
THE navy will not admit how many of its six submarines are fit for service but as Mark Dodd reported in this newspaper yesterday it appears just one is ready for operations. It is a figure that makes the navy's silence understandable, if not excusable. The Collins-class submarines cost $10 billion and are intended to provide Australia's frontline defence. But while their boosters talk about their superior technology, it seems the boats never have and perhaps never will deliver on their promise. They were too noisy when they first went to sea, which was bad. Then we learned they could not carry the torpedoes bought for them, which was worse. And in 2005 Cameron Stewart revealed in The Weekend Australian that a faulty hose pipe came close to sinking HMAS Dechaineux two years before. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the navy struggles to find sufficient sailors to crew the craft.The submarines' supporters always argue their problems are in the past, that the boats provide Australia with strategic superiority in our region. But one boat to defend Australia's maritime approaches is about as useful as no boats all. There are many understandable explanations for the submarines' problems. Given Australia's tropical waters and long operational ranges, it is impossible just to buy a boat intended for the Atlantic off the shelf. However, in the case of the Collins, customising was pushed to, perhaps over, the edge of Australia's technological capacity and the building task was an enormous challenge for the purpose-built Adelaide infrastructure.
The Collins experience includes too many errors we cannot afford to repeat. Last year's defence white paper called for a replacement fleet of 12 submarines to come into service in the mid-2020s. Also to be "assembled" in Adelaide - it sounds less daunting than detailing the enormous amount of complex engineering involved - they are expected to cost $36bn. While we will need replacements for the Collins class, the question is should we build rather than buy them. It is easy to argue it makes defence sense to build our own armaments. And the project will employ a generation of engineers and tradespeople. But the Collins experience calls all this into question. To build the submarines at home will require a more comprehensive case than calls for an enormous make-work scheme.
TRANSPARENCY MUST DEFINE THE TREATMENT OF REFUGEES
SIEV 36 INQUIRY IS PART OF CANBERRA ACCOUNTABILITY
THE Rudd government is discovering that applying policy on asylum-seekers is much harder than simply attacking John Howard from the opposition benches. Nine months after the tragic explosion on a refugee boat off Ashmore Island, we are finally getting a better picture of the confusing events that led to the death of five asylum-seekers and the injuring of 40 others. The Northern Territory coronial inquiry into the incident of April last year looks set to be long and complicated. Whatever the view from Canberra, the reality confronting sailors on the high seas is clearly a very different matter.
After just one day of hearings before Coroner Greg Cavanagh, it is clear there will be conflicting accounts of what happened, and why. The coroner has already heard claims of mistakes by those on patrol boats and alleged deficiencies in the protocols covering such operations. Whether navy personnel erred in the handling of the boat with its Indonesian crew and 47 asylum-seekers, most of them Afghans, the procedures may need clarification.
An question for the inquiry is whether the navy and the federal government were on the same page about whether intercepted boats should be directed back to Indonesia or escorted to Christmas Island. For its part, the government denied yesterday there had been a change of policy on this issue just 24 hours before the explosion, or for that matter that there had ever been a policy to direct boats back to Indonesia.
We must wait to know whether there was confusion among the commanders of the navy patrol boats that intercepted the refugees, and how this contributed to the disaster. One worrying aspect of the case are reports (which The Australian published last September) that asylum-seekers were forced out of the way while navy personnel scrambled to rescue their own colleagues, who had been catapulted into the sea when the SIEV 36 exploded. The priority to rescue navy people is in line with the navy's recovery policy, and as we wrote last year, we have no reason to believe the navy staff did anything other than act responsibly throughout this operation. But we called for transparency at a time when the video footage of the events was being held under wraps. With the footage in the public domain, the public has a chance to judge for itself.
Transparency and debate are essential if Australians are to understand and trust the government's handling of asylum-seekers. In this context, the candour of the new Australian of the Year, Patrick McGorry, who has been a leader in treatment of mental health sufferers, is a mixed blessing. His concern about the psychological health of people held in detention on Christmas Island should be taken seriously, given his authority in this area. But his labelling of detention centres as "factories for producing mental illness" is not helpful at a time when the nation faces a growing challenge in assessing the claims of large numbers of asylum-seekers.
Measured examination of the treatment of asylum-seekers is an important part of Australia's accountability, but the long-overdue inquiry into SIEV 36 is already showing that the implementation of policy in this area is often complex and difficult.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
SCIENCE, POLITICS IN A HEAT HAZE
Scientists screw up sometimes, especially when they take off the white laboratory coat and go out to mix it with politics. This should not shock and dismay us any more than the sight of national governments, called on to assume part of the burden of fixing a global problem, insisting that the others should go first.
Certainly, lapses in preparation of the United Nations report in 2007 on climate change are regrettable. There were the emails between climate scientists at the University of East Anglia, obtained by a hacker, suggesting they had prevented data that fuzzed the scenario of steadily average temperatures from being included in the report. Now we have just had the revelation that one of the report's most dramatic warnings - the likely disappearance of the Himalayan glaciers by 2035 - was shoddily transcribed in a chain of references to a Russian glaciologist's prediction of a complete melting by 2350. Another claim, of a linkage between climate change and the ferocity of recent weather extremes, is also dubious.
Yet even the Canadian specialist who pointed out the mistake on the glaciers, Graham Cogley, says this does not discredit the report as a whole, and should not mislead people into thinking they should not worry about climate change. Unfortunately this is what some people are trying to do. As Ross Garnaut points out, there are a lot of variables in the consensus of the world's leading scientists, but they are unlikely to be wildly wrong.
Being a sceptic is one thing. Some global warming may help some countries. Mechanisms proposed to counter it may or may not be effective. But being a denier is something else altogether, akin to the atheist's gamble, but with the odds rather more calculable. The deniers, who Garnaut thinks (perhaps wrongly) have gained a rather stronger hold in Australia's media than elsewhere, claim to be throwing off a blanket of political correctness. Mostly from the conservative side - the Fox News following in the United States, the Telegraph-Spectator camp in Britain, the equivalents here - they have their own correctness to prove: the folly of current centre-left governments led by Barack Obama, Gordon Brown and Kevin Rudd.
Our policymakers, moving on from Copenhagen's failure and our own emissions-trading standoff, need to learn from the glacier fiasco about the dangers of overdoing the argument. They could also take up Garnaut's suggestion of a regional carbon-trading initiative pending an agreement between the big emitters. At some point this year we will all have to vote on whether climate change is, as in one of Tony Abbott's pronouncements, ''crap''.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
BEYOND THE IDENTITY CRISIS
Professor Patrick McGorry wasted no time as the 2010 Australian of the Year before criticising the Federal Government over its asylum seeker policies. McGorry, a mental health expert, has observed first hand the effect of detention on the mental health of asylum seekers, and has been a long-standing opponent. Although he subsequently backed away a little in a conversation with the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, McGorry was only following standard practice for Australians of the year. Speaking out on the day makes sense: though the title lasts a year, its currency fades fast. Best to strike while the iron is hot and make any public statements as early as possible, or risk being shunted aside on news desks across the country in favour of fresher talent.
His predecessor, Professor Mick Dodson, certainly used all 12 months of his year to push for improvements in indigenous policy, but even he gained most publicity for his cause when the award was announced. Half the printed items that mentioned him by name last year were published in the week immediately following Australia Day.
After the Chris Lilley television series We Can Be Heroes, it is difficult to take the position of Australian of the Year entirely seriously. In the words of the award's website, the Australian of the Year is a role model for us all. The title recognises what a person has already achieved, not what can be expected from them. It is an award, not a job. In McGorry's case, that may be a pity. His appointment is a good one, because it recognises the importance of mental health. Despite occasional gestures, such as that of the former NSW premier Morris Iemma, the field of medicine for which McGorry has been an advocate rarely ranks high in government priorities. If he can use his sudden national prominence, however brief, to raise it in the public's consciousness, that can only be a positive thing.
Even so, it is worth considering whether the award still has a role to play. When it was instituted in 1960 the notion of Australianness as a distinctive quality was enough of a novelty at an official level to need some kind of seal of quality. This country's ideas of itself, of its national character, and of the qualities and personalities it celebrates are all more robust than they were when Robert Menzies was prime minister, and Australians were still British subjects, anxious to assert and celebrate a separate identity, if only to themselves. The Australian of the Year's time - always brief - may be past.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
A MAN ON A TIMELY HEALTH MISSION
PROFESSOR Patrick McGorry is an inspired choice for Australian of the Year, even if he is not - as has been routinely pointed out this week - a household name. The lack of name recognition is of little relevance when set against the importance and relevance of Professor McGorry's mission: improving the mental health of young people. In other words, this world-renowned expert from Melbourne University brings a message likely to resonate in a great many Australian households.
Part of his message is aimed sharply at political leaders. While it was Professor McGorry's principled criticisms of mandatory detention for asylum seekers that grabbed headlines this week, his push for a new approach to youth mental health has the potential to radically reshape public policy. Psychiatric care needs to evolve beyond what Professor McGorry rightly describes as ''a base camp of community mental health services'' - that camp having been cobbled together amid the welcome, but relatively recent, collapse of the 19th-century system of mental asylums. Young people struggle to gain access to appropriate mental health services, both at the pointy end, where public hospital beds are too few, and at the community level, where getting help can be a lottery depending on one's location and income. Professor McGorry's advocacy for a nationally integrated mental health system will have particular currency in an election year in which health reform is shaping as a major battlefield.
A crucial measure of any such reform will be the emphasis on early intervention, an area in which Professor McGorry has conducted groundbreaking work. The statistics tell a grim story: 75 per cent of mental health problems will appear by age 25, with the onset apparently getting earlier and illness rates climbing. Young people, according to Professor McGorry, are more vulnerable to mental health problems because their world is increasingly complex and fractured. While childhood keeps contracting, people are also taking longer to grow up. This means young people spend more time in the period of emerging adulthood, a time of vulnerability and risk. Broken families and social isolation also take their toll. There is ample proof of our predicament in recent tragedies in which alcohol abuse and poor judgment claimed young lives. The choice of Professor McGorry as Australian of the Year is a wake-up call for parents struggling with troubling behaviour in their children. The message: if in doubt, get help.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
RUDD EXPOSES PUBLIC TO EVEN MORE GREENWASH
THE GOVERNMENT HAS ADDED TO PROBLEMS IT VOWED TO FIX.
FOR Australians who choose ''green'' products and services, the consumer watchdog has an alarming admission. Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Graeme Samuel told The Age he is often asked by people who pay extra for green power whether it is genuine. ''I said that we weren't sure at the moment.'' Such is the prevalence of misleading claims, or greenwashing.
Mr Samuel said the ACCC was seriously hampered by the delay of new laws linked to the Government's carbon pollution reduction scheme. More than 2½ years have passed since then opposition leader Kevin Rudd and environment spokesman Peter Garrett promised to protect Australians from the ''green shoe brigade''. A carbon offset standard was also promised by the end of 2008, but was only published last month. As today's Age reports, the Government itself has failed to live up to a 2007 promise to audit its own energy and water use.
The blocking of the CPRS has left a policy vacuum, plunged the green market sector into uncertainty and left consumers vulnerable to scams. Even had the legislation been passed, the offset standard is inadequate and fails to require providers to be audited. The need is glaring: the Carbon Offset Guide, published by EPA Victoria and RMIT, shows only six out of 85 offset providers submit to voluntary audits.
The challenges of climate change and sustainable living are vast and complex. The Government has been juggling many balls. Yet it has committed the cardinal sin of staking everything on the one legislative package and setting deadlines to terminate earlier arrangements.
After initial resistance from the Government, separate legislation was introduced to implement renewable energy credits and rescue the solar energy market from limbo. A failure to deem voluntary carbon offsets as additional to national emissions targets, which effectively reduced the cuts required of industrial emitters, was remedied by amendments to the CPRS legislation negotiated with former opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull last year. After he was ousted, the legislation was blocked in the Senate.
While the Government will reintroduce bills in Parliament next week, no resolution to the current uncertainty is likely for some time. To ensure voluntary emission permits are additional to national targets, these are to be retired on a national registry, which does not yet exist. Rising public suspicion of environmental claims threatens to undermine voluntary action to cut emissions.
Complaints to the ACCC about misleading green claims have soared from almost zero two years ago to 500. Action has been taken against companies such as Woolworths, SAAB and Origin Energy and the commission believes big companies are being more careful. However, Mr Samuel is still waiting for authority to issue fines of up to $1.1 million for misleading conduct under laws that were due to take effect on January 1.
The uncertainty surrounding the CPRS is also crippling ''approved abatement providers'' who offer carbon offsets to the public. The Greenhouse Friendly accreditation standard and logo are to be dumped on June 30, without any certainty that replacements will be in place. Forestry carbon offset standards are yet to be released so, as Melbourne-based operator Greenfleet says, ''We have a problem because we don't have a standard which we can tell our supporters, with certainty, that we operate to.''
While the Opposition bears prime responsibility for blocking the CPRS, the Government's ''all or nothing'' brinkmanship created the situation where so many Australians who want to help put the nation on a sustainable footing are hostage to its passage. There is no guarantee - of the sort offered by electricity star stickers and the Heart Foundation tick - that assures consumers a green product meets certain standards. It is shameful that so many people who pay extra to ''do their bit for the planet'' may not get what they paid for.
Source: The Age
IN PRAISE OF TEATRO DI SAN CARLO
In his classic book Naples '44, Norman Lewis, then a British soldier in occupied Italy, describes how an orchestra playing a wartime concert at Naples's Teatro di San Carlo returned to their places after the interval to discover that thieves had stolen all their instruments. Such is the daunting reputation of Naples that the uninitiated visitor may suppose that this is still how things are in what is probably, after the Scala in Milan and the Fenice in Venice, the most important opera house in Italy. If so, a quick glance at the video of the concert held last year to mark the completion of the San Carlo's two year restoration project should go a long way to reassure. The theatre that was hymned for its dazzling beauty by Stendhal who visited in the glory days when his hero Rossini was the San Carlo's house composer is looking every bit as amazing now. The five-level horseshoe of boxes, upholstered in red, decorated in gold leaf, with its frescoed ceiling and its sumptuously painted stage curtains, is an operatic classic. Now, after a £57m refit (on budget and on time, sceptics should note), the San Carlo is ready to open its new opera season today, Mozart's 254th birthday, with his La Clemenza di Tito, before moving on next to Maria Stuarda, which Donizetti wrote for the San Carlo in 1834. Italians have always revered the San Carlo for its beauty and its acoustic. Among foreigners, though, it is probably one of the least well-known of the world's major opera houses. Time for that to change.
ECONOMY: BUMPING ALONG THE BOTTOM
So, it's official. The slump is no more. But the chancellor's boast yesterday that the UK was "back on the path to growth" was backed up by an achievement as thin as a statistical Rizla. National income figures for the last quarter of 2009 recorded a squeak of a recovery, expansion of just 0.1%. Ministers hope it will be amplified in revisions, by strong Christmas shopping which came in too late for yesterday's provisional data. In truth, no one knows if the apparent recovery will instead turn out to have been smothered by the blanket of snow which closed many businesses at the year's end. Regardless of how all the unknowns ultimately play out, however, the central judgment is clear. The economy is no longer hurtling downwards; instead it is bumping along the bottom.
Grim as this reality is, the first thing to be said is in fact that it represents something of an achievement. Just 15 months ago many a punter was telling anyone who would listen that we were in for a Great Depression to match that witnessed by the US in the 1930s with joblessness and bankruptcies on a scale that the entire social order would be called into question. That has not happened, even though the initial decline was as steep as in 1929. Most other countries halted it quicker, despite Gordon Brown's ill-advised early boasts about how debt-ridden Britain was somehow uniquely well-placed to escape from the slump. Nonetheless, in some small part and perhaps more than that, the levelling-off is a tribute to distinctive choices made by his government. As well as the action to save the banks, there was the decision to pump-prime the economy with tax cuts and spending, as well as more specific responses, such as the car-scrappage scheme. Amid the overall disappointment of yesterday's numbers, the Treasury can find vindication for much of its action in the small print. It revealed that public expenditure had underpinned such growth as there was, and that what the statisticians still quaintly label the "motor trade" had at last steered round the corner.
Still more important than the Treasury's actions have been those taken at Threadneedle Street. The slashing of interest rates has put much more cash back in families' pockets than the VAT cut or anything else that the government did. Cheap money, reinforced by judicious use of the printing presses, and co-ordinated with nations right round the planet, has been the most important medicine of all. For all the (reasonable) bashing that economists have taken for not anticipating the crisis, this time around, unlike in the 1930s, they almost all understood that the government had to act to offset the monetary contraction once it was under way. We have that single simple insight to thank for the fact that the world economy is no longer withering away.
The so-called dismal science, then, has developed treatments to arrest the course of the direst financial diseases. But in its quest for prescriptions that can restore full health, it remains just as dismal as ever. A UK government of whatever stripe would be foolish to treat the recovery as a solid fact until maybe 2011 at the earliest. Public debate will now be dominated by arguments about the lack of economic vitality, not the proof of it. Counterfactual claims about how things could have been worse are cold comfort both to the millions who are continuing to find work hard to come by, and to a government trying to convince a sceptical country why it deserves a fourth term. With public borrowing close to the limit of what can be prudently justified, and with modestly resurgent inflation that could lead the Bank of England to end its quantitative easing programme as soon as next week, the anxiety is that there are few jump leads to attach to an economy which is still stalled. The slump may be over, but there is no feelgood factor, only a feel-slightly-less-fearful factor. A corner may have been turned, but it hardly feels like it.
IRAQ INQUIRY: THE RULE OF LAW
Yesterday's remarkable sessions at the Chilcot inquiry did not prove that the Iraq war was illegal. The inquiry is not a court and, since no judge has ever ruled on the invasion, there will always be room for dispute. But the evidence of two Foreign Office lawyers, and a series of documents released on the inquiry's website, established two crucial things. First, the prime minister and foreign secretary of the day, Tony Blair and Jack Straw, were told repeatedly and consistently that they did not have a legal basis for the invasion. Second, like a pair of barrack room lawyers, they pressed on anyway, until the attorney general was cornered days before military action began and changed his advice.
Today, Lord Goldsmith has a chance to tell the inquiry why he did this. Already, however, an astonishing abuse of process has been exposed. The prime minister decided that war was necessary. International law like intelligence about weapons of mass destruction had to be adapted to fit around this immovable fact. Mr Blair, of course, had the right to overrule legal advisers and in the end he secured Lord Goldsmith's consent. Had the war and its aftermath gone well, and had weapons of mass destruction been found, few might now worry about its dubious legality. But international law was not a side issue. It was fundamental. The Iraqi regime was overthrown because of its defiance of international order, but international law had to be sidelined in order to do it. One crime was committed to stop another.
The evidence of Sir Michael Wood and Elizabeth Wilmshurst, combined with the documents, tells a shocking story. In 2002, the Foreign Office and the attorney general saw little chance of establishing a legal case without one of three things: a second UN resolution (which Britain sought but did not get); an urgent need for self-defence (which despite the WMD dossiers did not exist); or a humanitarian crisis (which did not exist either).
The prime minister and foreign secretary should have listened. Instead they treated this advice as an awkward distraction. In November 2002 the attorney general protested that his views were being misrepresented he was "pessimistic", not "optimistic", about the legal validity of war without a second resolution, he told the foreign secretary. Meanwhile Mr Straw who presented himself as a reluctant supporter of war when he gave evidence last week turns out from the documents to have been the prime minister's willing helper, brushing aside his own chief legal adviser.
Mr Blair and Mr Straw took Britain to war knowing all legal advice before the attorney general's final draft was against it. They gambled. They lost. They have been found out.
THE KOREA HERALD
The National Human Rights Commission did the right thing when it asked educational authorities to amend regulations to ensure that the children of illegal immigrants receive formal education up to middle school. The present enforcement regulations of the Education Law effectively bar the children of illegal immigrants from attending primary and middle schools as they are required to submit family documents.
Parents of any status want to send their children to school but few would like to risk deportation by filling out their home addresses on papers to be given to their children's headmaster, who might share the information with immigration officials. Observing the situation, the state human rights agency noted that "the rules are dashing the hopes of the many children of undocumented foreigners" to go to schools here.
As of August 2008, the last time the Justice Ministry conducted a survey, there were some 8,200 children of school age at the homes of foreigners who had overstayed their visa periods. Of them, only 148 boys and girls were attending or attended primary school and the rest had no school education at all. Justice authorities admit that the 2008 survey was not very comprehensive and that the actual number of "uneducated" children would be much larger.
The Constitution of the Republic of Korea states that all people are obligated to receive at least primary education free of charge. The Education Law provides that children of Korean citizens have free access to six years of primary school and three years of middle school education. A revision of regulations under the statute in 2008 guaranteed primary school education for the children of unregistered foreigners, but the system still requires these children to submit a copy of their parent's alien registration card to go to middle school.
Korea joined the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991. In 2003, the UNCRC asked the Korean government to guarantee equal rights of education for the children of unregistered foreign residents. A lawmaker from the ruling Grand National Party has drafted a bill to offer children of unregistered foreigners who have lived here for more than three years the right to legal residence and free access to middle school education.
Justice authorities handling immigration affairs are concerned that the bill, if adopted, would cause complications. If such children obtain legal resident status, there might be appeals for the same treatment of their parents on humanitarian grounds.
Even before any such legislation, education authorities can address the problems of undocumented children by banning schools from sharing students' personal information with other government authorities. Or, schools would not require the students from the homes of unregistered foreigners to identify their parents but would only need them to have "sponsors" who would serve as a liaison between students and their teachers.
Education experts cite the trends in foreign countries with large numbers of immigrant workers where schools accept foreign students without asking for the backgrounds or immigration status of their parents. The practice is based on the belief that by providing education for the children of illegal immigrants, the state can save a lot of social cost from leaving them in a situation prone to destitution and crime and instead secure educated manpower.
Under any circumstances, it is not justified to use the children of overstaying foreign residents to expose their parents' status through school documents. Now we wonder what happened to the homes of the 148 children whose illegally staying parents were identified in the 2008 survey.
THE KOREA HERALD
SEJONG CITY BILL
The government will put a new Sejong City bill on public notice today, changing the title of the planned new town from the original "multifunctional administrative city" to an "education and science-centered economic city." The administration's action, aiming at legislation sometime during the first half of the year, will set off a new round of partisan battles despite the ruling camp's strategy of a "slow, steady and calm approach."
Prime Minister Chung Un-chan is making almost weekly visits to the Chungcheong Provinces, braving eggs thrown at his official sedan, but to no discernable effect. The biggest stumbling block continues to be the rock-hard opposition from Park Geun-hye and her followers in the Grand National Party, and it is not a matter that can be addressed by Chung.
By now, it has been widely speculated that Park would not change her mind unless she is convinced that her present position would be detrimental to her presidential bid. As all candidates in the past elections since 1997, Park believes that votes from Chungcheong, when added to those from her political stronghold - the southeastern region in her case - are enough to win in any conceivable two- or three-way contest.
The recent slight decline in her nationwide popularity surveys, which most observers attribute to her repeated strong utterances against changing the administrative city plan, could induce her to reconsider her stand. But then there is her self-established image as a person of principle, allowing no flexibility or concession on political promises. The question is how she would counter the Blue House's and the current GNP leadership's publicity drive that will follow the public notice of the new Sejong City bill.
Park cannot expect to maintain the level of support she has enjoyed by just throwing stinging criticism at the proponents of the revision. The pro-Park group's alliance with opposition parties in the anti-revision campaign is out of the question. Park and her 50-odd supporters in the National Assembly are called upon to engage in sincere dialogue with opponents in search of a productive solution.
THE KOREA HERALD
FISCAL CRISIS DOWN BELOW NATIONAL LEVEL
PALO ALTO - Sub-national governments - states, countries, cities, provinces, towns, and special districts - play different roles from country to country, but usually deliver important public services such as police and fire protection, transportation, education, health care, and welfare. In many countries, their fiscal position has collapsed under the combined weight of mismanagement and the global economic and financial crisis.
The relationship between sub-national and central governments includes the general division of responsibilities for providing and financing public services; national subsidies that at least partly pay for various services delivered locally; and tax collection.
In the United States, the federal government has primary responsibility for defense, public old-age pensions (Social Security), and health care for the elderly (Medicare); sub-national governments are responsible for education and law enforcement. Health care for the poor (Medicaid) is a shared responsibility. Matching funds flow from the federal government to state and local governments by formulae delineating the shared responsibilities. Some of these formulae allow sub-national governments wide discretion; others do not.
The global economic and financial crisis has precipitated an immense expansion of central government spending, borrowing (and hence future taxing), lending, regulation, and mandates, some in "aid" to sub-national governments (about $200 billion in the U.S. stimulus bill). A key question is whether central governments' power worldwide will expand permanently - over not only the private economy, but also over sub-national governments.
There is remarkable variability in the role of sub-national governments relative to central governments. Prior to the current crisis, U.S. government revenue was roughly 60 percent federal and 40 percent state and local. France was the most centralized of the major economies, with roughly a 80 percent-20 percent split between the national and sub-national governments, while the United Kingdom falls in between, at 75 percent-25 percent. China was the least centralized, at 30 percent-70 percent. Argentina was the most balanced, at about 50 percent-50 percent.
Debates about government centralization run deep in the history and constitutions of most countries. The U.S. Constitution knitted together the thirteen original colonies, and its Tenth Amendment reserves to the states all powers not expressly delegated to the federal government. Even today, tensions over further centralization (e.g., to supranational authority, as in Europe) and devolution (e.g., for Scotland, Quebec, or Kurdistan) are intense.
There are several reasons to favor a healthy dose of decentralization. U.S. Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis famously argued for "the states as laboratories." A recent example in the U.S. was welfare reform. When states got waivers for time limits and work or training requirements for welfare recipients, they were so successful that federal welfare reform followed.
Competition among localities - for example, between states for businesses and workers, and between school districts for students - can lead to more efficient and effective allocation of public resources. If people are able to migrate, they will move to jurisdictions with the mix of taxes and services (e.g., quality schools) that they prefer. As with competition in private markets, competition in government services leads to better outcomes.
Local authorities are closer to problems than national officials tucked away in a country's capital. There are important differences among jurisdictions. Hospitals are more important for some areas, while schools are more important for others. Geographic cost-of-living differences are difficult to reflect in one-size-fits-all national programs.
Some functions are better suited for central-government financing. National defense is an obvious example, as are functions for which economies of scale are important. Where localities try to offload support for the poor onto other localities, the central government must step in and either fund such programs directly or set minimum standards.
In the United States until the past three decades, local school districts were responsible for education. Various
court rulings have determined that this process allowed richer districts to spend more than poorer ones and ordered states to equalize spending. States from California to Texas now routinely collect previously local property taxes to fund schools, and then redistribute them to local school districts. Many believe that the reduction of local control over the schools as a result of the elimination of local financing has been a major contributor to the poor performance of some American schools.
California is an example of long-run fiscal folly meeting short-run national and global economic crisis, resulting in chaos. For many decades, Californians had rapidly rising living standards, great public K-12 and higher education systems, and unprecedented upward mobility. But California's unemployment rate, 12.3 percent in November 2009, was tied for the nation's third highest. People and jobs are seeking better opportunities elsewhere. The state's bond rating is dead last.
Excessive state spending, heavy regulation, and dangerously high taxes have helped create the state's economic
woes. The top personal income-tax rate (also levied on capital gains), the sales tax rate, the corporate tax rate,
and the gas tax are all at or near the highest of any state.
The top 1 percent of the state's income earners pay almost half the income taxes. Thus, the state's coffers (and hence spending) overflow during booms, but then collapse, forcing emergency retrenchment, during busts. Ironically, California's progressive tax and spending policies create such volatility that they destroy the state's ability to fund everything, even basic services from education to health for its most vulnerable citizens.
Now facing another $20 billion deficit despite temporary tax hikes and spending cuts, California's fiscal woes foreshadow those of many sub-national - or, indeed, national -governments globally. While all must first deal with the current emergency, sensible local fiscal, tax, and political reforms are vital to restore a balance of centralized and decentralized government.
Michael J. Boskin, a former chairman of the U.S. president's Council of Economic Advisers, is a professor of economics at Stanford University and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. - Ed.
THE KOREA HERALD
PRESCRIPTION FOR HEALTH CARE DISASTER
I took a little stroll down memory lane last week. Back to the glorious days of June.
Polls then showed an American public that acknowledged its health-care system was broken and wanted Congress to do something about it.
"Americans generally see government involvement in health care in a positive light, and most support it," CBS News reported on the findings of its own poll.
The numbers boded well for an overhaul: 72 percent of Americans supported a public option to compete with private insurers; 64 percent thought government should guarantee health insurance for all Americans; 61 percent thought rising health care costs presented a serious threat to the economy.
Now here we are in a January fog. Months of wrangling in the House and Senate may be doomed because inept Democrats in Massachusetts allowed their senatorial race to spin out of control and political realities now dictate that 60 votes, not a simple majority, are needed to get a bill through the Senate.
Broad support for health-care reform only six months ago has given way to mostly irrational fears -- happily fanned by special interests and Republican politicians -- and the mistaken notion that our health-care system isn't in such bad shape after all.
But let's talk about what will happen if health-care reform doesn't pass.
The number of uninsured, currently at 46 million, will continue to grow. People without access to regular medical care will be less healthy. Taxpayers will pick up the cost in charity care when the ailing end up in the emergency room.
Families will remain paralyzed by the costs of medical coverage and the insecurity of the insurance market. People will forgo entrepreneurial ventures and postpone retirement, clinging to the security of employer health plans.
Insurance companies will still deny people affordable coverage because of pre-existing conditions. They will even rescind the policies of some patients who become sick.
An ever-growing proportion of our nation's spending will be eaten up by medical care. It currently consumes almost one-fifth of the nation's economy. Health care costs will make the deficit worse and our companies less competitive in a global marketplace.
We will continue to spend more on health care than any nation in the world, while achieving poorer results.
The thing about health care is, it can't be handled piecemeal. Congress can't bar health insurers from turning away people with pre-existing conditions (a universally popular idea) without getting healthy customers in the insurance pool. But how do you do that without the much less popular steps of mandates and subsidies?
The health care reform bills in the House and Senate vastly expand access to insurance, they stop insurers from turning away patients because of pre-existing conditions, they help small businesses buy policies for their employees, and they create the potential for vastly expanded choices for businesses and individuals. They also contain carrot-and-stick incentives for eliminating mistakes and driving down the cost of medical procedures.
The plan shaping up isn't perfect, but it is quite good. And it can be made better.
Republicans and some Democrats are saying we should go back to the drawing board and design something
simpler and less controversial. Good luck with that.
If health-care reform crashes now, it'll be radioactive for decades. And the next plan, if and when there is one, will be more timid. Harry Truman reached for single-payer health care and didn't get it, and every reform attempt since has seen a lower bar.
Not so long ago, Americans broadly supported health care reform. Experts of all political stripes still agree that
the status quo doesn't work.
But if Congress does nothing, health care will grow increasingly expensive, inaccessible and wasteful.
See you in the emergency room, everybody?
Barbara Shelly is a member of the Kansas City Star editorial board. -- Ed.
(McClatchy-Tribune Information Services)
By Barbara Shelly/McClatchy Newspapers
THE JAPAN TIMES
MR. OZAWA'S LATEST ACCOUNT
The investigation of allegations that Rikuzankai, the political funds management body of Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, falsified funds reports has entered a new phase with the Jan. 23 questioning of Mr. Ozawa by the special investigation squad of the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office.
It is unusual for a politician at the helm of a governing party to be questioned by public prosecutors as if he were an accused party, even when he submits to the questioning voluntarily as Mr. Ozawa did last week.
In a written statement distributed after the questioning, Mr. Ozawa denied involvement in the falsification of reports. Rikuzankai failed to record its purchase of a plot of land for some ¥340 million on Oct. 29, 2004, and money received beforehand, in its 2004 report. Instead, they were recorded in its 2005 report.
In the statement, Mr. Ozawa said that he had over ¥400 million in cash in a safe in his office in October 2004. He loaned ¥400 million of that cash to Rikuzankai, which used it to purchase the land, the statement said. The cash was left over from ¥560 million withdrawn from banks ¥200 million in November 1989, ¥300 million in December 1997 and ¥60 million in April 2002. One wonders why he needed such a large amount of cash on hand.
Curiously, he took out a ¥400 million loan from a bank several hours after the payment for the land purchase was made. Again, he denied involvement in this matter, saying that a secretary made the arrangements for the bank loan.
Prosecutors apparently suspect that the cash that Mr. Ozawa gave to Rikuzankai included a secret donation of ¥50 million from Mizutani Construction Co., a firm based in Mie Prefecture that wanted to take part in a dam construction project in Oshu, Iwate Prefecture Mr. Ozawa's constituency. Mr. Ozawa said in the statement that neither he nor his aides received any illicit funds.
Mr. Ozawa needs to provide further explanation, especially in view of his having offered varying accounts of the details of the land deal. At first, he said that donated funds were used in the purchase. Later, in October, his office said the purchase was funded by a bank loan. He now says the purchase was made using the cash from his office safe.
THE JAPAN TIMES
RESCUING YEMEN FROM THE GRIP OF EXTREMISM
BY MAI YAMANI
LONDON Yemen has suddenly joined Afghanistan and Pakistan as a risk to global security. Indeed, it is increasingly seen as a nascent failed state and potential replacement host for al-Qaida.
The attempted bombing of a Detroit-bound airliner on Christmas Day by a young Nigerian man trained by al-Qaida in Yemen appeared to open the West's eyes to the country's problems. Following that failed attack, U.S. President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown jointly pushed a conference in London to propose solutions for the previously overlooked crises in Yemen.
But if the conference focuses too narrowly on al-Qaida's presence in Yemen, it will do more harm than good. Instead, the conference must aim to address broader issues of political and social stability within the country.
Al-Qaida is not the primary danger to Yemen's security and stability, but Yemen's geography and political problems are well suited to its activities. A particularly attractive feature is the prevalence of the severe Wahhabi religious dogma, which was exported to Yemen by Saudi Arabia but now provides fertile ground for recruiting disaffected young Yemeni men for assaults on Saudi Arabia.
Yemen's central problems are two: the ongoing civil war that the government is waging against the Houthi tribe in the country's north, and the suppression of a secessionist movement in the south. It is the Yemeni government's inability to find a political solution to these problems that has led the nation to the brink of fragmentation.
So far, Obama and Brown seem unable to fully grasp the fact that Yemen's problems go well beyond al-Qaida's presence in the country. As a result, they appear to be playing into Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's hands. Saleh wants to use the London conference as a means to leverage Western backing, particularly military aid, to pursue his wars against the Houthis and the southern secessionists.
Saleh has regularly employed the danger of al-Qaida to obtain additional financial and security support from both the West and Saudi Arabia. For him, the attempted Christmas Day bombing was a gift from heaven. Saleh's dilemma is that Western aid may now come with increased interference in Yemen's internal affairs at a time when he wants the world to turn a blind eye to his conduct of the country's civil wars.
The West and Saleh do not have the same enemy. Al-Qaida is the West's enemy, while Saleh's true enemies are the Houthis and the separatists of the south. But if the West is to curtail al-Qaida's activities in Yemen, it will need to push Saleh into reaching accommodations with both the Houthis and the southerners, and this will undoubtedly mean sharing power with them. Saleh will surely resist such an effort.
Last December, Saleh called for national dialogue, but on his own terms: The Houthis and the southern leaders are to be excluded from the discussions unless they support the Yemeni Constitution that has kept Saleh in power for decades. But Saleh's hardline approach is failing. More than half of Yemen's territory is falling out of government control.
The U.S. should not be surprised by any of these developments because American involvement in Yemen is not new. Al-Qaida in Yemen has been targeted since the USS Cole was bombed while in the port of Aden in 2000. Missile strikes by U.S. drones last December in Abein and Shabwa killed a number of al-Qaida members, as well as civilians.
Fighting al-Qaida in Yemen through such means may temporarily reduce terrorism, but it will not end it. The real question is whether the West will address Yemen's failed political and military strategies, which are the root cause of al-Qaida's mushrooming presence in the country. Only if Western intervention aims to rescue the Yemeni state from itself will there be any possibility to contain al-Qaida.
And it is not just the Yemeni state that is at fault. Yemen's neighbors have also played a role. Saudi Arabia exported both its Wahhabism and al-Qaida to Yemen by funding thousands of Islamic schools where fanaticism is taught. Moreover, since the 1991 Gulf War, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been expelling Yemeni workers. Last month alone, 54,000 Yemeni workers were expelled from Saudi Arabia.
Though Yemen is part of the Arabian Peninsula, it was excluded from the Gulf Cooperation Council, primarily because its size it is the most populous state on the peninsula would have given it great influence. In fact, the Yemeni population exceeds the population of all six GCC members combined.
Saleh received a strong endorsement from the GCC last December for his domestic wars, and Saudi Arabia has been in direct military confrontation with the Houthis, its army having crossed Yemen's border. But the GCC members' failure to open their economies which are always in need of guest workers to Yemen's young men is short-sighted.
The United States and Britain, both patrons of the GCC, must encourage its members to include Yemen if they want to solve its problems. Yemenis are known as skilled laborers. So, instead of exporting religious radicalism to Yemen, importing its manpower could neutralize Yemen's problems.
Wednesday's London conference could prove to be either a trap for the West or the beginning of a true effort at the kind of domestic reform that can prevent Yemen from becoming another Afghanistan. If the West buys into Saleh's depiction of a war against al-Qaida, it will be trapped into supporting him and his failed policies. But if it looks beyond terrorism to the root causes of the problem, and presses Saleh to begin to share power, Yemen need not become another safe haven for terrorists.
Mai Yamani's most recent book is "Cradle of Islam." © 2010 Project Syndicate
THE JAKARTA POST
FOCUSING ON BANK SUPERVISION
The bank policy guidelines Bank Indonesia's acting governor Darmin Nasution elaborated while addressing the annual Bankers' Dinner on Friday evening focuses on continued programs to strengthen the soundness of banks, facilitate intermediation and improve the efficiency of the banking industry.
They are normatively the right policy measures.
But, strong measures are needed to increase bank capital and liquidity buffers should be thick enough to strengthen their resiliency and withstand bigger losses and a longer crunch in financial markets.
Smoothing bank intermediation through an incentive-disincentive mechanism such as the lowering of the minimum reserve requirement for banks able to significantly expand their lending would help provide more financing to support economic growth.
Further improving the efficiency of banking operations would go a long way to decreasing lending rates which are twice as high as those businesses in other ASEAN countries have to pay. The interest rate spread - the gap between the costs of funds and lending rates - which remains at about 6 percent reflects the gross inefficiency of most banks.
In fact, unusually high lending rates are cited as one of the factors that have made Indonesian manufacturers less competitive against imports from China.
The programs, though quite necessary, are however not enough. In fact, a vital component - effective bank supervision - seemed not prominent enough in Darmin's policy statement. The acting governor touched only briefly on the vital role of banking supervision.
We assume Darmin shied away from reemphasizing too much the central bank's role in supervision not out of his ignorance of the importance of bank oversight. But he simply wanted to avoid setting off a new wave of debate about the planned integration of the supervision of all financial services into a single entity or Financial Service Authority (FSA), outside of Bank Indonesia.
In fact, he should realize how urgent and imperative the need is now to improve the technical competence and integrity of Bank Indonesia's supervision department. The finding of the parliamentary inquiry committee after six weeks of investigation into the 2008 bailout of Bank Century revealed how inadequate had been the central bank's surveillance and supervisory system and how questionable had been the integrity of many of its bank examiners and supervisors.
Testimonies to the committee revealed how the management and controlling owners of the bank had been able to throw almost all regulations on prudential banking operations out of the window. The supervisory system was not so effective because supervisors were incapable of assessing the integrity and competence of the bank management and understanding the risks taken by banks and their current and future profitability and earnings.
We think the most urgent program of action now is not to force the establishment of the FSA for banks and all other financial services this year, as required by the central bank law, but to further empower the existing bank supervision department at Bank Indonesia.
The experiences of other countries such as South Korea, the UK and Australia which have set up an FSA show at least two years are needed to prepare and set up all the legal frameworks and organizational structures for the FSA and its executing agency. We need more time to assess the advantages and disadvantages, to prepare the law and the entire legal and institutional infrastructure once we finally decide to adopt such an integration.
But what is needed right now, and at least for the whole year, is a much more effective bank supervisory system at Bank Indonesia which is well linked up with the oversight authority of other financial services such as the capital market and insurance.
THE JAKARTA POST
THE MISSING NUTS AND BOLTS OF DEFENSE REFORM
EVAN A. LAKSMANA
By the end of January, the Defense Ministry's 100-day program will expire, with key milestones seemingly drowned out by the domestic m*l*e over President Yudhoyono's characteristic indecision.
More disconcerting, however, is that the ministry seems unable to move away from the existing trend over the past decade of sidelining the key nuts-and-bolts issue of defense reform.
A study by noted security watchdog Pacivis shows that on average, military reform efforts have dealt largely with normative and substantive issues - such as the abolishment of the "Dual Function" doctrine - while only 9 and 2 percent respectively touched on defense economic and force structure issues.
These oversights have significant ramifications in our overall defense planning and ability to narrow the strategic gap between the TNI and the increasingly sophisticated regional forces.
As such, if we are serious about "transforming" our forces, then we need to outline detailed, long-term policies in the areas of strategic direction, force development, force employment, force management and corporate support.
First and foremost, we need to consider new models of strategic policymaking and governance in the defense establishment.
These models should speak to us beyond the vague concepts of forming a "professional" military - and instead be able to tell us just how well and how prepared the TNI is in doing its job.
Specifically, such models should clearly measure and assess the changing strategic environment and our level of readiness in dealing with them.
Besides informing us about the technical proficiency of our "hardware", it should also tell us about the cohesion level, combat effectiveness and credibility of our entire forces.
More importantly, it must also have a built-in feedback system that can calculate the entire spectrum of defense risk, requirement and environment.
Perhaps implementing a defense balanced scorecard could be a good first step. Originating from the business world, the term "balanced scorecard", say initiators Robert Kaplan and David Norton, reflects the balance provided between short- and long-term objectives, between financial and non-financial measures, between lagging and leading indicators, and between external and internal performance initiatives.
In short, the scorecard helps organizations translate strategy into the operational objectives that drive both behavior and performance - a tool to report and manage organizational performance.
Applied to the defense context, we could measure the balance among the competing goals of force management, institutional requirements, operational needs and future challenges.
Bottom line, though clearly not straightforward, creating new measurement tools such as the balanced scorecard could enhance our strategic judgment and drive improvement activities.
These defense analytical tools, however, need to be placed within the overall effort to revamp corporate support over at the Defense Ministry and service headquarters to provide detailed, better planning and assistance.
Second, we need to start paying attention to platform commonality in our military equipment.
Publicly available studies show that by the end of 2004, Indonesia had 173 types of weapons systems from 17 different countries. To continue our weapons buildup and modernization without creating an integrated long-term plan to phase out such platform diversity might be counterproductive in the long run.
Not only would problems of interoperability crop up from time to time, but it would also strain our defense budget.
Conversely, a recent RAND Corp. study notes that increasing the level of military commonality could increase operational flexibility as shared components suggest improved readiness and shared operational capabilities, reduce the procurement burden by reducing the number of components to be developed or purchased, and possibly reduce the logistical and training burden as well.
Finally, we need to reform our defense acquisition policy beyond the existing stopgap measures of committing to revitalize defense industries.
On a broader scale, defense economists Curie Maharani and Ron Matthews recently suggested in Defense Review Asia that Indonesia should boost investment in defense technology and R&D (both physical and human), create an effective and sustainable defense funding model, integrate defense policy and platform acquisitions, and broaden and deepen defense industrial structures.
These policies, however, might need a further empowered Directorate General for Defense Resources as the single, highest executive agency responsible for the contracting and management of all weapons programs, from initial inception to planning and delivery, to export sales.
Another requirement is to recruit the nation's best and brightest scientific and engineering talent into such an agency. This is crucial, for instance, to level the playing field in dealing with the local and global defense industry. Without such new blood, our defense planners would be hard-pressed to adjust to any high-tech venture in the near future. Sadly, however, state-owned strategic industries - much like the TNI - have not been able to attract these cr*me de la cr*me, mainly due to the absence of attractive remuneration packages.
All the above are only some of the main technical points of defense reform we need to tackle. Clearly there is a whole host of other complicated factors and issues, such as personnel planning and military education.
But the above initiatives could perhaps be the first step in the long, winding journey of transforming the TNI. And unless these nuts-and-bolts issues are addressed publicly, we will always ponder whether our military reform has been successful.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was once quoted saying, "Planning is everything - plans are nothing."
The writer is a researcher with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Jakarta.
THE JAKARTA POST
`DIRTY DANCING' OR `THE SOUND OF MUI-SIC?'
Remember Johnny Castle? I'm sure the clerics from the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) think him the devil incarnate, but you probably remember him better as actor Patrick Swayze (who died in September 2009) in his role as the sexy working-class dance instructor in the 1987 film Dirty Dancing.
The story is set in 1963 in a US Catskill Mountains resort. It revolves around the hackneyed theme of girl-meets-boy-from-the-wrong-side-of-the-tracks.
Baby, the 17-year-old daughter of a well-to-do family develops a crush on Johnny, and they become lovers. He introduces her to working-class "dirty dancing": the mambo and other Latin naughtiness. When Johnny's usual dance partner gets knocked up by her boyfriend, he trains Baby to replace her.
Much of the film involves hot dancing scenes, packed with hip-thrusting, pelvis-grinding, close-body contact and other steamy moves that would horrify the clerics. The result?
The movie sizzles, and it became a massive box-office hit.
And that is a good reminder that in their time, almost all forms of American pop dance and music - from the foxtrot to tango - have scandalized the older generation, including in the United States!
Now fast forward half a century to 2010 in Bandung, where four women and two men were arrested for "dirty dancing" in a caf* on New Year's Eve.
Under the pornography law they could be imprisoned for up to 15 years.
Their crime? Wearing clothes that were too sexy and "doing *pornographic' movements . that could arouse sexual urges".
It probably isn't much consolation to the dancers, I know, but they're in good company: many of the most successful performers in history were also banned for being vulgar and immoral, including Elvis, the Beatles and Madonna.
The Bandung caf* raid is the first time that anyone has been charged under the pornography law, which was pushed through parliament in October 2008 by Muslim conservatives who seem to have appointed themselves guardians of the morality of our nation.
So, ignoring for the moment countless ugly instances of hard-liner hypocrisy such as the three sharia police officers in Aceh who recently raped a university student, let's take a deep breath and see what other creative ideas our moral protectors have come up with in their crusade to save us all.
First off, I see that the MUI's edict commission has banned rebonding. What's that? A sadomasochistic sexual practice? No, it's merely the name for hair-straightening - the opposite of a perm.
Perms are also banned, of course, as are punk dos, funky haircuts and even dreadlocks. The reason? These hairdos could "invite moral danger"! Really?
And then there are calls to ban pre-wedding photos (yes, that's right, portrait shots of engaged couples) because they are maksiat - in violation of god's law, immoral, sinful and wicked. Bizarre, maybe, but you have to give the clerics full points for imagination.
They also want to ban women from being either drivers or passengers of ojek (motorcycle taxis) because that would put them in close proximity to members of the opposite sex.
I'd give that idea three points out of 10 for imagination because the link is too obvious, whereas the rulings on hairdos and pre-wedding photos are totally wild!
I mean, who would have thought that everything that's wrong with our country could be brought home to salons and wedding photographers?
Who would have thought that coiffure reform would be the key to national salvation?
I thought only countries like Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan got so worked up about hair and hip-wriggling.
Now it seems the MUI want Indonesia to become more like these places. What a great idea, boys!
Such prosperous and happy nations, full of people with smiles on their faces because, of course, it's more important to have sharia implemented than to have full bellies, education for the kids, shelter, proper health, sanitation or water, let alone a peaceful, stable democracy enjoying economic growth (like the one we've got here in sinful, well-coiffed, dance-crazy Indonesia).
Perhaps the MUI hasn't noticed that implementing conservative visions of sharia that target women doesn't seem to be working. After all, more than half of the world's poor are Muslims - the poorest of the poor being women - as are 75 percent of refugees.
In fact, Muslim countries are among the world's poorest, weakest and illiterate, despite the fact that some are rich in resources. Although Muslims make up 22 percent of the world population, they produce less than 5 percent of global GDP.
In 2005, the combined GDP of 57 Muslim countries was less than US$2 trillion, but the United States alone - home of dirty dancing and dodgy hairdos - produced goods and services worth $10.4 trillion.
China manages $5.7 trillion, Japan $3.5 trillion, India $3 trillion and Germany $2.1 trillion. Yes, Saudia Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar collectively produce goods and services (mainly oil) worth $430 billion, but the Netherlands has a higher annual GDP, while Buddhist Thailand produces goods and services worth $429 billion.
Even more worrying, Muslim countries' GDP as a percentage of global production is going down. The Arabs, it seems, are especially badly off, despite their religious conservatism and insistence on covering women's hair.
The UN Arab Development Report tells the story: "Half of Arab women cannot read; one in five Arabs live on less than $2 per day; only 1 percent of the Arab population has a personal computer, and only 0.5 percent use the Internet; 15 percent of the Arab workforce is unemployed, and this could double by 2010. Average growth rate of the per capita income in the Arab world was only 0.5 percent per annum, worse than anywhere but sub-Saharan Africa."
So Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation, needs to make a choice: Patrick Swayze, or our hair-brained (sic) clerics? Please tell me that's a no-brainer!
The writer is the author of Julia's Jihad.
THE JAKARTA POST
INDONESIA AND THE WORLD 2010 (PART 2 OF 2)
MARTY M. NATALEGAWA
Indonesia's preoccupation with various global challenges in 2010 will not be at the expense of its commitment to contribute to peace, stability and prosperity of its own region - Southeast Asia.
Almost mirroring Indonesia's democratic transformation over the past decade, the period since 2003 when Indonesia last held the Chairmanship of ASEAN, has witnessed ASEAN's own evolution towards an ASEAN Community.
This development has not been an accident. For Indonesia, the evolution of an ASEAN that is more alert to democratic principles and good governance is critical to ensure that there would not be a disconnect or divide between the transformation that has taken place within Indonesia and the regional milieu.
In 2010, with the Charter in place, ASEAN has all the Community which we all aspire by 2015. The urgency of concrete action by ASEAN cannot be underestimated.
In the broader region, the past year saw renewed interest in the idea of an East Asia or Asia-Pacific wide regional architecture.
Renewed because for Indonesia it is a debate that we had anticipated by forging ahead with the concept of an ASEAN Community. For Indonesia, there cannot be an East Asian community or an Asia Pacific without an ASEAN Community as its core constituent.
Thus, the ASEAN Community, the various "ASEAN +" processes, the ARF, APEC and East Asia Summit constitute a multi-pronged path towards an East Asia community with ASEAN playing a central role. This is a vision that will continue to guide us in 2010.
A notable emphasis, however, is the need to ensure that nationally, within our own borders, Indonesia itself is ready, including in terms of its national connectivity, in order to fully benefit from the regional community-building efforts.
Our global and regional diplomatic efforts will be underpinned by solid bilateral diplomacy.
In keeping with the tagline "one thousand friends, zero enemies", our foreign policy in 2010 will actively seek to raise to a higher level existing ties with countries in all corners of the globe - the Asia-Pacific, Africa, Europe and the Americas. In this connection, besides the promotion of positive political and people-to-people relations, there will be renewed and focused efforts to promote economic diplomacy.
The promotion of trade, investment and tourism is critical to ensure that foreign policy brings tangible contribution to our development efforts. The foreign policy machinery will be galvanized for this purpose.
A special focus for our efforts will be in border diplomacy - namely to make headway in addressing outstanding border delineation and demarcation issues with neighboring states through negotiations.
Not least, foreign policy in 2010 will also be cognizant of so called "intermestic issues" - those which reflect the blurring of boundaries between international and domestic issues. One such issue is the question of protection of our nationals overseas, principally Indonesian workers overseas.
Indonesian foreign policy will strive to ensure a better recognition that there is natural mutually beneficial relationship between the host country and the sending country: that each Indonesian worker is after all making contribution to the country in which he/she finds employment, while conversely earning their living.
This fact must find better manifestation in the manner in which the responsibilities and rights of workers overseas are recognized. Indonesian foreign policy in 2010 will strive to ensure that the necessary legal frameworks are in place.
Above all, however, Indonesian foreign policy, indeed, each and every Indonesian diplomat, will continue to be imbued with the principles of partiality towards and protection for Indonesian nationals - without exception.
One issue that is also likely to continue to preoccupy is the efforts to overcome terrorism. Indonesia's foreign policy in 2010 will continue employing bilateral, regional and global efforts to overcome this threat.
It will also continue to address the so-called conditions conducive or root causes of terrorism. Inter-faith dialogue through bilateral, regional and inter-regional cooperation will be at the forefront of our diplomacy. Indeed, the entire spectrum of "soft power" will occupy a central place in our foreign policy.
I am of the firm view that to be effective, foreign policy demands a strong sense of ownership and participation by the stakeholders. Thus, democratization of Indonesian foreign policy will be key. On the one hand, this of course, relates to substance.
Indonesian foreign policy as we begin this second decade of the 21st century must reflect the democratic transformation within. However, it also relates to process. The foreign policy machinery must be open to interaction with stakeholders and, above all to new ideas and opportunities. The partnership and engagement with the DPR (the House of Representatives), more specifically its Commission I, is especially valued and critical. Foreign policy and diplomacy unites.
I do genuinely believe that Indonesian foreign policy stands at a cross road. We have an opportunity to take Indonesia's international role to another level. A country engaged constructively in its own region and at the same time able to contribute significantly to global issues and concerns.
Such a role, of course, must be earned through the quality of our diplomacy. Through the contribution of the men and women who make up our diplomatic machinery, whose dedication and hard work I wish to acknowledge today.
Above all, through the support and partnership of all stakeholders. Insya Allah (God willing).
The writer is Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Indonesia. The article is an abridged version of the minister's annual policy statement on Jan. 8, 2010.
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