month march 05, edition 000447, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by manish manjul
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- TUMBLEDOWN DICK
- AN ENLIGHTENED APPROACH
- THIS TOO SHALL PASS. WILL IT? - GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
- GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSES - RUDRONEEL GHOSH
- COMING HOME TO ROOST PREMEN ADDY
- HUSAIN IN A PICKLE - ANURADHA DUTT
- OPPOSITION UNITED ONCE AGAIN - KALYANI SHANKAR
- THE LAST ASSASSINATION OF ITS KIND? - MATTI FRIEDMAN
- NO REAL WINNERS OF SHALLOW DEBATE
- THE TRUTH OF KABUL
- EXILING TRADITION
- THE LAHORE LOG - BY NAJAM SETHI
- THE WRITER IS THE EDITOR OF THE FRIDAY TIMES ( LAHORE )
- MONI MOHSIN
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- GO FOR PEACE
- TAPPING INTO TECH
- COMPETE AND COOPERATE - DILIP HIRO
- 'ONE HAS TO DO THE RIGHT THING, WHATEVER THE OUTCOME' - SUBHASH K JHA
- THE LATE GUEST - JUG SURAIYA
- A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW
- THE DEVIL'S NOT IN THE DETAILS
- BEN WALTERS, THE GUARDIAN
- IT'S ALL ABOUT RESPECT - D RAJA
- DON'T LOSE THE GAME - KANWAL SIBAL
- UPWARDLY MOBILE
- HOT POTATOES
- AN AFTERNOON DEBATE
- 'NOTHING COMMON AND THERE IS NO WEALTH' - INDER MALHOTRA
- WRITER'S BLOCK - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
- AND THE GENDER-NEUTRAL AWARD GOES TO...
- BACK TO THE MINES - PRIYADARSHI SIDDHANTA
- THE WRONG SORT OF COMPETITION
- BANKING THE UNDER-BANKED
- WHAT NEXT FOR THE FISCAL STIMULUS? - MAHESH VYAS
- FOUR GOOD STEPS THAT WILL YIELD RESULTS - MADAN SABNAVIS
- SHOCK, ABSORBED - R RAVICHANDRAN
- REGULATE AIR SHOWS
- DISPELLING GREEK MYTHS
- A CRISIS AND AN OPPORTUNITY AHEAD - SUBRAMANIAN SWAMY
- AEROBATIC SHOWS AND SAFETY ISSUES - A. RANGANATHAN
- THE LAST OF THE LABOUR TITANS - K. NATWAR SINGH
- TRAINED PAKISTANI IS SAID TO SUPPORT THE TALIBAN - CARLOTTA GALL
- AFRICA BEGINS TO MAKE POVERTY HISTORY - LARRY ELLIOTT AND HEATHER STEWART
- TOP PRIORITY
- POLITICAL MATURITY
- 8 DEGREES OF SEPARATION - BRAHMA CHELLANEY
- PRESERVING KIPLING'S LEGACY IN MUMBAI - FARRUKH DHONDY
- CRASH IN HYDERABAD
- CPM AT SEA
- ENABLING SPECIAL CHILDREN
- DEFENCE NEEDS MODERNIZATION - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- ANOTHER SWADESHI! WHY NOT? - BY SUNIT DHAWAN
- BANGALORE'S ROAD RUSH HINDERS FIRE-FIGHTING - BY SHUBHADEEP CHOUDHURY
- BUDGET DENIES DEFENCE ITS DUE - BY COL (RETD) P.K. VASUDEVA
- FURY AS EU APPROVES GM POTATO - BY MARTIN HICKMAN
- DELICACIES AROUND THE BSE
- FIRST, DO NO HARM
- TAKES MORE THAN JUGAAD
- POST-BUDGET - A NEW PARADIGM - JAMAL MECKLAI
- BANKING ON TALENT - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
- INSPIRING CONSUMERS - MADHUKAR SABNAVIS
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- REACHING OUT TO GOD...
- BUDGET'S GREEN INITIATIVES
- TAX AMNESTY BY ANY NAME
- KEEPING INDIAN RAILWAYS ON TRACK - RAGHU DAYAL
- ALL HOOKED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO - MUKUL SHARMA
- TAXES RAISED TO BOLSTER SOCIAL PROGRAMMES
- GOVT HAS FAILED TO DRAFT A PRICING POLICY
- INDIA IS NOT AN EASY MARKET: LA PRAIRIE - NANDINI RAGHAVENDRA
- A SURPRISING US STATEMENT
- DIFFERENT STANDARDS - BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
- CROSSING THE BORDER AND AWAITING FREEDOM - BY I.A. REHMAN
- LET'S TAKE TIME TO COOL OFF - BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
- POWER OF PRANA - BY YOGI ASHWINI
- MALE OSCAR GOES TO... - BY KIM ELSESSER
- TRAGEDY, MIRACLE
- BEYOND CONTROL
- DRUG ADDICTS
- AGRICULTURE & EMPLOYMENT - BY ASHWANI MAHAJAN
- VICTIMS OF INDIAN JUSTICE
- DELHI'S BEGGAR EXPRESS
- THE THREAT FROM GM CROPS
- NARROW GAUGE
- FREE FOR ALL
- SENSITIVE BLACKMAIL - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- LEADER WITH A VISION - MALVIKA SINGH
- TIME FOR VIGIL
- INCREASED FERTILITY
- SKEWED FREEDOM - BY SAEED NAQVI
- IN YEMEN, DIVORCED BEFORE PUBERTY - BY NICHOLAS KRISTOFF, THE NEW YORK TIMES
- RED HOT CHILLI PEPPER(S) - BY LASYA SHASHIMOHAN
- IT'S NOT LIEBERMAN
- I ENVY THE PEOPLE WHO HATE ISRAEL - BY BRADLEY BURSTON
- HOMO ERECTUS
- If Netanyahu wants peace, he knows what to do - By Yoel marcus
- CATHOLIC FATHER AND JEWISH MOTHER BATTLE OVER TODDLER'S RELIGION - BY ANSHEL PFEFFER
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- A.I.G., GREECE, AND WHO'S NEXT?
- TRIALS AND ERROR
- A CHANCE FOR THE BLUEFIN
- THE WAL-MART HIPPIES - BY DAVID BROOKS
- SENATOR BUNNING'S UNIVERSE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
- DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL, DON'T CHANGE - BY MERRILL A. MCPEAK
THE MOSCOW TIMES
- ZEROING IN ON NOTHING - BY MICHELE A. BERDY
- MR. NYET - BY MICHAEL BOHM
- TORTURE TACTICS
- NADRA UNDER FIRE
- ROUND AND ROUND
- STAR-GAZING -- FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH - AYAZ AMIR
- A KITE-LESS BASANT? - AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
- DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE - AMEER BHUTTO
- THE SIESTA IS OVER - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- ARE THE MILITANTS LOSING?- SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- CIRCULAR DEBT FURTHER WORSENS
- IS PRESIDENT PLANNING TO BECOME PM?
- PALESTINE: ARABS FIND A WAY OUT
- HOLBROOKE PROVIDES COMIC RELIEF TO SUBCONTINENT - M D NALAPAT
- WHY PAKISTAN ARMED FORCES ARE INDO-CENTRIC? - SULTAN M HALI
- TIME FOR PRAYER IN BUSY LIFE - ATIF NOOR KHAN
- WATER AMBITIOUS INDIA - LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)
- TO PAKISTAN, ALMOST WITH LOVE - DAVID IGNATIUS
- POOR GOVERNANCE
- DIGITAL INNOVATION FAIR DIGITAL BY 2021
- BLAMING MOM..!
- AKH MORSHED AS NEW FOREIGN SECRETARY - M SERAJUL ISLAM
- JINNAH'S LABYRINTH - JASWANT SINGH
- MR RUDD'S POLICY SPIN MAY END IN POLITICAL STRIFE
- CUM LAUDE FOR THE CURRICULUM
- CANBERRA IS TOO FAR AWAY TO DELIVER SERVICES
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- INERTIA KEEPS COAL KING
- WHEN LIVE AID IS LIVE AMMO
- FREE BUT NOT SECURE, IRAQIS PREPARE TO VOTE
- ENFORCE KEEP LEFT RULES, OLD AND NEW
- JACOB ZUMA: UNCERTAIN WELCOME
- IN PRAISE OF MANCHESTER UNITED SUPPORTERS TRUST
- MICHAEL ASHCROFT: EMBARRASSMENT OF RICHES
THE KOREA HERALD
- GENDER EQUALITY
- INTERNET ADDICTION
- HOW TO DEAL WITH EUROPE'S CONTESTED NEIGHBORHOOD - RONALD ASMUS
- STOP OUTSOURCING SECURITY
THE JAPAN TIMES
- PASSED BUDGET A RESPITE FOR DPJ
- FUNDING SCANDALS KEEP COMING
- JAPAN'S SLOW-MOTION CRISIS - BY KENNETH ROGOFF
THE JAKARTA POST
- OBAMA AND AMERICAN SCHOLARSHIP ON ISLAM - AHMAD NAJIB BURHANI
- INACCURATE AND MISLEADING REPORTS ON HTI - MUHAMMAD ISMAIL YUSANTO
- INFRASTRUCTURE DEVELOPMENT AFTER THE CRISIS - MONTTY GIRIANNA
- GIVE DOWN-TO-EARTH STATS
- BUILDUP ON BASIS OF PEACE
- GOLDEN TIME TO MAKE IT RIGHT - BY QIN XIAOYING (CHINA DAILY)
- WALTZING AROUND EXCHANGE RATES - BY ANDREW SHENG (CHINA DAILY)
- SANTIAGO STANDS FIRM BUT FOR ... - BY SEBASTIAN GRAY (CHINA DAILY)
- THE DOMINO EFFECT OF THE US RATE HIKE - BY LIU JUNHONG (CHINA DAILY)
- PARANOIA PLUS PLUS
- 100th INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY WHAT IS THERE TO CELEBRATE?
- CASE FOR ' DIASPORA' REPRESENTATION IN THE SRI LANKAN LEGISLATURE - DR. HARINDA VIDANAGE
- FROM ENEMIES TO FRIENDS: INDIA, PAKISTAN NEED ATTITUDE CHANGE
- GET IT MOVING
- ONLY FIGURES
- 'JATIYA AGRADHIKAR' :CIVIL AND POLITICAL RIGHTS TEST - MUKTI RIJAL
- TOPICS: ORDEAL OF A WIDOW - SUVECHCHHA POUDE
HOLBROOKE IS BAD NEWS FOR INDIA
The US special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Mr Richard Holbrooke, has come up with the preposterous idea that this past week's terror attacks in Kabul were not directed at Indians. Taliban gunmen entered a guest house complex where Indians lived, they went door to door ascertaining nationalities and identifying Indians, and yet Mr Holbrooke seems to believe Indians just happened to be caught in the crossfire! To be fair, Indians were not the only ones who died that day. Other foreigners were also killed in what seemed to be a pattern. The Haqqani faction of the Taliban and its principal strategic ally, Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence, were seeking to scare away those countries and individuals that were building civil society and Afghan Government capacities to take charge of the embattled nation's destiny. They were targeting President Hamid Karzai's closest backers. India is the biggest of these and, as such, is in the Taliban's line of fire. It is crucial to understand what the ISI and the Pakistani establishment are doing. They are gradually undermining the Mullah Omar faction of the Taliban, believing it to be messianic, too aligned with Al Qeada's universal jihad and politically unreliable. They are seeking to cripple Mr Karzai and his administration. In all this they are clearing the way for the Haqqani faction as the only viable force in Afghanistan in case of an American withdrawal. In the past year, Islamabad has encouraged engagement between the Haqqani group and the Americans, a process in which they found Mr Holbrooke a willing ally. In Pakistan's best-case scenario, the generals will rule Islamabad and their Haqqani proxies will run Kabul. Forget the fog of religious zealotry. While some of that no doubt exists, what Pakistan is attempting is straightforward power-play. It is reigniting its strategic depth doctrine and gearing up for a future assault on the Indian mainland. The game is crystal clear to everybody except Mr Holbrooke. Or is he pretending ignorance?
Perhaps the real problem is not the prickly, bumptious and self-important Mr Holbrooke but the President who has appointed him. Mr Barack Obama has at his command an ocean of assessments and inputs on Afghanistan and Pakistan. There is Mr Holbrooke; there is the British Government and Vice-President Joe Biden, who want to cut and run; there is Secretary of Defence Robert Gates and his Generals, who want more troops and who want to fight; there is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose visits to the region resemble NGO road shows; there are former intelligence gurus like Mr Bruce Riedel, once said to be Mr Obama's closest adviser on AfPak, who worry what a jihadi victory will mean for American morale, influence and security. In their own way, all of these opinions are persuasive, though India will obviously agree with some more than others. Yet, it is astonishing that Mr Obama still has not been able to make up his mind. Between ordering a surge and giving huge concessions to the ISI-Taliban coalition, which is what he did at the recent London Conference on Afghanistan, he has come out looking confused and simply under-equipped for the job. Consider Mr Holbrooke. He consistently misled Washington, DC, in his early days as special representative, embittered relations with Mr Karzai and ran an insidious campaign to replace him with a lightweight. With such a record, it is a wonder Mr Obama still has him in his Administration. Or is there a purpose to it?
AN ENLIGHTENED APPROACH
MODI SHOWS THE WAY TO EMPOWERING POOR
India being a country where, according to the 2004-05 Planning Commission estimates, 27.5 per cent of the population lives below the poverty line, it is hardly surprising that a vast amount of the Government's energies and resources is spent on poverty alleviation programmes. But how successful have these welfare schemes really been? If even after 62 years of independence we have more than 30 crore people in the country living below the poverty line, the answer to the above question would be a big thumbs down. Our poverty alleviation schemes have been mired in rampant corruption, resulting in the intended beneficiaries getting little or no help to improve their circumstances. Take for example the UPA's National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. The scheme was to annually provide 100 days of guaranteed employment to registered rural households. But only 10 to 15 per cent of those registered were actually provided with work in the first three years of the scheme. Similarly, other poverty alleviation schemes too have fallen way short of the mark due to major problems in the delivery mechanism.
The real reason why things have come to this pass is the Government's insistence on continuing with the outmoded Nehruvian-Socialist model of poverty alleviation that focusses on redistribution of resources. The basic aim of this approach is to create comparative equitable economic conditions by diverting resources to the weaker sections of society. But this approach necessarily has to rely on a distribution mechanism which leaves this model open to corruption along the distribution chain. And this is exactly what has happened with most of our poverty alleviation schemes. In such a scenario, it is noteworthy that Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has come up with a novel alternative model. This approach directly puts wealth or means of production in the hands of the needy and, thereby, cuts out the possibility of middle-men eating away precious resources. The overall focus here is to enable people to be economically self-reliant by creating for them a conducive environment for growth. Through 50 Garib Kalyan Melas held across the State, the Gujarat Government has been able to put Rs 1,500 crore worth of wealth in the form of cheques, cycle repairing kits, sewing machines, etc, directly in the hands of 25 lakh deserving candidates. This will be followed up with continued guidance to help the poor stand on their own feet. Given the present poverty situation in the country, Mr Modi's model definitely merits encouragement and replication.
THIS TOO SHALL PASS. WILL IT?
Apart from being a follower of ISKCON and a disciple of sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, the spiritually inclined Beatle George Harrison, who died in 2001, is remembered for penning sublime songs. This despite being overshadowed by the John Lennon-Paul McCartney juggernaut of explosive genius that occasioned comparisons, and twentieth century parallels, with Mozart.
Harrison's own reflective and melodious contributions include 'While my guitar gently weeps', in which he makes the all too human point that we don't always do what needs doing and rarely learn from our mistakes.
Of course, in the Indian strategic context, we are generally oblivious to our mistakes; let alone bothering to learn from the success of others including those whom we admire and, as some would say, even slavishly follow. For evidence, look at the recent India-Pakistan Foreign Secretary-level talks that took place in New Delhi at the behest of the US.
But just imagine the same talks taking place in the aftermath of an accurate Indian drone attack, American style and conducted likewise in darkness, at the recent jihadi jamboree at Muzaffarabad in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir on the so-called 'Kashmir Solidarity Day' on February 4. Had it been so, we might have been referring to the infamous Lashkar-e-Tayyeba chief Mohammed Hafiz Saeed, ruthless mastermind of 26/11, as well as his brother-in-law, Hafiz Abdur Rehman Makki, a leader of Jamaat-ud-Dawa'h, in the past tense now.
But of course, this is pure fantasy, on par with the doings of Spiderman. What is all too real, however, is that Makki named four Indian cities to be attacked afresh, including Pune, at that rally to express "solidarity with Kashmir". But had there been a well-targeted drone attack, we might not have had to continue trying to convince the Pakistani Government to arrest Saeed, and put paid to Makki at the same time.
Instead, we had the dastardly bomb attack on the German Bakery in Pune as a backdrop to the Foreign Secretary-level talks. The ill-conceived talks are widely perceived to have gone in Pakistan's diplomatic favour because India has come to the table under American pressure without Pakistan conceding anything, or delivering on any of India's requests.
We are clearly not, as a state, inspired by the apostle of peace and non-violence Mahatma Gandhi. Yet, at the same time, we do not have the gumption to take on our foes by indulging in some derring-do. For instance, launch targeted surgical strikes or plan even less ostentatious ones like that which was used to eliminate Hamas leader Mahmoud Al Mabhouh in Dubai recently, allegedly by Israel's intelligence agency Mossad. Such action is not even contemplated in India.
Israel, on the other hand, can even use state instruments in a highly secretive way without leaving a discernible trail, let alone proof. Mahmoud Al Mabhouh died apparently suffocated, but the death could have been natural as well if he was overwhelmed by the quantum of sedatives found in his body during the post-mortem. But did Mabhouh take it himself or was he administered the drugs? This could take years to unravel and, meanwhile, a potent threat to Israel has been rendered one with his maker.
For pacifist India, offence is not, as yet, considered the best form of defence. Not even with the flexible fig-leaf of plausible deniability included; and this policy squeamishness on our part is being exploited by our enemies and detractors alike.
India is perceived as a soft state that can be bullied to a considerable extent, particularly if the attacks and humiliations come in a seemingly sporadic manner, more so if from 'non-state actors', enabling the Indians to save face and convince themselves that their national honour has not been impugned.
So an Indian drone strike, American style, is in the realms of a pipe dream. The nearest possibility might be some kind of a fifth column along the lines of the ISI-induced Indian Mujahideen. But in this, we clearly have much to learn from the Pakistanis.
The jihadis in PoK, on their part, exhibited their contempt for India's strategic resolve by not only assembling minutes of flying time away from Indian territory but using the occasion to spew undiluted venom against us. They also demanded concessions from the Pakistani Government, lifting of bans and the like, but that may have been no more than a camouflage for the cosiness of their actual nexus.
But then, the creation of such able 'non-state actors' is indeed a master stroke on the part of Pakistan's military-political establishment, and the ISI. It definitely gives them strategic depth and manoeuvrability both in the AfPak arena and in dealing with India in a manner that Indians cannot, despite their military superiority.
Guerrilla warfare is what is truly difficult and intractable for any conventional armed force, however well equipped, to deal with. This has been proved again and again in different theatres of war. But used well, it can certainly help a nation further its strategic objectives. Even Elizabeth I of England, the 'Good Queen Bess' that put the 'Great' into Great Britain after her father Henry VIII broke with the Papacy, used a pirate like Francis Drake to harass and hijack Spanish ships returning with gold from the Americas.
And she certainly wasn't above accepting a great deal of the purloined gold as tribute from the promptly knighted Sir Francis. Such tactics, followed by a frontal assault on the Spanish Armada by the British Navy, succeeded in eclipsing the power of Catholic Spain once and for all. We then see Protestant Britannia ruling the waves. It was a dominance of the high seas that saw Britain create a formidable empire that lasted right up to the end of the Victorian era.
This is not to suggest that the non-state actor is capable of delivering the whole or even part of a nation's strategic objectives on its own, even with covert support and succour from the state. But, as a flexible, highly manoeuvrable, and swift tool of state policy, it has its definite uses.
Besieged as India is with challenges to its sovereignty and cohesiveness as a nation, it is very necessary to develop the capacity to nip insurgencies, sedition, and terrorism in the bud by means of pre-emptive attacks that may not always involve playing by the rules but act as a stern deterrent to those that may seek to take advantage of our plurality, diversity, and at the root of it, our inherent tolerance.
GET OFF YOUR HIGH HORSES
Over the last week or so a lot has been said regarding MF Husain's acceptance of Qatari citizenship. In effect, this would mean that the 95-year-old artist would be surrendering his Indian passport. The discourse on the issue has seen two camps emerge those who believe that Husain has hurt the sentiments of the people and are vindicated by his acceptance of citizenship of an Islamic Sheikhdom, and those who believe that Husain is a victim of politics of intolerance. The latter would have us believe that Husain's decision to become a Qatari citizen has been a painful one; that given a choice he would have continued to reside in the country of his birth.
But on his recent interview to NDTV, Husain's justification for shifting base to Qatar flew in the face of those who have been doggedly defending him. In his own words Husain described his decision to be a pragmatic one, in very John Lennon style called citizenship a piece of paper, and listed reasons raging from taxes and sponsorship to a conducive artistic environment, unfinished projects and old age as the main motivating factors for leaving India. He clarified that he was not running away from the Indian law and was very much aware of the fact that there are legal cases pending against him that could require his physical presence to which he had no objection.
But most surprising of all was his big thumbs up to India. Not only did Husain say that he was still spiritually connected to India but also that he continued to believe that India was hugely tolerant and democratic, and that even though some people took exception to his works, he held no grudges against anyone.
Husain's only concerns right now are his three ambitious projects: The history of the Arab civilisation (being sponsored by the Sheikha of Qatar), the history of Indian films, and the history of the Indian civilisation. He even admitted that he would wait and see if Qatar offers him the artistic freedom he desires, implying that he does not rule out shifting to another country to complete his projects if the need be. Given all this, those who have made a fetish of defending Husain should get off their high horses. If Husain himself does not feel he has been wronged, they have no reason to continue maligning Indian democracy.
COMING HOME TO ROOST
NEW YORK'S 9/11, LONDON'S 22/7, MUMBAI'S 26/11 AND SIMILAR CRIMES ACROSS THE WORLD TELL OF AN UNDECLARED WAR THAT TRANSCENDS NATIONAL FRONTIERS. UNCLE SAM AND JOHN BULL, COLLECTIVELY, HAVE PLAYED FRANKENSTEIN TO THE MONSTER OF ISLAMISM, BUT THE GHOUL HAS NOW TURNED ON ITS TWIN CREATORS
These past days and weeks of blood and gore began with the Pune bombing, with the related violence reaching an ascending pitch in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Beyond that murderous arc of crisis came news of the mysterious death of a visiting Palestinian Hamas commander from Gaza who doubled up as an assassin of Israeli soldiers. The man had been shadowed to his room by a group posing as tourists. Once inside, he was swiftly and silently dispatched. Had their presence not been caught on CCTV the death would have been ascribed to natural causes, say, a likely heart attack; there the matter would have rested. But it did not, and here lay the rub: Worse, their passports were British. The holders were Israelis with dual nationality, blissfully unaware that these prized documents had been purloined for improper use. But by whom? The finger of suspicion pointed to Mossad, the feared Israeli secret service; however, the Israeli Government produced its stock response which was neither to deny nor affirm responsibility for the deed.
The British media went into overdrive. Trial by television, radio and broadsheets followed. Even steamy tabloids joined the chase, welcoming the diversion from sex and bedroom sagas involving the great, good and the fallen. The Israeli Ambassador was summoned for a presumed carpeting by the Foreign Office. Correction. Not 'summoned' (that being reserved for Russian diplomats) but 'invited' to explain how British passports had come into the possession of those to whom they clearly did not belong a far more serious matter than a Palestinian functionary meeting an untimely death in the privacy his bedroom. The Israeli envoy was seen leaving Whitehall none the worse for the summons. Anglo-Israeli relations were in good order. It couldn't be otherwise. The anti-terrorist intelligence on which Britain crucially relies is in the gift of Mossad. But the story with so much life in it was obliged run its course. The great and good made a spirited case for the rule of law, for the sanctity of international law and much else beside that was pristine pure, ethical and noble.
Alas, there are among us those who prefer to live and die by a savage writ. New York's 9/11, London's 22/7, Mumbai's 26/11 and similar crimes in Madrid, Bali, plus near terrorist misses elsewhere in the US, the UK and Australia tell of war that transcends national frontiers, an undeclared war which gives no notice of arrival or intent. International and domestic life has been reduced to a lottery of death and injury that comes with Hobbsian anarchy. The "Centre cannot hold; /Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/ The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity." lamented the poet Yeats in a different age and context, but his words resonate even more menacingly today.
Uncle Sam and John Bull, collectively, have played Frankenstein to the monster of Islamism, but the ghoul has now turned on its twin creators. For them it was part of the Great Game, a piece on the chessboard of realpolitik, whether in Chechnya or Kashmir; indeed, wherever there were openings to ensnare adversaries and available assets.
They are learning the error of their ways in Afghanistan, a pitiless to be for would-be empire builders. The neocon delusionists in Washington, convinced their unilateralist project was history's exception went in with both feet. American exceptionalism is folklore; the British lion, struggling to survive in these hard times, has metamorphosed into a jackal content with scraps from the high table. But the ground beneath their feet is crumbling fast. Continental Europe is showing signs of battle fatigue. The Dutch, having had enough of Afghanistan, are packing their bags in August. The canny Poles pay protection money to the Taliban. The other Nato bravehearts have been mostly anonymous; they are lodged in the country, one knows not where. In Ukraine the balloon of the 'Orange Revolution' has blown itself out, while Brussels no longer has Georgia on its mind; yet the saints go marching on in another hyped offensive in Afghanistan's Helmand province; the complex struggle for Afghan hearts and minds is made surreal by US missile attacks that keep hitting innocent civilians, including women and children instead of their intended Taliban targets.
Meanwhile, an old Pakistani warrior 'Colonel Imam' (real name Amir Sultan Tarar) was in confident mood as he related his Afghan experiences to Anthony Loyd of The Times. Our hero knew the elusive Mullah Omar very well, having worked with him in his Taliban redoubt during his years of active service. Colonel Imam learned his skills in America. "I have the Green Beret, he said, recalling the special forces qualification gained in Fort Bragg in 1973. "But I think this Taliban beret is better."
Loyd again: "As a top agent for the Pakistan intelligence agency, the ISI, Colonel Imam recruited, trained and armed almost every one of Afghanistan's prominent insurgents and warlords during the 1980s....He escorted Charlie Wilson, the Texan Congressman who funnelled millions of dollars to the muhjahideen, into Afghanistan three times....The subsequent war has served as an epitaph for the final vestiges of the Colonel's relationship with America."
When Mr Wilson died in early February Colonel Imam avoided his funeral. "The man was not a friend," he said. "He used us. All Americans used us. They hijacked our problems and left us to the dogs." It was back to jihad, the only shown in town.
It is much the same tale in Kosovo, an embodiment of Pakistan-style Islamism in the Balkans created and funded by American largesse. The Kosovan Albanian regime headed by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci trades in drugs and prostitution, its members once once part of the CIA's Kosovo Liberation Front, which was made up of Islamist insurgents from almost every corner of the globe. The Serbian Christian minority is terrorised and their churches are routinely destroyed. But the country is labelled a democracy courtesy the US and UK et al. Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.
And so to next door Pakistan, Shahrukh Khan's "great neighbour," no less. Methinks the wisest Indian course would be not 'benign neglect' but 'active neglect' towards Islamabad. Key to the difference between the two is the concept of 'active defence' employed usually by victorious armies. A call to arms against Pakistan is unnecessary, but 'active neglect' applied intelligently and purposefully can impose a crippling price on its rulers for their continuing war of terror against India.
HUSAIN IN A PICKLE
WAS IT ARTISTIC LIBERTY OR LIBEL IN THE NAME OF ART?
The news that painter in exile MF Husain has been given Qatar nationality by that nation's ruling family has triggered sentimental pleas from his admirers here to return home. However, it is unlikely that the celebrated 95-year-old artist will do so, with about 900 cases, perhaps more, reportedly pending against him. On his plea some years ago, the Supreme Court transferred the cases to Delhi, clubbing them together. Given the inordinate delays in judicial proceedings, the sandglass may well run out before they are resolved. Their genesis lies in his depiction of some Hindu goddesses and Bharat Mata in the nude. There is a sketch that Husain made in 1976, of an unclad goddess Saraswati. Sita has also been divested of clothes in a painting. There is another one of goddess Durga, apparently in a suggestive pose. A 2004 oil painting shows the image of Mother India as a naked woman, spread over the map of India.
Hindu activists and bodies were goaded by these portrayals into filing cases against the painter, after his artistic licence came to their knowledge. He was charged with offending religious sentiments. The immediate provocation was reproduction of the paintings in 1996 in Vichar Mimansa , a Hindi monthly magazine, in an article titled, "MF Husain: A Painter or Butcher". Their anger continued to simmer, exploding when, in February 2006, an English weekly published an advertisement titled "Art For Mission Kashmir". It reproduced the painting of Bharat Mata, which was meant for auction in a fund-raising event for earthquake victims in Jammu & Kashmir. The painter was already living abroad when this happened. A non-bailable warrant had been issued against him when he did not respond to summons.
In view of concerted opposition in India, his return became an impossibility. People now may be willing to forgive him in the event that he issues an apology. But the artist's plight is reminiscent of that of the last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, who lamented in verse, "How unlucky is Zafar! For burial / Even two yards of land were not to be had, in / The land beloved". For the artist's period of exile has seen him pining to return home, without being able to fulfil this desire. His son confirms this bit of news. He says evocatively that whereas one can take Husain out of India, one cannot take India out of Husain. And it is aptly put since his evolution as an artist owes completely to the social and cultural ethos in which he lived and thrived until his enforced exit.
As he has accepted Qatari nationality, he ceases to be Indian because under the law, dual citizenship is not permitted despite sustained lobbying to change the rule. It is ironic that Islamic Qatar should give him asylum though nude depictions are considered sacrilegious under Islamic law. As for nudity in the Hindu socio-cultural context, it is not anathema, with the mystical tradition holding it to be symbolical of the absolute, shorn of the veil of illusion. This is the reason why some great saints, both male and female, have been known to remain naked, as do Naga sadhus and Jain munis, without any trace of embarrassment. Two female mystics, Akka Mahadevi in the south in the 12th century AD, and Lal Ded in Kashmir in the 14th century, threw off their clothes as an encumbrance as they roamed about. Akka's vachans are a great contribution to Kannad bhakti poetry; and Lal Ded's vaakh are credited with the creation of modern Kashmiri. Goddess Kali, worshipped as the primeval mother by her devotees, is forever sky clad. This is the digambar state, when no covering or vestige of concealment remain. In spiritual terms, it is the highest condition of truth. And in Left-hand tantra, sexual rites and imagery in art and literature are integral to its esoteric regimen. This is the reason why the sculptures at Khajurao and the like are not reduced to sacrilege or worse despite the explicit and even bizarre sexuality depicted in some friezes.
However, art created with a commercial purport does not elicit the same kind of respect or tolerance. Since Husain's nude figures are meant for private collections, galleries, exhibitions and even auctions, they cannot have the sanctity inherent in religious art. While it is debatable whether the painter meant any disrespect to Hindu sentiments, as the numerous law suits filed against him claim, it is certain that artistic liberty has proved costly for him.
OPPOSITION UNITED ONCE AGAIN
AFTER MORE THAN A DECADE, OPPOSITION PARTIES IN PARLIAMENT HAVE UNITED TO TAKE ON THE GOVERNMENT ON ISSUES THAT AFFECT THE MASSES. THIS HAS UNDERSTANDABLY RATTLED THE CONGRESS AND ITS ALLIES
Should the Congress-led UPA Government be worried about the growing unity in the Opposition? How will it overcome the combined attack and their aggressive posture in the Budget session? No doubt that the Opposition unity could be a short-term affair as UPA 2.0 is a stable Government and will last its full term. However, this does not mean that such political pinpricks will disappear.
There is no doubt that political parties of different hues have taken a common stand on the price hike and increasing food price inflation. No one can point a finger at the unity of the Left and the Right as price rise concerns the common man and the job of the Opposition is to protect his interests and be vigilant. For the first time in the parliamentary history, even as Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee repeatedly told them that presentation of the Budget was a "constitutional requirement", the Opposition parties walked out.
The problem for the Congress is to defend itself on two fronts. One from the Opposition, and the other from its own allies like the Trinamool Congress and the DMK. Together they have 39 seats and for passage of any Bill these votes are required. There are murmurs from even within the Congress as the lawmakers are afraid to face the wrath of the public in their constituencies.
There is the danger signal from the joint front between the Trinamool Congress and the DMK. The relationship between the Trinamool Congress and the Congress has seen high and low although they had fought the Lok Sabha election together. Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee thinks that the Trinamool Congress her party is the senior partner and due should be given to her. With the CPI(M) losing ground in West Bengal, her main aim is to capture the Writers Building in 2011 Assembly elections. Her own Railway Budget and opposition to the petrol price hike are seen as positioning herself for the polls. She believes in populist measures. Did she not give trouble to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee when she was a Minister in his Cabinet?
Furthermore, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M Karunanidhi is in the process of sorting out the succession battle within his family. He will turn 85 on June 3 and has already announced that he will retire on that day. In the next two or three months, the DMK patriarch has to make sure that everything goes smoothly. Most of the positioning of the DMK is depending on how the AIADMK looks at any issue.
Another danger signal has come from the coming together of the three Yadav leaders SP chief Mulayam Singh Yadav, RJD supremo Lalu Prasad Yadav and JD(U) president Sharad Yadav. They have joined hand in putting the Government on the mat. There is a danger that on the Women's Reservation Bill and other issues like the fertiliser subsidy cut and price rise they can combine. After all, they were together earlier and it does not take much time to come together on issues. The SP, the RJD and the BSP are supporting the UPA and together they have 47 votes.
The BJP has cleverly chalked out its floor strategy after Mr Arun Jaitley and Ms Sushma Swaraj became the leaders of Rajya and Lok Sabha respectively. The first thing is to have a common floor strategy allowing the Left to lead the attack in both the Houses.
The Opposition is all set for a showdown inside and outside the Parliament. Ranging from the Left to the Right, they are getting ready to put the Government on the mat. The BJP is planning to collect five million signatures against the Government's economic and organise a historic rally on April 21. State-level demonstrations are also being planned. The Left too is not lagging behind as it is planning to have demonstrations on March 12. Kerala and West Bengal have already started protests.
The Congress should be vigilant and ensure that the business should not suffer on account of the belligerency of the Opposition or even its own allies.
First, it must ensure the allies are on board on every issue. Second, instead of alienating the Opposition parties, the Government managers should reach out to them. No doubt, the Congress had seen a volatile Opposition during the Bofors days but the composition of both the Houses today need a consensus rather than a confrontational approach. The Government should field tactful managers to deal with the Opposition and adopt a give-and-take attitude for smooth passage of the Budget as well as other Bills. After all, people expect their representatives to speak for them and adjournments and walkouts are not the answer.
THE LAST ASSASSINATION OF ITS KIND?
MODERN TECHNOLOGY IS CATCHING UP WITH DISGUISED ASSASSINS AND FORGED PASSPORTS, WRITES MATTI FRIEDMAN
The killing of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel may signal the end of an era: The moment when modern technology finally caught up with the cloak-and-dagger world of disguised assassins and fake passports.
"The last assassination of its kind," said a headline in the Israeli daily Haaretz.
Some believe the fallout the killers whose faces and aliases were made startlingly public, their movements gone from state secrets to YouTube favourites could mean a permanent change in the murky world of espionage.
The hit team got into the Persian Gulf city undetected, pulled off the highly complex killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, and escaped unscathed: Mission accomplished, or so they must have thought. But then the photos on their doctored passports were released by Dubai police and published worldwide. So were their 26 aliases, more than half of which turned out to belong to real-life dual nationals living in Israel, whose Mossad agency is widely assumed to have been behind the killing.
Israel saw several of its important friends, including Britain, Ireland and Australia, express displeasure with the killing and the abuse of their passports.
Terry Pattar, a security consultant for IHS Jane's in London, said the details that became public "might represent an unexpected operational risk that had not been planned for." In the future, he said, "They will have to decide if the probability of high levels of media coverage after the event is an unacceptable risk that outweighs the potential benefit from a successful assassination."
The spread of technology of the kind that uncovered the Dubai operation has permanently altered the rules, wrote Yossi Melman, Haaretz's intelligence correspondent. "The conclusion could be that the era of heroic operations in the style of James Bond movies is close to its end."
Inspired by Dubai's success, neighboring Abu Dhabi announced on Wednesday that it would spend more than $ 120 million to blanket the city with surveillance cameras.
Today, said Mr Gad Shimron, a field operative for the Mossad in the 1970s and 1980s, agents risk leaving electronic footprints everywhere: Credit card charges, passport information in airport computers and easily traced cell phone calls. As Dubai demonstrated, they must also plan for the possibility that law enforcement will be able to put the pieces together.
And if the current complications seem daunting, Mr Shimron said in an interview, agents will soon face even greater challenges with the advent of biometric passports, which can feature fingerprint, facial and iris recognition, making them far harder to forge. But if the spy's world has become more complicated in some ways, it has become simpler in others, Mr Shimron said. A few decades ago carrying communications equipment would have been a sure giveaway; today cell phones and tiny computers arouse little suspicion. The Dubai operation shows not that 21st century spies have been vanquished by technology, he said, but that they have accepted the ways it restricts them while taking advantage of the ways it can help.
"The new world definitely limits things," said the former Mossad man, "but history shows that every time someone invents something, someone else invents something else to bypass it." Ms Jonna Mendez, who spent some of her 27 years in the CIA as the agency's chief of disguise, believes the Dubai perpetrators took the fallout into account, all of it: The TV footage, the blown aliases and the head shots.
NO REAL WINNERS OF SHALLOW DEBATE
THE fractious exchange between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Bharatiya Janata Party's L. K. Advani in the Lok Sabha may have added to the former's reputation for being a combative speaker who reserves his best to put the Opposition down. But if Mr Advani was effectively silenced, the exchange between the two leaders did not really burnish the reputation of Parliament as a great debating chamber.
What did come across was that Mr Singh was better prepared as compared to Mr Advani who, has the advantage of a taller political reputation. Mr Singh had displayed a similar thoroughness during the debate on the no- confidence motion and the nuclear deal last year.
Mr Advani's main weapon was an article in Newsweek magazine on the basis of which he insinuated that the UPA government, under pressure from the Obama administration, was striking a clandestine deal with Pakistan on Kashmir. Not surprisingly, this was not sufficient ammunition to hold off a counter- attack by a belligerent government.
The Prime Minister exposed him for his poor homework and the BJP leader had to concede defeat. This was also the case when Mr Advani raised the issue of onerank- one- pension. Once again he was silenced because he had not worked on his facts.
Mr Advani may have raised a substantive issue of the US influence on the Indian government. But surely he could not have forgotten that he was part of a government that was attacked on the same count a few years ago.
On the other hand, the Prime Minister's response that Jaswant Singh had not shared the substance of his talks with Strobe Talbott with Parliament as well, made little sense. He could have taken the higher road and said that all governments need to keep some things confidential and that as in the case of Jaswant Singh and the nuclear talks of 1999- 2000, he, too was constrained to keep some things off the public domain, at least for the time being.
Further, he could have actually been generous enough to suggest that he would arrange a selective briefing for senior leaders of the Opposition on the issue. That would have raised the tenor of the debate and added some lustre to our Parliament.
THE TRUTH OF KABUL
NATURALLY, Richard Holbrooke, the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, could not have read the Washington Post of Wednesday the day before, on Tuesday, when he briefed the media in Washington DC on his recent trip to the region. At this briefing he insisted that the Kabul attack on facilities that took the lives of several Indian military personnel, including two doctors, was not specifically targeted at Indians. His explanation was that the residential facilities were simply " soft targets" and there was no call to blame anyone because there was no proof.
However, the Washington Post's Kabul date- lined story of the next day quoted the spokesperson of the Afghan intelligence service to say that the Pakistani group Lashkar- e- Tayyeba was responsible for the attack. As much was evident from the assault- style tactics used by the attackers, but the official said that one of the terrorists had been heard to speak in Urdu and also to ask for the location of the " Indian director." Indian officials are unanimous in pointing out that the Lashkar- e- Tayyeba has a special relationship with the Pakistani military establishment. This is the reason why, despite having banned the outfit and its front organisation, the Jamaat- ud- Dawa, the Pakistani authorities handle its personnel, specially its chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed, with kid gloves.
The US, of course, has a certain interest in ensuring that its war in Afghanistan is not disrupted by India- Pakistan ill- will.
But where does that leave New Delhi? It cannot stand by idly and allow itself to be pinned down by proxy warriors nurtured by Islamabad, either in Afghanistan, or Kashmir. Mr Holbrooke's extended response to the query betrays a sense of uncertainty on just how the US will play the game with Pakistan. However, for the record, he did accept " that both India and Pakistan have legitimate security interests in the ( Afghan) region."
Husain's workis rooted in the pauranik tradition which celebrates interpretation and improvisation
THE M. F. Husain controversy can be viewed at various levels. At one level, it is one of the uneducated literates and the uneducated illiterates of the sangh parivar making a public display of bad taste.
They have been caught in a time warp that compels them to think of Hindu gods and goddesses only in the artless, yet stylised, form that Raja Ravi Varma gave them.
Most of them can hardly distinguish between a kirana- shop new- year calendar and a canvas: they are to art what Bal Thackeray is to democracy, namely, a pestilence and a running sore. Despite their nationalist and Hindu rhetoric, there is scarcely anyone who can convince them that they are prisoners of Victorian tastes and morality, and what they impose in the name of moral policing through their unchecked thuggery is neither national nor Hindu.
The sangh parivar also has a few English- speaking Oxbridge types who, perhaps, privately collect and possess a Husain painting or two, but make a show of public condemnation of the artist. They are ready to question Husain's acceptance of Qatari citizenship, but are more than willing to embrace an ill- informed and megalomaniac individual like V. S. Naipaul as Indian, Hindu and as one of their own just because he repeats their mindless platitudes and universalises their deep- seated prejudices.
While political expediency has led the RSS, the BJP and their other excitable affiliates to take unusual positions with regard to the Shah Rukh Khan controversy, it represents no paradigm shift as far as their core ideology is concerned. Having flogged the rhetoric of nationalism for so long, they can scarcely take on the likes of Mukesh Ambani, Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and Asha Bhonsle.
In taking divergent positions, for instance, on Shah Rukh Khan as contrasted with the Husain controversy, the sangh parivar has sought to confuse those elements within what they perceive as the Hindu community who remain disenchanted with their brand of intolerant and threatening Hindutva.
Their political strategy is to present not one unified face of Hindutva, but a proliferation of various masks that would, in the end, be successful in hiding the true tenets of their ideology.
The sangh parivar has realised that for the Indian middle class, there is no single idea of the sacred but a plurality of choices, some of them secular, that an individual might consider sacred and impart equal value.
If this argument is plausible, the question remains why the sangh parivar has one set of positions in relation to Taslima Nasreen and Shah Rukh Khan and another stance in relation to M. F. Husain. On the face of it, they are all Muslims.
The Hindutva votaries see Taslima Nasreen as someone who speaks against the hardened and fanatical aspects of Islam and Islamic clergy.
Shah Rukh Khan speaks about being an ardent nationalist, wears his and his family's nationalism on the sleeve and speaks of a soft humanism that forms the very stuff that the middle class and the new- age gurus espouse. On the contrary, Husain dares to interpret
the great epics and the gods and goddesses that inhabit these texts in the manner of a grand pauranik commentator. The freedom that a pauranik has to interpret, interpolate and improvise a classical tradition and keep it alive is the very antithesis of what Hindutva stands for and seeks in the name of religion.
In other words, Husain is guilty in the eyes of the Hindutva fanatics of two cardinal sins. The first is to claim the right to partake of the common heritage of this country by not seeking permission from the selfappointed guardians of faith, but exercising this right as a free citizen of a free country.
The second, and more serious misdemeanour in the eyes of the lunatic mainstream of the sangh parivar, is to don the traditional mantle of a pauranik at a time when the Hindutva votaries themselves are seeking to abandon the dazzling plurality of the pauranik tradition in favour of a misunderstood and faulty notion of oneness. This manifests itself in a notion of advaita and its more contemporary pop variants in the service of arguments for national unity within the nationalist discourse.
It is no one's business to question the taboo on the idea of representation in Islam, but Husain's appropriation and celebration of the freedom to represent within the Hindu traditions, classical and folk, is a way also of intervening and questioning the hijacking of Islam by those who represent the al- Qaeda's brand of intolerant Islam, which prohibits all forms of creativity, whether it is art, music or cinema. Questioning Husain's right to interpret and represent Hindu gods and goddesses is symptomatic of the confusion that has existed within Hindu nationalism since the nineteenth century.
The Hindu nationalist attempt to paint the entity called Hinduism in monochromatic colours and to compel compliance on the basis of a distorted version of a unified faith makes its family resemblance to more fanatical versions of Islam more evident than it realises or is ready to admit.
Husain on the other hand has the best of both worlds.
He remains a Muslim in the sense that would make every civilised and reasonable Muslim proud, and he has fashioned himself also as an illustrious pauranik in the best sense that can be conveyed by that term.
The sangh parivar, on the other hand, lives in this vast sea of confusion, mouthing platitudes that are foreign, colonial and, worst still, Victorian.
Their vilification of Husain is a symptom of their own confusion and disarray; their only way of
finding a solution, given their intellectual and moral bankruptcy, is to bully and intimidate. This is also one reason why the political affiliates of the Sangh are always ready to capture political power, which they see as the only way to impose their agenda.
Characteristically, the Indian state too has failed to protect the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Indian Constitution. In its actual functioning, the Indian state is secular on certain days of the week, indifferent on some other days, and aids and abets mindlessness on other days, and there are days when it actively colludes with the malcontents of society.
Even if the reasons are different, there is no explanation why the same state that can protect Shah Rukh Khan and the screening of his film cannot prevent the vandalism of Husain's home or his exhibitions.
The Indian state too mirrors in many ways the confusion that has claimed the sangh parivar.
It tries hard to be democratic, secular and fair on most days, but it lapses into populism, expediency and electoral calculations more often than it is desirable.
It is only a piece of useless legalism to claim that the state is different from the regime, and that the sins of the regime in power ought not to be interpolated on to the formal structures of the state.
This is nothing but pious intent, a dream that may some day fructify. But by the time it happens, the barbarians within would have driven many artists and other creative individuals out into self- imposed exile.
We will be left with our own mediocre crumbs and live in the smug satisfaction of at least having the dregs to contend with.
The writer teaches politics at University of Hyderabad
THE LAHORE LOG
A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
BY NAJAM SETHI
THE INDIAN and Pakistani foreign secretaries have finally met and, by the look of it, turned their backs on each other. The Indians say they spent most of the time trying to drag the Pakistanis into a serious discussion on terrorism sponsored by non- state actors based in Pakistan.
They say a list of 33 wanted terrorists, including Daud Ibrahim, was handed over, and the names of two serving Pakistani army officers, allegedly " handlers" of the terrorist group that launched the Mumbai attacks, were given. Additionally, serious questions were asked about the incendiary statements of Hafiz Saeed, the leader of the Lashkar Tayba based in Lahore, on Kashmir day ( February 5th) when he warned of more Mumbai- type attacks to come. The Pakistanis say they spent most of the time exhorting India to talk about solving Kashmir, negotiate water- related issues that are causing serious concern in Pakistan, and restart the composite dialogue instead of just focusing on one " terrorism" issue.
Since neither side, it appears, was in any mood to listen to the other, can we conclude that both sides are doomed to sulk until they meet again and stage the same well- rehearsed drama for their nationalistic audiences at home? No. To be sure, the Indian invitation for talks came out of the blue after fourteen months of blowing hot and cold and a failure of coercive diplomacy by both sides. But underlying this belated initiative is one heartwarming reality: Dr Manmohan Singh sincerely wants to make some sort of breakthrough in Indo- Pak relations, no less than General Pervez Musharraf and Nawaz Sharif before him and Asif Zardari currently.
The evidence of that is crystal clear. During the Indian elections last year, Dr Singh sought kudos from the public for his efforts to promote back channel diplomacy during the Musharraf period; then he went the extra mile at Sharmal Shaikh in Egypt. But the joint problem of both leaderships is how to do it, given strong state and non- state vested interests in both countries against this sentiment after Mumbai.
INDIA doesn't want to seem like it has succumbed to " terrorist blackmail" without extracting some concrete results from Pakistan as a measure of its commitment and trust, and Pakistan doesn't want to seem like it is begging India from a position of weakness to change the status quo. In India's case, the last thing it wants to admit is any American pressure to change its policy. This may explain why the recent initiative failed to produce any results: Hilary Clinton, US Secretary of State, made a statement in Washington on the eve of the talks in New Delhi confirming US stakes in the Indio- Pak dialogue and a role in nudging both sides to the table, thereby guaranteeing a deadlock in Delhi.
The ball has been set rolling. The Indian Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, will visit Islamabad shortly. The Indian home minister, P. Chidambaram, will follow for talks with his Pakistani counterpart before the SAARC summit at the end of April in Bhutan. Then the two prime ministers will meet.
These occasions will provide adequate opportunity to pave the way for a formal resumption of talks on most issues. This element was missing in all earlier attempts. Sharmal Shaikh was not preceded in India by any proper media briefings for a change in course. That is why a sudden change of policy seemed like a retreat before Pakistan.
Certainly, Dr Manmohan Singh's eagerness to get on with it was like a red rag to the bulls in India, not least to the PM's national security advisor and former head of IB, MK Narayanan, and the zealous prime ministerial advisor Shyam Saran, a former foreign secretary. Both are out and Shivshankar Menon, the suave, sophisticated rising star on the India horizon, is in. As the new NSA, Mr Menon brings first hand expertise on Pakistan and China to the table, India's critically important neighbours, because he served as High Commissioner and Ambassador there respectively before assuming charge of the Indian foreign Ministry before Ms Rao. He shares Dr Manmohan Singh's enlightened vision for the region and is expected to work in strategic tandem.
In Pakistan, too, there seems to be a significant shift in foreign policy as formulated by GHQ and implemented by the government. Certainly, for the first time since 9/ 11, the American and Pakistani military establishments and intelligence agencies seem to be working closely together to stem the tide of Al- Qaeda sponsored terrorism in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Far from casting doubt on the Pakistani military's motives and abilities, the Americans are tripping over themselves praising the Pakistan army to the high heavens.
AND NOT without reason: the Pakistanis have lost over 2500 soldiers, including one officer for every seven soldiers killed, and succeeded in subduing the Al- Qaeda Taliban network over most of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. The Pakistani ISI is also cooperating with the CIA in nabbing members of the so- called Afghan Shuru hiding in Pakistani cities and handing them over to the Afghan authorities in Kabul, the most publicised case being that of Mulla Baradar, the right hand military strategic ally of Mullah Umar.
By last count, half the Afghan Shura had been nabbed or neutralised. In return, the US has pledged a significant role for Pakistan in shaping any future political dispensation in Kabul. That is also where India, with strategic stakes and billions in investments in Afghanistan, comes into the loop and has to build fences with Pakistan.
There are obvious exchanges to be made between India and Pakistan. India must stop aiding Baluch insurgents based in Afghanistan and Pakistan must cease supporting jihadis against India.
Both must pre- empt any major tensions over water- rights, if necessary with third party mediation as allowed under the Indus Waters Treaty.
Pakistan must relax the trade regime for India's exports. India must resume support for the Iran- Pakistan- India gas pipeline. Both must demilitarise Siachin and Sir Creek and open the borders to peace loving visitors from both sides. And both must reopen the back channel on Kashmir and extend the joint mechanism formula for self rule of both Kashmirs within India and Pakistan from where it was abandoned in 2007. If that seems like tall order, consider how much more difficult it will be if there is a second Mumbai.
THE WRITER IS THE EDITOR OF THE FRIDAY TIMES ( LAHORE )
YOU know na that Kulchoo is only 15? And you also know na that his GCSEs are standing on top of his head. And guess what? Girls are chasing him. Ji haan, girls are chasing him. And not nice normal girls but a horrid meesni little thing with a voice like nails on a blackboard.
How do I know? I spoke to her, that's how.
Okay, I'll tell you from the start. Yesterday when he was going for Maths tuition he left his mobile phone by mistake in our room. Vaisay tau it's like a part of his body, like his head or his foot or something from which he can only by separated by a deputation. In fact Janoo calls Kulchoo's phone, his significant other, whatever that means.
Haan so he left his phone in our room when he was sitting there with his friend Kashif. And later while we were having tea, it rang. I picked up. Before I could even say hello, a shrill si sharp si voice yells into my ear: " Kay, listen to me, okay? You said you'd call ten minutes ago and you haven't. If you've fallen for someone else, have the guts to tell me, okay?" " Hello," I said. " Who are you?" There was a short paws on the other side.
Then, " Who are you?" As if she was the mother and I was the child. Dekho zara. The cheeks! " His mother. Who are you?" " Nobody." And then: " Tell him I called." As if I was a bearer! " But what's your name?" " Nothing. He'll know." And she hanged up.
' Kulchoo's having an affair,' I said to Janoo.
' What?' So I told him.
' Hardly an affair,' he laughed. ' And what's wrong with him romancing a bit? He'd be weird if he wasn't.' ' Haw, with his exams on his head! And anyways what do we know about this girls' uggla picchla? What's her bagground? Who are her parents? Where's her home?' ' Relax,' said Janoo. ' It's probably just a teen age romance. It'll blow over by the end of the month.' ' Easy for you to say. You didn't hear her voice. I tell you she didn't sound khandani. She sounded bhookha nanga, grabby. Has probably seen our house already. And knows exactly how much land you have and how many designer bags and diamond sets I've got. She's probably been doray daaloing on my Kulchoo for a full year.
Hai my baccha. Where've you gone and got stuck up?' ' Oh for heaven's sake!' said Janoo. ' Stop this nonsense at once.' An hour later when Kulchoo came back with Kashif I was sitting on the sofa trying not to cry and Janoo sitting in front doing warning scowls at me. The phone was lying like a loaded gun on the table between us.
' Yeh lay, yaar, yeh hai tera phone,' Kulchoo picked up the mobile and threw it at Kashif. ' You must have forgotten it here.' ' Sorry Aunty,' said Kashif.
' Not at all, beta. Any time. Any time at all.' And I got up and kissed him on the head.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GO FOR PEACE
The two sides have been talking for over a decade now, but a settlement to the Naga issue has proved elusive. Hopefully, the ongoing talks between the leaders of the Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN), and the Centre will break the deadlock and take concrete steps towards resolving the issue.
A breakthrough isn't easy considering the history of the Naga insurgency. But the tenuous ceasefire agreement between the NSCN and Indian army has held for over a decade now. The ceasefire was meant to create the climate for negotiations and, finally, a settlement to the Naga concerns. It has succeeded only partially. Peace has endured in Nagaland but despite the many rounds of talks the two sides have failed to resolve the contentious issues. The least the ongoing talks can achieve is to extend the ceasefire and agree on further talks. But if the two sides are willing to be flexible, much more can be achieved.
A final settlement to the Naga issue tends to founder on two issues: the question of Naga sovereignty and the demand for a greater Nagalim. Both issues are tied to the Naga leadership's larger concerns about their community's political and cultural rights. But should absolute sovereignty from the Indian nation state be seen as a necessary condition for preserving these rights? The experience of independent India reveals that most linguistic and ethnic subnationalities have successfully addressed this question within the framework of the Indian Constitution, which provides sufficient guarantees for the rights of cultural, linguistic, ethnic and religious minorities. The NSCN should be more flexible on the sovereignty issue and negotiate for political autonomy. The federal principles enshrined in the Indian Constitution allow a great deal of flexibility on this front. Similarly, the NSCN must revisit the demand for a greater Nagaland. The region is a salad bowl of different ethnic and linguistic nationalities. Any redrawing of state boundaries will trigger unrest in the neighbourhood, including in Myanmar where many Naga tribes live.
An end to Naga insurgency will have enormous impact on the northeastern societies. The Naga rebellion has inspired and influenced numerous insurgencies in the region. Thousands of lives have been lost as a result. Peace in Nagaland will trigger development and trade in the region, unlocking the potential of its people. We must end the cycle of bloodletting and corruption that's crippled the region's prospects. That will also seal Muivah's and other Naga leaders' place in history.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
TAPPING INTO TECH
It is ironic that internet access should be so limited in a country that prides itself on its IT prowess. Compound that with irony no 2: India's telecom success story has so far bypassed the broadband sector, where penetration has lagged well behind the most conservative estimates. The broadband subscriber base - even given India's generous definition of what constitutes a broadband service - has increased only marginally. Broadband internet has the capacity to accelerate growth and facilitate socio-economic change by improving service delivery to the people who need them the most. Low broadband penetration is already hurting India's growth prospects, as the Global Innovation Index suggests. India has fallen 13 places on that list, and one of the reasons cited for the fall is the lack of availability of broadband.
In that context, it is encouraging that the government plans to spend Rs 18,000 crore over three years to lay fibre optic cables and reach the smallest villages. However, ambitious as that plan is, it may also be needlessly expensive. Laying fibre optic networks across the country is both costly and time-consuming. A better alternative is to pursue wireless broadband connectivity. According to the International Telecommunications Union, there are more mobile than fixed broadband users in the world already. With mobile cellular penetration crossing the 50 per cent mark globally and in India, it would be wise to invest in developing wireless internet networks, which anyway are much faster and cheaper to implement. To enable that the government must also speed up the auction of 3G spectrum and move quickly to 4G.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
COMPETE AND COOPERATE
London : While there is a broad consensus about the relative decline of the US as a superpower, political commentators have debated about emerging political rivalries. A study of recent events, however, shows that instead of a straightforward bipolar or multipolar relationship, simultaneous cooperation and competition will be the likely template of relationships among the major powers - United States, China, the European Union, Russia, India and Brazil. The new pattern of fluid and ever-changing relationships between such powers will underscore the end of the uncontested global supremacy in economics, politics, military and culture that the US has enjoyed since 1991.
Attempts by each of the players to obtain the best economic and political advantage for themselves while cooperating on issues of common concern is likely to produce tension as well as unexpected accommodation and temporary alliances. The sharpest example of engagement and containment is the relationship between Beijing and Washington.
Since the Chinese yuan is pegged to the US dollar, it is in the mutual interest of China and America to ensure that the greenback's exchange rate with respect to other major currencies does not deteriorate too much. That forecloses Beijing's option of unloading its massive US dollar reserves in large tranches. So it is almost mandatory that the world's largest economies cooperate.
By contrast, in Taiwan the interests of the two nations clash. China regards Taiwan as a breakaway province and is resolutely committed to recovering it. Since 2001, it has held combined military exercises twice a year aimed at capturing Taiwan. It has put in place a coordinated network of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, mobile and stationary, to overpower Taiwan's air defences and missiles network.
On the other side, America has continued to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan in accordance with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979; and senior PACOM (Pacific Command) officers have started observing Taiwan's annual Han Kuang armed forces exercises to judge the island's military preparedness. Recently, the Obama administration announced the sale of $6.4 billion worth of advanced weaponry to Taiwan, including anti-missile missiles.
Similarly, competition and cooperation marks relations between China and Russia since 1996 when they co-sponsored the formation of the five-member Shanghai Forum. Since then the bonds between Beijing and Moscow have strengthened, with the two nations holding joint military exercises in China's Shandong Peninsula in August 2005. Although Russia has clamped down on ethnic Chinese migrants and traders, this has not affected the Chinese acquisition of sophisticated Russian weapons like the Russian Kilo Class submarine equipped with anti-ship SS-N-22 cruise missiles designed to counter the US navy. China's economic interest too called for close ties with Russia which has emerged as the largest exporter not only of natural gas, but also of oil, the commodities key to China's industrial progress. But such cooperation does not preclude differences in the foreign policy of the two neighbours. Iran is a case in point.
Another example of a mixed relationship comes from China's relations with its Asian rival India. Although China has settled its land border disputes with all other neighbours it has refused to do so with India. But that did not stop China from becoming India's number one trading partner in 2008. While noting with some trepidation that New Delhi was busily upgrading its military facilities on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands to the north of the strategic Malacca Strait, Beijing has held joint military exercises with India in the region.
Although India has signed a favourable civil nuclear agreement with the US and expanded its military cooperation and commercial ties with Washington, this has not prevented Indian prime minister Man-mohan Singh from signing up a $10 billion worth arms deal with the Kremlin during his recent visit to Moscow.
On one hand, the negotiations between Russia and America to replace the recently expired START I (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) are reportedly going well. On the other hand, the national security strategy that the Kremlin adopted in May 2009 describes the main threat to Russia as the US acquisition of a first strike capability.
Whereas the Kremlin's relations with Washington are far from warm, its ties with Germany, the leading member of the 27-strong European Union, the world's largest trading entity, are uncommonly cordial. Transcending party politics, they remain as strong with the conservative government of Angela Merkel as they were during the Social Democratic administration of Gerhard Schroeder.
It was in Europe that the concept of multipolarity of power was born during the Napoleonic Wars in the early second decade of the 19th century. The major European powers resolved never again to allow the emergence of another Napoleon to conquer the continent. Out of this concert arose the doctrine of the balance of power. It held in Europe for a century, until the start of World War I. What is happening now is the global extension of this doctrine, with major powers cooperating and competing with one another to ensure that none of them emerges as the sole superpower.
(The writer is an international affairs analyst. Copyright: Yale Centre for the Study of Globalisation, Yale University.)
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'ONE HAS TO DO THE RIGHT THING, WHATEVER THE OUTCOME'
SUBHASH K JHA
His name is Khan. But to his legion of fans across the world he's much more than a name. Now in his 17th year in Hindi cinema, Shah Rukh Khan has just delivered in My Name Is Khan what many think to be his most accomplished performance.
Do you plan to enter politics?
People keep talking about my friendship with certain individuals in a particular party (Congress). But i've known Rajiv Shukla before he joined the Congress. And i know Soniaji, Rahul and Priyanka just as i know other interesting people from other walks of life.
How do you look back on the run-in with the Shiv Sena?
It was a total waste of time and energy. It was confusing. What was i supposed to apologise for? Later i heard on television that i wasn't expected to apologise.
Not for a second did i feel any aggression towards anyone. I only felt the futility of it all. I was calm throughout. I know Balasaheb and Uddhav Thackeray well. We meet cordially whenever the occasion arises. But we're on different playing fields. I'm in the business of cinema. They're in politics. And we should keep it that way.
Did the trouble with the Shiv Sena take away from the pleasure of enjoying the success of My Name Is Khan?
The troubles that happened did take away from my thrill of the release. Frankly i was anxious about the safety of my family, colleagues, my office staff and fans. God forbid, even if one member of the audience had suffered any injury while going to see My Name Is Khan, i'd have never forgiven myself.
What about the financial losses?
I really didn't care about that. I can make money even dancing at private events. It's no big deal. But there was no question of retracting my statement. Because to do so, i had to be proven wrong about what i had said.
You are no stranger to controversies?
During Billu we unconsciously ended up hurting the hairstylists with the title of our film. And, the Muslim community was offended with the song Marjani. We sorted it out, even if it meant financial losses. One has to do the right thing, whatever the outcome.
Looking back on the whole run-in with the Sena, what are your thoughts?
I feel deeply saddened by the whole thing. I was privileged to have a father who was a freedom fighter. Not too many of us can claim such a privilege. He once said to me, 'I had a hand in your birth.But i also had a hand in the birth of a free India.'
I didn't want my father's struggle to go waste. When my son is 44 like i am now, i want him to be as proud of me as i am of my father.
Now you're getting back in action on screen?
Yes my injured back is fine. But the shoulder is not that sturdy yet. I strained it again recently and it's hurting. Ra.1 and then Don 2 would be the testing grounds for my physical recovery. I want to see if i can pull off the full-on action parts. I'll know if i can only when i do the films.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
THE LATE GUEST
Recently Bunny went to a memorial service for an ex-boss of hers. Considering that he had been CEO of one of the largest advertising agencies in India, Bunny was disappointed by the somewhat thin attendance. Maybe it's today's generation which has little time for such occasions, she said. This surprised me. I'd have thought that memorial services have increased in popularity over the years. The ones i've been to - and i've been to quite a few - have provided marvellous opportunities for social networking. You get to meet all sorts of people at memorial services and you can get a lot of stuff done. Like exchanging business cards with someone you've long wanted to meet but didn't know how to get in touch with. Or fixing up a holiday in Phuket with a bunch of friends. Or deciding on the next meeting of your kitty party.
Memorial services are much better for such transactions than cocktail parties or wedding receptions. Unlike at cocktail parties, alcoholic beverages are not customarily served at memorial services - the normal bill of fare at such meets seldom exceeding tea and samosas - with the result that people are unlikely to get pie-faced (unless they happen to be carrying their own suitably charged hip-flasks with them) and later not remember a damn thing about whom they met, and what for. No, memorial services are by and large sober occasions, thus obviating the risk of booze-induced memory lapses. (What the heck's this totally random stranger's card doing in my pocket, who the dickens was he, why would he want to give me his card, and why in hell would i accept the blasted thing?)
At weddings you are beholden to take along a gift for the bride and groom. At a memorial service all you are expected to bring is an expression of pious sympathy. True, the melancholy music played on such occasions, the recitals from religious texts and the speeches made on behalf of the dear departed by various relatives and friends tend to intrude into the conversation you're having with the chap next to you as to when he'd like to have that power lunch you've been planning for ages. But all you have to do in such cases is just raise your voice a bit so that it blocks out all that background noise of bhajans and slokas and what have you. WHAT? NEXT WEDNESDAY? YEAH, SURE LET'S DO LUNCH NEXT WEDNESDAY.
Yep, memorial services can make for great social connectivity. I often wonder who will attend my memorial service in the due course of things. Far from being a morbid thought, I find the exercise uplifting. Like drawing up a list of people you're going to invite to a party. Except this is one party given by you - so to speak - where you'll be a guest and not the host. Friends and family aside, i think my memorial service should have a fairly decent turnout. First of all there ought to be the few, the very few, people who read me and will attend to make sure i've really and truly gone before they began to get fed up with me. Then there'd be the far larger crowd who've always loathed the rubbish i wrote and turned up in sheer gratitude at my departure. Lastly - and this would probably be the largest contingent - would be those who'd never heard of me, had no clue whatsoever as to who or what or even why i'd ever been, but who came along nonetheless in the hope that, with a bit of luck, the event all those other people were headed for might turn out to be an Arindam Chaudhuri Six Secrets to Success lecture or at least a Club Mahindra promo where they were giving away free TV sets with every two-week time-share you bought.
Sorry, guys. No Arindam or Club Mahindra. Just me. Or rather, just not me. Because, at my memorial service, i'll be the guest who, inevitably, is late.
A BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW
The Centre's go-ahead for an additional 3,791 post-graduate seats in medical colleges has not come a moment too soon. But this is not likely to solve the problems of India's healthcare system, given that we only have a doctor per 2,800 people when the internationally recommended number is 1,500. None of this bodes well for a nation whose healthcare system seems to be in terminal decline.
The minister for health, Ghulam Nabi Azad, seems quite silent about the fact that he needs to push for an increase in public health spending from the measly 0.9 per cent of GDP at present. The fact that we don't have enough doctors is one problem. That they have little incentive to go to areas that need them most, the rural parts of the country, is another.
What we need to address, and urgently, is the fact that we have little by way of public health centres with either staff or equipment. This means that we have left out our rural areas where people have no choice but to shell out huge amounts of money for private healthcare. It is now well known that the second biggest cause of rural debt is medical expenditure.
Mr Azad has done well to declare that the increase in post-graduate doctors will increase the number of teachers. But it is a little puzzling how he has come to the conclusion that this would automatically mean that the number of MBBS seats could be expanded. One out of every 11 children under five dies in India for want of low-cost, low-technology medical intervention. That maternal mortality is unacceptably high is due to the same reasons.
We hear nothing of the need to step up measures against communicable diseases that claim so many lives every day. These are easily preventable if people have access to sanitation and preventive healthcare and this means a doctor on hand. With the government nowhere on the scene as far as public health is concerned, India's health sector is among the most privatised in the world. This means that a vast majority of people have no access to healthcare. Referral hospitals like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences have become a haven for the influential to recuperate. We need very badly to incentivise healthcare so that more people can think of it as a productive profession.
The best from medical sciences today seem to be joining the private sector. It is not good enough to celebrate our new-found wealth when we pay scant attention to health. Healthcare is a crucial investment in human resources without which we cannot sustain our pace of growth.
THE DEVIL'S NOT IN THE DETAILS
BEN WALTERS, THE GUARDIAN
Kathryn Bigelow's Oscar-nominated film The Hurt Locker, about Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) troops in Iraq, has been facing criticism from real-life service personnel. "Many of our members around the country have noted the flawed portrayal of EOD," said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "It is disrespectful." Last year, former British Royal Engineer bomb disposal expert Guy Marot expressed similar reservations, saying he was "appalled" by the film's "numerous glaring inaccuracies". Both men point out mistakes relating to tactical decisions, chain-of-command procedure, the amount of ordnance characters lift, and even the vintage of their uniforms.
Fair enough. No one likes to see their work misrepresented on screen and if you identify inaccuracies, you have every right to challenge a film's credibility. Whether this matters for the general viewer is a different question.
The answer depends on what the film is for. If it asks us to engage emotionally and politically with lived reality, then its version of reality matters. To question the accuracy of the information Michael Moore uses in his documentaries, for instance, constitutes a serious charge because he uses it to encourage audiences to revise their opinions and change their behaviour.
Feature films purporting to represent specific real-life events bear a different but comparable responsibility, depending on the story they seek to tell: the slipperiness of Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, George Clooney's adaptation of the implausible memoirs of US TV personality Chuck Barris, aptly reflects its subject's questionable grasp on reality; on the other hand, the massaging of facts in Jim Sheridan's In the Name of the Father, about the wrongful conviction of the Guildford Four, is more problematic as it's a story about the devastating consequences of misrepresentation.
But The Hurt Locker isn't really like any of these. Although inspired by the reportage of an embedded journalist, it doesn't purport to be a true story. It doesn't explicitly engage with the geopolitics of Iraq. And it doesn't claim to be an authentic portrayal of the reality of bomb disposal. Rather, it uses the situation more or less as a McGuffin the device by which its characters are placed in stressful, psychologically revealing situations. The film aspires to communicate how people work, not how they do their jobs, but how they are. Reporters and campaigners depend on the credibility of their engagement with reality. A storyteller is judged by different criteria.
IT'S ALL ABOUT RESPECT
A comedy of errors is on display in both Congress and BJP camps. While it was an abhorrent sight to see Congress leaders trying to play messiah to India's Dalits some months ago by merely eating in Dalit households, we now have the BJP playing catch-up with party president Nitin Gadkari 'doing a Rahul Gandhi' by having lunch in a Dalit home last month.
But what is downright comic is the Congress's knee-jerk reaction to Gadkari's gesture. Congress spokespersons claimed that their party has facilitated the "elevation of Dalits to [the positions] of Chief Justice of India and Lok Sabha Speaker". This is the same Congress that had silently watched the then President K R Narayanan getting dragged into a media controversy on the issue of him supposedly overstepping his constitutional role and seeking to impose a policy of affirmative action on the judiciary.
The Congress also seems to have forgotten that it was the Telugu Desam Party that ensured the elevation of a Dalit to the post of Speaker for the first time in the choice of G M C Balayogi, that too in a BJP-led NDA regime.
The Congress and the BJP are not only trying to hoodwink the Dalits, but they are also fighting it out for the elusive Dalit votebank in Uttar Pradesh. Gadkari stated last month that Dalit leader B.R. Ambedkar was like American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
Someone should tell Gadkari that by the time the struggles of King Jr and others led to equal rights for African-Americans in 1964, it had already been 14 years since Ambedkar had introduced civil rights in the Constitution of India, having already achieved getting political rights and the right to representation in political offices and employment for Dalits as early as 1932. Next, Gadkari will say that Mahatma Gandhi was like Martin Luther King Jr, rather than the other way round. It is entirely a different issue that Indian and US societies are alike in denying civil rights to their oppressed communities.
The Congress is equally at fault for not criticising BJP leader Arun Shourie for his book, Worshipping False Gods, in which the author makes ridiculous attacks on the Dalit icon. One would go on to say that the Congress has done nothing to further the ideals of Ambedkar and has shown no interest in the upkeep of the Ambedkar Foundation created by the National Front government during the leader's centenary celebrations. It was the NDA regime that bought the Ambedkar Memorial on 26, Alipore Road in Delhi and also pushed the 81st, 82nd and 85th amendments of the Constitution in favour of creating reservations for Dalits.
It is time the Dalits call this Congress-BJP bluff. If the BJP and the Congress indeed care for Dalits, both the national parties should first ensure that the practice of manual scavenging is eliminated from the states ruled by these parties in the next one year.
They should also ensure that these scavenging families never have to fall back into this ignoble profession. They should also earmark a part of the annual Budget under the Scheduled Castes sub-plan for Dalits to make sure that enough is spent on the educational and economic uplift of Dalit communities. This, especially at a time when the budget of the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment has decreased in the last Budget.
The first issue for any political party is to respect the rights of Dalits. They should also respect the rights of Dalits to protest, demand and claim remedies, safeguards and action from the government that ameliorate their conditions quickly. Let's first learn to respect Dalits. Then maybe one day they will invite us home for lunch.
D. Raja is National Secretary, Communist Party of India and Rajya Sabha member The views expressed by the author are personal
DON'T LOSE THE GAME
The February 26 killing of Indians in another terrorist attack in Kabul stresses the mounting dangers for India in Afghanistan. Our vulnerabilities will increase as the West prepares to exit and strike a deal with the very forces responsible for this attack the Taliban.
The United States-Nato strategy is to strengthen their ground position as they negotiate with the Taliban. With an additional 30,000 US and 10,000 Allied troops, the plan is to put military pressure on Taliban strongholds, eliminate the insurgents from key areas, hold those with trained and expanded Afghan forces, provide proper civilian administration, undertake development activities and, in the process, win over local populations to the government side and shrink the Taliban base within the country. The Marjah operation was to test the viability of this ambitious political/civilian/military strategy. But can it succeed without a credible, popular, galvanising national political authority in Kabul, and that too by July 2011?
How realistic is the policy of reintegrating and reconciliation with the Taliban? The December 2009 Nato statement describes reintegration as efforts at the tactical and operational levels to persuade low-level fighters, commanders and shadow governors to lay down their arms and to assimilate peacefully into Afghan society. Reconciliation is presented as high-level strategic dialogue with senior leaders of the insurgent groups (no distinction here between 'good' Taliban and 'bad' Taliban) designed to terminate their armed campaign against the Afghan people and their government. Both processes, according to the document, are to be Afghan-led. The January 28 London Conference on Afghanistan endorsed this policy.
The process of reintegration, according to Afghan representatives, will be advanced through strengthening Afghan institutions and their delivery capability, enforcing the rule of law, combating corruption, carrying out geographically balanced development activities, investing in education, creating legitimate economic opportunities, extending the reach of the government to remote areas etc.
Can this work of years be compressed into 18 months, and that too in an environment of increasing violence? Physical security has also to be provided by the Afghan National Security Forces, set to increase to 171,600 by 2011, to those who break links with the Taliban against any future reprisals by the extremists. Can such a well-trained and adequately armed, motivated and loyal force be created in a few months?
This outreach to the Taliban imperils India's interests in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has singled out reconciliation as a key priority of his new government. While instrumental in forging close political ties with India to Pakistan's intense discomfiture, he is now pushing for a policy that can gravely undermine India's position in Afghanistan, give Pakistan the role it seeks in Afghanistan's future, and allow the political expansion of the Taliban's extremist religious ideology in the region. With his political legitimacy seriously eroded by last year's fraud-smeared presidential election, his feeble Pashtun support and an ambivalent western one, why he believes he can favourably negotiate with the Taliban as president is unclear.
Such a post-US drawdown survival strategy is unlikely to succeed. A distrustful Pakistan would oust him at the earliest opportunity to facilitate its own grip over a future Afghan government. India has also to be wary of Karzai's search for a Saudi role in the reconciliation process. Given their close nexus, Saudi intervention suits Pakistan. The Saudi foreign minister's remarks to the Indian media during Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's recently-concluded visit to the kingdom, that they are not in touch with the Taliban, can be discounted. A gap is opening between what Karzai sees are Afghan interests and his own and those of India.
Western overtures to the Taliban constitute a significant diplomatic success for Pakistan. Its grit in resisting US pressure to act against the Afghan Taliban has been rewarded. With US Central Command Chief, General David Petraeus, now averse to Pakistan stirring up any more 'hornets nests' in the border areas, a self-confident Pakistani Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani is offering to mediate between the US-Nato and the Taliban. His only condition being that Pakistan's need for a soft strategic depth in Afghanistan is recognised as an insurance against the Indian threat and limits are put on India's presence in Afghanistan. Kayani's stature in Pakistan has risen and Pakistan's attitude towards India has hardened, as was evident during the recent foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi last week.
India would need to rethink its options in Afghanistan. We cannot count on President Karzai as before. Our local popularity is a fragile base for retaining our long-term influence, unless we can affect power equations within the country. Anti-Taliban forces in Afghanistan need stronger backing by Russia, the Central Asian countries, Iran and India. The US is disregarding India's long-term strategic interests in the region; it is yielding to Pakistan's disruptive ambitions in Afghanistan.
An unreformed Pakistan that still promotes terrorism against us is being armed and conditions for the spread of an extremist version of Islam in our region are being created, with serious consequences for our security. Is the US failing a critical test of its 'strategic partnership' with India?
Kanwal Sibal is a former Foreign Secretary, Government of India The views expressed by the author are personal
Bundelkhand, the mute and impoverished piece of land splayed across Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, is now the site for an interesting experiment in governance. The National Informatics Centre in Jhansi, along with the district administration, has devised a nifty way to track public services citizens can simply call or text their complaints to the administration. They receive SMS updates about the progress of the grievance, and the person in charge of fixing it. This model (which might now be taken up nationally to strengthen NREGS) has radical possibilities, in terms of talkback from the government it eliminates layers of officialdom, and makes administrators individually responsible.
Plus, it's all via cell phones. It does not take development practitioners and IT enthusiasts to sell the idea any more the transformative power of mobile technology is all around us in India, and intuitively understood. In corners of the country that are let down by other kinds of infrastructure bad roads, excruciatingly slow postal services, spotty landline services mobile phones have made all the difference to the way people live and work. An extra 10 phones per 100 people in a typical developing country boosts GDP growth by 0.8 percentage points, according to the World Bank. They are like digital Swiss army knives, enfolding a range of functions. For instance, mobile money is a whole new frontier, a way of introducing people to more formal financial services. For many Indians, for whom Internet infrastructure is not available,
mobile phones have been (and will be) the primary way of wiring themselves to the world.
The Bundelkhand experiment is simply a small but vivid illustration of the scope of m-governance. Of course, it's not perfect from the obvious physical limitations, to tariff structures and some limits on applications and services that stem from inadequate infrastructure (though still a fraction of what wired networks need). But like countries around the world are finding out, that intimate little device nestling in your palm is the new frontier in public service delivery.
It is not just the irony. Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh had recently over-ruled the clearance by his ministry's Genetic Engineering Approval Committee for the cultivation of Bt brinjal, thereby placing an indefinite moratorium on this genetically modified vegetable. But the Philippines, considered a pioneer in food research, have chosen to rely on that very report of the GEAC. That country's science and technology minister has written a letter praising the "quality" and "work" of the committee. The point is not to situate the Filipino official opposite Ramesh. It is, instead, that this serves to highlight the cavalier manner in which the environment minister privileged so-called public sentiment against a record of scientific trials, wrecking in the process the institutional mechanisms that underpin India's genetic engineering protocols.
Another development comes serendipitously. The European Union has given its approval for the cultivation of GM potato. This, despite genetically modified food being a hot issue in Europe, with sustained political protests against its possible health and environmental risks. Like brinjal, potato is a food crop that belongs to the broad category of non-tuber bearing Solanum species. Certainly, every genetically modified crop has to be carefully appraised for its environmental
and health impacts. But these indications that the world is moving on to new agricultural technologies should return policy-makers to the dubious utility of an argument that's fuelled the Bt brinjal moratorium: what's the hurry for India to take a call right now?
Subsequent to Ramesh's veto, the prime minister stepped in to return institutional coherence to decision-making on GM crops, and the next steps will be significant for their signalling of purposefulness. It is important that the hysterics over Bt brinjal last month do not impact the research on other crops. The proposed Seeds Bill 2004, for instance, is likely to come up for discussion in the cabinet soon. The current Seeds Act 1966 does not factor in quality control of GM seeds, and the amendments will put in place a regulatory framework. Cabinet discussion on this legislation should ignite the internal debate on genetically modified crops.
AN AFTERNOON DEBATE
The pointlessness of opposition walkouts was made clear on Wednesday, when the disruptions and adjournments of the morning, which in no way advanced the discussion on oil prices, the putative reason for the opposition's protest, gave way eventually. What eventually became something of a debate in the Lok Sabha between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and BJP leader L.K. Advani should serve as a lesson in two respects.
First, it shows that the Lok Sabha is still more than capable of serving its intended purpose, as a venue for the discussion of pressing issues, where the executive is held to account. It adds to the body of evidence that an innovation along the lines of the United Kingdom's introduction in 1961 of Prime Minister's Questions is worth considering. A mechanism that adds to the accountability of government and the effectiveness of Parliament and that increases the incentive to stay and debate, instead of walking out is well worth investigating.
The second point is that the relationship between the executive and the Lok Sabha on questions of foreign agreements continues to be the subject of very live debate. Advani, in the course of the no-confidence motion that followed the Left's withdrawal of support to UPA-I, had made much of the theory that the government needed to ensure that foreign treaties it signed had the confidence of the House, a variant of the "ratification" that, for example, American governments must go through. This week he argued that Parliament should be kept informed also of the various actual steps that could hypothetically constitute an approach towards any such agreement. Precedent is murky: while prime ministers traditionally brief the House on their foreign trips, it is nowhere in the world the case that all forms of diplomacy being tried and other tools of foreign policy are necessarily discussed in the House. (In several countries, legislative committees are briefed in camera.) This discussion also exists at the interface of several fraught questions: the efficacy of Parliament, the virtues of secrecy as against openness, and the effect of domestic politics on foreign treaties. And informed discussion in Parliament is the way in which India must discover the contours of its solution.
'NOTHING COMMON AND THERE IS NO WEALTH'
Having narrated how republican India became a member of Britain's Commonwealth (IE, February 19), it is only fair that the subsequent story of this "free association of independent nations" should also be told. It was only in May 1949 that the "new Commonwealth" had come into being. Ironically, the first signs of trouble appeared in this country barely four months later.
In the September of that year Britain, with its post-war economy in a shambles, was forced to devalue the pound. Since the Indian economy had been virtually integrated with Britain's throughout the British Raj, this country followed suit within 24 hours and correspondingly devalued the rupee. Those who had unsuccessfully opposed the Commonwealth link seized the opportunity to proclaim that this was the first bitter fruit of the Commonwealth's membership, and more would follow. Jawaharlal Nehru hit back equally hard: "To say that this is a consequence of our being in the Commonwealth is an absurdity. Pakistan, in spite of being in the Commonwealth, has not devalued her currency. The fact is that we have to face a certain compulsion of events". After some days the storm subsided.
Some months later, Krishna Menon, a great Commonwealth enthusiast and still high commissioner in London, was miffed when he discovered that India had been excluded from a meeting of Commonwealth defence scientists. The British explained to him that since India did not want to be a part of any security arrangement, its representative could not be invited to meetings where NATO's secrets were likely to be discussed. Menon saw to it that this exchange did not enter the public domain back home.
It was in 1956 that the mother of all crises to hit the Commonwealth exploded. To say that the very existence of the Commonwealth in its new avatar was in peril would not be an exaggeration but an understatement. In the available space, only the bare bones of the highly complex and prolonged tale of the Suez crisis leading to the totally unacceptable Anglo-French-Israeli aggression against Egypt can be given. The essential and oversimplified facts are these: In the summer of 1956, the United States withdrew its offer of rather generous aid to Egypt for the construction of the Aswan Dam, dear to the great Egyptian and Arab leader, Gamal Abdul Nasser. In July he retaliated by nationalising the Suez Canal. All hell broke loose, particularly in Britain and France. Anthony Eden, having just succeeded Winston Churchill as prime minister of Britain, called a conference of users of the Suez in London to get a decision in favour of the canal being controlled and run by an international board. Nasser refused to attend it and requested Nehru to do the same. Nehru told him that India's presence was necessary if the issue was to be resolved peacefully. Eden and his cohorts were adamant that the canal must be run by an international entity. Nehru often acting through his Man Friday, Krishna Menon rejected this and insisted that Egypt's sovereignty over the canal must be preserved while accepting the legitimate demands of the canal's users.
By mid-October, thanks to America's support to Nehru's views and to the intervention in the discussions by the UN Secretary General, Dag Hammarskjold, it seemed that an agreement fair to all was about to be reached. No one, however, knew anything about Eden's different and diabolical plans. As Israel's legendary defence minister, Moshe Dayan, revealed years later, Eden and French Prime Minister Guy Mollet had conspired with Israel to ensure that it would invade Egypt and, on the pretext of stopping the Israel-Egypt war, British and French troops would intervene and take over the canal as well as the former bases from which the British had been evicted earlier by agreement. This is precisely what they did at the end of October. Now Nehru who had tried to be even-handed between the two sides denounced Eden and co-sponsors of the aggression vigorously. He had a powerful, if relatively silent, ally in the US president Dwight Eisenhower who went to the extent of using America's clout in the IMF to make Eden and Mollet behave. So the Suez War ended in Britain's humiliation. Eden lost his job. Nehru achieved his objective of protecting Egypt's sovereignty and Nasser's honour.
Where did the Commonwealth come into this? Ah, well, from the earliest stages of the Suez crisis the pent-up Indian sentiment against the membership of the Commonwealth had come to the fore. Nehru knew that if Britain's extremist demands on Egypt were not thwarted, the Commonwealth in its present form would not last. Yet, he did not like that prospect. Consequently, when a Congress MP tabled a resolution for immediate withdrawal from the Commonwealth, Nehru quietly advised the Lok Sabha speaker to disallow the motion. He did expect an anti-Commonwealth campaign from the Left parties and left-leaning Congressmen. But to his surprise, the arch-conservative Congress leader C. Rajagopalachari, better known as Rajaji, joined the ranks of the critics. With him Nehru argued. Withstanding all pressure, he pointed out that the Commonwealth membership had "not inhibited India from expressing her views in the strongest possible manner." Britain had no monopoly of Commonwealth, and other members, such as Canada, had sided with India.
Thus saved in 1956, the Commonwealth was on the precipice once again nine years later. This time around the national sentiment against Britain was much the greater if only because this country, not a friend, was Britain's target. On September 6, 1965 Harold Wilson, Britain's Labour prime minister, infuriated all Indians by pontificating that it was India that had started the war with Pakistan, forgetting all the Pakistani infiltrations in Kashmir since August 5, and the march of Pakistani tanks into Indian territory on September 1, with a view to cutting off the army in Kashmir from the rest of the country. There was near unanimity in Parliament that the Commonwealth link be snapped right away. "There is nothing common and there is no wealth", said many members. Lal Bahadur Shastri gently persuaded them not to act in a huff.
Now no one bothers about what the Commonwealth or Britain says or does. Times do change.
The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator
It seems like both warning and encouragement. Beginning with India, representatives of the international community are asking the government and political parties in Nepal to stick to the May 28 deadline for promulgation of the new constitution. But going by the preparation, or lack of it by the constituent assembly, the possibility of the "people's" constitution meeting its deadline appears remote. The interim constitution states clearly that the constituent assembly shall cease to exist on May 28 the rigid deadline for promulgation of the new constitution. The failure to enact the constitution will mean that the achievements of the April 2006 movement federalism, secularism and republicanism will remain far from being institutionalised.
With the monarchy gone, the responsibility for this grand failure will have to be borne by the three major political parties Nepali Congress, Maoists and the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). And the three are divided on what to do next. The heads of the three parties G.P. Koirala (Nepali Congress), Prachanda (Maoists) and Jhalnath Khanal (UML) are quietly pushing for an extension to the constitutent assembly's tenure. That will mean having to dump the present government led by Madhav Nepal, by holding him solely responsible for meeting the deadline. Their prescription is to have a partial framework of the constitution by the deadline, and then have the House dissolved. But there are loud warnings from other parties against extending the life of the constituent assembly.
Dethroned King Gyanendra received a rousing welcome when he paid a visit to two shrines last fortnight. Those who had swarmed the street in April 2006 against his takeover were at the forefront to receive him in the shrine. "Come back king, and save the country," they yelled. Close on the heels of that, the Rashtriya Prajatantra Party-Nepal (RPP-N), the only party in the constituent assembly that has demanded a referendum on the issue of monarchy vs republicanism, unitary vs federalism and Hindu Nepal vs secularism , organised a successful Nepal bandh to press these demands. RPP-N Chief Kamal Thapa, some one who was treated like a political pariah by the major political parties, quoted Gyanendra as saying "I had quit quietly to avoid violence and in the hope that political parties will act responsibly". The message is loaded.
Moreover, the big three are undecided on the modality of federalism and governance that a future Nepal will adopt. The Maoists are rigidly averse to the concept of an independent judiciary and prefer a legislature that the judiciary would be answerable to. That means even an agreement on a basic framework of the constitution is a distant possibility.
So how does Nepal cope with this situation, and how will the international community treat the world's newest republic? India told President Rambaran Yadav during his recent visit to Delhi that he, as head of the state, would have a significant role in enforcing the constitution which it (India) hoped would be delivered on time. But the role and power of the president still remains an issue of debate in Nepal, and Maoists have already said they would not accept a king in the form of a president.
The only way to ensure that the Maoists don't abandon the peace process is a strict warning from the international community, India included, that they won't be treated like a democratic force if they don't behave like one. Continued extortion by the Maoists, Prachanda's recent call to his cadres to be prepared to raise arms for a decisive people's war, and their stopping work on the 350 kilometre upper Karnali Hydro-project (in which GMR, an Indian company, was almost close to finishing the project work) are being cited as evidence of their anti-peace and anti-democratic face.
Maoists have reasons not to fear, though. The government is redundant, if the prevailing sense of insecurity is a parameter. At least 27 businessmen, including two media owners, have been killed and 68 abducted for ransom, apart from rising instances of child abductions and killings in the past one year. The country suffers from a 12-hour power cut daily, and industries are hampered by Maoist trade union demands to double employee salary. The government has failed to negotiate effectively. The chamber of commerce has warned the government that it would shut down if the law and order situation did not improve in a month. Even if the major parties wake up, writing a constitution may prove to be a mere formality, if there is no visible will to enforce it on the part of the major political parties.
AND THE GENDER-NEUTRAL AWARD GOES TO...
Many hours into the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, the Oscar for best actor will go to Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth or Jeremy Renner. Suppose, however, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented separate honours for best white actor and best non-white actor, and that Freeman was prohibited from competing against the likes of Clooney and Bridges. Surely, the academy would be derided as intolerant and out of touch; public outcry would swiftly ensure that Oscar nominations never again fell along racial lines.
Why, then, is it considered acceptable to segregate nominations by sex, offering different Oscars for best actor and best actress?
Since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, separate acting Oscars have been presented to men and
women. Women at that time had only recently won the right to vote and were still several decades away from equal rights outside the voting booth, so perhaps it was reasonable to offer them their own acting awards. But in the 21st century women contend with men for titles ranging from the American president to the American Idol. Clearly, there is no reason to still segregate acting Oscars by sex.
Perhaps the academy would argue that the separate awards guarantee equity, since men and women have received the exactly the same number of best acting Oscars. And the academy is not alone in this regard: the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy of Film and the Independent Spirit Awards all split acting nominees by sex as well.
But separate is not equal. While it is certainly acceptable for sports competitions like the Olympics to have separate events for male and female athletes, the biological differences do not affect acting performances. The divided Oscar categories merely insult women, because they suggest that women would not be victorious if the categories were combined. In addition, this segregation helps perpetuate the stereotype that the differences between men and women are so great that the two sexes cannot be evaluated as equals in their professions.
Today, the number of female-run production companies, female directors and great roles for women continues to increase. Four of the five films represented in this year's best actress category centre on strong female characters. As women gain more influence in Hollywood, even the term "actress" is disappearing. Just as stewardesses are now called flight attendants, many actresses now prefer to be called actors. The Screen Actors Guild has eliminated the term "actress" in its awards, instead using "female actor." Perhaps, as the term "actress" falls further out of favour, the award-granting organisations will be forced to acknowledge that male and female actors do indeed have the same occupation.
Collapsing two major categories into one would have the added value of reducing the length of the awards show, a move that many viewers would laud. But if the academy wanted to preserve the number of acting awards, it could easily follow the lead of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has, since 1951, offered genre-based Golden Globe honors, for best performances in dramatic, and comedic and musical roles.
For next year's Oscars, the academy should modify its ballots so that men and women are finally treated as full equals, able to compete together in every category, for every nomination. And if the academy insists on continuing to segregate awards, then it should at least remain consistent and create an Oscar for best directress.
BACK TO THE MINES
The mining sector has been under a harsh spotlight in the recent past, garnering attention for all the wrong reasons. Having failed to effectively govern its growth, the government also did little to streamline the laws that govern it. The mineral-rich states also seemed happy to let the sector slide, until public outcry overnight awoke them to the pressing need for reform. Priyadarshi Siddhanta lays out the context:
What ails the mining sector?
Mining was a low-key industry till the late '80s, until neighbouring China woke up to its infrastructure needs in the early '90s, which triggered the boom for its steel utilities. In their quest for raw material security, the Chinese steel mills began to buy iron ore from Indian miners, even at exorbitant prices. This in turn ignited a mad scramble for ore mines in India, making policy-makers understand the need to reform the dig-and-sell mining sector. Concerns persist on the lack of transparency in allocations of mining leases, containing the illegal mining mafia, who have both money and muscle power, tapering off iron ore exports besides the need to streamline the sector's growth, which the Mines and Minerals Development and Regulation Act 1957 has failed to ensure. While a first-come-first-serve policy continues to be the guiding principle in allocation of leases, there has been no thought in the Mines Ministry towards exploring the efficacy of granting leases through a transparent auctioning process.
What is the larger direction for reform envisaged by the government?
Having realised that the sector indeed needed reforms, the government attempted to devise strategies to facilitate the mining sector's growth, and at the same time, remove some obvious anomalies. While beginning due diligence on the sector, the government realised that the sector was a complex one, where ore prices were aligned to international prices and nearly 80 per cent of the mining zones were located in the forested areas inhabited by tribals.
There was a need to ensure their well-being. UPA-I appointed a high-level committee under former Planning Commission Member Anwarul Hoda to make recommendations for a fitting national mineral policy, which the committee did in 2006, suggesting changes in the Mineral Policy 1993 to attune it to the present requirements of the world economy. It suggested an evolution of the mining code adapted to the best international practices, streamlining and simplifying of procedures for grant of mineral concessions to reduce delays, strengthening the infrastructure for mining activities and recommendations on other issues for improving the environment for investment in the mining sector.
What concrete steps have been taken?
Acting upon these recommendations, the government formulated the Mineral Policy 2008. In the past year, the Mines Ministry has initiated a series of steps to reform the sector including notifying revised rates of royalty in respect of minerals in August 2009 on an advalorem basis, and circulated guidelines to the states in June 2009 to streamline the grant of mineral concessions. The ministry also formulated and circulated a Model State Mineral Policy to all states for revising or formulating their mineral policies in terms of the National Mineral Policy 2008 for scientific and systematic management of mineral resources. It also appointed a consultant for preparing a draft Sustainable Development Framework for the Indian Mining Sector.
Besides, the ministry has constituted a coordination-cum-empowered committee at the Centre which includes representatives from Environment and Forest, Defence, Home Affairs, Steel, Directorate General of Civil Aviation, Indian Bureau of Mines and Geological Survey of India to monitor and minimise delays in grant of mineral concessions.
Most importantly the ministry has drafted a new legislation titled Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act, 2010, which it argues would be a comprehensive way to promote regulated growth of the mining sector. The legislation envisages full transferability of concessions to encourage exploration, specified time limits with enforcement through a tribunal, granting large area prospecting licences to promote high technology in exploration, ensure a level playing field with reservation only for conservation and finally a mining tenement system and uploading exploration data on Internet.
THE WRONG SORT OF COMPETITION
The Competition Commission of India (CCI) is an important regulatory cog in our rapidly growing free market economy. Its mandate is to break monopoly and prevent unfair trade practices. Even at the best of times, this is a difficult taskit isn't easy, for example, to prove cartel-like behaviour unless one of the colluding parties is persuaded to spill the beans. And the CCI hasn't yet got enough experts in its ranks. At this stage, when the CCI is still finding its feet, the last thing that it wants is a turf war. But that's exactly what seems to be brewing between the CCI and the Competition Appellate Tribunal (CAT), a quasi-judicial body, which hears appeals against decisions made by the CCI. The CCI, according to a report in FE on Thursday, is moving the Supreme
Court against the CAT, accusing the latter of overstepping its brief. The specific case relates to CCI's investigation into an alleged cartel-like arrangement between SAIL and the Indian Railways. Jindal Steel & Power had lodged a complaint with the CCI about an exclusive supply arrangement between SAIL and Indian Railways, which they alleged was abuse of dominant position. CAT had recently passed an order halting CCI's investigation into this matter.
It would seem that the CCI does have a valid reason to complain about the CAT's decision. An appellate body can sit in judgment on a decision passed by the CCI, but surely not on whether an investigation should be conducted. CAT ought to have waited for the CCI to complete the investigation, reached a conclusion and then considered the matter if a concerned party chose to appeal. Ordering a halt to an inconclusive investigation seems knee-jerk and unnecessary. In any case, there ought to be a clear enough division of turf to prevent both bodies from interfering in the work of each other. And at a superficial level, it seems obvious that CAT has overstepped its brief. If, indeed, there is some technical provision under which it can legally order such a halt, then the government needs to relook at the legislation and clear the air. The cause of ensuring a competitive, level-playing field across the economy is too crucial to be left to the outcome of a turf war between two competing bodies. For now, it seems that the Supreme Court will have to adjudicate a conflict that should not have arisen in the first place.
BANKING THE UNDER-BANKED
The finance minister's announcement in the Budget that RBI is going to issue additional banking licences to private sector players, including non-banking financial companies, is a welcome move. It will increase the geographic coverage of banks, improve access to banking services and bring competition to the sector. The nationalisation of banks in India arguably helped push up the gross domestic savings of the household sector from just 9.5% in 1970-71 to 22.6% of the GDP in 2008-09. But 40 years on, a significant proportion of Indian households, especially in rural areas, are still outside the coverage of the banking system and the number of bank account holders per 100 of the population is abysmally low at 31. Remember also, that the focus of financial inclusion in India is confined to ensuring a bare minimum access to a savings bank account. Globally, financial inclusion has been viewed in a much wider perspective, which includes savings accounts, insurance and other products. Though 80% of Indians save because of the lack of any social security net, a recent NCAER survey shows that less than a fourth of these savings find their way into financial instruments and over 58% households in rural areas prefer to keep their savings at home. That needs to change.
While commercial banks have taken steps to facilitate inclusion, regional rural banks and cooperative banks will now have to play a proactive role. On a special note, RBI used the term 'financial inclusion' for the first time in its Annual Policy statement of 2005-06 and the State Level Bankers Committee had identified 431 districts for 100% financial inclusion. But as of March 31, 2009, only 204 districts in 18 states have achieved the target. Efforts need to be taken to identify best delivery models for financial inclusion and technology, especially mobile banking, can play a significant role as global experience suggests it can reduce the cost to serve customers by 50-70%, and offer financial services to a vast population. Mobile service providers will also have to play a proactive role and help regulators build a framework of rules and regulations. The use of smart card technology, mobile ATMs, and coverage of post offices under electronic payment networks in out-of-reach areas can play a significant role. An inclusive banking structure needs to be developed by promoting small finance banks, and strong linkages must be created between large banks and the small ones. To foster financial inclusion, we need the right blend of regulatory and market-based solutions and significant investment in financial literacy.
WHAT NEXT FOR THE FISCAL STIMULUS?
How much of the fiscal stimulus did the Union Budget roll back? The government has indicated that the rollback will be in stages as the economy returns to a more sustained improvement in growth rates. So, if the economy does return quickly to its full throttle, what should we expect the government to roll back?
To answer this, we need to know what the fiscal stimulus consisted of in the first place. Officially, there were two fiscal packages announced by the government to stimulate the economy. The first one was announced on December 7, 2008. It sought to increase the plan expenditure by Rs 20,000 crore in 2008-09. It also sought to ensure full utilisation of funds already provided. As a result, Plan and non-Plan expenditure in the last four months of 2008-09 were expected to be of the order of Rs 3,00,000 crore.
Thus, in the last four months of the year, the government planned to spend about 40% of the monies that it had originally budgeted to spend in the entire year. This was indeed a massive government spending plan.
The Rs 60,000-crore farm loan waiver announced on February 28, 2008 was never officially clubbed with the fiscal stimulus packages. Nevertheless, it was an important component of the effective fiscal stimulus. The same can be said of the Sixth Pay Commission awards. Although the farm loan waiver was announced in the earlier Budget speech before the crisis, the amount of the waiver was not allocated in the Budget. This came closer to the fiscal stimulus package.
The farm loan waiver, the Pay Commission awards and the increase in the Plan expenditure are the biggest components of the effective fiscal stimulus package. None of these can ever be rolled back.
Some of the announcements made as part of the fiscal stimulus were time-bound anyway. So, the rollback was automatic. In January 2009, the government announced that states would be allowed to raise additional market borrowings of up to 0.5% of their gross state domestic product. This amounted to a significant Rs 30,000 crore of additional resources in the hands of the states to spend. This fiscal measure, which was designed to help state governments also and step up the momentum of government spending, effectively lapsed with the end of the year. Thus, the rollback was automatic.
Similarly, states were provided a one-time assistance to purchase buses for their urban transport systems under the JNNURM up to June 2009.
Commercial vehicles purchased between January and March 2009 were allowed accelerated depreciation at the rate of 50%. These were time-bound programmes that had an in-built rollback mechanism.
So, effectively, we are left with very little to roll back. Of what is left, onethe Cenvathas been partially rolled back from 8% to 10%. Domestic demand is so buoyant that most manufacturers are expected to pass on this additional duty to the consumer. The effective price hike is not expected to hurt growth in demand. Thus, manufacturers are not likely to be impacted by this increase at all. Gross sales will be a little more, but net sales and profits will remain largely unaffected.
There is a significant political difference between the fiscal stimulus provided in the West and the one provided in India. In the West, government bailout packages were handed out to large distressed financial institutions. Many of these used taxpayers' money to pay their top executives handsome bonus packages. Effectively, the political system in the West ended up using taxpayer monies to line the pockets of those who were responsible for causing the crisis. Politically, that was hugely embarrassing to the establishment.
In the US, the Republicans were not only embarrassed for having to bail out capitalism; they even lost the elections after having compromised their religion of the superiority of the market.
In India the fiscal stimulus did not require any bailing out. The banks and the corporates were robust enough to weather the storm. All they needed was the infusion of a little more liquidity, which RBI deftly provided. Nevertheless, we had an extraordinary situation. Experts were furiously painting a depressingly gloomy picture of the future. This was globalisation of fear. Industry leaders joined in and soon we had a consensus that something should be done.
The political system swung into action. There were no entities to save from the crisis, so they helped themselves. The political system suspended the FRBM target and awarded itself generous doses of monies to spend on populist schemes such as loan waivers, NREGA, etc.
They yielded a rich harvest for themselves. They won elections handsomely and took credit for having saved the country from a disaster that others had imagined was impending. Now, they are back to reining in the fiscal deficit in earnest, spending on infrastructure and spurring demand by cutting personal tax rates. In short, they are back at doing all the sensible things.
They are left with only one small ticklish problemwhat should they roll back?
The author heads Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy
FOUR GOOD STEPS THAT WILL YIELD RESULTS
The finance minister has quite correctly put agriculture on the radar in this year's Budget against the background of the drought that has somewhat spoilt the otherwise amazing growth story. He has focused on the immediate requirements as well as the medium-term goal of making agriculture self-sustaining. The four-pronged approach to be pursued, covers issues relating to making agriculture stronger through the spread of the Green Revolution, improving logistics support for this revolution, providing immediate relief to farmers affected by the drought, and probably using the food processing industry route to complete the chain through firmer binding.
It has been a constant plea to the government to restart the Green Revolution, which was quite successful in the seventies. To refresh memory, the approach was to use better HYV seeds (high-yielding variety), fertilisers, pesticides, irrigation facilities, etc to improve farm productivity. The Green Revolution, however, turned out to be a wheat revolution and was confined to the states of Haryana, Punjab and Western UP. As is normally the case, once agriculture became stable, there was a distinct dwindling of interest in pursuing the goal, as the nation preferred industrialisation as the engine of growth from the mid-eighties onwards. The current approach to the Green Revolution is two-fold. The first is to stretch it to new regions, as the soil in the states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Eastern UP is fertile and should be leveraged to enhance production. This will also help the farmers to move to higher income levels and to that extent reduce the level of regional imbalances.
The second is the focus on pulses and oilseeds. The idea is to create 60,000 pulses and oilseeds villages with an outlay of Rs 300 crore. One can assume that the money would be spent specifically on improving production levels in targeted areas. This is significant because India walks the edge on these two sets of crop. The conundrum here is that while shortages in oilseeds can be met through higher imports of vegetable oilsIndia imports around 40-45% of its edible oil requirementsthe same does not hold for pulses.
Further, as was witnessed this year, even within pulses there is a schism, where substitution is not that easy between, say, arhar and chana or urad and chana. As pulses are staples, this move, which hopefully is an initial step in a series of other measures that will be taken, will help to tide over the problem. India does import 10-20% of its pulses requirements, but given the limited supplies and variations in harvest seasons, there are invariably phases of price stress when domestic crops fail.
The second strategy is directed towards reducing wastages. It is estimated that the total losses in farm production could range between 10% and 30% for various crops due to the limited supply of cold chains, transport and warehousing facilities. The Budget has stressed the problem at the level of the FCI, wherein procurement and storage of grains has resulted in considerable wastage due to the non-availability of warehousing space. The FCI, CWC and SWCs combined has warehousing space of around 45-50 million tonne, which is inadequate, and timely availability of private space is a problem that accentuates the possibility of wastage. Reduction in wastages would automatically lead to higher availability of farm products.
This strategy has been linked to the food-processing sector as part of the third prong, where the forward linkage to making agriculture more commercial has been built in. ECBs have been permitted to set up cold storage facilities. This was necessary, since it has been estimated that there is a 60% gap in supply of stationary cold storage facilities and 80% gap in mobile cold storage facilities in the country. The Budget's approach is fairly wholesome, as it interweaves overall production with logistics, and makes it more commercial at the retail stage.
The fourth route taken by the FM is to address the immediate concerns of farmers in terms of availability of credit and interest subvention. Credit availability is less of an issue today and the problem pertains to repayment of loans, especially at times when crops fail. By taking on the cost of subvention, immediate relief has been provided by the government so that banks can go ahead with the overall Plan.
The FM's approach is fairly cogent and comprehensive and does not leave any loose ends. The total allocation of around Rs 700 crore (plus interest subvention) may not be too large and will have to be increased in subsequent years, as any effort towards making agriculture robust involves relentless focus and outlays, given that the canvas is expansive and the treatment must be deep rooted, both literally and figuratively.
The author is chief economist at NCDEX Ltd. These are his personal views
After a rough patch during the crisis, Tata Motors now looks set for a smooth ride, at least if recent developments at both managerial and financial levels are an indicator. The country's largest automaker proved its critics wrong with its strong quarterly performance since October 2009. The company had drawn flak from one and allfrom shareholders, investors and analystsfor its 'high-cost acquisition' of Ford's marquee brands Jaguar and Land Rover, which landed the company in losses after eight years of positive growth in 2009. But with a combination of sheer managerial capabilities, cost-cutting exercises, inventory control and de-risking strategies, the company has turned around its financials.
Despite poor market conditions and lack of financial options during most part of 2009, Tata Motors paid off its short-term loan of around $3 billion borrowed to part-fund JLR buy-out through various measures, thereby bringing down its debt-to-equity ratio.
By bringing in new faces such as Carl-Peter Forster as group CEO and Ralf Speth as head of JLR, Tata Motors has shown its intention to become a global automaker with presence across all the major markets either through JVs or by direct presence. With JLR showing strong performance by posting profits coupled with revival in the domestic auto industry, particularly on the passenger car side, Tata Motors is set for a comfortable ride.
In order to de-risk itself from mounting domestic competition and to give itself a global brand equity, Tata Motors took a strong decision to venture into markets such as Latin America, Vietnam, Myanmar, Middle East, Russia, Africa and Poland, apart from pushing Nano variants into the European markets in a big way.
Apart from Nano, Tata Motors has also decided to expand the reach of JLR to other European and global markets, including India. To prove the point further, the company successfully raised £340 million from European Investment Bank to develop new cars and variants under JLR.
Tata's pick-up vehicle in Thailand and Tata Daewoo's commercial vehicle venture in Korea have been reporting encouraging results, which augur well for the company. Its construction equipment subsidiary Telcon is also set to benefit from increased infrastructure activities in India.
REGULATE AIR SHOWS
The Indian Navy has already initiated a detailed probe into the crash of its fighter trainer Kiran Mk II aircraft in Hyderabad that took three lives, including those of the two pilots on that aerobatic show. A case under the Aircraft Act 1934 has been registered at the Bowenpally police and it should take a while for the naval officials to investigate this thoroughly. A day after the crash, which took place just before noon in a thickly populated residential area near the Begumpet airport in the heart of Hyderabad, at least three theories about the cause of the crash have been floated: 1) There was a sudden problem or failure in the aircraft; 2) the pilots lost control during the vertical dive and could not pull back; 3) the aircraft's engine could have been struck by a bird. It is up to the Navy probe team to get to the bottom of this tragic accident. The planes were performing a manoeuvre called 'bomb burst' in which four planes do a loop in a formation, before they peel off and disperse in different directions. The Kiran Mk II aircraft and these two pilots belong to the Navy's elite Sagar Pawan team that has performed over 100 successful shows since it was formed in 2003. Both the pilots have experience of flying over 1,000 hours each and have performed extensively in such shows.
Yet considering the extraordinary stress that man and machine are put through in such aerobatic shows, the risk of accidents is naturally higher than in commercial aviation. The questions that arise are whether an aerobatic show was indeed required for an aviation summit, and more important, whether it was advisable to permit that at Hyderabad's Begumpet airport, which is set in what is now a densely populated area. The defence services use occasions such as Republic Day, Independence Day, and Air Force and Navy days to demonstrate their capabilities and enthuse young people to join the services. But it may be time to regulate more strictly aerobatic shows over the city skies. Conducting them in busy civilian airports is a problem because they are apt to disrupt regular air traffic, but that was not the issue at the Begumpet airport. After the shifting of the civilian airport to a fine new location at Shamsabad, the avian population in the area has increased and the old drill to keep them off does not continue. This seems to have enhanced the risk factor for aircraft. There is also the question of compensation to residents who have lost their property in the crash. This is not the first air show nor will it be the last. Keeping these in mind, the Defence Ministry and the Civil Aviation authorities must come up with detailed and transparent guidelines for the conduct of such air shows in future.
DISPELLING GREEK MYTHS
The Greek economic crisis continues to test the political will of all involved. The country's budget deficit is 300 billion. It owes $75.5 billion, $64 billion, and $43.2 billion to French, Swiss, and German banks respectively. George Papandreou, the centre-left Prime Minister, has proposed public expenditure cuts and savings measures to reduce the budget deficit from 12.7 per cent of GDP over four times the 3 per cent allowed by eurozone rules to 8.7 per cent by 2011. Although the finance ministers of the European Union have approved the proposals, German financial institutions and public reactions are creating complications. Greece needs to refinance 20 billion of its debt by May 2010, but German banks refuse to buy any more Greek government bonds. Three German banks hold over 14 billion of Greek debt, and a fourth, although willing to assist over bonds, has ceased to invest in the country. Greece faces plummeting revenues as economic activity stalls, but may have to spend 15 per cent of revenues solely on debt-servicing in 2010. The German public, which has suffered austerity measures, is hostile to bailouts for a country that has exceeded its budget deficit limits greatly. Greece's reputation for corruption does not inspire confidence in other eurozone countries either.
While Mr. Papandreou's economic problems are very serious, the wider ramifications are equally important. On February 24, those hardest hit took to the streets in a 24-hour strike; there were some brief episodes of violence. A Member of Parliament also raised the temperature with reminders that Germany has not paid war reparations to Greece; other Greek politicians have been angered by lectures from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Eurogroup chairman Jean-Claude Juncker to the effect that Greece must do its homework and that other Europeans must not pay for Athens' bad economic management. Most outsider perceptions, however, are mistaken in significant respects. First, EU rules do not allow simple bailouts of states. Secondly, corruption is not confined to Greece; France and Germany have both had their high-level corruption scandals. Thirdly, the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank is investigating the investment bank Goldman Sachs for colluding with the previous Greek government a conservative one to conceal the budget deficit from EU monitors. The most level-headed analyses call for guaranteed EU loans combined with expansionary Greek policies to encourage investment. Such moves would be well received in Greece, but they should also be welcomed for reasserting the primacy of the political over the narrowly economic.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
A CRISIS AND AN OPPORTUNITY AHEAD
BUDGET 2010-11 HAS BEEN STRAPPED AND SHACKLED BY THE PAST. INDIA NEEDS TO MOVE ON.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is not like his predecessor. But he is without any soft options today, shackled as he is by the recent past of the Finance Ministry's stewardship. Hence it is no surprise that despite a heroic effort to put together a dynamic budget, he has produced what could at best be termed a damp squib.
The global financial crisis is not a valid excuse for this flop of a budget. That crisis need not have affected the Indian economy at all. China was affected because its economic boom was export-led, and consequently there was a huge trade surplus with the United States and the European Union, and rising foreign exchange reserves. Therefore a slump in demand for Chinese goods hurt China. But India's exports to the U.S. and the E.U. as a ratio of GDP is still small. Then why was the Indian economy, which was not export-led like China's, affected?
Nor did the sub-prime loan default crisis in the U.S. directly cause it. The U.S. financial crisis was created by weak oversight of banks which cascaded into bankruptcy. But Indian banks are strictly regulated by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), and they are forced to hold reserves in the name of statutory liquidity ratio (SLR) and credit reserve ratio (CRR), and to purchase of government treasury bonds. In fact, except for HFDC Bank owing to its own foolishness no bank in India collapsed or even made losses during this period.
Then why did India suffer? That is the key question to answer first, to know what kind of budget we needed.
The Indian economy had a setback not because of any financial contagion spreading from the U.S., or because of the interdependent global trade system, but because of the perfidious financial derivative called Participatory Notes (PNs). Its effects have been compounded by an anti-national agreement with Mauritius to permit even companies with a paid-up capital of $1 incorporated in that country to invest in Indian stock markets and not be subjected to capital gains tax.
The financial crisis in the U.S. was officially acknowledged following the collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. government-owned loan providers, followed by that of Lehman Brothers in September 2008. A liquidity crunch developed in the U.S. and later in Europe. Interest rates rose as liquidity froze and funds were in demand.
The PNs, which were "hot money," were then just shipped out of India without any hindrance to the tune $60 billion in October 2008-January 2009, causing a stock market crash in India that was symbolised by a steep fall in the Sensex. It is this that caused the financial crisis in India and not the U.S. sub-prime loan defaults or exports drying up.
These two "gifts" from the previous Finance Ministers, Yashwant Sinha and P. Chidambaram, made India vulnerable. Hence, the budget should now have incorporated measures to nullify the exemptions available to PNs and scrapped the Mauritius agreement to insulate the Indian economy from the future-induced crisis.
But the PN perfidy continues without accountability. Thus, billions of dollars of "hot" money enter every year into the Bombay Stock Exchange, and these are used to buy and sell shares with PNs almost in the manner of cash transactions. In fact, it is better because cash purchases of over Rs.10,000 have to be reported with details to the Income Tax Department. Moreover, since PNs came via Mauritius, the speculators did not have to pay capital gains tax. By September 2008, PNs accounted for 60 percent of the foreign institutional investor funds in the stock market, from near-zero level in 2003. Moreover, by a special order the Finance Ministry under Mr. Chidambaram had exempted PNs from the purview of the Securities and Exchange Board of India, the RBI, the Enforcement Directorate and the Central Bureau of Investigation. SEBI, headed then by M. Damodaran, protested and repeatedly wrote to the Ministry to permit it to require reporting of the buyer and the seller as also the source of funds as with any other stock market transaction. RBI Governor Y.V. Reddy kept warning of the dangers from PNs. But these were ignored.
The Tarapore Committee on Financial Reforms strongly condemned PNs and wanted the system scrapped. National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan made bold to warn the country that terrorists too were earning on the Indian stock market (obviously via anonymous PNs) to finance the killing of Indians, but he was silenced. Now he is a State Governor.
Are we coming out of the economic crisis of the last two years? We certainly are, but it is not owing to the much-touted stimulus. On the other hand, it is the stimulus that is responsible for the galloping inflation. The money pumped in by loosening bank credit norms, and printing currency notes, has gone into the hands of people who are now manipulating food prices through forward trading and hoarding.
But thanks to the durability of the private manufacturing sector relying on retained internal company earnings, and the innovative IT software sector, India has survived the government- induced financial crisis. Despite the agriculture sector performing poorly for reasons other than the global financial crisis, the GDP growth rate persists.
But this is no time to breathe easy. Another financial crisis of its own making awaits India. But when it arrives, India will not be able to overcome it easily. The coming crisis will be due internally induced factors: the developing Union budgetary bankruptcy and exploding public debt. Can India prevent it? It can, but that will require major economic and financial reforms which the present dispensation is incapable of implementing. Budget 2010-11 reflects this impotence.
Despite the chorus of praise from business houses, from the usual government-compliant academics and
courtier intellectuals, the budget has failed to reduce the fiscal deficit in real terms. The Finance Minister claims the fiscal deficit will be reduced to an estimated 5.5 per cent in 2010-11. This figure is arrived at by dividing the budgeted deficit of Rs. 3.9 lakh crores by the estimated GDP of 2010-11 at current prices, which is projected to grow by 14 per cent. Translated into the retail price index, this means a rise of 15 per cent in prices in the coming year. The government statisticians are in a fix: if they lower the current price GDP level, the fiscal deficit will rise to over 7 per cent, exceeding this year's revised level of 6.9 per cent.
The budgetary crisis looming on the horizon means this: allocations under major heads of expenditure that cannot be cut without causing a crisis such as for employee salaries, pensions, police and defence, subsidies, interest to be paid for loans taken by the government now cover 98 per cent of the current and capital account revenues accruing to the government. These allocations represent revenue expenditures, not asset-building or investment for development projects.
Thus the revenue budget is in a huge deficit which is covered by taking more loans from public sector banks. This situation, however, cannot continue for long because the loans the public sector banks have extended to the government have to be paid back. But here the government faces a developing debt-trap. India is heading for a situation where loan repayments will exceed the new loans the government will take. At present the government pays back 96 paisa for every rupee for new loans. Public debt is now over 90 per cent of GDP and on an exploding trajectory.
My projection is that by 2013 this amortisation will be more than a rupee to be paid back against a rupee of new loan. Then India is in a debt trap and bankrupt. If the government tries to get out of this by printing more currency, it will generate an unbearable level of inflation.
We still have three years to rectify matters with new financial reforms, but with the present dispensation it is not possible. As in the past, a crisis, this time stemming from budgetary bankruptcy, may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for India and enable reforms. Every crisis, starting with the food crisis of 1966-67 to the foreign exchange crisis of 1990-91, has made the Indian people come out and assert themselves. So did the 1962 war with China and the Emergency of 1975-77. So let us wait for 2013 with optimism.
(The author, a former Union Minister for Commerce, is the president of the Janata Party.)
AEROBATIC SHOWS AND SAFETY ISSUES
THE BEGUMPET AIRPORT WAS A POOR CHOICE. SUCH DISPLAYS SHOULD STAY CLEAR OF HEAVILY POPULATED AND CROWDED AREAS.
The tragic crash of a Surya Kiran Mark II aircraft belonging to an aerobatic team of the Indian Navy on March 3 in Hyderabad has brought to the fore the inherent risks and dangers associated with such aerobatic displays over heavily populated and crowded civilian areas, and raised many questions.
Aerobatic flights are adrenaline-pumping displays that seek to take flying skills to an absolute level of perfection. They are also fraught with dangers: even a minor, split-second error committed by any one of the team members could send all the aviators involved to certain death.
There have been many instances. In the 1980s, the aviation world witnessed a dramatic flight display by a Russian Sukhoi test pilot: he stunned everyone with a "Cobra" manoeuvre. But a few years later, another Russian aerobatic display flight ended in a spectacular crash.
Also in the early-1980s, a major accident occurred at the HAL airport in Bangalore. Two test pilots were practising on a Kiran jet trainer for an aerobatic display before a parliamentary committee. During the practice session, they showed an amazing and spell-binding level of skill. Sadly, at the end of the short session, while carrying out multiple rolls from inverted flight at very low altitude over the runway, the aircraft crashed, killing both pilots.
On August 28, 1988, three aircraft belonging to the Italian Air Force display team were involved in a mid-air collision. Sixty-seven people on the ground were killed and more than 300 injured when the burning wreckage fell on spectators.
Aerobatic displays at air shows tend to become show-stoppers and draw the maximum audience. This, in turn, results in at least some pilots pushing their limits to the extreme and even going beyond the permitted.
On July 27, 2002, during an aerobatic display at the Lviv airfield in Ukraine, an Su-27 fighter jet entered into a low-altitude rolling manoeuvre in a downward trajectory. The aircraft crashed, exploded and cart-wheeled into the crowd, killing 85 people and injuring more than a hundred. The pilots, who ejected to safety, were sentenced to prison terms after trial by a military court. They were accused of having attempted manoeuvres for which they did not have the requisite experience. In their defence, the pilots stated that they had requested additional training flights as they were not familiar with the terrain.
Chief of the Naval Staff Nirmal Verma went on record on March 3 to say that the pilots of the Surya Kiran did not eject as they were trying to manoeuvre the aircraft away from populated areas.
But from inside an aircraft on a near-vertical dive for the "bomb burst" manoeuvre and recovery on a horizontal plane, it is next to impossible to assess the nature of the areas beneath in a split second. The pilots would have been focussing on the instruments for the next manoeuvre. There were reports of bird activity in the vicinity, and if there had been some damage to the engine due to bird ingestion, it would have been impossible for the pilots to recover.
The crucial difference between the aerobatics seen in Hyderabad and the practices followed worldwide, is the proximity to highly populated areas. Begumpet is a poorly located airport for aerobatic displays. In European countries and in the United States, the display areas are confined to a very small zone. The crowd-lines are clearly drawn and the organisers ensure that even if something went wrong, an aircraft would not fly directly into a crowd.
In the old Hyderabad airport, the only clear area is well north of the runway and it is not ideally visible from spectator enclosures. In a manoeuvre such as the "bomb burst," the flight pattern is like an inverted plume the aircraft come in on a vertical dive and peel off in four directions with a dramatic display of multi-coloured smoke patterns. Except for the aircraft peeling north, the other three were to fly over thickly populated and built-up areas. Did the organisers take this fact into consideration?
The area near the airport has several high-rise structures. Several buildings have cellphone towers raised atop them, and there are cables and wires strung across. There were some reports that one of the pilots ejected but got entangled in wires and died.
Two years ago, a Cessna had crashed into houses in the vicinity of the airport. Rescue efforts were hampered due to the fact that the area is crowded and has narrow lanes. Did the authorities take into account the relevant factors and take suitable measures to meet a similar eventuality this time?
With airline operations shifting to the new Shamshadabad airport, the compulsion to prevent butchers' shops and garbage dumps which generate bird activity around the Begumpet airport had come down or ceased altogether. If any bird activity had been noticed, the aerobatic display should have been cancelled. Unfortunately in India, the need to please the bosses often takes precedence over safety concerns.
If the need to hold such frequent air shows is so compulsive at a time when the aviation scene worldwide is slowly recovering from a slowdown, their location needs to be changed to airfields that are far from populated civilian areas. If the Begumpet airport is to be used for an event like India Aviation 2010, aerobatic displays should not be permitted as the surrounding areas are too crowded and any rescue efforts are bound to be hampered.
In the Ukraine accident, the pilots complained of lack of familiarity with the terrain. In the case of the Bangalore crash, the terrain at either end of the HAL airport was different.
The naval aerobatic team had been practising in Goa, which is located at near-sea level. The Begumpet airport is at an elevation of 1,750 feet and the terrain is entirely different from that of Goa. The crew had arrived in Hyderabad only a day earlier. Were they familiar with the terrain and also the effects on performance at the higher elevation while recovering from manoeuvres practised at a sea-level airport? Could that have contributed to the accident?
Do our organisers have the kind of infrastructure help that major international air show venues such as Farnborough and Singapore have? Until we have them in place, the dangers cannot be eliminated.
(Captain A. Ranganathan is an airline instructor pilot with extensive flying experience, and a consultant in the field of accident prevention.)
THE LAST OF THE LABOUR TITANS
A GOOD FRIEND REMEMBERS MICHAEL FOOT.
K. NATWAR SINGH
November 1995. Michael Foot and I are in Madras as guests of N. Ram. "Come," said Ram to Michael and me, "Let's drop in to see R.K. Narayan." So to R.K. we proceeded.
Narayan was in his 90th year. Michael was seven years younger. Michael Foot was enchanted with our "Man from Malgudi." Narayan, too, warmed to Foot. Being a "slow burn," R.K. was not instantly ebullient. Soon enough, the formality ebbed away. The two distinguished men "connected."
Ram and I listened to the two who had enriched the Republic of Letters. Two civilised, untarnished beings, endowed with refined character, intuitive wisdom and natural wit. Ram and I were relieved to escape from the dreary drudgery of the world of mediocrity, which normally had no sign which read, "Exit." I have a good but not freakish memory, but can recall substantial portions of the dialogue between Narayan and Foot. Here I will relate one of the finest parts of it.
After an hour, as we were leaving, told R.K. that Michael Foot had recently written an unusual biography of H.G. Wells. R.K. paused for a moment, and recalled the last part of H.G. Wells' novel, "Tono-Bungay," published in 1909:
"We are things that make and pass, out into the sea,
upon an unknown mission."
R.K. had read the novel 60 years earlier. Michael was astonished, moved and touched.
I first met Michael Foot in London in 1975. He was then a Cabinet Minister (for the first time) in Harold Wilson's government. Our friendship was not instantaneous. It evolved over months. From the corridors of formality we finally entered the never-withering garden of friendship.
Before getting to know Michael, I had crossed swords with his elder brother Hugh Foot in the U.N. Committee on Decolonisation, where he led the British delegation. I represented India. The elder Foot was an accomplished debater, a man of vast experience in the British Colonial Service. He had been Governor of Jamaica and Cyprus.
On Jawaharlal Nehru's birthday, November 14, 1975, Swraj Paul arranged a dinner, attended by nearly 250 people including Michael Foot and myself. When I learnt that Michael was to speak before me, my heart missed a beat. Michael Foot was a spell-binding orator in the same class as Winston Churchill and Aneurin Bevan. It happens to all of us when one is not in good form. Michael was, mercifully, not in form that evening. I got up to speak, extempore. Recalling my association with his brother, I said: "It was hard enough dealing with the right Foot but there is no keeping up with the left Foot." Michael roared with laughter. Thereafter I had the audience with me.
Michael Foot had been a very devoted admirer of Jawaharlal Nehru when it was not fashionable to do so. He met Nehru for the first time in 1938. V.K. Krishna Menon arranged the meeting. Michael Foot joined the India League and was a stout-hearted and consistent supporter of India's Freedom Movement. As editor of the left-wing paper Tribune he was unsparing of the British Raj.
When I got to know him well, I wrote to Indira Gandhi that we should invite Michael Foot to India. She approved. In 1976 he made the first of many trips to India. He and I sat down to work out his Indian itinerary. He was then a senior Minister. I took the bait in my mouth and asked: "Michael, would you like to go to Kashmir?" I was certain he would decline this reckless invitation. No Minister of either of the British parties had ever agreed to visit Kashmir. The U.K's Kashmir record is as deplorable as it could be.
Imagine my surprise when I heard his response: "Why not? I'll go to Kashmir." And go he did. His party was far from happy but could not possibly sack or censure him.
Michael was, like his father, Isaac Foot, an inspired bibliophile. (So am I.) His charming house 66 Pilgrim's Lane, Hampstead was overflowing with books. Every available space was home to books. He was a book reviewer of genius. He gave me several books, each one with affectionate inscriptions. I naturally hesitated to give him mine. We were not in the same literary league. He insisted. He wrote with uninhibited enthusiasm about "Profiles and Letters": "Best thing you have ever written."
When I became Foreign Minister, he wrote to me the following letter, on June 3, 2005:
I have naturally been following most closely all developments in India since the great election last month. I am thrilled to see you back in office and wish you every success there.
I do recall an occasion, as you may do also, when I propheisied that you might become Foreign Minister of India even before Robin Cook was appointed to that post here in Britain. But of course, I have many other happy memories of times together and I wish you the very best of success.
The last time I met him was in September 2008, at his Hampstead home. He was very frail, but the mind was incandescently clear. He reminisced about India. "Natwar, you must get me to India." "Michael, you are most welcome at all times." I did not sound very convincing because he was in no state to travel. I knew I would never see him again. So did he. Uncharacteristically, he embraced me and gave me his only copy of "Uncollected Michael Foot."
The great Greek, Pericles, once proclaimed, "The whole earth is the sepulchre of illustrious men."
Michael is one of them.
TRAINED PAKISTANI IS SAID TO SUPPORT THE TALIBAN
With his white turban, untrimmed beard and worn army jacket, the man known uniformly here by his nom de guerre, Colonel Imam, is a particular Pakistani enigma.
A U.S.-trained former Colonel in Pakistan's spy agency, he spent 20 years running insurgents in and out of Afghanistan, first to fight the Soviet Army, and later to support the Taliban, as Pakistani allies, in their push to conquer Afghanistan in the 1990s. Today those Taliban forces are battling his onetime mentor, the United States, and western officials say Colonel Imam has continued to train, recruit and finance the insurgents. Along with a number of other retired Pakistani intelligence officials, they say, he has helped the Taliban stage a remarkable comeback since 2006.
In two recent interviews with The New York Times, Colonel Imam denied that. But he remains a vocal advocate of the Taliban, and his views reveal the sympathies that have long run deep in the ranks of Pakistan's military and intelligence services.
Despite Pakistan's recent arrest of several high-level Taliban commanders, men like Colonel Imam sit at the centre of the questions that linger around what Pakistan's actual intentions are toward the Taliban.
American and NATO officials suspect that retired officers like Colonel Imam have served as a quasi-official bridge to Taliban leaders and their rank and file as well as other militant groups.
Now retired, Colonel Imam (his real name is Brigadier Sultan Amir) lives in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, just yards from the Pakistani Army headquarters.
In the interviews, Colonel Imam denied any continued link to the Taliban. But he admitted that some "freelancers" meaning former Pakistani military or intelligence officials might still be assisting the insurgents.
If Colonel Imam personifies the double edge of Pakistan's policy toward the Taliban, he also embodies the deep connection Pakistan has to the Afghan insurgents, and possibly the key to controlling them. Once a promising protégé for the United States, he underwent Special Forces training at Fort Bragg, N.C., in 1974, learning in particular the use of explosives, and he went on to do a master parachutist course with the 82nd Airborne Division.
On his return to Pakistan, he taught insurgent tactics to the first Afghan students who fled the country's Communist revolution in 1978, among them future resistance leaders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Ahmed Shah Masood. He then worked closely with the CIA to train and support thousands of guerrilla fighters for the Afghan resistance against the Soviet army throughout the 1980s.
Once the Soviets were pushed out, the Taliban emerged and Colonel Imam, then serving as a Pakistani consular official in Afghanistan, provided critical support to their bid to rule the country, western officials said.
By his own account, he was so close to the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar that he visited him in the days after the Septemebr 11 attacks, and left only when the American bombing campaign began later in 2001. He says he has not returned since. His parting advice to Mullah Omar, he said, was to fight on, but stick to guerrilla tactics.
Today, Colonel Imam speaks highly of the Americans he worked with. But he predicts failure for the United States in Afghanistan. While his views are clearly coloured by his ardour for the Taliban cause, they also carry the weight of someone who knows his subject well.
New York Times News Service
AFRICA BEGINS TO MAKE POVERTY HISTORY
U.S. ECONOMISTS CHALLENGE CONVENTIONAL VIEW THAT THE CONTINENT IS A BASKET CASE.
LARRY ELLIOTT AND HEATHER STEWART
Economists claim Africa may meet Millennium Development Goal targets ahead of the 2015 deadline
In 2006, the African poverty rate was 30 per cent lower than in 1995 and 28 per cent lower than in 1990
For decades, it has been seen as the world's lost continent. Now, a new study says that the view of Africa as a basket case is wrong.
As the continent prepares to welcome thousands of international football fans for the World Cup in June, it seems the image of an economically vibrant region the hosts are keen to project is closer to the truth than tired stereotypes suggest.
Xavier Sala-i-Martin and Maxim Pinkovskiy, two U.S.-based academics, find that in the 10 years before the credit crunch began, poverty rates fell rapidly and inequality declined right across the continent.
They say that it is time to stop feeling so gloomy about the prospects for Africa, which they claim may meet the Millennium Development Goal target, of halving the number of people living on $1 a day, ahead of the 2015 deadline.
"Our results show that the conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong. In fact, since 1995, African poverty has been falling steadily," the authors say. "Moreover, contrary to the commonly held idea that African growth is largely based on natural resources and helps only the rich and well-connected, we show that a great deal of this growth has accrued to the poor." The findings in the report, published by America's National Bureau of Economic Research, contradict the views of the World Bank and the United Nations, which established the millennium goals in 1990.
Mr. Sala-i-Martin and Mr. Pinkovskiy say that by 2006 the African poverty rate was 30 per cent lower than in 1995, and 28 per cent lower than in 1990. They also reject the argument that this has been solely the result of wealthy elites pocketing the proceeds of bumper oil wealth. While still high by developed country standards, they say the Gini coefficient, an international benchmark for social inequality, has declined consistently, if slowly, since the early 1990s.
Some development experts are not convinced. Stefan Dercon, of Oxford University, said the authors placed too much weight on government statistics such as GDP, and ignored other data. "They believe the evidence that many of us would least trust and throw away the evidence we tend to think is fairly accurate. Painstakingly collected household consumption and income surveys, especially when over various years using the same method in each year, give a rather detailed picture of whether there is massive enrichment or not. And unfortunately, the evidence for Ethiopia, where I have been doing this for years, doesn't show such massive improvement." Following the most severe downturn in the global economy since the 1930s, there are also concerns that Africa's progress has been stalled. The World Bank warned in 2008 that the financial crisis would leave an extra 89 million people living on less than $1.25 a day by the end of this year.
However, Alison Evans, director of thinktank the Overseas Development Institute, said: "Rather than starting from the premise that we never get any good news from Africa, we should all be embracing the principle that Africa is on a trajectory where poverty is falling." Countries in conflict have enjoyed a much less marked decline in poverty than their peaceful neighbours, the study finds, seeing only a small improvement during the first half of the 2000s.
Countries that were not at war saw their poverty rates decline from 40 per cent in 1970 to about 25 per cent by 2006.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010
The reasons for the naval helicopter crash at the Hyderabad air show on Wednesday will require a proper probe for the simple reason that a similar failure has to be prevented in the future. This is essential for the navy as well as for the other services. But there are general issues at stake which need looking into
The first of them is whether air shows should be allowed to be held in the middle of dense urban habitations. Common sense would have dictated that such shows should be held on the outskirts. This was not the case in Hyderabad. It was held at the old airport of Begumpet which is situated in the middle of the city.
There is need for a serious rethink here. The enthusiasm of state government authorities to host events like the air show in order to be in the spotlight is so overriding that they tend to overlook the necessary precautions that need to be taken. This is the kind of lapse that cannot be allowed.
The second issue at stake is about the quality of the trainer jet Kiran MK-II itself. The probe which is sure to follow will probably give an indication of what went wrong, whether it was a structural deficiency in the plane itself or whether it had something to do with pilot error. This is not for pinpointing blame as much as to evolve and implement the necessary design and training correctives.
Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautic Limited (HAL) will need to look at the design and technical aspects of the jet. This should not give raise to bickering about indigenous research and development which is generally the case when a question of this kind comes up. The question cannot be simplified into building our own aircraft or of importing apparently betters ones. The HAL will have to be goaded into delivering better stuff. A rigorous evaluation of Kiran Mark-II is due and it would be disastrous to shy away from it because the implications are huge.
What the country needs is a culture of criticism which is absolutely needed to achieve technological excellence. It will not be enough to blame it all on acrobatic manoeuvres. As a former air chief marshal had rightly commented difficult sorties are carried out to keep the man and machine fighting fit. How this is to be achieved will have to remain top priority. India needs its top guns and daredevilry is not an indulgence.
There is an ongoing case at the Bombay High Court which should serve as an exemplar for political protests across the nation. In January 2009, a group apparently led by Shiv Sena MLA Sitaram Dalvi caused some damage to a hotel in Mumbai after a labour dispute went wrong. Dalvi was fined about Rs8 lakh. The police identified Dalvi because he wrote a letter to the police asking permission to use a loudspeaker. Dalvi is now contesting the fine, claiming that the courts should approach his party leader Bal Thackeray to pay the fine as he has paid Rs2 lakh and cannot pay any more.
The question of damage to property by political workers has now started to bother the judiciary in India. For a long time, it was seen as a legitimate form of protest and most parties just expected either the government of the day or the private citizen to put up with the damage. In some way, this was a legacy of our colonial past where freedom fighters were ranged against a foreign alien power.
However, that argument has not been viable for the past 60 odd years. The government belongs to all of us so in some sense, political vandals expect us to pay for their irresponsible behaviour. And private citizens also have rights in a free and independent India. Both these facts have dawned on us only in recent times and the courts and the local administration have both refused to turn a blind eye to damage caused by political protestors.
The Mumbai case once again underlines the need for political maturity in India. We need to find ways to have disagreements which do not descend into violence. The recent disturbances in Karnataka where some members of the Muslim community objected to an alleged article by exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen which she has denied writing sadly led to deaths and to damage. The violent reaction after allegations of sexual misconduct by godman Nithyananda Swami in Tamil Nadu is another example of quickly things can get out of hand.
This court case against the Shiv Sena leader in Mumbai serves as a salutary lesson to political parties accustomed to using destruction and turmoil as bullying tactics. The people, the judiciary and the administration have seen through their bluff. By hitting back where it hurts people the most in their pocket the courts may well have found the way to instil some discipline into the formally irrepressible.
8 DEGREES OF SEPARATION
A terrorist attack in Pune greeted India's announcement of resumption of talks with Pakistan. And no sooner had the foreign secretary-level talks in New Delhi concluded than a bomb attack killed a number of Indians, including three army majors, in Afghanistan, the new front in the Pakistan-orchestrated jihad against India. These strikes have ended the 14-month lull in terror attacks against Indian targets, underscoring the wages of talking to an implacable adversary.
There are at least eight reasons to be concerned by the renewed talks. The first is the abrupt U-turn in Indian policy, which Pakistan correctly has viewed as a major diplomatic climb down by India, emboldening its military and intelligence. A second reason is that the shift in the Indian position occurred without the government so much as offering a reasoned explanation to the public for the switch. Indeed, the shift occurred at a time when, as the PM has admitted, the level of cross-border infiltration by terrorists is increasing.
A third reason is that Indian overtures beget only more terrorism. Without undermining India's presence in Afghanistan, Pakistan cannot regain its political and military influence there once US president Barack Obama's "surge, bribe and run" strategy reaches its logical end. India's role to strengthen the secular and democratic sectors of Afghan society, backed by $1.4-billion investment, threatens Pakistan's use of extremist forces to achieve political ends in Afghanistan. The Pune and Kabul attacks prove that the terrorist elements, far from being autonomous, are very much under the control of the Pakistani military establishment, which is able to use them at will.
The fourth reason is that the Indian decision to resume talks seemed designed to aid America's Af-Pak strategy. The publicly acknowledged US strategy to reconcile with the Pakistan-backed Afghan Taliban has only increased US reliance on the Pakistani military and intelligence. After persuading India to agree to resume talks with Islamabad, the US launched the Marjah offensive as a show of force and got Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to assist in the "capture" of several Afghan Taliban leaders. These stage-managed arrests were part of the plans to squeeze the Afghan Taliban first so as to negotiate from a position of strength.
A fifth reason is that instead of applying direct leverage against Pakistan, India is depending on the US to lean on Islamabad. India has been loath to use economic and security levers against Pakistan. Its decision to resume talks with Islamabad shows that it also is reluctant to employ the diplomatic card. Yet Indian reliance on the US carries high risk. After all, American policy in southern Asia is being driven by narrow, politically expedient considerations, as illustrated by the manner in which the Obama administration is propping up Pakistan through generous aid and lethal-arms transfers. As US ex-senator Larry Pressler has warned, "When the US leaves Afghanistan, India will have a Pakistan 'on steroids' next door and a Taliban state to deal with in Afghanistan."
The sixth reason is that the Indian government has sought to pull the wool over the eyes of the Indian public by claiming that the resumed dialogue process is centred on terrorism when in reality it is about the usual issues, including Kashmir. Nothing better illustrates this than the fact that New Delhi bent backwards to arrange a meeting between the visiting Pakistani foreign secretary and Hurriyat leaders, including Syed Ali Shah Geelani. In fact, the Pakistani foreign secretary came to NewDelhi for two sets of dialogue: One with the Indian government, and the other with Geelani and his fellow Hurriyat leaders.
The seventh reason is that New Delhi is engaging not the actors that wield real power in Pakistan the military establishment but a civilian government that is neither responsible for the terror attacks against India nor is in a position to stop them. Yet, New Delhi has begun a "graduated" process of talks with the Pakistani government, effectively giving the Pakistani military a carte blanche to continue to wage its war by terror. With external affairs Minister SM Krishna telling Parliament that the foreign secretary-level talks were an "encouraging step" towards restoring full discourse, New Delhi is headed toward resuming the composite-dialogue process before long, to Washington's delight.
The eighth and final reason is that such talks only reinforce the India-Pakistan pairing when the need is for India to de-hyphenate itself from the quasi-failed, terror-exporting Pakistan, which is a global crucible of extremism and fundamentalism. More than Washington it is NewDelhi's unimaginative diplomacy that is responsible for the continued India-Pakistan hyphenation internationally.
PRESERVING KIPLING'S LEGACY IN MUMBAI
East is east and west is west and never the twain shall meet, said Rudyard though he did go on in the same verse to insist that all longitudinous divisions disappear when two strong men from opposite ends of the earth, stand face to face. Clear testimony then, that Kipling believed that strength of character and moral qualities, rather than race, defined the man. The same conviction comes through the undeservedly infamous Gunga Din, who is, in the final lines of the poem, acknowledged, despite the disparity of rank between the narrator and the bhisti, as a superior being:
"Though I've belted you and flayed you, By the livin' Gawd that made you, You're a better man than I am, Gunga Din!"
There are good arguments for not turning 'Kipling's House' in Mumbai into a Rudyard Kipling museum, but characterising Kipling, one of the most subtle writers in the language, as an anti-Indian 'racist' is not one of them. I am sure the diligent reader/researcher can find sentences and phrases in Kipling's work which elide in meaning from being proudly imperialist to some slur against 'race'. He does refer to 'Lesser breeds without the Law' ("Ho Ho!" as a friend of mine says) and in the great allegory of the Jungle Books are featured the chattering Bandar Log, the monkey folk who live without the disciplines of the wolf pack. But all of it, abuse and allegory weighed within his entire sensibility, can be seen as a worship of order, discipline, truth and Christian virtue without too much turning of the other cheek rather than reprehensible, rank racism.
Yes, there are arguments for not having a museum dedicated to Rudyard Kipling in the dilapidated and soon-to-be-renewed house in Mumbai. That India has nothing and no one from its British colonial past to celebrate is, again, not one of them.
In my boyhood there was a great move to remove the statues of the Raj, of kings, queens (just The One actually), viceroys and generals who could boast of some cruel conquest of Indian territory,that stood in our town squares and replace them with figures of national importance and pride. It was well and publicly done, though never with the symbolic rejoicing and hubris which accompanied the toppling of Saddam Hussein's colossus in Baghdad, or the tearing down of Stalin's statues in Prague and Budapest (I presume this happened in the unsuccessful Hungarian revolution and know that it happened after the Berlin wall fell).
Statues are and always have been important in a country in which deity has been, for thousands of years, depicted in statuesque form. Museums, the preservation of the archaeological past, the respect for civilisations that once flourished on our soil and are now one with Nineveh and Tyre, are, if we are to be honest, the bequest of the British Raj. There is no evidence that the Muslim and Mughal rulers went out of their way to preserve works of the Hindu and Buddhist past.
The political considerations that allow the Muslim heritage of the country to fall into desuetude is also a disgrace. The Taj and Humayun's tomb are, largely through the funding and agency of international foundations, well preserved. But what of the heritage of Sufi Delhi, of Amir Khusrau or Mirza Ghalib whose relics one has to wade through slums to get to?
The Kipling house in Mumbai is to be turned into a gallery of contemporary art. Fair enough. Rudyard Kipling may have been born there and lived there till he was four. The fact should be commemorated on the site. He didn't write anything there though the impulse to observe and to narrate must have begun then. His father, John Lockwood Kipling, an artist and a principal of Mumbai's celebrated JJ school of Art did live and work there and his memory and legacy should certainly be pronounced and celebrated at least in part of the new museum.
CRASH IN HYDERABAD
NEED TO REVIEW PERMISSION FOR AEROBATICS
The crash of a Kiran MK-2 aircraft of the Indian Navy's Sagar Pawan aerobatics fleet while performing at the India Aviation 2010 air show in Hyderabad on Wednesday is a big blow to the showcase event. Considering that this was the second mishap involving an aerobatics display team of the Indian armed forces in three days, there is cause for serious re-thinking on whether such aerobatic displays are advisable at all in high-profile air shows. On February 27, an ALH Dhruv of IAF's Sarang helicopter display team had crash-landed in Jaisalmer due to loss of power while rehearsing for the Vayu Shakti air show there. Significantly, Sagar Pawan is one of only two naval aerobatic teams along with 'Blue Angels' of the US Navy. Other countries evidently consider it not worth the risk to use naval aircraft in such shows of public display. With dignitaries like the Union Civil Aviation Minister and the US ambassador to India in attendance, besides top brass of the navy, it was not unnatural for the pilots go out of their way to display their skills of manouvre.
Only a proper inquiry will establish what really went wrong and why the two pilots failed to eject to save their lives as they crashed into a residential building, Navy officials have been quoted in the media as saying that the Kiran aircraft has sequential ejection system so when the canopy opens, the left seat fires out first and then the right seat. If that is so, while co-pilot Rahul Nair at least had a chance to eject even though he did not have the 'minimum safe ejection altitude' Commander Suresh Maurya did not even have that chance. This issue of pilot safety in Kiran aircraft must be studied threadbare and changes made to the technical design if needed to meet the due requirements.
The fact that the air show was held in the vicinity of a residential area in Hyderabad should itself be an issue for investigation. Such shows must be organized well away from habitats. It is indeed time we ensure that air shows in future are made safer for the pilots as well as the public. If that requires a complete stoppage of aerobatics display, so be it.
CPM AT SEA
IT'S TIME TO RETHINK ITS LINE
Eric Hobsbawm, the British Marxist historian, has stirred a hornet's nest by claiming that Prakash Karat believes the CPM would do very badly in the Assembly election in West Bengal next year. Karat has been quick to disown the statement, explaining that while he did speak to Hobsbawm, the statement attributed to him in the New Left Review was the historian's own. It does not really matter whether the forecast of a bleak future was made by Karat or the noted Marxist intellectual , because it is a perception shared widely by a large number of people in West Bengal and outside. That the CPM has lost ground in the state cannot be denied by Karat. But he tries to gloss over the party's many omissions and commissions by often blaming the pro-industry policies of the Left Front government in the state.
The party, after all, has lost the confidence of not just the peasants but also of the state's minorities, the middle class and the intellectuals. It's true that the CPM lost the plot in West Bengal when it tried to forcibly take away land at Singur for an automobile plant and unleashed the police to break a peaceful resistance against land-acquisition in Nandigram. But the party has much more to answer for. The CPM once took support of the minorities, the tribals and the middle class for granted but during its long, uninterrupted tenure in office, the party managed to alienate all of them.
At the national level, too, the party has cut a sorry figure. Following its failure to form a Third Front against the Congress, the CPM and other Left parties are increasingly seen making common cause with the BJP in and outside Parliament. After enjoying power without responsibility during much of the tenure of the previous UPA government, the Left, specially the CPM, appears a little too desperate to make its presence felt. But while the Left needs to reinvent itself, the CPM, to remain relevant, needs to climb down from their high horse and evolve a more practical economic and political position on issues confronting the country.
ENABLING SPECIAL CHILDREN
HC DIRECTION ON DYSLEXICS IS LAUDABLE
The Punjab and Haryana High Court's direction that a scribe appointed for a dyslexic child should be allowed to perform calculations for the afflicted child is commendable. In a nation where a significant percentage of children are believed to suffer from dyslexia, a learning disorder that also may affect mathematical ability, the direction given by Justice Permod Kohli will provide relief to many. In another part of the country, the Calcutta High Court not only directed the school to let a dyslexic student appear for Class XII examination but also asked the CBSE "to instruct schools to take care of mentally and physically challenged students".
The CBSE does give concessions to physically challenged students. Both dyslexic students and those with audio-visual impairment are given extra time in examination. Differently abled children are also given the option of studying only one compulsory language as against two for normal students. For the visually impaired this year the board decided to provide Class X question papers for Maths and Science in Braille. Besides the CBSE reminded schools to reserve three per cent seats for the disabled. It also warned schools of stringent action for denying admission to special children. The Union Cabinet's decision which has widened the definition of disabled children in the Right to Education Act too can go a long way in providing education to special children.
Still as a nation we remain apathetic towards the needs and rights of the disabled who form nearly 2.13 per cent of the population. While society must learn to be more sensitive, schools too should wake up to their social responsibility. It should not take court judgements or CBSE warnings to make them realise the pivotal role they can play in enabling such children. A proper learning environment and constant reiteration of faith in their abilities can make such children self- reliant and productive. History is replete with examples where people with special needs have done wonders.
DEFENCE NEEDS MODERNIZATION
DELAY IN DECISION MAKING IS THE BANE
BY INDER MALHOTRA
THERE is not much to be said for the Rs 1,47,000-crore defence allocation in Mr Pranab Mukherjee's budget. Except that his claim of having increased the defence outlay by 4 per cent is meaningless in the face of the 8 per cent rate of inflation. To make matters worse, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) habitually returns considerable sums to the national exchequer every year. The amount surrendered in 2009 was close to Rs 7,000 crore. The figure for the preceding eight years was no less than Rs 32,000 crore. Sadly, the unspent money is from the capital budget of the MoD meant for fresh acquisitions, not from the revenue budget meant for pay, rations and maintenance of the existing systems.
Against this backdrop to draw any comfort from President Pratibha Patil's declaration in her address to the joint sitting of Parliament to the effect that her government was "committed to modernisation of Indian defence" would be a classic case of triumph of hope over experience. Modernisation may be the mantra, but between the government's words and deeds falls the proverbial shadow. Chronic delay in decision-making, indeed utter indecision, sadly aggravated since Mr A.K. Antony became Defence Minister, is the bane. But nobody seems interested in doing anything about it.
No wonder, therefore, that, despite the lip service to the imperative of coping with the threats from Pakistan and China, especially from the power that the Chinese can bring to bear on our land borders, the state of our armed forces remains far from satisfactory. All because the MoD takes an unconscionable time to decide on the procurement of weapons systems and the Cabinet Committee on Security adds to the tardiness. The unending hiatus between the MoD's civilian bureaucracy and the leadership of the armed forces, to say nothing of the defence services' penchant to go on changing their requirements, complicate the problem further. But the ultimate responsibility for the mess is that of the political leadership.
Is it any surprise, therefore, that this country hasn't acquired any artillery since the mid-eighties of the last century though a small number of old artillery guns have been upgraded for us by Israel? The nation's armour is partially, if not largely, night blind. For various reasons the military's communications are also deficient. All this, combined with the alarming and sustained shortage of officers, especially in the Army, adds up to a dangerous situation.
Another telling instance of mishandling the modernisation process may also be cited. Some years ago, this country belatedly woke up to the shocking fact that compared with the state-of-the-art Chinese infrastructure along the Himalayan border, that of India was appalling. The Defence Ministry announced a number of projects to build border roads, improve airstrips and send Sukhoi-30 fighters to the area. But the other day it transpired that several projects were held up because the proposed border roads would pass through forests and the MoD had not been able to secure the requisite concurrence of the Ministry of Environment and Forests! It would take India at least 15 years to catch up with the current state of Chinese infrastructure. What China would have built up by then should not be hard to imagine.
The obvious way to counterbalance any advantage that the Chinese are likely to have along the land border is to use this country's enviable geographical position in the Indian Ocean through which pass the bulk of China's oil supplies and other vital imports. But is there any guarantee that the Navy will get the submarines and surface ships it needs and when it needs them?
It should be obvious to even the meanest intelligence that the plight of the Indian Air Force is worse than that of the other two Services. Shortly after the disastrous border war with China in 1962, we had settled for an air force of 45 squadrons of which 39 were combat squadrons. Today there are only 30 combat squadrons left and their number will be down to 28 in another two years. Since at least 10 of these squadrons would have to be deployed in the east, there will be a "window of vulnerability" on the western front. For, a decision on the acquisition of 126 multi-role combat aircraft for which two US, three European and one Russian models are competing has been delayed long enough. When it might be taken is anybody's guess.
There are two reasons for this extremely costly delay. First, the decision makers seem wary of displeasing either the US or Russia, the two leading sources of sophisticated armaments, though Russia has so far been and remains the largest source of this country. Indeed, India is a partner of Russia in designing and developing the fifth generation aircraft. At a discussion on this subject presided over by Mr Antony, prominent security analyst K. Subrahmanyam argued that choosing the most advanced aircraft was not a matter of "nitpicking" about costs, etc, but of wider geo-strategic considerations.
The second reason for the virtual paralysis of decision-making on defence procurement is rather dialectical. On the one hand, complaints of corruption within the armed forces have been growing. Retired and serving military leaders resent this. But they ought to know that not only civilians but also officers of the three Services at various levels share this view. On the other hand, this has driven the Defence Minister to putting any decision on equipment acquisition on hold at the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing or lack of transparency. The latest to meet this fate was the decision to purchase from Europe the transport helicopters for which the Army has been crying hoarse for long.
The issue of much-needed modernisation of Indian defence is a vast and complex one, and cannot, therefore, be addressed in a single article. Several other ramifications of the problem will, therefore, have to be discussed some other time. However, two points have to be made tersely. First, modernisation does not mean merely upgrading the equipment, relying more on imports than on domestic development and production. There also has to be modernisation of the mind so that there is a wider strategic approach that covers the military's control and command structure. Secondly, Mr Antony has been good enough to describe as "shameful and dangerous" the fact that India imports 70 per cent of the military hardware it needs. Is he doing anything about this shame?
ANOTHER SWADESHI! WHY NOT?
BY SUNIT DHAWAN
My six-year-old daughter wanted a pichkaari and water-balloons for Holi. So, I took her to a neighbourhood kiryana shop, where Holi-special playthings like gulal, pichkaari and water-balloons were displayed.
As I picked up a pack of water-balloons, the words "Made in China" on it caught my eye. I enquired the shopkeeper about it, and pat came the reply: "Sirji, aajkal sab China ka chalta hai".
Though we have become pretty used to seeing (and using) Chinese CFLs, toys, showpieces, decorative lights, utensils and other such knick-knacks, I guess the China-made water-balloons proved to be the proverbial last straw on the camel's back.
Questions like "When we have natural resources and manpower in abundance, why can't we get indigenous quality products at reasonable rates?" kept on drumming in my mind, but who to put these to was the biggest question.
Eventually, I found myself face-to-face with the person who was most likely to have the answers to my questions.
The Mahatma - Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi - was working on his charkha and humming "Vaishnav Jan to Teine Kahiye " when I approached him.
Hearing my footsteps, he looked up and said "Aao, beta", a wry smile playing on his face. I just bowed my head and stood there with folded hands.
He offered me a seat and I settled down, still not knowing what to say and how to begin. The Father of the Nation came to my rescue as he asked: "What brings you here, son?"
Er Bapu you know things in India today are not as what you had dreamt " I mumbled.
"I know this is not the India of our dreams but in our times, who could have imagined things would turn out this way?" he observed.
Encouraged by his assent, I went ahead: "Thanks to our government's liberal policies, multi-national companies are dominating our markets It's so ironical that country's own artisans are workless while the government is encouraging global trade "
The Mahatma was nodding his head, and so I continued: "The fad for anything western - or foreign - is on the rise in our youth. While the affluent society is smitten by the American-European bug, the cattle class this is what they call the lower and middle class these days - is being targeted by Chinese manufacturers "
The Mahatma interrupted "That's sad, but true; what exactly do you want to do?"
At this, I came to the point: "Bapu, can't we have another Swadeshi movement?"
His eyes lit up. "Why not, son? Go ahead, and the Almighty will help you "
"But, Bapu, who would lead the movement?" This infuriated him. "Why do you always want to be led? Why don't you take the initiative yourself?"
"But I mean how can I "
"If I could do it, why can't you? Today's youth needs to understand this. I, too, didn't have any supernatural powers. I just followed my conscience, started alone and grew from strength to strength. What is needed to be done today is to rekindle the flame of Swadeshi in the hearts of our countrymen."
I don't know whether it was a dream or I was daydreaming, but to quote a Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step - which would be towards Swadeshi, right?
BANGALORE'S ROAD RUSH HINDERS FIRE-FIGHTING
BY SHUBHADEEP CHOUDHURY
Traffic gridlocks on a busy road blocking the entry of fire engines, fire escapes inside the building blocked with none of the people trapped inside not even aware of these emergency exits the result, nine dead and over 50 injured.
The story of what happened in Carlton Towers in Bangalore on February 23 could have been a story of any city of India. Which big city in the country does not have unscrupulous landlords and streets overflowing with traffic?
One day after the fire broke out in Carlton Towers, the building on Bangalore's Airport Road, was still attracting crowds. The top floors of the building had many broken windows smashed by people trapped inside to let in fresh air.
Through the broken windows one can get a glimpse of the interiors turned black by fumes emitted from the burning PVC cables used for electrification of the building.
Having seven floors, Carlton Towers does not really qualify for being called a high-rise. It seems incongruous that nine people could die in a matter of a few minutes when a short circuit led to a fire in the building.
The deaths possibly could have been averted, at least the number could have been less, if the fire engines could have reached the spot on time or the fire escapes routes inside the building were not blocked.
After reports of the fire reached the local police, they stopped the traffic movement in that area. The traffic, though, was not diverted through other roads.
This led to a massive congestion on the roads approaching the Carlton Towers building. As a result, fire engines rushing to the building had a tough time reaching the spot.
According to a Fire Department official, initially only four cops were engaged in managing the movement of vehicles and pedestrians in the affected area. There was lack of coordination among the cops.
It is noteworthy that while the first four fire engines took 25 minutes to reach the spot from a fire station located only three km away from Carlton Towers, the Chief Minister and other ministers who came to the building afterwards took only seven minutes to reach there having travelled a distance of 13 km.
Roads were cleared for the movement of the VIPs but in the case of fire engines it was not done.
According to the Fire Department official, six out of the nine people killed in the incident died from fatal injuries sustained by them after they jumped out of the sixth or seventh floor of the building.
The three remaining persons got choked to death as thick smoke had engulfed the area where these unfortunate people had found themselves.
The jumping took place before the Fire Department personnel could arrive at the spot. The crowd assembled near the building had spread bed sheets for safe landing of the panic-struck victims of the fire. Sadly, most of those who jumped from the upper floors of the building lost their lives.
The good Samaritans waiting for them at the ground failed to catch them. The Fire Department here do have collapsible ladders for rescuing people in such cases and the ladder was brought into the scene too. The only problem was that it arrived a trifle late.
One of the most important lessons learnt by the Fire Department and the police from this incident is, to keep the roads clear for bringing in equipment in case of a fire.
Mr P.S. Sandhu, IG, Fire Department, said the Carlton Towers building had 74 owners. While two of them own around 60 per cent of the building, the remaining 40 per cent is owned by 72 others!
Offices have been set up in the building in complete disregard of the building bylaws such as keeping the emergency exits accessible and open for vacating the building in case of a fire or some other disaster.
Mr K.U. Ramesh, Chief Fire Officer, was himself injured in the incident. He inhaled fumes and was gasping for breath when he was shifted to hospital and treated.
Sharing his experience with this reporter, Ramesh said people were eventually rescued from the building by using the fire escape routes only. But these had to be forced open by Fire Department personnel.
All the exits, except the final exit at the ground floor, had wooden doors. The exit at the ground floor had a door made of iron grills.
All the doors were locked and the approach to the doors blocked with furniture of the offices existing on every floor of the building.
Fire Department personnel cut open the ground floor door with giant cutters they have for using in such situations. The wooden doors were forced open with crowbars.
"At the ground floor door, it was written in a board that in case of fire the key to the door could be obtained from the security after securing permission from the manager of the building", Ramesh said to underscore the total lack of understanding of the building management about emergencies.
Preparedness of the occupiers of the building for a fire could be checked out and ensured by conducting routine fire audits.
The Fire Department here does not have the authority to carry out such an exercise. In fact, it is unclear who has the authority to conduct such an audit because the city corporation has also clarified, in the wake of the tragedy, that it does not have the power to conduct fire audits.
Fire audits seldom take place in most Indian cities. All such cities are vulnerable to the tragedy like the one that took place in Bangalore.
BUDGET DENIES DEFENCE ITS DUE
BY COL (RETD) P.K. VASUDEVA
After the huge 34 per cent jump in the allocation in 2009-2010 to plug operational gaps in the wake of the 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai as well as implementation of 6th Pay Commission packages, the defence outlay got a measly 3.98 per cent this fiscal 2010-2011, higher than the previous year but the lowest in seven years.
While the operating expenditure of the forces has been rising, capital expenditure declined last year. This does not bode well for defence modernisation.
It becomes a slightly healthier 8.13 per cent hike if the revised estimates of last year are taken into account.
For the record, the 2010-2011-defence outlay stands at Rs. 1,44,344 crore compared to last year's allocation of Rs. 1,41,703 crore.
The threat perception from both China and Pakistan is looming. India has to evolve an Israeli model if it desires to obviate threat perception from our adversaries for which the defence outlay needs to be trebled.
The capital outlay, largely meant for acquiring new weapon systems and platforms, is pegged at Rs 60,000 crore this fiscal, which represents a 9.4 per cent jump over last year's allocation of Rs 54,824 crore.
It becomes a robust 25.4 per cent if compared to revised estimates at Rs 47,824 crore of 2009-10. Out of Rs 60,000 crore of capital outlay, the Indian Air Force has got the biggest chunk of Rs 24,954 crore. The Army got Rs 16,969 crore, the Navy Rs 2,972 crore, Naval Fleet Rs 6,950 crore and Naval Dockyard Rs 417 crore.
Officials said the IAF is set to purchase some 126 multi-role fighters, it has floated a tender for attack helicopters and also transport helicopters, besides new training aircraft for its fighter pilots. It is also set to purchase critical equipment for air defence.
Besides major equipment that could come up for the purchase includes the sea-borne aircraft carrier Admiral Gorshkov and large lending ships.
The Army will be buying heavy vehicles worth Rs 1,074 crore while Rs 4,722 crore has been allocated for the Army's construction activity.
The Defence Ministry has failed to spend Rs 7,000 crore from the 2009-2010 capital outlay. That is a sign that the armed forces, worrying more on operating costs than long-term investments, are not being pushed to improve their teeth-to-tail ratios.
Of the three services, the Indian Navy is the only service acting against this trend. In the absence of any strategic guidance, modernisation plans will continue to lag behind.
The entire planning process, of course, needs a complete overhaul. From the lack of adequate number of submarines, obsolete radars and outdated air defence weapons to the failure to induct new 155 mm artillery howitzers since the Bofors case of mid-1990s, the forces have several gaps in operational capabilities despite India spending over $50 billion on arms acquisitions since the 1990 Kargil conflict.
There is a need for India to strengthen its diplomatic and military capabilities in consonance with its rise as an economic power.
Contrary to what those who argue in favour of spending on development instead of defence say, the "guns-versus-butter" debate is spurious: Unless adequate provisions are made for defence, no state will be able to pursue its development agenda.
This is even truer in India, which faces a unique security environment with two of its "adversaries" straddling it on two sides of its borders and problems on all sides of its periphery.
Compared with China's 7% and Pakistan's 5% of GDP defence expenditure, India's defence budget continues to be very low.
The Defence Minister has indicated that the government is examining all pros and cons before it sets a time frame for defence production policy in which the provisions would be incorporated to seek indulgence of the private sector for defence exports with minimum government approvals.
In the absence of the policy, exports of defence articles, equipment, component and finished products are cumbersome but something would have to be done on this front for it.
Defence experts feel that a clear-cut road map for corporatisation of ordnance factories should be seriously considered. Without it Indian defence production will remain import-oriented and the factories would not be competitive enough.
Keeping in view the threat perception there is a dire need for building roads, railway lines and airports for the jet fighters operations right up to the borders as has been done by China.
Pakistan is trying to settle its ex-servicemen near the borders and arming them for better security alerts. India must be strong enough like Israel to counter any attack of offensive from our adversaries.
FURY AS EU APPROVES GM POTATO
BY MARTIN HICKMAN
The introduction of a genetically modified potato in Europe risks the development of human diseases that fail to respond to antibiotics, it is claimed.
German chemical giant BASF this week won approval from the European Commission for commercial growing of a starchy potato with a gene that could resist antibiotics useful in the fight against illnesses such as tuberculosis.
Farms in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic may plant the potato for industrial use, with part of the tuber fed to cattle, according to BASF, which fought a 13-year battle to win approval for Amflora. But other EU member states, including Italy and Austria and anti-GM campaigners angrily attacked the move, claiming it could result in a health disaster.
During the regulatory tussle over the potato, the EU's pharmaceutical regulator had expressed concern about its potential to interfere with the efficacy of antibiotics on infections that develop multiple resistance to other antibiotics, a growing problem in human and veterinary medicine. Amflora contains a gene that produces an enzyme which generally confers resistance to several antibiotics, including kanamycin, neomycin, butirosin, and gentamicin.
The antibiotics could become "extremely important" to treat otherwise multi-resistant infections and tuberculosis, the European Medicines Authority (EMA) warned. Drug resistance is part of the explanation for the resurgence of TB, which infects eight million people worldwide every year.
"In the absence of an effective therapy, infectious Multiple Drug Resistant TB patients will continue to spread the disease, producing new infections with MDR-TB strains," an EMA spokesman said. "Until we introduce a new drug with demonstrated activity against MDR strains, this aspect of the TB epidemic could explode at an exponential level."
After member states become deadlocked on the potato's approval, the European Commission approved it for use in industries such as paper production, saying it would save energy, water and chemicals. Once the starch has been removed, the skins can be fed to animals, whose meat would not have to be labelled as GM.
The EC, whose decision was backed by the European Food Safety Authority (Efsa), said there was no good reason for withholding approval. Health and consumer policy commissioner John Dalli said: "Responsible innovation will be my guiding principle when dealing with innovative technologies." "Stringent" controls would ensure none of the tubers were left in the ground, ensuring altered genes did not escape into the environment. Opponents fear bacteria inside the guts of animals fed the GM potato which can cause human diseases may develop resistance to antibiotics. Some member states were furious. "Not only are we against this decision, but we want to underscore that we will not allow the questioning of member states' sovereignty on this matter," said Italy's Agriculture Minister, Luca Zaia. Austria said it would ban cultivation of the potato within its borders, while France said it would ask an expert panel for further research.
By arrangement with The Independent
DELICACIES AROUND THE BSE
VISIT DALAL STREET ONCE, EVEN IF IT IS ONLY TO DIG INTO FOOD AT HISTORIC EATERIES LIKE DWARKA AND MODERN CAFÉ
Avirtual kaleidoscope exists in terms of gastronomic delicacies around the Bombay Stock Exchange and each of these eateries (mostly vegetarian) has its own story to tell, what with them being around for times immemorial. Every other lane is dotted with one of these relatively nondescript places and while the hustle bustle continues especially around lunch time, the melee of yore (harking back to the mid-1990s) is obviously missing as computerisation along with the advent of V-SATs and interned leased lines has reduced the human element in Dalal Street. These fast food/Udipi-type eateries have played a brilliant part in making food affordable but they are interestingly interspersed with a motley bunch of roadside stalls, which also have managed to hold their own in terms of charm and a distinctly unique taste that cannot be replicated.
Dwarka is probably as famous and as popular a landmark (a slight exaggeration coming in over here) as BSE itself and has been around since the mid-1950s. It is situated at Nagindas Master Road (the junction of Dalal Street and corner of the lane where HDFC Bank and Jaico Publishing House are situated), just a stone's throw away from the BSE and is a strictly no-nonsense food joint without any frills and thrills. It does what it does best; serve piping hot food without any airs where one would run into the regulars of Dalal Street with a few legal eagles and even a few foreigners thrown in for good measure. The restaurant is completely non-air conditioned and is divided into two parts, one which is a self-service section where one can grab a quick bite standing and the other half is where the seating arrangements are. Only vegetarian food is served and there's no beer. There is a pretty decent take-away counter too. Specialities include Kanchipuram idli, ragada pattice, Green Pr Vada and American cutlets, but first hand experience would seem to suggest (yours truly has been an frequent visitor over the last two decades) says that the specialities can be given a miss (a bit too much of mish-mash like groundnuts being stuffed in idli and even vada) while the "vanilla" (read: normal) dishes like batata vada, dosas and medu vadas are too good to resist.
Modern Café is an equally (if not more) popular eatery located just a building away from the BSE, and is in fact even closer to the exchange than Dwarka. Situated between Cama Building and Lentin Chambers (all are located on the historical Dalal Street), this eating joint is quite a favourite among regulars at BSE and, in fact, all and sundry (yours truly included). The basics remain the same, pure vegetarian food (no beer or alcohol) while Jain food is also prepared on request. Modern Café also has been on Dalal Street for the past 35-40 years and has the added advantage of being partly air-conditioned (on the mezzanine floor) with a huge variety ranging from pakodas, usal, missal, vadas (medu, batata and even green peas), samosa, idli, dosa, uttapam, sandwiches (22 different types), pizzas, burgers, thali (south Indian, Punjabi), lunches/meals (dry, diet, exotic and executive), a whole bunch of Punjabi vegetables, fasting specialities (sabudana vada, potato toast, etc), rice/pulav/biryani (30 types of rice dishes), soups, Chinese (rice and noodles), bhel/sev puri, juices, falooda and milkshakes. A mind-boggling menu with a superb variety to leave your palate tingling for more while must-haves include bread pakoda, sev puri, puri bhaji, rava masala dosa, batata vada sandwich (slightly spicy), kanda poha, cocktail juice and mango falooda.
A visit to Dalal Street, even just for taking a shot at either Modern Café or Dwarka, is something I would strongly recommend... it's a must try.
Next Week The second part of a guided tour of eateries near the BSE.
FIRST, DO NO HARM
UPA-2 MUST REMEMBER A BASIC MEDICAL PRINCIPLE
One of the very first lessons taught to medical school graduates, before they get down to the Hippocratic Oath, is "first, do no harm". In other words, do your best to help but, at any rate, don't worsen things. This, however, is precisely what the government seems determined to do in area after area. If the economic reforms of the past two decades sought to fix the damages caused by well-meaning policies on interest rate subventions and subsidies, the UPA came up with its flagship employment guarantee scheme which, while providing jobs to millions, appears to have been responsible for creating a scarcity of farm labour this, anecdotal evidence suggests, may have resulted in increased mechanisation in the farm sector and so created more unemployment than employment created. By seeking to improve the infrastructure provision in India's education sector, many argue the education Bill will end up driving out low-cost private education providers in the elementary education space. And now, if the labour ministry's latest proposal gets translated into legislation, this will extend the existing Minimum Wages Act to the entire unorganised sector right now, this applies only to organised sector jobs. Through a change in one of the sections, the clause which restricts the law to units of a certain size will be dropped. Fines on violators are to be raised from around Rs 500 right now to Rs 10,000 and will include a one-year prison sentence. Whether this will succeed in raising wage levels or corruption is rhetorical, the more serious question is what this will do to employment levels higher wages, if coupled with higher unemployment levels, don't necessarily result in greater labour welfare. As labour gets more expensive, one likely end-result is greater substitution of labour by machinery, as is reported to be happening in the agriculture sector already. This, and the inspector-raj that will be unleashed, will surely deal a big blow to the unorganised industrial sector.
There can be little doubt that raising wage levels, especially in a country as poor as India, is desirable, but this cannot be done in isolation from ground realities. Wage rates have to be linked with productivity if they are not, those units paying the higher wage rates have no option but to close down in the face of competition from more efficient units at home or abroad. This is why India has lost out to the Chinese in the textiles sector despite Chinese wages being higher than India's; much lower wages in India, despite the lower relative productivity, similarly, is the secret of India's success in the outsourcing industry. So, if wage rates are to rise, so does productivity and, for that, greater efforts are required in skilling and educating India's workforce and, of course, reducing the inefficiencies caused by India's poor infrastructure. While every working person is entitled to a reasonable minimum wage, any move to raise wage rates to beyond market-clearing levels can only reduce the economy's competitiveness.
TAKES MORE THAN JUGAAD
INDIA SLIPS IN THE GLOBAL INNOVATION INDEX
For a nation that prides itself on jugaad, the North Indianism for spunky innovativeness and lateral thinking, it can't be comforting to find it has slipped in the global innovation index. How far India has gone down in the Insead-CII innovation index is difficult to say since this year's rank of 56 out of 130 countries compares with last year's 43rd position out of 107 countries China is also down six places, though at 43rd, it is ranked above India. Equally, it can be no one's case the index is flawless. The fact that a report on innovation should give equal weights to political stability as it does to protection of intellectual property or to the number of researchers in R&D per million population is surely problematic. Similarly, while the report suggests India's education system is doing better than China's, the World Bank's Knowledge Assessment Methodology (KAM) indicates quite the reverse indeed, not only does India fare worse than China on the KAM indices, it is one of the few countries that has slipped vis-a-vis itself once the raw results are weighted, as they should be, by the population in the country between now and 1995 when the index was first created. This, of course, should caution researchers not to draw conclusions by comparing across different type of samples.
Keeping these limitations in mind, a few broad points can be made. One, India remains very far behind China not just in terms of the old-style physical infrastructure of roads and power output, the difference is very stark when it comes to the information and communications technology sector while Insead-CII ranks India and China as 108th and 71st in the world, their World Bank KAM scores are 2.49 and 4.33, respectively. That India should have created the licensing mess it has in the telecom sector, and has already delayed the 3G spectrum auctions by more than a year, can only add to the problem given how mobile phones outstrip computers so dramatically, future broadband penetration is critically dependent upon the rollout of 3G and Broadband Wireless Access licences. Two, thanks to the much lower levels of R&D spend India is 36th compared to China's 23rd rank when it comes to company spending on R&D, and 41st compared to China's 24th rank for public spending on R&D. India ranks much lower when it comes to patents, labour productivity, value addition or the share of high-tech exports in total exports of the manufacturing sector. India is a resource-deficient economy on a per capita basis. If India's future GDP growth has to be sustained and India has to overcome this resource deficiency, and given that natural resources are increasingly scarce and global warming so critical, a low innovation score will prove to be a serious handicap. India needs organised effort and adequate investment, both in the public and private sector, to improve productivity of land, labour and capital, and, thereby, its competitiveness. Serendipity or jugaad will not suffice.
POST-BUDGET - A NEW PARADIGM
Budget 2010 went far beyond most recent Budgets in that it defined an entirely new paradigm for the Indian economy. The most important part of the Budget was the Economic Survey, which, more than simply providing the conceptual underpinnings for the Budget, is the document that describes the government's thoughts and beliefs. It tells us who our government is.
And this year's Economic Survey was a revelation, particularly Chapter 2, which is titled the Micro-foundations of Inclusive Growth. It acknowledges the key goal of inclusive growth and, remarkably, asserts that we need a new paradigm of an enabling government, as opposed to an intrusive one. Indeed, the finance minister, in his Budget speech, reiterated this point.
The Economic Survey differentiates between the two as follows:
"In many poor nations, the government takes the stance that when in doubt about the goodness or badness of two or more adults voluntarily conducting an exchange, stop them. An enabling state, on the contrary, takes the view that when in doubt, do not interfere. There are, of course, many actions of individuals and groups that will need to be stopped for the welfare of society at large. But the default option of an enabling state is to allow rather than stop, to permit instead of prevent."
This is the Government of India speaking, boys and girls. Are you ready?
Let the market rule, with open-hearted and open-minded regulators; the government should only directly service those who have not yet "arrived" in an economic sense.
Simple, obvious, straightforward nobody, but the now dying Left, would disagree.
And while it may take a few years for this vision to fully fructify into a reality, it seems clear that the government has finally understood how strong it really is. Note, for instance, how the well-timed nod to Mamata and the sops to West Bengal will continue to increase pressure on the decaying windpipe of the Left parties. Again, note how the finance minister swiftly pushed the nutrient-based subsidy scheme as a first step of transformation of the fertiliser policy through the screaming jaws of both the fertiliser minister and none other than the heretofore-frightening minister of food and civil supplies. Hopefully, this will translate into greater determination by the Congress party-led government in Maharashtra.
In any event, the government is just beginning to feel its oats, as they say. And as we have all known for years, getting India to rock is no rocket science the only thing lacking has been political will.
With the government charged up, several of the excellent (and obvious) plans that have been gathering dust are beginning to see the light of day clever incentives to get the state governments to go along with articulated needs; funding local bodies independently of the state governments to accelerate change at local levels; UID-driven food coupons for BPL families, cash payments to poor farmers to both promote inclusive growth and reduce the subsidy bill; co-coordinated focus on agriculture through improved infrastructure, better focused nutrients, and research; and so on.
Of course, the devil is in the implementation, which has long been our second Achilles' heel. I have little doubt the government is aware of this the fact that armies of mid-level bureaucrats and regulators still live in the old world, where, contrary to the new dispensation, if there was no clear answer, the answer was "No". Many bureaucrats and regulators still believe it is their job to micromanage: At a recent seminar, a mid-level executive at Sebi asked whether currency options should be designed based on the spot or the futures rate. When I asked him why he was even thinking about it since product design should be the job of the exchanges, his face showed complete consternation.
Clearly, the government needs to undertake a massive retraining programme to ensure that entrenched processes don't derail the bigger plan.
But the overall energy is extremely positive. The middle class is on the government's side with lower taxes in this time of high food inflation; the corporate sector has got away without any real damage; the domestic economy is getting fully engaged again; and even global growth appears to be showing some signs of life. Sure, there could be a relapse globally, but the Reserve Bank of India and the government have proved their mettle during the last crisis.
I believe it is time. Our new paradigm can take us quickly on to a virtuous cycle of strong growth inclusive, of course and deficit reduction.
Perhaps this will be India's century, after all.
SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR: BANKING ON TALENT
HR AUDIT, STRATEGIC TRAINING UNIT, LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT - SBI IS DOING ALL THAT IT TAKES TO BE AN EMPLOYER OF CHOICE
Employer of choice" is not a branding that the country's largest bank is used to. But it finally happened last month when the State Bank of India (SBI) figured in the list of the top 10 employee-friendly Indian organisations in a Business Today survey.
It was a surprise as the hurdles were many. The public sector legacy means that the SBI management's hands are tied. The bank can pay only a fraction of what competitors do; promotions are still largely time-bound; long rural stints are a must; and recruitments are time-consuming reasons that may be enough for critical talent to head for the exit door.
N Raja, deputy managing director of SBI, says a public sector bank has to learn to live with the constraints as its mandate is much beyond just making profits. But the attrition level, he says, is still well within single digits, though it's something the bank is determined to bring down.
The bigger challenge, he says, is to attract the right kind of talent in specialised functions that SBI has got into: Private equity, treasury, risk management, general insurance etc. For example, the bank has been looking for a chief economist for some time now. But the available pool is small, and though the right candidates are enthused by the challenges that the job offers, the remuneration is a problem as SBI just can't match competition.
But the bank is fighting back, and how. Even with a large employee base of over 200,000, business per employee has gone up from Rs 2.99 crore in 2005-06 to Rs 5.56 crore and profit per employee has more than doubled from Rs 2.17 lakh to Rs 4.74 lakh.
The process started when soon after taking charge, Chairman OP Bhatt held an offsite in Amby Valley, which resulted in documenting "The State of the Nation" the bank's strategy paper. Employees were then asked to document their vision for SBI. This set the ball rolling for the mindset change. Earlier, review meetings started with how SBI was losing market share to ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank. That changed to what SBI can learn from them and how it can beat them. But the idiom now is how SBI can hold on to its lead.
Raja says the mindset change is part of a carefully-crafted strategy that began with "Parivartan" (a 100-day programme to increase the communication skills of employees) and "Citizen SBI" mammoth HR exercises that covered each of the 200,000 employees.
Last month, SBI did an HR audit a first in its long history and the feedback ranged from non-transparent promotion policy to rigid transfer rules. The bank brass is now burning the midnight oil to figure out how to redress these grievances.
The bank has also just set up a Strategic Training Unit (STU), monitored by Raja and headed by a chief general manager, so that training gets the due it deserves. The focus now is on how to improve the course content and the quality of faculty at its training institutes with outside help, if required.
The STU is doing several other firsts. Since leadership development is a focus area, SBI has tied up with the Indian School of Business to prepare a course module for chief managers and deputy general managers. "They are good, but the idea is to make them better," Raja says. The duration of the course will be six months, in phases. The bank has also tied up with Duke University of the US, a leading executive education institute, for giving leadership training to general managers and chief general managers.
Another initiative of the STU is setting up of an elaborate e-learning platform. The bank offers 130 courses on its intranet at present, but the problem is that only 2,000 employees can log in to the system concurrently. The idea now is to have customised courses for each level of employees who can take online tests as well. The platform will be ready in six months, Raja says.
There's more. Apart from the 120-odd B-school graduates (not the IIMs) that it plans to recruit for highly-specialised functions, SBI for the first time has recruited 500 Scale-II managers directly (probationary officers join in Scale-I after two years of training) for functions that require specialised knowledge. So, the overall knowledge levels of its officers are being scaled up gradually.
Raja agrees the pay scales are still not enough to attract top B-school graduates, but says that SBI doesn't fare badly if overall cost-to-company (CTC) is taken into account. For example, CTC of a probationary officer is Rs 4.8-5.2 lakh if other facilities like free housing, medical reimbursements, furniture allowance etc are considered.
That doesn't sound convincing enough as the gap with its private competitors on cash in hand is still very wide. For example, according to a recent advertisement, the bank is offering Rs 8.25 lakh per annum CTC for the post of chief manager (Risk Management System), the eligibility being that the person should have a minimum of 10 years experience. It's certainly doubtful whether the money is enough to attract talent.
Overall, the elephant may not be dancing as yet, but it is surely shaking its leg to be in tune with the changing world.
The accuracy of western research models is questionable.
The beverage station was located in a non-descript office in Newcastle in Northeastern England. It was not different from thousands of other office stations where tea, coffee and milk were dispensed using an honour system. People assembled their beverages and dropped money in an honour box. An office maven sent out emails every six months or so, reminding people to pay for their beverages. This particular machine was located in a spot where people could not be observed. If they were honest and paid up, no one would give them a pat on the back; if they did not pay, no one caught them.
For ten weeks, unknown to its users, a researcher, Melissa Bateson, tracked how much beverage was dispensed and how much money was collected in the honour box. She discovered the average collection during the odd weeks (one, three, five, seven and nine) was three times as much as was collected during the even weeks (two, four, six, eight and ten). The only difference between the odd and even weeks was the picture accompanying the price list on the machine. In the odd weeks, it was a pair of eyes staring into the user. In the even weeks, it was a picture of beautiful daisies. Interestingly, no one noticed the picture was different from week to week!
Melissa drew two lessons from this study. One, that people become more honest when they have a pair of eyes with a penetrating gaze staring at them; two, that people are powerfully influenced by things they never consciously register or remember. Shankar Vedantam, the author of the book The Hidden Brain, postulates that many of human actions and decisions are driven by our hidden brains and we are rarely ever able to articulate the reasons. There can often be a big difference between what we say and what we do, because of this reason.
This brings up the question, can ads be actually researched. Are many of the current research techniques that attempt to understand messaging and its comprehension and persuasion limiting in understanding the real power of advertising?
For many big brands, investment in advertising is as big as the amounts spent in setting up factories and other infrastructure. So, it's natural to look for systems and processes that ensure that the money being invested is being used wisely. Hence, the dependence on many qualitative and quantitative techniques that measure advertising effectiveness using many stimuli from narramatics to animatics to finished executions. Big advertising decisions are made based on such results. So, while current methodologies provide reassurance, the above anecdote raises the question whether sub-optimal solutions may be going through.
Let's consider some interesting facts about consumers and the impact of Indian culture on them.
First, Gerald Zaltman, in his book How Consumers Think, postulates that consumers store most memories in visuals and pictures rather than words. However, in most researches they play back in words that's the way people have been schooled to communicate. The first question, how much is lost between the mind and the mouth.
Second, India is a brahminical culture where knowledge is revered. We have been taught from childhood to study by rote and play back and that's an intelligent thing to do. So, in many forced exposure tests, consumers tend to pay extra attention to play back fully to appear intelligent. The second question, does this mirror reality when the ad is finally beamed out to the consumer in an everyday environment.
Third, we are emotional people. Much of our decision-making is by the heart than by the mind. Many consumers may be buying "irrationally" and then striving to explain it away with some "rational" argument. While comprehension can happen on one viewing; emotional connects often happen from repeat viewership. The one parameter often tested in research is "likeability". Most researches are done on one time viewership rarely testing the ability of communication to grow on the viewer. The third question, how do you measure the effect of repeated exposure of a piece of communication.
Fourth, we are a very affiliative race. Word of mouth is strong and we have a tendency of sharing whatever we enjoy. Lots of creative pieces music, movies, fashion, etc spread on the back of the buzz created. Advertising may also be consumed in similar fashion. The "buzz" power of a communication often adds to its impact. No research model to my knowledge actually tests this dimension and its usefulness is unconsciously underestimated. So, the fourth question, what's the buzz power of the creative piece.
Finally, linked to the earlier point, India is a country of imitators rather than initiators. David Ogilvy said "never use popularity as a positioning platform" in India, however, many brands have succeeded by using exactly that. There is comfort in numbers in lower income strata, consumers are more comfortable in hearing salesmen in groups rather than individually to be psychologically reassured that they are not being hoodwinked! Imitators, by mindset, need to be "hard" sold to; but can be more easily influenced if the initiators have adopted the product. So, the last question, how do you isolate the initiators in a category the innovators and influence them to most effectively move the market.
Some of the best advertising that has moved the Indian market (whether passed or not passed through traditional research) post facto seem to be the ones that have created high buzz in the market and have been high on emotional connect.
So, what's the way forward? Noted researcher Forrester once said, "The consumer is a rear-view mirror." Henry Ford said that if you asked the consumer what he wanted, he would have said a faster horse and the automobile would never be invented. Steve Jobs said that a marketer's job is not to satisfy a consumer need but to inspire her. In a commoditised market, the task of advertising is also perhaps to inspire the consumer rather than fit in her mind.
There may be a lesson in the way Nike does things. Immerse yourself in the consumer understand her brain (and her hidden brain). Soak into her life. And then emerge and create inspirational advertising that you believe can move her and use the real world as a testing ground. A magical execution could make an impact as strong as the two eyes that got people to be more honest at the beverage station in Newcastle.
Something worth thinking about.
The author is Country Head-Planning, Ogilvy and Mather India. Views expressed are personal.
Can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
REACHING OUT TO GOD...
There have been quite a few things said about God over the ages. From the almost universal acceptance of His omnipresence and omnipotence in most cultures and societies, to sceptics and atheists who'd have us believe otherwise.
The question of His being, and how to attain, or reach Him, has always concerned both the theologically-inclined as well as, by inversion, the most vehement of disbelievers. But now, if a group of Catholics in France would have their way, all you have to do to communicate to Him is dial a number.
Though almost all the Catholic leaders in France have warned the idea has no approval whatsoever from the Church, the bunch of believers working for the firm that provides the service, aver the idea behind the Le Fil du Seigneur (or The Line of The Lord) pay telephone line is to directly confess one's sins to God.
Well, apparently, it's not quite as if one can commit murder or adultery and be absolved by a phone call. The service, they say, is only for minor sins. Which, in our world, can be an area open to varied interpretations.
But, nonetheless, there is something odd about a 'soothing male voice' which, reports say, asks people to 'press 1 for advice on confessing, 2 to confess, and 3 to listen to some confessions'. The age of the instant God is here.
Sure, one could also argue that in contemporary times, generally seeming to be an era of 'darkling plains where ignoramus armies clash at night', some form of immediate succour for the needy and despairing is, well, welcome.
One is, for example, reminded of the priest in Graham Greene's Monsignor Quixote, a pastiche of the Spanish classic, with all its underlying seriousness, but not without its moments of hilarity. Such as when the gullible priest devoutly rushes into the seedy, cheap cinema drawn by the matinee The innocent virgin.
But then, in this context, one can also quote Ted Hughes, "Do not worship the telephone /It drags its worshippers into actual graves/With a variety of devices, through a variety of disguised voices/ Sit godless when you hear the religious wail of the telephone ..."
One more in an age of false Gods? Find Him in all forms? Take your pick.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BUDGET'S GREEN INITIATIVES
It is notable that the Union Budget has a series of 'green' initiatives designed to boost environment-friendly energy and emissions-free transport. The move makes perfect sense. What's proposed is a gamut of tax incentives, higher outlays and a dedicated fund for clean energy.
Now, from a point of view of efficient taxation, it makes more sense to remove all tax exemptions and provide specific, well-scrutinised subsidy to those sectors that need special promotion. In a regime of generalised distortions, however, a few additional distortions in the form of tax breaks could prove helpful.
Given the bottlenecks in energy supply and widespread energy poverty, we need to proactively rationalise conventional energy usage, enhance energy efficiency and incentivise renewable energy. For solar power, what's proposed is a concessional Customs duty of 5% on machinery, instruments and appliances required for setting up photovoltaic and solar thermal generating units. On offer is excise duty exemption for their domestic manufacture.
The latter move may not be particularly tax efficient: the FM had to impose an excise duty of 4% on electric cars, as their manufacturers had had problems availing the duty credits on inputs, faced with nil duty on the finished good.
However, the move to exempt 'some critical parts or sub-assemblies' of electric vehicles from basic Customs duty and special additional duty is in the right direction. Also welcome is the concessional excise duty of 4% for manufacture of solarpowered rickshaws, together with the exemption of key parts and components from Customs duty.
It is certainly worthwhile to reduce excise on production of LED lights, used in solar lamps, from 8% to 4%. But in tandem, what's required is to purposefully substitute subsidised kerosene oil (SKO), say, with solar lanterns. The rollout of rural power connections ought also be policy-coordinated to make large-scale SKO supply, costing the exchequer upwards of Rs 20,000 crore per annum, quite redundant. We do need holistic green initiatives.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TAX AMNESTY BY ANY NAME
The Budget proposal to allow those who have been raided by the income-tax department to knock at the doors of the Settlement Commission and pay tax without penalty amounts to permanent amnesty. Amnesty schemes are morally corrosive as they offer relief to tax evaders and penalise honest taxpayers.
The proposal is faulty on two counts: one, it reverses a decision taken in 2007 by the then-finance minister P Chidambaram to keep searchand-seizure cases out of the commission's ambit. The intent was to plug an easy escape route for tax-dodgers. A policy flip-flop is unwarranted as there has to be deterrence for tax evasion.
Two, the proposal is unfair to regular taxpayers who move the commission, in case of a dispute, forgoing the option of appealing the commission's decision, settle their dues and get a waiver from penalty. If the Budget proposal comes through, tax evaders with dues of over Rs 50 lakh on their undisclosed income would enjoy the same benefit.
The icing on their cake is immunity from prosecution, if the commission so decides. This is nothing but backdoor amnesty. The government must maintain status quo and keep search and seizure cases out of the commission's purview. In the late 1990s, the government had told the Supreme Court that the Voluntary Disclosure of Income Scheme would not be repeated.
There is no justification for further amnesty schemes. Each past amnesty scheme had amounted to a giltedged incentive to keep tax dues black, or unaccounted, and pay it, if circumstance so forces, in the next amnesty scheme. Nor have these schemes yielded large revenues.
The commission should, instead, focus on quick resolution of tax disputes to reduce mounting arrears, estimated at over Rs 93,139 crore in 2008-09. In parallel, credible measures are needed to clamp down on evasion. The proposed countrywide goods and services tax (GST), the unique identification number and inter-related databases of the tax departments raise the chances of the evader being caught in the net.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
KEEPING INDIAN RAILWAYS ON TRACK
Unlike cricket with its glorious uncertainties, the railway budget has become wholly predictable . All the usual suspects are there. We are no seers, but we could foretell what we were about to get in the rail budget on February 24 the annual dose of platitudes and dollops of largesse. There is a lot Indian Railways (IR) have undertaken: to set up hundreds of hospitals, health and diagnostic centres, nursing colleges and professional institutions, heritage museums, music centres, sports stadia, et al.
Contrary to the aspirations enshrined in IR's Vision 2020 for a big leap forward, railway minister Mamata Banerjee has settled for only incremental growth in traffic. The traffic targets will, at best, help IR retain the current low share of 30% of country's freight market and an insignificant 16-18 % of total passenger business.
In tune with the dynamics of growing regional cooperation, including the trans-Asian railway project, the railway minister has looked ahead and extended IR's training facilities for railway personnel in south and south-east Asian countries. The scope of current training programmes on IR for the regional countries coordinated by Asian Institute of Transport Development will now be expanded. IR has also offered R&D facilities at Research Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) for cooperative research by railways in the region.
A significant post-rail budget plunge in the scrips of rail-related engineering firms is ominous. Mamatadi's budget shows she may be living dangerously: IR's operating ratio has clocked 94.7% for the current year, up from 92.5% projected by her only nine months ago. That too after there has been a draw down from the various funds, for example, only a paltry amount is allocated to the Development Fund, while contribution to the Depreciation Reserve Fund has been cut from the budget-estimated Rs 5,325 crore to Rs 4,500 crore in revised estimates for 2009-10. Profit in the year aggregates only Rs 951 crore against the projected Rs 2,642 crore. A doubt, thus, hangs on the projection of the OR to improve to a level of 92.3% in 2010-11.
Railways now look for private capital for a whole panoply of railway projects: from high-speed train corridors to world-class stations, new rail lines to equipment manufacture, multi-level parking complexes to water bottling. Despite her offer to have a special mechanism in place for the schemes to clear the labyrinthine process within 100 days, the road ahead will not be easy.
Generally involving long gestation and lumpy capital infusion, transport schemes require a rethinking of the traditional approach and reform of bureaucratic attitude as well as a rational user charge and constructive risk-sharing regime. IR needs to introspect the dismal performance in this area: the Eleventh Plan envisaged more than Rs 50,000 crore of investment through public-private partnership (PPP); not even 10% of it has come.
IR needs to focus on its core business. Where is the need for itself to go in for water bottling, wagon manufacture, refrigerated container fabrication, even to set up auto ancillary hubs, or an axle factory? Instead of rationalising and consolidating the extensive rolling stock as well as engineering and maintenance infrastructure, strangely, new facilities for periodic overhauling (POH) and intermediate overhauling (IOH) of wagons have been proposed. The resources can be used more productively for creating centres of excellence at the existing production units for locomotives and coaches, achieving economies of scale.
A separate rail budget, termed by The Economistas a bizarre system, has done a lot of damage. It has perpetuated an orgy of populism. Potential ministerial aspirants scramble for the railway portfolio to let them have a free run across the country, doling out favours, passes, concessions, contracts, trains, lines, factories and jobs. A number of non-essentials get their undeserved attention and funds. The raison d'etreof railways is lost sight of. Some of the presiding deities in Rail Bhawan have advocated a sardonic myth of rail connectivity as the panacea for inclusive growth and saddled the system with non-performing assets (NPA).
It is neither good economics nor good politics in the long run to be cavalier with the truth. The parlous state of IR resources is a reality. How can anyone committed to a healthy growth of our railways keep turning ablind eye to the imperative of rationalising the prices of services IR renders? It is essential to decide, once and for all, whether railways are, or are not, required to be a commercially-viable transport organisation. IR is an invaluable institution built up sedulously over a century and a half. If every new captain of the ship charts her or his own course, the ship will never get anywhere; it will flounder 'in the shallows and the miseries'. Even while tending their bailiwick, ministers can still adhere to the essential task ahead and see the larger picture of the IR's real needs.
It has become a fashion to criticise politicians for all problems confronting the railways, though this is deserved to a great extent. Seasoned senior technocrats in railway board as guardians of railway traditions and values are there to ensure continuity in good procedures and practices. They are the ironframe bulwarks against ministerial vagaries. It is hoped the government will not let necessary differences and criticisms be extinguished. As there is no place for an environment of intimidation, there is no merit in collective cowardice. There is but a thin line to distinguish between fetish and petulance, ineptitude and obduracy.
A comparison with China is inevitable. The determined and goal-oriented Chinese hare is running hard. Our muddling and rudderless tortoise, in spite of a headstart only 30 years ago, is nowhere in the running. The comparison may be odious but there you have it. China Railways (CR) have become real numero uno among world railways , it operates world's heaviest freight trains as also fastest passenger services, it has built world's best railway stations, carried out fastest network expansion, achieved best productivity of assets and generated profits. CR has inducted best of technologies and developed an indigenous vibrant rail equipment industry. It has regrouped and restructured the organisation, cut staff strength by almost a million, divested noncore activities, closed a large number of sheds and depots, yards and stations, workshops and offices. It removed a full layer in the earlier four-tier management structure. It saw wisdom in closing down slow, stopping, short-distance passenger services to make room for fast inter-city trains.
Beware, the Ides of March. For IR, the signal light, though not red yet, is amber of glow, a clear warning ahead.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
ALL HOOKED UP AND NOWHERE TO GO
The US moral philosopher, Judith Jarvis Thomson, once came up with an interesting thought experiment. In it, we are asked to imagine a famous violinist falling into a coma. A society of music lovers determines that only person A can save the violinist's life by being hooked up to him for nine months. They break into A's home while he's asleep and hook the unconscious (and unknowing, hence innocent) violinist to him.
A may want to unhook himself, but he is then faced with this argument put forward by the music lovers: The violinist is a blameless person with a right to life. Unhooking him will result in his death. Therefore, unhooking him is morally wrong.
Thomsonobviously had other issues in mind when she devised this ingenious armchair exercise in ethical behaviour, and one that strikes us immediately is whether a woman has the right to have an abortion following rape. But even if we leave that contentious debate to the pro- and antichoice lobbies to bang their heads out over whether a foetus becomes as much of a 'person' as, say a violinist, we can still apply the experiment to other kinds of more ordinary hook ups. Like arranged marriages for instance.
Generally speaking such matrimonies manage to function fairly well over time to a greater or lesser extent perhaps due to personal, familial or societal reasons and people from monarchies to persons on the street have practised it for millennia.
Atypically, however, sometimes the situation begins to resemble that faced by the person who wakes up to find himself hooked up to the violinist. And, more often than not, only that person wants out. Should such people be allowed to exercise their right to happiness knowing that it could result in intense unhappiness for the innocent other who may also have been hooked up without choice or knowledge?
Ironically, so-called love marriages , advocated by the less conservative as the preferred pairbonding alternative, don't weather the moral dilemma too well either. Barring the purely biological imperative for mating, is there really any choice being exercised when people fall in love?
For, if not, then the same argument as given for arranged marriages holds. In other words, what right do we have to consciously fall out of love and unhook from our lovers when we know the other party could die a slow and protracted emotional death?
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
TAXES RAISED TO BOLSTER SOCIAL PROGRAMMES
When responding to the question, one has to first understand that the price a consumer pays at the pump comprises (a) central and state taxes and levies that generate revenue for the respective governments, and (b) the price of the underlying petroleum product such as petrol and diesel.
The impact on the consumer and inflation is the same, no matter which component of the price is actually increased. A rise in the price of petroleum products has a cascading impact on inflation as the cost of industrial output and services rises and the same is passed on to the consumer. The opposition is absolutely right in seeking a rollback given the inflationary impact the aam aadmi is already suffering. Hence, from this perspective, the opposition is not indulging in any political posturing.
What is being lost in the debate, however, is the fact that the government has raised taxes on petrol and diesel to bolster revenue that is needed for its social programmes. In fact, the government has simply reinstated the tax reductions it had instituted in response to high global prices during November 2008 and September 2009. What should be debated is whether there is a more equitable way for the government to raise the same level of resources equitable in the sense that the impact on the common man is less if not nil.
My own sense is that the current Budget is based on very optimistic revenue projections and it would not be prudent to give up any revenue source without cutting an equal amount from one or more programmes included in the Budget. If a reduction in expenditure is not an option, the government should explore how it can raise the same amount of revenue through direct and indirect taxes from the top 2% of Indians who have the capacity to absorb the same. I also believe that the country's petroleum sector needs tax rationalisation and not tax increases. The high incidence of taxes on the petroleum sector, relative to our GDP, is negatively impacting country's growth.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
GOVT HAS FAILED TO DRAFT A PRICING POLICY
That's certainly not the case. When the NDA was in power, we had actually evolved a scheme by which we had brought, by April 2002, petrol and diesel under price control in a particular way. Every fortnight, we looked at the international prices of crude, and if they increased, we would increase the prices of petrol and diesel, and vice versa.
The second aspect was that when the price increase was more, the revenue income from excise and Customs duty would also increase. Then, after discussions with the finance minister, we would reduce excise and import duty so that the oil companies and customers would not be hit hard. We demitted office in 2004, and during 2002-04, we increased petro prices eight times and reduced them seven times.
When the new government took over, the earlier petroleum minister Mani Shankar Aiyar and then Murli Deora, both said that they would bring out a policy for petroleum pricing. But that just hasn't happened even after all this time.
The Congress-led government even appointed three committees to study and advise it on petrol prices. The first was chaired by the former RBI governor, the second by the Cabinet secretary who had been secretary to the petroleum minister and the third, as we know, was the Parekh committee. All three committees submitted their reports, but the government has still been unable to evolve a consistent pricing policy. And, instead , has been relying on ad-hoc measures.
Then, price increase in petrol and diesel never used to be a Budget exercise. This is the first time prices have been increased through the Budget. Now, it is for Parliament to see what happens to the increase in prices. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said just a few days ago that there will be no change in petroleum prices, even as, leave alone the Opposition, even parties supporting the Congress, like the DMK and Trinamool, are opposing the hike.
How the tug of war between the major supporting parties, the Opposition and the major party plays out now will have to be seen.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
INDIA IS NOT AN EASY MARKET: LA PRAIRIE
Caviar, 24 carat gold and platinum creamswhat more can a woman ask for? Nothing much. And that's why La Prairie is synonymous with luxury. When the Swiss luxury skincare brand was launched back in 1978, very few could afford it. Today, the brand is available in 80 countries and recorded a turnover of 416 million Swiss franc (euro280 million) in 2008. The firm, taken over by the Euro 6-billion Beiersdorg group in 1991, is the first to apply cellular research to problems of aging skin and has introduced caviar extracts, gold capsules and now platinum into cosmetics . Dick Trappmann, president, La Prairie , was in India recently as the brand is still looking to make a mark in the Indian market. India is a difficult market and lacks high-end retailers such as Harrods and Nieman Marcus, he told Nandini Raghavendra in an exclusive interview. Excerpts:
The prestige skincare market has had the "softest loss" due to the global crisis, according to market research (NPD). What insulates this segment?
We did an interesting research in February in New York, which was possibly the worst-hit market, and to our great joy consumers said they saw anti-ageing products as "essential luxury". Essential. This of course meant that they used less cleansers and ancillary products but the core products were never compromised on.
So, yes, we have been hit like everyone else (the Beiersdorf 2009 results report a 8.7% drop in sales) but at the end of last year we looked at all our data and found that in 80% of the countries we were in we were doing better than the market which is a strong sign for a healthy brand.
What stood us in good stead was the top end. At the height of the crises, on October 1, 2008, we launched our most expensive platinum cream ($1,000) in New York and we had planned (all pre-crises) to sell a huge number and with a difference of few odd numbers we actually sold that much. In fact, all across the world, platinum has sold fantastically last year. This shows that the top end tier of the market has not been hit. In fact, I am wondering if Ferrari has sold even one piece less last year! A decade in India, but no real growth. Why?
India became a focus when we chalked out our strategy for Asia in 2005. Shanghai and Korea have grown over the last five years, India we feel is next. India is also not an easy market. But we have changed partners and are with Tarz, who we are familiar with across the Middle East. The biggest hurdle in India is the absence of retail at the level of a Harrods or a Nieman Marcus, so we need to build this market very slowly.
What is the definition of luxury in the skincare market? Is it dictated only by expensive raw materials like caviar, gold and platinum?
Price is always a point of differentiator but the luxury is in what we offer the consumer. Today, people's spend on beauty is on the increaseboth men and womenand this is from plastic surgery to treatments. Compare La Prairie to all of these, and then we are not that expensive. Of course we are using the rarest of ingredients, so there is a cost plus the cost of development which at La Prairie can sometimes go into as much as three to five years. In fact, La Prairie products from caviar form as much as 20% of our business.
You have been at the helm for 5 yrs. What have been your biggest learning curves?
In this business, one-third is genetic, one-third is the result of your lifestylesleep, alcohol, sports, and the rest is how you care about your skin, your hygiene routine and this is where we come in. At our supervisory board meeting, they asked me what I was planning to do now that there is a big crisis? I said, "Nothing. We don't change anything." No increasing prices, no discounting because you only end up jeopardizing your brand. Premium samples can be distributed more widely, you increase innovation, cost-management is emphasized, but nothing else changes.
The learning curve is that when times are good you still carry on with this cost management! One also learnt that while the US and Japan were deeply hit, Korea and China were hardly hit. Russia had a badly hit local currency and it meant retailers had no money to buy our products, but it had nothing to do with consumer demand.
Between 2005 and 2008 we had been growing three times the market growth. Last year, we took a deep hit. But the fourth quarter was up and we are looking at a single digit growth this year. While Asian markets are thriving, Europe is divided between North and South. Northern parts like the UK are not hit while Spain, France and Italy are hit. But the US market should begin to come out by June while travel retail is already on its road to recovery.
What are your largest markets? And who are your main customers?
Europe would be our largest with 30% (of our total sales) while the US is 20%. Asia has doubled its share to 22% over the last five years. The rest is made up of the Middle East and travel retail, which has grown a lot.
Our target group is the 'arrived' consumers who have tried many other products. The average age at which a consumer comes to La Prairie (anti-ageing being their strength) is late 30s and early 40s, but we are also doing advanced marine products in the affordable luxury section with an appeal for the younger generation.
A SURPRISING US STATEMENT
When Indians are made targets of a terrorist attack in Afghanistan, it is not fanciful to think of a Pakistan connection. However, that link is not always easy to trace to Islamabad and furnish mathematical proof or evidence that would stand up in a court of law. (Just consider that in spite of clear indications, Pakistan doesn't accept that any of its security agencies had anything to do with the Mumbai attacks of November 2008.) Orchestration of terror through organised groups by an interested intelligence outfit is typically done through "cutouts" in order to sustain deniability. All the same, the underlying political motivation in a given case, past patterns of behaviour of those under scrutiny, material gained through electronic eavesdropping, and sometimes testimonies of elements who may be apprehended, provide a clear thread. This is why elements the Pakistani establishment will readily come to mind when Indians as a group are attacked in a place like Kabul. Anyone familiar with the Afghan scene knows that it is only a terrorist group patronised by sections of the Pakistan state apparatus that will have a reason to attack the Indians. Indian presence in Afghanistan does not inspire resentment among any other people. It is therefore surprising that Mr Richard C. Holbrooke, President Mr Barack Obama's point man for Afghanistan and Pakistan, should give Pakistan an indirect clean chit in the case of the February 26 attacks in Kabul on guest-houses where Indians were known to stay in large numbers. The senior diplomat has done so by asserting in the face of all that is known, especially the considered view of the Afghan leadership based on the findings of its own security set-up that the assault in question was not directed specifically against Indians, but against foreigners in general (an Italian and a Frenchmen were also killed). This is egregious. If foreigners as a general category are to be attacked, there are dozens of more suitable guest-houses in the Afghan capital (where there might also be the odd Indian), but if Indians in particular are sought to be terrorised, there can be few better places to target than those hit last Friday (although there may be the odd non-Indian foreigners around). If America's Af-Pak interlocutor concedes that Indians were targeted, he is aware that fingers will point at Islamabad. This is what Washington appears eager to avoid. The reason is the current American belief that the Pakistanis are at last cooperating in dealing with the Taliban. For this reason a fresh round of re-arming of Pakistan has also begun. One thousand laser-guided bomb kits, 18 F-16 fighter aircraft, and a dozen drones have just been put on the table, besides a recompense of close to one billion dollars. The Indians naturally need to mind their own security in Kabul in every way they can.
BY BALBIR K. PUNJ
Where was the secular pack, which carries a regular crusade in defence of the controversial painter, Mr M.F. Husain, when fanatic Muslim mobs were holding Karnataka to ransom? Buckling under pressure, the Karnataka Police has registered cases against Kannada daily Kannada Prabha and Urdu daily Siasat for "hurting religious sentiments" though unidentified goons ransacked the offices of Kannada Prabha and an evening newspaper and threw petrol bombs late on Tuesday night in Mangalore. Can a debate on this issue be considered an insult to Islam?
The article, entitled Purdah
hai Purdah, is allegedly a translation of a piece Taslima Nasreen had written in 2007. It deals with the practice of wearing a veil (purdah) by Muslim women. It was Urdu daily Siasat which had carried a report alleging that Kannda Prabha had published derogatory remarks against Muslims. The Karnataka edition of Siasat is managed by the Congress leader, Mr Roshan Baig!
Ms Nasreen, the exiled Bangladesh writer, in hiding in Delhi, is in the eye of the storm. A terrified Ms Nasreen, on the run to escape the ire of Islamic fundamentalists, has been quick to deny the authorship of the said article, which has triggered off the current chain of violent incidents in Karnataka.
Where are the champions of press freedom? Imagine the nationwide uproar that would have followed if the culprits were even remotely connected to a Hindu organisation. Can such double standards of our civil society help us sustain the pluralistic value system of which we all are proud?
Can India tolerate such intolerance and still remain India? India is known for its tolerance there are a host of sects and groups in this country, ranging from the spiritual to the absurd and bizarre. Who does not know that the temple walls of Khajuraho and some other places are adorned with a whole spectrum of representations of the art of lovemaking, one that Vatsyayana described in his famous work and that the author is hailed as a sage. There cannot be one version of truth because many people see it differently. That exactly is Hinduism and we should be proud of our freedom of belief.
One may be tempted to ask Husain and his "secular" advocates whether it is simply the harassment meted out to him that was responsible for his long self-exile from India and then seeking refuge in a Gulf emirate. However, Husain should have realised that just as he has freedom as an artist, others too have their freedom to protest against him as long as that protest is without violence or force of any kind.
The choice of Husain's refuge throws further doubt on his intentions. If he was seeking a safe harbour for his artistic freedom, was Qatar the right place? In not a single Gulf country will he or anyone else be allowed to paint religious imagery. News reports about Husain being given the citizenship of Qatar say that he is very close to the Qatar royal family. But these reports do not reveal whether Husain would be free to paint as he likes. Choosing Qatar over India itself is a revelation of the inner working of this artist who, perhaps, is as much influenced by the current Islamic fundamentalism backlash as several others.
Ms Nasreen's case in India is different. Almost every Muslim group has opposed her seeking to live in India. In Kolkata, home to India's liberal great she was forced to slink out to save her life. In Hyderabad, she was all but killed by Muslim demonstrators and then told that if she attempts to return, her life would be in danger. What happened in Shimoga is another example of what to expect if even a wisp of criticism is written or heard against one particular religion. In effect, India is sought to be converted into a Taliban country without being a Muslim majority by groups of determined Islamic fundamentalists in cahoots with "secularists" of various hues.
The blame for this state of affairs, in fact, should go to the so-called secular political leaders who pander to the retrograde sections of Muslim community and promote outdated orthodox practices and traditions. They are ready to rush to defend Husain painting goddesses in the nude, but they are silent when a writer of international repute like Ms Nasreen faces protests for an article or a book that appears critical of Islam. Not one self-styled secular and liberal leader has come out in her defence.
Just as none had condemned the violent demonstrations by sections of Muslims against a Danish cartoonist for depicting the Prophet of Islam. Not one of them even disapproved of a Muslim minister of Uttar Pradesh then calling for a huge fund to reward those who would murder the Danish cartoonist.
In Hindu-majority India, many events connected with the Ramayana, especially the abandoning of Sita, have been critically examined by scholars and laymen from different angles. The original Ramayana itself has several criticisms against the divinity of Lord Rama embedded in it. The Upanishads are mostly written in the form of critical questions and answers that again are questioned.
The entire Bhagvad Gita is in the form of questions and answers and at the end of it Lord Krishna's protégé Arjuna, the warrior, is asked to exercise his reason in accepting or rejecting what has been said in the earlier 18 chapters. This environment of free debate ensures that extremism, even if practised by some, is not backed by many. Can that be said of the Gulf countries? The artist who rejects the free air of democratic India and prefers a dogmatic and dictatorial monarchy to practice his art in "freedom" is not far removed from the clerics who drill into their followers that even a hint of criticism of their religion or its practices must be punished with death.
* Balbir K. Punj can be contacted at email@example.com 
CROSSING THE BORDER AND AWAITING FREEDOM
BY I.A. REHMAN
A brief visit to Amritsar to help a Pakistani child in conflict with the law again provided confirmation that one of the many bad things India and Pakistan still have in common is a mix of contempt and callousness towards each other's nationals in their custody.
But first a few aspects, pleasant as well as unpleasant, of the case of Master Ateeq Iftikhar, a 13-year-old boy from Shahdara, how he landed himself in the Hoshiarpur Borstal, Punjab, and the happy denouement in an Amritsar court.
The boy was arrested by the Indian police at Attari for crossing into India without any travel documents. One does not know whether the Pakistani authorities have tried to find out as to how the security robots failed to detect Ateeq's presence in the Lahore-Attari train. But they must do that to ensure that no innocent person again lands himself/herself in trouble because of a security lapse. Besides, they cannot ignore the possibility that some undesirable elements, possibly aided by guards on either side of the border, might well be crossing the frontier without papers in pursuit of criminal designs.
It was a pleasant discovery to see the Indian authorities paying greater respect to their juvenile justice law than their counterparts on Pakistan's side. Ateeq was kept at the Hoshiarpur Borstal and appeared to have been treated fairly during his 48 days' stay there. The man who had brought him to the court in Amritsar was not in uniform, he was holding the "prisoner" with his hands, no chain or weapon was visible, and he betrayed no annoyance as many in the crowd talked to the boy and tried to comfort him.
In many respects the Amritsar judicial complex looks like the civil courts' complex in Lahore, except that it occupies a larger space, rich lawyers sit in reinforced concrete suites and police presence is meagre. There is the same rush of people, of all ages, in quest of hard-to-get justice. Inside the courtroom there is the familiar sight of lawyers pushing and elbowing one another in their attempts to catch the judge's eye.
Since quite a few foreign nationals have been landing themselves in prison in Amritsar district their predicament evokes two different responses from the legal corps. One suspects that some policemen find it beneficial to tip off their friends among the lawyers regarding the arrival of a potential client and one who is utterly vulnerable. How matters proceed depends on the resourcefulness of the client's family or his "handlers".
Happily another kind of lawyer has also emerged, who is attracted by the unfortunate detainees' ordeal and accepts the role of a human rights activist. A prominent lawyer in this category is Ajay Kumar Vermani, who presented the final arguments on Ateeq's behalf although the none-too-easy groundwork was done by another lawyer, D.P. Sharma. The judge obliged them by ordering Ateeq's release.
Vermani has been taking up Pakistani detainees' cases for quite some time. He produced a list of 47 Pakistani nationals he found in Amritsar Central Jail alone. According to him he has helped 20 of these prisoners return home. These detainees were convicted by courts in Amritsar, Patti, Ajnala, Fazilka, Ferozepur and Gurdaspur during 1997-2008.
All of them completed their sentences during the same period. Technically they were released on completing their sentences and have subsequently been described as internees, waiting for the preparation of travel documents without which they cannot be repatriated to Pakistan. Except for four internees, consular access was provided in all cases.
This shows that the Pakistani diplomats' ability to gain access to their nationals, in the Amritsar jail at least, has improved. Still, there are quite a few heartrending stories. The most unfortunate Pakistani in Amritsar jail, Abdul Sharif, says he belongs to Balochistan. He has been interned since August 29, 1997. He was granted consular access in August 1998. But he is stilling rotting in prison barely 30-odd kilometres away from Wagah. The list of Pakistani detainees includes three Bangladeshis and an Afghan national, all worse off than the Pakistanis.
Vermani has another list of 60 Indians who are said to be detained in Pakistani jails 37 in Lahore, seven in Rawalpindi, six in Karachi, two in Quetta, two in Mirpur (AJK), and one each at Mianwali, Kasur, Jhelum, Sialkot, Bahawalpur and Peshawar. They suffer as much as Pakistanis do in Indian jails.
Neither list is exhaustive. Many more Indians and Pakistanis are paying much more for their crimes/mistakes than the law on either side prescribes.
It will not be fair to ignore the positive developments that have taken place over the last many years with regard to Indian and Pakistani nationals held in the other country's jails. An exchange of information is better now than, say, 15 years ago. Consular access is somewhat more easily arranged than before. The superior courts on both sides have been displaying a more humane attitude towards such detainees, especially in cases of inadvertent border-crossing. Numerous NGOs have been extending help to these prisoners.
However, both countries are still in the clutches of security bosses whose paranoia is incurable.
Thanks to their obstructionist attitude the lists of prisoners exchanged by the two governments are incomplete. After completing their sentences, the prisoners spend many years in jails as internees. Many go insane and cannot even tell their home addresses. Since most of them are seen as enemies of the host state they are subjected to the most degrading punishments and torture. So powerful is the security lobby that it has caused considerable frustration to the bilateral judges committee that has otherwise been doing excellent work by visiting prisons on both sides of the divide.
The situation demands an India-Pakistan protocol concerning prisoners. It should guarantee prompt exchange of information, arrangements for a counsel's services, observation of trials, prisoners' transfer to their home country after a quarter or one-third of the prison term has been served. It needs to be realised by both governments that nothing can justify the callousness with which they treat each other's nationals.
LET'S TAKE TIME TO COOL OFF
BY MAHESH RANGARAJAN
The Copenhagen Summit of December 2009 was historic in more ways than one. But the most significant moment undoubtedly was when the President of United States sat down with the BASIC group of countries Brazil, South Africa, China and India and tried to work out a common framework. At the end, however, there was a draw. None gave way and neither won.
There was a missing presence in the room. For the first time in centuries, there was no European in the room. Sardar K.M. Pani-kkar has famously referred to the era after about 1500 as the Vasco da Gama epoch of Asian history. Trade and conquest had followed the ship and the flag.
Perhaps it was at Copenhagen that the circle was finally closed.
The major change is a secular one. Over the last quarter century, it is the emerging economies of developing countries that have emerged as the engines of global growth. This was the most significant endnote to a century of upheaval.
But if the prosecution of war or the freedom of peoples were the leitmotifs of much of last century's turbulent and often violent politics, then it is worth noting that the ecological question had forced its way onto the international agenda as far back as the Stockholm Conference of 1972.
One good reason for this emerges from the work of American historian John McNeill. The last century saw humans consume more energy than the rest of our history put together.
This had consequences: for people who often lived longer and better and for key elements of the global web of life, some of which were placed under unprecedented strain. It was no surprise that the threat of nuclear war was one such issue that loomed large on the horizon.
India's finest minds and leaders grasped the enormity of these changes. Speaking at Bandung in 1955, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru warned of a war that would lead to the annihilation of mankind. As much as averting such a confrontation, he joined forces with those who sought to control nuclear tests in sea and air. The partial nuclear test ban treaty of 1963 carried on it his imprimatur.
If Indira Gandhi was chosen as keynote speaker at Stockholm, the first but not the last summit of world leaders on the human environment, it was with good reason. Two years earlier she had referred to chemical contamination in war (referring clearly to Vietnam and Agent Orange) and to the unbridled use of pesticides.
Does all this matter at all? It's been 20 years since the Cold War got over and it is commonplace to see the US as the sole superpower setting the road that others must follow. Yet, did it? The road to Kyoto Protocol lay in negotiations in 1992 in Berlin, a city then recently unified as the divisions of the Cold War were erased by history. At the time Kyoto Protocol was undergoing structural adjustment, India stuck to its stance on equity as a principle in climate change.
It was a stance worked out by successive Indian governments. Every human was not only entitled to rights under the UN Charter, each woman, child and man also had equal rights to that vital global commons: the air above us. No nation or state could claim prior right simply by having gotten there first.
It is this principle that the US and its allies sought to undermine at Copenhagen. Empires of the map have crumbled but the dominance of the global commons is a living reality.
India and China both face a simple problem. Each has a lot of people on little arable land. A map of the world is misleading but the figures are not. India has about three people crowding each hectare of cultivated arable. The figure for China is over five to a hectare.
The only way forward is to get more jobs for these hands, but off the land, not on it. To do so requires an upscaling of energy use. Even if China grows at the level it has for 30 years, in 2015 it will reach the living standards of middle European countries.
India per head uses half the energy (520 kg oil) an average Chinese does. The US averages at just under 8,000 kg equivalent of oil per year. That works out to about 15 times the Indian average (The Economist World in Figures, 2007).
There should be little surprise then that India, like China, is not keen on Copenhagen.
Neither China nor India can freeze or slow down their growth. After all, one response to the nuclear peril was to simply deny the technology to latecomers except on terms eminently suitable to those who got the bomb first. A climate change equivalent would make it impossible to build a thermal plant in Shanghai or Secunderabad without strict norms enforced by inspectors. It could also make clean technologies difficult to access without paying a heavy price for them.
On both counts, time is of the essence, but more and not less of it. China is already a leader in clean technologies, especially solar. The building norms on India's drawing boards can save energy cheaply. The longer the talks take, the more time these societies and economies will have for the transition to cleaner fuels. But to do this, they have to combine guile with tact. For the planet to have a future, its people and their livelihoods have to be made more not less secure. One nation's stranglehold on earth's ecology cannot and should not be what replaces the epoch of Vasco da Gama.
* Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian. He recently co-edited the book Environmental History: As If Nature Existed.
POWER OF PRANA
BY YOGI ASHWINI
When Swami Nada Brahmananda smeared his body with wax and sustained himself in glass enclosure void of air, food and water, it was proved that it is not oxygen on which the body thrives. There exists a force beyond. The Vedic masters had identified this force, prana the ultimate force, of which life force is one part.
Every microcosm in this creation is nothing but prana, the distinguishing factor being the frequency at which the prana vibrates. Often we experience that we get irritated just by being in the presence of certain people. This simply indicates a mismatch in the pranic frequencies. One should refrain from such interactions as it leads to depletion of prana for both. Exchange of prana takes place through various media. There are four major sources of prana food, breath, touch and sight. While the first two have been explored at length by modern sciences, our Vedic rishis were not unaware of the importance of the latter two.
This explains why in our culture, one did not greet by hugging or shaking hands, and why touching of feet or a tilak was considered special. Every time you touch someone or something there occurs an exchange of prana, altering an individual's composition.
Similarly, the significance of sight was never undermined. It has held that gyan flows through the drishti of guru. It was through sight that Gandhari channelised the magnanimous pranic energy into Duryodhan, endowing him with enormous strength to endure attacks and remain unscathed. The source of this strength is none other than agni. We are well aware of the paranormal attributes of agni, which is the governing element of the seat of power, manipoorak chakra. Interestingly, manipoorak is the centre that regulates the sense of sight. To imbibe this our ancient scriptures prescribed the yogic practice of tratak that involves intense gazing. For this, sit down in vajrasan and fix your gaze on a lamp lit using ghee from a desi cow. Stare at the lamp without batting the eyelids for three to five minutes. Thereafter, fill your mouth with water and splash cold water in your eyes a couple of times. Now throw out the water in the mouth that would be warm by now. You can gradually extend the duration of gazing as per your personal capacity. Regular practice of this under the guidance of a guru will make your body glow, and you will find stillness and strength.
Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation and he has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles...and a Haunting.
Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org 
MALE OSCAR GOES TO...
BY KIM ELSESSER
MANY hours into the 82nd Academy Awards ceremony this Sunday, the Oscar for best actor will go to Morgan Freeman, Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Colin Firth or Jeremy Renner. Suppose, however, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented separate honours for best white actor and best non-white actor, and that Freeman was prohibited from competing against the likes of Clooney and Bridges. Surely, the academy would be derided as intolerant and out of touch; public outcry would swiftly ensure that Oscar nominations never again fell along racial lines.
Why, then, is it considered acceptable to segregate nominations by sex, offering different Oscars for best actor and best actress?
Since the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, separate acting Oscars have been presented to men and women. Women at that time had only recently won the right to vote and were still several decades away from equal rights outside the voting booth, so perhaps it was reasonable to offer them their own acting awards. But in the 21st century women contend with men for titles ranging from the American President to the American Idol. Clearly, there is no reason to still segregate acting Oscars by sex.
The academy is not alone in this regard: the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild, the British Academy of Film and the Independent Spirit Awards all split acting nominees by sex as well.
The divided Oscar categories merely insult women, because they suggest that women would not be victorious if the categories were combined.
The academy could easily follow the lead of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which has, since 1951, offered genre-based Golden Globe honours, for best performances in dramatic, and comedic and musical roles.
For next year's Oscars, the academy should modify its ballots so that men and women are finally treated as full equals, able to compete together in every category, for every nomination. And if the academy insists on continuing to segregate awards, then it should at least remain consistent and create an Oscar for best directress.
* Kim Elsesser is a research scholar at the Centre for Study of Women at the University of California, Los Angeles
By arrangement with the New York Time
RAISES UNCOMFORTABLE QUERIES
FORMATION aerobatics are the ultimate expression of an aviation unit's prowess, the risk factor being integral to the exercise. So, without making light of the mishap at Hyderabad, the "show must go on". To even think of curtailing the activity of the Navy's 'Sagar Pawan' team would have a devastating impact on morale. It is not the first such crash, it will not be the last. Only expert investigation will, perhaps, establish the precise cause of the accident so it would be best to avoid speculation, conjecture. Similarly, the navy should desist putting a "spin" on the outcome by suggesting that the pilots tried to minimise collateral damage ~ poor fellows had no time to do anything of the kind. Such comments arouse apprehensions that possible negatives might be papered over. Maybe more pertinent are queries about the Kiran Mk-II having outlived its utility, the delay in the development of an indigenous replacement. Yet, if there are valid doubts over the safety of the obsolete aircraft the top brass of military aviation invite charges of irresponsibility for using it for demanding aerobatics. The dividing line between bravery and bravado is thin, but it is clear. Military professionalism requires discerning that distinction.
The larger question is the propriety of conducting aerobatics in the vicinity of urban congestion. Begumpet is the heart of Hyderabad, a far cry from what Yellahanka is to Bangalore. The two air shows are not quite similar, but Begumpet's "convenience" is negated by its built-up surroundings. So the decision to include formation aerobatics in what is essentially a civil aviation extravaganza must come under scrutiny. A display by the Sagar Pawan squad in no way boosted the image of domestic commercial aviation ~ in quite a pickle at present ~ and who cares if that was intended to further inflate the egos of those holding court in Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan. The cynics might argue that those attending air shows ought to be aware of risks, but in Hyderabad the victims had nothing do with the show. Providence alone kept the death toll down, but even one death on the ground is one too many. And what about the trauma of those who had a miraculous escape but whose homes have been shattered? Money will not compensate the folk of Bowenpally ~ who arrogated unto themselves the right to put their lives on the line?
VISVA-BHARATI'S POINT OF NO RETURN?
Visva-Bharati has made it a habit of remaining in the news for the wrong reasons. Even so, the mayhem witnessed at this year's Basanta Utsav was not just shocking but destroyed all expectations of a turnaround from the unfortunate incidents of the past few months. The group clashes at the students' hostel resulting in physical injuries provided alarming signals of the situation going beyond control. The authorities opted for the safe course of cancelling part of what is regarded as the university's most popular event of the year attended by thousands and the focal point of intense activity. While it reflects poorly on the administration's capacity to deal with the growing menace, the students simply mock the traditions that have given Visva-Bharati a special status. No one today perhaps expects students to demonstrate the old spirit that was special to Santiniketan and which produced some of the greatest minds. But the recurring unrest that takes a toll of even the priceless works of Nandalal Bose and Ramkinkar Baij, and signs of the management throwing up its hands in despair, confirm that Visva-Bharati preserves very little of its past. Instead, it has imbibed the polluted climate of institutions elsewhere where unionised politics outweigh academic discipline.
The university authorities are clearly answerable on the precautionary measures they took in light of the ominous signals over the past few months. The vice-chancellor is on the back foot following an inquiry instituted by the Centre into allegations levelled against him by the staff, faculty and students. If he is handicapped as a result, it leaves the university in quite a desperate state. Assurances of "all precautionary measures from next year'' provide no consolation when there is no sign of immediate action to prevent the university from rapidly sliding into chaos. Whatever the findings on Sunday's violence, the question is whether the university is in any position to take stern action against those who have disgraced themselves. Where the old values have disappeared, standards have fallen, indiscipline has taken firm root and the management tries in vain to provide basic security, it will be a miracle if the university gets selected as a Unesco world heritage site on the occasion of the poet's 150th birth anniversary. Where Tagore himself exists only on paper, the university may have reached the point of no return.
CHILLING FINDINGS OF THE INTERNATIONAL BOARD
There is little doubt that the union ministry of social justice has been spurred to horribly belated action by the latest world drug report released by the International Narcotics Control Bureau. A raft of measures is reported to be on the anvil; but it must be accepted that the correctives mirror the failure to contain drug abuse, let alone check its frightful spread. Chief among the findings of the Vienna-based entity is that India is now home to a whopping 72.2 million drug addicts! The figure knocks the bottom out of the government's modest estimate of barely 30 million. Any attempt to take the moral high ground will be self-defeating just as the ministry's projection has been an exercise in self-deception. Figures aside, the subtext of the INCB report of 2009 is that India has emerged as a thriving market for the buying and selling of drugs via Internet pharmacies, which themselves are illegal. In a way, the report confirms another manifestation of cyber crime. A chilling offshoot has been the spread of the fatal HIV affliction owing to drugs. In 2006 alone, the national average of the HIV-infected through drug injections stood at 8.71 per cent, against 0.36 per cent among the general adult population. It would be fair to assume that the figure has risen substantially over the past three years.
One must give it to the social justice ministry that it has at least admitted that the INCB report has "speeded up" the rectification process. But the blueprint is predominantly in the realm of fundamentals, indeed steps that long ago ought to have been in place. The highlights of what has been somewhat ambitiously labelled as the "new national policy on prevention of alcohol and substance abuse'' are much too mild considering the enormity of the malaise. More drug addiction centres, the need to make school children aware of the consequences of drug abuse through their parents and teachers, frequent national surveys and a regular tab on social networking sites just do not add up to an effective policy. Quite simply, the plan of action ~ if it can be so called ~ doesn't envisage a crackdown, which precisely is direly imperative. The report of the international entity, of which India is a member, called for a robust, and not a weak-kneed, response.
AGRICULTURE & EMPLOYMENT
TWO CRUCIAL SEGMENTS IGNORED AGAIN
BY ASHWANI MAHAJAN
During the 1990s, eight to 10 per cent of the planned expenditure was on agriculture. Over the past decade, it has reached a low of around 2.5 per cent. Although the government shows concern over agriculture in every budget, such expressions are no more than lip service. Last year, the government spent a meagre sum of Rs 10123 crore, which was 2.37 per cent of the Plan expenditure and hardly one per cent of the total expenditure of the Union budget, as per the revised estimates. In Budget 2010-11, this figure represents 2.34 per cent of the planned expenditure. The much-hyped provisions for programmes on oilseeds and pulses are actually an eyewash. As a proportion of the total Plan expenditure, the expenditure on agriculture has actually declined, though marginally. When the country is passing through this crisis of agriculture, this depicts insensitivity of the government towards agriculture and the agrarian economy.
A really funny concern was shown in this budget about the agricultural sector and the solution provided was equally funny. It has been mentioned in the budget that the major problem in agriculture is the wastage of agri-produce. The Finance Minister iterated the Prime Minister's earlier proposal that this problem could be handled more efficiently by foreign retailers, and announced the opening of the retail sector for foreign companies. The Finance Minister's argument is that these international retailers have an efficient supply chain, which can help in reducing wastage. Since the government does not have any study proving this point, this proposal is premature, devoid of any logic and an attempt to wash its hands off from providing a meaningful solution by way of an efficient warehousing system. Such perceptions of the government once again demonstrate its insensitivity to agriculture and a mindset that the solution to all problems facing the Indian economy lies in foreign investment.
Another problem is that of fiscal deficit, which reached a high level of 6.8 per cent in the last budget. Since high oil prices in the international market were compelling the government to subsidise the domestic market, the inevitability of such a high fiscal deficit could be anticipated. But if we look at the present level of oil prices, the projected 5.5 per cent of the fiscal deficit may be called very high. What is still more disturbing is the fact that despite such a high fiscal deficit, there is no significant increase in capital expenditure in the budget. The deficit is lower than the current year, and hopefully the government will be able to collect more taxes in the next fiscal, 2010-11.
Unemployment is another major issue. While it is on the rise even according to government's statistics, the Finance Minister has chosen to keep silent on the issue. Perhaps the government thinks that its duty is over by allocating funds for the much hyped National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme. No doubt it does provide a solution to the problem of unemployment, but it is only a temporary reprieve. It is imperative to find a sustainable solution to the problem of unemployment by creating avenues for permanent employment. This can be ensured by adopting labour intensive techniques, wherever possible. Indeed, it can be said that the budget doesn't express concern over the burning problem of unemployment.
The economic development of any country and improvement in the quality of life of its citizens depends largely upon its infrastructure. Power generation capacity, road construction, airports, means of communication etc. are important ingredients of our infrastructure requirements. Unfortunately, our country's infrastructure is not up to the required level. The targets for an increase in the power generation capacity are not even met by half. In road construction, the government itself has conceded that they have not kept the pace of even 4 km per day in the construction of highways. It may be worth noting that when the UPA took over from the NDA in 2004, 6200 km of national highways was under construction and during 2001-02 and 2004-05, 6300 km of national highways, including the Golden Quadrilateral, were actually constructed. Activity in this segment has virtually stopped during the UPA regime. Even the construction of roads in rural India has almost come to a halt owing to paucity of funds.
Public Private Partnership
TWO things have been happening simultaneously. One, the government has been shying away from its duty to build infrastructure by itself and is trying to involve the private sector under Public Private Partnership. Two, capital formation in infrastructure has been coming down despite the increasing contribution from the private sector. Whereas in 1993-94 nearly 6 per cent of the GDP was going into infrastructure, in recent years it has come down to nearly 5 per cent. Though infrastructure development primarily is the responsibility of the government, there is no harm if the private sector is involved in view of the resource crunch. But despite a large number of Private Public Sector Partnerships projects in infrastructure, the infrastructure capital formation is merely 5 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product. This is really unfortunate. In the present budget the government has set a target of building 20 km roads per day. As for national highways, it has made a higher allocation for infrastructure projects, including the expansion and modernisation of the Railways. This is a welcome step. If the government spends efficiently in accordance with budgetary allocations and a focus on power generation, road and railway construction, it may give a big boost to infrastructure development.
As regards inflation, there does not seem to be any reprieve from the budget for three reasons. First, the fundamental cause of inflation ~ neglect of agriculture and consequent shortage of food ~ has not been corrected. Second, the high level of deficit and the possibility that this deficit will rise further. Third, the wrongly timed hike in petroleum prices. Perhaps the government, instead of tackling the problem of inflation, has preferred to throw in the towel in the face of the alarming trend.
The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Economics, PGDAV College, University of Delhi
VICTIMS OF INDIAN JUSTICE
Do laws through arbitrary application dispense fair and equal treatment to all citizens? There are two current cases that present a glaring refutation of this principle, says Rajinder PuriJustice is defined in the dictionary as justness, fairness. The first principle of justice, therefore, should be equal treatment for all. Do laws through arbitrary application dispense fair and equal treatment to all citizens? There are two current cases that present a glaring refutation of this principle.
In Bangalore recently the Carlton Towers caught fire and several people died. There was gross violation of safety norms due to neglect in observing building by-laws. Corridors in this high-rise building were too narrow. There were drums of inflammable material placed on the roof. The builder, who is also the president of the owners association, Anurag Jain, was charged with culpable homicide. Till the moment of writing he is untraceable. To evade arrest, he disappeared. He certainly deserves to be tried under law for the alleged criminal negligence that cost several lives. If he is guilty he certainly deserves to be punished according to law. If nothing, his punishment would deter others from being similarly negligent.
However, had the fire not occurred, he would have been like millions of others who build houses or high rise buildings and neglect observing building by-laws. If there had been no fire, he would have been one of us ignoring laws, cutting corners, and seeking easy profit. He may have been greedy, but was he murderous? Did his building not have a completion certificate? Was the building not inspected annually to ensure that there was no illegal construction, that safety norms were being observed? Was authority also remiss by not doing its duty?
Everything was overlooked because there was no fire. Everything is being overlooked for countless others living peacefully because no fire has broken out in their buildings. Nevertheless, because of the fire Jain is a hunted absconder accused of culpable homicide while many others like him, but spared the accident of fire, are not. Well, this is fate. This is the price of a permissive justice system.
Consider another current case. Sajjan Kumar is accused of inciting mobs to kill innocents during a genocidal assault 26 years ago. The case against him is still pending. During the interregnum, he has lived a full and comfortable life. He has been an MP. He has been given high-level police security. Recently, because of public pressure, he was arrested. But he could not be apprehended because he was untraceable. His police security guards apparently succeeded in protecting him from arrest by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). He decided to surface after he was given bail. Consider these two cases involving two accused. Do things appear to be fair and just?
India has a President under oath to preserve and protect the laws. It has an elected Parliament with over 500 legislators. It has the Supreme Court, High Courts and thousands of courts spread across the country. It has a nationwide police force. It has a free press. And yet the prevalent conditions in society are more cruel, unjust and primitive than they were in the England of Charles Dickens or the France of Victor Hugo centuries ago. Think about it.
The writer is a veteran journalist
DELHI'S BEGGAR EXPRESS
Authorities desperate to spruce up the city are rounding up and jailing street beggars ahead of the Commonwealth Games, writes Andrew BuncombeThe woman with the tear-streaked face presses together her palms in supplication and throws herself into the dust in front of the magistrate. "I'll even spit on the road and lick it if you want me to. I beg you, just let me go," she wails. "If I ever come back here I will hang myself. Please, just let me go."
Barely an hour earlier, Phoolpatta, the shabbily dressed woman whose name means "flower petal", her two young children and a friend had been arrested by a squad of plainclothes police officers who had spotted them half-heartedly begging at a train station in the east of Delhi.
Now, in barely the time it has taken a nearby chaiwallah to boil up a pot of sweet, milky tea, they have been brought for summary justice before a magistrate sitting in a mini-bus set on the edge of a busy road. He will decide whether to release the women grovelling in the road beneath the open window of his vehicle, or else jail them for a year. "We have to decide according to the law," declares the magistrate, wearing a jacket and tie, as traffic thunders past his hot, makeshift courtroom.
But campaigners argue that the authorities, desperate to present to the world an image of India in which everything is new and progressive are seeking to sweep the poor out of sight, an undertaking that has already involved tearing down some slums and putting in place a plan to hide others from view by erecting bamboo screens.
Begging is nothing new and in India there is an established tradition of alms-giving to the poor and needy, particularly at temples, a practice that not only benefits the recipient but at least, according to Hindu beliefs, also the giver. But experts say that the problem has been exacerbated by soaring urban migration as increasing numbers of people leave poor rural parts of the country in search of better wages and a chance of securing a slice of the "shining India" that the authorities wish to showcase during the Games.
Indeed, a study carried out on Delhi's beggars found that only five per cent of them originally came from the city. Almost half were migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, the latter being the state from which Phoolpatta and her friend said they had come to Delhi in search of work. The survey also found that a third of all beggars suffered some sort of disability while 30 per cent were below the age of 18.
In India there is no national law against begging. Instead, the authorities in Delhi have relied on an extension of the 1959 Bombay Prevention of Begging Act, legislation which prohibits all manner of acts of soliciting. Campaigners say the authorities' actions have made it a crime for people like Phoolptata to be poor.
Paramjeet Kaur, the director of Ashray Adhikar Abhiyan, an organisation funded by ActionAid which works for the homeless, said the process of rounding people up underlined the failure to deliver appropriate welfare programmes.
THE THREAT FROM GM CROPS
As the worldwide concern for food safety grows, it is likely that there will be an increasing demand for organically grown and normal crops which are not contaminated by GM crops, says Bharat Dogra
In the recent debate on GM crops, one factor that has not received adequate attention is that owing to the threat of contamination, it is difficult for normal crops or organic crops to remain free from the impact of GM crops once these have been released. As the worldwide concern for food safety grows, it is likely that there will be an increasing demand for organically grown and normal crops which are not contaminated by GM crops. Therefore, we will be surrendering premium world markets if we allow our crops to be contaminated. This is why organisations like those of rice exporters are also involved in the campaign against GM crops. Star Link (corn engineered to contain a Bt toxin pesticide) was planted on less than 0.5 per cent of US corn acereage, but its recall cost hundreds of millions of dollars, and even then the recall was not entirely successful.
According to Professor Susan Bardocz, biochemist and nutritionist, "Up till now all technologies were controlled. Electricity, even nuclear power can be turned off. GM is the first irreversible technology in human history. When a GMO is released it is out of our control; we have no means to call it back. We can insert a transgene, but we cannot take the released transgene out. Since GMOs are self-replicating, releasing them might have dire consequences for human and animal health and for the environment and can change evolution".
Several eminent scientists representing the Independent Science Panel have also warned against the serious threat of contamination by GM crops - "Extensive transgenic contamination has occurred in maize landraces growing in remote regions in Mexico despite an official moratorium that has been in place since 1998. High levels of contamination have since been found in Canada. In a test of 33 samples of certified canola (oilseed rape) seed stocks, 32 were found contaminated. New research shows that transgenic pollen, wind-blown and deposited elsewhere, or fallen directly to the ground, is a major source of transgenic contamination. Contamination is generally acknowledged to be unavoidable, hence there can be no co-existence of transgenic and non-transgenic crops".
"Crops engineered with "suicide'' genes for male sterility have been promoted as a means of 'containing', i.e., preventing, the spread of transgenes. In reality, the hybrid crops sold to farmers spread both male sterile suicide genes as well herbicide tolerance genes via pollen".
It is due to the serious threat of contamination that even trials of GM crops are considered unacceptably risky. As the prominent environmentalist, Sailendra Nath Ghosh, has written: "In view of the virtual impossibility of preventing contamination, even the open-field trials ought not to have been permitted. According to independent geneticists, the isolation distance needed to be both in time and space. The land on which the GM crop is to be grown should not sow a crop in the previous or the succeeding year. Cross-pollinating crops, unlike the self-pollinating ones, require isolation distance of three to four kms. The implementation of these requirements is impossible under Indian conditions. Farmers would not keep their lands fallow. Crops in adjoining fields are almost always planted up to the boundaries. The trials needed to be in greenhouses controlled by independent institutions".
Several of these threats were examined at an international conference of scientists involved in studying the implication and impact of genetic engineering. This conference on "Redefining the Life Sciences'' was organised at Penang, Malaysia, by the Third World Network. These scientists and experts issue a statement called the Penang Statement (PS).
This statement listed a wide range of potential adverse effects of genetic engineering. Of particular concern is the difficulty or impossibility of recalling GEOs which have been released into the environment, or which have escaped from containment and later found to have adverse effects.
The potential ecological risks of applying genetic engineering to agriculture include the possibility that some transgenic crops could become noxious weeds, and others could become a conduit through which new genes may move to wild plants which themselves could then become weeds. The new weeds could adversely affect farm crops as well as wild eco-systems. Similarly, genetically engineered fish, shellfish and insects could become pests under certain conditions.
Plants are presently being engineered to contain parts of a virus in order to become virus-resistant. Some scientists have raised the possibility that widespread use of transgenic virus-resistant plants in agriculture may lead to new strains of viruses or allow a virus to infect a new host. There are concerns that the creation of new viral strains and the broadening of the virus's host may increase the risks of new viral diseases that adversely affect crops and other plants. Mechanisms have been described whereby genetically engineered plants could plausibly give rise to new plant diseases.
In addition, this statement warns that the rapid spread of transgenic crops poses a threat to traditional crop varieties and wild plants that are the major sources of crop genetic diversity. Some traits of organisms may take decades or even longer to manifest themselves. An organism declared "safe'' in the short term could eventually prove to be dangerous.
Another ecological risk is the possibility that field or forestry plants engineered to express toxic substances like pesticides and pharmaceutical drugs may poison certain non-target organisms. Transgenes for insecticidal or fugicidal compounds that are introduced into crops to inhibit pests may unintentionally kill non-target and beneficial insects and fungi. Transgenic crops used to manufacture drugs or industrial oils and chemicals could potentially harm animals, insects and soil microorganisms.
The possible chemical contamination of surface-water and ground-water by microorganisms or plants with unusual or accelerated metabolic processes is a special concern because of the crucial importance of water for all life. It may be impossible to recall and difficult to control harmful GEOs, especially those that may contaminate ground-water.
This statement adds that developing countries in particular face special risks: Third World countries face even greater environmental risks than countries of the North because, in contrast, they have many wild relatives of many crops and thus there are more opportunities for various kinds of rogue species to be created".
Moreover, most Third World countries currently have less scientific expertise and legal or regulatory capacity to monitor, assess and control activities involving genetically engineered organisms, and are thus even more vulnerable to adverse impact.
This issue should also be examined in the context of what has been called the "terminator technology''. In a widely discussed paper (published in the Ecologist, Sept/Oct 1998), Ricarda A Steinbrecker (Science Director of the Genetics Forum UK) and Pat Roy Mooney (widely acclaimed winner of the Right to Livelihood Award) summarise the implications of this most controversial use of generic engineering: "On March 3rd 1998 the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and a little-known cotton-seed enterprise called Delta and Pine Land Company, acquired US patent 5,723,765 - or the Technology Protection System (TPS). Within days, the rest of the world knew TPS as Terminator Technology. Its declared goal is to promulgate plants that will produce self terminating offspring - suicide seeds. Terminator Technology epitomises what the genetic engineering of food crops is all about and gives an insight into the driving forces behind the corporate campaign to control and own life".
Further this paper says, "Most alarming is the possibility that the Terminator genes themselves could infect the agricultural gene pool of the neighbour's crops and of wild and weedy relatives, placing a time bomb. Temporary 'gene silencing' of the poison gene or failed activation of the Terminator countdown enables such infection".
Clearly the threat from GM crops to natural farming systems and environment is so serious that any commercial release can not be allowed. Even any experimental trials should be asked to wait till definite ways to avoid hazards can be found.
The writer is a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi.
Politicians look at the world in terms of votes. Technocrats and specialists think in terms of efficient governance. The difference in these two perspectives could be one factor in explaining differences in the rates of economic growth between India and China. In China, despite the predominating presence of the communist party some would say because of it the government is not run by politicians but by specialists in various fields. (This system is helped, no doubt, by the absence of democracy and elections in China.) In India, decision-making and governance is encumbered by considerations of politics and elections. It is no coincidence that the most far-reaching decision in recent history was taken not by a politician but by a specialist who was asked to head the finance ministry. To wit, Manmohan Singh. Nothing exemplifies better the way politicians look at an issue than the storm in a tea cup over the hike in fuel prices announced by the finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, in his budget speech. It is clear that no major political party has any principled argument against the price rise they know it is inevitable but because they think only in terms of petty political gains, they have lined up to protest.
The point can be illustrated by the fact that when the Congress was out of government and the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance government raised fuel prices, the Congress in protest stalled proceedings in Parliament. Now that the roles are reversed, the BJP has opted to pay back the Congress in its own coin. The protest also enables the BJP to forget its internal squabbles and to rally round. Similarly, Mamata Banerjee's disapproval of the price hike is motivated by her desire to pre-empt the protests of the Left parties. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) has done what it does best it called bandhs in Tripura and Kerala. Its failure to do so in West Bengal the great red fortress of the days of yore may not strike most people as odd, given the party's demoralized condition after its debacle in the Lok Sabha polls. The obvious point is that the political class in India does not think in terms of what is good for the country but only in terms of what electoral gains it can garner for itself and what political points it can score off its principal rivals. This makes for a lot of hot air but contributes nothing to governance.
FREE FOR ALL
The mindless violence that recently claimed two lives in Hassan and Shimoga in Karnataka is indefensible. Beginning on the day of Holi, successive waves of attacks on bystanders, public property and media houses went on for two days before the administration could restore a semblance of order. The immediate provocation was the publication of a controversial article by Taslima Nasreen in a local newspaper, where she is supposed to have made derogatory remarks on Islam. For some time now, Ms Nasreen seems to have become a red rag for fundamentalists. As in Calcutta whose image as a liberal and tolerant society lies in a shambles after the violence over Ms Nasreen's publications and its handling by the political class in Shimoga, too, the mention of Ms Nasreen has inspired irrational behaviour among a section of the people that has been led to believe in stereotypical notions about the writer, as also about women and religion. It goes without saying that this sort of behaviour is a violation of the basic freedoms of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution and is freely indulged in by members of all religious communities, often with the endorsement of political parties. None can deny that without adequate political backing, the Bajrang Dal could not have targeted M.F. Husain so systematically and ensured his banishment from the country. The violence in Hassan and Shimoga, together with Mr Husain's predicament, shows the expanding girth of an intolerant, reactive India which has no understanding of the meaning of creative freedom and individual space, or of the artist's rights against misrepresentation. It is therefore not surprising that Ms Nasreen (who has denied writing the article for the Kannada newspaper) finds her words distorted and her work misused.
It is perhaps also not surprising that such incidents, as the ones in Hassan and Shimoga, that encapsulate this dangerous change in India should become increasingly frequent in Karnataka. A weak political leadership, which regards every act of communal violence or atrocity against women as a 'conspiracy' against it, cannot be expected to stand up to such challenges. Be it the burning of churches or the rioting over temples or the burqa, no administration worth its name should allow the usurpation of one fundamental right for the defence of another.
IN THE PAST DECADE, INDIA'S THRESHOLD OF TOLERANCE HAS DIPPED
Earlier this week, a newspaper in Delhi published a telling cartoon that drew many a snigger: a figure fully veiled in black with the simple caption: "Qatar Mata by M.F. Husain".
The apparent absurdity of India's most famous artist relinquishing his Indian nationality for the citizenship of Qatar, a place where he claims "no one controls my freedom of expression", has disappointed many of his ardent supporters who had faithfully backed him against militant and litigious groups. In turning his back on "my motherland" because "India doesn't need me" and "no one came forward to speak for me", Husain has handed out an unqualified victory to those who feel that free speech and expression cannot include the right to offend. That Husain abandoned India for an Emirate that is devoutly Islamic, conservative and doesn't remotely qualify as a democracy has only compounded the problem. Lacking political perspicacity, Husain has unwittingly added a new adversary to his list of tormentors: Indian nationalism. The price of Husain's paintings will not fall because of this new twist to the controversy, but it is possible that the next attack on an exhibition of his paintings in India will be greeted with indifference, not outrage.
The upholders of intolerant democracy have already drawn their own perverse conclusions from the successful hounding of Husain. Last Monday, there were violent demonstrations by militant Muslims in Karnataka against the publication of an article in a local newspaper attacking the veil by the exiled Bangladeshi author, Taslima Nasreen. The article, an unauthorized Kannada translation of an article that had been first published in the Outlook magazine three years ago, was subsequently deemed by the Karnataka government to be "provocative" and the newspaper regretted its publication. Like the Left Front government, which bundled Taslima out of Calcutta after an outbreak of sectarian hooliganism, Karnataka's Bharatiya Janata Party government pursued the line of least resistance. It bought peace by capitulating to the intolerant.
From a media perspective, there was nothing wilfully provocative in a publication reprinting Taslima's critique of the burqa. In the past few months, the issue has been debated globally in the context of the French ban on outward religious symbols, including the burqa. Earlier, Britain was drawn into controversy following the insistence of the then home secretary, Jack Straw, that the burqa should be discarded by those who wished to meet him at his constituency surgery. Last month, the Election Commission in India informed the Supreme Court that the burqa was a "religious custom" and not an integral part of Islam and, as such, Muslim women must have their faces photographed if they wanted to enrol as voters.
From a purely journalistic perspective, Kannada Prabha wasn't being wilfully provocative in proffering Taslima's feminist critique of Islamic theology to its readers. The issue was topical. The only lapse was a copyright violation, an offence that doesn't warrant a riotous mob.
The issue, it would seem, wasn't what Taslima actually wrote or whether she erred in her understanding of Islamic theology. In a television programme recently, the Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen member of parliament for Hyderabad, Asaduddin Owaisi, went apoplectic over Taslima's "blasphemy" and questioned her very right to be in India. Like the occasion when the MIM proudly disrupted a public meeting in Hyderabad where Taslima was present and even tried to assault her, the idea was to inform the government that any accommodation on her asylum application would invite Muslim fury.
There is an eerie similarity between the threats to and disruption of exhibitions of Husain's paintings and the fury directed at Taslima. It didn't require the exhibition of Husain's so-called "obscene" and "offensive" paintings for the religious vigilantes to take offence; even his other paintings have been rendered objectionable. Nor did it require Taslima to start a fresh controversy. I am informed that even her non-proscribed books weren't on offer in this year's Calcutta Book Fair. The messages were common: neither Husain nor Taslima were acceptable in any form.
Salman Rushdie suffered a similar plight even after his Satanic Verses was peremptorily banned by Rajiv Gandhi's government, a decision that triggered a chain of events that led to Ayatollah Khomeini's murderous fatwa. He was denied a visa to visit India for nearly 12 years because the authorities feared that his mere presence would trigger violence.
Over the years, successive governments have fallen back on the plea that freedom of expression in India is not unfettered but circumscribed by concerns of morality and public order. In short, there is no automatic right to offend. India's secularism, it has also been maintained, doesn't imply indifference to faith but equal respect for all faiths. There is a corresponding, if somewhat over-simplistic belief, that the great religions are not in the business of offending non-believers.
In theory, there is nothing hideously objectionable to citizen's rights being qualified by the realities of India. Even in the West, where personal freedoms tend to be more uninhibited, there have been concerns over paedophile literature and hate speeches. The Pope has made it his business to protest against a proposed Equality Act in Britain that makes homosexuality a legitimate lifestyle choice. A few years ago, the revisionist 'historian', David Irving, was jailed in Austria for his denial of the Holocaust. At present, a prominent Dutch politician is being prosecuted for allegedly making hate speeches against Islam.
Despite the periodic indignation over assaults on common decencies, it is worth stressing that the intellectual climate in the West is relatively unfettered. Though 'moderate' and 'middle of the road' views are often given top billing, there is enough space to accommodate both dissent and offence. Martin Rowson, a cartoonist for The Guardian, was recently in India lecturing on British humour. His audiences were quite stunned by the British success in ensuring that almost nothing remained sacred. This, it was generally agreed, would be completely unacceptable in India.
Indian society is innately reverential and is unduly cautious in challenging conventional wisdom. Yet 60 years of a democratic Constitution should have witnessed a steady expansion in the lakshman rekha of tolerance, and more so because the Hindu ethos is inherently accommodating and non-doctrinaire. The founding fathers who agreed on separate civil codes believed that an initial confidence-building gesture to India's largest minority would make them more responsive to liberal and secular principles.
Precisely the opposite has happened. The growth of political Islam from the 1970s has seen a regression in Muslim social attitudes and the post-9/11 world has contributed to a back-to-basics radicalism. The attempt by liberals to accommodate minority concerns while simultaneously promoting Hindu liberalism didn't yield the necessary results. Minority cussedness prompted a fierce Hindu political backlash that, in turn, hardened Muslim attitudes even further. The opening up of the economy and the rise in prosperity did help shift the focus from the overweening preoccupation with sectarian concerns, the defining hallmark of the 1990s, but there was no automatic drift to a more open society. In the past decade, the threshold of tolerance in India has been lowered considerably thanks in no small degree to the takeover of the internet by competitive extremists. 'Sensitivity to faith' has come to mean accommodation of organized blackmail.
The successful anti-Husain and anti-Taslima protests have to be seen in the context of a progressive shrinking of the enlightened public space. India imagined it would be a world player on the strength of its 'soft power'. Today, that power is being steadily undermined by the clash of rival ghettos. The nonsense has gone on far too long and has touched dangerous heights. It's time the country extends democratic rights to those who offend fragile sensitivities.
LEADER WITH A VISION
BONA FIDE - MALVIKA SINGH
The protests in the public domain over genetically modified food has managed to bring the 'debate' to the forefront, and compelled some strategic thinking before the final decision. The truly draconian draft, prepared by the ministry of science and technology in 2008, of the regulatory bill for such products has also come under severe scrutiny. It has clauses that belong to past eras of dictatorial regimes and tinpot potentates. Whoever drafted the bill did not comprehend the basic tenets of a federal democracy, and made a mockery of all that India stands for. For those in power to say that "it is merely a draft" or "the law ministry will look at every clause with a magnifying glass" is not enough. We know that many such clauses are deliberately introduced somewhere in the depths of endless paragraphs, hoping they will go unnoticed when the bill is placed in the House. More often than not, India resorts to a very strange and untenable form of 'voting' by voice-vote instead of pressing the button. This is most undemocratic, deeply flawed and, therefore, unacceptable in 2010.
We are fortunate that there are leaders who win and lose elections and are not 'nominated', who are accessible to public opinion and to open, inclusive dialogue. When governments are desperate to push through acts and ordinances, one is forced to be suspicious of their intent and to wonder whether they favour a few rather than the millions. Poverty has, unfortunately, allowed disconnected technocrats to have a free-run and, in some instances, the policies have been hugely detrimental for the larger good. There is much condescension among those who rule with the assumption that the electorate is illiterate and unlettered. They forget that it is profoundly philosophical, highly experienced in the realities on the ground, and is able to surmount the worst forms of exploitation, neglect as well as unacceptable 'shortages'. The people have been skilled by tradition handed down through generations. They know far more than the decision-makers who sit behind closed doors, guarded by kowtowing babus.
Our economic advisors have spent the better part of their learning lives in the sterile climes of overseas institutions. With their 'expertise' on alien processes and methodologies, they are now trying to superimpose such systems on an unsuspecting mass of people without similar privileges. Many of them are completely disconnected from the real and tangible India. This is why it was essential for the government to have a counterpoint in the garb of the National Advisory Committee that was chaired by Sonia Gandhi. It is ironic that the 'Indian' amongst the ruling elite, committed to addressing the fundamentals and to alleviating the abject distress of a majority of Indians, is a person who came here as a young bride, put down her roots and rose to political heights.
Sonia Gandhi cannot be faulted on her astute instincts about what is right and wrong, and what needs deliberation. She is firm and cautious at the same time. She does not waver from her basic values. She does not aspire for hollow, Western sensibilities knowing fully well that India is resilient, but needs an efficient infrastructure to take the entrepreneurial spirit to levels that could determine the trend for the world to follow. The rich, 'advanced' nations are looking for alternatives to their wasteful societies and deteriorating environments. If we do not follow those failed trajectories, we may be able to salvage the bits and pieces that will ensure sustainable growth within our own cultural realities. Sonia Gandhi comprehends that truth, commands the stature and remains the unmatched conscience of the Congress and what lies beyond.
TIME FOR VIGIL
"INDIA MUST WIN THE TRUST OF OTHER NATIONS."
It is a triumph of sports over terror. Myriad terrorist groups, which have made Pakistan their home for years, are trying their best to disrupt major sporting events in this country after their success in the neighbouring country. Just a fortnight ago, it had appeared that their threats might work. In the wake of the dreaded Harkat-ul-Jihad-e-Islami field commander Ilyas Kashmiri's threat to target the World Cup hockey competition in Delhi, national teams from countries like New Zealand, Australia and England were not sure if they should participate in the event risking the lives of their players. They raised serious questions about security for their players as the Pune terror bombing was still fresh on their minds. Besides being a huge challenge, this was obviously an embarrassment to the Indian government. Union Home Minister P Chidambaram stepped in to reassure the wary quarters that the government would do everything necessary to provide fail-proof security to ensure successful staging of the hockey competition. At stake is not just the success of this tournament or the ensuing third edition of the Indian Premier League but the big one later this year - the Delhi Commonwealth Games.
The hockey event is now into its fourth day. It would not be out of place for Chidambaram to thank the participating countries, their players and officials. They have trusted India and showed to the rest of the world that the country is safe, notwithstanding the terrorists' threats. But this is no time for celebration. Nor should there be any room for complacency. Those who are trained to carry out suicide attacks and are willing to die have a huge advantage over the security forces - they can choose their place, time and target for their acts of terror.
For India, it is therefore important to consolidate the gains made in terms of winning the trust and confidence of the international community. This is more important since many world capitals have a tendency to equate India with Pakistan. It is more than a year now that Pakistan has been unable to host any bilateral and international sporting event as home-grown terrorists have turned their gun against almost everyone. The terrorist attack on the Sri Lankan cricketers in Lahore last March was conclusive evidence of the grave risks involved in visiting that country. It is, thus, time for extra vigil.
"FARMERS WILL NOW HAVE BETTER CHOICES."
The government's decision to do away with price controls on some fertilisers, allow a 10 per cent hike in urea prices and move over to a regime of nutrient-based subsidies is an important step in reforming the fertiliser industry. The health of the industry is vital to agriculture but it has been a victim of political taboo. The controls which were put in place to protect the interests of farmers have over the years become counter-productive and created a huge subsidy burden, last estimated at about Rs 1 lakh crore, which has distorted government finances. They have also prevented rational, effective and optimum use of fertilisers which only can ensure sustained agricultural productivity. Retail prices of fertilisers have not changed since 2002 and the initiatives which were planned had to be dropped in the face of mostly uninformed opposition.
The nutrient-based subsidy system envisages fixing subsidy on the basis of fertiliser contents, like nitrogen or phosphorus. Since the existing subsidy regime was skewed in favour of urea, its over-application has often damaged soil fertility. The new system will allow manufacturers to introduce fertilisers suited for different soil and climatic conditions. Farmers will have better choices. Along with the plan to deliver the subsidy directly to the farmers rather than through the industry, it can benefit all stakeholders like the farmers, the industry and the government. Competitive prices at the farm gate can ensure that the farmers are not adversely affected. An efficient and transparent subsidy transfer system, which is being readied with the help of technology, will benefit farmers more than the present one. Tools like the minimum support prices will still be available to the government. Fertiliser prices may need monitoring and some supervision till the implications of the new regime are fully realised. Industry has assured it will hold the prices stable this year and so there is enough time to prepare for the new regime.
No new investment has been made in the fertiliser industry for the last many years as there was no incentive to increase production, introduce new technologies or diversify the product range. Unpaid subsidy arrears have also affected the financial viability of the industry. The reform measures which have started can put life in the industry, reduce the dependence on imports and increase agricultural productivity. Inefficient use of subsidy without corresponding benefits can also be avoided.
THERE IS NO POINT ARGUING AGAINST THE WISE US CONGRESSMEN WHO HAVE DRAFTED A RIDICULOUS PIECE OF LAW.
BY SAEED NAQVI
The burgeoning global media, the very beacon of the free world, has not been very forthcoming on a Bill before the US Congress threatening action against the media critical of US policies in the West Asia.
As in all such measures, the language is couched in caution.
For instance, Section 1 of the Anti-American Incitement to Violence in the Middle East Bill reads: "Freedom of the Press and Freedom of Expression are the foundations of free and prosperous societies worldwide, and with the freedom of expression comes the responsibility to repudiate purveyors of incitement to violence." (Freedoms are only for prosperous societies?)
Further: "Television channels that broadcast incitement to violence against Americans, the United States, and others, have demonstrated the ability to shift their operations to different countries and their transmissions to different satellite providers in order to continue broadcasting and to evade accountability." Goodbye to off-shore telecasting?
The bill names some channels which gives the game away.
"Television channels such as Al-Manar, Al-Aqsa, Al-Zawra and others that broadcast incitement to violence against the United Sates and Americans, aid Foreign Terrorist Organisations in the key functions of recruitment, fundraising and propaganda", are all liable to be punished. Therefore, "it shall be a policy of the United States" to "designate as Specially Designated Global Terrorists those satellite providers that knowingly and willingly contract with entities designated as specially Designated Global Terrorists."
The Bill threatens other unspecified "punitive measures" against satellite providers that transmit Al-Aqsa, Al-Manar and Al-Zawra channels " This bill "requires the President to transmit a report to the Congress that must include a country-by-country list and description of media outlets that engage in anti-American incitement."
Also, American level of assistance to a country will be determined by the extent to which the country in question shuns anti-American propaganda. By this criteria, Pakistan should be stone broke because there is hardly a country in the world which has a more hysterical, anti-American media!
Ah! There's the catch. The Bill names countries only of the Middle East. These are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza strip, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen. The Bill specifies these as the most worrisome area as far as anti Americanism (and hatred for its allies) is concerned. This lengthy Arab list is actually a camouflage for the real culprits, the ones who are a thorn on Israel's side.
Let us consider the list of TV stations the Bill names. Al-Manar, for instance. The entire Middle East knows that it is the official channel of Hezbollah. According to Wikipedia "The Israeli Air Force bombed Al-Manar building on July 13", during the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war. "Despite the attack, the station remained on air, broadcasting from other undisclosed stations"
The other TV station named in the Bill is Al-Aqsa TV. Wikipedia says it is a Hamas-run television. Among other programmes, the station airs TV shows for children, some of which have been accused of promoting "anti-Semitic views". The station began broadcasting in the Gaza strip in January 2006 after Hamas won a sweeping victory in Palestinian Parliamentary elections.
Celebrations in Gaza were galling for the Palestinian authority in Ramallah as well as for Jerusalem. In this instance Ramallah acted as the cat's paw. On January 22, 2006, The Palestinian Public Prosecutor, Ahmad Maghni, decided to close down the TV station because "it did not have the necessary broadcast license." Hamas refused to enforce the decision.
On December 29, 2008, during the 2008-09 Israel-Gaza conflict, Israeli aircraft bombed the offices of Al-Aqsa TV. The building has been completely destroyed. But, says Wikipedia, the station continued to broadcast from a mobile TV unit. Wikipedia, better watch out for recording subversive truths!
Likewise, Al-Zawra TV is an Iraqi satellite channel which was known for airing insurgent attacks on US-led coalition forces. There is no point arguing against the wise US Congressmen who have drafted this piece of legislation. One is speechless. Showing images of attacks on US soldiers in Iraq is a crime? In what category do we then place, the complete destruction of what was once Mesopotamia, one of the world's earliest civilisations; organised looting of its museum; killing of a million innocent Iraqis; the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay. Are the wise Congressmen sunk, in the deepest levels of thought on legislation that will banish such inhumanity in some distant future?
"Mister Obama, on the morning of November 4, 2008, some of our friends assembled at the crack of dawn (for that is when US presidential election results were to be announced in India) to celebrate not so much your victory as the capacity of the American people to renew themselves and their nation, the nation we all salute. How do you think does this kind of illiberal legislation register with those who celebrated that morning?
IN YEMEN, DIVORCED BEFORE PUBERTY
IT'S HARD TO IMAGINE THAT THERE HAVE BEEN MANY YOUNGER DIVORCÉES OR BRAVER ONES THAN A PINT-SIZE THIRD GRADER NAMED NUJOOD ALI.
BY NICHOLAS KRISTOFF, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Nujood is a Yemeni girl, and it's no coincidence that Yemen abounds both in child brides and in terrorists (and now, thanks to Nujood, children who have been divorced). Societies that repress women tend to be prone to violence.
For Nujood, the nightmare began at age 10 when her family told her that she would be marrying a deliveryman in his 30s. Although Nujood's mother was unhappy, she did not protest. "In our country it's the men who give the orders, and the women who follow them," Nujood writes in a powerful new autobiography just published in the United States this week, "I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced."
Her new husband forced her to drop out of school (she was in the second grade) because a married woman shouldn't be a student. At her wedding, Nujood sat in the corner, her face swollen from crying.
Nujood's father asked the husband not to touch her until a year after she had had her first menstrual period. But as soon as they were married, she writes, her husband forced himself on her. He soon began to beat her as well, the memoir says, and her new mother-in-law offered no sympathy. "Hit her even harder," the mother-in-law would tell her son.
Nujood had heard that judges could grant divorces, so one day she sneaked away, jumped into a taxi and asked to go to the courthouse.
"I want to talk to the judge," the book quotes Nujood as forlornly telling a woman in the courthouse. "Which judge are you looking for?"
"I just want to speak to a judge, that's all." "But there are lots of judges in this courthouse." She said" take me to a judge - it doesn't matter which one!"
When she finally encountered a judge, Nujood declared firmly: "I want a divorce!"
Cause célèbre Yemeni journalists turned Nujood into a cause célèbre, and she eventually won her divorce. The publicity inspired others, including an 8-year-old Saudi girl married to a man in his 50s, to seek annulments and divorces.
As a pioneer, Nujood came to the United States and was honoured in 2008 as one of Glamour magazine's "Women of the Year." Indeed, Nujood is probably the only third grader whom Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has described as "one of the greatest women I have ever seen."
Nujood's memoir spent five weeks as the No 1 best-seller in France. It is being published in 18 other languages, including her own native language of Arabic.
I asked Nujood, now 12, what she thought of her life as a best-selling author. She said the foreign editions didn't matter much to her, but she was looking forward to seeing it in Arabic. Since her divorce, she has returned to school and to her own family, which she is supporting with her book royalties.
At first, Nujood's brothers criticised her for shaming the family. But now that Nujood is the main breadwinner, everybody sees things a bit differently. "They're very nice to her now," said Khadija al-Salami, a filmmaker who mentors Nujood and who translated for me. "They treat her like a queen."
Yemen is one of my favourite countries, with glorious architecture and enormously hospitable people. Yet Yemen appears to be a time bomb. It is a hothouse for al-Qaeda and also faces an on-and-off war in the north and a secessionist movement in the south. It's no coincidence that Yemen is also ranked dead last in the World Economic Forum's global gender gap index.
There are a couple of reasons for countries that marginalise women often end up unstable.
First, those countries usually have very high birth rates, and that means a youth bulge in the population. One of the factors that most correlates to social conflict is the proportion of young men ages 15 to 24.
Second, those countries also tend to practice polygamy and have higher death rates for girls. That means fewer marriageable women - and more frustrated bachelors to be recruited by extremists.
So educating Nujood and giving her a chance to become a lawyer her dream isn't just a matter of fairness. It's also a way to help tame the entire country.
Consider Bangladesh. After it split off from Pakistan, Bangladesh began to educate girls in a way that Pakistan has never done. The educated women staffed an emerging garment industry and civil society, and those educated women are one reason Bangladesh is today far more stable than Pakistan.
The United States last month announced $150 million in military assistance for Yemen to fight extremists. In contrast, it costs just $50 to send a girl to public school for a year - and little girls like Nujood may prove more effective than missiles at defeating terrorists.
RED HOT CHILLI PEPPER(S)
MAKE SURE YOU DO NOT HURT SENTIMENTS OR CAUSE DAMAGE TO REPUTATION.
BY LASYA SHASHIMOHAN
No, this is not about the popular California music band. It is about something more ribald and basal that all we low-lives who call ourselves homo-sapiens would have indulged in at some point or the other, even if some do not plead guilty. It is red hot, spicy and lip-smacking. Yes, you've got it right! It is brazen, unapologetic gossip.
Now I'll not be a prig and swear that I haven't trespassed this area indiscreet and I shall certainly not vow never to trespass again! Why, even researchers insist that a wee bit of harmless tittle-tattle is actually beneficial to health. My gossip-forte is reel life celebrities; their starry tantrums in particular. You see I am far too dignified (read: terrified!) to talk about real life folks. What if you are guffawing at someone's expense and then turn around to see the very subject of your jibes standing right behind you! It is nightmarish to even think of.
But there is a genre of gossip that some specialise in which I find distasteful.
Unnecessary comments on physical appearances for instance. In college, I had two classmates who shared the same first name. One was slim and the other, well, a little plump. When I asked someone about the whereabouts of one of the two aforementioned girls; even before I had a chance to specify the surname, the girl I had enquired expanded her arms as if to indicate girth and exclaimed, 'Which one?! That f-a-a-a-a-t girl?!'. Well, I could have thought of nicer ways of describing her! There are others who make malicious remarks on fat faces, balding heads, huge noses, slug-like lips, pachyderm like ears and so on. Even the posterior part of the human anatomy is not spared!
Once, much to my amusement I over-heard two friends discussing me. 'You look a lot like Lassie', one was telling the other. I couldn't see their faces but the listener must have looked a little woe-begone for the speaker then said in a somewhat placating tone- I quote her verbatim- "But don't worry, you are little bit more height than her". I laughed until my stomach hurt.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I have some sagely advice for you. Gossip is one of the primary pleasures of life. The luxury only of humans. Renouncing it would be a shame. Only exercise moderation and keep it clean. Make sure you do not hurt feelings or sentiments or cause damage to reputation. And last but not the least; don't forget to watch your back!
IT'S NOT LIEBERMAN
British statesman Leopold Amery's plea to prime minister Neville Chamberlain - "For God's sake, go" - has undergone many incarnations, and I'm surprised at my colleague Nahum Barnea, who made do with a simple "Go" in reference to Avigdor Lieberman. The suspicion that Lieberman received documents relating to the investigation against him from our ambassador in Belarus is now being checked by the police. It doesn't smell good - not to mention that the stench of the foreign minister's behavior justifies speeding up the distribution of gas masks.
But the problem is not Avigdor, it's the person who appointed him, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is gradually going back to being the Bibi of his first term. Never since the founding of the state has its image, prestige, reputation and moral and ethical weight been at such a nadir. The commander of the Dubai police is sitting comfortably in his armchair and enumerating one by one the mistakes he claims were made by the Mossad - for example, dressing one of its fattest agents in a tennis outfit. He is also issuing international arrest warrants for Netanyahu and Mossad chief Meir Dagan.
And in a public courtroom in Barcelona, Israel is being portrayed as a country that tramples basic human rights, while Hamas is being "acquitted" of being a terror organization.
Eight months after his speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which Bibi proposed two states for two peoples, it is hard to understand how the speech turned into a dead letter. The addendums that followed it such as his demand that the Palestinians recognize us as a Jewish state and various other reservations, the lack of momentum, a foreign minister who flies all over the world and does everything but promote peace - all these have combined with a prime minister whose intentions are suspect in any case to create growing resentment against Israel.
The country's public relations and response mechanisms have been demoralized. A member of the foreign service describes our representatives worldwide as worn out. Ambassadors are incapable of appearing on television or dealing with heckling against Israel during meetings or at universities. Has anyone heard lately about what the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations is doing? Are there pro-Israel demonstrations by American Jews like there used to be?
Israel's image is one of the worst in the world, and this is reflected in signs of creeping delegitimization. And no public relations effort can be of use without action. According to Alon Pinkas, a former Israeli consul in New York, the world is tired of us. The best PR will not have any effect when the facts indicate that we are working in the opposite direction.
It's true that the Palestinian leadership is delaying the onset of negotiations. For them, delay is part of the negotiations. But for Bibi, it's more a reason to celebrate, hoping that they will once again miss an opportunity. Bibi is probably saying to himself that every day without negotiations is another day on which we were not required to give anything up. If he really wanted the talks to resume, he knows very well what he has to do.
With every passing day, Netanyahu is going back to Bibi's caprices. Suddenly he rolled out the issue of the heritage of our holy sites, in the tradition of the Western Wall tunnel ("the rock of our existence"). It may seem as if the goal was to infuriate the Palestinians, but actually he wants to win the hearts of his party's Feiglin faction of right-wing settlers - so they won't, God forbid, accuse him of dancing to the tune of the tiny Labor Party.
As if all this were not enough, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat decided now of all times to announce the demolition of dozens of Arab homes that were built in Silwan without permits years ago, in order to replace them with a park. Barkat was not joking when he said this would be good for the Arabs. But even Bibi understood that the plan was a recipe for escalation in Jerusalem: He asked Barkat not to implement it now, but to continue trying to reach understandings with the residents "for fear of unnecessary escalation in the area."
On top of all this, we haven't seen the removal of even one illegal settlement outpost as a symbolic gesture of willingness to make concessions. No public relations can replace a policy with "positive energy," as they say on the TV reality show "Big Brother."
Lieberman's appointment as foreign minister was reminiscent of Caligula's appointment of his horse as a Roman consul. Though it's not clear exactly what they agreed on in private, we can guess that Bibi made an offer and Lieberman promised not to interfere with the peace process, on the assumption and understanding that nothing would come of it in any case.
But the damage Lieberman is doing to Israel's image by the suspicions in which he is embroiled is going too far.
The entire world is not against us yet, but with a little effort, even that can be fixed. Soon, at America's initiative, negotiations may begin via "proximity" talks between the parties. The problem is not Lieberman, who will leave in any case (and would do well to take Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon with him), but Netanyahu. The prime minister must prove that he didn't lie to the Jewish people, and the world, when he promised peace on the basis of two states for two peoples.
I ENVY THE PEOPLE WHO HATE ISRAEL
BY BRADLEY BURSTON
At times like these, I envy the people overseas who passionately, frankly, with all their hearts, despise Israel.
Hate Israel enough, and the Jewish state's failings and blunders, its self-satisfied blindness and its resultant self-destructive policies cause not pain, but delight.
Hate Israel enough, and you're spared all inclination to try to fix what's wrong, to work to set it right. On the contrary, hate Israel enough, and you may come to believe not only that the country deserves to be punished to the point of being replaced by a different state, but that Israel may well do the job all by itself.
There was once a time when Israel longed to be a member in good standing of the community of nations. There was a time when one of its fondest goals was to end its status as a nation in quarantine, boycotted, unrecognized, unwanted, kept firmly at arm's length.
No longer. Without asking its people, without a second thought, Israel, at the highest level, has taken an executive decision. Unable to beat the forces who want to see Israel as one of the world's primary pariah states, it has resolved to join them.
Determined to take its fate into its own hands, Israel, at the highest level, has decided that the job of delegitimizing the Jewish state must not be left to foreigners and amateurs. Apparently desperate to be a pariah state, Israel has decided to get it done on its own.
I have come to envy the people who hate Israel. They've got every reason to smile.
What the far left, from Britain to Berkeley, has been been unable to bring off - a sense among Israel's allies that Israel has become a heartless, morally heedless aggressor state worthy of sanctions and shunning - the far right in Israel's own government, and in particular, its Foreign Ministry, seems determined to inculcate to the full.
We should have known that something like the debacle of the Dubai assassination, which the world unanimously attributes to Israel, was going to happen. From shunning Richard Goldstone to snubbing Turkey, the process of delegitimizing Israel from within was going too slowly.
Like so many of Israel's recent actions, its motives for allegedly perpetrating the Dubai assassination are debatable. The negative impact is inarguable.
But it wasn't enough to threaten our relations with the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Austria, the emirates and now Australia by apparently adding identity theft to the ways Israel makes itself untrustworthy. A quick follow-up was needed: embarrassing the United States.
In a move breathtaking in its haughtiness, ignorance of and disrespect for the United States and the American Jewish community, the Foreign Ministry - spearhead of Israel's campaign against boycotts abroad - boycotted a meeting with five visiting U.S. congressmen.
Why? The representatives were visiting under the auspices of J Street. J Street, in the ministry's eyes, is guilty of the crime of explicitly calling itself pro-Israel while not agreeing wholeheartedly with everything the government of Israel says and does.
This is what I have learned about the government of this place, and many of the voters who put it there: Intelligent people who are too smart to be able to see themselves clearly render themselves stupid.
And countries that cannot bear to look around them, even if they have good reasons, render themselves dangerous - first of all, to themselves.
I have come to envy the people who hate Israel, because they cannot feel the tragedy in the phenomenal possibility, the depth and breadth of humanity that is going to waste here.
There is no sense of betrayal, not a tinge of loss. Only malicious pleasure.
Someday soon, if only because Avigdor Lieberman is likely to be indicted for money-laundering in countries that may now hate us, this is going to begin to turn around. I believe that.
I have to.
My father did not flee the Soviet Union just so his son could one day have the chance to live in a place just like it.
It's true that his academic degrees are in aerodynamics, but we haven't found a way yet to eject him from his seat. Whether or not he is dismissed, he will no longer be the Education Ministry's chief scientist. To be the "chief" you have to be a scientist.
I believe Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar when he says in Gavriel Avital's defense that he is not the only person to be appointed by a political sympathizer. But if it's already our fate and the minister's, it would have been better to appoint Avital chief janitor.
The courtyards are a fitting place for political appointments. What's all this similar to? It's similar to appointing Israel's "x-ray rabbi" - known for his supposed ability to diagnose medical ailments - and self-styled psychic healer Oren Zarif as chief physicians at the Health Ministry, or to reading the Book of Psalms when medicine is powerless to help.
After all, this man, Gavriel Avital, also pleads with us "in the spirit of the times" to rely on our Father in Heaven. "The earth," he calms our fears, "will not be destroyed. The Lord, blessed is He, has promised us." I don't recall a promise to this effect; on the contrary, I remember existential threats from the prophets in the name of God: If we do not mend our ways, the Creator will return the earth to a state of chaos, and it would be best for us to save our souls and obey his laws. We have been warned.
A chief scientist who is a man of faith should certainly assume that it's possible that God is watching his creations who are likely to drown. Anyone who has eyes in his head, even if he is not a scientist or God, sees that icebergs are melting and that for the first time ships can make their way through the Arctic Ocean. For the first time the eternal snow on the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro has disappeared. For the first time the oceans are rising and island states are considering whether their end is near, and the deserts are spreading to all the fertile land, and the plague of drought has gone berserk and is causing the numbers of starving and poverty-stricken to multiply.
Not only Avital, but each of us must maintain a certain degree of skepticism. Let's assume we are mistaken and that the earth is poisoning itself and that it's not we, the humans, who are spreading this poison. Then what have we lost? We have only gained; we have gained cleaner air, purer water and less-polluted soil. In that way we will be healthier, we will raise children with better immune systems, and we will bequeath to the coming generations a world that is pleasant to live in.
And more secure to live in. The addiction to exhaustible forms of energy only empowers shady regimes where most of the oil is - to their benefit and our loss. These are the regimes that spawn terror and fund it. No country should be interested more than Israel in expanding the enlightened part of the earth and shrinking the dark part.
Meanwhile, however, Israel is making do with Yaakov Meridor's bulb-to-light-all-Ramat Gan "invention" of the 1980s and forgoing renewable energy - sun, water and wind. And the chief scientist, who sees in the green organizations signs of "fanaticism and a great deal of evil" and "insists on throwing plastic in the regular garbage bin" is revealed as a collaborator with a medieval Saudi Arabia and an Iran that is acquiring a nuclear capability.
Not everyone who denies the climate catastrophe is a right-wing nationalist. But almost all are. It will be interesting one day to explore this crazy and mysterious phenomenon, which is incomprehensible. Those who wish to explain Israel's position never have a moment's rest. First our reputations were besmirched as people who use camels and cook on barbecues, and now there is a new libel - that of the monkey and the chief scientist, which we shall likewise refute with the upright back of Homo erectus.
If Netanyahu wants peace, he knows what to do
By Yoel marcus
Following an excessively long winter hibernation, the Israeli-Palestinian track is beginning to show signs of life. U.S. mediator George Mitchell is expected to return to the region in the hope of laying the groundwork for the upcoming visit by Vice President Joe Biden, who will be in Jerusalem and Ramallah to announce the start of indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This was preceded by a decision by Arab League foreign ministers to support indirect peace talks for a period of no more than four months, at the end of which the League will decide whether to support a renewal of direct talks.
Arab foreign ministers characterized this stage as a last-ditch effort to promote the peace process as a form of dialogue with Israel. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa said that if the proximity talks reach a dead end, the Arab states will seek an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss alternate ways of ending the occupation.
The Arab League's positive contribution to peace efforts is evidenced by the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, who called on Arab leaders to reconsider their position. Hamas, like Israel's radical right, fears "the danger" that indirect talks will lead to a renewal of direct peace negotiations and, by extension, a fair and equitable partition of this land that has been torn by war between the two nations.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the decision by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, with support from the Arab League, to say yes to the American initiative. As Netanyahu noted, the proximity talks are a step back from the mechanism of direct, open negotiations that have characterized relations between the two sides since the signing of the Oslo Accords in September 1993. Netanyahu said he hoped this stage would be limited to a few months and that the two sides would eventually engage in direct talks.
The success of the indirect talks is contingent on restoring trust between the two sides and presenting realistic positions on the conflict's core issues. The Palestinian Authority must keep on restraining extremist elements, who will try to sabotage a diplomatic process. The Israeli government must abide by its commitment in the road map to completely freeze construction in the settlements. Issuing government-sanctioned tenders and permits for expanding Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem does not reconcile with improving the atmosphere and the demand to refrain from altering the status quo in the territories before a final outcome via negotiations.
During the proximity talks, the prime minister will have to present his position on the permanent border between Israel and the Palestinian state. We should hope that Netanyahu does not plan to adhere to his hard-line stance of recent months. During the Kadima government's final days, much progress was made and important understandings were reached in talks between Abbas and Ehud Olmert, as well as between Ahmed Qureia and Tzipi Livni. Any effort to restart talks from scratch, ignoring those same understandings, is a sure recipe for disaster.
As the coalition - as well as his own Likud faction - is currently constituted, Netanyahu cannot take far-reaching diplomatic steps. If Netanyahu is truly interested in carrying out "a historic move" vis-a-vis the Palestinians, as President Shimon Peres believes, he must immediately commence serious proximity talks with the Kadima leadership.
CATHOLIC FATHER AND JEWISH MOTHER BATTLE OVER TODDLER'S RELIGION
BY ANSHEL PFEFFER
Ela Reyes-Shapiro was born to Jewish parents, but at the age of three, she was baptized in a Catholic church without the knowledge or consent of her mother, Rebecca. Her religious identity became the subject of long and painful legal wrangling.
At this point, some readers might guess that Ela is now in her seventies, and was one of the thousands of children who survived the Holocaust hidden in a convent, where the nuns tried to wipe out her Jewish provenance and recreate her as a child of the blessed virgin. After the war, surviving relatives and Jewish organizations often had to wage protracted battles against the Church, which in many cases, allegedly on direct orders from Pope Pius XII, refused to relinquish custody of Jewish orphans who had been baptized.
But if you have been following recent reports in the American media, you will already know that Ela is still three, was born and lives in Chicago, and is the subject of a bizarre divorce dispute.
The basic facts are these: Rebecca Shapiro married Joseph Reyes in 2004. He converted to Judaism, and they agreed that their future children would be brought up as Jews. In 2008, they split up. Rebecca won primary custody of Ela, but Joseph had regular visitation rights. Joseph then rediscovered his Catholic roots, and Rebecca was shocked to discover last November that he had Ela baptized.
Next stop was court, where Rebecca obtained a restraining order forbidding Joseph from exposing Ela to any religion save Judaism. But Joseph decided he was on to a good thing, and he invited television crews to see him take Ela to Mass. Now Rebecca's lawyers are trying to get him sent to prison for contempt of court, while Joseph's legal team has managed to get the judge who originally issued the restraining order replaced, because he is Jewish himself. As is Joseph's lawyer, of course.
Rebecca claims that shuttling their daughter from synagogue to church will cause her emotional distress, while Joseph takes the enlightened view that Ela "should be exposed to the religions of both my wife and myself and appreciate them for what they are." Not that either estranged spouse seems to be particularly devout.
Rebecca's partisans contend that Joseph can hardly claim to be a good Catholic if he found it so easy to convert to Judaism. He is simply trying to spite his wife, they say: He even emailed her photographs of the baptism. Joseph counters that he only converted to curry favor with his in-laws, but he wasn't serious about being Jewish - and neither, he adds, is Rebecca: According to him, she never kept kosher or observed Shabbat. Thus her objection has nothing to do with religion, she is simply trying to minimize his contact with their daughter.
Much of the American media's coverage of the case has focused on the question of whether the original judge was right to order that Ela be exposed only to Judaism. In a nation that still nominally believes in separation of religion and state, can courts tell people that they may or may not attend church or temple? For obvious reasons, American Jewish leaders have refrained from making any statements on this case, but I am sure the Orthodox are saying to themselves that all this goes to prove that nothing good can ever come from mixed marriages, and that allowing all and sundry to convert to Judaism will only cause trouble.
The crux of the case ought to be the question of what is best for the child. But how can anyone even begin to argue their position with any degree of objectivity? As it is, poor Ela will probably need years of therapy to make some sense of the depth of her parents' enmity toward each other, and of how she was transformed into their religious football.
But for me, the interesting question is what influence this will have on Ela's religious decisions. As she progresses from childhood through the teenage years and into adulthood, will her mother's predominant influence cause her to see herself as one of the children of Israel, and even to take some interest in her roots? Alternatively, will the fact that Rebecca seemed intimidated by the specter of the cross - so much that she sought the court's protection against it - intrigue Ela and attract her to the forbidden church once she is old enough to make her own choices? Or will she just turn against both religions and reach the conclusion that the only real alternative is atheism?
The real issue here transcends the powers of the divorce courts, or even the debate over which parent should be allowed to determine a child's religious affiliation. The fundamental question is, what right do we have as parents to determine our children's beliefs?
Desiring one's child to walk in the footsteps of his or her ancestors is a basic parental instinct, but at no time in history has such adherence been less guaranteed. Children are swamped today with such a bewildering array of role models, lifestyle options and conflicting information that the influence wielded by parents, through the example they set at home and their choice of schooling, is greatly diminished. And this is not only a problem for children of divorced parents: The entire Jewish community worldwide is struggling with the question of how to keep another generation connected to its roots.
Last week, I wrote in this column about the ultra-Orthodox community's failure to keep its young from the influence of the Internet. Even the most closed and controlled societies are losing their power to determine the future of their younger members.
Parents have not only a legal right, but a moral obligation to point their children toward what they believe is the correct path. But they must also be pragmatists and equip their offspring with the tools to make their own choices - because in the end, they will anyway. Rebecca and Joseph have certainly failed their daughter in this.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
A.I.G., GREECE, AND WHO'S NEXT?
As Greece has tottered on the brink of fiscal chaos, threatening to drag much of Europe down with it, Wall Street's role in the fiasco has drawn well-deserved scorn.
First came the news that Greece had entered into derivatives transactions with Goldman Sachs and other banks to hide its public debt. Then came reports that some of those same banks and various hedge funds were using credit default swaps the type of derivative that kneecapped the American International Group to bet on the likelihood of a Greek default and using derivatives to wager on a drop in the euro.
European leaders have called for an inquiry into the Greek crisis. Ben Bernanke, the Federal Reserve chairman, has told Congress that the Fed is "looking into" Wall Street's deals with Greece, and the Justice Department is investigating the euro bets. That is better than turning a blind eye, but it is not nearly enough.
The bigger problem is in America, where markets are supposed to be fair and transparent. These particular and particularly complicated instruments are traded privately among banks, their clients and other investors with virtually no regulation or oversight.
The Obama administration and Congress have been talking for a year about fixing the derivatives market. Big banks have been lobbying to block change. And the longer it takes, the weaker the proposed new rules become.
Here are some of the problems that must be fixed:
NO TRANSPARENCY Derivatives are supposed to reduce and spread risk. In a credit default swap, for instance, a bond investor pays a fee to a counterparty, usually a bank, that agrees to pay the investor if the bond defaults. But because the markets in which they trade are largely unregulated, derivatives can too easily become tools for dangerous risk-taking, vast speculation and dodgy accounting.
A big part of the problem is that derivatives are traded as private one-on-one contracts. That means big profits for banks since clients can't compare offerings. Private markets also lack the rules that prevail in regulated markets like capital requirements, record keeping and disclosure that are essential for regulators and investors to monitor and control risk.
That is why it is so essential to move derivative trades onto fully transparent exchanges. The administration originally embraced that idea, with exceptions only for occasional, unique contracts. But when the Treasury proposed legislation in August, it included huge loopholes, and a derivative reform bill that passed the House in December has many of the same problems. (The Senate has yet to introduce a reform bill.)
Both the administration and the House would exclude from exchange trading the estimated $50 trillion market in foreign exchange swaps similar to the derivatives Greece used to hide its debt. The rationale for the exclusion never has been clearly explained.
The Treasury proposal and House bill also would exclude transactions that occur between big banks and many of their corporate clients from the exchange trading requirement, ostensibly because those deals are only for minimizing business risks, not for speculation or for window-dressing the books. That's debatable. But even if true, other derivatives users would almost inevitably find ways to exploit such a broad exemption.
What is clear about the exemptions is that they would help to preserve banks' profits. What is also clear is that they would defeat the goals of reform: to lower risk, increase transparency and foster efficiency.
LIMITED POWER TO STOP ABUSES When the House put out a draft of new rules in October, it sensibly gave regulators the power to ban abusive derivatives ones that are not necessarily fraudulent, but potentially damaging to the system. Derivatives investors who stand to make huge profits if a company or country defaults, for example, might try to provoke default a situation that regulators should be able to prevent. In the final House bill, however, the ban was replaced with a requirement that regulators simply report to Congress if they believe abuses are occurring.
NO STATE REGULATION, EITHER Current law also exempts unregulated derivatives from state antigambling laws. That means that states have no power to police their use for excessive speculation. Treasury and House reform proposals have called for maintaining the federal pre-emption of state antigambling laws. Pre-emption could be tolerable if derivatives were traded on fully regulated exchanges. But as long as many derivative products and transactions are exempted from fully regulated exchange trading, pre-emption of state antigambling laws is a license for, well, gambling.
The big banks claim that derivatives are used to hedge risk, not for excessive speculation. The best way to monitor that claim is to execute the transactions on fully regulated exchanges, pass rules and laws to ensure stability, and appoint and empower regulators with independence and good judgment to enforce compliance.
Without effective reform, the derivative-driven financial crisis in the United States that exploded in 2008, and the Greek debt crisis, circa 2010, will be mere way stations on the road to greater calamities.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
TRIALS AND ERROR
Congressional Republicans often say that the United States should use every legal means to combat terrorism and they are right, which makes it deeply puzzling that they want to deprive the government of the single most effective way of bringing terrorists to justice.
Congressional Republicans are trying to block the use of federal money to hold civilian criminal trials of 9/11 suspects. Spearheading this affront to justice a damaging meddling in another branch of government is Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican of South Carolina. Mr. Graham has introduced legislation to force the administration to use military commissions exclusively to try terrorism defendants. A similar bill is in the House.
In November, an effort to attach the Senate version to an appropriations bill lost by a 54-to-45 vote. The measure was supported by Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and four Democrats: Jim Webb of Virginia, Arkansas' Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor, and Maria Cantwell of Washington.
Since then, there has been no Democratic stampede to sign on to the scheme. But with Mr. Graham planning another go at it, no one can be entirely confident about the outcome least of all the White House.
The stakes for President Obama start with the need to bring the mass murderers of Sept. 11, 2001, to justice in credible proceedings in American courts. Unlike the military tribunals, courts have a proven ability to try high-profile terrorism cases with competence and fairness. More than 300 people have been convicted on terrorism-related charges in federal courts since Sept. 11. Military tribunals have convicted three, two of whom were later released.
If Mr. Obama does not stop Mr. Graham's assault on the courts and prosecutorial discretion, his ability to make national security policy will be compromised.
In a joint letter last week to House leaders, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. and Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Congress that putting restrictions on terrorism prosecutions would set an unwise precedent. "In order to protect the American people as effectively as possible," they wrote, "we must be in a position to use every lawful instrument of national power including both courts and military commissions."
The Obama administration was right to have the F.B.I. arrest and interrogate the failed Christmas Day bomber and file federal terrorism charges against him, rather than throw him in a military prison and afford him no rights. While it can be hard to differentiate between criminal and military terrorism cases, this one was easy. The suspect was arrested on United States soil and arrested for plotting to attack a civilian target.
The Justice Department also was right to plan to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other suspected organizers of the 9/11 attacks in the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan. Caving in so quickly to parochial worries and political pressure was foolish. It would be disastrous if the administration were to now give in to this effort to abandon terrorism trials in federal courts and retreat to the tribunals, which may never be able to produce a conviction that Americans can be proud of.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
A CHANCE FOR THE BLUEFIN
There finally may be a reprieve for the bluefin tuna of the Mediterranean and eastern Atlantic, which are spiraling rapidly downward toward commercial extinction. On Wednesday, the Obama administration endorsed a ban on international trade in these fish. It must use all of its influence to get the European Union and others to follow.
Delegates from 175 nations will soon meet in Doha to determine whether to restrict trade in bluefin tuna. It would take a vote of two-thirds of the members to impose a ban, and much depends on whether other major fishing nations sign on. The European Union, whose members account for much of the tuna harvest in those waters, has yet to take a formal position.
Under the international rules governing endangered species, individual nations can opt out of any agreement. Japan has already said it would ignore a ban and leave its markets open to continued imports even if the tuna are granted endangered species status. That means that for a ban to succeed, the big exporting countries will have to ensure that their fleets abide by the rules and don't sell to Japan, which consumes four-fifths of Atlantic bluefin, and other countries that keep their markets open.
There is no doubt that the species is in desperate trouble. Stocks of Atlantic and Mediterranean bluefin declined by more than 70 percent between 1957 and 2007, and by more than 60 percent in the last decade alone. Stocks in the Western Atlantic, including the United States, have stabilized but at a very low level. The decline has been driven by a growing global appetite for tuna, and by the rapid mechanization of industrial fishing, chiefly purse-seining operations that allow for the capture of entire schools of tuna at once.
Even with a ban, countries would still be allowed to fish for their own domestic consumption. In the case of the United States, a net importer of tuna, the ban is likely to lead to a rise in price. A ban can be lifted when the fish recover; while it is in effect, the fishing industry will inevitably suffer. But that's far better than waking up one day and discovering that there are no tuna left to fish.
Banning international trade in any species is a big step. The United States came to it reluctantly and only after other international bodies had failed to stop the decline. Now it has to persuade others and fashion a winning vote in Doha.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE WAL-MART HIPPIES
BY DAVID BROOKS
About 40 years ago, a social movement arose to destroy the establishment. The people we loosely call the New Left wanted to take on The Man, return power to the people, upend the elites and lead a revolution.
Today, another social movement has arisen. The people we loosely call the Tea Partiers also want to destroy the establishment. They also want to take on The Man, return power to the people, upend the elites and lead a revolution.
There are many differences between the New Left and the Tea Partiers. One was on the left, the other is on the right. One was bohemian, the other is bourgeois. One was motivated by war, and the other is motivated by runaway federal spending. One went to Woodstock, the other is more likely to go to Wal-Mart.
But the similarities are more striking than the differences. To start with, the Tea Partiers have adopted the tactics of the New Left. They go in for street theater, mass rallies, marches and extreme statements that are designed to shock polite society out of its stupor. This mimicry is no accident. Dick Armey, one of the spokesmen for the Tea Party movement, recently praised the methods of Saul Alinsky, the leading tactician of the New Left.
These days the same people who are buying Alinsky's book "Rules for Radicals" on Amazon.com are, according to the company's software, also buying books like "Liberal Fascism," "Rules for Conservative Radicals," "Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left," and "The Shadow Party: How George Soros, Hillary Clinton, and Sixties Radicals Seized Control of the Democratic Party." Those last two books were written by David Horowitz, who was a leading New Left polemicist in the 1960s and is now a leading polemicist on the right.
But the core commonality is this: Members of both movements believe in what you might call mass innocence. Both movements are built on the assumption that the people are pure and virtuous and that evil is introduced into society by corrupt elites and rotten authority structures. "Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains," is how Rousseau put it.
Because of this assumption, members of both movements go in big for conspiracy theories. The '60s left developed elaborate theories of how world history was being manipulated by shadowy corporatist/imperialist networks theories that live on in the works of Noam Chomsky. In its short life, the Tea Party movement has developed a dizzying array of conspiracy theories involving the Fed, the F.B.I., the big banks and corporations and black helicopters.
Because of this assumption, members of the Tea Party right, like the members of the New Left, spend a lot of time worrying about being co-opted. They worry that the corrupt forces of the establishment are perpetually trying to infiltrate the purity of their ranks.
Because of this assumption, members of both movements have a problem with authority. Both have a mostly negative agenda: destroy the corrupt structures; defeat the establishment. Like the New Left, the Tea Party movement has no clear set of plans for what to do beyond the golden moment of personal liberation, when the federal leviathan is brought low.
Recently a piece in Salon astutely compared Glenn Beck to Abbie Hoffman. In it, Michael Lind pointed out that the conservatives in the 1960s and 1970s built a counter-establishment a network of think tanks, activist groups, academic associations and political leaders who would form conservative cadres, promoting conservative ideas and policies.
But the Tea Partiers are closer to the New Left. They don't seek to form a counter-establishment because they don't believe in establishments or in authority structures. They believe in the spontaneous uprising of participatory democracy. They believe in mass action and the politics of barricades, not in structure and organization. As one activist put it recently on a Tea Party blog: "We reject the idea that the Tea Party Movement is 'led' by anyone other than the millions of average citizens who make it up."
For this reason, both the New Left and the Tea Party movement are radically anticonservative. Conservatism is built on the idea of original sin on the assumption of human fallibility and uncertainty. To remedy our fallen condition, conservatives believe in civilization in social structures, permanent institutions and just authorities, which embody the accumulated wisdom of the ages and structure individual longings.
That idea was rejected in the 1960s by people who put their faith in unrestrained passion and zealotry. The New Left then, like the Tea Partiers now, had a legitimate point about the failure of the ruling class. But they ruined it through their own imprudence, self-righteousness and naïve radicalism. The Tea Partiers will not take over the G.O.P., but it seems as though the '60s political style will always be with us first on the left, now the right.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
SENATOR BUNNING'S UNIVERSE
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
So the Bunning blockade is over. For days, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky exploited Senate rules to block a one-month extension of unemployment benefits. In the end, he gave in, although not soon enough to prevent an interruption of payments to around 100,000 workers.
But while the blockade is over, its lessons remain. Some of those lessons involve the spectacular dysfunctionality of the Senate. What I want to focus on right now, however, is the incredible gap that has opened up between the parties. Today, Democrats and Republicans live in different universes, both intellectually and morally.
Take the question of helping the unemployed in the middle of a deep slump. What Democrats believe is what textbook economics says: that when the economy is deeply depressed, extending unemployment benefits not only helps those in need, it also reduces unemployment. That's because the economy's problem right now is lack of sufficient demand, and cash-strapped unemployed workers are likely to spend their benefits. In fact, the Congressional Budget Office says that aid to the unemployed is one of the most effective forms of economic stimulus, as measured by jobs created per dollar of outlay.
But that's not how Republicans see it. Here's what Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the second-ranking Republican in the Senate, had to say when defending Mr. Bunning's position (although not joining his blockade): unemployment relief "doesn't create new jobs. In fact, if anything, continuing to pay people unemployment compensation is a disincentive for them to seek new work."
In Mr. Kyl's view, then, what we really need to worry about right now with more than five unemployed workers for every job opening, and long-term unemployment at its highest level since the Great Depression is whether we're reducing the incentive of the unemployed to find jobs. To me, that's a bizarre point of view but then, I don't live in Mr. Kyl's universe.
And the difference between the two universes isn't just intellectual, it's also moral.
Bill Clinton famously told a suffering constituent, "I feel your pain." But the thing is, he did and does while many other politicians clearly don't. Or perhaps it would be fairer to say that the parties feel the pain of different people.
During the debate over unemployment benefits, Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat of Oregon, made a plea for action on behalf of those in need. In response, Mr. Bunning blurted out an expletive. That was undignified but not that different, in substance, from the position of leading Republicans.
Consider, in particular, the position that Mr. Kyl has taken on a proposed bill that would extend unemployment benefits and health insurance subsidies for the jobless for the rest of the year. Republicans will block that bill, said Mr. Kyl, unless they get a "path forward fairly soon" on the estate tax.
Now, the House has already passed a bill that, by exempting the assets of couples up to $7 million, would leave 99.75 percent of estates tax-free. But that doesn't seem to be enough for Mr. Kyl; he's willing to hold up desperately needed aid to the unemployed on behalf of the remaining 0.25 percent. That's a very clear statement of priorities.
So, as I said, the parties now live in different universes, both intellectually and morally. We can ask how that happened; there, too, the parties live in different worlds. Republicans would say that it's because Democrats have moved sharply left: a Republican National Committee fund-raising plan acquired by Politico suggests motivating donors by promising to "save the country from trending toward socialism." I'd say that it's because Republicans have moved hard to the right, furiously rejecting ideas they used to support. Indeed, the Obama health care plan strongly resembles past G.O.P. plans. But again, I don't live in their universe.
More important, however, what are the implications of this total divergence in views?
The answer, of course, is that bipartisanship is now a foolish dream. How can the parties agree on policy when they have utterly different visions of how the economy works, when one party feels for the unemployed, while the other weeps over affluent victims of the "death tax"?
Which brings us to the central political issue right now: health care reform. If Congress enacts reform in the next few weeks and the odds are growing that it will it will do so without any Republican votes. Some people will decry this, insisting that President Obama should have tried harder to gain bipartisan support. But that isn't going to happen, on health care or anything else, for years to come.
Someday, somehow, we as a nation will once again find ourselves living on the same planet. But for now, we aren't. And that's just the way it is.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL, DON'T CHANGE
BY MERRILL A. MCPEAK
LAKE OSWEGO, ORE.
THE chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, favors repeal of "don't ask, don't tell," the nickname for the policy regulating military service by homosexuals. "I cannot escape being troubled by the fact that we have in place a policy which forces young men and women to lie about who they are in order to defend their fellow citizens," he told the Senate last month.
I was one of the service chiefs when the "don't ask, don't tell" compromise was reached in 1993. Until then, every person coming into the military was asked questions directed at establishing sexual orientation, and admitted homosexuals were automatically rejected. Thus the "don't ask" part of the rule actually means gays no longer have to lie.
In return, the services insisted that homosexuals serving in uniform stay closeted. No doubt this is what bothers Admiral Mullen, as it obliges homosexuals to "live a lie," if not actually tell one. But this part of the formula was not about individuals. It aimed to protect the institutional integrity of the services, which have no higher responsibility than to organize, train and equip formations that are effective on the battlefield. Seventeen years ago, the chiefs all four of us, plus the chairman and vice chairman concluded that allowing open homosexuality in the ranks would probably damage the cohesiveness of our combat units.
A lot more heat than light was produced in the 1993 debate. What passed for dialogue then was often strident and uninformed, each side denouncing motives rather than examining convictions. Even though, as Colin Powell observed recently, the world has "changed" some in the intervening years, I doubt that we'll have a more enlightened public discussion in 2010.
If one is to occur, it should start with the question, "What are armed forces for?" Assuming the services exist to fight and win wars, those seeking fundamental change in the composition of combat units carry a special burden of proof.
Perhaps young American men and women will fight better when openly gay soldiers are included in the ranks, though I've heard no one make this claim. Instead, advocates for gays in the service have by and large avoided a discussion of unit cohesion, relying instead on arguments falling into three categories: training costs, civil rights and individual performance.
First, they say, many otherwise proficient servicemen and women are tossed out only because of an inability or unwillingness to stay closeted. As the services keep track of what it costs to train somebody in a specific skill, the price tag, we are told, can be calculated simply by multiplying the number of service members ejected by the cost of training a replacement.
But this is the wrong way to reckon cost. Each service maintains a multibillion-dollar training system: bases, classrooms, instructors and so forth. This is necessary because of the substantial turnover as service members return to civilian life. The size and cost of the training system is influenced over time by economic factors like pay and benefits or employment opportunities in the civilian sector. In recent years the services have been able to make sizable cuts in training infrastructure because of better retention in an all-volunteer, more professional force.
Nonetheless, these large-scale factors swamp the question of marginal training cost. In the early 1990s, as we thought through the implications of "don't ask, don't tell," I worked out the numbers for the Air Force. During the previous decade, we'd put about 800,000 people through basic and advanced training programs, at a cost of about $30 billion. The money we expended on training 3,000 people who were eventually removed on account of homosexuality was minuscule by comparison. (During the same decade, we forced out 15 times as many people for failure to meet Air Force weight standards, with no one objecting to the cost.)
As one might guess, most homosexuality "separations," as they are called in the Air Force, occurred in the first few weeks of basic training, before the more costly technical training began. And many of these removals would have occurred in any case, since they were the result of unacceptable conduct and not just a declaration of sexual orientation. In any case, it would have made no material difference in Air Force training costs if we had retained all 3,000 people.
The second major argument for allowing openly gay service is that it's a matter of civil rights, akin to racial integration. This view must rest on the notion that serving in the armed forces is a job like any other, and therefore civilian anti-discrimination laws should apply. While it may seem hopelessly idealistic, my view is that serving in uniform amounts to a calling, different in many ways from other jobs. (One of the ways is that your employer can order you to risk your life.)
But let's limit ourselves to practical considerations. The services exclude, without challenge, many categories of prospective entrants. People cannot serve in uniform if they are too old or too young, too fat or too thin, too tall or too short, disabled, not sufficiently educated and so on. This, too, might be illegal in the civil sector. So why should exclusion of gay people rise to the status of a civil-rights issue, when denying entry to, say, unmarried individuals with sole custody of dependents under 18, does not?
There is also some misunderstanding about President Harry Truman's executive order of 1948, calling for equality in the armed forces, which is often cited as a model that President Obama should follow. No doubt Truman's action was a landmark in the civil rights struggle. However, the order was not actually sufficient inducement for the armed forces to do the right thing.
At the time, the Air Force had prepared itself for racial integration and its leadership pushed hard to make it work. As a consequence, the integration of blacks in the Air Force is one of the great success stories of the civil rights movement.
The Army and Navy, however, were models of passive resistance. The Air Force had nearly completed integration before the Army really started. Technically, Truman's order made no reference to ending segregation, speaking only of equality of opportunity and treatment regardless of "race, color, religion or national origin." And the Army, at first, argued it was in full compliance. Its subsequent integration was largely forced on it by combat losses in all-white units during the first months of the Korean War. The Navy continued much of its policy of tokenism into the 1960s, with a black steward corps still waiting tables 10 years after the executive order.
Harry Truman did not simply pass his hand over the Pentagon and bring about racial justice. Only after the leaders of each service committed their institutions did we make real progress.
Thus allowing an openly gay presence in ranks will be very difficult until we have committed leadership for it. I certainly had trouble figuring out how to provide such leadership in 1993. While I believed all people are created equal, I did not believe such equality extended to all ideas or all cultures. And since I didn't know how to advocate the assimilation of this particular form of diversity, I saw no way to prevent it from undermining unit cohesion.
LAST, and most frequently heard, is the seemingly businesslike argument that what's important is an individual's performance. Hundreds of service members are mustered out annually for failing to stay closeted, regardless of job performance. Indeed, we seem to have here an odd exception to the American idea that people should be judged by their actions rather than their makeup.
But it would be a serious mistake to imagine that personal performance is what matters in combat. Combat is not a contest between individuals, like poker or tennis; it is a team event whose success depends on group cooperation and morale. So the behavior that concerns us is not individual achievement but the social dynamics of relationships and groups. The issue is whether and how the presence of openly declared homosexuals in the ranks affects the solidarity of the unit.
We have already seen the fault lines form in the current debate: the individual service chiefs have expressed reservations about Admiral Mullen's views. This lack of cohesion will likely make the Joint Chiefs less effective in the latest round of this debate.
Armies have to care about what succeeds in war. Sometimes they win or lose because of material factors, because one side has the greater numbers or better equipment. But armies are sure to lose if they pay no attention to the ideas that succeed in battle. Unit cohesion is one such idea. We know, or ought to, that warriors are inspired by male bonding, by comradeship, by the knowledge that they survive only through relying on each other. To undermine cohesion is to endanger everyone.
I know some will see these ingredients of the military lifestyle as a sort of absurd, tough-guy game played by overgrown boys. But to prepare warriors for a life of hardship, the military must remain a kind of adventure, apart from the civilian world and full of strange customs. To be a fighter pilot or a paratrooper or a submariner is to join a self-contained, resolutely idealistic society, largely unnoticed and surprisingly uncorrupted by the world at large.
I do not see how permitting open homosexuality in these communities enhances their prospects of success in battle. Indeed, I believe repealing "don't ask, don't tell" will weaken the warrior culture at a time when we have a fight on our hands.
Merrill A. McPeak was the Air Force chief of staff from 1990 to 1994.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
ZEROING IN ON NOTHING
BY MICHELE A. BERDY
Пахнет весной! (Spring is in the air!). Spring is also, alas, in the danger zone of courtyards. With the temperatures hovering around freezing, during the day my courtyard is filled with slush up to my ankles, but at night it's a skating rink. It's also a falling-icicle zone. I'm considering accessorizing my winter wear with cleated rubber boots, knee pads and my bicycle helmet.
Meanwhile, thinking about temperatures at the freezing point reminds me that I have never really grasped the difference between нуль and ноль (zero). Here dictionaries aren't much help. Most of them tell you that the two variants are равноправные (the same; literally, "enjoy the same rights"). This good news is immediately contradicted by dozens of other dictionaries and specialists, who insist that ноль refers to the representation of the concept of zero the numeral "0" and нуль refers to the actual concept of zero. This theory made me very depressed since the likelihood of me being able to distinguish between the physical representation and the actual concept of zero in a split second of speech is на нуле. Or на ноле. Whatever.
But then I found a more authoritative explanation. It's just a matter of usage: Some zero expressions use нуль, some use ноль, and the rest can be either.
The ноль expressions are pretty easy to remember since you hear them all the time. The first is a time expression: ноль-ноль, which is when the minute hand of the clock is exactly at "12." Мой поезд уходит в пятнадцать ноль-ноль (My train leaves at 3 p.m. on the dot; literally, "fifteen hundred hours"). The second is the expression ноль внимания (zero attention). Собака не лает, не кусается, и на кошек ноль внимания (The dog doesn't bark, doesn't bite and doesn't pay any attention to cats at all). This can be intensified: ноль внимания, фунт презрения (literally, "zero attention and a pound of disdain"). Она на него ноль внимания, фунт презрения (She treated him like he didn't even exist).
The third is the curious expression ноль без палочки (literally, "zero without a stick"). It is apparently derived from a description of the numeral "10" as ноль с палочкой (zero with a stick) and is a kind of intensified zero a big fat zero, a total dud. Борис чувствовал, что он для неё ноль без палочки. (Boris could tell that she thought he was a total cipher). And then there is два ноля (literally, "two zeros") a crude way to refer to a toilet.
Although the dictionaries don't insist, most people seem to use ноль in sports scores: Они выиграли со счётом три-ноль (They won 3-0).Most of the нуль expressions have to do with movement toward or from zero. Надо начать с нуля (We have to start from scratch; literally, "from nothing"). Страна пообещала свести к нулю выбросы парниковых газов (The country pledged to totally eliminate greenhouse gases). Его влияние на войска и на народ оказалось равным нулю (His influence on the troops and population turned out to be nonexistent; literally, "equal to zero"). Нуль is also used for temperatures: В Москве два градуса ниже нуля, пасмурно (In Moscow, it's overcast and two degrees below zero). And if you men want the thug-skinhead look, ask for a стрижка под нуль (literally, "a haircut down to nothing"). If you don't like it, I'll lend you my bicycle helmet until it grows out.
Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.
THE MOSCOW TIMES
BY MICHAEL BOHM
Russia's new military doctrine offers a tried-and-true bogeyman missile defense, which is listed as the country's fourth-greatest external military danger. According to the doctrine, strategic missile defense will "undermine global stability and destroy the balance of power in the nuclear missile sphere."
Whatever happened to the bold statements made between 2004 and 2007 by then-President Vladimir Putin, then-Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and leading generals that Russia's new generation of intercontinental ballistic missiles were "capable of penetrating any existing or future missile defense systems"? With such confidence in its offensive capabilities, it is odd that Russia has ranked missile defense as its No. 4 Danger.
Apart from this silver bullet, many people thought the Kremlin's concern over missile defense was put to rest when U.S. President Barack Obama in September canceled plans to deploy elements of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Now, however, Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov says Obama's alternative SM-3 interceptors to be deployed in the Black Sea territorial waters of Romania and possibly Bulgaria in 2015 is "just as bad or even worse." This criticism is bizarre considering that a year ago the Kremlin itself suggested these countries as an alternative to Central Europe.
How could these SM-3s possibly pose a danger to Russia's security? With a range of only 500 kilometers with plans to upgrade them to a maximum 1,000 kilometers by 2020 to reach Iranian midrange missiles in flight the few dozen SM-3s planned for Romania or Bulgaria clearly cannot reach Russia's ground-based nuclear weapons that are located thousands of kilometers away.
But Russia need not worry in any case. It takes roughly 10 interceptors to shoot down a single advanced missile and this is only in the best of circumstances. To come even close to weakening Russia's nuclear missile capabilities, the United States would have to place thousands of interceptors along the direct flight trajectory between Russia and the United States perhaps in Greenland and add thousands more interceptors to its installations in Alaska and California, which now number about 40 interceptors in total. Regardless of who is president, the U.S. House of Representatives would never approve the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to build such a massive missile defense system for the simple reason that the United States doesn't view Russia as an enemy. The Cold War is long over.
What the United States is truly concerned about, however, is a single missile attack from a rogue country. This is why U.S. long-term strategic defense plans call for a global network of limited missile defense installations. But even at the height of this project, the number of interceptors would be too small and the locations would be too far removed from a Russia-U.S. missile trajectory to in any way weaken Russia's strategic nuclear forces, undermine the country's nuclear deterrence or destroy the nuclear balance of power.
If Danger No. 4 of the military doctrine is referring to a mythical U.S. "global nuclear shield" that would give the United States the ability to launch a nuclear first strike against Russia while being 100 percent protected against a retaliatory strike, this would be even more absurd. The Kremlin should remember U.S. President Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" program in the 1980s. It turned out to be the bluff of the century, and it is just as much science fiction today as it was then.
During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had parity with the United States as a superpower and was able to project its power all over the world. Now Moscow has trouble projecting its power even in the Commonwealth of Independent States. But one way it can still project its strength globally and particularly vis-a-vis the United States is to be the spoiler in international affairs, a modern-day version of "Mr. Nyet."
Missile defense has become a great excuse for Russia to say "Nyet!" at every opportunity. The paradox is that while Russia disingenuously claims that U.S. missile defense undermines its security, it is precisely the absence of a nationwide missile defense system in Russia that undermines its security. The country is particularly vulnerable in the North Caucasus and Southern Federal districts and along its long border with China.
NATO and the United States have offered many times to build a limited joint missile defense with Moscow to protect against individual rogue nations that are located much closer to Russia and pose a threat to Russia no less than they do to the United States. The latest proposal for joint missile defense was put forward by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Feb. 23. But the Kremlin has no other choice but to say "Nyet" to these offers because it has driven itself into a corner. In cannot cooperate with the United States or NATO on missile defense when its firm, official position is that it will be used against Russia.
Although the Kremlin's stubborn position could simply be a banal negotiation tactic to gain key U.S. concessions, it could also be meant to spoil or, at the very least, stall a follow-up treaty to START, which expired Dec. 5. For the past three months, senior U.S. and Russian officials have been making optimistic statements that a final deal is just weeks away, but each time last-minute snags prevent the agreement from being signed.
The Kremlin's position could also be intended to snarl Obama's larger global nuclear disarmament agenda including the Global Nuclear Security Summit in April, which Obama will host in Washington, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference in May in New York. The Kremlin's goal is clearly not to derail the two conferences since they are too important for global security but to simply make life difficult for Obama, who badly needs the START follow-up signed by both sides as soon as possible and well before the two conferences begin.
Impeding the START follow-up is also a paradox because reducing nuclear weapons is just as advantageous to Russia as it is to the United States. As long as there is nuclear parity between the two countries, any nuclear warheads exceeding roughly 1,000 are an unnecessary economic burden for both countries especially for Russia and don't add any additional value in terms of deterrence. Nonetheless, when asked by a reporter Dec. 29 in Vladivostok what the biggest problem was in the negotiations, Putin said, "The problem is that our American partners are building an anti-missile shield and we are not."
Missile defense is like Russia's "Fairy Tale About the Little White Bull," in which the same phrase is stubbornly repeated over and over again. In the real world, it is: "U.S. missile defense threatens Russian national security" regardless of where it is deployed and its limited capacity.
As the antipode of former U.S. President George W. Bush, Obama has taken a diametrically opposite approach to Russia, and his "reset" program offers a real chance to improve U.S.-Russian relations. But it takes two to reset.
The Kremlin's spoiler role on missile defense and other issues shows that it is determined to foil the reset. Russia's liberal opposition leaders love to compare Russia to a restless teenager whose petty "hooliganism" in global politics is meant to remind the United States that it still exists as an international player and that key global issues cannot be resolved without Russia's participation and consent.
Although the analogy could be dismissed as typical bile from the opposition, there is a positive side: In December, the Russian Federation turned 18, which means that in only two years Russia won't be a "teenager" anymore in any case. This could be exactly what is needed to reset relations.
Michael Bohm is opinion page editor of The Moscow Times.
******************************************************************************************I. THE NEWS
It is rather hypocritical that the footage of policemen in Chiniot flogging five denuded suspects has created such an outcry. Senior police officials have reacted by stating that the guilty cops will face trial, the men are already behind bars at the Jhang district jail following orders from the Punjab chief minister, and the provincial law minister has said that they will be dismissed from the police force. But surely each of these persons is well aware that such torture is endemic. It takes place across the country, many times a day. Only very rarely are the perpetrators questioned or punished in any way. As we all know, our police force is not particularly skilled in conducting investigations into crime on any lines of science or technique. Most often, beating 'confessions' out of people is the only means they use to 'solve' cases of robbery, theft or other crimes. We must then ask why the police bosses and the government have reacted only now. There are indeed questions hanging over the action taken against the men caught on camera. True, their imprisonment sets a precedent and may, for a short time at least, act as a deterrent to others. But, unless more sweeping reform of the police setup takes place, there will be no lasting impact at all. Within weeks, if not days, the same practices will become just as common as before. Perhaps a more diligent search for secret cameras will take place beforehand! In this case too, as in the previous ones, we have seen also a failure to penalise senior police officials, who should be held responsible for the actions of their subordinates. This too adds to the risk of further violations.
It seems quite obvious that what we are witnessing, once more, is the power of the electronic media. In this age of the camera and its availability on mobile phones it is becoming harder to get away with many kinds of offences. But to bring a practice such as torture to anything resembling an end, we need far greater commitment behind any measures taken. Cosmetic action, intended to reduce media pressure and embarrassment, cannot serve any long-term purpose. What we need is diligent enforcement of rules and laws that bar the use of torture. This needs to be backed by a re-education of our police force, starting with officials at the top. Only when they are willing to issue orders against routine practices used in lockups can there be any real change in the grotesque acts of police violence that take place on a regular basis.
I. THE NEWS
NADRA UNDER FIRE
The National Database and Registration Authority has been under fire since the discovery of a computerised Pakistani identity card in the possession of Jundollah leader Abdulmalek Rigi, recently captured by Iranian authorities. Following the telecast of images of the document, the interior ministry has issued a statement insisting that the card is a fake. We must hope that it is not forced to take back its words. This would only make the situation a still more awkward one for Pakistan which has scoffed at Iranian claims of protecting Jundollah figures. However, there are already doubts over the veracity of the interior ministry's comments. In the first place, that ministry in particular has very little credibility. Secondly, one newspaper at least has already found that the card number comes up as authentic when checked using a simple NADRA protocol. The fact of the matter is that while it may be harder today to obtain a falsified card than it was in the days before computers and other machines, it is still far from impossible. After all the data is punched into these devices by human operators based at the various offices run by NADRA. It is impossible to believe that these persons are completely impossible to bribe or to simply deceive. Biometric evidence, collected since 2005, may have made it harder to fake identity, but there are still ways of doing so. Islamabad must focus on plugging these loopholes. Some reports state that thousands of fake ID cards are in the hands of foreign nationals. It is important that these be tracked down so that we do not face further embarrassment over the sensitive issue of terrorism.
I. THE NEWS
ROUND AND ROUND
It would appear that we are doing something right for a change at least according to Ambassador Holbrooke who is never short of an opinion on the state of Pakistan. It would appear, according to a recent briefing by him in Washington, that the extremism problem is less of a worry to the Americans than are our economic and power problems. Uncle Sam has just paid us $349 million in Coalition Support Fund, part of about $2 billion Islamabad is trying to get reimbursed; but sadly none of this will feed through to tackle the eternal problem of circular debt that bedevils the power sector generally. Currently, the fuel stocks of the Hub Power Company have dwindled to a tiny 3-5,000 metric tonnes of fuel oil against a mandatory requirement of 120,000 metric tonnes. The reason? WAPDA has not paid the Rs52 billion that it owes HUBCO which means that HUBCO has not got enough cash in the kitty to buy the oil it needs to generate the power that WAPDA (in theory) distributes.
Inter-corporate debt now places HUBCO, which has infrastructure assets of $1.5 billion, in a perilous position. It is the country's largest independent power supplier, but if WAPDA does not pay for the power it has agreed to purchase then HUBCO in its turn is unable to meet the demands for payment of its suppliers. Apparently, WAPDA has been sitting on Rs52 billion which it owed to HUBCO, the consequence being that HUBCO was not in a position to clear its debt of Rs36.6 billion which it owed to the PSO which had unsurprisingly suspended oil supplies. WAPDA has now dug deep and paid HUBCO Rs1 billion which has been immediately transferred to the PSO as part payment and we may hope that the generators will continue to run. Ambassador Holbrooke is right we are making inroads on the terrorism problem. There is a greater sense that we are no longer losing the fight and may just be winning some of it. But there is little point in winning the battle against extremism if the economy falls in ruins and the nation sits in darkness. So pay up, WAPDA after all, is it not you who exhorts the consumer to pay their bills in a timely manner? Take a leaf from your own book, for once.
I. THE NEWS
STAR-GAZING -- FOR WHAT IT IS WORTH
As I have had occasion to mention before, Islamabad since its birth has been a city dedicated to nothing so much as intrigue and conspiracy. It has always been a dead city. But without the grist to its mills provided by conspiracy it would be deader still.
And March, no doubt because of the influence of Shakespeare's Julius Caesar -- the one Shakespearean play most educated Pakistanis seem to have read -- has a strange influence on the Pakistani mood. Ever since I entered the hallowed portals of journalism -- and this was a good thirty years ago -- I have seen March bringing forth its regular crop of stories about upheavals in the halls of government.
So it is this year, with any number of dedicated weathermen foretelling storm and thunder, and the twilight of this or that god, in the days that remain before 'cruel' April comes along -- which in turn will give rise to more theories and the setting of more precious deadlines.
Eliot is another poet the educated Pakistani is familiar with, if only in brief and in passing. And it is his line -- April is the cruellest month -- which has a sharp impact on all veterans of the conspiracy trail. If March looks to be exciting, wait for the first week of April.
If conspiracy theories were our only headache it would be no great matter. Conspiracies are born and they die. But the lawyers' movement and the subsequent rise of a judiciary assailed by intimations of greatness -- I don't know how else to put it -- have given rise to the birth of a warrior class in the media whose swordsmen flatter themselves that it was they who got rid of Musharraf and they who, in tandem with the lawyers, installed and reinstalled their lordships on their exalted chairs of justice.
This is a narrative of self-assertion -- history not so much written, much less revised, as history entirely self-invented. From this embellished account of the past, in which the fable-writers are the self-appointed heroes and the knights in shining armour, arises the conviction that those writing these tales are invested with the authority to lay down the parameters of the good and the bad. If there's one thing we have been surplus in, it is self-righteousness. Now comes this added dimension. Not one amongst these knights would be elected a councillor in a local election. This does not stop them from thinking they must have the last word on how to run the Republic.
Adding to the pain-in-the-neck feeling is a total absence of a sense of humour. These reformers do not take themselves lightly. My sneaking suspicion is that if they had the power they would be little different from Muslim Khan of Swat or the other icons of the true path now scattered by the army's advance.
Last September was set as the hour of the system's demise by these cheerleaders of doom. After President Asif Ali Zardari sacrificed a few more black rams -- I joke not -- to ward off the evil eye, the deadline was pushed to October, then November. Winter was a winter of discontent for this crowd because the object of its affections, the President, just wouldn't go away. Now the alarm clocks are set for March when much is expected to happen -- bruising arguments over Swiss cases, a package of constitutional amendments, and, arising from these, fresh tensions between the executive and judiciary.
My take -- and let there be egg on my face if I am out of sync with the prevailing winds-- is more akin to what the great Faiz Ahmed Faiz once said about the state of the republic when asked as to what was likely to happen. Nothing much, he said. At least this line has the merit of mirroring the condition of the Pakistani soul. We yearn for things to be different. But we lack the capacity, or the will, to make this happen. Which makes us the children of the status quo, from whom it is foolish to expect any mad rush to the barricades.
In fact taking to the barricades is no longer an option in Pakistan. The working class is dead, all signs of life fled from its care-worn battalions. Pakistan's students, the mass of them, are confused or they are under the sway of the student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba. Indeed, being confused and under the influence of the Jamiat amount to much the same thing. When the obituary of Pakistani education is written -- and it shouldn't be long before this task comes to the fore -- the role of the Jamaat/Jamiat in bringing education to its knees should figure in a big way.
Those centres of education, like LUMS, which have some traces of idealism in them are too small to matter. What matters are the fortresses of reaction, such as the Punjab University and what was once such an open place, the Quaid-e-Azam University. And they, sadly, will not be taken out or reduced short of something like the army's current manoeuvres in the tribal areas.
Thus, the only change possible in Pakistan is through palace intrigue or army movement (the two of course closely connected). But even palace intrigue requires a measure of audacity and, I suspect, that despite the revival of army confidence because of the success of its arms in Swat and Waziristan, the army's hands are so full, and therefore tied, because of its military commitments, that the space which has traditionally permitted it, in fact encouraged it, to dream dreams of ambition and political glory is very restricted.
The desire for adventurism may be there and today's generals would scarcely be mortal if the thought did not flit through their minds occasionally -- occasionally? -- that the politicians were again making a mess of things and the country would be better served if the army were to step in. But the circumstances are not propitious for fleshing out such thoughts.
The times are hard for the country. They are also hard for the army. And as our relationship today with the United States is more physical than anything else -- thanks to the Afghan conflict we are locked arm-in-arm as never before -- external sensibilities become a factor in domestic calculations like never before. Given the record of military rule in Pakistan, the Americans would have to be out of their minds to encourage or even countenance any notions of Bonapartism.
This leaves, to use a shorthand phrase, judicial activism. Their lordships are expanding the sphere of their influence but whether this leads to the kind of structure-threatening clash some of the media are talking about, and indeed eagerly expecting, is a matter of speculation.
It doesn't help matters of course that we have a President on whose flak jacket every barb sticks, such is the reputation he carries. Ronald Reagan was called the Teflon president because nothing would stick to him. Here we have the opposite phenomenon. And it's not just a matter of sticking. The President carries heavy baggage. There's nothing make-believe about that.
But March may just bring about the miracle which can stabilise things. If the 17th Amendment goes, and the President not only bids farewell to his extraordinary powers but has the good sense to willingly acquiesce in this diminution of authority, he becomes a Rafiq Tarar or Fazal Ellahi Ch. If this were to happen -- meaning thereby, that if the government has the collective wisdom to bring this about -- the storm clouds abate and the focus shifts from the Presidency to the government and Parliament, as it should. In other words, the nature of the debate at once changes.
This will be bad news for the media warriors who are virtually frothing at the mouth about corruption and national cleansing. But it will be good news for Parliament and democracy. The political class will still face the challenge of improving its performance and getting down to the brass tacks of addressing the economic crisis. But that's another story.
I. THE NEWS
A KITE-LESS BASANT?
AHMAD RAFAY ALAM
Recently, I heard an advertisement for a Basant festival being organised in Lahore. Visitors to the festival were going to have the option to enjoy sheesha and other forms of entertainment. Meanwhile, the Parks and Horticulture Authority is going ahead with a full itinerary of events to celebrate the jashan-e-baharan. Of course, kite flying is prohibited, and so it is possible to think of this year's Basant festival/jashn-e-baharan events in a new light.
Basant is, of course, a cultural festival to welcome in the spring season. It was celebrated by wearing bright colours and flying kites as early as the 12th century when it was brought to Lahore from Delhi by the poet Amir Khusro. Lahore being an entirely walled city, more or less, until the British showed up in the middle of the 19th century, Basant was celebrated within the city's walls, on the rooftops of homes.
Basant remained very much a tradition of the Walled City during most of the 20th century. Even as late as the 1980s, Basant was a private affair; something celebrated with great fervour and passion predominantly by the residents of the city. It was this passion that lured suburban Lahoris to the Walled City to participate in the atmosphere and to soak up the history of the city so glaringly missing in those suburbs.
In the 1990s, Basant's popularity grew and the festival began to attract visitors from other cities of the country. This was also the time, however, when the first few objections to the festival were made. The first was that Basant was, somehow, a Hindu festival at odds with the Islamic traditions of Pakistan. The second was that Basant caused a loss to the national exchequer because kite-strings often short-circuited LESCO's ageing transformers.
These challenges were sometimes litigated upon. Our own Guinness Record Holder for most number of cases ever filed, the late M.D. Tahir, made it a point to file a writ challenging, on one point or the other, the government's decision to "celebrate" Basant. None of these cases got anywhere, though in one, Justice Aqil Mirza observed that Basant was welded to the soil of Lahore.
By this time, Basant had become a major event in the city's calendar. It was attracting tens of thousands of tourists a year, generating millions of rupees in income for as many as a hundred thousand people. Also, by this time the city of Lahore had burst forward from the confines of the Walled City, grown by leaps and bounds beyond the English "Donald Town" of Krishinagar, Sanda and Mall Road, connected with the far-flung Model Town via Gulberg, Garden and Muslim Town and scaled past the University of Punjab's New Campus and the small villages of Charrar and Amir Sidhu (where the present DHA is located). By this time, cracks in the city's infrastructure and ability to deal with Basant had begun to appear.
When a city's infrastructure starts to crumble, that's when people start to get hurt. More and more stories began to appear of people dying due to "Basant-related activities". Some would fall from rooftops not properly secured with parapets. Others would be killed carelessly crossing streets because they didn't have neighbourhood parks to play in. These tragic incidents would get plenty of space in the print media and the fledgling electronic media of the time, but it wasn't until a new type of kite-string, a metal string coated with shards of glass, appeared on the scene that Basant faced a challenge it could not answer.
The provincial government of Pervaiz Elahi and the District Government of Amir Mahmood made a full attempt to "nationalise" Basant by making the kite flying event a centrepiece of their jashn-e-baharan programme. Those were the days of Pervaiz Musharraf's enlightened Pakistan, and Basant was very much a part of the "soft image" that was being peddlled. However, they could not overcome the sad fact that every time the festival took place, metalled kite-string would take its toll on human life. The chief justice of Pakistan took notice of the matter and directed the government of Punjab to do something about it. The court was not moved by arguments put forward by the then Attorney General Malik Muhammad Qayyum that banning the festival would harm the economy of the city.
The government of Punjab then passed a series of legislation, the latest of which prohibits kite flying unless the permission is granted by the relevant authorities. Basant as a kite flying festival was killed by these legislation, as no elected government would like to be on record as giving permission to kite flying in case the blood of even one innocent is deemed to be on its hands.
While it's simple to put all of this into a box titled "Basant Kills People" and file it away somewhere, consider the fact that this centuries-old cultural festival has come to an end in the rather short period of a decade and a half. Consider that, in many ways, this festival was doomed to one bleak end or the other on account of another, often overlooked, factor: the suburbanisation of Lahore.
The entire point and pleasure of Basant was the electric atmosphere of the Walled City on a crisp spring evening and afternoon. Such an atmosphere simply can't be recreated on a rooftop of a house in a private housing scheme. The children growing up confined to their houses and without proper recreational space have no link with the pleasure of flying a kite, and no sympathy to the loss of a cultural festival like Basant. Basant has gone the way of the Pak-Tea House: the new city of Lahore suburban, crowded and automobile dependent simply has no place for it.
However, the fact that one can't fly a kite can't stop one from enjoying the great weather. So be prepared, in the upcoming years, to see changes in the way Basant is celebrated. The advertisement I heard on FM radio was promoting Basant as a sort of a day out. That's exactly what jashn-e-baharan is as well. The new Basant will remain a festival to call in spring, but it will be celebrated by participating in the other great aspect of the festival: public recreation. This, too, is crucially important for the sprawling city of Lahore. It gives its residents something they can connect to each other with. The novelty of kite flying may give way to kite flying exhibitions organised under the tight scrutiny of the local administration. It may become another one of the things that Lahore gives up. The loss of kite flying is sad, but it is part of the changes our uncontrollably growing cities are making on our lives.
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
DEFENDING THE INDEFENSIBLE
Conventional wisdom dictates that whereas it might be in the interest of opposition parties to promote conflict and controversy to destabilise incumbent administrations, governments go out of their way to diffuse tensions and conflagration, even in times of great upheaval and turmoil, to present a veneer of calm and stability, if for no other reason then for their own survival. But, under the Zardari administration, where neither convention nor wisdom applies, the situation has been strangely reversed: the PML-N is preaching restraint to preserve the status quo while the government, and particularly Zardari himself, is itching to wage unnecessary foolish battles that are chipping away at the foundations of the system, inching the country towards chaos. If the currency of democracy and rule of law has lost all its value to the extent that the institutions meant to safeguard the system of representative and responsible rule can be undermined with such impunity, then is there no one to explain to Zardari that, regardless of the fate that might befall the nation, he himself is liable to become a victim of his own reckless manoeuvers?
Quite often, it becomes not only unavoidable but essential to pick a fight. But two fundamental principles apply: firstly, be on the right side to serve national interests to win public sympathy and support and, secondly, do not pick fights you cannot reasonably expect to win. And if you lose, have enough honour and integrity to admit your failure and step aside. This government continues to plod along in the quagmire of its own follies that are pushing the country to the very edge of chaos and then periodically retreats with a mere "oops!" without accepting responsibility for the harm done.
If this government must pick a fight, then why did it not pick a fight with Musharraf? Here was a man guilty of not only destroying all traces of honesty in politics, but running roughshod over the constitution for eight long years, causing immeasurable harm. The American journalist Ron Suskind in his book 'The Way of the World' claims to be in possession of audio tape recordings of telephone conversations between Musharraf and Benazir, in which Musharraf issued a thinly veiled threat that her security would depend on the extent of her cooperation with him. Yet, he was allowed to walk free because of a deal sponsored by foreign powers that guaranteed his safe passage. Why not fight the murderers of Benazir Bhutto, particularly since Zardari claimed that he knew who they were? Why have they been let off the hook without even an FIR being filed, while the UN inquiry commission's work is deliberately sabotaged by denying them security clearance? Why not fight the foreign powers to whom the government pays obeisance and routinely sacrifices our national sovereignty to serve their interests? This government's reported tacit acquiescence to drone attacks that routinely violate our airspace and kill innocent citizens as well as its meek submission to foreign envoys who act increasingly like viceroys has turned Pakistan into an imperial colony. But of course the government will not bite the hand that props it up. Why not fight to improve the economic conditions that are made worse due to difficult requirements imposed by donor agencies? Why not fight and eliminate anti-democratic laws enacted by Musharraf? Instead, all the fights and false bravado are reserved only for innocent citizens and institutions that uphold the rule of law and safeguard democracy.
Nobody harboured any illusions that the current lot would resign to clear itself of the charges that range from corruption to murder after the Supreme Court struck down the NRO. But as long as it continues to stay in power, the implementation of the NRO verdict will be quite literally impossible. How can it be expected to prosecute itself or its leader with any degree of fairness? Not only that, but the law ministry is flirting with a very obvious contempt of court by flatly refusing to reopen the Swiss cases and forbidding NAB from taking any action in this regard. But even if the law ministry condescends to approach the concerned Swiss authorities to reopen the cases, how can it be counted upon to diligently pursue the cases when the prosecutor owes allegiance to the government and functions on its instructions? And now with the former chairman of NAB out of the way, the government can appoint its handpicked man in that post ensuring his total compliance with the government's own interests.
Instead of initiating constructive programmes of nation building, if any such programmes were ever there on its agenda at all, this government has only plunged headlong into one crisis after another. And it is no baffling mystery when you consider that instead of relying on sound political minds with well thought out agendas, it leans upon the advice of ministers who are under trial for corruption and bribery and a henchman in Punjab who can only be described as the Punjabi reincarnation of Jam Sadiq Ali. Such minders can do no better than lead the government into a dead end. What is astounding is that the government tries to peddle off its humiliating retreats and surrenders as feats of great accomplishment, such as the restoration of the judges against the backdrop of the long march or the recent appointment of judges in accordance with the chief justice's recommendations just a day prior to the Supreme Court's hearing on the matter.
People expect the prime minister to play a constructive role beyond repeatedly bailing Zardari out of trouble. He finds himself in the impossible position of having to defend the indefensible and is reduced to repeating promises he knows he does not have the power to fulfill. If he takes the lead to champion what is right and true, the nation will follow him. But he seems either incapable of such grand gestures or unwilling to risk his job. Instead of providing leadership, he throws the ball into parliament's court on every count. On the issue of the restoration of the judges, he said only parliament could restore them, until forced to do so with one stroke of his pen in the middle of the night. He claims that Musharraf cannot be prosecuted until parliament so desires, a dangerous precedent to set since every criminal would henceforth demand similar action from parliament before he could be held accountable for his crimes. Recently, he said only parliament could authorise the appointment of judges on the recommendation of another judge, until forced to back down once again. Perhaps he was not familiar with Article 177 of the constitution until he gate crashed the chief justice's dinner. It is becoming difficult to take him seriously anymore and the nation is losing faith in him.
This brings us to the role of the opposition. Democracy cannot function without a forceful, vociferous opposition. At present, there is none in Pakistan. The government is getting a free cakewalk. Did the Democrats in America hold back against Richard Nixon, even though the Watergate scandal that led to his resignation disgraced America? What did the Republicans stand to gain from impeaching Bill Clinton in the Monika Lewinsky case? It was obvious that he was not going to resign and even if he did, the vice president would take his place, not a Republican. But that is what real democratic oppositions do. They push ahead forcefully and let the chips fall where they may. That is what keeps governments in check. Friendly oppositions can only be counterproductive by giving undeserved security to corrupt, incompetent and unworthy governments despite their damaging transgressions.
The writer is vice-chairman of Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
THE SIESTA IS OVER
DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
When she said "Hi!" for the third time while passing in the hallway of the five-star hotel in Tehran where the conference was being held, I had to ask her why she could not say "Assalamu alaykum" instead. "After all, we are in the Islamic Republic of Iran, you are wearing hijab, and this is a conference about Islam," I explained.
"One expects Islamic mannerism and, besides, when you say 'Assalamu alaykum,' peace be upon you, you are saying something meaningful, whereas "hi" means nothing."
"But I was speaking in English," she responded.
I could not hold back my smile. She was a student of Tehran University and one of the volunteers for the conference. In her mind, speaking in English automatically meant that one had to give up even the basic mannerism normally used in interactions. The sheer force of a Western language, which she spoke like native speakers of English, was enough to uproot her from her familiar cultural territory.
"For how long English has to remain a non-Islamic language?" I asked her. "Once Persian was also a non-Islamic language, but when Persians accepted Islam, the language was automatically transformed. Now there are millions of Muslims whose first language is English."
"I never thought about that," she said, "English has always been a foreign language to me, although I learnt it as a child, grew up speaking it, and have been speaking it just like I speak Persian."
"Maybe not," she said, reflectively, "maybe I do not speak it like Persian, maybe there is a certain degree of remoteness, a certain degree of foreignness at the deepest level of my being. But you are right, there is no reason why we cannot speak in this language the way we speak using Persian. I have just never thought about it. Thank you."
This isolated incidence, and many other aspects of the contemporary world, lead to certain fundamental questions which need discussion among Muslims, reflections and deliberations at organised forums and intellectual endeavours which will reconfigure Muslim understanding of Islam in a world that is radically different from what it was even fifty years ago: a world of shrinking borders, at least in the cyber, intellectual, cultural, and linguistic realms. What does it mean to be a Muslim in a world where one encounters these bright young students of Tehran University who have never thought how the use of a particular Western language is not necessarily linked with giving up their usual way of being? What does it mean for the intellectual and political leadership of a polity that is supposed to be global by definition, but that has remained hostage to the spectacular failure of its leadership?
It is not the fault of these young and bright students, whom one can meet anywhere in the world, but that of the generation before them: the Muslim intellectual leadership of the post-independence era. The generation that fought against the colonisers and helped to bring into existence some 57 independent Muslim states, did what it could under the shadow of guns and mental enslavement. But it is the failure of the generation that followed them which is responsible for the present state of affairs.
Had there been enough bright young Muslims in that generation, there would have been no leadership vacuum today. We do have millions of bright young Muslims now--and they are the hope of our future--but they need a leadership that can set the course for a global revival of Islamic way of living on this tormented Earth, a way of living that is deeply rooted in the fundamentals of Islam but that is possible in an age dominated by technological reconstruction of cultures and social norms.
There is a need for large-scale social and cultural reconstruction stemming from the recognition that we are now living in a world that is deeply plagued by violence, breakdown of family structure, and rampart consumerism. This is an unjust world in which the Western nations still hold the balance of power: they control, manipulate and direct the course of events, at least at the level of human planning and control, even as the ultimate control remains in the hands of the One Who has always held the Supreme Sovereignty. 1.7 billion Muslims need not remain in the dark abyss into which this collective entity called Ummah fell some three centuries ago; there is a possibility of a great revival and millions of bright young Muslims are now looking for a way out of the demoralising and nauseating refrain of decay and destruction; the chorus of despair must have an end, as all bad things must end one day.
The siesta is over; every March brings with it the hopes associated with a new spring, and this March is no different. Welcome to a new spring is, however, only possible if there is a new fervour in the hearts drained of hope for three centuries. This new spring, this new hope requires determined and deliberate steps towards a large social and cultural reconstruction at the global scale. The first step of this reconstruction is a thorough re-evaluation of where Muslims stand today. This means a re-evaluation of the baggage Muslims are carrying from their experiences of the last three centuries; taking English as a foreign language is just one piece of luggage that needs to be shed.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
ARE THE MILITANTS LOSING?
The short answer would be yes but there is still some ways to go. The hot war, if it can be called as such, has had some resounding successes. It is the ideological battle that promises to be a long struggle.
There is little doubt that military operations in Swat, Waziristan and now Bajaur have severely damaged the terrorist infrastructure. The militants' leadership is on the run and there are credible reports that its command and control ability has suffered considerably.
This does not mean it is over. Most of the militants have melted into other places, particularly North Waziristan. They may have lost the ability to mount large-scale attacks or perpetrate widespread terrorism in the rest of the country. But, as the Taliban example in Afghanistan has shown, unless the population is completely won over, they will continue to have the ability to regroup and mount another challenge.
The military part of the campaign has received well-deserved praise. Our soldiers have shown daring, courage, discipline and a willingness to give the ultimate sacrifice. This has been due to the leadership at all levels of command, from the company to the highest echelons.
The planning of these operations has also been highly regarded. The American and NATO military commanders have used the Swat operation as a model for the recent campaign in Helmand area of Afghanistan. It may not have the same success because the political equation is different. But, the fact that our military operations are being emulated is a compliment to the Pakistani armed forces.
A particularly satisfying outcome has been the success of the Frontier Corps in Bajaur. The militants were well-entrenched there and controlled large swathes of territory. Getting them out was not easy. But, its real importance is the effectiveness shown by a paramilitary force.
If other such organisations, like the Frontier Constabulary, the agency levies and khasadars, start to perform well, it will hugely relieve the burden on the mainstream armed forces. And, if over time, the normal police and other civil institutions of the state start to become effective, that would be real victory.
The reason for this is simple. The regular armed forces are literally the last resort against any civil disturbance, militancy or terrorism. The moment they are called in to restore order, it is an admission of failure of all other state institutions. If the last resort becomes the first, it is a governance catastrophe.
Two aspects are critical for success in the militancy-infested areas. One, winning over the people. There are many facets to this but most important are security, infrastructure development and the creation of livelihoods. The second critical benchmark is the complete restoration of the normal structures of civil administration.
In these two areas the armed forces do have a role but the real challenge is for the federal and provincial governments. Some development projects have been initiated by the army in South Waziristan because it is too soon for the civil administration to function effectively over there.
But, this is a stopgap measure. It is critically important for the political governments to move in, establish effective civil governance, and take charge of resettlement, security, infrastructure development and economic opportunity creation. Unless this is effectively done, the military success will remain shaky.
The federal and provincial governments also have a huge challenge in fighting the ideological battle and stopping the spread of militancy to other parts of the country. It is this area that is weak. Sectarian and other radical groups keep showing their presence through rioting and acts of violence.
There seems to be no cohesive national plan to combat this kind of radicalisation. It has to be national because the federal and provincial authorities have to coordinate and be on the same page if it is to be effective.
It would have to include short- and long-term measures. An immediate need is to come down heavily on rioting and acts of violence. What happened over Eid Milad-un-Nabi in Faisalabad is simply not acceptable. If television cameras were on hand to record acts of vandalism, looting, burning of mosques and desecration of sacred documents, where were the police?
And the aftermath is equally important for demonstration purposes. Not only the offenders have to be arrested but brought quickly to trial so that a message goes out that this sort of thing will not be tolerated.
An important step forward in curbing such kind of interdenominational eruptions is to show zero tolerance for breaches of law. This among other things includes ensuring that loudspeakers are not misused. If the law says that they are to be used only for Azan and Khutba on Friday, it must be enforced. And, if anybody preaches sectarian or religious hatred, such people must be dealt with a visibly heavy hand.
Anytime law is strictly enforced, it does cause a reaction, but it is better to face radicalisation at an early stage than to fight pitched battles with militancy later through the armed forces. An important reason for the deterioration of the situation in Swat and other places in FATA and NWFP is that hate-filled FM radio broadcasts and other minor violations of the law were ignored.
Zero tolerance is a very important principle of law enforcement. Unfortunately, our officialdom has shown great timidity in imposing it. The normal reaction is to let things be because no official wants too much trouble on his or her watch. This encourages the offenders because they keep testing the boundaries of acceptability and ultimately instigate serious acts of violence. The Faisalabad incident is an example of this.
Over the long term of course no serious ideological change can be brought about without proper education. The state has been woeful in neglecting this critical area and the slack has been taken up by madressahs. In essence, there is nothing wrong with madressah education but good institutions have been overshadowed by scoundrels and charlatans posing as religious teachers and setting up hate academies.
Changing this equation is not easy. In these times of scarce resources and competing interests, allocating enough resources to improve the state education system would be difficult. But, there is very little choice. Education is good per se and a primary responsibility of the state, but in our case it is a critical front in the fight against radicalisation and militancy.
It is also important for the federal government to grit its teeth, propose changes in the syllabi of religious schools, and then enforce them. Again there is bound to be reaction but if all the political parties and their governments in the federation and provinces show determination, it can be done.
It will take a lot to defeat militancy. Military action is only a small part of a national strategy to combat it. It is time for the political leadership to make a move in this direction.
I. THE NEWS
We are told by historians, the likes of Dr Mubarak Ali apart, that there were many benevolent, generous and sagacious kings who ruled different parts of the world. Under their rule, the subjects lived in complete peace, harmony and some of them in abundance. We are told that they invested in the welfare of their people. Marcus Aurelius of Rome, Charlemagne of France, Nausherwan of Iran, Peter the Great of Russia, Haroon and Mamoon Rasheed of the Arab-Muslim Empire with its capital in Baghdad, and Ashok and Akbar of India are remembered for their decisions and deeds that strengthened their empires and brought prosperity to those they ruled. The clergy of any faith was at their service and nobles were loyal. The armies they raised were well-fed and properly equipped. They would award artists and reward artisans. The King is dead -- Long live the King.
Then why humanity at large became so averse to autocratic rule and chose democracy instead? Couldn't they look for good kings and queens? Why did people start thinking that long-lasting and powerful systems and institutions could only be built through democracy? While some of us may still look for a messiah to arrive from the heavens and rid us of all our predicaments, the knowledgeable and the wise across the world are convinced that leaders should come through a process of elected representation.
Pir Ali Mohammed Rashdi, noted scholar and Pakistan's ambassador to different countries, wrote two letters to the president of the republic, General Ayub Khan, and copied these to the foreign minister, Manzur Qadir, in 1960 and 1961 from Manila. In his first letter, he insisted that wings of politicians who ask for democracy should be clipped if Pakistan has to prosper. The second letter is more interesting where he prays to the president that Pakistan should be converted into a monarchy. There are two other letters, one addressed to the president again and one only to the foreign minister, where Rashdi has belaboured his point that constitutional monarchy with General Ayub Khan as the king would be the only solution to Pakistan's problems. This couldn't happen, however, and the people of Pakistan prevailed. We have a history of struggling against oppression, dictatorships and injustice. The citizens of this country struggled against Ayub, Yahya, Zia and Musharraf. They also protested whenever a civilian leader behaved like a dictator. We got democracy back due to the struggle of the people at various levels. Undoubtedly, there can be no negotiation on civilian rule if the country has to survive, let alone prosper.
But we have to go very far from where we are now. In the plutocracy of Pakistan, every ruler is a king whether he has been elected or has illegitimately taken power through gun. Pir Ali Mohammed Rashdi's recommendations never made it to our Constitution and law books. But the spirit of his letters sits in the hearts and minds of the rulers. Nawaz Sharif would visit rape victims, Shaukat Aziz would meet Mukhtaran Mai, superior courts would take suo moto notices and President Zardari would dole out money to the family of a child born in a rickshaw. No systems, no institutions, no justice, no education, no health for the teeming millions. I wish all children in Pakistan are born in rickshaws on blocked roads due to the moving cavalcade of the king or his nobles. Each child will then be guaranteed a decent living and a proper education from the royal treasury.
The writer is a poet and advises national and international institutions on governance and public policy issues. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
CIRCULAR DEBT FURTHER WORSENS
IT is intriguing that that despite claims by the Government that the issue of the vicious circular debt would be over soon, the situation is worsening day by day. According to a report appearing in this newspaper, the receivables of the state-owned Pakistan State Oil (PSO) have surged to a whopping Rs 102 billion with apprehensions that the company might default, as it has no money to offload the payment of Rs 13.4 billion to Kuwait Petroleum Company due on March 24 and retire the letter of credit payments of Rs 15.2 billion by March 22.
It is highly unfortunate that the problem of circular debt is haunting the country for the last three years but our financial managers and governmental leaders have failed to evolve a workable strategy to resolve it. No doubt, the circular debt kept on piling up during period of the previous Government but the present regime too is in power for the last two years and despite claims of Minister for Water and Power to have retired maximum debt and that the whole episode would be over by June this year, the problem not only persists but is compounding. There is almost consensus that one of the major causes of the curse of the load-shedding is the circular debt as Independent Power Producers (IPPs) find it difficult to operate their plants on full capacity due to financial crunch. This being so the issue should have received priority but regrettably no concrete step is still in sight to address the issue satisfactorily. Same is the case with PEPCO as government departments owe billions of rupees to it and that too at a time when it is facing worst kind of financial constraints. The question arises as to how all this was allowed to happen despite clear-cut procedures governing such situations and circumstances. It is time that the Prime Minister himself takes serious notice of the situation and convenes a meeting of the stakeholders to find out ways and means to resolve the issue for good. Creation of cells in the Ministry to tackle the issue amounts to rub salt into wound, as the Government would be spending additional money on such bodies. As for receivables of state institutions from other government institutions, these should be deducted at source if the departments fail to meet a certain deadline.
IS PRESIDENT PLANNING TO BECOME PM?
AS the Parliamentary Committee on Constitutional Reforms is to complete its recommendations for amendments in the Constitution before 23rd March 2010 that would restore the powers of the Prime Minister, some aides to the President continue to air the possibility that he may become the Chief Executive in due course of time. Some insiders of the Presidency also claim, which may be totally baseless, that President Zardari by temperament would not like to be seen what is called "Chaudhry Fazal Elahi".
In our view, such speculations are wishful thinking as President Zardari has voluntarily handed over the command of Nuclear Authority to the Prime Minister and he himself committed in Parliament twice to restoring the original 1973 Constitution that gives full powers to the Prime Minister to run the affairs of the State. We maintain that leaving aside his personal charm, the incumbent Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani's performance is laudatory and he has emerged as the most acceptable leader of the House. Beyond any doubt, he has proved his capacity to deal with crisis after crisis successfully and maintained good working relationship with the Opposition Parties, State institutions, media and civil society which is a Herculean task. In difficult situations when vested interests were predicting doomsday scenarios, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani proved his political maturity, and naturally in consultation with the President, took initiatives that averted crises and stabilized the situation. President Asif Ali Zardari is also Co-Chairman of the ruling PPP and in a democratic set-up the Prime Minister has to follow the manifesto of the Party and advice of the Party head. The working relationship between the President and the Prime Minister is more than satisfactory and in such a situation we don't think the President would be thinking of making any reshuffling in the present set up. From the constitutional point of view also, unless and until amendments are made by Parliament, the President cannot contest the election of National Assembly to become the Prime Minister before two years once he steps down from the office. We would therefore strongly recommend that the Presidency should come out with a categorical statement to bring an end to all sorts of speculations being spread by those who cannot be well-wishers of the Government and the party
PALESTINE: ARABS FIND A WAY OUT
AS Dubai police has said it would seek the arrest of Israel's Prime Minister and the head of its spy agency over the murder of a top Hamas leader in a hotel room of the State, in another dramatic development Arab nations gave the green light Wednesday for Palestinians to enter into indirect negotiations with Israel for a preliminary four-month period.
The decision of the Foreign Ministers of Arab League nations, who gathered in Cairo, gave Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the political cover he needs to accept the offer for indirect talks, which he had earlier rejected because of the headstrong approach of the Jewish State. The move of the Arab League sends strong signal to the world that Arabs want peaceful resolution of the Middle East conflict. Earlier too, on a number of occasions, these countries went extra miles in their quest for peace but there was no reciprocity from Tel Aviv. The peace plan of King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, in his capacity as Crown Prince, was widely acclaimed and described as a workable formula for resolution of the long-standing dispute but Israel contemptuously rejected the overture. Israel has repeatedly sought to suppress the genuine demands of Palestinians through use of brutal force and only last year it launched a large-scale military operation in Gaza but it could not break the will of the Palestinian people. The Jewish State is also continuing with its policy of establishing more and more settlements on occupied Arab lands in clear violation of UN resolutions and demands of the world community. In this backdrop, the decision of the Arab League to allow President Abbas to enter into indirect negotiations is a great concession and Israel should grab the opportunity of peace by addressing the dispute seriously.
HOLBROOKE PROVIDES COMIC RELIEF TO SUBCONTINENT
M D NALAPAT
Poor Richard Holbrooke. Although he is a favourite of Bill and Hillary Clinton, his inability to realize that Afghanistan is not Serbia and the 1990s are not the 2000s have resulted in the US special envoy to the region being disliked by the Karzai administration and regarded with suspicion by the Manmohan Singh team. Holbrook's standing in South Block (the location of the Prime Minister's Office and the External Affairs Ministry) took a fresh beating after his remark that "Indians were not the target" of recent terror attacks in Kabul.
The fact is that the Taliban look with extreme disfavour at the many Indian activities in Afghanistan, and assist their friends to carry out attacks that they expect will lead to a pullback. However, the chemistry in India is different from that in Europe, where the loss of a few dozen lives leads to a public clamour for withdrawal. The people of India have seen several insurgencies over the past six decades, and each has reinforced the belief that attacks on Indian targets are each arguments not for a withdrawal but for a reinforcement of Indian strength, especially in view of the very cordial links between Delhi and Kabul under the Karzai administration Although Hillary Clinton sought to make her favourite the "Afghanistan-Pakistan-Hindustan envoy", this led to a strong protest by South Block (who was reinforced in its opposition to the inclusion of India in Holbrook's charter by North Block, the location of the Defense and Home Ministries).
Hence, for the first six months of 2009, Holbrook was kept away from India and had to focus only on Pakistan and Afghanistan. However, there followed several requests from first the State Department and thereafter the White House to allow Holbrook to make official visits to Delhi, and - once again at the level of Manmohan Singh, who wants to go the extra mile so far as both peace with Pakistan and the pleasing of the US is concerned finally both South and North Block were told to drop their allergy to Holbrook and welcome him to their chambers (to reach which an unfortunate envoy often has to get past an excitable gauntlet of monkeys, who are present in strength on (and on occasion in) both buildings Now that Holbrooke has revealed that he is the only human being on the planet to believe that the numerous attacks on Indian targets in Kabul were entirely the result of mistaken identity by short-sighted Taliban suicide bombers and fighters, the poor man will get an even chillier welcome in Delhi. Before each visitation by Holbrooke, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself takes the initiative to informally ensure that the Afghanistan-Pakistan special envoy be given high-level access, even by ministers and officials who privately say that they would rather not waste their time with an envoy who seems only to repeat the message purveyed by the State Department, that India "should do more to quite the fears of the Pakistan army".
As North Block has no intention whatsoever of giving General Kiyani an excuse to shift his forces from west to east, Raisina (the Indian Beltway) is perplexed as to what Hillary Clinton means by this litany. Of course, think-tankers close to her say that what she seeks is Indian concessions on Kashmir that would dilute sovereignty over the Valley. If the US Secretary of State truly believes that she or President Obama ( together with allies such as the EU and China) can get India to agree to such a reversal of policy, they have near-zero understanding of Indian politics. Although Prime Minister Singh has long favoured a settlement in Siachen and a re-look at the sharing of river waters, yet the PM is aware that there is no support within even his team for such a soft course towards Pakistan. Were he to go ahead and make the concessions that the Obama administration is seeking, the country would erupt in a Bangladesh-style uproar that would make Manmohan Singh's continuance in office problematic even for his patron, Sonia Gandhi. Indeed, the Congress Party as well as his Cabinet colleagues (including the suave External Affairs Minister S M Krishna) have thus far refused to publicly echo Manmohan Singh's numerous calls to "walk the extra mile" for peace. His only supporter is the Minister of State for External Affairs, Sashi Tharoor, who would even welcome Saudi Arabia as an interlocutor in the India-Pakistan tango.
The reality is that neither Sashi Tharoor nor Manmohan Singh have the domestic political backing needed to implement their soft line on Pakistan, much though the Obama administration wishes they would India and Saudi Arabia are indeed coming closer, but the reason for that is less ideology than money. India is one of the largest purchasers of crude oil in Asia, and this has played no small part in Saudi Arabia coming much closer to India than the kingdom has ever been. However, neither South nor North Block can forget that Saudi sources have been among the most prolific fenders of numerous separatist organisations in Kashmir, or that the kingdom hosts several dozen individuals active in the low-intensity battle to delink Kashmir from India.
From the time the Saudis backed the Taliban during the 1990s (when India was helping the Northern Alliance), the two countries have been far apart in their perception of the regional situation. These days, Riyadh is seeking to assist the Pakistan army in co-opting elements of the Taliban into a front that (they expect) will be inserted into the Afghan government by US-EU pressure on Hamid Karzai.
However, what is interesting is that the two Asian giants, India and China, are united in warning against the Pentagon policy of once again funding and facilitating the Taliban. In India, policymakers are united that the only "moderate" Taliban is a jailed Taliban. There is considerable concern in Delhi that the US and the EU, by military tactics that kill many more innocents than terrorists, and by reliance on flawed intelligence that allows the key operators to escape while a few burnt-out cases get caught, are making Afghanistan this decade into what it was in the 1980s,a theatre from where all occupying armies will get ejected. Indian military experts cannot understand why the Afghan army - which is today in the front line of the war against the Taliban - is given equipment that is vastly inferior to that of the NATO forces. The obvious discrimination between the Afghan National Army and NATO is reminiscent of the differential standards of pay and field conditions that were present between Second World War troops of Indian ehnicity and those of British lineage.
Such a racist double standard led to the mutinies of several thousand Indian troops,and to London finally accepting by 1946 that it could no longer rely on Indians to maintain the British Empire by force of arms. Today, several Afghans are deeply troubled at the differential in living standards of the NATO forces and their support staff, as compared to the "liberated" people of Afghanistan, who have since the Taliban was helped to take over power in 1996 been largely "liberated" from electricity, jobs, running water, education and healthcare Amidst all this turmoil flits Richard Holbrook. The poor man is not taken seriously except in the State Department, although he and his assistants crises-cross the region chasing peace with mythical formulas. Long ago, Vladimir Lenin wrote of Stalin's style of governance :"Better Less but Better". What the US needs is less of Holbrook and more of commonsense. Less of discrimination between the ANA and NATO, and a more equitable sharing of resources between the allies in the war against the Taliban. At present, the moderate Afghans are being treated as stepchildren, even though their morale and support is crucial to NATO's victory. If only Holbrooke would try and do something about this, rather than rack up more air miles than a pilot.
WHY PAKISTAN ARMED FORCES ARE INDO-CENTRIC?
SULTAN M HALI
India has never accepted Pakistan's existence and always considered the division of Bharat a cardinal sin. The members of the Indian Congress had initially agreed to the partition with the understanding that the fledgling nation would barely survive a few weeks. Enough impediments had been placed in its path to ensure its destruction. The mass exodus of Muslims from India headed towards Pakistan and freedom but was set upon by marauding hordes of extremist Hindus and Sikhs, who looted raped and massacred the refugees. Pakistan's share of the assets both in terms of finances, machinery and weapons was not handed over to the new state.
To tighten the screw on Pakistan, Kashmir, Hyderabad, Junagadh and other Muslim states were annexed through forceful occupation. In all this turmoil, one institution remained a thorn in India's side and that was the Pakistan Army. Bedraggled and under-equipped, the Pakistan Army mostly comprised stragglers, who had themselves barely escaped from the mad frenzy of the communal rioters. It goes to the credit of Pakistan's founding fathers, Quaid-e-Azam and Liaquat Ali Khan, who thwarted the machination of the Indian Congress, which wanted the Indian armed forces to remain undivided under one on Commander-in-Chief after the departure of the British. The duo of Quaid and Liaquat saw through the macabre Congress stratagem since it would have left Pakistan undefended and at the mercy of the Indian malevolence.
Congress did not want Pakistan to have separate defence because it wanted Pakistan to crumble and beg to be taken back into the fold of united India or failing which, India would gobble up the fledgling Pakistan. After Independence, our founding fathers organized the Armed Forces and deputed them to protect the incoming refugee caravans. The first test for the army and air transport elements of the air force came when India occupied Kashmir. It was baptism under fire but Pakistani Armed Forces despite being outnumbered and ill equipped and devoid of directions from their British Commanders, did well to liberate a sizable portion of Kashmir from the clutches of Indian occupation and would have unshackled the rest of the Valley if India did not approach UN for a ceasefire and agreed to the UN Resolution calling for a plebiscite to settle the Kashmir issue. Pakistan Armed Forces went to war twice more in 1965 and 1971 and nearly in 1999 at Kargil but the Kashmir issue remains unresolved.
Pakistan Army may have committed the folly of upsetting the applecart of democracy by usurping power four times, for which they are answerable to the people of Pakistan and the current dispensation in the Army is trying to make amends. As far as India is concerned, it partly realized its dream of dismembering Pakistan, when it stage-managed the turmoil in 1971 and ultimately severed our eastern wing from us. It has tried similar tactics in the western wing too. Operation Meghdoot (1984) to capture Siachen; Operation Brasstacks (November 1986-March 1987) in which General Sunderji had grand designs of dismembering Pakistan at its narrowest belt opposite Rajasthan; Operation Parakram (December 13, 2001 - June 10, 2002) when belligerent India amassed its troops on its borders with Pakistan; following 26/11 Mumbai attacks, India contemplated surgical strikes. These Indian adventurisms were thwarted by the vigilant Pakistani Armed Forces, backed by a credible nuclear arsenal. Ultimately, in December 2009, Indian Army Chief General Deepak Kapoor croaked that India has developed, modified and tested the Cold Start Strategy to take on Pakistan with conventional weapons before the nuclear weapons can be deployed or launched.
If anyone still has doubts why Pakistan's Armed Forces are Indo-Centric, they should listen to Indian Army's musings. Its 19th Chief of Army Staff, General Ved Parakash Malik, who in his Observer Research Foundation discourse of January 2010k titled 'India's Strategic Culture and Security Challenges' spills the beans: "We must realize that our enemy is not Pakistan or its civil society. It is the Pakistan Army." He qualifies his conclusion by claiming that "Our major security problem with Pakistan currently is terrorism. Experts in India and abroad have no doubt that the 26/11 Mumbai incident originated in Pakistan, and like most such incidents in the past, it was encouraged and supported by the ISI, which works under the Pakistan Army. Even Dr Manmohan Singh said, there is enough evidence to show that, given the sophistication and military precision of the attack, it must have had the support of some official agencies in Pakistan." Dr. Manmohan Singh would be better advised to look for the sophistication and military precision provided by agencies closer to home.
The ill informed V. P. Malik rambles on: "The Pakistan Army, for long, has maintained its unholy alliance with terror organizations through the ISI. Recently, General Musharraf called the ISI as its strategic arm and its first line of defense. He has also confirmed that the ISI maintains representation in all jehadi outfits to promote the Pakistan Army's strategic interests. Last year, the Pakistan Army refused to place the ISI under civilian political leadership."
Now examine the events in the past few years. Pakistan's Armed Forces have been the prime targets of terror attacks as well as a maligning and smear campaign in international media, at times quoted in the local media. Reports of Indian involvement in terror activities in Swat, Balochistan and FATA indicate a concerted effort to ensnare the Army in combating terror. It goes to its credit that the Army has achieved success against the perpetrators of terror attacks but it has had to pay a heavy price in human lives. While the nation suffers the agonizing terror attacks, losing innocent lives in the dastardly attacks, it is comforting that its Armed Forces act as a bulwark to frustrate Indian nefarious designs. Attempting to make Pakistan redeploy its forces from its eastern borders to the northwest, India tried to use the shoulders of USA but Pakistan is cognizant of the clear and present danger from India. Now VP Malik has confirmed that "Pakistan Army is India's enemy"; no wonder our Armed Forces remain India-centric.
TIME FOR PRAYER IN BUSY LIFE
ATIF NOOR KHAN
Prayer (Salah) is the second pillar and one of the most important pillars of Islam. Salah is the key to Islam. Salah is Ibadah or worship. In our lives we have many duties that we do like school, jobs and other sort of activities. And when we are doing these things we forget Allah and that we are his servants. Allah doesn't want us to forget that we are His servants and also why we are here in this universe. That's the purpose of Salah and why Allah made Salah. Salah not only helps us to remember Allah and that we are his servants. But it also keeps us on the right path, it helps us from not doing bad, from disobedience of Allah, makes us clean and healthy and also it gets us closer to Allah. If you stopped offering Salah you would no longer be a proper Muslim.
Keeping up our Islamic traditions must have been a bit of a challenge in the olden times, but it is especially so in our world of today. We live in a fast-paced time where days and weeks seem to fly by us. As a result, it is even more important to decide to make time for things that are the most important. To illustrate what I mean, let me try to give you a few examples. Our weekly congregational prayer, the Juma, takes place on Fridays, while the children are attending school or college. What to do in this situation? It would help if we could clone ourselves for an hour or two, so one of us could keep doing its worldly jobs, while the other headed for the mosque. As that is not possible we have to follow Allah's command in the Qur'an and leave our work, play and business to head for Juma.
We spend a large part of the entire week in good worldly pursuits. Going to school is very Islamic. Allah wants us to learn as much as we can and use that knowledge to help others and make the world a better place. Similarly earning money is a good deed. But the Juma prayer is a good deed that is better and more important than all the others. If we involve our selves in so many activities that we do not have time for our prayers, it means something has gone wrong and we have lost our balance in life. It is Allah Who has blessed our lives with all types of goodies and comforts, so we should at least devote some of our time each week to participate in the Juma and thus show our gratitude to our Creator. In our family, we send notes to our children's teachers telling them about Juma and its importance, and then we request permission to bring the children home during lunch and recess to pray with us. It is a bit of a time squeeze, but we all hurry through lunch and have juma with short khutba's or sermons given by myself as well as by both children. This gives them the chance to show us what they have learnt about Islam or to recite surahs they have memorized. We do not go to the mosque often, as there is none very close to us and it would take too long. When the children have vacations we take them to the mosque. That was about the weekly congregational prayer. If you now look at the five daily compulsory prayers (Fajr, Zuhr, Asr, Maghrib, Ishaa'), you may think, what to do when it is time to pray and you are at school or camp? We have to be creative and find time, for pray we must. I know a ten year old boy, Musaddiq Khan, who for the past two years has been fasting in Ramadan. During this holy month, he takes a prayer rug with him to school and when the other children go for lunch, he stays behind, with the teacher's permission, and offers his zuhr prayers in the class. He is a splendid example of the fact that Allah has made us Muslims to live among Christians, so that we can be an example to them, NOT so we can pick up their habits and ways.
When I am at work all week long and it is time to pray, I perform the Zuhr and Asr prayers right at my workplace sitting at my chair and desk, during the lunch-hour. Speaking for myself only, I believe that Allah understands the problems we face. I wish there were a mosque at work where it were easy for me to pray but as that is not the case, I make the best of my situation and hope to please Allah by this. The daily prayers, especially the daytime prayers, draw us out of our usual activities, and place us at the door of Allah so we may be blessed with food for our soul. Praying regularly is not easy for children. It may seem very hard at times when there are many other things to do that seem urgent. Sometimes we have to decide between what is good and what is easy. May Allah help us all to make the right choices. May He make the salat as easy, natural and important to us as breathing and eating.
WATER AMBITIOUS INDIA
LT COL ZAHEERUL HASSAN (R)
Foreign Sectary level talks held at New Delhi have been ended without reaching to any conclusion. Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and her Pakistani counterpart Salman Bashir met for three hours in New Delhi for talks. The purpose of the meeting was to bring regional stability while resolving conflicts. Pakistan was interested in resumption of Composite Dialogues but Rao rebuffed Pakistan's request to resolve all outstanding issues between two traditional rivals.
In fact, India has desired to restart